ABiz puts a face to the innovators driving Lafayette's ambitious goal to become a top city for tech startups.
By Patrick Flanagan / Photos by Robin May

Douglas Menefee

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You do tech. In layman’s terms, what do you do?
As CIO, I lead strategic and tactical initiatives to enable business and process transformation. This is often confused with introducing bursts of chaos followed by denial, anger and acceptance. In short my job is to understand all of the objectives of Schumacher Group and safeguard our digital assets from those who want access to them. With this knowledge I empower an amazing team of technology professionals to implement and maintain solutions that support people and processes in the fulfillment of our mission, which has a positive impact on more than 4 million patients in need of health care.

How did you get into your area of tech?
While watching scud missiles as a flight medic explode over me in Desert Storm, I realized I didn’t want to pursue a medical degree. I wanted to be more creative so returned to UL Lafayette to pursue architecture and industrial design. Due to my military medical training, I received credit for my required science courses. This enabled me to take electives associated with Computer Aided Design and animation. Using version 1.0 of many applications, I learned that technology helped me overcome challenges associated with severe dyslexia. During my pursuit of a degree, my father passed away, which required me to go overseas for a short time. Upon my return, I knew that I couldn’t catch up in the design curriculum so resigned for the semester. With time on my hands, some friends approached me about a hair-brained idea to start doing graphic design for this new thing called the Internet. I signed on and the rest is history. Still no degree. I keep holding out for an honorary bachelor’s degree.

Of your current projects, which are you most excited about?

Business Intelligence in the cloud has been one of the most exciting and challenging projects. The speed at which data multiplies makes things extremely complex. By embracing Amazon’s Web Services we are able to leverage affordable bandwidth and scalable computing power to apply innovative approaches to the analysis of terabytes of information. Our BI efforts, while expensive, provide a 360-degree view of Schumacher Group. This insight enables us to make proactive business decisions around problem areas. The transformation from on-premise to the cloud is enabling us to pursue “Big Data” at a fraction of the cost of putting it in our own data center.   

Some call Lafayette a tech town, do you agree?
Lafayette has all of the makings for a tech town with the exception of a couple of things. The two biggest items missing are: 1) an active “investor community” and 2) technology being used to facilitate the K-12 educational process. Investors will drop a million dollars to drill a wild-cat oil well but are not engaged in seeding technology start-ups. Lafayette has to find a way to aggregate investors who can afford to take on the risk of investing in high-tech ventures. In regards to technology in the classroom, this has to be a priority of not just the public school system, but the community at-large. There is no easy answer to this because we are so far behind, and whatever we do won’t happen fast enough to impact the kids in the system today. My greatest personal failures are in this area because of how much energy is required to make a difference. Along with others, we have invested hundreds of hours in understanding the challenges and complexity of the situation. As a community we have been unable to deliver results because of competing priorities. To solve this issue we have to create a paradigm shift, which will require millions of dollars, aligned leadership, laser focus on objectives and patience. There is no question in my mind that [Lafayette Parish Schools Superintendent] Dr. Pat Cooper knows how critical this is. He can’t solve this on his own. He needs an army of specialists and advisers to help his staff with alignment, strategy and change management to eliminate the status quo.

What does Lafayette need to become a stronger tech town?

The biggest thing Lafayette can do to become a stronger tech town is to continue to “turn words into action.” Joey Durel did this with the LUS’ fiber-to-the-home initiative, Cox has done this with their support of Boys and Girls Clubs of Acadiana technology centers, LEDA is doing it with the Opportunity Machine and LITE, and UL Lafayette’s Center for Business and Information Technologies has done it with Cajun Code Fest during the Chamber’s INNOV8 week. When we turn words to action, we will get results.

How do you see our tech scene evolving over the next 10 years?
Over the past decade the planets have continued to align for Lafayette. For many of us, this alignment has been slower than desired. With that being said, the slower approach is adding strength to our infrastructure with much of this being driven by LEDA and supported by community advocates within the Chamber of Commerce and UL. The tech scene for Lafayette is going to be a hybrid blend of arts, entertainment and business. It will, and needs to, continue to represent our unique culture. Our unique culture is what opens the door for ideation and innovation. With the absence of the oil and gas companies investing and “productizing” technology in Lafayette, the next generation of tech development will be grown out of the health care industry. This is due to the anchors established by companies like LHC Group, Lafayette General Health, Acadian Ambulance and Schumacher Group. I’m confident that within the next 10 years we will have a multi-billion dollar technology company establish Lafayette as its innovation center because of our resources and joie de vivre. My hope is that this company is born and raised in Lafayette; however, I know our community would welcome a transplant with open arms.

Bob Miller

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You do tech. In layman’s terms, what do you do?
I take my and other people’s visions of solutions to problems and make those real in the digital world. When it comes down to it, what I do is no different than any tradesman. They take parts and tools and solve problems, like wiring up a house or adding a driveway. The parts and tools are different, I reuse code written by myself and/or others as parts, then with my tools I assemble those parts into new combinations that solve real-world problems. The great thing about my trade is that the parts, tools and problems are in constant states of change. So you have to rely on your wits to stay current and deduce what to use and when to solve the new problems that come to life.

How did you get into your area of tech?
I was fortunate enough to be coming of age when personal computers were making an entrance. My first personal machine was a Commodore 64. I spent hours and hours writing software and hacking together hardware to make it do things it wasn’t designed to do. I was always the type of kid that took things apart and put them back together. I developed the ability to see those constructs in my head, which in turn allowed me to visualize solutions in the digital world. So I spent time taking apart problems, then putting them back together with code or wire to make them work. From the age of 15 on, I was living in the worlds I created with my head and my hands.

Of your current projects, which are you most excited about?
I am working at Fenstermaker, taking solutions that were used in-house and looking at those from the perspective of other problems they can solve. I am most excited about our recent work in combining Geographic Information Systems and the legal system to solve complex problems for clients. All of the parts and tools were here; it just took looking at them with a new eye and recognizing the potential of a new product and/or service that could be the result. Working with such a talented team here makes this kind of experimentation easy. It allows us to fail fast and fail cheap as we look at these market potentials. I get to put to use my Innovation Engineering Black Belt training every week as I go through the inventory of cool tools and code here and work to create new solutions to different problems.

Some call Lafayette a tech town, do you agree?

Having a university as steeped in technical traditions as UL Lafayette creates the right environment for a “Tech Town.” There is definitely more going on technically here than anywhere else I have lived in Louisiana. The culture makes working here a great experience. The people make the difference in every aspect of what it takes to solve hard problems. I have worked in Silicon Valley and know for a fact that we Louisianans can hold our own on every front technically. In fact, our self-reliance DNA is what separates us from others. We have a strong work ethic that lends itself to technical pursuits.

What does Lafayette need to become a stronger tech town?
We need to continue the work that has been done in recent years. Cajun Codefest is an example of a competition that ranks in the top two or three in the country. My searches on the Internet could not find a higher prize purse on a programming competition in the world. If that truly is the case, then I am not sure what else we need to do but promote that fact. INNOV8 is another platform that we as a community can keep developing. It allows people from all over the state to come here and showcase their innovations both technical and non-technical. Again the only week-long festival in the country that I know of focusing on innovation and its practice. Those are what makes towns stand out. Making a stand on one or two efforts that are truly the best available, meaningfully unique experiences that are special premium events.

How do you see our tech scene evolving over the next 10 years?
What I hope to see is a real tech subculture form as we increase the number of high-tech companies in town. That will bring along a workforce that creates a natural ecosystem of programmers, designers and architects. There is a tipping point that, when reached, makes a place transition from a town to a destination for those of the same disciplines. Our ridiculously rich music and food culture is going to be what keeps our tech scene here when the tip occurs. I see it coming and in many ways see it as inevitable. We won’t be able to keep our secret forever. And like any good party, when word gets out, the yard fills with cars.

Chad Theriot

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You do tech. In layman’s terms, what do you do?
Technology is a big part of all businesses, and with a growing technology savvy employee base, more employees are bringing different technology tools and ideas to the table to solve company problems. I help companies understand all the options from the enterprise point of view. Once a decision is made, I help execute and maintain these technologies to allow the business to focus on what they do best.

How did you get into your area of tech?
I have always loved technology. I started working in IT at the age of 12 when I wrote my first program for CBM in 1976. I continued programming in college and I have never looked back. After working in Albuquerque, San Francisco, Boston, and Colorado Springs I returned home to help CBM on a very important project with Kellogg. Once I returned, I fell in love with Lafayette again, and I have been here ever since. While working at CBM, I started to fill a need in the Lafayette market for consulting on emerging technologies followed by a solid understanding of how to implement these solutions and make them successful.

Of your current projects, which are you most excited about?
We are moving the entire information gathering and presentation process to the mobile platform for several of our customers. This allows customers to have information readily available for decision making. It is really exciting to eliminate entire portions of the decision-making work flow process, because information and collaboration is instantly available.

Some call Lafayette a tech town, do you agree?
Yes, the thing people have to remember is that we are in a medium-sized community, and we are living the big city dreams of culture and technology. We are able to accomplish things in Lafayette that some much larger cities are unable to do, and I believe we have one of the highest “High Tech per Capita” ratios in the country. A lot of this “tech town” credit needs to go to UL’s computer science program in the ’80s.  It was one of the best programs in the country at the time, and it remains a great program to this day.

What does Lafayette need to become a stronger tech town?

There are two things we never have enough of: work and play. On the play side, tech-minded people are into quality of life. Things like the Horse Farm and festivaling. So, the more we mix our great culture with our brilliant people the stronger we will be as a tech community. That is going to take tolerance of new ideas and a liberal look at widening our adoption of diversity in many areas. On the work side, Lafayette could handle more of the mega-projects going on in the state and the country. Our community still works off of the “who you know” instead of “what you know” model. When the tech community got together and put on the TechSouth events in the mid-2000s, it was a big boost to many of the local companies. We used the phrase “co-opetition” back then, which meant working together to showcase Lafayette’s talent while also competing for the work. We need to do this again so that we can attract more attention to the high-tech companies we have. We do not want to be the “best kept secret” anymore.

How do you see our tech scene evolving over the next 10 years?

Obviously, I think the percentage of our tech-savvy consumer population here in Lafayette will continue to grow, which will bring more options to the table of all companies. I also see the full-steam adoption of the public/private/hosted cloud solutions by both business and consumers. Our community will become more connected to the world around us, and technologies like Google Glass will continue to change the way we all interact.

 

Raymond Camden

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You do tech. In layman’s terms, what do you do?
I’m an evangelist for Adobe. That has nothing to do with religion. My job is to talk to developers about our products, and web technology in general. I’m lucky in that I’m allowed to focus in on the development areas and tools that interest me the most. Most people are familiar with our design tools, but Adobe is doing a lot of great things in the developer space and in tools that cover the spectrum between both designers and developers. I travel to cool and interesting places and speak to all kinds of people. It’s an awesome opportunity to see what people are “really” doing on the web, their troubles, and their success stories.

How did you get into your area of tech?

My mother brought home a computer from work back in ... I’ll say ’79 or ’80 or so. It was either an Apple 2e or 2+. I spent about a year playing the games (I’ll never understand why her company sent her home with a computer and a stack of games) and then began to explore more deeper. I learned to program, and I can still remember the first program I got to run successfully. It was a thrill that I’ve never gotten over. As for how I got into the evangelism gig, I’ve been writing and presenting on technology for a long time. I don’t feel like the smartest person around, and when something is difficult for me, I typically blog it so I won’t forget. Turns out that has been a great way to help others as well. My presentations tend to follow a similar pattern. I get excited about something or find something hard to do, I chew on it for a while, and then once I “get it,” I can turn it into a presentation.

Of your current projects, which are you most excited about?

Most of what I’m excited about internally I can’t really speak about yet. On a personal level, I’ve been focused on playing with, and learning, Node.js. I’m really enjoying it.

Some call Lafayette a tech town, do you agree?
I’m from St. Louis, but I’ve adopted Louisiana as my home. I married a beautiful Cajun woman, and I’ve been lucky to be able to grow my family here. While I had visited Lafayette a few times growing up, it wasn’t until I came here for college that I truly began to appreciate how modern this town was. Seeing the multiple different initiatives like LITE and LUS’s fiber push have made me certain I made the right choice to live here. I don’t think Lafayette gets enough respect for the amount of cool stuff we’ve got going on.

What does Lafayette need to become a stronger tech town?
Related to the above, we probably need to work on getting more attention. Perhaps we could convince more conferences to come down.

How do you see our tech scene evolving over the next 10 years?
I think we may get an influx of new blood if we can do better at advertising our strengths, and as remote working becomes more and more prevalent. The combination of good culture and food with multiple connectivity options could be a strong pull for tech companies. I think we’ve laid the groundwork, and hopefully it will work out.

Ryan LeTulle

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You do tech. In layman’s terms, what do you do?
I am a web application strategist and developer with a focus on mobile/responsive solutions. In practice I work with non-profit, government and corporate organizations to become more efficient via the Internet, taking a “Mobile First” approach to problem solving. Building mobile-first solutions helps to ensure that the organizations I work with are prepared for the rapidly expanding mobile market of the future.

How did you get into your area of tech?
My first experience with mobile development dates back to 2002 and the Compaq/HP iPAQ, long before Apple had a lock on iAnything. I developed a custom web application targeting mobile devices and it was written in classic ASP. The application was used by the housekeeping department at a nearby hospital to quickly track the status of available hospital rooms. Even at that early date, on this immature device I could see that ease of mobility was going to change everything once the devices caught up.

Of your current projects, which are you most excited about?
I created a private client communication portal for Manhattan-based real estate agents that was the first of its kind. Agents who work with a high volume of clients have a lot of issues trying to stay on top of changing client desires, past viewings and newly available listings. This application takes a lot of the frustration out of the process. Efficient mobile solutions such as this provide an opportunity to reach a rapidly expanding global market, and that really excites me.

Some call Lafayette a tech town, do you agree?
It’s easy to make the case that Lafayette is a regional/statewide tech town. I see evidence of this on a daily basis. Lafayette is certainly the technology center of Southwest Louisiana and has vast growth potential for many reasons. The larger metropolitan area is expected to grow at one of the fastest rates in the nation over the next 10 years, and I believe we will see technology grow at an even faster rate due to the investments being made today with both public funds and by private industry.

What does Lafayette need to become a stronger tech town?
First I would say continue investing in entrepreneurs and provide incentives for getting involved in technology. Lafayette has a great deal of creative potential that has yet to be realized, and I believe this needs to continue to be addressed. In a lot of ways we are only as strong as our weakest link, especially if they are a big part of the decision-making process. The “old guard” has positioned us for growth, but new ideas are what will make the big difference in the future.

How do you see our tech scene evolving over the next 10 years?

I am extremely optimistic that Lafayette will see accelerated growth over the next 10 years largely due to the groundwork that is being laid out today. Health care, energy, higher education, agriculture, transportation and virtual services will be big industries over the next 10 years. Mature organizations will maintain strength, and new players will emerge to provide new products and services that will grow the economy in ways that we can’t even imagine yet. The future is definitely bright for Lafayette.

 

Mike Bass

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  Photo by Travis Gauthier

You do tech. In layman’s terms, what do you do?
I’m the CTO of TriStar Graphics, a local printer and mailhouse. I’m responsible for maintaining our current IT infrastructure and advising on future technology upgrades and opportunities. I wear many hats. I’m also the “IT help desk” for our Lafayette plant, and I’m heavily involved in our new mail and variable printing operations.

How did you get into your area of tech?
When I was a kid, I was interested in computers and art. So my career has always walked the line between IT and design. Sometimes it swings heavily toward the design side; sometimes it swings back into pure IT. Mostly I just like doing interesting work with creative people.

Of your current projects, which are you most excited about?
The data analysis we’re doing for our variable printing customers is unique. We can take the results of a previous fundraising campaign, for example, and crunch the numbers to see what print pieces were most effective. Then we can use that information to better plan this year’s campaign. I’m working on creative ways to visualize that data. I’ve also been doing a lot more developing, which has been fun. It’s exciting to build new things.

Some call Lafayette a tech town, do you agree?

I think we’re on the right path. UL is a strong factor and more smart people are choosing to stick around. Of course, we need more tech jobs to keep them. LUS Fiber has kept us in the conversation. As a community, we understand the importance of the tech sector to the growth of our local economy. We definitely have the will and desire to be a tech town. But right now, our energetic young entrepreneurs are opening food trucks, not start-ups.

What does Lafayette need to become a stronger tech town?
It takes a long-term commitment from the community and local government. If you’re not in it for the long haul, your efforts are subject to economic swings and politics. We should continue developing incubation spaces for techies to get together, collaborate, experiment and dream. We need more frequent code-a-thons, tech conferences and startup weekends. We should continue to connect investors and innovators through Shark Tank-style pitch events, mentorships and business bootcamps. Tech entrepreneurs must lead the tech community. Everyone else is part of the support system.

How do you see our tech scene evolving over the next 10 years?
Acadiana is a great place to live and, increasingly, people can do their jobs or create a global business anywhere. I see us attracting more transplants and keeping more local talent. UL’s research capabilities will give us a head-start with new, disruptive technologies. Over time, we’ll successfully form a critical mass of tech workers and innovators, and we won’t be satisfied with just one or two start-up success stories. Our local technology sector will help fuel Acadiana’s future growth.

Crawford Comeaux

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You do tech. In layman’s terms, what do you do?
I create software and play with tech hardware/software, among other things. But that’s just surface-level stuff. The most important things: I’m constantly learning — and not just from magazines or “Top 10 Ways To Tweet Better” bloggings — thinking and sharing information with others. I consider those requirements for anyone calling themselves a “professional” (which I don’t).

How did you get into your area of tech?
Early exposure in and out of school, curiosity, experimentation and an unhealthy addiction to information.

Of your current projects, which are you most excited about?
I’m practically unemployable and have never held a job for longer than a year before getting fired for low-performance. I’ve got several negative habits that affect my performance and that stem from poorly managing my ADHD growing up. We don’t currently have a way for successfully making multiple large habit changes at a time, much less doing it quickly; evidence: just about everyone’s New Year’s resolutions. But I’ve run out of patience with this issue, so I’ve spent a few months researching and designing a system that seems like it may allow me to do that. It’s exciting because my performance issues also affect things I want to do for myself and, for once, it feels like I’m on a viable path to correcting them. I’m also involved in this Seth Godin experiment in collaborative learning called the Krypton Community College, and I’m organizing a Lafayette chapter. For four weeks, groups of people around the world will be meeting up on Tuesdays to learn something. Each course lasts a month, is locally organized by whoever wants to, is free to attend, and will be taught online by someone with lots of experience in their field.

Some call Lafayette a tech town, do you agree?

If “tech town” means a city where tech jobs, products, services, and projects are a primary driver of the local economy, I’d have to say I haven’t seen much data to support that. That’s the way I see it, and I can’t think of any other meaningful definitions that might have an impact on how a city progresses.

What does Lafayette need to become a stronger tech town?
This answer is for people looking to learn, so it may sound like I’m lecturing. That’s because I expect you to be listening. I’ve heard people say that all we need is this or that tangible thing, whether it be better infrastructure, more local investors, a big tech company locating here, etc. From what I’ve experienced here and in big tech towns, as well as what my personal research tells me, our biggest hurdle is intangible. We want a greater tech presence and to see more local innovation, but we need a major cultural shift to make that happen. Specifically, we need to be more open-minded, inclusive, collaborative, and experimental.

How do you see our tech scene evolving over the next 10 years?
If what I’ve mentioned in my previous answer doesn’t come to pass, I don’t see it evolving.

Kit Becnel

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You do tech. In layman’s terms, what do you do?
Since we opened our doors in 2004, I have been the Academy of Information Technology Director and workforce preparation teacher/internship coordinator for the Schools of Choice program at Carencro High School. Our program prepares young people for college and career success, equipping them with skills, knowledge and experience needed to thrive.

How did you get into your area of tech?

UL Lafayette laid my foundation in preparing me in the fields of technology, business and education. It was that one elective course — FORTRAN programming — that got me hooked into the IT field.  Dr. Terry Walker, who was the author of our textbook, was my professor. My practical workforce skills prepared me to better mold and shape my students with rigor for the IT workforce environment; therefore, it was a natural fit for me to head up LPSS’s IT career-themed academy program. I am thankful for the hard work of my co-director, faculty, and staff at Carencro High, including my supervisor and district who have supported my goals, mission, and vision for our program. In 2003, I was selected by both my principal and assistant principal at Carencro High to become the director of this brand new National Academy Foundation program here in Lafayette.

Of your current projects, which are you most excited about?
I am most excited about our ongoing summer IT internship program with more than 81 participating businesses, entities, organizations, higher educational institutions, governmental branches and non-profits, all of which have participated. We have a 100 percent placement rate for eight straight years of our academy IT interns, which occurs during the summer before their senior year earning the student one Carnegie unit. Our graduation rate for those who have interned with our program is 100 percent, and the average GPA is a 3.0. Those students can be dually enrolled earning college credits, and leave with at least two industry based-certifications, and academic and/or tech diploma endorsements. This work-based learning opportunity is a pivotal point in many students’ lives and careers both from a personal and academic point-of-view. In fact, our work-based learning program is so successful, in September I was selected to meet with NAF’s national board of directors in discussion about our highly-effective and successful internship program and how we achieve our 100 percent placement goal yearly.

Some call Lafayette a tech town, do you agree?

Certainly, I do think Lafayette is a tech-savvy town with room to expand and grow, especially with all of the resources available to our community. However, I feel more qualified to speak from the academic perspective. Our community is eagerly willing to engage, to reach out to help our young people, to promote, and support our culture, our community, and to establish an IT workforce pipeline here locally to better connect globally. We have all the right elements and assets in place to become a more prominent tech-savvy town, but part of our success is that we build upon and establish relationships within our community. Relationships are what set our community apart from other communities.

What does Lafayette need to become a stronger tech town?
Fully utilizing fiber-to-the-home would be an answer to part of this equation. We haven’t begun to tap into the endless possibilities in fully utilizing the power of this resource. I would like to see more technology married with the arts in all areas.

How do you see our tech scene evolving over the next 10 years?
From the educational standpoint, I want to fully utilize more long distance and virtual learning, connecting both local and global educational institutions, industries, organizations, governmental entities and non-profits. Any virtual internships, project-based learning virtual environments and simulations would be what I would want next. For our tech scene to evolve in the next 10 years, I envision industry leaders and community stakeholders as mentors and coaches speaking to and teaching our young people in a seamless, virtual environment in real time.

James Edmunds

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You do tech. In layman’s terms, what do you do?
Currently, I am working on web and mobile projects in a consultative or project management role, as well as doing some photography and video. Also, I am user group manager of Acadiana Adobe User Group, so I get to arrange some great monthly information sharing among local tech folks.

How did you get into your area of tech?
In the mid 1990s, I was involved in newspapers and also performing arts management. Somehow those two forces led me to web site development, which I started doing in a serious, professional way by 1998 — ancient days in Internet terms. From performing arts clients, I moved further out to a varied collage of projects. After about 15 years on front-line coding and design of all sorts of web and data projects, I have now formed valuable associations with some folks who are truly the next generation of programmers and designers, and I work in a more consultative role, connecting that terrific talent to the needs of clients.

Of your current projects, which are you most excited about?

I’ve started working on film projects again, after last having done so back in the 1970s when cutting film meant cutting film. Today we have Adobe After Effects, SpeedGrade and the rest, and DSLRs take great video footage. I’ve been delighted to have a couple of films get into film festivals and am currently working on some projects that will step things up a notch or two in regards to production value. It’s fun involving folks in these productions; along the way, I’m finding out that my friends are not only very tolerant, they are also quite talented.

Some call Lafayette a tech town, do you agree?
It’s 2013, every town in America big enough for a Starbucks is a tech town. The amount of fiber around these parts is no doubt helpful, but that is a slim distinction that will soon be matched or eclipsed in many other places. What distinguishes Lafayette is its entrepreneurial spirit.

What does Lafayette need to become a stronger tech town?

Southwest Airlines.

How do you see our tech scene evolving over the next 10 years?
In many tech and business contexts, location continues to mean less and less, meaning that it is a less restrictive issue. So, in business and tech terms, you will more and more be able to be wherever you want to be. Assuming we keep our tech infrastructure at least competitive, Lafayette’s future as a tech scene will pretty much be a reflection of how much people simply want to be here — because they can be anywhere they want to be.

 

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Economic Indicators

  • Real Estate Data
    Real Estate
     
    Rentals
     
    Commercial
     
     
  • Energy Data
    Oil
     
    Gas
     
     
  • Taxable Sales
    Register
     
  • Unemployment Rate
    Employment
     
 

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