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Five Florida entrepreneurs making waves in their communities
Photograph: Time Out

Small biz, big hearts: Five Florida entrepreneurs making waves in their communities

Inspired by family, friends, and mentors, these entrepreneurs are proving that the future of small business in Florida is bright and diverse

Written by Jackie Gutierrez-Jones for Time Out, in association with Florida Lottery

Small business is booming in the Sunshine State, and there’s good reason for it. According to a recent study, Florida ranked as the best state to start a small business thanks to low corporate tax rates and an outpouring of small business loans.

But what’s striking about this boost in small business numbers is the diversity behind it. Women own over 45 percent of small businesses in Florida, and the state has the third most businesses owned by Black, Indigenous, and people of color. And the entrepreneurs behind these startups are using their culture, family legacy, and heritage to inspire and inform how they do business.

From a celeb-endorsed eco-friendly jewelry line to a wellness-based recording studio, small business owners are turning their passion into profits and giving back to their community. It’s time to meet five Florida entrepreneurs who are doing exactly that.

Meet five Florida small businesses making an impact

While the entire world was busy fine-tuning their bread maker settings during the pandemic (RIP sourdough starters), Raquel Figueroa and Christian Rosario were perfecting their rum cake recipe to fit into small jars for loved ones celebrating their pandemic birthdays solo.

That sparked the idea for Bang Bang Bakehouse, a small-batch bakery specializing in single-serve rum cakes packed in reusable jars. “It was right in the middle of the COVID lockdown, so we started by delivering orders ourselves straight to people’s doors all over Miami,” says Figueroa. “It was a strange time, and we wanted to remind the world that life is always worth celebrating—any day, any time, special occasion or not.”

Figueroa and Rosario pulled inspiration from their entrepreneurial families, using their loved ones’ experience running small businesses to inform their work ethic—one that the community plays a role. “While in Miami, we participated in a collaboration benefitting the recovery of the local hospitality industry,” adds Figueroa. “We’ve also worked with locally-owned restaurants and created unique desserts for their menus to cross-promote our businesses.”

Not too long after their launch, the couple decided to relocate their operations to Auburndale, Florida where they participate in local pop-up events and markets.

When they’re not baking or packing jars of their rum-glazed vanilla cake for nationwide delivery, you can find the Bang Bang crew spending time at Cob and Pen, Born and Bread, Mayday Ice Cream at The Joinery, and LoveBird Almost Famous Chicken.

Miami's music scene bumped up its vibrational frequency with the opening of the city's first female-founded mindful recording studio and spiritual space. Launched in March 2023, Mindful Music Lab is revolutionizing the way artists create and connect with themselves and their music by incorporating mindfulness practices into the recording process.

Created by author, healer, and wellness guru Brittany Berger, Mindful Music Lab transforms how music is made by providing a hands-on, safe, studio environment for women, men, and children to create and collaborate from a space of healing. The studio boasts state-of-the-art recording equipment and technology, podcasting facilities, and specially designed spaces for meditation, mindfulness, and energy healing. Before entering the recording studio, artists are encouraged to engage in mindfulness practices such as meditation and deep breathing exercises to calm their minds, connect with their inner selves, and tap into their creative flow. The studio also offers mindset coaching, reiki energy healing, sound bowl frequencies, breathwork, and community events.

“Witnessing friends and community members struggle and contemplate giving up on themselves and their passions, I knew something had to change,” says Berger. “So I created a safe space where all who enter can freely express themselves, nurture their creativity, and love who they truly are, paving the way for a revolution in the music industry that prioritizes the artists' holistic well-being.”

“It’s like a classic Italian cafe and a New York cocktail bar had a baby,” says Jarrett Sabatini, owner of Intermezzo. The specialty coffee shop and craft cocktail bar in the EDGE district of St. Petersburg draws its inspiration from mid-century European and American cafés culture where artists, writers, directors, actors, and other creatives would gather over drinks.

Sabatini became obsessed with coffee in his early 20s, roasting beans at home and keeping records of every detail. As a sommelier, the parallels between wine and coffee weren’t lost on him, and he quickly realized there was a need for a high-quality cafe in the neighborhood. After seeing success with a pop-up concept in 2016, he opened Intermezzo a mere three months after graduating from the University of South Florida with a marketing degree.

Sabatini credits his family for inspiring his journey with Intermezzo and mentoring him. “I’ve always wanted to open up my own business,” says Sabatini. “Growing up in an Italian-American restaurant family, I knew I wanted to be in hospitality.” Fostering a sense of community is an important part of that—Sabtini has donated sales to local groups such as One Community St. Petersburg and launched Mezzo Market, a monthly outdoor market that connects small businesses with locals.

When he’s not at Intermezzo welcoming his neighborhood regulars, Sabatini enjoys spending time along the water at Straub Park and savoring dishes and drinks at local spots like Baba, Cellarmasters, In Between Days, and Green Bench Brewery.

Lani Nesbit’s career trajectory took her from a sales gig at FedEx to entrepreneurship with JLANI Jewels, where she designs customizable fashion jewelry that’s adorned the bodies of celebrities like Lizzo, Beyoncé, Naomi Campbell, and Tyra Banks. “Initially, my jewelry business was my side hustle until I lost my job and committed to running the business full time,” says Nesbit. “Designing jewelry and developing the product has been my favorite part of the creative process.”

Launched in 2011, JLANI’s pieces blend delicate details with the coarseness of stainless steel to create a collection of eco-friendly sustainable accessories. “I saw a gap in the market for quality jewelry that was also affordable,” says Nesbit. “Design-wise, the jewelry I’d find didn’t really suit my taste. It was too standard, and I wanted to wear something fun—something that would attract attention and start conversations.” Those design principles have resonated with JLANI fans, which now span over 75 countries around the world.

A self-taught designer, Nesbit studied successful entrepreneurs and learned their formula for creating strong products and brands. Her keen eye for detail paid off—her flat Cuban necklace and Isla bangle have created an industry buzz for the brand, which has been featured in campaigns for Adidas, Maybelline, and Urban Decay Cosmetics.

Outside of running her business and designing the next must-have piece, Nesbit is a self-professed foodie that can be found tasting her way through the menus at KURO, Seaspice, and Blue Ribbon in Miami.

Sara Stonecipher spent her childhood in St. Petersburg running around her mother’s consignment boutique, an experience that fueled her entrepreneurial spirit and eventually led to MISRED, a 2,500-square-foot vintage shop-turned-bohemian boutique on St. Pete’s Central Avenue.

Fittingly, the shop is located only a few blocks from where her mother once owned her boutique. But to get there, Stonecipher held various positions within the fashion industry to gain experience and insight that would help build her brand. “After college, I worked for Dillard’s southeast divisional headquarters as their lead fashion stylist in the advertising department,” says Stonecipher. “A few years later, I left to work for a startup clothing designer. After much travel fatigue, I decided to try my hand at e-commerce. Eventually, all this led me to realize I wanted to be a part of the St. Pete community I loved so much.”
In 2010, Stonecipher opened the doors to MISRED with a focus on buying, selling, and trading vintage items. The business eventually evolved into a self-proclaimed “Anthropologie alternative,” and is now home to over 25 handmade lines that include clothing, accessories, and unique home decor made by local and fair-trade artisans.

Both Stonecipher and her husband are active in their community, donating time to St. Pete’s College and its efforts to provide childcare, food banks, and free clothing stores that help its unique student population. When she’s off the clock, Stonecipher spends her time frequenting the shops and bars on the 600 Block, and diving into the brews and bites at Green Bench Brewery.

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