Entrepreneur runs nonprofit by day and deals cards at night

USF business school graduate Maranda Douglas is a mother, community change maker and entrepreneur who wears many hats to live out her dreams.

BY J.A. JONES, Staff Writer

CLEARWATER – When you think “boat charter company,” you might not imagine one being run by a young African-American woman who is self-admittedly “a girl from the hood.”

Unless you’ve met Maranda Douglas.

“I’m from Largo — born and raised in Greater Ridgecrest, an unincorporated area in Largo,” noted Douglas, who said that the area has always suffered from fewer services and less economic investment than other parts of the city.

In fact, she remembers the area when it was still partially unpaved, and attributes two programs – the Omni Center, run by the Urban League, and the Suncoast YMCA that replaced it — for helping change come to the community.

A “Y-baby” who spent her childhood years at the center’s programs, upon graduation from The Boca Ciega High with honors, Douglas spent the next several years working at the Y while attending St. Petersburg College, absorbing leadership and community service skills as a programs specialist.

Her time at the Y was also educational from a socio-economic viewpoint. When the Omni Center’s role as a free community resource center was replaced by the Y’s fee-based structure, Douglas saw the blow it dealt to the resource-strapped neighborhood denizens.

After graduating from SPC with an associate degree in general studies, she left the Y, this time looking for a “more purposeful employment opportunity” than working at a desk job. She ended up working for the school district for three years as a secretary managing budgets for several federally funded accounts totaling in the millions and handling administrative tasks for a K-12 math department.

Her time there helped her plot her next path. She left the school board knowing that she needed to acquire management skills if she “didn’t want to be part of the ‘cube farm.'” While entrepreneurship was in her heart, she enrolled in the University of South Florida St. Petersburg Kate Tiedemann College of Business.

Douglas said that business school turned out to be one the best personal decisions she’d made in her life to that point – and it pointed her toward a new career path.

“USF connected me with this yacht charter that was looking for a marketing intern. That’s really where I got my experience for Top Nauts, because I learned a lot about the marine industry in a relatively short amount of time.”

When the company shut down six months later, Douglas decided to take everything she’d learned and launch her own charter company.

Designed to be a marine service provider that supports boat owners through a strategic charter program, Douglas intends Top Nauts to create strategic relationships with boat owners, maintenance services, experienced boat captains and charter clients – an often challenging set of negotiations that Douglas feels she has the know-how to achieve.

After registering Top Nauts as an LLC, Douglas enrolled in the Tampa Bay Black Business Investment Corporation’s Clearwater CATCH Program held at the North Greenwood Library. Praising the program, Douglas said there she received valuable coaching that helped her work out key question areas and get her business plan done.

While at USF, Douglas also landed an internship with nonprofit FYI Community Partnership, which has blossomed into the role of volunteer executive director. Working with the community of Lake Belleview, also known as South Greenwood, the organization provides family and individual social services, tutoring assistance and community events.

Douglas’ first major undertaking with FYI is an upcoming mural project with the City of Clearwater, which she hopes to see come to fruition by October.

Still, Douglas must support herself and her two-year-old daughter. Fearless about finding jobs that fit her social personality, she’s a “Jill-of-all-trades” who juggles gigs as a part-time brand ambassador for a marketing company, a bartender at the Elks club in North Greenwood and as a roulette and blackjack dealer for a private casino-themed event company.

Douglas credited her mom with instilling her with hard work ethics, and USF for exposing her to people and experiences who helped her define her goals. Now, she said it’s her goal to be a business resource for friends, family and people in low-income communities that might not be exposed to the kind of information she was blessed to receive.

Follow and learn more about Maranda’s journey to build Top Nauts here, and more about FYI Community Partnership here.

To reach J.A. Jones, email jjones@theweeklychallenger.com.

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