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New water taxi aims to transport passengers on Tampa area waterways

Yacht Starship Dining Cruises is launching a new pirate-themed water taxi service around Tampa that will help “landlubbers” travel the high seas of the Hillsborough River, Hillsborough Bay and Garrison Channel. 

Pirate Water Taxi will offer three 50-foot vessels that make stops at 14 locations along the waterfront in the Channelside District, Davis Island and downtown Tampa. Passengers aboard each vessel will enjoy the convenience of onboard restrooms and concessions while the captains, acting as pirates, engage guests with witty, whimsical narrations. 

“The pirate inspiration is part of the rich Gasparilla tradition here in the city,” says Troy Manthey, president and CEO of Yacht Starship Dining Cruises. Manthey, who hails from New Orleans and is a fifth-generation Mississippi River passenger boat captain, began cutting the currents of Tampa Bay when he visited the area in 2001 and realized the potential here. “I wanted to open up the beautiful waterfront to the community.” So he did, when he established Yacht Starship. Now, Manthey hopes his Pirate Water Taxi service, which debuts on February 27, helps locals and tourists connect with Tampa’s growing number of waterfront attractions.

“There will be multiple stops between The Florida Aquarium and Rick’s on the River, including Ulele, Curtis Hixon Park, Bayshore, and other places.” Unlike other water taxi services, which often have just one vessel, Pirate Water Taxi will field three. “That way, one boat can be undergoing maintenance, another can handle a private charter, and we’ll still have a vessel operating for public service,” he explains. The water taxis will operate seven days a week, with extended hours during weekends and special events. 

While Tampa Bay’s new water taxi will handle the utilitarian duties of ferrying 40 to 50 people around downtown Tampa, Manthey stresses that his new water taxis will be more than just another way to get around the city. 

“This service is as much a tourism attraction as it is a mode of transportation,” he says. “Our captains will be cast as pirates and they will engage with passengers, telling them about the area, where the best places to go are, and what they can enjoy at each attraction.”

Pirate Water Taxi will be officially unveiled Friday, Feb. 26, during a christening ceremony at the Tampa Convention Center. Hearkening a longtime tradition for launching new boats, bottles of champagne will be smashed against the new water taxi vessels, and the boats will be ceremoniously named. 

USF conference to bring sport, entertainment leaders to Tampa

The University of South Florida will welcome key decision makers and business leaders in the sports and entertainment industries to Tampa on February 18-19.

The conference is expected to bring industry professionals, students and university faculty together to network and learn about the latest innovations in analytics from experienced speakers and leaders in the sport and entertainment industry.

Speakers at USF’s Sport & Entertainment Analytics Conference will offer insights on an array of topics from the latest trends to data-driven business decisions and the growing importance of analytics in the sport and entertainment industries.

“The conference is an unbelievable value in terms of cost and opportunity to network,” says Professor and Associate Program Director Mike Mondello, who teaches Sport Business Analytics and Sport & Entertainment Finance at USF.

USF’s Sport & Entertainment Analytics Conference will bring a number of established industry professionals to Tampa, including:
  • Kevin Kelley, head coach of the Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Ark.
  • Anthony Perez, VP of business strategy for the Orlando Magic
  • Jay Riola, assistant director of business intelligence & CRM for the Orlando Magic
  • David DeMontmollin, VP of marketing for the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa
  • Rick Johnson, senior director of Pricemaster product & strategy at Ticketmaster and Live Nation
  • David Smrek, VP of Live Analytics, a Ticketmaster company
  • Rich Luker, a social psychologist who created the ESPN Sports Poll
  • Chris Watson, senior director of relationship marketing and analytics for Feld Entertainment
  • Michael Farris, director of strategic consulting & research at the Aspire Group, a global sport and entertainment marketing firm
  • Bill Bailey, VP of SSB Consulting Group, a business intelligence and accounting firm
While the primary goal of the conference is to “allow industry practitioners to share their best practices and current trends of analytics in the sport entertainment industry,” Mondello says, “A secondary goal is to allow students the opportunity to network with other industry professionals to gain additional insight into further career options.” 

The two-day Sport & Entertainment Analytics Conference, hosted at the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel, 700 South Florida Avenue, will take place from noon- 6 p.m. on Feb 18 and 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. on Feb. 19

“Anyone interested in a potential or existing career in analytics” should consider attending the conference, says Mondello, who earned a PhD and master's degrees from the University of Florida and a BS from USF.

The cost to attend the conference is $99 for the general public, with a discounted rate of $50 available to USF students and faculty and a discounted rate of $75 for students enrolled at other universities. Purchase tickets in advance at EventBrite. For a detailed conference schedule, click here.

USF is a member of the American Athletic Conference.

Free Community Pass offers Tampa Bay residents museum, music fest discounts

The Community Foundation of Tampa Bay (CFTB) has found a creative way to celebrate its 25th anniversary. Beginning in February 2016, residents who sign up for the group's free 'Community Pass' will receive unique discounts to distinguished local arts and cultural-focused programs and institutions such as the Tampa Museum of Art and St. Petersburg Museum of History.

Perks for Tampa Bay area residents include buy one, get one free admission offers to select events or venues, and discounts to museums including the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, the Florida Holocaust Museum, the Tampa Bay History Center, and other centers of arts and learning. 

CFTB launched the Community Pass to help local residents discover and enjoy the local arts and culture organizations that CFTB donors support through discounts and other special offers.

Community Pass discounts include BOGO free admission to Great Explorations Children's Museum; "Palladium Presents" shows at The PalladiumSt. Petersburg Museum of HistoryTampa Museum of Art; and the University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum. Other discounts include 25 percent off admission to the Florida Holocaust Museum; $5 off admission to the Gasparilla Music Festival on Sunday, March 13; and $10 off admission to the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg.

“The Community Pass will give back to the residents of our tri-county area, and encourage them to enjoy the wonderful cultural institutions we have here in our very own backyard," Wilma Norton, VP of Marketing and Communications for CFTB, writes in a news release. “We are very excited to celebrate our 25th year serving the community of Tampa Bay by providing a gift to everyone who lives here."

The Community Foundation was founded in 1990 to serve as a connector between local donors, nonprofit organizations, community members, business leaders, and volunteers in Hillsborough, Hernando, Pasco and Pinellas counties. In those 25 years, the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay has awarded more than $175 million in donor funds as grants to nonprofit organizations across the country. 

To sign up for a free Community Pass, click here.

June coding weekend will aim to help Tampa homeless through technology

A June event will aim to benefit Tampa’s homeless population through computer coding.

The hack-a-thon, hosted by Hillsborough County annually in conjunction with the National Day of Civic Hacking, has been rebranded as a ‘code-a-palooza’ for 2016.

The weekend-long event will take place at Peak 10, an IT and cloud storage services company that is the premiere sponsor of the weekend-long code fest. Peak 10 is an anchor member of the Tampa Innovation Alliance, a group working to redefine the area surrounding the University of South Florida in northeast Hillsborough County.

Tampa Innovation Alliance board members set out to put on a traditional weekend hack-a-thon event, but with the goal of creating “an element that will stretch out longer than just the weekend, and actually solve a real-world problem,” explains Alliance executive director Mark Sharpe.

A request by the Alliance to Hillsborough County for data led to a counter-request: solve a problem for us. County or government-sponsored hack-a-thons often have a civil services component, and for the June ‘code-a-palooza,’ the focus is on the homeless population in the Tampa Bay region.

“They’ve got social service organizations helping them to manage this homeless problem, which the county is responsible for, but they don’t have tracking devices or an application which can effectively connect the homeless person -- many of whom do have smartphones -- with the services,” Sharpe explains.

Using county-provided data, coders and creative thinkers will work together to bridge the gap between members of the homeless population and the service organizations that aim to connect with them.

By creating an application that enhances on or is compatible with the county’s existing software, Sharpe hopes to see coding teams develop something that can "maybe even have a market application.”

“There are severe homeless problems in other cities,” Sharpe says, “like Denver, Colorado,” with whom the Alliance has partnered for the 10-10-10 conference.

“We’re still kind of exploring -- we don’t have it all figured out -- but we’re going to be encouraging people who have coding skills, or who can solve problems, to join in at ‘code-a-palooza’ in June,” Sharpe says.

Coding skills are not required to participate.

A winner of the weekend event will be announced on the final day of the hack-a-thon, but the Alliance hopes to see concepts worked on by the teams continue to grow, Sharpe says. Peak 10 will allow interested coders to use the company’s cloud data system for work throughout the summer and fall, and Alliance partners such as University Mall may facilitate projects by providing meeting space.

“We hope the winner might have the opportunity to sell their application, or have it used by the county,” Sharpe says.

To learn more about the June ‘code-a-palooza’ event, visit the Tampa Innovation Alliance website.

Swiss-owned SpecPage moves its North American operations to Manatee County

SpecPage, Inc., a Switzerland-based technology company that develops software solutions for the food manufacturing industry, has relocated its North American branch offices from Warwick, Rhode Island to Bradenton, FL with support from the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corporation (EDC). 

The EDC assisted the Swiss company in site selection and in applying for a performance-based economic development incentive grant from the Manatee County government. The Manatee County Board of Commissioners approved the incentive, based on SpecPage’s plan to add 15 jobs in Bradenton over the next five years. 

SpecPage now occupies 1,100 square feet with options to expand at Wildwood Office Park, 3645 Cortez Road, Suite 100, in west Bradenton.

“We are a global company and plan to strengthen our position in the North American market. The growing, yet affordable area of Bradenton provides good opportunities for future hiring as well as convenient access to several airports for national and international travel,” says SpecPage North America VP Paul Meunier. 

Meunier says that SpecPage plans to create up to 15 jobs based in its new Bradenton offices over the next three years, primarily in sales and support roles. The growing company’s clients currently include global brands such as Campbell Soup Company, Kellogg’s, Mondelez and Nestlé Wagner. 

Sharon Hillstrom, President and CEO of the Bradenton EDC, views the Swiss company’s relocation of its North American offices to Manatee County as a valuable step in a multi-pronged effort to retain the talent emerging in record numbers from area colleges and universities. 

“One of the things we’re really focused on at the EDC, as well as the Chamber of Commerce and Realize Bradenton, is [the young professional] demographic. Each organization is addressing some component of how we can attract and retain talent here. It is of prime interest, and our belief is that the more companies we have coming here, the more opportunities will present themselves to graduates,” Hillstrom says.

Hillstrom notes that there are currently five institutions of higher learning in Manatee and Sarasota County that are working in collaboration as the ‘Consortium of Colleges on the Creative Coast’ to attract students and strengthen the Tampa Bay area’s economy. Bringing global and IT-based companies like SpecPage into the area, Hillstrom says, confirms Bradenton’s value as a destination for other businesses to base their operations. 

“This area provides a great business climate. We are a business-friendly government, labor costs are somewhat lower here, and the quality of life obviously speaks for itself. … Bringing in companies like SpecPage is the best advertisement we have in that sense. We plan to use those types of wins to recruit other companies to the area,” Hillstrom says. 

February job news: Who's hiring in Tampa Bay?

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, an established children's hospital and an emergency veterinarian are all businesses based in the Tampa Bay area who are hiring in February 2016. 

All Children's Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine is hiring for a Special Events Manager. A BA and a minimum of five years experience in event planning is required. The Special Events Manager will plan, manage and execute events and fundraising initiatives, overseeing special events coordinators.A successful candidate must have reliable transportation. 

To apply or to learn more about the role, click here.

The Aspire Group seeks a Sales Consultant at the University of South Florida. A BS in Sports Management or a related field is required; communications, customer service and computer skills are necessary.

To learn more or to apply, click here.

Emergency veterinarian services provider Blue Pearl is hiring for a Digital Marketing Associate. A Bachelor's degree in a related field (website development, digital marketing) is preferred; at least one year of marketing experience is required.
An understanding of search engine optimization and various social media platforms, as well as basic HTML, is expected.

Learn more or apply here.

Bristol Myers Squibb is hiring for several positions in Tampa, including roles in technical support, analytics, IT management and more. Learn about specific job requirements or apply for these roles here.

The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce seeks a Creative Services Manager. The successful applicant will have a BA in graphic design, communications or a related field, as well as 3-5 years of experience in a graphic design role. Primary responsibilities will include creating graphics, communications content, creation of event material, and other tasks.
 
To apply, submit a cover letter, resume, design portfolio, writing sample and three references to the Chamber of Commerce via email.

Social Venture Partners seeks an Executive Director to manage day-to-day operations of the organization and to serve as spokesperson for the group. Responsibilities will include providing support to growing partners, recruiting partners, planning and organizational development; the successful applicant will have knowledge of the Tampa Bay nonprofit community. To apply, email a resume and cover letter to svptampabaysearch@gmail.com.
 
Find out more about the role here.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers seek to fill two communications roles with the football organization: a Communications Coordinator in the Marketing Department and a Communications Coordinator in the Community Relations Department. Successful applicants will have at least one year of marketing copywriting and brand experience; a BA in Journalism; strong knowledge of AP style, and the ability to work independently. The role will include authoring external communications; editing marketing materials and revising as necessary, and contributing to Bucs social media accounts and website.

Apply for one of these roles via Teamwork Online.

The Buccaneers are also hiring for a Graphic Designer; a BA in Fine Arts is required.

Hiring in the Tampa Bay region? Send a note to tips@83degreesmedia.com. Hired? Reach out on Twitter @83degreesmedia if our job listings put you on the path to success.

Tampa Bay tennis pro serves up love for the sport with innovative game

Tampa Bay area tennis professional David Archer is rallying for support behind a new game his dad invented to teach children how scoring occurs. Tennis, The Game was invented by Richard Neil Archer in 1997 to help the younger Archer’s four-year-old son, Justin, learn the rules of the game. 

“My dad used a cardboard carrying tray from a 24-pack of Pepsi and a string tied across the top of that to create a net,” explains Archer, who is now 55 years old. In 2000, the Archers made 2,000 copies of the game and sold it to parents, schools,and organizations throughout the United States and in other nations, including England, Mexico, Serbia and Spain. 

“Tennis scoring is easy once you get it,” Archer remarks, “but getting to understand it can take time.” A rather unusual 15-30-40 scoring sequence and unique gameplay terms, such as “love” for a score of zero points and “deuce” to describe a tie at 40 points, make learning the game challenging for many, both young and old, who are unfamiliar with tennis. 

More than 2,000 copies of Tennis, The Game have been sold over the years, but now the Archers are hoping a Kickstarter campaign will serve up enough funds to produce more copies of the game to educate more children in classrooms across the country. 

“Tennis, The Game allows 30 children to learn the scoring and basic rules of the sport in 45 minutes,” Archer says. “The game is retro -- you have to interface with someone to play the game, handle scoring, call the right lines. It’s not a roll-the-dice, move-the-piece kind of game -- you’re really playing tennis.” The Archers, who sell the game for $30 each through their Kickstarter site, are hoping to raise $15,000 to launch the next edition and fund a series of YouTube videos that will teach tennis fundamentals to a much wider audience. 

What’s the inspiration behind all of this? Spreading the love of tennis to the next generation, especially at-risk and economically disadvantaged youth who may not otherwise have opportunities to learn the sport. 

“I realized that many kids wake up every day and have no hope. I want to give these kids a hope and a future.” Tennis, The Game can be played indoors, taught in after-school groups and in other settings where children can be taught tennis without use of a court. 

Archer also parlays his love for the game by teaching children the basics as a coach with Global Community Tennis of Pinellas, a nonprofit organization that teaches at-risk boys and girls throughout the community beginner-level skills for free with the aim of preparing them for more competitive play at the high school level and beyond. 

The kids play on tennis courts at the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Police Athletic League, High Point Neighborhood Family Center in Clearwater, and Citizen’s Alliance for Progress, Inc. Union Academy Family Center in Tarpon Springs. 

“We’ll learn how successful this can be when one of these kids becomes ranked in the United States Tennis Association of Florida.” 

Archer, who is authoring '8 Weeks to Tournament Tennis,' an instructional book aimed to prime children ages 5-8 in the fundamentals of the sport, says Tennis, The Game is something that children “absolutely love.” But the board game will need investors to expand the product into a larger market and subsequently help more young children learn about the sport. “Our mission is to instill a love for the game. Love is not something you manufacture -- it is given to you and then given to others.” 

Clearwater targets entrepreneurs with new business SPARK

The City of Clearwater has launched a new initiative to serve as a catalyst for economic development and business innovation in North Pinellas County.

The Clearwater Business SPARK brings together a network of resources targeting the growth of small businesses and entrepreneurs.

“It’s all about supporting our small business and entrepreneurial community,” says Audra Aja, who is with the City of Clearwater Economic Development and Housing Department and program coordinator for Clearwater Business SPARK.  

Rather than being an acronym, SPARK is simply meant to “embody the thought of sparking innovation through business success, growth and entrepreneurship,” says Aja.

Partners in SPARK include the city of Clearwater’s Economic Development and Housing Department, Clearwater Public Library, Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce, Florida Small Business Development Center of Pinellas County and Technical Arts Facility for Innovation and Entrepreneurship or TAFFIE.

“The real driver for launching SPARK was a study that identified the need to work together from a number of different angles to promote Clearwater as a viable area for business,” says Elaine Mann, executive director of TAFFIE.

An Urban Land Institute study undertaken by the city identified 23 software and information technology companies located in the downtown area. And those companies had over 800 employees.   

That was a surprise to a lot of people.

“People, even those who live here, tend to think of the beaches and tourism when they think of Clearwater, but we have a quite a number of large and small businesses and technology companies,” says Mann.

The study spurred the city to pursue a number of initiatives, including identifying the downtown Clearwater Redevelopment Area as a technology district and putting together a technology council focused on helping brand and market the downtown area as a tech hub. 

Putting together SPARK was the next step in the process. 

“We realized that we have a lot of great resources already here in Clearwater, but we did not have a cohesive, formal way of working together,” says Aja. 

To determine the best direction to take, she says the group visited the St. Petersburg Greenhouse, the Tampa Bay WaVE in Tampa, and the HuB in Sarasota – in total about nine different venues that support innovation and entrepreneurs.  

“We have spent about a year-and-a-half solidifying our programs and figuring out how to best deliver them to the community,” said Aja.

In a news release announcing SPARK, Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos says, “The creation of Clearwater Business SPARK begins a relationship between the city and its local partners that will ignite entrepreneurship and business development in greater Clearwater and enhance the city’s future and its business community.”

SPARK partner Steve Allen is president and CEO of DocuPhase/iDatix, a Clearwater-based software technology company.

Allen is also the founder of TAFFIE, which is located in the iDatix corporate headquarters and serves as an incubator, accelerator and co-working space for local business startups.

TAFFIE opened in 2013 as a result of Allen’s interest in helping the city brainstorm how to create an ecosystem for attracting the right business talent, says Allen.  

“One of the things the group of us talked about was how we did not have an area for these small tech companies to congregate,” says Allen. “I had available space in my own company.  And after the Urban Land Institute study pointed out the need for an business incubator and accelerator, I decided to pull the trigger.’’

TAFFIE has evolved as a co-working and incubating space for emerging and small businesses, as well as the “go-to” site for several entrepreneurial programs open to the public, such as the monthly entrepreneurs’ roundtable and a twice monthly Rise and Shine morning education and networking meeting.

In addition to the resources offered by TAFFIE, other SPARK partners, such as the Clearwater Public Library provide free business-related tools like Lynda.com, a professional video learning library on topics ranging from business management to graphic design, and database access to mailing lists and numerous other topics.  

One of the library’s coolest new offerings is the “Makerspace,” which gives individuals, inventors and startups access to 3D printers, and other high-tech equipment.  All it takes to participate is a Clearwater library card.

In addition, through SPARK, the city is also offering business coaching, site selecting and permitting assistance, access to financing and grant opportunity exploration.

For more information, contact Audra Aja, program coordinator, at 727-443-0217 or info@ClearwaterBusinessSpark.com

St. Pete event celebrates wealth of local muses

Beyond the goddesses of Greek mythology who preside over song, poetry, arts and sciences, Merriam-Webster defines muse as “a source of inspiration; especially, a guiding genius.” 

St. Petersburg will recognize its own local creative guiding geniuses this Friday, Jan. 29th, at its third annual MUSE Awards. The awards are designed to recognize the breadth and beauty of the city’s arts and culture and “pay tribute to those that continue to inspire and guide St. Petersburg to its standing as an international arts destination.” 

The event, to be held at the Museum of Fine Art, promises to be a night of surprises, pop-up entertainment and of course, artists and fine art down to the food that is served. Proceeds will benefit artists, arts education, and arts & cultural organizations through the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance programs and services. Tickets are available, but going fast. 

“Collectively, the MUSE award winners this year have each made a very distinctive contribution to our community,” says John Collins, Executive Director of the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance. “They are all very involved with community engagement, and these awards were created to shine a spotlight on St. Petersburg.”

Collins uses the term “transformational” when describing any of the winners. It’s hard to argue with that.  

The winners include nationally and internationally acclaimed Artist Steven Kenny whose captivating blend of surrealism with the classic human figure earned him the MUSE Visual Arts Award. Originally from New York, Kenny has been a resident of St. Petersburg for over three years, crediting in an interview with wowxwow.com the Salvador Dali Museum for initially drawing him to the City and his subsequent excitement about the creative energy of the local grassroots art scene as factors in his decision to move. 

The MUSE Arts Ambassador Award recognizes a beloved St. Petersburg artist (of any discipline) who is a stellar representative of the “City of the Arts” to the world. Among her many accolades, Collins praises this year’s winner, muralist and installation artist Ya La’ford, for her “singular commitment to not only doing a mural in a tunnel, the ‘Sunnel,’ but her experiential workshops that have made art very, very relevant in our community.” The artist and professor whose work has been displayed recently at Miami Art Basel, Harlem Art Flux and Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum is also known for her work with children. On Martin Luther King Day of this year, La’ford’s “King’s Dream Unite,” a 30x30 mural created in collaboration with 25 students from MYcroSchool Pinellas, was unveiled on the side of the historic Manhattan Casino in St. Petersburg

The MUSE Patron of the Arts award goes to the J. Crayton Pruitt Foundation which made a “leadership gift” of $200,000 to the Warehouse Arts District enabling the creation of the ArtsXchange, which in just its initial phase will provide 11,000 square feet of affordable studio and performing arts space for the district’s artists of all disciplines.

The St. Petersburg City Theatre recently celebrated its 90th anniversary is the oldest continually operating community theatre and will be recognized with the MUSE Performance Arts Award.

Last but not least: the literary arts. Maureen McDole, Author and co-Founder of Keep St. Pete Lit, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting greater St. Petersburg’s literary community through arts, education and events will receive the MUSE Literary Arts Award. McDole says she sees her organization -- which has provided free classes to over 400 students in the past six months through its LitSpace -- as a “vehicle to spread literary love around our community.”  

“If Keep St. Pete Lit can be a catalyst to creativity and healing in people's lives through literature,’ says McDole. “What's better than that?”

Winners will receive an original hand-blown glass bowl by acclaimed St. Pete Artist Duncan McClellan. 

Information on purchasing tickets can be found here.

Startups compete for top spot in Bright House pitch competition

Five startup companies formed in the Tampa Bay area have been selected from a pool of more than 30 small businesses to compete as finalists in the Bright House Networks Pitch 6 competition.

Finalists include:

Motorworks Brewing
Residential Acoustics, LLC (learn more about the company in this 83 Degrees profile)
Safer Home Services
Urban E. Recycling 
VetCor, LLC

The annual Bright House Networks Regional Business Awards recognize a number of regional companies in categories for startups, mid-size, small and large businesses. The Pitch 6 competition serves as the final phase in selecting a winner for the Start-up Category of the awards.

"The Tampa Bay region’s best start-ups will pitch their company to our panel of judges," says Joe Durkin, Sr. Director of Corporate Communications at Bright House Networks.

Bright House Networks partners with local and regional Chambers of Commerce, including those in Hillsborough, Hernando, Pasco, Pinellas and surrounding counties, to select local businesses and startups for recognition in the awards program each year.

For a complete list of the finalists in every category, click here

The Tampa Pitch 6 startup competition will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, January 26, at the Straz Center's Jaeb Theater in downtown Tampa. A post-show reception will immediately follow.

Winners of the "shark tank style" event will be announced on February 11th at the communication company's Regional Business Awards Gala, where up to $1 million in prizes and services will be awarded to winners across the four categories.

To learn more about Pitch 6 or purchase tickets, click here. Find tickets and information about the Bright House Networks Regional Business Awards Gala, Feb 11 at the Tampa Convention Center, here.

UF researchers cultivate hybrid poinsettias that thrive year-round in Florida

Hybrid poinsettias decked the halls of the Hernando County Government Center during the Christmas season of 2015, and researchers at the University of Florida say they could soon be popping up in landscapes throughout Florida.

While poinsettias, also called “Christmas flowers,” were first brought to the United States from southern Mexico by Joel Roberts Poinsett in the 1820s, they don’t necessarily grow well in North America because they aren’t cold tolerant and are susceptible to problems such as root-borne diseases. Still, there has been increasing demand for poinsettias to be included in landscaping as a year-round plant.

Researchers at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) have spent 20 years studying various poinsettia cultivars. 

“The interest in utilizing poinsettias for southeastern landscapes as shrubs, trees, and combination bedding plants has been voiced as the variety of poinsettia possibilities is expanding beyond its designated holiday,” remarks George Grant, a researcher with the National Poinsettia Trials at UF. “For the poinsettia market to thrive in an environment outside of the greenhouse or home, it will require newer, redefined cultivars and education to the consumers on how to grow them effectively.” 

What are the objectives that poinsettia breeders and researchers such as Grant must confront? “To the consumer, color is what sells. However, growers want cultivars that will sell, but also are easy to grow, produce a quality plant without a lot of chemicals and will transport well.” He adds, “it is a challenge for breeders to come up with new cultivars that satisfy all of these requirements.” 

Some of these challenges were beautifully met with the hybrid poinsettias that Hernando County showed off in its 2015 holiday display. Some of the new poinsettia cultivars on stage at the busy county government center included “Autumn Leaves 2016,” “Luv U Pink,” “Red Glitter” and “Winter Rose Early.” Grant says these cultivars, produced by poinsettia breeder Dümmen Orange [http://dummenorange.com/], are novelty poinsettias that vary in bract (flower) color and growth habit. “They do all share one characteristic,” observes Grant. “Uniqueness.” 

The plants were brought to Hernando County by master gardeners Wynn Miller and Conny Cunningham, who traveled to UF to select the innovative hybrid poinsettias and install them in the government center.

“I’m very proud of how our master gardeners have transformed the atrium at the County Government Center from a neglected space to more of a ‘theme park’ type of display, complete with seasonal color and flowers,” says Dr. William Lester, an urban & commercial horticultural agent with the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension in Hernando County. Lester and his colleagues with the Master Gardener program are working toward training volunteer gardeners on a wide array of gardening disciplines.  

According to Grant, the hybrid poinsettias don’t usually turn up in places such as the local grocer or big box stores. “Finding these types of poinsettias will require a little searching [at] local nurseries, ornamental gardens stores, or the University of Florida’s Annual Poinsettia Show [every] December, where over 150 cultivars of poinsettias are sold to support the Environmental Horticulture Club.” 

Grant adds a few tips to those who are looking to include poinsettias (hybrid or otherwise) in their landscape. “Choosing a planting location away from street lights or external light sources that come on at night is essential. This incidental light can actually delay or restrict your poinsettia from ever producing flowers.” 

He says poinsettias need full morning sun and shade during the afternoon, and they also require a planting area with good drainage. Grant tells gardeners that poinsettias don’t establish well outdoors when temperatures are less than 50 degrees. Therefore, new poinsettias are best kept indoors during the winter; they should be situated near a window that lets in full sun. “Once your poinsettia is planted, or when the spring time comes, you will notice how quickly it grows into a tree-like shrub. It is completely up to the property owner as to how tall or wide their plant will get as it is mainly controlled by pruning.”

West Pasco Business Challenge includes $1K cash prize

Local Tampa Bay area businesses will have the chance to pitch their ideas and compete for cash prizes and services in the West Pasco Chamber "Business Challenge" on January 28.

“The goal of the Business Challenge is to say ‘New Port Richey is open for business,’ explains City of New Port Richey Economic Development Director Mario Iezzoni.

The Chamber of Commerce advanced the idea of a local business challenge “because West Pasco County consists of many family-run businesses,” Iezzoni says.“The Business Challenges is one of several conduits New Port Richey is implementing to provide as a resource for further business development.”

A long-time professor of Entrepreneurship at the University of South Florida and a CPA, Iezzoni says the city hopes to convey a message of community growth through locally owned businesses.

“I’ve come to realize that children raised in a family-run business environment, witnessing the challenges their parents experience in the daily grind of operating a business, do exceptionally well in their own enterprises,” Iezzoni says. “The business challenge is one small step in a chain of events that must occur to achieve this lofty goal.”

Business Challenge finalists will present to a panel of judges, which includes: 
  • John Gaston, of Tampa Bay MultiMedia
  • Steve Farrell, of Team Farrell
  • Minh Mai, of Venom
  • Irene Hurst, Director of the USF MBA Program
  • Bob Carroll, of Bob Carroll Building Contractor, Inc.
Event prizes include a cash prize of $1,000 from an anonymous donor and a variety of cash and service donations from local businesses, including Waverly Media, HITS 106, Wiseman Accounting and Bookkeeping, Minuteman Press, The Tampa Bay Times, 72HRPrint.com, WPCC, and ABCO Graphics and Printing.

The presentations, which are open to the public, will start at 3 p.m. on January 28 at the Richey Suncoast Theatre. An awards program will be held at 5 pm at Dulcet Restaurant & Lounge.  

“The goal is to activate what I believe is a rather large talent pool of potential entrepreneurs,” Iezzoni says. “The goal is to leverage generational talent as an economic development strategy to address many of the economic challenges that exist along the Highway-19 corridor.”

Along with an emphasis on entrepreneurial talent among local business owners, the city is taking strides toward a goal of defining itself “as the next New Urbanism City,” Iezzoni says.

Efforts include an emphasis on walking, biking and upgrading IT infrastructure, as well as the development of two residential complexes that Iezzoni says are being designed as “new urbanism concepts” geared toward millennials.

“Millennials don’t want to waste time traveling, they want resources - such as the business incubator we’ve developed in town that is a crossroads and gathering place,” Iezzoni says. “They want recreation, nice parks, affordable neighborhoods, and unique natural resources such as the Grey Preserve to be close by, all within 5 minutes. Our city offers that.”

HCC to offer free entrepreneurship program for veterans

A new entrepreneurship program that is geared toward military veterans will be locally implemented with the help of Hillsborough Community College in Tampa.

The nonprofit Veterans Florida, which developed the entrepreneurship program, was developed itself by the Florida Legislature in an effort to create more job opportunities for vets in the state.

As a network partner of Veterans Florida, Hillsborough Community College will offer training and entrepreneurial education to veterans living in Florida who aim to open their own businesses through the Veterans Florida Entrepreneurship Program.

HCC has the distinction of being the only community college selected as a network partner of the program, which will also be implemented at the University of West Florida, University of North Florida, Florida Gulf Coast University and Florida Atlantic University. The colleges and universities will allocate existing small business development resources to the development and implementation of the program.

“Entrepreneurs fuel our growing economy,” HCC president Dr. Ken Atwater noted in a news release. “This program will help our service men and women get equipped with the necessary tools and knowledge to be successful in the global marketplace."

The Veterans Florida Entrepreneurship Program is provided free of charge to Florida resident veterans who are active duty or who have been honorably discharged; $1 million in program funding was granted from the Florida Legislature. Vets who plan to relocate to Florida to pursue entrepreneurship are also eligible for the program.

Program participants begin training with an online entrepreneurial development-training course before moving on to on-site training at one of the five partner institutions, including HCC. The program covers travel expenses for the in-class portion of training.

During in-class training, veterans will have the opportunity to work with local business leaders and entrepreneurs to further develop and examine business plans.

Following the intensive, face-to-face phase of the program, veterans will receive continued mentorship as they grow and lauch their businesses, as well as follow-up support from Florida Small Business Development Council business consultants.

The Veterans Florida Entrepreneurship Program host partner, the University of West Florida, will oversee the program from its Florida SBDC Network and Military and Veterans Resource Center. At HCC, the program will be administered through the college’s Institute for Corporate and Continuing Training.

“We are pleased to build upon the programs that we currently offer to the thousands of veterans we serve each through the Veterans Florida Program at HCC,” Atwater said.

The education received through the Veterans Florida Entrepreneurship Program “will empower the next generation of great veteran entrepreneurs to make lasting contributions to the state’s economy,” says the group’s executive director, Bobby Carbonell, by offering veterans in the state “access to high value, entrepreneurship education through our world-class state universities and colleges.”

The Veterans Florida Entrepreneurship Program website is set to launch in February 2016; interested veterans can visit the website to apply for the program or contact (850) 898-3489 or info@FloridaVetBiz.org for more information.

USF Tampa, Patel College host global ecotourism conference in January

The inaugural Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference (ESTC), which is organized by The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), will be hosted by the University of South Florida Patel College of Global Sustainability in Tampa January 25-27, 2016. TIES is an internationally recognized nonprofit organization that seeks solutions for more environmentally sustainable tourism options, including ecotourism. 

The ESTC conference will draw many notable tourism industry experts, including representatives from TIES, National Geographic Explorer, United Nations World Tourism Organization, the Walt Disney Company, and many others from the United States and around the world.

Hosting the conference in Tampa is seen as a natural fit because much of the Tampa Bay area’s economy is based around tourism, and the state of Florida as a whole saw 97.3 million visitors in 2014. For those reasons and others, David Randle, Director of Sustainable Tourism at the USF Patel College of Global Sustainability, says the ESTC conference should matter to locals. 

“The world is facing increasing challenges from issues such as climate change, ocean acidification, nitrogen and phosphorous overload, changing land use patterns, threats to our water supply, chemical pollution, and more,” says Randle. “These changes, while not always on the radar of the average Tampa resident, are changes that will impact us all.” 

He says tourism accounts for 9 percent of the world’s gross domestic product and 11.5 percent of the globe’s workforce, making it one of the world’s largest industries. “It is also the fastest-growing industry in the world, and the sustainable tourism sector is the fastest-growing sector within tourism. It is perhaps the best opportunity for humans to leverage needed change in our world.” 

The theme of the 2016 Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference is “Transforming Our World Through Sustainable Solutions” and will discuss solutions to global challenges that can be found in the local setting. On the docket are presentations about international sustainable tourism opportunities, a look at ecotourism options in Florida, dinner at Busch Gardens and a sustainable meal by the Chiles Group

Those interested in learning more information about the 2016 ESTC Conference, which will be held at the Patel Center for Global Solutions at USF Tampa, can check out the conference’s website

Paramedic positions come with big bonus in Pinellas County

Sunstar Paramedics, the emergency medical care provider for Pinellas County, is hiring for 50 paramedics to work in the county in early 2016.

“Our goal is to attract qualified paramedics from around the state to Pinellas County,” Sunstar Paramedics chief administrative officer John Peterson says. “Recruiting has become more difficult over the past few years as private colleges and universities offering first responder programs have closed.”

Sunstar Paramedics, which provides Pinellas County's 911 ambulance transport service, hopes to see the incentive plan attract new hires- but the company’s ultimate goal is to create long-term employees, Peterson says.

How does the company plan to bolster numbers as well as keep employee turnover low? By offering a $35,000 cash bonus to a newly hired paramedic after he or she has worked for Sunstar Paramedics for five years.

The new 5-35 program “is designed to attract the most qualified paramedics to serve the community and keep them in Pinellas County,” Peterson says.

All “qualified paramedics” currently working at Sunstar Paramedics have the opportunity to join the 5-35 program, Peterson says. Many ambulance providers offer large sign-on bonuses, says, but by offering the bonus as a future incentive, “we are hoping to keep good employees in place.”

“Sunstar Paramedics wanted to create a program that rewarded our paramedics for their commitment to the organization and our community,” says Peterson. “It’s an opportunity to place Sunstar Paramedics as an employer of choice among emergency service providers.”

The requirements for working as a paramedic with Sunstar Paramedics include securing CPR, Basic Trauma Life Support (BTLS), and Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) certification. All paramedics applying to Sunstar Paramedics are also required to hold a current Florida paramedic certification and a valid Florida driver’s license.

Additionally, successful candidates must be at least 20 years of age and hold a high school diploma or equivalent.

Sunstar is also hiring temporary paramedics to work around five shifts per month through June.

“With a population of more than a million residents and a record number of tourists, there is a high demand for emergency services, and in turn, skilled EMS professionals,” Peterson says.  

To learn more about available positions or to apply, visit the Sunstar Paramedics employment website.
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