Forty percent of all wetlands in the United States are in the state of Louisiana. And with the fifth-longest coastline in the nation, Louisiana’s water economy is very much in play when it comes to the state’s overall economic health. The challenges that come with maintaining such an economy may seem like something that’s left up to government agencies, but that’s not how New Orleans entrepreneurs see it. Since 2014, a collaborative initiative between Propeller, the Idea Village and the Greater New Orleans Foundation has focused on solving critical regional water challenges through entrepreneurship.
“Social innovation is a critical component of the entrepreneurial ecosystem,” says Catherine Gans, marketing and communications director for the nonprofit organization that helps launch social and environmental ventures. “For social entrepreneurs, ‘disruption’ means changing the status quo by providing financially sustainable, viable solutions to pressing social issues.”
The latest year-long collaboration on solving the region’s water challenges concludes on March 14 with Water Challenge 2016, a full-day summit focused on Louisiana’s growing water economy. In addition to panel sessions, there is also a pitch competition, with a $15,000 prize sponsored by the Greater New Orleans Foundation. The three finalists, Martin Ecosystems, Hanging Gardens and Caminada Bay Oyster, address a variety of issues, including water quality, land loss and stormwater management.
“The Water Challenge and other social innovation pitch competitions like it create a culture of innovation around problems that affect the vibrancy and safety of our region,” Gans says.
And how fitting it is that this summit will take place right in the middle of New Orleans Entrepreneur Week (NOEW), which starts on March 11?
Gans points out that NOEW does an incredible job of sparking engagement in the New Orleans entrepreneurial community and shining a national spotlight on New Orleans as a hub for innovation and ideas. With $18.7 billion estimated in the settlement for the BP oil spill and $50 billion slated to be spent in the next 50 years to restore Louisiana’s coast, “there exist numerous potential revenue streams for entrepreneurs to finance innovative solutions to issues that have threatened our coastal and urban water safety for decades,” she says.
The Water Challenge is free and open to the public, but registration is required via www.NOEW.org.