About Us

START is a 501(c)3 non-profit grass roots organization founded in 1996 on Longboat Key by retired General Jim Patterson and a few other concerned citizens in response to a devastating ten-month long red tide bloom that ravaged a wide area along the West Coast of Florida. START’s name is an out-growth of this trying experience and is derived from the phrase “Solutions To Avoid Red Tide”. Ever since then, START has been at the forefront in securing funding to support scientific research and increase public awareness about the importance of preserving our marine environment.

Mission Statement

Advance education and innovation that improves the quality of our
coastal waters.

START is operated by a four-person Executive Committee with a combination of years of business experience and unique skills in corporate management, marketing, financial services, maritime transportation and scientific research.

The members of the Executive Committee are:

Sandy GilbertSandy Gilbert, Chairman/CEO, is a graduate of Cornell University with a B.A. in Economics. He is a retired publishing executive who worked for TIME and Smithsonian Magazines in New York for 35 years gaining extensive experience in marketing and communications while conducting business with corporations all over the world. Since retirement, he has served as the Chairman of the Planning and Zoning Board on Longboat Key, President of the Public Interest Committee, Chairman of the Long Range Planning Committee at Tara Golf & Country Club, Chairman of the Community Affairs Committee of the Tara Master Association and he has been a contributing writer on government affairs for the Longboat Key Observer. In his spare time, Sandy enjoys playing golf, gardening and snorkeling and diving in our coastal waters.
Ed ChilesEd Chiles is a founding board member and past Chairman of START. He is the owner and CEO of the Chiles Group, operating the Sandbar, BeachHouse and Mar Vista restaurants on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key. Ed is the managing partner for the Pine Avenue Restoration project in the City of Anna Maria. He serves on numerous boards in Manatee County.
Neil UnruhNeil Unruh, Audit Partner and Shareholder at Shinn & Company, earned his B.S. degree from Wichita State University and is a practicing Certified Public Accountant with over 22 years of public accounting experience in audit, review and assurance services. He specializes in government, not-for-profit organizations, foundations, limited scope employee benefit plans and for-profit audit and compliance. He is widely known for his audit expertise and developing strategic plans that drive success. Neil is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA ), the Florida Institute of Certified Public Accountants ( FICPA ), the Government Finance Officers Association ( GFOA ) and the Florida Government Finance Officers Association ( FGFOA ).
Larry Stults’ family founded Cabbage Key in Boca Grande in 1944, where he discovered the joy of island living and a lifelong love for our waterways. He received his B.A. from New College, Sarasota, FL, where he studied the effects of red tide toxin on sea urchin embryo development. He subsequently earned a Ph.D. in cellular biology from The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, studying symbiotic relationships between crop plants and soil bacteria. After post-graduate research at the University of Georgia, Athens, GA, Larry coupled his science training with a law degree, specializing in biotechnology patent law.

In addition to the Executive Committee, the START Board of Directors is completed by the following people:

Dr. Barbara KirkpatrickDr. Barbara Kirkpatrick has been the Executive Director for GCOOS since 2014. Prior to taking the management position at GCOOS, she was a member of the Board of Directors. She has over 35 years of experience in human and environmental epidemiology focusing on harmful algal blooms and human health. She has over 40 peer reviewed publications, is the co-chair of the National Harmful Algal Bloom steering committee, and the co-chair for the IOOC glider task team.
George SpollGeorge Spoll is a retired MIT trained architectural engineer / home builder from West Hartford, Connecticut with a background in land development, design, building code administration and housing construction. He served two Connecticut Governors on the Commission for Planning & Zoning and Adaptive Housing for the Handicapped. He has also served as a Vice President of a number of county, state and New England regional building associations and as a Vice President of the National Association of Home Builders. Since retiring to Longboat Key, he has served as Condo President, President of the Federation of LBK Condominiums, VP of the Bay Isles Master Association, a member of the Board of the Public Interest Committee, the Town of LBK Planning & Zoning Board, a Commissioner of the Town for over six years and as its Mayor. He is currently chairing the LBK Revitalization Task Force. In his spare time, George enjoys cruising on his boat and visiting his vacation home in the Adirondacks in New York State.

Program Manager

START Program Manager Mary Anne BowieMary Anne Bowie, FAICP, (Fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners), serves as Program Manager for START and is a sustainability, business management and urban planning expert with proven success in supporting non-profit organizations and businesses, economic re-development, and military community planning and programming. Using public involvement and outreach, she passionately delivers resilient and sustainable planning solutions, aimed at protecting our environment while growing the green economy. From 2002 until 2009, she implemented a multi-pronged pro-bono effort to produce Sarasota’s first green pages and promote over 200 green businesses through Sarasota Green Connection. Mary Anne has more than twenty years of experience as an urban planner, specializing in redevelopment projects tied to highway widenings and serving as an eminent domain expert witness, qualified in several Circuit Courts of Florida.

Office Manager

START Office Manager Colleen AdlerColleen Adler graduated with a B.A. from Boston College and a M.Ed. from Seton Hall University. Prior to moving to Florida from N.J., she worked for many years as a Division Director in Bergen County government. In that position she managed addiction and DUI programs in the criminal justice system. While living in N.J. she served on many Boards including Chairing the Board of Directors of the Bergen County Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse and Spring House for Women. She was also appointed to a statewide task force whose job it was to revamp the DUI education and treatment system in N.J. She served for many years on the Bergen County Highway Safety Board and was the Vice-President of the N.J. Association of Intoxicated Driver Resource Centers. Colleen is presently employed by START as the Office Manager. In that capacity she manages the membership database, writes the monthly newsletter, keeps the START website updated, oversees all grant correspondence and communication with members and the public.

Membership Areas

  • Boca Grande
  • Bonita Springs/Ft. Myers Beach
  • Collier County
  • Englewood
  • Manasota (Manatee & Sarasota Counties)
  • Pinellas, Sanible-Captiva

For questions about START’s programs, contact Colleen Adler at START Florida at 941-951-3400.