StartUp St. Bernard Entrepreneur Challenge


Startup St. Bernard


The Meraux Foundation and the St. Bernard Economic Development Foundation are partnering to support innovation and growth in St. Bernard Parish by presenting the Fifth Annual Startup St. Bernard competition.  Startup St. Bernard seeks out dedicated, enthusiastic entrepreneurs who want to grow their business to the next level. Entrepreneurs were invited to apply for the opportunity to pitch their business to a panel of judges during New Orleans Entrepreneur Week from March 25, 2019 - March 27, 2019.

The “Shark Tank” style public event is open to any business that agrees to locate their base of operations to St. Bernard Parish, help improve St. Bernard Parish, and become part of the St. Bernard Parish entrepreneur ecosystem. Previous winners have included 40 Arpent Brewing Company, Christie’s Dreams Seafood, Reactive Digital Systems, LLC, and Clean Course Meals. The Parish is a land of opportunity for businesses, especially startups. While just minutes away from downtown New Orleans, land, labor, and costs of doing business are low — and the business support network is robust.

The entry period was open from December 10, 2018, to February 9, 2019.  Three finalists were selected to "pitch" their business to a panel of judges and a live audience.  The winner will receive a grand prize package valued at nearly $90,000 in cash and in-kind services.  All finalists will receive at least $5,000 in seed money to grow their business.


5th Annual Startup St. Bernard Finalists

Breathing Waters has been operating for the past two years as an urban farm and shared studio. The startup’s goal is to revitalize its facilities to include larger studio and workspaces, a new event space, a small commissary kitchen, and a small storefront to be able to sell goods made by the artists, farmers and craftspeople who work there.

DaParish Kayaks is loosely based on the shared economy business model.  The startup intends to use high-end fishing kayaks and a web-based system to promote health, community, and opportunity.

Schmelly’s is a compost collection and processing company that is offering Greater New Orleans another option than the landfill.  According to the startup, going green is in their nature, but the real work takes place with values-based job creation.  Schmelly’s mission is to transform food and organic waste into healthy soil and natural fertilizer while generating meaningful work opportunities and removing barriers of workplace marginalization.


To qualify, entrants were required to be in business for 5 years or less or be an existing business creating a new division or entity; have yearly revenue under $1,000,000; have 5 employees or less, and cannot be a non-profit.

Judges will also score entries based on how the startups will improve St. Bernard by creating jobs, investing capital into the parish, providing needed goods or services to Greater New Orleans, and/or contributing to the growth of the core Startup St. Bernard sectors: creative digital media, cultural arts/cultural economy, health and wellness, advanced manufacturing/value-added manufacturing, logistics, and the seafood industry.


5th Annual Startup St. Bernard Judges

Mindy Nunez Airhart is the President and CEO of Southern Services and Equipment, Inc. (SSE), a structural steel fabricator and contractor in St. Bernard, Louisiana. SSE was recently named to the 2018 “Inc. 5000,” Inc. Magazine’s list of the fastest growing private companies in the United States, for the second year in a row.  She also owns The Greenhart Group, LLC, which specializes in the supply of industrial, safety, and construction materials and equipment. Mindy is the Manufacturing Partner of Mechanical Dynamics, a company that is bringing a patent-pending torque amplification technology to the market. Mindy serves as Chairwoman of the St. Bernard Chamber of Commerce, and is on the board of directors of the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce, the St. Bernard Economic Development Foundation, the New Orleans Regional Leadership Institute (NORLI), the First Planning District Workforce Development Board (Tri-Parish Works), and the Fidelity Bank P.O.W.E.R. Advisory Board. Mindy is a graduate of Tulane University and lives in New Orleans with her husband, Justin, and two children, Jacques and Marigny.

Kristen Essig was born and raised in Florida. After graduating from the Johnson & Wales Culinary School in 1998, Kristen worked with James Beard award-winning chefs, Chef Frank Lee of Slightly North of Broad and Chef Louis Osteen of Louis’ Charleston Grill. Seventeen years ago, Kristen made New Orleans her home, kicking off her Crescent City culinary career with Chef Emeril Lagasse at Emeril’s, followed by a four-year turn with Chef and mentor Anne Kearney at the famed New Orleans Restaurant, Peristyle. She joined the Crescent City Farmers Market as market manager where she cultivated strong relationships with local farmers, producers and vendors. She’s been a Louisiana Cookin’ Magazine “Chef to Watch” (2005), a sought-after private chef, and in April 2013 Kristen returned full time to the restaurant kitchens. Since then she’s been named one of Coastal Living Magazines “5 Coastal Chefs to Watch” (2015), nominated as one of Food & Wine Magazine’s “The People’s Best New Chef” (2015), and one of Times Picayunes Chefs to Watch (2014). Kristen proudly joined the Coquette family in the fall of 2016 as a co-chef and partner with her love, Michael.

Andy Kopplin is president and CEO of the Greater New Orleans Foundation.  He previously served as first deputy mayor and chief administrative officer for New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.  By aggressively managing the city’s operating and capital budgets, Andy helped move the city from near bankruptcy in 2010 to fiscal stability and its highest bond ratings in history by 2016.  Prior to city government, Andy served as senior advisor to Teach For America’s Founder and CEO, Wendy Kopp.  From October 2005-January 2008, Andy was the founding executive director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA), the agency charged with leading recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina, where he developed the strategy and built the bipartisan coalitions that more than doubled congressional appropriations for Louisiana’s rebuilding, from $13 billion to $28 billion.  Before heading the LRA, Andy was chief of staff to two consecutive Louisiana governors, Democrat Kathleen Blanco and Republican Mike Foster.  

Blake J. Stanfill is the Director of Growth at trepwise, where he guides the firm’s business development and expansion strategy. Blake leverages data to identify and pursue growth opportunities and partnerships for trepwise.  In addition to his work at trepwise, Blake is a lead mentor for PowerMoves NOLA—an accelerator program that provides business coaching and technical assistance to black-owned small businesses in New Orleans. Prior to trepwise, Blake co-founded an alternative lending start-up, LendStand, which provides working capital solutions to underserved businesses working on public contracts. Before that, he worked at a local biotech startup that serviced the wound care industry. He was also a Mayoral Fellow with the City of New Orleans, where he played an integral role in the formation of the City’s public-private economic development partnership, the New Orleans Business Alliance. Blake earned his B.A. from Duke University, a Master of Finance from Tulane University, and an M.B.A. from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a fifth generation New Orleanian – who resided in New Orleans with his wife Jennifer and three sons, Blake Jr., Parker, and Toussaint.

$100,000+ of Prizes

The Startup St. Bernard Prize Package includes both cash and in-kind donations.

2019 donors include The Meraux Foundation - $15,000, Park Investments, Ltd. - $5,000, St. Bernard Parish Government Department of Tourism - $5,000, Associated Terminals - $5,000, United Steelworkers - $2,500, Palms Truck Stop - $2,500, Sidney Torres Law Firm - $2,500, St. Bernard Community Foundation $2,500, Mrs. Rita Gue - $1,000, Mr. Floyd Gue - $1,000, Sherman Strategies - $1,000, Nunez Community College Foundation - $1,000, The Ranch Studios - $1,000, Southern Insurance Agency - $1,000, Frederick J. Sigur, Jr. - $1,000, Palmisano - $500, Sheriff Jimmy Pohlmann - $500, BERG Services - $500, Reactive Digital Systems - $500, District Attorney Perry Nicosia - $500, Representative Ray Garofalo - $250, and Senator Sharon Hewitt - $100

2019 supporting partners and in-kind service providers include Gulf Coast Bank & Trust Company – office space ($10,000,) Sherman Strategies – legal services ($5,000,) Ragusa Consulting – marketing consultation ($5,000,) Bernard Franks, A Corporation of Certified Accountants – 1 year of accounting services ($4,500,) Kushner LaGraize – accounting services and consultation ($1,715,) Biz New Orleans – 3 month ¼ page ads ($3,585,) Eric Nunez Photography – corporate photo shoot ($2,500,) evanSchmidt design, LLC – corporate identity design services ($2,500,) Shine Productions – copywriting services ($2,500,) Outfront Media – digital billboard on Judge Perez Drive for 1 month ($2,500,) The Meraux Foundation – advertising in St. Bernard newspapers ($1,500,) St. Bernard Chamber of Commerce – 1 year membership, year pass for luncheons for two, 1 admission to Leadership St. Bernard, 2 gala tickets ($1,025,) BaumTech – digital billboard in St. Bernard Parish, Crave – catering services ($500,) St. Bernard Economic Development Foundation and the St. Bernard Chamber of Commerce – free entry into Grow St. Bernard seminar series cohort ($100,) and Anonymous – business card printing ($100.)


how it works

  1. Entrepreneurs Submitted Business Plans

    Entrepreneurs meeting entry criteria submitted a business plan at by 11:59 PM (Central Time,) on February 9, 2019.

  2. Committee Selected Finalists

    An independent scoring committee from the A.B. Freeman School of Business at Tulane University scored the entries strictly off business plan submission and an entry questionnaire. The three highest-scoring businesses were selected to “pitch” their business at the Startup St. Bernard entrepreneur challenge.

  3. Finalists Pitch for a chance to win the Startup St. Bernard prize package.

    The three finalists will pitch their businesses to a panel of judges and a live audience at the Arlene Meraux River Observation Center at Docville Farm (5128 E. St. Bernard Highway, Violet, LA.) for a chance to win a grand prize package of cash and in-kind services.  All finalists will receive at least $5,000 in seed money to grow their business

Everyone is invited to attend the Startup St. Bernard pitch challenge and cheer the entrepreneurs on! The live audience will be allowed to cast a vote for their favorite finalist to win the "People's Choice" vote.  In the event of a tie, this will determine the winner.

New Orleans Entrepreneur Week (NOEW) is the annual festival celebrating business, innovation, and advanced thinking in New Orleans. Produced by The Idea Village, NOEW engages a dynamic global network of entrepreneurs, investors, corporations, nonprofits, students, and professionals to support growing companies and elevate entrepreneurial success through eight days of discussion, debate, education, competition and celebration.




*The $100,000 Prize Package is not an entirely cash package. The Prize Package includes in-kind products and services that have been assigned a fair market value. The total value of the Prize Package is estimated to be valued at $100,000. Startup St. Bernard, the St. Bernard Economic Development Foundation, the Meraux Foundation, its agents, and affiliates, and the organizers and partners of Startup St. Bernard are not responsible for the commitments made by those who donated cash, products, and services to the prize package.

Sponsors + Partners

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