Courtney Williams: Move Your Tech Company to NOLA Like I Did
“Entrepreneurs are taking advantage, making NOLA their home and helping revitalize the city and reshape its future.” Local entrepreneur Courtney Williams talks about relocating his company to New Orleans and how the city’s business community assisted, including NOLABA, in his Forbes column.
Just a few short years ago, I was running my ed-tech startup from various locations around New York City. On a beautiful spring day, I could be found taking calls poolside at Soho House. In the fall, I lounged on one of the many benches that run along the Hudson River promenade in Battery Park. On rainy days, I would stay home and do product demos from my guest bedroom in Long Island City. So why, then, would I trade panoramic views of Manhattan, access to thousands of restaurants and some of the most interesting people in the world for hurricanes, humidity, and small city life?
Well, for one, my fledgling company and newly-minted family needed a new home. Having recently married a wonderful woman and welcomed a newborn son, I needed to reassess the virtues of 900 square feet of living space. Many couples in our situation move to the ‘burbs or mortgage their lives for a slightly bigger apartment. But launching and growing a startup in NYC means that you are a tiny fish in a very large and crowded pond. You are not special at all, which makes navigating an already bumpy road even more challenging.
And while Torsh‘s mission is to change the world, making headway in a large city is akin to swimming upstream against a very strong current. Add to this the city’s high cost of living and high labor costs, and a geographic move made sense. But, where should we go?
My wife and I were diligent in our search for a new hometown. Lower cost of living was high on the list of priorities. But having spent most of my life living in big cities like New York, Washington, D.C., London, and Miami, the city we chose needed to offer something in the way of culture, food, energy and overall vibe.
New Orleans was not even on the shortlist. But then I visited in December of 2013. On that trip, I found myself in an area called Uptown, driving down St. Charles Avenue past grand old homes and beautiful gardens, a world away from the hustle, bustle and insane housing prices of New York City. A seed was planted.
Then, in 2014, I met Leslie Jacobs, a wonderful woman who would later become a key adviser to my company. Leslie is a businesswoman and education activist who, among other achievements, founded PowerMoves.NOLA, an organization devoted to promoting minority entrepreneurship in New Orleans and across the country. Leslie was determined to make New Orleans Torsh’s new home, and she sold me hard on the city.
But I still hadn’t accepted the inevitable. After our initial meeting, we agreed to keep in touch. Then that winter, while planning our company’s annual off-site, Leslie rolled out the red carpet. Working with the New Orleans Business Alliance, she scored us heavily discounted hotel rooms in New Orleans along with the use of her offices and assistant for the duration of our stay. I gratefully accepted.
It was on that trip that things really crystallized. I realized that something very special was happening in New Orleans. For one – The state of Louisiana has one of the most generous tax incentive programs for tech entrepreneurs in the country. (Who knew?) Louisiana’s Digital Media and Software Incentive program provides a 35% tax credit on salaries for tech hires, and 25% tax credit for other labor costs. Additionally, organizations like the New Orleans Startup Fund exist to pave the way for startups with strong growth potential, providing seed capital and other services like relocation assistance.
Dedicated leaders like Leslie, backed by programs and organizations designed to lure tech companies, have created fertile ground where companies like mine can flourish and thrive. Entrepreneurs are taking advantage, making NOLA their home and helping revitalize the city and reshape its future.
So that’s how I ended up in the Big Easy, energized and excited to join the ranks of other tech and education companies who came here post-Katrina. I’ve found the tech community here to be a supportive, tight-knit bunch. For example, I am a member of the “Krewe de Nieux,” an informal social group of about twenty-five or so tech founders who meet regularly to share ideas and talk shop over a beer or two.
The greatest lesson to be learned from my story is that entrepreneurs should look beyond Silicon Valley and big cities when determining where to launch and build their businesses. There are pockets of innovation and entrepreneurship scattered all across the country. New Orleans is just one example. In these smaller markets, you are a big(ger) fish in a small pond. You ARE special. You’ll more easily gain access to the community’s movers and shakers. You’ll be a lot closer to the organs of power. Other benefits abound, like cheaper labor costs and a lower overall cost of living. Plus, being a hometown hero of sorts brings with it opportunities to promote your company. The upside is tremendous.
Since our move, my wife and I have added a set of twins to our family. And as we wander around NOLA, one of the oldest cities in the United States, we revel in the great food and French influence. We see lots of families who look like ours. And I see other CEOs who look like me. They are a source of support and encouragement. And I’m proud that Torsh is not only changing the face of teacher training and development, but also changing the face and future of New Orleans.
Read the original story from Forbes here.