Greater New Orleans Inc. is the support behind a number of efforts to help spur business development and draw investments--including the I.P., which Michael Hecht hopes will be a beacon for entrepreneurs. Hecht, the head of Greater New Orleans, is a former San Francisco restaurateur who moved to New Orleans in early 2006 from New York City, where he was the assistant commissioner of small-business services. "We're putting the same types of companies together to create critical mass and support," Hecht says. "We're creating a symbolic and physical heart of the city."
And they're creating a looser, Silicon Valley-type of vibe. The I.P. building has a gym, a café, a business concierge desk run by The Idea Village and loads of collaborative space, like a "Brainstorm Room" filled with whiteboards. A bar is slated to move in soon and, of course, the building is dog friendly.
Chris Schultz has leased 3,000 square feet to house Launch Pad, which sublets office space, and offers facilities and support for graphic designers, freelancers and startups. Schultz, whose business, Voodoo Ventures, helps develop internet companies in New Orleans, hopes that the physical proximity Launch Pad provides will spark further innovation.
"These companies need community building, mentorship and collaboration," Schultz says. "Having all those people working together in an open space offers an extremely stimulating environment."
Schultz, a Los Angeles native, came to New Orleans out of love--literally. "I met a girl at Jazz Fest," he says. But he's one of a growing number of entrepreneurs--locals, former locals and new transplants--who stay because of New Orleans' mix of economic, human and cultural appeal.
Cecile Hardy, a New Orleans native, was working as a buyer for Williams-Sonoma in San Francisco when Katrina hit. She returned to help and ended up founding NOLA Couture a year later, a New Orleans-inspired clothing line that now has distribution deals with 75 stores across multiple states. "It was a really strange feeling--like I was meant to be here," Hardy says.
Sudan, who has also worked for Calvin Klein and Anthropologie, knows that feeling. She moved to New Orleans from Philadelphia in October 2007 and founded her knitwear company, LiaMolly. Her husband and business partner is from Louisiana.
"When Katrina hit, we had an immediate pull to be part of the rebirth," Sudan says. "Then I started to discover what New Orleans actually had, and I was blown away." LiaMolly's charmingly detailed sweaters are now sold in Bloomingdale's, Anthropologie and about 100 boutiques. "We wanted to be part of New Orleans because it's an inspirational place," she says. "I can't imagine getting the kind of attention and advice we're able to get here in a place like New York."
Free Flow Power of Gloucester, Massachusetts, was also attracted by what the city had to offer. The company develops turbine generators that produce energy from moving water without dams or diversions--a process called hydrokinetic generation. It's planning a major Mississippi River project and put its management offices in New Orleans in 2009 because of access to the marine construction talent in the region and support of the community.