Our Rising Stars

By Hannah Wallace June 30, 2007

For the second year in a row, we’re showcasing 25 extraordinary men and women who are changing the way this region does business. We call them our People to Watch, which seems the perfect title for individuals whose ideas and work we’ll be following for years to come. Ironically, though, our winners aren’t quite comfortable being “watched.” Far from being attention-seeking, power-hungry wannabes, these people tend not to send press releases about their accomplishments or pitch story ideas about themselves or their companies. Each one seemed shocked about being named a person to watch when we contacted them.

So how did we find out about them? We asked for nominations in our March issue and our readers enthusiastically responded online and by fax, phone and e-mail. Then we called community power brokers for their input. Finally, an editorial panel of judges sifted through the nominations for days to select the final 25, a group that represents a wide range of professions, including development, healthcare, technology, marketing, government and the nonprofit sector.

Aside from being a humble lot, our People to Watch share a knack for being ahead of the curve and having the passion to improve whatever it is they do. Take winner DeWanda Smith-Soeder, a dynamic woman whose creation of the Black Business Professionals Network now seems like such an obvious group to pull together that it gives the impression of being deceptively simple. Simple? Sure, once someone like Smith-Soeder steps back, senses a community need and finds a solution.

Then there’s newly elected Sarasota City Commissioner Kelly Kirschner (see his interview with our state legislators Mike Bennett and Keith Fitzgerald, in this issue ), whose outrage over not being heard in city government led him to organize a neighborhood protest and run for office. Passionate? Absolutely. An ability to predict sentiments and capitalize on them? He won with 73 percent of the vote in his district and was elected vice-mayor. Where will he take the city? We’ll be watching.         

>>We also hope you’ll be viewing our new Web site daily at  In addition to articles from each issue of Biz941, you’ll find current news feeds from local and national sources, our Businessperson of the Week, a monthly calendar where you can post your business events, and blogs. We’re happy to feature Kim Hackett’s blog on city issues, called City Beat, and thrilled that Sarasota entrepreneur Dan Miller will be writing a blog on all things technology called Tech Talk. We want your feedback and comments, so log on!

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