Four diverse start-up companies pitched their water-related business ideas to a large audience including a panel of expert judges at Gallier Hall Monday, March 24 in the final round of the fourth annual Water Challenge.
The Water Challenge seeks to spur innovation in creative water management solutions for the Greater New Orleans region by awarding $50,000 annually through a competitive process. Sponsored by the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Water Challenge is part of The Idea Village’s New Orleans Entrepreneur Week a fast-growing event which brings entrepreneurs, business leaders and investors from all over the country to New Orleans every spring to support entrepreneurship.
“We created the Water Challenge to kick start the water management industry in the Greater New Orleans region,” said Marco Cocito-Monoc, director of regional initiatives at the Greater New Orleans Foundation. “We wanted to tap into the wisdom and adaptive capacity of the people of this city and region to address the very serious environmental problems we are now facing. Water management is also a great opportunity to grow our regional economy.”
The winning idea this year was pitched by Tyler Ortego of ORA Estuaries. ORA Estuaries’ invention is a modular concrete breaker system made up of a series of concrete cylinders placed in the water. Oysters grow on the cylinders, creating an oyster reef.
“Why oysters?” asked Ortego. “Because we love oysters! This is a labor of love. Also, oysters are of critical importance to the ecosystem. Deltas and estuaries, such as the Mississippi River delta, are collapsing all over the world.”
ORA Estuaries will use its $50,000 award to expand its operation, which already has five projects in place in the state of Louisiana plus additional projects approved here and in other parts of the country.
Other finalists included I See Change, creator of an online “community climate journal” where people can report, track, and learn about weather patterns and other natural events and how they may be related to climate change; RiverView Construction, maker of two types of cost-effective flood protection devices for home and business use; and EcoUrban Landscaping, which is “making green look good” by installing visually appealing backyard cisterns, which can save water, save money, and reduce the strain on drainage systems.
“All four of these companies are incredible entrepreneurs who have come up with ideas that will change this city,” said Tim Williamson, co-founder and CEO of The Idea Village.
Previous Water Challenge winners David Culpepper of NanoFex, Sarah Mack of Tierra Resources and Webster Pierce of Pierce Industries—winners of the 2011, 2012 and 2013 Water Challenge awards, respectively—introduced this year’s event by speaking about how the Water Challenge had helped their ideas flourish. The event was emceed by actor/comedian Harry Shearer, and musician Sarah Quintana performed her Mississippi River-inspired songs while the judges deliberated.
The four finalists were selected from among 14 contestants. All four finalists will receive free business consulting from The Idea Village to support the growth of their innovative businesses.