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On Our Ballot: People to Watch

This being an election year, we know that there are plenty of people who wish they had more than two major choices for President. Fortunately, when we do our annual People to Watch section we have a million or so people from whom to choose. The problem is in whittling the list. People to Watch is New Orleans Magazine’s oldest tradition. We regard it as our annual exercise at exploring emerging energy in the community. We define our selectees as people who are doing something new and interesting. Most often they're new faces; sometimes they’re old faces doing something different. All are winners by our estimation. And if they do well, their terms are unlimited.

On Our Ballot: People to Watch

Rebecca Smith

Head of Reader Services, Historic New Orleans Collection

As the Head of Reader Services at the Historic New Orleans Collection, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, Rebecca Smith brings a fresh enthusiasm to the storied organization, which houses in its Williams Research Center thousands of materials relating to history, art and culture of New Orleans and the Gulf South. Smith says history has always fascinated her, and in this position, while working with scholars, publishers, museums and others seeking documents or conducting research, she’s able to put her interest in history to practical use. “I’ve always felt drawn to work in the archives field,” she says. “I like working in public services at The Historic New Orleans Collection because I think it’s important to facilitate access to the materials that record both the historical importance and the ever-evolving vibrancy of the city.” Every day, she learns something new, and says that her long-term goal is to learn “everything” about New Orleans. “Maybe that’s overly ambitious, but I want to keep improving my knowledge of [The Collection’s] holdings and get better at providing the right information to our patrons and guests.”


On Our Ballot: People to Watch

Kevin Brown

Owner, Brilliance in Diamonds – The Engagement Specialists

“If you had told me 10 years ago that I would be in the jewelry business, I would’ve laughed,” says Kevin Brown, owner of Brilliance in Diamonds – The Engagement Specialists in Metairie, a business that helps customers custom-design a ring with one-on-one attention. “I actually fell into the jewelry business by accident, and it was the best thing that has ever happened to me,” he says.

While working in wholesale and retail sectors of the jewelry industry, he noticed that every place within the industry “wanted to sell something to their customers out of the display cases.” He says, “I thought to myself, ‘Wouldn’t it be more fun and even more special if people could create truly one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry?’” His business now does just that.

“My low overhead business model allows me to help people get a better diamond and setting at a price, usually at least 50 percent less than a typical retail jewelry store,” he says.

“The guy saves money and the girl gets a bigger and better diamond!”

Andrea I. Moreno

Executive Director, New Orleans Ballet Theatre

The first-ever Executive Director of the New Orleans Ballet Theatre, Andrea Moreno, grew up performing ballet and moved to New Orleans for the Teach For America program before establishing her current position. Now, her goals are to extend opportunity to as many young people as possible in her new leadership role, which combines educational outreach with dance. “As a Mexican immigrant in the United States, ballet gave me the privilege to reclaim my story when others were all too willing to impose their own narratives about who or what I should be,” she says. When NOBT performed The Nutcracker at the Orpheum Theater for the first time, the organization donated 250 tickets to six schools around the city.

“A few of the students I taught ended up attending, and afterward one of them spoke up and said, ‘I’d never been in a building this nice before.’ I’d grown up going to theaters, museums and performances my entire life without thinking twice about what a privilege it was,” Moreno confesses. “To this day, that moment serves as the single clearest articulation of why I do what I do.”


On Our Ballot: People to Watch

William B. Crowell


“For me, being an artist was almost not a choice,” says contemporary acrylic painter William “Bill” Crowell. “It was something that had always been part of my personality from the time I started doodling as a small child.” He paid the bills for years by working as a mechanical designer for Chevron before pursuing art full-time in 2008. During this time, Chevron commissioned him to do a seven-painting series on the oil industry for their Northpark campus in Covington.

“Painting gives me real joy and a sense of accomplishment from developing an idea and bringing it to visual life,” he says. Long-term, his goals are to continue to improve his craft.

“It’s a lifelong learning process,” he says. “This means I have to be my severest critic.” Next month, he’ll unveil a new series at Gallery 600 Julia titled, “It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere” and he also recently had a painting accepted at the New Orleans Museum of Art. “There’s a great deal of satisfaction when others get pleasure from my work,” he says.


On Our Ballot: People to Watch

Burnell Cotlon& Keasha Cotlon

Owners & Founders, Lower 9th Ward Market

The Lower 9th Ward, where many residents lack reliable transportation, was long after Hurricane Katrina still considered a “food desert” – a location designated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a place devoid of stores selling healthy foods. That all changed when Burnell and Keasha Cotlon spent their life savings to establish a small but vital grocery store in their native community. Burnell Cotlon says he did it out of love. “It pained me to see so many people with the inability to provide their families with basic human needs,” he says. “It’s essential. Someone had to make a change.” Now that it’s up and running, his long-term goals are to expand and create more jobs in the upcoming years.

“There’s so much more left to do in order to get the Lower 9th Ward up to par with the rest of New Orleans,” he says. “We will not be forgotten.” He also recently established the nonprofit “Make It a Home Foundation,” which will help provide affordable living options to the people of the community.


On Our Ballot: People to Watch

Justin Shiels

Founder & Creative Director, This Creative Lab

Creativity in many forms is what drives Justin Shiels. He says he has always been compelled by the “power of words and pictures.” As creative director and founder of This Creative Lab, Shiels works for small businesses by providing graphic and web design, marketing strategy and communications planning.

“I’m an entrepreneur because my skills are cross-disciplinary,” he says. “We believe in the transformative power of good design, strong messaging and a clearly defined voice. The end result is a well-crafted brand – an integral tool for every company’s success.”

 In the past few years, the young entrepreneur has been reinventing himself. “I went from being the founder of goINVADE [a now defunct-local lifestyle publication geared toward the rebellious and optimistic] to running a small creative agency,” he explains. He says he’s excited to grow This Creative Lab to include more digital marketing and social media management; he’ll also launch educational programs to help young professionals invest in their talents and develop new skills.


On Our Ballot: People to Watch

Celeste Coco-Ewing

Member, Barrasso Usain Kupperman Freeman & Sarver LLC; Program Chair, Board of Directors, Louisiana Appleseed

Celeste Coco-Ewing says her favorite thing to do is “problem-solve.” This fits with her career as she provides high-quality legal representation at both local and national levels, and contributes to “good work in the community.”

   While serving in her past position as the president and CEO of the Bureau of Governmental Research, which she left last spring, she aided in public policy-making and effective use of public resources in the area. Now, she’s back practicing litigation and also serves as program chair on the Board of Directors of Louisiana Appleseed, a nonprofit that works on issues including access to justice, education and opportunity at a policy level. “Last year was certainly a year of change,” she says. She is looking forward to being a member of a national trial team set to head to Dallas for a two to three month trial in the fall.

Kyle M. Coleman, M.D.

Dermatologist & Co-Owner, Être, Cosmetic Dermatology and Laser Center

New Orleans native Dr. Kyle M. Coleman hails from a medical family, so growing up, he always knew he wanted to be a physician. Dermatology, especially cosmetic dermatology, appealed to him because of its constant innovations. “It allows me to express both my scientific and artistic sides in a functional way,” he says. As co-owner (along with Dr. Lisa Donofrio) of the new Être Cosmetic Dermatology and Laser Center on St. Charles Avenue, he hopes to position the facility as the “premier” destination in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast for all minimally invasive and non-invasive procedures.

One of the biggest makeovers he’s overseen is of the space itself. The building was a former cafeteria in an assisted-living center in “horrible condition,” he remembers. “But it had great potential.” He’d been working in Austin, Texas, at the time, looking forward to returning to his hometown. “In the end, all our hard work and sacrifice was worth it,” he notes.

“Currently we’re involved in several research studies, and we continue to attract research opportunities to incorporate cutting-edge procedures and technology that will hopefully be available to the public in the near future.”


On Our Ballot: People to Watch

Quinn Richard

Owner & Founder, Cocktail+Creative

Hiring a caterer for an event is a no-brainer; but what about the cocktail program? For those who want to serve their guests something beyond the usual “red, white or beer,” Quinn Richard recently launched Cocktail+Creative. In this capacity he works as a cocktail caterer and event planner, offering personalized drinks. “We add a personal touch and establish a connection with each and every person in the room,” he says. “We really strive to make an impression on all guests, down to every last detail.”

Starting this business had been a dream of his for a while, but it was on the backburner. That is, until his former business, a hair salon, caught fire. “The challenge was trying to see a future after a burnt building, and renewing the confidence to start a completely different concept,” he says. “Cocktail+Creative was something I had pondered for a while – it just took the fire to help me focus on it.” He is now fine-tuning the offerings and looking into customizable bars.

“Our guests will be able to mix and match, and pick and choose the look of the bar that they would like for the event,” he says. “This will allow them to create the atmosphere they want.”


On Our Ballot: People to Watch

Tank and The Bangas

Tarriona “Tank” Ball (center front), Lead Singer & Poet; Albert Allenback, Saxophone & Flute; Joshua Johnson, Drummer & Musical Director; & Merell Burkett Jr., Keyboards

As frontwoman of local band Tank and the Bangas, Tarriona “Tank” Ball knows firsthand the trials and challenges of making it as an independent artist in the music industry; fortunately, the group has been gaining momentum at local and national music venues alike. In the short term, the group is constantly polishing their sound and re-structuring their set lists – also recording a new studio album this year. They also set their sights ahead on international tour stops and spreading their locally inspired music abroad.

“Our long-term goal is to sustain ourselves in the music industry and touch people all over the world through our music,” says Ball. “Our greatest accomplishment is being able to stay together and work through the tough times as a group. Also, being able to touch people with our music is a pretty great feeling. It keeps us humble and reminds us that we’re where we are supposed to be.” Recent accolades include their winning performance at Brooklyn’s AfroPunk Battle of the Bands competition and “Best Performer” and “Best Mover of the Year” awards from local music publication, My Spilt Milk.


On Our Ballot: People to Watch

Keith Esparros

Executive News Director, WWL-TV

As Executive News Director at WWL-TV, Keith Esparros oversees news coverage on WWL-TV and its affiliate WUPL-TV, along with its website and other digital platforms. A New Orleans native, he relocated back to his hometown after working as senior manager of the investigative team at KNBC-TV in Los Angeles. The father of 20-year-old triplet sons grew up during an “activist time” and says that being educated against the backdrop of Watergate, the end of the Vietnam War and two major natural disasters (hurricanes Betsy and Camille) fueled his desire to go into journalism. “I wanted to help make our part of the world a little better,” he says. “When I can go home with a feeling that we were able to shed some light, foster some understanding or help out a person or neighborhood, it reminds me of why I started this career 36 years ago.” He notes that budget cuts in the industry have been challenging, but have also led to innovative methods of reaching audiences. “Our business demands more dedication than it ever has, but we also have more opportunities than we’ve ever had. We can reach our audience every minute of the day.”

Kyly Larriviere

Owner, La Rivière  Confiserie

A former model with an entrepreneurial spirit, Kyly Larriviere – also a mother of twins – opened a candy shop on Magazine Street, La Rivière Confiserie, to “satisfy a playful, child-loving, creative nature,” she says. Part of her job entails traveling to France for “research” – aka testing out candy that she wants to bring back to the United States and sell to her loyal and ever-expanding customer base. Her career, she says, combines her love of history, art, craftsmanship, quality, beauty, food, tradition and her own French heritage. “Some people might say, ‘How do you get all of that out of candy?’” she muses. “Somehow I do, and more.” She acknowledges that being in business is a serious, thought-provoking endeavor, but says, “I love how I can connect with people and the world in a funny way through candy, and I’m thankful. Plus, I can have my children with me after school.” Her plans in the near future include working on partnerships and expanding the business – always continuing to spread sweetness.


On Our Ballot: People to Watch

Liz Maute Cooke

Creative Director & Owner, Lionheart Prints

As owner and creative director of Lionheart Prints, Liz Maute Cooke bubbles with the same enthusiasm that’s reflected in her hand-lettered stationery and other gift items, including clothing and accessories, that deliver lighthearted, positive catch phrases – often with local flair. (“Yeaux-Leaux,” “You’re totes my fave” and “The snuggle is real” are among just a couple of puns adorning her goods.)

“Our messages are funny and empowering, and sometimes a little bit of both,” she says. “We like to deliver messages that lift you up and motivate you and also encourage you to not take yourself so seriously.”

Her new boutique on Oak Street opened just a few months ago after she outgrew her home office – and her products are now sold in every Urban Outfitters and Paper Source location in the country. As she gains momentum, she says her goals are to keep making “awesome things,” adding that she would “love to do this for the rest of my life. I want to be able to do this and have kids and show them that you can be a badass at business … I want to be a good example for my own family and for other entrepreneurs and let people know they can live the life of their dreams.”


On Our Ballot: People to Watch

Allison Hoffman & Julie Hoffman

Co-Owners, Native Polish

As founders of Native Polish, sisters-in-law Allison Hoffman and Julie Hoffman wanted to design a line of nail polish that would represent “all aspects” of New Orleans, which they believe is an “eclectic and extraordinary city.”

   Their product line is affordable – $11 a bottle – and the polishes are not only free of harmful chemicals, but they’re long-lasting. Native Polish offers a broad range of colors, cleverly named for distinct New Orleans characteristics, attractions and things that make the city unique – for example: “Pothole” (dark gray), “Revelry” (sparkly purple) and “Gulf Oyster” (lustrous off-white). Both Allison and Julie acknowledge that it was a “hectic and exciting few months” trying to establish distribution and operational processes with a positive end result. They say that knowing that their customers are feeling good about what they’re wearing and experiencing the polish’s longevity is what inspires them to keep creating. Julie says, “We have loved getting to meet, re-connect and collaborate with so many inspirational female entrepreneurs.” Allison notes that, “when determined women come together, especially in a creative and interconnected city like New Orleans, enormous things can result.”


On Our Ballot: People to Watch

Dr. John W. Nicklow

President, University of New Orleans

President of the University of New Orleans John Nicklow, who assumed the position this past April, has a strong passion and respect for the power of higher education. “It transforms lives, creates opportunity and leads to prosperous opportunities. While I’m honored and humbled to have the opportunity to affect the lives of our students in positive ways, I thoroughly enjoy and find fulfillment in doing so,” he says.

His favorite aspect of serving as president is his interaction with students. While the University of New Orleans suffered from cutbacks over the past few years, Nicklow says the administration is working on, “aggressively implementing new initiatives to recruit and retain more students, including a new branding and messaging campaign.”

As they work to incentivize research across campus, he says they’re also applying efforts to create meaningful outreach and partnerships in the city. “Expect great things from the University of New Orleans over the next three years,” he says. “We have a lot of work to do, but our strategic initiatives are going to make us an even more integral part of the most fantastic city in the world.”


On Our Ballot: People to Watch

Daren SuMrow &Mandy Simpson


Husband-and-wife team Daren Sumrow and Mandy Simpson own NOLA BOARDS, a business that stems from their passion to build high-quality handmade wooden culinary tools, countertops and furniture for kitchens, bars and dining rooms. “Cooking and eating is something we all do, and the best times with friends and family always seem to involve a meal,” says Mandy, a former social worker. “We build our products to reflect a time when things were made to last.” The couple has four kids between them, ranging from ages 13 to 22, and opening up their brick-and-mortar shop earlier this year on Magazine Street was a dream come true. They also ship their products to every state and to Canada and will be expanding distribution even more this fall.

Daren has been a woodworker his whole life. “Growing up in Northern California gave me a profound appreciation for the Earth’s beauty that’s been here for millions of years before us,” he says. “It’s been a real privilege to expose the inner beauty of some amazing woods to show the rest of the world why we woodworkers do what we do as a profession.”


On Our Ballot: People to Watch

Dr. Michael McKelvey

Professor of Practice, Musical Theatre & Voice; Artistic Director, Summer Lyric Theatre at Tulane University

Summer Lyric Theatre at Tulane will celebrate an important milestone next year: its 50th season. Gearing up for it, Dr. Michael McKelvey, who recently celebrated his one-year anniversary as Artistic Director, says his long-term goals are to raise funds for a “substantial” endowment to guarantee the company’s future as a producer of classic American musicals and to appeal to a younger audience base. He also wants to continue to work with other local theaters to establish a joint network. Jumping into the organization that has such a storied history was a bit daunting, but McKelvey was well-equipped for the position after working in another artistic hub of Austin, Texas, where he won numerous awards for direction and still owns a production company. In the upcoming year, he’ll be working with a steering committee to reach a 50th anniversary Endowment Campaign goal and is planning “lots of special events.”

His greatest accomplishment, so far, he muses, is implementing pay for all of the non-student performers and creating an education and outreach program.


On Our Ballot: People to Watch

Ingrid M. Butler

Founder, LipScape

While attending Syracuse University in upstate New York, Ingrid Butler experienced sub-zero temperatures that particularly damaged her lips. Even moving back to Louisiana didn’t improve the condition, so she took matters into her own hands by developing a line of lip conditioner that finally worked. She has since expanded her line of products to include lipsticks and glosses in all colors of the rainbow. “If you take the time to research popular lipsticks from top cosmetics companies, you’re going to find an endless list of ingredients,” she notes, adding that many have been linked to various health issues. “The best part about what I do is being able to offer effective formulations of natural, non-toxic ingredients, showing that my customers don’t have to compromise health for beauty.” Now, her company is evolving to include more than just lip products. Butler aspires to create a one-stop shop and resource for women’s beauty and men’s grooming products and has been busy creating skincare products. Recently she and her Co-Founder, Jeremy Rose, launched their men’s grooming line, “Gentleman’s Anthology.” She notes that “entrepreneurship isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon.”


On Our Ballot: People to Watch

Pedram Pasha Taheri

CEO & Designer, Pedram Couture

New Orleans’ one and only couture house is owned by Pedram Pasha Taheri, whose intricate, elegant and often ethereal designs have caught the eye of actresses and reality stars, including Malika Haqq and Nene Leakes, who have donned his creations for glamorous nights out on the town and on the red carpet. His designs have also been featured in major fashion publications including Vogue, and recently the brand went global with his new Pedram Couture Atelier Bridal line. “Designing is more than a job,” says Taheri. “It is my life and what I’m most passionate about. I love elegance and transferring that into fashion. I love seeing women at their best.” Being based in New Orleans has its challenges, he notes, as many major designers operate out of larger cities like Los Angeles, New York City and Milan, but thanks in part to social media, he has been able to garner more attention and clientele, and his designs are now sold at boutiques around the United States and in London. He looks forward to expanding his repertoire and building momentum to get his designs featured in more boutiques, and says that the most rewarding part of this adventure is hearing his clients say that, “they have never worn anything this beautiful.”


On Our Ballot: People to Watch

Urban South Brewing

Kyle Huling, Vice President; Jacob Landry, Founder & CEO; & Wes Osier, Brewmaster

Three years ago, Jacob Landry began to formulate a plan to open Urban South Brewing, and on St. Patrick’s day 2016, he and his team, which includes Vice President Kyle Huling and Brewmaster Wes Osier, sold their first beer.  

“As a Cajun, I hold a deep-seated passion for making things and sharing with others,” says Landry. “The brewery has allowed me to marry that passion with my passion for great beer and the unique opportunity to help reintroduce Louisiana to locally crafted artisan products.” Huling, who has a strong background in sales, says his plan is to help the brewery become, “one of the most respected and sought-after breweries in the South.”

With core brands including Charming Wit and Holy Roller IPA, they’re off to a successful start – demand has been high. “I look forward to seeing our brewery’s growth on a daily basis and sharing the experience with our team,” says Osier. “Watching us grow from nothing but a concrete slab to a brewery with our beer in pubs, restaurants and stores in New Orleans is an ongoing trip.”


On Our Ballot: People to Watch

Calvin C. Fayard III

Founder, GLO Airlines

Whether it’s for business or for fun, traveling is infrequently affordable or convenient, but that’s changing for New Orleanians thanks to GLO Airlines, which offers nonstop flights to Shreveport; Little Rock, Arkansas; Memphis, Tennessee and Destin-Fort Walton Beach, Florida.

As the business is literally taking flight, its founder, Calvin C. “Trey” Fayard wants customers to look forward to boarding planes. “We want to bring back that personalized attention you used to get when flying was an enjoyable experience,” he says.

He launched the business, “simply because I could no longer get to the destinations that I needed to get to quickly and efficiently.” Along with friends, colleagues and New Orleans business professionals, “we found ourselves chartering small plans for flights around the region – for day-long business trips, football games and the like.” As it became more common, he realized there was an opportunity to restore nonstop flights around the Gulf region and Mid-South. Since the first flight launched out of Louis Armstrong International Airport last year, he says he’s been focused on hiring the “best and brightest” to help service their clients and grow awareness. GLO is also continuing to add new destinations, most recently Huntsville, Alabama.


On Our Ballot: People to Watch

Nick Stillman

CEO & President, Arts Council New Orleans

By enabling arts organizations, leveraging partnerships and creating artistic opportunities, Nick Stillman, who became CEO and president of the Arts Council New Orleans last January, believes in the power of artistic transformation. “New Orleans is the most distinctive city in this country,” he says. “Its art, indigenous practices and specific sense of cultural identity is what makes it so.”

   The staff at Arts Council supports the idea that the city is diminished without art. “Our work is all about creating a healthy and sustainable ecosystem for local artists of all types,” he says. The organization has a series of goals it expects to accomplish by the end of 2018 – New Orleans’ Tricentennial year. They also produce LUNA Fête in December with commissioned artists who produce works made with light, sound and technology in public space. “We have a generational opportunity to demonstrate that when artists are intrinsic to civic thinking and city planning. It isn't lagniappe; it’s essential to New Orleans growing in a progressive, inclusive, locally specific and sustainable way,” he says. “It’s a big job. And the time for it is right now.”


On Our Ballot: People to Watch

Carla & Roy Arriola Jr.

Owners, Grande Krewe Fine Wine & Spirits

As owners of Grand Krewe Fine Wine & Spirits, Carla “Carlita” Arriola says that she and her husband, Roy Arriola Jr., “work tirelessly” to create an experience for customers to buy, taste and learn about wines from around the world. They also juggle shop ownership with other busy careers – Carlita is a Pilates instructor, and Roy is a Captain in the New Orleans Fire Department and sells real estate. They are both committed to public service,and to creating and contributing to a positive, supportive community. The past year presented tragedy for them when Roy’s daughter, Milan, was killed by gunfire at age 20. She was laid to rest the day before the wine shop opened. “Her loss allowed us to experience the greatest outpouring of love and support,” says Carlita. “She continues to watch peacefully over us and motivate us to achieve more entrepreneurial success.”


On Our Ballot: People to Watch

Marielle Dupré & Nicole Eiden

Co-Owners, Windowsill Pies

Marielle Dupré and Nicole Eiden, Co-Owners of Windowsill Pies, believe the experience of enjoying “real” food is a fundamental part of a meaningful life. Every slice of their homemade pies, they believe, presents an opportunity to create and share a lasting memory with others.”

“We are fulfilled by knowing we’ve created something that nourishes those in our community,” says Eiden. Adds Dupré: “We strive to make everything beautiful too look at, bringing a sense of art to an everyday afternoon.”

The duo is also finalizing plans to transition from a wholesale bakery operation into opening a brick-and-mortar European-style coffee shop and bakery, where they hope to hire graduates of Cafe Hope, Café Reconcile and Liberty’s Kitchen – organizations that help young people learn culinary skills – as part of their team. “We envision these alliances as central to our mission and staffing choices,” says Dupré.


On Our Ballot: People to Watch

Kendal E. Francis

Founder & Executive Director, Blessed 26

Working at WDSU News Channel 6 exposed journalist and former Tulane football player Kendal Francis to a lot of frustrating, sad stories over the years. Feeling helpless, he almost resigned in 2004, but instead began volunteering at Café Reconcile. There, Francis realized he could make a severe impact with at-risk youths by exercising compassion and also simply by listening to them. He decided to launch the Blessed 26 Foundation shortly after, working with male teenagers who are “determined to be successful despite their circumstances.”

Many of the youths he mentors come from broken families and live far below the poverty line, at risk for a life of crime or violence. Some of them come to him on the verge of dropping out or being expelled from school. But Francis strongly believes in their potential and vows to guide them into a better life.

“I mentor, motivate and show young people how to create formulas of success for themselves. I get them to change their attitudes and expand their comfort zones,” he says.


On Our Ballot: People to Watch

Diane B. Lyons & Sandra S. Dartus

Co-Founders, FestiGals

“You either love event planning, or you hate it,” says Diane Lyons, Co-Founder of FestiGals, the first and only women-centric summer festival in New Orleans. “For me, it’s a great adventure.” Since 2011, she and Co-Founder Sandra Dartus have strived to make this annual event one that will empower women in a safe, festive environment while showcasing the best of what the city has to offer. “New Orleans celebrates gumbo, tomatoes, literature and even decadence. Why not women? Women love to connect, bond, laugh and celebrate!”

says Lyons. Dartus wholeheartedly agrees. “It’s so much fun to develop programs and activities that are geared just to women, and I’m so proud of the money we’ve raised to help women in our community.” Each year, FestiGals has grown and continues to find sponsorships, but Lyons says it’s still in its infancy with plenty of room for growth. They also launched a Cocktails & Conversations monthly series, which gives them another outlet to share information and experiences in a “fun but informative” environment,” says Dartus.


On Our Ballot: People to Watch

I. Steven Udvarhelyi M.D.

President & CEO, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana

“I originally pursued a career in medicine because I enjoyed the challenge of trying to understand disease, how to heal people and how to keep them healthy,” says CEO and President of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana, I. Steven Udvarhelyi M.D., who accepted the position in February and relocated from Pennsylvania. “Many factors determine whether people stay healthy beyond the individual care that physicians provide, hence my interest in learning about public health and starting a career in health services research.”

   When he and his wife, Carole, were contemplating moving to Louisiana, Udvarhelyi says he saw the opportunity to take what he’d learned from his previous positions in healthcare and apply the knowledge to the health challenges in this state. “I need to learn about the system in the state, who the stakeholders are and what motivates each of them,” he says.

“I’m doing this and at the same time, challenging the status quo and setting expectations with all the stakeholders that we need to change. … We are here to help people at the most vulnerable times in their lives, and that’s a tremendous responsibility and an opportunity.”

Patrick B. Comer

Founder & CEO, Lucid

Confessing that he was “stung by the start-up bug” back during the dot-com bubble at the turn of the millennium, Patrick Comer loves creating something from scratch and developing new entrepreneurs that can have a “tremendous impact on our community,” he says. He oversees Lucid, a software company that offers marketing and advertising firms easy access to large pools of survey takers. “I’m often asked whether all the start-up buzz in New Orleans is real and is it impactful,” he says. “Lucid is one of many home-grown companies that have started since Katrina.”

In the past year, Comer hired 80 people in New Orleans, New Delhi and London, and he’s not stopping there: “Lucid continues to expand globally, drive innovation in the market, research industry and produce software products that dramatically change our clients’ capabilities,” says Comer. He is looking forward to hiring another 50 employees in New Orleans, as well as opening new offices in other countries and continuing to promote entrepreneurship in the city.



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