We are proud to recognize this year’s 35 Under 35 Honorees. These young professionals strive to improve and strengthen our community through their innovation, philanthropy and entrepreneurship. Not only are these exceptional individuals influencing the community through their professional endeavors, but they are also inspiring the next generation of leaders who will soon follow in their footsteps. Produced by SRQ MEDIA | Photos  by Wyatt Kostygan, Wes Roberts | Competition Produced by Megan Mitchell

Becky Abraham 

Manager of Special Events & Donor Engagement, All Faiths Food Bank

Share a recent achievement for which you are the most proud. I am proud of successfully managing the return of All Faiths Food Bank’s signature events. After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, we welcomed back our four popular events that raise money to provide food and assistance for those facing hunger in Sarasota and Desoto counties. Despite Hurricane Ian directly hitting Southwest Florida only days before our first event and All Faiths Food Bank jumping into action to provide food and support to those affected by the hurricane, our event season was a huge success, raising more than $500,000 that will benefit our neighbors. Seeing the smiles on our guests’ faces during these events and knowing the substantial impact these funds will have on our neighbors is what makes me most proud of this accomplishment.

What is your top professional goal? My top professional goal is to become an executive director of a nonprofit organization. With a proven track record as a fundraiser and event planner, I hope to unite communities, catalyze change and leave a lasting, meaningful impact in the nonprofit sector.

What are your favorite ways to unwind over the weekend? Outside of work, I unwind with a good book, attend church, binge-watch Netflix and occasionally walk along the beach.

What is your favorite dish to order for delivery? My go-to dish is always Indian food, specifically Matar Paneer, Paneer Butter Masala and samosas. The hotter the better! 

Evan Ackerman

Associate Director of Communications, Children First

Share a recent achievement for which you are the most proud. I had the opportunity to work directly with a parent whose child was enrolled in our program at Children First. She was the keynote speaker for our biggest fundraising event of the year. I worked with the parent to learn her story and translate it into a speech that showcased how Children First and our Head Start program have changed the trajectory of her life, and that of her family.  It was Head Start’s “birthday” as a federal program, and I shared the parent’s story on our Facebook page while tagging the National Head Start Association (NHSA). Two months later,  a representative from the NHSA reached out asking if she wanted to share her story on the national stage. She was invited to serve as the keynote speaker in a room of 800 people at the National Head Start Association’s annual Parent and Family Engagement Conference, which took place in Dallas, Texas, this past December.

What mistake in your career taught you the biggest lesson? Not learning how to say “no.” Setting boundaries is incredibly important for not only the quality of your work as an individual employee, but is also critical to the longevity and success of the team you work within. Realizing where you need to step in and when it’s okay to step back is the most valuable skill I continue to learn in my professional career.

What’s your favorite podcast? National Park After Dark or the Prosecutors Podcast.

Share something you did this past year to balance your work and personal lives. I decided to be more mindful and set boundaries in all non-work hours throughout the day. This means choosing 30 minutes of meditation, reading a book of choice or listening to music before “plugging in” to the news, social media and anything work- related when I start my day. This has led me to trying out every dog-friendly park and walking trail in Sarasota County and now I am working my way through Charlotte and Manatee counties!

When things get tough, I just remember  if it’s not okay, it’s not the end.

Kenneth Antonetti

Doctor/Owner, Spine Well Chiropractic 

Share a recent achievement for which you are most proud. Opening my own clinic here in Sarasota. It has been both a challenging and immensely rewarding experience that has allowed me to give so much back to the community.

What mistake in your career taught you the biggest lesson? Not having a cohesive vision for a team. When a group is not on the same purpose, differences in direction can easily pull a team apart.

What is the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done? One day while looking at my laptop screensaver that showed a picture of a beach, I decided I would book a trip and take my own photo of this beach. The beach was in Thailand and it took me an entire month of island hopping to find it, but I finally did and it was even more surreal than I could have ever imagined.

When things get tough, I just remember …  this is when most people stop and this is why they don’t win. It’s a quote I heard on Chris Williamsons’ Modern Wisdom Podcast.

Mallory Bauer, Esq.

Partner/Attorney, Berlin Patten Ebling, PLLC

Share a recent achievement for which you are most proud. In January 2023, I became a shareholder/partner of Berlin Patten Ebling. I am incredibly proud of this accomplishment and am thrilled to be a part of this firm.

What mistake in your career taught you the biggest lesson? Not knowing when to say “no.” In law school, we are taught to never say “no” in our legal careers and expect to work 10-12 hours a day. Being a woman in the legal field, expectations always felt elevated-I always felt like I had to say “yes” to prove myself. Always saying “yes” leads to burnout and the constant feeling of being overwhelmed. I quickly learned that I cannot say “yes” to everything and it is perfectly acceptable to say “no.” Now, I manage expectations by under promising and over delivering. 

What are your top three items on your bucket list?  Complete a stand-up comedy class and perform for an audience. Retire young so I can travel the world with my husband. Go to the Super Bowl.

Share something you did this past year to balance your work and personal lives. I recently started using the “Do Not Disturb” function on my iPhone from 9pm to 8am. I am constantly receiving emails, texts or phone calls after hours. If you don’t prioritize time management, it is easy to get burnt out and stressed. Putting my phone on “Do Not Disturb” allows me time to wind down at night, read my book and relax with my husband and dog. It has been a game changer!

What are your favorite ways to unwind over the weekend? Seeing the newest movie at the Lakewood Ranch Movie Theatre, reading a thriller book, spending time outside with my husband and dog, watching the Buffalo Bills during football season and exercising!

When things get tough, I just remember  how hard I worked to get here. Nothing worth having comes easy.

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan

Teylor Bouchard

Chef, Hamlet’s Eatery

Share a recent achievement for which you are most proud. I was recognized as one of the Best Chef’s in SRQ Best of Local Competition while at Hamlet’s Eatery. Hamlet’s Eatery was also recognized as “Best Local Vegan,” which as a vegan, is very meaningful and says a lot because Hamlet’s Eatery menu consists of only half vegan options.

How did you make your start in your profession? I loved watching Rachel Ray’s show 30 Minute Meals—it inspired me to be a chef. In high school, I took culinary opps and my teacher was the one who encouraged me to go to culinary school.

What mistake in your career taught you the biggest lesson? Giving up on my granola business. The product was loved universally but I ran out of money, patience and time. In hindsight, I should have been more fortuitous in my approach.

What is your top professional goal? To own my own restaurant one day and be featured on a Guy Fieri cooking show.

Share something you did in the past year to balance your work and personal lives. I started a fitness journey this year. Not only does it include running with my husband, but we are taking ice baths for cold therapy.

What is your formula for success? Now in my thirties, I’m realizing that a clear vision, fortitude, passion and self-belief are crucial to achieving success. 

What is your favorite podcast or Youtube channel? High Carb Hannah has inspired me over the years and I love her YouTube channel. She primarily focuses on healthy, plant-based food.

Kelly Carlstein

Vice President of Brand Strategy, Gulf Coast Community Foundation

Share a recent achievement for which you are the most proud. At Gulf Coast we believe our team is our brand. After a successful brand evolution we knew the next step was to empower our team to confidently represent our brand through a Brand Story Playbook. A tool designed to educate and empower the reader to understand our brand from voice, to logo, to graphics, to emotions. We successfully rolled out this new “tool in our toolbox.” I recently welcomed a new teammate to our team who worked on this project, not only completing it in her first 60 days, but exceeding all expectations for the project. Seeing her find passion and excitement in her work and knowing that I can be there to continue to support that fire was an extremely proud moment.

What mistake in your career taught you the biggest lesson? A wise mentor once told me, never let your wings be clipped. We need to be able to be set free to explore, fail and succeed. I found myself in a role that was not allowing my wings of creativity to fly-but it was a well known company in a highly sought after industry. I turned down many job offers while working at this role because I found myself focused on the perception of having the role over my own growth and development. I wouldn’t call any career decision a mistake-only a chapter in my professional journey. This chapter taught me that putting my growth and development first and finding a role where I am supported and encouraged to “fly” is above all else the priority.

If you could dedicate your life to solving one problem, what problem would you choose? Quality and affordable childcare in the U.S. It is an unbelievable cost burden–at times the first or second most expensive obligation for a family each month. It’s not only critical for a child’s development, but it also ensures a successful working society. I couldn’t do what I do, have the impact on our community and learn and grow myself without the childcare I have been lucky to find. I want that for every single working family. 

What is your formula for success? Listen, pause, react. In this busy world we live in it’s often easy to get caught up in the fast paced nature of decision making. Taking a moment to pause before you react and before you decide can help you to ensure you have the right frame of mind and details to make the best decision to lead you to a successful outcome. This can be tough for us millennials. I resigned and flipped my life upside down. 

Share something you did this past year to balance your work and personal lives. Creating boundaries can be difficult—especially when you are a Type A and always on-the-go. I have a sweet 4-year-old and a baby girl on the way, so this past year, creating balance was not only something I wanted to do, I needed to do it. The best way I found to do this is making daily promises to myself. Today, I will not access email after my son gets home. Today, I will leave my laptop in the car until the morning so I can focus on my family. Today, I will go into the office early so that I can pick up my son from school and get him an ice cream treat. Balance can look different every day—it’s about finding the balance that allows you to be your best self. 

Share with us a current topic or trend that you are concerned about at the local level. As a mother, I am all too familiar with the exorbitant costs of childcare. Childcare is my second most expensive monthly cost, next to housing, and I need to secure my spot at a facility nearly one year in advance of needing the service. I know that I am surrounded in the community by mothers and families who are not in that same position. Childcare is a basic need. If we want to work, we need childcare. If we want to eat, we need to work. I’m concerned for our workforce, for working mothers considering moving to our region that the lack of affordable and quality childcare would be a barrier to their goals. 

Hunter Carpenter

Public Relations Manager, First Watch

Share a recent achievement for which you are most proud. As the first Community Liaison Director of the Central West Coast Chapter of the Florida Public Relations Association, I’ve had the privilege of guiding the creation of our inaugural pro-bono program–“Mission Mavericks: Fly Far with PR.” Think PR with a purpose. Combining our chapter’s spirit of volunteerism with our drive to advance our profession, the program aims to make a positive impact in our community while showcasing the value that PR can offer local causes. After a year of strategic planning and pressure testing, we officially launched the program this fall and received more than 30 applications from local organizations. As the program enters its execution phase, I look forward to serving as the project lead to help local causes fly far with PR, with the hope others will be inspired to join in on the journey. 

What mistake in your career taught you the biggest lesson? Don’t be afraid to change your narrative to turn a negative into a positive. Sometimes, life gives you gifts and it’s up to you to recognize them as such. There’s something to being grateful about how far you’ve come and being confident that you’ve chosen the best path for you and now are stronger because of it. Taking that calculated leap of faith can make all the difference between the person you are now and the person you want to be. Do so with pride. 

What is your top professional goal? Becoming a New York Times best-selling author. 

Share something you did this past year to balance your work and personal lives. I started a new after-work ritual of putting on my running shoes and hitting the pavement at some of my favorite locations around town like Nathan Benderson Park and Lido Beach. I intentionally run without earbuds or my phone to avoid distractions and take in everything, moment by moment. What once was a competitive sport for me in my school days has turned into a unique form of meditation, a way to mute all the noise and declutter all the thoughts from my day-to-day grind. 

What is the first job you ever held? Ripping tickets and making popcorn at our local AMC Movie Theatre. For this movie-lover, you couldn’t beat the perks, the organized chaos of a midnight premiere and–most of all–the team, who were just as much into Star Wars as they were the latest Pixar film. Even after all these years, I still go to the movies at least once a week–so you can trust me as your local IMDb.  

When things get tough, I just remember  …  to slow down to speed up. All of us are juggling immense plates in our personal and professional lives, and if we let our to-do list become who we are, we can inadvertently hinder our happiness and potential. Give yourself the patience and the time to refresh, reset boundaries and recover so you can bring your full self to every moment. We owe ourselves that much (and a whole lot more).

Christine Cua

Quality Assurance Head, DMSI International 

Share a recent achievement for which you are the most proud.  One of my recent achievements that I am most proud of is being promoted to Quality Assurance Head. I am not used to leading and teaching others, but I have adapted to my new role and I am happy that I can support them and impart my knowledge. 

What mistake in your career taught you the biggest lesson? The mistake in my career that taught me the biggest lesson was my fear of big changes. I already have a lot of good opportunities that I wasted because I was afraid of failing without even trying. I am still in the process of improving myself and I am learning to just take risks and see where they lead me. Whether it’ll be a success or not, at least I tried and learned from the experience.

When things get tough, I just remember  … I always have God beside me, no matter what. I know I can overcome any problem life throws at me. I always remember the reason why I am striving: for my family, the people I cherish and myself. This too shall pass, and there is a reason for everything that happens.

What are the top three items on your bucket list?  The top three items on my bucket list are: skydiving, scuba diving and traveling to my dream destinations. I always wanted to go on some adventures, maybe soon.

What is your guilty pleasure? I can drink iced coffee anytime, and I always crave for some Korean BBQ, boba milk tea and ice cream. A happy tummy means a happy life.

Cameron Curry

Owner, Market Botany 

Share a recent achievement for which you are most proud. I think the most significant decision I made to date that led me to my proudest achievement has been pivoting Market Botany from a plant nursery to a plant-care product brand. This change allowed for the context of the brand I was building to still be relevant and gave an even better purpose to educating the consumer on caring for their plants, and most of all eliminated the constant worry about the live plant inventory dying if my time was consumed by other operational tasks in the business. This pivot allowed me to streamline everything and really take hold of my margins. With this newfound organization and plan I applied for a competition called “Lowe’s Into the Blue” where I was selected to pitch my products at the Lowe’s Home Improvement headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina, directly in front of the Lead Merchant staff and CEOs. Anticipation was intense, as I had never communicated with professionals at this scale of retail, or ever been involved in that kind of a corporate environment. But, as the underdog amongst other much more established and financially backed businesses competing for the same prize, Market Botany left with a huge purchase order. I’m beyond proud. But most of all I’m eternally grateful to say that Market Botany Products will be on shelves at the first 500 Lowe’s store locations across America (including all Sarasota Lowe’s store locations) as early as this December. 

What mistake in your career taught you the biggest lesson?  I value every mistake I make so much and consider mistakes to be one of the most important contributions to figuring this whole entrepreneurship thing out. Every single one of my mistakes has given me an opportunity to learn. In my career, I’ve had to teach myself to perceive mistakes differently because when we are growing up we are taught that mistakes equal failure, and that we should fear and avoid mistakes at all cost if we want “success”. Now, I embrace mistakes . . . anticipate them, heck, even welcome mistakes with open arms. I know now that mistakes are the moment where you learn exactly what you need to know to take the next step forward. I like to say: “There are no mistakes, just lessons learned and there is no failure so long as you make the choice to try again.”

What is your top professional goal?  My top professional goal is to become the modern version of Martha Stewart (mixed with a  little bit of Steve Erwin). With the right strategy and placement, I believe I can establish a well-respected reputation for being a multi-passionate person where my credibility is supported in every extension of who I am. So I can build a personal lifestyle brand that is not confined by one product category or niche. I dream of continuing to delve into all of the things that drive my passions in life while striving to inspire others and innovating and bringing new products to the market. 

How did you get your start in your profession?  For the majority of my time as a student at Sarasota Middle School, I was making specialty cakes out of my home kitchen, “Cakes By Cameron” #TBT. I worked as a food runner at Shore Diner on St. Armands when they first opened, completed the culinary program at SCTI and then continued to culinary school in Miami. After college, I worked as a line cook at Duval’s on Main Street, as a personal chef at private events and assisted with the holiday gingerbread display at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota. After all of the years honing my skills and crafting my reputation as a chef, it may be shocking that the business I’ve established is a plant care product brand.

Do you have any ridiculous goals in life?  I’d say most of my goals probably sound pretty wild. But at the top of that list is to explore the world by boat for research to discover plant and animal species, and to create an exotic wildlife sanctuary and conservatory that focuses on tropical and subtropical ecosystems. 

Cassi Dambrogio 

Owner, Facepop 

Share a recent achievement for which you are the most proud. My team. I am so proud of their drive and dedication to Facepop and helping people feel confident in their skin again. Recently I went back to school and the way they have stepped up and killed it is something I couldn’t be more proud of.

What mistake in your career taught you the biggest lesson?  Holding on to people or certain things because of emotions. At the end of the day, your numbers are telling you a story and you need to listen to them.

How do you spend your time outside of work?  Playing pickleball, visiting somewhere in the mountains or binge-watching anything on Bravo.

If you could ask someone any question in the world (living or from the past), who would that person be and what would your question be? I would love to be able to ask my Grandad more questions about his childhood and life in England during the war. 

Share a current topic or trends that you are concerned about at the local level.  Not wearing sunscreen! Daily sunscreen is extremely important to protect you from harmful UV rays that can cause skin cancer. Protecting yourself can also slow down the aging process.

What are the top three items on your bucket list? Go to Norway, learn to kite surf and live in Europe.

Jacquelyn Daum

Head of Production, Owner, Test Flight Studios

Share a recent achievement for which you are the most proud. While there are a lot of things I am proud of, I would say what I did my senior year of college was the catalyst for continually doing what others deemed impossible. Since I knew I wanted my career to be defined both by my work as an artist and as a business person, I knew I needed to have a portfolio that included both upon college graduation. Therefore, I decided to do a business senior thesis (which includes producing a group of three artist’s short films and creating a full production binder) and a computer animation senior thesis (creating a fully animated short by myself). Doing a computer animation thesis independently is seen as an incredible feat, as in just 1.5 years I would need to write, storyboard, model, light, texture, animate and post-produce a short. I was warned that if I also produced a short in addition to directing one, there was a very real possibility that I would not finish and fail my senior year. No one else had ever done that. It took 1.5 years of sleeping 4-5 hours a night (and often on a friend’s couch), working weekends and holidays to successfully complete both theses. It almost killed me. However, not only did I complete them but my business senior thesis ended up winning Bronze in the Best of Ringling show. The short project I managed won the President’s Award for Computer Animation. 

What mistake in your career taught you the biggest lesson?  The biggest thing I’ve overcome was actually an internal challenge I faced when I started my career. Being immediately thrust into a position of leadership in my first job made me a perfect candidate for imposter syndrome. Even though I saw positive results in my work environment, I worried that I might not be ready for my role. I would be in meetings with marketing executives of million/billion dollar companies and I was the one in charge of projects. Heck,  most of the time,  I was in charge of the meetings. With powerful people often at least one to two decades older than you, you begin to experience an immense amount of self doubt. At one point on a project, it kept me from reaching out for help even though I was spread too thin because I was worried about my team’s perception of me. The projects’ problems snowballed, and ended up costing my company tens of thousands of dollars. Thank goodness we can learn from our mistakes, because that never happened to me again. Through wonderful mentors, such as my parents and other seasoned producers in the industry, I found my internal footing. 

If you could ask someone any question in the world (living or from the past), who would the person be and what would your question be? Ed Catmull, Former President and Founder of Pixar is my hero. It is genuinely and truly my hope that one day I will get to meet him, and thank him for what he has done for the animation and entertainment industry. In short, he is one of the most important figures in making the technology for computer animation possible. After gushing, I’d ask him how do you face the unknown, and conquer self-doubt to the point where you create a technology and an industry that didn’t exist before you? In other words, what kind of mindset do you have to have to be a trailblazer and overcome self-doubt? There are very few people in the world who can do what he does, and I just want to know how.

What’s the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done? I bought my house without seeing it. I just trusted my brother to pick one out for me, and I made a decision based on his recommendation and the pictures he sent. It turned out great; I don’t have any regrets.

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan

Joshua Day

Financial Center Manager, Fifth Third Bank

Share a recent achievement for which you are the most proud. I am most proud of my recent promotion as a Financial Center Manager for Fifth Third Bank. It has been an honor to grow with my team and to help them advance in their careers. Generally, my days consist of working with small businesses, learning how they operate, and figuring out where I fit in to help them achieve their financial goals.

What mistake in your career taught you the biggest lesson? Mistakes are inevitable, however, making the same mistake twice is not. We learn more from our mistakes than we do from our accomplishments. I would say the one mistake that taught me the biggest lesson is to stop trying to do everything yourself. Working as a team and reaching out to people for assistance can not only make your job easier, but it greatly reduces stress as well.

What is your formula for success? My formula for success is to be fluid, determined and build good habits. Very rarely do I find a clear path from point A to point B. Things happen, sometimes there are setbacks, sometimes there are mistakes and sometimes you must push through. You must be determined, and you must be able to adjust while not getting discouraged. The most important part is to practice building good habits. Once something becomes a habit or a lifestyle it no longer feels like an extra task it’s just what you do.

What is the first job you ever held? Hopefully, my father doesn’t get in trouble as this is probably against OSHA. I learned what a strong work ethic was at a young age due to working with my father every summer. He was a carpenter that built houses for more than 30 years. When I was about 8 years old, he started bringing me with him to work. I started with small tasks, cleaning up the scraps, carrying materials through the unfinished houses and upstairs to hand them to him. I eventually started working the table saw and using the brake to bend aluminum. He paid me $50 to $100 a week to teach me how to budget. My first taxed job is another story, but I was an actor who played the role of Billy the Kid. It was a fun time robbing stagecoaches and riding horses.

Share something you did this past year to balance your work and personal lives. I let go of perfectionism. Work-life balance is all about time management. There is a neverending list of things to do. Take care of the big rocks first and things will flow a lot smoother. Take care of necessities first, then if time allows, tackle the inessentials. Spend as much time as you can with your family and friends, especially if you have little ones at home.

What are the top three items on your bucket list? I would say the biggest item on my bucket list is to return to Europe. I am obsessed with the history of castles, and I have a long list of them that I need to visit.  The next item on my bucket list is to bring my family back home to New Hampshire during the winter. I want to take them snowboarding, sledding, snow mobiling and to visit the NH ice castles. Finally, I would love to get my hands on an old Mustang from the late ‘60s or early ‘70s that I could restore as a project car.

Stefania Fochi

Owner, The Empanada Girl

Share a recent achievement for which you are the most proud. After being in the empanada business for over a decade, I finally decided to do something about the plentiful requests I’d constantly receive for gluten-free empanadas. It ended up being a larger endeavor than I anticipated, but in my quest to be as inclusive as possible with my menu, I was up to the challenge. I started out by finding and importing a very specific empanada machine from Colombia. I then had to purchase and install a 60-gallon air compressor for this machine. The air compressor had to be stored outside which resulted in me having to have a small shed custom built for it. Once the machinery infrastructure was in place, I was able to get to work on the dough—the star of the show! After trying a few, I decided against using pre-mixed gluten-free flours—I really wanted to have a little control over the ratios of the different flours. I took a class on gluten-free dough to get my bearings and got to work. It took more than 55 individual trials, all done in my free time, to finally reach a recipe that I was happy with. I did not use xanthan gum because I could not base an entire line of products on an ingredient I couldn’t fully get behind. Finding dough binders to replace xanthan gum was an achievement in and of itself. At the end of the day, the gluten-free empanadas that we currently manufacture and sell are the result of an absolute labor of love. I am quite proud to be able to offer a tasty gluten-free option to people who were not able to have my empanadas until now.

What mistake in your career taught you the biggest lesson? One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is about hiring and firing. The only way to find your ideal team is by letting go of the people that aren’t it. I have made the mistake of keeping employees for the wrong reasons and not only did it never end well, but it hindered my ability to hire the right people for my team. I now have a structure that I follow with hiring and firing that has allowed me to let go of the people who were not the right fit while keeping those who were the right fit for my business and me at the time. It’s now of the utmost importance to me that everyone in my team is conscious of the importance of putting love into the food, of treating the food, each other and our customers with gratitude and respect. Making sure that my team members all align with my company’s values has been a very fruitful and rewarding lesson.

What is your top professional goal? My main professional goal is to make a positive contribution to our community by using food as a boat to spread love and joy. I aim to make a positive contribution to everyone who eats my empanadas as well as everyone who works hard to make or sell our empanadas. We put a lot of love into the food with the intention that it nourishes everyone who eats it, that our empanadas bring loved ones together as they experience the sharing of a delicious meal, and that the experience of biting into a crispy and hot empanada fills everyone with joy. 

What is your formula for success? My main formula for success is primarily to listen to the signs that lead me and to put love into everything I do. It is unbelievably important to listen to the cues from the universe that lead us where to go-to not waste time when it is not the time or place. Forcing situations rarely gives us the results we are seeking. Rather, being in tune enough to stay in alignment and flow easefully into what we are meant to be doing next is key. And then it is equally important to do it with love. There have been many times when I have had an idea for a project and tried to pursue it and would hit roadblocks. Through the years, I have been able to hone in on this to gain the discernment of whether the roadblock is telling me I need to take a different approach, or if it is a redirection subtly letting me know it is not the time or place. Sometimes, after revisiting projects in a different time and space, I find things flow much more easefully and I’m able to do what I sought out to do with success. Learning to hone in on that discernment has been monumental.

Share something you did this past year to balance your work and personal lives. I actually gave birth to twin boys. Passing down the reins to my trusted team to continue the goings-on for me to be able to take a few months of maternity leave was the ultimate challenge. 

Share with us a current topic or trend that you are concerned about at the local level. I am very concerned about the lack of affordable housing. It has caused an unprecedented issue that every one of us is feeling the brunt of. The level of inflation that we have experienced in the last three years has been almost impossible to keep up with.

Laura Honors 

Owner & Principal Designer, Honors Interiors

Share a recent achievement for which you are the most proud. I’m incredibly proud to have a business that supports our clients as well as we do. Every project we complete I’m so proud of. I consider completing any project on time and on budget, with a super happy client, to be a huge win. We’ve recently spent a lot of time documenting our process and I’m so happy with how we’re working.

What mistake in your career taught you the biggest lesson? When we started as an interior design firm, I expected clients to be willing to wait for me, to have a basic understanding of the industry and not need to be hand-held really at all. Truly the biggest aspect I’ve changed in my business as we’ve grown is realizing that it’s not a client’s fault if they have to ask questions about what’s going on, or if they feel overwhelmed or like they don’t know what the next steps are. It’s a mind shift as a business owner to realize that just because you know how the business runs, doesn’t mean everyone else does, and you can’t expect them to. It’s not hand-holding, it’s setting expectations and communicating. I lost a big project early in the business because I didn’t remind someone of their design presentation. Because they didn’t get that reminder, they thought we had quit the job. It seems like a small thing, but it’s the most profound mistake I’ve made that has forced me to do a lot of thinking, and build out our process and client experience to make sure that our clients are in-the-know and feel confident in every stage of their relationship with us.

What is your top professional goal? For me, this answer is completely tied to my personal goals as well. As a creative industry entrepreneur we start our businesses to live the life we want, doing what we love. My most important goal is to be able to live in an environment that brings me joy and peace, surrounded by my family, while running Honors Interiors in a way that supports all of our team in their goals, and creates a wonderful experience for all of our clients. Of course completing projects with a high level of design. Everything I do every day is with that vision in mind.

What is your formula for success? The most important thing here is taking accountability. Every time something goes wrong, you’re not 100% innocent. Where did the communication break down? What could you have done better? Even the smallest nuances. Take care of the client, take note of what went wrong, document the new process and get better every time. The second thing is not expecting other people to come in and complete or fix things for you. Don’t have an attitude like you’re too good to do something. I spend hundreds of hours designing projects and then when install comes, I’m right there helping move boxes and cleaning the floors, staying on-site until 10 p.m. The goal is to have a high-level completed project and ecstatic client. You have to do whatever it takes. 

When things get tough, I just remember . . . the bigger goal. In business it can feel like you’re going nowhere, spinning your wheels, and then all of the sudden the little things you’ve been doing every day have actually helped you turn a corner you didn’t realize you were at. Looking back two years to where we are now, it’s insane motivation to just keep doing what we’re doing, and keep getting better. Every tough moment is temporary.

Ali Hopper

Project and Strategy Coordinator, Office of Financial Management, Sarasota County Government

Share a recent achievement for which you are most proud. A year ago when Hurricane Ian hit, I had only been in my project manager role with Sarasota County for about 2 months. In a declared emergency, county staff assume emergency roles and perform the duties that align with an assigned role. I was assigned to 1 of the 14 county evacuation shelters and co-led a team that worked side-by side with Sarasota County District personnel to mobilize and shelter over 800 people, 600 of which arrived within a 12-hour window. Once the shelters closed, I reported to an POD (Point of Distribution) and distributed food, water and tarps alongside the National Guard to those in need and later assisted with translation services at the FEMA assistance location established at the Shannon Staub Library. Throughout this entire process, we all worked together tirelessly to serve our fellow citizens in a time of crisis despite the various challenges that arose during the hurricane and successfully provided personal safety and aid to hundreds looking to us for help and care.

What mistake in your career taught you the biggest lesson?  I would not consider following a mistake but rather a characteristic I have learned to utilize more effectively – the manner of perspective. I have always been known to lead with my heart and put 110% into everything I do. Earlier in my career, I would find myself in discussions about projects I was working on and when I would receive feedback that was contrary to my own perspective, I would perceive that as a negative reflection of me and become overly critical of my work. I  have learned through personal and career experiences the importance and value of having the right perspective and have since been able to shift my perspective from seeing criticisms to seeing opportunities.

What is the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done?  The most profound experience that comes to mind is moving to Hawaii. When my husband was in the military and I found out he was deploying, I knew I didn’t want to stay behind by myself. Knowing we had family living in Hawaii, I sold everything, put my car in storage and moved out there to stay with them for a few months. While on the island, I was fortunate enough to hike some of the most picturesque trails, swim in the most stunning waterfalls, and even got my open water diving certification and dove in some of the most beautiful waters and reefs. It truly was the experience of a lifetime.

Share with us a current topic or trend that you are concerned about at the local level.  Current topics that are near and dear to my heart are support for our veterans and mental health. As the wife of a military veteran, I know personally how important being in a positive and healthy mental state can ensure the success of a veteran reintegrating into the community once they have completed their service to our country. Through strengthening programs that support our veterans and their mental health, we can lower negative outcomes such as suicide rates, substance abuse, etc. while enhancing and increasing positive results, benefitting not only the veteran, but their families and the community. 

What are the top three items on your bucket list?  To get my master diver certification, followed by my private pilot’s license and then travel to the Mediterranean. Not only do I find the architecture, history and landscape captivating, being able to go diving and pilot a plane there, I would be able to get the full all-encompassing experience of the Mediterranean from the land, air and sea. 

Patrick Iyampillai

Attorney & Partner, Hale Law

Share a recent achievement for which you are most proud.  My team and I won a four-day jury trial. I had a very deserving client who was being lowballed by the defendant’s insurance company so we took them to trial. After four days, the jury came back in our favor. It was a very trying process as it took us three weeks to prepare for trial and then during the trial we worked at least three 16 hour days. In the end, it was all worth it for the client.

What mistake in your career taught you the biggest lesson?  Losing my first trial. You never know what the jury will decide at trial. No matter how much you believe in your case, things still may not go your way. You have to not take it personally and know you gave it your all for the client by putting in the work and going all the way to trial. Losses in life are always learning experiences.

How do you spend your time outside of work?  Outside of work, I enjoy traveling, attending live music concerts, playing music and golfing.

What movie, show or cartoon character would you like to play in real life and why?  I’d love to play Han Solo. He’s witty, resourceful and has a deep sense of loyalty–traits I admire and relate to.

Jacob Kinsel

Manager, Mauldin & Jenkins, LLC

Share a recent achievement for which you are most proud.  Professionally, I would say a recent achievement that I am most proud of would be as a recipient of the 2023 Horizon Award from the Florida Institute of Certified Public Accountants (FICPA). Accolades aside, I am most proud to welcome our second child into this world during 2023, and to provide a life and example for my family, which is my central motivation for my career.

What mistake in your career taught you the biggest lesson?  One of the earliest mistakes in my career wasn’t as a CPA, but as a maintenance professional in student housing apartments in Tallahassee, and it was not having the humility to seek out professional opinions and mentorship. Life often teaches us to “pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps” to be successful. I’ve come to believe that our success is defined by our own determination and also the valuable investment of other people in our lives.

What was the first job you ever held?  The first job I ever held was as a groundskeeper for a multi-family apartment complex. The job consisted of picking up garbage and maintaining the property’s pools. It taught me that the little things matter, and you are never too important to “take out the trash.”

How do you spend your time outside of work?  My time outside of work is spent giving back to my family. As a husband and father of two kids, the time spent after work to be with my family, while often draining, is the most rewarding. I get to watch my kids learn and grow into amazing humans, and I get to be the supporting arm for a bright and beautiful woman.

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan

Shane LaMay

Project Manager and Architect, Sweet Sparkman Architecture and Interiors 

Share a recent achievement for which you are most proud. I was fortunate to be given an opportunity to design buildings and structures for phase 1 of The Bay Park. Much of the work I do is for private clients, including companies or even municipalities for that matter, which means the public rarely, if ever, gets to interact with those projects. The Bay is an incredible project for many reasons, including an incredible ownership team, a really talented design team and great community support, so I’m always happy to show it off to friends and family when they visit. I’m proud of the things I’ve worked on there, but I’m even more proud that our city is putting effort into providing world-class public access to our greatest natural resources.

What mistake in your career taught you the biggest lesson?  We do a lot of work on the barrier islands. Those projects are always very complex because they must abide by a mixture of federal guidelines, state laws, local ordinances and regulations. Our clients often want to push the envelope in terms of design, which means we really need to understand our boundaries in terms of code compliance. One of the projects I was managing a few years ago didn’t fit the mold, and I misinterpreted a critical county ordinance, which led to a lengthy redesign. From that, I learned that having a solid understanding of codes and regulations allows for more freedom in design. Knowledge is power, and the more architects understand the rules, the more freedom we have to design.

What is your top professional goal?  To create spaces that outlive my generation. It seems that we’re purposely building things to last 30-50 years. That may work in the short term, but long term I find it wasteful and senseless. 

What’s the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done?  My appendix burst when I was in high school the day before I was supposed to go on a spring break road trip with my friends. I went in for surgery and I woke up to my friends, including my girlfriend, Allison, at the time, visiting me in the hospital. They surprised me with some spare clothes and a packed bag. I ripped the IV out of my arm and they helped me sneak out of the hospital so we could all go on the trip. The doctor called my dad, he was furious, but we were already in the clear. Oh, and Allison and I are now married.

How do you spend your time outside of work?  My wife and I have been slowly renovating and rebuilding a shabby 1950s ranch house from the ground up. It’s been four years of many late nights and weekends. We’re so excited to finally be wrapping up the last few parts. If I’m not working on the house, I’m hanging out with my 6-month-old daughter. 

Share a current topic or trend that you are concerned about at the local level.  The charm and character that makes Sarasota a unique place is at risk from uninspired developed-driven projects. I’m all for growing and I think it’s a necessary and positive thing, but many of these new buildings lack soul and I’m worried that the city itself will become souless as a result. Sarasota isn’t afraid to be vibrant and experimental. That willingness to be different both reflects the community’s values and influences how the community sees itself. 

Muffy Lavens

Director of Public Relations, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall

Share a recent achievement for which you are the most proud.  In August, I accepted an Award of Distinction at the Florida Public Relations Association’s Golden Image Awards. This award was for the Hurricane Ian Relief Concert hosted by the Van Wezel and Sarasota Orchestra last year. It took hours of work to complete the application for the award and it was an honor to be recognized.

What mistake in your career taught you the biggest lesson?  When working at Feld Entertainment, I coordinated public relations efforts across multiple Disney On Ice shows and in various markets both locally and globally. While not entirely a mistake, there was a major learning curve for different countries. I spearheaded a Healthy Living program where the Disney On Ice skaters would go to in-studio TV appearances for cooking segments to talk about how they stay healthy on the road. My team started creating specific “Disney-themed” recipes to use for this. We had a couple of recipes that used peanut butter, as it was a great way for the skaters to get protein. When pitching these ideas to the Asia-Pacific team, it was brought to my attention that peanut butter was not a common food in Japan. The team and I had to pivot and enlist the help of our international partners to make this campaign work. It taught me that I need to research and be aware of the culture and norms in a particular market to build a
successful campaign.

What is the first job you ever held?  My first job was coaching a synchronized skating team at my hometown ice arena in Michigan. I grew up as a figure skater, so I jumped at the opportunity to coach a young team. In this role, I helped choreograph the team’s program, traveled alongside the team, and helped organize competition days with the other coaches. To this day, I’m still in touch with a few of my students, which is so wonderful. I’m also looking forward to the potential ice rink opening in town where Stardust used to be. It may be an opportunity to lace up my skates and start coaching again. 

What’s your favorite podcast or Youtube channel? I absolutely love podcasts! A few of my favorites are Stuff You Missed in History Class, The Last Soviet and The BoozySitters Club. I enjoy podcasts so much I actually co-host and co-produce an ice hockey-themed podcast called, Shut Your Five Hole & Listen! My friend Stephanie and I are huge hockey fans. We would always have outrageous commentary at the games we attended, so Stephanie’s dad suggested we start a podcast. We launched it last year and are really starting to make strides now with our second season. 

How do you spend your time outside of work?  One of my favorite ways to spend my free time is walking dogs at Satchel’s Last Resort & Sanctuary, a true no-kill animal shelter in Sarasota County. It’s a great way to clear my head, get some exercise and enjoy some puppy love. I am also a licensed Zumba Instructor, and while I don’t teach regularly anymore, I do often attend Zumba classes. 

Stacey Marks

CEO, Fly Dance Fitness 

Share a recent achievement for which you are most proud.  Exactly one year ago, my business partner, Kari, and I decided to franchise our fitness studio. As of May 1, 2023, we not only announced the official launch of Fly Dance Fitness® Franchising, we received over 400 candidate applications within the first month and awarded our first franchise in June. Simultaneously, we hosted special guests in our studio such as The Savannah Bananas, toured multiple states across the U.S. and expanded our brand awareness with a following of 645,000 on TikTok. What was once a small (but very special) studio is now becoming a monster in an emerging market. I’m so proud of our female-owned and operated business and excited to bring Fly Dance Fitness studios to cities nationwide.

What mistake in your career taught you the biggest lesson? Throughout my career and personal life, I’ve learned that holding onto people (whether it be a boyfriend, employee or friend), purely based on their potential is a recipe for disaster. Although I am a firm believer in the saying “nice girls finish first” instead of last, I also believe that nice girls also take forever to get anything done because we are too focused on playing nice in the sandbox. A big lesson I learned this year was to take my rose-colored glasses off and clearly define roles and expectations with those I work with. We are having an incredible transformation take place in our business and although all hands need to be on deck, the right people need to be on the ship. Having clear expectations and making adjustments to the team as needed will be a big focus of this coming year.

If you could dedicate your life to solving one problem, what problem would you choose? Providing education, tools, resources and mentorships to young girls and women who want to pursue their own passions. We’ve come a long way in terms of female-owned businesses but there is still a long way to go. After graduating college, I felt really lost and I was also pregnant with my daughter at the time. Having a small business of my own allowed me to have the flexibility to be the mother she needed and make an income. On the other hand, I had no idea what I was doing and wished I had a mentor or someone to just point me in the right direction. I feel more equipped now with years of trial and error under my belt but would have loved a mentor to guide me along the way.  

Christina Maksoud

Co-Owner | Creative Director, MakSchu Productions

What mistake in your career taught you the biggest lesson?  My first-ever client taught me the most and I had earned the least from. Before I graduated from Ringling College, I was studying Motion Graphics and was desperately looking for ways to pay rent. I was determined to not move back home to my family and had started picking up odd jobs that involved design or animation. Ringling was great for being able to connect small startups or individuals for freelance jobs through their job board/portal. I remember I had picked up a logo design job for a gentleman who said he was teaching guitar lessons. In hindsight, I should have not taken the job once I gave my hourly rate for designing because his immediate reaction was to belittle me. His exact words were “It took me 30 years to get to that hourly rate for teaching guitar, this better be worth it.” The rest of the process was a slew of insults not only about my work but my actual physical appearance too. After several iterations of designs he was basically asking for, I just had to walk away and not communicate with him anymore. This was a very hard thing for me to do. I grew up doing several customer service jobs and the idea of “the customer is always right” or “do whatever makes the customer happy” was ingrained into me. I never sent him an invoice, I stopped responding to his emails. The biggest lesson I learned from this client was that there was no way of making everyone happy. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out, and self-worth is more important.

What is the first job you ever held?  The first job I ever held was working as the “Ice Cream Window Girl” at Cooper’s Beach in Southampton, Long Island. I was only 13 or 14 at the time, and I think I learned a tremendous amount about customer service in this role. By the time I went to college, I had a multitude of different customer service positions (everything from receptionist for a real estate office, sales at Bed, Bath & Beyond, food sales at a movie theater, etc.) and I think all of this experience had not only helped with me in my success in college but to grow my business. There were many classmates I had who never even had a job, and therefore didn’t know how to communicate with people needing a task done for them. This skill I learned all the way back from being the “Ice Cream Window Girl” is what laid down my position and business today.

Do you have any ridiculous goals in life?  I would like to be “retired” yesterday! In all seriousness, I’d love to be able to grow my team so I can lead from the sidelines and not be as active in the day-to-day operations. So if my husband and I retire by 45, I’d love that goal for us.

If you could compete in an Olympic sport, which one would it be?  I actually have two. I used to be an excellent softball player in high school and almost went to college for softball before tearing my ACL at 16 and finishing my career. I could have probably worked my butt off to compete in the Olympics because I was a top hitter at the time. My true passion was horseback riding, I was the nerd up at 3 a.m. to watch the dressage competitions at the Olympics and always dreamed what it had been like to be in those arenas.

P.J. Mills

Director of Marketing & Business Development, Hi-Lite Airfield Service, LLC   

Share a recent achievement for which you are most proud.  One of the pinnacles of my career has been spearheading transformative revenue growth at Axtell’s, Inc. In my previous role as Director of Business Development, I oversaw a growth in revenue from $870K in 2013 to over $10M by 2022. This accomplishment wasn’t just about numbers; it encapsulated strategic market penetrations, an overhaul of our bidding processes, and fostering a team that grew threefold in size. Additionally, I worked with ownership to lead the successful merger and acquisition negotiations between Axtell’s and Hi-Lite Airfield Services. In January of 2023, I had the privilege to close the acquisition deal between Axtell’s and Hi-Lite and have since moved from Scranton, Pennsylvania, to Bradenton, Florida, to assume my current role.

What mistake in your career taught you the biggest lesson?  The biggest mistake I made early on in my career was thinking I was irreplaceable and prioritizing work over my personal and family life. As a result, I had a terrible work-life balance and my workload burned me out. I took a sabbatical and realized that the team was working great without me and that I didn’t need to place the weight of the world on my shoulders. As a result, I learned to establish better boundaries, implement a healthy work-life balance and reorient my priorities. The result was greater productivity, increased happiness and satisfaction with my work and a healthier team culture in the company.

Share with us a current topic or trend that you are concerned about at the local level.  Two areas of concern: the environment and transportation and infrastructure. In the last two years our area has had close calls with Hurricanes Ian and Idalia. I fear we are not sufficiently prepared. As the area grows, so do its transportation needs. The Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, for example, illustrates this dramatic growth as they have had a nearly 15% yearly growth in passenger growth. All of this growth will require significant planning in order to efficiently manage traffic patterns and foster a safe driving environment.

What’s the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done?  In January of 2017, I flew to Iraq and along with a friend visited the frontlines of the war against ISIL near Mosul. The sights and sounds from that trip significantly impacted my perspectives on many areas of life and are something I will always remember.

When things get tough, I just remember . . . the pathway to triumph is often paved with trials, each one an opportunity to rise stronger and wiser. Every setback can be a lesson; each failure is a foundation; and adversity, with the right attitude, can become an ally in my odyssey towards excellence. When things get tough, I am also reminded to live out the words I constantly preach to those around me: winners never quit, and quitters never win. The only way to fail when things get tough is to quit, so a humble attitude that is eager to learn along with perseverance is vitally important.

Aude-Eureka Mondé

Manager, NonProfit Services, Community Foundation of Sarasota County

Share a recent achievement for which you are the most proud.  I recently planned and coordinated a nonprofit training with over 80 individuals in attendance. With the pandemic, all of the Community Foundation’s training offerings were online. Since events have transitioned back to hybrid and in-person, our in-person attendance has been slowly picking back up. Having an in-person attendance of over 80 people has been the highest we’ve had for nonprofit training in years.

What mistake in your career taught you the biggest lesson?  Early on after graduating from college, I learned how important it is to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Working hard and having high standards for yourself is great, but once that starts turning into major stress outside of work and you cannot relax doing activities you enjoy doing in your spare time, that’s your cue to set boundaries.

What is your formula for success?  The formula that worked for my mentors in their lives, leading them to success and happiness. It involves three simple things: working hard, doing things with purpose and, above all, staying true to who I am as a person. Thank you, Coach Paul and Mitzie Williams, for all the lessons you’ve taught me that have helped get me to this point in my life.

How do you spend your time outside of work? Outside of work, I enjoy working out and staying active. That can mean going for a walk or a bike ride at a local park, or simply gardening. According to my Fitbit, gardening is a workout that gets my heart rate up.

Share a current topic or trend that you are concerned about at the local level. Affordable housing is a huge concern of mine. I have friends and colleagues who are from Sarasota who have lived here for years, that can no longer afford to live here. If the working class cannot live where they work, they’ll have to leave. The jobs they vacate will remain vacant because others cannot afford to live here, causing a labor shortage.

Chip Murphy

Vice President, Business Development Work, Michael Saunders & Company

Share a recent achievement for which you are most proud.  Locally, I was fortunate to have been admitted to this year’s Leadership Sarasota program through the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce. As someone who is relatively new to our region, it’s been a wonderful opportunity to have a deeper understanding of what makes Sarasota so special-the people, the local businesses, the non-profit community and the incredible landscape that surrounds us. One of my most memorable achievements was being recognized by the National Association of Realtors “30 Under 30” in 2018. This helped to set the stage for my interest in contributing to the real estate industry on a larger scale.

What mistake in your career taught you the biggest lesson?  I’ve made countless mistakes and remind myself after each that a mistake is always an opportunity to learn. When I transitioned from a sales role to management in 2016, I remember accepting the position thinking that management was what I considered to be a “9 to 5.” I quickly learned that in order to be an effective manager, you must be a leader. To be a leader, you set an example around the clock and put others first. I can confidently say that every achievement I’ve met has been because of my ability to empathize and put others first. When you value the people around you, you become better.

What are your favorite ways to unwind over the weekend?  There are too many to list. One of my favorite parts about living in this region is that there is so much to do. You can’t go wrong with lounging at the beach (Longboat is my personal favorite) or grabbing dinner and a cocktail downtown (Kojo and Veronica are go-to’s). The tiki bar at the Ritz on Lido was the first place I watched the sunset on my initial visit when I decided to move here in 2022, so that’s a favorite as well. If I’m not spending time here in Sarasota, you can likely find me at the SRQ Airport as I love traveling in my free time. 

What is your formula for success? Success is a subjective term and I think we all experience and define it differently. For me, success is not only about personal achievements, but about ways in which we can positively impact those who surround us. My formula for success revolves around having a people-first mentality, holding myself accountable, and viewing every challenge as an opportunity. Maintaining a positive mindset has always been important to me. If something is out of my control, I’d rather be an optimist than not. 

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan

Andrew Neal 

Vice President of Operations, Scanco

Share a recent achievement for which you are most proud.  From being awarded the prestigious 40 under 40 award from Business Observer, to being recognized as a Top 10 Warehouse Solution from Logistics Tech Outlook, 2023 has been a year of transformation and growth for me as an individual. The achievement I am most proud of this year is that Scanco was recognized and awarded by Top Places to Work for Sarasota. This was a proud moment for me as this is an award that is based on employee feedback. Having been in my role for nearly two years, it has been very important to me to instill a strong and healthy work culture in our team. 

What mistake in your career taught you the biggest lesson? The mistake that has taught me the biggest lesson isn’t any one specific instance, but rather the fact to practice patience. We live in a world of instant gratification and entitlement. Whether you went to college or not, we think that hard work entitles you to high salary raises, titles or recognition. The reality I found is hard work is the entry price to success. It is through small consistent effort that I have found has the most impact. If you are patient and work hard consistently, there will be a moment of opportunity that you will get, and it’s on us as individuals to seize that moment for our internal growth as individuals.

What is your formula for success?  Rather than trying to make enormous strides each day, focus on one area of improvement and get better by 1% each day. At first, the changes may seem insignificant, but over time those changes not only compound but create new habits. These habits are ultimately what shape your daily efforts as an individual. 

What’s your favorite podcast or Youtube channel?  The All In Podcast, hosted by Chamath Palihapitiya, Jason Calacanis, David Sacks and David Freeburg, stands out due to their extensive experience in the tech and venture capital sphere. This podcast isn’t confined to a single niche; it delves into a broad array of subjects encompassing technology, investment, startup culture and prevailing events. What differentiates it is not solely their open and unfiltered conversations but also their ability to provide an insider’s perspective on the tech industry and the world of venture capital. Their keen awareness of current events and their ability to connect these developments with our interconnected lives make for an engaging and entertaining two-hour experience each week. 

Share a current topic or trend that you are concerned about at the local level.  Keeping young talent here in the Sarasota area. Typically when you think of cities that have a strong software presence, you think of San Francisco, Austin or maybe even Tampa. I am proud to have come up through the Sarasota school system and when I left for college, I always knew that once I graduated I would come back to Sarasota.

Hillary Newton

Office Coordinator, Gulf Coast Community Foundation

Share a recent achievement for which you are most proud.  One of my recent achievements that fills me with immense pride is graduating this past winter from the University of South Florida (Go Bulls!) with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in sociology. While academic accomplishments are often celebrated, this achievement holds a special place in my heart because it represents a significant milestone in my journey as a first-generation college student. What makes this accomplishment even more meaningful to me is my family’s unique circumstances. At the age of 18, I became the guardian of my five-year-old brother and six-year-old sister. Balancing the responsibilities of raising them while pursuing higher education presented a set of challenges that felt, to say the least, daunting at times. However, I recognized that it was also an opportunity to show my siblings that they could achieve absolutely anything they set their minds to, even when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds. Being the oldest of six siblings, I’ve embraced a role model position, and it brings me profound joy to serve as an example for my younger siblings. I want them to understand that with dedication, hard work and unwavering determination, they can overcome any obstacle and reach for the stars. 

What mistake in your career taught you the biggest lesson?  One of the most significant mistakes I’ve made in my career was my reluctance to ask questions when I needed more clarity. For a long time, I grappled with a fear that asking questions might be perceived as incompetence or a lack of knowledge, and this fear created a considerable amount of anxiety. Instead of seeking clarification when faced with uncertainties, I would often overthink and overanalyze situations, which, in retrospect, only exacerbated the problem. It became increasingly apparent that my reluctance to seek help when needed was not only limiting my potential but also impacting the quality of my work. To address this challenge, I began writing on sticky notes and placing them in my pocket as a simple but powerful reminder: ‘You have permission to ask questions.’ This small act served as a tangible reminder that it was not only acceptable but also essential to seek clarity and guidance when required. I learned that asking questions is a sign of curiosity, a desire to learn and a commitment to excellence rather than a sign of weakness. 

Share something you did this past year to balance your work and personal lives.  I can become deeply engrossed in my tasks, inadvertently neglecting my own body’s essential needs. Questions like, “How long as it been since I looked away from the screen?” or, “Am I hungry? Have I had any water today?” have become important reminders for me to pause and reassess. I’ve embarked on a transformative journey of cultivating new habits that I affectionately refer to as my ‘anchor habits.’ These daily practices form the bedrock of my overall well-being. One of my favorite anchor habits is dedicating at least 10 minutes each day to engage in an activity that brings me pure joy. Recently, for me, that activity has been playing piano, which I have been learning for the past 13 weeks. This practice not only provides a moment of respite, but also rejuvenated my spirit.

What is your favorite dish to order for delivery?  I could probably eat Indian every single day and never get tired of it. Specifically, Chicken Tikka Masala with garlic naan and an order of pakora. 

What movie, show or cartoon character would you want to play in real life and why? I would love to play Mia Thermopolis (aka Amelia Mignonette Grimaldi Thermopolis Renaldo Princess of Genovia) from Princess Diaries. It’s a story about a regular teenage girl who finds out she’s actually the princess of another country. Her life changes basically overnight as she learns how to step into royalty. I used to watch that movie all the time and was even partially convinced that maybe I was a princess too and just didn’t know it.

Luke Nicholas

Director & Senior Wealth Advisor, Mariner Wealth Advisors

Share a recent achievement for which you are the most proud.  I have been a board member for the Suncoast chapter of the Make a Wish Foundation for five years now. I was recently chosen to chair our upcoming Walk for Wishes event. I am very proud to have the opportunity to organize an event in our community, which will support a cause that I am extremely passionate about.

What mistake in your career taught you the biggest lesson?  I think that early on in my career I pressed too hard to prove how much I knew when speaking with clients. I feel that with the experience that I have, I do a better job of focusing more on listening to the client so that we can get to the root of what they are truly trying to accomplish.

What is your formula for success?  In my opinion the key to success is building a solid team around you. There are simply not enough hours in the day to get everything done yourself, so you must have a team that you trust and can properly delegate to. I am extremely fortunate to have an incredibly talented and hardworking team around me, which improves the experience I can provide for my clients.

Share something you did this past year to balance your work and personal lives.  My wife, Elizabeth, and I have a 14-month-old son (Ricky) at home and a daughter due this November. We recently made the move “out east” and are living on six acres. We have horses on our property. Spending time with them and my family is a great way to unwind after a long day.

What is your favorite dish to order for delivery?  I am a sucker for Thai food. I change up my order a lot, but I would have to say my go-to is Chicken Pad Thai. My wife loves Thai food too, so we get it at least once a week.

What are the top three items on your bucket list?  Attend a Super Bowl, World Series and NBA Finals game (yes, that only counts as one). Go skiing in the Alps. Travel through Italy with my wife. We were supposed to go for our honeymoon, but were unable to due to COVID travel restrictions. 

Lauren Nielsen

Director of Donor Engagement - Individual Giving and Corporate, Sarasota Orchestra

Share a recent achievement for which you are the most proud. I was recently promoted to add Corporate Giving to my title of Director of Donor Engagement for Individual giving at the Sarasota Orchestra while simultaneously planning my wedding to a Major in the US Army stationed overseas, getting nationally certified to be a group fitness trainer, and becoming a new dog mom. On February 22, 2022, Sarasota County named the day Lauren Nielsen day in honor of my service to Sarasota with over 7,000 community service hours and for being Miss Sarasota.

How did you make your starts in your profession and what aspect of your work do you find the most meaningful?  I have always had a love of classical music. As a trained opera and musical theatre singer with a new master’s degree, I wanted the opportunity to make a lasting impact on my community. I had to learn to be open to how my career may change course. My professional performing journey drastically changed due to the pandemic. I went from performing professionally in commercials, operas, theme parks and cruise lines to all live theater and productions being shut down. However, it led me to one of my favorite and most fulfilling jobs I’ve had at Sarasota Orchestra. I even got to sing the National Anthen at our Pops concert at Ed Smith stadium. Life has a funny way of changing when you least expect it. 

Share with us a current topic or trend that you are concerned about.  In a world where it feels like most people do not agree on much, I feel as if music has the power as the universal language to unite people. My goal is to inspire children and people of all ages, especially young people, to expand their mind with the power and science behind music, positively impact our brain health and happiness and to not let classical music die. Classical music has won the hearts of individuals since the 1800s and I for one, want to see it thrive in the 20th century.

What movie, show or cartoon character would you like to play in real life and why?  I would like to play Belle in Beauty in the Beast. I love books, performing, castles, crowns and hello . . . Paris.

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan

Derek Ober

Financial Advisor, Northwestern Mutual Sarasota-Manatee

Share a recent achievement for which you are the most proud.  I was recently selected through a rigorous application process to speak at TEDxBradenton. I am proud to be speaking on financial literacy and its importance.

What mistake in your career taught you the biggest lesson?  You don’t need to know it all. You cannot be everything to everyone. I made that mistake when starting my practice. I felt I needed to be “the guy” for everything. I strung myself so thin that it almost ended everything. My wonderful wife told me when I was about to call it quits, “Derek, you are great, but in order for your practice to be great, you need to let others shine bigger than yourself.” That hit me like a ton of bricks, and since that day, letting others shine in their roles has been a major focus.

If you could ask someone any question in the world (living or from the past), who would the person be and what would your question be?  It would have to be Stephen Hawking. He held a party and invited guests after the party was completed, as a way to show time travel doesn’t exist. If I could, I would travel back in time to ask Stephen Hawking if he now believed in time travel.

Share something you did this past year to balance your work and personal lives.  I am committed to being present for my now two-year-old son. I decided I would take the last Friday of every month off to spend time with him for the whole day— a day of fun activities and waffles. Or as we call it, Daddy’s Day with Daddy’s Boy. it has been a blessing in my life and something I look forward to.

What movie, show or cartoon character would you like to play in real life and why?  I would love to be Mario in real life for a day and fight Bowser. My two-year-old son loves Mario and wants me to play the game for him all the time.

Jordan Pritchard

Principal, CS&L CPAs

Share a recent achievement for which you are most proud. Earlier this year I had the privilege of being named a Principal at my firm, CS&L CPAs. In this role, I am helping to lead our outsourced CFO team and work with our internal team and clients to grow this line of business. Becoming a Principal of the Firm has always been a career goal of mine and I am honored to get to work beside the incredible team at CS&L

What mistake in your career taught you the biggest lesson? I feel the biggest mistake I have made is not raising my hand and saying that I need help. I have always tried to take on as much as I can, but sometimes that can be detrimental to your career growth and others. I have learned from this that it is okay to ask for help or set expectations on when you can truly get something finished.

Share something you did this past year to balance your work and personal lives. I took time off during our busiest time of year to travel with my wife and best friends to surprise officiate their 10-year vow renewal. I typically would never take time off during this part of the year, but I knew it was something I had to be a part of. I am so glad I did. It was a great experience with lifelong friends.

What is your favorite dish to order for delivery? I have a problem with ordering too much and too often on UberEats, but it is just too convenient and easy. My biggest struggle is finding dishes that travel well, which is why I find myself ordering from Chipotle often. I enjoy a burrito bowl with carnitas, rice, black beans, pico de gallo, cheese, sour cream and of course guacamole.

What are the top three items on your bucket list? I have not traveled very much in my life and am an avid sports fan, so most of my bucket list items revolve around these three things: I would love to do a trip to Australia/New Zealand and see the various sites and outdoor activities. I love watching golf and keep hoping I am able to obtain tickets to see the Masters one day. A trip to France to see the sites in Paris and travel through wine country.

Taylor Robison

Owner, Operator and “Plant Lady,” Pilea Plants & things 

Share a recent achievement for which you are the most proud. Plants are for everyone, therefore, accessible and affordable. As a mobile plant shop, I have been able to implement that by partnering with local small businesses to do workshops and get plants in spaces where people are already comfortable spending their time. Recently, I have had the incredible opportunity to partner with Passion Roots. There is a large variety of low-maintenance plants that help provide decor for the space, but most importantly, people are able to shop and take plants home.

What mistake in your career taught you the biggest lesson? It’s imperative to create contracts and written agreements and I did not apply that rule in the beginning. It’s nice to think that everyone has the same vision and understanding, but it’s just not realistic. I was a bit naive at the start of my business venture, but I am thankful that this hard lesson was learned early.

What is your formula for success? Understanding that there is no formula, rather a loose recipe where success can be measured in different ways. I hinder myself when I think of success in linear terms because it leads to comparison. For some it’s about income, for others, it’s simply waking up to experience a new day. Whatever the loose recipe is, faith and gratitude are key ingredients that I try to include.

What is your guilty pleasure? I love gummy candy, especially Haribos! When my husband and I were dating, he sent me pounds of Haribo gummy bears in the mail. We got engaged shortly after.

Kevin Salvatore 

Loan Office, LENDIRECT Mortgage, Inc.

Share a recent achievement for which you are the most proud.  Currently, I am proud of the fact that while many mortgage lenders are struggling in their business due to the current market conditions, I have been able to keep up my monthly production and add 12 new referral partners this past month alone. I feel my business is in a good place in terms of the tech stacks to bring the lending process into 2023, the loan products and rates I’m offering which are more consumer-friendly being wholesale direct, and the growth protocols I have in place for new partnerships under the guidance and good mentorship of Sal Morabito, President and CEO of LENDirect. I am looking at building for next year and years to come.

What mistake in your career taught you the biggest lesson? The mindset of allowing others to either control my process or make me deviate from it. Many people who don’t understand my craft or process often want me to cut corners whether they think a requested document was unnecessary or they want me to rush a pre-approval on my end preemptively to achieve their perceived momentary positive outcome, but the reality is, the outcome that I offer that I advertise and brag about that people rave about is achieved through my process and not deviating from it. Any time there have been mistakes in my professional career on my part, it’s because I had the momentary lapse in judgment where a client or referral partner wanted me to deviate or cut corners and I wanted to please them, so I caved rather than stand my ground. Almost always this had ended up in a negative outcome one way or another. Now I am an avid protector of my process. No one transaction, referral partner or client is worth potentially compromising it. 

What is your guilty pleasure? I am going to get a lot of eyerolls, but I would have to say taking the time with anything to do with self-care, health, wellness and exercise. I do not drink, but I do enjoy taking a pause in the day for the occasional cigar at the new Corona Cigar Lounge downtown or on my back deck.

How do you spend your time outside of work? Outside of work and working on myself via the gym, I really enjoy spending a lot of my time with my wife, kids and family. A lot of my days are spent packing our kids up in the car, driving around with my better half, running caffeine-fueled errands, grabbing ingredients for dinner with our local family later that night and making leisure stops. My wife and I have our best communication driving around in the car, so I really enjoy those conversations with my best friend. She really understands me like no one else and makes me feel heard when a lot of the time I feel out of place making small talk after hours when I have been doing that all day for work. In the evenings, anyone who knows us knows we are huge horror and true crime fans, so that makes up most of our streaming algorithm. Of course, playing and loving on my little girls is my number-one, guaranteed source of pure joy. My absolute favorite activity, outside of time with the family or the gym, is diving and spearfishing our local waters. I love getting under the water and seeing marine life (sometimes taking it home for dinner). There is something about gliding through the water that is akin to flying and the silence is almost meditative.

Thomas Scheip

English Department Chair and Teacher, Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School 

Share a recent achievement for which you are most proud. I recently won the Mr. and Mrs. John Troiano Excellence in Teaching Award for the 2022-2023  school year. I am especially proud of this award because it was achieved through votes by my peers at Cardinal Mooney. To be recognized by other teachers (whom I deem much better teachers than myself) was a humbling moment. We don’t teach for validation or awards, but I was quite happy to know that I was at least doing something right in the eyes of people whom I look up to.

What mistake in your career taught you the biggest lesson? I think my biggest mistake early on was being less transparent with students about why certain decisions were made from the teaching perspective. Somewhat like the Wizard of Oz, I felt the need to ‘hide’ elements of ‘why things were the way they were.’ But when you pull back the curtain and explain to students why assignments are graded a certain way, or why classroom rules need to be enforced, they are much more understanding. Honesty has many rewards. So, I have learned that open and transparent communication is one of the most effective ways to get students to buy into their own education. 

What is your formula for success? Honestly, it’s cliché, but I would say my formula is about staying positive. There’s an optimism to me that always trusts that things will work out, even when logic might say otherwise. I once convinced myself that I liked the cold to help me endure a winter in Wisconsin.

Share something you did in the past year to balance your work and personal lives. My wife Bianca and I welcomed our first child into our young family. Baby Cora has put a lot into perspective for me. She has reminded me the importance of family. With our limited time on this Earth, we have to make the most of the moments we get with those close to us. I have dialed back on some of my involvement in extra-curriculars so that I can have more time with my daughter. I no longer collect tickets at the gate for our Friday night football games—instead, I sit in the crowd with my wife and child.

How do you spend your time outside of work? I love to cook, and I think sharing a meal with someone is one of the nicest things you can do. Maybe in another life, I own and operate a food truck, selling fried eggplant sandwiches and chimichangas.

If you could ask someone any question in the world (living or from the past), who would the person be and what would your question be? Don DeLillo is my favorite author and the reason I studied writing in college. I would love to ask him about the writing process for Underworld, an epic novel that starts with the Bobby Thomson’s 1951 walkoff home-run called the ‘Shot Heard Round the World’ but ends up spanning much of the 20th century and concerning issues like the cold war, waste management and the personal history we leave behind.

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan

McKenna Tanski

Marketing Manager, NewSouth Window Solutions, PGT Innovations

Share a recent achievement for which you are most proud. Being promoted to Marketing Manager for NewSouth Window Solutions, part of the PGT Innovations family of brands, from my old role, Marketing Specialist for PGT Innovations. In my new role, I’ve been able to use my finance minor more, I run budgets for over 18 different markets, I’ve been able to see more of the backend of the business and also how financing operates behind marketing. In my personal life, one thing I’m most proud of is becoming a mom this year. Giving birth is really hard, and adjusting to mom life is difficult while also attempting to keep up with your career. However, I am excited to find the right balance between work and home life and show my son what a strong, independent, successful woman looks like. It’s definitely something I’m extremely proud of.

What mistake in your career taught you the biggest lesson? Recently, someone on my team that reports to me failed to meet a deadline for something that is very vital to the operation of our company. While this wasn’t directly my mistake, I learned that I need to manage in a more effective way, which includes checking in on every aspect and detail of someone’s job and helping them grow and perform at their highest ability. PGT Innovations is about serving, leading and thriving, so to serve as a leader, I need to make sure that my team has all the tools they need to succeed.

What is your formula for success? The formula for success that’s worked best for me consists of three words: routine, consistency, adaptability. Whenever I create an effective routine, stay consistent in that routine in all seasons, and be ready to adapt to what may come, I’ve found that success comes easier. To effectively achieve success, you have to shift your mindset from ‘can’ to ‘will’.

What is the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done?  Gone shark diving! I’ve always loved the ocean but was absolutely terrified to dive with hundreds of sharks more than 80 feet down. However, it was the most magical, peaceful experience I have ever been a part of and I ended up going again! 

Do you have any ridiculous goals in life? I’d love to learn how to summit some of the world’s largest mountains. I’ve always felt like this is a stretch goal and may never happen but has been something I want to do to test myself physically and mentally. I also have a goal of going on the TV show Survivor to test my skills and find my limits. 

Dr. Brooks Tracey

Visual Arts Instructor, Sarasota County Schools & Ringling College of Art + Design   

Share a recent achievement for which you are most proud. It was almost exactly one year ago that I completed my Doctorate in Educational Leadership at the University of Florida. This journey involved three years of coursework and a year of independent research/dissertation writing. The thing that I am most proud of is that I accomplished this while still working full-time. As an educator, I have always believed in being a lifelong learner. 

What mistake in your career taught you the biggest lesson? I began my journey as an arts educator a little over a decade ago. Throughout that time, there have been many successes and many learning opportunities. I’ve learned to not get pulled down by negatives and to focus on the positives. Early on, if I had one difficult point in my day, that would be the thing I would think about. I failed to realize that the other 99% of my day was a success. It took time to adjust, but I am now able to learn from adversity and be proud of all the positives each day provides.   

How do you spend your time outside of work? Recently, I have gotten back into creating my own personal art. This has proven to become not only a way to relax and express myself, but it has also turned into a successful side venture. Over the past year, my paintings have been acquired by numerous private collections and have been displayed at locations such as Art Ovation, Pastry Art Café, Artful Giraffe Gallery and Kahwa Coffee. 

What is your formula for success? I once heard Coach Tony Dungy give a speech on how to be successful in any workplace. His three pillars for success have always stuck with me. The first, is to be reliable. It is important to be an individual who is competent and someone who can be counted on to do their job and do it well. The second is to get along with everyone. Being able to have positive relationships with one’s colleagues allows for a more welcoming and collaborative work environment. Finally, find your added value. Having an extra skill that can be utilized in your work environment will allow you to stand out from your colleagues. 

Share something you did this past year to balance your work and personal life. Since finishing my doctorate, I have gotten back into creating more of my personal art not only to relax and express myself, but it has also turned into a successful side venture. My paintings have been acquired by numerous private collections and have been displayed throughout the community at Art Ovation Hotel, Pastry Art Café, Artful Giraffe Gallery and Kahwa Coffee. 

What are the top three items on your bucket list? Play a round of golf on The Old Course at St. Andrews, teach a class at my alma mater (the University of Florida) and get a cartoon published in The New Yorker.