Founders Share Startup Challenges and Successes at Entrepreneur Open Mic
A group of entrepreneurs recently shared their wide-ranging and compelling stories during Baton Rouge’s first-ever Entrepreneur Open Mic, an event designed to build community among entrepreneurs.
The event, held at Kalurah Street Grill and hosted by NexusLA, featured hand-selected entrepreneurs and additional guests who had the opportunity to share their experiences.
“Our intent is to build our community of entrepreneurs through the power of sharing the real stories behind the scenes, breaking down barriers and connecting authentically,” says Wendy Overton, director of programs at NexusLA, which works to connect growth-focused companies to capital, resources and diverse talent.
Overton says entrepreneurs have unique experiences that non-founders can’t always relate to, and storytelling offers a powerful way to share those insights. “This event gives everyone a chance to meet each other, tell some stories, connect and learn they’re not alone,” she says.
One of the most powerful personal entrepreneurial stories shared at the event came from Blanca Isabel of Blanca Isabel Purple Rice, a naturally purple long-grain rice that was developed by her husband, Dr. Milton C. Rush, a rice pathologist at LSU.
Rush died in 2013, but Isabel, 70, has continued and expanded the business — which was one of his final wishes — finding customers in Louisiana and around the country.
The product cooks and tastes like typical long-grain white rice but offers health-benefiting compounds such as antioxidants that aren’t normally found in brown or white rice.
Another story came from serial entrepreneur and author Calvin Mills Jr., who talked about his first business — started to help low-income families get access to computers — and its humble beginnings in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. “If you really want this life, you can have it,” Mills says. “I’ve been through a lot of ups, a lot of downs, a lot of great experiences. But through it all, I’ve always kept my faith and kept my focus.”
Also, Colleen Waguespack said her two decades of experience as an interior designer led her to found Fig & Dove, a line of holiday decor designed to complement the interiors on which she was working. She says the business has grown steadily, attracting customers from all over the world. “The most rewarding part is actually meeting other entrepreneurs, sharing what we’ve learned over the past four years with them, and helping others grow,” Waguespack says.
And New Orleans-based entrepreneur Jane Cooper recounted how she made a career of helping people navigate health care and insurance issues — founding and selling several companies — before opening a wine store with her husband.
Cooper is a member of NO/LA Angel Network, a group of accredited investors from throughout Louisiana who work together to evaluate, fund and nurture early-stage companies. She offered insights into how the investment group works and what types of companies and founders the organization seeks.
Finally, Calvin Fabre, the founder and president of software firm Envoc, offered an impassioned plea for entrepreneurs to focus more on the human implications of their work rather than just the technical side. He recommended the book “A Whole New Mind” by Daniel Pink, which posits that inventiveness, empathy and meaning are becoming more valuable as the information economy evolves.
“Make sure that whatever you're doing, you’re engaging with your right and your left brain,” Fabre says.