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Hurricane Katrina Kicked Off a Startup Renaissance in New Orleans

Within three years after Katrina, the rate of new start-up launches in the city doubled,

Photo: PWood

Hurricane Katrina brought flood waters, destruction and tragedy to New Orleans. But it has also facilitated an entrepreneurial renaissance. Within three years after Katrina, the rate of new start-up launches in the city doubled, the Atlantic reports, and NOLA currently ranks only behind Austin and suburban Washington, D.C., in the speed of its population growth.

Several factors account for these trends, the Atlantic explains:

  • Katrina did bring devastation, but the storm also offered an opportunity to reinvent the city. The school system’s experiment with charter schools is one of the clearest and best-known examples: Since the storm, the share of students enrolled in charter schools has jumped from 30 to 68 percent, making New Orleans the only major city in the country in which the majority of public school students are enrolled in charter schools.
  • New Orleans is also an incredibly cheap place to live compared to other major cities. This is a plus for startups struggling to get off the ground, since the cost of labor and office space are so low.
  • A host of startups have managed to make it big in New Orleans. iSeatz, a company that allows users to book multiple legs of travel on one platform, jumped from gross bookings of $8 million in 2005 to $2 billion in 2013. Another tech company, Kickboard, which helps tracks students’ education progress, raised a $2 million round of funding in February.

Of course, not everything is easy in the Big Easy. Demand for programmers far outstrips supply regardless of whether a startup launches in New York, Boston or Seattle. But New Orleans particularly suffers from a shortage of programming talent. The Atlantic:

There is no getting around this central fact: The city isn’t merely miles behind San Jose and Austin in attracting the nation’s top talent. It’s behind the national average. The share of New Orleans young adults with a bachelor’s degree has increased from 23 to 26 percent since 2000. That’s not just below the average city, but also it’s growing slower than the average city.

But, as the Atlantic points out, entrepreneurs tend to flock. If New Orleans can gain some momentum, the industry might just decide to make the city a new hub.

More from Smithsonian.com:

When Innovation Flows Uphill 
A Dispatch from the Future of Smart-Batch Manufacturing 

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