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Lakeland-based startups and small businesses we’re watching

We asked Catapult Lakeland President Christin Strawbridge what businesses we should keep our eyes on — from tech startups to small businesses in food, furniture, and fashion, here’s who we’re watching.

Catapult Lakeland

Catapult is known for launching Lakeland’s startups.

Photo by LALtoday

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We all know it’s true — Lakeland loves entrepreneurship. Whether you’re thinking of turning your side hustle into a full-time gig or you’ve been building a business for years, Lakeland is a great place to plant your idea. Because of that, there’s no shortage of startups and small businesses to keep our eyes on. Luckily for us, we have an expert in the field who can help us break it down.

We connected with Christin Strawbridge, President of Catapult Lakeland, to learn more about the difference between startups and small businesses. “I am a believer that it is helpful to differentiate between a startup and a small business,” Strawbridge says. “They both can positively impact our local economy, but they need different resources and grow in different ways.”

Startups vs. small businesses

Here’s how Forbes breaks it down:

  • Funding — Startups require initial investments; small businesses are self-sustaining and generate their own revenue.
  • Growth — Startups aim to be market disruptors who take over their market; small businesses aim to be profitable alongside other businesses in their market.
  • End goal — Startups often hope to transition into a larger company or be bought out by a larger company; small businesses hope to stay in business.

Who we’re watching

Businesses marked with a * have been nominated for an award at the Catapult Entrepreneur Awards within the last year. View this year’s award winners.


  • CRE Academy — As of July 2023, the professionals behind this commercial real estate coaching and training startup had supported $56,651,228 in total sales volume in the last 12 months.
  • Hook Security* — This cybersecurity business known for taking a psychological approach to security training recently secured $5.5 million in funding.
  • NEXYAN Technologies* — Systems engineering and asset management is the name of the game for this Lakeland-based startup with 30+ years of mechanical and factory floor engineering experience.
  • Ready Chapter 1* — Aspiring authors can learn to pitch their stories and get their work recognized by publishers with help from this Lakeland-based resource created by a local published author.
  • Hem Healer* — This vitamin + supplement store uses anti-inflammatory herbs to alleviate symptoms of hemorrhoids.
  • Mike & Mike’s Desserts* — This Lakeland baker’s allergy-free cupcakes are sold in all 1,300 Publix locations.

Small Businesses:

  • Nautical Bros Customs — This dealer and installer of Marine Foam Decking has partnered up with Youtuber Jiggin’ with Jordan, a marine scavenger with 3.2+ million subscribers.
  • East of These — Shop from best-selling collections or order your own custom designs on hand-made turbans, scrunchies, and more.
  • Plates on Deck — Known for eclectic soul food, this eatery hosts private events and pop-ups and offers private chef and catering services.
  • Robert Berganza Furniture — Modern sculptural furniture made in the heart of downtown Lakeland? Our attention is piqued — you can commission a custom piece online.
  • Vegetation Café & Kitchen* — This 100% vegan cafe makes minimally-processed food available to the Lakeland community, and its collection of community awards and rave reviews speaks for itself.
  • DOU Bakehouse* — Check out our Q+A with pastry chef Diana Cortes Blanquicet to learn what sets this midtown-based bakery apart from the rest.
  • Kitty Cat Lounge* — City Editor Connor’s favorite spot has picked up new fans faster than the universal cat distribution system — check out our guide to this coffee shop and cat lounge.
  • Sow Exotic* — Edible plants, medicinal herbs, and rare tropical fruit trees are even more accessible to Lakelanders thanks to this small biz that recently opened a nursery in Winter Haven — Red Trunk Popo’Ulu banana, anyone?
  • Moore Juice* — If you feel that getting your daily dose of fruits + veggies is a struggle, this Lakeland juice company is for you.
  • Bandidas Bake Shop* — It’s a good year to be Bandidas; this pop-up bakery is getting a brick-and-mortar store in early 2024 and its owners just received this year’s Catapulter of the Year award.

This is an ongoing list. Check back to see what businesses and startups get added. Have one we should be paying attention to? Tell us about it.

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