South Florida is full of young creative entrepreneurs with big ideas. Here’s this year’s class and what they’re doing.
Timothy Mark Davis, 28
Artistic director of New City Players
Tim Davis’s introduction to theatre started as a dare in eighth grade while studying at Calvary Christian Academy in Fort Lauderdale.
“My dad said, ‘If you get up onstage and sing a solo in the school Christmas play, I’ll give you $100.’ That motivated me to audition, and I got a part and had a couple of solo singing lines,” he says. “I joke that’s the first time I ever got paid for acting.”
Davis continued acting and performing in high school and college, eventually earning a master’s degree in theatre studies. After college, he and his wife Samantha found out they were expecting. The couple moved home to South Florida, and Davis began teaching high school theatre in Fort Lauderdale. Then, he says, “the theatre company sort of fell in my lap.”
In 2014, Davis launched the New City layers theatre company with three colleagues. In 2015, the company produced “Rabbit Hole” and “Red.” By early 2016, New City Players had its 501(c)(3) certification.
“The nuts and bolts of theatre is not new to me, but running an organization and fundraising and marketing—a lot of things that I enjoy—a lot of that’s been new for me and pretty exciting,” Davis says. “I’m doing a lot of learning and reading and strategizing … trying to grow this thing into a sustainable, not-for-profit theater.”
Until 2016, New City Players remained widely unknown to the South Florida theatre world. Things finally took off in 2017, which offered productions of “Twelfth Night” and “True West” and earned a Silver Palm Award for Outstanding New Theater Company.
“We try to find that sweet spot: things that are emotionally dense, things that have the potential to transform people, make them think, make them feel, to make them question their presuppositions,” Davis says. “One of the things I love is getting people in the audience who have never experienced theatre on an intimate black-box scale, where it’s 70 or 80 seats and you’re 10 feet from the actors or less.”
Davis has high hopes for the 2018 season, as New City Players will produce three more productions through spring and summer—including the Pulitzer-winning “Clybourne Park” April 5-22.
“It’s worth it to be the producer and be the director and raise money and market and do all the stuff so that every once in a while you can really dive into a role and spill your guts,” he says. “It’s worth it because it’s meaningful and it’s challenging and terrifying. But keep doing it.”
Nichole Thomson, 32, and Amber Tollefson, 35
Founders, The Flamingo House
As an entrepreneur, sometimes you just have to wing it. That’s what Nichole Thomson and Amber Tollefson did in 2016 by starting The Flamingo House, a community-based coworking space in Boca Raton.
Both women operated creative businesses out of their homes, Thomson in the strategic planning, market research and creative design industry, Tollefson at her video branding agency, Docu+Brand Creative. But, Thomson says, “We found ourselves growing weary of the isolation and lack of community. We began to share our frustrations with others in the community and realized we were not alone.”
In fact, Forbes estimates that half of American workers will be independently employed by 2020. This means the demand for alternative “coworking” spaces is steadily increasing. Thomson and Tollefson say the term is only 15 years old, but the concept is growing rapidly in places like New York and Los Angeles.
Slowly, it’s trickling down to communities like South Florida. Thomson and Tollefson researched independent workspace solutions in South Florida. Inspired by flamingoes and their communal nature, they founded The Flamingo House. Their mantra is “Flock, then Fly.”
“There were so many like us, part of the independent workforce facing similar challenges yet unaware of a viable solution,” Tollefson says. “We found that by bringing these like-minded individuals together and sharing ideas and resources, our own creativity began to flourish.”
The Flamingo House is membership-based and offers offices, meeting rooms, a welcome lounge, a studio with professional lighting and backdrops, and even a space to host community events.
Independent freelancers, contractors, entrepreneurs and other creatives (also called the “Flock”) can buy a variety of membership packages, which include use of the printing room, Wi-Fi, coffee, networking with other members and, of course, the working spaces.
“We encourage collaboration over competition,” Thomson adds. “Many of our members have acquired new leads or collaborated on new projects as a result of joining the Flock. … We are humbled by the overwhelming amount of positive response we’ve received from the community.”
Chelsea Williams, 29, and Matt Williams, 36
FroPro Frozen Snack Bar
Matt Williams moved from New York to Boca via Delray Beach to teach almost a decade ago. His routine was to wake up, work out, teach, coach. All the while, he was struggling with alcohol and drug use at night and on weekends.
In May 2010, Matt got a DUI after a car crash in Boca. That’s when he realized he had a problem.
“I was finally sick and tired of being sick and tired. I reached out for help,” he says.
For 90 days, Matt was in rehab—but he was beginning to run and hit the gym.
Chelsea, his wife, says, “His new channel was definitely toward fitness.”
After rehab, Matt started working for a meal prep company, which inspired him to make his own food.
“Losing everything, starting from scratch, I was making nothing,” Matt says. “It was like, ‘What can I do for myself that I don’t really need to spend money on?’”
He created a snack bar with simple ingredients: natural peanut butter, plant-based protein, oats, raw honey and cinnamon. Matt became a personal trainer and shared the bar with clients.
“[The gym] gave us a huge network of people to test the bar. And people just started liking it,” Chelsea says. The taste, Matt and Chelsea agree, is better than any other protein snack bar on the market. But it’s just that: a snack, not a meal. After a year’s hiatus, the duo took up FroPro as a part-time project. Their first big break came from a juice bar in East Boca, where they sold 100 bars in three days.
“From there it was one more gym, one more store,” Chelsea says. “We kept selling the bar and progressing.”
In June 2016, Chelsea left her job to become FroPro’s first full-time employee. Now, FroPro is available at shops and restaurants in Boca and Delray, Whole Foods, and even in Colorado and Arizona. She continues to run the business side of FroPro while Matt trains private clients in the morning, and shares the bar and his story of sobriety in the afternoons.
“When we get down to it, the most important thing about Matt is his sobriety, and that’s where all this stems from,” Chelsea says. “Ever since he’s shared, people have reached out to Matt either saying, ‘I have a problem,’ or asking for help.”
“It’s a nationwide epidemic,” Matt says. “But there’s also the inside of it: Yes, there is recovery, yes there are people doing it, yes it is possible. “It’s more than just the snack bar—it’s about making a comeback. It’s my way of being able to, as a guy told me early on in recovery, take your trials, take your tragedies and turn them into triumphs.”
Ella Ozery, 27
Founder of BarBella Box
For female fitness fanatics, a monthly subscription box filled with exercise gear, snacks and clothing seemed like the ultimate dream. For the past two years it’s been a reality, thanks to Ella Ozery, the founder of BarBella Box, a subscription-based monthly fitness box for women.
Initially, BarBella Box was a “side hustle” for Ozery while she was working full-time at a marketing agency.
“I got bored,” she says. “I wanted to do something to challenge myself.” As a CrossFit athlete, Ozery struggled to find fitness products that aligned with her lifestyle and those of strong, dynamic women. Using her marketing background, she did research for six months, going so far as to poll the women in her CrossFit class to test ideas. After finding her female audience, she began to slowly put BarBella Box together.
BarBella Box, delivered to almost 5,000 subscribers each month, contains four to six items such as accessories, supplements, functional fitness clothing, makeup and workout tips. The value of each month’s shipment is between $80 and $150. But it only costs $49.99 per month, and shipping in the U.S. is free. By December 2016, BarBella became Ozery’s full-time job.
Ozery samples every item before it is added to a BarBella Box. She says companies reach out to her directly, and she also uses social media to hunt for “the next big thing.” In October’s box, the “Chesty,” a sports bra built with collarbone pads to protect the user from bruises, debuted. This year, Ozery plans to work with more companies to create custom apparel exclusively for subscribers.
“We’ll change the color, the design and more,” she says.
Other plans for BarBella Box in 2018 include working with some big-name CrossFit athletes that Ozery couldn’t disclose at the time of this writing.
Kris Strouthopoulos, 36
Founder of Giapenta Lingerie
Ask any woman: Finding a good bra is not that easy. Kris Strouthopoulos decided to change that.
Strouthopoulos worked several years in retail management for a luxury bedding company, listening to women share their love of a “life-changing” temperature-balancing fabric that helped them sleep better at night.
“The message resonated with me,” Strouthopoulos says. “I thought, ‘If they’re getting such an amazing benefit all night long, why not get the same benefit during the day with something that’s worn close to your body?’”
She began asking women around the world how their intimates could be made better.
“We got lots of feedback,” Strouthopoulos says, and created Giapenta, her locally based luxury brand specializing in lingerie, sleepwear and bodysuits.
Each bra in the Giapenta collection is lined with TempPro Performance fabric to keep women feeling great day and night. Just touching the fabric, you can feel the coolness, Strouthopoulos says.
“TempPro [fabric] is proactive. So before you even get to the point of overheating or sweating, it works to cool your body down,” Strouthopoulos says.
TempPro works the opposite way, too. “As soon as you start to get cold, it releases that stored heat to warm your body up,” she adds.
Strouthopoulos spent countless hours with her designers refining every garment detail, from the TempPro fabric lining to the strap adjustors—which she moved to the front, where women could adjust them more readily.
Another design unique to Giapenta is the crossback bra.
“Our London X Back [bra] is a patent-pending crossback design,” she says. “It feels great, it’s really supportive and the ‘X’ back keeps your shoulder straps in place so they’re not falling down.”
Each item is offered in a variety of vibrant colors and styles. “We’ve named each piece of the collection after places that mean something to our team,” she says.
Strouthopoulos hopes to expand Giapenta; for now, the brand is available online and at select boutiques in the Hamptons, Texas and South Florida.
Chris Vila, 41, and Kristen Vila, 36
Grandview Public Market
Palm Beach native Chris Vila is a husband, a contractor and a home chef—the kind who yearned to get ingredients locally but all in one place. He couldn’t find one, so he decided to start his own food hall.
Food halls are trending in places like Miami (Brickell City Centre, Wynwood and Aventura, with two opening in South Beach), but for West Palm, this is the first. Chris’s vision, Grandview Public Market in West Palm’s Warehouse District, has 14 vendors and is modeled after Chelsea Market in New York.
“I love the idea of repurposing spaces and not building new,” he says. “I love the history and story each building tells and giving [them] new life by modern standards. I think it’s important to be authentic and use authentic spaces.”
Chris partnered with Three Kings Restaurant Group, a New York-based hospitality company that opened three concepts at Grandview: Clare’s, a chicken stand; The Corner, a Detroit-style pizza parlor; and Little Red Truck, which supplies everything beverage-related. Everything else is local: Celis Produce, Crema, Grace’s Fine Foods, Olive Oil of the World, Poké Lab Eatery, Rabbit Coffee, Zipitio’s.
The Incubator is a community-based rotating space that is rented out monthly by locals to cook, create or tackle a project. “Come in and pickle for a month,” Kristen says.
“What I really love [about the Incubator] is that it’s community-oriented. It’s meant to rotate.”
Additionally, the Loading Dock has four long communal tables, plus additional seating and lounging areas. Live music and programming is held throughout the week, “anything from book club to knife skills to steel drums to hummus-making courses,” Kristen says. “We want it to be something that’s organic and natural.”
Several nonfood establishments are also on location at Grandview. There’s Quinn, a specialty home goods store; the Living Room, a cozy indoor space for hanging out; Studios Etc. gym; and even a space for “experiential retail,” as Kristen calls it.
“We started to talk to people and realized there was so much untapped talent; it was much bigger than just a market,” she adds. “There were vendors who took ownership of their shops and came together to collaborate and build this community.”
Brad Kilgore, 31
Miami Restauranteur Extraordinaire
Brad Kilgore first found himself in a kitchen as a sixth-grader washing pots and pans. But he never really left. He has worked at Alinea and L20 in Chicago and Azul and J&G Grill in Miami. By 2015, Kilgore opened his first South Florida venue, Alter, in the Wynwood District. Brava by Brad Kilgore, his second restaurant, soon followed.
“I am constantly looking for something new to put out there,” he says. “The thought of making something new and exciting that no one else has experienced is what keeps me driven.”
The menu at Brava changes annually so diners can experience different cuisines. Last year’s menu was all French dishes; this year’s menu is entirely Italian flavors. “Surprising guests with beautiful presentations, interesting textures and delicious flavor combinations is my fun at work,” he says.
Kilgore will add two restaurant concepts to Miami’s Design District later this year: Ember and Kaido. Ember will be on the ground floor, and Kaido will open directly above. Each kitchen and dining room will have its own design aesthetic and experiences.
Kilgore describes Ember as a “new American grill” inspired by barbecue made famous by his hometown of Kansas City, Mo., and Kaido as a smaller venue and cocktail lounge heavily influenced by Asian cuisine. “I’ll be taking inspiration from all my travels and experiences and partnering with a world-class bartender (Nico de Soto) to create beautiful and experiential cocktails,” Kilgore says of Kaido.
If that isn’t enough, Kilgore received Food & Wine’s “Best New Chef in America” award in 2016—a lifelong goal finally fulfilled.
“I didn’t know I was even on their radar!” he says.
(Photos by Aaron Bristol)