The Idea Village is a non-profit organization in New Orleans created ten years ago “for entrepreneurs and those who believe in them.” Their programs identify, support and fund local entrepreneurs, so far 570 of them. Those new start-ups and business ventures generate $87 million in annual revenue and have created about a thousand local jobs. We spoke with CEO and co-founder Tim Williamson about his vision for The Idea Village and about their slogan, “Trust Your Crazy Ideas.” Williamson says the founders’ first crazy idea was that New Orleans could be a world-class entrepreneurial city. He says The Idea Village is now the hub of a global network of entrepreneurs, including Kenneth Purcell, founder and CEO of iSeatz. That company started with local restaurant reservations and now employs 28 people working with clients such as Citibank, Mastercard, Priceline and several major airlines. Purcell started iSeatz 11 years ago and it is now the fastest growing company in Louisiana. We also spoke with Jennifer Schnidman who came to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. She was one of those idealistic young people attracted to the city to help fix it. After teaching 8th and 9th grade math for a bit, Schnidman realized she could do more good by using her background in technology to start her own company called Drop the Chalk. (Schnidman recently competed for a $250,000 grant in the Pepsi Refresh Project, but only the top two vote getters received funding and her “good Gulf idea” finished 14th). She is the only full-time employee of Drop the Chalk so far, but after a year of testing her software in pilot schools, things are definitely looking up. Schnidman received glowing reviews for her product and with hundreds of thousands of schools across the country in desperate need of help, there’s lots of room for growth.
Our next stop is The Hollygrove Market and Farm in Mid-City New Orleans. Twice a week, there’s a farmer’s market here in a traditionally under-served neighborhood, the building also serves as a community center and the acre of land serves as an agricultural training farm and a community garden where neighbors can grow their own crops. Paul Baricos is the executive director of the Carrollton-Hollygrove Community Development Corporation and oversees the operations here. We actually spoke with him on both of our visits to New Orleans - during Jazz Fest it was inside the market along with Tulane history professor Lawrence Powell, for our July visit we spoke outside in the garden. For decades, this was the site of a thriving nursery and gardening business called Guillot’s but they were wiped out by Hurricane Katrina and did not re-open.
We also spoke with mentor farmer Ronald Terry, a local who moved to South Carolina for a while, then moved back home after Katrina. He grows dwarf fruit trees, berry bushes and grapevines at the urban farm, showing neighbors how it’s done and teaching two apprentices who are interested in starting their own plots. Terry seemed especially excited by his eight muscadine vines and how well they’ll produce come next spring. He even invited us to come back and help ourselves to whatever was in his garden.
Our final guest is pharmacist and community gardener Michael Beauchamp. He’s lived across the street since 1972 and started volunteering at the farm as soon as it opened in 2008. He helped set up his neighbors with their own backyard plots, teaching them how to grow herbs and spices in window boxes. Now Beauchamp grows vegetables and flowers in his own plots at Hollygrove. He shares the flowers for free with his wife, family and church and he also sells them to local restaurants. He says one of his greatest joys is using his own herbs when he cooks himself a plate of trout meuniere.
Click here to see more pictures from our trip to southern Louisiana.
You can also listen to past episodes in the series:
PART FIVE (former New Orleans mayor Moon Landrieu and his daughter Madeleine; Tulane University history professor Lawrence Powell; recent Tulane graduate and now New Orleans resident Kerry Mitchell Kraft.)
And here’s a map of the locations of our interviews and other points of interest.
View BES in New Orleans (7/2010) in a larger map
Finally, here is a post script on the series from Bob Edwards:
No Place Like Home was produced by Chad Campbell and Geoffrey Redick, the same team that produced our series of music interviews from Jazz Fest and New Orleans musicians. We went to the southern Arizona desert at the Mexican border to produce Dangerous Crossings—two hours on illegal immigration. The three of us also toured the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, covered the night launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour from Cape Canaveral in 2008 and told the story of the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain System which placed teams social scientists among combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Chad, Geoffrey and I went to New Orleans with the intention of doing a one-hour documentary. But the people of coastal Louisiana just had too many stories to tell and they told them so well that it took us seven hours of air time to pass them on to you. That’s not excessive for a survival tale. After Hurricane Katrina, there were people who said New Orleans, situated below sea level and protected by levees, should be left to the elements. But as David Simon, creator of the New Orleans-based HBO series Treme says, “An ascendant society rebuilds its cities.” Chicago rose from the ashes of a great fire. San Francisco re-emerged from the rubble of its devastating earthquake. We are a better nation for having Chicago and San Francisco and we need New Orleans, too. Yes, it’s known for crime and corruption—-and its work ethic is famously mocked by the phrase “let the good times roll.” But New Orleans may actually be our most American city. It’s Spain, France and Africa plunked down among the Indians on a piece of land created by silt from the Mississippi River. It’s our gumbo—-the straw that stirs our drink—an antidote to our going vanilla—-the cradle of music and literature and art that define our culture. And it’s where hundreds of thousands of our fellow Americans call home. We thank them for sharing their stories.