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Lauren Zanolli headshot

NOLAPitch: The Crescent City “Shark Tank” for Social Good

Ten budding social entrepreneur teams pitched their hearts out on November 19 in New Orleans for a chance to win $5,000 in launch funding. In its fifth year, the PitchNOLA: Community Solutions contest is organized by local socent incubator Propeller and Tulane University’s SISE program and the Levy-Rosenblum Institute for Entrepreneurship. This week, it pitted the semi-finalists head-to-head for an elevator pitch session a la Shark Tank: in front of a packed audience and three expert judges ready to critique each presentation.

The ideas ranged from local, sustainably-sourced parade supplies to a date rape drug detector to a teacher training program that aims to put more African-American males at the head of the classroom. Whether for-profit or nonprofit, all contestants targeted a specific social and/or environmental issue plaguing New Orleans. As the city continues its economic rebound eight years after the devastation of Katrina, entrepreneurs of all kinds have emerged as a critical force for job creation and improvements in healthcare and education.

Here are a few of the next crop of up-and-coming change-makers in the Big Easy:

Grand Prize Winner:

Crescent City Connections, Zach Cheney, Melissa Garber & Theodore Nathan

The group behind Crescent City Connections (CCC) walked away with $5,000 for their voluntourism startup that connects visitors to New Orleans with local NGOs. An estimated 9 million people visit the city each year and spend a total of $6BN. By charging $60 per head for a full-day volunteer experience (including food), CCC aims to capture some of that tourism revenue (and the lingering desire to help rebuild New Orleans) to bring manpower and much-needed funds to local NGOs.


Center for Restorative Approaches, Troi Bechet

Ms. Bechet and her small group of volunteers run the Center for Restorative Approaches (CRA), an in-school conflict resolution training and consulting that teaches students a simple but often forgotten lesson — “if you harm someone, you have an obligation to repair that harm.” CRA uses a train-the-trainer model to establish school leaders over a two year-period. Since their launch, demand has been so high that they have not been able to keep up. With the ultimate goal of helping to stem the school-to-prison pipeline, CRA has had incredible success with pilot customers, including a 74 percent reduction in suspensions at one school in just one year.

NOLA Eye Care, Anushka Das & Aleena Ashary

After witnessing the difficulties firsthand of patients with low access to quality affordable healthcare during a summer internship with a mobile rural eye clinic in India, Ms. Das started noticing the same issues in New Orleans and became inspired. “Why am I traveling halfway around the world when I can work on the same problems right here,” noted Ms. Das, who is originally from India. She teamed up with Ms. Ashary, who hails from neighboring Pakistan, to launch NOLA Eye Care — a mobile volunteer-run eye clinic that will conduct free eye screening and help uninsured patients obtain prescription eye glasses for as little as $25.


Benefit LLC, Andrew Ryan

Brothers Empowered 2 Teach, Larry Irvin & Kristyna Jones

DrinkOnUs, Thien Ninh, Michelle McCarthy, Adam Kovacs & Christopher Collins

Gradient, Brandie Burris & Alex Gallagher

I Heart Louisiana, Katrina Brees

iSTEMNOLA, Deborah A. Anderson, Howard Coyners & Jaime Wright

Where Y’Art, Catherine Todd & Collin Ferguson

[Image Credit: Propeller]

Lauren Zanolli headshotLauren Zanolli

Lauren is a freelance writer based in New Orleans. She has covered a wide array of geographies and topics, from economic and business developments in the Arabian Gulf, to arts and culture in Turkey, to social enterprise and the microfinance sector in Southeast Asia. She's also worked on the business side of things, with two years experience in strategy and marketing at a large renewable energy firm. Keep in touch: @laurenzanolli and lauren.zanolli@gmail.com.

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