Rising Star: Ferdian Jap Juggles Law School, Nonprofit Work

Hundreds of gift bags carpet the wooden floor behind where Ferdian Jap sits. Programs, tightly bound and stacked halfway up the wall, await distribution to eager film buffs. Two days before the opening of the Gasparilla International Film Festival (March 29-April 1), the board headquarters is tidy, but buzzing with a thrum of excitement.

"In the final weeks, this has been like a full-time job,'' says Jap, who volunteered for the Festival last year and is now serving his first term as a board member.

He is also pursuing a law degree at Stetson University; flipping rental properties with his business partner, Tony Nguyen, through their investment company, Nguyen Jap Investment Group; and working with the board of Tampa’s United Service Organizations to build a USO facility at Tampa International Airport. Among other things.

"There are a lot of Post-It Notes on the desktop,'' Jap says and laughs.

But this self-possessed 27-year-old seems to enjoy his flexible, project-based career style, shifting between business ventures and nonprofit service with such alacrity that boundaries quickly blur.

"Today I was trying to juggle [festival preparations] while we were closing on a 10-unit apartment building for our company,'' says Jap. "It’s a lot of fun. I couldn't do this if I had a regular 9-to-5 job.''

An Eye For Innovation

In 2010, Jap received the Tampa Bay Business Journal's Up and Comers Under 30 Award, presented to dynamic young executives and entrepreneurs. After earning an MBA from the University of Tampa that same year, he worked for two years as Project Development Specialist for the Tampa Riverwalk, bringing an eye for innovation to the riverfront park system's pitch book, fundraising and marketing strategies.

"Ferdian is one of the most interesting guys I know,'' says Nguyen, who met Jap through a mutual friend in 2008. "Whenever I look at my schedule and wonder how I'll get all this done today, Ferdian comes to mind and everything just seems to get easier.''

Jap is now forging new ground at the Gasparilla International Film Festival, trying out technologies that facilitate increased connectivity among film-goers and greater exposure to their social networks.

For example, there's the Eye-Fi wireless memory card Jap introduced into the Festival this year. Designed in California, these wi-fi embedded SD cards link any digital camera directly to the Internet, allowing for instant photo uploads and essentially creating a direct web feed of high-quality images -- not just those snapped using smartphones.

Flyers handed out at GIFF events direct patrons online to tag photos, share with friends and spread the word about their favorite films and parties.

"It gives us live exposure,'' says Jap. "Since last year we're really trying to increase the number of people who use social media during the film festival.''

Another new twist: a text-message-based voting system to streamline this year's GIFF Audience Choice awards. Using a service called Poll Everywhere, viewers can vote on their favorite films by texting keywords from their personal phones. Votes are recorded directly into an online database, from which reports can then be downloaded.

"It should be a lot easier than tabulating sheets of paper until 2 a.m.,'' Jap says, recalling 2011's traditional ballot voting process.

The inspiration to use a phone-based platform came from Jap's recent experience organizing automated cell phone tours along the Tampa Riverwalk. Now a Riverwalk volunteer, he still keeps a wish list of projects he would like to bring to fruition along the linear park.

What's Next? T-Shirts And A USO Lounge

Topping that list is a line of Tampa Riverwalk merchandise designed to place the signature Riverwalk logo on T-shirts, hats and tote bags -- spurred after tourists expressed interest in staff shirts bearing the insignia.

A merchandise contract now sits before the Riverwalk board of directors for approval. Printers and suppliers are lined up, eager to get the green light. Jap's goal is to move forward in time to have merchandise available during the Republican National Convention in August, so visitors from across the nation can bring a little piece of Tampa back home.

 "There's that level of feeling like I've made a difference in Tampa, in [building] the strategy behind the Riverwalk,'' says Jap. "It's not just a sidewalk -- it's going to make a difference in the city itself.''

Meanwhile, Jap continues shuttling between pet projects with one eye on the future.

The USO airport lounge is slated to open July 1, offering veterans and enlisted troops a buffet of amenities while they await deployment by plane. During GIFF opening night March 29, Jap sweeps through the lobby of the Tampa Theatre sporting an earpiece, a giant grin, and a fistful of programs. He says his plan is to graduate Stetson within two years and begin work in corporate law, as long as his chosen firm allows him to retain nonprofit board positions.

"Anything less would be a deal breaker,'' says Jap.

Mitzi Gordon is a writer, artist and museum professional based in Tampa. She works as media manager for Creative Pinellas and conducts literary outreach with her converted short bus, Bluebird Books. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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