Solving New Orleans’ pressing issues through entrepreneurship

  • The idea to start a social innovation incubator facility came about over lunch at Juan’s Flying Burrito in late 2011. Reuben Teague, a close friend of Andrea Chen, asked her what she thought of the idea of putting social entrepreneurs into an abandoned tire rim shop/garage. From that conversation, Propeller opened its doors on January 1, 2013. Propeller

  • A the heart of Propeller's mission and impact lies its Impact Accelerator, designed to support social entrepreneurs throughout the business life-cycle - from idea, to beta, to growth. Participants in the accelerator program have the opportunity to network and develop strategies with more than 30 Executive Mentors like John Elstrott, Chairman of the Board of Whole Foods Market and Charles Rice, CEO of Entergy. Propeller

  • Dan Johnson turned a lifelong love of nature into a business with Greenman Dan. The landscape company specializes in rainwater management in New Orleans and is one of Propeller's many ventures working in this sector. Greenman Dan

  • In New Orleans, Propeller incubates solutions in four main issue areas: food security, water management, healthcare, and educational equity. VEGGI Farmers Cooperative is one of 60 social ventures launched out of Propeller's accelerator program since 2011.

  • VEGGI Farmers Cooperative incubates new farmers and teaches sustainable agriculture to Vietnamese fishermen who lost their livelihoods after the 2010 BP oil spill. The venture has incubated 16 new farmers and four of the farmers have reached pre-BP oil spill income levels.

  • VEGGI Farmers Cooperative has produced 10,000 pounds of produce and the product is grown naturally without use of chemical pesticides, using both traditional in-ground farming as well as aquaponics. The co-op sells to grocery stores around New Orleans and to restaurants such as Domenica's. VEGGI/Propeller

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina, the citizens of New Orleans continue to rebuild and grow their city. As local innovators and entrepreneurs assess NOLA’s needs and imagine its future, the nonprofit Propeller is helping them put their ideas into action.

Taking on NOLA’s most pressing issues—food security, water management, healthcare, and educational equity—Propeller’s Impact Accelerator program supports socially-minded entrepreneurs throughout the business lifecycle—from idea, to beta, to growth.

The program has nurtured 60 new NOLA ventures into existence, including a health-focused School Food Authority, Louisiana’s first regional food hub, a wetland mitigation bank, and a maternal health collective.

When foundations like blue moon invest in nonprofits that are incubating new businesses, the economic impact multiplies as those businesses scale up and out into their communities. To protect and further this effect, Propeller also employs a business model to their own financing.

“We don’t ever want to be in a situation where we’re living grant-to-grant,” says executive director Andrea Chen. “Thinking of ourselves as a business ensures financial sustainability; without sustainability, you can’t accomplish your mission.”

New Orleans native and 2015 Accelerator alumni Daniel Johnson says he never imagined the impact that Propeller would have on his company, Greenman Dan, Inc.

When Johnson began installing rain harvesters for his landscaping, he began rethinking the city’s practice of pumping rain water into storm drains where it runs, untreated, all the way to Louisiana’s surrounding bodies of water. What if that water could be stored below ground where the moisture would help prevent soil sinkage, a very relevant problem for New Orleans?

With Propeller’s help, Johnson’s idea turned into a full-blown stormwater management company.

“It wasn’t until I entered the Accelerator program that I learned about the city’s upcoming changes in water management code and regulations—that there would be a need for something like what we’re building.”

Through executive mentorship and increased market exposure, Greenman Dan grew to take on more municipal projects and is now poised to assist as NOLA rebuilds a major aspect of its drainage infrastructure. Right now, its rain harvesting system will keep 900,000 projected gallons of water annually out of storm drains.

Johnson is thrilled with where his Propeller fellowship has taken him, and recommends the program to his friends with small businesses in food, water, health and education industries. As their name implies, Propeller is driving social innovation in New Orleans.

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