The room showcased all the evidence of festival-season New Orleans: a six-piece brass band, bourbon cocktails splashing out of neighboring revelers’ cups, a lively crowd clamoring for styrofoam bowls of steaming jambalaya scooped from giant steel vats. But this scene actually took place four days _before _Team New Orleans’ departure to the Big Easy for our February residency. This was SANFRANOLA, an event held at San Francisco’s Public Works on Wednesday to celebrate the cultural connections of New Orleans and San Francisco and to strengthen ties between the Silicon Valley and the “Silicon Bayou“: the burgeoning startup community that has been steadily gaining momentum in New Orleans in recent years.
Business cards were exchanged and big ideas discussed, all within the context of, well, a giant party. By the end of the evening, every single person in attendance had “gotten low,” all the way down to the floor in fact, upon the enthusiastic orders of the riotously entertaining Lagniappe Brass Band. And yet, I still managed to make a meaningful connection with Chris Schultz, a pioneer of the Silicon Bayou movement and a great CfA ally, who founded NOLA coworking space Launchpad as well as VooDoo Ventures, a NOLA internet incubator.
I came hoping to make a few connections, blow off some steam from the intensity of the January Training, and enjoy some free creole cuisine, but unexpectedly, this event ended up shifting my perspective about the next five weeks. Upon first being assigned to Team New Orleans (after doing a major happy-dance and squealing with excitement to return to one of my favorite US cities, of course), I began to worry that with the Mardi Gras festival season falling smack in the middle of our five-week residency in February, our team would be hard-pressed to get as much substantial work done as some of the other city teams.
Luckily, this event snapped me out of this anxious mindset and reminded me that some of the most candid and inspiring conversations often happen over a bourbon (or three). Mardi Gras is one of the highlights of the year in New Orleans – an event that locals both love and hate – and being given the opportunity to experience the entire festival season from the perspective of a local is pretty much a priceless opportunity for us. I have no idea what to expect of the coming month, but for once, I think I’m ok with that.
photo credit: Alex Yule