Up and Comers
14 young Floridians who are already experienced businesspeople.
Rena Toppe (right)
› Founded Spark PR & Events last year, a Jupiter-based boutique agency focusing on small-business branding and community involvement.
They started with no upfront money, relying on earnings from clients of former jobs and new clients. They now have more than 20 clients, including an internationally traded gold mining company, salons and law firms. Both are involved with PR efforts for the non-profits Junior League of the Palm Beaches and the North Palm Beach County unit of the American Cancer Society. Toppe was nominated as the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s 2007 Woman of the Year for the Palm Beach chapter.
Sam Tarantino, 20
› Job: Founder and CEO of Escape Media Group and creator of Grooveshark, a web-based music-sharing community that launched in March on a test basis to a group of 150. The public version is set to launch in August. Grooveshark’s model pays copyright holders for song purchases and rewards members with free or discounted music.
The company has 18 full-time employees, four part-timers and several interns, all from the University of Florida. Veteran music industry executive Vincent S. Castellucci and Grammy Award winner Jason Miles are on the company’s advisory board.
› Grew up in: Palm Harbor
› Education: Junior majoring in economics at the University of Florida
› Turning point: “One day I was driving and passed a little record store with a sign on the front that said ‘Buy, sell, trade CDs.’ And I thought, why doesn’t that work on a digital space? What if we melded into an e-trade where everyone buys and sells off each other? Now, it’s also grown into a social network.”
› 10 years from now: “Hopefully Grooveshark will become successful and have an influence on a big group of people. On a personal level, I want to see the world and have a villa in Italy with a winery.”
› Advice for young professionals: “A year ago, I thought, there’s no way I could ever do this. No matter how many people tell you that you can’t do it, a business plan is just a matter of breaking it down into pieces. When you look at it in front of you, you can say, ‘Today I can do this and tomorrow that.’ That’s how you get through it. Getting it started is the hardest part.”