Monday, April 30, 2012

Startup City

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to find myself in lovely New Orleans for a Pulitzer family reunion. My grandfather was the oldest of twelve brothers and sisters so there are a lot of cousins as a result; and we thoroughly enjoy getting together regularly.

Before arriving in the Crescent City one of my cousins [Carol Pulitzer] emailed me she was moving back to "NOLA" (New Orleans, Louisiana). She said NOLA was experiencing a renaissance technologically, entrepreneurially and artistically. I was intrigued. I emailed another cousin [Alexa Pulitzer] who's a 3rd generation New Orleanian and she enthusiastically confirmed it. Now I was hooked on finding out more.

Alexa, who has her own incredibly successful brand of beautiful stationery, mousepads, party cups and other items, introduced me to The Idea Village  Co-Founder/CEO Tim Williamson. So, while there, before the reunion festivities kicked-off, I walked a few short blocks from our hotel (the Monteleone, which by the way charges an outrageous $10 a day per device to access the Internet!) to their lofty space.

The next two hours flew by in what was one of the most friendly and interesting meetings I've been party to in a while.

The first 20 minutes or so were filled with "oh so your cousin is..." and "I went to school with your cousin ______ " and "my wife went to school with your cousin _____." I was struck by the similarities of "who do you know" and "what high school did you go to" between this town with French origins and the country where I now live (France). I guess some old habits die hard! Fortunately I had all the right answers. But there is something to be said for Southern hospitality and, of course, Entrepreneurial friendliness.

After introductions went around, Tim provided me with an excellent background and overview on The Idea Village and the city. Next Communications Manager Cameron Yancey offered the point-of-view of a native New Orleanian on the city's new growth. The Idea Village is home to several Entrepreneurs-in-Residence and one of them, Kevin Wilkins, provided insights as a recently relocated Mid-Atlantic experienced business manager.

And without further ado, here are the findings:

Kevin Wilkins: From The City on a Hill to The Crescent City

Before learning about one of The Idea Village's Entrepreneurs-in-Residence Kevin Wilkins I learned a lot about his wife and her family. But that's how things are here in New Orleans. Family background is an important way things were in New Orleans. And it's an interesting parallel to how things are changing.

His wife, Ginny Wise, came from a family where for generations everyone went to Tulane University. She was the only one to break tradition and go to "Dart-mouth" as they called it. Kevin and Ginny met there and moved to Boston after school. While she began doing development, he went to Harvard Business School. Twenty years later...they'd built a life there. During all this time his Mother-in-Law was always asking when Ginny was going to move back home. Even after Hurricane Katrina, when many New Orleanians felt a need to go home and help rebuild their city, it wasn't the right time for her. Then, eighteen months ago she got a call from Tulane University to do development. This was the inspiration she needed and wanted to move back home. In August 2010 she moved back to New Orleans with Kevin and their three boys ages 13, 8 and 7.

Kevin, coming from a solid background in general management, marketing and operations for large corporations as well as start-up companies, decided to take some time off and was teaching at Tulane where he met Tim Williamson, CEO of The Idea Village.

During our meeting on Wednesday, April 4th, 2012, Kevin had a lot of great insights on New Orleans and the changes happening in this city.  He said, "There's a sub-culture that's bubbling up." What surprised him was the economic energy. He has advised entrepreneurs through The Idea Village for six months and he states seriously "the Village culture is impressive. The network is real. The breadth of talent and a diversity of industry are among NOLA's strong points now. Before New Orleans was in disparate groups, The Idea Village is the hub to help these components work together. "

The Idea Village's big event, The Big Idea, on the closing day of New Orleans Entrepreneur Week drew over 1600 people. "That's a leading industry indicator and shows pent-up demand. The city wants to be a part of the energy. It's a tipping point." Areas where Kevin has been especially focused are the Charter School industry and Water Management technology. In the six months he's been working at The Idea Village he's experienced surprises, learning and humility. Kevin admits to being a structured, driven worker and he has learned to be more flexible and assume a more "can-do" attitude. "If you're driven you can do anything here. There are opportunities in water management, film and biotech. And it's real, viable, sustainable and growing!" As his 83-year old mother-in-law said at The Big Idea event, "I can't believe the momentum of this city." Today Kevin sees "there is so much more to the city than Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest. There is talent and innovation. And, you can have a balanced life here." Those are words to live by.

Cameron Yancy Shines

Cameron Yancy is a bright star in her field. She has the luck of youth, enthusiasm and the gift of savvy smarts to help her build her budding career at The Idea Village. She started as a volunteer and then interned as she helped on the 2001 coffee table book HowThey Did It. Her hard work paid off and she transitioned into the Special Projects Coordinator and then finally to her present position as Communications Manager. Born and raised in New Orleans she returned in 2009 after school. Cameron says that coming back she didn't realize the wealth of opportunities available now in NOLA. The Idea Village, and NOLA in general, now has so many new connections and opportunities, you can come in and get C-level management roles and opportunities when you dive in and seize the opportunities here. Despite her youth, Cameron has an informed viewpoint having grown up in New Orleans. She informed me during our meeting on Wednesday, April 4th, 2012, that today "there is a holistic approach with entrepreneurs here." There is an idea of "how can we push New Orleans" to the forefront. They want to help each other. As The Idea Village's CEO Tim Williamson said, "the Brain Drain has stopped with Cameron. She is a real-life example of Talent who has stayed."

The End of an Era: The Official End of the Minitel

The Minitel, a place where you could look up phone numbers, find a cinema, check the weather and more, and a forerunner to the Internet has it's end near. The Télétel service will end on June 30, 2012, rendering inoperable numerous Minitel's still actually in service. In an e-mail sent to its clients, the telecommunications company Orange reminded its clients of this due date marked by a significant step: starting Wednesday March 7th Minitel renters will not be charged. All good things have their day.

Mirsky's Back!

David Mirsky is back on the web! Well, he never left but he has a new website, blog, Facebook Fan Page and Twitter feed. Old-timers like me will remember "Mirsky's Worst of the Web," a comical site in which he "honored" bad website design. WOTW was the first well-trafficked site to feature "bad" web sites for entertainment purposes and was a refreshing answer to all the "Cool Site of the Day" and other upstarts.

Now Mirsky's back at it again, this time with a "copywriting agency." If you're in need for a sharp copywriter, Mirsky's your guy.

Twitter: @MirskyAgency

Bits & Bytes

- Mark Frieser has launched a blog focusing on music rights licensing, technology, and content at: The first post, "Handguns or music rights - what's easier to license?" goes into the state of the sync licensing marketplace today and what can (in my opinion) be done to make it a better place for the buyer and seller through innovation and implementation of technology. His weekly posting will be joined with guest writers and profiles from noted industry executives and artists.

- Old-timer lawyer Havona Madama is getting in on the Kickstarter craze with a book project by her daughter Stoney Nakoda Cooks.