In the mid-2000s, with a bachelor’s in political science and English literature from Florida State University in hand, Aakash Patel seemed destined to go to law school and embark on a career in the legal industry. Then, much like today, an economic crisis hit and caused many people, including Patel, to rethink choices large and small. He decided to switch gears and seek a job in public relations or marketing, but then, urged on by his grandfather, father and some entrepreneurial friends he now thinks of as mentors, he was persuaded to start his own company — Elevate Inc., a business consulting firm.
Nearly a decade later, Elevate has worked with more than 200 companies, including Aegis Medical Group, Velocity Resource Group, Engage Behavioral Health, Gazelle Capital and Pilot Bank, to name just a few. It provides a wide range of services, ranging from social media training to help with networking and professional development.
'Everyone has been in a situation where they have needed someone else's guidance.' — Aakash Patel
Patel says some innate traits helped him make the leap to entrepreneurship. But he also needed a big push.
“My entrepreneur friends all said, ‘Look, you're good at helping people. You're good at connecting people. You always have a lot of energy — you’re going to be a creative business owner,’” he recalls. “When you have a bunch of people independently tell you something like that, you know they’re not colluding; you’ve got to listen to them.”
Patel, with his lack of formal business education, admits he had to Google “how to write a business plan,” but he never shied away from asking questions of his mentors. “I had a couple of friends who sat me down and said, ‘Hey, look, you really need to start your own business and we'll help guide you through it,’” he says. “Everyone has been in a situation where they have needed someone else's guidance.”
That philosophy has guided Elevate Inc. as the business consulting industry in Tampa Bay — owing largely to the region’s surging startup community — has become increasingly crowded. Despite a proliferation of business incubators and other competitors, Patel has stuck firmly to the company’s motto: “Learn, Connect, Grow.” He attributes Elevate’s big wins — such as helping bring the Indian-American Film Academy Awards, a $30 million event, to Tampa in 2014 — to a relationship-based approach to messaging and branding.
“We’re not an SEO firm, not a website design firm. I'm not a social media content writer,” he says. “We are helping relationships grow through introductions. And that piece, when you're starting a business, is so important because it sets the tone for how you are going to integrate in the community.”
Patel has integrated extremely well, having recently been appointed to the board of trustees at Hillsborough Community College. He also serves as board chairman at the Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County. “I’ve always had a passion for education,” he says.
— Brian Hartz
Name: Aakash Patel
City of residence: Tampa
Employer: Elevate Inc.
Title: Founder and president
Birthplace: Edison, New Jersey
Years in the area: 15
Marital status/children: Engaged, no children
Alma mater/degree: B.A., political science and English literature, Florida State University
What community group or organization are you most involved with? Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County
What's your top tip for being productive? Set goals and follow through.
If you could have a side hustle, what would it be? Travel blogger
What's your favorite off-hours activity? Traveling
What's the top item on your bucket list? Visit every Major League Baseball stadium
What's your favorite podcast? "On Purpose" by Jay Shetty
Where is your happy place? Anywhere with family and friends
Describe yourself in three words. Social, loyal and determined
Who is your mentor for your career and why? My maternal grandfather OJ Shah. He is 93 years old and lives nearby. He was the first in our family to leave India and move to America. As his eldest grandson, I have had the privilege of watching his determination through his variety of businesses.
What are the biggest lessons you have learned from your mentor? The biggest lesson I learned from my grandfather is to always be passionate about education. Even to this day, he is always filling his thirst for knowledge by reading books daily. When I started my company nearly 10 years ago, it was after reading a few books that sparked my business idea.