TPA Lady Project inspires, engages female entrepreneurs

The Tampa Bay Area is brimming with thoughtful, entrepreneurial, ambitious women contributing to the local economy through business and job creation.

From nonprofit founders and small business owners to big business executives and global tech leaders, women now more than ever are leading and contributing to the region's success. 

It's that growing but disjointed community of powerful women that motivated Maryann Akinboyewa to relaunch the TPA Lady Project.

TPA Lady Project is a local chapter of the national nonprofit organization, The Lady Project. The Tampa Bay-based chapter strives to connect, inspire, and showcase driven women who are strengthening Tampa Bay’s entrepreneurial culture and community.

Akinboyewa was inspired to bring The Lady Project to Tampa Bay because she was determined to strengthen the local community of entrepreneurial women. As the City Manager of TPA Lady Project, Akinboyewa brought on a team of four women leaders who also share a passion and vision for nurturing a community that allows local women to support one another’s growth and success.

“Everything that's come to me that's been good in life is usually because another woman helped me get there,” says Akinboyewa. “I hope that the five of us can be that to other women by helping them get there. That right there is priceless.”

In addition to Akinboyewa, TPA Lady Project’s leadership team includes Events Coordinator Katrina Barraza, Graphic Designer Spenser Goodwin, Social Media Coordinator Melissa Meredith and Membership Coordinator Shayla O'Keeffe. Together, these leaders are determined to create a platform for Tampa Bay Area women to openly share their experiences in a supportive, community-oriented environment.

Fostering a community of entrepreneurial women

TPA Lady Project hosts various events, workshops, “cocktails and conversations,” panel discussions, meet-ups and other events to engage with the local community. The events TPA Lady Project hosts are an opportunity for local entrepreneurial women to connect with women who want to help build one another up.

For many, it helps women feel connected and inspired during a time when growing a business can sometimes feel lonely, says Barraza, a Tampa native.

After graduating from college in Orlando and moving back to Tampa, "I found myself missing the community of women who were constantly pursuing their passions and their careers,'' she says.

“TPA Lady Project is a breath of fresh air,” says Barraza. “It's fun for me. It's passionate. … When I come to TPA Lady Project events, I can interact with people, make connections, and gain things I don't get from my career sometimes.”

A mid-August TPA Lady Project event, “Glow, Girl” at the Franklin Manor, celebrated the local chapter’s 1st birthday. The event featured a panel discussion with Mindy Adams, VP Creative Director at 22Squared; Artist Stephanie Ong; Tia Smith, Educator and Blogger at Pennies In My Pocket; and, Susan Ward, Co-Founder of Buddy Brew Coffee.

About 40 women attended, connecting and networking around their business ventures, challenges faced, common experiences and career aspirations. The four panelists shared their advice, which ranged from how to stay kind in a male-dominated environment, how to find outlets outside of work to keep your creative juices flowing, and how women can overcome the challenges of being a marginalized community.

TPA Lady Project is exactly what Tampa Bay needs because women can openly connect with one another over their experiences, says Tia Smith, chapter member and one of the panelists.

“You can come as you are -- whoever that is -- and feel embraced, appreciated, and welcomed in this group of women who are trying to live their best lives,” says Smith. “To be able to come to a space like this and have women of all different backgrounds, levels of experience and ages to be able to talk about what they do and inspire each other in our own walks is an amazing opportunity that needs to happen more often.”

That’s exactly what TPA Lady Project leaders want the organization to be: a welcoming community for local women who can be a part of an organization that has their best interests at heart, says Spenser Goodwin, Graphic Designer for TPA Lady Project.

“TPA Lady Project is such a diverse group of people. It's people who are interested in all different things that are pursuing different careers,” says Goodwin. “TPA Lady Project is primarily based for younger adults, but there are all different ages and backgrounds. You can be comfortable being yourself and being who you genuinely are. You don't have to be afraid to be that when you come to our events.”

TPA Lady Project also makes it a priority to hosts events in both Tampa and St. Pete that connect both sides of the Bay. This gives local women access to TPA Lady Project events no matter where members and potential members live.
Reviving interest to become better

TPA Lady Project initially launched in July 2016 with more than 30 local women attending the launch party at the Station House in St. Petersburg. But months passed with no word from the chapter or follow-up member events.

People were sending emails to the national Lady Project organization asking about what happened to the TPA Lady Project, says Akinboyewa. The hiatus happened because the city manager at the time had moved to Vermont for a career opportunity, which was before she was able to establish a leadership team for TPA Lady Project.

Months later, Akinboyewa decided to take it upon herself to revive the project.

Akinboyewa was inspired by the success of Lady Project chapters in other communities and the TPA Lady Project's initial launch party. After reaching out to Sierra Barter, founder of The Lady Project, Akinboyewa officially relaunched the TPA Lady Project in March 2017 with a “Cocktails and Conversation” event at Proper Smokehouse & Whiskey Bar in St. Pete.

“Twenty women came out to the event,” says Akinboyewa. “I remember thinking, ‘Thank you! I'm so glad they still believe in us.’”

Since then, Akinboyewa successfully expanded the leadership team to five women leaders.

The hiatus created an opportunity for the new TPA Lady Project leadership team to rebuild the local chapter’s momentum, says Shayla O’Keeffe, Membership Coordinator for TPA Lady Project.

“With the brand new board, we started from scratch again and it was a good opportunity to rebrand the whole group based on what us five can now see together and what the five of us can do together,” says O’Keeffe.

Building a strong future for local chapter

Each member of the leadership team is volunteering their time and efforts to help expand the TPA Lady Project. 

“Everything that I do for the TPA Lady Project is the same thing that I would do for a client,” says Melissa Meredith, Social Media Coordinator. “The difference is that this is souls-inspired versus dollars in my bank account. It may not put food on my table, but it literally feeds my soul, which is more important in the long run.”

“When you come to TPA Lady Project events and you hear women talking about all the things that they are doing in their career, in their lives, and all the things that they've accomplished ... it's great to be surrounded by people who are like that,” says Goodwin. “It's what makes me want to volunteer my time.”

Work the TPA Lady Project team does to strengthen the sense of community in Tampa Bay is greatly appreciated by local businesswomen, says Susan Ward, co-founder of Buddy Brew Coffee and one of the panelists for TPA Lady Project’s “Glow, Girl” birthday event.

“It's exciting and inspiring that these women leaders are volunteering their time to organize TPA Lady Project,” says Ward. “TPA Lady Project is providing a venue where women can be open to sharing what really happens in their lives -- personally and professionally. We don't always have that opportunity. This is a great opportunity to open up, share our vulnerability with each other, and learn from each other.”

The TPA Lady Project chapter currently has over 30 active members. The leadership team’s goal is to continue growing the local chapter’s membership through building awareness and showcasing the positive difference TPA Lady Project is making in the local community.

There are several biweekly events planned for the rest of this year, including monthly cocktails and conversation events, workshops, panel discussions and a holiday party.

To suggest additional story ideas, email 83 Degrees.

To subscribe to our free weekly e-magazine, follow this link.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Zebrina Edgerton-Maloy.

Zebrina Edgerton-Maloy is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Tampa. She earned her BA in Journalism from Washington and Lee University in May 2016. Zebrina is also a social media specialist and content writer for startup companies and small businesses. She helps build their brand through social media management and creates their brand story through content writing. She is constantly motivated by Tampa Bay's entrepreneurial spirit. Zebrina is dedicated to share entrepreneurs' stories of grit, passion and innovation. Learn more at her website and follow her on Instagram or Twitter @zebrinaemaloy.