Guest Column: Congresswoman Kathy Castor

112_castor_fl11The United States and Cuba will officially reestablish diplomatic relations and reopen embassies on July 20. In doing so, we have turned the page on 50 years of acrimony between our two countries. The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce has been an important part of making progress. Thank you. The Obama Administration’s change in policy is intended to empower the Cuban people and support the emergence of a democratic, prosperous and stable Cuba. An embassy in Havana will enable America to effectively promote our interests, protect and assist American citizens traveling to Cuba, and increase engagement with the Cuban people. An embassy is not a gift to a foreign country, but represents a sign that two countries are committed to deepening bilateral relations.

Formal diplomatic ties are especially important to families in Tampa Bay and throughout Florida. Our state policymakers should follow suit to boost student, cultural, religious and business exchanges. I have discussed opening a consulate in Tampa with U.S. State Department and Cuban officials. I am hopeful such discussions will bear fruit, especially with the support of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and so many leaders in our community who understand the historic ties between Tampa and Havana and the economic opportunities that come with becoming a Gateway to Cuba.

A couple of months ago, I was reminded of our deep, historic roots with Cuba when I DSC_0451smallmet with the former Tampa Cuban Consul, Raul Villamia, 90, to review the history of the Tampa-based consulate, coincidentally at the exact same time that Cuba was officially removed from the U.S. State Sponsor of Terrorism list, which has been cited as a stumbling block for more meaningful engagement between the United States and Cuba. I pledged to him that Tampa Bay would work to return the consulate to Tampa. With the Chamber’s help, we can make it a reality.

Thank you Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce for seizing the opportunity to lead on engagement and encourage human rights and economic reforms in Cuba.

Graduate from Local Startup to High-Growth Business

By: Walker Peek, CEO, Residential Acoustics

WalkerPeek_picIt’s challenging to get your business idea off the ground from an initial concept to putting money in the bank. Even tougher, but rarely discussed, is “crossing the chasm” to that larger market where you’ve scaled to bring a product or service to the economy-at-large. Ask local entrepreneurs and they’ll tell you the mental and emotional strains result in a turbulent swing, from the highs (new contracts, great hires) to lows (disgruntled employees, unhappy customers, and late deliveries). We saw great potential with Residential Acoustics after early sales and customer feedback. Here’s the roadmap we’ve followed to take our small startup from the kitchen to international distribution.

Most small businesses, around 95%, will remain small for the length of their lives, due primarily to their nature (laundromats, restaurants, retail) or being service-oriented, and thus largely-dependent on skilled knowledge workers (legal, accounting, and engineering firms). Each firm will define “success” differently, depending on its mission, profitability and strategic goals. However, there are some major milestones that are applicable to businesses across nearly all industries – if you can maneuver through each of these, you’ll be well on your way to strong growth and independence.

  1. Product Development – Bring Your Idea to Life!

This is the step most people consider “inventing,” where your creativity helps bring a concept into reality. I’ve always adhered to the sentiment, “Documentation is the difference between an idea and an invention.” How many times have you heard someone say they’ve got the next great idea? But without any meat on the bones (product and market research, defining its functions and requirements, sketching some concepts) it rarely goes anywhere. Keep as much documentation as you can, including your product requirements, functionality, photos of prototypes and testing data. Not only does this help better define what your product (or service) can provide, but it also makes future design iterations more manageable.

Our current AcoustiCurtainTM has come a long way from our initial prototypes

Our current AcoustiCurtainTM has come a long way from our initial prototypes

It’s amazing how far our AcoustiCurtainTM product line has come from the initial, conceptual design. After realizing the problem (keeping my fiancée up at night), I found the right material and form for a product – a soundproofing curtain that can roll up and down, while still blocking about 90% of the sound passing through.

However, after years of experimenting with various fabrics, adhesive Velcro and reinforcing materials, the current product hardly reflects its humble beginnings. Speed to market is key, so be ambitious about getting your first product out quickly, but don’t forget to constantly incorporate customer feedback so that you can achieve continuous improvement. We schedule a quarterly meeting to review customer recommendations and incorporate whichever changes truly add value to our products.

  1. Customer Testing and Validation – Know your Market

Now getting it to market – it’s scary to think you’ve got a product, and selling it on the Web, you’re forcing it on unsuspecting customers. We followed the Lean Startup Model, where we sold the prototype early on to get customer feedback and make any revisions once hearing their thoughts. For instance, we realized that customers did not really care what fabric options they had (other than color), since they really purchased the soundproof curtains for their function more than aesthetics. However, they were cost-conscious customers that did not want to pay the expense of those plusher materials or more intricately designed patterns. We removed the premium fabrics and went back to our basic product offering, which in turn drove sales to new highs.

Our first sales channel was a WordPress site that I designed myself with no programming background and only YouTube as a tutor (and a great one at that!). We received sales within weeks, after taking some photos in the spare bedroom, and were cash-flow positive with only a $3,000 bootstrapping fund.

We continued to iterate the product design, but once we received consistent, positive feedback from a variety of customers (B2C consumers and B2B enterprise customers), we locked down our design studies and trade-offs and began to scale production.

  1. Scale Production

Once your product has really been tested and you’ve received customer validation, you can begin scaling. If you haven’t needed external funding yet, you very well may need it now! Capital equipment and inventory needs, regardless of your industry, can often take financing outside your means. Since it has a useful life over years, you’ll receive its benefits long after it’s been paid off.

You can take a loan (scary) or angel investment from friends and family (trust me – just as scary), but be sure to carefully document your assumptions and have reasonable expectations for your business’s growth.

Our first orders we sent to a sewing workroom in Lutz where they were able to handle a few curtains to several dozen at a time without us needing to worry about overhead and workforce. However, once we began selling hundreds per month, with the vast majority of them being custom-made, we realized it was time to open our own manufacturing capability. Starting with a few hundred square feet and an industrial Juki sewing machine, we’ve grown into a 3000-sq. ft. facility with a full-time team. We continue to streamline our process with new equipment and continued employee training, preparing for the large growth we project over the next several months.

  1. Grow Your Sales Team!

And finally, we arrive at the penultimate milestone of developing a sales process and hiring sales people. This is ultimately where the rubber meets the road. If the market demands your product, then you have a potential homerun and just need to reach the right customers and purchasers to achieve large-scale success.

As an engineer, it’s been easy over the years to look at our sales teams and assume that it was the high-quality product selling itself. Nothing could be further from the truth. Developing a successful sales process takes time and effort, outlining how you are feeding prospects into your pipeline, what information and sales techniques you use to promote them to leads, and finally, how you close these into actual sales.

Many startups take the shotgun approach, trying to reach out to everyone that may need their product, directly or otherwise. However, with limited resources, this can stretch the burn rate to its limit, and end up bankrupting a firm before a loyal customer base catches it.

Pay careful attention to your customer acquisition cost (CAC) and customer lifetime value (CLV), which is highly dependent on customer type and recurring sales. For our firm, the majority of B2C customers buy only once, outfitting soundproof curtains over their bedroom or office windows, or in some cases, on doors and hallways to limit sound in their home-space. We may get the occasional referral, but we need to be conscious of the customer’s buying nature. This means we must constantly reach new customers through targeted marketing and advertising campaigns.

At the same time, our B2B customers (property managers and construction firms) often buy large quantities, and in some cases use them at multiple locations and properties. Getting these customers into our sales funnel begins with cold calls and drop-ins, and matures to detailed discussions and ultimately price negotiations. While it may take several months to get your first true sale, realize that your next one may be right behind that, since all of the infrastructure (and sales process) has been built. Keeping your pipeline full, and flowing forward, makes a world of difference on the bottom line. To maximize the conversion of sales from each node (prospect, lead and sale) we focus on engaged sales team training, and allow them to tailor the sales process to their strengths.

Extended Success:

Every startup faces these critical challenges and oftentimes it takes an iterative approach to improve the product and reach the right market segment. By following a systematic approach, we’ve been able to overcome a number of obstacles and mistakes, and graduate from a local startup to a high-growth international business.

For more information on Residential Acoustics, visit

Emerge Tampa Bay to Host 2nd Speaker Series Event at MacDill AFB

Emerge Speaker Series

Kaila Barrington, Paycom, Emerge Professional Development Committee Member  

Once, I performed an exercise called the “triangle of success.” The instructor asked the audience what characteristics we thought made up a successful person. We all shared our thoughts:

  • knowledgeable/smart
  • open-minded
  • risk-taker
  • positive
  • driven
  • big thinker
  • determination
  • hard-working
  • open to feedback
  • perseverance
  • embraces change
  • inclusive
  • uses time wisely

Once the list was finalized, the instructor went one-by-one through the list and asked us which characteristics represented skill and which represented attitude, or both. What we found is that almost all were classified as attitude. The moral of the story: success is reached by having the right attitude. Yes, skills are important, but without the right attitude you will always fall short of success.

On July 15, Emerge Tampa Bay will hold its second professional development speaker series event. The topic of this event is leadership with guest speaker, Colonel Daniel Tulley. He is the current base commander of MacDill Air Force Base.

So, what type of leader is the event’s featured speaker, Colonel Daniel H. Tulley? Sure, we know by his title that the military has classified him as a leader, but how does he see himself?

Here’s what I found:

On his LinkedIn profile, he establishes himself as a leader that takes a strategy and sees it through to success by developing people and building teams to get results.

If you have not yet visited MacDill Air Force Base, this is your opportunity to see and learn about its impact on our region. Members of the military are invited to attend this event to learn about Emerge Tampa Bay and ways to get involved in our community. Growing up in a military town myself, I know the base brings diversity and many different leaders to the area. Through the Chamber’s Military efforts, the community is able to support our troops and maintain a positive, mutually beneficial relationship. Emerge Tampa Bay is excited to be on base to learn more ways to engage with our local military community.

To find out first-hand about Colonel Tulley’s leadership philosophy and the impact of MacDill Air Force Base on Tampa Bay, sign up to attend the event here:

Operation: Partnership 2015


Scott Leslie, Steve Stanford, Adrienne Wells, SrA Ted Henderson, Mike Shreeve, Michale Hauck

By: Steve Stanford, Plantz

I had a great morning with a fine serviceman – Senior Airman Ted Henderson of the United States Air Force. SrA Henderson is rounding out 5 years of service protecting our country and is facing a 10-month window to determine the next step in his career.  He will have the opportunity to remain in the military and go “career,” or seek work in the private sector. To best understand his options, and as part of Operation: Partnership, I made some introductions in the Tampa business community.

First stop – Mark House, Managing Director, Beck. Mark, a West Point graduate and former US Army Ranger, talked extensively about the up-beat prospects in the construction industry in Tampa, citing significant private and public investment in exciting Tampa-based projects. Perched four stories above The Heights and overlooking Ulele, Mark likened much of the construction work flow to that of a military unit and invited Ted to keep in contact.

Next stop – Scott Leslie, VP Strategic Alliances, Tribridge. Scott assembled several members of Tribridge’s onboarding team to offer a broad view of opportunities at one of Tampa’s leading technology consultancies, and the opportunities are extensive.  Tribridge has established its own academy to bring in new hires who are starting their careers or moving into the technology sector for the first time, which could prove ideal for Ted and other retiring service men and women.


Steve Stanford, SrA Ted Henderson, Preston Farrior

Third stop – Preston Farrior, COO, Ferman Automotive Group. The Ferman brand has been a big part of Tampa for over 120 years, and Preston showed SrA Henderson how the company finds the best people in their industry and invited him to take a closer look at the vast opportunities in the auto business.

Final stop – Keith Johnson, General Manager, Sheraton Riverwalk Hotel. Keith was able to talk extensively about the opportunities at Sheraton, and in the hospitality industry in the Tampa Bay area. In between greeting NHL execs, Keith treated us to lunch at the Ashley Street Grill.

With that, I think Operation: Partnership was a huge success, and I encourage other Tampa-based business leaders to participate in this program to help retain some of the significant armed forces talent as they transition from military to civilian careers.

Can You Change An Irrevocable Trust?

By Sid Werner

SWThe term “irrevocable” sounds pretty permanent, so many people assume once they’ve finalized an irrevocable trust there is no turning back. If you’re having second thoughts about your irrevocable trust, know that under the right circumstances changes are possible.

How Can You Change an Irrevocable Trust?

Whether you established an irrevocable trust from the outset or established a revocable living trust that becomes irrevocable upon your death, modification is possible through court intervention. As long as modification of the trust is consistent with your purpose in creating the trust, the trustee or a qualified beneficiary of the trust may petition the court for judicial modification of the trust.

What Changes Can the Court Order?

The court has authority to:

  • Change the terms of the trust;
  • Terminate the trust in whole or in part;
  • Permit the trustee to do acts that are not authorized or are prohibited under the trust instrument; or
  • Prohibit the trustee from doing acts that are permitted by the trust.

Given the court’s broad power, any modifications consistent with the trust’s purpose are a possibility and that process begins with the petition of a trustee or a qualified beneficiary.

Should you have any questions related to wills, trusts and estates, please call Englander Fischer at (727) 898-7210 to see how one of our attorneys can assist you.

Why Join Emerge?


By Suzanne Lambert, KPMG LLP, Emerge Tampa Bay Membership Committee Member

SuzanneWhen I moved to Tampa from Atlanta last summer I was fresh out of college, brand new at my job and felt somewhat disconnected from the Tampa area. All of my professional and personal connections were back home and I felt like I was missing ties to the Tampa community. I finally stumbled upon Emerge while I was looking for professional organizations online and, to put it simply, it was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

However, this is no relationship that starts beautifully, only to end in tears and emotional Facebook statuses. Emerge has continuously helped to expand my professional network while helping me meet some amazing new friends and leaders in the community along the way. It boasts four committees fit for every niche, has a presence in nearly every event and industry in Tampa and holds very popular monthly networking events coined “The Buzz.”

The most recent Buzz event was held on Thursday, May 14 at Ducky’s Sports Lounge, a Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce member conveniently located near downtown Tampa. The pouring rain did not stop 175 young professionals from eagerly filling the space, drink tickets in hand, to connect with other young professionals in the area. Attendees had the opportunity to grab drinks and food while engaging in mini bowling or simply meeting other people.

To my surprise, most people came alone, but you never would have guessed it by the easy and lively conversation that flowed from every corner in Ducky’s. Conversation ranged from work, to sport teams, to which style of pizza is best (New York, IMHO). I had the opportunity to talk about my company, as well as learn about amazing companies, charities and resources that I did not know of previously— all while in a fun and comfortable environment with people who are genuinely interested in what others do. The event was set to end at 7:30 p.m., but many people did not leave until around midnight.

What came as an overwhelming relief to me at the Buzz event was that many of the fellow young professionals attending shared my same reality— they were from another state and needed a hub like Emerge to act as a home base and build their network over a few drinks and casual conversation. And that it does! I left with more business cards than I could count, dinner plans for the following week, and finally, that sense of belonging that I had been looking for.

I believe that the best part of Emerge Tampa Bay and its events like The Buzz is that it fuses the professional sphere with the personal. A misconception might be that events like The Buzz are tired gatherings with people delivering cheesy pitches about their companies/product. That simply could not be further from the truth. The young professionals attending these events want the same things you and I do. They want to be active in their communities while meeting new friends, building new industry contacts and exposing their businesses while learning about others’.

What are you doing to remain active in your community? Possibly more importantly, what are you doing to remain competitive? Let’s face it, showing up to work 9-5 (or 8-8, if we’re being realistic) simply doesn’t cut it anymore. Organizations want their employees to be active in the communities and professional organizations. Emerge offers its members countless opportunities to engage with like-minded young professionals while utilizing valuable community resources and becoming more active in the Tampa area. Emerge has become that competitive edge for me—let it become yours too.

3rd Annual Emerge Tampa Bay Nonprofit Fair Partners with Give Day Tampa Bay in 2015


Megan Brown, Northwestern Mutual/ Emerge Tampa Bay Community Outreach Committee Member

I occasionally ask myself, “Is it better to give than to receive? Is there something missing in my life when a philanthropic spirit is not woven into my busy schedule or monthly finances?” I don’t think anyone would deny that a person feels a sense of fulfillment helping others in need.  Yet, we often find that lack of finances, time constraints or just not knowing where to find outreach opportunities can keep us from experiencing that blessing.

In an effort to overcome the obstacles that hinder outreach opportunities the 3rd annual Emerge Nonprofit Volunteer Fair partnered with Give Day Tampa Bay in Channelside Bay Plaza during their 24-hour online fundraising event. The goal was to not only raise money for nonprofits, but to present opportunities where you can donate your time.

If time constraints were a concern, people could choose among 549 nonprofits to donate to at the push of a button. Gifts totaling $1,734,540.75 were raised during Give Day Tampa Bay from nearly 10,193 donors!

For those wanting to donate their time, 24 local organizations set up tables in Channelside Bay Plaza to showcase their missions and highlight volunteer opportunities through the help of Emerge Tampa Bay.

There were a diverse group of nonprofits in attendance, providing opportunities for everyone. Whether your heart’s desire is to work with animals, children, disabled veterans, or others in need, attendees were bound to find something that appealed to their passion. I found that this event made for a fun and easy way to find opportunities that aligned with the causes I cared about. Check out the list of nonprofits who participated in the fair below.

As a busy, young professional juggling a marriage and the occasional budget blues, I still realize the importance of giving back but had all the excuses in the world not to be involved. Through the Emerge Nonprofit Fair, I met with representatives of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay. They said the organization is willing to work with my schedule and only asked for some of my free time. I decided that their willingness to work with my schedule was a good fit for me. I cannot wait to meet a little brother that I will be paired with in the coming month.

Whether you donate financially or give of your leisure time, it is a valuable contribution. It is good to be reminded, every now and then, to take the time to care.

Just like my opportunity, Give Day Tampa Bay and the Emerge Nonprofit Volunteer Fair proved that there is an opportunity for everyone to be involved. If you are interested in learning about nonprofits in Tampa Bay, the Emerge Community Outreach Committee is the perfect place to start. Their meetings take place on the first Monday of every month. Join me sometime! The only question left is, “Are you ready to give back?”

3rd Annual Emerge Tampa Bay Nonprofit Volunteer Fair Participants:

2nd C.H.A.N.C.E Center 4 Boyz
Americans For Prosperity Foundation
American Lung Association
Best Buddies Tampa Bay
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay
Children’s Home Society of Florida
Cracker Country/Florida State Fair
Fellowship of Christian Athletes
Florida Aquarium
Florida Gulf Coast Paralyzed Veterans of America
Hillsborough Education Foundation
LifeLink Foundation
Instruments of Change
Meals On Wheels of Tampa
Metropolitan Ministries Inc.
Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay
Seniors in Service of Tampa Bay, Inc.
Solita’s House, Inc.
Special Olympics Florida – Hillsborough County
St. Peter Claver
Tampa Bay Beagle Rescue
Tranquil Shores Children’s Foundation
Visions of Hope International

Are You Insured for the Unexpected?

By: Barry Kanner

BarryKannerUsually the biggest stress in having a party is getting every RSVP, but being a host can expose you to more than a partygoer’s critiques of the décor and food.

If you have a holiday party at your office or home and you serve alcoholic beverages, you could be exposed to liability if one of your guests causes a car accident on their way home. If the guest fails a sobriety test and an injured party alleges that you negligently allowed an intoxicated guest to leave your premises, will your insurance cover you?

Florida law says you are not liable, unless you intentionally or mistakenly allowed an underage person to consume alcohol at your function or if you served someone you know who abuses alcohol. You must still check your insurance policy to be sure that your insurance carrier will defend you if are sued for negligently serving alcohol at your party. In some cases, even if you can prove you are not responsible, your insurance company will not provide a defense for you, therefore it is important to consult with an attorney.

Should you have any questions regarding your insurance coverage, please call Englander Fischer at (727) 898-7210 to see how one of our attorneys can assist you.

Is An Unsigned Contract Enforceable?

Man Signing Contract

By: Beatriz Sanchez, Associate – Englander Fischer Attorneys

beatriz_sanchezMost people think all hope is lost if a signature is missing from a contract, but that is not always the case. Contracts play a big role in business, and it is important to know that you do not have to give up your right to enforce a contract if one party did not sign it.

What Creates an Enforceable Contract?

The point of signing a contract is to show assent, however, signing a contract is not the only way to do that. In fact, Florida courts have found that where a contract was not signed but a party’s actions suggested acceptance, an enforceable contract existed. In one case, an enforceable contract was found to exist where a party did not sign the contract, but paid a deposit and subsequently paid invoices.

How Can You Uphold a Signed or Unsigned Contract?

Even if one party signed the contract but the other party did not, the contract may be upheld against the signing party, unless the contract expressly stated that the signature was conditioned on all of the parties signing the contract.

Given the various scenarios where Florida courts have enforced unsigned contracts, it is imperative to consult with an attorney before foregoing your contractual rights and remedies. Should you have any further questions regarding contract enforcement, please call Englander Fischer at (727) 898-7210 to see how one of our attorneys can assist you.

Hiring Employees with Disabilities

The Learning Academy Employment Services at USF 


Employers know that staff turnover is very expensive. From hiring time, to retraining, to supervising new employees, employers spend countless hours and dollars sustaining their workforce. People’s lives change all the time causing them to leave their jobs and move on. A more stable workforce that is loyal, responsible and dedicated to the business is what many employers wish for.

If your company has considered hiring people with disabilities, The Learning Academy Employment Services at the University of South Florida can assist with finding and developing the right people for the job, while building a diverse and sustainable workforce. Our goal is to minimize turnover costs by connecting businesses to competent people who are seeking long-term employment. We will work with you to identify the position requirements, match a person with the qualities you are seeking, assist in the hiring and training process as needed, and be available to consult on a regular basis to maximize successful outcomes. We provide all this at no cost to the employer.

To speak to one of our successes, Izzy is a graduate of the Learning Academy, a social skills and employment readiness program we offer at the University of South Florida for young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder. When asked what she’d like to do next, she said she was interested in a job serving food. We approached Aramark, a food service company, to introduce them to Izzy. When the interviewers met Izzy and saw her portfolio, they became interested in supporting her to find a job with them.

Izzy now works for Champions’ Choice, a student dining hall at the University of South Florida run by Aramark that caters to student athletes. She has been a server and cleaner there for almost three years and loves her job. She won a service award and was recently given new responsibilities of baking cookies, her dream job come true.

Izzy likes her work routines and wearing a uniform, and she gets along with her coworkers, but she also appreciates that other people understand her and let her be herself. She gets along well with her supervisor, and also has a coworker she can talk to if needed. She is always at work early, in spite of a difficult commute.

Success stories like Izzy’s reminds us that it does not take much for an employer to support an employee with a disability. We hope to create a network of future business leaders who pave the way for diversity efforts that benefit employers, employees, and positively impact our economy.

Top 5: Food for Thought for Employers:

  • Sometimes the way we’ve always done it isn’t the way we need to do things. Hiring people with disabilities should move from a theory of American’s With Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance to practice of inclusion for all.
  • Hiring people with disabilities is the right thing to do when the person meets the essential qualifications for the position with or without accommodations.
  • Each person is an individual and hiring decisions should be made on a case by case basis.
  • In addition to people with disabilities having a variety of education levels and skill sets, people with disabilities, also bring a diverse and unique problem solving perspective into the workplace based on accommodating their disability throughout their lifetime.
  • It’s alright to let employees with disabilities and the agencies that support them know that you are still learning about disabilities and how to best accommodate employees as needed.

SusanRichmondTo schedule a meeting to learn more about what the Learning Academy Employment Services can do for your business, please contact Susan Richmond, Learning Academy Coordinator at 813-974- 2996. You can also access our website at