Ever hear of the Black Pearl Apiary? That’s because it doesn’t exist. Yet. Thursday evening, ten finalists for this year’s PitchNOLA will throw down in Freeman Auditorium on Tulane’s campus competing for seed monies to jumpstart entrepreneurial innovations in the Crescent City. Among these top 10 is a duo that’s eager to transform a little bit of the Black Pearl — that little triangle bound by St. Charles, Broadway, and Leake Ave (aka River Road) — into a sweet, sustainable proposition: an apiary. Not an aviary, mind you, but an apiary. The former is a sort of bird refuge, and the latter, well, it’s for bees, a collection of hives.
Enter Andrea Maurizio and Alton Torregano III, two twentysomethings committed to a couple of notions. Among them, social change. Green entrepreneurialism. And industry that originates unique and new goods and services, not siphoning or borrowing from another like direction. Add being good to the earth, combating unemployment, and desiring to assist the less than employable and possibly recently incarcerated. All while combating the secret death of bees. Sound a little too idealistic? Maybe a little complex? It’s not. It’s surprisingly simple given the already present knowns. It’s the unprecedented composition of the knowns that raises eyebrows.
“We have the land,” offers Alton. “And if our projections are correct, we’ll outgrow it within a year. So we’re already seeking other space outside of the Black Pearl.” My next thought was okay, you have the land, but land itself has many possibilities. Why bees? Alton answers with a smile: “Free labor.” Kidding aside, the impetus goes deeper than that.
Turns out Andrea has spent the last four years in Westchester getting her bead on bees. Loaves & Fishes, a non-profit soup kitchen where she volunteered in Itchaca, N.Y., began with just three hives. When she left, they had broken 20. The benefit to the environment and the community was something she wanted to bring back to New Orleans having been at Tulane prior to Katrina. Upon her return to the neighborhood just off of the Freret commercial corridor, Andrea got to know her neighbors and found some to be overly economically challenged. That’s when the spark for Black Pearl Apiary began.
“We’re creating a market,” Andrea says “and we won’t be stealing or re-directing jobs.” Coinciding with their socially conscious business model already in the works, PitchNOLA was announced, and voila: they pitched their pitch and scored a top ten slot! Competing with nine other pitches all clamoring for some fantastic funds. Funds that for these two represents a third of their expected first year costs. Of course, the buzz is on their side. In addition to the New Orleans Hornets and an otherwise insect friendly region, recently Mignon Faget launched a new collection simply entitled Hive evoking honey colored hexagons and the like. Professional athletics, regional jewelry, and home grown honey: one might conclude at the very least synergy is on their side.
Best of luck, Andrea and Alton!
Jean-Paul Villere is the owner of Villere Realty and the Du Mois gallery on Freret Street and father of four girls. In addition to his Wednesday column at UptownMessenger.com, he also writes an occasional real-estate blog at villererealty.com and shares his family’s adventures via pedicab on Facebook and Twitter.