New Orleans’ profile as a magnet for business startups has risen sharply during the past several years, and it seems that the more young people come up with good business ideas, the more established local firms are willing to help.

Around the city, groups commonly known as business incubators or accelerators work to give young folks with great ideas a leg up toward fulfilling their vision.

Idea Village ( has become one of the best-known local support organizations for startups. Co-founder and CEO Tim Williamson reports that some 650 entrepreneurs have registered since the organization launched 12 years ago. Among the Idea Village “alumni” who not only survived but also built thriving enterprises are Cordina Frozen Cocktails, Kickboard, 504ward, Tierra Resources, Audiosocket and Crescent Unmanned Systems.

Not all aspiring entrepreneurs reach their goals, of course; the odds against any startup surviving to maturity are heavy. But making the attempt and gaining experience in business planning can be invaluable in improving on the next try.

Supported by a host of established businesspeople who are anxious to nurture “newbies,” Idea Village over the years has refined its efforts by targeting specific areas deemed ripe for business development, including digital media, education, life sciences and film industries.

Collaborating with such groups as the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Urban League, Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business and the Brees Dream Foundation, Idea Village is channeling valuable resources toward new business formation.

Fast-Pitch Winners
Meanwhile, Tulane University has become a launching pad for new enterprises on its own through such efforts as PitchNOLA, an annual competition in which students are invited to make what’s known as an “elevator pitch.” Each person is allowed just three minutes to present the merits of his or her business idea to a group of judges who will evaluate the proposal’s viability.

Sponsored by Tulane Social Entrepreneurship Initiatives, the business school and a local social entrepreneurship group called Propeller, PitchNOLA funnels startup money toward the top aspiring entrepreneurs.

Lisa Alfiere Stern, director of the Tulane Levy-Rosenblum Institute for Entrepreneurship, says the latest elevator pitch competition drew more than 100 applications from people presenting business ideas in two categories: proposals that aim to solve a social or environmental problem, and business plans that would put blighted properties or vacant lots to good use for the benefit of the community.

Twenty-one semifinalists chosen to compete in the final round of PitchNOLA offered ideas ranging from a youth radio station to a way for public schools to find quality substitute teachers. Here are the winning picks.

• Justice and Accountability Center of Louisiana,
Founded by Ameca Reali and Adrienne Wheeler, the center won a $5,000 prize for its business plan to seek expungements for individuals previously incarcerated for nonviolent crimes, in order to help them get back to work instead of back to prison. Reali and Wheeler say the lack of access to appropriate services in the post-conviction phase of criminal justice makes it less likely that the individual will have a positive reentry into society. JAC helps by providing assistance with records requests and post-conviction relief applications, and the founders hope to improve transitions over time by collecting and analyzing post-conviction data.

• Birthmark Doula Collective,
Latona Giwa and Dana Karen aim to address the poor birth outcomes among low-income populations by improving birth experiences for women. A doula is a trained person who provides support before, during and after birth, or in the postpartum period. The founders say doula support can reduce the need of medical interventions, such as C-sections, shorten labor time and reduce medical costs. They won $4,000 to assist in their efforts.

• The New Orleans Fruit Tree Project,
Megan Nuismer says her motto is “Will climb trees for food.” Her “urban harvesting program,” which won a $3,000 prize, collects fruit that would otherwise go to waste, and makes it accessible to those struggling with hunger. Using a tree owner registration and volunteers, the project harvests fruits from private residential and donates it to local organizations that feed the hungry.

• Get Fruity About Trees
Founder David Young’s goal is to transform two vacant lots in the Lower 9th Ward into a citrus, banana and fig orchard. His prize: $5,000.

• Goats of Progress
Caitlin Bergo, David Behmer and Jacquelyn Dadakis won accolades and $3,000 for their property-maintenance service that harnesses the natural appetite of goats to control undesirable vegetation.

• Develop Abundance
Cat Kochanski wants to put hydroponic, aquaponic and aeroponic technologies to work provide resources to communities in need, and they took home $2,000 to assist in their planning.

Visit for more information on PitchNOLA.

Growing Big Ideas
The Idea Village grows the New Orleans “ecosystem” by promoting an annual “entrepreneur season” from July through March that engages a network of partners, including government, universities, corporations, nonprofits and individuals to support and retain local startup ventures.

Entrepreneur season culminates each March with New Orleans Entrepreneur Week, the nationally recognized festival that gathers venture capitalists, angel investors, business professionals, corporate volunteers and policy leaders along with visiting MBA students. The fifth annual New Orleans Entrepreneur Week is scheduled March 16 through 22, 2013.

Last year’s entrepreneurship week featured:

• One week of innovation, entrepreneurship and business development including dozens of events
• Free seminars and workshops 

• Dozens of New Orleans entrepreneurs pitching for capital, access and resources

• Over $1 million in capital and resources to be allocated

• High profile keynote speakers
• The Big Idea Pitch Extravaganza, presented by iBERIABANK

Under the banner of “Capital Village,” Idea Village also hosts numerous capital access opportunities for equity, grants and debt. Participating entrepreneurs are selected through a rigorous nomination process for the following programs:
Venture Capital. Created in 2009 by Jim Coulter, TPG Capital founding partner, and The Idea Village, the Coulter IDEApitch is an invitation-only dinner and investment pitch during New Orleans Entrepreneur Week featuring high-growth entrepreneurs in the New Orleans region presenting their ventures to world-class investors.

Angel Capital. PowerPitch is a fast-paced investment pitch event that connects entrepreneurs seeking angel investment with a network of national and local investors.

Grants. The Big Idea is an innovative approach to community engagement through crowd-sourced funding for a select number of early-stage startups.

Speed-to-Seed is a fast-paced pitch competition that engages the local business community as panelists to assess the pitches as well as provide constructive feedback.

Debt. Capital Roundtables connect an identified entrepreneur with a diverse group of lending professionals and investors with the goal of educating that entrepreneur about how to approach and navigate funding sources.