For a couple of decades now, New Orleans has tried to reimagine itself as a hub for technology startups. The effort has produced some promising enterprises and some swings and misses.
It’s an ambitious goal for New Orleans to compete with California or Austin or Boston, but the city should be well-positioned for some success.
Winning startups generally spring from the inspiration of the young, and New Orleans is a place that tickles the imagination of youthful entrepreneurs from sea to shining sea.
If the city — and by extension Louisiana — comes to fulfill the promise of the Silicon Bayou, we may look back on 2021 as the year it all began to look possible.
The big news this year was the sale of Lucid for more than $1 billion to a Swedish technology firm.
Lucid gathers and analyzes survey and other data for companies looking for quick insights into customers. It was founded in New Orleans in 2010 by Patrick Comer.
The firm, which was called Federated Sample but changed its name in 2015, employs 550 globally. More than 130 are located in New Orleans, where the firm’s office looks down on the city and the Mississippi River from atop One Canal Place.
Lucid is being purchased for $580 million in cash and $470 million in newly issued stock of the acquiring firm, Cint Group. Comer is expected to become chairman of Cint’s board.
The sale of Lucid comes a month after another success for the city’s startup scene, the sale of construction software company Levelset, which fetched $500 million.
"We are experiencing a moment in New Orleans that will change the landscape of tech and entrepreneurship for generations to come," said Levelset CEO Scott Wolfe of the Lucid sale.
The two sales mean that local investors who backed the firms will have cash to invest in other technology firms.
"The Lucid exit is the capstone on over a decade of effort within our startup community,” said Michael Hecht, president of Greater New Orleans Inc.
The sales are also a triumph for The Idea Village, which has been helping New Orleans entrepreneurs for two decades.
"The events of the past month prove that New Orleans can be an important player in innovation on a global scale," said Idea Village CEO Jon Atkinson.
Startups tend to congregate in places like California and Austin because the talent and the investors are there. Capable people change jobs frequently, and it doesn’t make sense for them, or their employers, if they have to move to a new town to join a new firm.
In the competition for talent, the city and our state have natural advantages, including a vibrant and welcoming culture, great entertainment, and mild weather — except for the occasional hurricane.
GNO Inc. recently changed its mission statement to focus not just on luring the best jobs but building the best community.
But great places to live do not have boil water advisories, they don’t let trash pile up in the streets, they don’t let crime spin out of control.
The winners in this decade will be the communities that are great places to do business and great places to live. We can be both.