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Meet the 7 Tampa Bay business people to watch in 2022

These CEOs and executives will be at the center of the region’s evolving business ecosystem.
Lakshmi Shenoy is the CEO of Embarc Collective, a Tampa entrepreneurship and startup acceleration hub.
Lakshmi Shenoy is the CEO of Embarc Collective, a Tampa entrepreneurship and startup acceleration hub. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jan. 14|Updated Jan. 19

With all the change the world has seen since 2020, it’s a smart bet things will keep evolving in 2022. That may be especially true in Tampa Bay’s business community, home to a growing startup scene, exploding housing market and, increasingly, national companies expanding their Florida footprints. Who are the leaders who will be at the forefront of all that change? We scanned the local landscape and found seven leaders from a variety of businesses — residential development, cybersecurity, bottling and more — we think are worth watching in 2022. And we asked them who they’ll be watching, too. The following responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Troy Taylor

Troy Taylor, founder and CEO of Coca-Cola Beverages Florida.
Troy Taylor, founder and CEO of Coca-Cola Beverages Florida. [ Courtesy of Coca-Cola Beverages Florida ]

Position: Founder, chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola Beverages Florida, also known as Coke Florida.

Accomplishments: The family-owned Coke Florida was established by Taylor in 2015 and today is the third largest privately-owned and sixth largest Coca-Cola bottler in the United States. With manufacturing plants in Tampa, Jacksonville, Orlando and Broward County and customers including Publix, Disney and Wawa, it’s also one of the largest Black-owned businesses in the U.S. Taylor is also founder and CEO of Florida Fresh Vending and Markets, a Tampa-based vending, micro-markets, and food-service company, and Tellus Equipment Solutions, a Texas-based John Deere agriculture, turf, and compact construction equipment dealer. Those companies are owned by Taylor and his family. Taylor won the 2018 EY Entrepreneur of The Year award in Florida in the consumer products category.

What’s your biggest prediction for 2022? “I think from a macroworld standpoint, we’re going to continue to see growth bolstered by hopefully coming out of the pandemic. You’re going to continue to see companies want to move to Florida. You’re going to continue to see constraints from a supply chain standpoint. You’ve got good top-line growth, but you’re going to have some challenges to actually get the product to the consumers. The real kicker is our ability to provide labor — it’s going to continue to be challenging going into 2022.”

What did you learn from 2021 that you’ll carry into next year? “You really build muscles in the kind of year we’ve just had. We’ve dealt with so many issues, including creating collaborative environments when you’re not in the same office and motivating and engaging associates while getting them to stay on your payroll. This is where really strong businesses and business leaders step up.”

Who’s someone you’ll be watching in 2022? “I’m always focused on what our big customers (including Publix and Walmart) are doing. We try to figure out how other companies are doing it better or differently. We are not bashful about borrowing.”

Brian Murphy

Brian Murphy, founder and CEO of the Tampa-based cybersecurity company ReliaQuest.
Brian Murphy, founder and CEO of the Tampa-based cybersecurity company ReliaQuest. [ Courtesy of ReliaQuest ]
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Position: Founder and CEO of Tampa cybersecurity company ReliaQuest

Accomplishments: With clients including Hard Rock International and American Eagle Outfitters, ReliaQuest recently reached “unicorn” status — a term for startups that have seen their valuation grow to more than $1 billion. The company, one of Tampa Bay’s most successful tech giants, is opening its eighth global office in Salt Lake City. This year, its headquarters will move from Harbour Island to the top seven floors of a new office tower in Water Street Tampa.

What’s your biggest prediction for 2022? “I think we’re going to see a lot more activity in mergers and acquisitions in 2022. I think you’re going to see companies get more aggressive in growing through acquisitions, especially through technology.”

What did you learn from 2021 that you’ll carry into the next year? “There is no perfect, but there is a better. If you focus on doing simple things well and constant improvement, regardless of the market and external circumstances, you can grow and improve.”

Who’s someone you’ll be watching in 2022? “If I’m thinking about the state of Florida and technology, I’m watching Lakshmi Shenoy (CEO of Embarc Collective, a Tampa entrepreneurship and startup acceleration hub.) I think she’ll be the single best North Star. When Lakshmi speaks, I pay attention.”

Lakshmi Shenoy, CEO of Embarc Collective, picture in the library at Embarc Collective, 802 E Whiting St., on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022 in Tampa.
Lakshmi Shenoy, CEO of Embarc Collective, picture in the library at Embarc Collective, 802 E Whiting St., on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022 in Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Lakshmi Shenoy

Position: CEO, Embarc Collective

Accomplishments: In August, Tampa entrepreneurship and startup acceleration hub Embarc Collective welcomed its 100th member. Since then, it’s added at least 20 more. In January, Embarc will host the ninth annual Startup of the Year convention and awards, a nationwide event that will shine a light on Tampa’s growing startup landscape. Initially funded by a $10 million grant from Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, Embarc will be at the center of Tampa’s startup scene in and around Vinik’s $3.5 billion Water Street Tampa development, with Shenoy leading the way. “What I’m most excited about is seeing the people who are building in Tampa Bay progress, and seeing the community be able to help them as they progress forward,” she said.

What’s your biggest prediction for 2022? “In the next year, we’re going to see a high number of Series A investment rounds come from this region, and that is really exciting. That to me is a great sign of progress occurring in our region, that the volume of Series A deals is going to be higher than in any other year that we’ve seen.”

What did you learn from 2021 that you’ll carry into next year? “I don’t know if it’s due to the pandemic or what, but there’s a lot of noise in the world. Starting in Q4 of this year and going into 2022, I’ve really been focused on being focused. The theme for my team as we go through 2022 is ‘Bold, fearless and focused.’ What I’ve learned is the power of focus as you’re trying to achieve really ambitious goals.”

Who’s someone you’ll be watching in 2022? “It’s like trying to pick a favorite child. Any company that is a part of Embarc Collective, I truly believe in the viability of the business and the scalability of the business. They’ve demonstrated the drive to make that happen.”

Bemetra Simmons, formerly of the United Way Suncoast, has been named CEO and president of the Tampa Bay Partnership.
Bemetra Simmons, formerly of the United Way Suncoast, has been named CEO and president of the Tampa Bay Partnership. [ Tampa Bay Partnership ]

Bemetra Simmons

Position: President and CEO, Tampa Bay Partnership

Accomplishments: Last summer, the Tampa Bay Partnership named Simmons its president and CEO, replacing Rick Homans, who’d held the role since 2015. Simmons came from the United Way Suncoast, where she was chief strategy and operations officer, and before that had a career in banking. That boardroom experience will come into play often as she leads the partnership, a group of local business leaders whose aim is studying and bettering quality of life in the Tampa Bay region. One way the group does that is its annual Regional Competitiveness Report, released in January. This year’s report shows that “we still have some work to do,” Simmons said. “There are areas where we gained ground, but we did not gain as much ground as our peer markets, so our rankings remain the same. We may have improved, but we did not out-improve what our peer markets did. That’s going to continue to be an opportunity for us.”

What’s your biggest prediction for 2022? “Sadly, I predict that inflation will get worse before it gets better. We will see rising wages, but unfortunately, wages will not grow as quickly as costs.”

What did you learn from 2021 that you’ll carry into next year? “I learned that we are stronger when we work together than when we try to work individually.”

Who’s someone you’ll be watching in 2022? “All of our healthcare professionals. They have had such a challenging few years. We already had a nursing shortage in our region before the pandemic, and if a significant number of them of choose to retire (even a few years early), it could have a significant impact on our community.”

Related Group founder, chair and CEO Jorge Pérez, center, chats with then-St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, left, and Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin at a ground-breaking ceremony in 2018.
Related Group founder, chair and CEO Jorge Pérez, center, chats with then-St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, left, and Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin at a ground-breaking ceremony in 2018. [ Times 2018 ]

Jorge and Jon Paul Pérez

Positions: Chairman, CEO and founder; President of Related Group, respectively

Accomplishments: Related Group is headquartered in Miami, but you wouldn’t know it by all the residential development company’s work in Tampa Bay. It currently has more than $1.5 billion in development in the region, and its two leaders wrote that they “look forward to growing our presence” as they seek out more waterfront sites in Tampa and St. Petersburg. Its local projects span from ultra-luxury to affordable housing, and include The Ritz-Carlton Residences on Bayshore Boulevard. That project just broke ground, but more than 85 percent of the luxury condos have already been sold, according to the company. Related is also working with public officials on redeveloping the West River district, and recently completed three new affordable and market-rate apartment towers. It was also selected to redevelop 18 acres along the Hillsborough River called the Rome Yard. (That decision was met with criticism, though it was eventually cleared to proceed.)

Related Group President Jon Paul Pérez
Related Group President Jon Paul Pérez [ Courtesy of Related Group ]

What’s your biggest prediction for 2022? “We anticipate people and corporations to continue migrating south into cities like Tampa and St. Petersburg. After speaking with business associates in the Northeast, Northwest and even California, we got a clear sense that high taxes and unfavorable business climates are accelerating decisions to move to friendlier locations. Additionally, new COVID-19 strains and the fear of possible epidemics have further reinforced the move to healthier climates, with open space, clean air and the ability to be outdoors year-round. This environment follows the satisfaction of the pent-up demand that went unsatisfied during the height of the pandemic, translating into higher rental rates, lower vacancies, and higher prices for well-located condominiums — all elements we see accelerating in 2022.”

What did you learn in 2021 that you’ll carry into next year? “We learned that although people place prominent concern on their health, they also miss human contact. To address this, Related is continuing to work on creating more spaces, particularly outdoors, where people can mingle within a safe distance. We are also making our buildings healthier with top-level air quality and filtration; finish materials that are non-porous and anti-microbial; contactless entry points including motion sensors and facial recognition; touchless elevator systems and more. Inside and out, our developments will create a healthier living environment overall, and put residents’ well-being at the forefront.”

Who’s someone you’ll be watching in 2022? “We are incredibly grateful for Tampa’s support of our plans and the opportunity to better the community as a premier developer. Our harmonious partnership with the public sectors in both Tampa and St. Petersburg has been key to our success and mission to help build an inclusive society with opportunities for all. Their local governments are development-friendly with a keen interest on leaving no one behind. Ultimately, we are watching (and hoping) for the continuation of this strong and caring leadership in both Tampa and St Petersburg.”

Veatrice Farrell

Position: Executive Director, The Deuces Live, Inc.

Veatrice Farrell, Executive Director of The Deuces Live, Inc.
Veatrice Farrell, Executive Director of The Deuces Live, Inc. [ Courtesy of Veatrice Farrell ]

Accomplishments: Considering the pandemic’s effects have not subsided, “I consider every business on the Deuces Corridor that opened or remained opened during 2021 to be a notable accomplishment,” Farrell said. The Deuces Live is a nonprofit dedicated to the revitalization of St. Petersburg’s historic 22nd Street S district, which was a hub for Black businesses during segregation. The Deuces Live District is from 2nd Avenue S to 18th Avenue S, with its main street stretching from 8th Avenue S to 15th Avenue S. During 2021, the Deuces Corridor hosted several community events, including the Collard Green Festival, Juneteenth, an outdoor festival focused on mental health, an outdoor science fair and more. The Woodson African American Museum of Florida is also relocating to the historic neighborhood. The Deuces Live was one of the creators, along with the Warehouse Arts District, of a plan that identified zoning changes as one way to better connect the neighborhoods, and idea that is being pursued by a Miami developer.

What’s your biggest prediction for 2022? “The 22nd Street South street infrastructure improvement projects and the construction of two outdoor pavilions will be completed this year. The Deuces mission of revitalizing the corridor while preserving its heritage will be several steps closer.”

What did you learn in 2021 that you’ll carry into next year? “I wouldn’t say learned, I’d say reminded. I was reminded that our community is composed of some of the most resilient, industrious and creative people, and that their tenacity is what has kept the Deuces Corridor alive and what will continue to carry its legacy for generations to come.”

Who’s someone you’ll be watching in 2022? “Of course I always have my eyes on EVERY entity on the Deuces corridor, but off the corridor I’ll be watching Shai’Robia and Marquis Davis — the founders of Shaping the Early Mind, a STEM organization that’s doing amazing work with children.”

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