Looking for inspiration for that next big venture? Top execs reveal some of their game-changing moments in "Aha!"

By Lori Johnston February 3, 2015

By Lori Johnston

Photography by Matt Holler

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“Aha” moments pave the way for success, but exactly what turns on that light bulb? We asked seven individuals in the creative, technology, retail, arts and other sectors about insights that changed or improved the way they did business.

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Leisa Weintraub is vice president of marketing and creative director for Neal Communities, which has built more than 10,000 homes in Southwest Florida since 1970.

“When we were working on Central Park at Lakewood Ranch, I was looking for ideas to promote the community and to tie in with our company’s philosophy for charitable giving. I had a meeting one day in 2010 with a media partner. She said, ‘We do a lot of online contests.’ I said, ‘Contest!’ We contacted eight charities. Each one created a park bench, which was permanently installed in Central Park. Then we invited people to vote on their favorite bench. We donated $1,000 to the charity that won the most votes. We had 56,000 votes.” [The Manatee Chamber of Commerce won.]

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Greg Twarowski is the founder and owner of three America’s Super Pawn stores and Carats Fine Jewelry and Watches.

"I expanded on my pawn shop business by opening a beautiful jewelry store, Carats. I realized I had to be different than other jewelers. My ‘aha’ moment was partnering with designers who don’t have a local presence. Since I got Hearts on Fire [a Boston-based, luxury-branded diamond company offering premium bridal and fashion jewelry] in October 2014, I have sold a number of pieces ranging from $2,500 to $22,500. It really comes down to uniqueness and quality.”

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Sara Hand is co-founder of the entrepreneurial incubator, Bradenton Innovation Center, and co-founder of Spark Growth, a consulting firm offering social media and digital strategy for businesses.

“One of my biggest ‘aha’ moments is the first time I saw a company pitched to an investor in Tampa in 2007. [The presenters] threw up on investors for about an hour and a half. I realized that these investors weren’t the right prospects for them. For some reason, entrepreneurs think that anybody who has money is a prospect. I began to think about how I could help entrepreneurs find their prospects whether they’re looking for customers or an investment. That need would become part of what Spark Growth does.

“Then, in 2009, I went to my first Florida Venture Forum conference [a statewide organization that helps entrepreneurs obtain funding through education, strategic partnering and effective networking]. Soon after, I joined a group of local people for lunch, who began a conversation about an incubator for entrepreneurs. That became the Bradenton Innovation Center.”

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Peter Simonson is the president of Juvent, which makes motion therapy devices that look like a large bathroom scale, to improve musculoskeletal health, promote balance and lessen pain. Simonson also invented Medtronic’s patented unique spinal implant system, TSRH-3D, which, with $1 billion-plus in sales, is used in more than 30 countries.

“With Juvent, our [Peter and his brother, Juvent’s CEO Rush Simonson] ‘aha’ moment was with our mother. This technology was originally developed by Jack Ryaby [a medical device pioneer and expert in bone healing, now deceased], and it was validated for the treatment of osteoporosis. When we were evaluating the technology [to determine if we should purchase the company], my mother had a debilitating reoccurrence of a two-year-old pelvic fracture that had never fully healed. The pain was unbearable. My mom went from a vibrant 78-year-old woman to a bedridden cripple who was only up for two hours a day. We put her on the Juvent in her home in Florida. Within about two weeks she was up with no cane and no pain. We couldn’t believe it.

“We bought the assets of the company three years ago out of bankruptcy. Now Juvent is a part of people’s lives, including professional athletes. We have the top PGA and LPA players in the world (through a relationship with golf instructor David Leadbetter), the world’s top doubles tennis player [Mike Bryan] and top football players (such as retired NFL player Ray Lewis and NFL center Eric Wood) using Juvent.”

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Steven High is the executive director of The Ringling, the state art museum of Florida, which includes the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the Ringling mansion, Cà d’Zan, and the Circus Museum.

“In coming here and interviewing in 2011, I saw that the entire grounds were covered with cars. One of the major experiences of the institution was being turned into a parking lot. The other issue I noticed was all these negative signs saying, ‘Don’t walk there,’ ‘Don’t use this door.’ The museum was setting up barriers to people having access and enjoyment out of the experience. I really wanted to get us to think differently about how we were engaging with our community. I brought a focus on the visitor experience institution-wide, from when they drive their car to the parking lot to when they walk in the door to the experience throughout the estate.

“We also hired a director of visitor experience. He manages visitor services as people come to the museum, but also looks more broadly at all those engagements that a visitor has here. We recently were ranked by TripAdvisor in the top 25 of 25,000 museums in the United States for the visitor experience.”

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LeeAnne Swor, owner, L. Boutique and L. Spa, the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce’s 2014 Retail Business of the Year, opened her store in 2004. L. Boutique sells contemporary women’s fashion.

“In November 2003 I visited my brother, Mike, in Sarasota. I packed jeans, sweaters and boots since I was living in Atlanta running my store, L’Asia, where the weather was cool. When I arrived here, the weather was 85 degrees. I went to the mall to buy an outfit for Thanksgiving Day as we were planning to eat outside. Many of the mall stores were stocked with fall and holiday merchandise, but did not have ‘Florida Fall,’ as I like to call it, clothes that were appropriate for 85 degrees. That was my ‘aha’ moment. I [realized] I could open another boutique in Sarasota that provided ‘buy-now, wear-now’ clothes for locals. I fell in love with the Burns Court neighborhood and in four days found a building to lease, a manager, a small house and a babysitter. The rest is my L. history.”

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Mark Famiglio is the CEO/founder of Cambryn Biologicsa company that develops and manufactures biologic products for the treatment of blood clotting deficiencies, wound healing and other blood-related issues. He’s also the director of Copytalk, which handles secure transcription to financial services professionals.

“The ‘aha’ moment that led to the development of the Copytalk patent occurred when I was about 39,000 feet up in the sky. I was flying with my friend and partner, Norm Worthington. We had another guest with us, [R.E.M.] musician Michael Stipe. One of the things that bugged him was not being able to take contemporaneous notes while he was writing music. In 45 minutes, the conversation translated itself into a patentable product, Copytalk. We do voice-to-text and voice-to-data voice recognition.

“I owned a medical transcription company at the time. We adapted the software we had for medical transcription for mobile usage in order to be able to record documents, ideas and ‘aha’ moments as they occurred. Copytalk, founded in 2001, is growing [it’s used by more than 50,000 financial services professionals, as well as sales executives, journalists, musicians and others, at subscriptions ranging from $65-$79 a month] and makes a lot of money.” ■

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