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The Avant Guard

From cutting-edge tech titans to a major player in reinventing the restaurant industry, Atlanta’s new innovative entrepreneurs are redefining success and achieving it on their own terms.

EAT YOUR HEART OUT
“Part of our mission is to shed light on The Giving Kitchen so we are able to be a strong voice in helping others in our restaurant industry... it matters,” says The Giving Kitchen and Staplehouse founder Jen Hidinger.

TALKING HEAD
Dr. Jordan Amadio, founder of NeuroLaunch, now counts more than 10 startup companies in his portfolio, including Neurish (a social network for people with epilepsy) and SafeHeart (which monitors vital signs via smartphone), just to name a few.

DANCING ON AIR
“Through Wabi Sabi, I wish to introduce the beauty of our dance artists and creations to a wider audience, and make art relevant and more visible to everyone’s daily lives,” says Atlanta Ballet’s dancer and Wabi Sabi founder John Welker, with wife Christine, who is the principal instructor at Atlanta Ballet Centre for Dance Education’s Powers Ferry Centre in Marietta.

A STRONG START
Gather Technologies co-founders (from left) Alex Lassiter, Nicholas Miller and Tom Merrihew, who recently raised $2.5 million in venture capital to expedite product updates

CANDY LAND
Coming up, look for Cacao Atlanta founder Kristen Hard to implement a vertically integrated system that is both verifiable and certifiable, and will help rejuvenate more robust genetic diversity with cacao.

AT YOUR SERVICE
Thanks Geoffrey founder Michael Patrick assigns each client their very own “Geoffrey,” who is available on the same day each week to perform any number of tasks including delivering groceries, mailing packages, picking up dry cleaning, tidying, folding laundry and much more (from $38 per week).

FOOD FOR THOUGHT
As the founding force behind The Giving Kitchen and James Beard-nominated restaurant Staplehouse, Jen Hidinger is revolutionizing the restaurant industry one perfectly plated meal at a time.

When Jen Hidinger received the tragic news in December 2012 that her husband, Ryan—an accomplished 35-year-old chef—had late-stage gall bladder cancer, the couple’s longtime dream of starting the restaurant Staplehouse together could have gotten waylaid. “We felt like we lost a child at the same time as receiving a devastating and catastrophic medical diagnosis; it was surreal,” says Jen, who, with Ryan, had been hosting the popular Prelude to Staplehouse supper club series at their Grant Park home since 2009 in hopes of opening an actual brick-and-mortar site. “The idea that Staplehouse would never grow or be realized was debilitating for us.” Rallying behind them, however, were members of the local culinary community—including Ryan Turner (Ryan Hidinger’s boss at Muss & Turner’s), along with Ryan’s sister, Kara Hidinger, and her husband and chef, Ryan Smith—who staged a Team Hidi fundraiser that brought in almost $300,000 for the Hidingers’ financial and medical needs. The effort not only kept the dream of Staplehouse alive, but the restaurant ended up serving as the for-profit arm of The Giving Tree, a nonprofit formed to offer grants to members of the local restaurant community affected by hardships. Although Ryan passed away in early 2014, his legacy now lives on through the now-thriving casual fine-dining neighborhood restaurant. Opened in September 2015 in the Old Fourth Ward—and recipient of two 2016 James Beard nominations for “Best New Restaurant” and “Best Chef: Southeast”—Chef Smith’s seasonal menus at Staplehouse boast creative dishes featuring aged duck, blue crab and more, available via a whimsical tasting menu, as well as a la carte and at Sunday brunch.

“I am all about sharing, being open-minded and opening up myself to potentially help others; that completely motivates me,” says Jen. “Part of our mission is to shed light on The Giving Kitchen, so we are able to be a strong voice in helping others in our restaurant industry... it matters.”

BRAIN TWISTER
Neurosurgeon and NeuroLaunch founder Dr. Jordan Amadio has a head start on making Atlanta an epicenter for neuroscience startups.

As a senior neurosurgery resident at Emory University, Dr. Jordan Amadio has had the chance to work alongside world-class mentors and help numerous patients during one of the scariest moments of their lives—the day they need brain or spine surgery. He sought to expand on his experience, however, by founding Atlanta-based NeuroLaunch, the world’s first accelerator program targeting startup companies creating neuroscience-related products—from medical devices to wearable technology. “Healing one patient at a time is extremely fulfilling; it’s what gets me up in the morning,” says Amadio, who partnered with tech entrepreneur Chris Klaus and biomedical engineer Jim Schwoebel in 2014 to start what is now the leading global community and accelerator program for neuroscience startup companies. “With NeuroLaunch, we seek to go one step further, channeling today’s needs into a potentially huge impact on future generations.” Taking an approach based on Silicon Valley’s tech startup scene and applying it to brain technology, Amadio helps neuroscience inventors bring their technology to the marketplace by providing them with funding (typically between $20,000 to $100,000); education in neuroscience startup and business techniques (including hiring, raising money and more); access to more than 100 expert mentors worldwide; and strategic partners for prototyping, legal advice and more. It all culminates in a demo day showcase for investors. “There is a tremendous need to develop better solutions for the 2 billion of us who will suffer from a brain-related illness, and to create new technologies for interfacing with the human brain,” says Amadio. What’s next for this Atlanta entrepreneur? He plans to spend the next year completing his training as chief resident in neurosurgery at Emory University while also expanding NeuroLaunch to a virtual accelerator model headquartered in Atlanta, but with activities across several cities in the United States, Europe and Asia. “I feel very lucky,” Amadio says. “It’s an exciting time in my life.”

MOVING FORWARD
Christine and John Welker are taking carefully choreographed steps to forward Atlanta Ballet’s most exciting programs.

Atlanta Ballet’s longtime husband-and-wife dance team Christine and John Welker are busy proving there’s life beyond the stage... Christine as the new principal of Atlanta Ballet Centre for Dance Education’s Powers Ferry Centre in Marietta—sharing her training and firsthand knowledge of a professional career with the next generation of young dancers—and John as head of Wabi Sabi—an Atlanta Ballet initiative that engages local emerging choreographers to create and stage new works at beautiful citywide venues, from the High Museum to Atlanta Botanical Garden.

Both projects are an ideal fit for the pair, who have tirelessly worked to nurture new talent throughout their 19 seasons with the ballet (including co-directing the company’s Pre-Professional Summer Intensive Program). Christine now teaches and manages day-to-day operations for the Powers Ferry Centre’s 175 students, while John—who remains a current company dancer at Atlanta Ballet—also supports choreographers’ next steps toward creative and artistic advancement.

“To find beauty in imperfection, that is Wabi Sabi,” says John. “Beauty is important, and it is not exclusive. I feel we must share it and create it whenever possible.” 

What’s next for the dancing duo? Christine—also a certified Pilates instructor—will continue to perfect the first Inspire Health Pilates classes at Atlanta Ballet’s Powers Ferry location. As for John, he’s planning an Atlanta BeltLine show for Wabi Sabi at the beginning of August that culminates in a rooftop performance at Ponce City Market. Look out for it; it’s a must-see!

LIFE OF THE PARTY
Gather Technologies co-founders Alex Lassiter, Tom Merrihew and Nicholas Miller are streamlining the event business with smart new software.

“I loved the experience of building something new with a group of smart folks rallying around a single goal,” says CEO Nicholas Miller, who co-founded Atlanta-based Gather Technologies with Alex Lassiter, vice president of sales, and Tom Merrihew, lead developer. “I started working through ideas, and Alex and I made the decision to team up after one too many pitchers of PBR at The Local,” he says of the idea to form a company that would create user-friendly event management software to help restaurants and venues nationwide manage and grow their private-events business—from small-business meetings to large holiday parties.

“We quickly learned as much as we could about the private-event industry and realized the opportunity for us to build great software to address these needs,” says Merrihew. The web-based app allows clients (who typically use separate documents, spreadsheets and emails to manage their events) to streamline the entire process—including day-to-day details like responding to leads, sending proposals, establishing quotes, developing menus, signing contracts and collecting payments. “We have a very passionate team at Gather, and I’m inspired when I see our employees take so much ownership and pride in the product we’ve created,” says Lassiter. “Nick, Tom and I obviously love what we do—but seeing our employees love Gather is truly inspiring.”

THE SWEET LIFE
Chocolatier Kristen Hard is expanding her empire of chic chocolates that she crafts from bean to bar, making the South a sweeter place for all.

High-end artisan chocolatier Kristen Hard of Cacao Atlanta Chocolate Co. started experimenting in the kitchen with chocolate at 5 years old—making confectionery treats like caramels and fudge to satisfy her young sweet tooth. Along the way, she refined her experimentation to redefining the cacao source to chocolate paradigm, whereby chocolate is seen as healthy and the entire system is structured for verified quality matched by true sustainability, not only for the farmer but also for the customer.

After college at the University of South Carolina, she ended up getting a job as a chef on a yacht, traveling to ports from France to the Caribbean. “That’s where I discovered cacao growing on trees and connected the dots where chocolate came from,” she says. “I started reading and became obsessed with the origins of chocolate, and started understanding that world from a very fresh level; that was the beginning.”

Fast-forward to today, and Hard partners with scientists and select organic and fair-trade cacao growers worldwide to craft and offer sumptuous treats, from foie gras-laced chocolates to 24K gold-encrusted truffles (ranging from $2 to $500) at luxe boutiques in Buckhead, Virginia-Highland and Old Fourth Ward. She also has a thriving national wholesale business.

“I love chocolate; who doesn’t?” says Hard, a pioneer in the bean-to-bar process. “However, what I love most is to be a part of a world where such growth and change is needed, and to feel that we are an integral part of that change.”

For the next evolution of her business, Hard hopes to streamline the supply chain process for her origin-driven confections, which will help support more genetic diversity with cacao.

THE BUTLER DID IT
Former finance whiz Michael Patrick offers Atlantans an on-demand butler service that won’t break the bank.

“Life is too valuable for chores,” offers Michael Patrick, founder and CEO of Thanks Geoffrey, a comprehensive service that helps you manage those mundane tasks taking you away from enjoying your life. “By creating a shared butler,” Patrick explains, “we can all get more done by aggregating tasks.” Basically, you tell Geoffrey what you need done—and it’s done! For a mere $38 per week, your personal Geoffrey will visit your home and perform myriad mundane household tasks—putting groceries and dry cleaning away, wiping off your kitchen surfaces, folding laundry, mailing packages and more. $68 per week brings you biweekly visits and, in addition to The Standard weekly services, this White Glove Service automatically restocks your staples, delivers groceries twice a week, returns dry cleaning the same week and, if needed, rechecks service work performed by an outside vendor. For either of the service levels, your Geoffrey will coordinate house cleaning, service repairs and a litany of other tasks that you might need done. If you have a special need, just ask! Geoffrey will work with you to customize your level of service. In addition to the weekly fee, you’ll receive an invoice detailing the cost of goods and services provided (dry cleaning, groceries, repairs, etc.) that week. Simple; transparent. The Geoffreys are thoroughly vetted with background checks, references and in-person interviews. These are people you would choose to allow in your home. You’ll connect with your Geoffrey before service starts. Additionally, Geoffrey’s vendors also undergo a rigorous vetting to ensure that you are receiving the quality expected. The purpose of Thanks Geoffrey is to help people live their ideal lives by reinventing the way tasks are done. What’s the cost of carving out an extra hour or two for you? Ask Geoffrey and find out!