Monday, April 30, 2012

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.