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Robert Trigaux

Top Tampa Bay entrepreneurs picked for right stuff swap tales from land of business start-ups


That's Omar Soliman, CEO of Tampa's College Hunks Hauling Junk and a finalist in this year's Ernst & Young entrepreneurs' competition. Photo: Brian Cassella of the St. Petersburg Times.

Wake up and good morning. Ernst & Young threw a get-together Thursday evening at downtown Tampa's University Club to celebrate this region's Ernst & Young "Entrepreneur Of The Year" Florida finalists. This year's group of entrepreneurs was selected by an independent judging panel made up of previous winners of the award, leading CEOs, private capital investors and other regional business leaders. Representatives form each of the finalists (These are from Tampa Bay only. Other finalists were named elsewhere in the state. Overall state winners by category will be named in two weeks who then go on to a national competition in California) had a chance to step up to the microphone and say a few words.

Here's my rundown on their remarks:

* Valet Waste LLC, Tampa, which handles trash pick-up at multi-family complexes is a finalist in the Business Services category. CEO Michael K. Ferris could not attend but a company executive expressed enthusiasm for the firm being a repeat finalist in the competition.

* Saddle Creek Corp., Lakeland, is in the warehouse/logistics business and is also a finalist in the Business Services category. Chairman David P. Lyons offered an amusing definition of "entrepreneur" as someone who is unable to recognize all the obstacles of starting a business that are evident to everyone else.

* Ideal Image Development Corp., Tampa, which offers laser hair removal services in 67 locations in 19 states, is a finalist in the Consumer Services category. Co-founders and co-CEOs Joseph Acebal and Richard Mikles both spoke of "having a great ride" at the company for 10 years and reminded the audience that they had four nearby locations if anyone was interested.

* College Hunks Hauling Junk, Tampa, which offers trash/junk hauling services via franchises, was already a finalist in the Emerging (young) category and, now more established, is a finalist in the Consumer Services category. President Nick Friedman spoke followed by CEO Omar Soliman (wearing the firm's trademark green shirt) who got some laughs equating entrepreneurship as having your hair on fire and trying to put it out with a hammer. Want more info on these guys? Check out their 2010 book Effortless Entrepreneur here. I wrote about College Hunks here when they competed in 2009.

* Yale Lift Trucks of Florida and Georgia, Tampa, is a finalist in the Distribution and Manufacturing category. Veteran A. D. “Sandy” MacKinnon, founder and CEO of a 30-year-old company, said he was delighted to be included in these entrepreneurial ranks.

* BlueGrace Logistics, Riverview, is a younger firm that helps businesses streamline their transportation needs. It's a finalist in the Emerging category. CEO Bobby Harris was out of the country but the company CFO Mike Dolski expressed thanks for being considered. I asked COO Randy Collack, who was attending, what a company that's been hiring like mad through a terrible recession will do when the economy actually picks up. He laughed but acknowledged it's on their minds, including possible physical expansion. He did say it's starting to get harder hiring people at the same pay scale that used to be acceptable. I interviewed CEO Harris here 18 months ago as things first tstarted to accelerate for the company. And the BlueGrace name? The combination of the middle names of his two daughters.

* HSN, St. Petersburg, may not seem like a typical candidate for an entrepreneurial award. This is a big public company already. But CEO Mindy Grossman spoke about the big turnaround she and her team helped engineer at the online/TV retailer and she also saluted company founder "Uncle" Bud Paxson.

* Healthesystems, LLC, Tampa, is a finalist in the Technology category for providing medical cost management services for the worker's compensation industry. CEO Ron Roma could not be at the Thursday evening event, but the CFO expressed Roma's enthusiasm for the company being named. She said Roma wants every one of his employees to run their piece of the business like an entrepreneur. 

All interesting companies. Many will be the future of Tampa Bay and where jobs will come from in the years ahead. The winners will be revealed at a gala event on Thursday, June 16 at the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate.

-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, St. Petersburg Times


[Last modified: Friday, June 3, 2011 7:46am]


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