PRESIDENT, ELEVATE, INC.
HOME STATE: New Jersey
ALMA MATER: Florida State University
AAKASH PATEL IN HIS OWN WORDS: “I’ve always had a passion for our community. Even in high school and college I was involved in student government. When I came back to Tampa, I wasn’t sure if it was my final destination, but I came back and joined a few organizations and became involved in the community again. I realized this was a driving community of young professionals.
“We recruit companies and try to get them to start their businesses here. What I did in 2011 was put together my own business plan and start my own company, which is my current profession. My company is called Elevate, Inc. We help business owners and start-up entrepreneurs learn, connect and grow in the community. We are a basically an outsourced business development and public relations firm, and we work with all sorts of different-sized businesses. We have one client that has 22,000 employees and one with two employees.
“Our main focus is to help them integrate into the community of their industry and the community of their peers. We take them to charitable events, we take them to chamber of commerce luncheons, we put them on boards, we help them donate to different causes, we help organize different functions for them, and we write social media content.
“I have a team of seven employees, and they’re all millennials. I’m a millennial. I think it’s important that all of our team members are not from Tampa [originally]. They came here and they stayed, and they want to give back and get involved. They are people who have made Tampa their second home, just like I made it my second home. We love the community so much we don’t want to leave.”
PHILANTHROPIC EFFORTS: Chairman, Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County; Honorary Commander, MacDill Air Force Base; Board, Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce; University of Tampa Board of Counselors
“When I first moved here, I joined the University of Tampa Board of Counselors, which is basically a business ambassador board for the University of Tampa, and I chaired the organization in 2015. I’ve been in very active in it and grew the membership to over 100 members and doubled the revenue. We raised $50,000 for University of Tampa athletic scholarships. I didn’t go to school there, but it’s part of our community and I wanted to give back.
“In 2014, I became the chairman of the Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County. I was appointed to the board chair position by Governor Rick Scott, and I’m the youngest appointee of all 30 coalitions in Florida. I’m very active in it. We’re currently in a CEO search. I represent the coalition on the mayor’s Early Learning Advisory Council, so I travel to Tallahassee during the [legislative] session. My real passion is visiting the provider centers and making sure that the parents of the children in the VPK system are happy with the system we’re providing: with the education, with the outcomes, with the curriculum. I’ve been doing that for three years, and I’m up for reappointment right now.
“Every parent I meet, they love their children and want their children to get a positive education. My philosophy has always been that if you start early, you’ll succeed. The Early Learning Coalition focuses on ages 0 to 4, so that includes the first words, the first steps, the first school setting they have and the first friend circle they make. I think it’s so important because it sets the bar for the rest of their lives.
“I’m on the board of directors of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. I’m the youngest member on the board, and I am also involved in the [chamber’s] Emerging Leaders of Tampa Bay program. In 2017, I was the Emerging Leader of the Year award recipient from the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.
“Being an Honorary Commander at MacDill Air Force Base has been a passion of mine. Every year I help with the AirFest, and I get to help military veterans throughout the year.”
MENTOR: Lily Ho-Pehling. “She was the chair of my Leadership Tampa class in 2012, where I got the idea to start Elevate, Inc. She mentored me through starting a business, and she’s now on the advisory board of Elevate, Inc. She works with us on a day-to-day basis and is the voice of reason. She keeps me grounded and guides me through community initiatives.”
PHILOSOPHY: Be bold, be brave and be you. “When you’re meeting new people or trying to make a difference, starting a new business or asking someone to support you in the business you’re in, you’ve got to take a risk and you have to be genuine. I think that millennials, unfortunately, we’re [portrayed] as having forgotten that attribute, but I think we have it. We’ve just got to stick to it.”
BEST PIECE OF ADVICE I’VE EVER RECEIVED: Be humble and listen more.
FAVORITE THING ABOUT TAMPA: “I think we’re just a very open community. I think that it doesn’t matter your ethnicity, where you came from, your age, your profession, people want to see you succeed. People in our community are genuine. I’ve heard stories from other cities and other marketplaces where people don’t want you to succeed. There’s a lot of competition, which can sometimes be good, but Tampa is a very friendly city. I’ve had a really great experience in that realm. People are welcomed with open arms.”
WHEN I’M NOT IN THE OFFICE, YOU CAN FIND ME: cheering on a Tampa Bay sports team.
FAVORITE BOOK: “Never Eat Alone” by Keith Ferazzi
APP I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT: “I’m a big Twitter fan.”
DREAM VACATION: Bali.