Hurricane Katrina was the moment of truth for Robbie Vitrano.
"It pushed me to confront those issues about my place in business, and the role of business in this situation," he said at GrowCo in New Orleans this week.
It's hard to describe exactly what Vitrano does—but that's because he does so much. He spent 25 years working in the advertising business, growing Trumpet, his branding agency. Vitrano is also the founder of The Idea Village, a business incubator. In an Inc. profile of Vitrano from last year, the magazine pointed out that "it has churned out about 570 businesses, which have collectively generated more than $87 million in revenue and created about 1,000 jobs in New Orleans."
While working in advertising could be inspiring, Vitrano craved more, especially after Katrina wiped out the livelihoods of so many New Orleanians.
"I lost touch with my community," he said. "I had to question whether what I was doing was making a difference."
Then, after Katrina, Vitrano opened the Icehouse, a 12,000-square-foot commercial real estate development in the Seventh Ward, which includes office space for more than 10 start-ups and additional co-working space for entrepreneurs. He also founded Naked Pizza, a macrobiotic fast-food joint, with 26 franchise locations. The company, he says, hopes to cure obesity by serving healthful, but delicious, food.
"Entrepreneurship is an agent of change, driving social transformation," he said. "We said, we need to support entrepreneurship. We need to tell people it matters."
"It's not about a business as an economic construct," he said. "It's about business as a way to solve problems."