I'm changing things up a bit this week. I'm devoting the entire week to start-ups, specifically those operating out of the Launchpad in New Orleans. Most of you know I was back there a couple weeks ago. What you may not have known is that I was there to do more than drink whiskey, eat fried food, and shoot guns (though I certainly did all three of those things in mass quantities). I'd been hearing about a tech start-up explosion in New Orleans for a couple years now, and I wanted to see if it was for real.
I'm happy to report that Silicon Bayou is very much for real.
I got in touch with Molly Oemichen, editor in chief of Silicon Bayou News - the paper of record for all things tech entrepreneur in the Big Easy. She arranged for me to tour Launchpad and meet a number of the IGNITION winners. I'm going to be highlighting three of the companies I met with this week on WSO.
It's impossible not to be impressed when you walk into Launchpad. For starters, it takes up three floors of a large building on Magazine Street in downtown New Orleans. More than its size though, is the sense of collaboration you can feel as soon as you walk in.
On top of being a start-up incubator, Launchpad is also a co-working environment. So any entrepreneur can rent work space in the Launchpad and it's surprisingly affordable. In fact, the most expensive space you can rent is one of the large, 2-person private offices and they start at just $650 a month. If all you're looking for is co-working space in the bullpen, that can be had for $275 a month - less than $10 a day. For those seeking a more spacious arrangement without the private office, a permanent desk can be rented on the periphery of the bullpen for $450 a month.
The bullpen is a busy place, and it's where I met the IGNITION founders I interviewed for this week's profiles. Imagine long conference tables surrounded by start-up founders pounding Red Bull and frantically coding and you've got a mental picture of the bullpen at Launchpad. The importance of this environment was not lost on me, because it enables a level of collaboration you wouldn't find almost anywhere else.
Everyone knows what everyone else is working on, and everyone is pulling for everyone else. And, with that much tech horsepower in the same room, almost any programming solution can be created in short order.
Launchpad is also geared toward keeping you working. There are always classes being offered there, and while I was there a Rails zero-to-expert class started up. There is a gym in the building, and yoga classes are offered several times a week. Launchpad has conference and meeting rooms available for people to use, and the walls of one meeting room are floor-to-ceiling white boards for those marathon mastermind sessions.
So why New Orleans?
New Orleans is a great spot for start-ups for a number of reasons. First, the cost of living is lower than almost anywhere else in the country. The weather is great. The people are friendly. The city is vibrant and fun. And, most important, since Hurricane Katrina the city has made a massive commitment to business - which is why you see so many movies and TV shows made there, why there has been a tech explosion, and why some entrepreneurs (as you'll see later this week) have given up Sand Hill Road for Bourbon Street.
So what is Launchpad IGNITION?
IGNITION is a special program within Launchpad that works like a Y-Combinator. Companies applied for the program and were vetted for viability. Seven companies were chosen for the 12-week program, and they're being mentored and fostered to ensure their long-term success. Most of them hit SXSW this past weekend, and it's officially New Orleans Entrepreneur Week this week, so they'll be delivering their pitches on Wednesday for a shot at $100,000 in seed funding.
The companies I'm going to highlight for you this week are all potential game changers in their own space. One is an industry-specific software solution, one is an innovative way to give gifts, and one might even change the face of IB recruiting forever...