A Monochromatic Marketplace

PowerMoves NOLA aims to diversify the local entrepreneurism scene.

In recent years our region has gained national recognition as a hotbed of entrepreneurism, and rightly so. Thousands of new business ventures have been launched, and many have been remarkably successful.
But is this burst of economic activity truly inclusive and equitable?

According to the Urban League of Greater New Orleans, the answer is no. As Urban League president Erika McConduit presented at the league’s “State of Black New Orleans” summit in August, less than 10 percent of the businesses in Orleans Parish are owned by African-Americans.

Despite efforts by groups such as LiftFund and Puentes New Orleans, Latino business ownership – while increasing – is an even smaller percentage of the whole. Other minorities account for even fewer enterprises.

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Rashida Govan, a consultant with the Urban League, cited a number of factors that contribute to this discrepancy, including education levels, family obligations, lack of access and capital, and other resources.

“The fees alone can be a deterrent to trying to get a business started,” she pointed out, adding that there are many more economic and cultural factors that inhibit opportunity; indeed, this topic is larger than can be fully explored in this column.

However, there is at least one substantial initiative looking to address the situation. PowerMoves NOLA was founded in 2014 to, in their words, “position New Orleans as a hub for entrepreneurs of color.” While this nonprofit organization has since expanded its mission to improve opportunities for entrepreneurs of color throughout the United States, it remains located in New Orleans and still makes the city its first priority.

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One of PowerMoves NOLA’s key programs is its annual entrepreneurs’ fellowship. The 2016 fellows were announced in January. According to the PowerMoves press release, the program provides supports for early-stage startups, including access to advisors, mentors, experts and investors. Fellows also receive investment capital and free office space during their fellowship year at the PowerMoves NOLA headquarters in New Orleans.

Further supporting the growth of inclusive local entrepreneurism, applicants for the fellowship must commit to having both their executive leadership and at least 25 percent of their employees live in New Orleans for at least one year. The hope is that in that time, the nascent firms will build ties strong enough to keep them here for the long term.

Five entrepreneurs were selected as fellows for 2016. These imaginative startups included the developers of a financial management app; designers of a law firm case management program; a business solutions software company; developers of a web-based language-learning platform; and an online wedding management firm.

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The technology focus is a key part of the PowerMoves strategy, which seeks out startups with high-growth potential and a tech-based operation.

With Chevron as its major financial supporter, PowerMoves has already helped 100 companies from across the country secure more than $27 million in capital commitments. In addition to the entrepreneurial fellowship, PowerMoves hosts an annual national conference, a PowerUp Boot Camp, and other pitch and showcase events. Other activities include linking new businesses to investment capital, mentorship, and resources to help refine their business models and market strategies.

For New Orleans to really lay claim to being a leader in entrepreneurism, the opportunity to develop and launch a new business must be legitimately available to all residents. Initiatives like PowerMoves are critical to overcoming the barriers to multicultural entrepreneurism.
 


Keith Twitchell  spent 16 years running his own business before becoming president of the Committee for a Better New Orleans. He has observed, supported and participated in entrepreneurial ventures at the street, neighborhood, nonprofit, micro- and macro-business levels.

 


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