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Startup City: Where women leaders thrive

Michelle Waite



Katie Pemble, left, and Gentry Barnett Byrnes are the founders of Adelphi Trust. Photos provided.

Having grown up in the US during the tail end of the the Cold War era, I had made the inaccurate assumption that all communist countries had persistently gray skies, boring square concrete buildings and angry military men standing on every corner. 

So, I was quite surprised when I visited Cuba in 2018 on a Women’s Leadership Retreat with How Women Lead. Our educational trip was an immersive experience and connection with Cuban women entrepreneurs, artists, leaders and activists. 

Frankly, I’m ashamed to say that before I visited, I did not really know much about Cuba – except that, until recent years, it had been led by Fidel Castro, that it was communist, and that it had some pretty amazing music that my friend’s father, who was born in Havana, had recommended to me a few years earlier.

I don’t remember ever learning about the country or its history in school and, except for that one friend, I really didn’t even know very many people of Cuban descent. Fortunately, that has changed for me after moving back to Florida this past year. It is such a beautiful and vibrant culture that is alive and well in two of the cities where I spend a lot of my time – Tampa and Miami.

In Cuba, the devastating effects of the political system there were clearly evident in the crumbling infrastructure, rigged up cars and general fear/lack of freedom in what you say and where you go. Our weeklong visit was mostly filled with adventure and joy.  However, there was that one time when a woman entrepreneur we were scheduled to visit had to cancel, because the government suddenly decided that her jewelry business could no longer be. I quietly feared that we were the reason for that, but never actually discovered the full truth.

Being there for only a week did not, by any means, give us a high level of expertise on the culture or the effects of a communist government. But it did have an impact on my perceptions. What I will always remember from the visit are the brightest colors and amazing beauty that exists in the architecture, the cars, the art and the people. And, more than anything, I will remember the strong women who are building their businesses, creating their art and quietly fighting for their rights – despite their environment.

I believe that women make some of the best entrepreneurs, using their tenacity, intelligence and unique perspectives to be successful regardless of their circumstances – but can thrive all the more when the playing field is truly equal.

Tampa Bay Women Leaders Thrive Through Community

One of the things that makes Tampa Bay special is the depth and breadth of high-level, successful women entrepreneurs and leaders across business, government, education and nonprofits. 

It’s also evident in the quantity and quality of women-focused organizations that are connecting and elevating our current and future women leaders. The McGuckin Group, based in St. Pete, is one such organization. Their Women On Their Way premier leadership development program is designed to improve and accelerate women’s advancement. They’ve very recently acquired another well known Tampa-based C-suite leadership development company for women called Key Associates Inc., founded by Mary Key.

“One of the biggest challenges I’ve seen for women in leadership roles is how rapidly things are changing and the demands this places on women,” says Key. “Managing priorities and continuing to grow as a leader is more challenging than ever, which is why we are focused on providing the support, peer coaching and growth opportunities to stay resilient and find new and more innovative ways of aligning mind, body, spirit and career.”

The Key Women Leadership Forums, now powered by Women on Their Way, provides peer group learning to help women better navigate and succeed in leadership.

“Having worked across the globe for more than 3 decades,” states McGuckin Group CEO Audrey McGuckin, ”I couldn’t be more excited and impressed with the quality of women leaders right here in the Tampa Bay area. Our Women On Their Way program provides a platform for leaders at all levels to focus on their leadership capabilities. We decided to make this program accessible for all women leaders after consistently hearing from our more senior women leaders that they wish they had access to this type of program earlier in their career.”

The Women’s Conference of Florida is another Tampa Bay-based organization supporting and elevating women leaders through events. Founded in 2015, the conference offers professional women from across the state a platform to address the most important issues facing women. Their annual conferences feature widely respected thought leaders, exhibits, networking and panel discussions, all designed to empower women to positively influence the world around them.

So many of the women leaders connecting through these organizations and others are thriving and accomplishing important work in their companies, in our community and in the world.  It is organizations like these, alongside the sheer determination of these women leaders, that will help propel many to innovate and build their own businesses that will only make our startup ecosystem even stronger.

St. Pete Women Entrepreneurs Paving the Way

Katie Pemble and Gentry Barnett Byrnes are the perfect example of strong, smart women entrepreneurs and leaders making a significant impact on our region. These St. Pete residents, who both have had long, flourishing careers with leading financial institutions, have recently joined forces to open the first women-founded trust company in the state of Florida called Adelphi Trust. Even more significant, over 70% of their investors are women as well. 

It all started with an observation for a need driven by changing times in our country. “Gentry and I could see that there was a significant market opportunity for people needing wealth management planning and trust services,” explains Pemble. “Florida is one of the most resilient economies in the country. People are moving to Florida, and wealth is exiting high income tax states.” 

Pemble and Byrnes began brainstorming and quickly recognized that Tampa Bay (and the rest of Florida) needed another privately-owned trust company to serve and fill the market demand. Pemble proudly recalls, “Once recognizing the need, we then asked ourselves – ‘why shouldn’t it be us to fill it?’ ” 

As part of their due diligence and business planning, they each had an “aha moment” when they discovered that no woman had ever started a bank or trust company in Florida. “This started just like any other business – with realizing what the market potential and need would be, not just now, but over the next 10 years – and exponentially over the next 20 years,” clarifies Pemble. 

Since identifying this original market trend and need, however, they’ve both leaned fully into being the first women-owned trust company in the state of Florida. “We want to be an inspiration for other qualified, professional women to seize these moments and do it,” says Pemble. Additionally, the market opportunity for serving other women in this space quickly became clear to them as well. Their research showed that women in America are coming into wealth at an epic rate – through inheritance and, more importantly, through investing in and creating new businesses.

Both Pemble and Byrnes strongly believe that, as women, they bring a unique perspective when working with women and all of their clients. “Women talk to their clients differently,” explains Byrnes. “We want to not only talk to clients about their investments, but whatever is keeping them up at night.” This might include things beyond their portfolio, which include more holistic family topics – like estate planning, who’s going to take care of a special needs child or making sure that the family legacy and goals are being carried out. “It’s about comprehensive planning versus just the planning around the investments,” continues Byrnes. Pemble chimes in, “which is enormously relevant to the protection of wealth.”

It is clear that these two women entrepreneurs are bringing their deep experience, intellect, tenacity and unique viewpoints to their wealth management and trust business – and in serving their clientele. In doing so, ALL of their clients – both men and women – are benefiting. And, we as a community are reaping the benefits as well.

Startup City will continue to explore topics on what it takes to have a thriving startup ecosystem through stories and thoughts of local residents and startups. 

Michelle Waite is the VP of Marketing at Florida Funders, a locally-based venture capital firm and angel investor network who enables tech startups to thrive through monetary and business-intellectual capital. She has invested in, co-founded and worked for tech startups for the last 10 years. She counts herself lucky everyday to work for and alongside some pretty amazing entrepreneurs. You can follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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