Axios Power Players: 10 influential people in Austin
Austin's power players are influential individuals who've made a difference in our community in 2022.
Why it matters: We're excited to round out the year with a list of individuals who made headlines, advanced major projects or worked behind the scenes to shape the city.
Methodology: Axios Local teams across the country selected up to 10 power players in their cities by using their own expertise, polling readers and through interviews with influential people.
- We heard from dozens of readers who gave us their thoughts. Some of you suggested Elon Musk, Willie Nelson, Matthew McConaughey and Joe Rogan.
- But, but, but: We tried to steer clear of the obvious and aimed to pull together a list that reflects our city's many avenues.
Of note: This unscientific list is produced entirely by the Axios Local editorial team and is not influenced by advertising in any way.
- People who made the power list were not notified of their selection until publication.
The bottom line: There are so many talented people in our community, but we can't highlight them all.
- Give us your thoughts. Tell us who we missed — email [email protected].
Eugene Sepulveda, a pioneering banker for Austin's tech companies, continues to remake the city.
- In his current role as CEO of Culturati, he brings executives together to think about shaping workplace culture.
- A senior adviser to Mayor Steve Adler and a longtime donor to Democratic politicians, Sepulveda also chairs the city's Airport Advisory Commission, which helps determine the future of Austin's gateway.
Plus: Sepulveda's husband, executive coach, seminary professor and playwright Steven Tomlinson, encourages thoughtfulness among the most powerful.
What they're saying: The pair won the humanitarian award from the local chapter of the Anti-Defamation League in October for their "unwavering passion for weaving together Austin's social, economic, and cultural fabric."
Biggest move of 2022: Reconvening the Culturati Summit for the first time since the pandemic struck.
- Sample agenda item: "Leadership in a Post-Covid World."
- Tomlinson gave a talk on "Civil Discourse as a Competitive Advantage."
After joining the small club of Black female founders who have raised more than $1 million, Janice Omadeke became part of an even more elusive group in 2022: the first Black woman in Austin to achieve a venture-backed tech exit.
Biggest move of 2022: New York-based professional training company The Cru acquired The Mentor Method, a software to help match corporate mentors and mentees, in September.
- Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
- Omadeke, founder and CEO of The Mentor Method, said she wouldn't stay with the company after the acquisition.
What they're saying: Omadeke told Axios that she was surprised when she found out that she was the first Black woman to reach the milestone.
- "It's an honor that I don't take lightly and a responsibility that I take very seriously," Omadeke said. "I know that there's a lot of work to do so that we can change that stat dramatically in Austin over the next few years, and I look forward to playing a key part in that evolution."
Omadeke's advice: "Find the investors, mentors, sponsors and team members that see your vision and want to join you in that, and spend less time focusing on those that will use bias to hold you back."
What we're watching: How she'll help large companies buck the trend and bring in diverse founders through their accelerator programs.
- Omadeke said she hopes to continue to consult with corporations "to help them be as innovative as startups."
A social-impact-minded Austin housing investor, Mehra is trying to figure out ways to make Austin affordable, one tract of property at a time.
- A University of Texas graduate who splits his time between Austin and Boston, Mehra is CEO of Plugin House, a modular, low-cost, quick-build home firm focused on urban infill, and a consultant at Austin real estate firm Vitae Capital.
- Plus, he serves as a sounding board for a host of nonprofits.
What they're saying: "You can't talk about [fixing] education, health care, crime, without someone being under a roof," Mehra tells Axios.
- And, he says, Austin's musicians and artists will continue to be pushed out of town as rent and home prices spiral upward. "In 30 years if we don't solve this problem, the cool art stuff will happen in Buda and Giddings — it's already arguably happening in Lockhart."
Biggest move of 2022: Convincing the Austin City Council to rezone a 3-acre East Austin lot to allow 143 units — as opposed to 22 — with 30% of them affordable, which is no mean feat in the world of not-in-my-backyard politics.
- There's hypocrisy, he says, in saying, "'All people are welcome here,' but then yelling and screaming about any density."
What we're watching: Whether Mehra can turn his big ideas — he suggests cities should grant property owners tax breaks for making rent affordable for teachers and nonprofit and municipal workers — into reality.
Fiore Tedesco, the executive chef and co-owner of Italian-inspired restaurant L'Oca d'Oro in Mueller, makes a point to be part of his community.
The big picture: Through a pandemic and a freeze, Tedesco has focused his efforts on his employees' mental health and feeding his neighbors, and he didn't slow down in 2022.
- Worth noting: Restaurant critic Matthew Odam named L'Oca d'Oro the city's top restaurant of 2022 in his annual Austin American-Statesman dining guide.
Biggest move of 2022: Tedesco consistently makes headlines for his fundraising efforts and community involvement.
- This year, L'Oca D'Oro raised money for the Mike and Sherry Project, which provides subsidized counseling to members of Austin's hospitality industry.
- He also partnered with other restaurant owners to raise money for abortion rights groups after the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
What they're saying: Tedesco knows that not every customer who walks through his door will share the same beliefs as him, but he said it's a restaurateur's responsibility to create a place for community and conversation.
- "I don't hold someone in contempt for disagreeing with me," Tedesco told Axios. "I think it's better to be in conversation with people and have a dialogue than it is to cancel their train of thought and not recognize them."
What we're watching: Tedesco told Axios that he plans to open a pizza shop with a jazz club above it in 2023.
More key players
Here are some other key players in our community who had an impressive 2022:
- Daniel Hodge, a former chief of staff to Greg Abbott, cemented his position as the highest-paid state lobbyist, representing blue-chip companies and key trade associations.
- Comedor owner and chef Philip Speer has rapidly grown the Comedor Run Club to better the health of Austin's food industry workers. He oversees the Austin chapter of "Ben's Friends" to help hospitality workers maintain sobriety.
- Zayne Matulis-Thomajan, senior manager for club operations at Austin FC, has offered critical data analysis as the team has built a stalwart base of season ticket holders.
- Steven Pho became the CEO of fast-growing apartment-cleaning firm Spruce, which raked in $26 million in funding and expanded into the Twin Cities and Jacksonville, Florida.
- The Garza family of Siete Family Foods is poised to make $250 million in retail sales this year. The family's grain-free empire has expanded to vegan refried beans, small-batch hot chocolate, grain-free cookies and more.
- Preston James II of DivInc, a startup accelerator focused on promoting diversity and equity, launched the Austin FC Dream Starter competition and a Houston-based women in tech accelerator.
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