State Representative Walt Leger III Accepts "The Ice Bucket Challenge"

 Walt took the “Ice Bucket Challenge” yesterday to raise awareness and money to combat ALS, the neurodegenerative disease being battled by former Saints player Steve Gleason.


'The Daily Show' visits Louisiana for segment on chicken boxing

By Emily Lane, | The Times-Picayune

Louisiana once again commandeered the late-night spotlight Wednesday (June 18) as a result of its legislative debate during the recent session on the purported sport of chicken boxing.

This time, Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” sent one of its comedian/correspondents from its filming location of New York City to the bayou to experience the mix of seriousness and absurdity surrounding the practice some lawmakers and animal activists claim is a spinoff of cockfighting.


DNA testing to guide prescriptions fuels explosive growth for New Orleans firm

By Mark Waller, | The Times-Picayune
on May 09, 2014 at 10:55 AM, updated May 09, 2014 at 12:39 PM

Tarun Jolly followed one of the classic paths toentrepreneurship by spotting a weakness in his field and starting a new company to address it. His path, though, is more of a speedway.

In less than two years, his firm Renaissance RX, which runs toxicology and DNA tests to help doctors tune prescriptions for individual patients, ballooned to more than 800 employees in 44 states. Based at the New Orleans BioInnovation Center incubator on Canal Street, Renaissance reports processing between 1,200 and 1,600 DNA tests daily, alongside 700 to 1,000 toxicology tests.

It started with three employees 20 months ago. A year ago, it had about a dozen.

“We’ve had this intense, crazy growth,” Jolly said. “We lose track of time because things have happened so fast.”

A 38-year-old Kenner native, Jolly also said he is devoted to New Orleans and determined to grow locally. The Renaissance name refers in part to the city’s revival since Hurricane Katrina. He also thinks genetic technology is poised to trigger a leap in medicine akin to Western civilization moving out of the Dark Ages into the Renaissance, he said.

The business sprang from Jolly’s work as an anesthesiologist and pain management doctor. He found it frustrating working with the toxicology laboratories that process urine tests checking what medications patients have in their systems to avoid drug interactions and confirm people are following prescriptions and not abusing pain medicines. The data that came back wasn’t formatted well for doctors, he said. He had to conduct additional research to interpret the results.

So in fall 2012 he spun off a toxicology lab from his medical practice with the goal of producing more accessible reports.

Months later, he added the DNA testing, and that’s when the company surged.

The genetic information on patients tells doctors how individuals metabolize different drugs, letting physicians customize prescriptions for each person.

The practice thus far has been to factor in people’s height and weight in deciding what doses to set. Doctors adjust prescriptions later if the drugs don’t work, or if they cause unwelcome reactions. Genetics technology, Jolly said, allows the rise of precision “personalized medicine,” an increasingly popular term.

“Two years from now, this is going to be standard of care,” Jolly said.

The company’s DNA tests cost $600, but because people’s genes don’t change, patients only need the test once. The toxicology tests are $95 and must be repeated for different occasions. Medicare and insurance often cover the costs, Jolly said.

One of Jolly’s customers, family medicine doctor Jason Leonard, who is based in Sumter, S.C., and co-owns a chain of clinics in that state, agrees with Jolly’s prediction that this DNA technology will reshape medicine.

“This is one of the first really practical applications of the human genome project,” that mapped all human genes, Leonard said. “We are just on cusp of seeing how powerful this is.”

“It’s helped me really tailor what medicines to prescribe,” because it shows how long different medications will linger in a patient’s body, helping set dosages and make decisions about additional prescriptions. “Having that knowledge ahead of time is really, really powerful.”

Leonard sometimes encounters insurance that doesn’t cover the tests, but he said Renaissance RX is generous, often reducing the price for patients based on their income.

And he said Renaissance RX solves the problem of lab reports that are laborious for doctors to read.

“They break it down for you and make it so simple,” Leonard said.

The company uses all the lab space and half the office space on the fourth floor of the BioInnovation Center building. It will soon need a larger setting, Jolly said.

“He is always on, that guy. He is always on. He is never not on.” – Todd Matherne speaking about Tarun Jolly.

Its labs are lined with machines and computers that analyze test samples. They buzz with technicians running the process.

Rapid technological advancement allows faster test processing with smaller machines, Jolly said. He said the company has developed some of its own methods for efficiently processing the high volumes of tests sent from doctors’ offices. The company is working on patents for some of the science and processes it has created.

“Accuracy was the biggest, biggest thing for us,” Jolly said, describing steps for checking and double-checking tests. “For us that’s what matters more than anything else is the validity of these results that we’re putting out there.”

The business so far has funded itself, Jolly said. It has advanced through a process of lining up business, acquiring technology to meet the demand, handling more tests to pay for the equipment, then adding more machines and stepping up the number of tests again and repeating. Jolly said the company is able to find customers to fuel that curve with an “immensely responsive” approach to business, behaving like a partner to its clients.

It employs 60 to 70 people in New Orleans but hundreds more nationwide, mostly sales people and DNA sample collectors who go to doctors’ office and do cheek swabs.

Jolly has two partners, Barry Griffith and Patrick Ridgeway, but he shows little interest in courting investors. He wants his decision-making untethered from outside interests. And he sees the company as a long-term project. He wants to build “a 20-year company.”

Jolly’s fast pace and ambitious talk are familiar to his friends in business.

Leonard, the doctor in South Carolina, described him as a high-energy combination of medical expertise and entrepreneurial flair. Jolly said entrepreneurship captivates him. He has filed to create several companies and also functions as an angel investor in other people’s startups.

Todd Matherne, owner of Renaissance Publishing, which produces New Orleans Magazine and other publications, knows Jolly from their joint membership in the Louisiana chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, which gathers business owners to advise each other. Jolly is the kind of person who sees problems as opportunities, Matherne said. And he seems indefatigable.

“He is always on, that guy,” Matherne said. “He is always on. He is never not on.”

“What he has done, moving from a practicing physician to an entrepreneur, is incredible,” Matherne said.

For the next few months, Jolly said, he might hold steady on further growth. “We just want to make sure that we build the infrastructure that we need,” he said.

Finding enough chemists is also a major challenge, he said. He plans to work with the University of New Orleans on a workforce training effort.

But his ambitions remain grand. When the cost of collecting and storing the data on each person’s entire genetic code falls enough that people start getting full genetic reports in greater numbers, he plans to seize on that.

“It’s not like we just discovered DNA,” Jolly said. “Technology has kind of caught up with science.”

“We never, ever want to be beaten on technology,” he said.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu

In February of 2010, Landrieu was first elected Mayor of New Orleans, and after a successful term, he was reelected into this position in February 2014. 

Ragusa began working with Landrieu as a PR consultant to the Office of Lt. Governor. When Landrieu was first elected mayor, Ragusa was the director of communication for the mayor-elect’s transition team. After Landrieu took office as Mayor, Ragusa served as a political PR consultant for the Landrieu campaign, assisting with media relations.

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The 18th Surgeon General of the United States (2009-2013) Regina Benjamin, MD, MBA will make a major announcement at Xavier University of Louisiana during a press conference on Friday morning.

President Barack Obama appointed Dr. Benjamin in 2009 to serve as America’s Doctor where she provided the public with the best scientific information available on how to improve their health and the health of the nation. As Surgeon General, Dr. Benjamin chaired the National Prevention Council and established the first-ever National Prevention Strategy, the road map for the Nation’s health.

In July 2013, Dr. Benjamin stepped away from her position as Surgeon General, but not from her mission of prevention and wellness.

Friday’s announcement will unveil Dr. Benjamin’s plans for the future.


"I Will Act on Climate" 27-State Bus Tour Arrives in New Orleans on Friday, Urging Support for Federal Climate Change Standards and Investments


NEW ORLEANS, LA – A coalition of local tourism and hospitality industry leaders are hosting the “I Will Act On Climate” bus tour as it arrives in New Orleans on Friday as part of a 27-state bus tour to highlight local support for climate change standards, and to call on residents to act on climate. The bus will arrive in New Orleans on Friday for a rally and press conference taking place at Mardi Gras World at 11:00 AM, 1380 Port of Orleans Place. Speakers at the event will include Mark Romig, CEO, New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp.; J. Stephen Perry, President and CEO, New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau; and Mardi Gras Indian Queen Cherice Harrison-Nelson.

The “I Will” bus is traveling to local communities like New Orleans, which have been directly affected by climate change, to highlight the need for local and federal action to address climate change. The bus tour comes after President Obama took action on climate change by announcing the nation’s first-ever limits on carbon pollution, as well infrastructure improvements to deal with the effects of climate change, and new investments in clean energy and energy efficiency. (more…)

Meraux Foundation Land Dedicated as Living History Commemorative Park

Plans for Friday Battleground Press Event and Re-enactment Announced


St. Bernard, La. (January 8, 2014) – The Meraux Foundation announced today that it has entered into a charitable lease with the Louisiana Living History Foundation, which will pay $1 per year for a 25 acre stretch of land near the Chalmette National Battlefield. The land, unveiled as the Meraux Foundation Living History Commemorative Park, will host the yearly re-enactments of the Battle of New Orleans and serve as a multi-purpose civic resource for the people of St. Bernard Parish.

“St. Bernard has a rich history, and we want to share it with the world,” said Rita Gue, president of the Meraux Foundation. “In addition to honoring history, we see this as an economic development engine. The battlegrounds will compliment our other tourism assets, create jobs, and attract tourist dollars to the Parish.”

Many improvements to the land, planned by LLH’s historians, will transport visitors back in time to January 1815.

The park will serve as a permanent site for the re-enactment of the Battle of New Orleans. To kick off a year’s worth of events, LLH will celebrate the 199th Anniversary with a night battle on Friday, January 10.

  • Press Conference 3:30 PM (Media Only)
  • Night Battle Re-enactment 6:30-8:00 PM (Open to General Public and Press)

The public is invited at 6:30 p.m. to attend a re-enactment of the Night Battle this Friday night, and catch a small glimpse of next year’s massive affair of historical re-enactment. Parking is available at the St. Bernard Parish Government Center, and Parish buses will shuttle visitors to the property.

Earlier that day, memers of the media are invited to attend a 3:30 p.m. press conference.

“We are so grateful to the Meraux Foundation for donating this land to honor and preserve the history of St. Bernard and the United States,” said LLH President Tim Pickles. “We worked with the Meraux Foundation to design a space that celebrates the past and serves the public for a variety of other uses connected with the history of the region, and its population, charity, historical, educational and cultural events will be our main focus.”

The park will feature an historically accurate, scaled reconstruction of the original Battlefield from the British lines to the American Lines. More than 1,000 historians and re-enactors are expected to come to Chalmette for next year’s event from as far as Canada, Great Britain, and across North America.  

The battlegrounds will host visitors throughout the year, spreading the story of the Battle of New Orleans and its key role in the history of the United States.

“The Meraux Foundation Living History Commemorative Park is yet another major accomplishment for St. Bernard Parish,” said Parish President Dave Peralta. “The new park will enrich our tourism offerings. And when tourists visit St. Bernard, the dollars they bring flow throughout the community. Visitors to the park will also enjoy our great restaurants, shop in our local stores, and visit our other historic attractions.”

The Meraux Foundation Living History Commemorative Park is located near the Woodlands Subdivision at the intersection of the Guerenger Canal and Particia Street in St. Bernard Parish, La.

About the Arlene and Joseph Meraux Charitable Foundation
The Meraux Foundation is a private 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that was established by Arlene Meraux to benefit the St. Bernard community as a whole by relying upon its landholdings in the parish and surrounding areas. As a private family foundation, it has developed a dynamic strategy that ensures that the development of the Foundation’s vast land holdings will make lasting, long-term improvements to various aspects of the community – including education, culture and recreation, quality of life, property values, historic preservation, and water management.

Startup Close-Up: GenoVive

City Business

By: Maria Clark, Reporter April 1, 2014

Headquarters: 250 Plauche St., Harahan
Founded: 2011
Top executive: Victor Castellon, CEO
Employees: 10
Product: An individualized meal plan, targeting the genetic links that impact weight gain and metabolic rates.

Founder: Serial entrepreneur Victor Castellon has spent more than 20 years in the pharmaceutical industry. He founded Castellon Pharmacy in 1990, which he owned until last year. He also founded a biotech logistics, VitaRx, in 1998.

In 2004, he started Bovigen which led to the first inkling of inspiration for his current venture, GenoVive. Bovigen researchers were involved in identifying specific genetic traits in cattle that cause weight gain. The research was to be used in the beef industry when Castellon sold the company to Pfizer that same year.

In 2005, while dealing with the emotional impact of Hurricane Katrina and the stress of selling his business, Castellon gained weight.

“It was at that point that I began asking myself if the research we had done at Bovigen could be reversed to help someone lose weight,” he said.

The Pitch: Using his connections in the scientific community, Castellon began to research DNA traits in human beings linked to weight gain and metabolic rates.

He brought on San San Ng, previously the lead molecular geneticist at the Children’s Hospital in New Orleans. They spent close to three years in the research and development phase creating a personalized weigh loss program using DNA data.

GenoVive plans target what each individual should eat, when to eat and the best exercise to benefit their body type.

“We wanted to create a customized comprehensive weight program that best responds to the food each individual eats and to different levels of activity,” Ng said. “By identifying the genes that are impacted by food and physical activity, we can offer a very comprehensive food program.”

The team also brought together four additional scientists working in the fields of nutrition and genetics. Paul Clinkscales, vice president of operations of VidaRX, was brought on to help with distribution when the GenoVive officially launched in 2011.

Revenue: The venture was entirely self-funded. Castellon said that so far, the company has not taken on any outside investment. It charges approximately $400 a month for a meal plan, which includes a weekly package of three meals a day plus snacks, and a recommended exercise regimen.

Traction: So far the product has seen more success overseas than in the United States, according to Castellon. The company has distribution centers in Canada, Philippines, Poland, Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Saudi Arabia.

Distribution channels include doctor’s offices, hospitals, online sales and physician networks. In the United States, the company is trying to work with fitness centers to sell meal plans with the help of personal trainers.

GeoVive has about 40 distributors in the United States, but Castellano said foreign sales are beating domestic totals by almost double.

Marketing: “The distributors market themselves,” Clinksdale said. “We provide them with the marketing tools, which they can translate for their clients.”

The company has also hired a celebrity spokeswoman: reality TV star Cynthia Bailey from “Real Housewives of Atlanta.”

Competitors: Interleukin Genetics is a potential competitor. The company develops preventive consumer products and genetic tests to help doctors manage chronic diseases including osteoarthritis and diabetes. Its brand, Inherent Health, produces genetic tests that can help consumers prevent chronic diseases through changes in diet and lifestyle.

Unlike Genovive, they don’t sell meal plans.

Challenges: Looking ahead, Castellon said the company will be ramping up its marketing efforts in the United States to better inform the public about the benefits of a DNA-based meal plan.

“I think the challenge we face is trying to get consumers over the fear that we have information about their DNA,” he said. “We are specifically looking at certain traits that deal with weight gain. I think the reason sales here are slower than in other places is the perception that this is an invasion of privacy.”

New Orleans Entrepreneurs See Niches, Fill Them

Companies that started to fill a need locally are generating jobs across the USA.

Rhonda Abrams, USA Today       9:12 a.m. EDT

All over the world, cities want to nurture entrepreneurs and attract innovation.

One approach has been to establish “accelerators” or “incubators” — programs where entrepreneurs receive business assistance, get mutual support and often share workspace.

For a good example of accelerators, head to New Orleans.

After Hurricane Katrina, civic leaders launched a variety of programs. I recently toured the BioInnovation Center and met graduates of the IdeaXcelerator run by the nonprofit Idea Village.

The BioInnovation Center is located in a new, $48 million Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design gold-certified building in the heart of New Orleans’ medical and business district. The center provides 66,000 square feet of subsidized “wet” labs and offices, and offers business assistance, events, financing and legal help.

“We’ve built a community where entrepreneurs and scientists can learn from one another,” President Aaron Miscenich said. Tenants in the BioInnovation Center also have created hundreds of well-paying jobs for the city.

These entrepreneurs — and the companies they run — represent the vibrancy and diversity of New Orleans’ new business climate.

“I’m so proud of what’s going on here in New Orleans. It’s why we chose the name Renaissance,” said Dr. Tarun Jolly, founder of Renaissance RX. By identifying through DNA testing how patients metabolize specific drugs, Renaissance RX enables physicians to tailor prescriptions to each individual’s needs.

Renaissance RX launched in the BioInnovation Center, and its rapid growth means that it has just about outgrown the facility. Started with four employees in October 2012, the company now employs 58 employees with a contracted sales force of 250 to 350 and another 300 DNA collectors working in 44 states.

“I’m now recruiting people from California,” said Jolly, 38. He’s also collaborating with the University of New Orleans to create a training program to meet growing local biotech demand for talent.

Sarah Mack, Tierra Resources

Originally from Colorado, Sarah Mack, 37, came to Tulane University in New Orleans for her doctorate in water resources.

“I fell in love with the city,” she said.

After Hurricane Katrina, Mack was one of the city’s emergency managers, looking at how to make the city safer and restore wetlands.

But “there was a $5 billion gap of what needed to be done,” Mack said.

She looked at other ways to attract financing for wetlands restoration.

“In 2007, the concept of carbon credits was booming,” she said.

Because of cap-and-trade policies, a market-based idea to control pollution, companies that emit too much in greenhouse gases can offset their carbon use, but none had applied credits for wetlands restoration. Mack created a for-profit company to do just that.

The IdeaXclerator helped Mack transition her idea into a business.

“I had a Ph.D. but didn’t know business. When I won the Water Challenge, a lot of that funding ($50,000) was used to get a Conoco Phillips contract.” Her company now is working on projects in California and Florida and soon will be working internationally.

Entering the historic building that houses the Solomon Group, you get the same cool vibe as entering a tech office in San Francisco.

Gary Solomon, 27, has converted the downstairs into the bustling headquarters of the company he founded with two partners, Steve Fink and Jonathan Foucheaux.

Although Solomon’s family has been well entrenched in New Orleans, he left for brighter lights and a bigger city for college.

“After Katrina, I could have stayed in New York and struggled,” he said. “There were a ton of lighting designers much better than me, and they weren’t making any money. It was the right time to go home.”

Solomon realized that New Orleans was host to world-class events, such as the Super Bowl, NCAA Final Four and NBA All-Star Game.

But “we had third-world resources,” he said.

So he and his partners set up a production design and implementation firm. They light the Superdome, built eight broadcast environments during Super Bowl XLVII and are designing a Miss USA Pageant. They’ve been nominated for a set-design Emmy.

Most important, they are creating jobs.

“We exhausted the workforce of people doing what we do. So now we are looking in related fields,” Solomon said. They’re also attracting new workers from as far away as Los Angeles.

“The pay is lower,” he said. “But the cost of living is less, and the pace much saner.”

Together, these entrepreneurs and other graduates of New Orleans’ accelerators are generating hundreds of jobs, creating optimism and building ‘buzz’ for this rapidly revitalizing American city.

New Orleans’ Mardi Gras for Entrepreneurs

By Catherine Lyons, The Daily Beast

New Orleans, long a magnet for those in search of a good time, is drawing the world in once again this week, but for a much different purpose: attracting, fostering, and retaining local entrepreneurs and innovators. New Orleans Entrepreneur Week is offering $1 million in total capital to promising entrepreneurs, including technological support and business consulting from some of the world’s leading companies.

In three years, the event has grown from six MBA teams helping six local entrepreneurs to hundreds of entrepreneurs and local residents attending sessions taught by representatives from Google, Salesforce, and Cisco, as well as some of the city’s business leaders. The week culminates on Friday with pitches by participants to panels of investors including Jim Coulter of TPG Capital and executives from IBM and Bain Capital. In an American Idol-like setting, the judges and audience decide which company will fly out to California to meet with top investors in hopes of receiving the funding necessary to take their idea to the next level.

“Trust your crazy ideas” is the mantra New Orleans’ entrepreneurship evangelist, Tim Williamson, preaches to the flock of enterprising and innovative minds taking over the city.

Williamson, co-founder and CEO of the nonprofit Idea Village, calls New Orleans Entrepreneur Week “Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest for entrepreneurs.” NOEW is a brainchild of The Idea Village, which is dedicated to attracting and retaining business in New Orleans, in partnership with business and community leaders across the city.

Taylor Galyean, founder and CEO of Spa Workshop, is one of the “contestants.” A native of West Virginia, Galyean moved to New Orleans from Chicago in 2003 and started his business more than two years ago. The vast and supportive network of knowledgeable and multigenerational innovators has convinced him to stay in the city, he says.

“When you’re starting a business, the most valuable capital that you have is relationships and the ability to talk to people and listen to other people’s experiences, and have people who are willing to tell you about their experiences,” Galyean says. “New Orleans is unique in this manner. People share and talk. It’s an open community where people are looking to do that, and it’s the essence of that that really helps you at the beginning.”

Much has been made of the city’s innovative energy post-Hurricane Katrina, but Williamson says the roots of his “web” of networks date back well before the storm activated a supportive ecosystem for entrepreneurs.

“The venture-capital community flies between the East Coast and West Coast and hasn’t recognized the emerging market economy of New Orleans’ resurgence,” says Calvert’s Daryn Dodson.

New Orleans Entrepreneur Week is a brainchild of The Idea Village, seen above, which is dedicated to attracting and retaining business in the city. (Credit: Han Nguyen)

“On that day in 2005, everyone became an entrepreneur because we all lost everything,” he says. “The experience also made New Orleans a resilient environment for innovative ideas to rebuild an American city. Entrepreneur Week resulted from Hurricane Katrina because people wanted to come down here to help us rebuild…. We’re not asking for help anymore. We are here to engage and build relationships with a global network of talent.”

Since the storm, the number of New Orleanians starting businesses has skyrocketed, propelling the city from below the “weak cities average” pre-Katrina to well beyond the national average of entrepreneurs, helping it weather the economic crisis that crippled cities across the United States. The Big Easy’s focus on creating new companies comes as President Obama launches his “Startup America” initiative, an effort to inspire entrepreneurship.

Venture capitalists from the around the country are recognizing the opportunity New Orleans offers to entrepreneurs with crazy ideas. Daryn Dodson came down to New Orleans right after Katrina with a team of fellow MBA students from Stanford University. Three years later, he has returned to NOEW with Calvert Funds as a potential investor in some of New Orleans’ companies.

“The venture-capital community flies between the East Coast and West Coast and hasn’t recognized the emerging market economy of New Orleans’ resurgence,” says Dodson, venture consultant to the board at Calvert. “I work in impact investing, which is finding entrepreneurs that are impacting society with substantial return. If you’re looking for a perfect place to do that, New Orleans is it.”

Williamson credits this growth to a strong commitment from government, business, and community leaders to make New Orleans the premier laboratory and model city for innovation.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu has made social innovation one of the top priorities for his administration and serves as co-chairman of NOEW. His sister, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), is chairing a panel on small-business growth at the end of the week.

“In New Orleans, we have to build our economy on a brain economy rather than a brawn economy,” says Mary Beth Romig, director of public relations and special projects for Mayor Landrieu. “Part of that rests on entrepreneurship. We want to build a city where a person who has an idea can come and be inspired by New Orleans. This place fosters creativity, whatever form that creativity may take.”

At the heart of New Orleans Entrepreneur Week, and the entrepreneurial community as a whole, is a deep love for New Orleans and a passion to see it reach its full potential as a restored and revitalized American city.

“We want all these people who are coming here for Entrepreneur Week, all these MBA students and businesses, to create roots here in New Orleans, and fall in love with us,” says Mark Mayer, president of one of the largest advertising firms in New Orleans, Peter Mayer. “We’re a welcoming city.”

While New Orleans has come a long way, Chris Schultz, a local business leader and founder of several software and co-working companies, says the city is still trying to create and solidify its brand as one of the county’s top innovation hubs. He is optimistic about the path New Orleans is following to reach that point.

“We have social entrepreneurship, education, and education technology from Teach for America members who have come here, food brands, because food is such a part of our heritage, and digital media,” Schultz says. “Our brand is emerging, but we’re not all the way there yet.”

While Williamson agrees that this may be a long process, he also encourages the rest of the country to look at New Orleans from the bottom up rather than the top down.

“It’s my popcorn theory,” he says. “When you look at popcorn from the top, it looks like nothing’s happening. But from the bottom, there is a lot of heat and activity. Things are starting to pop here.”