In the economic landscape of post-Katrina New Orleans, entrepreneurs have proven to be a catalytic force in the City’s historic renaissance. Up and coming business owners have taken advantage of the region’s resurgence to launch a wide array of innovative start-ups. According to the Tax Foundation and international consultant KPMG, Louisiana is the #2 state in the country to start a company.

Yet, with all of this momentum, “New Orleans hasn’t done a great job of fostering women entrepreneurs,” said local entrepreneur and Fleurty Girl CEO Lauren Thom during the Women Entrepreneur Fellowship Pitch Competition. The Junior League of New Orleans is working to shift this paradigm with its inaugural Woman Entrepreneur Fellowship (WE Fellowship). Through a partnership with the Idea Village, JLNO has successfully created a new avenue for advancing female entrepreneurs.

Idea Village Collaboration Committee Chairs Vivian Palmisano and Heather Hutchins-Hays, JLNO President Shannon Able, and Community Council Director Jenn Rosenbach took the original concept of a speaker series and quickly evolved it into a full scale pitch competition for women business owners.

Propelled by JLNO’s true spirit of women empowering women, the WE Fellowship held its first event in January at the Mignon Faget studios. Following the event, JLNO received 29 applications for the WE Fellowship. A committee of active and sustaining members went through the rigorous selection process and ultimately narrowed down the applications to five final contestants for the pitch competition. Through the selection process, businesses had to meet specific criteria, including being majority female-owned and operating within a 40-mile radius of New Orleans.

The Woman Entrepreneur Fellowship
Alison Burns of Precision Payment Systems presents her business to the voting audience at NOEW’s WE Fellowship event. Photo by Evie Hunnicutt
The Woman Entrepreneur Fellowship
Sustainers Suzanne Perron St. Paul, Susan Brennan and Sally Suthon served as JLNO’s distinguished judges for the WE Fellowship Pitch Competition. Photo by Norris Gagnet

Yet the parameters for applications did not preclude a diversity of business activities—which is exactly what the final five contestants represented. From dog walking to pie baking, the WE Fellowship finalists were indicative of the breadth of female owned businesses across our community, and included Bon Temps Boutique (formerly Monkey Hill Apparel), Precision Payment Systems, Sarah’s Pet Care Revolution, The Southern Letterpress and Windowsill Pies.

To maximize this experience for the five finalists, JLNO reached out to Kevin Wilkins of Trepwise, an entrepreneurial consulting firm, to work with each contestant one-on-one. Sarah Covert, owner of Sarah’s Pet Care Revolution, said, “Working with Kevin was an incredible opportunity.” Allison Burns of Precision Payment Systems concurred and added, “The WE Fellowship was definitely a rigorous prep experience, but also a lot of fun.”
Through Kevin’s support and guidance, each contestant received thorough feedback and coaching for the competition, which resulted in well-organized, highly articulated and impactful pitches during the March 14 event at New Orleans Entrepreneur Week.

Though there could only be one winner at the end of the event, all contestants expressed the benefits of the process. “It is just an honor to be here and have this experience with a whole new audience,” said Laura McPhail of Bon Temps Boutique (formerly Monkey Hill Apparel). “This experience was educational and wonderful—I’m really grateful to the Junior League,” said Jessica Peterson of The Southern Letterpress.

Nicole Eiden, co-owner of winner Windowsill Pies, is excited to see where the WE Fellowship will take their business. “The Junior League support has been amazing. I feel like it will give us the profits and confidence to make our goals a reality,” Nicole said. Moving forward, the JLNO Committee is identifying ways to continue supporting these finalists and future contestants. “We’re excited to see how it will grow a year from now,” Heather said.

The winners of the event—Marielle Dupré and Nicole Eiden of  Windowsill Pies—not only share the aforementioned benefits, but also receive mentoring and support services from the JLNO, a $2,500 grant, a technology budget of $2,500, meeting space in JLNO’s Uptown headquarters, tuition to JLNO’s Get on Board program, and opportunities to market to JLNO members. In return, New Orleans residents can anticipate a permanent home and storefront for Windowsill Pies. Yet perhaps the greatest winner of all is JLNO. “While New Orleans is becoming known as an incubator for young entrepreneurs, there is not currently in place female-specific programming,” said Jenn. “We hope that the JLNO WE Fellowship Program will help to fill this gap and encourage female-owned businesses to thrive in New Orleans.”

WE Fellowship Finalists
> Bon Temps Boutique
    (formerly Monkey Hill Apparel)
> Precision Payment Systems
> Sarah’s Pet Care Revolution
> The Southern Letterpress
> Windowsill Pies