News with a Twisted Perception
Last night, I read an insightful article by William Deresiewicz in the New York Times that compared the youth cultures of previous generations to that of the millennial. The writer used two characteristics to define the differences between members of each era: the emotion they aimed to create and how it was manifested during that time.
For example, the '80s and '90s were known for their slackers, who best manifested their angst through grunge music and apparent lack of any kind of ambition or commitment. Hence, one saw guys with long, unkempt hair, the unbuttoned flannel shirt fad, and those stellar (and bewildering) anti-drug commercials that depicted an unambitious adult still living in a parent’s basement.
The millennial generation, Deresiewicz calls Generation Sell.
He describes the youth of this generation as a set of salesmen, and, essentially, small businesses. We are polite and personable, and whatever the reasoning may be -- whether social, political, technological -- we were raised in a “post-emotional” generation, without the emotion, the anger, and angst our parents grew up with.
We brand ourselves like businesses and even express different forms of art in terms of business models now. This is partly because of the way we communicate – through social media, for example – and partly because we grew up in an era when our heroes were innovators like Steve Jobs. Rather than manifesting our “emotions” through angst-infused music, we use the business plan as our form of expression. We are a generation of entrepreneurs.
The article prompted me to contemplate this idea a little more deeply. And, naturally, being a millennial, I started googling similar stories – especially ones that pertained to New Orleans entrepreneurs. What I came across, however, was disheartening.
It was a video clip from WGNO’s "News with a Twist." A viewpoint segment by Mike Church, posted two weeks ago and titled “New Orleans Is #1 In the Oxymoron 'Non-Profit Businesses,'” referenced New Orleans’ recent ranking as the #1 city for young entrepreneurs.
He was not shy about voicing his opinions.
While I took offense to the title alone, I read and then watched the piece with an open mind, hoping to learn something. However, other than condescending remarks, all I could pick up were opinions that are not based on facts – or certainly not the facts that I have learned from covering for NolaVie the local entrepreneurial beat, including the event he was lampooning. Sadly, this man had been clearly misinformed, and I, for one, was appalled that this had aired on one of our news stations.
I am not out to discredit anyone or tackle editorial policy at local TV stations. Everyone has -- and should have -- his or her point of view. However, I felt that I had to clarify some of what I believe to be erroneous information published by such a highly influential news source.
In the opening paragraph, New Orleans was acknowledged for its recent ranking on Under30CEO.com as the #1 city in the United States for young entrepreneurs, an honor that the entrepreneurial community, city of New Orleans, and even Mayor Mitch Landrieu (who tweeted about it) were proud to receive.
What Church failed to include was that we won the poll as a write-in candidate based on such characteristics as cost of living, business building resources, lifestyle, and business environment. These reasons were then posted on the same site in a follow up piece with a comprehensive list of resources, economic development agencies, growing industries, and financial incentives that put New Orleans in the top ranking for entrepreneurs. It solidified our reason for making it on the list, and introduced thousands of readers to all the great assets New Orleans has for them.
Before moving on to his description of the website, Church asked his readers to refrain from popping the tops off a Red Bull and bottle of Taaka, a cheap vodka presumably purchased by naïve, under-aged drinkers. The comment set a tone suggesting the immaturity of the city’s young CEOs who had pushed to get New Orleans on the list.
It’s a cheap shot. This group of entrepreneurs, largely under the age of 40, demonstrates a passion, drive, and energy that have positively impacted the city, as well as the state’s economy. They have created jobs for themselves in an economy and a city that lacked opportunities, and their participation has contributed to local economic development. They have been an asset in building industries that are putting New Orleans on the map, as well as bringing businesses, jobs, opportunities and money into Louisiana.
In fact, Launch Pad, which Church disdainfully brings up later in his tirade, has cultivated many small businesses in the tech and digital media fields. The growth of the digital media sector has been an essential component in creating better tax incentives for businesses in that field, bringing in large production companies, new state-of-the-art studios, more jobs, and more people to New Orleans. Because of the industry’s growth, New Orleans is now ranked #3 in the country for large budget film production.
Church then challenges our ranking and the credibility of Under30CEO.com by describing it “as a website that explores the ‘how to’s’ of getting ahead in business life without actually producing anything.” He goes on to suggest that the website gives tutorials and guides on how to “con money out of the Federal Government in the form of Small Business Administration Loans.”
The truth is that Under30CEO.com does not advocate getting free money from the government, and they very rarely write about SBA loans – loans that eventually have to be paid back. The website is not a service, nor do its editors claim to influence young CEOs into doing anything – specifically things that are unethical.
Rather, this is a membership website that helps young CEOs network on a nationwide level, and provide resources and advice that can help businesses succeed. The tutorials and guides they share on their site are written by fellow CEOs and experts who offer advice and lessons that are otherwise not taught in college to young, aspiring business owners.
In an age of smart phones and social media, some of their articles have targeted our ever-changing technology, and give advice on how businesses can use social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter to build their brand, promote their product, and expand their customer base.
In Church’s last point, he challenges the idea of non-profits as a form of entrepreneurship by saying, “Isn't profit the primary motive to become an entrepreneur or have popular Facebook and Twitter accounts replaced successful, local, blood and sweat businesses like SDT?” While it’s a good question, I have to shape my response and defend entrepreneurship by making three separate points.
He first references certain non-profits that provide "PR services" and conduct "pitch sessions” to start-ups, and questions their involvement. While the list never claimed that these businesses are creating profit, non-profit organizations like The Idea Village and SENO (Social Entrepreneurs of New Orleans) contribute to the further development of the economy by helping entrepreneurs turn their ideas into for-profit businesses.
The Idea Village helps individuals start and grow their businesses by connecting them with local business mentors, financial institutions, and other business resources. They have successfully helped launch businesses that have collectively generated more than 1,000 new jobs and $82 million in annual profit.
Like the Idea Village, SENO connects innovators with the resources necessary to start and build a business through different accelerator and mentor programs. However, SENO emphasizes helping social entrepreneurs -- individuals who want to start and grow financially sustainable, innovative, results-focused ventures. Although some of these ventures are non-profit, most are for-profit. Their primary goal is to achieve solutions to specific social problems, but still have monetary motivation as well.
Both the Idea Village and SENO conduct pitch sessions as part of their accelerator program’s curriculum. They do provide an opportunity to win capital for individual businesses, but the competitions are also meant to help participants practice delivering their ideas, a skill that is not necessarily cultivated in school, but essential to an innovator.
Although non-profit organizations like the Idea Village and SENO have received 501c(3) status and are not generating profit as their primary motive, they are still incorporated business entities, making their founders and CEOs entrepreneurs by definition. And they have the same entrepreneurial spirit as those running for-profit businesses, regardless of the cause or motive.
My third, and last, point is simple: Neither entrepreneurs nor the under30CEO website imply that non-profits and social media have replaced locally built businesses like SDT. The whole concept of growing entrepreneurship in New Orleans is to keep creating large local businesses like that one. Many once-small entrepreneurs have gone on to create major brands. Think PJ’s coffee or Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, once young entrepreneur projects themselves. Current companies like Jolie and Elizabeth or Cordina MarGOritas promise similar success in the future. Such companies stimulate the economy, contribute to job growth, and create opportunities for more industries in the state.
And some of them have even used helpful resources such as the Idea Village and Twitter to help them get there.
In the last sentence, Church writes, “I suppose I should be grateful young folks are at least putting an effort into doing something other than nothing then again, try paying for a 4 pack of Red Bull and a bottle of Taaka with the good will of your followers on Twitter.”
He’s right: I cannot buy a Red Bull and Taaka based on the good will of my Twitter followers.
However, I can certainly buy myself a fine glass of champagne with my hard-earned money, and enjoy it in the company of my intelligent, passionate, hardworking, innovative, open-minded, successful, self-sustained, business-owning, New Orleans loving peers.
You can watch Church's video editorial here.