WASHINGTON – United States Senator Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., Chair of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, today lauded six Louisiana small business owners that earned the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) 2013 Small Business of the Year Awards.  The awards winners were chosen in six different categories as follows: 

  • Small Business person of the Year--Vince P. Gremillion, Restech Information Services, Inc., Metairie.
  • Women in Business Champion--Betsie Gambel, Gambel Communications, Metairie.
  • Small Business Exporter--Justin M. Hartenstein, AAC Enterprises, LLC, Metairie.
  • SBA Young Entrepreneur--Bridgeja Baker, Creative Jewelry by Bridgeja
  • Minority Small Business Champion--D. Mauricio Diaz, Diaz, LLC, Metairie.
  • Small Business Development Center Service Excellence and Innovation Center Award--LSBDC Center for Greater New Orleans.

The SBA Awards highlight the impact of outstanding entrepreneurs, small business owners, and others from all 50 states and U.S. territories.  The winners will be recognized during National Small Business Week, which takes place June 17-21.     

 “These small business owners are tremendous examples of the kind of entrepreneurial spirit that drives innovation and fuels economic growth in Louisiana and all across America,” Sen. Landrieu said.  “I’m glad that these six entrepreneurs, who took a big risk by starting a small business, are being recognized for the great work they are doing.  They are deserving of this honor and are making the state of Louisiana proud.”

After graduating from East Jefferson High School in 1979, Vince Gremillion started taking classes at local trade schools for electronics. His education landed him a job with a local company which sold and repaired point of sale systems. His duties were to handle repairs at the Time Savers convenience stores and other small retail outlets.  As he progressed through his career, Vince was exposed to the first series APPLE and MAC computers.  In 1992, he founded Restech, which helps businesses address issues in information security, connectivity, storage and enterprise systems areas.  Today, RESTECH employs 15 full time people and has revenues over $3.5 million annually.

Betsie Gambel has 25 years of experience in public relations.  After beating non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, she opened Gambel Communications in 2009.  She started out working out of her home, but her business rapidly grew to the point that her seven-person staff opened up an office.  In 2012, Gambel was recognized by New Orleans CityBusiness as a Women of the Year Nominee. This award honors women whose successes in business and contributions to the community have set the pace for the region’s future. She was also named a “Role Model of the Year” by both the YWCA and the Young Leadership Council for the example she has set and her efforts to develop young professionals.

Justin Hartenstein grew his business with almost zero capital out of his garage, to one of the fastest growing private companies in America. Started as a small e-commerce website for automotive aftermarket parts and accessories sold on eBay, AAC Enterprises, LLC now ships specialized lighting products all over the globe.  In 2005, just when his business was starting to take off, Hurricane Katrina destroyed nearly all of AAC’s inventory. Hartenstein picked up the pieces of his business and within months of reopening, he was featured in Entrepreneur Magazine for his perseverance. Today, AAC’s catalog now features more than 5,000 products and the business has consistently grown more than 200% per year since its inception. 

Bridgeja Baker is a 10th grader at Isidore Newman High School in New Orleans, LA and has owned her own small business, Creative Jewelry by Brideja’, LLC, since she was 10 years old. Baker was recently recognized by the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) when she received their “Outstanding Minority-Owned Small Business Award.”  Her other awards and recognitions include: the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Artie Award, the Victims & Citizens Against Crime Merit Award, Black Enterprise Small Business Teenpreneur Award Nominee, Girls Going Places Entrepreneurship Award Program finalist, Pre-Teen America Scholarship & Recognition Program Semi-Finalist, and Asante Award honoree.  She hopes to one day become a pharmacist and sell her jewelry nationwide.  Last September, Baker participated in a roundtable discussion hosted by Sen. Landrieu entitled, “Closing the Wealth Gap through the African American Entrepreneurial Ecosystem.”

D. Mauricio Diaz arrived in New Orleans from Honduras in 1969.  After spending 20 years working as a mechanic at the Regional Transit Authority, he purchased his first Shell gasoline station with mechanic bays in Metairie.  For several months, Mr. Diaz worked as the mechanic and his wife as the cashier.  Now, 16 years later, Mr. Diaz owns 20 gasoline stations and convenience stores.  He employs more than 115 people in the New Orleans area.  At the age of 62, Mr. Diaz still oversees the operations of the stations with the aid of his wife, daughter and son.

LSBDC Greater New Orleans Region (GNOR) is a collaborative partnership of Delgado Community College, Loyola University New Orleans, Southern University at New Orleans and Xavier University. It is the only collaborative partnership SBDC center in the nation.  LSBDC GNOR focuses on access to capital and identifying sources of financing, restructuring debt, and assisting business owners in developing efficient operational strategies.  LSBDC GNOR assists small businesses with websites, e-commerce, accessing procurement opportunities, and certifications.  They particularly specialize in the seafood industry, restaurants, music, retail and international trade.  LSBDC GNOR team also has special expertise in disaster preparedness and recovery, business continuity, and sustainability planning.