Given its vulnerability to flooding, it’s no surprise that the New Orleans area is accustomed to viewing water as a threat. But a new program called the Water Venture Development Challenge (or the Water Challenge) suggests that threat may be a potential gold mine for the region, too.

Created by the Greater New Orleans Foundation and the Idea Village, a group that supports entrepreneurism in the area, the Water Challenge is a competition to identify business plans that address water management issues. The winner will get $50,000 in seed money and other support to put the plan into action.

The program links environmental sustainability with new economic opportunity and thus seeks to address two of the area’s biggest problems simultaneously. For instance, companies that develop the technology, tools and know-how to better address flood risk in New Orleans could tap a global market of communities grappling with the same concerns while creating more jobs at home.

“Why isn’t this one of our leading industries? New Orleans can be the world’s leading expert in water solutions, and that could mean a new industry, a new economy, for our region,” says Tim Williamson, CEO of the Idea Village.

The Idea Village and GNOF have partnered with organizations including GNO Inc, Tulane University, Global Green, LSU AgCenter, Sewage & Water Board of New Orleans and the Horizon Initiative Water Management Committee to help develop ideas revealed through the Water Challenge.

“We’re looking for big solutions and small solutions, homeowner level solutions and industry solutions,” says Grasshopper Mendoza, executive in residence for the Water Challenge. “This (program) is a recognition of how interconnected our reliance on water here really is.”

A panel of industry experts will select the winning business following a pitch session by three finalists during this month’s New Orleans Entrepreneur Week, an annual conference organized by the Idea Village. Williamson believes there is potential for other ideas generated by the contest to attract their own investments and grow into businesses, too.

“This isn’t about one winner; it’s about uniting investment and thinking around this issue,” he says. “To start a significant movement you need a strong network of people behind an idea and we think we have that here in New Orleans already. We hope this (Water Challenge) will be the impetus to bring it all together and build a new industry here.”