As New Orleans strives to become the nation's next startup hub, its strongest asset is the intense interest locals have to staying and growing in the city, AOL co-founder Steve Case said Friday (May 8).
"I think New Orleans is poised to re-emerge as one of the great startup cities in the country, maybe even the world," Case said.
Case was in New Orleans to meet with local startups and spend the day taking a closer look at the city's entrepreneurial community. The visit was part of his "Rise of the Rest" bus tour, which has made stops in 14 cities across the country.
The day included a tour of a local startup, a business pitch competition on a Mardi Gras parade float and lunch with Mayor Mitch Landrieu and other business leaders at the NOLA Brewing Co. brewery on Tchoupitoulas Street.
The day closed with a second pitch competition where Case invested $100,000 in Go To Interview, a New Orleans startup working to streamline the hiring process for restaurants, hotels and other high turnover industries.
Case said many cities that seek to be entrepreneurial hubs lack a distinct startup culture. That is an important part of the mix in attracting young talent, experienced entrepreneurs and money, he said.
Building a connecting cultural identity – whether through Mardi Gras, food or music – is one thing New Orleans knows how to do very well, he said.
You've recognized you need to build that startup culture on the back of those existing cultural traditions," Case said.
Case said New Orleans startups face many of the same challenges as those in other cities, namely attracting money from local and outside investors.
He urged wealthy New Orleanians to get involved and invest in local startups.
"There is a lot of old money sitting on the sidelines," he said.
Case also praised the diversity of New Orleans startups. He noted locals are tackling problems in a wide range of industries, including water management, energy and education. And their founders come from a range of backgrounds, he said.
Most of all, Case said, they want to grow in New Orleans and have a direct hand in helping build the local culture.
"From what I've heard and seen today, if you're an entrepreneur here, you think of New Orleans first and your startup second," Case said. "That's really a remarkable statement."