Friday, April 30, 2010

New Orleans Entrepreneur Week 2010 Video

Since 2000, The Idea Village has led a movement to develop New Orleans into a world-class entrepreneurial community with a mission to identify, support and retain entrepreneurial talent in the community. After ten years, a ‘new’ New Orleans has emerged, one that is becoming a magnet for talent and hub of innovation. It is in this spirit that The Idea Village, together with a collaboration of local and national partners, hosted New Orleans Entrepreneur Week 2010.

From March 20-27,2010, top MBA students, corporate volunteers, and our nation’s most accomplished entrepreneurs congregated and collaborated in New Orleans to provide over 9,000 hours of direct service to 329 early-stage New Orleans ventures and address emerging business opportunities in our community.

Downtown New Orleans was transformed into an entrepreneurial village, characterized by a line-up of world-class activities including investor presentations, business workshops, networking events and speeches from our nation’s most respected thought leaders. Inspired locations such as the IP building, the Contemporary Art Museum, National World War II Museum, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, Fulton Street and Lafayette Square were home to the promising entrepreneurial movement that is underway.

Our collaboration of partners, including Downtown Development District, Economic Development Administration, Google, and the New Orleans Saints are building on the surge of entrepreneurial activity in hosting this annual festival of entrepreneurship, providing impact in New Orleans for generations to come.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Looking Backward, Looking Forward

It's been over a month now since the start of NOEW 2010. Things have calmed down a bit, one could say, although preparations for next year's big event are already nearing into sight again. At the Idea Village, we're always looking forward!

At the same time, we should reminisce briefly and thank all of those who made this year's event as stunning and vitalizing as it was. With the help of the nation's best and brightest, we made massive strides in placing New Orleans on the national map of innovation and entrepreneurship. Even after the craziness of Entrepreneur Week, the momentum at the Idea Village and in New Orleans remains insuppressible.

Big things have been happening for the Idea Village's entrepreneurial class since Entrepreneur Week. Of course, the guys at Big Easy Blends are preparing for their big trip to San Francisco, which they received for winning the Coulter Challenge during NOEW. While in the Bay Area, they will have the opportunity to pitch their already-booming business to prominent investors organized by Jim Coulter himself.

Drop the Chalk's Jen Schnidman also recently participated in Tulane University's 2010 NewDay Challenge and received first place (accompanied by a pleasant $20,000 in seed funding) for her business's financial sustainability and potential to effect social change.

Not that the Idea Village has missed out on the action, of course-- the IDEACorps Program, which now forms a part of the annual Entrepreneur Week, was recently named the Southern Policies Board 2010 Innovator Award Winner from Louisiana! The award recognizes the Idea Village's initiatives for improving economic opportunities and quality of life in the region.

There's no doubt, then, that it remains ON in NOLA!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Stanford Re-cap

What a week! I (Eric) am now safely back in Palo Alto and just wanted to reflect a bit on the incredible week that my teammates and I had in New Orleans.

First, it was awesome experience working with Jen at Drop the Chalk. Jen has an incredible mix of domain expertise (teaching, computer science) and business savvy and she's targeting a need that absolutely must be addressed. Jen's tool is spot on in terms of what needs to change in education - analysis of student performance done in a way that frees up time for teachers. Here's Dave and Leonard hanging out with the boss.

From my perspective it was great working to help along such an important product. If I can give some credit to my teammates, I think the Stanford team did an awesome job of opening up some growth avenues for Jen's products and figuring out a plan to get the company from A to B. Of course we left town with lots of work to be done (Jen at 7pm on Thursday night: "I think you guys are off to a great start!"), but I think the right questions were raised and the path forward is a little clearer. The picture to the left is of Rachel bringing us home in our presentations.

Finally, what can I say to adequately describe my new found love of New Orleans? I'm not quite sure if it was the food (crawfish, gumbo, oysters, catfish, Mr. B's, Cafe Dumonde), the people (hospitality from the Beers and James Carville/Mary Matalin) the fun (Trombone Shorty, betting it all on red at Harrahs, mint juleps) or the entrepreneurial spirit that came up nearly everywhere, but this city is DEFINITELY on a roll. I have a completely different perspective on what can be accomplished down in New Orleans. It's incredible and it's contagious!

Thanks again to Drop the Chalk, the Idea Village, Berkeley, Cornell, Northwestern, Chicago, the local schools and my teammates for making it such a memorable and rewarding week. I'll definitely be back soon...

Sunday, March 28, 2010

And We're Out!

The fact that I'm writing to you on Sunday evening at Louis Armstrong airport ought to indicate that the Haas team survived Friday, and for that matter Saturday and Sunday. After a week of crawfish, too little sleep, controversial speakers and mint juleps we're out of here. Back to our homes devoid of grits, fried green tomatoes and people whom you're sure are speaking English but remain completely unintelligible.

Let's break down the exodus.

After the all-night marathon that was Thursday night one might be curious about how the Berkeley team held up. Here's how it went...

Two of us, myself included, peeled off at around 4:30am. Jim Coulter of TPG was set to present the next morning at 9am, leaving precious few hours to catch some much needed rest. Jim's a man who's not to be denied, so our team's approach was to make sure at least two of us got some rest thereby ensuring at least partial representation at 9am. Sandeep and I made it. Assembling downstairs way later than the expected 8am shuttle departure, we nonetheless made it over to the World War Two Museum theater by the appointed hour. Mike, our intrepid leader and one of the many who slugged it out well through the dawn to 7:30am, joined us. He's man made of some tough stuff.

But here's the problem. When we arrived at the WW2 museum we stumbled upon the ruined leftovers of a breakfast enjoyed. Bacon, biscuits and scrambled eggs lay warming in their trays, but the most sought after item had run dry. Coffee. Precious, precious coffee. All gone. Not a drop. I grabbed the urn by the handles and tilted it forward in desperation, hoping to extract a thimbleful more. No luck. I'd have to settle for decaf.

About ten years ago I attended a dance music campout up in Willitts in Northern California. After a night of moving my body to progressive house beats I got in line for the breakfast. Moving down the stations I made it to the coffee. There was plenty and my cup was filled. The person in front of me questioned the server as he poured the live-giving liquid into my mug.

"Do you have any decaf?" he asked.

"I've got a better idea," retorted the server, "how about I give you some pot to smoke that won't get you high?"

Well put. There's no way to improve upon the statement by adding any further commentary.

Only decaf?!?! That's a desperate situation. Jim's an engaging speaker and you probably don't need me to tell you that. His private equity credentials are without peer and when a man of his stature gets up to speak paying attention is the best thing to do. But paying attention without adequate sleep and only decaf coursing through one's veins is something that belongs on a Japanese torture show. I looked at Mike. He'd had far less sleep than even me and yet he shrugged off the lack of stimulants as if this was all part of a normal day. Jim started speaking.

Then comes the realization. When Jim Coulter speaks stimulants are irrelevant. He's a captivating speaker whose command of the stage equals his command of business concepts. He laid out the entrepreneurial tableau for the audience, and he's eminently qualified to do it. Perhaps most striking of his comments was his firm's avowed mission to reject the assholes, even when their more craven corporate minds might pressure them to do otherwise. This is a refreshing thought, and in the wake of the turgid financial mess through which the world has slogged it represents the direction that many of us wished Wall Street had taken years ago. For many of us the financial industry as a whole has for too long been held under the sway of the assholes. With the industry in disarray there's a good chance that the Jim Coulters are the force of the future rather than the Gordon Gekkos. Okay, Jim's a real person and Gekko's a fictional character and that's where things start to fall apart but you get the idea.

The remainder of the Haas team streamed in at a steady pace. Each looking terrible and each still somehow managing to tap their last drops of adrenaline. The panel presentations loomed in the afternoon and Anoobhav still felt short of practice. Carmie-C, leader of the pack, seemed more calm, but there's a good chance that calm was really just a manifestation of extreme exhaustion. They soldiered on.

The short of it all was that we did in fact make it through the day. It's easy to get nervous when pitching a five minute presentation to a room filled with the likes of General Wesley Clark and the afore-mentioned Jim Coulter. To their credit, Anoobhav and Carmen kept their bottle. Most sane people would have been overwhelmed by a sense of intimidation and I wouldn't have blamed either Anoobhav or Carmer for leaving something warm and sloppy in their underpants. Of course they didn't. They kept their cool and in spite of their extreme exhaustion, managed to represent both our entrepreneur and Haas in a positive light.

And did we win? No, that honor went to Cornell. Although it should be pointed out that at no stage was the week ever about winning in the traditional sense. All that I think any of us sought to win was the confidence of our entrepreneurs and the support of our peers. Anything beyond that was cake. Winning might also include seeing Sandeep shuffle his feet one more time and we were certainly treated to that.

As the sun set on Friday we piled into the bus and made our way over to the palatial home of James "Ragin' Cajun" Carville and Mary Matalin. Scattered amongst the hundreds gathered there were the team members who over the course of the week had looked New Orleans in its metaphoric eye and said yeah, I'll have me some of that. Roll call please...

Carmen "Team Momma" Chan

Anoop "Heart to Heart" Mathew

Anoobhav "Problem Child" Singh

Vikas "End of the Day" Meka

Kenny "K-Dog" Do

Sandeep "Flash for Beads" Kohli

Rohan "Sassy Pants" Thompson

Mike "Stayin' Alive" Dansbury

I'm not sure any of us mastered the use of "y'all". See you next year.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Rose By Any Other Name

The team that Haas sent to the Idea Village this year is by any measure a diverse group. The team boasts only one whitey and he's bald and not even American. While last year's team was similarly diverse, see if you can pick what separates Haas NOEW 2010 from 2009. Let me help: the male to female ratio. There's no rhyme or reason to it, this year there are simply more men than women on the team—a lot more. The ratio is seven to one. Spare a thought for our lone woman, Carmen, forced to spend a week locked away in an office with seven boisterous men, many of whom have poor hygiene habits and eat too many onions and too much spicy food.

Back in Berkeley when it dawned on us just how far out of whack our gender balance was going to be, we set about cooking up a decent name for our team. It was fodder for a bit of fun. Here were a few of the ideas we conceived. Don't dwell on them too long. Hold them in your mind for a moment and then think about how we arrived at our preferred option.

The Suburban Lawns, The Stinkin' Hippies, The Left Coast Tree Huggers, Gold Mansachs...

Each name was supposed to be evocative of something (except the Suburban Lawns thing which is just totally meaningless) and the list went on a few longer, but ultimately the team settled on a winner: Carmie-C and the Sensuous Seven. It captures the team well. Led by the incomparable Carmen Chan, the remaining assemblage of seven men immediately responded to her woman's touch and rapidly accepted her direction. She's a natural in the role.

Team mom, Carmie-C, seeks midnight solace in a delicious dessert

Now maybe you can guess the dynamic that eventually emerged as the week in New Orleans wore on. The Sensuous Seven, at least those who are accustomed to life with our significant others, came to view Carmen as the team mom. It's not fair and none of us would openly admit that they wanted the interpersonal dynamics to go that way but that's sort of how things played out. Carmen's a born leader, and for most us the first woman whose leadership we learned to follow was our mothers. It's sad but it's true. So true. We're weak. Somehow us menfolk are conditioned to slot into deeply ingrained roles when the situation demands it. Let's see how she's able to push, shove and kick us towards our deadline tomorrow. I'll not-so-live blog the end.

We finished dinner downstairs at Capdeville a couple of hours ago. Back then the end seemed nigh. Now it's nearly midnight on Thursday and we're probably kidding ourselves if we think we're done. Carmie-C and the Sensuous Seven are preparing to practice our presentations. We're tired, a bit cranky and each one of us is eager to get back to the hotel and sleep. Nonetheless, we're determined to squeeze in a round of practice. Let's see how we go.

Goddammit, it's 3:35am. We're still here and I'm not sure when we'll be done. I just heard someone mention something about light bulbs. Who's going to make it to breakfast?

Sometime around 3am shit got weird and Rohan busted out the Rambo strap. He was obviously confused.

We're at 3:55am now and eyelids are dropping heavily. We need to get out of here and actually get some rest. Things are getting weird in here. Too long cooped up in a room does not do a mind good.

Holy crap! It's 4:22am and I'm done. I'm just browsing and paying no attention whatsoever. I need to get out of here. Here's the deal: I'm going to back to the hotel for about three hours' worth of sleep. I'll make it to the morning session at the World War II memorial. As for the rest of the team, who knows?

It's Thursday???

The Kellogg team has been hard at work with our entrepreneur, Cecile Hardy. We kicked off the week visiting some stores in New Orleans where NOLA Couture is sold. It was great seeing her products in action and visiting with local business leaders. Yesterday, the team got to task strategizing NOLA Couture’s growth strategy. We took a break in the afternoon to listen to mayor-elect, Mitch Landrieu. The perfect cap to the day was a dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse with local business leaders and Kellogg alumni. Thank you to John and Michelle Payne (our hosts), David Darragh, Henry and Karen Coaxum, and Karl Hoefer. Yesterday, we spent the day hard at work and capped it off with Wednesdays at the Square at a trip to Capdeville.

And today… it was like joining the real world again – working on a deck all day. This experience presents teams with the challenges of real business. The Kellogg team spent our efforts identifying a growth strategy for NOLA Couture. We placed our previous work experience and classroom learnings into action in order to develop recommendations across all aspects of Cecile’s business: Operations, Marketing, Sales, Product Management, Finance, and Strategic Development. It was a unique experience to work with a business that is at a critical inflection point and be able to evaluate it holistically.

We couldn’t find seersucker suits to rent for tomorrow… but we’re ready to rock it. And more importantly, we’re excited to have helped Nola Couture prepare for and meet continued success.


PS – How do you get the powder sugar out from CafĂ© du Monde?

Pictures of Team Cornell

Day 1 - Cornell Team pics from St. Bernard Project