11/21/2011 11:53 am ET | Updated Jan 21, 2012

Design Media & MashPlant: Small Companies Successfully Occupying Main Street

As crowds occupy cities to protest the dubious moral codes and fancy financial finagling of big business and bigger Wall Street; as Republicans rail against taxes and regulations on the 1% under the guise of protecting the 99; as Dems struggle with competing missions within their own party, and all of this exhaustively plays out on national and world stages, out here on Main Street where most of us live, the push toward hope and reinvention quietly continues. Yes, homes and businesses are foreclosed every day as unemployment persists and people remain shaky about what's next, but even in the cacophony of chaos there are many still doing what creative people do when left to their own devices:

They're being creative. Becoming entrepreneurs. Imagining, brainstorming, providing services, launching ideas, sustaining companies, managing innovations and, somewhere in there, they're having fun, worrying a lot, supporting their families and doing good, solid work. They're survivors who maintain faith in themselves and their ideas; faith in our economy, our country, and our government. Yep... Main Street kind of folk building Main Street kind of companies.

Two of these happen to be founded by people I know, people with bold mission statements and relentless drive to make a difference. One is shepherding a new endeavor at a time when other, less courageous, entrepreneurs are back-burnering their "good idea." The other has been around for a while, surviving despite the precarious downturn that hit her industry hard. Let's start with her.

Pamela May is the hardest working woman in the media business. With 30 years into Design Media, a company she founded in San Francisco, CA, to provide "learning and performance solutions across a wide range of industries and content topics," this creative, indefatigable thinker has put it all on the line to build, develop and sustain a small company focused on the "art, science and design of learning."

With a tight, creative team, and a wealth of experience and business acumen, Pamela has built a deep and loyal client base from the biotech, finance, and government industries, to museums, schools and retail companies. Working in collaboration with her clients, Pamela and her staff develop and create innovative educational websites and web-based training pieces, instructional videos, intranet productions, classroom training protocols and a whole slew of cutting edge media product.

Those are the buzzword descriptions. The "web content" take. But as any small company knows, the tone is set by the CEO, the head, the top banana, and Pamela is a unique combination of charm and fierceness, brilliant awareness and consummate loyalty; deep consideration but no tolerance for bullshit. In short, a kickass businesswoman. She laughs like no one else (tears are inevitable!), has profound empathy, but is decidedly selective in her friendships and collaborations, always choosing the best and brightest in both categories. She raised a family of three girls with her husband, a successful San Francisco physician; has traveled the world, fronted a band, and still prefers dancing over other forms of exercise. And while handily spinning all these plates, she somehow managed to keep a small business afloat even when the belt-tightening threatened to cut off proper circulation. She's a success by every measure of the word and as the economy slowly creaks its way back to solvency, one can only hope this dedicated, tenacious businesswoman is awarded mightily for keeping people employed, producing quality work, and being the exact sort of entrepreneur who exemplifies the mission statement of our country. Visit her site (, give her a call, and if she and her team can assist with your project's needs, you'll be in excellent hands.

Then there's Jason Brett, a wild, gregarious, whip-smart fellow who's wrangled everything from music (a popular performer in the Chicago area), to theater (one of the original founders of the Apollo Theater in Chicago), to film (co-produced the seminal '80s hit, About Last Night), and, most recently, to the clever and timely creation of MashPlant, a tween-oriented alternative to Facebook.

At a time when families with kids in the precarious age bracket of 9 to 12 are frantically (and usually futilely!) running interference on Internet sites geared for older kids and adults, this father of two decided to take his creative experience and business savvy to conjure an exciting social media alternative kids of the age would actually gravitate towards. MashPlant launched earlier this year at a time when naysayers might have suggested waiting for some uptick in the economic temperature, but Jason is never one to pause. A pilot, a widower who raised two girls on his own, a newly-married man grounded to the neighborhoods and friendships of his youth on the South Side of Chicago, Jason long ago discarded the cliché of safe and sure, angling, instead, for edgy, exciting, and always fun. Put him in a room with anyone and he'll have them in stitches before they can state their names. That trait has won him many a fan; his friends love him for the whole panoply of heart and soul he invariably brings to the table!

MashPlant is finding its feet as "a cool, new space for 6th, 7th and 8th graders, where creativity and collaboration rule!" They recently teamed up with the Chicago Tribune to sponsor the "Make Your Mark On Literacy" campaign, raising funds using an original song written specifically for a MashPlant-sponsored flash mob, the video of which can be found at their site. If you have kids of a certain age who you'd like to steer away from TMZ, YouTube and Facebook, may I suggest a peruse of the colorful and very cool MashPlant?

These two innovators and entrepreneurs are colleagues, collaborators and, mostly, friends, but I'm writing about them not to promote their businesses or burnish my friend-cred; I'm writing about them because at a time when so much media attention is focused on the negatives of the economy, when political campaigning too often mongers fear and pits one side against the other, when nameless, faceless Big Business is too often associated with corruption and callousness, I think it bears reminding that in big cities and small towns all over this country, Main Streets are still occupied by bright, creative people working hard and contributing much... and doing so with unassailable integrity and inventiveness. There's no big money here (not yet, anyway!), no big stories, no reality shows, scandals or tawdry tales. Just two good, honest people creating jobs, producing good work, and making a positive difference in the world in which they live.

They're not the only ones. I just thought you should meet two of the best.

For more information on Design Media, go to

For more information on MashPlant go to