I  spent a few days last week attending a startup conference in Nashville, Tennessee. There, I met with entrepreneurs, investors, and ecosystem builders mostly from Southeastern cities, but also from places like Minneapolis and Indianapolis.

When meeting with people at conferences, I always ask them a few questions: What are some companies I should be watching in your city? What conversations are you having right now about what’s needed to better grow and foster tech startups? And what could your city be doing to better support startups?

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One answer in particular really seemed to envelope a lot of the conversations I had at the conference — as well as with other ecosystem builders lately. When I asked Aaron Walker, the founder and CEO of New Orleans’ Camelback Ventures, what he’d like to see his city do better, he said he’d like to see more “creativity” from economic development agencies.

When I followed up with him over email, he specifically pointed to education as one area for potential. One of Camelback Ventures’ fellows is Rooted School, a charter school that aims to prepare students for a career in the tech industry right out of high school — so they don’t feel the need to go to a four-year university if they don’t want to. He sees an opportunity for economic development agencies to work with startups like Rooted that are pursuing a unique education model to ensure they “can operate at scale to keep local talent in New Orleans.”

He also said that New Orleans should double down on the strength of its existing events — like the annual Essence Festival.

“Essence Fest attracts 500,000 people — mainly black women — every year. It was exciting to see New Voices Fund [a $100 million fund for women of color entrepreneurs] launch at Essence. New Orleans can be — it should be — the mecca for black women founders. Companies like HaberdaSHEILSI Engineering, and OWG can lead the way,” Walker said in an email.

It’s easy for economic development agencies to fall into a habit of trying to replicate what’s worked well in another city. But that creates a pattern of copying programs that — while they may claim to have created a high number of new businesses or jobs — also have some serious underlying issues. Perhaps they spent way too much money to help get those businesses off the ground, or failed to create high-growth startups with the potential to employ thousands of people in that city.

What tired cliches would you like to see the startup leaders in your city ditch? Send me your thoughts and feedback via email.

Thanks for reading,

Anna Hensel
Heartland Tech Reporter

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