Kerry Szymanski: Director, comedian and entrepreneur

Tay area entrepreneurs: Whether you’re struggling to navigate a marketplace affected by COVID-19 or need help making a business dream profitable, the Tampa Bay Women’s Business Centre is here for you. Webinars, training, business coaching, networking opportunities, financial assistance … it’s all available, and it’s all free. And a side benefit? The director just might make you laugh.

Kerry Szymanski’s days as WBC director are filled with guiding entrepreneurs toward turning dreams into actionable businesses. Come nightfall, look for her anywhere that improv is on the marquee. Szymanski finds inspiration as a stand-up comedian, mentor, author, marketer and educator. It’s an eclectic existence and one she draws upon in her day-to-day work life.

“The synthesis of my background makes it possible for me to help so many people and the success stories through the Centre continue to be amazing,” she says.

A recent example she cites is that of St. Petersburg resident Melody Mendoza-Auslander. The onetime school principal, and budding entrepreneur, contacted the Centre for assistance regarding her idea for an “athleisure” line featuring built-in storage. Syzmanski guided her through the vetting of manufacturers, website development and more. La Betri, featuring the high-end Joey Pouch Legging, launched in May 2021.

Szymanski has extensive fashion marketing experience and is a former boutique owner. To date, she still teaches fashion classes and was, therefore, able to share real-life advice with Mendoza-Auslander. For the Centre, she actively recruits subject matter experts who, like her, have a niche focus. Growing this mentorship base is pivotal, she says. Anyone willing to share their expertise is encouraged to contact the Centre and volunteer.

Are you a hospitality expert who know the ins-and-outs of the industry? A CPA master? No matter the industry, business veterans who have knowledge to impart are golden at the Centre, where 94% of clients are women and the clientele is extremely diverse in occupation. The organization educates women interested in the construction field, and many others, counsels those undergoing a life transition (including families) and offers specific assistance for low- to moderate-income women currently underemployed or unemployed. Then there are the true entrepreneurs, the dreamers hoping to build a work life of their own choosing.

“Entrepreneurs at every stage are welcome,” Szymanski says. “Some have been in business a few years and are looking for a coach to keep them motivated; others really don’t know where to start.”

The Centre’s volunteer mentors and team of business coaches take on the challenges. Two of her staff members are bilingual, which extends the organization’s reach; pages of the organization’s website have been translated into Spanish as well. The support squad—currently “coaching in pajamas”—will return to in-person sessions at both St. Petersburg and Tampa offices come Fall 2021. For now, web-based sessions provide a pandemic silver lining.

No commute is necessary for webinar participation, and anyone looking for guidance is instantly included. The sessions are also inclusive: Though the Centre focuses on helping entrepreneurs who live in any of the ZIP codes that comprise the Tampa Bay area, webinars are open to anyone and everyone. Szymanski led a highly popular session regarding online merchandising that was attended by people nationwide. What began as a small foray into online education has ballooned into a popular service, as 200 to 300 people consistently register for each course.

Pandemic-related coaching is another newfound Centre speciality. Entrepreneurs feeling overwhelmed by closings, social distance protocols and other COVID 19-related business pitfalls continue to find relief and guidance through the Centre.

“Recently, a $420,000 grant for the CARES Project has really helped us assist people with questions about COVID business concerns,” Szymanski says.

Experiencing supply chain disruptions? Not sure how to apply for certain loans or plan for repayment? The CARES Project coaches help with those questions, and more, through one-on-one advice that is personalized and targeted. Thanks to resources like these, entrepreneurs don’t have to weather this time of uncertainty alone. It’s just one more example of the support the Centre offers.

That support is always evolving. Launched in January, the Mastermind program matches six to eight entrepreneurs with a coach to collectively share experiences, ideas and inspirations. What strategies are increasing sales? Who has ideas about value-added services? It’s in these types of settings, Szymanski says, that entrepreneurs can really grow.

Kerry Szmanski performs standup at the Improv.

“I think the biggest challenge we have is getting the word out about the Centre and all the ways we can help,” she says.

Future plans include fundraising efforts (the Centre is partially funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration). Szymanski’s personal goals include performing more comedy sets, as well as a bucket list Ted Talk – something along the lines of What Standup Comedy Can Teach Entrepreneurs. Here’s a preview: Both avocations demand motivation and preparation. The joke-teller must think “on her feet.” The business owner must be willing to pivot to keep customers engaged and loyal. Of course, a little laughter never hurts. A creative professional, Szymanski is always searching for that next outlet.

At the height of the pandemic, she saw potential. Not for greenbacks, mind you, but a green-focused mission nonetheless. The self-described organizer, who ran a social group in Fort Lauderdale before she moved to Tampa, in September of 2020, founded the High Rise Gardening Club in Tampa. It’s based at the Helen Gordon Davis Centre for Women and today, volunteers dig into the soil and plant seeds, and flowers bloom. It’s not difficult to see the correlation between her volunteer effort and her day job.

Just as she guides entrepreneurs toward success at the Tampa Bay Women’s Business Centre, Szymanski’s efforts bring color and prosperity to the garden. Seeds sprout and thrive, given just a little light and care.

“It looks night and day from when I first got here,” she says.

Like the journey of every entrepreneur, it’s a transformation in progress.

Learn more about the Tampa Bay Women’s Business Centre at

You May Also Like

Girl Scouts of West Central Florida names honorees for 2024 Women of Distinction

Girl Scouts of West Central Florida have named six Tampa Bay women who will be honored at its annual Women of Distinction Luncheon on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2024,

The Cake Girl to begin franchising in the New Year

For Kristina Lavallee, life keeps getting sweeter. Founder and namesake of local dessert company, The Cake Girl, Lavallee’s rise to success is already a sweet tale. Well-known, around the Tampa

St. Petersburg’s Studio620 announces leadership transition

Studio@620 has named Erica Sutherlin as the incoming artistic executive director, as a part of the planned transition for when founder Bob Devin Jones steps down from the role, in

A St. Petersburg woman is Leaping with love for cancer patients

It was the lamp with the frog that caught her attention, first, as Vanessa Bernard sat in the waiting room for her first oncology appointment. A frog picture awaited her,

Other Posts

B2 Communications co-founder Missy Hurley named agency’s CEO

Missy Hurley, a co-founder of the public relations agency B2 Communications, has acquired co-founder Kyle Parks’ shares of the company, becoming the sole owner and chief executive officer of the

Eventing Tampa Bay named ‘Best Event Planner’ by Guide to Florida

Eventing Tampa Bay has been named the ‘Best Event Planner’ by Guide to Florida, in its annual Best of Florida publication. Best of Florida is an annual collection of the

BayCare’s vision and the values of health care is what drew CEO to role

Like many who choose medical professions, for new BayCare Health Systems chief executive officer Stephanie Conners, the occupation is the calling.  Conners began her career as a nurse, keeping her

Exclusive: Girl Scouts of West Central Florida Announces 2023 Women of Distinction honorees

Girl Scouts of West Central Florida has named six Tampa Bay women who will be honored at its annual Women of Distinction Luncheon, on March 10, 2023, at Armature Works.