Chris Cavanaugh: Founder, Magellan Strategy Group

Prior to founding Magellan Strategy Group, Chris served as vice president of marketing for The Biltmore Company in Asheville, NC, the owner of Biltmore Estate, America’s largest home. For nearly 10 years he guided the company’s marketing planning, strategy, and execution. During his tenure, Biltmore doubled its annual revenue and became the most visited historic house attraction in the U.S. Cavanaugh also directed marketing for the Inn on Biltmore Estate, a four-star hotel on the property, and the Biltmore Estate Winery, the most visited winery in the nation.

Chris was appointed by the Governor of North Carolina to the state’s travel and tourism board in 2003 and reappointed in 2010. He is past chairman of that board, and also past chairman of the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority (overseeing the work of the Asheville CVB) and Blue Ridge Mountain Host, a regional marketing association. Chris received the 2014 Southeast Tourism Society Shining Example Award  and in 2015, the Travel Industry Association of North Carolina presented him with the Tourism Excellence Award for an Individual for outstanding contributions to the development of the travel industry in the state.

Justin Belleme: Director of Strategy, JB Media Group and Co-Founder, JB Media Institute

A serial entrepreneur, Justin founded is first business, an online magazine about the Asheville area for visitors in 2003. He continued to work in tourism marketing, holding interim positions in online marketing with Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau and City of Asheville in 2010 before launching Internet marketing agency JB Media Group in 2011. As Director of Strategy, Justin oversees the strategic direction for projects in SEO, online advertising, social media, event marketing, email and public relations for clients ranging from the Eastern Band of The Cherokee Indians to the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, Holistic Holiday at Sea and the Social Capital Markets conference.  He, along with Sarah Benoit, have also provided strategic consulting and training for Harrah’s Cherokee Casino.

In 2012, Justin saw a need for training for marketing professionals and business owners in Internet marketing from industry professionals. He teamed up with Sarah Benoit to found the JB Media Institute shortly thereafter and under his vision and leadership, the program has trained more nearly 200 students in its first three years. Justin is also a frequent presenter on the more technical elements of Internet marketing including Google advertising for businesses and non-profits, SEO and social media advertising. The recipient of the 2014 Entrepreneur of the Year Award from the Asheville Chamber of Commerce, Justin is a strong advocate for entrepreneurship, He has served on the Board of Directors of the Asheville Chamber of Commerce since 2015 and is a previous Board Chair for the NC Stage Company.

Sarah Benoit: Co-Founder and Lead Trainer, JB Media Institute

As the Lead Instructor for the JB Media Institute, Sarah leverages her 13 years of experience as an online marketing, SEO, and social media strategist to create training content that get results. She is dedicated to making the field of Internet marketing accessible and understandable to business and marketing professionals with timely, relevant, and engaging classes and seminars. Her Internet marketing experience includes work in the travel and tourism field for websites such as, the visitor site for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and, the official site for the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area.

In 2013, she co-founded the JB Media Institute, an Internet marketing training program with Justin Belleme. Last year, Sarah was instrumental in adapting the original curriculum offered in Asheville three times each year to an online program accessible to students from around the world. She now teaches sessions in both the in-person and online Institute programs and oversees continuous curriculum updates to keep up with the ever changing world of Internet marketing. Sarah has presented to groups local and national. She was inducted into Asheville’s Forty under 40 in 2013. A graduate of Leadership Asheville, Sarah is dedicated to supporting and enhancing the local community.

Rich Owings: Local Is Where It’s At

Rich Owings, owner of Local Is Where It’s At, has been involved in Internet marketing since 2005. He sold his tech blog in 2014 and now spends his time helping businesses improve their online presence. Based in Asheville, he spends his spare time mountain biking, gardening and listening to music.

Chris Cavanaugh
Justin Belleme
Sarah Benoit
Sarah Benoit

Special Panelists

Cristina Hall Ackley: President and Co-founder – Ginger’s Revenge

Cristina brings her passion for team building, growth strategy, and brand development to her role as President and Co-Founder of Ginger’s Revenge, which specialized in naturally gluten-free alcoholic ginger beer. With 16 years experience in the food and beverage industry, she heads front of house operations at the Ginger’s Revenge Tasting Room in North Asheville, in addition to leading the company’s branding, marketing, and human resources departments.

Before co-founding Ginger’s Revenge with her husband David, Cristina served as Director of Communications & Outreach at Groundswell International. During her time with Groundswell, the organization launched new programs in three countries and won the prestigious $1 million Global Resilience Challenge.

Cristina is certified as a Holistic Health Coach by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She graduated from Vanderbilt University with a double major in Human & Organizational Development and English-History.

Katie Button: Chef and Co-owner — Curate, Nightbell, Button & Co. Bagels

Chef Katie Button is an Asheville chef with a scientific mind who honed her craft in the kitchens of some of the world’s best chefs, most notably Ferran Adrià and José Andrés. She is now the executive chef and co-owner of Cúrate and Nightbell, which have earned world-wide recognition and accolades and two James Beard Award nominations for Button. This fall, she plans to open an Appalachian-inspired bagel shop beneath Nightbell, named Button & Co. Bagels. Katie Button is also the president of the board of a new Asheville culinary festival that is currently set for September 2019.

Mark Hemphill: Vice President of Marketing – Attraction Division, the Biltmore Company

As Biltmore’s Vice President of Marketing since 2012, Mark leads brand management, marketing, and strategic planning for the destination. He also guides Biltmore’s marketing services staff, inclusive of research, analytics, creative, advertising, public relations, social media, event programming, and agency partnerships. In the last six years, attendance to Biltmore has grown 60% to more than 1.7 million annual guests and total revenue has doubled.       

Mark joined Biltmore in 1999 as a Marketing Analyst and quickly cut his teeth analyzing ticket sales data, guest satisfaction studies, and ad hoc research projects.  In 2000, he joined the Hotel Leadership Team as Revenue Manager to open the four-star Inn on Biltmore Estate. He led the development of pricing, promotional, and demand management strategies that contributed to market-leading RevPAR performance. From 2005 to 2011, Mark was Director of Marketing for Biltmore’s lodging and wine businesses.              

Mark holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Marketing from Appalachian State University and an MBA from Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Since 2012, he has served on Buncombe County’s Tourism Product Development Fund Committee, funding over $20 million in community tourism projects in the last six years.        

Mark and his wife, Kelly are also busy raising five adventurous, mountain-loving kids.     

Jael Rattigan: Co-founder and CEO – French Broad Chocolate

Jael Rattigan, co-founder and CEO of French Broad Chocolate in Asheville, believes in using business as a force for good. What started in 2006 as a mom & pop farmers’ market stand has grown to 80 employees and includes a Chocolate Lounge & Boutique, an experiential Chocolate Factory & Cafe, and soon-to-open Creamery & Cafe.  Her chocolates have been recognized in many national and international awards, and she was the recipient of the WomanUp “Best in Business” award in 2016. Her two sons, Sam and Max, eat chocolate for breakfast.

Jessica Icenhour Roberts: Executive Director – Mount Airy Tourism Development Authority and Tourism Partnership of Surry County

Jessica Icenhour Roberts graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with Bachelor of Science in Recreation; Parks & Tourism Management with a concentration in Destination Management.

Jessica is the current Executive Director of the Mount Airy Tourism Development Authority and Tourism Partnership of Surry County. Jessica is in charge with running and staffing the Mount Airy Visitors Center. Jessica is a certified Tourism Marketing Professional through the Southeast Tourism Society and has been with the Mount Airy Tourism effort for over 14 years. Jessica also works to promote the entire county as she is the official promoter for the Tourism Partnership of Surry County.

Jessica also currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Piedmont Triad Film Commission, North Carolina Travel Industry Association Board, The Blue Ridge Parkway Association, Mount Airy Downtown Business Association,  Mount Airy Downtown Incorporated board and the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce.

In recent years Jessica Icenhour Roberts has served on the North Carolina Travel Industry Association and was appointed by the Speaker of the House. In February 2017 Jessica Icenhour Roberts was chosen as the Triad Business Journal 40 Under 40.

In her spare time she and her husband like to go canoeing and explore new hiking trails and breweries.