The public image of entrepreneurship is pretty shiny. We imagine smartly dressed young men and women drawing things on white boards, making pitches to venture capitalists, ringing the bell at Wall Street following their initial public offering.
But of course real entrepreneurship is nothing like that. Starting a business or other enterprise not only requires the ability to endure dozens of confusing failures, but a knack for regularly learning from those failures and turning them into successes. This is true from the very beginning — in fact, many entrepreneurs embrace this way of life not because they came up with some great idea in business school, but because they had lost their jobs or needed an extra $100 a month to feed their kids. The same is true for social entrepreneurship; think how many nonprofit leaders, when asked why they started their organizations, have replied, “Because no one else was doing anything.” Failure, neglect, desperation — for a true entrepreneur, these are all opportunities for growth.
This may explain why more than five years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is being lauded in this month’s Inc. magazine as “the coolest startup city in America.” That designation isn’t based on vain hope but hard facts. According to article author Donna Fenn, between 2007 and 2009, 450 out of every 100,000 adults started a new business in or around the Big Easy, which is higher than the national average (and double the local rate before the storm). We imagine that when social entrepreneurship is factored in the rate would be even higher. Fenn goes on to detail several events designed to encourage innovation Cajun-style. The rub: remember how many thousands of students canceled their Spring Break plans to pitch in with the reconstruction of New Orleans? Among them were future MBAs, and many of them have been coming back on a regular basis to help the region not just rebuild, but reboot with new ideas and expertise.
At UX4Good, we’re betting that we can do the same thing with user experience designers. That’s why for our 2012 event we’ll be converging on the Gulf. We’re already talking to social service organizations in the area who feel they could benefit from UX expertise and help designers hone their skills by solving new challenges. But as the Inc. article demonstrates, New Orleans’s problems aren’t the main reason we were drawn there. Rather, we are eager to see how our designers tap into the city’s resilient spirit and emerging entrepreneurial ethos. In Chicago (site of our 2011 event) a spirit of innovation once grew out of a great disaster and never went away — we’re sure that with the right combination of talent and tenacity, New Orleans can repeat the feat. Laissez les bon temps rouler!
UX4Good 2012 will take place May 2-4. If you have ideas about who we should work with there or what kinds of problems we could solve, contact us here.