New Revivalists is a series from ImpactAlpha and Village Capital profiling the people, places and policies reviving entrepreneurship — and the American Dream.
New Revivalist: Andrea Chen and Propeller
Place: New Orleans, Louisiana
Happening now: A new Propeller initiative supports black-owned businesses in neighborhoods surrounding Propeller with low-interest loans of up to $100,000.
More than a decade after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is experiencing something of an economic renaissance, with new business starts out-pacing national averages for years. The benefits of revival haven’t been shared equally however, with many local businesses, particularly those with founders of color, left on sidelines.
Andrea Chen and the Propeller accelerator want to change that. In the aftermath of Katrina, in 2009, Chen and a group of friends took over and rebuilt the volunteer-run Social Entrepreneurs of New Orleans. By 2011, as executive director, Chen and her co-founder transformed the organization into Propeller, supporting nonprofit and for-profit entrepreneurs tackling social and environmental issues across the city.
Their strategy: support local entrepreneurs to solve local problems, namely, food, water, health, and education. How? Make sure their own staff and startup cohort pools reflect the diversity of the city, provide physical space for people to build companies, and provide seed financing many would-be entrepreneurs can’t access elsewhere. Propeller has supported close to 180 ventures and helped to create over 360 full and part-time jobs through its venture alums.
ImpactAlpha caught up with Propeller’s Catherine Gans, head of marketing and communications, to talk about shaping New Orleans entrepreneurial ecosystem.
ImpactAlpha: How does Propeller fit into the recovery underway in New Orleans?
Catherine Gans: There has been a lot of bubbling up of innovation for a long time, but especially for the past decade since Katrina. Propeller was founded in that wake. After the storm, Andrea founded Propeller with a group of volunteers. As she tells it, it was an effort to capitalize on both civic engagement and grassroots initiatives and all of the energy around rebuilding that was happening after the storm.
ImpactAlpha: How has Propeller evolved since its launch in 2009 and first accelerator class in 2011?
Gans: We separated into a startup accelerator and the growth accelerator so that we could serve both of those needs. There are people who are beyond idea stage who need support. Once you grow those initial ideas you also need to build an infrastructure to make sure that you are sustaining and retaining talent. Sometimes when you get a group of people in a room one person is coming up with a name and a logo and someone else is in their second and third round of hiring.
We also realized that if we’re going to tackle social and environmental issues, the real way to make systemic change happen is to zero in on issues where we feel entrepreneurs can really make a difference — where the city really needs us, and then try to build a critical mass of entrepreneurs who we can then connect to policy makers and business leaders in that sector. We now work specifically with entrepreneurs in food, water, health, and education.
1) Racism Without Racists by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva
2) Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
3) Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
More from the New Revivalists:
- The New Revivalists: The people, places and policies reviving entrepreneurship — and the American…
- Derrick Braziel: Breaking down barriers for Cincinnati’s entrepreneurs of color
- Arlan Hamilton: The VC taking cold calls from underestimated entrepreneurs
- Margaret Bradley: Turning Philadelphia institutions into impact investors