New Orleans is a city that spoils the imagination. Its history is spirited, its food unrepentant, and its climate is sultry nearly all year long. It’s no wonder that so many creative minds (William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Louis Armstrong) have been unable to resist its romance. But lately New Orleans has been attracting a new kind: ambitious entrepreneurs who have found fertile ground along the bayou.
After a trifecta of trauma — Hurricane Katrina, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and a global recession — entrepreneurship has been key to the city’s cultural and economic revival. In March New Orleans hosts its fourth Entrepreneur Week, a conference where aspiring business owners receive coaching from big-name investors and hone their pitches with an audience of MBA students from programs at Tulane, Stanford and Northwestern, among others. It’s the culmination of a six-month-long “start-up season” organized by the non-profit Idea Village, whose ambition to create a sustainable ecosystem for New Orleans start-ups is beginning to come to fruition: they’ve overseen a portfolio of companies that have, between them, created at least a thousand new jobs.
Like many a successful partnership, the foundation for Idea Village sprouted from a conversation at a local bar. That bar, in fact, is the beloved Loa, in the stylish International House hotel. Loa continues to be a place for hatching ideas, thanks to bartender Alan Walter’s killer cocktails and to a fortuitous location a short walk from Entrepreneur’s Row, an office building shared by a number of start-ups. Across the street, the industrial-chic Loft 523 is the top option for those hunting down that first round of funding. Generously sized studio-style rooms, a strong wi-fi signal, and a well-outfitted gym will more than satisfy the needs of today’s self-starter.
Beyond the conference, New Orleans’s “brain gain” can be spied — and, better yet, overheard — at various hotspots around town. Forgo the traditional beignets and start your day with their green breakfast sandwich (the usual, plus arugula, avocado and tomato) from the proudly locavore Satsuma Cafe in Bywater, one of the city’s most artistic neighborhoods. Be sure to stroll along Dauphine Street and soak up the 19th-century architecture that has earned the neighborhood its Historic District status. For lunch, head to the Warehouse District, where art galleries and start-ups are happy bedfellows, sharing oversized loft spaces that were once repositories for shipments of cotton, sugar and coffee. Cochon Butcher, a spin-off of Donald Link’s Cochon, has quickly become the midday spot of choice for the area’s young professionals.
The afternoon might entail buckling down with the computer, so drop into Launch Pad, a co-working space in The Intellectual Property, or IP, another new collaborative office building. In addition to finding a desk, you’re also likely to gain some new friends. Come happy hour, head to the nearby gastro-pub Capdeville for good company, an extensive beer list and gut-pleasing dishes like poutine fries and truffled mac & cheese. And last, since this is the city that prides itself on its late-night tinctures, don’t miss a nightcap at the cocktail bar Cure, where they’re quite insistent about challenging your expectations. Try a Vixen's Heart, whose ingredients include 12-year scotch, Cynar and smoked grapefruit oil. That's the sort of risk/reward calculation that doesn't require an MBA.
From $79 USD