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The Change-Makers: stories that inspire

The heart of our mission is to find the amazing souls that breathe life into our communities. In the recent weeks, we’ve had the privilege to connect with some incredible artists, creatives, entrepreneurs and rabble rousers and we can’t begin to express how impressed we are with the incredible group below. In coming weeks we’ll be sharing some amazing stories from Tampa, St. Petersburg and the surrounding areas.  Check out our favorite stories from across the Voyage family.

Paul Gillispie

My Floral Designer life started out of a need to be create. In 2010 my husband accepted a position with the headquarters of Costco in Issaquah, Washington so as a result, we move to the “Emerald City,” or as I call it, NOSUNLAND. I was so bored with the gray of Seattle that I started looking for ways to brighten up our house with color so I started making arrangements at home and found that I had a knack for it.  Pretty soon after, I walked into our Safeway grocery store and started asking questions about working in the floral department, and BAM just like that, the management team hired me right on the spot. This is where I started experimenting with my signature style. A brand of modern chic romantic is how I describe it. Read more>>

Carole Gordon

My dream of being an actor and comic took many to years to fulfill. At the age of twenty, I convinced three friends to move from Tampa, FL to Los Angeles, CA with me so I could pursue a career in the industry. I ended up being accepted as a TWA Hostess/Stewardess (back in the day) traveled extensively, got married, had to quit the airlines when I became pregnant, got divorced, and moved back to Tampa with my toddler son. Read More>>

Courtney Pasterchick

Throughout my childhood, I always enjoyed drawing and would attempt to draw my favorite singers and actors to hang in my room. When high school came around, I started taking art more seriously and was inspired by my teacher who at the time was illustrating children’s books. I looked up to her so much and she believed in my talent. Because of her I decided to study fine art in college with a concentration in painting at the University of Tampa. From there, I was introduced to a whole new world of art and met so many talented people that inspired me to be better. Read more>>

Coty Dolan

I could barely read almost my entire life. I could barely get through a normal sentence until 8th grade, and I never read a full book cover to cover until I was 28.  I was 27 when I had just gotten what others would call a “great job”, as the Food & Beverage Manager at a world-renowned golf resort. My Salary was about $70k a year with full benefits for myself, my wife (girlfriend at the time), and my daughter, I got a discount at all of the companies’ locations, and I got a whole 5 days a year paid vacation and 5 unpaid. Most people would have been happy in this position. Read more>>

Derrick Perez

I was born and raised in Tampa, FL. Spent the first year with my biological mother and then was put into foster care and spent 8 years in the Hillsborough County Dependency System. I was eventually adopted on National Adoption Day 2007. Over the years I grew up watching superhero films and truly enjoyed what I saw. I eventually started watching the behind-the-scenes of those films and began learning about what it’s like to make films. From there I began making my own short films and have been growing ever since. I establish and ran my school’s first film club over at Bloomingdale Senior High School. Read more>>

Amy Huth

I am originally from Northern Michigan and my husband is from Missouri. I grew up playing on many lakes as a kid and I’ve always dreamed about actually living on a lake! We were talking to some friends about what our future would look like after our son graduated and our daughter got married. Our answer was to always be on the water! Within a couple of days that same friend called back and said there was a piece of property on a lake his mother-in-Law lived on for many years that he wanted to show us, it was on Lake Holly. The property itself was quite neglected. However, there was so much potential!  At first, we wanted to keep it as just a little place where we could go to have dinner with friends, water ski, fish, kayak, and simply enjoy the lake on the weekends. Read more>>

Allie Felix

I am fortunate to have called two of the largest startup ecosystems my home, San Francisco and New York City. I spent my early career building and supporting the entrepreneurial community in these cities, having been exposed to and working with some of the most successful entrepreneurs and investors, and innovative thinkers.  My story today rewinds to where I started my career, in San Francisco. I once was in an Uber pool ride and began speaking to the rider next to me – a rare occurrence in a busy city! As we began talking, I discovered that he was building a tech company and also from Tampa Bay. During our conversation, I went on to tell him my goal to someday return to my hometown and help build the local startup community. Since that conversation, I’ve probably told it to every friend and colleague I’ve met. About four years after that run-in, I was recruited back to Tampa Bay from New York City by Lakshmi Shenoy, CEO of Embarc Collective. Read more>>

Amber Rose

The Journey that leads me to start Aro Chic Home Staging & Design really started in 2013 when I started renovating houses/condos to flip. I had always been into design and moved my room around constantly as a child. I would plan my newest layout and then sit on my floor with my back against the wall and push the furniture with my feet into place. My mom would come home and I’d immediately guide her to my room and make her close her eyes so she could see the end result.  I started doing this in elementary school and it quickly led to me painting, changing out my pillows and bedding, and being obsessed with decor magazines and high-end furniture. I guess you could say that my path was always destined for this. Read more>>

Jamie Edwards

I have been an artist most of my life. With my first pair of safety scissors as a toddler, I began grooming my dog which led to a long career as a hairdresser. I opened my first business, a hair and tanning salon, at age 26. Throughout my life, my love for all things creative led me to pursue several advanced education certifications in all thing’s hair. I then enrolled in FIT where I studied jewelry design, which led to learning about the healing properties of crystals. After that, I took furniture refinishing classes, which led me to study woodworking. I absorb all things art-related from my extraordinarily talented family and friends. My current passion is working with crystals and creating healing gemstone bundles and painting furniture. Read more>>

Monica Guerrero

Growing up in Lima, Perú, I was the kid always painting and drawing, dreaming of becoming an artist. I loved collecting stationery, especially Sarah Kay’s vintage designs. Strawberry Shortcake and Snoopy were my other favorites!  But instead of pursuing art, my life took me on a different route. I moved to Germany and also lived for a short time in Switzerland; I loved it there, and love the museums. I returned to Peru with the goal of getting an Art History degree, which I did. I have a degree in Art History with a focus in Latin American Baroque Art. I love the research and to play the detective with art pieces. Also, it feels really great to be working steps away from masterpieces. Read more>>

Joe Anderson & Paul Tica

I coached Joe on a recreational basketball team for Middle Schoolers. He was also friends with my sister as well, so kept some sort of communication. We started talking about making our own sports media company a few years ago. Once our vision came together along came other friends of ours that have joined us. We currently have a Wrestling podcast, we go live on Facebook or YouTube for news, previews, and discussions in the world of sports. Read more>>

Shonique Jackson

Hello, my journey has been a long time coming. I started my interest in the music industry around 1994 (I was 14). My brother and cousins would record music and I gained interest on the production of basically wanting to know everything played together from the producer to the engineer and how the artists came up with lyrics. Moving forward I moved to Atlanta around 2003. Working my way around Atlanta I would visit different clubs, meet artist, managers DJ, etc. I was branding myself. I was able to connect with a lot of important people. Knowing that this was something I wanted to be a part of, so I learned the industry on my own. Read more>>

¡¡¡ Curb Alert !!!

I started in 5th-grade band: Trumpet, then Tuba. I started playing guitar at 15, took lessons for a year, I sang horrible until I got some singing lessons from a great coach and I still practice those. College years gave me garage bands and dive bar gigs for fun, then I sold my soul to the man for a career that severely limited my free time. I’d go months without touching a guitar. I finally let go of that job (real rockstars don’t have health insurance) and was able to play out again and get serious. Releasing some songs/videos and trying to get a group together. I focus on original music (however covers are not a problem, just not my thing, but playing a song that gives fun/joy to another is very respectable and worth it). and that’s where I am now. Read more>>

Jeremy Wells

Hello there! My name is Jeremy Wells, and I am the owner of Wells Working. I am the luckiest husband to the most wonderful and supportive woman in the world, Megan. Without her, I really have no idea what my life would be like. Together, we are raising two of the most amazing kids the world will ever know (in my humble opinion). Ethan is 7 and Charlotte is 5, and they are the absolute joys of our life!  Truthfully, I never aspired to be a woodworker. I have spent about half of my life in the field of Law Enforcement, and I currently work as a proud Police Officer for one of the area’s best agencies. Before moving to the area in 2015, I was a 15-year veteran of the Memphis Police Department, where I was born and raised. I love what I do, and will continue to serve the community for as long as I possibly can. Read more>>

Esther Solano

Hello. My story is filled with victories and many lessons. The hardest yet blessed part of my life came after the birth of my daughter. I found myself a single mother having to find a way to take care of both of us. That path brought me into the fitness industry. Along with being a personal trainer, there was necessity to help my clients become fit in every area of their lives. Health/eating was the missing part that most of my clients needed help with next. I created Uppercut Protein Bites as a healthy and delicious snack. The bites took off with me just selling them to my personal training clients. However, the word of mouth began to spread the Uppercut Protein Bites name around. I was able to organically get the bites into local studios, grocers, and other various locations throughout the Tampa Bay Area. We currently have a website where we sell our products nationwide. Read more>>

Shannon Ferguson

Growing up, I was a competitive hockey player. I also played in soccer and softball leagues and started golfing at a young age. Though I was sidelined by an injury just as I was starting university, I have continued to have a passion for sports. After graduating with degrees in Communications Studies and Broadcast Journalism, I started a career in digital sports marketing for an online sportsbook in Montreal where I learned so many of the important skills that built my foundation in the industry. Read more>>

Aleida Garcia

It’s hard to pinpoint an origin story when every single stage feels like a different lifetime. Interior designing, has always been the core of these different stages. I have decorated for as long as I could remember, I have set houses for families and friends, for fun or business. I have a huge family, so the birthday parties, baby showers, moving décor were always a joyous experience for me. It was a way for me to show those around me that I cared about their space, their day-to-day life.  I just moved here from NYC, opposites I know. I was more willing to accept changes after COVID and I wanted to create a financial opportunity that I genuinely enjoyed. After COVID my kids only become more and more socially awkward. Read more>>

Jarixa Hampton

I come from a family of creatives. So, you can say it was in my blood. I used to draw a lot at an early age but after graduating high school, drawing didn’t do it for me anymore. Then came college, where I only went for 2 semesters and then dropped out. I was able to take ONE photography class, Black & White film to be exact. The concept blew my mind, we were only using black and white film and developing our own images in a black room. I always said when I bought a home it would have a black room in it. In my second semester, he course started to get more in-depth on the history of photography and I got bored. Read more>>

Juan Rodriguez

I have been into arts and drawing since I was a kid/teenager and sporadically did so through my adulthood. When my son graduated from high school I paid for his senior photos and watched a guy somewhat fumbled through in the computer and I said to myself, I can do this. So as my daughter approached her senior year, I decided to get into photography back in 2017 so that I can capture her experience myself. Ever since then my passion for art has been reignited and now, I express my art through photography. I started getting better little by little and some people thought I should be getting paid for my work. My wife encouraged me to open a business and so JFX PHOTO ART was born in May of 2021. During the week I am a software developer for a major local furniture retailer and on the weekends, I venture on my photography business. I really enjoy photographing our local natural beauty on the outdoors but my paid jobs come by means of portrait sessions or coverage of celebratory events. Read more>>

Rachel Jimenez

Before I found my passion for fitness, I was a dancer (and will always consider myself one). I attended an art school as a dance major from middle school until my freshman year of college. After that year, I decided that I wanted to change my major but had no idea what I wanted to do. My whole life had been movement-focused, and with a quick internet search, I found out that USF had an Exercise Science program! It couldn’t have been a more perfect transition. That program opened my eyes to the importance of fueling active bodies, the world of strength training, and that I could build a career working with people and teaching them these things that changed my life. During the program, I began competing in powerlifting and developed a passion for training specifically for strength. Read more>>

Stacey Flores

My photography journey started in middle school! My dad is a DJ and when I was younger, he would always bring me along to his weddings, sweet 16s, etc. He already had his own cameras and equipment, so I would use it to take pictures at these events! I’d shoot behind the scenes for my dad and all the other moments I could from the day. Throughout high school, I took pictures of friends and family for fun with the equipment my dad already had. I experimented a lot and didn’t know anything back then compared to what I know today. Eventually, when I had a better idea about the basics and felt confident enough, I started to charge for sessions. I used the money I was making to invest in my own camera and equipment. I joined photography groups, asked questions, watched endless amounts of videos about photography, and kept on shooting— I’m 100% self-taught, but I still continue to educate myself every day. There’s always room to grow! Read more>>

Danny Darko

I was born and raised in Tampa Florida and have been here majority of my life. Consequently, growing up here I faced my fair share of hard times and at a young age, I found that writing music/poetry was a great outlet from the hardships around me. I started out with a small group of friends around 9-10 but quickly learned that I had a talent and affinity for writing and performing my art. After moving a lot, many things changed in my life but one thing was always there for me, music and the art associated with it. When I was a freshman in high school, I met a friend that put me on to my first recording studio, a microphone in a classmate’s closet hooked up to his computer. Read more>>

Kendyl Lynch

My best friend from college took me to my first barre3 class in 2017. Right away, I knew I wanted more of it in my life. At that time, there were no barre3 studios where I currently lived (Chicago). About 6 months later, a studio announced their opening, which happened to be in my hometown of Clarendon Hills, IL! I become a certified barre3 instructor in February of 2018 and taught for two studios in the Chicagoland area. Opening my own studio was a given in my head, but how I was going to get there was a constant thought process. After many months of deliberating, I decided to move to Tampa to open my studio here. I only visited just once before I knew Tampa would be a great place to live and for my business to flourish. I feel very grateful to own a business in this amazing city! Read more>>

Ahni Nichole

Ahni Nichole began as a personal mission. I had a desire to work in fashion but because it’s not necessarily the easiest industry to break into, I decided to dedicate my time and resources to build something of my own. That decision has led me to developing a brand that encompasses art, design, and fashion. I haven’t scratched the surface of where I will take it, but that only leaves more room for growth. Read more>>

Trey Malicoat and Jeffrey Sell

Natural Designs Floral was born on a dock in Gulfport. Jeff Sell and I were chatting about the different types of floral and event work we both had done over the past several years, and we decided it would be a perfect partnership. Given Jeff’s extensive background in floral work, both in Philadelphia and Maui, and my work in events and fundraising in Portland, OR, and Denver, we decided to combine forces to offer something different. Combined, we have produced and executed over 450 weddings and 70 events for clients all over the US.  We began the process of setting up the website, market research, collateral development, and the business structure about three years ago. Then COVID happened, so we sidelined things for a minute. Read more>>

Matthew Magro

We started with the trial by fire, it was a subsidiary of my business partner’s other company. We dove in headfirst to learn as much about the industry as possible. Getting certified in Pompano Beach at Xtreme polishing systems. We started with solely residential garage coating but now offer commercial and industrial systems as well. Read more>>

Amanda Corman Pedro

I began my career at an up-and-coming marketing agency in St. Pete. I was finishing my last year at the University of South Florida-St. Pete with my Bachelors in Mass Communications- Journalism and Media Studies and needed an internship. I found an ad that was looking for an intern to write blogs and create social media posts for a couple of local businesses. Later that year I was hired there as a Social Media Manager and soon completed my degree. The agency taught me a lot. A lot about marketing, writing, web design/development, working a 9-5, having lots of coworkers similar in age, learning who as I was as a 20-something, and how to get a lot of work done for very little pay or benefits. Working for a startup usually always comes with those risks, however, and the lessons I learned in my 4 years at the agency continue to be indispensable. Read more>>

Ashlie Fisher and Amy Williams

Hey! We are Ashlie and Amy, founders of the Orange Social. We are a local mom-owned business, curating special events and pop-up picnics in and around the Dunedin area. A couple years ago we found ourselves a little group of friends where we would take turns hosting dinners, rotating out whose house it would be at. It was during this time where we realized the importance of community/friendship/being social. Then, the pandemic hit. And while our gatherings were few and far between, we still had each other to lean on.  Fast forward a bit, we realized that we wanted to make our love of hosting and design something we share with others in the community. We could combine what we love to do and help others make memories by curating events and picnics locally! Read more>>

Katie Wiley

As with any good story, Oracle was born out of a labor of love. In 2018, I had started to take on clients (usually friends or friends of friends) that needed help setting up their socials, branding, or running ads on Instagram and Facebook. This was usually done in my free time between two other jobs. It was incredibly rewarding to see such incredible results and great feedback from clients. I knew one day If I worked hard enough, I’d be able to do this full time. By 2019, I had decided to leave my comfort behind and try my hand at living in a new city – St. Petersburg. I’d visited from Nashville off and on since 2015 for holidays and knew immediately this was my next step. Flash forward to 2019, when I finally made the jump. Now, several years later, and pandemic be damned, I’ve been lucky enough to hire on two very talented friends, expand our reach and client base – and quit my full-time job. Sometimes you’ve just gotta take the leap! Read more>>

Ali Converse

My sister, Mindy, and I opened American Honey Creamery on December 8th, 2018. We opened as a mobile ice cream truck that traveled southwest Florida serving homemade ice cream. On Sunday afternoons, you could find us parked outside of our local Home Depot. Throughout the week, we would serve housing communities between Parrish and Sarasota. A majority of our business also came from catering weddings, birthday parties, and other large events. In 2020, COVID changed the food truck industry. Home Depot stopped allowing us to park outside, communities canceled food truck events to prevent crowds, and all of our larger caterings had to reschedule. Mindy and I knew that to get our business through the pandemic, we’d have to think outside of the box. We started offering ice cream delivery to our customers’ doorsteps! After several months of this, we decided to take the leap of faith and settle into a brick-and-mortar storefront. Read more>>

Holly Wachman

In regard to my career story, I graduated with a B.A. in Mass Communications with a focus on advertising from the University of South Florida. Throughout my time in school and prior to college I dreamed of being a ” successful businesswoman.” I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant, but I was highly motivated to figure it out.  Like others, I changed my major many times and Advertising seemed to be the best fit after trying out many introductory courses like Architecture, Anthropology, Geology, and Public Relations. I was definitely a creative but loved structure and organization. I like having boundaries to work off of, but creative freedom within those parameters. Read more>>

River La Joice

I took my first footsteps onto the path of wellness when I was about 18, after an intense 6-year battle with the cycle of bulimia/anorexia. I just woke up one day, exhausted with living my life through eyes of self-judgment, never thinking I was enough based off how my body looked and I realized how much I wasn’t treating myself well, I wasn’t loving me for who I was or where I was at in my journey. And it was from that day on I continued to keep taking steps down the path of wellness! I started with proper/mindful diet, which then led to getting into meditation (heavily listening to Ravi Shankar) which from there led to yoga! Yoga changed my life, for me it was also my doorway into massage therapy which in return led me to Chinese/ayurvedic medicine (herbal medicine, sound healing, breathwork, acupuncture, shamanic plant medicine, cupping…etc ). And together all of this led me to sea moss and algae therapy and sharing my love for wellness and self-care with anyone I come in contact with, reminding them THEY ARE ENOUGH! Read more>>

Albert J

I was born in Maryland in the late 80s. I was blind as a child… But had vision restored when I was an adolescent. I played football through hs and got a full scholarship to play at VMI where I attended as a student athlete.  In played all the way until I was 23…  Then I tried suicide.  I was depressed… Had no direction after putting so much into something and being denied.  I was put into a psych ward.  I wrote my first song in that psych ward… And the therapy of guttural and honest expression through rhythmic poetry… I needed more of it.  10 years down the road… And I’m here. Read more>>

Oscar Hinojosa

Back in January 2020, I was watching YouTube on my TV. there was a possibility that I was a little bit drunk, haha… So, I watched my dog (Pherrie), and just told him: “God damn Pherrie, you are so small!!! . what if I was your size???”… And then, I saw my laptop on my desktop… and started to Photoshop myself…I just loved the result. A day after I started to do this with players from my favorite team (Monterrey), posted on my personal Facebook/Instagram/Twitter, and people loved it. Some players even shared my work in their social media.  That’s why I use my Dog (Pherrie) as a Watermark, he’s the co-founder of all this. Believe me, he is really small… the smallest dog I ever had. Read more>>

Karen Mehanna

My name is Karen Mehanna I am an American citizen from a Lebanese background. I am the wife of an actor a mother of two a young man Alan and a young lady Mandy and now a grandmother of two Melody and William; with a journey that took me from Lebanon to America, where I gave my children the opportunity to study and complete their education and then decided to go back to university and finish my Bachelor’s Degree in Communication at the age of 50.  Upon my return back to Lebanon in 2013, To give my husband his career back after he left it behind to give our kids a better life, I struggled to find a steady job, and after talking to my husband and kids, I decided it was time to pursue a long-forgotten dream to bring Simply Karen to life. Read more>>

Katherine Lake

I’ve never been one to have a clear picture of my “next 10 years”. I’ve been around others who have known what they want to do or what they want to be 10 years from now and their focus has been inspiring. Instead, my focus has been more about enjoying the opportunities of the moment.  In high school, I was fortunate to have counselors and teachers who steered me into secretarial administration classes. I enjoyed them – typing, shorthand, bookkeeping, etc. – and did okay in them. But it wasn’t until my senior year when my skills finally evolved and I started to excel in speed and accuracy. Read more>>

Matt Morrow

It definitely was a roundabout path that led me to this point. I grew up in Gainesville, Fl and my visions of my what my life would be like growing up never encapsulated brewing or entrepreneurship or any of the things I’m doing now. I never truly knew what I wanted to do with my life but would often try to pigeonhole ideas in insisting that they must be the path I was meant to take. By the time I graduated from UF my planned career paths had included teaching, international development, economics, studying law, non-profit work, youth ministry, sports management, occupational therapy, public policy and I’m sure a half-dozen other ones I can’t even remember. Read more>>

Chatrea’l Waters

Ever since watching America’s Next Top Model and seeing how those girls confidently strutted on the runway, I have always wanted to be a model. I began taking acting and modeling classes when I was a young girl, but after seeing I wasn’t going to be as tall and skinny as your typical model I kind of forgotten that dream. From my appearance and the way, I present myself, someone would always tell me I should take up modeling. After much thought and seeing how the world was slowly becoming more diverse, I decided to not let my size discourage me and model again. I started taking pictures with my sister who went to school for cinematography, and I began taking more modeling classes. In the process, I have learned a lot as well met many great people. From there, I went to many auditions and landed many gigs bringing me to where I am today. Read more>>

Abel Mejia

I started in my native country, Ecuador, about 7 years ago when I tried to make a paper mask for my son for Halloween. Browsing the web, I found a digital file and I began to follow the instructions, I finished it all in around 5 hours and gained more than just the result of the mask. What captivated me the most was the therapeutic process, the calm and tranquility that I felt in those 5 hours. At that time, I was the owner of a restaurant and I exhibited them there, all the clients liked to take photos with my masks and that generated a lot of satisfaction, however, it never stopped being a hobby. In Ecuador, as a result of the pandemic, we had to isolate ourselves in our homes for 4 months and in that time, I assembled a piece of artillery whose result showed that this art is not limited only to masks. Since then, I’ve been more focused on decorative pieces. Read more>>

Abdulrahman Al-Eryani

I moved to Florida 2014 to attend USF and graduated end of 2016 with Economics. After graduation, I decided to try and purchase my first home to fix and sell. I was able to get a loan from a local bank which allowed me to purchase my first home in Thonotosassa Florida. I immediately started working on the home which took 4 months to fix. After the home was completed, I realized that I would need to pay a large portion for commissions to a real estate agent so I decided to list it on my own with a flat fee MLS company. The home sold within 30 days and I decided to get my real estate license which I got after taking the required 63-hour pre-license course. Read more>>

Rick Geisz

After a successful 25-year career in the field of purchasing, I simply wasn’t happy with what I was doing anymore. I needed a change. The big question was “what next?”  One day while sitting on my balcony in the hot Florida sun, and sipping on my stainless-steel water bottle, I started thinking of all the things I would change about the water bottle if I could. The first this was price. It never made sense to me why a premium quality water bottle cost upwards of $40-$50. After working in manufacturing industries for 25 years, and knowing the cost of materials and production processes, I knew they didn’t need to cost so much. I also never liked the texture of the bottles…how they felt to hold in your hand. Here I am paying $45 for a “premium” stainless steel water bottle, yet it feels like cheap, slippery plastic. Read more>>

Maddie Blake and Ashlea O’Connor

Baked in the Burg started in 2021 when Burg Cookie Company and Maddie’s Cakes combined. Burg Cookie Co started buying brownies wholesale from Maddie’s Cakes and soon shared a retail space. They quickly outgrew that space and Baked in the Burg was formed! Read more>>

Dustin Hoye

At a young age I grew to love dogs and the care that is needed to have a dog. Caring for any living thing brought joy to my life and allowed me to expressive myself because I never had anyone personally care about me while growing up. I was born in Detroit Michigan to a spanish father and a Irish mother. I spend most of my adolescent youth in the Detroit Foster care system until I aged out and became a adult.
While growing up I had a gift of feeling emotions so most of my life was a emotional roller coaster and I had to find a way to adapt to my surroundings. Finding someone to share what I was feeling and that was difficult because I never was that type of person who communicated with others. I began to find in myself the ability I never thought I had with dogs which was the ability to understand their emotions no matter the size or the breed. I knew each dog is unique but what connected us was our emotions without having to say anything. Read more>>

Justin Kucsulain

It begins with Martial arts. I first moved to Lakeland, Florida at 22 years old from Detroit, Michigan. I got a job wiring houses with AEI electrical and started training at Champions Mixed Martial Arts. In less than a year, I had quit my job and started training and working at the dojo all day every day, I was hooked.  In addition to competing in both MMA and BJJ competitions, I was also lifting weights and working out every day at All American Gym in Lakeland, Florida. I was bartender and a trainer at Title Boxing in Carrollwood teaching boxing classes.  I ended up moving back to Michigan briefly then LA for 2 years where I taught private boxing lessons at Mayweather Boxing in Hollywood. Life has brought me back to Tampa Bay, I reside in St Petersburg and I love it. I’m only 5 minutes from the beach and it can’t get any better. Read more>>

Skylar Calico

I was born in Germany, grew up in Massachusetts. I moved down to the south in 2016 and ended up in Florida in 2019. I always loved to make people laugh and share my sometimes-odd perspectives on life. During covid quarantine, I started doing funny videos sharing my view on everyday life and experiences as well as mental health tips and advice. So many people reached out to me and told me how much my videos helped them get through the day that I kept doing them and eventually got on TikTok where I quickly started gaining followers. I really love sharing my story with mental health and showing people that they aren’t alone, no matter how alone they may feel. That it’s ok to feel broken some days. That’s the message that I want to promote. That it gets easier, it gets better. Read more>>

Stephen Ostrow

The world has a history of cruelty to many Queer and Trans folx, and as a youth, I was no exception. In this way, my story is an all too common one. I live by the premise that we are not what happens to us but rather how we respond, what I have learned is that how we respond is often determined by the insight and skills we have. When I was a youth, I was inspired to become a therapist by 2 of my therapists. One who offered my Queer teen self a sense of safety when I needed it most, and another that supported me through the early stages of my gender journey. The tools I gained, and the experiences I had in therapy helped me uncover and embody my most authentic self. Read more>>

Star Breedlove

BREEDLOVE. It’s the Brand for my companies as well as my name, Star Breedlove. I have an online women’s clothing boutique and a business consulting/management company. I’m Cuban American, born and raised in Miami, Florida; until I migrated to Central Florida where I currently reside.  How I started is not where I planned to end up. I started out majoring in Biology but switching to Health Service Administration (basically business) and ended with a career in Accounting and Data Analysis. I was corporate! The one thing that seemed to be consistent was the extra attention paid to how I put my clothes together. I always believed if you looked the part, you can be the part because you feel the part. Read more>>

Jenna Eberts

I started my love for hair at a young age and took cosmetology classes in high school. While in high school I was an assistant in a local salon. After I graduated, I enrolled in beauty school to get my license. I started my beauty career working for Supercuts. I worked with the company for 9 years and became an artistic director and manger. I decided to open my own salon suite to be able to focus on my clients by giving them individual attention and an excellent salon experience. I am in the process of moving to a larger salon suite and will be bringing in an assistant to train under me. I’ve been a stylist for over twelve years and I’ve never been more in love with my clients or my career. Read more>>

Shawn Brandon

Well, I was always fascinated with Photography/Videography and I did it as a hobby for quite a few years in my younger years before finally deciding to take the leap to full time. At one point in time, I was a full-time musician and when that journey was finishing, I felt it was the perfect time to dive into photography head first. I started by doing concert photography because I was familiar with musicians, venues, and such. And from the first shutter click, I was hooked for life, because the same excitement I got from playing music I felt by photographing it. And 12 years later I still have those feelings. Read more>>

Anthony Rodriguez

In 2010 I came to the conclusion that it was best to work for myself rather than work for someone else. At the time I was working at a pathology lab and I did some consulting for a doctor on opening a in office lab. The money I made from that I opened a Private social club in West Tampa. From there I’ve opened multiple businesses in different avenues. Right now, I’m the owner of Vaping Ape Smoke Shop and Co-owner of Gorilla Hemp Company. Read more>>

Tamika Lopez

AKP Thrift is a social enterprise of A Kid’s Place of Tampa Bay located in Brandon Florida. A Kid’s Place provides residential services to children in foster care from birth to 18 who have been removed from their homes due to abuse, neglect, and abandonment. 100% net proceeds go back to A Kid’s Place. AKP Thrift has something for everyone, we have a women’s section, men’s, plus size, kids, accessories, home, and furniture. Read more>>

Abigail Markov

The Tabula Rasa Farm started as a dream of my late husband, Steve, and myself – a place where we could grow our own food, raise animals, work on projects, and preserve a little bit of Florida’s natural landscape from strip mining and concrete. When he died from complications of leukemia in late 2020, the dream became just mine, with help and support from friends and fans around the world. I didn’t quite expect to find a spot in the hearts of so many, but I am completely delighted that the Farm’s story has. Read more>>

Ethan Evans

I started out on the wrong path. I was an active gang member from 13 until 21. I was on my own, raising myself at the age of 15 years old and was heading down a dark path. When I turned 18, I was indicted on several charges and was facing a 15-year prison sentence. At 22 my case ended with 5 years’ probation and a lot of restitution to pay. I looked at that as a second chance. After that hurdle, I enrolled in college and studied information systems engineering. I quickly realized that college wasn’t for me and I launched a tech and marketing agency called 7th Level Agency, which I still own today. As time went on, I started diversifying my income and skillsets, branching into film production and eventually fashion. I now own Allez Watches and several other brands! Read more>>

Vince Serrano

Vince Serrano has achieved many promising milestones throughout his career. This power player did not only reach the number four spot on the iTunes Charts and sixteenth on the Billboard’s Top 100 but he also appeared in VH1’s Caught: My True Crime Story. Proving to be unstoppable, Vince also dipped into the entrepreneurial realm, running a wide variety of business ventures, such as Raw Link Media, Solar Central Systems, and Youngest in the Yacht Club. Read more>> 

Laney Rodriguez

I was raised catholic and Cuban so my mom and grandma were the type of women that thought using a premade pie crust was a sin. We had family dinners every Sunday, complete with appetizers, drinks, dinner, and desserts. Growing up, cooking on Sunday was the highlight of my week. Not only was it a time to spend with family, but it was a time to learn more about my roots and family history. Sunday cooking with my grandma turned into something more- a passion to bring people together through the power of good home-cooked food. I started posting our family recipes and soon people starting asking if I was willing to sell. One random thanksgiving I decided to shoot my shot and start selling my baked goods… even if I only had one sale. The business took off and here I am Read more>>

Little Lazy

Little Lazy is a small band with a big sound. We, Brendan Pafford and Kevin Cook, crossed paths in 2019 thanks to a mutual friend on Facebook, and have been making music and moves ever since. The musical chemistry was there from day one, which led to us writing our first ever song, “Daytime Shakes”, that night. It actually became our first ever release and we haven’t looked back! After evolving our sound, a bit and connecting with a management team, Self Inc., we’ve been focusing on writing music, performing, and just enjoying the ride. Read more>>

Mayde Figueroa

Ever since I was a little girl, I have enjoyed being in front of the cameras. I used to play around and imitate celebrities that were my inspiration because I wanted to be just like them. My parents noticed the passion that I had towards the arts and they gave me the opportunity to be part of an academy. In the academy, I learned how to dance, sing, model and how to express myself as I wanted. Throughout the years, I carried those tools with me and I kept experimenting on my own. In addition, social media played a big factor of my love towards the fashion and beauty industry. Read more>>

Amanda & Melissa Navas

We had this innate and uninhibited urge to reconnect with our roots and our culture because of our grandmother. Although my sister Melissa and myself always talked about opening our own business, it never came to fruition. Things started to align when I left my good-paying, corporate job in April of this year because of its toxic work environment. We had further confirmation that it was time when Melissa left the company, she was with of over 16 years because of position and title reorganization. It was then that she decided it was time to go and it was no longer in her best interest to stay. With no plan B, we decided to go full force in our business. Not knowing what we were going to do at first, it just came to us when we bought a small ‘make your own candle’ kit that we were doing just for fun. We use candles all of the time in our spiritual practices, why not make Intention Infused Manifesting Candles that could help others? Read more>>

Ketsy Ruiz

I am a fine artist and digital illustrator. I convey my ethnic identity and culture in my art. Growing up in the Puerto Rican diaspora of the United States has greatly inspired my work. As a “military brat” I was raised in the subculture of the nomadic Army family. Living all over the US I was constantly seeking community and found diaspora Latinx and Puerto Ricans everywhere I had moved to. My art is an ode to the diaspora that often feels left out and longing for connection to their home. Read more>>

Krista Cornell

Hello! I am Krista aka KK. If you know me, you know I love being festive. Even when my friends come over for lunch, you can guarantee I will have decorations up to make it festive and fun. One day, scrolling on Instagram, I saw these pop-up picnics and thought, “Hey! That’s cool, I can do that.” One week later, I had all social media pages up, created a website, printed business cards, and was setting up mock picnics for content. This is a passion for me that brings me great joy when I can give people a moment of happiness in their life. That is why I called my business, “Mini Moments”. Though they are mini, they are precious moments to cherish for years to come. I am a true believer of treating yourself and living for today, you do not know what tomorrow holds and you should experience all life has to offer RIGHT NOW. I did not want to commit to just “picnics” either, I love throwing all sorts of events from baby showers, bridal showers, birthdays, anniversaries, proposals, and more! These are the {mini} moments that make life worth living! Read more>>

Leila Bedoian

Adam and I grew up in the hospitality industry and went on to work in corporate hotels as careers. We met at a hotel conference for the management company we worked for, and the rest is history! We wanted to invest our savings into something, and when we saw this 21 room 50’s motel up for sale in our very own city, we HAD to have it. Due to the pandemic, we had a hard time getting the loan approval, but after about eight months, we were able to get to the closing table.  We closed the hotel and started making improvements. We knew we wanted to bring back the retro Florida vibes lost over the years and make technology updates. We didn’t want to run it like a traditional roadside motel but design a modern experience. We partnered with tech-forward vendors to create a digital experience. With the help of a company called Virdee, we were able to develop a contactless check-in process. You book online, download the Virdee app, complete a couple of requirements and then get access to your digital key! It’s literally as easy as 1, 2, 3.  Read more>>

Anne Yarbrough

I went to school at UGA for photography, it was a fine art degree program focused more on documentary-style photography. I loved it, and we were shooting only film at the time (before digital). Fast forward after graduating with my degree… I worked at a high-end portrait studio in Athens, Ga, and always had a feeling I wanted to start my own thing – or do things my own way. Also, I wasn’t ever crazy about posing people… but learning that aspect and getting out of my comfort zone taught me the skills I use with portraiture today. The experience there was great, I remembered he used a squeaky toy at just the right moment to get the dog’s attention in family shots… and he was sharp at capturing the exact right timing for his subjects’ expressions for the final wall portrait selection. He knew exactly when the child had the right glow and expression, and when to capture the smile so it wasn’t too huge, watching for the nervous white knuckles, all the details in flattering people in the best way. I learned so much from those 6 years of assisting him and also shooting as his 2nd photographer. Read more>>

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