By Exec Edge Editorial Staff
With Tampa experiencing an innovative renaissance, it’s an exciting time for entrepreneurial minds in any trade. But female founders face unique challenges in the workplace, and navigating them can be difficult on your own. As a woman, a mother, and a business owner, I know firsthand the importance of surrounding yourself with inspirational, like-minded women who can motivate you when you need it most. Throughout my entrepreneurial journey, I have been fortunate to witness women in my life accomplish incredible things. Join me as I introduce seven local women who are fearlessly reshaping their industry standards as they overcome work-life balance struggles to forge their own paths to success.
Dr. Tara Hrobowski-Blackman: Advanced Heart Failure and Transplant Cardiologist, Largo Medical Center
Dr. Tara Hrobowski-Blackman is an accomplished cardiologist practicing at the Largo Medical Center in Largo, Florida. After earning her undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago and her medical degree from the Indiana University School of Medicine, Dr. Hrobowski-Blackman finished her internal medicine residency at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Afterward, she moved to Detroit, Michigan, to complete her Cardiovascular Disease and Advanced Heart Failure and Transplantation fellowships at the Henry Ford Heart and Vascular Institute. In addition, she has obtained board certification in internal medicine, cardiovascular disease, echocardiography, and nuclear cardiology.
Throughout her career, Dr. Hrobowski-Blackman’s commendable merits have earned her various recognitions including Best Self Atlanta Magazine’s 2017 “Best Heart Doctor” and a place in the Atlanta Tribune’s “Women of Excellence Class of 2018.” She is an active member of the American College of Cardiology where she has served as a guest presenter during their annual ACC National Conference. Her work has also been published in several peer-reviewed medical journals.
Dr. Hrobowski-Blackman’s inquisitive mind and continued pursuit of education inspire me to always strive to learn something new. She uses her voice to advocate for those who cannot. Outside of the hospital, Dr. Hrobowski-Blackman volunteers her medical expertise to underserved community organizations. She strongly supports female leadership and mentors young women in the medical field. Tara inspires me to connect with my community, honor my voice, and believe in myself.
Anna Dutko: Licensed Cosmetologist, Founder of Style Hair and Makeup
Despite her mother’s intuitive vision that becoming a makeup artist was her destiny, Anna Dutko initially pursued business administration at the University of South Florida. She eventually answered her calling to pursue cosmetology, but the skills she acquired while earning her business degree were not wasted. Instead, the experience gave her the entrepreneurial mindset that shaped her career into Style Hair and Makeup, an on-location beauty service company located in Tampa.
After graduating with her degree, Dutko went right back to school, enrolling in the Fashion Makeup program at Cosmix School of Makeup Artistry in South Florida. There she discovered her passion for the glamorous makeup stylings of the bridal, television, runway, and print industries. But Anna didn’t stop at becoming a certified makeup artist. She wanted to create entire beauty looks from beginning to end. So, she enrolled in the Aveda Institute where she studied hairstyling and became a fully licensed cosmetologist.
Anna built her company by assembling a team of talented artists who love empowering women. Style Hair and Makeup provides inclusive cosmetology services for all sorts of occasions, from professional headshots to unforgettable wedding days. They strive to enhance each client’s individual beauty, allowing their natural confidence to shine through. I can always count on Anna and her team to make me feel empowered and ready to take on the world.
I love the story of Anna’s journey to entrepreneurship because it reminds me to listen to my inner voice and follow my bliss. Where passion meets profession is where the magic happens.
Lissette Penrod and Jessica Stravino: Co-Founders of Stravino Penrod Search Partners
Lissette Penrod graduated from the University of Florida and obtained her BS and MACC from the Fisher School of Accounting. After working as a CPA for a few years, she left the public accounting world to work as a controller in both publicly traded and privately held companies. During those five years Penrod recognized her true professional calling in recruiting. While working for a national search firm, she met Jessica Stravino.
Stravino began her journey at the University of Florida’s Fisher School of Accounting 3/2 Program, a five-year, 150-hour program that integrates the joint award of Bachelor of Science in Accounting and a Master of Accounting degrees. After graduating, Stravino went on to work at a global business risk consulting firm where she gained experience with internal auditing. Her efficiency and time-saving skills quickly gained her recognition in the accounting world, and it wasn’t long before she was introduced to Penrod by a mutual contact. After a year-long non-compete period, the two women combined their genius and launched a new endeavor.
They founded Stravino Penrod Search Partners knowing they could bring more personalized service to the world of recruiting. Unified by their passion for helping clients strategically build their accounting functions, Penrod and Stravino took the entrepreneurial leap and created a boutique-style firm specializing in accounting and finance permanent placement. Within six weeks of launching, their business was operating in the black, an uncommon feat for an industry built around relationships and networking.
Stravino Penrod Search Partners has seen six years of progressive growth through personal referrals and introductions. To accommodate their success, they brought on a third partner specializing in legal and HR placement. In all their combined years of experience, the founding members have never seen the market as competitive as it is today. Both women are excited for the opportunities arising daily in Tampa’s accounting, finance, human resources, and legal fields. They hope that they can enable more women to further their careers during this time of local development and growth through their recruitment services.
The women of Stravino Penrod Search Partners have been beacons of inspiration to me throughout my career. Their growth through referrals alone solidifies my belief in the importance of quality relationships within every business. Through trust, commitment, and integrity, it is amazing what women can accomplish together.
Kelly N. Becker: Corporate Controller, Gries Investment Funds
Kelly N. Becker wasn’t sure where her Bachelor of Arts in Economics would take her professionally, but she knew she was on the right track when she entered the investment world. Becker has been part of the Gries Investment Funds team since early 2004 when the fund was nothing more than an idea. As founder Bob Gries’ sole employee at the time, Becker had a front-row seat to the development of a reputable wealth management firm that services clients across the globe.
Since the inception of Gries Investment Fund in 2005, Becker has served as its corporate controller. She oversees accounting functions for the entire firm’s investment and portfolio companies including preparing and reporting financial statements to all stakeholders.
In addition to her daily responsibilities, Becker is highly involved in several charitable endeavors. She holds a six-year tenure as Chairwoman of the Charity Polo Classic and serves as President of the Board of her son’s elementary school foundation, the WBS Foundation.
And somehow, through spreadsheets and charities, Becker manages to make free time for her husband and two sons, Noah and Jacob. In fact, she makes family time a priority because she understands how important it can be. Becker reminds me how quality family time can replenish your spirit and remind you why you started a venture or career in the first place.
Carolina Araujo: Photographer, Founder of Room 3307
Carolina Araujo used to dread the first question everyone would ask when they learned about her boudoir photoshoots: what kind of woman books a boudoir shoot? But after over a decade in the industry, she now welcomes the inquiry.
Located in the Westshore district, Room 3307 is the Tampa Bay area’s premier boutique boudoir studio. Inside her luxurious studio, Araujo photographs women from all walks of life in their most confident states. She began shooting boudoir at a time when self-love was not a mainstream topic. I admire her courage to stay true to her vision, even when others did not understand.
In contrast to a handful of provocative women, her clientele is a broad spectrum of empowered women, ranging from newlyweds to mothers, creative types to businesswomen, and even cancer survivors reclaiming the beauty of their bodies. These women inspire her every day. Hearing their stories and women take control of their own narratives is a fountain of motivation for all of us.
Jaime Brown: Broker, Founder of Tampa Homestyles Real Estate Brokerage
While top-performing realtors come from all levels of education, I like to believe that my corporate background in risk management gives me a unique skill set.
My story began at the University of Florida, where I received my B.S.B.A. in Decision Management and Information Services. After spending years working with executive-level management in various high-performing corporations, I began to see my proverbial glass ceiling. During this time, my husband and I were in search of a new home for our family. My analytical, problem-solving mind took over the process, and a vision for a more transparent, personalized experience was born.
Answering the call of my intuition, I quickly became a licensed real estate agent. In 2017, my husband Chris and I founded Tampa Homestyles, a Luxury Real Estate Boutique Brokerage. Specializing in quality personal service and process efficiency, Tampa Homestyles uses a virtual brokerage business model to prioritize the customer experience. Tampa Homestyle’s proficiency in resolution-based tactics and metrics-driven strategy has made the brokerage a real estate market leader. In March of last year, I was fortunate to serve as the buyer’s agent in a record-breaking, non-spec residential sale of $6.4 million.
Outside of my professional life, I am a mother to two young boys, ages eight and five. I also serve on the board of the Charity Polo Classic, which hosts an annual fundraising event for the local communities here in Tampa. My words have been featured in Authority Magazine, where I spoke on my key to success as a female entrepreneur: a strong network of supportive individuals that empower you to never back down on your vision.
As a female business leader, I strive to use my voice to convince other women that they can achieve anything they set their minds on. I hope to provide inspiration to anyone who is working toward their goals as the women on this list have done so for me.