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ACT Idea Village/Michael Interview

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  • Doing great work and we partner with them all the time.
  • Idea Village is more of a feeling than a thing.
  • Focus should be on human capital
  • Looking for segmentation of types of graduates?
  • 504ward....here as do-gooders.. Give them career opportunities and social cohesion.
  • New Orleans is still too small to over lots of great job.. Needs to partner with (Nola + Baton Rouge) as a super region.
  • Thinks the risk is more of social one, than a career one. Hard to get into the "clique"
  • Need Receivables exchange? Iseek, Turbo Squid. but those types of companies don't need Idea Village.
  • Build a tech quarter building.. need to create critical mass and momentum of human capital

"Idea Village is critically important b/c they are...."

  • Creating a culture or environment that is supportive of innovation. By doing:
    • Parties
    • Earned Media
    • Buzz
  • Providing a place to work and a place for creative professionals.
  • GNO likes partnering with Idea Village
    • Attraction of young Knowledge workers
    • They have sex appeal


== Competitive environment for economic development (ED) organizations == (Hal)

  • Michale characterized the competitive/cooperative environmnent as "fighting over crumbs" with little collaboration or coordination.
  • There are three pillars to ED activities and NOLA is weak in two of them
    • 1- Basic governmental ED - almost non-existant
    • 2- Business council - quality of life issues, serves the bottom level of Maslow's hierarchy of needs
    • 3- Chamber of commerce - servicing current small business (94% of biz in NOLA), weak for ED
  • There is a schism between ED organizations: forward looking (TIV) vs. older line organizations (New Corp?). GNO Inc, clearly sympathises with the forward looking group, but makes an effort to stay neutral to be able to work with both sides. In spite of the schism, there is a lot of informal collaboration, since it is a small group of people dealing with ED.
  • Some of the ED organizations mentioned:
    • - Melinda Littlewood (please help me fix the spelling of these names!) does some in the City
    • - Blakely Shop - redevelopment
    • - GNO Inc - tries to coordinate the other organizations, provides middle level of Maslow's triangle, provides some basic ED, marketing for NOLA, product development, and influence tax policy.
    • - TIV
    • - Seed Co. from NY
    • - New Corp
    • - based on federal funding, such as Aeginal Lood Corp
    • - small neighborhood based organizations, such as Mary Queen of Vietnam
    • - worforce based, minority based organizations, such as Good Work
    • - every parish has their own ED program
    • - 14 ED organizations in NO Parish
    • - OITGO supports the fishing community, moved into the area after Katrina, but is making permanent roots
    • - Start Up NO - cool website, part of the movement of forward looking organizations
  • Michael estimates that 80% of the Katrina $ has gone to existing ED organizations, and 20% to new to the area organizations. There will be a shakeout when the funding runs out. Those organizations that are successful in their missions will survive.

Bruce's writeup on the entire conversation

Cyn raised the first question, asking Michael to discuss the four sectors of the NO economy that had been identified by consultants to GNO as the four best industries in NO poised for growth in light of GNO's workforce analysis that showed shortages of skilled labor in the region. [N.B., from the 08 Trip.doc, they are - international trade - energy, petrochemicals, plastics - advanced manufacturing (defense, NASA, etc) - “creative” businesses & digital media (film, music, digital design, bioscience, hospitality)]

Michael reminded us that they were selected by a consultant and noted that two key criteria for industry focus selection were that the sectors be important region-wide and offer potential for long-term growth, eliminating, for example, hospitality, which is Orleans Parish-focused. He conceded serious problems with not having the right pipelines, especially educational, into the workforce, either for existing or new businesses.

Regarding Bruce's question on data about new business formation and related employment, Michael asked for a followup e-mail reminding him to tap into his sources within Louisiana Economic Development, because the Secretary of State and Revenue and Insurance departments are required to keep records. (Bruce sent it later that day.)

[Section below duplicates much of Hal's comments in the second section of the wiki page.]

In the context of Hal's investigation of other cities and their economic development (ED) efforts, we asked about the competitive / collaborative landscape among ED organizations in the NO area. Michael likened them to "people fighting over crumbs", and said that ED is essentially non-existent at the NO city level. He also discussed the individuals heading the effort for the city, Ed Blakely and Belinda Little-Wood. (Left off the record.)

Among non-profits, there is a large group competing for money, including TIV, New Corps (http://www.newcorpbac.net/) and Seedco (http://www.seedco.org/about/). They focus in many ways, by neighborhood, on minorities, workforce sectors, start-ups, etc., but there is no coordination. GNO was formed with the idea of being the connecting entity among a wide range of similar organizations.

Michael said there is a broad similarity to Maslow's hierarchy of needs among the organizations, exemplified by basic ED organizations, business councils, and chambers of commerce. However, in Orleans Parish in particular, there is "no core"; the NO Chamber of Commerce is "moribund", for example. There are also schisms among the organizations--for example between the newer, forward-looking ones such as TIV and Startup New Orleans (http://www.startupneworleans.com/), and older ones. There is a lot of coordination among the EDOs, but it is largely informal. GNO is in the middle of the hierarchy.

Michael considers Startup New Orleans to be primarily a website for networking and marketing among individuals who want to make NO into another Austin, Seattle or the SF Bay Area. It and similar organizations are trying to market NO's competitive advantages of culture and low cost of living as key attractions of the area.

Regarding TIV's fit in the hierarchy, they are a "specialist partner of GNO" focused on the key areas of innovation / innovative companies and knowledge workers. In fact, Michael believes the people TIV attracts are more important than TIV's work fostering companies. The people and the movement they represent are most important.

Criticisms of TIV include difficulty demonstrating "what have they done?" and developing a message to funders that addresses TIV's and the funders' return on investment. Michael personally likes TIV people, the parties they put on and the people TIV attracts, and TIV's culture, but those are a "hard sell" to funders.

Hal asked about the sustainability of the organizations, particularly when the inflow of money associated with Katrina relief begins to dry up. Michael is worried about a shakeout; the organizations must all create and demonstrate success to the funding base so that they can continue to exist when NO returns to being a "normal place". He believes that most of the organizations are trying to be in ED of NO for the long-term. Only about 20% of the organizations are new (post-Katrina) and they are not "carpetbaggers". They have "gone native", become involved in the culture and won't leave.

Discussion then turned to areas on which TIV should focus, starting with observations about environmental / structural weaknesses in the NO economy. NO is not like the SF Bay Area / Silicon Valley in terms of resources. Education remains an area of weakness, even when all of the technical colleges and 4-year universities in the area are considered. So is a scarcity of risk equity; there is not enough of a "deal flow" nor of investment money. Tim has discussed trying to stimulate risk equity, but NO lacks an area of focus, like that of Orlando on digital animation, for example.

[Near this point, Angie joined the conversation. See the first section of notes on the wiki page.]

TIV could be more effective focusing on human capital: the numbers and types of workers for "high-impact" start-ups. The "brain gain" demographic is an obvious "sweet spot" focus for TIV, but "TIV is more of a feeling than a thing", and metrics are hard to come by. Pam noted that it is difficult for TIV to influence many of the goals of the city of NO.

On the subject of data on human capital, specifically NO area graduates in technology or other new-business-related fields, Michael asked for another reminder to seek out information from someone in his organization (probably Lisa Tomlin, Director of Regional Talent Development. Bruce followed up).

Angie asked about the pool of people with whom TIV should interact. Mentioned were new arrivals, new graduates, "serial entrepreneurs", people attracted to 504ward, and to NOLA YURP (Young, urban, rebuilding professionals: http://www.nolayurp.org/), plus the "do-gooders" who came to help with household rebuilding and were / are looking for opportunities and a reason to stay. Asked if the pool exists and is large enough, Michael said it is "reasonable", with 1.5 million people in the area, but that 2 million might be necessary for critical mass. A combination of NOLA and Baton Rouge might be sufficient. Social integration is the larger issue. New arrivals get lonely without a clique.

Discussion then turned to the types of people and companies on which TIV should focus, and the idea that "if you're good enough, you don't need TIV", citing The New Orleans Exchange, iSeatz, and Turbo Squid (links at http://www.startupneworleans.com/view.php). Reflecting this, Michael said that the epiphany of this conversation was that TIV is "based on a false premise", and Cyn and Pam recalled their conversations with Tim on the subject.

Michael still believes that TIV should focus on, or "devolve back to" its original premise(s):

  • creating a culture / environment supportive of innovation (parties, earned media buzz, and validation of "trust your crazy ideas")
  • providing a place to work for knowledge workers and creative professionals, starting with TIV itself.

After Michael dropped off, the ACT members discussed follow-up items

  • ways to "measure a movement"
  • other cities with a talent retention problem / objective
  • Cyn's e-mail memo on focus and metrics in general
  • developing an example of metrics associated with a specific focus on attracting and retaining the "brain gain" demographic

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