Success Stories

Elephant Quilt Productions

"About a year ago I decided it was time to start my own thing and help other people bring their creative ideas to life"

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Entrepreneurs often find inspiration in past employment experiences, and so it was with Jason Rhein, whose talent in recording music and other performances led him to launch a music and video production house called Elephant Quilt Productions LLC.

Rhein recently received national exposure when one of his videos landed a long-time client a show on the Food Network. Over the years s has produced videos for the family-owned Shed BBQ and Blues Joint in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.The sizzle reel, also know as a demo reel or a promo, created at Elephant Quilt grabbed the attention of Mandt Bros. Productions and the Food Network which landed the Orrison family their own TV series, The Shed! Throughout the summer, Rhein worked with the Food Network as Co-producer on the series which now airs on Food Network each Monday at 10pm/9c.

  Before achiving national exposure Rhein, graduate of the University of New Orleans film department worked as a producer on such programs as National Public Radio's "American Routes" music series, and a concert tour and Disney video series by children's musical comedy group Imagination Movers.   "About a year ago I decided it was time to start my own thing and help other people bring their creative ideas to life," Rhein says.    But having made that decision, Rhein faced what many creative people come up against as they seek to become entrepreneurs: He lacked business planning and management experience.   Recognizing that he "didn't know the first thing about the business side of things," Rhein sought the help of Louisiana Small Business Development Center. One of the first people he met was Carmen Sunda, director of the LSBDC Greater New Orleans Region.   Rhein says Sunda took him "under her wing," teaching him about business basics ranging from startup financing options to forecasting expenses and managing cash flow. "Carmen helped me learn to think about how money goes in and out, and what it takes to have a successful business model," he says.   He also tapped into the expertise of LSBDC consultant Albert Overman, who helped Rhein draw up a lease agreement for office-studio space, create other legal documents and develop a business strategy.   Eventually, Rhein got to know LSBDC consultant Christian Galvin, who helped him develop a user-friendly business website that quickly shows potential clients how Elephant Quilt Productions can help them put their best image forward.   "Jason had always been on the production side of the business, so dealing with customers was new to him," Galvin says. "We helped him understand how he needed to position himself, what he needed to know about proposals, pricing and billing, and the customer experience."   In an unusually helpful move, the counselors engaged Rhein to produce a series of informational videos about the Louisiana SBDC. "Through that process, he had the opportunity to understand how to interact with customers and also how to manage his own work process," Galvin says.   The videos not only became useful tools for the LSBDC, but also reside on Rhein's website – – providing prospective clients with examples of what Elephant Quilt Productions can do.   Rhein, who is running his business largely as a one-person shop, says he has to scramble to cover all his bases. Though he has three part-time interns, he finds that  such basics as billing, accounting and tax records take him away from his creative pursuits. That has prompted him to search for time-saving business software that makes documentation of cash flow and other records simpler.     "The SBDC gave me enough guidance on some of those things to help me find solutions that don't take a lot of my time but still maintain accurate records for tax purposes," he says.   Rhein has become comfortable with the early-growth stage of his business, but says he likely will seek further help from the LSBDC. "I'd like to get another level of advice from them on how to build on what I've started," he says. "They've been a great resource to have in my corner.   Galvin notes that Rhein's work on the startup has brought him another benefit that didn't necessarily show up in his original business plan.    "Jason has a family and wanted to spend more time with them," Galvin says. "His new company allows him to take his child to work."  
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Hernandez Consulting, LLC

A growing management firm that specializes in government contracts needed to be better prepared for possible business interruptions and ready to implement a business continuity plan in the event the owner should suddenly be absent.

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In the tough world of business startups, a company that withstands the trials and challenges of its early years may seem to have it made. But as businessman Alex Hernandez can attest, even the owner of a thriving company can occasionally overlook key needs.

For Hernandez, the owner of project management firm Hernandez Consulting LLC, the wakeup call came courtesy of his bonding company. As the entity that provides performance guarantees for work that Hernandez Consulting does on large government contracts, the bonding firm a few years ago became worried  about what would happen if Hernandez suddenly weren't around.

"I own the vast majority of my business and I'm intimately involved in its daily operations," he says. "My bonding company was concerned about what would happen to my company if something happened to me."

Hernandez says his bankers voiced similar concerns. His firm had grown quickly, thanks in part to a range of federal benefits accorded to veterans and owners of companies that operate in "historically underutilized"  business zones. (Hernandez is a former U.S. Marine who qualifies as a "service-disabled veteran.") 

The firm also qualified to receive training, business counseling and other support under Section 8 (a) of the Small Business Act.

Armed with that support, Hernandez launched his firm soon after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005. His company's first experiences with big storms came later, via hurricanes Gustav and Ike. 

While those storms did not damage his company – in fact, they generated new project management work for it – they also raised questions about whether his business was equipped to withstand a potential interruption. "I really didn't have any concrete plan in place for what would happen if a hurricane put my business out of operation, or if I was overseas and couldn't return, or if I died," he says.

Hernandez sought help from the Louisiana Small Business Development Center Greater New Orleans Region, where he met counselor Jerre Madere. "He was referred to us by the SBA to see about getting a continuity plan and a succession plan," Madere says. "They wanted to see something in writing."

Madere guided Hernandez on how to approach emergency preparedness and business continuity planning, providing him with resources, plan templates and advice on how he could integrate other aspects of his personal and business planning into the new continuity and succession documents.

"He did exactly what we asked him to do," Madere says. Hernandez developed the new plans with SBDC assistance, using templates federally approved for such purposes. "He also addressed things like the order of succession and transfer of responsibilities so that people in the company are trained and ready to do what they need to do if something happens," Madere says.

In addition, LSBDC GNOR referred Hernandez to a program offered through Louisiana Economic Development. Known as the Economic Gardening Program, the initiative offers small businesses access to intense, customized research from the Edward Lowe Foundation.

"They came in and over a three-month period showed me where we might be able to grow our business and maybe diversify into the commercial sector and different sectors within the construction industry," Hernandez says.

That diversification could become more important as his business nears the point where it will no longer qualify for some of the federal designations that helped it grow through the early years. "When that happens to some companies, they go bankrupt," Hernandez says. "I don't want that to happen to us."

Madere says that like many LSBDC clients, Hernandez was pleased that the center's assistance is available free of charge. "The SBDC will work with anyone, from entrepreneurs and startups to existing businesses," she says, noting that persons who qualify under such programs as the SBA's Section 8 (a) can receive  even more intensive hands-on assistance. 

Hernandez says the help he has received has been invaluable.

"Without a succession plan and a business continuity plan, our bonding company at some point probably would have said, 'We're not going to give you any more bonding,' " he says. "Instead, they now can pull our plans out of their filing cabinet and know exactly what to expect" if something should interrupt the company's operation.

His bankers feel more secure as well, and have extended the company a line of credit that Hernandez could not get before the plans were in place.

All of that has enabled him to look deeper into his company's strategies for future growth. "Now we're doing some long-term business planning," he says. "We had our first official strategic planning session this year."

For more information on emergency preparedness, visit or contact LSBDC GNOR at (504) 831-3730 or The LSBDC is funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration, Louisiana Department of Economic Development, and participating universities. All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.

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D. Ditcharo Seafood

A shrimp business that buys millions of pounds of product from dozens of local fishermen finds ways to minimize damages and downtime stemming from big storms that inevitably strike the Gulf Coast every few years.

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When a big storm begins angling toward the Gulf Coast, many fishermen and seafood processors in south Louisiana start thinking worst-case scenario. It's a natural reaction for people who earn their living by supplying some of the world's most popular seafood for dining tables across the country.   As owners of one of the region's most prominent shrimp suppliers, brothers Dominique and Derek Ditcharo play a big role in the industry. From their dock in Buras, La., D. Ditcharo Seafood LLC buys and sells close to five million pounds of shrimp annually. So when a storm shuts down Gulf fishing operations, or worse yet, if a storm strikes and damages their dockside facility, the Ditcharos face potentially steep losses, as they did when Hurricane Katrina destroyed the dock in 2005.   With financial help from various sources, the family rebuilt the dock after that  disaster, but subsequent years brought more storms. Hurricanes Gustav and Ike struck the coast within weeks of one another in 2008, wreaking havoc on fishing operations and producing power outages that lasted for weeks.   "We needed help but I didn't know who to go to," Dominque Ditcharo says. That changed when Ditcharo met Sandy Nguyen, a Business Consultant with the Louisiana Small Business Development Center Greater New Orleans Region, who specializes in working with fishermen and seafood businesses.    Nguyen was already well known among the Buras area fishermen when she  introduced herself to Ditcharo, and they quickly became business allies. "It turned into a very good relationship," he says.   Nguyen walked Ditcharo through the process of filling out applications for disaster assistance through the state of Louisiana, and she helped him understand the importance of keeping careful records that would help him document his losses in the event of future storms.    "There are certain documents required in order to get disaster grants and loans, and now that I know these things, I always try to have these records available," Ditcharo says.   Nguyen visited Ditcharo repeatedly after Gustav and Ike to answer his questions and make sure he completed the applications. She also discussed with him the need to have a disaster preparation, or business continuity, plan that would help prevent steep losses during inevitable future storms.    "I learned to set deadlines," Ditcharo says, recalling his predicament years earlier when the company bought $100,000 worth of shrimp shortly before a storm struck the coast. When the storm closed roads and knocked out electrical power, customers who regularly buy product from him were nowhere to be found.    He took a nearly total loss on the shrimp and says it won't happen again. Now, when a storm threatens, he says, "We cut off buying early and tell the boats to come in and hunker down."     Nguyen says the various pieces of the seafood industry are so interdependent that one cannot survive without another. "If the shrimpers can't work, for instance, the shrimp processor has no supply," she says.    For that reason, Nguyen tries to address the needs of all the businesses in the area, and not just those that have sought assistance. She's a frequent visitor to the fishing docks, not just after a disaster but between storm events as well. And her message is always the same: "The more prepared you are the better your chances of recovery."   In 2010, the Gulf of Mexico experienced the worst oil spill in U.S. history when a well owned by BP PLC exploded off Louisiana's coast. The disaster not only brought oil drilling to a near halt, but also shut down almost every segment of the coastal seafood business. Once again, the livelihoods of fishermen and business owners were threatened, but Nguyen says "her" businesses were ready.    "When the BP spill came along, my clients got their paperwork together and they were ready to get started," she says. "I was really proud of them."   For more information on emergency preparedness, visit or contact LSBDC GNOR at (504) 831-3730 or The LSBDC is funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration, Louisiana Department of Economic Development, and participating universities. All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.      
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AGL Architecture and Interior Design

"When you're a small firm you can't afford to have an in-house financial officer everyday. The LSBDC gave us access to someone that has the business knowledge to guide us"

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Founded in 2003, AGL Architecture and Interior Design is an award-winning design firm based in Metairie. AGL originally focused on the niche of High Rise Tenant Build-Out services for Class "A" office buildings in New Orleans, but when the economy started to sink in 2009, owner and president Brian Anderson said they had to look for new options.

"We realized that we had to branch out and move on to other areas because when the economy slows down, so too does the need for office renovation. We had to do more than interior architecture," he said.

In 2010, Anderson approached consultant Christian Galvin at the Louisiana Small Business Development Center Greater New Orleans Region to find new markets.  Through him they discovered the Small Entrepreneurship (SE) Program (also known as the Hudson Initiative) which opened the doors to new contracts. They were also able to secure a $3,750 grant from Louisiana Economic Development that helped cover the cost of 3D modeling training with Google Sketchup. That new skill allowed AGL to present 3D renderings to clients instead of boring one-dimensional drawings.

The biggest benefit was that Galvin helped AGL forecast future sales and opportunities to analyze the prospect of hiring new employees. Anderson said the firm's constant pattern of finding work then doing the job would have to give way to more steady marketing. They discovered that adding the right kind of support personnel would give AGL the ability to take on bigger jobs.

"We bit the bullet and hired more people. That allowed me to get out of the office more and figure out more ways to market and grow the company," said Anderson.

AGL eventually added 3 new jobs and increased its sales volume by $150,000 annually. From interior design in high-rise buildings, the company has successfully moved into historic preservation and adaptive reuse and now has the capability to take on new types of work. AGL was also awarded two new ground-up construction projects in the past year. Anderson said having the ability to tap into expert assistance and guidance has opened up an entire new door for AGL.

"When you're a small firm you can't afford to have an in-house financial officer everyday. The LSBDC gave us access to someone that has the business knowledge to guide us," he said.

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Limousine Livery

With help from the LSBDC Greater New Orleans Region, Aaron Dirks created a online airport transportation booking website to save its struggling luxury transportation business.

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Aaron Dirks, a native of Baton Rouge, owns and operates Limousine Livery in New Orleans, Louisiana. Despite the recession, Aaron and his wife decided to expand their business so that they could create revenue and maintain their current employees. They saw a void in the aggregation of airport transportation in the New Orleans area and the U.S. as a whole. The couple sought to create a web-booking portal that provided consumers with a safe and reliable source of airport transportation.   Since creating a professional and interactive website was paramount, they initiated the help of LSBDC Greater New Orleans Region. Through the Louisiana Economic Development Small and Emerging Business Development Program (SEBD), LSBDC GNOR helped Dirks obain $10,000 in partial funding to create the website. Soon after, was born. According to Dirks, “LSBDC was critical and instrumental in establishing this business model. This effort has enabled us to save our limousine business as well as start an entirely new business that has the potential to create hundreds of new jobs in Louisiana.”   To date, sales are projected to increase by $500,000, and three new jobs have been created while retaining five.


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Xavier University of Louisiana, Division of Business, Xavier South – ROOM 203
909 S. Jefferson Davis
New Orleans, LA 70125
Phone: 504-831-3730

Mailing address:
LSBDC Greater New Orleans
& Bayou Region
Division of Business, Xavier South
Xavier University of Louisiana
1 Drexel Drive, Box 52
New Orleans, LA. 70125

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Assumption, Jefferson, Lafourche, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. James, St. John the Baptist, and Terrebonne.

Call Toll Free: 1- (866)-782-4159

The Louisiana Small Business Development Center Network, hosted by Louisiana Delta Community College, is a member of the National Association of Small Business Development Centers and funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration, Louisiana Economic Development and participating universities. All SBA programs are extended to the public on a nondiscriminatory basis. All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA. Reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities and/or limited English proficiency will be made if requested at least two weeks in advance.
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