AMPLIFY Clearwater wraps first tourism incubator class, plans to build on momentum

Colette Florido says a personal family experience inspired her to get into the CBD business. 

A few years back, she turned to CBD as an alternative to alleviate the stress and anxiety associated with her father’s dementia. Florido says her father’s anxiety subsided and he began sleeping better. From there, she launched CR World, a St. Pete-based company and online retailer specializing in hemp-derived wellness products.

Looking to grow her business and expertise, Florido is one of several local entrepreneurs who took part in AMPLIFY Clearwater’s recently-launched tourism incubator, which was that chamber of commerce organization’s first incubator program and the first tourism-focused incubator in Florida.

During the December 13th pitch night competition for the incubator’s first class of entrepreneurs, Florido and CR World take home the $20,000 first prize. Moving forward, Florido wants CR World to introduce a line of high-end products for hotel spas and coffee shops, where CBD products can bring relief to tourists who have overindulged in food, wine or sun. 

Florido says the incubator, which met each Thursday for 10 weeks and included workbook exercises, mentors and speakers, helped her update outdated business financials, schedule regular reviews and audits of key financials and identify her target demographic.

“It’s amazing how we can't see the forest for the cannabis trees,” Florido says.

Eight businesses completed the incubator program, which AMPLIFY ran in collaboration with Clearwater firm Economic Impact Catalyst, and participated in the December 13th pitch night at Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties Homeowner Education Center in Clearwater. During the event, Economic Impact Catalyst CEO David Ponraj puts the purpose of the incubator in perspective.

“Most business owners work in their businesses, not on their businesses,” he says.

AMPLIFY Clearwater wraps its first tourism incubator class with a pitch night in mid-December. The event also sheds light on the entrepreneurial journey of the business owners. Lori Lenhart, owner of Allori Blow Dry Bar in Belleair Bluffs, which wins $10,000 and second place at the pitch night, says she’s a nurse practitioner with three small children at home who can't do her own hair. But she visited a blow dry bar on vacation and decided to launch one in Belleair Bluffs, which is a short distance from Belleair Beach, Indian Rocks Beach and Clearwater Beach. 

Lenhart says she’s CFO, CEO, manager and janitor. Allori has grown into a full-service hair salon that also offers IV therapy and vitamin and Botox treatments. The atmosphere is so welcoming to customers that, when Lenhart’s brother-in-law visited he compared the business to a “sports bar for women.”

Scott Flesch left a successful career in technology sales to find a career he was more passionate about. He launched Fishing Clearwater Inshore to fill a gap in the local charter fishing market for shorter, half-day trips. He does strong business with tourists and hotel guests, booked more than 230 charters in 2022 and now has a team of five captains.

Marisol Napoleon opened Essentials Massage and Facials of Clearwater, a health and wellness business she co-owns, on Valentine’s Day 2020. Five weeks later, the COVID-19 pandemic shut the business for three months and left it “hanging by a thread.” Today, business is strong, but Napoleon says they have still operated “in survival mode for three years.” Through the incubator, she’s now looking more long-term with marketing, business and financial plans.

Bill Linville, owner of Aspirations Winery, has overcome the challenges of the BP oil spill, red tide, the pandemic and Hurricane Irma. Aspirations and its tasting room have strong business from tourists. But Linville says he’s focused on marketing to increase the exposure locally, particularly for the winery’s event space.

Cherisse Ponraj is launching her business, Girls Sailing, with a focus to take women on weekend sailing trips that explore Florida’s West Coast. The goal, she says, is to create a “journey to empower women.”

Mike Helmstetter, the former CEO of Jolley Trolley Transportation, launched Tourism Transit Solution as a micro-transit service that will connect destinations like Clearwater Beach, the Clearwater Aquarium, the rebuilt Coachman Park and downtown. The company will feature a fleet of electric tuk-tuks that provide point-to-point on-demand transportation for $7 per person. Helmstetter says the new micro transit solution will benefit tourists and businesses in the tourism industry.

Mabel Gutierrez with One Medical Center says that the recently-opened urgent care clinic plans to offer primary care, specialty care and pharmacy services under one roof with a focus on foreign tourists and the uninsured. 

AMPLIFY Clearwater is currently accepting applications for its second tourism incubator cohort, which is scheduled for spring 2024.

“There's a lot of excitement around this program, a lot of excitement about what it can do what it can accomplish and what it can bring in terms of economic investment," AMPLIFY President and CEO Amanda Payne says during the pitch night event.

AMPLIFY also plans to step up its services for entrepreneurs launching and growing businesses through boot camps, additional classes and co-working space.

For more information, go to AMPLIFY Clearwater tourism incubator.

For information on the businesses in this story, go to
CR WorldAllori Blow Dry Bar, Essentials Massage and Facials of ClearwaterAspirations Winery, Fishing Clearwater InshoreOne Medical Center, Tourism Transit Solution,
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Read more articles by Christopher Curry.

Chris Curry has been a writer for the 83 Degrees Media team since 2017. Chris also served as the development editor for a time before assuming the role of managing editor in May 2022. Chris lives in Clearwater. His professional career includes more than 15 years as a newspaper reporter, primarily in Ocala and Gainesville, before moving back home to the Tampa Bay Area. He enjoys the local music scene, the warm winters and Tampa Bay's abundance of outdoor festivals and events. When he's not working or spending time with family, he can frequently be found hoofing the trails at one of Pinellas County's nature parks.