Acadiana entrepreneurs began a three-day tribute and celebration Thursday by awarding fellow business owners who started their ventures with little more than a dream.
Cherry Fisher May, co-publisher of The Independent and sister publication ABiz, awarded Butch Darce with the ABiz Entrepreneur of the Year honor. Darce is chief executive officer of Taylors International Services, an oilfield catering company.
May then presented Cathi Pavy with the inaugural Jillian Johnson Award for Entrepreneurship in the Creative Class. Pavy started her full-service media firm, BBR Creative, 18 years ago.
Johnson was a Nashville, Tennessee, native who graduated from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and later made the city her home. A musician and artist, Johnson also started businesses in the city, including Red Arrow Workshop. She was killed in July in The Grand Theatre shooting.
“I have so much admiration for her and what she did in Lafayette,” Pavy said. “She wasn’t from here, but she believed in Lafayette. … There are people who are still mourning.”
The awards luncheon, attended by about 200 at the Cajundome Convention Center, kicked off Innov8 Acadiana, which runs through Saturday. The festival, in its fourth year, celebrates and nurtures south Louisiana’s creative business class.
Four other Acadiana businesses received Innovators of the Year 2015 awards from Innov8 Executive Director Pete Prados.
Two of the companies are located in tiny Arnaudville, in St. Martin Parish: Bayou Teche Brewing Company, best known for its LA 31 line of beers, and NuNu Arts & Culture Collective, where live-in artists hone their talents and tourists drop by for artistic immersion.
The other two innovator-of-the-year companies also are located in Acadiana’s smaller cities. Louisiana Bait Products, which catches menhaden in the Gulf of Mexico and sells the fish across the country as bait, is located in Abbeville in Vermilion Parish. And Cover Six, a training facility for police and security personnel in the private sector, is located in Church Point in Acadia Parish.
Prados said those companies, which began as ideas, embodied entrepreneurship. For example, Bayou Teche Brewing founder Karlos Knott was stationed in Germany when he began experimenting with at-home beer brewing. Returning to Louisiana, Knott talked his brothers into starting a micro-brewery. The company now sports a line of 23 beers.
Darce, CEO of Taylors International Services, said he was returning from an overseas business trip in 1996 when he decided to start his own catering company. Like others who have become successful, the corporate job he held at the time restrained him.
Getting off a plane at Lafayette Regional Airport, Darce said, he thought to himself, “You can do a whole lot better than what you’re doing.”
Hundreds of others wanting to do better are expected to attend Innov8 Acadiana on Friday and Saturday, where they’ll take part in a high-tech career fair, a computer coding contest, and a series of panel discussions and workshops designed to draw out their inner entrepreneur.
Editor’s note: This article was changed on Friday, Nov. 13, to correct the spelling of the first name of Cherry Fisher May, co-publisher of The Independent and sister publication ABiz.