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PowerMoves NOLA – A Festival to Support Minority Entrepreneurship Will Debut At Essence Fest

PowerMoves NOLA – A Festival to Support Minority Entrepreneurship Will Debut At Essence Fest
MBL Editors

Power Moves NOLA


An event that aims to diversify participation in entrepreneurship by serving as a kind of South By Southwest festival for minority business founders will play out for the first time this year in conjunction with the Essence Festival in New Orleans.

PowerMoves.NOLA, running from July 3 to July 6 and focusing on minority-owned businesses with the potential to grow into $10 million operations, will include three business pitch competitions, a boot camp for technology startups, a networking event for startups and investors and a fellowship program for five selected entrepreneurs.

A group of entrepreneurship promoters and economic developers announced PowerMoves.NOLA at Dillard University on Tuesday, describing a need to confront a scarcity of minority entrepreneurs in the New Orleans area and nationally. They cited a statistic from 2011 that only 7 percent of firms presented to angel investors across the United States were owned by members of minorities and a number from 2010 showing that 1 percent of startups receiving venture capital were minority owned.

The lead organizer, Leslie Jacobs, chief executive officer of the New Orleans Startup Fund group that provides seed capital to young companies, described how companies often start with a “friends and family” round of fundraising of people who personally support the entrepreneur and don’t require formal evidence of the venture’s viability.

Such early support is harder to find in groups without long histories of large-scale business ownership, Jacobs said.

“If you don’t have rich friends and rich family, it’s kind of hard to get a friends and family round,” she said.

She said she thinks New Orleans is uniquely positioned to become a center for building such an entrepreneurship culture, citing the existing asset of the Essence Festival as a national event focused on a black audience, the city’s recent spike in energy around entrepreneurship and its outsized fame for cultural richness and the rebound since Hurricane Katrina.

“We are a city people are interested in,” Jacobs said. “As a city we are symbolizing hope, rebirth, opportunity.”

The focus during PowerMoves NOLA on businesses that could reach $10 million in revenue stems from the Startup Fund’s mission to foster steep business growth, Jacobs said.

Rod Miller, president of the New Orleans Business Alliance, said African-Americans own just short of 30 percent of the city’s businesses. The vast majority of those are neighborhood-level companies. “They tend to be lifestyle businesses,” Miller said, “dry cleaners, corner stores.”

Miller said personally he is aware of only a handful of minority-owned New Orleans businesses that could find trajectories to scale up significantly, but a few are emerging.

Historically, minority-owned businesses struggle to gain traction because they lack both money to invest and networks of successful entrepreneurs for guidance, Miller said. He said the summer event targeting that weakness also addresses points raised in the Business Alliance’s ProsperityNOLA plan issued last year.

Michael Hecht, president of the GNO, Inc., economic development group, said spurring prosperity for the New Orleans region requires growing existing business and not just luring companies to relocate, ensuring the strength of the middle class and nurturing minority entrepreneurs.

“We’re growing like we haven’t in decades,” Hecht said. “If we don’t have full participation in this recovery, it’s not going to be a recovery. It’s going to be hollow in the middle.”

The organizers likened PowerMoves.NOLA to the Austin, Tex., South By Southwest, now underway, which has become a major media event for the music, film and technology industries.

Jacobs noted that like Essence, SXSW started as a music festival. It went on to make transformative contributions to the economic success of Austin, she said.

“We want to make this the South By Southwest of black businesses and under-represented minorities,” Miller said.

“It’s going to rebrand our city as the place for minority firms,” he said.

One attendee at Wednesday’s announcement was Koby Sackey, who is developing an application called JoyHound that uses location services on mobile devices to point people to nearby cultural and entertainment events.

Sackey said he is enthusiastic about PowerMoves.NOLA because locally, and possibly nationally, he is unaware of a program exactly like it with its mix of business training and incubator functions and funding opportunities specifically addressing minority businesses.

Other sponsors represented on Tuesday included Chevron and Entergy.

The Chevron PowerMoves Pitch for women entrepreneurs on July 5 at Essence will include a $25,000 winner and a $5,000 audience favorite. The Entergy Tech Pitch for technology companies on July 4th at Manning’s Restaurant also will have a $25,000 grand prize, as well as the New Orleans Startup Fund Pitch for non-tech companies at Manning’s.

Of the five entrepreneurs selected for fellowships, four will receive $25,000 investments and one will receive $50,000.

And Essence will feature participating entrepreneurs in its magazine.