Our quest to find 40 under 40
By Robert Kalesse
Special to Delaware Business Times
At first glance, residents of neighboring states like Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey might look upon Delaware and think the First State is nothing more than a place where sales tax goes to die and corporations go to thrive.
While both are true (and rather good attributes, we might add), there is more to the Small Wonder than tax-free shopping and general incorporation laws. We found out firsthand just how much Delaware has to offer when we started researching for our first annual 40 Under 40.
In short, we combed all three counties and talked to business leaders, titans of industry, and people in the know, looking for 40 candidates under the age of 40, all of whom are on the rise in their respective fields, exhibit an entrepreneurial spirit, and engage with their communities and local civic organizations on a regular basis.
The process took nearly a month, as we reached out to executives in banking and finance, directors of various chambers of commerce throughout the state, members of the media, trendsetters in the world of technology, and those heavily involved in the arts and community organizations.
After scouring LinkedIn accounts and surveying the resumes of all the nominees, our panel narrowed the field to 40 winners who will be honored at the Delaware Business Times DBT40 awards ceremony on Nov. 19 at the Delaware Art Museum.
Among them are three folks gracing this issue’s cover, including Todd Roselle, partner at Blue Rock Financial Group and founder of the Delaware Mud Run, Mona Parikh, a practicing attorney and managing director of Start It Up Delaware, Inc., and Wes Garnett, Jr., founder of Kurbi Health, Inc., as and founder of the coIN Loft, Delaware’s first co-working space.
Sarah Willoughby, Executive Director of the Greater Wilmington Convention and Visitors Bureau, nominated Garnett, 32, whom she said was a “has always been impressed with his ability to think outside the box.”
Parikh, 35, said she was honored by the award and told the Delaware Business Times that her main passion is helping people, be it through her private practice, teaching at Widener University and the University of Delaware or working with start-ups.
“Along the way in my career, a lot of people have helped me get to where I am,” Parikh said. “So I always feel like it’s my responsibility to help those coming up as well. Being involved with new companies and ideas, as well as surrounding myself with students on a regular basis, keeps me in the know while allowing me to pass on my knowledge to the next generation.”
Roselle, a certified financial planner who, in 2009, founded the annual Mud Run, a 5K race that benefits the Leukemia Research Foundation of Delaware, said his passion is being well in health, life, at the workplace, and in the home.
“I think being well and being healthy is the key to succeeding in every aspect of your life,” Roselle said. “That’s why I’ve been doing CrossFit for four years. I get up six days a week to do the workout at 6 a.m., and it helps with everything.”
While a majority of the nominations and eventual winners came from New Castle County, we received a number of names from Kent and Sussex counties, including Christina Lessard of Lessard Builders, and Justin King, who runs his family-owned and operated Kent Propane, while taking time out to serve as mayor of the town of Camden.
Judy Diogo, president of the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce, nominated both Lessard and King, saying that each of the candidates shows great leadership for such a young age.
“Christina has completely taken Kent County by storm, in that she has immersed herself in the business community while educating our young people that it’s important to be active in the community you serve,” Diogo said.
“As for Justin, I’m very impressed with all that he’s taken on in a very short amount of time,” Diogo said. “To run the family business and then decide to run for mayor of one of our strong communities tells me he’s committed to giving back.”
In addition to the awards ceremony, each of our 40 Under 40 are profiled in detail in this issue, beginning on page 5. There will be short bios on all the winners, along with information about some of the civic organizations they help.
When Delawareans are looking to get their own startup company off the ground, they start by going to Mona Parikh. The 35-year-old entrepreneur, who also happens to practice and teach law at Widener University and University of Delaware, spends a good portion of her time as the managing director of Start It Up Delaware. For Parikh, staying connected with new businesses and young students is what keeps her going. “I’m passionate about helping people and constantly learning,” Parikh says. “Working with startups and connecting with students every day allows me to do both.”
For Todd Roselle, a partner at Blue Rock Financial Group in Wilmington, “being well” is the first step toward being successful. The 36-year-old certified financial planner practices CrossFit, an aggressive strength and conditioning program, six days a week, to keep him in shape, both mentally and physically. In 2009, Roselle combined his love of physical fitness and helping people when he founded the Delaware Mud Run, which benefits the Leukemia Research Foundation annually in Middletown. All that time in the gym also produces some fringe benefits, like when passersby mistake him for a celebrity. “People tell me I look like Mark Wahlberg,” Roselle says. (Some guys have all the luck.)
Wes Garnett, Jr.
Wes Garnett, Jr. might be the only college dropout to make our DBT40 list. During his sophomore year at Delaware Tech, his mother was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and he felt it necessary to step away from school to help take care of her. Now 32, Garnett has helped create Delaware’s first co-working space, the coIN Loft, as well as Kurbi Health, a mobile app that provides those with chronic illness a social media platform where they can keep loved ones and healthcare providers up to date on their status. “I love solving problems and helping people,” Garnett says. Mission accomplished, we say.
Not sure what to cook for dinner tonight or even how to prepare it? Anna McDermott, 33, might have some good ideas. In addition to serving as the education programs director for the Food Bank of Delaware, she also oversees the Culinary School in Newark, which offers hands-on training in basic and high-end kitchen skills, safe food handling and life skills. “Seeing the positive changes people make after participating in our programs is very rewarding, ” says McDermott, who also serves on the board of the Newark Day Nursery and Children’s Center.
When she’s not working as senior v.p. at Bank of America, Bianca Fraser-Johnson, 34, is literally “on board” for just about anything else. The Quebec native is a board member at the Independence School, a board member for Leadership Delaware, a board member (and co-founder, to boot) of the Delaware Youth Leadership Network, and a board member for the Delaware MS Society.
Diane E. Urban
Certified Public Accountant Diane E. Urban, 30, likes helping those with four legs as much as those with two legs. She prides herself on providing the best possible support and service for her clients at Gunnip & Co., but also spends much of her free time visiting the Faithful Friends shelter and taking her dog to nursing homes to bring joy to the elderly. “Taking my dog to the nursing home is therapy not just for the residents, but for both of us as well.”
When she was just 7 years old, Jenifer Sheridan, along with her sister and two neighborhood children, threw a small carnival in the vacant lot next to their home ““ and raised $700 for MS in the process. Fast forward 32 years and Sheridan is still helping people, whether it’s connecting clients with the right accountant as a Marketing Manager at Gunnip & Co., fundraising for Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Delaware, or working with The Miracles for Molly Dunne. As Sheridan says, it’s all about the kids. “Our children are the future and we have to invest in them.”
The rÃ©sumÃ© of Tarik J. Haskins reads like a template for what every law student should want to achieve early in their career. The 38-year-old partner at Morris, Nichols, Arsht & Tunnel LLP has served as editor-in-chief of the University of Cincinnati Law Review, where he earned his Juris Doctor. Haskins also serves as chair for the Morris Nichols Diversity Committee, sits on various committees of the American Bar Association and Delaware State Bar Association, and is the gubernatorial appointee of the Delaware Council on Development Finance.
Herman van den Brandt
In just 31 years of life, photographer Herman van den Brandt has seen the world, from growing up in the Democratic Republic of Congo and living in four different countries and six different states in the U.S. (In fact, when we contacted him for DBT40, he was on assignment in Europe.) At home in Delaware, he shoots everything from fashion to politics to weddings, and does volunteer work with the One Village Alliance, a nonprofit organization “founded with the assertion that it truly does take a whole village to raise a child, raise a family and raise a community.”
Dr. Dan Young
Dr. Dan Young says he’s passionate about education, and not only does it show but it’s clearly in his genes. His grandfather was the first African American male principal in Delaware, while his great aunt was the first African American graduate of the University of Delaware, where Young is Assistant Professor in the Doctor of Business Administration program at Wilmington University and teaches Entrepreneurial Marketing as an adjunct professor at the University of Delaware. In addition to his educational background, Young, 38, also serves as chairman for the Council of Urban Empowerment with the Delaware Community Foundation, the Jefferson Awards Advisory Committee, and the Leadership Delaware Alumni Council.
Meet Mark Hutton, 37, the man who opened M&T Bank’s Wilmington office in 2008 and has successfully made the financial institution a household name. Named to M&T Bank’s Presidential Council in 2009 for his efforts, Hutton also serves as chairman of the American Red Cross of Delmarva Peninsula, chairman of the St. John the Beloved Carnival, and development committee member of the Delaware Community Foundation.
Wilmingtonians have many people to thank for the renaissance the downtown area has seen over the last decade, but few have been more integral than Jeni Barton. As a consultant for arts programming in the Mayor’s office of Cultural Affairs, Barton, ??, has served as Program Manager for Art on the Town, Lunchtime Concert programs coordinator and volunteer manager for the Riverfront Blues Festival. Downtown Wilmington is a better place because of her efforts.
Sasha Aber loves to feed people, whether it means feeding the careers of her and husband Eric’s 60 employees at Homegrown CafÃ© & Gourmet To Go in Newark, or feeding the hundreds of guests they host for lunch and dinner on a weekly basis. Aber, 37, is also involved in a great program called Local Flavor Fundraising, where she and her staff are reaching out to local public and private schools and offering students and faculty coupons to Homegrown. When those coupons are used (Sunday-Tuesday), 15 percent of the total bill is given back to the school. “It gives students the chance to dine on healthy food with friends and families,” Aber says. “It’s more of a community outreach program than anything, but it brings people together over good food.”
Michael J. Scali
As a partner with Gellert Scali Busenkell & Brown, Michael Scali, 38, finds it important to remain passionate about the success of his practice and firm. During his down time, Scali loves to surf with his two boys locally, as well as in Nicaragua with close friends. Scali also serves on the board of directors for The Committee of 100, a business organization that promotes responsible economic development in Delaware.
Since he started his first business at age 25, Evan Lober has always tried to leave an impression while keeping a low profile. In fact, that’s the tagline for his current company, Squatch Media (short for “sasquatch”), which he co-founded. Now at age 29, he’s all about improving and progressing, especially in web and video projects for his clients. Lober also spends his volunteer hours as a board member to the St. Michael’s School & Nursery in Wilmington, and as an assistant coach for the Newark High School’s ice hockey team.
If you’re looking for a new wine to try or a craft beer that’s new to the market, Kami Banks, owner of Banks Wine & Spirits in Millville, can help you out. If you want to talk about her hometown of Millville, the 32-year-old is well-versed in that category as well. “I’m so passionate about this area of Delaware because I feel like this community is such a great place to live and work,” she says. Banks serves as the president of the Bethany-Fenwick Chamber of Commerce, is involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, is a business partner with the Delaware Center for Inland Bays, and helps coordinate the Bethany Beach First Responders Triathlon.
As director for Strategic Initiatives in the College of Health Sciences at the University of Delaware, Michael Smith, 29, knows a thing or two about fundraising, economic development and community relations. He also uses those skills off-campus, as the founder and chairman of the Pike Creek Charter School, Wilmington Christian Middle School men’s basketball coach, and as a member of the marketing committee for the Newark Senior Center.
Rebecca Faber, 39, is all about authenticity and working with people with “fire in their bellies.” As CEO and president of World Trade Center Delaware, a nonprofit that, as she puts it, “helps small and medium-sized businesses navigate the intricacies of international trade,” she loves being part of the excitement and creativity she sees in individuals and companies on a regular basis. Faber also serves on the Leadership Delaware alumni advisory board, the Delaware Commission for Women, and was named the 2007 National Association of Women Business Owners Pioneer of the Year.
For Amber Shader, 36, it’s the little things that make life worth living. She sees it every day in her work as owner of Amber Shader Photography and at First & Little, a baby boutique located in Middletown. Shader also works with children’s charities, as well as the Real Charitable Housewives of Delaware. Says Shader, “I’m passionate about all things pertaining to the little ones and I hope that shines through in everything we do.”
While many of the DBT40 help to build and shape Delaware on a daily basis, Daniel Ridgely actually builds in Delaware as an architect with Davis, Bowen & Friedel Inc. The 38-year-old has helped erect some recognizable spots in Delaware, including the revamping of the Best Western Gold Leaf in Dewey Beach, Camden Town Hall and the Frankford Fire Hall in Sussex County. Ridgely also serves as an adjunct instructor at Delaware Technical & Community College and is a member of the Delaware Valley Green Building Council.
Since opening Fusion Fitness in Newark eight years ago, Owner Nic DeCaire has always had his mind on helping clients and helping the community. Since he first opened, DeCaire, has organized the Main Street Mile, an annual run that benefits the canine division of the Newark Police Department. “Helping people via personal fitness as well as through nonprofit and charity events has been a big part of what we do,” says DeCaire, whose event raised a record $15,000 in 2014.
At the young age of 29, Bryan Shupe was elected Mayor of the City of Milford in early 2014, becoming the youngest mayor in the town’s 207-year history. Now 30, Shupe remains owner of Milford Live, a news resource for the Sussex County town, which helps him stay involved in his community. “Community service has always been a big thing for me,” says Shupe. He also promotes awareness of his town through events, charities and civic organizations as president of Greater Milford Boys & Girls Club.
In a world with growing concerns about the environment, recycling and going green, Michael Vanderslice, vice president of sales and marketing at Environmental Alliance, Inc., is well aware of the challenges facing our planet. The 37-year-old’s daily responsibilities focus on clients’ goals for each site, with effective clean up strategies to eliminate contamination and ultimately promote human health while sustaining environmental quality. A father of two, Vanderslice finds himself gravitating toward children’s charities like the Delaware Kids Fund, while his company is a proud sponsor of the “Structures” exhibit at the Delaware Children’s Museum.
An “infectious smile,” a “drive to satisfy customers,” and an “outgoing spirit” is how colleagues and clients of Amanda Murphy describe her. Murphy, 34, serves as the retail office manager at WSFS Bank in Concord Square, and is also the president of the Concord Pike Business Association. She also works with Meals on Wheels on a monthly basis, serves The United Way as a LGBT youth mentor, and works closely with the Delaware Humane Society.
Jason W. Adkins
Another young politician, Jason Adkins was elected the youngest ever Milford City Councilman at age 24. Currently serving as a an attorney with Moore & Rutt, P.A., in Milford, Adkins, 30, also serves as president of the Next Generation South of the Delaware Community Foundation, as commissioner on the Governor’s Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service, and is also a 2010 fellow of the Leadership Delaware Program.
From politics to medicine to the arts, Stephanie Adams, 29, seems to be able to make the jump without skipping a beat. Now the marketing and communications specialist at the Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover, she garners much praise from Ryan Grover, curator at the Biggs. “Nobody knows everybody the way Stephanie knows everybody,” Grover says. “The way she has made transitions from working with Mike Castle to the nonprofit art field is really something. She brings a level of connectivity and experience that I haven’t seen prior.”
Hearing their company mentioned on the radio can be a thrilling moment for a business owner. Kristin Lang-Miller, a senior media consultant for Delmarva Broadcasting Company, knows that feeling all too well, and always shares in the joy. “It’s a thrill to hear someone say they had customers walk through their doors because their ad played on one of our radio stations,” the 36-year-old says. Lang-Miller also serves on the advisory board of Foster Grandparents, and handles public relations for the Go Red For Women division of the American Heart Association.
Every day as owner of the Milford Massage, Wellness and Yoga, Paige Deiner, 34, gets to help heal her clients and leave them in a better state of mind. “I believe that de-stressing and empowering people allows them to pursue their dreams and achieve a healthier lifestyle,” Deiner says. Fluent in Spanish, Deiner is big on “giving back ten percent,” and typically does so in the form of yoga classes for local charities. She is also a member of the Milford Chamber of Commerce.
While Clayton Hill, 36, runs a portion of commercial and residential real estate firm Emory Hill as director of property management, he also runs marathons. Hill’s goal is to run the 26.2-mile race in all 50 states, and so far he’s accomplished 15 in 13 states. As for his home state, he’s all about uplifting Delaware. “My position allows me to help the state maintain and improve its trajectory, and we get to build a strong community while helping that aspect.”
John Fannin IV
Safety first! That’s certainly John Fannin IV’s motto as executive director of Delaware Safety Council and board member for the SafePlace Corporation. “I’m passionate about protecting Delaware citizens against foreseeable losses due to fire, security and life safety issues,” Fannin, 34, says. Even outside the office, Fannin helps protect and save lives as a volunteer firefighter of almost 15 years with the Claymont Fire Company.
Few of us are fortunate to be doing in our adult lives what we dreamt about during childhood. For Sarah Zimmerman, Park Superintendent at the First State Heritage Park in Dover, a history buff since as far back as she can remember, this is her reality — getting to talk about history and educate people at the same time. “I am fortunate enough to be able to [have] a job where I get to share my passion with others,” says Zimmerman, 29.
(More website updates with our complete roster will be coming soon.)
President and Board Member, Incorporating Services, Ltd.
Executive Producer, Mid-Atlantic Wine and Food Festival
Comptroller, Lessard Builders
Director for Digital Communication, University of Delaware
Assistant Deputy Director, Westside Family Healthcare
Wilmington City Councilman, 3rd District.
President, Kent Propane Co., Mayor of Town of Camden
Partner/Owner, SB Real Estate
Co-Chief Investment Officer, The Buccini/Pollin Group