Nurturing New Orleans’ Ecosystem of Entrepreneurship

Through Startupnola.com and other initiatives, GNO Inc. has taken a proactive approach in connecting local high-growth startups with investors and invaluable service providers.

While always an advocate when the seedlings of South Louisiana’s up-and-coming “start-up” culture first began sprouting in the early 2000s, GNO Inc.’s initially felt it wasn’t its place to take on an aggressive, hands-on role in the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The reasoning was simple: local economic development partners at the parish level knew the ins and outs of the blossoming small businesses in their respective backyard best and several already had established entrepreneurial support staffs.

“Then COVID happened, and it shined a light on all the reasons why we (GNO Inc.) needed a lot of innovation and entrepreneurship,” said Evie Poitevent Sanders, GNO Inc.’s Director of Entrepreneurship and Innovation. “Those included: to create new businesses, new jobs, disrupt legacy industries that had gotten too stagnant or complacent, and, really, create new industries from the ground up.

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“They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and that unexpected period really sparked our efforts and initiatives in the startup space.”

After winning an EDA Innovation Grant in 2022, GNO Inc. used that funding to staff a new department that assists in nurturing the area’s startup ecosystem by focusing its efforts on “connectivity” – facilitating introductions (or what Poitevent Sanders like to call “collisions”) between high-growth startups, venture capital investors, accelerators, and other service providers.

“One of the main things to do in Year 1 in this role was to meet all the key stakeholders in the ecosystem and establish relationships and trust with them and opening up the lines of communication, because (GNO Inc.) had never really played in this space,” Poitevent Sanders said. “So, at first, there was some head-scratching…’What is GNO Inc. doing? What do they know? This hasn’t been their wheelhouse.’

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“Our answer was that we weren’t here to duplicate efforts or step on toes, but rather it was all about support, facilitation, and addressing gaps.”

GNO Inc.’s multi-pronged, ever-evolving plans of action in regard to enriching South Louisiana’s entrepreneurial ecosystem all falls under the organization’s “Startup NOLA” umbrella – a burgeoning marketing campaign that’s quickly become synonymous with the region’s startup climate.

Today, the keystone of Startup NOLA’s brand is the website www.startupnola.com – a centralized information hub/data aggregator for New Orleans high-growth startup ecosystem that features two main asset maps, one for startups and one for resource providers. The site contains an integrated ecosystem community events calendar, enabling ESOs, accelerators and incubators to promote their public-facing programming. In the near future, GNO Inc. will add a higher-education innovation asset map on www.startupnola.com, as well.

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To further promote the website, organizers of the annual New Orleans Entrepreneur Week encouraged GNO Inc. to publish and distribute to attendees of the mid-March event a physical printed copy of much of the directory/resource information found on the site. The reasoning? To hand out a tangible easy-to-access connectivity tool for those immersed in New Orleans startup culture and further increase the visibility of ‘Startup NOLA’ as a whole. 

In addition to having a presence at 2024 New Orleans Entrepreneur Week, GNO Inc. also sponsored a tangential event that same week, the inaugural 3rd Coast Venture Summit – an invitation-only gathering, organized by The Idea Village, at which investors met face-to-face with leaders/founders of premier ‘Seed To Series A’ regional startups. Accepted startup applicants that pitched investors at the 3-day event (which also featured keynote speakers and expert panel discussions) had to have foundational roots in one of five Gulf Coast states – Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida or Texas –and needed to have a track record of securing investment capital.

Fully understanding the importance of in-person interactions between various factions of the 10-parish South Louisiana startup/entrepreneur ecosystem – and the troubling tendency for those in the ecosystem to stay within their own silos because of the extensive but normalized workhour demands of startup culture – GNO Inc. launched a 16-month pilot program in December 2023 to encourage more real-life connections and collaborations.

Titled ‘Startup NOLA NOW’ these circle-the-calendar meetups attempt to replicate the post-Katrina startup in-person energy once found at designated brick and mortar spaces like the IP Building Launch Pad, and Capdeville.

The way the program works is GNO Inc. officials reach out to entrepreneurial support organizations (New Orleans Bioinnovation Center, Maroon, Propeller, The Idea Village, Opportunity Hub, Metronome, to name a few) and ask them to present/stage a monthly meet-up. That means conjuring a meeting specific theme/topic of focus, lining up speakers and finding a convenient location to host the event if there’s not ample room at the presenting entity’s workplace.

Seed money from GNO Inc. assists in providing food, beverage, set-up amenities (tables, chairs, etc.and support staff, if needed. GNO Inc. also markets and promoting each Startup NOLA Now meet-up and shepherds the host-company through the entire process. 

“It provides an opportunity for startups to meet mature companies and serial entrepreneurs who could become mentors or potentially investors, along with (venture capital firms) as investors, Poitevent Sanders said. “But beyond that, it’s a chance for founders to meet other founders, workers in startups to meet other workers in startups, so that they can collaborate, commiserate, share war stories.

“And it’s also a chance for novices to plug-in to the ecosystem – meet people, find inspiration and the confidence to go pursue that ‘crazy idea’ they have because they’re surrounded and conversing with other people who have done it.”

 

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