Meet the 2023 Ones to Watch

Our annual hot list of local movers and shakers to keep an eye on

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Joseph Visconti. Photo by Jason Nuttle
Joseph Visconti. Photo by Jason Nuttle

The Industry Innovator: Joseph Visconti

When Joseph Visconti bought Fort Pierce boat manufacturer Twin Vee in 2015, he had neither marine nor manufacturing experience. What he did have was a vision for where he could take the company. “I’m a serial entrepreneur,” says Visconti, 58. “I like fixing broken businesses, and I like giving people opportunities.” In the past eight years, the Juno Beach resident has grown the 29-year-old company from $3 million in sales to $33 million, from 25 employees to 180, and manufactures 240 boats a year. In 2021, he not only took the company public on NASDAQ, but he also started a new company—Forza X1—creating electric boats for the mass market. The boats, which run up to 40 mph on five hours of battery time, were designed and engineered under the leadership of industry innovator Jim Leffew, whom Visconti hired to fulfill his vision of an affordable, eco-friendly electric boat line. “I read a study that said in Florida alone, the oil and gas that come out of recreational boats annually is equivalent to the Exxon Valdez spill,” says Visconti. His Forza X1 boats not only have significantly less impact on the environment, but they offer a better boating experience too. “They are so quiet, you can hear the ocean and the breeze,” he says. Electric motors also use 90 percent fewer moving parts, making them more efficient and economical to manufacture than combustion engines. Visconti rolled out the first Forza X1 to the marine market this past July. And next year, he plans to open a new facility in North Carolina, with the goal of eventually putting 1,000 electric boats on the water every year. Says Visconti: “I want to build the leading mass-production electric boat company in the world.” 

Shot on location in Fort Pierce

Brent Mahieu. Photo by Jason Nuttle
Brent Mahieu. Photo by Jason Nuttle

The Entrepreneur Maker: Brent Mahieu

Brent Mahieu credits one of his high school teachers with getting him where he is today. “I was 17, my mom had died, and I was struggling,” says Mahieu, 48, who went to high school in Connecticut. While grieving his loss, Mahieu recalls his accounting teacher, Mr. Murphy, putting his arm around him and telling him he was really good at accounting: “[Mr. Murphy] is why I went into finance.” After working in New York for financial powerhouses like Salomon Smith Barney, Citigroup, and JPMorgan Chase, Mahieu moved to Palm City in 2002—and memories of his accounting teacher once again set his career path. He was browsing the Martin County School District website and saw that the district was looking for a teacher for the Entrepreneurship Academy at Jensen Beach High School. “I just wanted to have the opportunity to be that Mr. Murphy for somebody else,” he says of his decision to apply for the job. In 2011, he was hired. The academy consists of a three-year program designed to teach high school students how to build a business from the ground up. Students who complete the program can earn an Entrepreneurship and Small Business Certification attesting to their knowledge of entrepreneurship and small business principles and making them highly marketable in the business world after graduation. Many of Mahieu’s past students are now running their own businesses; some started doing so while still in high school. The program has been so successful, student enrollment has doubled since Mahieu took over. And he has big plans for the future: In the next two years, he is hoping to generate seed money for his students’ startups through local residents, businesses, and community leaders. Mahieu, who now lives in Port St. Lucie, also coaches boys’ lacrosse at Jensen Beach High School and was named Career Technical Education Teacher of the Year in 2022. 

Shot on location at Jensen Beach High School

Nicole Plunkett. Photo by Steven Martine
Nicole Plunkett. Photo by Steven Martine

The Future Builder: Nicole Plunkett

Nicole Plunkett sits at Jupiter restaurant Lucky Shuck with a big smile on her face, which has nothing to do with the delicious ahi salad sitting in front of her. “There are so many moments when I feel excited about my career,” Plunkett says, looking over the beautiful setting that was part of the Love Street project her company, Cotleur & Hearing, completed in 2021. A partner and landscape architect at the firm, Plunkett, 37, has designed some of the most high-profile projects in the area including Love Street and the redevelopment of Downtown Palm Beach Gardens. When she was a kid growing up in Jupiter, she didn’t know landscape architecture was even a career path. As a successful adult, she recognized the need to bring more attention to the industry and created Future Landscape Architects of America, a nonprofit that trains college students to be industry ambassadors for young children. “I wanted to form a hub for college students and professors to talk to kids about landscape architecture,” she says. Plunkett first launched the program at her alma mater, University of Florida, in 2017. UF students organized a class trip to a local elementary school to build an outdoor classroom, showing the young students an example of how landscape architecture creates environments all around them. Now replicating the program at other universities, Plunkett also sits on UF’s advisory board for the Department of Landscape Architecture and, in 2022, was named a “40 Gators Under 40” honoree, the university’s annual recognition of “outstanding young Gators who are going greater in their communities and professions.” She was also named the 2023 “Young Professional of the Year” by the Palm Beach North Chamber of Commerce.

Shot on location at Downtown Palm Beach Gardens

Canieria Gardner. Photo by Jason Nuttle
Canieria Gardner. Photo by Jason Nuttle

The Community Connector: Canieria Gardner

Fort Pierce resident Canieria Gardner sees opportunities everywhere she looks. As the founder and CEO of Incubate Neighborhood Center in Fort Pierce, Gardner, 44, has created a hub to connect one of the most underserved communities on the Treasure Coast with much-needed resources. Originally from Vero Beach, Gardner began her career in sales, marketing, and financial services, ascending to management positions. When she was in her mid-thirties, she knew she would eventually have to relocate if she stayed in her current career. “I asked myself, ‘How do I want to live my life?’” recalls Gardner, who was living in Orlando at the time. She moved home in 2004 and started working in foster care, then workforce development, and eventually took a job as executive director of United Against Poverty in Fort Pierce. “I started noticing a lot of gaps in services,” says Gardner, who soon turned her focus to the Lincoln Park neighborhood, a 2.5-square-mile residential area of Fort Pierce where 57 percent of the residents live below poverty level. There, she saw an opportunity to build a community hub, and in April 2022, she opened Incubate Neighborhood Center in the old Means Court Elementary School, which was once the only school in St. Lucie County for Black students. Through Incubate, Lincoln Park residents are able to enroll in homeownership and entrepreneurship programs. The center also has an internet café, a library, and conference rooms and hosts regular community events. Gardner hopes to open similar hubs in underserved communities throughout the country. “It’s very important for people in these communities to have a place to go,” she says. “We’re trying to level the playing field for them.” 

Shot on location at the Incubate Neighborhood Center in Fort Pierce

Courtney Miller. Photo by Jason Nuttle
Courtney Miller. Photo by Jason Nuttle

The Brain Healer: Courtney Miller

Everything is brain science for The Herbert Wertheim UF Scripps Institute for Biomedical Innovation & Technology professor and director of academic affairs Courtney Miller, who has been studying how the brain works for more than 25 years. The Jupiter resident first became interested in neuroscience in high school and went on to earn a Bachelor of Science in biopsychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara and a PhD in neurobiology from UC Irvine. After completing her postdoctoral program and working as a research scientist and scientific director, she was hired by Scripps in 2009. “Scripps supports entrepreneurs and drug discovery,” says Miller, 45, whose postdoctoral work focused on the role of memory in substance abuse. At Scripps, she continued that research, zeroing in on a particular protein in the brain that seemed to play a significant role in methamphetamine addiction. The function of the protein is to drive brain plasticity, or the ability of the brain to modify or rewire itself when exposed to something new. After this exposure, it goes inactive. Miller discovered that when exposed to methamphetamine, this protein does not go inactive. By researching different compounds, she was able to identify molecular entities that target the protein and cause it to go inactive, effectively removing the craving for meth. She developed the lead compound, called MT-110, through her Jupiter-based startup, Myosin Therapeutics, and it is expected to go to phase 1 clinical trials in 2024. The drug could be groundbreaking in treating addiction. “Currently, there are no FDA-approved treatments for meth disorder,” says Miller. Myosin Therapeutics is also developing MT-125, another compound from the same protein, for the treatment of glioblastoma, a highly aggressive form of brain cancer with a 95 percent fatality rate. MT-125 has seen some results in stopping cancer cell division and migration of this form of cancer. “There aren’t too many eureka moments,” says Miller, who has lost loved ones to glioblastoma. “It’s really hard work, but it’s really satisfying.”

Shot on location at The Wertheim UF Scripps Institute in Jupiter

Jerry Haffey. Photo by Steven Martine
Jerry Haffey. Photo by Steven Martine

The Hero Helper: Jerry Haffey

Jerry Haffey is a war hero. As a specialist in the United States Army, he proudly served his country for four years. “I was blown up eight times,” says Haffey, 39. “The fact that I’m alive is a miracle.” Yet what he finds most heroic about his life is the work he does with Fort Freedom, the nonprofit he founded in 2019 to help veterans suffering from PTSD. The organization assists war vets with the transition from military service to civilian life. In 2007, Haffey was one of those veterans. Originally from Philadelphia, he joined the army in 2004 when he was 19. After basic training, he was sent to Fort Polk, Louisiana, then transferred to Fort Drum, New York, where he was assigned to a new unit combining reconnaissance and infantry. A first of its kind, the Tenth Mountain Division deployed to Iraq in 2005, where Haffey went on 150 joint patrols targeting insurgents and 35 “kill or capture” missions. He completed his service in 2007 and moved to Port St. Lucie, taking an entry-level job with a behavioral health provider. But civilian life proved difficult for Haffey, who now lives in Palm Beach Gardens. “I thought every car next to me was going to blow up,” he says. Trained for battle in the military, he also started getting into a lot of fights. Recognizing he was suffering from PTSD, Haffey sought help, and while on a spiritual retreat in 2015, he experienced a transformative moment. While walking a labyrinth, he arrived in the center and, as he recalls: “I looked down, and someone had left the crest from Fort Polk.” Haffey returned home determined to find a way to help veterans and eventually founded Fort Freedom, where veterans undergo an intensive 12-week program that gives them the tools and techniques they need to work through challenges like depression and survivor’s guilt. The program incorporates relaxation techniques including yoga and meditation, life and nutritional coaching, social experiences, weekly experiential therapy, and mentorship. Last year, 35 veterans went through the program; this year Haffey expects to help around 100 veterans. The organization also offers a program for family members. “It’s extremely difficult to be the wife of someone suffering from PTSD,” stresses Haffey. “I’m an optimist though. Awareness of mental health is at the highest level ever. Ultimately, what we are doing is raising consciousness.”

Shot on location at the Fort Freedom Campus in Palm Beach Gardens

Amanda Pike. Photo by Steven Martine
Amanda Pike. Photo by Steven Martine

The Food Forester: Amanda Pike

Jupiter Farms resident Amanda Pike never has to trick her son, Wesley, into eating his greens. The 7-year-old runs through the two-acre property that Pike, 40, has transformed into a food forest, confidently and correctly identifying edible plants like katuk (star gooseberry), abika (sunset hibiscus), and pigeon pea. Considering that 70 percent of the family’s food comes from their backyard, Wesley has eaten more plants than most kids his age have even heard of. Pike, who holds a PhD and is a board-certified art therapist and professional educator, speaks passionately about the impact of poor nutrition in today’s society. “A lot of kids I’ve treated had nutritional deficits,” she says. “Half of Americans have a health condition related to diet.” When she and her husband, James, moved to Jupiter Farms in 2019, she let her new yard grow wild and took note of the outcome, marking areas where the ground was wet or dry and planting the right species for each area. Some plants, like Bidens alba (butterfly needles), came up naturally. The little white flower with a yellow center has a similar nutrient profile to kale. Pike’s yard now yields everything from Seminole pumpkins, bananas, and mulberries to Mysore raspberries, almonds, and jackfruit. Both pigeon pea (which is similar to soybean) and jackfruit (a large fruit heavy in protein and carbohydrates) grow prolifically and can be used as replacements for wheat, corn, and rice. There are also 26 beehives on the property, tended to by a local beekeeper (Pike trades the space on her property for free honey). She hopes to inspire more people to grow their own food by giving free tours of her property and posting recipes and food tips online. She also runs a 4H group and serves as education chair and chapter representative for the Palm Beach County chapter of the Native Plant Society. Her new book, Transforming Florida Yards: A Regional Food Forest Guide, was published in June. 

Shot on location at Pike’s home in Jupiter Farms

Tiana Caffey. Photo by Steven Martine
Tiana Caffey. Photo by Steven Martine

The Takedown Artist: Tiana Caffey

Tiana Caffey used to love to wrestle with her big brother when she was a child. She recalls challenging herself to do whatever he was doing when she was just 3 years old, even though her brother was four years older. “Growing up, I was around sports my whole life,” says Caffey, now 25. Her father is the football coach at Jensen Beach High School, her mom played basketball, and her brother played football. Early on, Caffey decided soccer would be her sport. She quickly discovered she had a knack for the game and, in her junior year at Jensen Beach High School, she was selected for the U.S. U-17 Women’s National Soccer Team (the under-17 league operated by U.S. Soccer). After graduating from JBHS in 2017, Caffey went on to Louisiana State University on a soccer scholarship, graduating in 2021 with a degree in sports administration and business. Although she had suffered a torn ACL during her senior year, she was ready for Major League Soccer and registered for the draft. As she waited to learn of her destiny, she received an email—not from MLS but from the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment). The American professional wrestling org wanted her to wrestle professionally, which caught her and her family totally by surprise. “When I showed it to my parents, my dad said, ‘There’s no way that’s real,’” she recalls. But it was real, and when she later received the disappointing news that she was not drafted by a MLS team, she decided to accept the invitation from the WWE. “It was life-changing emotionally,” Caffey says of the sudden change in her plans for the future. In March 2022, she traveled to Dallas for tryouts. On the last day, as she was packing up to leave, she was called back to the stadium—where Triple H, one of the greatest pro wrestlers of all time, was waiting. He asked her point blank: “Do you want to go to WrestleMania?” Through tears of joy, she said yes. Caffey relocated from her home in Port St. Lucie to Orlando, where she began intense training as a professional wrestler before fighting in her debut match in March in Sanford, Florida. As for wrestling matches with her brother, Caffey says: “I tell him, ‘Don’t mess with me now.’” 

Shot on location at Trifecta Fitness in Port St. Lucie

Amy Stapleton. Photo by Steven Martine
Amy Stapleton. Photo by Steven Martine

The AI Mastermind: Amy Stapleton

During the pandemic, Amy Stapleton watched her mother’s health rapidly decline. Her mom was in assisted living at the time and subject to the strict visitor regulations that had been put in place during the early days of COVID. “My sister would visit her every day, and then she wasn’t allowed to see her anymore,” recalls Stapleton, 63. She knew her mom was lonely from the isolation and that it was contributing to her declining health, and she felt helpless to do anything about it. Sadly, just as COVID restrictions began to ease up, her mom passed away. Heartbroken, Stapleton was determined not to see other seniors suffer the same way her mother had. That’s what led her to create Chatables, a startup that uses artificial intelligence to provide seniors which someone to chat with during times
of loneliness. “I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of people talk-ing to computers,” says Stapleton, whose path to AI development was unexpected. After earning a PhD in German literature in 1990,
Stapleton worked as a translator for SAP, a software solutions company in Germany. Her boss thought she would make a good programmer and moved her into coding. She moved back to the States in 1996 to work for IBM, and in 2001, she was recruited by NASA as a software manager. When she retired from NASA in 2016, she moved to Stuart and began doing freelance work voicing applications for Alexa. “People my age working in technology have had a winding path to get here,” she says. Stapleton describes Chatables as a “virtual companion for adults.” Seniors choose from a variety of different topics and then converse in a three-way conversation with AI characters. Stapleton has built a library of topics she calls “Armchair Outings,” which feature topics like world destinations, sports, brain training, history, and gardening, among others. In March 2022, she presented the idea for Chatables at an AARP pitch competition and was invited to join their mentorship programs and collaborate with other entrepreneurs who are creating solutions for the over-50 marketplace. As Stapleton continues to develop Chatables, she is also exploring other uses for the technology. She recently connected with a university in Canada that is using AI and avatars to create virtual memory experiences that recreate a person’s past for use in something called “reminiscence therapy” to improve the general well-being of older patients. Says Stapleton: “I would love to see this technology folded into something else.” 

Shot on location at Coffee Bar Blue Door in Stuart

Laura Guley. Photo by Jason Nuttle
Laura Guley. Photo by Jason Nuttle

The Rising Star: Laura Guley

When Laura Guley was a kid, she wanted to be a cat. Not the kind that meows but the kind that sings and dances in the Broadway musical. “When I was in the seventh grade, I went to see Cats and thought, ‘You get to be a cat on stage?!’ I fell in love with the idea,” says Guley, now 24. That summer, the Jupiter resident began her career in musical theater, enrolling in the Conservatory at Maltz Jupiter Theatre. The Maltz soon became her second home, and Guley continued honing her dancing and acting skills there and was cast in professional shows including A Chorus Line and The Wiz. After graduating from Dreyfoos School of the Arts in 2016, she earned a degree in musical theater from Penn State University in 2020 and soon landed her first contract with The Lexington Theatre Company in Kentucky. She was hired for the 2022 season at Tuachan Center for the Arts in Utah as a cast member of three shows: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Mary Poppins, and Wonderland. Last September, she got a huge break when she joined the national tour of Tootsie. As an understudy for the lead role of Sandy, she had the chance to star in the show when it came to the Kravis Center in February 2023 after the main actress cast in the role became ill. With her parents in the audience cheering her on, she showed off her acting chops playing a character she says was made for her. “It’s a role where I could really be myself and let my kooky side out,” she says. Now that the Tootsie tour is over, Guley has her sights set on another big move. “I’ve been fortunate to work consistently, so I haven’t really had a home yet,” she says. “I’d like to get to New York.” 

Shot on location at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Sami Kattan. Photo by Jason Nuttle
Sami Kattan. Photo by Jason Nuttle

The Visual Storyteller: Sami Kattan

Sami Kattan credits a whale shark with changing his life. In 2012, on a dive trip off the north shore of Utila, Honduras, Kattan saw a 40-foot whale shark and was instantly enamored with the creature. With his brother’s GoPro, he filmed the shark underwater, returning home to Jupiter with amazing video and stories of his new experiences under the sea. When a good friend saw the footage, he realized Kattan had a passion and talent and gifted him with a GoPro of his own. “That camera became my best friend,” says Kattan, 33. He started traveling to wherever he could find whale sharks, captured them on video, and collected his footage into a documentary, Beneath the Surface, which was accepted into the Miami Beneath the Waves Film Festival in 2014. Kattan’s video talents were quickly tapped by Beneath the Waves, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing the conservation and scientific knowledge of sharks, who hired him as director of media. As part of the Beneath the Waves team, Kattan followed sharks, documenting the world of these magnificent and often endangered creatures. His work has been featured on National Geographic, Discovery Channel, and Shark Week. On a recent trip to the Bahamas, the sharks he was filming led his crew to the discovery of the largest seagrass meadow in the Bahamas. “Who better to teach us about the ocean than those who live in it?” says Kattan, who describes himself as a storyteller. After leaving Beneath the Waves this past May, Kattan now focuses on creating videos for various nonprofit organizations through his own Jupiter-based video production company, Nomad Creative, which he founded in 2016. Says Kattan: “I love getting to tell the stories of people who are working to make the world a better place.” 

Shot on location at Coral Cove Park in Tequesta

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