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.