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TURNING HIS LENS TO A WARM, FUZZY NEW JOB

Mike Mayo was shocked and saddened when he was laid off from his job as an account manager for a coffee company.

What would he do next? How would he pay his bills when his severance ran out?

Rather than dust off his resume and dive into the deep pool of job seekers, Mayo decided to pursue his two passions: photography and animals.

Less than four months later, he started a mobile pet photography business, Golden Vision Photography. Guiding his way was a team of experts dedicated to his success.

Mayo, of Wesley Chapel, recently was named winner of the 2009 Tampa Bay Small Business Jumpstart contest founded this year to help an entrepreneur who lost his or her job due to the recession. As the winner, Mayo received $26,000 worth of pro-bono business services from eight companies that make up Tampa Jumpstart. Services range from Web site and logo design to office space and accounting.

"Unemployment was climbing like a rocket, and we wanted to find a way to help someone who was going through challenges,'' said Jeremy Knauff, owner of Wildfire Marketing Group who began Tampa Jumpstart. "We pulled together all the people you would need to start a new business.''

Mayo, 53, said the collective expertise has given his business solid footing and a better chance at long-term survival. "It's the difference between doing something and doing it right.''

Golden Vision Photography will travel to pet stores, veterinarians, groomers and kennels offering studio portraits of pets out of an air-conditioned trailer. Mayor decorated the trailer's exterior with photos of his dog, Lexi, a 2-year-old golden retriever who inspired the company's name.

Pet sittings are $10 each, and photo packages start at $25. Reservations are encouraged (pets can get hot waiting in line outside).

Mayo plans to give 15 percent of each day's proceeds to the host site. He also hopes to educate people about therapy dogs. Lexi is a certified therapy dog that visits people in nursing homes, hospitals and schools.

Judges liked Mayo's idea, in part, because it caters to devoted pet owners who tend to be less affected by the economy. "They had to be companies we believed would succeed with or without us,'' said Julie Heidelberg, who provided public relations services. "He was organized and inspiring. There was a lot of conviction.''

For Mayo, having so much support has lessened the stress of starting a business.

"You know that old cliche, there's always a silver lining,'' he said. "Not everyone gets to do something they really, really enjoy.''

sthurston@tampabay.com

Shoot your pet

Golden Vision Photography will be at the Goin' Postal shipping store from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday, 4941 Fourth St., Zephyrhills. Free sitting fee. Mention the Web site, goldenvisionphotos.com, and get a 10 percent discount on photo purchases.

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