On Friday, November 12, Junior Achievement of Greater New Orleans will honor its 7th class of Rising Stars at the 2010 City Stars Soirée. The celebration will take place at JA BizTown on the City Park campus of Delgado Community College. 

Attendees will be introduced to the 2010 Rising Stars on the following pages: McKenzie Coco, Founder, FSC Interactive, LLC; Kurt D. Buchert, Founder & CEO, GreenBean Foam Insulation, LLC; John Harris, Chef & Owner, Lilette; Nicolas R. Perkin, Co-founder & President, The Receivables Exchange, Inc.; and Matthew G. Schwartz, Principal & Co-founder, Domain Companies of LA.

JA inspires and prepares young people to succeed in and contribute to our economy with its many hands-on economic learning experiences and by recognizing and honoring role models. Since 1984, JA New Orleans has annually inducted business leaders from the community into its prestigious Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame. Hall of Fame Laureates  are superstars of business and entrepreneurialism who have etched legacies of achievement over many years. 

In 2002, JA New Orleans leadership sought to encourage young entrepreneurs showing early brilliance and great potential with the recognition of its first Rising Stars. JA Rising Stars are young individuals (40 or under) who demonstrate leadership, vision, ingenuity and innovation, and must serve as a role model for others in business and life.

Junior Achievement

John Harris
Chef & Owner, Lilette

Chef John Harris’ love of food started at home, in his mother’s kitchen. He recalls that, growing up, his house was the place to eat according to his friends. When asked his favorite dish, Harris barely hesitates to cite “angel hair pasta with garlic, olive oil and ricotta cheese,” which his mother cooked for him and his girlfriend cooks for him now. Everyone thinks their mother is the greatest cook on earth, but few mothers produce sons who carry that passion for food over into a career.

Chef Harris began working in restaurants in college, before deciding that cooking school was the right place for him. Like many aspiring chefs, John Harris was drawn to New Orleans because of its Mecca-like status among gourmands. “The greatest thing about being a chef in New Orleans is that you can own your own restaurant,” said Harris, alluding to the fact that New Orleans is simply more affordable than many other cities. Beyond that, he mentions the city’s unique brand of culture as to why it is such a popular dining destination. “It’s a beautiful place to dine. It’s got character.”

Junior Achievement

Kurt Buchert
Founder & CEO, GreenBean Foam Insulation, LLC

Unlike places such as Austin, Texas and Portland, Ore., New Orleans isn’t known for being a particularly “green” city; New Orleans’ image is more one of slow, controlled decay, than high-efficiency. That was what Kurt Buchert, founder of GreenBean Insulation, was up against when he opened shop in 2006.

“A lot of what we do is new to New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina,” says Buchert. Since “green” and energy efficient construction is such a new concept to New Orleans, his job involves a lot of convincing people of why it’s a good idea. “A big challenge to what we do is educating the consumer.” This challenge isn’t necessarily unique to the New Orleans market, as the whole eco-conscious mindset is just now taking hold all over the country. What is unique to New Orleans is a stalwart resistance to too much change too quickly.

“New Orleans is a very old housing stock which is traditionally not energy efficient at all,” says Buchert. New Orleanians are proud of their old homes with their classic architecture, so Buchert daily faces the challenge of upgrading an old home while still working with the existing façade.

Buchert says the key to gaining his clients’ trust in his work is to simply tell them the truth. “Always be blunt and truthful with your customer.”

Junior Achievement

Matthew Schwartz
Principal & Co-founder,  Domain Companies of LA

During his time studying at Tulane, Matt Schwartz focused on finance and the venture capital industry. In his senior year he took a real estate development course which put him on the track to becoming a real estate developer.

“After graduating in 1999, I moved to New York and took a job with the Related Companies, one of the largest developers in the country,” says Schwartz. It wasn’t long, though, before he decided to head back to New Orleans, where his interest in historic restorations had originally fueled his awareness of real estate development.

“I couldn’t imagine a more exciting place to be an entrepreneur today … Our economy is undergoing an unprecedented transformation with the growth of industries such as digital media, film and biosciences.” He believes that Domain has the ability to create the housing and various real estate endeavors necessary to move New Orleans into the next chapter of its rich history.

Junior Achievement

McKenzie Coco
Founder, FSC Interactive, LLC

McKenzie Coco works with clients in industries ranging from hospitality to financial services to increase the effectiveness of their online marketing strategy. In 2004, after getting married, McKenzie moved to the West Coast to work in publishing and marketing because, at the time, “they had more advanced implementation of online marketing strategies,” she says.

Like many New Orleanians who move away, Coco eventually found her way back to the city. After Hurricane Katrina crippled the city, her husband wondered, “If we don’t go home, who will?” Using the knowledge she gained on the West Coast and knowing that there was nothing like that here, Coco decided to start her own firm.

Echoing her husband’s sentiment, she realized that if she didn’t introduce online marketing to small businesses struggling to stay afloat after Katrina, no one might.

Coco says that her favorite part of her job is “Creating a work place where both me and my staff love to come everyday.” She believes that her firm works not just because she was one of the first people in the city to be successful at online marketing, but also because her and her staff are passionate about what they do.

Junior Achievement

Nicolas Perkin
Co-founder & President, The Receivables Exchange, Inc.

Nicolas Perkin is a New Orleans transplant originally from New York City. Prior to coming to New Orleans to start the Receivables Exchange, which helps small and start-up business get the working capital they need, Perkin worked as the Vice President of several multi-national companies.

Perkin chose New Orleans for his new venture because, he says, “Anyone who spends a significant amount of time in New Orleans falls in love with it, and I think that’s been empirically proven.

Looking back on the New York of his childhood – known, at that time, for its crime and corruption – Perkin draws many connections to New Orleans. “I watched New York turn around in the seventies and eighties, and people don’t believe me. So, cities can reinvent themselves. New Orleans, given the renaissance it’s going through now, is firmly on the path to reaching its ultimate destiny.”

Photographed by Cheryl Gerber