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3 WAYS NOEW 2016 CHANGED THE WAY WE LOOK AT INNOVATION

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New Orleans Entrepreneur’s Week (NOEW) is known as the “Mardi Gras of Entrepreneurship.” The 2016 event held up to that nickname by transforming the CBD’s Fulton Street into an entrepreneurial Bourbon Street, where innovators pitched, networked, ate and drank. 

We were there Monday, when multiple pitch competitions and discussion panels were held. There’s really nothing like NOEW, but if you had to miss this year, here are some of the ways the event might have changed the way you look at innovation:

“Innovation” is a Relative Term

Innovating doesn’t always entail inventing something. Many successful entrepreneurs innovate by taking existing, sometimes antique, ideas and introducing them to new markets.

Such was the case when Windowsill Pies took the grand prize at the Junior League IV pitch competition. Windowsill is a bakery that sets itself apart not only by its product — artisanal savory and sweet pies — but also in service: patrons can enjoy a glass of wine, coffee, or beer within the bakery. 

During their pitch, the founders explained that these pie shops have been a European tradition for many years. Yet relative to the audience, this was a brand new idea that won the competition. (The fact that it was Pi Day probably didn’t hurt Windowsill’s case either).

Art Is A Driver of Innovation

Currently in Baton Rouge, people are moving back to mid-city. Do you know why?

In many cities, neighborhoods like Mid-city Baton Rouge and Central New Orleans have been gentrified largely because of the artists who live there and create “art districts.” Their hallmarks are murals, coffee shops, and artisan shops. However, despite this ability to breath new life into forgotten neighborhoods, many artists fade into poverty. 

At the Creative Industries Summit at NOEW 2016, the panelists called on the audience to look at art in a more innovative way. Art and culture, said the panelists, were “natural resources” that can be cultivated but also depleted. One way art resources can be grown, according to Imani Jacqueline Brown of non-profit organization Blights Out, is by ensuring affordable funding in blighted neighborhoods through new, crowd-sourced funding models.

Another discussion at the Summit revolved around using the incubator model for social innovation. The new Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities's CultureUp incubator offers shared workspaces for cultural-sector leaders and innovators. 

Truly, Everyone Can Innovate

Like the city itself, NOEW 2016 pitches were non-pretentious and approachable. For example, the many of the participants at the 2nd Annual Vetlaunch From-Combat-To-Careers Accelerator Pitch Competition had simple ideas that were executed in genius ways. 

For instance, the winner of the competition, Mike Fernandez of Rowdy Rivals sports apparel, took a saturated market— sports fans — and segmented it in an innovative way. He figured out that within this market, there is a segment of sports "fanatics,” the size of which can be gauged by Spring Game attendance. For this segment, Mike made t-shirts with slogans that mock the competition with unflattering, cheeky slogans (Roll Tears Roll, Parole Tide, etc.).

When we spoke to Mike and a few other pitch contestants, they were amazed at the level of interest and commitment the community has toward entrepreneurs. They seemed to be more confident as a result. Perhaps this is indicative of a upcoming awakening of non-elite people who realize that entrepreneurship and innovation are accessible.

New Orleans is famous for changing people’s perspective; NOEW is certainly no exception. We’re already looking forward to next year’s event. 

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Stephen Loy