Spotlight - Casey Henry

Casey Henry

by Lindsay Ederheimer

A young entrepreneur with a paintball gun took a shot that sparked her career and an ongoing desire to create something out of nothing.

Casey Henry proposed a business plan in the USF Center for Entrepreneurship's Fintech Business Plan Competition in 2013, which awards money to student-owned start-ups each year.

The then 21-year-old was the last to present her first-place proposal. And she took home the top prize: $15,000 to help fund what is now South Tampa Paintball.

"I was not expecting to win," Henry said. "Since I presented last, I couldn't watch any of the other proposals, and I didn't know how the judges would feel about funding a paintball arena."

But the judges were impressed with Henry's simple yet robust business plan. Henry says she took the time to plan every detail of the business, including making the business prevalent through search engine optimization.

"I wanted South Tampa Paintball to be easy to find if people were searching for it online," Henry said.

An avid paintballer herself, Henry played on a competitive paintball team growing up and was inspired to open her own paintball arena after finding an ideal piece of property for sale in Tampa. She knew from experience which paintball products and manufacturers would provide for a high-quality arena. She also knew the game of paintball itself was a niche market.

"Paintball is a form of entertainment, just like going to the movies or watching a sporting event," Henry said. "But it's unique in the sense that it's a different experience from any of those activities. It's a novel activity you don't come across every day."

Henry attributes her success in the competition to her knowledge of the game of paintball and extensive research. She noted that Florida weather enables the arena to stay open year-round, which is an attractive trait for national paintballers. The lack of competition and the low cost of producing a paintball arena made the business even more valuable.

"Since paintball is an outdoor activity, that requires very little infrastructure," Henry said. "We mainly needed poles and nets to create the playing fields."

Three years later, South Tampa Paintball brings in recreational and competitive paintball players from across the country. When she's not busy managing her team or playing on the field, Henry has found success in other endeavors.

During the week, she serves as a financial manager for MattLaw, a personal injury law firm in Tampa. She started at the firm while still in school, after she attended a trial and took the initiative to meet Matt Powell, owner of MattLaw. Henry was first offered a job in the scanning department, working at the firm during the day and taking business classes at night.

After working her way up in the firm for the past five years, her position as a financial manager allows her to manage the business-side of the firm, including banking, accounting, and financial analysis.

"I never stop learning here," Henry said. "It's a great working environment, and I get to combine my love for law and business in one place."

Henry attended an Amazon selling seminar in 2015 that discussed the importance of online SEO. Combining her new knowledge from the seminar and her experience with SEO, Henry launched another company selling niche products on Amazon that are easily found through online searches.

"Selling a product in a saturated market makes it difficult for your product to stand out," Henry said. "You have to do research before investing your money into something. Selling something that doesn't have a lot of competition is a safe route."

Henry also started her own blog, where she writes articles about business, finance, and technology. She hopes to compile all of the articles into a book that helps women succeed in business.  She writes about how technology gives everyone, regardless of social class, the ability to be an entrepreneur. She also encourages young entrepreneurs to think creatively and be open-minded in their business endeavors.

"You have to be able to look at something and see what it could be, not what it is," Henry said. "South Tampa Paintball started as an empty piece of property. Now it's become one of my greatest accomplishments."