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PowerMoves.NOLA to aid minority entrepreneurs

31st March 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Fritz Esker
Contributing Writer

The landscape of post-Katrina New Orleans has proven increasingly friendly to entrepreneurs. A new startup, PowerMoves.NOLA, hopes to make the city a hub for minority entrepreneurs.

The program’s launch will be on the 4th of July weekend at the ESSENCE Festival. One component will be the Chevron PowerMoves Pitch on Saturday July 5, at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. Four minority women entrepreneurs will make a business pitch. The judges will select a winner, who will receive a $25,000 prize. Audience members will get to pick their favorite, who will win a $5,000 prize.

Two more pitch events, the Entergy Tech Pitch and the Startup Fund Pitch, will take place on Friday, July 4, at Manning’s Restaurant. Winners of these sessions will earn a $25,000 prize and gain access to early-stage investors, mentors and advisers.

Another part of the program for the Essence Fest weekend is the Rising Stars Boot Camp presented by PowerMoves.NOLA and Techstars. The goal of the boot camp is to create an intensive two-day program to help early stage entrepreneurs build viable, sustainable and revenue generating startup technology companies. Parti­cipants will get hands-on guidance on their business models from professional entrepreneurs on topics ranging from customer development to fitting a product to a market to controlling costs and more.

PowerMoves.NOLA will also choose to invite at least five startup companies to become Power­Moves.NOLA Fellows. One will receive a $50,000 investment and the other four will receive $25,000 each. 25 percent or more of the employees of these companies must be living in the New Orleans area.

September Hargrove, executive director of PowerMoves.NOLA, says the overall program has several objectives. The first is to increase the amount of venture-based firms with minority founders on both the local and national levels. They want to give budding entrepreneurs access to capital, advice and support so they can take their ideas from concept to completion.

The second goal is to make New Orleans a place where minorities will want to come to start their businesses. They want the pitch sessions at Essence Fest to become a signature event for entrepreneurs around the country, similar to Austin’s South by Southwest (SXSW). Attract­ing such businesses could be a boon for the area’s African-American middle class.

“It should help build the middle class, particularly the black middle class, of the Greater New Orleans region,” said Michael Hecht, president and CEO of GNO, Inc.

Hecht added that Power­Moves.NOLA could increase New Orleans’ national profile as a city friendly to innovation. Just as the city received attention for being an educational innovator with the reforms that occurred post-Katrina, it could become a national leader in creating minority businesses.

An increase in minority businesses would also be a plus for the city as a whole, as these businesses would eventually grow and employ citizens of all ethnic groups.

“It’s going to lead to more companies and new jobs in the region,” Hecht said.

The initiative has also garnered the praise and support of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who echoed Hecht’s sentiments.

“PowerMoves.NOLA is a powerful demonstration that New Orleans is open for business,” Landrieu said. “This new initiative will become a national model and a catalyst to accelerating economic opportunity and growth for minority businesses.”

While the number of minority-owned businesses in the United States has grown in recent years, minority entrepreneurs are still underrepresented in the American economy. Only seven percent of firms who presented to angel investors (affluent individuals who put up capital to fund businesses) were minority owned in 2011 and only one percent of venture capital funded startups had an African-American founder in 2010.

This article originally published in the March 31, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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