Meet Toni Warren, New Chapter President of Startup Sisters Tampa

Startup communities can transform cities into destinations for innovation, talent, and long-term prosperity. A community leader who has contributed to Tampa Bay’s national rise as a “Top 20 Tech Town“ and “High Growth Startup Hub” is Toni Warren. For the last five years, Toni, as the head of two software and web development schools, has established herself as a central figure in growing technology education in Tampa Bay. She also is an enthusiastic and empathetic entrepreneur, who Startup Sisters is thrilled to have as its new Tampa Chapter President.

Named to the Business Observer’s ‘40 Under 40’ in 2018, Toni co-founded and led the only not-for-profit code school in Florida – the Suncoast Developers Guild. As its President, she elevated technology training and employment in the region, while also contributing to business and economic development initiatives. Now, as the Vice Chairman of the Emerging Tech Leaders of Tampa Bay and the head of her own consultancy, Toni uses motivational leadership to mentor and train organizations on how to attract and retain highly-skilled and diverse tech teams. With a reputation for getting things done and an MBA from the University of Tampa in tow, Toni is passionate about helping others through her use of blended, tech-minded business strategies. 

Past Tampa Chapter President, Kiki Roeder, who is now the managing executive of Startup Sisters USA, recently caught up with Toni Warren to discuss entrepreneurship, business resources she loves, and what excites her about working with Florida startup founders. 

Why are you passionate about helping fellow female entrepreneurs?

Having the stomach for entrepreneurship takes a certain type. If you are in that role, whether or not you expected to be, you have to find comfort in that. There are so many resources out there and having people that want to help you see your success is vital. Finding your tribe to celebrate your successes and failures is an ingredient that can make entrepreneurship not so lonely and maybe a bit easier. I want to pay it forward to others that may have experienced the same or different challenges. 

What is the best and the worst thing about being a business owner?

You are the leader and navigate the outcomes, but it can be a lonely job. I just finished the book Radical Candor by Kim Scott and she mentions that it’s the job of the leader to check in and care for your people, whether or not that is reciprocated is no guarantee and shouldn’t be expected. That’s your role and finding the balance of self-care and checking in with yourself is extremely important. Developing a supportive board, mentors, coaches, and/or network that help you with that should be a priority so you too can celebrate the work you are doing. 

Women Lead Tampa with Startup Sisters USA

What problems are you passionate about solving for others through your work? 

Watching people, communities, products, and teams transform with new or highlighted skills, resources, technologies, and tools. As a motivational leader, I like to build upon and coach others to best optimize their strengths and help them achieve their goals. Watching things get restored, adapted, and excel is what gets me energized. Giving everyone the opportunity to recognize their ability and celebrate that is a success.

What are you most excited about in leading Startup Sisters Tampa as its Chapter President? 

Bringing everyone together and celebrating our successes. We don’t have to do this alone, and I want to reinforce confidence when things are tough or if you doubt yourself when challenged. We have a variety of events planned for 2020 to engage female entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds, from self-care, socials, speakers, marketing, and goal-setting. If there is something that you would like to see us doing, please reach out. Startups Sisters wants to celebrate you!

How does Tampa support businesses and startups?

There are so many resources to encourage entrepreneurship. There are communities and societies that don’t celebrate and nurture ideas, growth, and startups. Tampa wants it so badly and knows how vital it is for growth. Here’s a few that I recommend for fellow entrepreneurs: Tampa Bay Wave, Florida Funders, Synapse, Emerging Tech LeadersTampa Bay Innovation Center, Entrepreneur Collaborative Center, St. Pete Greenhouse, Embarc Collective, Tampa Bay Tech, Sofwerx, and The Undercroft.

Startup Sisters Tampa with Chapter President Toni Warren at Galentine's Day event.

You mentioned how tough entrepreneurship can be. How do you practice self-care?

To be honest, I didn’t for the first 1.5 years of starting a company. It was bad. I lost myself. My amazing executive coach, Michele Norris of Navigen Leadership recommended the book, The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown

This is where I learned that wholehearted people play and rest. Play “fosters empathy, helps us navigate complex social groups, and is at the core of creativity and innovation.” Play is a biological need that combats depression, just like rest. Rest, too, is difficult to value in our culture for the same reasons that play is difficult to value. Rest and play are essential to emotional, mental, and physical health. Brown argues that “we have to become intentional about cultivating sleep and play, and about letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth.” 

My health and happiness are my first priority. When I flourish there, my work thrives.

What advice do you have for those thinking about entrepreneurship?

Don’t do it alone. You don’t have to nor should you. Build a great board, recruit a diverse team, engage with your customers, and have a strong support system.

Who do you admire or lean on for inspiration or motivation?

It’s always been my sister, Samantha Toy Warren creator of Styletil.es, Experience Design Director at Adobe, and speaker. She taught me about functional art, and she has done just that with her career, life, and personal achievements. She thrives in her skillset, shares her knowledge to help others grow, continues to practice her passion, all while enjoying life and continuing to learn and evolve. It’s impressive and sometimes hard shoes to fill but she has always instilled confidence in others and myself, allowing us to know that we can do it too. 

What books, websites, podcasts, or other resources do you recommend fellow business leaders? 

Most of these books came recommended to me by someone in my support system. Here are a few that I recommend for fellow entrepreneurs:

Lastly, what is the best career advice you’ve ever been given, that you’d like to share with Startup Sisters?

Start embracing your failures or otherwise you will stop striving for success and continue to be frustrated when your personal expectations are not met. You can’t dictate or plan everything that happens in your business. It’s what you do and how you react to the unexpected that measure your success.

Want to connect to Startup Sisters Tampa? Attend one of many upcoming events or join our Tampa Slack channel.

Photo Credits: Header image provided by Derek Dyer. Body images taken by Nina Barron of Grace Studio.

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