SENO’s innovation incubation offers a model for New Orleans’ new mayor Mitch Landrieu
When we hear the word “incubator,” the image that comes to mind is big heat lamp glowing above a newborn or maybe a basket of eggs. To the entrepreneur, both business and social, the word conjures up a friendly place where nascent ideas are nourished until they become functioning organizations. To many of the aspiring social entrepreneurs who are working to rebuild New Orleans, the word is synonymous with SENO.
Social Entrepreneurs of New Orleans (SENO) provides funding, mentorship, and leadership development—in a word, incubation—to individuals with powerful ideas for bringing change to their communities. In doing so, SENO has helped breathe life into a cultural arts center, a community bike shop, and even the World’s Healthiest Pizza, all of which breathe life back into the recovering city. SENO came into existence primarily to support the entrepreneurial spirit that coalesced around New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and its training seminars, networking events, and PitchNoLa competitions have energized the folks who are working to rebuild and reinvigorate the city.
Since launching in 2008, SENO has measured its impact with some straightforward numbers: 12 entrepreneur-to-mentor matches made, five leadership workshops launched, and 300 socially-minded entrepreneurs brought together to network. To make those things happen, SENO partnered with well-known organizations. They collaborated with seed funder Echoing Green to produce their leadership workshops and garnered sponsorship from the Louisiana Office of Social Entrepreneurship.
But is simply connecting entrepreneurs to resources enough to produce long-term success? Can an organization like SENO work with policy-makers to ensure that when entrepreneurs take their ideas out of incubation and into the real world, they will have a healthy balance of governmental support and freedom to innovate?
Mitch Landrieu, who was sworn in as New Orleans’ new mayor on Monday, provides SENO with a great opportunity to find out. Landrieu, who previously served as Louisiana Lieutenant Governor since 2004, founded the state’s Office of Social Entrepreneurship in 2006 to bolster recovery efforts from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. As an established social innovation advocate, Landrieu’s presence in the mayor’s office could be a boon to SENO and the New Orleans start-up community. We’ll be watching his efforts to see how he deploys the city’s resources and his bully pulpit to support local changemakers.
For more on social innovation in New Orleans, check out All Day Buffet’s list of 100 of the most powerful ideas and initiatives to emerge from the city since Katrina.