In a three-part series, we celebrate innovators from Chicago, Miami, and New York City who dared to make their business dreams a reality. Below, 15 entrepreneurs from Miami share their triumphs, failures, and lessons learned while founding some of the city's most prolific businesses.

Felicia Hatcher / Black Tech Week, Code Fever, Feverish Pops

Mission: "Black Tech Week was established in 2014 by Code Fever to provide more impactful programming around Black History Month; in addition to celebrating innovators of color, the entire week of events aims to change the narrative surrounding our community and replace it with innovation, creativity and technology that stretches the trajectory of our community."

Miami is one the most diverse communities in America, often referred to in jest as “The Capital of Latin America” and encompassing neighborhoods that used be to called “The Harlem of the South.”

But about two-and-a-half years ago, Felicia Hatcher realized that Miami’s growing tech scene wasn’t fully incorporating members from all of its diverse population. After successfully launching Miami’s most delicious handmade popsicle company, Feverish Pops, she co-founded Code Fever as a way to involve student-age Miamians of color in technology. And just this past February, Code Fever served as one of the main presenters of Hatcher’s latest initiative, Black Tech Week. Hatcher helped organize 13 events across Miami-Dade and Broward counties for Black Tech Week, including a two-day conference with startup founders, techies, lawyers, Grammy award-winners, and entrepreneurs from all over world.

“For the most part, people in this community realize that this is a need, but there are some people who don’t,” Hatcher says after a meeting in which she secured three years of financial support and sponsorship from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. “Some people really took offense to the fact that is was called ‘Black Tech Week.’”

She speaks calmly, but determinedly, acknowledging that such a bold public statement about the inequality in Miami’s tech community was risky, but represents an effort to fix the problem in itself. “Sometimes you need those titles before you can break down those titles," she asserts.  

Between Code Fever and Black Tech week, Hatcher hopes to provide not just technical and entrepreneurial training for people of color in Miami, but also create an environment built on equality. “We want to equip them with the tools and technological curiosity to become makers instead of being consumers of the technology. What we’re teaching them is only scratching the surface of what they really need to learn in order to be really competitive.”

Kareem Tabsch / O Cinema

Age: 35

Mission: O Cinema is dedicated to fostering film culture in Miami by showcasing works of cinematic art and cultivating film lovers and filmmakers.

When Kareem Tabsch grew up in Miami, the film-buff could never find a good place to see indie films. And not just the quirky rom-coms that now loosely comprise the “indie” genre, but the truly independent, experimental films that don’t make it to your local 24-screen theaters.

“My co-founder/co-director Vivian Marthell and I decided we had to start O Cinema because we were tired of the lack of the kind of thought provoking and engaging films in our city,” he says. “The tipping point was the realization that whenever we were traveling we'd find that we'd inevitably have to go to the cinema to see a movie that otherwise would not be shown in Miami.” 

He continues, exasperated, “That seemed ridiculous to us, so we were either going to be part of the problem or part of the solution and we decided we had to do something.”

In 2011, Tabsch and Marthell opened the first location of O Cinema in a then-undeveloped Wynwood. Though they started receiving funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in 2008 as part transformative arts investment program, the timing coincide with the Great Recession. So in the middle of a down economy, the O Cinema team had to find nearly half a million dollars as part of their matching grant, a location for the theater, and the additional time and funds to renovate the new venue. Both Tabsch and Marthell quit their day jobs in the time, as well, so that they could focus on building O Cinema.

When they found the current location in Wynwood, the only things in the area were small art galleries, artist studios and the Rubell Family Collection, across the street.

“It’s funny now just five years later to be described as Wynwood pioneers, but to a large extent, it’s true. We predate some of the most beloved Wynwood locals by several months or a year,” says Tabsch. “What drew our eye to Wynwood was both its proximity to Biscayne Boulevard and the expressway, but also the fact that there was already a nascent arts scene there...and as artists and art lovers, we knew we wanted to be near our people.” 

Now, O Cinema represents Miami’s largest independent art house cinema, a mission-driven non-profit with three distinct locations. With each expansion, growth, and new venture, the O Cinema team has to weigh its financial expenditures with the challenges of finding new markets in Miami with communities interested in alternative types of films.

“We're not gamblers,” Tabsch admits. “I think we're more risk-averse than not, but the key is knowing what the right risk is, and I think that’s our biggest success.”

Roger Duarte and Sam Gorenstein / My Ceviche

Mission: "Go fish, go fresh, go you."

Within an approximately five-block radius of the General Consulate of The Republic of Haiti in Brickell, Miamians can find culinary representation from most Central and South American countries. There’s the Colombian street food joint, the Cuban munchies place open late, and of course, a Peruvian ceviche restaurant.

That location near the consulate in Miami’s financial district is the second location of My Ceviche, a local chain of fast, fresh, and build-you-own-dish cevicherías that Roger Duarte and Sam Gorenstein began in late 2011. Ceviche, a seafood dish made by curing raw fish in citrus juices and seasoned with spices, fits perfectly with Miami’s penchant for adventurous, yet, culturally relevant eating. At that time, however, Duarte and Gorenstein realized that Miami didn’t have the type of ceviche restaurant that adequately emphasized the characteristics they cherished.

“After doing a lot of research and analysis, we concluded that Miami was lacking a true seafood ‘fast-casual’ concept that would bring all attributes to the table... quality, freshness, value, ambiance, and taste,” writes Gorenstein. “Miami is our hometown, were we grew up. We wanted to build our company here and be a part of the huge growth and success Miami is experiencing nowadays.”

So, both co-founders agreed to leave their other fancy food posts around town to start My Ceviche together. Duarte, a former investment banker whom his partner describes as, “an entrepreneur at heart,” risked diverting his attention away from his Bloomberg Business-lauded stone crab wholesale business George Stone Crab. But it’s Gorenstein who really threw everything into My Ceviche. As the former executive chef of the high-end Raleigh Hotel in South Beach, he says, “I personally took a big risk of leaving an amazing paycheck and stability of my day-to-day job.”

He remembers, however, “knowing that I would be in full control of my destiny, gave me the strength to push forward with My Ceviche.”

When Duarte and Gorenstein opened the first My Ceviche in Miami Beach in March 2012, they had extremely limited funds. “Just enough to get the project off the ground,” notes Gorenstein. By the end 2015, however, they expect to close out the year with seven operating units.

“We are truly committed to sourcing the freshest seafood and produce. Our seafood is only wild-caught (sustainable), and our produce gets sourced from a bunch of local farms when possible,” Gorenstein describes. And moving forward, he continues, “We are really pushing to be the restaurant brand that transcended [those ideas] from local to national.”

Julie Jacko / Barre Motion

Mission: "Combining the artistic athleticism of ballet with the mindfulness of yoga and Pilates, Barre Motion delivers rapid results, changing physiques from the inside out."

Julie Jacko knows how the body works. Academically, she studied industrial engineering and holds a Ph.D. in Human Factors Engineering. And physically, she spent much of her life as an active runner.

But recently Jacko began experiencing hip, knee, and ankle pain while working out, unable to break through the physical and mental barriers of running regularly. She began looking into barre exercises—which combine ballet-inspired movements, yoga poses, and Pilates postures—to strengthen and stretch the body while using a horizontal bar for balance. “I turned it into a study, if you will,” says Jacko. “I took classes from major national franchise to small independent studios...[applying] methodologies to new subjects.”

Soon after practicing the barre method as a consumer, Jacko’s various physical ailments began to disappear. The joint pain disappeared and her running stride lengthened. She noticed positive changes in her posture, alignment, flexibility, and balance. And after committing to Miami, a place she’s lived on-and-off for nearly 20 years, she decided to leave her research and administration post at the University of Minnesota to self-fund her own fitness studio, Barre Motion, in South Beach.  “I experienced everything that I had wanted to accomplish in my former occupation,” admits Jacko. “I knew that I wanted to do something that I was really passionate about from a health perspective.”

Unlike cities like New York and Los Angeles, Miami doesn’t have much of a barre scene. So while Jacko notes the obvious risks involved in leaving a steady job to start a new business with a new brick-and-mortar location, she also emphasizes the challenge of introducing the public to this relatively new form of exercise. But the response has “been amazing,” she exclaims.

“As an entrepreneur, sometimes you don’t pause and ask yourself those questions [about risk]. You just keep pushing the ball down the field,” she says. “I think you have to be able to derive a sense of reward early on. You have to take pleasure in the small wins. You have to take pleasure in the everyday clients who are happy, clients who are willing to express their happiness publically on Yelp or in a testimonial. You have to be able to celebrate those small victories along the way. Those are the things that help you manage the risk in your mind.”

Northside Miami Nikki Novo-1.jpg

Nikki Novo / Author, Motivational Speaker, Blogger

Age: 33

Mission: "My mission is to teach millennials how to to overcome the everyday challenges they all face (from dating and finding a career with purpose to spreading their message online) by encouraging them to incorporate spiritual practices into their daily lives."

You’d think that a woman in her early 30s would kill to be writing for MIAMI magazine, Daily Candy, and Refinery29. But Nikki Novo wasn’t happy in these editorial roles. Thinking back to her last full-time editorial position at Refinery 29—a top tier media outlet in the world of fashion and beauty—Novo recalls, “If I wasn’t happy there, then I obviously wasn’t on the right path.”

Quitting a steady job is a risk in the first place, but Novo’s mission is to help others do the same. At the time, she felt frustrated helping build other companies’ brands. Yet, Novo knew that she couldn’t be the only young female professional without a sense of purpose or strong community to help support her in finding it.

These days, Novo spends her time trying to inspire young lady entrepreneurs to find their dream paths in work, love, and life. She hosts independent blogging classes like  “How To Freelance Write For Print And Online Publications” and “Blogging For Purpose,” which is sponsored by Squarespace. Macy’s just hired her to host speed dating classes in its Miami store, and earlier this year, Novo self-published her first book Will I be Alone Forever?: ...And Other Dating Questions You Wish a Psychic Would Answer.

“It is scary because there’s all this pressure on you to make it happen so that other people know that it can happen,” she says from her home office in Miami. “All the people that I help cheer me on through my own process, which makes it more worthwhile and more worth doing.”

But Novo manages the risks by tracking and measuring the successes of her young women, her clients. She maintains, “When they are doing things, making a difference, and doing what they love, that’s success to me.”

Photo by Gort Productions / Image courtesy of Open English / NEXT University

Photo by Gort Productions / Image courtesy of Open English / NEXT University

Andrés Moreno / Open English

Mission: "Our mission is to reinvent English learning, using technology to tear down the barriers imposed by traditional learning methods."

Andrés Moreno has always picked up new languages easily. He grew up in eight countries across three continents, speaking Spanish at home in his birth country of Venezuela, Slovenian in Ljubljana, Italian throughout Europe and Northern Africa, Spanish again in the Dominican Republic and Chile, and eventually English in Maryland. Today, the Slovenian and Italian are mostly gone, but Moreno is fluent in Spanish, English, and Portuguese.

While studying study mechanical and production engineering in college in Venezuela, Moreno became frustrated with the lack of experiential teaching and creative thinking. He recalls, “I found an outlet through entrepreneurship.”

Moreno ended up leaving school six months before graduating to start Optimal English, a company that trained executives at Fortune 500 companies like Procter and Gamble, Sun Microsystems, and Cargill to speak English fluently by working with college aged native English speakers.

From this experience, Moreno recalls learning that, “English was, beyond just the language of one country, the language of the world. It’s the language of business, the language of travel. Although there are, for example, more native speakers of Mandarin than there are in English, there are many many more speakers of English as a second language than any other language in the world. And that’s only a growing trend.  ESL is a tool for success and that is very much woven into the fabric of consumers in emerging markets who feel it’s a stepping-stone for success”

So with the technical and digital revolution of the mid-to-late aughts, Moreno decided to improve upon this fluency concept by taking it online. Now rather than coordinate in-person teaching experiences, Open English aims to unite native English speakers with those who want to learn English on a digital platform.

After spending his last dollars on a flight to Silicon Valley, sleeping on outdoor couches, and attending angel investor breakfasts, Moreno finally came up with enough funding to begin. “I don’t have the same risk profile that I did back then, I’ll tell you that. I don’t know what I was thinking!” he says now with a laugh.

Today, Moreno and Open English are based out of Miami for proximity to target markets, as well as quality of talent and lifestyle. The company boasts more than 1,000 employees and $120 million of funding. It’s also the leading brand of English language education in 20 markets.

“I think Miami has turned into a hub for entrepreneurship. I think it’s turned into a hub for people looking to have a great lifestyle, as well as run exciting businesses,” says Moreno. “Open English has been one story that’s [been told] as a result of, and embodiment, of that.”

Derrick Ashong / Amp.it

Age: 39

Mission: "Amp.it is building a gamified digital network curated by fans who are rewarded for discovering and sharing the next big thing,' Our mission is to do a 180 on the content industries, by putting the fan at the top of the food chain."

Derrick Ashong comes from what he calls “humble beginnings.” His childhood home in Ghana did not have running water. And when his family moved to the Middle East during the Gulf War, he had to wear a gas mask to school every day.

But since then, Ashong and his family moved to New Jersey. He ended up receiving academic scholarships to go to Harvard University. After graduation, he worked in different facets of the entertainment industry in New York and Los Angeles before compartmentalizing these interests and years of experience to launch a startup.

“When I look at my particular risk profile and I look at my family and friends and loved ones who didn’t get to go to another country and didn’t get to live in communities where they’d have access to public schools, who didn’t get to go to Harvard...they really had to struggle more than I did,” he muses.

When Ashong gets excited, his intonation bounces like that of an agile rapper, reflecting the nearly 20 years he’s spent in bands, films, television shows, and more. His international insights and experiences, combined with his flair for public speaking, helped land him a job at Fusion, a collaborative television network venture between Disney and Univision, about two years ago. The network recruited Ashong down to Miami to host a new talk show, but just after a year on the job, he left the network — and its stable paycheck to help provide for his wife and two small children—to start Amp.it.

“Amp.it is my full-time-job,” Ashong says, drawing out each word in a way that stresses his incredulousness.

The multimedia start-up serves as way to help promote content (specifically by bands and for music fans) in the digital world. It employs tactics of gamification, rewarding users with points as they engage with the program.

Even though Ashong received money from an investor in Silicon Valley for Amp.it., he’s clear that the project requires more funding. ““My life savings are in this bad boy!” he exclaims.

Amp.it has grown to include seven full-time staff members in Miami and Argentina, as well as three part-time advisors elsewhere in the U.S.

Says Ashong, “Whereas on one hand it looks like what I do is risky, for me the greater risk is not to do the best that I can because it’s only by a twist of circumstances that I have the opportunities that I do have and I want to make the very most of all of them.”

Mariana Cortez / Bunnie Cakes

Mission: "BunnieCakes is the only specialty vegan and gluten free bakery located in Miami, Florida."

When Mariana Cortez had her first son, she feared something was wrong. Luke didn’t begin speaking as quickly as other kids, and after 18 months, she began researching options to facilitate his verbal development. One of the alternative methods she found was to start him on a gluten-free diet. Luke had been lactose-intolerant since birth, so Cortez began cooking vegan and gluten-free for him.

“I didn’t go to school for baking. I didn’t go to culinary school,” she says. “I was just a mom trying to make something for my son.”

Having moved from Venezuela to Miami to attend college at Florida International University, Cortez never intended to quit her stable video production job and start a vegan and gluten-free bakery. But by 2009, Luke was a healthy, happy toddler and the first iteration of Bunnie Cakes was born.

Bunny Cakes began with Cortez baking vegan and gluten-free mini-cupcakes in her home each night and dropping off the product to clients before her 10 a.m. call-time for work. She lasted less than six months working double time before leaving that job to bake full-time. By that point, Cortez had two children, and as she describes, “I wasn’t very happy...and I wasn’t spending much time with them.”

Although a town known for high-end meals and fancy seafood, Miami hadn’t yet so pervasively embraced alternative diets. Plus, Wynwood’s revitalization hadn’t yet spread east to NE 2nd Avenue, so finding growing the business and finding a good permanent location and investors interested in backing a product for a niche market became a challenge. “Everybody told me I was crazy,” she remembers, “that it wasn’t a good idea, the location was bad, that it was too big. Everyone had a different opinion.”

Six years later, however, Bunny Cakes now has a successful flagship store in Wynwood that opened in 2013, as well as a new store opening in August in Aventura Mall.  And with the little heart-shaped red sprinkles on top of each goodie serves as an edible representation of Cortez’s love for her kids and her successful small business.

“It was scary, but there was something inside me. When I set my mind to something, I do it—no matter what it is or how hard it is or what I have to do to get there I’ll do it,” she says. 

“You don’t have anything. Nobody’s telling you you’re going to succeed. You only have faith. And that’s the only thing that’s going to guide you...You don’t have money. You don’t have friends. Nobody is there but your faith. And eventually, that’s going to take you somewhere where people will believe you or believe in your business.”

Lauren "Lolo" Reskin / Sweat Records

Age: 33

Mission: "To be a world class record store, as well as a portal through which locals and visitors alike can discover what Miami’s music and cultural scenes have to offer."

Sweat Records is a destination location. It’s across the bay from South Beach and a 15-minute drive from downtown (without traffic). But Sweat Records is also the hub of all musical and cultural activity in Miami. It encompasses a vegan coffee bar, live performance space, meeting place, and record store, all in just a tiny rectangular space in Little Haiti.

Portraits of musical heroes like Iggy Pop, Johnny Cash, and Billie Holiday grace the Wall of Idolatry mural painted by local artist CP1 on the outside of Sweat’s current location, which opened next door to Churchill’s Pub in 2007. But when Lauren Reskin and her best friend Sara Yousuf conceptualized and started Sweat Records in 2005, tourists did not visit Little Haiti. Vinyl records had not yet begun their historic comeback. Miami rarely welcomed mainstream touring bands and the local scene felt disjointed within itself.

Reskin, who spent time working at the now-closed Virgin Records in South Miami, DJing around the 305, and booking local bands, wanted to create something that would grow her hometown scene. She says, “I wanted Sweat to be a portal for people to discover what’s going on down here (and proof that culture was indeed happening here), as well as a locally oriented record shop.”

While the initial risks with starting Sweat Records included the understood obstacles of finding a property and paying rent and, Sweat also faced challenges unique to South Florida (with one previous location destroyed by Hurricane Wilma in October 2005) and within the music industry. At the time, Sweat needed inventory (like records and CDs) to populate the shelves, but no distributors would agree to terms because they were so new.

Although Reskin’s store opened to great fanfare and built Miami’s musical community, Sweat still has to balance the risks of adapting to current music industry trends. “We’ve adjusted our inventory with demand, going from about 50/50 LP to CD when we opened to now where we have probably 90 percent vinyl, 5 percent CD, and 5 percent cassette. The profit margin on physical music is amongst the smallest in retail so that’s always been one of the main obstacles,” Reskin explains. “We’re currently dealing with insane price increases from a couple of the major labels...The prices of some pieces have increased more than double for the exact same item. I can’t imagine that happening in any other industry and people being okay with it, like if all of a sudden movie tickets are $25 and coffee is $10 a cup.”  

Even still, Sweat has built a community in place rarely respected for its sense of musical community. “The store has led to so many incredible, magical meetings, experiences, connections, triumphs, parties, and beyond,” says Reskin. “I can’t imagine what my 20s would have been like otherwise.”

Rebekah Monson / The New Tropic

Age: 34

Mission: "The New Tropic makes digital media and experiences to connect Miami’s curious locals."

When Rebekah Monson came out at 19 years old, she took a personal risk that, unfortunately, also risked her professional life. Even with the recent Supreme Court ruling of marriage equality, sexual differences still too often breed discrimination in the workplace.

But Monson has since become one of the strongest voices supporting the LGBTQ community in Miami. Throughout her journey—which has included working at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, trying to find stable employment in the media industry post-economic crash, and briefly working at and attending graduate school at the University of Miami—Monson eventually found her place as an entrepreneur in the nexus of journalism and coding. And her passion for fighting for equality remains a grounding point throughout.

“My family supported me, my friends supported me, my employers have supported me,” she says. “That’s a privilege that many people don’t have, and I see it as my responsibility to support those who are working without a strong security net — especially LGBT people, minorities, and women. I’ve had a lot of help to get where I am. People have invested in me, and it’s my responsibility to invest in others who need it too.” 

One way Monson has been doing so has been through The New Tropic, a new media and events-based initiative to strengthen the Miami community, which she co-founded with Christopher Sopher and Bruce Pinchbeck at the beginning of 2015. Monson serves as the head of editorial content there, while also holding two additional volunteer positions for organizations she co-founded—Code for Miami (an extension of Code for America) with colleague Ernie Hsiung and Hacks/Hackers Miami.

Throughout each of these initiatives, Monson helps tell stories about Miami’s incredibly diverse community, and how individuals can engage more directly and meaningfully with them. Like The New Tropic espouses, she wants people to “live like you live here.” Monson explains, “What drives me to pursue stories and technology are their potential to connect and activate communities—in digital and physical space, around the issues and ideas people value, and with each other. I believe that the ideas and actions that rise out of our cities are deeply important to the future of our culture and our democracy, and I want to help my city grow richer ideas and communities.”

Courtesy of Venture Hive

Courtesy of Venture Hive

Susan Amat / Venture Hive

Mission: "We offer institutions and communities efficient and effective turnkey models to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem based on sound educational principles."

Everyone on this list can attest to an entrepreneurial story: He or she started a new business venture, had to find funding, and somehow overcame the obstacles associated with doing so. Each person’s path was different, but many of the challenges, and parts of the process, associated with entrepreneurialism remain similar. Susan Amat hopes to make this process easier creating what she describes as “a new model for entrepreneurship education.”

So in January 2013, Amat and her husband, Luis, conceived Venture Hive as a way to energize, educate, and cultivate entrepreneurs. Both Amats left cushy jobs (she at the University of Miami’s The Launch Pad program that she also began, and he as a software developer) to start the business that opened just last year.

“My family and I put all of our eggs in the Venture Hive basket,” Amat says. They reinvest all profits back into the company in order to create accelerator and incubator programs for start-ups, working with clients like The World Bank, Microsoft, and numerous city governments.

Venture Hive’s process is rooted in education, though. As Amat explains, “we teach process, documentation, shifting from a startup mindset to being businesspeople through structured programs with accountability and transparency and clear metrics. It's not a pretty process but that is what is most needed in the startup world.”

It’s not easy to be an educational startup with the intention of helping teach other startups how to be more financially proficient. Money is just as precious as any other venture and clients have to be selected with the utmost caution.

“Luis and I still own 100 percent of the company and that has been a major risk,” says Amat. She continues, “We only want partners/investors who see the vision, which includes transforming K-12 education ultimately, creating capitalist problem solvers. 

“I don't believe in hype,” Amat declares. I believe in results and metrics, which is a risk in itself in the startup world.” 

Miami Panther Coffee-1.jpg

Joel and Leticia Pollack / Panther Coffee

Mission: "Our mission is to source, roast and prepare the finest coffees in the world, creating a transaction that is mutually beneficial for all participants."

For a town built on cortaditos and cafes con leche (for the uninitiated, these Cuban coffees basically equate to pure rocket fuel), Miami had no proper coffeehouse until Panther Coffee emerged in 2010.  

Joel and Leticia Pollack opened their flagship location of Panther in Wynwood purely because they both love coffee and Miami. Joel, originally from Michigan, was working as a roaster in Portland, Ore. when he met Leticia, a Brazilian barista-in-training.

They began looking for places to start their own business, and Miami seemed like the perfect location with its geographic location and growing conscious food scene.

“This is a city full of espresso drinkers, many from coffee producing nations that we travel to all the time,” Joel says. “Without trying to sell coffee to everyone, we offered a new voice in the coffee marketplace, and the response was really good, much better than we anticipated.”

Panther takes pride in its ethical bean sourcing, small-batch roasting, and elucidation of the coffee’s journey from plant to cup. They represent Miami’s first artisanal roasters (which are still done using a pre-WWII Probat Perfekt Roaster), retailers, and wholesalers, providing a clean, tasty fix to most of Miami’s best local restaurants and cafes.  

Panther began as a bicycle cart, though. Sometimes the Pollacks would team up with food trucks to serve cold brew along their routes. It wasn’t a profitable or sustainable business model. Joel recalls that when Panther began, the streetlights in Wynwood only worked occasionally. Their gear got stolen within the first week of receiving the keys to their building. And Leticia was already eight-months pregnant.

But, the Pollacks knew their coffee, beans, smells, and tastes, so their focus shifted to learning about entrepreneurialism. They took out loans and collaborated with Goldman Properties (their landlord company striving to revitalize Wynwood) in an effort to make Panther the community hub, cultural meeting space, and caffeine purveyor it is today, with three locations in Wynwood, South Beach, and Coconut Grove.

“Delivering this to a new audience is both risky and exciting,” says Joel. “We ended up being one of the first if not the first ‘destination’ stops in Wynwood at a time when some people were afraid to park and get out of their car when they got there.”

Hugh MacLeod / Gapingvoid

Mission: "To change company culture for the better."

Gapingvoid started on a dining room table in New York in 2008. Creative Director and co-founder Hugh MacLeod had been drawing and cartooning since he was a kid. He’d been publishing his work since college at the University of Texas, and posting them on his blog since 2001. But after about 15 years of working in advertising, MacLeod still wanted to make art.

After working with friend and business partner Jason Korman (now CEO of Gapingvoid) on other ventures, they wanted to start a company that could affect change in business and the culture of business through art. So, sitting at the table of Korman’s mother’s house, the two signed the papers to introduce Gapingvoid into the world of business.

But the nexus of art and commerce can be a tricky one. The fantasy of the artist lifestyle never appealed to MacLeod; the notion of a creative professional, however, did. “I didn’t want to live in Bohemia,” says MacLeod from his studio in Miami. “I wanted to be a professional, but I still wanted to make art.”

Creating art for businesses, MacLeod’s work for Gapingvoid juxtaposes jagged, conceptual line art and Where The Wild Things Are-style characters with motivational phrases suitable for the office environment. “Finally,” it says on Gapingvoid’s website, “motivational art that doesn’t suck.” With clients ranging from major technology corporations like Intel and Cisco to auto manufacturers like Volkswagon, to individual proprietors and small business owners, Gapingvoid is an ideal compromise for MacLeod’s seemingly contrasting commercial and artistic tendencies. “Being an artist is a great life if you can figure out a good business model,” he admonishes. “The risk is never finding a good business model.”

For Gapingvoid, that business model has been constantly evolving—never perfect, never stable, and always needing to be adjusted for each client. So Gapingvoid attempts to inspire people working in the real world through visual art. “Is that risky? Yeah. But, I mean...so?” he asks aloud, pausing for effect. “The real risk is to do nothing.”

Photos by Monica McGivern, unless otherwise noted