Nurturing New Orleans’ Innovators

How Opportunity Hub Creates an Ecosystem for the Energy Sector

The magic behind Opportunity Hub (OHUB) is finding the best ideas and putting the right resources behind them. Originally founded in Atlanta in 2013 by Rodney and Shanterria Sampson, it is no wonder the ecosystem building platform found its way to New Orleans, a city that knows how to find strength and innovation through community. Through numerous programs, OHUB is on a mission to create equitable access to the new energy and climate technology sectors. And as a leading hub in the energy sector, the Gulf South is a perfect home.

As Leroy Brown, ecosystem building lead for OHUB, puts it, cultivating the best ideas out of the New Orleans community is like making the perfect pot of gumbo. “You gotta cook that roux slowly. You have to add the ingredients in a certain sequence with certain timing. If you do it the right way, you’re going to have a really special dish that’s going to have a lot of different ingredients, and they’re going to have all the individual flavors.”

This is how Brown approaches ecosystem building. The ingredients — or innovators and entrepreneurs of the greater New Orleans area — are already there. They simply need to be brought together so that everybody can share, eat, and enjoy a tastier gumbo. Or brighter future in this case.

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“What’s important when it comes to the ecosystem, is being able to pull folks in who may not have felt included or had access before,” Brown says. “Being able to be around so many aspects of our city—from the economic development level, the new energy concept, the folks who are investing— gives creative people the ability to help create and reimagine the space that we know as Louisiana. That’s a big deal.”

Bringing together these bright minds to ensure success for all is what OHUB does best. They are working with Greater New Orleans, Inc., The Biden-Harris Administration’s Economic Development Administration, and Louisiana Economic Development as a part of the “H2 the Future Build Back Better Hydrogen Energy Innovation Initiative” to launch a New Energy Technology Incubator. NETI will prioritize racial equity in innovation, entrepreneurship, and investment.

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Brown describes the NETI program as a kind of climate technology bootcamp where they’ve invited innovators to share their ideas on new energy technology. Topics include recycling, coastal restoration, energy efficient houses with new types of insulating and sensors, improving water quality, hydropower, and artificial intelligence.

NETI first introduces 100 aspiring high-growth new energy, climate, hydrogen, and sustainability company builders to experience “the best practices for ideation, design thinking and business model generation.” Fifty startups will move onto OHUB’s High Growth Company Building Certificate program taught by Dave Parker author of Trajectory: Startup: Ideation to Product/Market Fit. From there founders pitch investors and set up business development meetings. Five startups will receive up to $100,000 each in seed-stage investment.

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“What we’re doing,” Brown says, “is putting projects from black and brown founders, and also socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, through the riggers to help them get a better understanding of their business and how to present and pitch it. Then once they’re prepared, we get them in front of as many people as we can so they can continue to seek funding.”

OHUB also produces a monthly newsletter, podcast, and hosts monthly events called #OHUBFridays where they invite members of the ecosystem to speak on and share their experiences as inventors and entrepreneurs. Past speakers include Dr. Lonnie Johnson, inventor of the Super Soaker and holder of more than 130 patents, and Jasmine Crowe, founder of the Goodr Co., a sustainable surplus food management platform that leverages technology to reduce food waste and combat hunger.

The through-line for each of OHUB endeavors is Brown’s favorite aspect of working for the organization: Getting people included that weren’t in the discussion before. “There are folks that have great ideas that are pulling them off the shelf. But those are the same people that, when they’re in the room, give other people great ideas because they feel like they’re included.”

It is a simple idea that has seen New Orleans through many a storm—that they are stronger together.  “We come together in crises,” Brown says. “We come together to win. Community is our superpower.” A large reason Brown believes that OHUB has been and will continue to be successful in the region is they understand they’re here to immerse and integrate themselves into the culture and community and not act as an addition.

With his eye on the future, Brown is excited to see how OHUB can explore the crossroad of climate action and culture in New Orleans. “What does climate technology mean to the artist and the storytellers and the musicians of this city?” His current goal is to connect with creatives with the hopes of having them share their art, music, and stories at future ecosystem meetups. “Because they are as much a part of the reimagining of our city as anybody.”

It is Leroy Brown’s hope that OHUB can continue to create a space where the growing founder community in New Orleans can flourish, believe, and invent. “I want people to see that Louisiana is a place where you can bring your ideas and feel like you’re going to get the support needed to manifest your dream.”

Opportunity Hub seeks to nurture the New Orleans ecosystem of founders, innovators, entrepreneurs, and inventors in order to grow local and global economies with the special aim of closing the racial wealth gap. Through their endeavors of high-growth company building and early-stage equity investment, they will ensure the brightest ideas are planted in the richest soil.

 

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