From its very inception, and for a couple of hundred years, New Orleans was a place people moved to from all over the world. Toward the end of the 20th century, things started to go in reverse. Every year since 1963 more people were leaving New Orleans than arriving here.
Then, early this century, the tide turned again. Among the many reasons for this new wave of migration was something we hadn’t heard in a long time: people were moving here to start a business. Both of Peter’s guests on this edition of Out to Lunch today moved to new Orleans – one from Los Angeles, the other from New York – for very different types of businesses.
Courtney Williams grew up in Jamaica and moved to New York City as a teenager.
Courtney describes himself as, “Exhibit A for a great education.” After law school he became Director of Development at America Online. And then Vice President of Business Development at AOL Time Warner. Courtney was a part of the $165B merger between AOL and Time warner. One of the biggest mergers in history, it was the first connection between tech and entertainment and paved the way for everything that was to follow, from iTunes to Netflix.
After his monumental success in corporate America, Courtney wanted to start a business that would utilize his knowledge and experience to make something more than money. He wanted to make a contribution to building a better world. To that end, Courtney founded a tech-driven education business called TORSH, which stands for Today’s One Room Schoolhouse.
TORSH allows school principals and heads of college departments to monitor and mentor teachers. It creates an online meeting place where all of a teacher’s records are collected and available. And it’s a cyber-meeting-space where teachers can share resources. TORSH’s clients include Notre Dame, Purdue, Johns Hopkins University, and many more. Courtney founded TORSH in New York. In 2014 he relocated the operation to New Orleans.
Janna Hart Black grew up in Metairie. She moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the fashion industry. Like many people in LA, Jana became increasingly concerned at the overwhelming number of homeless people living on the streets. Wishing she could do something to help these folks while at the same time looking for a way to move back home, Janna made both of those wishes come true. In 2015 she and her husband moved to New Orleans, and Jana founded a company called Bonfolk, that makes socks.
You may have seen Bonfolk socks, and more recently Bonfolk towels too. They have New Orleans-inspired designs – like potholes or beignets – and Louisiana designs, – like oysters or a swamp scene. For every pair of fashion socks Bonfolk sells, they give a pair of specially designed resilient socks to organizations that distribute them to homeless people. And for every towel they sell, they give a towel to a needy person, especially disadvantaged kids learning to swim.
When doctors graduate from medical school, they’re meant to be guided by the fundamental principle of medicine embodied in what’s called the Hippocratic Oath. Basically, it’s a declaration that says, “Do no harm.” There’s no equivalent oath for small business owners. But it’s fair to say that most people today who own their own business want to feel that, whatever they’re doing, they’re in some way making the world a better place. There’s a name for this type of business philosophy. It’s called “Social Impact.”
Janna Hart Black and Courtney Williams are both great examples of entrepreneurs who build social impact consciousness into the very fabric of their business.