$1,000 Rent, Tax Credits, And "Shrimp Busters": Why You Should Start Your Startup In Shreveport

Silicon Bayou, anyone? John Grindley, the executive director of CoHabitat Foundation, makes a case for the Louisiana town at the top of the boot.

John Grindley is the executive director of CoHabitat Foundation, whose Cohab workspace has become something of a hub for tech startups in the unlikely location of Shreveport, Louisiana. We caught up with Grindley to ask why you should consider bringing your startup to the bayou.

FAST COMPANY: Where’s Shreveport exactly?

JOHN GRINDLEY: As Louisiana is a boot, it’s at the top of the state, where you put your foot in, at the top left. We’re in what’s called the Ark-La-Tex, where Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas meet. You couldn’t be further from New Orleans and still be in the same state. We’re about five hours from New Orleans, but three hours from Dallas and Little Rock. People ask, are you in a hurricane zone? No, we couldn’t be further. During Katrina we got a nasty rainstorm, but that’s about it.

How did Shreveport become a tech hub?

There was a big oil bust in the '80s, and a lot of industry left. We had a hangover for 20 years, with not much diversity in our economy. Louisiana decided they wanted to attract a diverse, creative economy, and gave tax credits to film and digital media. Then further tax credits kicked in for software development. Initially that seemed to only apply to videogames, but we got the law changed to be interpreted as applying to all software development in the state, and that blew the doors wide open. Originally when the film industry came seven or eight years ago, they landed in New Orleans, but Hurricane Katrina made people shift focus to other parts of the state.

What’s going on at Cohab that’s exciting right now?

Twin Engine Labs helped develop Moonbot’s interactive Morris Lessmore app [which we covered before, here]. Twin Engine was started by identical twins, Keith and Ken Hanson. Keith called his brother, who was about to take a job at Apple, and convinced him to move here. There’s a guy that’s developed this thing called Flyplyst. If you’re a group of people sitting around looking for something to do, Flyplyst connects to Facebook, and says, "It looks like you like Mexican and I like Mexican." Then it might connect a certain restaurant to you. It’s like Pinterest meets Groupon meets Yelp.

So you’re trying to lure someone from Silicon Valley to Shreveport. What’s your pitch?

I would say, you can be a big fish in a small pond, and develop ideas in a nurturing environment. Here, people want to help you succeed. The culture here is great: fun music, Cajun culture.

Can I get a good po’ boy?

Absolutely. And good gumbo and a shrimp buster at Herbie K’s. They take shrimp and flatten them out on French bread. The quality of life here is tremendous, and home values are affordable. You can buy a house. It’s a buyer’s market. If you’re renting here, you’ve got to be a fool. I have a 1,400-square-foot townhouse in a gated community with a pool and clubhouse, and I’m paying less than $1,000 a month.

You grew up in the area, but lived elsewhere for a while.

Lots of people boomerang back. I grew up in Shreveport-Bossier—it’s a twin city. I interned with David Letterman in New York, then went to L.A. for film production, and then came back to Louisiana to a film industry that hadn’t been here before. Tech was not even on the radar seven years ago. But now we call it Silicon Bayou, and it’s a term that’s stuck.

This interview has been condensed and edited. For more from the Fast Talk interview series, click here. Know someone who'd be a good Fast Talk subject? Mention it to David Zax.

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  • Kameko Thomas

    I recently made a rebuttal to the disrespectful comments John Coryat made about the Shreveport-Bossier area, which was barely up 24 hours before being taken down. I certainly would hate to draw the conclusion that there was a "different" reason you had for not believing that I had something valid to contribute to the conversation (given my name, and my website's  "ethnic/non-white" moniker).

    As someone who has - in John Grindley's words - "boomeranged" from Shreveport to the East Coast, the Pacific Northwest, and back, I am well aware of the misperceptions many people who are not from here have about our city. In fact, I moved away from Shreveport not long after graduating college because I truly believed "the grass would be greener" someplace else.

    It took living in different parts of the country for me to understand that belief was based on ignorance, NOT experience. If planting one's flag is perceived to be difficult in a place where people already know him, he already knows the area, and he already knows the people he needs to network with in order to start making some things happen, then how difficult would it be to do so in a place where no one even knows him?

    It may be true that Shreveport - as of yet - is not considered a "major" player; I would point out, however, that cities such as New Orleans, Dallas, Atlanta, LA, New York, the Research Triangle (N.C.), Minneapolis, Seattle, Houston, etc., etc., did not START OUT as major cities; it took time to build the infrastructure necessary to make them the cities that "everyone" wants to live and work in.

    Shreveport is no different.

    Misperceptions are fine, since most people who have no significant experience with a situation are prone to drawing their own conclusions; it's the disrespectful, condescending tone that people take when discussing the Shreveport-Bossier area that I have an issue with.

    I'd rather be building a business in a city in which I'd have little to no competition than to move to a city that's filled with people who all want the same job I want.

    Why move to Atlanta to be an EMPLOYEE, when you can live in Shreveport, and build an Empire?

    More importantly, WHAT possible reason could John have for being so disrespectful? If he doesn't like Shreveport, and thinks other places are better, fine. The vitriol was unnecessary.

  • Jane Heir

    John, the deal about Shreveport is that if you want to get something done and done well, you should consider doing it in Shreveport.  It's an Austin-style town that has a lot more going on than just tech.  It's an artistically progressive city.  I know that's my friends from Memphis thought that even back in the 90s.   

  • Gayle

    I don't think that John is trying to compete with Silicon Valley, he's trying to convey the realization that there are other options throughout the country.  Many entrepreneurs are not in the position to throw caution to the wind and move to Silicon Valley, the costs associated with such a relocation can be prohibitive.  However, the ideas and innovation created by those elsewhere are just as valid as those created in SV. 

    I grew up in LA, but have been gone for 17 years.  I'm happy to see progressive, young professionals take an active interest in their community and working towards bringing new opportunities to its citizens. 

  • KeithHanson

    I agree with this, Gayle. Ultimately, we'll always be compared to SV, though. Especially with nicknames like the Silicon Bayou, haha. 

    But mostly, we're a few entrepreneurs who know that there's talent locally that we can foster. And many times, circumstances don't allow for people to uproot their life and move, even if the costs could be affordable.

    That said, I'll die with my boots on (as quoted from one of my employees, haha)! It's hard work, and honestly, John Grindley has done amazing things for the community here, so hats off to him. But... we have great advisors for our company, awesome designers and engineers, and there are plenty of other tech companies in the area that have been here longer than us that have talent as well, doing very large projects. 

    It's come a long way I imagine since 17 years ago, haha!

  • johncoryat

    As someone who lives in a technological desert (Memphis) and also hangs around in the Bay area, I can say there is no comparison to the creative juices that flow in Silicon Valley vs. a back water like Shreveport. Try getting a flight to Beijing or Tokyo from Shreveport's "busy" airport. Good luck there!

    How many tech conferences are held in Shreveport? How many big tech companies sponsor events there? Can you get on your ebike and cruise over to the local Starbucks to meet with engineers fleeing Groupon?

    If you grew up there and don't want to leave, fine. If you're a small startup that will need new and innovative employees or networking opportunities, stay in Silicon Valley.

  • Naomi

    I lived in San Francisco in the mid- to late-90s and I now in Shreveport, as well as the mid-Atlantic and northeast. Either you are reading far more into this article than what was intended or you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.

    If one is building a pure tech company, then you do need to be in SV. But if you are talking about a digital media company, content production, or have an early monetization strategy, then there is no need to be in SV until a much later stage -- if ever.

    This area has investors with a strong apetite for risk and a very low cost of living. And you can find a Groupon engineer at S'bucks, but you will be bidding with other startups and will ultimately pay $150K+ if you manage to land them. If your choice is here or Silicon Valley -- with its basket case economy, high housing costs, and sub-par public education (a big factor for those with kids) -- and you are bootstrapping your venture, then you should look here.

  • KeithHanson

    As a local as well (from Twin Engine Labs), I definitely agree with Mollie and Rob. We have some amazing opportunities for those willing to get in on the ground floor of something.

    But that said, you're *right*, John. What's great is that we're very aware of the shortcomings as well, and are striving to change those things. 

    The airport is completely frustrating and many are voicing their opinions about it. As for engineering talent, I agree that we're not a hop and a skip from a poach from Groupon, but I've had very little trouble finding excellent engineers with loads of experience, all *locally* or in the region. 

    As for the conference, there's so little reason not to have a conference here that I'm going to start talking to those that could make that happen. We have several places where a conference would be easy. As well, we have casinos, and great local bars, with local food. 

    Finally, get your ass over to Nashville. I have *three* clients doing iOS apps as funded start ups that I know for fact will be looking for talent soon ;) There's an even better startup climate over there from what I've seen during my stays.

    Anyways, ultimately, you're right. SV has been thriving for so much longer than we have, it's very hard to compete, and we're only just beginning to. But for those that are interested, it can be a pretty awesome start for all the reasons the article mentions. And, we've only been *really* picking up steam in the last two years. I'm very interested to see what the next two hold.

  • Rob

    As the founder of the tech start-up Flyplyst, mentioned in the article above, I've raised significant seed funding with a bridge to significantly larger investors with no problems at all. The 35% investor rebate is a great draw, throw in no commute, great work spaces in the scenic downtown area, low cost of living and an up and coming digital workforce, what's not to love?

  • Mollie Walton Corbett

    You can live and work in the town where Elvis and Hank Williams got their careers off the ground. You can partner with teams like Academy-Award-winning Moonbot Studios and the innovative geniuses over at Twin Engine Labs. You can be an extra in a film or posture your business to serve the growing needs of the film industry here in the Hollywood of the South. You can rent a desk at renowned StartUp Weekend host CoHabitat Shreveport where community, collaboration, and coworking are breaking down barriers and transforming the way we do business in the "backwater." You can enjoy the multi-sensory experience that is Louisiana living. AND you can afford to pay your rent.