We all have an idea of what New Orleans is like. A party city, home to some of the most famous get-togethers in the world. How do you get a little deeper? Ask the insiders.
With help from Idea Village’s Tim Williamson, Revelry Labs’ Gerard Ramos and Launch Pad’s Chris Schultz, we’ve put together this guide to a startup ecosystem where the good times are really beginning to roll.
Welcome to New OrleansTo understand New Orleans, you’ve got to look at its calendar. It’s a calendar that’s long been filled with international music festivals and world-famous street parties – “letting the good times roll”, to paraphrase the city’s unofficial maxim.
New Orleans brings people together – it’s being doing it for nearly 300 years. It was only a matter a time of time before it brought together a promising network of tech startups.
Mardi Gras is celebrated in New Orleans each year on the day before Ash Wednesday, or 47 days before Easter.
The city where the love went deeperBack in 2005, New Orleans was struggling with crime, a poorly performing education system and political scandals.
Then Hurricane Katrina hit, leaving hundreds of thousands of New Orleanians homeless, killing 1,577 people in Louisiana alone, and causing $108 billion worth of damage.
Government responses to both the disaster and rebuilding efforts were criticised.
“Rather than feel abandoned, though, I think we felt empowered. I think after Katrina, people who love New Orleans went deeper in their love,” says Tim Williamson, Co-founder and CEO of Idea Village, a nonprofit that supports entrepreneurs in New Orleans.
He says that the first people to return to New Orleans following Katrina were entrepreneurs; the circumstances dictated it. “Everyone became one, in a way, whether it was restarting businesses or rebuilding their homes.
“The city was empty ten years ago. It’s now really become a startup city,” says Tim.
On the mapNew Orleans startups that have raised the largest amount of money in the last five years
- Dinner Lab
- Servato Corp
- Better Day Health
- Voodoo Venture
- New Orleans Startup Fund
- Equitas Capital Advisors
- South Coast Angel Fund
- Chris Schultz – CEO – Launch Pad
- Zach Kupperman – Co-Founder – Dinner Lab
- Peter Bodenheimer – Partner – Flatstack
- Matt Candler – Founder & CEO – 4.0 Schools
- Barrett Conrad – Software Engineer – Cotingasoft
- Jason Nicosia – VP Corporate Development – Revelry
- Martin Roth – Founding Partner – VP Sales Zlien
Top five industry verticals
Startup life in New OrleansEven during the city’s darkest times, its parties weren’t neglected. Three months after Katrina, New Orleanians hit the street to celebrate Mardi Gras.
“That’s crazy. But there’s this normal currency to connect us, that brings together everybody in the city,” says Tim of Idea Village.
A couple months after Mardi Gras and with the city still reeling, it was time for Jazz Fest and a special appearance from Bruce Springsteen. Living in a community that would readily rally together for the special dates in its calendar helped.
“I think that even in those darker times, we always knew that we’d be coming together soon to measure our progress,” says Tim.
Now, in 2016, NOLA is looking forward to more parties. The next big shindig comes in April when Stevie Wonder, Van Morrison and Paul Simon come to town for Jazz Fest 2016. It’s quite the lineup.
The lineup for this year’s Jazz Fest
Alongside events like Jazz Fest, the people of New Orleans are marking new dates in their calendars. They’re coming together for tech.
New Orleans Entrepreneur Week, the “Mardi Gras of entrepreneurship” says USA Today, is held in March. It launched in 2009, just as the first signs of the New Orleans startup ecosystem began to emerge.
It was the year that Jennifer Medbery founded Kickboard, an edtech startup that announced a $2 million Series A in 2013. Jennifer is now considered a founding member of a growing edtech movement in New Orleans that counts Whetstone Education among its successes.
The city’s post-Katrina decision to tackle its failing schools by moving to the less regulated charter system has made New Orleans an attractive environment for edtech startups.
“It’s like New Orleans is this petri dish for edtech where you can try anything,” says Gerard Ramos, Co-Founder of New Orleans’s Revelry Labs, an app and web development company.
Idea Village’s Victoria Adams talks about New Orleans Entrepreneur Week 2015
While the ecosystem continues to grow – the city exceeds the US average of startups-per-capita by 56 per cent – operating in one of the US’s second-tier cities can present challenges to entrepreneurs.
Local investors are considered conservative. “You can raise a Seed Round in New Orleans pretty easily if you’ve got a compelling story and startup. The problem comes with the follow-on round and continued growth if you’re not a profitable business,” says Gerard.
A 2015 report on civic entrepreneurship co-authored by the US Chamber of Commerce scored the city poorly on perceived engagement with local VCs.
But for some, this has become a positive. “The interesting thing you’re gonna find about New Orleans startups is that they’re cash flow-generating.
“Rather than going after market share grabs and building businesses around advertising, they’re solving specific problems in specific industries. We’re building real businesses in New Orleans,” says Gerard.
MobileQubes is an example. They install vending machines that dispense charging stations for phones in airports and train stations.
They’ve recently raised $1 million with the NOLA Angel Network – one of the fastest-growing networks of its kind in the US – and are set for expansion.
Maritant operate in the shipbuilding space, a $11 billion industry in Louisiana alone, and have raised significant capital. Construction startup Zlien have already helped building firms process $1 billion in payments.
“We have tourism, and oil and gas industries that have a lot of old money. It’s taken a while to convince those guys to jump into tech investing,” says Gerard. It’s not a bad problem to have.
Time was when young people left New Orleans to make a name for themselves. Now there is a bit of a swagger about the city.
“Any entrepreneur who’s standing here is here because they want to be here; they’ve chosen to be here. There’s a belief that we can be a successful city,” says Tim. As well as the home of one of the most famous parties in the world.
There’s a new swagger in New Orleans as the city approaches its 300th year
Take it from meChris Schultz is Co-Founder and CEO of Launch Pad, a community for entrepreneurs that provides workspace, a network of mentors and educational programming and events. He connects the New Orleans startup ecosystem to networks across the world. Here are his New Orleans picks.
Chris (back row and centre in white shirt and aviators) with the Launch Pad team
4.0 Schools – Perfect for New Orleans, this nonprofit runs a range of programmes for teachers looking to develop creative solutions in education.
Idea Village – Founded in 2000, Idea Village supports NOLA’s entrepreneurs and is fighting to see the city recognised as the entrepreneurial hub of the South by 2018.
Propeller – These guys help launch social and environmental ventures, working out of a 10,000 sq ft coworking space.
LookFar – LookFar like to partner with people for an “entrepreneurial moment”: they help people build the tech to execute their ideas.
Launch Pad – Stop by Launch Pad anytime – we always welcome new members with a week of coworking to meet the community and get to know our workspace.
Top journalists covering the New Orleans startup scene
Julia Ballard, Silicon Bayou News – Julia is Editor-in-Chief at Silicon Bayou News and also works as social media strategist with local businesses.
Jennifer Larino, NOLA.com | Times Picayune – Jennifer covers banking, finance and general business in the greater New Orleans area.
Greg LaRose, NOLA.com | Times Picayune – An editor at CityBusiness for ten years, Greg is now Managing Producer with the NOLA Media Group.
Peter Ricchiuti, Out to Lunch – Peter’s an economist and finance professor, and he talks business over lunch at Commander’s Palace restaurant in this podcast.
Top startup hangouts
Barrel Proof – Hit up Barrel Proof on Magazine Street for 262 premium whiskeys.
Cure – This old-school cocktail bar is the place to go for a quiet drink.
The IP Building – The Intellectual Property is New Orleans’s version of New York’s Silicon Alley that offers space to creative professionals in New Orleans with no rent subsidy.
Pulp & Grind – The best organic juice and craft coffee in the city.
Top places to go for dinner
Doris Metropolitan – If you want to taste the finest steaks in NOLA, you’re going to need to hit Doris Metropolitan.
Sylvain – This place is New Orleans landmark, set in a French Quarter building dating back to 1796. Some of the best cooking in the south.
Domenica – You’ll get the tastiest Italian cooking in this lively restaurant.
St Roch Market – Sat on St Claude Avenue, St Roch Market showcases the finest local produce, sundries and prepared foods from top chefs and entrepreneurs.
Capdeville – Classic comfort food and traditional cocktails are the order of the day here.
The dining room at Capdeville, named after the street on which it sits
Thanks to Tim Williamson of Idea Village, Gerard Ramos of Revelry Labs and Chris Schultz of Launchpad.
For more information on the New Orleans startup scene, check out:
Greater New Orleans, Inc.
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
New Orleans Startup Fund
UP New Orleans
Innovation That Matters: How City Networks Drive Civic Entrepreneurship