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Nextgov.com: Reflections on 2013, the year that nearly killed one small Federal IT Firm

| DECEMBER 31, 2013 | |Op-ed by tERRY vERIGAN |

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Hurricane Katrina nearly killed CompuCure. In the wake of the storm, just three of us remained by Oct. 1, 2005, and the weeks ahead promised to be grim for our New Orleans-based IT services firm–what was left of it anyway. But we weren’t going to let that damn storm chase us away from our city.

By September 2013, eight long years after Katrina wiped out so many lives and businesses, CompuCure had rebounded sufficiently to make Inc. Magazine’s list of the fastest growing businesses in America. With a talented staff of 30 delivering projects that had achieved national recognition for quality and value, it was tempting to think we’d made it to some sort of safe high ground, economically speaking. But by late September, our president and owner, Angelina Parker, faced another storm, this one political. The federal shutdown nearly took down the business again.

While we had become accustomed to the disruptions that stemmed from continuing resolutions–the stop-gap budgets lawmakers typically adopted while they continued to disagree over larger spending questions–those rarely impacted our work at federal sites. Employees would clock in while budgets were frozen and eventually CompuCure would be reimbursed. Our line of credit was more than sufficient to carry on. Interest charges eat away at profitability, but we could keep going, knowing that our people and their families felt secure. Our most valuable resources, our employees, would still be on the job.

But the shutdown was different. It meant lost revenue to CompuCure, not just a delay in getting invoices paid. Disturbing questions emerged, notably: How would we keep our talented employees from moving to other companies less dependent on federal contracts?

Ms. Parker decided we would pay our engineers even if the government closed its doors. Everyone would receive regular compensation the first week and be offered the chance to use vacation and sick leave if it went into a second week. Cash reserves and credit lines were on hand to keep the lights on at least that far.

At 4:50 p.m. on Oct. 1, 2013, we received the first of the stop work orders that we knew would come after Congress adjourned the previous night without a budget. As planned, we kept our employees on the payroll and prepared to close operations at the federal sites. Our staff turned off equipment, locked away supplies and closed the doors. We knew we could hold on for a couple of weeks, but it was not a timeline we wanted to test.

Near the end of week two, we were deeply worried. Even though one of our project teams had been declared “critical” and had excess fiscal 2013 budget funds available to continue working, paying for the rest of the company and 100 percent of their health insurance had generated losses approaching $100,000 in just 10 days. We discussed a companywide furlough, an act that could have far-reaching implications.

When President Obama announced on Oct. 17 that he would sign the short-term budget agreement Congress finally struck, we knew we would pull through. Even better, the two-year budget agreement Congress reached in December averts another shutdown in 2014. But the ground has shifted. Congress’ failure to govern responsibly diminished the sense of security felt by CompuCure’s talented people doing excellent work.

Talent is always in demand, and job insecurity is the best way to lose talent, especially in our competitive job market. That’s a point lawmakers would do well to remember the next time they threaten to shut down the government or bemoan agencies’ difficulty in attracting skilled workers and contractors.

 

 

 

TechTuesday Blog: From a FEMA trailer to the INC 5000

| october 29, 2013 | by john gilroy |

 

 

 

Terry Verigan from CompuCure elaborates on living in a FEMA trailer and generating revenue for an  IT company.

ARMATURE‘s John Gilroy interviews Terry Verigan, Vice President of CompuCure on Federal News Radio, WFED 1500 AM.

The Big Easy was a Big Mess after the 2005 hurricane Katrina.  IT companies were departing while federal and commercial organizations needed assistance with expanding programs to cover the relief efforts.  Rather than leave town, Terry Verigan moved to a FEMA trailer, hired technicians, and started solving IT technology problems for CompuCure.

Captain Chaos

In spite of those humble beginnings CompuCure has posted a fantastic increase in sales. In fact, CompuCure has been named to Inc. Magazine’s 500|5000 annual list of the nation’s Fastest Growing Private Companies for 2013.  During today’s interview Terry Verigan, Vice President at CompuCure, talks about lessons learned in dealing with the chaos of after-hurricane New Orleans.

Terry says the key to survival is trusted partners. In the technology world, growing a company means reaching out beyond a company’s core capabilities.  When he gets a contract, Terry does a gap analysis and finds partners with skill sets his company may lack.  He feels sharing revenue makes his company stronger and better able to respond in an agile manner.  These shared experiences gave Terry the ability to make an evidence-based decision on who to trust for future opportunities.

20 terabytes is a lotta bytes

CompuCure’s successes in small projects lead the USDA to inquire about assisting on a slightly larger project, the Integrated Acquisition Services (IAS) and Federal Data Warehouse (FDW) Data Migration.  The project was moving 20 terabytes of data sitting on an IBM platform in Kansas City and sending it to Denver.  This project is detailed in a white paper available at the CompuCure website.  Moving data is not normally a major challenge; the concern in this case was the time frame.  This had to be done in thirty days.  From Terry’s perspective, this was a piece of cake compared to running a company after a hurricane.

Lessons learned in competing with the big companies

He handled the federal challenge the same way he handled post-flood New Orleans.  He took an honest look at his company’s qualifications, found trusted partners to fill in the gaps, and then worked one hundred hour weeks.  Terry was not intimidated the first time he walked into the USDA’s National Finance Center as a small company.  He knew he had a crack team and he would push through to completion.

CompuCure is a success story.  The USDA project was completed on time and $100,000 under budget. They were named the 2009 USDA USDA Woman-Owned Contractor of the year.

 

Federal News Radio 1500 AM: “TECH TALK” Broadcast – Building a Successful IT Business

| october 29, 2013 | HOST john gilroy |
Terry Verigan, VP, CompuCure

This week on “Federal Tech Talk”, host John Gilroy interviews Terry Verigan, vice president of CompuCure. One of the best untold stories out of wreckage that Katrina inflicted upon New Orleans is the success of a company called CompuCure.In the aftermath of the hurricane, most information technology companies were packing their bags and heading out of town. CompuCure decided to stay and take advantage of the opportunity. Verigan’s house was flooded, so he took up residence in a FEMA trailer and grew the business.After some initial success with commercial organizations, the Department of Agriculture asked CompuCure to help with a data transfer project.Listen to the interview to see how Verigan assembled his team, grabbed a SAN, and accomplished the job early and under budget.

Please click link below to listen to the full radio interview:

http://media.dev-cms.com/wtop/31/3134/313472.mp3

U.S. Coast Guard Forum Magazine Features CompuCure

| DECEMBER 2013| |Volume 5, issue 4|

Cyber Watch

Read Terry Verigan’s comments about managing projects involving sensitive and classified data: 

Contractors are well advised to take the educational responsibility for their own staff that are placed in secure areas, according to Terry Verigan, vice president of CompuCure. CompuCure has been involved in managing government projects involving sensitive and classified data.

“Whenever we have a team going on site,” said Verigan, “we do background checks as required by the agency, but we also educate and remind staff members about what we are dealing with.” That means, for example, leaving their cell phones behind when those devices are not allowed on site, usually because of their photographic capabilities.

Verigan also advises prohibiting the use of social media sites on agency networks. “Social media in my experience is insecure,” he said. “Small malware files can be embedded in social media transmissions the same as in email. Social media tends to make workers a little more casual about their work environment which in itself can be a big security issue. Making social media secure seems to be a non sequitur.”

Cyber Watch

Written by  Peter Buxbaum |

“Security is a challenge for every agency,” said Stanley Tyliszczak, vice president for technology integration at General Dynamics Information Technology. “There needs to be a lot more innovation in implementation of advanced technology. The real challenge is how to implement security in a budget-constrained environment, how to separate the wheat from the chaff so you can take appropriate actions.” General Dynamics IT provides malware and intrusion detection and prevention, email scanning and other cybersecurity products and enterprise-level services to the Coast Guard.

“An organization like the Coast Guard that has significant national security responsibilities needs to be concerned about state-sponsored targeted attacks, in addition to insider threats,” said Tom Cross, director of research at Lancope. “State-sponsored intrusions are the most sophisticated attacks out there. They have a lot of smart people, they have the money to spend, and they know about systems vulnerabilities months in advance of the security community.”

These days, cybersecurity requires more than just old-school intrusion detection; it requires continuous monitoring of network activity and the analysis of mountains of data to identify malicious activity. “Traditional measures like firewalls won’t catch every attack, especially if legitimate credentials have been compromised,” said David Pack, director of LogRhythm Labs. “The way to determine when a credential has been compromised is to build a baseline of user or host behavior and to look at log data in real time. Analytical tools can detect when behaviors have changed. At that point, an analyst can look into the situation to see whether the account has been compromised.”

“It is really a triumvirate of people, processes and technology that makes for good cybersecurity,” said Tyliszczak. “You can’t do just one piece. Cybersecurity is an ongoing effort and there is no big bang solution—particularly since the threats are increasing in both sophistication and frequency of attack. We’ve learned, through a number of our programs for the DoD, IC and other federal agencies, that you have to treat cybersecurity as mission-critical and put in place multiple checks and practices that make sure systems are always protected to their highest level. There are some things you can automate, continuous monitoring of security state, for example, but it still requires trained people, disciplined processes and a culture that gives good security practices to the highest priority.”

“The main challenge that our industry faces today is staying ahead of the adversary,” said Ross Warren, Inmarsat Government’s director of cyber security. “The attacker only needs to exploit one vulnerability to gain access to a network. Whereas the defenders need to ensure some faction of a defense in depth covering every avenue for exploitation.”

Inmarsat Government participates in DoD’s defense industrial base (DIB) Cyber Security/Information Assurance (CS/IA) program. “The DIB CS/IA program is a voluntary DoD program that enhances our capabilities to safeguard customer information that transits our unclassified information systems,” Warren explained. “We also have a multi-year partnership with the FBI through their Infraguard program, through which we participate in focused interest groups representing the satellite industry.”

“We fall under the U.S. Cyber Command,” said Thompson. “As of November of last year we started to route our network traffic over DoD sensors before it gets down to Coast Guard sensors. That way we leveraged a higher level enterprise filtering process. DoD is able to knock off malicious traffic before it gets to us. That lowered the number of incidents on our systems several fold.”

The Coast Guard also deploys a suite of firewalls that block traffic from Internet addresses known to cause trouble and prevents network users from accessing unreliable Internet domains. “That is on the defense side, the blocking piece,” said Thompson.

Thompson characterizes the other measures taken by the Coast Guard as “defense in depth.” One such tool, required by DoD, stops users on the network from doing things they shouldn’t. “We train our users,” said Thompson, “but some people don’t understand the training as well as others.”

The Coast Guard also deploys network monitoring tools that examine network behavior to look for anomalies. Attempts to log into the network several times with false passwords could raise a red flag, as could administrators signing in in the middle of the night when they normally don’t work.

“These tools help us to understand what is going on on the network and if it is legitimate or not,” said Thompson.

“For many years, people have approached network problems from a perimeter security perspective,” said Cross. “They built high walls to keep bad stuff out. But more recent attackers have shown sophistication in getting past those types of security systems. To identify and track those types of threats, as well as insider threats, you need to have an audit trail of the internal network.”

These newer types of threat detection systems analyze internal network behaviors, explained Guy Alon, a marketing director at Israel Aircraft Industries, but also search externally for clues that could indicate an impending attack. “From an internal point, we are interested in being able to analyze network behavior, so we collect data like the hours that specific employees enter and exit a facility,” he said. “On the external side, we aim to reach into cyberspace to sites like social networks to identify whether there are specific conversations that appear to attempts to collect sensitive data. This could represent a cyber threat.”

“We developed a special anomaly detection engine targeted to advanced persistent threats,” said Tavi Salamon, an IAI business development manager. “It is fully automated and is able to detect patterns out of existing behavior on the network. Once the engine learns the patterns, it can tell what behavior is normal and what is abnormal. Other detection engines are rules-based and are based on past experience. The other kind learns new patterns as they develop.”

Inmarsat Government has deployed multiple intrusion prevention/detection systems (IDS), giving them a defense in-depth network architecture.

“We have partnered with Dell Secureworks, a very well-respected managed security services provider, to manage our intrusion prevention system and provide security on the edge of our network. Secureworks’ 24/7/365 security operations center monitors and protects our networks, providing an added level of confidence to our defensive posture and security.” Inmarsat Government has deployed multiple IDS that use the Security Onion Linux distribution. The Security Onion IDS sensors leverage multiple mature, open-source cyber defense software packages in a very easy-to-deploy installation.

“We collect data to develop multiple dimensions of user behaviors,” said Pack. “It might be normal for a user to change to a different job function and access new data, but if multiple dimensions of a user’s behavior changes within an hour, that is an indication of compromised credentials.”

LogRhythm pulls network log data to a centralized location for processing by an analytics engine. “We enable organizations to baseline normal, day-to-day activity across multiple dimensions of the enterprise,” said Pack. “The system then analyzes against that baseline log, flow and machine data generated to discover anomalies in real time.”

For example, a system baseline could be created showing the rolling averages of the expected numbers of users logged into a system at any given point to create parameters of what constitutes normal and abnormal usage.

When activity deviates from the normal, an alert can be generated.

Collecting network data also helps with job of analyzing an attack after the fact. Lancope’s tool collects netflow data, protocols that are constantly being transmitted by network routers, switches and firewalls. “This is an efficient way to create a network audit trail,” said Cross. “The netflow metadata is light but can create a history of everything that happened on a network. Other tools which do deep packet inspections generate a large amount of data which needs to be stored.”

Analyzing netflow data allows analysts to recreate an attack’s kill chain. “You can recreate the process the attacker took to break into the network,” said Cross. “Sophisticated attacks often target specific people. They have to take action to activate the exploit. Once that happens, the malware establishes a foothold and continues to work on the inside to find information and move it out of the network. Recreating the steps the attackers engage in is useful for building models of attacks, which are used to consider what controls have to be put in place to counter each step of an attack.”

It’s important to emphasize cybersecurity technology doesn’t work effectively on its own. It requires interaction with humans. An alert generated by a piece of software does not necessarily indicate an attack. The trained analysts are the ones who actually determine whether an attack has occurred or is underway.

“We have watch standers working 24/7 at our cyber operations center,” said Thompson. “They look at anomalous behavior identified by the software and conduct further investigations. They also analyze attack kill chains to see where our defenses were effective, or not. If defensive measures did not stop an attack, they can put a block on that portion of the network. We also have a forensics team that investigates what systems and data an attack was aiming for and whether the signature of that attack spread to other portions of the network.”

Contractors are well advised to take the educational responsibility for their own staff that are placed in secure areas, according to Terry Verigan, vice president of CompuCure. CompuCure has been involved in managing government projects involving sensitive and classified data.

“Whenever we have a team going on site,” said Verigan, “we do background checks as required by the agency, but we also educate and remind staff members about what we are dealing with.” That means, for example, leaving their cell phones behind when those devices are not allowed on site, usually because of their photographic capabilities.

Verigan also advises prohibiting the use of social media sites on agency networks. “Social media in my experience is insecure,” he said. “Small malware files can be embedded in social media transmissions the same as in email. Social media tends to make workers a little more casual about their work environment which in itself can be a big security issue. Making social media secure seems to be a non sequitur.”

The Coast Guard is ramping up its training of its cybersecurity personnel, according to Thompson. “Because threats are evolving and becoming more challenging and more pervasive, we need a more robust ability to respond,” he said. “The National Security Agency has some training courses online and industry has a robust set of courses that our people can learn from. Forensics especially requires extensive training. We teach our forensics people how to maintain a virtual chain of custody. They have to do everything that investigators do in the physical world.” The Coast Guard also provides extensive on-the-job training, Thompson noted.

“We currently are researching new detection and prevention methods such as botnet interception with DNS redirection and rogue user detection though behavior analytics,” explained Warren. “We strongly believe the way to improved security capabilities is through a greater understanding of our currently deployed defenses.”

Inmarsat Government sees the practice and methodologies suggested by the Network Security Monitoring principals as a natural progression that builds on lessons learned from managing firewalls, anti-virus and web filtering. Understanding normal behavior and the deviations from that normal behavior show the most promise for improving cyber security.

IAI offers a simulated cybersecurity training system that represents an integration of several different commercial training tools. “The trainer can insert different types of attack patterns,” said Salomon, “and the student has to work through the scenario and distinguish what to do in different situations.”

Once thing that Lancope is working on is to facilitate the sharing of threat information among different organizations that use their tools or ones similar. “Threat intelligence is not standardized,” said Cross. “Work is currently taking place to establish standard formats for communicating threat information and to build processes within organizations to manage that sharing. “Many organizations take in threat intelligence,” Cross added, “but don’t see the benefit of telling other people what they learn. We’ve got to break that ice. That is going to dominate the discussion in coming years.” ♦

 

CompuCure Named to Inc. Magazine’s 500|5000 Annual List

We are pleased to announce that CompuCure has been named to Inc. Magazine’s 500|5000 annual list of the nation’s Fastest Growing Private Companies for 2013. The inclusion in this year’s Inc. ranking not only speaks to our sustainable success in the IT services space, but also to the strength of our management team and focused strategic vision. We feel great pride in being included in this distinguished award, and we thank our customers and partners for helping to make it possible.

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A New Identity, A New Name

In the spirit of capturing the essence of our company’s new identity, we sought to streamline the look and feel of our website, and our name itself. Through so doing, we have tightened our name to CompuCure, Inc. {a change from Compu-Cure New Orleans, Inc.}. Our unwavering focus remains on understanding the obstacles that our clients face and finding strategic ways to overcome these challenges.

Forbes Magazine: Lessons From New Orleans

|MARCH 26, 2013| | bY Adriana Lopez|

Creating A Sustainable Business Culture

At the fifth annual New Orleans Entrepreneur Week (NOEW), New Orleans and it’s highly touted entrepreneurial community have come to a pivotal cross road – five years of celebrating startups and five years until the city’s tri-centennial.  This year, sandwiched in between such important milestones, entrepreneur week held the answers to a few of my burning questions – where is this effort going? Is it sustainable? What’s next?

Over the recent years, New Orleans has been lauded for its growing entrepreneurial “ecosystem.” Several national articles, mine included, praised the city’s unique culture and success, even before local media caught on. The city was glorified as “America’s coolest startup city” and “the best city for young entrepreneurs.

And, indeed, it is.

I will admit that I drank the proverbial Kool-Aid. I was smitten with the passion the city’s new business owners had, and this new growth, specifically in tech, that I never knew New Orleans – the slow, fun-loving town – was capable of cultivating.  It’s been euphoric to be involved, and even more satisfying to share with a national audience. And, who couldn’t help but want to share it? Every credible publication wanted to write about the city’s rebirth after Hurricane Katrina. CNN, The Wall Street Journal, Inc. – they all caught on.

The more I read about the same story being told, the more I started to think that the city was now hitting a plateau. This is, in fact, an entrepreneurial “movement” that everyone has been talking about. Even Walter Isaacson, in his keynote speech during NOEW, called this era the city’s third entrepreneurial “wave.”

I wondered, though, if this movement or wave is about to settle, as all waves and movements eventually do.

As the city approaches Katrina’s eight anniversary this year, New Orleans is now standing on its own two feet. The city has rebuilt, in several ways, better than before, drawing in new residents, industries, and startups, as a result. It’s been deemed one of the best places for startups and has been ranked highly on several business lists. New Orleans has officially come out from Katrina’s shadow. However, now there is the task of proving that this progression can continue down a path towards success.

So, can New Orleans continue this momentum and sustain its entrepreneurial culture? Absolutely. However, as more and more of these startup hubs emerge around the country, a few things have to be realized to make entrepreneurship a sustainable effort and not just a fad.

After the honeymoon

The city’s startups are now at a critical precipice, and soon the celebration over creating this new entrepreneurial hub will be over. New Orleans has already proved to have the unique culture, financial opportunities, and community support system that draw people in and help them turn their visions into businesses. It’s why New Orleans has been regarded as America’s coolest startup city.

Now, the task is to make sure that the city successfully turns those startups into job-creating enterprises, and show that New Orleans has the ability to sustain them. Otherwise, those startups just become hobbies and projects.

“In order for this to be sustainable, we have to demonstrate the viability of our entire people,” said Michael Hecht, president of New Orleans’ regional economic development organization GNO, Inc. “We have to stay the course over the next 2-3 years while we continue to build on our critical mass.”

Hecht added that staying the course involves continuing to leverage the opportunities that drew entrepreneurs, both young and old, in the first place. It includes the low business costs, culture, financial incentives, and the focus on entrepreneurship from all levels – state down to non-profits.  Those who are already in the region need to continue the momentum to make sure their startups remain viable in Louisiana.

That end of the honeymoon phase comes with a cost, though. Every entrepreneur eventually comes to the point when they realize they are no longer a startup, losing specific luxuries such as the flexibility to attend weekly hackathons and tech meetups. Eventually, there comes a point when business owners need to worry about those challenges that come with growing a business. Those challenges include paying employees, paying back bank loans, meeting deadlines, and making sure that all the legal and accounting issues are taken care of.

“Ninety-five percent of all businesses won’t succeed,” said Aaron Dirks, a New Orleans based business owner. “Not everyone is armed with the tools to help them get through those challenges.”

Dirks, a serial entrepreneur who has found success in several businesses that range from limousine fleets to renewable energy in New Orleans, trained with the military before becoming a businessman. He said that his extensive training and tour in Bosnia prepared him for the new experiences and unexpected challenges that come with owning a business. He calls these experiences “invisible backs.”

“You would face the same challenges anytime you do something for the first time,” Dirks added. “If you run a marathon for the first time, you might want to just give up at mile 10 when it starts to get harder.”

However, Dirks explained that New Orleans has something that is very unique – Katrina.

“What you have here is a community that has collectively suffered a challenging scenario,” he explained. “The community became a source of energy and encouragement after surviving a disaster with resilience. That encouragement and resilience naturally broke down the walls that would usually keep someone from doing something new.”

Dirks continued by explaining that, in a way, Katrina trained entrepreneurs in New Orleans the same way the military prepares soldiers for the unexpected.

Entrepreneurship is not an easy feat, and people need to be prepared to handle those kinds of tasks and unexpected challenges that aren’t typically brought up at the networking events or over cocktails after coworking.  For example, an article on Silicon Bayou News entitled It’s a Good Day to Become an Entrepreneur in New Orleans came with an accompanying tweet that read, “How I started a company in 48 hours!” Then, over entrepreneur week, I received a flyer with “Launch in 54 hours!” across the title.

It sends a message that entrepreneurship is that easy. I wondered if Oprah was running around the streets of New Orleans yelling, “You’re an entrepreneur! You’re an entrepreneur! And, you’re an entrepreneur!” as if she were giving away homes or cars on her talk show. Instead of a Yaris, though, she would be giving away business cards with “CEO” written across it. I was tempted to go onto the Secretary of State’s website, register a corporation, and wait for Oprah to arrive with my prize.

I say this as a reminder to all to focus on growing the business, not just starting it. Focus on being an entrepreneur – generate money, create jobs, and pay your employees. Your job is only starting when you give yourself that title, so don’t be so quick to congratulate yourself just for signing on to the Secretary of State’s website or creating a minimally viable app during a weekend hackathon. Be prepared for those “invisible backs.”

Only when your company succeeds, can your city become a sustainable place for creating and growing businesses. Otherwise, it will just be a startup hub. And, like airport hubs, people will stop, start their businesses, and change planes before heading off to  their final destinations.

The money is in your town

One thing I’ve picked up on while covering entrepreneurship is that there are huge misconceptions about where and how to get financing for a new company. One of the biggest is that the funding is only in Silicon Valley or New York City. As a result, a few New Orleans-based startups have started to relocate in order to try to get the attention of investors in New York and California.  The truth is, while there are far more investors in those areas, the access to the money is not much easier.

Angel investors along the south are starting to emerge with the growth of the entrepreneurial scene. Venture capital funds aren’t far behind. However, the percentage of Louisiana startups getting funded is typical of what is seen around the country, experts say.

“On a national basis, only 3% of startups that apply for funding, actually close a deal,” said Clayton White, founder of South Coast Angel Fund and Simmons and White, a New Orleans based business-consulting firm.  “New Orleans is right on track with the rest of the nation.”

While New Orleans is on par as far as funding goes, many new business owners continue to ask where the money is in Louisiana and when New Orleans will start to see the type of investors that are found in Silicon Valley. Let’s also not forget that Silicon Valley took decades to get to where it is today. New Orleans startups have barely even had half a decade of vying for these kinds of funds.

“Mostly, what we see are good ideas, but very little expertise on turning them into well run businesses, “ added White. “Almost every entrepreneur drank their own Kool-Aid, and can sell their vision. However, the focus needs to be on their market.”

That passion that allows people to turn their ideas into businesses is evident in New Orleans, but it’s the business plan that seems to be keeping people back from getting funding. However, White adds that it is not a geographically specific issue. The nature of the beast seems to be that people are too anxious to get in front of funding when they are not yet prepared to be asking for it.

“What we want to know about a business is how they are going to sell to their market and deliver,” continued White. “If you can’t sell it, then you don’t have a company. It’s just a hobby.”

Even though what New Orleans is seeing is typical, the lack of venture capital funds stills leaves something to be desired. Those funds might be on the horizon for New Orleans, but it does leave the region at a catch 22 – are there companies in New Orleans that are even ready for that kind of funding or are companies not going beyond the early stages because those funds aren’t available?

New Orleans Entrepreneur Week has been a platform for these early stage startups that are vying for seed money. This year, there were over 8 pitch competitions that gave startups the opportunity to win anywhere between several thousand dollars worth of in-kind business services to $100,000 in seed money. And, in New Orleans fashion, the entrepreneur week festivities included a unique experience for startups that are ready to receive larger checks.

At NOEW’s annual Coulter Challenge, four companies competed for the chance to win a trip to San Francisco, where they will be personally introduced to some of the country’s most prominent investors through billionaire investor Jim Coulter. The opportunity is one that is even unattainable to those entrepreneurs that currently reside in the investor-rich city.

Education analytics platform, Kickboard, won last year’s challenge, and was just awarded $2 million a few weeks before this year’s entrepreneur week kicked off. Now, ChapterSpot, an online management platform for fraternities and sororities, will have the opportunity to meet with several investors in order to find a deal that will help them scale their platform into other industries. Up until now, ChapterSpot has been personally financed by the company’s founders, Brendan Fink and Joe McMenemon.

Overcoming the Identity Crisis

New Orleans has something that is very special – a unique culture and diverse people. While its exoticism drew people in, its the culture that inspired an almost 300-year-old city to continue to thrive. Such a thing must be capitalized.

I’ll explain by starting at the beginning. Two hundred and ninety five years ago, a gentleman named Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville and the French Mississppi Company discovered the swamp that we now call New Orleans. Over the years, New Orleans’ diversity started to take shape as the city witnessed an influx of Americans, French, Spanish, Creoles, Germans, Irish, and Africans. In the early 1800’s thousands of refugees began to arrive from Haiti after the end of the Haitian Revolution, adding to the wealth of diversity that had yet to be witnessed anywhere else in the country at that point.

As a result, New Orleans started to witness several waves of entrepreneurship and business prosperity beginning with the creation of the cotton gin and steamboats in the early 1800’s to the late 1800’s with the rise of Creole cookbooks and literature that exalted the region’s unique culture and diverse roots. Then, in the 1960’s, there was a decline in entrepreneurship and the city’s business wealth, coincidentally as segregation was on the rise. It eventually led to decades of an outward migration of people in the area and a depleting business climate.

Now, the city is witnessing a rise in entrepreneurship as people from all over the world continue to migrate into the region, continuing to prove that the city’s diverse community and unique culture is directly correlated to the rise in entrepreneurship.

Residents, both old and new, still adamantly argue that the city’s unique culture is why they have come and stayed in New Orleans. As do the city’s entrepreneurs.  Yet, people can’t help but ask if New Orleans Entrepreneur Week can be the next SXSW or how long it will take for New Orleans to become the next Silicon Valley. In fact, the city’s young entrepreneurs have affectionately dubbed the region as Silicon Bayou, as others continue to attempt to follow in the footsteps of the Bay Area’s Silicon. New York now has Silicon Alley, the Midwest has Silicon Prairie, Texas has the Silicon Hills, and then there’s Silicon Beach in L.A.

Capitalizing on what makes New Orleans a unique place to live and do business is what will continue to make the city a place for great ideas and growing businesses. It’s been proven in the city’s history. Forget that, and the city loses all its charm while it becomes just another Silicon.

So, here comes the identity crisis: how does New Orleans capitalize on its unique culture, yet become competitive enough to compare to larger cities? Three hundred years of tradition can’t be changed, but the city shouldn’t try to become another Silicon.

“New Orleans is unique in that we do encourage partnerships,” said Terry Verigan, Vice-President of CompuCure, a boutique IT firm that has proved to have large-scale competitiveness after working on several big data projects within the Federal Government.

Verigan added that it is through the partnerships they have forged locally that they have been able to view their larger competitors as peers.  While they’ve been able to grow their firm to five times the number of employees they began with, most of their talent is contracted out for the larger projects, bringing in the experts that will help them cater to their clients’ needs. In the past year, CompuCure has seen a revenue increase of $4 million.

“We have the confidence to go after large firms because of the talent we have available in New Orleans,” explained Verigan. “We don’t mind sharing the success with someone else.”

And, that seems to be a theme in New Orleans: when one business succeeds, as does the entire city.

I remembered what makes New Orleans a unique place for businesses during entrepreneur week’s culmination this past Friday. The closing event, The Big Idea, featured 15 small businesses that ranged from e-commerce and retail to education technology and food service. Each entrepreneur showcased their business in a convention-like setup along one of New Orleans’ pedestrian promenades, Fulton Street. Attendees were given the opportunity to vote for their favorite startup with chips worth $50 each. The top three contestants would then pitch for the grand prize of $50,000 seed money.

Dinner Lab, a membership-only club that features rogue dinner parties in secret locations with up and coming chefs, created a dining experience with food and drink samples from some of their featured chefs. A music platform that cues efficiency in schools, Education Everytime, had young students demonstrating the different musical selections on iPads. Pierce Industries, inventor of a structure that separates the sediment from the crashing waves along the marsh in order to reverse coastal erosion, showcased their patented Wave Robber and gave attendees samples of soil from the Louisiana coastline.

The top three entrepreneurs pitched in front of 1,700 entrepreneurs and community members for the $50,000 cash prize. When a crowd favorite couldn’t be determined, two awards were given out for $50,000 each to Education Everytime and food delivery system, Your Nutrition Delivered.  Even the entrepreneurs, who lost an opportunity at $50,000, were genuinely proud of the success of others.

While other cities continue to create their own entrepreneurial communities, it’s important to note that there won’t be another Silicon Valley, even if you prefix your region’s topographical orientation with the word Silicon. However, each city can create their own business culture, as long as they make it their own.

The bay area has its engineers, New York has the finance, and New Orleans has a creative culture and resilience. The question is: what does your city have that will make it a sustainable place for entrepreneurship?