Brain Gain

Spring gets New Orleanians excited for many reasons: think French Quarter Festival, Jazz Fest and local food events too numerous to mention. But young business-minded locals also have another reason to get revved up this time of year – it’s the season of entrepreneurs.

Fresh off the city’s biggest entrepreneurial event, New Orleans Entrepreneurship Week, local business innovators are hot on the chase for prizes offered in annual business competitions. These are contests organized and supported by groups comprised of seasoned business owners in an effort to attract new business ideas, as well as to reward the best ones by giving them a boost toward commercial viability.

In the wake of success by the decade-old Idea Village, the city’s original venture accelerator and the founding organization behind Entrepreneurship Week, advocacy groups are casting a wider net for startups. The groups vary by the business sector they target and the kind of support they offer, but they share in the goal of helping to put promising entrepreneurs on a path to success. Dozens of local startups have managed to implement a business plan, develop a growth strategy and bring their product or service to market through crucial support from these entrepreneurial support groups.

One New Orleans businessperson reaping the benefits of such associations is Molly Hegarty, a nutritionist who designed a digital nutrition-care intervention management program for patients at high risk for chronic disease. The app, developed by Hegarty, is receiving credit for saving nutritionists’ time and enabling them to focus more quickly on patients’ most important needs. Her company, RDNote, recently received $250,000 from a hospital-based health care innovation fund in Lafayette to help the company introduce its product in hospitals throughout the Gulf Coast.

RDNote, launched in 2015, also received assistance from New Orleans business accelerator Propeller, which specializes in supporting fledgling companies focused specifically on social and health innovation. Propeller and other local startup advocates not only offer shared office accommodations and professional assistance to incipient businesses, but also use business pitch competitions to connect entrepreneurs with capital and enlarge the pool of good business ideas.
Here is a look at some upcoming events that local business advocates are using to keep entrepreneurship growing in New Orleans:

This business competition, presented by Propeller, focuses on startups that offer socially responsible solutions to common issues. Now in the midst of its fourth annual competition entitled Living Well, PitchNola is reviewing business ideas aimed at making health care more affordable and accessible for New Orleanians.

Sponsor Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana will award $10,000 in total startup funding for solutions deemed to have potential to help local people become healthier, more active and better nourished.

PitchNola will accept applications from businesses, individuals, clinics and restaurants, among others. The deadline to apply is April 25. Propeller will select 10 semifinalists to pitch their ideas during a competition in late May.

Tulane Business Model Competition
Startups that can demonstrate an ability to meet a market need are the target of this annual event at Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business. The competition, which opened in November, is winding toward a final round of pitches this month. Backers of the contest will award $40,000 in cash prizes to deserving ideas. As a bonus, the overall winner of the competition will be entered into the International Business Model Competition, held in Mountain View, California, in May.

The New Orleans business community, along with a boost from business incubator LaunchPad founder Chris Schultz, scored a big win a few years ago by convincing sponsors of Collision, a national technology summit, to move their annual event to the Big Easy. Collision is the U.S. sister conference to Web Summit, an event first held in 2011 in Dublin, Ireland, which has grown into Europe’s most popular web-tech event.

Collision 2017 will be held at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in early May, sandwiched between the two weekends of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. The conference, which bills itself as “America’s fastest-growing tech conference,” features a big lineup of speakers from some of the world’s most groundbreaking tech companies. Among those slated to speak during the three-day event are technology executives from companies such as Amazon, Reddit, Cisco, Ebay, Facebook, Ticketmaster, FanDuel, HBO and dozens more.

The target audience includes technology startups looking to pitch an idea and find growth funding, as well as entrepreneurs and venture capitalists looking for a promising place to invest their money.

The schmoozing, pitching and workshop event will draw thousands of innovators and investors to the city, not only broadening the opportunities for promising businesses, but also enlarging the spotlight that New Orleans has enjoyed during the past decade as a newly minted hub for entrepreneurial activity. See for details.

Game on

Prospective entrepreneurs looking for help with a great business idea may be interested in these events:

PitchNola, Living Well
Seeking ideas to make health affordable and accessible.
Application deadline: April 25
Final competition: May 24
Contact Emily Eckland at

Tulane Business
Model Competition
Cash prizes for winning ideas proposed by students and others.
Final competition: April 20.
Details at

Three-day national conference for entrepreneurs and startups, May 2-4 at Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.
Details at


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