Meet the Creatives

Photography by William S. Speer By Molly Sinclair McCourtney January 31, 2010


Creative: Rob Brady

Company description: Founded in 1990, Robrady is a multidisciplinary team of designers, engineers, prototypers, sales, marketing and business development people whose focus, according to its Web site, is on “bringing the right product to the right market at the right price.” Key markets include consumer, electronic, transportation, marine, medical and graphic products, says CEO Robert Brady, 46, whose 50 employees create award-winning products including the Vectrix electric Superbike and VX-1 maxi-scooter, the Segway Human Transporter, breath-based therapeutic drug monitoring systems for Xhale Corporation, a SEMA show car for Mercedes-Benz, and several folding electric bikes premiering to the world in 2010.

Why are you based here?

I found it a great place to live and a great place to raise a family.

What gets your creative juices going? Collaboration. We work with people all over the world, and in doing so reach innovative solutions that would not have been possible otherwise.

Your company in five years? Impossible to tell. I can say we’re planning on it and working on it every day. We see Robrady as a creative and business-minded engine. We develop world-class products for our clients and lucrative ventures for our investors. We are targeting initiatives that are close in and that are 12 to 24 months away, so when I’m asked about our plans beyond that I don’t know what to say. I’m burning it at 25/8/366 with every day’s agenda in hope that tomorrow is a better day, attracts a better opportunity and delivers a better result.

What inspires you? Seeing my team work beyond me. Working closely with people who do not know our language or culture but have a common bond through art and excellent products, and helping students of all ages—it reminds me of the distance I’ve traveled.

Biggest influences? Successful businesspeople. Steve Jobs goes a long way with communicating to the world that design is a powerful weapon to have on your balance sheet. Also James Dyson, Bill Gates, Dean Kamen, Martha Stewart. Have you ever listened to her on CNBC? She’s incredibly smart and product-centric, too.

Ambitions for your company? Smarter, better, faster. 

Divine Imagery

Creative: Greg Baker

Company description: Divine Imagery uses cutting-edge materials and technology to sculpt characters and scenes of all sizes. The team consists of Baker, 46, his wife, April, a Hollywood make-up and special effects artist who also handles the books, and four subcontractors. They have produced—among many other unusual items—three-foot kangaroos for Outback Steakhouses, nine-foot-tall bronze sculptures of Henry Flagler for the Flagler Museum and a six-foot, seven-inch figure of a “Welcoming Christ” for a Christian academy in Texas.

How’d you get the idea for your company? As a youth, I wanted to be a magician. Then I got into music. I wanted to entertain people, and I do that now with all my sculptures.

What gets your creative juices going? I am constantly thinking of different ways to visually entertain someone.

Biggest opportunities in Sarasota-Manatee? This is an area that embraces the arts.

How can we attract more creative people here? We need more opportunities for people who are up-and-coming to display and sell their work. It is very expensive to get into a gallery here. We need more events and more venues, maybe a warehouse with space for artists to show their work.

What inspires you? Movies. Planet of the Apes, because of the sculpting and molding of the faces, and the Star Wars movies because of all the characters.

Illum Productions

Creatives: Jerry and Michelle Chambless

Company description: Founded by Jerry and Michelle Chambless in 2005, Illum Productions is an animation and visual effects studio specializing in commercials, films and spots. Illum also has a children’s division. Michelle, 41, runs the business side, while Jerry, 40, concentrates on the creative side. They have four full-time employees and up to 20 contractors. Working from their home-based office, they create five to 10 projects a year, ranging from 30-second spots up to feature-length films. An Illum animation sequence is featured in the recent Broadway musical, 9 to 5.

Why are you in Sarasota? The artistic community and Ringling College of Art and Design. We wanted to set up jobs here to utilize students in a contractor-intern capacity and, eventually, depending on our growth, open a full-time studio or set up a program that would utilize interns while they are in school. [And] we hated the weather in Chicago, where we worked a couple of years before coming here.

Biggest challenge here? There’s not a lot of local work. I still travel a lot to California, Chicago and New York to drum up business and work on-site.

What gets your creative juices going? Our passion for children: what stimulates them, excites them. There is something magical about animation and film that draws in children. We see it as a platform for helping children with disabilities, family issues, developmental issues. That’s why we have a children’s division working on an animation video to help children learn how to deal with their own issues.

How does this region compare to others? You can shoot outside year-round without worrying about seasonal changes. That can be a negative, however, if you need seasonal changes. In Chicago, if you are trying to shoot spring-like days, those are few and far between.

How can we attract more creatives? We need a film studio. It could create jobs for carpenters, tradesmen, music directors, producers, you name it. A studio would give us a confined area where you could set up lighting, sets—all different types of scenarios, like a midtown Main Street or a tropical forest or a music stage with lighting. Something like the old Sam’s Club that is now the convention center would work well.

BioLucid Productions

Creative: Jeff Hazelton

Company description: Hazelton, 39, founded his computer animation company in San Diego in 2001 to market pharmaceutical products and medical devices. He moved BioLucid to Sarasota in 2005. Using a blend of science, technology and art, Hazelton “uses all the tools that Hollywood uses” to create commercials and mini-movies that depict how a particular drug or device works in the body. One BioLucid-produced commercial now airing on television focuses on the asthma medicine Symbicort. Hazleton has a home office in south Manatee County and two contractors, one in Sarasota and one in San Diego. Examples of BioLucid animation and graphics

are on display in its art gallery at 1369 Main St. in Sarasota.

Why did you move your business to Manatee-Sarasota? It’s more affordable, Ringling College of Art and Design is here, and the lifestyle is nice.

Biggest challenge to doing business here? We work for 30 to 40 pharmaceutical companies, many in the Northeast, so I have to travel to see them. Another challenge is finding qualified animators. Ringling is great but the graduates typically go to big studios, so we don’t have as many as we would like.

What gets your creative juices going? I like to go to the conventions for movie producers, video gamers, people who work in special effects, to see all the technology that has been developed. I started as an artist who studied biology. So I’m interested in ways to reach out to people, create a new experience, whether it is with a faster computer or a new program.

What can be done to attract more creative people here? Creative people attract creative people.

Biggest influences? Some of my teachers at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., where I was a pre-med major. One teacher liked my artistic side and tried to bring that out. And the movie industry had a big effect on me.

The HuB

Creatives: Rich Swier Jr. and Matt Orr

Company description: Founded in March 2009 by entrepreneurs Rich Swier Jr., 37, and Matt Orr, 33, The HuB is located in a 2,500-square-foot warehouse in downtown Sarasota. Swier says The HuB’s mission is “to bring a new energy to the creative class in Sarasota.” The HuB is also a technology incubator, aimed at encouraging and funding new companies. Two companies started with HuB help are Fast Pitch, a social network for business professionals, and Inbox Alarm, an e-mail security company. HuB warehouse space and its photo studio can be rented for “anything from YouTube production to professional production,” Swier says.

Biggest challenges? The No. 1 challenge is financing. It cost us $5,000 to build our studio. No. 2 is the challenge of getting the city and merchants to think more creatively and to leverage technology. And No. 3 is the challenge of retaining and attracting young professional entrepreneurs.

Biggest opportunities? We have a tremendous amount of creative and innovative wealth. People who have been successful move to Sarasota, and they have wealth to invest in the community. We see the opportunity, as theeconomy improves, to leverage that wealth to do some cool things, to diversify and strengthen our local economy.

What does this region offer? A vibrant young culture and events that are art-based—music festivals, fund raisers, parties. Great venues like the bayfront, Ringling, the polo grounds. We have a social calendar, which is always attractive to entrepreneurs. Another aspect is the weather. Being able to walk on the beach, go out on a boat or golf is a huge pitch to entrepreneurs who work long and hard and have limited time for a social life. Plus we have a small-town eclectic lifestyle. We aren’t trying to be the next Silicon Valley, but we are trying to be the best Sarasota we can be.

How can we attract more creatives? Tell the story. You have to sell it, and we don’t do a good job of that. We have a visitors and tourist bureau, a chamber of commerce and they sell what they need to sell, but we also need someone to sell this region as a place to start your new business. Put together the story and sell it.

The HuB in five years? The vision is that we become the epicenter of creativity and innovation, show the community we can create high-value companies and high-value jobs but also affect the social and political side of the community as well as the economy.

R&R Associates

Creative: Leo Riza

Company description: Founded in 2007 in Sarasota, R&R Associates is a product design and engineering company developing a range of products, including therapy bikes and other medical equipment, consumer electronics and military gear. “We take the product all the way from the beginning design to the end,” says founder and CEO Leo Riza, 37. At present, the end means the point of manufacturing, which may be done in China, Taiwan or India. Riza is now looking at two locations in Sarasota where he can open a manufacturing plant to turn out products here rather than overseas. He says his staff of six employees will expand to 10 within six months.

What brought you here? I came to the U.S. from Turkey in 2001 with $70 in my pocket. But I also came with a huge portfolio because of my background in designing lots of products for huge brands. I came here to succeed; I didn’t come here to joke around. Within the first month of arriving in Massachusetts, I had a job with a company in New Jersey. In 2005, I took a job with an individual in Sarasota. I left him in 2007 to start my own company. I am in love with Sarasota. It is untouched, beautiful. I am on vacation here and working and making money at the same time.

Biggest challenge here: Finding young engineers and designers.

How does this region compare to others? The disadvantage is that Sarasota is far from everything. When you talk about design companies, the main hubs are New York, Chicago and San Francisco.  But not a lot of people know about Sarasota. My goal is to change this. The advantage of Sarasota is that it is an undiscovered region where I can be a pioneer to create something and make an impact on the economy.

How can we attract more creatives? Make me succeed. And bring in a design university or some kind of college with programs in industrial design. Ringling has creative arts and animators but not industrial design.

Biggest influences? My parents. My dad is a professor in educational technology and my Mom is a professor in social psychology in Izmir, Turkey, not far from the preserved classical city of Ephesus. ■

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