Hurricane Katrina was a devastating tropical cyclone. It struck United States’ southeastern areas in late August 2005. This hurricane and its aftermath also severely affected New Orleans. Many residents of New Orleans felt the need to get involved and recover their devastated community. These residents did a DIY effort. Every day volunteers and citizens from near and far led successful recovery efforts in situations where even government services failed or simply didn’t exist.In this article, you will learn more about the Urban Innovator of the Week: Andrea Chen and her volunteer-run group Social Entrepreneurs.

Andrea Chen, Executive Director of Propeller, and her friends didn’t want to see this inspiring energy disappear. In 2004, Chen moved to New Orleans to be a high school English teacher. Just a year after her moving, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. She and her friends were greatly inspired by the grassroots response of citizens in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. These citizens took matters into their own hands to work towards solutions in a seemingly impossible situation. Chen and her friends decided to revive the volunteer-run group Social Entrepreneurs of New Orleans.

Describe How Citizens Tried to Recover the Devastated City of New Orleans After Katrina?

People without any non-profit or philanthropy background were also taking matters into their hands and were trying to fix a lot of issues. Real estate agents, teachers, and even stay-at-home moms were starting initiatives because a lot of the services were not available back yet. People were gutting neutral grounds and houses. They weren’t getting together as legal entities but they started doing recovery efforts anyway.

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What is Propeller and Why Andrea Chen Started It?

Andrea Chen wanted to keep the momentum of public participation in New Orleans alive even three, five, or ten years after the media attention, government funding, and outside volunteers went away.

Chen reformed the Social Entrepreneurs of New Orleans in 2006. She formally incorporated it as a nonprofit in 2009.  To get a sense of how many social entrepreneurs were out there, this non-profit started a live business pitch competition, PitchNOLA. In 2011, the organization re-branded as Propeller.

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What is the Mission of Propeller?

The mission of Propeller is to drive impact in water management, food security, healthcare, and education equity by accelerating and incubating entrepreneurs who are tackling these issues. These sectors were selected because environmental and social challenges in these areas can potentially be solved with an entrepreneurial approach.

Propeller leads sector analysis and research to find out what entrepreneurship opportunities are in each of those sectors. It then builds a pipeline with pitch competitions and convening people through events like workshops. With this, you must have understood the vision and inspiration of Urban Innovator of the Week: Andrea Chen.


Nicole Rupersburg is a freelance writer and editor who covers business development & entrepreneurship, arts & culture, and food & travel for national audiences. She is the project editor and lead writer of Urban Innovation Exchange and Creative Exchange.

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