Don’t Cry for Me, OC

blog by Robyn Wyman-dill

In my many years of travel, one characteristic has always dominated, setting a tone which translates into a lasting good or bad impression. This singular characteristic is people. For it is the very people I meet who come to define the places where I have traveled. My recent visit to New Orleans – where the locals like to share their heritage in music and food and southern hospitality with everybody they meet – created a positive imprint. One I don’t want put to bed just yet. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, it is another rude day in paradise co-existing with the stressed-out OC mindset. I refresh my home page to reconnect my spirit with New Orleans. Starting with my exchanges with the good people of substance I met at Collision’s Tech conference there. Roll playback.  Let’s get metaphysical, toute suite, shall we?

 

True confession: I have never knowingly set foot in a tech community before. So it is hard for me to define New Orleans in terms of an ‘emerging Silicon Valley.’ One is a city with a rich historical past. The other – a newcomer. A suburb.

Since the 1700s, Europeans have wanted New Orleans for their own.

The seafaring town would change hands from the Chitimacha Native American Indians to the French Mississippi Company, becoming a French colony in the New World in 1718, and it would continue to swap hands among the super powers a total of five times. (It became a Spanish territory in 1763, and then a French colony again under Napoleon in 1802. The next year, Napoleon decided to sell it in the Louisiana Purchase to the United States of America. The freehold would add the Republic of Louisiana and The Confederate States of America to their succession of name-changes before settling in to be a part of the United States of America again.) During the evolution of its political onion skins, New Orleans would become an epicenter for Americans, French, Creoles, Africans, Irish, Germans and Italians.

Today, a positive, entrepreneurial energy is rising in the friendly skies over NOLA,(New Orleans, Louisiana) attracting startups to its shores. Which makes the locals awfully gleeful. (In the 90s, the city went through the ‘brain drain‘ when crime, poverty and limited opportunities drove the under 35 year old sector away.) Last month, 11,000 entrepreneurs, investors, and media came together from around the world to be part of the Collision tech fest here and to continue the spirit of the city’s renaissance. Being that the town is so welcoming, they will be back next year.

But, what is it that is causing this economic kick after Hurricane Katrina? As you guessed, it is the irrepressible spirit of of the people of New Orleans.

After Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, the town desperately needed to rebound with new industries. While many of people who left returned home to help mend their city’s fences. According to Forbes, over 44,000 college graduates began moving into New Orleans over a five year period, starting in 2007.

The city also set a goal to become a tech capital by 2018, with programs providing tax breaks and incentives like – digital media and software tax credits and an angel investor tax credits – to a growing number of tech startups. Local business leaders created the New Orleans Startup Fund with the financial help of the state and federal governments to provide seed funding for new companies. Idea Village was founded to mentor new startups and provide networking opportunities with events like Launch Pad Launch Fest and New Orleans Entrepreneur Week. In the progress, new jobs and possibilities just kept growing exponentially. Winning the war on the brain drain in the process.

Kwasi Asare, CEO and Managing Partner of wearefighter.com, is one of the 11,000 people who attended Collision last April, just to check it out, and decided to stay. Setting up a residence on Royal Street.

“After the amazing experiences I had with all the musicians I met, I definitely wanted more of a presence here going forward.” Says Asare.

Equipped with an international politics degree from the University of Pennsylvania, Asare began his career working in New York’s financial district in international investment banking in 2001. Sadly, eight weeks after he started, the young graduate’s world would be rocked dramatically.

I’m sure we all remember what we were doing when the twin towers were hit on September 11. Asare was in the office beginning his work day – two blocks away from the World Trade Center.

“You don’t really know what the long term impact will have on you but it certainly has made me very sensitive whenever I hear that there has been a terrorist attack somewhere in the world and sometimes when I am in airports.”

The tragedy will haunt him forever but, the mentally strong Asare soldiered on. He remained on Wall St. for two more years until he recognized his career there didn’t offer the creativity and the rapid career advancement he needed. At the same time (2003-2004) the media and technology were going through a huge shift from analog to digital and TV to downloads and ultimately, streaming. Being a computer nerd, Asare realized that if he became well-versed in these tech transitions it would help him sequel into the media industry.

“I thrust myself into the digital world, creating blogs and publishing news articles across the web and teaching myself a digital skill set with websites, viral marketing and ghostwriting.” Says Asare. “That was what enabled me to break in and work with artists like – John Legend, Kanye West, George Clinton and others – when I was really young. I’ve always seen media and tech as linked. Technology has driven creativity and creativity has driven media and media has driven technology and it’s kind of like an ever-evolving cycle that’s all kind of linked together.”

Asare’s talents shone quite brightly at Sony Music while building out their digital presence for their artists, then at Cornerstone where he did all the digital marketing for Prince and Beyonce, The Fugees. Snoop Dog, LL Cool J and Gnarls Barkley. In his late 20s, Asare was given the tasks of New Media Manager for Sean “Diddy” Combs’ new media empire, where he also handled online marketing strategies for Diddy’s brands like – Ciroc, Sean John Fragrance, and Bad Boy Entertainment.

Asare has executed global marketing campaigns for Ice Cube, Pharrell Williams, Wu Tang Clan,, Outkast, Mary J Blige,The Roots,, Cypress Hill, Diageo, and Estee Lauder.  Now his company, Fighter Interactive, a global media technology agency headquartered in New York, services companies in Sweden, Finland and Denmark as well as other regions in the global media markets.

“It’s a really dynamic platform with new players every day so it’s really important as a creator or an artist to know how to leverage technology as much as possible.”

His knowledge of the geopolitics history of various countries and societies has helped his company to navigate the waters well. Fighter Interactive is currently working with the Indonesian government on Big Data Week. Asare will be a keynote speaker at the conference.

“I grew up watching PBS almost exclusively and all world news outlets. Being that my parents are from West Africa, they encouraged me to look at things outside the US. I think that helped to shape me into a global citizen.”

Asare is also involved with shaping some of the content for next year’s Collision Conference – scheduled in New Orleans.

“I see new ways to create value across platforms and that’s the reason why I positioned myself in New Orleans with its emerging tech-eco system and its music. In the future, we will connect New Orleans with other tech-eco systems – like Silicone Valley – where there’s opportunities in more developed venture capital and other platforms.”

Stay tuned.

PS. About Mohammad Ali, who died recently. He was one of the most noble men who ever lived. Admired for his integrity, his sassy wit and poetry. And, the twinkle in his eye.  To me, he was the true meaning of the word, champion – powerful in his person, loving and grateful…worthy. Coupled with an old-fashioned sense of honesty and human dignity. I hope you are resting joyfully, good man!

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