As part of our month-long expedition across North America in search of creativity, community, and innovation; we explore some of the inspired local businesses flourishing in the city.
We also had the chance to meet with Chris Schultz, founder of Launchpad and President of Voodoo Ventures, who took us on a tour of his collaborative co-working + startup space in the Gallery District and discussed the culture of collaborative innovation that he’s seen (and helped) grow over the last five years:
…[Post Katrina], the business community has become much more open and embracing of transplants and people moving in. When I first got here [before the hurricane] it was difficult to break into the traditional business community… and that all changed after Katrina. NOLA has become very warm and welcoming business environment. There is a real sense of connection and community in the start up community here that I don’t see in other places. [It's] fostered by what we’ve gone through together; lifting ourselves up by our bootstraps post-Katrina have made us realize how dependent we are on each other and that a rising tide will lift all boats, and that we all want to succeed together.
New Orleans is where this country is going. It’s sort of a boutique city… It’s very much a place of our times; where people are looking for careers that have more meaning than how much money you’re making, where they want to give back to society – sort of the antithesis of where we’ve been in the last decade.
Robert LeBlanc is the founder of Lifestyle Revolution Group, the entertainment and hospitality firm behind Republic of New Orleans (one of the city’s largest music venues, pictured above) and most recently, Capdeville (a restaurant-bar neighboring Launchpad). He talked about the inspiration behind Republic, and how he’s witnessed the city’s spirit change since Katrina:
Republic of New Orleans opened 2-3 months after the storm. It was a pretty drab time, a utilitarian time; the [entertainment] offerings were limited. And on the other side, everyone’s social fabrics had been ripped apart quite literally by Katrina – friends evacuated, never returning. Meanwhile you had this tremendous influx of really talented, really creative people who moved here to help us rebuild NOLA.
So from a functional standpoint and a cultural one, we thought it was necessary to give people a communal place. We felt it was important to create a place that was most of all, a flag in the ground that said we’re here, we’re going to start putting New Orleans back together.
Entrepreneurship in New Orleans is more ambitious and creative now – which I think comes from the worldview that we’ve gained: both from NOLAers going to other places and coming back with new approaches, and also this influx of creative people with new ideas.
We also caught up with Blake Haney, Creative Director and co-founder of Dirty Coast (which we first came across last year). Dirty Coast is a design & t-shirt company that’s built a successful business around celebrating New Orleans – working with local designers and artists to create apparel that brings to life the city’s distinct culture, identity, and inside jokes. Blake, NOLA-born and raised, founded the company a year before Katrina - when New Orleans was still a city beloved by those who knew it, but largely overlooked by those who didn’t. He talked with us about the changes he’s seen since the launch, the ‘silver lining’ in the challenges NOLAers now face, and what makes NOLA so special:
A lot has changed since Katrina, and I think most folks would agree that a lot of it has been for the better. Katrina kind of pushed everything to its end game and forced everyone to rethink everything – police, education, politics… There have been businesses that have run into hard times, but there has been an influx of new energy, new folks moving here.. People who are drawn to the challenge – the challenge of coming into and restarting a city like this.
We have a t-shirt here that says “So far behind we’re ahead” – and that was one of the first ones we designed – because the city has always been a little bit behind the curve of everywhere else. But in a way that’s an advantage. When other cities were tearing buildings down and putting in strip malls, and people were leaving and moving to the suburbs – New Orleans wasn’t. Now everything is reverting back to local, walkability, authenticity –and the whole time New Orleans has always been that way. The reason people move down here, and the reason people stay is because at its heart, New Orleans is extremely local. Everything is about the neighborhood, the local cuisine, the people… we’re not huge fans of pomp and circumstance.