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Tampa hotels plan to conserve millions of gallons of water by 2016

Local hotels and motels could begin to conserve 5 million gallons of water by 2016 – all without impacting the guest experience.

The Hillsborough County Hotel Motel Association (HCHMA) has joined the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) WaterSense H2Otel Challenge Initiative. Through a voluntary effort, HCHMA aims to reduce water consumption in the Tampa Bay area lodging industry.

“We have a unique opportunity to have our larger hotels lead the way in this effort,” HCHMA Executive Director Bob Morrison said in a news release.

Clearwater-based Terlyn Industries, which specializes in industrial water treatment, will help HCHMA “modify existing building cooling systems in such a way that those properties will see significant improvements in water consumption efficiencies,” Morrison explains.

Large hotels use cooling towers to treat the condensation water that gathers in central air conditioning units. The towers can account for 25 percent of a hotel’s total water use, so updating them to operate more efficiently can decrease energy and water consumption.

Terlyn Industries is offering Tampa Bay hoteliers a complimentary cooling tower water conservation study. For more information, visit the conservation study website.

HCHMA, which represents county hotels, motels and resorts, was initially organized in 1937. Prior to setting the goal of conserving five million gallons of water by 2016 for the EPA’s WaterSense H2O Challenge, HCHMA members made voluntary water conservation efforts through the Water Conservation Hotel and Motel Program. The “Water CHAMP” effort was developed through a partnership between Hillsborough County, Southwest Florida Water Management District, and the City of Tampa; it focused on efforts to conserve water through retrofitting toilets and faucets in local hotels, as well as designating towel and linen reuse programs.

WaterSense H2Otel Challenge Initiative program participants must register to “ACT” with the EPA: assess water usage, change products or processes when necessary, and track results. 

New culinary center in Plant City aims to create 100 jobs

Culinary professionals can start sprucing up their resumes as Fitlife Foods prepares to open a new culinary center in Plant City.

The company, founded in 2011, makes meals from scratch and sells them throughout its seven Tampa Bay area retail locations.

“The culinary center in Plant City is currently under construction, but we expect it to be completed mid-August,” says David Osterweil, Founder of Fitlife Foods. “We plan on hiring approximately 100 people by the end of 2016 at the culinary facility.”

The company, which currently employs 110 employees, will be seeking mostly culinary professionals at its new state-of-the-art culinary center; however, Osterweil says he will also be looking to fill logistics and transportation positions.

“The culinary center in Plant City is a big, small batch kitchen,” he says. “We are making everything from scratch in our kitchen everyday, and we need a bigger space to do it in, that’s the bottom line. These chefs need a lot more room to get their job done.”

Fitlife Foods offers customers healthy prepared meals for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Customers can pick up one meal, or plan their meals for the next few days.

"You’re not locked in, you can come in and pick up one meal, but a majority of our customers come in on Sunday and load up on meals for several days,” Osterweil says.

A marathon runner and father of two, Osterweil aims to provide customers with healthy options that are quick and easy to fix.

“Our main goal is to make each meal delicious,” he says. “We all have the same amount of time in our day, if you are eating the right foods in that day, that quality of that time is going to be so much better. “

For a list of store locations, visit the Fitlife Foods website

Aerial adventure park to open in Dade City, Pasco County

A new aerial adventure park, complete with zip lines and rope bridges, is set to open in Dade City in Pasco County this summer.

TreeHoppers will boast a wide variety of zip lines that cater to various skill levels, multiple rope bridges and dozens of aerial climbing elements on a 60-acre wooded park about 40 miles northwest of Tampa.

Indiana-based White River Zip Lines purchased the land in spring 2015 and will develop the TreeHoppers adventure park on the property, which also features a five-acre lake and a canopy of live oak trees.

Jon Pianki, TreeHoppers director of marketing, says that Tampa Bay’s good weather and tourist-friendly attitude are the primary reasons the area was selected for the new Treehoppers location.

“We are hoping this combination will help us build an attraction that is both an asset to the surrounding community as well as a draw to outside guests and customers,” Pianki explains. “Tampa Bay is a vibrant, growing community that wants more options to get outdoors and enjoy the beauty nature has to offer.”

With eight different courses that cater to various skill levels and over 100 total features, there’s something for everyone, Pianki says. “Small children, experienced athletes, and everyone in-between will find a right course for their comfort level.”

Visitors will receive safety instruction from trained climbing monitors and be provided with safety climbing technology before embarking on any of the courses.

TreeHoppers will begin hiring for fulltime and part-time positions by mid-June, with jobs ranging from shop staff and customer service to guides and monitors. Visit TreeHoppers website to learn more or apply.

The park is expected to open in August, but Pianki is already looking ahead to the Fall, when the park is planning a Halloween attraction “like no other in the area.”

Located at 27839 Saint Joe Road in Dade City, TreeHoppers will be open year-round, seven days a week.

“We are thrilled to offer this new experience to the Tampa Bay area,” TreeHoppers CEO Benjamin Nagengast says in a press release. “Our team carefully and thoughtfully selected Tampa Bay for our newest attraction and we can’t wait to introduce TreeHoppers to the community. There is nothing like it anywhere in Florida.”

The aerial zip line and adventure park joins several high-rise outdoor adventure courses in the Tampa Bay area:

TreeUmph, 21805 S.R. 70 E., Bradenton

TreeUmph, located in Bradenton near Lakewood Ranch, opened in December 2012 and features a zip line that starts at 60 feet in elevation and rockets over a 600-foot-long course across the park.

TreeUmph is expanding to a second location in Hernando County in fall 2016. The new park will offer around 80 obstacles on a 50-acre area.

Sky Trail Zip Line, MOSI, 4801 E. Fowler Ave., Tampa

In the university area’s Innovation District, Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI Tampa) boasts its own spin on the aerial adventure: the Sky Trail Zip Line at MOSI, a 65-foot high course that is more than 700 feet long (longer than two football fields put together!).

Along with the zip line, MOSI offers a multilevel ropes course that is safe for kids and adults of all ages to explore.

Natures Boot Camp, 11914 N. Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa

Natures Boot Camp invites extreme athletes and adventure course enthusiasts to train at their outdoor obstacle course, centrally located in Tampa’s Carrollwood neighborhood.

Try out a sprint style obstacle course with over 14 obstacles,  a Mud Run that culminates in a 15-foot jump, and more extreme activities.

New Tampa Nature Park, 17599 Dona Michelle Drive, Tampa

New Tampa Nature Park, which connects with Hillsborough County’s Flatwoods Park, is a low-key place to enjoy nature from above. Find zip-lining courses for kids, a climbing area, shaded trails, and more.

The 122-acre park also offers an elevated boardwalk and marsh walk that allows visitors to experience a wetland habitat from above.

Spring/Summer startup events guide: Tampa Bay

Technology and innovation enthusiasts in the Tampa Bay area can look forward to an array of upcoming events for meeting like-minded peers and mingling with successful serial entrepreneurs in the coming spring and summer months. From recurring meetups such as Startup Grind and Homebrew Hillsborough to annual adventures like the Startup Bus Florida (launching from Tampa on June 4), 83 Degrees has the details on upcoming spring and summer 2015 technology, networking and startup-centric events.
 
StartUp Xchange
April 23, 5 pm
Green Bench Brewing Co.
1133 Baum Ave. N. St. Petersburg

Hosted by the Tampa Bay Innovation Center, StartUp Xchange is a monthly gathering that brings TBIC mentors together with local entrepreneurs and innovators. Small business owners have the opportunity to network with other local leaders or aspiring entrepreneurs, and to discuss business-related questions or concerns with mentors.

April 2015 Startup XChange mentors include Chris Paradies, an Intellectual Property Attorney at Paradies Law PA; Kellye Dash, a social media and virtual assistant expert who founded her own company The Busy Buddy; and JJ Roberts, Client Service Manager for TBIC.

The event will take place at Green Bench Brewing, a local business named for the iconic colored benches that once resided on DTSP's Central Ave. To register for April's Startup XChange, visit the event’s Meetup page or the TBIC website for more information.
 
Homebrew Hillsborough
April 24, 8:30 am
Krazy Kup
101 East J. Arden Mays Blvd. Plant City

Join your local area network of small business owners at monthly Homebrew Hillsborough coffee shop meetups. As part of Hillsborough County’s economic development initiatives, Homebrew Hillsborough brings local leaders in the county’s Economic Development Department together with small business owners from Seminole Heights to Plant City. Each month, the meetup is hosted in a different neighborhood of Hillsborough County.

Along with the April 24 meetup at Krazy Kup in Plant City, upcoming Homebrew Hillsborough events will take place on May 29 at Kahwa Café in Westchase; June 26 at Tu Sabor Café in Town n Country; and July 31 at the Tampa Club in downtown Tampa.
 

DRINKandCONNECT
April 30, 5:30 pm
The Patio
421 South MacDill Ave. Tampa

During the free networking event on April 30, entrepreneurs and techies are invited to come out to the The Patio’s large indoor/outdoor courtyard and mingle with Cigar City Brewing VP Justin Clark and Angry Chair Brewing co-founder Ryan Dowdle. Enjoy a cold local brew as Cigar City & Angry Chair “takeover” the taps for the night.

Along with the tap takeovers and networking, the event will host raffles to benefit the Tampa Police Department's Honor Guard. Raffle items include spa gift certificates, a custom skateboard, and Cigar City or Angry Chair baskets.

To register, visit the event Meetup page.

Plum Alley's Jan Mercer Dahms at Startup Grind
May 6, 6:30 pm
CoWork Ybor/The Blind Tiger Café
1901 E. 7th Ave. Ybor City

Each month, Joy Randels and the Tampa Bay chapter of Startup Grind host fireside chats and intimate gatherings, where entrepreneurs share the secrets of their successes – and failures – with attendees, who range from small business owners to students to serial entrepreneurs. Startup Grind Tampa Bay will host Jan Mercer Dahms, managing director of Plum Alley, at Ybor City's mixed use cafe and coworking space, The Blind Tiger Cafe/CoWork Ybor, on May 6. Entry fee is $10.

Plum Alley is “the premier crowdfunding platform for women in the world,” Randels say. During May’s Startup Grind, guests from across the state will discuss their products and how Plum Alley can help them. To learn more about Plum Alley and the campaigns it supports, visit the company website. 

Startup Weekend Youth Tampa Bay
May 15-17, 5:00 pm
Trinity School For Children
2402 W Osbourne Ave, Tampa

Students, do you dream of starting the next Facebook or Snapchat? Startup Weekend is back with a special youth edition, open to aspiring designers, developers, business leaders or entrepreneurs! The 54-hour event has been a staple in Tampa Bay for several years, and in 2015, the event will include coaches and mentors from across the Tampa Bay area, including Todd Broyles, David Harris, Gregg Hilferding and founder and host Angela Ardolino.

Step into the shoes of an entrepreneur during Startup Weekend Youth Tampa Bay at Trinity School for Children. The three-day startup crash course includes pitching your ideas, forming teams, building a tangible product (including coding and creating a business model), and launching (I.e., presenting your case to the event judges, local entrepreneurial leaders).
 
#Collabtb (Q2 Tech & Entrepreneur Peer Networking Event)
June 4, 5 pm
1930 Grande Room
1930 East 7th Ave. Ybor City

Collaborative Technologies of Tampa Bay hosts quarterly networking events for tech-savvy designers, developers, programmers and other entrepreneurs who want to interact with peers without hearing sales pitches from recruiters. Students, job seekers, entrepreneurs and tech professionals are encouraged to attend the June event at Ybor City's event space and unique venue, the 1930 Grande Room.

#Collabtb events are free, but registration is required. Entrance into the event includes a free T-shirt for the first 100 attendees, a free drink ticket for the first 200 and light appetizers. Click here to register for the #Collabtb Q2 networking event.
 
StartupBus Florida
June 4-8, Tampa-Nashville

For the sixth straight year, StartupBus participants across North America will join together on buses and work to pitch and develop a startup idea. The 72-hour competition ends in Nashville in June 2015, with buses originating from six different regions competing. The Southeast region bus will leave from Tampa on June 4. One catch: you’re on your own for the return trip.

“Hackers, hustlers, and hipsters” are encouraged to apply for a seat on the bus. To pre-apply for the 2015 Startup Bus Florida, visit the Startup Bus website
 
Startup Surge
June 5, 10 am
Tampa Bay WaVE
400 N. Ashley Dr., St. 200. Tampa

Hosted by Tampa Bay WaVE at the Sykes building in the heart of downtown Tampa, Startup Surge is a one-day opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs and students to meet and hear from more than 50 mentors from around the region. Attendees will be matched up with mentors, all of whom are successful entrepreneurs, before participating in coaching sessions and workshops. Learn about building a successful startup (from identifying a target market to crowdfunding and early stage marketing); the launch process (development, updates, and analytics); and growing your company (fundraising, bring on a Board of Directors, and more).

Click here to register for Startup Surge; to learn more about event mentors, visit the Tampa Bay WaVE website.
 
Startup Weekend Design Edition, Tampa Bay
June 5-7, 6:30 pm

For the first time in Tampa, creative entrepreneurs and artists will have the chance to come together for a Startup Weekend event! Startup Weekend Design Edition will follow the traditional 54-hour format and aims to bring together Tampa Bay designers, developers, entrepreneurs and experts from all domains. Fashion entrepreneurs, interior designers, architects, graphic artists and other creatives are invited to take part in the collaborative event.

Meet peers, network with creative industry leaders, and design or develop ideas to help solve real-world problems faced by those in creative industries. Pitch your ideas and form a team (or join another -- popular vote wins out), develop a product and business model, and then present the final version to local entrepreneurial leaders in creative or design industries.

To register, visit the Startup Weekend Design Edition, Tampa Bay website. Use code "83D'' for $25 off. 

TEDx Tampa Riverwalk
August 29, 1 pm
John F. Germany Library Auditorium
900 N. Ashley Dr. Tampa

TEDx events are independently organized meetups of thinkers and innovators based on the popular TED talks that focus on the slogan of “ideas worth spreading.” The theme for the 2015 TEDx Tampa Riverwalk session is “Going Places!” TEDx presenters should consider the theme and how it applies scientifically, socially, economically, geographically, artistically and philosophically.

Nominations for speakers and presenters will be accepted through June 2015. Click here to apply or to nominate a speaker for the August event at downtown Tampa's John F Germany public library. Learn more at the TEDx Tampa Riverwalk website.

Maker convention brings inventors together in the DIY spirit

Gulf Coast MakerCon just keeps growing.

This year’s Tampa Bay area community do-it-yourself celebration will be held at the Florida Living Center at the Florida State Fairgrounds on Saturday, April 18. Lead organizer Terri Willingham anticipates about 800-1,000 guests at the one-day event. 

Gulf Coast MakerCon 2015 is open to the public and covers a wide array of technical, creative and professional workshops and sessions across more than 80 anticipated indoor and outdoor exhibits, from modern tech like 3D printers to “heritage tech” that focuses on woodworking and fiber arts.

Entertainment and educational opportunities at Gulf Coast MakerCon 2015 range from the Mid-Pinellas Comic Con exhibit and Gamers on the Edge tabletop gaming area to the Tampa Amateur Radio Club and the Tampa Bay Inventors Council “Inventors Showcase” to the USF Robotics Interest Group “Fight Robots” competition and a Young Makers section.

More than 30,000 square feet of available exhibit space triples the size of last year’s MakerCon, and the “makers” who have applied more than double last year’s numbers, as well; about 60, with applications still coming in. 

“We're excited about the diversity of exhibitors and programs we have on tap,” Willingham says.

The annual springtime festival is produced by Eureka! Factory, the nonprofit that Willingham runs with her husband Steve, and is supported by a grant from Hillsborough County’s Economic Development Innovation Initiative (EDI2). 

“We believe Gulf Coast MakerCon showcases the best of our community and inspires others to try their hands, hearts and minds at making and learning new things,” Willingham says. 

The community DIY festival “fits in perfectly with our mission to help move people from passive consumption to active creation --making!” Willingham explains. “A society of capable, creative, self-reliant people is a healthy, empowered and productive society."

Making things -- "products, solutions, services, inventions, games, gadgets, industrial and commercial tools like robots, mechanical devices and assistive technologies, and resources for sustainability," she says, is good for economic development, academic enrichment and personal fulfillment.

Back in 2012, the Willinghams introduced Tampa's first and only maker festival, the Tampa Bay Mini Maker Faire. In 2014, the event expanded into Gulf Coast MakerCon. This year, big name community sponsors like USF Connect and the Florida High Tech Corridor have signed on.

“We've got some amazing collaborative partners this year,” Willingham says. “MityMo Creative in St. Petersburg has been doing all our promotional materials and graphic design; TBIC has been actively curating and providing promotional and other event support; Scrap on Spot is sponsoring the Deconstruction Zone; and the Innovation Lab at Seminole Community Library at St. Petersburg College has been organizing our ComicCon and Gaming Festival.”  

Gulf Coast MakerCon 2015 is a designated USA Science & Engineering Festival satellite event, as well as a National Robotics Week event.

Tickets, which are $10 per person ages 13-up and $8 for children ages 6-12, can be purchased online at the event website

Wristband developed in Tampa is designed to relieve nausea

For Jacqueline Darna, necessity truly was the mother of invention. While in the hospital for the birth of her second child, Darna felt so miserable from nausea that she couldn't even enjoy her newborn baby girl.

The only relief came when an anesthetist pressed a pair of peppermint leaves into Darna’s hands.

In the days that followed, she taped a small piece of medical gauze to the inside of her wrists, at the P6 pressure point. That, combined with smelling the peppermint leaves when a wave of nausea struck, was the best Darna could do while in the hospital.

Upon returning home, she searched for an anti-nausea product that combined these two well-documented strategies: acupressure and aromatherapy.

“None of the traditional drugs were working for me,” Darna explains. “The rest is history and the No Mo Nausea Band was born.”

The No Mo Nausea Band is the first natural oil infused acupressure and aromatherapy wristband designed to reduce nausea and vomiting from common causes like morning sickness, motion sickness, seasickness, and headaches.

“The quickest way to the brain is through the nose, so that is why I utilize aromatherapy of natural peppermint oil,” Darna explains. “Menthol is the active ingredient within peppermint oil that helps alleviate nausea and vomiting instantly. Medically, peppermint is a calcium channel blocker of the gastrointestinal tract, meaning that it relaxes an upset stomach.”

Darna was well equipped to develop the idea; she is an anesthesiologist assistant who graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in biomedical sciences, religious studies and biomedical physics before earning dual masters degrees in health sciences & anesthesia from NOVA Southeastern.

No Mo Nausea is among the five startup businesses in the Tampa area who were selected by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce as its 2015 class of Startup Scholars. The three-year-old Startup Scholars program engages participants in an eight-month mentorship program that focuses on providing growth and assistance in the areas of seed capital, best management practices, and sales growth.

Darna hopes to take away strategy, business knowledge and “lasting interpersonal relations with the business men and women I will meet” during the program.

She plans to use Startup Scholars seed capital for marketing to target areas: pregnant mothers, parents of children with carsickness, chemotherapy patients, and headache and migraine sufferers, to name a few.

Future goals include “becoming recognized as a leader in the Tampa business community, while associating my product, the No Mo Nausea Band, as a local household name,” Darna says.

Darna also plans to secure an office space and fulfillment center within Tampa to handle large distribution orders, which could lead to job creation down the line.

The No Mo Nausea band is endorsed by U.S. physicians and is considered the anti-nausea product of choice by NAUI licensed scuba divers, Darna says.

The band itself is slim, lightweight, waterproof and latex- and drug-free. A set of two costs $11.99 on the company’s website.

The 2015 Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce Startup Scholars class includes: No Mo Nausea, along with Arcturus Creative, a creative marketing team that builds custom visual brand strategies; Hannah’s Shoebox, a startup that specializes in custom shoes for all occasions for “tween” and preteen girls with larger shoe sizes; LilyPad, an activity management platform for professional workforces; and PikMyKid, a simple but streamlined mobile app that allows public schools in the U.S. to organize and manage the after-school dismissal process.

Connections, coffee brew at new meetups in Tampa, Hillsborough County

Homebrew Hillsborough, a coffee shop meetup where community members can make connections and share ideas with local government, is the latest in a series of efforts to support small business by Hillsborough County’s economic development department.

For those familiar, Homebrew Hillsborough will be essentially the same as Mark Sharpe's Friday meetups at Buddy Brew, during his run as county commissioner before stepping into his current role.

“We wanted to carry on the tradition that he started,” says the Economic Development Director Lindsey Kimball. “We welcome everyone to join us and be part of the community of creatives.”

One marked difference in Homebrew Hillsborough from previous events is that the coffee shop meetups will take place at a different location each month.

Upcoming Homebrew Hillsborough talks will take place on Feb 27 at Jet City Espresso in Seminole Heights; on March 27 at Zeal Coffee Roasters & RareHues in Carrollwood; and on April 24 at Krazy Kup in Plant City.

Homebrew Hillsborough’s kickoff coffee shop meetup is at 8:30 a.m. on Fri., Jan. 30, at Buddy Brew, 2020 W. Kennedy Blvd. in Tampa.

Jennifer Whelihan, Hillsborough County’s Economic Development Manager, will represent the economic development department during these monthly meetups.

“Come collaborate and support your local area coffee shop to help our community expand with people, ideas and connections. I look forward to meeting up monthly to see how we can help make our community a ‘Homegrown Hillsborough’,” says Whelihan. “We look forward to welcoming everyone.”

Attendees “can expect a chance to network with others from the technology and innovation ecosystem,” says Kimball. “Our partners never have a strict agenda -- we are there to let ideas flow and make new connections.”

Homebrew Hillsborough supporting partners include Laicos, National Day of Civic Hacking and Eureka! Factory.

“Our goal is to take the show on the road and bring the energy around the county,” Kimball says. “We want to reach as many people as possible. We want to hear everyone's voices.”

Local library Venture Club introduces Tampa Bay area kids to entrepreneurship

Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Libraries has taken another step toward embracing modern technology and innovation with a new five-month program aimed at elementary-school children: the Venture Club. 

Venture Club begins with students brainstorming to identify a need that they see either in their home or their school communities. Then, with the help of volunteer speakers and mentors, students will attempt to develop ideas for something that can help solve that issue. 

“It’s more about the process than the product,” Senior Librarian Laura Doyle emphasizes. “We want to help students figure out the skills that entrepreneurs use to recognize an audience, evaluate the resources around them and information in front of them, and how to make decisions based on that.”
 
Venture Club is based on curriculum provided to the library by Venture Lab, a group that has developed several successful programs geared toward teaching children how to innovate. Venture Club has been implemented as an after-school program in other areas of the country, but Tampa’s is the only club based in a library. 

The club, open to students in grades 3-5, will meet two Saturdays per month from January through May in The Hive at John F. Germany Library. Classes will run through May to coincide with the academic school year. The Friends of the John F. Germany Public Library subsidize program materials and costs.

Bimonthly sessions include topics like, “What is Entrepreneurship?” and “Prototyping” and “Practicing/Preparing Pitches,” which will be presented by volunteers who are well-versed in the subject matter.
 
Current volunteer speakers and mentors come from a wide range of skills, backgrounds and experience levels, from a high school student who runs his own successful photography business to community leaders like Daniel James Scott, the new Executive Director of the Tampa Bay Technology Forum.
 
Good mentors are “people who can share their experiences, encourage kids, challenge them, empower them, ask questions and help guide them to resources to develop their ideas,” Doyle says.

Venture Club first met on Jan. 10, but several seats are still available for interested students. Doyle plans to offer a recap of previous sessions to new students. 

HCPL introduced programs like volunteer-run CoderDojo (where mentors teach children to code) in 2013, along with Alligator Zone (a family-friendly ‘Shark Tank’-like pitching event) and the revamping a large area in the John F. Germany Library into The Hive, a mixed-use maker space, in 2014.

The library is aligned with Hillsborough County’s efforts toward building up the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the area, says Doyle. 

“We’re trying to get to know the entrepreneurial community better, to serve them better,” Doyle explains. “Starting with the kids and getting them to see that they can solve problems right here in their community is very important.”

Plant City native brings Christmas cheer in new movie

A new Christmas-theme movie set to debut December 18 at Tampa Theatre and on digital video devices features a Tampa Bay connection.

The film, “An Evergreen Christmas,’’ starring Plant City native Charleene Closshey, brings her home for the holidays.

“It means a lot to bring the film back to my home, where I grew up,” Closshey says. 

An Evergreen Christmas is loosely based on the family of Closshey’s fiancé, Jeremy Culver, who directed and co-wrote the story with his sister, Morgen Culver.

The Culvers’ grandfather owned a Christmas tree farm in Michigan before he died last year.

The heartwarming film celebrates the values and community support often found in small towns.

In “An Evergreen Christmas,’’ Closshey portrays Evie Lee, a young woman forced to put her glamorous Hollywood career on hold to return to her small Tennessee hometown when she learns about her father’s sudden death.

As the eldest sibling, Evie discovers she has been named the executor of the family’s once thriving Christmas tree farm, an estate now strapped with a massive inheritance tax, much to her younger brother’s dismay.

Evie faces a life-altering decision whether to save the family’s legacy or pursue her music career. Her decision would ultimately determine her place in the world.

“Life is about reaching goals and dreams, and community support is important to that happening,” Jeremy Culver says.

Closshey agrees: “My character is more like a rock until she realized she needed that community support,” says Closshey, who attended Harrison Performing Arts Center, a performing arts high school in Lakeland.
 
The movie’s colorful cast includes veteran actor Robert Loggia and country singer and actress Naomi Judd, who portray Evie’s paternal grandparents; and Tyler Ritter, son of the late actor John Ritter, plays Evie’s ex-boyfriend who has grown up but still holds romantic feelings for her.

A special screening of the dramedy will be at 7:45 p.m. Dec. 18 at the Tampa Theatre in downtown Tampa. Closshey, Jeremy Culver and Morgen Culver are scheduled to attend, make introductions and participate in an audience Q&A after the film.

Closshey, an accomplished violinist who also plays several other instruments, says a three-minute video of a song in the movie called “My Tennessee Home” will be shown at the screening. The music video, filmed at the Southern Barn in Lithia, features about 100 Plant City and Tampa area residents.
 
Supporting and promoting the film industry in Florida is important to Closshey. 

“It’s where I grew up, so I have a great love for the state and its people,” she says.
 
“An Evergreen Christmas’’ also is available at Walmart and on iTunes, Amazon, and it hits Netflix on Dec. 21.

Mobile software development company adds 7 tech jobs In Tampa

At Nitro Mobile Solutions, company culture is critical.

The software development company, based in Hillsborough County just east of Tampa near the intersection of I-75 and I-4, is currently hiring for seven tech positions. Nitro Mobile Solutions is seeking: two iOS developers; two C# developers; one Android developer; one support specialist and one quality assurance specialist.

“The characteristics we seek in our employees, in order of importance, are: passion, drive, ownership, critical thinking, problem solving, and then skill,” explains Nitro’s Social Marketing Specialist Lauren Webber. “Many companies put ‘skill’ first, but we can teach skill -- we can’t change who you are. It is vital to our company to find employees who align with why Nitro exists, not only what we do during our existence.”

Nitro CEO Pete Slade founded the company in 2009 in Tampa after years of experience as a programmer ad solution architect both here and in the UK. The company’s products include full-service mobile applications and platforms that can be fully customized and managed by customers, with no coding experience required. 

“Our mission is to empower our clients through mobility,” says Webber. “Our services have morphed overtime from building business applications, to including middleware, to offering a complete ecosystem atop a platform. Flexibility in our vision, especially in this industry, keeps us current and competitive.”

Could you be the right fit for Nitro? The company, which has nearly doubled in size in 2014 alone, focuses on organic growth and cultural fit when seeking new talent. 

“Being open to different personalities who can collaborate together is vital to our office culture, “explains Webber. “We play just as hard as we work—and we work extremely hard, so it’s important to find new employees who fit into the culture we’ve created.”

A few unique job perks include quirky office lighting like lava lamps, complimentary coffee, and healthy snacks. Creativity, innovation, and freedom to “think outside the box” are encouraged, Webber says.

“Nitro provides an environment in which our employees can exercise their creativity. We encourage our employees to make each project their own,” Webber says. “The freedom, trust and value given to each team member adds to our collective job satisfaction.”

Hillsborough County's economic initiative, entrepreneurial center shine spotlight on startups

Hillsborough County is betting on small business. Back in Feb 2013, the Economic Development Council announced the Economic Development Innovation Initiative (EDI2), a measure to nurture the startup community and kickstart industry innovation. The aim? To support small business, build entrepreneurship, and grow technology in Tampa Bay.

Now in its fifth round of funding, the EDI2 program has received local accolades like the recent “TiETan of Entrepreneurship” award from TiE Tampa Bay, along with national recognition from tech leaders like Guy Kawasaki for its support of the local Startup Bus.

From support of small, grassroots initiatives to a well-developed board review and application process, Hillsborough County Economic Development Manager Jennifer Whelihan says the EDI2 program “is a model of transparency for its taxpayers,” and it could serve as a national model for County engagement with local business communities.

Whelihan credits the County Commissioners who created the EDI2 program for their leadership and dedication to technology and innovation. 

“They have assisted our community with the emergence of our next tech generation to help Hillsborough County grow on the tech map,” she says.

In the past year, organizations that the EDI2 has supported have created and retained a total of 168.5 jobs. An additional 1,366.75 intern hours worked at 127 events with over 2,565 attendees.

“Through the program, we are driving opportunities, growing a community of technology entrepreneurs and facilitating collaboration among existing organizations,” explains Whelihan. “Our collaborative efforts are truly growing our community’s entrepreneurial resources.”

After one year, four rounds, and close to $600,000 in support to entrepreneurial events and programs in Hillsborough County, the EDI2 program has developed new roots in the Entrepreneur Collaborative Center.

The rebranding of the former Small Business Information Center into the new, more tech-friendly Entrepreneur Collaborative Center (ECC) goes hand in hand with the very heart of the EDI2 program –- to serve as a hub for a growing entrepreneurial ecosystem, to encourage connections within the community, and to provide resources to startups and small business owners alike.
 
The new location in a yet-to-be-determined space in Ybor City will move County business initiatives closer to the growing downtown hub, catering to the many local entrepreneurs who operate from home offices or shared workspaces like the new CoWork Ybor. The ECC is set to open in Nov 2014.

“Business incubation and acceleration programs play a vital role in the quest to improve our community by evolving our entrepreneurial, technology and innovation ecosystem,” says Lindsey Kimball, Hillsborough County Economic Development Director. “Through the EDI2 program, we are driving opportunities, growing a community of technology entrepreneurs, and facilitating collaboration among existing organizations.”
 
The fifth EDI2 funding cycle application deadline is Oct. 31, 2014. Full program and application information is available online at the County website.

Hillsborough's EDI2 Program Celebrates Successes

Hugs, handshakes and a bit of humor keep the energy level high at Tampa Bay WaVE as a growing number of technology entrepreneurs leading the local startup community and public officials celebrate the 1st anniversary of Hillsborough County’s Economic Development Innovation Initiative (EDI2) program. 

Hillsborough County commissioners led by Mark Sharpe, who will join the Tampa Bay Innovation Alliance after he leaves office in November due to term limits, set aside $2 million to provide financial support for growing the startup community. The Alliance includes USF, University Community Hospital, H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Busch Gardens.  

Setting aside funding for EDI2 is a recognition by Hillsborough that future economic and job growth, particularly in the Tampa Bay region, is much more likely to result from the cumulative effect of nurturing innovative startups than by investing the bulk of additional resources into attracting giant corporate headquarters.

So far, since its launch in June 2013, 55 applicants have received $598,583 to support networking and educational events, industry promotions and service providers. Additional program and application information is available online.

Some of the programs funded include:
  • East Tampa Business and Civic Association for the 2014 MLK Technology Business Expo
  • Hillsborough Community College Foundation for the Veterans Entrepreneurial Symposium
  • Learning is for Everyone, Inc. for the Robocon Tampa Bay 2013
  • Moffitt Cancer Center for the Business of Biotech 2014
  • Startup Bus for the Startup Bus Tampa Bay
  • Startup Grind, Inc. for eight monthly meetings
  • Tampa Bay Technology Forum for the Tech Trek 2014, Engine Peer Network Event, and Entrepreneur Network
  • Technova Florida, Inc. for the Tampa Code Camp and Ignite Tampa Bay
  • TiE Tampa Bay for the TiE Breaker III and TiE Angel Forum
  • University of Tampa for the Southeast Entrepreneurship Conference 2014
For more information about EDI2, contact Economic Development Manager Jennifer Whelihan with Hillsborough County’s Economic Development Department at 813.272.6217.

Writer: Diane Egner
Source: Jennifer Whelihan, Hillsborough County’s EDI2

Hillsborough County Pledges $1M To New Manufacturing Academy, Apprenticeship Program

The need for talented manufacturing workers has led Hillsborough County to pledge $1 million toward resolving the local "skills gap.''

A new Manufacturing Academy and Apprenticeship/Internship Program (MAAIP) is a meant to be a "three-pronged approach'' to closing this gap and promoting manufacturing as a viable career path for young workers. The MAAIP also plans to place special emphasis on marketing to students, veterans, women, minorities and underserved communities.

The $1 million in seed money will be split between the Manufacturing Academy; an Apprenticeship and Internship Incentive Program; and marketing of the two to potential private sector partners, students and their families. $350,000 is allocated to CareerSource Tampa Bay for execution of the program's initiatives.

"This is a robust, proactive step by our Board of County Commissioners,'' says Lindsey Kimball, Hillsborough County Economic Development Director.

The Manufacturing Academy will highlight manufacturing as a viable career path for middle and high school students and military veterans. Students who complete the Manufacturing Academy will be credentialed through the Manufacturing Skills Standard Council's Certified Production Technician (CPT) certification.

The two-year program fills a void, providing a "continuum" of seamless training between educational institutions and employers. MAAIP will package together existing resources through Hillsborough County Public Schools and Hillsborough Community College into new training opportunities for students of many ages. This pool will then serve as a resource for companies who wish to participate in the program to recruit new talent.

Because apprenticeship and internship programs can be costly, many companies do not have these programs in place. $400,000 has been allocated for Manufacturing and Internship Incentives. This aspect of the program aims to bring together students participating in the Manufacturing Academy with the local businesses that can provide on-the-job-training and real-world experience.

CareerSource Tampa Bay is tasked with the job of finding and enrolling manufacturers to participate in the program.

Participating companies must be for-profit manufacturing businesses located in Hillsborough County. They will be required to pay the apprentice or intern a minimum wage equivalent to the average entry-level wage for the industry. A maximum benefit of $8,000 per year per internship or apprenticeship may be paid. Once performance requirements are met, the program will reimburse the company for wages paid to the Manufacturing Academy apprentice or intern.
 
CareerSource Tampa Bay will aim to raise awareness and engagement of MAAIP to potential students and their families through promotional efforts and marketing outreach, including developing and launching a website to promote the manufacturing industry in Hillsborough County. The website will offer career-building resources like fact sheets, success stories, quick links, videos of local manufacturers, lesson plans and workbooks, internship and apprenticeship opportunities, and more.
 
The program will be administered by the Hillsborough County Economic Development Department for the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC).

The MAAIP is a "team effort,'' Kimball says. It allows the BOCC "to support the manufacturing industry in Hillsborough County by leveraging our existing partner assets to fill the talent pipeline and engage manufacturers in the development of meaningful experiences for students.''

Writer: Justine Benstead
Source: Lindsey Kimball, Hillsborough County government

Hillsborough County Grants More Than $200K To Local Tech Events

Hillsborough County has awarded $230,000 in funding to 31 local applicants through its flagship tech-centric program, the Economic Development Innovation Initiative (EDI2).

The EDI2 program is the first of its kind of Florida. Established in June 2013, the program aims to bring innovation, job creation, technology and new business to the Tampa Bay region. In an effort to lead this movement, the Hillsborough County Economic Development department set aside $2 million in funding to award to events and programs that are centered around technology and innovation. Led by County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, EDI2 awarded $307,000 to applicants in the first round of funding in fall 2013.

Some of the latest round of funding will go toward programs and events already well-established within the Tampa Bay community, such as Startup Weekend Tampa Bay 2014 in March, monthly StartupGrind events, and the Moffitt Cancer Center's Business of BioTech 2014.

The bulk of the funding was awarded to one-off conferences like Gulf Bay Consulting's Social Media Engagement event in September 2014, which received $12,375. Girls in Tech Tampa Bay, meanwhile, was awarded $12,500 for outreach and an event in December 2014, and TiE Tampa Bay's TiE Breaker III 2014, which took place in January, received $19,000. The University of Tampa's Entrepreneurs Student Organization was awarded $14,500 for its Southeast Entrepreneurial Conference in February 2014.

Other funded programs include the Computer Mentors Group, Inc., which was awarded $25,000 for the 2014 STEM Education Showcase Tampa, and Nuturism Media Group, Inc., awarded $25,000 for Running Lean Bootcamp. Both are in May 2014.

To view a full listing of funded projects and applications, visit the Hillsborough County website.

Events and programs must meet several stages of criteria before they are awarded funding, including the ability to measure event metrics and a way to clearly identify the economic development impact of each project.

EDI2 is "focused on building a vibrant and sustainable startup community and is centered on the use of technology and innovation,'' according to a news release from Hillsborough County.

Hillsborough County is currently accepting applications for its third cycle of EDI2 funding. Applications and additional information can be found at the EDI2 website. The deadline to apply for the third round of EDI2 funding is April 1, 2013.

Writer: Justine Benstead
Source: Annette Spina, Hillsborough County

Hillsborough Arts Council Launches Power2Give Donor Portal

A new online crowdfunding platform being launched this week is designed to solicit new donors and donations to support arts and cultural organizations in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

Power2Give is similar to other crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter or Indiegogo, but the focus is on helping local arts and culture organizations fund projects that might not be funded through traditional campaigns.

The concept began with the Arts and Science Council in Charlotte, NC. It has expanded to include 21 metropolitan areas who have raised $4.5 million through 1,880 projects in just two years. The Tampa Bay region will be the 22nd community to join Power2Give.

Projects are listed on the site for 90 days. If the fundraising goal is met before then, the project is removed from the site. If the goal is not met, the money is still given to the nonprofit, another differentiator from the all-or-nothing model used by many other crowdfunding platforms. The organizations also provide donors with non-cash benefits.

In the spirit of transparency, organizations are encouraged to break projects down to explain exactly what they cover. This transparency also aims to create more patrons for the arts by providing a closer glimpse into what goes on within the organizations. This idea has proven successful, with an estimated 44 percent of donors across the 21 metropolitan areas being first time arts patrons.

“You can feel confident that the project is real and the money is going somewhere,” says Terri Simons, director of program services for the Arts Council of Hillsborough County, the sponsoring organization for the Tampa Bay arm of Power2Give.

Power2give Tampa Bay
launches February 12 with over $100,000 in projects to fund, including: helping students with disabilities attend summer animation camp through VSA Florida, creative journaling projects for families of domestic violence through the Dunedin Fine Arts Center, a mosaic on the outside of the building at the Firehouse Cultural Center in Ruskin and underwriting costs for some of the performers at the St. Petersburg Jazz Festival.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Terri Simons, Arts Council of Hillsborough County
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