Environmentally Conscious and Loving IT!

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Clayton Louis Ferrera leading a session at the Hive.

Clayton Louis Ferrera leading a session at the Hive.

If you have never been to Florida, one thing that might surprise you is the abundance of wildlife. It is not uncommon for residents to come across alligators, squirrels, or the occasional bear. While for most this can induce cartoon-like freak outs, for Clayton Louis Ferrara it is just a part of nature’s beauty and fuel for his work to educate the community about our most precious gift, the environment.

Ferrera spent most of his young life volunteering at research facilities in Stuart, Florida like the Marine Life Center of Juno Beach under Larry Wood and the Florida Oceanographic Society where the young naturalist was able to establish his scientific foundation. From that foundation, Ferrera deepened his knowledge with dual degrees in Biology and Environmental Studies at Rollins College. Upon graduation, Ferrera had planned to pursue a Master’s in Science Writing at MIT. While volunteering at the Oakland Nature Preserve the summer before he was to start at MIT in 2009, Ferrera’s efforts to fund a Head Curator and Director of Education position came through.

After two years of leading the nature preserve, a group of students from UCF presented at the Florida Wildlife Federation’s Board meeting that was being hosted there. Since then, Clayton Louis Ferrera has been actively involved with IDEAS for Us, a UN accredited NGO that educates and empowers people to advance sustainability through action. Starting as the National Science Director, he then became the South Eastern Regional Director and ultimately took on the role of Executive Director on January 1st of 2014. His passion for IDEAS has allowed the organization to gain momentum in truly empowering citizens for sustainability.

Using a chapter model, the all volunteer staff has been able to grow IDEAS beyond the borders of Central Florida with members all over the world. Ferrera’s passion for IDEAS is contagious and the natural teacher has inspired students of all ages to reconnect with nature.

Map of IDEAS Chapters and Partners.

Map of IDEAS Chapters and Partners

Although Ferrera has many accomplishments of which he could place his walking stick, like being the first American to be named a Darwin Scholar by the Field Studies Council of London, Ferrera is quick to recognize those who have supported him along the way. From his parents to his teachers and peers, Ferrera believes that every person has the capacity to accomplish something incredible, they just need the support to recognize what is within them. “If we are able to do that, we could end poverty, we could improve our environment, and we could live happier lives.”

To capture the whole of Ferrera’s insights couldn’t possibly be contained in this space so if you would like to learn more about IDEAS for Us, like them on Facebook to stay up to date.

Embracing the Squiggly by Making Truffles

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In anticipation of Small Business Saturday, I had the opportunity to meet Jenny of J&G Chocolate and Tea. A self-taught chocolatier, she used Youtube and Pinterest to learn the delicate art of making chocolate. While working in a traditional job, Jenny learned that she was actually pretty good at making tiny moments of delight with her creations. One thing led to another and then she was able to leave her job to start building the business with her sister Gina.

Jenny and Gina

Pictured: Jenny (left) and Gina (right).

Having launched J&G at the beginning of the year, the startup chocolate shop has seen success pretty early on. With an ultimate goal of being a chocolate and tea cafe, the sisters have grown their reach by selling online and at farmer’s markets throughout the Central Florida area with new locations to be announced.

While many may pick up chocolate making as a hobby, Jenny’s commitment to building a business took timing and “growing a pair.” Not a natural risk taker, Jenny was encouraged to take the leap by her supportive husband and sister. With their backing starting a chocolate and tea company seemed completely doable.

Photo Credit: J&G Chocolate and Tea

Photo Credit: J&G Chocolate and Tea

At first, Jenny didn’t completely realize what kind of risk she was taking by leaving her stable job to start a chocolate company. That is, until people started to say, “Wow, you are so brave” and other things that made her take a second and question the path she had already taken. For example, challenges with figuring out the permitting rules, red tape with licensing, and the very steep costs when it comes to shipping chocolate. These constraints led the sisters to start doubting what they had already accomplished and the research they had done.

But then Jenny had a moment of clarity, “until you know what you are going to do, you can’t do the research.” It took making the mistakes to learn how to ask the right questions so she could get the right answers and get the business to where it is today.

Photo: Jenny at a Fall Pop Up Shop

Photo: Jenny at a Fall Pop Up Shop

In addition to being in a constant game of trail and error, Jenny noticed how at times she felt like the odd duck in her circle of friends. To have a work schedule where she may not get started until 10am but was working until midnight in the kitchen, sometimes did not come across to anyone else as work. That simple difference in schedule can be hard for others to understand. However, for Jenny, having that flexibility is one of the most rewarding parts of being an entrepreneur.

Another challenge that almost every female business owner has dealt with is the self imposed need for perfection. In Jenny’s case, she learned to overcome getting bogged down with the details through the valuable experience of planning her wedding. “As the planner you can get all wrapped up in the teeny tiny details, but no one else will know but you if it is missing. Now with J&G, time is what influences how things will get prioritized and accepting that has allowed me to keep getting our product out there and refining it as we go along” and it might come out even better than planned.

When asked about the greatest piece of advice she would give to anyone who would want to start something like J&G,”research and testing are the most important things for anyone developing a product, especially a food product. Get the feedback of your family, your friends, everyone you know so can be confident in your product.”

Photo Credit: Candace Dyer at http://bit.ly/12cYvU0

Photo Credit: Candace Dyer at http://bit.ly/12cYvU0

Now I had the chance to eat one of J&G’s Caramel Pretzel and Bacon Apples and I can honestly say it was one of the best things I ever ate. But don’t just take my word for it, check out Candace Dyer’s review on her dessert blog Dessert Geek. And if you are interested in purchasing any of their chocolates or teas go to their online shop here or visit them at these locations.

Healing the Community through Holistic Counseling

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Changing the world often comes in the form of improving foreign policy and informing how the United States interacts with other countries. As rewarding as that field can be, the results of that work could take years or even lifetimes to be seen. Navigating the governments, trade deals, and other institutions can hold up a project for years, so patience and trust in that process is crucial. But what if you doubt that process or want to directly help people?

Zac Dodson Meet Zac Dodson, serial entrepreneur and owner of HD Counseling, an Orlando based holistic mental health service provider. Zac initially went to graduate school in Geneva, Switzerland, the heart of international policy making, and within his first semester felt that he needed to make a switch. So, he went to the Counseling department and just asked if he could transfer into their school. Since it had never been done before, he met little resistance and within the year was studied his way to becoming a licensed mental health counselor.

Upon graduation, he set up his own practice and moved to Orlando, FL. Within months he learned that most of his patients were coming to him with “co-morbid” issues or environmental factors that kept them from living their happiest life. So, Zac began a holistic practice that brought in healers of all kinds to an affordable workspace and require that they are active in the community. What first started out as a 4 person practice flourished into a team of 18 practitioners in just 3 years. With offerings beyond counseling, such as meditation, acupuncture and art therapy workshops, HD Counseling provides less intimidating experiences to better one’s mental health.

HD Counseling Team
Inspired by his work with clients who live with PTSD, Zac noticed that workers who burnout are dealing with this trauma that goes on to turn these professionals towards private sector work and ultimately harming the whole non-profit sector. Now that HD Counseling has reached a level of stability, Zac has found his way into addressing this millennial issue: burnout. Most common in non-profit workers, Benefact is Zac’s next project in helping others. Non-profit managers tools and workshops to help their employees avoid burnout to remain engaged in the often grueling industry.

Zac’s work is impacting an aspect of our society that often is overlooked or stigmatized, as evidenced by the shooting this week at Florida State University. By going out into the community and offering workshops, seminars, and other services, HD Counseling is creating safer places for people to get help.

If you want to learn more about the incredible work that HD Counseling does click here or post in the comments below if you have any questions.

Federal Employment and Why Millennials Want More From Their Work

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Photo Credit: Ingrid Taylar from San Francisco Bay Area - California, USA

Photo Credit: Ingrid Taylar from San Francisco Bay Area – California, USA

As the dust settles from the midterm elections, citizens far and wide return to their regularly scheduled programming. However, according to the Office of Personnel Management, for 4.312 million people these changes impact who are their coworkers and how their work is accomplished. Working for the red tape laden federal government, as one millennial working at the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) has learned, can actually be the most rewarding job.

What is the FMC? Well. You know the screen you are looking at? It’s safe passage, like almost everything else we interact with daily, are regulated by the Federal Maritime Commission. Established in 1961 by President Kennedy, the commission handles tariffs, ports, and trade regulations to help businesses with the actual importation and exportation of their goods. But how does one get a job working with such an organization? Just ask my friend Jewel Jennings – Wright. Originally from Baltimore, Maryland, Jewel is currently a Counsel at the Commission, meaning she supports and advises a commissioner.

Jewel Jennings Wright

Prior to landing this dream of a job, Jewel received her B.A. in Political Science at Carnegie Mellon, then her Master’s and J.D. from the University of Pittsburgh. With an ongoing interest in the strategic aspects of international security, Jewel first became interested in port security during her graduate studies in International Security and Intelligence. “We have ports leading to almost every major city, and almost anyone can ship anything” therefore creating a very murky security challenge. By interning for the Commission she was able to bring together her love for ports and law.

Upon graduation, however, a position was not available. Instead, she went to work with a private equity firm in Detroit. But, after about a year was able to return to D.C. to work with the Commission. “It’s rewarding, yet demanding work” as Jewel isn’t just pushing paper, but is actually making a difference.

Photo credit: Carnegie Mellon University

Photo credit: Carnegie Mellon University

Along the way Jewel has been able to learn some important life lessons. The primary among them being,

“Actually listen to your gut. If you are absolutely unhappy and upset where you are change your situation or make steps to change it that may mean changing jobs, it may mean moving (usually both), it may mean taking a leap of faith of some kind but actually try. If you feel it ‘in your bones’ that something is bad, it most likely is.”

When asked about millennials in the workforce,

“I think millennials often get a bad rep because people think that it’s a soft generation. We’ve seen the baby boomers and our parents work lives that didn’t necessarily lead to a good home life. There are a lot of people asking millennials to ignore that and do it anyway. For baby boomers, a hard days work sometimes was at a factory and it was actually hard. Now we’ve seen baby boomers come down with things like asbestosis, unions being busted, pensions going bust and our parents going through bubble after bubble. Are we supposed to do exactly the same thing?” 

Although early in her career, Jewel has found herself as one of the youngest counsels at the commission. With that experience she has identified the key issue that drives millennials. During our childhoods, we’ve witnessed the damaging side effects of our current systems and how our families have coped with them. Is it entitlement to demand for more from our professional lives, or simply a desire to avoid the terrifying challenges our families have had to weather? Post your thoughts in the comments below or tweet @themtakeover.

A Life Changing Experience that Gave This Founder His Most Important Skills

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Mack Profile

Ask Mack Kolarich about his most significant memory of his time as a backcountry ranger in Washington state and you’ll hear the torment in his voice as he debates between two of them. The first, a hazy smoke filled sunset walk in the woods and the eerie howl of the not so distant wolves, the terrifying beauty of it being something he’ll never forget.  The second, was a trek to Horseshoe Basin where a couple thousand waterfalls, snowpacks and glaciers provided the most incredible connecting to nature experience.

Cascades Park Photo credit: Mack Kolarich

Cascades Park
Photo credit: Mack Kolarich

Embarking on 8-10 day long treks to maintain a national treasure, is something Mack’s dad always wanted to do. In true millennial fashion,  Mack took the hint to avoid living life with regret and spent a college summer putting out fires (literally) and underwent worldview shift that resulted in a stronger sense of self reliance. That self reliance has served the Political Economy major from Carleton College as he is now building his third startup company, Scenesquid a D.C. based company that handles posting event information on the behalf of its clients.

The founding organizer of DC Start Up Weekend, is by far one of the greatest advocates for young people striking out on their own and starting their own business. As we have seen how “the man” has become increasingly less reliable and less caring of their employees, starting your own business has become somewhat more reliable. In a world that is becoming more competitive as exceptional talent from other countries come online, having the control of your own destiny is becoming increasingly necessary.

scenesquid landing page

Although a stress inducing idea, Mack is optimistic about the outlook for millennials. “The number one edge millennials have is growing up in the digital world. It’s important for our generation to grab onto tech skills, know basic coding. We need to have that baseline of tech savvy as that is where our world is heading. As they say in hockey, don’t skate to the puck but skate to where the puck is going.” With those skills and flexibility, no matter where the economy goes those skills build much needed resilience.

However, millennials face several serious challenges. Student loan debt increases the perceived risk for an already risky endeavor and motivates many to find more stable jobs until they can pursue other projects. Competition is only going to become harder as India and China produce more graduates than ever before. Short attention spans and armchair activism generates a level of complacency that could impede creativity.

But, for all of these drawbacks millennials possess several qualities that are creating a demand for a drastically different lifestyle from our parents. The insatiable curiosity and willingness to try new things will naturally push our generation to constantly innovate and allow for new companies, products, etc. gain traction much faster than in the past. As Mack said, “that is our most valuable edge.”

Would you agree with what Mack has to say about Millennials? Post your comments below.

How to Improve Access to Energy in Haiti One Finish Line at a Time

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A little while ago, I had the chance to meet up with a new friend Bradley Bulifant. This business management major from the University of Florida has had quite the adventure. From being a recording artist to managing large scale events to finally, developing The Solar Games; a mobile racing game aimed at supporting solar panel grids for rural villages in Haiti. But how does one go from majoring in business to launching a triple bottom line mobile app? By paying very close attention.

Bradley Bulifant of the Solar Games.

Bradley Bulifant of the Solar Games.

Once Bradley left his band, he went to work providing reconstruction solutions in the wake of national natural disasters, like Katrina in Louisiana and Charley in Florida. In between disasters, Bradley capitalized on the free time to pursue other projects. First, it was aiding the development of a sister city relationship between Gainesville, FL and Jacmel, Haiti as a response to the 2010 earthquake. Over time, Bradley became increasingly involved with all things Haiti with somewhat regular travel and interacting with the artisan community. When he was state-side he began to notice that apps and websites were making some serious money through ads and partnerships. Seeing the desperate need for energy paired with incredible revenues generated from mobile business, Bradley with some early members of Grooveshark began to pursue a mobile game that could connect a player to solving a social problem.

Since 2010, the development of the startup has faced many challenges. But the dominant issue, as it is for any startup, has been funding. Without a salaried team, Bradley has relied on help from friends and students who were looking for real world experience, and bit by laborious bit, the Solar Games is becoming a reality. Tapped to be a member of the Clinton Global Initiative with their commitment to action, Bradley’s work with the Solar Games is truly a disruptive way to funding development projects.

As any founder can attest to, you cannot come away from building something without a few nuggets of wisdom. In Bradley’s case, planning and goal setting have been crucial to his success. He urged that it doesn’t have to be a 50 page document, but rather a realistic timeline to keep the project on track. Developing a community to market your project too has to be included in that planning process. That community is what will help you during crowd funding, constructive feedback, and the marketing phases. In addition to community, having a solid pitch, and putting your ideas into concise wording will only help you refine what you are looking to achieve.

GoodXGames photo

GoodXGames photo

With the formal launch around the corner, Bradley and his team are racing to meet their goals. If you are nearly as excited about this game as I am, like their page on Facebook to keep up with the team and get an exclusive look at what goes into building this app.

Millennial Interview: Luxury Boutique Hotel owner in Haiti.

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When you first think of a hotel in Haiti, something like this might come to mind:

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Although similar places can be found, a visit to Haiti could land you somewhere like this:
Cafe36DiningRoom

Starting a boutique hotel in a poverty stricken country takes serious guts, commitment, and a stockpile of patience. I found these qualities in Lorraine Hudicourt owner of La Lorraine, the most recent addition to Port-au-Prince’s luxury hotel scene. Lorraine’s laid back ambition and perfectionism boasts from every detail.

Beyond the open walkway encased in linen drapes, you will find the popular restaurant Cafe 36, where I met with Lorraine.  Every inch of decor adds a sense of privacy and a sense of protection from the harsh realities of living in Haiti. All of the daily stress melted away once I arrived at the dining area that provides a Caribbean urban oasis.

The after work crowd starts to settle in as a popular D.J. sets up his kit on the humble stage. I look around for Lorraine and catch her as she is attending to the needs of an ongoing conference and smoothly transitioning the dinner crowd to the happy hour that’s about to begin.

Nothing alters a plan quite like a 7.0 earthquake.With a crushing demand for hotels in the area, Lorraine stayed on to manage the hotel. Coincidentally, a parcel of land that Lorraine had dreamed about for years also came onto the market. With encouragement from her mother, Lorraine did the crazy, risky thing and bought the land to achieve her dream of owning a hotel.  After three years of negotiating, patience, and perseverance, La Lorraine opened her doors in November 2012.

After a little over a year, the wild success experienced by the hotel has encouraged Lorraine to think of how to improve and expand. Although being a millennial hasn’t been a challenge, what has been difficult has been finding quality employees. With a significant portion of the population unable to read or write, finding people who will at least meet expectations can be extremely difficult. But ask her about her big travel dreams, she laughs and responds with: “They are extinct, but I’m happy here.” As Lorraine has shown, life has a funny way of changing our plans, often for the better.