Rebuilding a city
Kellogg students travel to New Orleans to help revitalize the city’s entrepreneurial community By Amy Trang
5/3/2010 - Nearly five years after Hurricane Katrina, the city of New Orleans is reinventing itself as a hotbed for entrepreneurs.
Eight Kellogg students have been a part of that process, working with a local business owner to increase her company’s presence outside the New Orleans area.
They were among the MBA students, corporate volunteers, investors and entrepreneurs from across the nation who gathered in New Orleans March 20-27 to help build and address business opportunities in the recovering city.
New Orleans Entrepreneur Week is organized by The Idea Village, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting and retaining entrepreneurs in the New Orleans area. Teams included students from Stanford, Chicago Booth and Haas business schools, and employees from companies such as Google and salesforce.com. Each team was paired with a New Orleans entrepreneur to work on an issue that the business owner is facing.
The Kellogg team joined forces with NOLA Couture, a New Orleans-themed accessories company owned by New Orleans native Cecile Hardy. Hardy wanted to expand her market outside New Orleans.
In February, Hardy met with the students in Evanston and shared some of the company’s data, including sales and customer satisfaction results. On the ground in New Orleans, Kellogg students interviewed customers, employees and suppliers to understand how they could help Hardy reach her expansion goals.
“Working closely with (NOLA Couture) throughout the week proved how much energy, time, and fire-fighting is required to run a young business,” said Alli Johnson ’10. “Working with the business showed me how small successes can make a young company, yet how dangers lurking under the surface could so easily break it.”
The students developed a growth strategy plan, with a timeline that outlined the goals that had to be met for the expansion to be successful. The students also helped improve the company’s supply chain and inventory processes, calling suppliers and testing groups on NOLA Couture’s behalf to improve the product quality.
The Kellogg students left NOLA Couture with tools Hardy could use immediately, including an inventory management tool and a financial analysis tool to map out sale projections.
Susan Edwards ’10, a student leader on the trip, said the group applied the core curriculum and teamwork skills they developed at Kellogg and got a taste of the real-world challenges that entrepreneurs face.
“It gave a realistic view of the entrepreneur in that it is difficult at times to have multiple focuses and agendas to take care of. As an entrepreneur, it is very difficult to maintain control of that and manage that effectively,” Edwards said. “It made me think about how to build out an organization that is supportive (so that) the entire company is operating effectively from sales to operations to marketing.”
Beyond the analytics and logistics, the students learned how an entrepreneur’s mind works — insight that will prove useful for those considering starting their own business, said faculty adviser Thane Gauthier ’05.
“Entrepreneurs aren’t often easily herded or easily directed,” said Gauthier, a fellow at the Larry and Carol Levy Institute for Entrepreneurial Practice. “In addition to laying out a strategy for what the entrepreneur needed to do, the students had to sell that strategy to the entrepreneur. They had to help (Hardy) see how channeling her energies in a different direction would be beneficial to her business.”
Throughout the week, the students attended talks with various New Orleans business and political leaders, including New Orleans Mayor-elect Mitch Landrieu, political consultants James Carville and Mary Matalin, and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.
Edwards said she is considering moving to New Orleans after graduation to be part of the city’s economic development scene as an entrepreneur herself. The trip allowed her to experience firsthand the passion the city’s business owners have for the community.
“They all love New Orleans and see the potential of it,” Edwards said. “They all want to be change-makers in their community. People really want to rebuild New Orleans and make it the next Silicon Valley.”
Other Kellogg team members included student co-leader Steve Szaronos ’11, Christina Flanagan ’11, Jessica Ford ’11, Songhua Hu ’10, Reed Hushka ’11 and McLean Quinn ’11.