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Enterprising Minds

Visionaries have always found a home in Orange County, and today’s thought leaders are turning innovation and creativity into global successes with viral growth potential. Here, meet a new breed of entrepreneurs and their game-changing ideas.

Mopro founder Cary Levine, at his Irvine office, counts companies like PepsiCo and Nike among his clients.

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Kevin Staniec, at a home in Orange, is a writer, publisher and mentor who aims to establish a lasting cultural center in Old Towne Orange.

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Alexia George, at Alegria Farm in Irvine, grew so frustrated in her search for fresh, organic baby food that she launched her own line.

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Stephanie Pollaro and Wendy Dailey, at Babette’s in Newport Beach, launched Purpose Jewelry to help victims of sex trafficking.

Photo by Cameron Gardner

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Nicholas Pardon, at his Restoration Media offices, sees common ground between digital marketing and his passion for Latin American abstract art.

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Mopro’s Cary Levine started as a one-man show, providing digital marketing to corporations like PepsiCo and Google—now his team also helps small businesses by creating high-end websites and digital solutions that are fit for Forbes 500 companies.

Cary Levine admits he was in a hurry to get his master’s degree from Columbia University. He wanted to pursue his plan to help clients tell their stories through digital marketing. And by cramming more than two years of graduate school into just one, he’d be able to launch his new company, Mopro, that much sooner. He got his undergraduate degree at UC Santa Barbara, where his primary interests were surfing and good times—thoughts about the future were almost nil. But once he was exposed to the digital world at Columbia, where he studied international policy, the ideas kept churning.

What started in 2013 as a one-man show has grown to more than 250 employees, with significant clients like PepsiCo and Google. Two years ago, he widened his world to include much smaller businesses. Now his Irvine-based enterprise also helps those companies with everything from websites to apps to videos. “What might have cost thousands of dollars we can do for them at less than $200 a month, and we can build it in 48 hours,” Levine says. His internet promotion asks potential clients: “Ready to meet your new website?” It must be working. Levine says the company has 7,000 clients in 1,100 cities: “We’re... making technology that used to only be accessible to Fortune 500 companies accessible and affordable for small business owners.”

Kevin Staniec has always shied away from long novels, which is why he chuckles about making a living as a publisher—one who aims to turn a small town in O.C. into the literary arts capital of SoCal.

Kevin Staniec loves books—short books, that is. “I thought there might be millions of people just like me,” he notes. “They don’t want to tackle a 400-page novel, but they might read a novella.” A graduate of Chapman University in Orange, Staniec is historic-minded. He named his company 1888 Center because that’s the year the city was incorporated. “Wouldn’t it be great,” he says, “if the city of Orange became the literary arts capital of Southern California?” What he publishes from that city base are novellas; historic dime novels like Jesse James, first printed in 1901; and an annual anthology of international short stories titled The Cost of Paper. But the heart of 1888 is the Summer Writing Project. Last year, Staniec logged more than 367,000 submissions from all over the world. He calls it a “modern approach” to a writers workshop that works both online and offline. Aspiring authors submit a chapter of their budding novellas, and the writers of the top 25 stories are invited to work with Staniec and his team, along with JukePop (another writers support group). They review one chapter at a time, offering immediate feedback to the writers. One lucky writer’s work will be published. This year’s winner will be announced in August. The idea is to promote writing and reading. That’s what he’s done with his own short books, which carry clever titles like How to Be a Super Hero and How to Catch a Cloud. So how was a bad reader able to pull all of this off? “My parents,” he says, always saw to it I had a balance of athletics and the arts.”

The saying that motherhood changes everything couldn’t be more true for Alexia George—she grew so tired of searching for organic baby food to feed her daughter that she launched her own line.

When Alexia George had her baby, Liv, three years ago, she wanted to feed her fresh, organic, preservative-free baby food. The only problem was that she had a heck of a time trying to find it. So she made her own—and then went into the homemade baby food business. “It was with months of research and personal experience... and a lot of support from my fiance (marketing expert Louis Baker) that I could pull this off,” she says. Now just 25, George’s Liv Healthy Baby business has outgrown her home and moved to a commercial kitchen in Costa Mesa. She ships between 100 and 300 jars a week—all over the country. And now her line is carried in stores such as Wild Strawberry Cafe in Newport Beach and Erewhon markets in Los Angeles. George offers foods for three age levels: 6 months, 8 to 10 months and up to 3 years. There’s everything from pasta and butternut squash to chicken with rice and broccoli. The feedback she gets from parents has been overwhelming. Today, she’s writing a cookbook, producing her own blog offering advice and doing baby-food consulting work. She’s also making plans to move into more stores. As for her own daughter, George says with a laugh: “She is an excellent eater.”

With their cause-oriented venture, Wendy Dailey and Stephanie Pollaro are helping save the lives of sex-trafficking victims in India—by selling jewelry that’s handcrafted by the survivors.

Wendy Dailey was teaching in Cambodia when she learned of the prevalence of sex trafficking—of young women and girls, some even betrayed by their own families—in third-world countries. Meanwhile, her good friend Stephanie Pollaro had read an article about the crisis and moved to India to help. Then they decided to take on the fight to end this oppression together. (Although Dailey is quick to say it was Pollaro’s dream and passion.) They created the Irvine-based nonprofit Purpose Jewelry—a brand of jewelry handcrafted by survivors of sex trafficking in India. “Each item is as unique as the young woman who made it,” their website says. All proceeds go to International Sanctuary, which provides education, employment and holistic care to sex-trafficking victims. “It’s the chance to give these women a future,” Dailey says. “We’ve had one girl going to law school; several have started their own families. Many are now working in businesses.” These women make necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings, and the jewelry has become so popular—with sales from all over the world—that the pair aims to expand into Cambodia, Mexico, the Philippines and Uganda by 2020. “Our customers know they are helping these women,” Dailey says. “This is an avenue to help them rebuild their lives. And it’s pretty beautiful jewelry too.”

Some might say Nicholas Pardon lives in two worlds—one in the high-tech realm of digital marketing and development, the other in the creative sphere of Latin American art. He says they’re one and the same.

While Nicholas Pardon’s two passions—his marketing and development business, and Latin American abstract art—may seem from different worlds, he sees them as stemming from the same spirit of energy and creativity. Pardon was just 17 when he and a partner created Restoration Media, which specializes in building consumer-focused online brands. It just celebrated its 15th anniversary. But he may be better known for his Space Art shows, which two years ago moved to a 5,000-square-foot Space Collection gallery. It’s housed within a 20,000-square-foot campus in Irvine that’s occupied by the Restoration Media corporate offices. He and his business partner, Sammy Sayago, have compiled the country’s largest collection of post-1990s Latin American abstract art, with a diverse mix of mediums—from paintings to videos. The gallery’s initial exhibition, Monochrome Undone, has become one of the most popular in SoCal. Pardon says an upcoming display, Everyday Reflections in Abstraction, will feature large-scale installations. And, he notes, his passion for art is a perfect blend with his business life: “We have an incredibly talented, creative and driven team. The art inspires and challenges them, and as both the company and collection have grown, the synergies between their individual visions have aligned. One is not possible without the other.”