Friday, April 3, 2009

A Googler Learns that Heart + Head = Hope

I have a confession. Until almost four years ago I had never visited the South, nor did I really ever think I would. You see, I had perceptions about what the South would be like based upon history I had read, movies I had seen and a barrage of media coverage - unfortunately much of which did not always paint the region in the best light. But that all changed on August 29, 2005.

Like millions of others, I watched in horror as home after home, parish after parish, city after city was destroyed and its inhabitants left helpless for days before any aid was to reach them. Despite my previous reservations about the region, what I witnesses compelled me to immediate action and what I experienced as a result, change my perspective on the South and its people forever.

I met people who in the face of atrocities many of us could not conceptualize maintained a sense of dignity, gratitude and determination like no other. I saw cities that, though buried beneath the rubble and devastation, whispered of a long and culturally rich history that was often overshadowed by bleak eras that tainted its true beauty. At that moment I became resolute that these people - these quintessential American cities deserve to be lifted up and rebuilt in order to show the world that we are a nation that thrives in the face of adversity.

Two speakers demonstrated to me that this same determination is alive and well in New Orleans 3 1/2 years after the storms. During his time with us, Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu warned us with a cautionary tale of how New Orleans is in essence the proverbial "canary in the coal mine" - that what happened there, could happen anywhere in America and therefore it is our duty to insure that New Orleans not only returns to its former glory, but surpasses it. I was as equally moved by Dr. Scott Cowen, President of Tulane University, whose actions pre and post Hurricanes Katrina and Rita not only assured the safety and well being of his students and faculty, but of other universities in the region and the city as a whole. For me, he was the embodiment of leadership that is only recounted in oft-told fables. The passion with which these gentlemen spoke about their city gave us all a sense of hope not only for the future of New Orleans, but for the future of all cities across the nation.

Hope was also evident in the 54 students, faculty and corporate teams who joined The Idea Village for a week of unparalleled impact. My primary role during the week was to lend my expertise as a Googler to the students in hopes of providing them with additional tools that would benefit the entrepreneurs as they worked to tackle the daunting tasks ahead. Even I, a seasoned veteran of the company, was pleasantly surprised at the effect tools such as Google Earth, Google Maps and AdWords could have on these small businesses in the hands of these talented individuals. For me it was a firsthand account of how technology truly can change lives for the better.

Hope was a theme that also resonated with the local leaders, business owners, tour guides and gracious hosts many of whom opened their homes and lives to us without reservation. They were quick to recount the tragedy that drew many of us there, but even quicker to thank us for our time and efforts - to remind us that what we were doing was going to provide lasting impact beyond what we could comprehend at that moment. But for the 54 of us, hope truly lay in the entrepreneurs who had dedicated their lives to changing the current climate of their beloved city through their business ventures. As a result of our work, their stories have been recounted in the numerous media sources that will catapult their life’s work onto the national stage but to us they will always be:
  • The young man whose is rapidly building a sustainable flip flop empire, winning hearts and believers along the way;
  • Two guys using the nation's favorite go to food, pizza, as a catalyst for a national dialog around diet, nutrition and a sustainable food system;
  • The attorney who is using the universal language of music to bring awareness to environmental issues - the hotly debated cause of the increasing number of hurricanes in the gulf coast region;
  • The team who, like Google, understands that data/information is power and is looking to make it more widely available to promote housing redevelopment in the region;
  • The team who feel that the green housing revolution is not only for the wealthy, but should be accessible to all regardless of soci-economic status;
  • And the team who understands that a city is comprised of many socio-economic levels and alternative housing options are necessary to attract some of the most vital member of the community

These entrepreneurs are true heroes. They are the ones ones who will work day-in and day-out long after we return home to establish the solid foundation upon which New Orleans will once again rise. They are the ones who will one day "pay it forward" to future entrepreneurs who share that same raw determination and drive that they once possessed, in what we anticipate will soon be a bustling mecca of art, culture and enterprise.

During our last evening, the team lead for Chicago Booth gave a whimsical toast which I will never forget. He compared our week in New Orleans to The Wizard of Oz, complete with Tornadoes (Hurricanes we knew, but Tornadoes?) and even our own Wiz (Thanks to Dr. Baum). For me, his speech brought to mind the last scene of the movie where Dorothy came to the realization that she always had the power to return home as it was always in her heart. Many would think that this San Franciscan left her heart, well, in San Francisco. But if it's true that your home is where your heart is, then I have another confession to make. Mine will forever be in New Orleans.

Tara Canobbio

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

IDEAcorps 2009 Brings Bright Minds to New Orleans Businesses

Written by Meghan Jones

Something amazing has been quietly happening in New Orleans recently. Unless you know where to look, or caught one of the television news or radio interviews, you may not have heard the good news. This week was the annual Idea Village IDEAcorps Challenge, where business students and corporate volunteers from all over the country pay their own way to New Orleans to spend their spring break helping local entrepreneurs realize their dreams.

This year's Challenge found 50 of our nation's top MBA students and corporate brains - from the likes of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, DePaul University and Google - paired up with six budding businesses centered around sustainable industries that will attract and retain 22-35 year olds in the Crescent City. After working with companies like Naked Pizza and Feelgoodz eco-friendly flip flops for the week, today is the day the student teams will present their ideas: the business models, marketing strategies and expansion plans that will hopefully make these companies a household name in the near future.
Free consultations with such educated, innovative thinkers are a dream come true for someone struggling to bring his business to fruition. But they can be traced back to two things omnipresent in New Orleans: Hurricane Katrina and a cocktail napkin.

According to Tim Williamson, president and co-founder of Idea Village, the organization was born in 2000, when a group of New Orleanians who had been spread out across the country came back home, "energized by experiences in thriving communities across the United States." In their adopted hometowns, these citizens realized that an entrepreneurial community was essential for leading and inspiring positive changes in a city. Small businesses could be just what New Orleans needed to re-energize and modernize itself. They decided to help.


More Great Articles About The IDEAcorps Challenge ’09 Week

Visiting Graduate Business Students Worked With Local Entrepreneurs This Week
The Times Picayune

Kyle Berner had big news to share Tuesday when he walked into a classroom-turned-conference room on the Tulane University campus to meet with a team of business consultants.

Berner had been informed minutes earlier that his company Feelgoodz, which sells biodegradable footwear, had extended its distribution deal with Whole Foods Market to include the four states in the Southern Pacific region.

The consultants were meeting to figure out how to fulfill the distribution deal Berner had landed weeks earlier to place his Thailand-manufactured flip-flops in the grocery store chain's South region. That deal, alone, meant Berner would have to increase his pace of flip-flop manufacturing from about 300 pairs a month to 2,000. Now, Berner told the consultants, he would have to add about 3,000 to that order.


Birthing Business in The Big Easy


The Idea Village touts New Orleans as a laboratory for innovation and believes the city will create a blueprint for the rest of the country to follow when it comes to fostering entrepreneurship. The IdeaCorps experience is an opportunity for the city to roll out its red carpet to the future of small business, as each MBA who leaves with a positive experience could be one who does business with or possibly in New Orleans.

And that Berner and the Naked Pizza guys plan to build their burgeoning empires here sends a clear signal New Orleans can foster small business growth.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Message of Thanks from Project 30-90

Project 30-90 is overwhelmed by the Kellogg team assisting us for the week.
We honestly weren't quite sure what the week would bring, but its been
simply amazing. The team is crazy intelligent, passionate and invested in
our project after only a few days. The intellect, critical thinking,
feedback, assumption challenging and ideas they have brought forward are
pushing this project to a new level. Add in their boundless enthusiasm and
this has been a wonderful influx of new energy.

I think the best thing about this team is that as individuals they have
each showed great understanding of the significance of this undertaking to
me as the entrepreneur. Its not their name on the project, but they act as
though it is. Put simply, they "drank the koolaid" on day one and have
been fully vested since. They may have only planned on being here for a
week, but they're all on the team for good, from now until September.

Tomorrow there is a judging of some sort of their work. We'll welcome any
feedback the panel wishes, but I know that project 30-90 is the HUGE winner
by having these wonderful folks assisting us.

Don Kelly
Founder, Project 30-90

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Local and National Media Coverage

USA Today:

MBA candidates test skills in New Orleans

Depaul student Lucas Weingarten, second from right, and assistant professor Patrick Murphy, right, lend a hand Tuesday.

By Rick Jervis, USA TODAY
By Sean Gardner for USA TODAY

Depaul student Lucas Weingarten, second from right, and assistant professor Patrick Murphy, right, lend a hand Tuesday.
NEW ORLEANS — Just a year ago, students at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business would be elbowing for an internship at a Wall Street investment firm.

Instead, this week eight of them are spending Spring Break in New Orleans helping a local entrepreneur develop a business strategy for selling his eco-friendly flip-flops.

Wall Street's troubles have master's degree candidates rethinking life after graduation, said Matt Nash of the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship at Duke University.

One of the main benefactors of this trend has been New Orleans, a city nearly destroyed by the 2005 floods. The Idea Village, a non-profit created after Hurricane Katrina to help businesses get on their feet, launched IDEACorps in 2006. It is a business-oriented Peace Corps concept that pairs MBA candidates with local entrepreneurs, said Tim Williamson, president and co-founder.

"Other communities will be going through what New Orleans has went through the past three years," he said.

The initiative has grown from five students in 2006 to 40 last year. This year, it has attracted 50 students from Stanford, DePaul University, the University of California-Berkeley, Northwestern University and others.

At a meeting of minds Monday between Stanford students and the owner of Feelgoodz, the eco-friendly flip-flop maker, ideas for new business models were scribbled on a large dry-erase board. Not far from the Stanford gathering, the team from DePaul University bantered around ideas to help grow Naked Pizza, an all-natural health-conscious pizzeria.

More MBA candidates are venturing into impact-conscious roles, and they could end up solving the economic crisis, said Lucas Weingarten, 32, a DePaul MBA candidate.

"I recognize that it's business and unrestricted free-market capitalism that has caused a lot of the problems we have today," he said. "But they're also going to fix them."

One of the goals of the program is persuading the visiting students to move to New Orleans, said Bob Brown, head of the Business Council of New Orleans and the River Region, a non-profit group of area CEOs.

"If we become a mecca for smart entrepreneurs, it could have an enormous impact on recovery," Brown said.

The Times-Picayune Article:

Tulane University New Wave Article:


Monday, March 23, 2009

Culture, Crawfish and Crazy Ideas!

Saturday morning my colleague, Tara Canobbio, and I landed in the beautiful city of New Orleans. Since we were unable to check into our hotel room early in the morning, we explored the French Quarter and were pleasantly surprised at how busy all the shops were! The last time we were here with the Black Googlers Network in September 2008, Hurricane Gustav just hit and most of the shops were still closed. However now, some shops owners have reported that their patronage is back to pre-Katrina numbers!

In the afternoon, we headed to the "Welcome to Orleans Party" at the Idea Village, sponsored by GNO, Inc. This was the first time that all the teams from Stanford, DePaul, Kellogg, Chicago Booth, Berkley Haas, and Google would meet, along with all the great entrepreneurs, and representatives from the city. Although we went through 80 lbs of crawfish, the party was a great event for everyone to share thoughts and ideas about the entrepreneurial opportunities in the ever growing city of New Orleans.

On Sunday morning, Sally and Alton Doody were gracious enough to host us all for a Jazz Brunch and another opportunity to further interact with the entrepreneurs and city officials. I also got a chance to get to know some of the students better and find out why they came to the MBA Challenge in New Orleans. I found myself surrounded by bright minds and eager hearts ready to explore the possibility of helping a historic city re-emerge.

In the afternoon, we took a bus tour of New Orleans where the tour guide took us around to historical sites of the city, as well as the affected areas of New Orleans such as the lower 9th Ward. Although the Lower 9th was very affected by Hurricane Katrina, very affluent areas were greatly affected as well. It definitely added more perspective to the catastrophe: everyone in the city - rich or poor, black or white - was affected.

On Sunday evening, the Idea Village held a Team Building New Orleans School of Cooking Olympic Challenge at Jax Brewery. At this event, each of the 6 teams had 15 minutes to complete each challenge which included a Scrabble challenge, an all-aboard challenge where each team had to fit within a shape on the ground, a cooking challenge, a Price is Right challenge, Marshmallow Engineering and a mixology competition. Each of these challenges presented a different problem that each team had to solve and we (the judges) had to award points based on team work, use of time, presentation and quality. The camaraderie that occurred at this event was invaluable and further solidified the bond between each MBA school with their local entrepreneur partner.

What's happened at the end of these events? Idea Village created a new community of young, creative, entrepreneurial minds - who otherwise may have not come together - to fall in love with New Orleans.

View Event Pictures!

WDSU Video: Idea Village Plans To Increase the Number Of New Orleans Businesses

Check out the WDSU Video here:

Idea Village, MBA students to work with local businesses next week

Posted by Jaquetta White, The Times-Picayune March 20, 2009 5:23PM
Categories: Entrepreneurship

Naked Pizza needs to figure out how to go from operating a single pizza shop Uptown to opening as many as 1,000 nationwide. Flip-flop purveyor Feelgoodz has to ramp up its distribution system to accommodate a new deal with Whole Foods.

The New Orleans companies are two of six that will participate in a week-long workshop that begins Monday and is designed to help them figure out how to meet the challenge of growing their business quickly. Fifty graduate business students and a group of corporate executives will work with them to write business plans and otherwise help with their expansion.

The Idea Village created the workshop, called the IDEAcorps Challenge, with three goals in mind. The primary goal is to grow the local businesses, said Tim Williamson, president of the Idea Village.

But Williamson said the program's secondary and tertiary goals of providing hands-on experience to graduate business students and introducing them to New Orleans in the hopes that they might consider living and working here are just as important.

"Because of the economy, New Orleans is now a becoming a good place to work," Williamson said. "We want to use this as a recruiting tool."

The students, from the University of Chicago, the University of California at Berkeley, Northwestern University, DePaul University and Stanford University, paid their own way to visit the city during spring break. They will get a taste of New Orleans through tours, meetings with officials and dinners with residents.

The students and a team of executives from the California company will each be matched with one local entrepreneur.

The team assigned, for instance, to Don Kelly Productions will help the New Orleans firm devise a plan to pull off the city's first "green" music festival later this year.

The teams will meet from Monday through Friday to help each company craft a business strategy. Also participating in the weeklong workshop are local firms Alternative Housing Support Corp., Sustainable Environmental Enterprises and InSite.

"At the end of the day, we're looking at how to generate the highest impact for the entrepreneur," Williamson said.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Googlers trust a crazy idea

In September 2008, I was privileged to meet the team at The Idea Village during my most recent visit to New Orleans. 32 of my fellow Googlers (as we affectionately refer to ourselves) and I were embarking upon a community outreach trip which came to a screeching halt as a result of a city-wide evacuation for Hurricane Gustav. Fortunately the damage to the city was minor in comparison to past devastation, but our planned projects had to be canceled due to much of the city still being closed to non-essential workers and non-residents. In a serendipitous turn of events, one of my colleagues informed me that she "had a friend" who might be able to help us. Despite being dispersed all over the United States, the team at The Idea Village rallied to make it home and open their doors to a determined group of volunteers willing to brave the elements to make a difference. During our visit, we learned a lot about ongoing redevelopment projects within greater New Orleans and assisted with the development of the launch plan for 504ward's $200,000 Business Plan competition, hosted in partnership with The Idea Village. Since then, I have kept in close contact with Tim, Lauren, Daryn and team, even hosting them at Google last winter for a presentation aimed at garnering west coast support for our southern friends. So when they asked me to take part in The Idea Village's IDEAcorps Challenge '09 , it was an offer I couldn't refuse.

What peaked our interest most and convinced us to participate is how closely the challenge mirrors much of what we do at Google - connecting people with useful, innovative solutions and information. It has been said that information is the seed for an idea, and only grows when its watered. By bringing the country's brightest minds and cutting edge corporations to New Orleans, projects like this will guarantee the growth of tomorrow’s future leaders and spawn a new generation of local business entrepreneurs.

Over the coming week, fellow Googler, LaFawn Bailey, and I will be working with The Idea Village, and the MBA students to provide information on Google tools and processes that will allow them to assist local entrepreneurs in tackling critical growth challenges facing New Orleans today. We will also be visiting bloggers for the week, updating this and other media sources with information on the participating students, entrepreneurs and The Idea Village team. So check back for regular updates, photos and live coverage of our week of entrepreneurship - we promise a crazy and rewarding adventure resulting in a lifetime of impact.

With a little bit of hard work, a lot of determination and most of all, trusting our crazy ideas, I know that New Orleans will once again regain the world class status it so richly deserves.

Tara Canobbio


New Orleans Hosts Nation’s Leading Business Schools to Drive Economic Impact

New Orleans Hosts Nation’s Leading Business Schools to Drive Economic Impact

The Idea Village Ignites Entrepreneurial Community with IDEAcorps Challenge ‘09

March 19, 2009 – New Orleans, LA – Today, The Idea Village announces plans to host 50 students from the nation’s leading MBA programs, who will join forces with top corporate volunteers and the New Orleans entrepreneurial community from March 21st – 28th. Together, they will create economic impact by solving critical growth challenges facing New Orleans entrepreneurs. The IDEAcorps Challenge ’09 marks an intensive week of business consulting provided to six high-impact entrepreneurial ventures in New Orleans.

Five MBA teams will be matched by a corporate team from, as well as employees from Google who will lend their Google expertise to participating entrepreneurs and will lead a blog from the inaugural IDEAcorps Challenge that showcases New Orleans as a hub of innovation and entrepreneurial activity.

“We are bringing the best and the brightest talent in the country to New Orleans with a short-term goal of providing high-impact solutions to New Orleans entrepreneurs, and a long-term goal of positioning New Orleans as a laboratory of innovation and entrepreneurship,” says Tim Williamson, President and Co-Founder of The Idea Village. “We hope to foster a lifetime affinity for New Orleans among tomorrow’s future business leaders while reinforcing our city as a strategic place to be an entrepreneur.”

Participating universities in the IDEAcorps Challenge include:

* Booth School of Business, The University of Chicago,
* Haas School of Business, University of California Berkeley,
* Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University
* Kellstadt Graduate School of Business, DePaul University
* Stanford Graduate School of Business

“The experience gives students a chance to step out of their ‘everyday selves,’ a chance to realize their own true potential not only as business professionals but as active members of a community,” says Stanford Business School faculty member Dr. Rick Aubry, who has participated as a faculty advisor on two IDEAcorps trips. “The Idea Village gives the students the opportunity to leverage who they are and what they’ve learned at Stanford to address real world challenges with real world solutions.”

Ventures that will benefit from IDEAcorps Challenge ’09 include:

* Naked Pizza – An all-natural pizza delivery place that recently entered into an agreement with Mark Cuban, as a result of a competition that drew over 1,400 applicants nationwide. Naked Pizza is the only pizza delivery in the world that is good for you and Naked Owners and Cuban together are considering franchise models with a goal of 1,000 shops nationwide.
* Don Kelly Productions - Producing project 30-90 on September 5, 2009, the first "green" music festival in Louisiana to be powered by alternative energy sources and a full slate of environmentally conscious initiatives.
* Feelgoodz - Recyclable and biodegradable flip-flops made from sustainably harvested natural rubber. Secured a distribution deal with Whole Foods in the South and Southwest regions.
* Alternative Housing Support Corporation (AHSC) - Creates, promotes and supports alternative housing models as a way to repair urban neighborhoods.
* Sustainable Environmental Enterprises (SEE) - Provides affordable renewable energy to New Orleans residents.
* InSite(s)-A housing market analysis firm which will develop a unique demand-side methodology to estimate and characterize demand for housing.

Kyle Berner, Creator and CEO of Feelgoodz remarks, “I have worked with The Idea Village team since Feelgoodz was just a crazy flip-flop idea nearly one year ago. The business strategy, network, and moral support the staff provided helped me take my budding venture to the next level. This intensive IDEAcorps experience could not come at a more opportune time as I embark on my next phase of growth with a Whole Foods distribution deal. “

The Idea Village seeks to forge a bond between the city and the IDEAcorps Challenge participants by exposing the group to the rich culture and quality of life in New Orleans, including a crawfish boil, jazz brunch, iron chef cook-off, live music with Irvin Mayfield, a night with the New Orleans Hornets and tours of the city. The IDEAcorps teams will hear from key business and political leaders on the unique opportunities available in New Orleans. Speakers include Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu; Managing Director of the New Orleans Business Council, Bob Brown; Editor-in-Chief of Entrepreneur Magazine, Amy Cosper; President of Tulane University, Scott Cowen; Chancellor of University of New Orleans, Tim Ryan and CEO of Greater New Orleans, Inc., Michael Hecht, among others. In addition, several local business leaders will open their homes for dinner with the students.

IDEAcorps Challenge ’09 sponsors include: Greater New Orleans, Inc., Harrah’s, Jones Walker, Hornbeck Offshore, New Orleans Hornets and Tulane Freeman School of Business. The work of The Idea Village would not be possible without the generous support of Blue Moon Fund, Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation and Tulane University.

In 2000, The Idea Village was formed by a group of New Orleans citizens who returned home energized by experiences in thriving communities across the United States. The founders determined that the key to creating positive economic and social change in New Orleans was to create a vibrant entrepreneurial community. The Idea Village formalized in 2002 as an independent 501(c) (3) non-profit organization with a mission to identify, support and retain entrepreneurial talent in New Orleans by providing business resources to high-impact ventures.

To date, The Idea Village has provided direct service to over 245 entrepreneurial ventures representing 935 jobs and over $67 million in revenue. With support from more than 300 students, professionals and partners, The Idea Village has provided over 28,000 hours of business consulting and allocated over $1.5 million in grants to local businesses.

In July 2006, The Idea Village partnered with Tulane University to form the IDEAcorps, an experiential learning program that connects MBA students and professionals to business challenges facing high-impact entrepreneurs in New Orleans. To date, 280 students from 8 universities worldwide have provided direct resource to the New Orleans entrepreneurial community.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Chicago Booth - Lessons from New Orleans

A city of contrasts - Sunday 3/22/09

We’ve gotten a taste of the two sides of New Orleans. High and low. Joy and despair.

We took part in the prerequisite eating, drinking, and tourist activities. In 24 hours, we consumed a crawfish boil, jambalaya, gumbo, hurricanes, muffaletas, po’ boys, king cake, and grits. I knew it would be good eats, but I didn’t expect it would come all at once. If we accomplish nothing else this week, we’ve eaten 80 pounds of crawfish.

The highlight of our trip so far was doing a Katrina bus tour. I was really interested in seeing the lower Ninth Ward, the area that John Edwards started his failed presidential bid and poverty tour. But the flooding really affected everyone and not just those in St. Bernard parish and the lower Ninth Ward.

In preparation for the trip we watched Spike Lee’s four hour documentary, “When the Levees Broke.” I was expecting the same level of destruction as in the movie, which came out a year after the hurricane. Some businesses have come back to the area, especially outposts of Southern-based companies Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Winn Dixie. But many strip malls remain empty and downright depressing. The deserted Six Flags feels spooky to me having grown up right next to the one in LA.

And while Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Project and Wynton Marsalis’s Musician’s Village are beautiful, gallant efforts in the Ninth Ward, they are surrounded by destroyed and decayed houses. They seemed to both be pretty small-scale projects – a few streets only. The task to rebuild housing here is daunting. I can’t change the world in this short week but I can help one small step at a time.

On the complete other side of the socioeconomic scale, we meet Doug and Denise, a well-to-do couple at a dinner in an upper-class home in New Orleans. Doug was busy after the hurricane leading the rebuilding effort of the Superdome. Despite being well-to-do, they stayed in the Superdome for five days during and after Katrina. She vowed if she survived those five days surrounded by squalor and death, she would change her life around and started a non-profit providing critical service in the months after the storm for her neighborhood to rebuild.

It was one of many moments throughout the week that I simultaneously felt sorrow and optimism. I felt like crying as I felt empathy for the misery they had experienced, but at the same time uplifted by the amazing capabilities of the human spirit. I could no longer just look at her as a privileged woman, but someone who had used her means to help others. This trip is changing my perceptions of race and class.

Alphabet City - Tuesday 3/24/09

If there were ever a complicated subject, I think it would be affordable housing. After two days of reading through requirements to qualify for various governmental programs, my head starts swimming. AMI, LRA, LHFA, CDBG – all of these abbreviations meant nothing to me a few days ago. Now I feel I know just enough to be dangerous. Kind of like the rest of my professional career.

From doing all this research I realize, these entrepreneurs, Ian, Sarah, and Tessa, must have big hearts. On some level, they care so much about this community that they are willing to navigate through the bureaucratic mess to obtain grants and subsidies, figure out a way to get financing through this credit crisis, and start a non-profit while working full-time jobs. I respect the spirit I see in most entrepreneurs, but to do what they are doing with almost insurmountable barriers and not be driven by the profit motive is even more impressive.

It also reminds me of my own dream to become an entrepreneur someday. I really enjoyed having my own financial planning practice prior to business school and the rewarding experiences of helping my clients accomplish their goals. The successes helped me get through all of the hassles of endless paperwork, rejection, and prospecting for clients. Perhaps their own vision is what drives them forward despite all the challenges.

Cancer survivor - Friday 3/27/09

There’s an incredible spirit in this city. Like it had contracted cancer, faced death, and decided not to take for granted what had happened. I was reminded of my former client, Tom, who had contracted cancer and told me he was happier for it because it helped him appreciate what he had.

New Orleans is the only place in the country that can lay claim to its own food, music, and culture. All that in a town with a population of only 300,000. It’s always had the most spirit per capita and Hurricane Katrina hasn’t killed it. Now New Orleans is redirecting that spirit to rebuilding the city better than it was before the hurricane.

Before Katrina, our mentor Keith Crawford tells me, you had no business knowing even where the Lower 9th Ward and Saint Bernard’s Parish were. Now you had to know. He told me that civic engagement has pervaded the city. In addition to the great work he's doing with Idea Village, he's also signed his name to an agreement with a local charter school to be personally responsible for the education of the kids going there. Everyone's doing their own part.

I had to think of my own experience in San Francisco. Because of volunteer work I had done, I had spent time in the impoverished Bayview and the Tenderloin districts. How many San Franciscans had not known or cared about these areas? But more importantly, what cancer would San Francisco need to experience to force people to care about these areas? I decided on this trip that wherever I may end up, putting roots down in a community will always be important to me. I have been given so many gifts – life in the amazing cities of Chicago and San Francisco, a world-class education, and incredibly supportive friends and family. How can I not use my gifts to help those who are in need? I don’t need to wait for the cancer to spread.

Celeste K. Liou
Chicago Booth
MBA Candidate, Class of 2010

DePaul Gets Naked

Shortly after arriving in NOLA to perfect weather, the Idea Village hosted all of the teams at their office for a Louisiana-style crawfish boil. This introduced us to both the people that we would be working with through the week, as well as to the concept behind the event. We learned that this program was much more than a competition. The business community of New Orleans sees rebuilding as a unique opportunity, and they consider their city to be an innovation and entrepreneurship “laboratory” – a place where new ideas can be developed, which can serve as models for solving many of the systemic industry issues our nation currently faces. The organizers and supporters of IDEAcorps also saw this as a recruiting trip, and told us directly that they want all of us (and our friends) to move to New Orleans and help realize their vision for the city. This set the tone for the rest of the week’s events. As the sun set, we all left the Idea Village and headed to Bourbon Street, where we joined in with a traditional “second line”. Following this procession, students split up and took in a bit of the New Orleans nightlife. The DePaul team headed to Frenchmen Street along with a few students from other schools, and got a taste of the locals’ music scene.

The next morning we slept in a bit, then took a bus to the home of a serial restaurant entrepreneur and current Dean of a culinary academy. He hosted us for a late morning brunch, complete with live jazz band in his yard. The sky was clear and the sun was warm – something the Chicago teams truly appreciated. Numerous local business and community leaders joined us to talk up their town and the opportunities that exist, and express their support for us over the coming week. After brunch we all took a bus tour of New Orleans. The driver provided an impressively knowledgeable and charismatic narrative, pointing out the city’s significant historical role in American commerce, numerous cultural facts, and the ubiquitous flood damage and rebuilding efforts. I believe that all of us were moved by the mix of factual accounts and personal impact he described, and this broadened our perspective on important past and current issues. The teams took a break in the afternoon to catch their breath (and in some cases prepare for the next day’s client meetings). In the evening we visited Jax brewery for some team-building exercises and friendly competition between schools, in a “cooking Olympics” A local news station covered the event, and a very successful New Orleans entrepreneur spoke to us about the importance of teamwork, integrity, and taking chances – and gave us suggestions about the role might play in best serving our entrepreneur clients.

Early Monday morning we all headed to Tulane University, which would serve as our worksite over the coming week. Throughout the day, a series of people spoke to us about entrepreneurship in New Orleans. The entrepreneurship program director, the leader of the local business community, a local entrepreneur, a university chancellor, and Louisiana’s Lt. Governor all offered their diverse but unified perspectives on the opportunities, support, and need that exists for driven and innovative people to help rebuild New Orleans better than it was before. They laid out general and specific opportunities they saw across the entire spectrum of the economy, including food, energy, education, technology, healthcare and biotech, and arts and culture.

That afternoon, the DePaul team had our first working meeting with our clients, founders of Naked Pizza. The delirious passion these people expressed was impressive. Just as the Idea Village saw this program as more than a competition, these entrepreneurs saw their business as much more than food. They viewed their healthy and tasty pizza as a way of starting a conversation, educating consumers, and creating a revolution that would ultimately change our nation’s relationship with food. They fed us a flood of information about their mission, explosive growth plans, potential high profile partnerships – all starting with an anthropological analysis of how Americans have come to eat such an unhealthy and unnatural diet. Our team had set a goal of delineating the scope and deliverables for this engagement during this session, which we accomplished in cooperation with these very dynamic individuals just before the workday closed.

Monday night, six local leaders each welcomed a team to their homes for dinner – a very personal and authentic gesture which I believe all of us greatly appreciated. DePaul visited with the Idea Village board chairman, who also invited a spectrum of other business leaders and entrepreneurship supporters to join us. The red beans and rice and roasted chicken dinner, followed by decadent homemade cupcakes, was delicious, and the famous southern hospitality was evident in all of our conversations. The night ended with a raffle that gave one DePaul student two tickets to next year’s Sugar Bowl, followed by cigars and some creative work discussions on the patio.

A long and intense day of work began at Tulane Tuesday morning. For DePaul this was broken up by a visit to the Naked Pizza, where we made some pies and participated in a story by USA Today reporters. The pizza was delicious, and we brought some back for each of the other teams to enjoy. While we made some progress with our project, the day ended with perhaps more questions than answers. Jeff gave us another extensive rundown of his vision, with much more detail even than on the previous day. With the last twenty minutes before the buses arrived, we quickly recapped and identified our focus for the remaining workdays.

Evening brought us to an upscale hotel bar for cocktails, followed by a very social dinner of tapas in the adjoining restaurant. The editor of Entrepreneur Magazine toasted us, and the students, entrepreneurs, and program organizers all exchanged ideas throughout the night. Back at our hotel, the DePaul team squeezed in a last round of work before heading to our rooms for some needed sleep. We all knew that the next two days would be a full pace stretch run, leading to our final presentations on Friday.

Wednesday morning we got straight to work in our “war room”. Together we laid out a comprehensive plan for our project, and split into teams to work on respective components. This included seeking advertising opportunities for Naked Pizza, developing a financial analysis model, and conducting market research. Six 4x8 whiteboards were soon covered in diagrams, lists, and action plans, as the sub-teams illustrated their ideas for each other. After eight hours of focused efforts, we recapped our progress that day as one team, then headed over to Naked Pizza to visit with the founders. In thirty furious minutes, we helped shoot a commercial, spoke with a consultant, and ran some final ideas by the founders. By this point, our team started coming together well, and developed a very positive collective attitude. We universally enjoyed spending time working with our entrepreneur clients, and felt lucky to have received this assignment.

The IDEAcorps spent the evening at a Hornets NBA game, where the team leaders and entrepreneurs were greeted at center court. DePaul received some highly anticipated data around halftime, and retired back to the hotel. Some members had one last meeting, where they planned a schedule for our last full day of work. Then sleep.

Justin Henderson
DePaul University

The Naked War Room

Greetings from the IDEAcorps Challenge 2009. Like all of our friends from University of Chicago, Northwestern University, Stanford University, University of California-Berkeley, Yale University, Google, and, the Kellstadt GSB / DePaul U. MBA team is incurring fantastic experiences this week in New Orleans as its members work with New Orleans entrepreneurial ventures. Our team is very enthused and fortunate to be consulting to Jeff Leach, Randy Crochet, and their entrepreneurial venture: Naked Pizza.

Naked Pizza is going to create an upheaval in the pizza and wellness industry sectors. Whereas the pizza industry is big and moving but not growing much, the wellness industry is growing fast over short and long stretches of time. By integrating the best from both spaces (pizza & prebiotics) in a delicious twist to an offering that many people already love, our client's venture promises to introduce a novel wellness delivery system, from plow to plate, that will generate loads of social value (in the form of healthy eating and awareness) for the people of New Orleans and beyond.

Behind the scenes, the DePaul U. team has turned a Tulane U. classroom into a Naked War Room. The white boards are covered in multi-colored scribbling. Spaghetti platters of cords are snaking along the floor and tables. There are more computers than people, and all of those machines are being used to develop creative graphics content or generate results based on data. Team members are running about the room, clustering in corners, shouting loudly, interrupting one another, making telephone calls, and eating. The large trash can keeps overfilling. Sometimes people are digging in the trash to find something that has regained its value. I have seen lots of teams and supervised many outreach consulting projects. But none of them have been this intense.

As faculty advisor, my job is to observe and coach the team as necessary regarding what is "known" about entrepreneurial action and how they can use that knowledge to guide their work. They ask me questions about linkages between venture strategy and structure, the environment and a venture's culture, or how management decisions can be formulated in order to drive the growth of a venture in a particular scenario. These kinds of questions are not just about specific concepts, but have a lot to do with the integration of concepts. As such, declarative knowledge is rarely enough to answer them. Only a procedural knowledge of how concepts change in the presence of other concepts allows a team to resolve them. Thus, working with the Naked Pizza venture is forcing the team members not to think about entrepreneurship concepts in an absolute sense, as they are commonly grasped in lectures and case studies, but in the real-world sense of how those concepts rebound and move against one another as the environment shifts. The members need each other, and sometimes they need me, to apply those concepts to the challenging project at hand.

It's an exceedingly unique and valuable position for a faculty member to occupy. I am watching what happens when MBA education meets the imposing rigor of the myriad challenges facing a promising new business venture. The results are instructive, to be sure, but they are also surprising.

Why are the results surprising? Because the MBA degree has received a raw deal in the court of public opinion over the past several years (witness the reader comments on today's USA Today article about the IDEAcorps Challenge). For researchers, the content of an MBA is all too easy to examine in a way that allows one to level criticisms. It has been done in large-scale research that identifies managerial performance dimensions, then identifies the dimensions of MBA student academic performance, and just correlates them (cross-sectionally or longitudinally). It makes a great story. The findings of some of these studies have made the pages of the Wall Street Journal because they are so shocking. Indeed, they show a disconnect between what students are taught and what businesses need in their managers. The events in New Orleans this week are showing more about what is wrong with studies of the MBA than what is wrong with the MBA itself.

The poverty of studies that are highly critical of the MBA is that their method is under-specified and contaminated. They do not capture what I am observing right now in a Tulane U. classroom. There is no question that these students are putting their MBA training to good use in a stunning fashion. And there is no question that they are learning much. The IDEAcorps Challenge may reveal the glimpses of a new paradigm in MBA education.

A static examination of underlying competency dimensions (e.g., creativity, sociability, communication skill, organizational skill) does not capture this dynamic process of how great MBA educations are put to great use. Why? The studies are snapshots. As with new venture team members, no MBA student performs or acts in a vacuum. The diversity in competence required to resolve knotty problems begins to emerge when MBA students interface closely with each other to solve complex problems facing all of them. Just like in a real business venture. One's business competence does not generate rich, broad value until it is integrated with compatible competencies in a team setting. Competencies transcend people in complex performance situations.

For instance, if Lucas lacks information about organizational structure as he thinks about how our client's venture can to be optimally responsive to customers, he calls on Steve, who is a whiz at it. Together they develop something that works. When Justin doesn't consider the financial aspects of marketing activity on the internet, he talks to Poonam, who can calculate net present value on a napkin. If Tina is unclear about which venture form is more amenable to a particular growth strategy in a particular environment, she calls Malado. Together they generate a solution that matches the complexity of the problem facing them. Just as our client's venture is organic (in the metaphorical sense) and holistic, so is an MBA student team. Parsing and analyzing either one, without a sense of the whole, runs the risk of losing sight of what is important because the rich benefits of complementarity are lost. Indeed, teams are the #1 reason why most ventures either win or never finish the race.

All participants in the IDEAcorps 2009 Challenge are going to be changed indelibly by their experiences in New Orleans. Some members of our team have already made decisions in New Orleans that will guide them for the rest of their lives. Some have made new friends. I have a clearer sense of why students and business people must interact.

We all know that the complex challenges, false starts, and dead ends of entrepreneurship are more multidimensional than one person, or one inefficient team, can preempt. Yet, we are learning a bit more, thanks to the Idea Village's IDEAcorps Challenge, about how the competencies required to perform in these wild spaces can be harnessed at the team level to generate value through competence diversity in a venture growth context.

Even though there are lots of competing ideas in our Naked War Room, our team fully agrees that the most important aspect of what the Idea Village has created is New Orleans, where the culture and people are magical.

Stanford is Feelin-goodz

On Sunday night, after a long day of New Orleans brunch, a bus tour, and an iron-chef challenge, the Stanford team huddled around a coffee table in the Hilton Lobby with our entrepreneur Kyle Berner. At first we contemplated trying to fit all 10 of us standing on top of the coffee table (one of the challenges from earlier that night was fitting the whole team in a very small area, an outline of a martini glass drawn on the ground). But instead we began asking Kyle about his business. Before long we were throwing questions at him from all angles: “What is so special about these flip flops? Why Thailand? What truly motivates you? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” As the conversation continued, Kyle’s passion began to infect us all. Before long we were all huddling around the table as Kyle sketched his supply chain on a cocktail napkin.

Kyle’s business has interesting challenges, and we are working hard to address them. He has stumbled upon a truly unique product: A flip flop that is incredibly comfortable (and what else truly matters in a flop?) and is also made from natural rubber instead of petroleum-based plastic. But the really exciting thing about his company, Feelgoodz, is not the product, but Kyle himself. Kyle is fully dedicated to the values of social entrepreneurship. He is donating some of his profits to causes in Thailand, and is certified as a “B Corp”, a new definition of socially responsible business. He is being mentored by a director on the Whole Foods board, John Elstrott (also one of our speakers this week), and aspires to fulfill the socially responsible values that Whole Foods has championed. Kyle also wants to be an example for the New Orleans business community through his entrepreneurship AND his social responsibility.

However, Kyle’s ambitious goals cannot be achieved unless he addresses short-term problems. He has secured test orders with 3 regions of Whole Foods, spanning around 80 stores. This is an incredible opportunity! Kyle only found out about the 3rd region yesterday afternoon, and he burst into the Stanford team room looking happy and dazed to share the news with us. But now the real work begins. Kyle, along with his business partner, Joel, his best friend Lee and other collaborators, will tour the country in an RV this summer promoting the product. 4 members of the Stanford team, Charles, Sara, Kevin, and Eugene, are helping him figure out what to do during the tour and in the stores to make the pilot a success.

Kyle also has another problem. He has to scale his number of units from ~500 per month to thousands. Other members of the Stanford team, Ashley, Luke, and Jiang, are working to evaluate different production scenarios and calculate capital needs. And helping Kyle plan his next trip to Thailand!

The atmosphere in the team room is full of energy and excitement. Groups of 2-3 students huddle in corners, while Kyle and Lee take turns with each team. “What if we bring in a giant piece of rubber for people to jump on?!?”, Kyle exclaims!

Still much work to be done in room 2110 of the Tulane business school campus.

Sonia H. Kastner MBA
Class of 2009

Stanford Graduate School of Business

Kellogg + Sound + Sustainability = It IS Easy to Be Green

We’ve been busy late into the night with market research for our client Project 30-90, checking out Glas Vegas at the House of Blues and Rebirth Brass Band at the Maple Leaf. The music scene in New Orleans is amazing and we’ve loved the opportunity to partner with Project 30-90 to create an entirely green music festival. We’ve been diving in to marketing and promoting the festival, working to create a hub for the green community in New Orleans.

We’ve been so impressed with the hospitality of the Idea Village board members and supporters, especially Elly and Merritt Lane, who hosted our team for dinner on Monday night. We felt so at home with the delicious food and lively conversation that we all just might move to New Orleans…

Sarah Z. Buhayar
MBA Candidate, Class of 2010
Kellogg School of Management

The Kellogg Team at the Project 30-90 festival site.

Diary of a CRM - a Company Responding to a development Mission

Friday 3/20

Close to midnight, I arrived in NOLA, all set to make a difference in the Big Easy. Everytime I'd told someone I'm volunteering in New Orleans, they assumed I was going to be building houses or something. What a great opportunity through IDEAVillage to contribute my intellectual capital! Four other members of the team arrived with me on the same flight (Nadim Hossain, James Goerke, Joan Lee and Karen Hennessy). Two other members had arrived the day before (Andrew Leigh, Wendy Lee), and three more will get here tomorrow (Kardyhm Kelly, Kingsley Joseph, Pratima Arora). New Orleans get ready for ten professionals to unleash their energy towards helping IDEAVillage revitalize the community!

Saturday 3/21

After a long night's sleep, I was ready to get started! The first event on the agenda was a "Crawfish Broil", Idea Village's way of welcoming all of us to New Orleans. Even though I don't eat seafood, I was pressured into trying crawfish. An Idea Village staff member made sure to show me the expert way of eating crawfish. I must admit, I'm glad I tried it… very juicy and tasty. Along with the crawfish, we were treated to black and raspberry infused vodka and beer from the NOLA brewery (only their second batch!). Although I'm not a beer drinker, I did try it and it was pretty good.

This party also gave us the chance to mingle and meet some members from the other teams that were there from Stanford, Berkeley, Chicago, DePaul, and Kellogg as well as other Idea Village staff and some New Orleans Community leaders. Everyone is starting to get more pumped at what this week would have in store for us.

At night, the group headed to Bourbon Street to check out the highly talented Irvin Mayfield at his new Jazz club. Where else, but New Orleans can you walk to a courtyard of a jass club and listen to a high quality live jazz performance. I kinda like this place. After we had our fill, we walked to Frenchman Street to take in another live performance band in a night club. This town sure does love it's music.

Sunday 3/22

Sunday morning began with a New Orleans Jazz Brunch, hosted by Sally and Alton Doody, friends of Idea Village. Did I mention this was in the Garden District? Needless to say, it was a very nice place with very nice ambiance with more live jazz music. (Starting to get used to this). The brunch was scrumptious and we once again got a chance to mingle amongst the other volunteer students from the MBA programs. I met a student from Stanford (Luke Stewart), who will be working for Cisco, my former employer and where my wife currently works. I'd later find out that Luke's from Baltimore, which is also where my wife's from.

After the brunch, we had a bus tour of New Orleans, including an overview of what happened during Katrina and how it affected the various New Orleans neighborhoods. We learned the importance of the city to our country and why it is so important to help bring New Orleans back and to make sure it's protected from another potential Hurricane like Katrina. This tour helped provide the backdrop and context to the need for help in revitalizing this city.

Later that evening was the Team Building activity at the New Orleans School of Cooking. Each team had to go through challenges, including making our own signature cocktail, making a custom dish, building a tower with straws and marshmallows, as well as pricing, word puzzle, and twister games. It was very fun and entertaining, to say the least. Our team learned that we know diddly squat about prices of New Orleans products, we can fit 10 people in very tight spaces, and we can make a killer meal and cocktail when given the right ingredients. Suffice it to say, the judges didn't agree and we did not win the contest. I vote for a recount!

After the team building, we headed out to CafĂ© Du Monde to get some coffee and beignets. Well, for me I had hot chocolate… and three beignets. Very delicious! Now it was time to get ready for the work we came to do. Come tomorrow, we will get to work!

Monday 3/23

After arriving at Tulane, our work site, we started the day off by hearing from some community leaders and knowledge professionals in the real estate housing industry to give context to our project. Having just received our venture's business plan, this was valuable to get more info in trying to understand the environment we were dealing with. Our team got together to compare notes on our initial thoughts regarding our venture's idea, and any questions we had. Then we met with the team to get clarification on our questions and to determine what we'd work on for them.

The day was concluded by a speech from the Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu. It was great to hear him speak of the opportunity for New Orleans to rebound and become the great city it's capable of being, through entrepreneurship. Although he's a politician, you can still tell he sincerely is committed to New Orleans and doing what it takes to help revitalize the city.

For dinner, our team was treated to a private "home" cooked vegetarian meal by Robbie Vitrano, entrepreneur and co-founder of the Idea Village. During the meal we got a chance to discuss the New Orleans scene with him and other influential New Orleans leaders.

Tuesday 3/24

Armed with our agenda from our entrepreneur (InSite(s), is a company focused on developing a unique demand side methodology to estimate and characterize a demand for housing to encourage the development of a vibrant community in New Orleans), we set out to do the research and analysis necessary to make sure they get off on the right foot. The venture we were paired with is focusing on creating market analysis reports for the Affordable Housing Industry that fills the gap of what's not currently there. The hope is to provide more context in order to encourage more informed development in New Orleans.

After a hard day's work, we headed to Happy Hour and Dinner at Rambla's for tapas. The food was good, and so was the Sangria. The team was bonding together and had a great time, along with the rest of the MBA volunteers. A group of us later headed out to another jazz night club to see another incredible live performance. In the club, there was an artist creating a live drawing of the scene with the jazz artists and the crowd. That was something I'd never seen before, and oh so cool.
Wednesday 3/25

Today, we again met with the venture team to discuss some of our findings thus far and got further clarification and direction to go with our findings. The team is great and is very responsive to our questions and feedback. By the end of the day, we're toward the final stretch of what we're going to recommend and present.

After another hard day of work, we were treated to an NBA game! The New Orleans Hornets vs. the Denver Nuggets. We got to watch the game from the top of the arena from the press row. By the way, is it just me or should the Hornets name by scratched and substituted with "Jazz"? Currently, that name is given to the Utah team, but I seriously doubt they have the type of jazz in New Orleans. Perhaps they can switch names. It would only make sense. But I digress… after the game (most folks left at halftime), I headed back to the room to get some much needed rest. Oh, the Hornets lost by the way. Maybe they would've been better if their name was "Jazz".

Stay tuned for further updates.

Terance Barkus

No Carpenters Here

Winter quarter finals just finished up for us at the Chicago Booth School of Business, and rather than heading to some tropical locale to escape the never-ending Chicago winter, I’ve just taken off on a week-long alternative spring break trip with 7 fellow classmates to New Orleans.

When people I tell about the trip hear the words, “New Orleans,” most think we are going to build houses for Habitat for Humanity, then smile and nod when I explain our real purpose. While that’s definitely a worthy cause, I’m no carpenter--I’m an MBA. In terms of “practical” skills, I’ve got nothing. The last thing I put together was a dresser from IKEA, and despite its simple Swedish design and clear pictorial directions, it’s a little shaky.

Instead we’ll put our business skills to good use consulting with Tessa, Sarah, and Ian from Affordable Housing Support Corporation. Their organization is looking to rebuild New Orleans by acting as a developer for small multi-family residences that will be rented out as affordable housing units. We’ll be working with them to conduct market research and evaluate their business plan’s financial feasibility. Sounds like we’ve got our work cut out for us over the next week.

In preparation for the trip, several of us watched the 4 hour Spike Lee documentary about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Heavy. With all of the hurricane’s destruction, many people were displaced from their homes and rebuilding has slowed still further due to the current economic downturn and credit crunch. In the greater New Orleans region, half of the housing stock was damaged or destroyed, so developing new affordable residences is an especially important task.

Everyone’s motivation for taking part in the trip is a little bit different. Some of us have never been to New Orleans and want to do something significant while we’re here. Others grew up Louisiana and want to give back to this special place. After traveling to China and Honduras as a tourist and seeing the heartbreaking poverty there, I felt guilty for doing nothing of social value on those trips save bringing American dollars to their economies. My one week here is but a small deposit in helping out those in need in my own country. In all, we hope our education will serve us well while we’re here.

Celeste K. Liou
Chicago Booth
MBA Candidate, Class of 2010