Five Women Who Rocked New Orleans Entrepreneur Week

Lisa Atia, Creative Brand Strategist at Blavity delivers a keynote speak on Thursday, March 23, 2017 at New Orleans Entrepreneur Week.

Editor’s Note: This post was co-written by Summer Suleiman and Emily Field.

Fellows, have a seat. After a jam-packed week of incredible content, pitches and parties, the verdict is up: NOEW 2017 belonged to the women.

The weeklong festival celebrating entrepreneurship and innovation New Orleans brought a vibrant, dynamic and colorful host of speakers to the stage last week. From Leslie Miley, President and Director of Engineering at Slack, to Adrien Lanusse, Vice President of Global Consumer Insights at Netflix – the speakers were top notch. But one thing is certain – powerful women commanded the stage.

With a swanky new festival site at the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) and Ogden Museum of Southern Arts, The Idea Village (the producers of NOEW) and Solomon Group (the production team), nailed it. We’ll also take this moment to point out that most of The Idea Village team behind NOEW, save for a few guys, was comprised of women. Who Run the World??

The ‘Backyard’ at the new campus, otherwise noted as the week’s hip hangout spot for business movers and shakers, left festival goers lingering around long after hours, only to be politely asked to leave by staff. Go home people!

This year’s festival saw a slew of fresh faces from small business owners, to creatives, to seasoned entrepreneurs, and brought in attendees from cities including LA, New York, and Miami, to name a few.

The Big Idea, the culminating event and crowd driven pitch competition, ended with a bang with the winner, Ready Responders, taking home the $25,000 prize.The festival opened and closed with New Orleans favorites including the Hot 8 Brass Band and Kermit Ruffins, who stuck around after hours to keep the celebration rolling with festival goers.

NOEW has us counting down to its 10th birthday next year. We can’t wait to see what’s in store. We have a hunch that New Orleans will become the destination festival for creatives from all over the country. But will it become the hub of tech entrepreneurship in the south? We’ll get more into that later. But for now, forget dropping the mic. We’re fixing crowns, because it was the women who ruled the NOEW kingdom this year. Here’s a look at just some of them.

Kelly Claverie, co-founder of Girls Guide

Kelly Claverie, charmed the crowd on the first night of NOEW during Open Mic Night, a live story-telling experience where entrepreneurs share some of their toughest experiences. Claverie, formerly a Catholic high-school teacher, left her job and began dabbling in graphic and web design on a whim. That led her to starting Girls Guide, the go-to guide for women visiting New Orleans, with co-founder Mignon. The duo plans customized itineraries for women travelers from all over looking for an authentic New Orleans experience. We enjoyed hearing her story on what she called “the accidental entrepreneur”. She charmed the stage with her seemingly effortless and funny storytelling skills, but what really had us swooning is the fact that she’s a self-taught techie. Now, that’s a bad ass boss lady.

Lisa Chow, Producer and host of Startup podcast

Lisa Chow might know a little more than she’d like about what it’s really like to start and grow a company as the host of the Startup podcast. Chow is getting ready to launch the fifth season of Startup, which documents the real lives of entrepreneurs as they do just that – startup. When Chow’s old colleague, Alex Blumberg, founder of Gimlet Media, called her up about working on Startup, she jumped on board. Chow hails from radio having formerly worked with NPR’s Planet Money, and New York Public Radio.  In a prior season, Chow spent a lot of one-on-one time with Dov Charney, the controversial yet charming founder of American Apparel, as he dove into his newest venture. This season, Startup will touch on a different startup in each episode. Chow spoke at the Women’s Summit at NOEW and spent some one-on-one time with us at The Distillery. We were blown away by her behind-the-scenes insight into some of the complex and fascinating startup characters. We’ll have more with Chow later on The Distillery.

Lisa Atia, Creative Brand Strategist of Blavity

It was unanimous. Lisa Atia, Creative Brand Strategist at Blavity, a new media company geared towards telling stories of black millennials, blew us all away with her keynote at NOEW. Beyond her captivating story of growing up to an Egyptian father and White mother in Los Angeles, Atia’s insight into working from the ground up with Blavity was fascinating. (Not to mention, it’s one of the coolest media startups to keep an eye on right now.) Atia also shared that Blavity launched 21ninety.com, a beauty, health and wellness site devoted to women of color, earlier in the week. The name “21ninety” denotes 21-which is the number of days it takes to form a habit, and ninety-the number of days it is takes to create a lifestyle. We can’t wait to see what content comes out of the media mavens next. As for Atia, it wasn’t long before she was cracking open crawfish with the local entrepreneurs after hours at the Camelback Ventures and The Idea Village dinner. Atia’s down-to-earth spirit, and laid-back vibes had us feeling like she was a New Orleanian in a another life. Look out for our one-to-one with Atia, and an in-depth look at building Blavity next month on The Distillery.

Leona Christy, founder/CEO of Catalyst: Ed

The biggest day of all belonged to the ladies who pitched at Demo Day and the Coulter IDEApitch. Leona Christy delivered one of the best pitches we’ve seen by far. Growing up in India, Christy’s father told her to make sure that her career was dedicated to helping others. So naturally, Christy rebelled, she says, and landed a high-powered marketing job. After some time, Christy found that her father was right after all. At her core, she wanted to help others. After almost a decade working in the world of education non-profits, Christy launched Catalyst: Ed, a startup dedicated to matching “education organizations with vetted experts for short-term, mission-critical needs. Catalyst: Ed provides a database of educational consultants for organizations to choose from, and sets them up for success by vetting the experts for the proper expertise.

Crystal McDonald, co-founder/CEO of Acrew

Finally, we couldn’t help but feel like the audience rejoiced when Crystal McDonald, CEO of Acrew, won the Coulter IDEApitch’s $100,000 investment. As a former quick service restaurant owner, Crystal McDonald had experienced the challenges of streamlining the hiring process for hourly-waged jobs. McDonald had seen both sides of the coin, both from an owner’s perspective and a recruiting and business development professional. McDonald saw companies lose money over inefficient hiring processes and watched employees turn over quickly in jobs. She co-founded Acrew, a startup dedicated to providing “on demand video interviewing solutions that save recruiters time and money,” . Acrew’s aim is to provide a personal approach to the hiring process through first impression videos, which applicants can submit through Acrew’s site for viewing by potential employers. Not to mention, McDonald pitched just two months after giving birth to her second child with husband and co-founder, Todd McDonald.

Pardon us. We’ll be right back with more NOEW 2017 follow-up coverage after this brief   celebratory dance.

The Distillery

The Distillery is an editorial blog that tells the real experiences of entrepreneurs. We cover the hardships and challenges that entrepreneurs endure as they start and grow companies.

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