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4 FLOOD EVENTS THAT PROVE CAJUNS ARE NATURAL ENTREPRENEURS

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In the tribulations of the 2016 Flood -- the unprecedented 1000-year inundation that devastated Baton Rouge -- the nation witnessed the kindest and most socially responsible qualities of southern culture. But more than that, people also saw the entrepreneurial, innovative side of Louisianians.

Here are four instances during the flood  that prove southerners are natural entrepreneurs:

Fundraiser Under the Overpass — Entrepreneurship for Social Good

Entrepreneurs see problems and offer solutions. One such challenge arose on the weekend following the flood, when everyone in Baton Rouge desperately needed a break — but no one wanted to stop helping. 

The response was to hold fundraiser in which people could unwind for a bit and simultaneously help flood victims with donations. At the Fundraiser Under the Overpass on Perkins Road near Mid City Baton Rouge, attendees sampled food and drinks from more than a dozen donor restaurants and suppliers. There was also live music, and for $25, party goers could skip lines for food and drink.      

"We had people that were gutting houses all week that needed a break, people that wanted to give back but couldn’t do it through physical labor, and people that were from out of town and curious about our community,” says Kenny Nguyen, organizer of the event. "Overall, what this event did was that it gave everyone a chance to get together and take a break from a very tough week for a good cause through food, booze and music."

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Some of the food cooked and donated to the event was delivered to flooded neighborhoods. All told, the Fundraiser Under the Overpass raised more than $40,000 for the Baton Rouge Area Foundation’s Flood Relief Fund. Many of the funds were raised in $25 increments. 

"Entrepreneurship should be all about this - finding missions that will fulfill needs for the people,” say Nguyen. 

Cajun Navy — Resourcefulness En Masse

One of the most well-known disaster response initiatives during the flood is the Cajun Navy, a spontaneous group of waterborne rescuers whose story will likely be told in South Louisiana for generations. The origins of the group highlight the entrepreneurial nature of its founders. 

When The Times Picayune of New Orleans asked one of the Cajun Navy founding members Kyle Page what he was thinking when he hopped into his boat to rescue flood victims, he responded simply that he was thinking, "I've got to do something."

Although it turned out that Page had indeed lost nearly everything, he nonetheless helped organize and grow what CNN would eventually call "possibly the nation's most important neighborhood watch.” 

One reason the group was effective was that it was able to quickly reach areas that other rescue teams could not. As cellular carriers lost coverage, the Cajun Navy was able to use social media to deploy to areas where they were needed most. For two days, the Navy would go on to rescue dozens from rising flood waters, and many cajun sailors even returned to homes to help with repairs. 

Celtic Studios — Initiative That Can’t Wait

Sometimes you can wait for the government to come to the rescue. But for unprecedented disasters, everyone has a part to play.

When the flood waters began to rise, the Executive Director of Baton Rouge-based Celtic Studios Patrick Mulhearn tweeted: “@CelticStudios is no worse for wear. Air-conditioned and standing by to assist  [. . .]” 

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Shortly after the tweet, refugees began to arrive by the busload, literally. Support showed up as well, including Baton Rouge entrepreneurs Jared Lofus of educational technology start-up MasteryPrep, Tommy Talley of media company Tommy’s TV, and and Logan Leger of software development firm NewAperio.

“I’d never helped run a shelter before,” says Loftus.  "But being an entrepreneur, I’m used to having to get creative and work in challenging situations with limited resources.”

In time, the Celtic Studio not only catered to the basic needs of shelter seekers, but also provided entertainmentattracted celebrity visits, and became a locus for government support. 

Cajun Army — All-terrain Determination

Good ideas often lead to more good ideas. Such was the case with the Cajun Army — a Cajun Navy spin-off for people without boats. 

The Cajun Army was co-founded by Chris King, after he returned home from a harrowing 11-hour boat-rescue adventure with some friends from Morgan City. The rescue being a success, his friends took their boats and returned home. But Chris wanted to keep helping. 

 "I was thinking, 'we are members of the Cajun Navy!’” says King. "But I realized I didn’t have a boat. So I started the Cajun Army on Facebook that night.”

The Cajun Army grew quickly via social media. Now, the organization has nearly 3,000 followers as of this article. Currently, the organization is focused on connecting those in need with the resources they require (such as Cajun Navy rescue). This gives people in immediate danger a way to reach out for assistance over the Web and social media.

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"Cajun Army leaders now are tasked with expanding this organization rapidly,” says King. "We would like to expand this network not just here, but anywhere, so we can let people emerge as leaders."

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Entrepreneurial efforts like the Cajun Navy have created quite an impression on society. From such initiatives, it was made clear that “cajun ingenuity” is not just about hacking temporary fixes, but also about saving lives with limited resources and in the face of great danger. 

The flood has already inspired a wave of entrepreneurship in Baton Rouge, and some organizations are even offering cash investments for good ideas that improve disaster response. While the flood may have created long-term damage to Baton Rouge and surrounding areas, it also highlighted a natural entrepreneurial potential that will hopefully be cultivated into the future. 

To learn more about how to help flood victims or to donate to the Flood Relief Fund, click here.

Stephen Loy