Struggling to Make Connections?

A new website launched by GNO Inc., aims to help entrepreneurs accelerate on the road to success.

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.


 

The entrepreneurial ecosystem has blossomed in the New Orleans region as trainings, mentorship programs, incubators and similar resources abound. Pitch contests, investors and financial institutions have provided a reasonable capital base and numerous national media have touted our area’s accomplishments and proclaimed us an entrepreneurial hotspot as last year bore the best fruit yet of these efforts, with major sales of local startups promising to infuse more capital into the ecosystem.

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Still, knowing where to start, understanding the landscape, making those initial connections — especially for those with no inherent access — has remained a serious challenge. This is why GNO Inc., decided to launch a new website at the beginning of this year called StartUpNOLA.com. The site aims to address and improve connectivity issues.

“We thought, what if we could remove New Orleans Startup 101 from the conversation?” said Matt Wolfe, vice-president of communications for GNO Inc., “What if we could make the initial touchpoint more impactful? That would fast-forward that introductory process quite a bit.”

“It helps level the playing field,” added Grady Fitzpatrick, the organization’s senior vice-president of Business Development. “It’s not as much about who you know.”

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StartUpNOLA.com targets three specific audiences within the entrepreneurial world. The first is startups, for whom the first step is simply registering with the system, getting on the map. From there, the site opens doorways toward funding opportunities, real estate and co-working spaces, and networking events and opportunities. The latter includes chances to interact with fellow entrepreneurs, as well as a wide range of support resources.

The second audience is investors, who are also offered the chance to register and connect with the system. Opportunities here include learning about potential investor tax credits, engaging with fellow investors, and of course identifying promising investment opportunities among the region’s startups.

A third audience is perhaps less obvious but equally vital: the startup workforce.

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“Talent is so key,” Fitzpatrick emphasized, “retaining our talent and attracting new talent. Someone who knows how to work at a startup, that’s a skill that has developed over the last 20 years.”

“There are far more people that work for startups than have founded startups,” Wolfe observed. “People really have pride in working for them. You can work a different set of hours, have more flexibility in what work looks like. The last two years have made people rethink where home should be, and we’ve had a lot of people move to New Orleans. This helps them find jobs here.”

While StartUpNOLA.com is first and foremost a resource for the region, the GNO Inc., team is very intentional about reaching people from further afield. While the workforce is one example, Wolfe noted that “we’re asking people to buy into the notion that if you have an idea for a company, New Orleans is the place to do it. We’re also working to attract investment from outside the area that wouldn’t otherwise come here.”

In terms of where in the startup process a company should plug in, the answer is pretty much at any stage. As Wolfe put it, “It’s not about defining what stage you’re in, it’s about what type of company you are. We’re really looking for that rapid growth, scalable type of startup.”

While the emphasis is indeed on for-profit entities, Fitzpatrick pointed out that “a nonprofit startup can access a lot of support resources.”

Of course, many of the resource organizations are themselves nonprofits, and the site has proven useful in strengthening connections among these groups too.

Despite being in existence for only three months, StartUpNOLA.com has already served as a connecting force.

“We have been bombarded with people adding their information,” Fitzpatrick said.

“The entrepreneurial ecosystem here has had a lot to celebrate recently,” concluded Wolfe. “People are energized and wanting to do more.”

 

Writer Keith Twitchell’s blog, “Neighborhood Biz,” appears every Thursday on BizNewOrleans.com.

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