The technology and the entrepreneurship communities barely existed. I personally wrote extensively about this dileama and discussed the issue often on my daily radio “Technology Minute” on the morning drive Bloomberg Radio, WGSO 990. A number of us, who thought we “got” it, pioneered, advocated the new digital world and what we considered then to be a totally new world and way to do business. Unfortunately, the city and the state were light-years behind virtually all major cities in terms of Internet use, technological growth, venture capital, business infrastructure and perhaps equally important--mentoring.
From this group, a handful of young men (who later received valuable help from some equally-talented women) that were technology-minded leaders, emerged from this desert of new ideas. They formed what was called the LOA Group, named after a watering-hole in a downtown New Orleans hotel. They had a vision as I believe many of us did as to how to build this emerging industry. In this case, they deeply felt that this community would not, and frankly, could not progress unless it could claim what they often called “skins on the wall”.
While almost every major city had a bustling “New Economy” community, we did not. Other than one company led by former Chief Technology Officer, Greg Meffert, who had received roughly twenty-million in funding, the investment well was horribly dry. By comparison, startups in cities such as San Francisco, Austin, Atlanta had to figuratively move out of the way as angel funds and venture capital cash was thrown at them. In short, and bluntly, our walls had “no skin”.
The LOA group, led by former Cox Media executive Tim Williams, Darren McAuliffe of Turbotrip, a dynamic advertising and marketing talent, Robbie Vitrano, former NOLA.com general manager Allen Bell, and later with the help of others, followed their instincts. They invested time, money and their reputations on building the miserably-barren entrepreneurship community. When the DotCom industry abruptly bombed, this group kept its site on the ultimate goal. The continued to labor in creating an environment that could foster the types of business developments that had developed in “Cities Elsewhere”, who obviously, were much better equipped for the new millenium.
There was a certain connection and chemistry that linked these young men. Each deeply loved New Orleans. Each had left the city searching for greener pastures, only to come back to build careers and to contribute to their region. Each wanted to stay home rather than be another brain-drain casualty. Each had returned to the City that care forgot because they cared.
Fast forward roughly thirteen years--LOA became what is now called the Idea Village. What was once a dream is now a quite successful organization dedicated to helping online and "the real-world" start-ups and like businesses emerge to compete in the global marketplace of ideas and of course, revenues.
Despite the inertias and the type of conservative investment strategies New Orleans had developed for decades in culminating in the worldwide reputation known as "The Big Easy" , and despite the horrific and almost total destruction of Hurricane Katrina, entrepreneurship in New Orleans is beginning to thrive. It has been anything but easy. The community can begin to brag that its walls are growing skins. Moreso, it has developed a spirit.
In recent years, numerous business publications have heralded New Orleans as a hotbed of entrepreneurship. National magazines such as Inc. Magazine and Forbes have taken note. This radical surge of activity was duly noted with millions-of-dollars worth of media exposure during the ultimate promoter, the Super Bowl.
Idea Village does not stand alone. There are numerous dedicated individuals, organizations and businesses who have contributed greatly to this remarkable turnaround. In fact, without them, Idea Village itself would instead likely be considered a ghost-town. But, make no mistake, New Orleans would not be getting the types of accolades unless those young men, led by Tim Williamson had not gambled on their collective visions of skins which could be called the signature symbol for this amazing village of ideas.
So, join me in this Google Hangout interview series with Idea Village’s President and CEO, Tim Williamson as he discusses the past, the present and of course, the future of the organization and the entrepreneurship growth in this region.
Below is the first of a three-part series Google Hangout interview I recently conducted with Williamson as he and the organization readies for its "superstar" event, Entrepreneurship Week which is days away.
Also, this interview is part of a broader focus upon community leaders who have been and who are making a real difference in this region and state (see video playlist below).
Publisher’s Note: Please forgive us for the audio echos that appear during my questions. Please blame me, not Google for this unfortunate echoing effect which exists during my questioning. The cause of the echos is unrelated to Google Hangout technologies, we are using.