Lepage Center launches Ignite RLC • The Tulane Hullabaloo

Monroe Hall is the home of the Ignite RLC for the 2022-2023 school year. (Yazmine Parker)

This year, Tulane University is offering a new program for incoming students interested in entrepreneurship: Ignite Residential Learning Community. It aims to provide networking and business development skills to freshmen from New Orleans’ unique entrepreneurial landscape.

The goal is to “reach young prospective entrepreneurs in their freshman year so they can develop and work on their startup idea for the entirety of their time at Tulane,” says Timekia Mallery. Senior program coordinator at the Albert Lepage Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation said.

“When students come to Tulane, they fall in love with the city’s rich culture,” said Emily Egan, director of strategic initiatives at the Lepage Center. “Working with students early in their Tulane journey will hopefully set them up for success so they can stay in the city they love so much and become part of their entrepreneurial landscape.”

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Ignite students will meet with student startup founders, local startup founders, and Tulane alumni to learn from those who have successfully started new businesses. Service learning also plays an important role in the program, as partnering with organizations provides experiential learning opportunities for early years to see the ecosystem firsthand, said assistant trainer Evan Nicoll.

For newcomer Elina Khoshnevis, joining Ignite was an opportunity to further develop an idea she envisioned in high school and has been developing ever since: a fully sustainable clothing store. She looks forward to pursuing her ideas in New Orleans, where she says the entrepreneurial spirit is more supportive than in her competitive hometown of San Francisco.

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And local newcomer and culinarian Oscar Foster said Ignite was the ideal program to help grow his business. By continuing to network with entrepreneurs and farmers in his area, he hopes to expand his healthy and sustainable catering business, particularly in disadvantaged areas dominated by cheaper, unhealthy food.

“The more network, the more context I have, the more I can bring my own community together,” Foster said.

Foster hopes to learn more about local businesses, too.

“The companies that we’ve seen so far had a great concept of being on the front lines going global and also being bought out by bigger companies,” Foster said. “While that’s a good thing, I also want to experience the other side of companies and businesses that stay local and maintain local relevance.”

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Last week, Ignite students visited and volunteered at Idea Village, a local nonprofit dedicated to promoting small businesses and startups in the New Orleans community. The students met co-founder Tim Williamson, who highlighted the urgent need for the Idea Village and local entrepreneurship to reverse negative trends political corruption, economic and social decline, poor education, high crime rates and support for post-hurricane Katrina reconstruction. The organization hosts competitions, workshops and business accelerators, and promotes Web3 technology to support local artists.

Mallery said she hopes to make Ignite the most desirable RLC on the Tulane campus in the next few years.