NEW ORLEANS - Jason Navarro's business started as a simple idea, in his last year playing baseball.
“10 years of playing professional baseball, traveling with multiple products, it hit me in 2009, my last year of playing, why is this such a hassle,” said Navarro. “Really that was kind of the start to make an all in one supplement that did it all.”
That’s why he founded 4D Supplements. The Jefferson Parish based company sells packs of flavored energy supplements in powder form so it can be mixed with water.
Last summer, Navarro became part of a network of entrepreneurs working with the Idea Village, a 14-year-old non profit based in the Warehouse District that is aimed at giving local business the resources they need to grow, free of charge.
“Where we might have been a butter knife, now we're what I would call a steak knife and it's up to me to make us razor sharp,” said Navarro.
Months of work through the Idea Village culminates with Entrepreneur Week. The grand finale Friday night is the Big Idea, which gives 13 select start up companies the chance to pitch their idea, and crowds cast votes for their favorite. The winner gets $50,000.
Lorenzo Castillo was one of last year's winners (there was a tie). Now, his company, Education Everytime, brings original music to invigorate lesson plans in 300 classrooms around the country.
“It allowed me to launch a real business,” said Castillo of Idea Village. “It changed my life completely.”
“Just to see these businesses that are born in New Orleans, grown in New Orleans, but now scaling all over the country is really amazing,” said Erik Frank, Founder and CEO of Your Nutrition Delivered.
His company, which delivers fresh, healthy meals, was the other Big Idea winner in 2013. Since then, he said, his business has grown 400 percent.
Despite the rain Friday night, there was a sense of excitement as entrepreneurs pitched ideas, and people decided which ones to support.
It's a microcosm of a growing movement in a city that has gone from decades of economic decline to a model of growth.
“It's sending a message around the world that New Orleans is serious about being a world class city, that we believe in our talent, and New Orleans can be a place that can retain entrepreneurs and retain our kids,” said Tim Williamson, co-founder and CEO of the Idea Village.
The Idea Village has largely helped lead the charge. In recent years, Forbes named New Orleans the number one brain magnet in the country, and number two for jobs. Studies show entrepreneurship in New Orleans is 56 percent above the national average.
And those like Navarro are happy to be a part of it.
The Idea Village plans to keep the momentum going. Organizers will begin evaluating ideas again in July for the next "entrepreneur season." If you have an idea for a start up and would like to find out more, log onto IdeaVillage.org.