When Chris Callahan worked at Citigroup in New York City, he felt like he was on top of the world. He was in his early 20s, working in the fixed income sales department, and his work trajectory, as far as he knew, was heading in one direction: up.
Callahan envisioned promotions, raises, bonuses and the eventual climb atop the corporate ladder. He had it all mapped out, that was, until 2008.
As the financial market crumbled, Callahan witnessed 30,000 people lose their jobs, half of the trade floor disappear and people’s lives ripped out from under their feet. It was then that Callahan knew he had to leave Wall Street.
“I was in it to have a financial gain, make an impact and eventually retire. … But when that was eliminated, I knew I had to go out on my own,” Callahan says.
And he did.
Today, Callahan, 33, is the cofounder and president of Startup Palm Beach, an entrepreneur resource center in West Palm Beach. Through educational workshops, mentorship programs and funding initiatives, Startup feeds the entrepreneurial spirit in South Florida. Its goal is to attract entrepreneurs to West Palm Beach, equip them with the necessary tools needed to thrive and retain their talent here in Palm Beach County.
The idea for Startup didn’t come to Callahan overnight. In fact, the Boston-born businessman spent time traveling after he walked away from the chaotic world of Wall Street.
Having developed a sense of wanderlust since childhood, Callahan traveled to India, where he volunteered at an orphanage; Brazil, where he drove 1,200 miles in an 18-wheeler throughout the interior region; and Peru, where he surfed the coast and hiked Machu Picchu.
“Having a global perspective really helps you appreciate what you have in this environment,” Callahan says. “It reinforces a sense of gratitude for our surroundings.”
From elementary to middle school, Callahan spent his childhood in Palm Beach. He was an energetic, positive and driven kid, who always pursued the most rigorous education. In high school he went off to boarding school in Andover, Massachusetts, and eventually graduated from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., in 2005 with majors in government and Spanish.
In 2012, while visiting his parents in Palm Beach, he met Nicholas Mohnacky, a fellow entrepreneur who was working on an app called Surfr. Together, they launched the app, finding throughout the process how difficult it really was.
“It’s very hard to create something from scratch; it takes constant maintenance and creativity … and we had nowhere to go to get help,” Callahan says.
Suddenly, Callahan had an epiphany. “Growing up, if you wanted to play sports, you would go to the rec center,” Callahan says. “What if there was a place like that here, but for people with ideas.”
And thus, Startup Palm Beach was born.
Since its inception in 2013, its mission has been to educate, connect and showcase the entrepreneurial community in Palm Beach. It has launched an incubator and co-working space pilot program, hosted more than 80 events, helped start-up companies raise more than $500,000 in funding and received the City of West Palm Beach’s support. And come this November, Startup will host Global Entrepreneurship Week, a series of lectures and workshops.
Callahan’s charisma, vision and courage is clearly revolutionizing the community, and he encourages others to join him. “If you have even an inkling of an idea … go for it,” he says.