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Growth Story: Shawn Leavor of Defynance

Welcome to our Growth Story series, where you’ll meet startup team members—either natives, boomerangs or transplants—in Tampa-St. Petersburg who are building and scaling their ventures to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. We interviewed Shawn Leavor, Operations Manager of Defynance, an income share agreement marketplace that allows people to refinance student loans debt-free.


Where are you from?

Dade City, FL


Tell us more about your role at Defynance. What does a day in the life look like?

Everyday looks completely different. My main focus as the Operations Manager is to manage the development and implementation of our processes and product. I'm also responsible for making sure our customers have the best experience with our product and continue to improve on the customer experience as much as possible. My biggest project at the moment is looking at our current process and how we can better automate them as our company grows.


How did you get your career started and what challenges did you face along the way?

After graduating the University of South Florida graduated, I started working on the Defynance team. My career essentially started by diving straight into the startup world. The biggest challenge is learning more about the startup world and the startup environment, more how everything works. Learning about the financial services industry has also been a challenge of it's own. Unlike the jobs I had in college, this is an entirely new space and is work I've never done before. I try to draw experience from my internship at an industrial plan while I was at USF, but considering it was completely different in my role now. I spend a lot of time learning new things.


How has this region shaped your career or startup journey?

Tampa is pretty much all I know so it's had everything to do with my journey. I grew up in a city just a bit north of Tampa, went to high school in Land O Lakes and then USF for college. And considering Defynance is Tampa-based it makes sense to build here. I don't think I would be where I am today if my education wasn't shaped by Tampa Bay. Going to USF and making connections there has been really valuable in leading me down this path.


What tactical advice can you share from building your startup or career?

Surround yourself with people you enjoy being around. At the end of the day you're going to spend a majority of time with your team. It's important to be happy in the environment you're working in and I think it helps make people more productive.


Where do you see Tampa Bay next? How do you play a role in this future?

I think Tampa is definitely growing. I've been here for 20 years and it's grown a lot. I think it's only going to continue to grow, especially with places like Embarc Collective helping small startups grow. I can see a lot more people staying in the area and building their companies here instead of moving somewhere else. I want to help Defynance grow and build in this region as well as help other startups later down the line that may be facing the same challenges we experienced during our building phase.


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Embarc Collective helps Tampa Bay’s startup talent build bold, scalable, thriving companies. Our staff of executive advisors and function-specific experts deliver individualized support to startups inside of Embarc Collective’s state-of-the-art 32,000 square foot hub.