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Big Easy Living: Entrepreneurs wrap up a productive week

I’ve been discovered. Some might say exposed.

Last week, I wrote about New Orleans as an entrepreneurial incubator, not only for its new generation of young innovators but also because of the city’s long tradition as a promulgator of mom-and-pop businesses.

The column drew put-down commentary of the kind that so often populates Nola.com. Here are some examples (in the interest of literacy, which NolaVie aspires to, I have corrected grammar and spelling):

“This is silly; there are what, maybe three entrepreneurs in New Orleans? New Orleans leads the nation in obesity, illiteracy, and alcoholism. … and murder, silly me, how could i have forgotten that one?”

This story is all fluff. Not one example (how about three) of actual entrepreneurs, who they are, what they're doing. Entrepreneurs are just people who have the means to borrow a million bucks from their parents. The rest of us gotta work.”

Saying New Orleans sucks is not being negative; it’s being real.”

And, my favorite, because it is simultaneously negative and literate:

“This story is more about living some kind of ‘Uptown, beer in one hand, college campus for adults, let me find my inner child in the northernmost Third World city’ than anything to do with entrepreneurs.”

I’m not a Pollyanna, really, although I would like to eradicate the word “sucks” as a verb from the English language. I do know that New Orleans has many problems: economic, educational, political, philosophical, attitudinal and so on.

But, having dropped in on various events at New Orleans Entrepreneur Week last week, I stick to last week’s premise: We finally have a good thing going here with a burgeoning population of entrepreneurs – read, people willing to invest money and sweat equity into small businesses.

The ones I met are not spinning dreams on Mummy and Daddy’s million bucks. There are more than three of them. If they drink beer, it’s apt to be made by Abita or Nola Brewing, both Louisiana entrepreneur companies willing to invest in this region. And they are as likely to live in Mid-City, Bywater, Marigny or Algiers as Uptown. (However, I plead guilty to the fluff comment; see confession in my first NolaVie column, here.)

Catherine Lyons, a former Los Angeles Times reporter and AmeriCorps worker, is writing about the entrepreneur community in New Orleans for NolaVie. She will be profiling start-up companies like Drop the Chalk, a business that makes software for teachers. Or Bideo (bid + video), an online auction house where publications can bid for rights to newsworthy images.

Last week, NolaVie ran stories on the 24-year-old director of Shadowbox Theatre, the 24-year-old inventor of a disposable umbilical clamp designed to prevent infection in developing countries, and six young fashion designers making names for themselves in New Orleans.

Not all New Orleans start-ups are products of Generation X (or Y or whichever one we’re on now). NakedPizza co-founder Jeff Leach, on the far side of 30, told a NOEW audience that he created his healthy pizza while dealing with health issues associated with his daughter’s diagnosis with type 1 diabetes. The company has 400 franchises in the works.

Until recently, the local entrepreneur community has largely flown under my radar. Probably yours, too. I know  people associated with the Young Leadership Council and 504Ward, but was only vaguely aware of Launchpad, IdeaVillage, or the BioINnovation Lab. (For more, check out Catherine’s entrepreneur glossary.)

At a wrap party for Entrepreneur Week at James Carville’s house Friday, hundreds of people of various ages and races and both genders mingled over a buffet spread by Acme Oyster House and drinks by Maker’s Mark. Mayor Mitch Landrieu circulated, as did Carville, as well as execs from Cisco and Google, business students from Loyola and Tulane, local bank presidents and lawyers and marketing consultants. A D.C. lobbyist for Google told me that the tech giant is hugely impressed with New Orleans and Entrepreneur Week. Next year, he said, they plan to be even more involved.

I sipped a glass of Chardonnay, admired the mostly Louisiana artworks and colorful murals crowding the 11-foot-walls of the raised house on Palmer Avenue, and eavesdropped. People pitched; people listened.

No one talked about crime or obesity or illiteracy. Those are important conversations. But on this muggy New Orleans night, spiced with the aromas of etouffee and bourbon, conversations centered on money and startups and ideas for new projects.

Possibility was ripe in the air. When was the last time that happened in New Orleans?

Renee Peck is editor of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]