- August 12, 2021
Noemi Perez learned grit at a young age, when she worked in the produce fields of east Collier County, picking tomatoes and other vegetables and then selling the goods at farmers’ markets.
That never-quit ethos has served Perez, 39, well: she’s now CEO of The Immokalee Foundation, which helps young people in the area build skills for professional careers. It’s also served Perez well in the pandemic — when up-and-coming business leaders in all fields, for-profit and nonprofit, have had to find innovative ways to solve problems and reach their goals.
That dedication to a cause — in many cases bigger than themselves — is a central trait inherent in all the winners of the Business Observer’s 2020 40-under-40 issue. The theme of this year’s issue is Game On, a recognition that 2020 has been a year where resilience, fortitude, and for sure, grit, is a must-have to win at business. Despite the obstacles, the pandemic hasn’t kept this group down.
For some, like Perez, pandemic-based dedication — her Game On — is largely doing a lot of what she was doing before, just a lot more of it, be it fundraising or communicating with donors. For many others, it’s shifting to a new way of working, at home and not on the road, and juggling kids and families in a way they’ve never done before.
And for some, their Game On is a whole new game. Consider LaKendria Robinson, director of the Tampa Bay Super Bowl LV Host Committee’s Business Connect program. Robinson, 32, had to totally switch from in-person events to webinars and virtual calls. But she’s found ways to make it work, in some cases better than she ever imagined.
As in past years, the 2020 40-under-40 winners come from a diverse group of industries, backgrounds, colleges and even countries. On that last point, seven winners were born outside the United States, from Turkey to Peru to Sri Lanka. Several winners, in interviews with Business Observer editors, talked about how they were inspired by their parents, immigrants who came to the United States to chase the American Dream.
Nearly half the winners, 18, either run or launched their own company, from a real estate developer and a homebuilder to a protein pancakes pioneer and a radiation oncologist. One winner is a former NFL player: Vincent Jackson, a wide receiver for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Diego Chargers for 12 years who now, at 37, runs several businesses in the region. Another winner, Ashley Drummonds, 32, of ABS Protein Pancakes, has appeared on Shark Tank.
One final commonality among many winners is a competitive drive, from games like Monopoly to new clients, deals and courtroom trials, and, for one 40-under-40 recipient, fantasy baseball. (Dr. Arie Dosoretz, 38, a physician and managing partner at Fort Myers-based Advocate Radiation Oncology, competed in the Fanduel World Fantasy Baseball Championship in 2019.)
Lindsey Epting, 36, an executive insurance adviser for Sarasota-based Al Purmort Insurance/Shepherd Insurance, sums up that spirit well. “I have never, from childhood, taken no for an answer,” she says. As an adult, Epting says she relishes challenges — her Game On. “Bring me something that doesn’t meet the mold,” she says. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Shanthy Balachanthiran, 39 | Vernis & Bowling, civil litigation attorney
Trevor Baldwin, 34 | Baldwin Risk Partners, CEO
Tammy Charles, 30 | Ultimate Medical Academy, senior faculty member; Inovo Strategic Consulting, founder and chief strategist
Arjun Choudhary, 32 | Onicx Group, vice president
Ashley Drummonds, 32 | ABS Protein Pancakes, founder
Alyssa Gay, 28 | Alyssa Gay Consulting, founder and chief content strategist
Vincent Jackson, 37 | CTV Capital, CEO
Krystin Olinski, 34 | PRESS PR + Marketing, director
Edmon Rakipi, 32 | Opp Zone Capital, chief information officer and co-principal
LaKendria Robinson, 32 | Tampa Bay Super Bowl LV Host Committee, director of Business Connect and community outreach
Andrew Smith, 34 | Goldman Sachs & Co., vice president
Jonathan Solomon, 34 | Proleve, founder and president
Ali St Cyr, 32 | Tomlin St Cyr Real Estate Services, broker/co-owner
Samantha Watkins, 32 | Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, senior director of operations
John Williams, 33 | SoFresh, founder and vice president of operations
Lindsey Epting, 36 | Al Purmort Insurance/Shepherd Insurance, executive insurance adviser
Brendan Flores, 35 | Bank of America, senior vice president, consumer banking performance manager
Kevin Hillman, 34 | Restflix, CEO
Christin Lilly, 38 | Beach Babe Boutique, owner
Ryan Lodge, 39 | Capstone Contractors LLC, owner
Albi Moctezuma, 39 | Cruise Car Inc., operations manager
Gina Montes, 39 | Paramount Residential Mortgage Group, mortgage loan originator
Steven Pajevic, 39 | Crystal Clean Green Cleaning, CEO
Travis Ray, 35 | Dapper Bowtique, owner; Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, associate managing director
Ilyas Sayeg, 36 | Maglio Christopher & Toale PA, partner
Erin VanderVeen, 33 | Stratum/Tidewell Hospice, director of transformation and integration
Juan Diego Vasquez, 31 | OFDC Commercial Interiors, account executive – Sarasota
Brandy Wiesner, 33 | St. Armands Circle Business Improvement District, operations manager
Justin Allbright, 33 | Security Alarm Corp., president
Harrison Ambs, 37 | Vectra Digital, chief strategy officer
Paul Beattie, 39 | Beattie Development/Bergau Plumbing, president
Arie Dosoretz, 38 | Advocate Radiation Oncology, physician and managing partner
Bonnie Durden, 38 | Glass Design, owner and president
Veronica LeBlanc, 37 | Sanibel Captiva Community Bank, vice president and office manager
Rod Nobrega, 36 | Suffolk, project executive
Noemi Perez, 39 | The Immokalee Foundation, president and CEO
Shannon Puopolo, 37 | Henderson Franklin Starnes & Holt P.A., business litigation partner
Rob Stalvey, 37 | Coastal Irrigation and Plumbing, Coastal Lighting and Coastal Lawn and Pest, owner
Jessica Stanfield, 31 | Guardian ad Litem Foundation, 20th Judicial Circuit, executive director
Heather VanBrummelen, 28 | Pro Forma DHJ Promotions, marketing and branding specialist