Sister Good

Jeannette Kraar and Kathy Register present a check for $10,000 to Chef’s Kitchen owner Lacy Bussey

Jeannette Kraar and Kathy Register present a check for $10,000 to Chef’s Kitchen owner Lacy Bussey at the 2023 Impact Award Summit last fall. FLORIDA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY

The three inaugural recipients of the weVENTURE Women’s Business Center Impact Awards have taken journeys into entrepreneurship as diverse as their backgrounds and talents. Chosen from an applicant pool of 18 at October’s 2023 IMPACT Summit were: Leslie Thomas, owner of the Seaside Succulent; Lacy Bussey, co-owner of Chef’s Kitchen; and Marcy Ullom, co-owner of Vitaglide exercise machine company. Their pitches were judged by a panel comprised of members of the League of Extraordinary Investors and Florida Tech faculty. The three finalists received a total of $30,000 in grants. 

Leslie Thomas, winner of the $15,000 top prize and owner of Seaside Succulents in Cocoa Village, is passionate about sharing her love of plants that are both eco and indoor friendly.

Leslie Thomas, winner of the $15,000 top prize and owner of Seaside Succulents in Cocoa Village, is passionate about sharing her love of plants that are both eco and indoor friendly. SUE DEWERFF

The Seaside Succulent — Leslie Thomas

“I have always been obsessed with succulents,” says Leslie Thomas. The former Satellite High School science teacher began her plant business in late 2017. While networking through social media, she began selling plants and accessories at local flea markets and festivals, as well as holding monthly workshops at Rockledge Gardens.

“I have always liked the idea of owning plants that are low maintenance, suitable for small spaces and indoor friendly,” she says. “I decided to take a business class and began mentoring with others.” She officially opened her retail store in Cocoa Village in 2022. “To end up winning this $15,000 grant was not only unexpected, but amazing,” she says. Thomas plans to use her grant to continue her retail-business coaching.

Through various workshops, her business has been able to raise funds to support nonprofits. Benefiting the community and giving back is important to Thomas. “We have a monthly Plant Bingo Night that includes prizes, and plant-related merchandise and raffles, supporting a variety of different charities,” she says. 

Chef’s Kitchen — Lacy Bussey

Lacy Bussey, co-owner of Chef’s Kitchen, received a $10,000 grant. She was initially hesitant to apply, questioning whether her small-town restaurant could stand among other contenders. 

“The weVENTURE Ignite 360 initiative was a game changer,” Bussey says. “The funding we received has not only injected financial support for us but validated our resilience — turning a small restaurant into a community-driven success story.” 

Bussey’s Chef’s Kitchen

Bussey’s Chef’s Kitchen is rooted in the rich tradition of soul food. Her goal is to use her grant to expand the restaurant website and online presence. SUE DEWERFF

With an education in speech-communication sciences and disorders, her background is not exactly the norm in food service. 

The city’s Upstart Cocoa Forgivable Loan program for small businesses inspired her and her brother, Michael Blackwell, to begin their partnership in 2021. It had been Blackwell who initially dipped his toes into the restaurant business, following his passion for cooking. 

“The pivotal moment came when I stumbled upon an e-mail detailing the opportunity to apply for the Impact grant,” Bussey says. “To my astonishment, we emerged as a candidate for the award. We are navigating, not only a restaurant, but establishing relationships — all while operating in a low-income community.

“Our menu caters to diverse tastes, aiming to please both food enthusiasts and budget-conscious diners. We are rooted in the rich traditions of soul food. We believe everyone deserves a taste of exceptional cuisine, and our goal is to ensure that we continue to offer great food and affordable prices.”

Bussey continues to work on the recent launch of the new website, where much of the grant money was spent. A portion of the award money will also go toward enhancing their menu items. 

“If I were to offer advice to fellow women aspiring to become a small business owner, I’d emphasize the importance of just taking a leap of faith,” Bussey says. 

“If you had asked me 10 years ago where I would be today, I would never have thought it possible that a brown girl like me could ever own my own business. I am really embracing this challenge.”

VitaGlide—Marcy Ullom 

Woman holding a a big check for five thousand dollars

Marcy Ullom, who received a $5,000 grant, says staying ahead of the curve in any business is the key to success. FLORIDA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY

Marcy Ullom and her husband, Hugh, bought the patent rights for VitaGlide and brought it to market in 2019. Their original connection to the exercise device — designed for people with limited mobility — came from a student Hugh Ullom was coaching. 

“A former Olympian and world stage rower, [Hugh] immediately knew its effectiveness as a workout machine; redesigned it; and continues to focus on that aspect, while I focus on everything else,” Ullom says. 

“As an educator — specializing in adult and continuing education for 34 years, then employed with an educational tech startup, Pearson Global Company — I guess I’ve always been a take charge type of person,” she continues. “Truthfully, I was reluctant to take over as the CEO, but, for anyone who knows me, if I’m supposed to be in charge — I will be in charge.”

The recipient of a $5,000 grant, Ullom admits she has no idea how she met the criteria to be a finalist but was grateful for the opportunity. 

“I reached out to weVENTURE more than a year and a half ago, looking for guidance in several areas,” she recalls. “Everyone I have met has been fantastic. I joined the CEO Peer Group and met other small businesswomen CEOs.”

Her advice about being a small business owner: “You don’t go into business because you think you will have more flexibility. I believe it’s imperative to seek a good coach or program that can provide resources and connections. While there will always be challenges and unknowns, no matter how well you plan, staying ahead of the curve is key.”

The 2024 Wine, Women & Shoes event, benefiting weVenture, is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 24, at the Radisson Resort at the Port in Cape Canaveral. For information, visit or call 321.674.7007.

See the original article in print publication

Sue DeWerff Panzarino
Surfer & Shark Attack Survivor |

Sue is an avid surfer, shark attack survivor and storyteller who loves to write about the wonderful people and great organizations on the Space Coast.