Louisiana's Diverse Tech Mecca
By: Adriana Lopez
The brain gain movement also brought in an influx of Teach for America corps members eager to contribute to the school reform that resulted after Hurricane Katrina. As the movement intersected with the emerging tech community, business incubator 4.0 Schools was born in 2010 to turn TFA members exiting the program, as well as those with a passion for education, into entrepreneurs.
This year, the incubator’s six-month business development program, along with partners Teach for America and The Idea Village, helped launch several technology-based companies that focus on closing the education gap. Some of the pro- gram’s most promising startups include Classroom Blueprint, a social media platform that allows teachers to compare efficient classroom designs and strategies, and Dash, a mobile application that facilitates communication between parents and teachers through a data management system.
“New Orleans has a culture for innovation, specifically within education,” said Meghan Mclain, Communications Lead for Dash, on why New Orleans has been a welcoming place for education technology entrepreneurs. “The teachers and schools are quick to adapt to new and innovative ideas. It’s as if the idea of ‘slow to warm up’ doesn’t exist here.”
Like education technology entrepreneurs, water and environmental entrepreneurs have tapped into sectors that are positioned for local economic growth while developing solutions to global problems.
With an eroding coastline, a port system that is responsible for 25 percent of all U.S. waterborne exports, and a leading offshore oil and gas industry, Louisiana has invested billions of dollars into water management ideas. The state’s dependence on water has become an opportunity for entrepreneurs that are creating solutions to global environmental issues, such as coastal erosion and water contamination.
NanoFex, for example, is an environmental water remediation company that has created an innovative formula that removes harmful chlorinated solvents from groundwater. Then, there’s also environmental consulting firm Tierra Resources, who received approval of the world’s first carbon offset methodology for wetland restoration. Both companies participated in a six month acceleration program conducted by the Greater New Orleans Foundation and The Idea Village and culminated the challenge at a $50,000 pitch competition at New Orleans Entrepreneur Week this past March.
Recently, The Water Challenge’s program received the nationally recognized Nania award from Tulsa Partners for their outstanding collaborative work towards building a disaster-resistant and sustainable community.
“We believe that the Water Challenge can be a catalyst to create a vibrant entrepreneurial community in the water in- dustry,” said Tim Williamson, Cofounder and CEO of The Idea Village. “We are honored by this endorsement from Tulsa Partners recognizing that by turning to entrepreneurs, we’re finding creative solutions that will benefit the entire region.”
The Idea Village, a non-profit organization that hosts the an- nual New Orleans Entrepreneur Week, has supported 1,798 entrepreneurs in New Orleans over the past 12 years by pro- viding professional consulting to emerging businesses through an annual accelerator program. Their portfolio has collectively generated over $100 million in annual revenue and has created over 2,000 jobs in the region.
VoiceHIT, an alum of the Idea Village’s 2012 IDEAxcelerator, has created a healthcare platform that uses web-based tech- nologies to streamline clinical documentation and make pa- tient encounters more efficient.
“The New Orleans startup community has been so welcom-
FORBES JUNE 29, 2012
ing to young startups like ours, because it is all still very new and up and coming,” said Co-Founder, Dr. Peter Ragusa, who moved the company from Nashville last summer to take ad- vantage of the Angel Investor Tax Credit. Dr. Ragusa adds that being part of the rebirth and rebuilding of the city has been a welcomed added bonus.
Like VoiceHIT, tenants of the new $47 million BioInnovation Center are all working towards creating a new biotechnology sector in New Orleans, besides reaching their own personal milestones. Oral care innovator Theodent, for example, has revolutionized toothpaste by using cocoa bean as an alterna- tive to fluoride in their newly developed product, which has re- cently been awarded the prestigious Red Dot Product Design Award. The award, which
has been presented to the likes of Apple and Audi, brings more credibility to other products coming out of New Orleans.
“Technology usually migrates to where the larger capital firms are, but we will be keeping the brain trust here in New Or- leans,” says Theodent President and CEO, Dr. Arman Sadegh- pour, a New Orleans native and Tulane University alum.
And to think, this is only a piece of what the city has to offer.