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Entrepreneurs Pitch Water-Focused Business Ideas

Travis Lux
Tyronne Walker of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, right, poses with Mastodonte co-founders Luisa Abballe, left, and Arien Hall, center. Mastodonte was selected as the winner of the 2019 Water Challenge hosted by Propeller.

Many of South Louisiana’s problems overlap with water, like urban flooding and coastal land loss. In recent years, more businesses are popping up to address those problems.

Local entrepreneurs looking to scale-up their water-related businesses competed for a chance to win $10,000 dollars Wednesday evening at an event called the Water Challenge.


The Water Challenge is the first of three pitch annual pitch competitions known collectively as PitchNOLA. The series is organized by Propeller, a non-profit that helps local entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses -- with a particular focus on addressing inequalities.

Each team gave a short pitch on how they would spend the $10,000 dollar grand prize, which was funded by the Greater New Orleans Foundation (disclosure: the Greater New Orleans Foundation is a WWNO funder).

One competitor’s business takes drone photos of coastal restoration projects. Several others build green infrastructure projects like rain gardens, designed to absorb rainfall and reduce flooding around town. After a brief deliberation, a panel of judges chose landscaping company Mastodonte as the 2019 Water Challenge winner.

Mastodonte specializes in green infrastructure landscaping. Co-founder Arien Hall says the two-person company will use the money to finish building a greenhouse to grow plants for their landscaping projects, and to expand their business.

“We’re gonna hire two people,” says Hall, “and we’re gonna set up general liability and worker’s compensation insurance.”

Upcoming PitchNOLA competitions will focus on education and health.

Support for the Coastal Desk comes from the Walton Family Foundation, the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Foundation for Louisiana, and local listeners.

As Coastal Reporter, Travis Lux covers flood protection, coastal restoration, infrastructure, the energy and seafood industries, and the environment. In this role he's reported on everything from pipeline protests in the Atchafalaya swamp, to how shrimpers cope with low prices. He had a big hand in producing the series, New Orleans: Ready Or Not?, which examined how prepared New Orleans is for a future with more extreme weather. In 2017, Travis co-produced two episodes of TriPod: New Orleans at 300 examining New Orleans' historic efforts at flood protection. One episode, NOLA vs Nature: The Other Biggest Flood in New Orleans History, was recognized with awards from the Public Radio News Directors and the New Orleans Press Club. His stories often find a wider audience on national programs, too, like NPR's Morning Edition, WBUR's Here and Now, and WHYY's The Pulse.

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