Meet Tampa Bay's Next Generation Leaders

As we reflect on 2012 and consider what's next for the Tampa Bay region, 83 Degrees Media thinks you should know more about a few young thought leaders and innovators who have enacted significant change in the Tampa Bay region.

We call these people "Next Generation Leaders." All are twenty- and thirty-somethings who've set an example for their peers (and the greater community) through actions, achievements and dedication to improving the quality of life in Tampa Bay. They're not sitting around waiting for someone else to step up -- they're already on the ground running.

Meet four individuals who ideate, inspire and instigate change right here in Tampa Bay.

Ryan Iaccovacci: Founder, Birdhouse Buying Club

In two short years, University of South Florida international studies graduate Ryan Iaccovacci, 26, has become a poster boy for Tampa Bay's evolving food culture and a vocal advocate for social justice.

As a child, volunteer work was less of a call to action and more of a routine chore prescribed by mom. When he began working with Big Brothers and Sisters through USF, it catapulted him into community activism.

"I wanted to find the most meaningful thing I could do with my life," he says.

He first pinged the public's radar as the face of Birdhouse Buying Club, an affordable food buying club established in Sulphur Springs in 2009 after late night conversations with roommates about what they can do to help improve the state of locally sourced food in Tampa.

"I felt like I had to solidify a vision that's not only inspirational, but practical," Iacovacci says.

Birdhouse received an early vote of confidence from members of Awesome Tampa Bay when it was awarded the foundation's first $1,000 grant in December 2011.

That money became a line of credit that allowed the club to purchase locally raised meats in bulk and sell it throughout the week, as well as hire teens to pick citrus fruit off the trees in Sulphur Springs when it's in season. Within the last 12 months the club has doubled its bank account, Iacovacci says.

"People want to see this grow," he says. "I think that's the biggest accomplishment."
 
The operation received yet another boost in August when Ella's Americana Folk Art Cafe owners Melissa Deming and Ernie Locke made a generous donation. A nearby abandoned lot intended for the restaurant's overflow parking was given to Birdhouse instead. It now serves as a second base of operations with potential to turn the vacant storefront at 5108 Nebraska Ave., into a market.

When Birdhouse files for its co-op status in January, Iacovacci hopes its mission will remain the same -- improve the community one step at a time, whether it's through a job offer to harvest produce or an affordable healthy diet.

"I love this city and I want to make it better," he says. "More people are taking on these initiatives and I'm realizing that connecting people is a piece that makes cities thrive and makes them cooler."

Brian Seel: Senior Project Engineer, The Beck Group

When 28-year-old Clearwater native Brian Seel moved to Atlanta in 2007 to earn his masters in urban planning and construction management from the Georgia Institute of Technology he was attracted to the city's vibrancy and, like most young professionals who relocate to a large city, eager to get his first big job..

Unfortunately for Seel that job hunt occurred during 2009 when there were a handful of construction jobs to be found. So, he moved back home and landed a job at Ajax Building Corporation as a project engineer, where he worked for three years.

"I was reluctant about moving back to Tampa Bay," he admits. "I had a general mixed view of the area."

Upon returning, he joined the efforts supporting Hillsborough County's transportation sales tax referendum in 2010 through TRANSITion Tampa Bay. Although the referendum ultimately failed to pass, it encouraged a necessary conversation about the future of Tampa.

"Any attempt at a push for better transportation has taken several years to accomplish," Seel says. "You've got to win hearts and minds on the issue before a proposal is admitted."

This week Seel, political consultant Kevin Thurman, attorney Brian Willis, and urban planner Brandie Miklus announced a new grassroots organization called Connect Tampa Bay. The group will advocate for better transportation options in Hillsborough and Pinellas County.

In addition to transportation advocacy, Seel's recent efforts as the vice chair of Emerge Tampa Bay, a program of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, have focused on connecting energetic young professionals with the resources and people who make projects happen.

In October he hosted a Young Professionals Summit  at Hillsborough Community College's Ybor campus with panelists including Tampa Bay Partnership President and CEO Stuart Rogel and Tampa Bay WaVE Executive Director Linda Olson.

More than 100 YPs showed up to discuss how they can improve Tampa Bay. Their recommendations? Recruit them to serve as mentors in K-12 education, create more exposure and branding for local artists inside and outside of the region, and advocate for legislation and policies that support an entrepreneurial economy, for starters.

"It's about encouraging young professionals to share their ideas on how to grow the economy," Seel says.

"They might not have the answer, but they're willing to find it. Most community and business leaders are very receptive and are willing to help them find it. That's what sets Tampa apart," he says. "You really can put your foot in the door and get people to pay attention to you."

Phara McLachlan: CEO, Animus Solutions

In less than 10 years, University of South Florida management information systems graduate Phara McLachlan, 36, has grown her managing and tech consulting firm Animus Solutions from a one-woman operation to a multimillion dollar company that includes clients such as Citigroup and Quest Diagnostics.

In 2009 she was an American Business Awards finalist for Executive of the Year in the field of Business Services and this past August she was selected as a finalist for Tampa Bay Business Journal's BusinessWoman of the Year Awards.

McLachlan's accolades as a business owner are clearly impressive, but it's her depth of knowledge, passion and commitment to her field that's truly inspiring.

By the time she was 8 years old, the New York City native already had created her own IT management database for her family-owned Haitian newspaper that tracked revenues, costs and expenses.

The business combined two of her biggest interests, technology and art. And, with her mother Carolle's encouragement, she pursued a career in the former.

Following college graduation in 1999 she worked for CommerceQuest, Advanced Marketplace, and consulted for leading consulting firms-- flying around the world to meet clients, returning from one trip on a Friday and packing for another on Sunday. The constant traveling gave her a deeper appreciation for Tampa's weather, atmosphere and people, in addition to helping her solidify her vision for her own company.

"I wanted a company that's really about being an advocate for the client," she says. "I like being able to over-exceed my clients' expectations."

Animus is known for exceeding the expectations of its employees, as well. McLachlan believes a happy employee is a happy business, and she makes sure hers are physically active, involved in the community through various charitable causes, such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and engaged with each other to create a true team effort.

"Everyone tries to work with each other here -- brainstorming, networking, connecting," she says. "It was a smart decision for us to start our company in Tampa."

Hampton Dohrman: Director, Creative Pinellas

It's hard to think of an art-based event in 2012 that T. Hampton Dohrman didn't create, support or attend.

The 29-year-old Tuscaloosa native known as the Dean of Awesomeness as founder of Awesome Tampa Bay is the creative mind behind Philanthropic Young Tampa and Think Small to Think Big, a grant program for artists. He was also deemed a 2012 Up & Comer by the Tampa Bay Business Journal.

When he took on the job of director of a revamped Pinellas Arts Council -- now called Creative Pinellas -- in Jan. 2011, Dohrman inhabited the offices of various arts institutions around Pinellas County through a series of administrative residences.

One week he'd set up office at The Florida Craftsmen Gallery, the next he'd be at the Dunedin Fine Art Center, the next at freeFall Theatre, etc.

It's as much a clever networking opportunity as it is indicative of Dohrman's need for creative spontaneity. 

"I have no idea what's expected of normal people in terms of work productivity," he says. "I work until midnight, drink and go to sleep."

Before he dove head first into Tampa Bay's art scene, he studied orchestral percussion at the University of South Florida for four semesters before completing his degree in accounting in 2005.

But working at Met Life and day trading post graduation weren't enough to satisfy his creative needs. He began to explore his options as a philanthropist and expanded his work with the Artists & Writers group, assisting in key projects such as the Homemade Music Symposium and Deep Carnivale.

In 2010 he established Hampton Arts Management, which he estimates has filtered nearly $150,000 in resources, advertising, promotion and grants to Tampa Bay creatives since its launch. The organization's third FEAST event, held at St. Petersburg's Museum of Fine Arts on Nov. 15, raised and distributed $3,200 to local artists.

Microfunding the arts is more than just a hobby for Dohrman -- it's his creative process.

"Things didn't exist, now they do," he says. "For some artists, these are the first grants they've received for their work. They'll remember it forever."

Up next for 2013? Finishing his masters in accounting from USF so his mother stops yelling at him for not having graduate degree, he jokes, and continuing to champion things that are outwardly positive in Pinellas County's art community.

One thing is certain -- Tampa Bay is lucky to benefit from his tireless search for entertainment.

"I wouldn't be this form of myself if I wasn't here in Tampa," he says.

Matt Spencer, a University of South Florida grad, is a native Floridian who enjoys sharing his love for Patty Griffin, browsing produce stands, spending hours in record shops and gawking at the ice cream selection in grocery stores. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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