New & Notables

The following 17 professionals are daring to try something new — developing a business and taking it to the next level. We honor their efforts as Biz New Orleans’ first-ever...
jeffery johnston

Jess & Erin Bourgeois

Owners, Lula Restaurant-Distillery

What better time to launch the city’s first restaurant-distillery than Mardi Gras, when spirits are top of mind for many? That’s especially true if your establishment occupies a prime spot along the St. Charles Avenue parade route.

For Lula Restaurant-Distillery’s owners (husband-and-wife team Jess and Erin Bourgeois along with co-owner Bear Caffery), this year’s February 13 opening was a long-awaited step in the challenging journey to bring something new to the city’s drinking and dining scene, which has seen an uptick in breweries and distilleries, but no restaurant-distilleries.

After encountering similar concepts while traveling out West, Jess Bourgeois recalls thinking, “Why not New Orleans?” It took nearly three years to bring this vision to life, during which the couple had to push for a new state law to permit a restaurant/micro-distillery. “It was on the last day of the legislative session [in 2015] that they approved our bill,” says Erin Bourgeois. “That was a nail biter!”

With that hurdle cleared, the team transformed the former Halpern’s Furniture store in the Lower Garden District into a full-service restaurant and distillery, where they produce their own vodka, rum and gin using Louisiana sugarcane products. Lula does not distribute its liquor, but bottles are available for purchase onsite. Chef/distiller Jess Bourgeois — veteran of the Commander’s Palace kitchen as well as a restaurant group in Birmingham, Alabama — oversees the restaurant operations, while Erin handles public relations, marketing and private dining.

“We have a unique product,” says Jess Bourgeois. “It’s a lot of hard work, and it looks like it’s paying off.”

– Rebecca Friedman

Ronnie Evans Jr. & Philip Moseley

Owners, Blue Oak BBQ

Ronnie Evans Jr. and Philip Moseley met on the playground at Holy Name of Jesus School in Uptown. Although they went to different high schools and universities, over the years the grammar school friends kept their dream of one day opening their own restaurant.     

Following their dream led them to live with their parents after college, sleeping in their cars to balance getting up at daybreak to cook for their catering business and first commercial location in Grit’s, a late night bar with a primetime from midnight to sunrise.

A year later they moved to Canal Street music club Chickie Wah Wah. Nights in the city’s hot spots helped the pair test recipes and techniques as they prepared to open their own place.

“It was our test kitchen as we prepared for the big show,” Moseley said. “We got better and improved, took R&D trips to Texas and the Carolinas.”

On April 22, 2016, the pair finally achieved their dream of opening their own restaurant at 900 North Carrollton Ave. — Blue Oak BBQ.
This past April, Blue Oak BBQ took home Hogs for the Cause’s coveted Ben Sarrat, Jr. Grand Champion Title.

“We thought we knew what we were doing; in hindsight we had no clue what we were doing,” said Moseley of the duo’s launch. “We didn’t have a clear plan on paper, but everything has fallen into place. It’s kind of unbelievable how it all worked out and how quickly it’s happened.”

 After jumping around the city for a while, Moseley said he and Evans finally feel settled in the Parkview neighborhood.
“It’s been a lifelong goal for us,” he said. “When I walk in every day, it’s very surreal, weird that everything is Ronnie’s and mine.”

-Chris Price


Alejandra Guzman

Vice President of Program Development and Strategy,  New Orleans Business Alliance

Alejandra Guzman has a passion for creating positive social change, and the Crescent City is benefiting from her seemingly endless drive.

Guzman is on the board of Fund 17, which works to combat opportunity inequality in the 17 wards of New Orleans by providing financial and educational tools to entrepreneurs who otherwise would not have access to the resources and knowledge necessary to grow their enterprises. She was also part of the Young Leadership Council’s COP NOLA program, which earned $5,000 in seed money to develop a free workshop series to help NOPD applicants in the application process and preparing for Civil Service exams.

While these examples would be a career for many, they are just two of her extracurricular activities.

As vice president of program development and strategy at The New Orleans Business Alliance (NOLABA), she has been working to reposition New Orleans’ brand as the ideal intersection of commerce and culture. The ProsperityNOLA program is a comprehensive economic development plan and catalyst for economic transformation, which builds upon the city’s economic cornerstones — its people, innate culture and geographic advantages — to create jobs and wealth for all New Orleanians. Additionally, she is involved in the development of a holistic talent cultivation and management strategy to attract the best and brightest to the Crescent City, and to engage and retain them and their families.

“The No. 1 reason a business decides to relocate to a region is the availability of qualified talent,” Guzman said.

“Talent attraction and retention are extremely important for economic development because the better equipped a community is to attract skill and retain talent, the better it will fare in attracting businesses.”

-Chris Price

David Holtman

Managing Partner, R&D Design

When he left the Northeast after graduating college, David Holtman looked for the best place to find opportunity and found his way to New Orleans. Since then the serial entrepreneur has found almost everything he was looking for in the Crescent City.

“After college, I was looking around for opportunity, and the film industry down here was really blossoming,” Holtman said. “I did some research and found that New Orleans was getting strong for entrepreneurs, and that’s something I always wanted to do.”

In his eight years here, Holtman has been involved in startups in industries that have benefited from state tax credits, including solar and film. He was director of operations at PosiGen Solar — Louisiana’s fastest-growing company in 2015 — and worked in the movie-making business before the state cut the businesses’ initiatives.

Holtman is now the managing partner of R&D Design, a New Orleans marketing agency with a satellite office in Virginia, that specializes in developing and producing enhanced consumer communications that utilize the latest technology — virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and artificial intelligence (AI)— for local businesses to engage their customers and stakeholders.

Holtman has contributed his talents in the VR, AR and AI realm to many local organizations, including the Red Cross, Young Leadership Council’s Wednesdays at the Square, French Quarter Fest, Bayou Boogaloo and Dirty Linen Night.

“These are awesome events,” he said. “They’re great ways to have fun and benefit the community.”

-Chris Price

Andrew Petersen

Lead Developer, Bluefin Data

Andrew Petersen is not afraid to make a bet. Before his current role, he was a professional online poker player.  Now, as leader of Bluefin Data, he’s bringing technology to commercial fishing that could revolutionize the way government regulates the industry.

In March, Bluefin Data took home $10,000 as the first place winner of New Orleans Entrepreneur Week’s Water Challenge, a pitch competition for entrepreneurial ideas to protect coastal environments, improve urban water management, and create jobs in the local water economy.

“We are creating a culture within the seafood industry that helps improve the quality of life for animals and humans,” said Petersen, lead developer of Bluefin Data. “We’re doing it through software and collecting information about what comes out of our waters and where it goes.”

When commercial fishermen come in to sell their haul, Bluefin Data’s VESL “hook to database” software platform captures information on the catch, such as when and where it was caught and what bait was used, along with environmental data about the trip, who is buying, how much and at what price. State regulators require the data, but it has previously been captured on paper and then entered into a computer, a process which is not always precise and can be cumbersome and costly.

Petersen sees the software as a tool to help gather information on trends in seafood availability and health, which will assist the state, fishermen and businesses related to fishing make critical business decisions as they prepare for and go through fishing seasons.

“We’re a third party that’s a bridge between commercial fishermen and the government,” he said. “The seafood industry is an industry that technology just hasn’t been to yet. We’re hoping to get better and more accurate data so that we can provide benefits to both sides.”

– Chris Price

Crystal McDonald

Founder and CEO, Acrew

Job seekers need every advantage when looking for work, and employers are looking to find the best candidates as easily and quickly as possible.

Crystal McDonald has created a solution that satisfies both parties via an on-demand video interviewing platform. Her idea won $100,000 this past March at The Coulter IDEApitch during New Orleans Entrepreneur Week.

McDonald’s firm, Acrew, connects employers and job seekers using brief, first-impression videos, each about three to five minutes, to screen candidates and save recruiters time and money. Employers can post an opportunity with the job description, requirements and as many as five customized interview questions. Those looking for work can then record their answers to the questions using the video camera on their smartphone, tablet, or computer and upload it to Acrew’s website. There, employers view responses and decide if they want to move forward with an in-person interview.

“We focus on the higher turnover industries that employ the hourly-wage job market — retail, hospitality, food service, health care, construction,” said McDonald. “It gives an employer an additional snapshot of motivation, fit and performance.”

  Originally from Houston, McDonald came to Louisiana to study finance at Dillard University. She “met a New Orleans boy” and has been anchored here ever since.

“I love New Orleans. There’s just no place like New Orleans,” she said. “I feel like the city reflects entrepreneurialism and resilience at its core. It’s got 300 years of history, culture and food. And we’ve got a growing and thriving ecosystem of like-minded folks who want to see the city progress and support businesses to a national level. There’s a sense of community and connectedness that folks have. It’s a great place for young talent. I’m excited about the opportunities here.”

– Chris Price

Caitlin Cain

CEO, World Trade Center

On January 17, Caitlin Cain became the new CEO of the World Trade Center (WTC), a nonprofit organization with over 1,000 members dedicated to promoting international trade in Louisiana. Cain’s more than 15 years of experience in governmental and organizational leadership includes serving as the regional advocate of the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy for Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, as well as director of economic development for the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission.

Cain oversaw the WTC’s first Future of Trade Summit on May 9 in Baton Rouge, which Cain called an important achievement for the organization. “We were able to bring together the different stakeholders and combat the negative narrative regarding international trade that we keep hearing,” she said.

Cain says the WTC’s biggest challenge is to keep up a constant dialogue with members. “Our goal is to keep creating relevant programs that provide our members with what’s happening at the 10,000-foot level and bring it down to the local level while providing relevant programs and technical assistance,” she said.

Among the WTC’s new program offerings was a two-hour informational session on doing business in India on June 26. On July 19, the WTC will present its annual C. Alvin Bertel Award honoring a person who has made significant contributions to the state’s port economy to Robert “Rusty” Barkerding Jr., president of Admiral Security Services.
“We want them to stay current and engaged,” she added. “It’s important that everyone has a voice, and I see our job as amplifying that voice.”

– Kim Singletary

Cleveland Spears III

President and CEO, Spears Group

New Orleans native Cleveland Spears III launched his own strategic communications and public relations firm nine years ago. Since then, Spears Group has assisted some of the most well-known companies and organizations in the region — from Ochsner, Entergy and Cox to Habitat for Humanity, Centers for Disease Control and the NBA, who hired Spears Group this past year to lead local, regional and national media relations for the NBA All-Star Weekend.
When it comes to showcasing the firm’s event production skills, however, Spears has also taken things a step further by creating and producing his own events.

Among the firm’s creations is last year’s inaugural Fried Chicken Fest. Held in Lafayette Square on September 25, 2016, the festival’s popularity was beyond anyone’s expectations, drawing over 40,000 attendees during the nine-hour event.

This year, Spears says they’ll be meeting demand with a bigger space — Woldenberg Park, five times larger than Lafayette Square. The festival will spread to two days, and include an estimated 35 vendors, two music stages and a cooking demonstration stage, celebrity chefs and a kid’s pavilion. Attendance for the planned September 23 and 24 event this year is expected to reach over 100,000.

In addition to the Fried Chicken Fest, Spears Group is also behind Le Diner en Blanc, a pop-up elegant dining event that celebrates its fifth year this year with nearly 4,500 diners.

Continuing with the experiential dining theme, Spears Group launched Savor in March, a four-hour, six-course dining and cocktail experience that sold out to a crowd of more than 220.

This month the firm’s fifth annual Millennial Awards will be held alongside GNO Inc.’s inaugural Emerge Summit for young professionals.

“The goal is always to find ways to bring people together,” says Spears. “And we’re not done yet. Expect another new event to be announced later this year.”  

– Kim Singletary

Greg Rhoades

Marketing Director, Leviton Security & Automation

“Alexa, turn off the lights!”

Smart electronics are taking over the way homes and businesses function, and Greg Rhoades couldn’t be happier. Rhoades is the marketing director for Leviton, a global electronics manufacturer with a thriving security and automation business unit based in New Orleans.

Leviton came to town in 2012, when the company acquired New Orleans-based Home Automation, Inc. (HAI). Rhoades’ own New Orleans history was a bit longer – he arrived in 2002 to study at Loyola and worked as a concert photographer and social media developer before joining HAI, where he helped build the company’s brand. When Leviton acquired HAI, says Rhoades, “it was really with the intent of leveraging the talent and the creativity that was down here in the Silicon Swamp… they use our talent for all of their apps and cloud development.”

Leviton’s approximately 40 local employees have been based in New Orleans East, but the company is relocating to the Warehouse District this fall, where they plan to create an engineering and marketing facility. Leviton chose that area because of its proximity to the company’s three-year-old ‘experience center’ in the CBD, where the company can show customers their products in ‘real’ working environments.

No longer limited to the ultra-wealthy, the market for Leviton’s smart products continues to grow as price points drop and the company partners with companies like Samsung, Google and Apple to launch new products. By offering products like smart light switches for as little as $50, says Rhoades, “we’re trying to make every house a smart home.” 

– Rebecca Friedman

Alex Reed

Co-founder  and CEO, Fluence Analytics

Imagine a system that could monitor a manufacturing facility in real time. Instead of a company pulling a sample of a product every hour or two for quality control, every single product is checked, every single second.

It would be a game changer for manufacturers, and it’s exactly what Fluence Analytics has done. The company's monitoring system is currently in use at an industrial scale.

Alex Reed is the son in the father-and-son duo behind the company (formerly known as Advanced Polymer Monitoring Technologies since its founding in 2012) whose products are used by biopharmaceutical and polymer industries. Working alongside his father, Tulane physics professor Wayne Reed since he was 12 years old, Alex Reed says the two “help create the products that make modern life possible.”

In May, Fluence Analytics announced they had received Series A funding led by venture capital firm Energy Innovation Capital (EIC). The company operates out of a 6,700-square-foot facility at 1078 South Gayoso Street in Gert Town.  

On the biopharmaceutical end, the Reeds have developed a lab instrument capable of measuring the pharmaceutical stability of therapeutic proteins.

“The pharmaceutical industry is one of rapid growth and change and there are a lot of knowledge gaps when it comes to how a protein behaves when not in the body,” says Alex Reed. “What happens to a drug when it’s in transit? How is it affected by banging around in a truck? We can provide answers to these types of questions and help a company engineer a more robust formulation.”

– Kim Singletary

Greg Latham

Founder  and Director, Intellectual Property
Consulting, LLC

Intellectual Property Consulting, or IPC, as it’s known, was a one-man firm from its launch in 2007 until 2015. Since then, founder and director Greg Latham has focused the boutique law firm exclusively on intellectual property services — patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets.

Since 2015, the firm has grown sixfold. It is the largest boutique law firm offering specialized IP services along the Gulf Coast, from Houston, Texas to Jacksonville, Florida.

“Patent, trademark and copyright law is almost exclusively federal law, so the laws don’t change, for the most part, when you go from state to state,” Latham said.

Growing up in the small, central Illinois town of Clinton, Latham thought he’d eventually practice law in Chicago, but after a few months at Tulane, he changed his life’s plan.

“I was in my first year of law school and knew I wasn’t leaving New Orleans,” he said. “The culture, the music, the food — I was one of those people who just easily got sucked in.”

The growth of technology-related industries in New Orleans gives Latham reason to be excited about the city’s economy.

“There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic. The last five to six years have been incredible, not only the growth of the business structure, but you can see the excitement from young people moving into the city and the young people staying here after they graduate,” he said. “New Orleans is getting national recognition in publications and continuously ranking in the top 10 in various economic and technology based surveys and polls. I’m very excited, very optimistic.”

– Chris Price

Benjamin Swig

Ready Responders

In Israel, the threat of terrorism has created the need to deploy rapid critical care in response to attacks of mass destruction. Those who are injured worst are routed directly to hospitals’ emergency departments, while those with less serious ailments are routed to other care providers, allowing trauma teams to focus on those most in need.  

With an injection of technology, Benjamin Swig thought the idea could be built upon to help ease congestion in New Orleans’ crowded ERs. His company has been described as the “Uber of EMS.”

Ready Responders are nationally and state certified EMTs trained in advanced first aid and immediate lifesaving interventions who work in partnership with New Orleans’ municipal emergency medical services. They are deployed via a smartphone app in non-life threatening medical situations.

“A majority of calls to 911 aren’t acute emergencies,” Swig said. “The goal is to reduce unnecessary ambulance and ER usage. We use a location-based routing system to identify the right resource, at the right time, at the right place, to provide the right care.

“If you look at best practices and innovative approaches to medicine, we have a chance to build on this model and save a lot of money in the health care system by providing patient navigation resources to get them to appropriate care.”

Ready Responders’ plan to establish mobile integrated healthcare won $25,000 during “The Big Idea” contest during New Orleans Entrepreneur Week. The company is currently meeting twice a month with the Mayor’s Office and the city’s Emergency Medical Services to launch the program.

“We’re making really good progress,” Swig said. “It will improve access to care in some of the places that are farther away from the core services that the city offers.”

– Chris Price

Bill DiPaola

President and Chief Operating Officer, Dat Dog

Dat Dog has had two big announcements so far this year and both are due to the work of Chief Operating Officer Bill DiPaola.

The popular hot dog restaurant opened in 2011 on Freret Street and within four years added three more locations on Magazine Street, Frenchmen Street and at Lakeside Mall.

By 2014, “things had leveled off,” says DiPaola. “They brought me in to see what I could do about it.”

DiPaola’s resume included work at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, Copeland’s and Brennan’s. “I had done a significant amount of franchise work and I realized that nobody had really weaponized the hot dog,” he says.

DiPaola is committed to doing just that by propelling Dat Dog to new markets. Starting late this year, Baton Rouge will receive the first of three new Dat Dogs thanks to the restaurant’s first wave of franchisees, local lawyers David Halpern and his nephew, Teva Sempel.

In May, news broke that Houston too would become part of the expansion, with 25 restaurants planned within the next 10 years through a partnership with B&G Food Enterprises, the first of which is set to open next year.

A born and raised New Yorker, DiPaola says living through Hurricane Katrina solidified his love for the city. “I lost everything I had and what I learned here will never leave me. What we have here — the food, the music, the lifestyle — it’s a special thing. My ultimate goal is to use our expansion to tell the story of South Louisiana anywhere on earth that welcomes us,” adding, “and I’d like to know of a place where a good hot dog, burger and chicken sandwich won’t work.”

– Kim Singletary

Molly Hegarty

Founder and CEO, RDnote

Molly Hegarty was working as a nutritionist for offshore oilfield workers in the Gulf of Mexico in 2014 when she decided to use her engineering background and computer skills to launch RDnote, a digital health startup based in the New Orleans BioInnovation Center.

The startup has developed a patent-pending software that helps connect hospitals to patients’ medical records and clinical information. It also provides customizable interventions and decision-making support to physicians to help them determine dietary and nutrition recommendations for patients with, or at high-risk for, chronic disease.

In February, the Lafayette General Foundation awarded RDnote $250,000 in seed investment through its subsidiary Healthcare Innovation Fund. The funding is allowing RDnote to develop a pilot program in partnership with Lafayette General Health System.

 “We’re trying to change healthcare through nutrition and technology,” Hegarty said.

The software has the potential to improve quality of care for patients struggling with chronic conditions, including congestive heart failure and diabetes.

“It helps translate to improved patient outcomes, better care coordination, and less time spent charting,” she said. “It’s giving doctors the right information at the right time.”

Hegarty hopes to expand the program to other hospital systems in the region.

Originally from Connecticut, Hegarty earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering and a master’s degree from Bastyr University’s School of Nutrition and Exercise Science. She lived on the West Coast before moving to New Orleans for a dietetic internship at Tulane University’s School of Public Health.

“I was supposed to be here for 10 months,” she said. “That was seven years ago. I absolutely love it here, both in the city and around Louisiana.”

– Chris Price

Nicholas Pashos

Founder  and CEO, BioAesthetics

Nicholas Pashos is not quite finished with school yet — he will be defending his Ph.D. thesis at Tulane University this summer — but he has already formed a company around a biomedical innovation he created to revolutionize reconstructive options after mastectomies.

Pashos’ product is a tissue-engineered nipple-areolar complex (NAC), put plainly, he has created a way to generate nipple and areola grafts that can be attached via reconstructive surgery. The grafts then serve as a building frame for the patient to regenerate their own nipple and areola.

In April, Pashos’ company, BioAesthetics, was selected by San Francisco-based seed biotech accelerator IndieBio to receive a $250,000 investment and participate in an intensive four-month accelerator program at IndieBio’s lab facility. The program is the world’s largest seed biotech accelerator and funding.

Pashos is currently taking part in the program in San Francisco.

“We’re taking the graft through safety and efficiency trials and on to FDA regulations.” Pashos says the expectation is to be using his innovation on people in 12 to 18 months.

A native of New Hampshire, Pashos came to New Orleans to attend Tulane’s bioinnovation Ph.D. program in 2012. After working with Dr. Bruce Bunnell, Ph.D., professor and director of the Tulane Center for Gene Therapy, for a year and a half to regrow a lung outside the human body, Pashos said he watched a documentary about mastectomies and ended up staying up all night learning everything he could.

“I came in the next day and told Bruce I had this idea,” he said. “He told me it sounded good and that I should talk to a plastic surgeon to make sure there was a need for my idea. I did, and it all went from there.”

-Kim Singletary

Meet our
New & Notables


Tuesday, July 11 from 6 – 8 p.m.
at The Jaxson­—620 Decatur St.

Join Us

Mix and mingle with Biz New Orleans’ New & Notables.

Enjoy hors d’oeuvres, wine and beer—courtesy of The Jaxson.


Get yours for $30 at

2017 New & Notables:
Erin and Jess Bourgeois, Cailtlin Cain, Bill DiPaola, Ronnie Evans Jr. and Philip Moseley, Alejandra Guzman, Molly Hegarty, David Holtman, Greg Latham, Crystal McDonald, Nicholas Pashos, Andrew Petersen, Alex Reed, Greg Rhoades, Cleveland Spears III, and Benjamin Swig

Categories: Business Events, The Magazine