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Tech Bytes: Tech awards, new funding for tech programs highlight tech scene

Ray Carr, chief technology officer of Tampa’s Occam Technology Group, was named Technology Executive of the Year at an energy-charged tech gathering Friday, Nov. 10. At the gathering the organizer, Tampa Bay Technology Forum, officially announced its new name, Tampa Bay Tech.

Usually a traditional black-tie affair, the 14th Annual Tampa Bay Tech Award show reflected the growth and excitement of the developing Tampa Bay tech community. “The energy was quite palpable,” says Jill St. Thomas, the organization’s director of Partnerships and Engagement.

The group also exhibited a team spirit, reflective of the collaboration in Tampa Bay. “Working together gets us a lot further than standing in our own spots, our own lanes,” St. Thomas explains. “We wanted our organization to really be at the front of that.”

Nextech, a healthcare technology company in Tampa, was named Technology Company of the Year. Other winners were Michelle Curtis, senior manager of IoT Solutions Group, Americas, at Tech Data Corp. in Clearwater; Emerging Technology Leader of Year; Harness of Tampa, Emerging Technology Company of the Year; Jeremy Rasmussen, chief technology officer of Tampa’s Abacode, Technology Leader of the Year; Valpak in St. Petersburg, Technology Project of the Year; Vology of Largo, Excellence in Service; and Fintech of Tampa, Workplace Culture Program of the Year.

Tampa Bay Tech members represent more than 2 million employees, $300+ million in venture capital, and $500+ billion in annual revenue.

“We really are significant nationally and, for those of us that have been in the Tampa Bay market for along time, this is where we want to be,” St. Thomas says.

The organization’s new name was an attempt to rebrand and update. “We wanted our brand to feel a bit more reflective of the strength that we’re seeing in this market,” she adds.

At the event, Tampa Bay Tech also announced it would be holding its poweredUP Technology Festival May 8 at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg.

Here’s more techology news.

  • St. Petersburg College has landed a $250,000 grant to help build the Tampa Bay tech talent pipeline. JPMorgan Chase awarded the grant to fund a new program to help residents be hired by employers needing skilled tech workers. Working with TBT, the college will provide classroom and online training, plus provide a website where employers can connect with students and faculty. Funds also are expected to support the expansion of a boot camp developed by companies to give students real-world experience.
  • Tampa Bay WaVE , a tech industry accelerator in downtown Tampa , has snagged a $50,000 prize from the U.S. Small Business Administration. A three-time winner, it was one of 20 in SBA’s fourth Growth Accelerator Fund competition. The WaVE is looking to beef up services to women entrepreneurs in the tech sector; it offers open and free co-working for women tech entrepreneurs on the second Wednesday of every month. The intent of the SBA contest is meet needs for attention and funding in parts of the country where gaps exist in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. The WaVE also is holding its Pitch Night at the Attic at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 30. It is accepting applications its accelerator program through March 9, 2018.
  • Interested in personal watercraft? SOFWERX is having a collaborative event with a Nov. 17 RSVP deadline. It’s looking for partners to develop a functional prototype to assist warfighters. The event is planned Wednesday, Nov. 29. To RSVP or get more information, visit the SOFWERX’s Event Calendar.
  • Code for Tampa Bay is having an Open Hack at 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 18, at Tampa Bay WaVE, 500 E Kennedy Blvd #300, Tampa. The group is trying to use technology to make government information and services easier to use. The meeting is open to anyone interested. A Code for America Brigade, Code for Tampa Bay typically meets at 6:30 p.m. on the first Monday of the month, but is beginning to meet on a Saturday to involve those unable to attend during the week.
  • Building Cities of the Future, a Commercial Real Estate and UrbanTech Summit, is being held Tuesday, Dec. 5, at  Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel and Marina. The event, by Bisnow and Dreamit, features Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik as an opening keynote speaker. The first-ever event, slated from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., is intended to drive commercial real estate through innovation. Bisnow is a commercial real estate news and events platform. Dreamit Ventures is a New York City-based global accelerator holding its first UrbanTech accelerator in Tampa. For more information or to register, visit Bisnow, click on Events and choose Tampa.
  •  Celebrate the holidays in Ybor with Tampa Bay Agile, Tampa Java User Group, Tampa Bay UX, and Front End Design communities. A celebration is planned from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 7, at Tampa Bay Brewing Company, 1600 E. 9th Ave., Tampa. To RSVP, go here.
  • Steve Parker, an entrepreneur, executive and mentor, has been chosen as Director of TEC Garage, an incubator and co-working space run by the Tampa Bay Innovation Center. TEC Garage fosters the creation of high-tech jobs by nurturing early-stage ventures.

WURK: Community radio for East and West Tampa

When Dee Jackson was growing up in the 1970s and '80s in West Tampa, his neighbors helped keep him in line when he became too curious. They were quick to reprimand him -- all over the neighborhood -- before he even got home.

But many people are reluctant to discipline another’s child these days, which empowers them to do wrong things, he says.

“That village concept, we have to get that back,” Jackson asserts.

That’s the idea behind 96.3 low-power FM station WURK, a community radio station serving East and West Tampa and a diverse audience of 460,000 potential listeners 24 hours a day in Hillsborough County. Its broadcast area extends from Mango on the east to the Howard Frankland Bridge on the west, Lutz on the north and MacDill Air Force Base on the south.

Other platforms, such as the Internet, expand the 100-watt station’s listening area to the entire globe.

WURK is intended to be a positive voice in the East and West Tampa neighborhoods, reporting the good news instead of the bad. It will be working to boost literacy and reduce high school dropout rates through job training.

“I know we will utilize radio as a tool to get the village back in shape,” says Jackson, who co-founded WURK with Horace Bailey.

The nonprofit, locally programmed station was made possible by the Local Community Radio Act, signed into law by former President Barack Obama. It was about five years in the making.

As a music producer, recording engineer and graphic designer, Jackson had been interested in doing radio programming as an outlet for musicians for a long time. He was inspired to actually start one while volunteering as an after-school youth arts coordinator in Brooksville.

WURK, owned and run by Rainbow Heights Neighborhood Association and Crime Watch Inc., offers music in a wide range of styles including Hip Hop, Folk, Latino, Jazz, Blues, Rhythm and Blues, Classical and Reggae. It is intended to appeal to African American, Carribean, Irish, Scottish, Italian, Latino, Indian, Jewish, Chinese, and other local groups.

“Our goal is to eliminate the division and create unity,” Jackson says.

Jackson, WURK’s General Manager, wants the station to serve as an outlet for musicians, but it also is intended to be a training ground for journalists, producers and graphic artists. The process has begun with two youths reading public service announcements. Later on trainees could cover high school football games.

In the future, he would like to partner with other media, training broadcast trainees by having them read on the air news stories written by the partners. Attributing the stories to the original news outlets would help them gain potential new readers.

Those who are trained may find jobs at the station as it grows. Job and business opportunity announcements by the station are intended to help others find success.

WURK also intends to help bridge a generation gap by reaching out to seniors and young people. “There was a communication breakdown,” he explains.

Now the radio station is focusing its attention on recruiting advisory board members; it currently has five including Dr. Carolyn Collins, former NAACP Tampa Chapter President; businessman Willie Anderson; James Green, who retired from United Parcel Services; Ralph Smith of Computer Mentors of Tampa; and Benjamin Baisden of West Tampa Alliance.

It's also soliciting funds to better help what he calls the “underserved,” in Tampa. “Funding is the key to be able to initiate those programs,” he says.

WURK, which has been on the air since April 2, already has raised some $25,000 for the endeavor. “I think the market is watching,” he says. “Participation is coming, and we’re growing with the help of a lot of our volunteers ... sharing our info on social media.”

While the station’s name is in line with its mission to train youths for jobs, it was actually inspired by all the work required into getting its call letters approved, Jackson says.


North Tampa company wins BioPitch competition

As Medical Director for Personalized Medicine at Moffitt Cancer Center, Howard McLeod became frustrated at the lack of tools to help individualize treatments for cancer patients. “If no company is going to provide these for us, we’d better build them ourselves,” he decided.

So McLeod, PharmD. and Moffitt Personalized Medicine Strategist Neil T. Mason, Ph.D., created their own company, Interpares Biomedicine. With Moffitt’s Jamie Teer, Ph.D., an Assistant Member, and a seasoned biotech executive Kevin Krenitsky, M.D., they created their own set of tools to help doctors and patients sort through a number of seemingly equal immunotherapy options.

“The big challenge in oncology going forward is how do to we pick, from amongst these apparently equal options, the one that is going to work?” explains McLeod, the company’s President and Chief Scientific Officer.

Interpares Biomedicine works with the blood to gauge the effectiveness of treatment. Through the blood, it can examine circulating tumor cells, rather than cells from a biopsy or surgical resection that occurred at diagnosis.

“As time goes on, it’s more and more difficult to understand the cancer you’re really treating,” he says.

It is important with immunotherapies to assess potential toxicity, because it can be fatal. “We’re looking at a patent’s immune system, the type of T-cells that are present. That gives us some indication how well they are going to respond to treatment,” he adds.

What sets them apart in the marketplace is that they’re looking at the immune system and the DNA, plus the potential toxicity. “More often than not that’s why we have to stop therapy,” he says.

Interpares Biomedicine won the 2017 BioPitch Competition in October in St. Petersburg, a contest which helps build interest from venture and angel funders. It was one of more than 40 companies that applied to compete for the award given at BioFlorida’s annual conference.

BioFlorida, which represents almost 6,000 research, biopharmaceutical, medical technology and bioagriculture organizations, chose 15 to make presentations in a closed-door session. Four progressed to the finalist stage, which involved an open presentation before panelists at the conference.

What’s next for the North Tampa company with a staff of 12?  It’s working to perfect its ability to predict drugs’ effectiveness. It’s also looking at other innovations it can adapt to its toolset to broaden its scope.

“At this point, we’re in clinical testing mode,” he says. “We want to generate additional data.”

As the company grows, it’ll be looking to add lab and sales staff. “Tampa is right on the verge of expanding its biotech sector,” he adds. “I’m very hopeful this can really help that continue.”


Tampa Bay job fairs match people with jobs; one caters to veterans

In honor of Veterans Day, CareerSource is holding its annual Florida Paychecks for Patriots Career Fair from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 8, at The EpiCenter at St. Petersburg College, 13805 58th St. N., St. Petersburg.

“Paychecks for Patriots has made a difference in the lives and careers of thousands of veteran candidates and military family members in the past four years," says CEO Ed Peachey of CareerSource Tampa Bay and CareerSource Pinellas, which are hosting the event. "We expect the fifth year to continue that tradition, so Florida can continue to be the most military and veteran-friendly state in the nation.”

For the first hour, the fair will be open exclusively for the military transitioning to civilian life, veterans, and their families, giving them the first opportunity to meet with potential employers. The event opens for the general public at 11 a.m.

At the event, information also will be provided on training and development programs available through CareerSource centers, such as the TechHire, CyberSecurity, CareerReady, and Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act programs.

Over 30 employers will be present at the event seeking to fill over 200 positions,” Peachey adds.

Among the job openings are positions for bus driver, caregiver, customer service representatives, fulltime sales, housekeepers, insurance agents, line cooks, mechanic, respite and servers.

The annual event is hosted by many of Regional Workforce Boards across the state.

Job candidates who want help preparing for the event can contact their local job center. Assistance is available with job applications and resumes. There also are Employability Skills Workshops (including Resume Development and Interviewing Skills Training).

Walk-ins are welcome to this free event, but attendees are encouraged to register in advance at either CareerSource Tampa Bay or CareerSource Pinellas.  Click on Career Seekers and then Career Fairs to access the webpage. Jobseekers also can also visit the CareerSource websites for more information on employers attending the opportunities available.

Here are some other career fairs you may want to check out soon.

  • Biz Bulls Connect gives students at USF St. Petersburg an opportunity to connect with potential employers from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 9, at Lynn Pippenger Hall Atrium. Learn more on Handshake.
  • The Fall Instructional Job Fair, an event for teachers interested in working for Pasco County Schools, is slated from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 9, at J. W. Mitchell High School, 2323 Little Rd., New Port Richey. Attendees can meet with principals, attend information sessions on certification, learn about the district’s benefits, and be hired for substitute or permanent positions. The event is free. Learn more and/or register here.
  • The Black Excellence Business Expo and Job Fair is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 11, at Pinellas Technical College, St. Petersburg Campus, 3548 11th Ave. S. General admission to the event, organized by The Community Development And Training Center Inc., is free. Register online here.
  • The Tampa Bay Job and Career Fair held by The Tampa Bay Times is slated from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday, Nov. 13, at Holiday Inn Tampa Westshore, 700 N. Westshore Blvd. Tampa. Admission and parking are free; no pre-registration is required. More than 50 local employers will be there. More information and online registration is available by visiting here.
  • The JobNewsUSA.com Job Fair will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 14, at St. Petersburg Marriott Clearwater, 12600 Roosevelt Blvd. N., St. Petersburg. There are hundreds of job opportunities in various fields. The event is free and job candidates are encouraged to register online. Click on Search Career Fairs.
  • Interested in a job with a cruise line? Norwegian Cruise Line is holding a Cruise Ship Job Fair in Tampa. It’s looking to hire for a variety of positions, including assistant chief butcher, assistant cook, assistant waiter, broadcast technician, restaurant steward, stateroom steward and more. Bring your resume! There are two information sessions, one at 10 a.m. and one at 3 p.m., on Tuesday, Nov. 14, at Hilton Tampa Downtown, 211 N. Tampa St., Tampa. On-site registration is held one hour beforehand; the doors close at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., respectively. Interviews follow the sessions. More information and online registration are available here.
  • The Florida Joblink 2017 Career Fair is slated from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov 16, at Clarion Inn and Suites Conference Center, 9331 E. Adamo Dr., Tampa. The fair, which serves jobseekers in Tampa, Brandon, Lakeland and the surrounding communities, is free. Career advice and resume assistance are available at the fair. Learn more and/or register here.

Natural skin care company grows with help from black business development initiatives

Renee Edwards didn’t set out to start a business. She was a mom with a problem: Her daughter was suffering from acne -- and she wanted to help.

So Edwards, who works in clinical research at St. Petersburg’s Hill Top Research, began experimenting with essential oils and exfoliation.

“It worked for my daughter [Jakara Fitzpatrick],” she says. “I thought I could sell it.”

And sell it she has. Her Skin Kandii products are available in nine retail outlets in St. Petersburg and Clearwater, including the St. Pete Store and Visitor’s Center.

A ceremonial ribbon-cutting was held last Thursday at the Second Avenue North store to mark the occasion.

“I think the real root of cleaning the skin, and relieving acne, is exfoliation,” she asserts. “I think the vitamins that are added to the scrub, and the essential oils ... aid in the healing.”

Edwards, Skin Kandii’s CEO, participated in two Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg-funded initiatives designed to help black businesses open and grow: Community Business Development Initiative and CATCH.

“It [the Community Business Development Initiative] has resulted in the creation of 27 new businesses,” says Sean Kennedy, Manager of The Greenhouse, which created the program. “Twenty existing businesses have seen revenue growth.”

The initiative was designed to encourage black-owned businesses, which are under-represented in the community, Kennedy says.

“The point of the program was to eliminate the barriers to entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial growth,” he explains.

Skin Kandii became the first African American-manufactured product line sold in The St Pete Store, a retail showcase backed by the City of St. Petersburg and the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce.

Fitzpatrick was about 13 when she was experiencing severe skin issues, Edwards recalls. “She wouldn’t wear shorts or skirt in her early middle school and high school years,” she continues.

It took three years of testing, but Edwards eventually discovered sugar and essential oils could be used to exfoliate two or three times a week -- and get that problem under control.

“Once you exfoliate your skin, you also need to use a sunscreen,” she adds. “The fresh skin was turning darker.”

Along the way, with feedback from family and friends, Edwards learned enough to develop eight different scrubs she’s priced at $12.99 each. She’s also developed a lotion bar, lip balms and bath balms.

She has a stress reliever, a skin replenisher, a relaxing anti-inflammatory scrub, and even an Island blend to boost energy. Edwards’ best-selling product is a dry skin formula that has become popular as a foot scrub. It also can help with eczema.

Skin Kandii got is name as Edwards developed the dry skin formula to help her nephew, Jeremieco Robinson, with eczema. She enticed him by saying the product was candy for his skin.

Edwards also offers create-your-own formulas made with the essential oils the user prefers and containers labeled with a distributor’s name. In addition to being available in stores, Skin Kandii is sold at house parties.

Edwards would like to have a TV commercial in six months and eventually sell on St. Pete’s Home Shopping Network.

While Skin Kandii currently is run by a staff of three, she hopes to expand to hire “a whole lot of people,” she says.

She’s working on soy candles, to go on sale in December, and all natural soaps, to sell in the summer of 2018.

The Greenhouse is looking at funding options to continue the initiative, which offered training and business financing. The program already has assisted 60 businesses, among them the affordable housing firm Sago House, the youth employment company I Support Youth, the educational consulting company Global Intelligences and Brea’s Coffee, which also held a ribbon-cutting in October.

Meanwhile Tahisia Scantling, a consultant working with the Tampa Bay Black Business Investment Corporation, which now is backing the other program Edwards participated in, says the community development financial institution holds two cohorts of CATCH per year. It offers training and financing to help businesses.

Although a $100 application fee is charged, the fee is returned to the 10 businesses selected for the 15-week training program.

The CATCH acronym stands for coachable, action-oriented, timely, collaboration help. The program now is also being offered in Hillsborough County, with sponsorship by Wells Fargo.


Innovative Smart Lab to open in Tampa in 2018

The innovative builder Suffolk is planning to open a Smart Lab in Tampa that will help clients visualize construction projects using virtual reality. The construction firm, which already has opened a similar lab in New York City and San Francisco, currently is building the Tampa Smart Lab adjacent to its Channelside office.

“We are looking to open early in 2018, hopefully in January or February,” says Josh Christensen, VP for the Suffolk’s West Coast Operations in Florida.

The Smart Lab features a virtual reality cave, which simulates what it will be like inside a building that has not been constructed yet. “We call it a lab for a reason. We’re testing things,” he says. “You don’t have to go build in the field to see if you like it.”

Models will be technically accurate. “It’s a working model, not just a cartoon,” Christensen says.

A whole wall will be a touch screen for interactive planning and collaboration. “We used to do with sticky notes back in the day,” Christensen explains. “Now you do it all virtually, and all by touching.”

Another wall, for data, includes live camera feeds of the jobs.

The company has been relying upon virtual reality goggles, which limits the experience to one or two people instead of about six to a room. “Most people don’t love putting the goggles on,” he says.

Suffolk is adding an additional 2,200 square feet, 1,500 for the lab, to its office at 615 Channelside Drive, Suite 102. The office, which opened last spring, will now be 6,600 square feet. Cost figures weren’t released.

We’re in an existing building, We just took it back to the studs,” he explains.

The Smart Lab will primarily be staffed with existing workers.

Suffolk’s Smart Labs are expected to facilitate brainstorming in ways that can significantly alter project designs. For the industry, it may mean changing the way buildings are designed and built.

Its emphasis on innovation meshes well with the “entrepreneurial spirit” in Tampa, Christensen says.

“We have some challenging, logistically complex jobs, and it will really help us,” he adds.

More Smart Labs are to open in Boston, Miami and Los Angeles on varying schedules.

The national building contractor generates some $2.9 billion in revenue annually serving clients in healthcare, science and technology, education, federal government, gaming, aviation and commercial sectors.


Next for travelers? Ridesharing app for charter flights

A Jacksonville company is test marketing a ridesharing program for air travelers which would enable them to split the cost of chartering small planes with others. Called Whooshfly, the company -- currently in the Tampa Bay WaVE early launch program -- is making plans to move to Tampa next year, potentially in the spring.

“This is not for everyone pricewise. If you were to share the flight ... with a bunch of people, it would still cost you a little bit more than a first class ticket, but it’s not going to cost you an arm and a leg,” explains Joel Relova, Founder and CEO.

The service, being tested in Florida, Georgia and Utah, relies on smaller aircraft with 3 to 12 seats. It is available in beta as an Apple iphone app, with Android and web-based apps anticipated later. “You can fly anywhere as long as you can afford it,” he says.

People can defray the cost of a chartered plane by sharing a flight with friends, relatives and co-workers attending the same event, or with other people in their network. Or they can open the flight up to others who are flying to the same destination. They also could choose to book a private flight.

People download the app from the Apple Store and make a request for service, which is submitted to operators who respond with price quotes. The users can then choose a veted provider and book their flights.

Co-founded with Wendell Chindra, Whooshfly currently has about 400 users and 12 operators, who have access to 60 airplanes in the Florida/Georgia region. Users pay a service fee in addition to fares. “Once you use it, you don’t want to go back to any other means,” Relova says. “The value there is really the experience.”

He explains users can avoid lines while enjoying the perks of a small airport, like having the airplane parked 50 feet from the door or being greeted by a pilot who knows them by name.

“That’s what people love,” he says.

The idea started about 10 years ago when Relova noticed a smaller jet at an airport, and learned it cost less than a million, far less than other jets. Things took off about two years ago after a presentation on the concept in Jacksonville. Since being admitted to the WaVE program last spring, Whooshfly has been utilizing the co-work space at the WaVE periodically.

“The WaVE has been very good to us. I love the people there. I love the energy. I love their passion for startups,” he says. “They’ve opened a lot of doors for us.”

What sets Whooshfly apart is travelers’ ability to pay as they go, without encountering membership/subscription fees or having to become one of the plane’s owners.

Moving to Tampa is part of their plan once the platform passes the market-testing phase. “We believe Tampa is the right fit for us. They have the environment, the ecosystem, that would support a tech startup like us,” Relova explains. “I understand there’s a lot of things going on from a tech and from a startup business perspective. We want to be part of that."


Tampa attorney heads Israeli business accelerator

Rachel Marks Feinman, the new Executive Director of the Florida-Israel Business Accelerator, believes bringing innovative Israeli ideas and products to Tampa can help set it apart in the competitive entrepreneurial tech scene.

My hope is that people understand that this is not a Jewish cause. This is an economic development effort that the [Tampa Jewish Community Centers and Federation] has really undertaken, and to a certain degree, is underwriting,” she explains. “My hope is that we really can engage the entire business community, and that they understand the value of attracting these companies here.”

Feinman, who succeeds Jack Ross at FIBA’s helm, brings to the organization her expertise in law and business as it prepares its second cohort.

“We’re definitely in a growth mode,” says Feinman, who was raised in the Tampa area.

Ross has taken a job with StemRad, a participant in the FIBA’s first cohort, that has decided to open its U.S. subsidiary in Tampa.

Feiman has been working closely with many investors and businesses in the community as a corporate partner with the Tampa-based Hill Ward Henderson law firm. While President of the Gasparilla International Film Festival, she gained experience in fundraising, cultivating relationships, and overseeing development.

Founded by the Federation in 2016, FIBA has had eight companies complete its program, and is planning a second cohort of eight between February and June. It will be split into two groups of four each, with each spending six to eight weeks of intensive training in Tampa. That’s up from one week, with the goal of enhancing their successes.

One of our key focuses is on customer generation for these companies,” she says.

The Israeli companies that work with FIBA are established businesses that can benefit from its help acculturating into U.S. society. “These companies all have a product that’s ready for market -- and ideally have customer traction in Israel or another market,” she says.

The goal also is to bring innovative ideas and products that can help solve local problems and build the local economy, distinguishing it from medium-sized cities looking to attract tech companies.

“We’re on our way to doing that,” she says.

Since she assumed her new job earlier his month, Feiman has been meeting with people. “Our plans really for now are to grow organically and work on successes for the companies that will translate into success for our community,” she adds.

There’s a long history of innovation in Israel that a lot of people are unaware of, she says. An example is an Intel chip which our computers rely upon.

Israel’s compulsive military service program, for Jews and those from the ethnic Druze community, puts lots of its workers in desk jobs using computers to solve problems. “A lot of them come out of the Army with ideas for businesses,” she says.


Clearwater advertising firm grows, new manufacturing jobs come to Pasco County

The 45-year-old Our Town America, an advertising firm that targets new residents, has moved its headquarters into 44,000-square-feet of office space in Clearwater -- and is making plans to hire 15 to 20 additional staffers.

I’m anxious to get them in here and give them an opportunity to grow with our company,” says CEO Michael Plummer Jr.

The company in a growth mode by working with businesses that want to advertise to new residents. Such businesses are often grocery stories, restaurants, hair salons and auto repair shops, or doctors and dentists who want to develop new business relationships. Businesses pay on average $200 a month to target potential customers by things like age, size of household, income, and other demographics.

About two to six weeks after move-in, residents receive an envelope offering “housewarming gifts” such as gift certificates for a free pizza or haircut to entice them to drop by and check out the neighborhood businesses.

When people move in, they’re still searching for those business,” Plummer explains. “They want to know where to go.”

Our Town America disseminates about half a million envelopes every month -- or more than 8 million each year. With some 63 franchises nationwide, they focus primarily on neighborhoods rather than zipcodes.

A lot of it is designed ... to get you off the couch and into those locations,” he says.

Once the initial contact is made, businesses may choose to follow up with another offer, a simple thank you, or a request for feedback.

Our Town America moved last week from smaller rented space in Pinellas Park to its own headquarters at 13900 U.S. Highway 19 N. Clearwater. Built by local contractor Mike Sinwelski, the facility features a 2,700-square-foot, high-tech conference room, a huge breakroom, and LED lights, plus a roof with solar power options.

The company, which employees about 58 locally, was founded by Plummer’s father in Des Moines, IA. After relocating to Omaha and Houston, the company moved to the Tampa Bay Area in 1990. It began selling franchises in 2005, and sold a record-breaking 12 this year. Despite its growth, it continues to be a family-based business with a welcoming atmosphere, which includes catered lunches, potluck dinners, company cruises and other perks.

“The vast majority of our folks have been here for a very long time,” he adds.

Our Town America is hiring for both part-time and full-time positions, with openings in customer service, appointment setting, inside sales and possibly production help for mailouts. Learn more by visiting the OTA website or calling 1-800-497-8360.

Here are more job opportunities in the Tampa Bay area.

Meopta U.S.A. will be opening a new facility in western Pasco County and hiring for 47 new advanced manufacturing positions. Headquartered in Hauppauge, NY, Meopta U.S.A. specializes in the manufacture of and distribution of precision optics such as binoculars and spotting and rifle scopes. It also makes prisms, optical mirrors, aerospace and medical assemblies, and tank periscopes. The jobs will be in the Trinity area and pay an average of about $49,000 annually.

• With all the jockeying by communities seeking Amazon’s second headquarters, the major online retailer is certainly on people’s minds. If you’re wondering about job prospects, read on. Brenda Alfred, Amazon’s Regional Operations PR Manager, says the retailers will be hiring 5,000 employees in Florida, most of them for the holiday season. She did not provide specifics for the Tampa Bay region.

“We employ temporary employees as a way of finding high-quality talent while managing variation in customer demand,” she says. “Following last year’s holiday season, thousands of seasonal employees found regular, full-time roles with Amazon.”

Interested individuals should visit the Amazon website.

Heart Gallery of Pinellas & Pasco, an agency working to increase the number of foster children who are successfully adopted, is looking for an Executive Director in St. Petersburg.


Working Women of Tampa Bay excels at networking, making connections

While working as a TV news producer for Channel 10, Jessica Rivelli wanted a casual, after-hours women’s networking group in the Tampa Bay area. But she didn’t find any.

“When I couldn’t find it, I chose to start it,” she recalls.

As a result, Working Women of Tampa Bay -- which serves Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties -- was born. Since November 2008, it has grown to 600+ members.

The group caters to entrepreneurs, wannabe entrepreneurs and women working in corporations, offering “affordable educational opportunities that just don’t exist elsewhere in Tampa Bay,” she says.

Starting from the Dunedin restaurant Casa Tina’s, it grew to 300 members in one year. A core group of 20 just invited women they knew. In 2010, Rivelli left her broadcast career of some 10 years to lead the group full-time, which fueled more growth.

I call myself an accidental entrepreneur,” says Rivelli, whose business is her membership organization. “I had not planned to become an entrepreneur.”

Working Women of Tampa Bay has become a virtual tribe of women supporting women, with a calendar of 20 events a month providing educational and professional development. Usually they appeal to both entrepreneurs and corporate workers.

We do have things specifically for entrepreneurs,” she adds. “Women Entrepreneur Exchange is one of those.”

The Exchange typically meets from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the first Tuesday of each month at Frazier & Deeter, 401 E Jackson St, Suite 2425, Tampa. Attendance is limited to 12 and the topic isn’t fixed; pre-registration is required.

The Entrepreneur Exchange a place where solo entrepreneurs, women who are often working alone out of their own homes or in co-working spaces, can connect with women of similar interests.

Everybody gets their own time [to speak] to be able to bring up their own challenges,” she says.

As a result of the relationships they form, they can put together a mini board of directors, solve business problems and gather much-needed feedback.

What sets Working Women apart is its ability to help women contemplating or starting businesses. “There are a lot of them who are transitioning from corporate America to owning their own business. They need everything from business cards to websites and networking,” she explains. “A lot of them are completely green when they come to Working Women.”

Its Young Women’s Leadership Exchange focuses on young women looking for help with professional development. The group operates similar to Entrepreneur Exchange, gathering women to talk about topics that interest them, like managing your manager and how to look for opportunities within your organization.

Meaningful Mentoring connects experienced business owners and employed women. The group pays for lunch to promote mentoring, allowing women to ask questions pertinent to them.

Working Women, which has an Orlando counterpart, charges a membership fee and offers membership discounts on its paid events, almost all of which are open to the general public. “We want people to come and try us out and see if we’re a good fit for them,” she explains.

The group also offers many resources – including handholding. “They need a support system for when things go good and things go bad,” she continues. “Every small business owner is going to have challenges.”

Ultimately, the group is a “safe space for women to really be themselves,” she says.

“We’ve formed a group of women that are really able to be honest and share what they’re going through with one another,” she says.

Working Women gives back to the community by giving seed money to business owners who need “a little bit of money” to put up a website, expand a shop, purchase marketing materials, or the like, she says. Membership isn’t required; applicants just need to be women in the Tampa Bay area.

“They have to tell us what they’re using it for,” she adds. “We want to make sure it’s something that is a game changer in their business.”


Author proposes pilot education project for adult learners

A Tampa author is gaining traction with an idea for a pilot education project to enable adults to attend college without encumbering a lot of debt. Vinny Tafuro, an economist and author of Unlocking the Labor Cage, appeared on the Tampa Bay Arts and Education Network last week and expounded upon his idea.

In a studio fireside chat with Debbi Stone, VP of Education for The Florida Aquarium, he continued to build on his proposal to fund adult learners through reserves corporations may have routed overseas to avoid taxes.

“Now it’s been broadcast on somebody else’s channel, not my own,” he quips.

What Tafuro is proposing is a pilot project that could mitigate the risk for adults who want to return to school in their 30s, 40s, or 50s. At that point, they’re likely giving up a salary they need to pay bills.

A college-educated, employed individual is more likely to make money for companies like Facebook, he says. Those students may even be inspired to become an entrepreneur -- and an advertiser. They also might be more likely to leave reviews, which is critical to Amazon’s sales model.

Instead of competing with a bunch of other cities offering similar amenities for Amazon’s new headquarters, Tafuro believes this pilot project is something unique Tampa Bay can bring to the table -- while skirting the competition from other cities. It could potentially fund 49,200 students nationwide.

It could appeal to Amazon, Facebook, Google or Microsoft, enabling them to boost their earning potential by increasing the education level of their users and bettering society.

“We’re the only community making the proposition,” he points out.

By convincing businesses to invest their reserves, or repatriate the money as Tafuro says, the pilot project might even help make things easier for former college students saddled with debt. “Right now there’s no incentive for the college loan industry to soften its edge,” he says.

Originally from Long Island, Tafuro has lived in the Tampa Bay area for nearly 26 years. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Communications from the University of Tampa.

His book, released on Amazon in July 2016, introduces the concept of using cash reserves to fund education. Read an excerpt here.


Startup Week 2018 recruits volunteers, planning kicks off now

Organizers of the fourth annual Tampa Bay Startup Week are recruiting volunteers for the 2018 event that will again span both sides of the bay, offering presentations and mentoring for budding entrepreneurs.

“We really try to have a wide range of industries and topics for anyone,” says Gracie Stemmer, President of Startup Tampa Bay and Co-Leader of the event.

The event, organized by the nonprofit Startup Tampa Bay, is scheduled Feb. 12-16, 2018.  A kickoff, scheduled from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 17, at The Franklin Manor, 912 N. Franklin St., Tampa, gives interested individuals a chance to learn more about the event and how they can become involved. Those who can't make it can get in touch with organizers through Facebook or the Startup website.

Stemmer says they are trying to tap into the community’s top talent to speak and run workshops, in addition to reaching out to experts regionally and nationally.

Co-Leader JR Griggs, President of Tampa’s Red Wall Marketing, says volunteers are needed to run industry or topic tracks. These track captains will line up speakers and help locate sponsors. There’s also a need for help with sponsorships, marketing, public relations, the street team, check-in, customer service, and cleanup.

“We’re just eager to work with anyone and everyone that wants to be a part of this,” Stemmer says.

Startup Week is designed to help people vet a business idea, get one-on-one mentoring to launch or grow their business, showcase their businesses, develop their professional networks, or expand their knowledge base. Businesses can be tech related, or traditional brick and mortar.

This year’s Startup Week, which might be starting in St. Petersburg and finishing in Tampa, is expected to feature some tried-and-true topics like design, veteran-owned, PR and marketing, hospitality, women-owned, robotics, cybersecurity and possibly a social entrepreneur track.

Mentors will be on hand throughout the week – and individuals can book a time slot with someone with expertise in their industry, Griggs says.

The current plan is to hold the event at the same venues as last year, Station House in St. Pete and Realto Theatre in Tampa.

“Our biggest goal right now is to get as many volunteers as possible,” Griggs says. “The goal is to make this bigger and better.”


Tech Bytes: BarCamp planned at USF, other events in Tampa Bay Area

Artificial intelligence. Wearable technology. Robots and drones. These topics -- and a whole lot more -- will likely be topics of discussion at the 10th BarCamp in Tampa Bay Saturday, October 21. Dubbed the unconference, BarCamp is about anything tech. Those who attend sign up to give classes in their areas of expertise.

“The best presentations are not prepared,” says Ken Evans, a board member for organizer Technova Florida Inc.  “PowerPoint loses its passion.”

One of the more “famous” presentations was about how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, from a techie/engineer point of view, he says.

“We love narrow topics because that’s where you get the real in-depth discussion around solving problems,” he explains.

BarCamp will be at the University of South Florida’s Muma College of Business, 4202 E. Fowler Ave., Tampa. Guests may park nearby at the SunDome.

The fun officially begins at 8 a.m. with breakfast. Speaker signups are open until 8:45 a.m., with sessions running from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. until 5 p.m. Lunch is at noon.

General admission to the event, expected to attract some 700 to 800 people, is free. “You can just show up. We really appreciate it if people register,” he adds.

Technova is building the tech community through events that help people learn, share, connect, and collaborate with peers.

Check out more Tampa Bay Area tech news below.

  • Applications are open for the Tampa Bay WaVE accelerator program. You’ve got until November 1 to apply to build, launch or grow your company and tap into the WaVE’s bank of 100+ mentors.
  • “Accounting for Success” is the topic of October’s Tech Talk by Tampa Bay Innovation Center. Paul Hays, Ginny Veit and Gretchen Whalen of CliftonLarsonAllen will hold an interactive roundtable discussion for the tech and startup communities. The program is slated at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, October 10, at Microsoft Headquarters offices, 5426 Bay Center Dr., Suite 700, Tampa. The event is free, but registration is advised because of limited seating.
  • Learn how digital media can help you grow your business from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday, October 16, at USF Connect, Oak View Room, 3802 Spectrum Blvd., Tampa. The program looks at the shift from Search Engine Optimization to Paid Advertising -- and how to position yourself for success. Featured are USF alumni: Eric Ortiz,
  • Executive Director of Sales and Acquisition, and Alex Andrews, Director of Content and Creative Strategy, both from McKay Advertising + Activation in Tampa.
  • • October 21 is Computer and Electronics Shred Day. If you have old hard drives, cell phones, tablets and other electronic devices, and you’d like to be sure the data on them is obliterated, bring them to Tampa’s Jan Kaminis Platt Regional Library at 3910 S Manhattan Ave. between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. It’s free – and you can even get a Certificate of Destruction. Just ask. The event is part of national Cyber Awareness Month.
  • The Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization is holding its 2017 Global Conference and Pitch Competition, “Stop Dreaming, Start Doing,” October 26 through 28 at Hilton Tampa Downtown. The event, which kicks off at 11 a.m., gives collegiates an opportunity to network with entrepreneurially-minded students and hear presentations from seasoned entrepreneurs. and other experts.
  • Potential Unleashed is holding Innovation Gathering 2017 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, October 26, at USF Connect Galleria, 3720 Spectrum Blvd. Attendees will find out what’s happening in the Innovation District. Tickets are $50 for adults and $15 for students.
  • Tour the Florida-Israel Business Accelerator with the local area networking group, HomeBrew Hillsborough.  Mark your calendars for 8 a.m. Friday, October 27 at 522 N. Howard Ave., Tampa. FIBA helps develop successful Israeli tech companies in Tampa Bay.
  • Knack, a South Tampa tutoring service using an app to match students with tutors who have aced the class they need help with, was the winning startup at Challenge Cup Tampa Bay.  The event, hosted by Tampa Bay WaVE in Sepember, featured 20 firms who competed in a two-minute pitch for a cash prize and a chance to proceed to nationals.

A force for healing through the arts in Tampa

Those who have found creative passions know how uplifting and soul-nourishing the arts can be, even in rough times. For military veterans, simply returning to civilian life can be difficult and painful on many levels.
 
Enter: Creative Forces.

In a joint project between Florida’s Division of Cultural Affairs, the NEA, and Americans for the Arts, Creative Forces Summit will be honing in on Tampa for panel discussions revolving around military healing arts and community collaboration at the Straz Center on Oct. 23 & 24.
 
Panel discussions range from types of creative art therapies to building a more collaborative union between the arts and military communities, with performances and open mic sessions interspersed throughout the two-day event.
 
Art therapists who work closely with veterans see the progress of their work, albeit anecdotally. One of the highlights of this event will be talks by Andrea Assaf, artistic director of Art2Action -- which has been working closely with veterans since 2011. She will discuss her role in leading the program design for creating a clinical study to measure tangible success with military healing arts.
 
“We spent a year doing this study, which was designed by a collaborative process. In order to measure impact, we had to come up with a mixed-methods approach where the USF Psychology Department leads a quantitative process while the VA works on qualitative process,” Assaf says.
 
She has been running volunteer workshops at a branch of the VA, the Psychosocial Rehabilitation and Recovery Center, for over 4 years. While Assaf’s strengths rest in theatre, poetry and creative writing, she brings in guest artists to open up veterans to other artistic mediums.

The James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital is already a Creative Forces clinical site, with Tampa working on a Telehealth Pilot Program for veterans in rural areas. Being nearby, the MacDill Air Force Base doesn't hurt either. Their approach to art therapy is simple: Treat it as a need, just like any other treatment.

“I see the arts change and move people. Artistic expression is an important component in the healing and recovering process. What the government wants to see in terms of funding is data. The intention of this study is to document what we know intuitively into usable data to inspire further study and investment both from private and public funds in supporting this kind of work,” Assaf says.

For more information about arts programs and events in Hillsborough County and the Tampa Bay region, visit The Arts Council website.

To suggest additional story ideas, email 83 Degrees.

To subscribe to our free weekly e-magazine, follow this link.

Hiring event targets paid interns; St. Pete career fair showcases services

Tampa Bay Intern is holding its twice-a-year hiring event in Tampa on Wednesday, Oct. 11, for students and recent graduates.

And, across Tampa Bay, organizers are preparing for the 2017 Community Redevelopment Area Career Fair and Showcase of Services scheduled Monday, Oct. 16, in St. Petersburg.

“Often we find that the internship turns into a regular, part-time opportunity, and they get extended or they turn into a fulltime opportunity,” says Jason Druding, Special Projects Coordinator for CareerSource Tampa Bay and CareerSource Pinellas, which runs the intern-hiring event.

Paid internships typically last from 13 weeks to six months -- and It is possible to arrange for school credit.

About 60 percent of the opportunities are internships, with the remaining 40 percent being entry level jobs. “There’s a big focus and draw for heathcare, IT and programming as well as marketing and sales. In addition, we do have some unique opportunities which we haven’t had before which focus on the construction, engineering type opportunities,” he adds.

Resume review and assistance will be available at the event, which is free and open to the public. More than 30 employers have signed up.

Pre-register to avoid the line and access the employer lineup in advance. Or just show up. Employer lists are available through CareerSource staffers and on social media channels.

The event is scheduled from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the CareerSource Tampa Bay Career Center at 9215 N. Florida Ave., Tampa.

Tampa Bay Intern connects employers with students looking for internships. It is run by CareerSource Tampa Bay and CareerSource Pinellas.

Meanwhile, St. Petersburg is partnering with Pinellas Technical College and the Pinellas Ex-Offender Re-Entry Coalition on its Career Fair and Showcase of Services. Nikki Capehart, St. Pete’s Urban Affairs Director, says this is the career fair’s second year and Showcase of Services’ 21st year.

“We wanted to join forces with them [PERC],” Capehart says. “They have an amazing built-in event.”

The event, which is free and open to the general public, features a wide variety of employment readiness help, potentially even a clothes closet for those who lack professional attire. More than 60 social service agencies are anticipated, offering resume help, educational assistance, employment assistance, information on expunging a criminal record, and more.

The event runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Pinellas Technical College Campus, 901 34th St. S. Pre-registration is encouraged, but walk-ins are welcome.

Crowds are expected to exceed 500, with varying degrees of education. Attendees should come prepared and ready to interview.

“We are still looking for employers,” Capehart adds.

Among the employers to be represented is the city of Petersburg, which currently lists a number of vacancies in a variety of career fields. Included are a Complaint Writer and an Information Specialist 1 with the Police Department, Pension Supervisor with Human Resources, Senior Plans Examiner for the Fire Department, Senior Professional Engineer for the Engineering Department, and Water Resources Director for the Water Resources Department

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