All eyes are on Johnette Isham, 57, as she uses her legendary drive to launch Realize Bradenton, a nonprofit that’s bent on enhancing business, tourism, the arts, culture and citizen involvement in downtown Bradenton. It’s an ambitious undertaking, but with the promise of $2.5 million over the next seven years from the Knight Foundation, Isham, its executive director, has been nonstop in generating ideas and finding partners. Visitors and residents can already see visible signs—like the new interactive Discovery Stops along the Manatee Riverwalk, which provide site-specific information on history, environment and the night sky (answers to questions on the signs are available through your cell phone). Some downtown Sarasota boosters are downright envious about the energy and focus Isham and her funds are bringing to Bradenton. "There’s a buzz," she admits.
Enthusiastic California transplant Bradley Battersby, 55, the new director of Ringling College of Art and Design’s digital film program, entered Sarasota last year, already in the spotlight. A director of several feature films as well as commercials and episodic television, Battersby wants to shape Ringling’s nascent film program "into a truly great, renowned film school one day," he says. The program’s new Studio Lab series is bringing filmmakers, including Werner Herzog, to Sarasota as guest artists, in the process exposing them to the region’s potential for filmmakers. Battersby says Sarasota’s pluses—its scenic freshness, affordable living costs for crew members and ease of getting around—make it ripe for moviemaking. While we still don’t have a soundstage here, he adds, "There are warehouses from Lakewood Ranch to the city of Sarasota that can be repurposed. We should start with lower-budget films, anyway"—utilizing Ringling students and grads, of course.
Talk about the mother of invention! Longtime fitness instructor Kristen Horler, 36, founded Baby Boot Camp in 2001 in San Francisco after giving birth and deciding to lose some post-pregnancy weight. She put her daughter in a stroller, "grabbed three other moms and went to the park," where she devised ways for moms to work out while pushing their strollers. Named the Fastest Growing Franchise in 2009 by Entrepreneur magazine, Baby Boot Camp now has more than 140 franchisees, including one in Sarasota, where Horler and her husband and two children moved because of Florida’s entrepreneur-friendly environment. Horler now spends most of her time shepherding the company’s growth, including promoting her new book, Baby Boot Camp: The New Mom’s 9-Minute Fitness Solution, and the acquisition of competitor StrollerFit, Inc. in May. "Our expectation is that by the end of the year, we will double our revenue," she says.
Only a couple of months into his position as vice president and general manager of WWSB ABC7, Jeffrey Whitson, 49, is getting a pretty clear picture of the community—thanks in part to the research he did before coming here from his previous job with network affiliates in Jacksonville. He sees opportunity, not challenge, in making sure viewers tune in at a time when many stations face declining ratings. "My job is to make sure everyone—news, marketing, sales, community service—have what they need to do that," he says. Whitson plans to give "a fair amount" of his attention to the news, so that the "right kinds of stories are told on a more consistent basis every day. I never take for granted that you’re going to take 30 minutes of your time to watch us."
Old is suddenly new in Sarasota County, and that’s because reflective, quiet Tim Dutton is building excitement for the idea that there’s gold in our gray hairs. Dutton, 58, heads up SCOPE, a think tank for making Sarasota a better place, and his latest brainstorm is creating an "Institute for the Ages." Former head of a Haitian hospital, Dutton is devoted to diversity and inclusion, and gobbles up sociological analyses and philosophical tomes as if they were romance novels. He’s convinced our position as the country’s oldest large county—recently mocked when Betty White hosted Saturday Night Live—is actually a strength. We’re "a petri dish" of issues, trends and products for an aging nation, he says. The Institute would attract researchers, scientists and entrepreneurs, making us a hotbed of new ideas and products, and that would spur economic growth. Recession-weary locals have grabbed at the idea, and Dutton has recruited an impressive national advisory board and hopes to see the Institute launched by year-end.
Architect Jack Meredith, a Massachusetts native, moved to Manatee County five years ago to work for the prominent Sarasota firm ADP (Architecture Design and Planning Group). When ADP fell victim to the real estate slowdown last year, Meredith, 42, started his own architectural firm, Design Aesthetics, in the Rosemary District; he also joined the design review committee for the Newtown Storefront Grant Program, convinced it could inject new life into a neglected neighborhood. A meeting junkie, he is involving city officials and others in the process. He maintains that exposure has been good for his business, too: Design Aesthetics is involved in a number of new local projects—notably the rebuilding of Booker High School, for which Meredith has partnered with other architects as a designer and community liaison. "I feel totally blessed," he says. "All that networking and helping people is really paying off."
When the Sarasota Scullers rowing club approached Benderson Development in 2006 about turning Nathan Benderson Park’s rowing facility into an international course, project manager Paul Blackketter, 43, admits he didn’t immediately grasp its potential. At the time the course was used for high school races, but Blackketter discovered that lengthening it to the international standard of 2,000 meters would make it one of only five such courses in the U.S., qualifying it for high-profile college and professional competitions and potentially bringing 200,000 visitors and $40 million a year to the region. After traveling the country and Europe to scout top courses and then selling the idea to local businesspeople and government, Blackketter has become the goodwill ambassador of local rowing. Lengthening the course has received almost unanimous community support—rare in Sarasota—and Blackketter emphasizes residents’ pride in the project. "First and foremost it’s a community park," he says.
Peter and Adam Bartolotta
Father and son Peter Bartolotta, 63, and Adam, 32, are bringing the vision thing to South County. The gregarious Peter is a co-founder of Vision North Port, which partners with businesses and nonprofits to attract new talent, innovative ideas and young residents to Sarasota County’s largest city. A former corporate troubleshooter in New York and New Jersey, Peter settled in North Port in 1993 and began publishing "a monthly good news magazine" before founding Vision North Port. Adam, CEO of ROI Media, rivals his dad for energy. He serves on several boards, including the North Port Area Chamber of Commerce, offers marketing direction to a staggering number of local businesses, and has won awards in publishing, entrepreneurship and Web design. Adam is helping create North Port’s Strategic Marketing Plan and, like Peter, is passionate about seeing locals engaged in the business community. He admits to learning about business from his dad, but quickly adds, "I think I’ve taught him
a few things, too."
As a young actor, Joey Panek, now 32, prophetically starred in a touring production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. He still performs onstage, but his biggest role is as director of interactive media for the networking group localsocial. Launched by the HuB team in January, the group aims to harness the power of Facebook and Twitter for clients. They produce one-of-a-kind online content, much of it lighthearted video starring the energetic, personable Panek, and blast it out to fans for customers such as the Sarasota Arts Council and Mote Aquarium. Panek has played roles as diverse as The Art Whisperer, who profiles local arts groups using punchy humor, and an adorable Santa’s elf for This Week in Sarasota Inc. in a campaign promoting downtown Sarasota. "I still hear about the Sarasota Elf. Yesterday a stranger hugged me," he says.
State College of Florida Collegiate School (SCFCS) will be the nation’s first college-operated charter school with middle school students on campus (it will educate students in grades six through 12), and Linda Benware intends to make it a national model in other ways, too. Benware, former principal of nationally recognized St. Petersburg Collegiate High School, says SCFCS is taking an innovative approach to the curriculum, allowing students to receive an associate degree along with their high school diploma. About 65 percent of the 130 sixth and seventh graders who start this fall are coming from homes where neither parent attended college. Benware wants each student to have free access to cutting-edge technology, including Apple iPads. But beyond the nuts and bolts of creating a school, she is most concerned with getting kids to "internalize this desire for more education—it really does transform them. I can’t quite explain the magic, but I have seen it," she says.
Steven and Yelitza Staley
For Steven and Yelitza Staley, 29 and 31 years old, beating the recession is as easy as tying a pair of cleats. Less than a year after founding SoCo Sports, their mix of sweat and socialization has proven to be a popular new way for young professionals to network. Last summer SoCo Sports ran four recreational adult sports leagues. Now there are 16, and the organization connects more than 1,000 men and women between the ages of 21 and 31 with activities including softball, soccer, kickball and cornhole, a beanbag toss competition. Steven says running a huge sports and social club in Chicago taught him that networking on the sports field works. "It’s a proven concept, a legitimate business model, and it’s fun and exciting, so we knew we would be successful," he says. And he predicts their winning model will score more growth in its second year.
New College of Florida physics professor Mariana Sendova just won the largest federal grant in the history of the college, $1.7 million from the U.S. Department of the Army. The grant will fund nanotechnology research, done on what she describes as a "billionth of a meter" scale. Nanotechnology, the field of miniaturization, is the science behind today’s most advanced and compact electronics—including, she says, "getting more memory in a smaller flash drive." Like much of her previous work, the project will be done in conjunction with top members of the international scientific community. Sendova, 49, also teaches seminars and organizes conferences at the school, and she’s done some local research as well. She recently concluded a study with the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, identifying the pigments that give 1,000-year-old masterpieces their color.
Randy Langley and David Siegal
Randy Langley and David Siegal are betting they will emerge as the new developers of The Colony Beach & Tennis Resort. The landmark vacation destination, started by Murf Klauber in 1973 and run by his daughter Katie Klauber Moulton for decades, has been mired in court battles with the unit owners for years, and has suffered a sad decline from its glory days as the No. 1 tennis resort in the nation. But Langley, 43, who owns Cedars Tennis & Fitness Club on Longboat, and Siegal, 59, who still commutes to New York to practice law, believe The Colony can again shine. They purchased Murf Klauber’s mortgages from Bank of America and are trying to raise the up to $20 million they’ll need to rehabilitate the property. It’s a huge risk that could have huge payoffs for them, the condominium unit owners and the community. Insists Siegal: "It’ll be an absolute jewel when we’re done there."
When Annie Eng was a 16-year-old in Malaysia, she read about the power of tongkat ali—a Malay plant known for its anti-aging and aphrodisiac properties—and thought it had global reach. She shelved this thought while finishing her accounting and finance degree at the University of Wisconsin and working as a stockbroker, but the idea resurfaced. Today, Eng, 38, is CEO and president of Bradenton-based HP Ingredients, an herbal health company she founded in 2001. HP markets and distributes tongkat ali (patented as LJ100) and 200 other botanical extracts as part of the growing nutraceutical industry. Eng, who has operations in Asia, Europe and South America, employs eight people, had $2.5 million in revenues last year and expects to make $4 million in 2010. Her goal is $50 million in five years and 100 employees. "I learn as I go," says Eng. "It’s a lot of work, a lot of work."
MercadeoGlobal CEO Alvaro Mendoza, 44, who recently won the national Best Speaker Award from the Association of Hispanic Speakers, just moved to Lakewood Ranch from St. Petersburg. Described by Sarasota’s Luis Baron, a leading Hispanic publisher, as the world’s top Hispanic Internet marketing guru, Mendoza teaches the Spanish-speaking business world—especially entrepreneurs and small business owners—about Internet commerce. He offers e-books and online courses and has an Internet marketing newsletter with 380,000 subscribers in 28 countries. A former psychologist from Colombia, he moved to this country in the late 1990s to avoid political unrest. The Internet was just starting to take off, and Mendoza took off with it. Sarasota’s GoogleFiber campaign, excellent schools and active Hispanic chamber of commerce drew him here. "I see the potential here for my growth," he says.
When marine biologist Stephen Barker worked in distance learning education at Mote, he developed a passion for multimedia. Today, Barker, 40, is the president of Digital Frontiers Media, founded in 2007, and is working on projects that, as his client Rob Brady of Robrady exclaims, “look like magic!” With nine subcontracted designers and programmers across the country, Barker’s company develops Web sites (Barker says Digital Frontiers is the only local company specializing in “freakishly brilliant” Drupal to build sites), interactive media and iPhone apps. He’s also working in cutting-edge augmented reality, which allows computers to project 3-D, computer-rendered images into the real world. (The U.S. Navy has used augmented reality to navigate ships through dense fog by projecting the image of coastline terrains.)This year Digital Frontiers Media has tripled its business. “It’s been crazy,” says Barker.
An entrepreneur who has owned restaurants, an oil and gas business, and a consulting company, Terry Miller, 61, moved to Sarasota from Rochester, N.Y., in July 2009 to escape the winters. He started hearing stories about local scandals like Art Nadel’s Ponzi scheme, unscrupulous real estate flipping and Chinese drywall. Taking a page from his hometown of Rochester, which has a business ethics foundation and contest, Miller formed the Sarasota Business Ethics Alliance in April 2010 and is organizing well-attended monthly speakers’ events with plans to launch a local contest and maybe a national conference on good business values. His goal is to put ethics front and center, and showcase all the strong, solid businesses in the region. "There are some great businesses here that should get recognition," he says.
Kent Kirschner and Janine Trainor
It’s a simple plan: Identify an emerging market and offer companies the best way to tap into it. For Kent Kirschner, 38, and his partner Janine Trainor, 42, both of whom have backgrounds in media sales, that meant recognizing the lack of digital media aimed at Latin American audiences. It’s a strategy that’s had big results. Since launching Media Maquiladora ("media factory" in English) in October, Kirschner and Trainor have become specialists in international online marketing and a dominant force in advertising for Hispanic audiences. The firm’s revenue totaled more than $850,000 in the first eight months and it employs 13 people in offices located in Sarasota and Mexico. Media Maquiladora recently formed a partnership with Traffiq, a free online media management platform. "We’re basically the Traffiq Latino division," Kirschner says. The partners are cautiously optimistic. "The world is transforming," he says. "We could be around three more months, or we could grow to $30 million in revenues in two years."
Judy Sedgeman, 67, USF Sarasota-Manatee’s new director at the Institute for Public Policy and Leadership, proves you can come home again. After starting her career as a journalist, including at the St. Petersburg Times, the versatile Sedgeman became active in Bradenton civic life and business, working in banking and founding a health management company. She then headed to Washington state to start a leadership training business before being becoming the founding director of the Sydney Banks Institute at West Virginia University Health Sciences Center. Today, the super-organized, round-the-clock (e-mails at all hours) Sedgeman wants IPPL to become a "thought leader" in the region. "There is a lot of new energy and innovation in this area and that’s the salvation of our future," she says. "Florida cannot rely on tourism and retirement." She adds that coming home has been wonderful: "I’ve reconnected with old friends and made new ones. And I already know where the dry cleaners are."
Victor Young challenged conventional wisdom and the recession in June 2009, when he opened his Lamborghini Sarasota dealership on Clark Road. To date, he has met his goal, selling five cars that average between $200,000 and $1.5 million for a total of $1.2 million. His clients are usually the super-successful who view the iconic sports car as a reward for a job well done, and Young says, "There is still a lot of money out there." Already the owner of a BMW dealership and currently building a Mini Cooper dealership in Tampa, Young, 39, is accustomed to hard work. At 8, he started with his father, a landscaper, and was estimating jobs at 13. He’d like his Victor Young Enterprises to grow to the point where he can spend time with his wife and three daughters, but as a self-described workaholic, who is also involved in many local charitable causes, Young confesses he has a hard time just having fun.
Cuban-born Alina Mugford, 56, moved here seven years ago, after working in corporate marketing in Venezuela. She soon noticed how few certified translators the region had and in 2007, started The Translation Link, which provides native speakers in multiple languages as translators, interpreters and editors to local, national and international businesses, nonprofits and government. Her little start-up quickly took wing, and this spring she beat out a large pool of national applicants to win SCORE’s top national award for Outstanding Small Business Launch by an Individual Age 50+. Her business "showed superior qualities of entrepreneurship, integrity and community engagement," said SCORE executive director Mark Dobosz. Mugford is expanding to include marketing and cultural advice to businesses that want to enter the growing Latin market. "When I first moved here, there were very few people speaking Spanish. Not anymore," she says.