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Columbia Business Monthly

Columbia Best and Brightest 35 and Under

Sep 17, 2021 12:08PM ● By David Dykes

Welcome to Columbia Business Monthly’s 2021 Best & Brightest 35 and Under.

Now in its sixth year, our annual Best & Brightest 35 and Under issue celebrates the women and men who are rising stars in the business community.

Even though they have many more years in the workplace, these Best & Brightest have made an impact at their businesses and in our community.

We applaud their business successes and their achievements as active members of the community.  

The 2021 Best & Brightest 35 and Under for Columbia is sponsored by ACL Airshop, AMEC,

Colonial Life, NAI Columbia, Regal Lounge, and Stevens & Wilkinson.

Columbia Business Monthly’s 2021 Best and Brightest 35 and Under Awards Ceremony will be held Thursday, September 30th from 6pm-8pm at Segra Park. Tickets can be purchased at

Please join us in saluting these future leaders.


Kari-Claudia Allen, M.D.

Physician and CEO

Prisma Health & Envision LLC

Age 34

Growing up with a cop-mom during a time when few law enforcement officers were women meant I had a live-in superhero who taught me at an early age that there were no limits on what I could do. My dream was to become a doctor. For undergrad, I attended the HBCU (historically Black college and university) North Carolina Central University, then obtained my M.D. and Master of Public Health at Boston University School of Medicine.

I moved to Columbia six years ago to complete my family medicine residency at Prisma Health and fell in love with the city and the people. As the current associate program director, I still see patients, do research, and deliver babies at Prisma. Three years ago, I founded Envision, LLC, a speaking and coaching business that inspires women and girls to seek mind-body-spirit connection and thrive at maximum capacity. My long-term goal is to get my newly published vision journal into the hands of all young women who are looking to dream big and dream often. Mentoring young people is my greatest act of service.


Who was your most influential mentor?

My mother, Donna, and my aunt, Cornelia. I got to grow up watching strong, brilliant women make a huge impact in their respective professions and within the community.


What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Adulting will always be there. Don’t forget to take breaks and have as much fun as possible along the way!


Jime Armstrong


Eikon Group USA

Age 29

I am a graduate of the University of South Carolina, where I received my BFA. I am an author of a children’s book titled “Mr. Holy Spirit,” a Christian children’s book designed to introduce the Holy Spirit to toddlers. Being a pastor’s kid, or P.K., I often had questions on why people would act in a manner that appeared to be strange to me. The book is designed to dispel the mystery of the church. Aside from that, I am the CEO and president of a nonprofit organization, Eikon Group, an organization designed to serve at-risk youth between the ages of 16-24 in the Midlands.

We have partnered with DJJ, Transitions, Richland 2, as well as individual parents throughout the Midlands. We currently serve more than 40 young adults and their families. I am also the founder of Eikon Inc., a staffing agency designed to help individuals transition from work to career placement. We approach each individual with hope. We strive to stretch them beyond their level of comfortability to ensure they receive careers they can be proud of, that lead to long-term success. Lastly, I am launching Arms of Angels Homecare, an agency dedicated to assist the elderly community with their home care needs. My goal is to assist my community in areas where I see a need. I believe if you take care of others, God will take care of you.


Who was your most influential mentor?

My mother, Dr. Latrice Armstrong


What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Remember why you’re doing what you’re doing. Don’t rush things, and enjoy the process. Don’t worry about how it will work, trust God has a plan, and his plan is perfect.


Patrick Barrineau


Coastal Science & Engineering Inc.

Age 33

Columbia is my home. I grew up here, graduating from Dreher High School and working at the Gourmet Shop, later on teaching at Midlands Tech and USC. When I left Columbia for university, I didn’t know when I’d be back. After more than a decade working from New Mexico to the Middle East, I landed back home and am thrilled to be here. In the meantime, I’ve been fortunate enough to earn a doctorate at Texas A&M and a professional geologist license, publish in peer-reviewed journals, and land my dream job designing and permitting coastal environmental restorations with Coastal Science & Engineering, Inc.

Although most of my professional time is spent on the coast, Columbia has my heart. I volunteer with the S.C. Progressive Network, support local businesses and artists, and participate in local politics. Professionally, I hope to help CSE grow as we provide tools for coastal communities to combat increasing sea-level rise. Personally, I want to see Columbia realize its full potential as a hub of culture and commerce in the state.


Who was your most influential mentor?

My grandfather, who lived almost his entire life in Lake City. Through his actions, he demonstrated the value of hard work and perseverance. He also taught me to remain patient and respectful to others, regardless of their background. This lesson emphasizes sensitivity to the goals and needs of others, so that you don’t unintentionally prevent somebody else’s progress.


What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Don’t be so afraid of being told “no.” Go for it.


Lester “Gill” Bell Jr.


Moore Bradley Myers P.A.

Age 35

I was born and raised in the little town of Sumter. As a kid, I was always frustrated with boredom and a lack of fun things to do around town. It wasn’t until I went to college and law school that I truly understood and appreciated the incredible belonging that comes with hailing from a small town. Even after moving to Lexington County, I’ve been continuously humbled by the support my hometown and local communities have provided to my family, both personally and professionally.

It has become my persistent goal to ensure I do everything possible to make my community proud and to always return the solidarity that has been shown to me. Whether it is how I go about practicing law or how my wife and I raise our family – I will strive to constantly better my clients’ lives and enrich the community around us.


Who was your most influential mentor?

Personally, my parents, who instilled in me work ethic and kindness. Professionally, Stanley Myers, who has taught me to never apologize for zealously advocating for my clients.


What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Don’t be afraid of failure; be afraid of complacency.


Sam Bond

Marketing Manager

South Carolina Education Lottery

Age 28

Originally from rural Maryland, I moved to Columbia to attend the University of South Carolina and studied marketing there. Columbia is now home, as I met my wife Caroline, who was born and raised here and loves to describe the city as “The Greatest City on Earth.” We’re two of Columbia’s biggest fans and love to show off to friends and family everything the city has to offer — especially Saturdays at Williams-Brice!

As the marketing manager at the SC Education Lottery, I manage the day-to-day operations of the award-winning SCEL marketing department by working with my team to create advertising plans, manage social media strategy, and leverage sports/events sponsorships that most appropriately promote our three core messages: SCEL’s Beneficiaries, Products, and Promoting Responsible Play.

I have been a member of the American Advertising Federation (AAF) Midlands Board of Directors since 2017, previously serving as treasurer and VP, and currently serving as the president for 2021-22. I am also a recent graduate of the Leadership Columbia class of 2021.


Who was your most influential mentor?

My parents and father-in-law have led by example my whole life, displaying how to conduct myself with honor and integrity. Without them, I would not be half the person I am today.


What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Don’t change a thing because then you wouldn’t end up where you’re supposed to be.


Taylor Kane Brown

Development Associate

Midlands Housing Alliance,

d/b/a/ Transitions

Age 29

Columbia is my home and my heart. Born and raised here, I’ve always considered it to be a part of my identity. After graduating from Wofford College, where I received dual BAs in finance and government, I pursued my lifelong goal of working in politics. Politics, as I came to find out, was not meant for me. In deep depression and spiraling alcoholism, I made the decision to get help.

I left politics, but I still wanted to make a difference. From childhood, it was instilled in me that it is of vital importance to give back to the community. I have learned that I can make a difference and give back in a kind and gentle way, as well as be a forceful advocate against sexual violence, substance misuse, and mental health treatment and decriminalization.

For three years, I have been in recovery from alcoholism and found my calling as a development officer at Transitions Homeless Center, working to secure funding to support our operations as the largest homeless facility in the Midlands, where I have shattered records for fundraising and event participation.

My long-term goal is to continue being an advocate for the most vulnerable in our community including the homeless, fellow survivors of sexual and domestic violence, and those who are seeking help, not judgment, from substance misuse. It is both a moral duty and a joy to be able to do.


Who was your most influential mentor?

My mother, Janet Brown, is my most influential mentor. For my 13th birthday, she asked various women in my life to write words of inspiration and wisdom, which she bound and gave to me. It is a book I still cherish, and the words guide me in my decision making. My mother is who I call when I have good news, need to vent, or need advice.

Elizabeth Igleheart, vice president of advancement at Transitions, is another mentor. She is one of those rare people who is free with her knowledge and time. She doesn’t act to make herself look good, but acts to help others achieve success.


What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Listen to the advice of people who have “been there” before; you don’t have to find things out the hard way.


Sierra Carini

Associate Attorney

Moore Bradley Myers, PA

Age 28

I was born and raised in San Diego, California. I attended the University of Alabama, where I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in criminal justice with a minor in sociology in 2015. I then went on to graduate from the University of South Carolina School of Law in 2018. While in law school, I was an active member of the mock trial bar.

I have the privilege of practicing law at Moore Bradley Myers. I primarily practice personal injury defense and professional malpractice defense. I enjoy those areas of practice because I can represent and advocate for clients from all different walks of life.

Outside of the office, I love watching University of Alabama sports and spending time with my German shepherd, Ruby.


Who was your most influential mentor?

Todd Englehardt, former pre-law adviser at the University of Alabama, for always being honest with me but never making me feel like any opportunity was out of reach. Ward Bradley and John Bradley for having confidence in me and giving me opportunities to grow.


What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Take chances and don’t be afraid to change your plans.


Kymmie Cartledge

Career Coach

Lexington County School District One

Glitter, Glue, and Goals

Age 28


As a K-12 career specialist, I’ve fostered partnerships with businesses to help students secure employment and apprenticeship opportunities. I created a virtual job shadow experience for middle school students during the pandemic. I’ve also presented at career development conferences at both the state and national level. Additionally, I am a dual enrollment instructor for the early college in my school district via Midlands Tech.

As a board member for the South Carolina Career Development Association, I serve as technology chair. Additionally, I serve as the South Carolina coordinator for the National Career Development Association’s Poetry and Art Competition. 

Through my business Glitter, Glue, and Goals, I assist individuals in creating a vision they can vibe to through vision board workshops and other innovative career development activities.

As a product of W.J. Keenan High School, a two-time graduate of Columbia College, and a City Year Columbia Alumna, I hope to continue to inspire students to be exactly who they are through creative career practices.


Who was your most influential mentor?

I met Sylvie Golod at a vision board workshop hosted by Richland Library when I was unemployed and unsure of my next steps. She encouraged me to enter the career development field and has helped me throughout my career.


What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

It’s OK to be different.


Kodie Chapman


Carolina Industrial Staffing Inc.

Age 30

I am a South Carolina native, born and raised in the Midlands. My professional career began with Carolina Personnel Services as an account manager in 2011. When I started in the staffing industry, I was unaware of the significant impact that staffing companies have on their clients’ success as well as the surrounding communities. Understanding the importance and dependability of my position, I realized that I wanted to establish my career in the staffing industry. I co-founded Carolina Industrial Staffing in 2014 and have the pleasure of providing personnel assistance to our clients in various industries.

As a small business owner, supporting my local community as well as others throughout the state is important and gratifying. I am fortunate to have a dedicated team that understands the importance and significance of providing support to our clients and communities that have also supported us. Carolina Industrial Staffing has been awarded Columbia’s Best of Human Resource Consultants for 2020 and 2021 by the Columbia Award Program. We are also active members of the Society of Human Resource Management and the American Staffing Association.

Outside of work I enjoy spending time with my wife, Amanda, and our two kids, Kenslee and Luke. I also enjoy hunting, fishing, and playing golf.


Who was your most influential mentor?

I have had many mentors throughout my life who have guided me both professionally and personally. My parents and grandparents set a great example for me early in life by showing me that hard work and dedication lead to success.


What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Live by the lyrics, “Life’s a dance you learn as you go, sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow. Don’t worry about what you don’t know.” – John Michael Montgomery.


Lindsey Culley

Director of Marketing and Communications

Mashburn Construction

Age 31

Born and raised in West Columbia, I have been fortunate to witness the “coming up” of the Columbia metro over the last decade. I spent six years loving and living the Lowcountry dream, but always knew I would get back to my roots and look for ways to make a difference in my hometown.

I hold the honor of being a South Carolina Certified Economic Developer and have invested several years in learning how to strengthen communities and businesses in South Carolina alongside my passion for marketing/public relations/communications. I sit on the board of directors for the Central SC Alliance Committee of 100 and CREW Midlands. I am also co-chair of the South Carolina Economic Developers’ Association Women’s group, co-chair for the C100 Membership Committee, and co-chair for the CREW Midlands Programs Committee. I value the time I serve with the American Heart Association – Midlands, as well as supporting the four-pawed nonprofit, Healing Species in Orangeburg. Grassroots efforts are something I am passionate about, including the new Young Professionals Committee for the Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce, of which I am on the Steering Committee.

I have a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Carolina and a master’s from Clemson University and will be married to my best friend, David, in October 2021. As my heart loves the outdoors, outside of work I spend most of my time hunting, fishing, running, and devoting time to our rescue pup, Bear.


Who was your most influential mentor?

A previous boss, John Truluck, was a great mentor to me in a part of my life that was pivotal in my career development. Working with him was like having a coach and a full team all in one. He would say, “It’s amazing what we can accomplish if no one cares who gets the credit for it,” and that has always stood true.


What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?

Be patient. Building patience is like building credit. You have to start with something small to allow it to grow into something more. Don’t try to move too fast through experiences, or you may miss some of the small things that could end up being life-changing.


Nyeisha “Nye” Dease

Marketing and Communications Manager

City of Columba, Economic Development

Age 27

I am the marketing and communications manager at the city of Columbia’s Office of Economic Development, and Founder of Nye Designs, LLC. My experience encompasses the areas of graphic design, public relations, social media, and emerging digital communications tools and techniques. The majority of my work entails promoting and selling the city to new businesses and talent. I also specialize in helping new businesses, organizations and individuals establish their brand and to integrate digital communications into their day-to-day operations through strategic planning and training.

I earned a bachelor’s degree in studio art with an emphasis in digital media from South Carolina State University and a master’s degree in management and leadership from Webster University. In 2016, I went to work for the city of Columbia as multimedia coordinator in the Public Relations Department, where I planned events such as Go Red Columbia and the Domestic Violence Walk. I also distributed information on behalf of the city during Hurricanes Florence and Irma, and I’ve assisted in the writing communications, including social media posts and public speeches for city council members.


Who was your most influential mentor?

Throughout my life, I’ve had many influential mentors, but the ones who made the biggest impact on me were my parents. Both of them have always found a way to support me and my dreams, and for that I am forever grateful.


What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?

Be patient; everything will fall into place.


Ashlie DeCarlo

Director of Marketing

Columbia Fireflies

Age 27

I was born and raised in a Maryland suburb right in between D.C. and Baltimore. I grew up in the culture of those cities, a big part of which is sports. Sports were my life, and it was only fitting that sports would become my career later in life.

College brought me to UofSC, where I majored in sport and entertainment management, a degree which let me continue a life in sports and provided me with many opportunities, including the opportunity to work with the Fireflies.

I started as an intern and have worked my way up to where I am today. It’s been an amazing experience to watch Columbia fall in love with this team. Working with the Fireflies has given me the chance to join the Midlands community and work with so many different people and organizations. It has also given me a chance to bring the entire community together in one place to root for one team, and I am forever grateful to be a part of that.


Who was your most influential mentor?

Both of my bosses, John Katz and Brad Shank, would fall into this category. In 2016, they took a chance on an intern, and they have been in my corner ever since. They have not only taught me what they know about the industry, but they have also given me the space to learn and grow alongside them throughout my time here, and that doesn’t just mean on the work side of things. They have guided me and encouraged so much personal growth as well, and I truly would not be the person I am today in the position I am today without both of them.


What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and ask questions. Nobody is perfect or knows everything. Making mistakes and asking questions is how you learn.


Michael Delinsky


SSOE Stevens & Wilkinson

Age 33

I have been practicing in architecture now for about eight years and greatly enjoy the challenges I am presented with every day. Architecture is one of the few professions that combines design creativity with a technical grounding, and I really enjoy that dichotomy. I have had the opportunity to work on a wide variety of building types and complete many successful projects, but some of the most influential to me have been in health care. Knowing that my designs have directly impacted people’s lives and health outcomes in hospitals and long-term care facilities has been a rewarding yet humbling experience. I believe this is what communities are at their best; a group of people constantly putting others ahead of themselves as they do life together. My goal is to use my career and the skills I develop to best serve different communities as I learn and grow as an architect.

Who was your most influential mentor?

My first boss, Lindell Sherrill, and project manager Brian Lachat spent hours and hours teaching a brand-new architectural intern not just what to do, but also why to do what I was doing. They were both instrumental in the foundation of my career, and I am very grateful for their investment in training me. I would not be the architect I am today without their tutelage.


What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Discover a true love of learning instead of spending so much time in front of the TV. I began truly enjoying learning new things much later and would love to be able to go back and start that journey a few years earlier.


Bethany Ferguson

Chief of Staff

Colonial Life

Age 35

When I moved to South Carolina for my freshman year at UofSC, I didn’t imagine it would become my home. Seventeen years after making that drive from middle-Georgia, I’ve found people and a community I care about deeply, and Columbia has become just that.

My career at Colonial Life began in 2013, after working in Charleston for several years and earning my MBA from The Citadel. I’m currently chief of staff for Colonial Life, and approach each day with the goal of doing my part to help achieve our company mission of being there to support customers when they need us most. I’m proud to work for a company that prioritizes serving our community and affords employees opportunities to give back.

I’m a board member for Growing Homes Southeast and work on the executive leadership team for the AHA Heart Ball. I’m a graduate of Leadership Columbia’s 2018 class and serve as a mentor with the Lead to Succeed program.

My husband Nick and I enjoy spending time on Lake Murray, cheering on the Gamecocks and Blue Hose, and loving on our six-month-old daughter, Caroline.


Who was your most influential mentor?

Personally, my mom. She is the epitome of selflessness and unconditional love. Professionally, my dad. Through his example, I’ve learned there’s no substitute for strong work.


What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Be confident in what you bring to the table, trust your instincts, and never lose sight of what’s most important in life.


Kaitie Fowler

Personal Lines Department Manager

Turbeville Insurance Agency

Age 32

I grew up in New Jersey but found myself drawn to South Carolina when it came time for college in 2007. I graduated from USC in 2011 and a few years later was hired by Turbeville Insurance Agency as the receptionist for the Columbia branch.

Turbeville feels strongly about promoting from within, and within my first year, I got my license in property and casualty insurance and was promoted to assisting in our Commercial Lines department. A year later, I was promoted again to an account manager in our Personal Lines department, and in 2019 I was promoted to a Personal Lines department manager, leading a team of account managers amongst three Turbeville Insurance Agency branches across the state. I feel strongly about maintaining an open-minded and trusting work environment where not only members of my team, but other employees feel comfortable coming to me for support and guidance. When I’m not making sure your most important assets are properly insured, I enjoy spending time with my husband and 4-year-old daughter. Having a good work/life balance is important to me, and I work hard to make sure I devote the best of myself to both.


Who was your most influential mentor?

My parents will always be my greatest influence. I’ve been shown by them the importance of hard work and the ways it can pay off in the long run. Professionally, my most influential mentor is Turbeville’s COO, Pamela Thompson. Pam saw potential in me and has always provided me with the support and confidence to know how to be successful in this industry and as a woman in business.


What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Life will not always be perfect and stress-free, so get used to it now, but yours will be beautiful and 100% worth it.


Lauren Harper

Founder and CEO


Age 27

I moved to Columbia nine years ago to attend the University of South Carolina and worked in the Office of Mayor Steve Benjamin after graduating. While working for Mayor Benjamin, I had the opportunity to be a part of some incredible projects for the City of Columbia including creating the first municipal food policy committee in South Carolina, the Columbia Food Policy Committee; launching the Books 2 Boys & Girls program in partnership with City of Columbia Parks and Recreation, Columbia Police Department and Richland Library; and hosting the state’s first peer-to-peer municipal election for the Columbia Youth Commission.

After working for the City of Columbia and on a presidential campaign, I started my own firm, CityBright, to use my skills in strategic communications and political campaigns to make a difference across our state. In 2020, I co-founded a voter registration and engagement nonprofit called Secure the Ballot, where we educate, empower, and engage millennials and Gen Z in civics and politics.

Throughout my career, I’ve developed a deep and sincere passion for engaging people in politics and local government so we can collaborate in building better communities.


Who was your most influential mentor?

My late mother, Brenda Harper; my pastor and spiritual mom Radhika Patel; Sen. Mia McLeod; and Mayor Steve Benjamin.


What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Don’t try to control every aspect and outcome of your life; you’ll spoil it and miss the beauty of the journey. Be kind to yourself, enjoy the ride, and know it’ll all work out better than you can imagine!


Amanda Harter

Project Manager

Hood Construction Co. Inc.

Age 35

As a project manager with a commercial construction firm, I work with a wide array of clients, designers, and specialty contractors. Each time I am assigned a new project to lead, it is a fresh challenge and an honor to help bring someone’s dream to fruition. From the early stages collaborating with the design teams and owners to bring best-value solutions to the facility, to the construction phase where we are working together to keep the job on-schedule and within budget, to the day of the ribbon cutting when I get to see clients use their building, it is an immensely rewarding process that I am thrilled to be a part of.

In addition to my role at Hood Construction, I am also very involved as a board member with the National Association of Women in Construction – Columbia Chapter (NAWIC), as well as on the Young Professional Auxiliary Board of Junior Achievement – Columbia. This spring, I was honored by being named NAWIC’s Member of the Year for the South Atlantic Region, which was especially important to me because I was nominated by my peers in the construction industry. I am so thankful for the support of everyone close to me, and the many talented people who continue to mentor me each step of the way.


What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Be patient but stay persistent, and keep your head up.


Destine Hicks

Associate Director, Climate and Science Agency Personnel

The White House

Age 25

I am a 2018 graduate of Columbia College with a bachelor’s degree in political science. I was very politically involved during my undergraduate years. I gained the privilege to work for Mayor Steve Benjamin as a Mayor’s Fellow and later served as a legislative page in the House of Representatives under the appointment of Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter. During my final college days, I became a proud charter member and first president of the Upsilon Zeta Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated. Post college, I worked in New Hampshire for a Fortune 500 company and later returned to my home state where I worked for Rep. Russell Ott as a legislative aide.

From there, I went on to work for President Biden’s campaign as a regional organizing director and later became the deputy operations director for South Carolina. After the South Carolina primary, I went on to become the Florida operations director. After that primary election, I was promoted to national Southern operations director for the Democratic National Committee, where I oversaw budgeting and campaign operations for more than 10 Southern states.

Good thing the good work did not have to stop there. It is an honor to serve as an associate director in the Office of Presidential Personnel at The White House with a portfolio focused on federal climate and science agencies. If anyone told me five years ago that I would be where I am today, I would have chuckled. Oftentimes it is hard to believe even now, but it is truly a blessing to fulfill your purpose and do rewarding work.


Who was your most influential mentor?

My mother


What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

To stop doubting yourself. Everything you need is inside of you, and it’s way bigger than you could ever imagine.


Murphy Holloway


Alpha One Fitness LLC

Age 31 

I grew up in Irmo and returned home after a long stint of playing professional basketball overseas to open my first business, a boutique-style gym in the heart of Columbia’s Main Street district, Alpha One Fitness. I am a former South Carolina Mr. Basketball, and I won an SEC championship as a senior at Ole Miss. My gym has been open since November 2020 and is thriving despite our current pandemic. 

Basketball has always been a vessel for me to do more within my local Irmo community. For several years, I hosted an annual Vic Sims Memorial Day for my childhood basketball hero, who tragically passed away. I’m now working on creating my first nonprofit foundation, 31s Foundation, to expand my reach within the Columbia community and make an impact on the underserved.

In my spare time, I enjoy traveling with my wife, taking my younger kids fishing, and watching my oldest play football at my alma mater, Dutch Fork


Who was your most influential mentor?

Andy Kennedy, UAB head basketball coach.


What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self? 

Stay the course and don’t be so hard on yourself.


Tonisha Jacobs

DJ/Business Owner

Dimensions Entertainment/DJ T.O.

Age 33

I have been a DJ throughout the Carolinas for more than 10 years. I graduated from University of South Carolina, where I majored in accounting. I started DJing local events during college, and I formed Dimensions Entertainment in 2018. I’ve served as the official DJ for such events as the Clinique Fresh Faces Tour, FOX TV’s miniseries “Shots Fired,” and the New York and Atlanta Greek Picnics, as well as club events, weddings, and more. I’ve been a mix show DJ for five years on commercial radio stations and Sirius XM FLY Channel 47.

I give back to the community by donating time, resources, and skills to various organizations, and I formed a nonprofit organization, #SheSoDope, to educate and encourage entrepreneurs, advocate for healthy eating and living, and to assist in continuing education efforts.

During the pandemic, I created a “virtual house party,” called Rent Party, in which I helped raise money and donate it to people in need through Facebook and Instagram. My long-term goals are to take #SheSoDope national, to grow Dimensions Entertainment into the top DJ and entertainment company in the Carolinas, and to open my own event space.


Who was your most influential mentor?

DJ Frosty


What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?

There isn’t anything you can’t do without a little hard work. Sometimes people will tell you that you can’t, but nobody can see the vision like you can.


Darius Johnson


The Groove Smoothie Juice Bar

Age 29

I was born in Bamberg, and was adopted by my aunt and uncle, Frances and Ben Mack. After high school, I enlisted in the U.S. Army and am currently serving as a horizontal construction engineer in the S.C. Army National Guard. I’ve served multiple Middle East tours, including Kuwait and Afghanistan, as well as stateside assignments.

My primary business is The Groove Smoothie and Juice Bar in Columbia. A musically themed experience, our store offers multiple healthy smoothie and food options. We opened in November 2019, and we’re pressing forward amid COVID-19 setbacks. My ultimate goal is to expand the healthy options throughout the Midlands and in the South.

My secondary business, Noelle’s Catering, is named for my firstborn, Lailah Noelle Johnson. We specialize in corporate catering, weddings, birthday parties, private dining, and cooking classes, and have traveled throughout the country offering culinary experiences.

 My most recent project, “Trauma,” is a memoir that speaks about my childhood traumas and how I became who I am today. That story will be published this year. 

My kids, Lailah, 6, and Langston, 1, are my pride and joy. I pride myself in being the best dad and provider possible.

My five-year plans include opening a new restaurant chain, expanding my smoothie brand, and launching a mental health foundation for men and for soldiers suffering from PTSD.


Who was your most influential mentor?

Taz Little


What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Take my time. Learn myself, make the best decisions, as they will affect you for the rest of your life. Never allow others’ opinions about you to change how you feel about yourself, and always live in your truth.


Kendra A. Mallett-Brunson

Chief Visionary Officer

The Grey Crayon

Age 32

As a kid, I could never stay at my desk at school. I envied my peers who were focused, and wondered why my mind ventured into other realms. I just wanted to create and imagine! For years, I felt burdened by my inability to focus on one thing at a time. It was not until I became an adult that I realized I was not meant to be confined to a desk. I’m a serial strategist, master motivator, and proud people pleaser! In 2018, I launched my firm, The Grey Crayon, to help people who struggle to execute their vision.

I’ve held the roles of strategic partnerships manager for SC Thrive, senior development officer for Winthrop University, development director for Palmetto Place, and executive director for the LRADAC Foundation. None of those titles mean more to me than the work I do for the people who are marginalized through systemic, self-afflicted, or societal boundaries.

Wife, mom, sister, daughter, and Manning native -- I am who I am, because of people who saw me when I felt invisible.


Who was your most influential mentor?

Black women. Every one of them who pushed past the perceptions and barriers. All the Black women who rested when they were weary. And every one of them who never lost their magic.


What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Just be. You already are what you are going to be! You’ll never miss anything that misses you. You were crafted by God as whole and perfect as you need to be to maneuver in this universe, so just … BE!


Kaala Maple

Congressional Staffer

United States House of Representatives,

Office of Congressman James E. Clyburn

Age 25

Growing up in Sumter, I have always had the passion to help others. Every day I wake up with a drive to go out into the world and make a difference. I am humbled by every opportunity I have to be a change-maker.

I am a proud Winthrop University and Troy University graduate, having earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Winthrop and a master’s degree in public administration from Troy. After graduating from Winthrop, I started my career in the public sector working for the United States House of Representative, Office of Congressman James E. Clyburn.

I am a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and an advisory board member at the South Carolina Governor’s School for Agriculture at John de la Howe. I also spend my time volunteering with my family’s nonprofit organization, The Hardy Foundation. I plan to continue helping others and connecting the community in a positive manner, while also working to create a stronger and healthier society.


Who was your most influential mentor?

My parents, Kevin and Elaine Maple. Throughout my personal and professional career, my parents have always given me all the love and support I needed to accomplish my goals.


What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Prepare for the future without forgetting to take time to enjoy the present.


Landry Phillips

Senior Accountant

S.C. Department of Administration


Regal Lounge

Age 32

I am a senior accountant for South Carolina’s Department of Administration and co-owner of Regal Lounge Men’s Barber & Spa in downtown Columbia. I’m originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, and moved to Columbia with my wife, Chynna A. Phillips, in 2013 to attend the University of South Carolina, where I obtained a Master of Business Administration degree with specializations in international business and entrepreneurship/innovation. I also received a Post Baccalaureate Certificate in enterprise resource planning systems and was selected as one of 11 participants in the Darla Moore School of Business’s 2018 China Scholar Program. Shortly after completing graduate school, Regal Lounge was established in 2019 and became Columbia’s first full-service grooming establishment for men.

Long-term, I would like to advance my entrepreneurial journey by opening, or potentially franchising, additional businesses. Accomplishing this goal would allow me to give back to the community by creating jobs, mentoring others, creating generational wealth for our son, Landry C. Phillips II, and participating more in philanthropic work throughout the Midlands.

Who was your most influential mentor?

My most influential mentors were without a doubt my parents. I am deeply grateful to them for instilling in me a deep sense of faith and a strong work ethic.


What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

You’ll be happier just being yourself than you ever will trying to fit in. Pursue your passions and experience life unapologetically because no matter what you do, people will always have an opinion.


Chelsea Richard

Director of Research and Strategy

South Carolina First Steps

Age 31

I am an applied epidemiologist at the intersection of early childhood, education, and public health, and a Boston girl turned Southern woman. As the inaugural director of research and strategy at South Carolina First Steps, my job is to get data into the hands of those who need it. Through collaborative research, evaluation, strategic planning, and data infrastructure and capacity building, I lead meaning making and storytelling that gives people the tools to understand and address the needs of our state’s youngest citizens, their caregivers, and communities. I recently earned a Ph.D. in epidemiology from the University of South Carolina, where my dissertation focused on opioid use during pregnancy and its impact on birth outcomes, particularly for women with disabilities. I look forward to a long leadership career in government and hope to lead a state agency someday. To me, giving back to the community means paying it forward through mentorship, in honor of those who have mentored me, and through centering community voice at any and every table where decisions are being made.


Who was your most influential mentor?

I have been mentored by incredible women during my career, and I am so grateful. My current supervisor, Georgia Mjartan, the executive director of First Steps, has changed my life personally and professionally. Georgia has taught me how to be a better person and public citizen. Professionally, she has taught me the value of listening, celebrating, and empowering.


What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Ask for help! You do not have to do it all on your own. It’s going to be hard and messy, but so worth it. Also, drink more water and wear some sunscreen every once in a while.


Meredith Ross

Legislative Director and

Assistant General Counsel

Ways and Means Committee of the South Carolina House of Representatives

Age 33

I truly believe I have found my dream job in my work for the General Assembly. I get to spend every day working for the state’s best leaders as they craft policy that affects the lives of all of us. And I’m so lucky I get to live this dream and build my life in Columbia. I fell in love with Columbia as an undergraduate at USC. After a couple of years out west with Teach For America, I returned to Columbia for law school. Outside of work, I stay involved in the community through the South Carolina Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division, Junior League of Columbia, and other volunteer opportunities. I serve as president of the Columbia Design League, where I get to work with the most inspiring and creative designers and leaders to create awareness of the importance of design in our everyday lives. My husband and I look forward to many more years of Saturdays at Soda City, movies at the Nickelodeon, and building a family in Columbia.


Who was your most influential mentor?

My older brother, best friend, and most recently “Jonathan of Honor” in my wedding. My brother Jonathan Ross is the first person I go to for advice. He’s always willing to listen, and is the person I can count on to tell me what I don’t necessarily want to hear. And while classic sibling rivalry has certainly been a motivating factor for me, I find I’m more motivated by a desire to make Jonathan proud and live up to the incredible example he sets.


What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

I would tell my 18-year-old self to give Billy Joel’s “Vienna” a listen and pay attention to the lyrics. “Slow down, you’re doing fine. You can’t be everything you want to be before your time.” At 18, I had this unwarranted sense of urgency to quickly accomplish everything I wanted to. I wish I could go back and tell myself to calm down a little and just enjoy those remarkable first few years of adulthood.


Christopher Sanders

Commercial Banker

Synovus Bank

Age 29

I am a native of Columbia. I graduated from Spring Valley High School and The University of South Carolina - Columbia. At the university, I found my passion for accounting and finance. After graduation, I started working as an audit associate at Dixon Hughes Goodman LLP. Currently, I am a commercial banker with Synovus Bank. As a commercial banker, I’m able to build lasting relationships with business owners and community leaders.

I also have a passion for working in my community. Currently, I am the president of the Omicron Iota Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. The chapter prides itself on community service with a highlight on the Alpha Academy, where we mentor high school juniors and seniors and help them transition to college. I also serve on the United Way of Columbia Steering Committee and am an active member in the National Association of Black Accountants.

On a personal note, I am engaged to Aaliyah Brown and will be married next May in Jamaica. I have a Great Dane named Marshal who gets everyone’s attention. In my free time, you will always find me at the golf course or on the grill. 


Who was your most influential mentor?

My fraternity brother Brian Gaines. Brian has always been consistent and able to manage stressful situations with a level head. From observing him, I have become a more effective leader.


What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?

Remain in the moment and continue to help people when they are in need.


Breanna “Bre” Spaulding

Founder and Director

The Winning Platform, LLC

Age 27

I am a native of McDonough, Ga., near Atlanta. I have been a part of giving to my community for my entire life. Growing up, it was a part of our routine to participate in community events and community cleanups. After graduating from high school, I was blessed with a golf scholarship to Columbia College, where I graduated with a B.A. in public health and a minor in political science. I went on to work with the Brain Injury Association of South Carolina helping residents find resources and services for brain injuries in the state.

While working, I participated in the James E. Clyburn Fellowship and decided to open my own political and business firm, The Winning Platform, LLC. I serve as the director of TWP and have two associates who work with me to deliver quality services to our clients and the community. Last year, I completed my M.S. in hospital administration and health law. I volunteer with several community organizations, including Junior League of Columbia and the Columbia Urban League Young Professionals. Serving my community is my passion; it is a part of everything I do.


Who was your most influential mentor?

My great aunt Thelma; she has taught me how to live life to the fullest. She has been my biggest role model for doing life the way you want to do it and having fun in the process.


What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Have fun, enjoy life, worry only when absolutely necessary. Live the life you want to live, and continue to help others as much as you help yourself!


Hannah Stetson


Turner Padget

Age 33

While I grew up in the Lowcountry, after attending the University of South Carolina for my undergraduate degree, I knew I wanted to return to Columbia following law school. My husband, Daniel, and I feel fortunate to be raising our two young children in the Midlands.

As an attorney in Turner Padget’s Columbia office, I dedicate my practice to counseling everything from startups, small and mid-size business owners, and larger businesses on employment policies and best practices that will help their companies thrive. With a commitment to supporting business market growth in the Carolinas, I work with employers to develop policies that establish positive workplace culture and legal compliance while promoting productivity, inclusivity and efficiency.

The practice of law has afforded me a deeply rewarding opportunity to champion Columbia’s small business community through Turner Padget’s Palmetto Propeller initiative to provide pro bono legal assistance to startups and small businesses in the Southeast. I look forward to continuing to invest in this great community we are lucky enough to call home.


Who was your most influential mentor?

Following law school, I had the opportunity to serve as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable James A. Beaty Jr. in the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, as well as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Margaret B. Seymour in the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina. These experiences provided me with a strong foundation and invaluable guidance from two leaders in the legal community.


What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

College is not just for the classes. Take time to explore your interests and build connections in your community along the way.


Chelsea Stinnett

Research Assistant Professor and Director


Age 32

I am a research assistant professor and the director of CarolinaLIFE, an inclusive post-secondary education program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) at the University of South Carolina. I am the author of several publications in the area of post-school outcomes for students with disabilities. Along with my esteemed colleagues, I am the recipient of more than $3 million in federal and state funding to increase access and awareness of college opportunities for people with IDD. My long-term goal is to continue to pursue funding and policy initiatives that benefit college students with IDD. I seek to produce research that supports students with disabilities in achieving agency in their own lives. I want to use my platform to elevate the voices of people with IDD and evolve as an advocate in our community who recognizes the need for disabled voices to lead conversations, rather than be spoken for. Giving back to my Columbia community means equipping young adults with disabilities with the skills to not just live independently and be employed, but lead our community and the conversations that affect their daily lives.


Who was your most influential mentor?

Personally, all four of my parents - I have the best of them in me, and each of them has traits that I’ve acquired which have contributed to my success. Professionally, Dr. Tony Plotner at the University of South Carolina. He’s invested his time, knowledge, and friendship into my development as a scholar and leader.


What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

You don’t have to know all of the answers. Admitting that you don’t know something and committing yourself to working beside others to find an answer together is so much more fulfilling and effective than maintaining your pride. Also, invest in yourself – your time, your energy, your love. You deserve it more than anyone else.


Ed Trussell


LTC Management

Age 32

Born and raised in Lexington, I returned to the Columbia area after completing my Master’s of Accounting at Wingate University, where I also played football. 

I have been CFO of LTC Management for the last five years. We provide management services to a variety of healthcare, hospitality, and real estate businesses. I have thoroughly enjoyed this role because I have been able to learn a great deal from working in different industries. There is never a dull moment as each day brings unique and exciting challenges.

I am also an owner of Phenom Elite, a sports apparel brand based in Columbia. It has been incredible to see this business grow and I’m looking forward to the next chapter of our development.

My wife Kelly and I were married in April. After our wedding she moved to Columbia from Charleston, and I am very excited to continue to show her around the city.

I serve as treasurer and chair of the finance committee for SC Methodist Camps and Retreat Ministries. I also serve on the board for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in the Midlands area and volunteer with the college outreach group.


Who was your most influential mentor?

My first and most influential mentors are my parents. When I was growing up, they provided firsthand examples of hard work, faith, and commitment. They also made sacrifices to allow me to pursue my dreams for education, sports, and music.

Two influential professional mentors have been Dr. Thomas Crawford and Scott Middleton. Dr. Crawford was the director of the Masters of Accounting program at Wingate. He believed in my ability to have a successful accounting career before I did. I feel fortunate to work for Scott Middleton and observe the passion he has for his businesses and the community. His visionary leadership is making a difference in Columbia and the world.


What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Establish a consistent sleep schedule. This is an area where I still have room for improvement. Keeping up in today’s fast-paced world requires relentless energy, and this is impossible without sleep.


Samantha Vasknetz

Account Director

Wolfe Solutions

Age 32

Growing up, I never thought I’d work in sports. The only certainty was that I was passionate about Hokie football. My path to sports marketing began at Virginia Tech, where I studied marketing management and held an internship with the Virginia Tech Athletic Department. When I moved to Columbia in 2012 to pursue a Masters in sport and entertainment management at the University of South Carolina, I envisioned it would only be a stepping stone for the next chapter of my life. After joining Wolfe Solutions, a brand-centric marketing agency in 2014, I’ve now been a Columbia resident for nine years, and I’m beyond proud to call it my home.

Throughout my career, I have had the pleasure to work across a variety of sports and entertainment platforms, from the world’s loudest sport, NASCAR, to the quietest, PGA tour. There isn’t one client or project that stands out as the driving force for my success at Wolfe Solutions. Every single one that has come through our doors has been instrumental in the professional I am today.


Who was your most influential mentor?

My parents. From an early age, my mom and dad have always shown me what it takes to be successful, both professionally and personally. Be authentic, work, hard, and never sacrifice your integrity for anyone or anything.


What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Don’t fear the unknown. Always say yes to the challenge.


LaChe Williams


L.W. Conder Arts Integrated

Magnet Elementary School

Richland School District Two

Age 31

I am a native of Atlanta and a spring 2012 graduate of Benedict College. After graduating, I continued my postgraduate studies at Columbia College and Arkansas State University. I’ve received a Master’s of Education in divergent learning, Educational Specialist degree in education leadership, and a Doctorate degree in educational leadership.

This journey has been a reward! Within my career I’ve been named 2018-2019 District Teacher of the Year finalist, SCASCD Emerging Leader, Palmetto State Teachers Association Star Teacher, National AVID Staff Developer, Talented Tenth Board Member, and Outstanding Graduate Student for AState class of 2021.

I enjoy traveling for personal and professional purposes, presenting on the district and national levels at conferences such as ASCD in Baltimore, Maryland and Deeper Learning in San Diego. I’ve also spent time in Kumasi, Ghana, teaching and training students and teachers.

“I think I have learned that the best way to lift one’s self up is to help someone else”- Booker T. Washington. In all of my work I always remember that it is not always what you say but what you do that can impact a community. Therefore, I will always be an advocate for service, not just to some but to all mankind!


What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Don’t be sad about those things that feel like losses! Instead, take them in stride because, girl, God had an amazing plan in store for you! Just be patient and steadfast in your faith. The best is yet to come!


A’ja Wilson

Entrepreneur and

Professional Athlete

A’ja Wilson LLC

Burnt Wax Candle Company

Age 24

As a native of Hopkins, South Carolina, I take pride in making a positive impact in my community here at home and in Las Vegas, Nevada. I wear a lot of different hats, but love every minute of it.

I am a professional basketball player in the WNBA (Las Vegas Aces) and am the reigning 2020 MVP of the WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association), and CEO of A’ja Wilson, LLC, Burnt Wax Candle Company and the A’ja Wilson Foundation. I received my Bachelor of Arts Degree in mass communications from the University of South Carolina in 2018. After graduating, I and my parents, Roscoe and Eva Wilson, started our first nonprofit, the A’ja Wilson Foundation. I was diagnosed with dyslexia in high school and wanted to provide resources to youths and their families who struggle with dyslexia and bullying. With the challenges of COVID-19 and playing in the WNBA in a bubble, and being the candle fanatic that I am, aromatherapy helped me to relax and get game-ready. Thus, Burnt Wax Luxury Candle Company was created in 2021.

Throughout my career I have been blessed with many accolades but none will I cherish as much as helping the University of South Carolina Women’s Basketball team bring a National Championship home in 2017 and being a part of the 2020 USA Olympic Women’s National Team.

My ultimate goal is to one day start a school for students with learning disabilities.


Who was your most influential mentor?

Hattie Rakes, grandmother, and Dawn Staley, coach


What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Be true to yourself!


Taylor Wright

Special Assistant to the Administrator

U.S. Small Business Administration

Age 23

Born and raised in the Lowcountry, I moved to Columbia to attend the University of South Carolina. During my time at UofSC, I had the pleasure of holding various leadership positions, including as 2018-2019 student body president. I graduated from UofSC’s Honors College in 2019 with a Bachelor of Science in public health.

I recently joined the Biden-Harris administration, serving as special assistant to the administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration. Formerly, I served as director of policy and programs in the office of Mayor Steve Benjamin. In this role, I coordinated with Columbia stakeholders on policies and programs, and served as the mayor’s liaison to various groups and organizations.

Outside of work, you will probably find me near one of the rivers, or at one of Columbia’s beautiful parks playing tennis.

I’ve been incredibly blessed throughout my life, and my goal is for all people -- regardless of race, social status, sexual orientation, or religion -- to have support and equal access to opportunities.


Who was your most influential mentor?

My uncle, Dr. Carl “Big Daddy” Whetsell


What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Take a deep breath, and enjoy the journey of life!