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Tampa start-up offers combination personal and professional social network

With the myriad of social networks available for personal and professional use, it can sometimes become confusing and cumbersome to manage everything. A new start-up in Tampa hopes to ease this burden by creating a combination personal and professional network, with an added job search component.

Founded in November of 2013, Flipsetter provides an online tool that meets several goals. At the basic level, it operates as a social network similar to LinkedIn or Facebook, allowing users to share news, photos, links and videos. Addressing a common concern with other networks, Flipsetter provides users with ultimate control of privacy settings, allowing them to choose which of their networks can see which information.   

A user can create one or more of three profile types: business, organization or individual. Each type has their own tools, and all can be used within the same login or profile.

An added benefit is a feature similar to a virtual resume or portfolio where users can list their academic history, work history and other accomplishments. Businesses and other organizations can also use the service to set up a page for promotional and organizational purposes, and to post jobs.

"We call it one stop shopping," says founder Sabaresh Krishnan, USF graduate and current MBA student.

Krishnan thought of the name when hearing about the frustrations involved with having multiple networks and resources to manage profiles, time and organizations. Wanting to find a way to resolve this, he thought "let me flip that around and come up with a way to make it happen."

The service currently has approximately 300 users in beta phase, including several student groups at USF, and plans to go live by October.

Bar Camp Tampa Bay: all tech, all kinds of tech

Bar Camp Tampa Bay once again brings together the local tech scene October 18.

Often described as an "unconference," the event is a learning opportunity, networking venue and convergence of all things technology – everything from big data to digital media to the Internet of things. But, you won’t find any keynote speakers or traditional lectures. In fact, you won’t even know who the speakers are or what the topics will be until you arrive at the event.

People who are passionate about a technology-related topic, project or idea show up the day of the event and add their name to an open slot on the master schedule. The unplanned, flexible nature lends itself to networking in its rawest, most natural form, attracting freelancers and lifelong learners who thrive in the open sharing environment.

"Fantastic presentations come out of nowhere," says Ken Evans of Startup Monkey, lead organizer for Bar Camp Tampa Bay. "You just don’t know what’s going to be there, but you don’t want to miss it." Evans has been volunteering with Bar Camp since its inception.

Hosted by the University of South Florida Colllege of Business, the event is coordinated by a team of volunteers operating under the name TechNova. The group also hosts Ignite Tampa Bay, as well as smaller events throughout the year. In addition to the core organizing group, 30 – 40 volunteers are expected the day of the event.  

Now in its seventh year, the agenda and audience continues to grow, from 150 the first year to an anticipated over 900 this year.

"Barcamp, to me, represents a cultural shift in Tampa Bay in the way new companies and new tech happen," says Evans. Bar Camp is one of many events that have fueled a stronger focus on early or seed stage companies that need help getting ideas off the ground. Organizers estimate over 30 companies have been formed out of relationships made at previous Bar Camps.

Event sponsors include Forex Factory, Hillsborough County EDI2 and the University of South Florida.

Civil engineering firm adds new projects, jobs in Tampa

Genesis, a Tampa-based civil engineering company, is experiencing growth in both public and private development opportunities.

The full service firm provides civil engineering, landscape architecture, urban planning and transportation design services. The company was founded in 1987 when a group of separate companies decided to come together to create a full services firm. After taking a small hit in business during the recession, the company has been growing since 2011 and is currently up to 90 employees statewide.

"Our growth has been driven by the improving economy and our ability to maintain the space in between huge firms and smaller ones,:says Craig Anderson, COO for Genesis.

The company recently received national recognition for the completion of Capital Cascades Park in Tallahassee. The 25-acre urban park at the center of downtown solves a major issue the city was having with stormwater management. The park repurposes an abandoned industrial site with a “floodable” park including winding trails, green infrastructure and ponds that capture rain water and provide flood relief.  Complete the Florida-friendly landscaping, the park serves not only to provide much-needed stormwater management for the city, but a place for the community to commune.

Current projects in Tampa include a new high school site for Independent Day School, Kuhn Honda’s expanded site on Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa and a Veterans Memorial Park on U.S. Highway 301.

Genesis is currently hiring for a Senior Transportation Engineer, Registered Landscape Architect and Engineering Intern.  

Tampa Start-up Uses Crowdsourcing For Innovative Package Delivery

A new company based out of Tampa plans to revolutionize the way packages are delivered by turning regular commuters into couriers.

Titled HITCH, the company is the brainchild of Chuck Pasquotto, an entrepreneur who runs several transportation-related companies. Seeing the success of companies like Uber and Air BnB, Pasquotto wanted to use the power of crowd sourcing to help streamline the package delivery process. The idea is to find someone who is traveling daily to a destination and ask them to deliver someone else’s package. The network is connected through a mobile app.

"Think of us as a marketplace," says Eric Torres, USF graduate and VP of Marketing for HITCH. "We’re giving the crowd an opportunity to earn extra money via the shared economy."

Those who want to deliver packages (called travelers) sign up on the site and provide their origin and destination information. They can then see a list of deliveries on their intended route. Travelers receive a payment upon successful package delivery.

A shipper enters information about the item needing to be delivered, along with a picture and description. They can then see the fee and accept or decline the delivery. The pick-up location is determined by the shipper and can be a home, office or other public place. Once the transaction is complete, the shipper can request a signature. The traveler is also required to take a picture of where the item was delivered, and it can also be tracked with a gps.

The benefits are lower costs than a typical courier service, environmental benefits and an opportunity for the travelers to earn extra money.

The community is monitored, and users get ratings based on their reliability and effectiveness. For example, users can request to work with only five star rated travelers or shippers. Users also have to become verified by providing a bank account or credit card information.

HITCH recently partnered with Tampa-based creative agency PP+K to help launch the app. The app is currently in beta mode and aims for a soft launch in October in the I-4 corridor area. The company plans to expand nationwide after the launch.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Eric Torres, HITCH

USF Opens Futurist, Patient-Focused Pharmacy

Imagine a pharmacy where patients are fully involved with their health, utilizing the latest in technological advances to make the most of every interaction. Imagine pharmacists not only prescribing medications, but also mobile apps to help patients continue their health care at home. Envision prescriptions being filled by a robot and pharmacists using Google glass to interact with patients instead of staying behind the counter.

Sound futuristic? This is not only the pharmacy of the future, it’s the present too. The University of South Florida (USF) College of Pharmacy plans to open this pharmacy this month (September), featuring all of this and more.

“We’re entering an age in healthcare where we need to not only just exist in health, but also try to optimize health," says Kevin Sneed, PhD., dean of the College of Pharmacy at USF.

Located on USF’s campus, the 1,500-square-foot facility will serve patients at the Morsani Center for Advanced Healthcare. It will also allow pharmacy students to learn using the most advanced in technology and personal patient care.

At the facility, automatic will be achieved in a very uncommon way. Prescriptions will be sent to the center electronically, reviewed by a pharmacist and then sent to a robot. The robot will place the pills in a bottle, label and cap the bottle. A picture will be taken of the pills that is cross referenced against a known reference for that drug. The entire process will then be barcoded and reviewed in order to ensure the utmost accuracy.

In the ultimate in personalization, USF will use pharmaco genomics, a technology that uses the DNA of a patient to track their health and eventually predict how they will respond to a medication.

In a true community-based approach, a section of the pharmacy will display pharmaceutical-related items that were manufactured and marketed by Tampa Bay entrepreneurs.

The idea first came to Sneed just over a year ago, when the pharmacy USF maintained at the time was being shut down. He created the plan and proposal within 48 hours and was able to make it a reality in less than a year. The main goal is to give students a chance to experience what the pharmacy they may be working on in the future will look like, providing the critical hands-on component to what is discussed in classrooms.  

"We want to have them exit the program with the full intention of changing the healthcare landscape," says Sneed. "We want to build leaders in healthcare"

Sneed attributes the success of the facility and USF healthcare overall to the interprofessional collaborations among USF Health colleges, noting that a team-based approach is critical to any kind of success in healthcare.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Kevin Sneed, USF College of Pharmacy

Carrollwood Day School Hosts Startup Weekend For Youth Entrepreneurs

Pitch an idea, form a team and become part of the world’s largest entrepreneurial community in 54 hours. That’s the strategy behind every Startup Weekend around the globe – and it’s the mission for the first ever Startup Weekend Tampa Youth on September 12-14, 2014.
 
The intensive, team-based concept at the backbone of the global Startup Weekend movement has gained steam in Tampa Bay over several years of biannual events.

Growing, innovative local startups such as Wazinit, and breakout success stories like Eventjoy (formerly EXMO), are the result of previous Tampa Bay Startup Weekends.
 
Ryan Sullivan, a “Global Facilitator” and local organizer for Startup Weekend Tampa Bay and Startup Weekend Tampa Youth, says that the goal for the events in over 200 cities worldwide “is to educate and inspire people in the community to take action in entrepreneurship.”

Startup Weekend Youth is specifically geared toward 5th–8th graders - “the next generation’s entrepreneurs.” Sullivan notes that the event will look and feel a little different this time around. Participants will still pitch ideas and work in teams, but with a focus on teaching and inspiring young thinkers. Attendees will also have the opportunity to interact with coaches who are experts in their field and successful entrepreneurs.

“This is something special,” Sullivan says. “We will create an atmosphere of exercises and experiences that will inspire creative ideas in young minds and help kids to learn how to move those ideas forward towards action, and in the process, collaborate with their peers.”
 
Students are encouraged to register under one of three categories (Creative/Design, Coding/Programming, Business/Finance) based on their interests. Hands-on activities will be geared toward helping students identify a challenge to solve, learn to understand potential customers or users, work effectively with others, “and in the end, build something they are proud of as a team,” says Sullivan.

“Today’s youth are full of creative ideas for how to make lives and the world a better place. This will be a place for them to take those ideas and move them towards reality,” he explains. “This event will also help build confidence in creating and sharing ideas for those that tend to keep them inward.” 

Along with Sullivan, Nicholas Catania, Deborah Neff and Todd Broyles are co-organizers of the event. They expect more than 50 students to attend and participate in Startup Weekend Tampa Youth.
 
“We like to say that it is the least expensive babysitter at $25 for the weekend,” Sullivan says.

Startup Weekend Tampa Youth starts Friday, Sept. 12, at 6 p.m. and concludes on Sunday, Sept. 14, at 4 p.m. The event will take place at Carrollwood Day School, 1515 W. Bearss Ave. in Tampa. Tickets can be purchased by clicking here for $25.00. 

Writer: Justine Benstead
Source: Ryan Sullivan, Startup Weekend Tampa Bay

Greco Middle School's Outdoor Classroom Promotes STEM, Environment

Students and teachers at Greco Middle School in Tampa will soon have a new classroom alternative, providing hands-on access to environmental learning and other real world skills.

The outdoor classroom project is being led by the Florida Gulf Coast Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The collaboration is also supported by the School District of Hillsborough County as well as parents, teachers and administrators at Greco Middle School.

The classroom will include Florida-friendly landscaping improvements and other educational tools that will be integrated into the curriculum. Teachers will be able to reserve the space for a given period during the day to teach outside. Lesson plans might focus on storm water management or structural support for bridges.

"The whole idea is to incorporate aspects that are environmentally friendly and can serve as teaching points," says Travis Barnes, board member for Florida Gulf Coast Chapter of USGBC. "We’re also getting the school more engaged with the community at large."

The classroom is a nice pairing with Greco’s strong focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields and on-site community garden, a collaboration with the City of Temple Terrace.

The implementation is part of USGBC’s Green Apple Day of Service on September 27. The goal is to promote sustainability at K-12 as well as college campuses on a global scale. This is the third year the Florida Gulf Coast Chapter has participated in the event. Last year’s project was a school garden at Muller Elementary School in Tampa that has since been formally incorporated into the school’s curriculum.

40 – 50 volunteers are expected to help with the buildout, including parents, students, teachers, staff and the business community.

The project’s title sponsor is Julius the Architect. Other sponsors include the Phoenix Agency and Tampa Bay Trane.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Travis Barnes, USGBC

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

Urban Conga Transforms Downtown Parking Spaces On National Park(ing) Day

On September 19, a handful of metered parking spaces in downtown Tampa will take on a different purpose.  Instead of cars, you’ll find car parts, art and musicians.

As part of National Park(ing) Day, Urban Conga, a group of local creatives who promote community awareness through the use of play, will be taking over random parking spaces and turning them into parks. The goal is to encourage less driving and more walkability in the downtown area.

National Park(ing) Day is a worldwide event that began in 2005 by Rebar, a San Francisco-based art and design studio. The idea is for artists and activists to create debate about how urban space is allocated by transforming parking spaces into temporary public spaces. The event is now a global movement, with 162 cities in 35 countries expected to participate this year.

Urban Conga collaborated with University of South Florida art student Maeghann Coleman to design the spaces in downtown Tampa. The music-themed area will feature old tires and other car parts that can be used to make music, as well as a musical bench with piano keys. Jazz musicians from USF will also participate.

"It’s the idea of tactical urbanism," says Ryan Swanson, co-founder of Urban Conga. "We want to bring people there, not only to hang out but also to play."  

The Florida chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA Florida) recently ran a statewide parklet competition, in which Urban Conga received second place for their design. The $1200 prize will be used to fund the project. The City of Tampa is also supporting the project through the allocation of the parking spaces for the day.

Urban Conga is also promoting collaboration by asking people to send in pictures of what they’re doing in their areas.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Ryan Swanson, Urban Conga

Pecha Kucha V15: Engaging, Enlightening, Inspiring

Creatives, designers, students and community advocates will convene at the Tampa Museum of Art September 5 to hear unique ideas and experiences that make Tampa Bay a better place.

The event is Pecha Kucha, named for a Japanese term for "chit chat."

Speakers will talk for just over six minutes about something they are passionate about. In an effort to keep things interesting and moving, the format is 20 slides, each lasting 20 seconds each. In true "anything goes" style, speakers don’t know much about the participants ahead of time, and vice versa. Speaker names are released, but topics remain unknown until the event.

Pecha Kucha Tampa Bay is held four times a year and begins with an hour of socializing, followed by an hour of presentations.

"As always, there is no theme," says Ken Cowart, the event’s organizer. "It’s a mixed bag of creative people sharing their ideas."

Hope Donnelly, co-owner of 8-Count Studios at the Rialto, plans to speak about her experience as an entrepreneur renovating historic space in downtown Tampa. She first attended Pecha Kucha V13 in November of 2013 and immediately knew it was something she wanted to be a part of.

"It’s a sincere, organic way to connect with interesting people," says Donnelly. "It’s really engaging and human, and I love that!"

Other presenters at Volume 15 include:
  • John Denger. Director and advocate at The Well
  • Marcus DeSieno. USF art student
  • Tony DeSisto. Founder of Citizinvestor, a kick starter for cities and public projects
  • Courtney McCalden. Graphic designer
  • Sarah Ogdie, Community Tampa Bay
  • Jim Reiman. Photographer, art professor and founder of SwedeFest Tampa
  • Mark Weston, Architect and digital fabrication professor at USF

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Ken Cowart, Pecha Kucha; Hope Donnelly, Rialto

Florida Bookstore Day Celebrates Local Bookstores, Authors

Tiffany Razzano was driving down Central Avenue in downtown St. Petersburg when she spotted a poster in the storefront window at Daddy Cool Records promoting Record Store Day. She then drove past Wilson’s Book World and thought, "Why is there no bookstore day?"

She did some research only to learn that California is the only state that has fully developed the concept of a bookstore day.

So why not Florida? Why not now? she thought. The result?

The inaugural Florida Bookstore Day will take place at independent and used bookstores in cities throughout the state on November 15, concentrating on the Tampa Bay area, where Razzano runs Wordier Than Thou, a group that supports creative writers through open mic events, a literary magazine and a radio show.

"I wanted to do something big," says Razzano. "It’s a celebration of independent bookstores and the writing community. People won’t even know they’re at a literary event."

Her goal is to showcase local bookstores and the writing community. Soon after she started talking up the concept in social media and elsewhere, Razzano connected with book lovers in Orlando who wanted to be part of the celebration. Bookstores from the Panhandle to the Florida Keys have now signed on to participate. Expect a day of book releases and author signings, open mics and workshops on literary topics

Local participants include: Inkwood Books, Mojo Books and Music, Old Tampa Book Company and Oxford Exchange in Tampa, Standup Librarians, Wilson’s Book World and Wings Bookstore in St. Petersburg, Book Bank in Largo and Back in the Day Books in Dunedin.

An after party will take place at the Venture Compound in St. Petersburg, featuring local authors and literary organizations, the Bluebird Books Bus, raffles and food trucks.

The event is sponsored by Florida Antiquarian Book Fair and also received a grant from Awesome Tampa Bay.
 
Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Tiffany Razzano, Florida Bookstore Day

Working Women Of Tampa Bay Expands Statewide

A Tampa-based networking group for female professionals and entrepreneurs is expanding throughout Florida.

Working Women of Florida is an expansion of the Working Women of Tampa Bay professional networking group, which Jessica Rivelli founded in Tampa in 2009. WWoTB currently has 750 local members in Tampa, with an additional 100 statewide. The group expanded to include an Orlando chapter in 2012.

"Our immediate goal is to grow Working Women throughout the state of Florida to includes chapters in Fort Myers, Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, Orlando and Jacksonville,'' says Rivelli.

Events include lunch-and-learns, coffee chats and educational seminars with local and national successful female entrepreneurs and businesswomen.

The group's second annual state conference will be Sept. 11 and 12, 2014, at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, FL. Rivelli expects 300 female entrepreneurs and executives from around the state to attend.

Keynote speakers include Alex Sink, former Chief Financial Officer for the state of Florida; Bevan Gray-Rogel, Encore Tampa Bay president and founder; Lisa G Jacobsen, Executive Coach at Workplace Solutions Tampa; and Dr. Jennifer Hall, Director of Coaching at the Leadership Development Institute at Eckerd College.

Tampa Bay-based speakers also include Angela Ardolino, founder of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine; Dotty Bollinger, COO and president of Laser Spine Institute; and Lee Lowry, past president of The Junior League of Tampa.

Registration for the Working Women of Florida State Conference is available on the event website.

To help grow WWoF, Rivelli hired Lauren Tice as Director of Development for Working Women of Florida. Tice is a Florida native who grew up in Temple Terrace, northeast of Tampa, and graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in Communications.

"Lauren's role is to expand Working Women through out the state,'' says Rivelli. “She'll be traveling regularly to grow chapters and get talented professionals involved. I'm very excited to have her on board.''

Tice has a background in networking and communications, having previously served as Coordinator of Member Services for the Greater Temple Terrace Chamber of Commerce for close to five years. More recently, Tice worked as events manager and eventually director of The Regent, a special events and performance venue in Riverview, southeast of Tampa.

Writer: Justine Benstead
Source: Jessica Rivelli, Working Women of Tampa Bay

Programming Academy The Iron Yard Expands To Tampa Bay

A new school for programmers is coming to Tampa Bay this fall. The Iron Yard Academy, an intensive 12-week-long training program, is set to open its doors in downtown St. Petersburg in September 2014.

The programming school will be located "within walking distance of some of the best local spots in town,'' says George Junginger, campus director for the Iron Yard's Tampa Bay location.

Aspiring developers can apply to either Rails or Front End Engineering courses. The cost for each 12-week course is $10,000. Part of this price tag includes mentoring, job placement after course completion and career support.

The Iron Yard Tampa Bay staff has already begun to build partnerships with local software and tech companies, including Collaborative Technologies of Tampa Bay.

"[CToTB] founder and CEO Sylvia Martinez is on our Employer Advisory Board, and will work closely with our staff to help us develop our program in a way that's best for Tampa Bay area companies,'' says Junginger.
  
A full staff, including two Tampa natives, has been hired to run the Tampa Bay branch of the Greenville, S.C.-based startup school. The Iron Yard has 10 other locations scattered through the country, mostly in the southeast. Tampa Bay is the second Florida location for the startup school; the other is in Orlando.

Brian Burridge, a Safety Harbor resident who attended St. Petersburg College, is set to be Rails instructor. Burridge is the CEO and founder of Commendable Kids. Justin Herrick, a Tampa resident who is a self-taught programmer, is Front End instructor.

Students in the Rails program will be taught Ruby on Rails (a popular framework for building servers) and develop skills to manage databases. Front End Engineering students will learn skills to create attractive, functional websites and applications.

The Iron Yard is currently accepting applications for classes, which are slated to begin September 22nd, 2014. Each course will be capped at 15 students per 3-month session.

"We chose to start small, so that we'd maintain the level of quality we know employers are looking for in developers,'' says Junginger, who expects both courses to fill. A few applicants have already been accepted.

The Iron Yard Academy welcomes students from a variety of backgrounds and skill levels.

"We're looking for a pre-existing mindset, not necessarily a pre-existing skill set,'' says Junginger. "The five attributes of the optimal Iron Yard student are: passion for solving problems with technology; genuine enjoyment of the craft of programming; genuine desire to have a career in or related to programming; extremely strong work ethic; and an ability to learn quickly,'' he explains.
 
Before searching for a space, the Iron Yard began conversations with leaders in the local tech community. The feedback is clear, says Junginger: "Everyone has been extremely excited about what we are bringing to the tech economy in the area and sees it as a need.''
 
Free programming classes for kids aged 7-17 will be offered later in 2014.

"There are great resources for startups in Tampa, and we want to support the people doing that work by training great developers,'' says Junginger. "We're privileged to play a part in the growing Tampa Bay tech scene.''
 
Writer: Justine Benstead
Source: George Junginger, The Iron Yard

How To Create A Custom Song For Your Special Event

When a couple wanting to have a baby got the news that they were expecting, the sister of the mother-to-be commemorated the event in a uniquely modern way: by requesting a custom song for the new family.
 
CustomSong, an entrepreneurial startup based in the Tampa Bay region, brings musicians from around the world together on one website. Customers can request an artist or have one assigned to create a personalized piece of music for a special event, from birthdays to baby showers. Choose between a range of styles like acoustic guitar, soft romantic piano and full band.

Songs can be gifted or earmarked for a specific event, like the parent's dance at a wedding or a custom birthday tune. Customers fill in the details for lyrics, communicating directly with the artist via the Custom Song platform. Once lyrics are finalized and approved, the artist will record the song.

"It's a song that is truly original and personal, created just for you,'' says Custom Song cofounder Heather Andrews of Tampa. "It really helps create a special moment.''

Andrews, a graduate of James Madison University in Virginia, and co-Founder Kristina Anderson of Clearwater, a USF grad, operate CustomSong out of their home offices, local co-working spaces and coffee shops.   

If you are making a video or photo montage of the event, says Andrews, your custom song is a natural soundtrack.

CustomSong began in 2013 and launched in summer 2014, but Andrews had the idea in mind for years. The personalized event product concept was inspired by Custom Ink, where Andrews previously worked.

"Working there and making these custom shirts for special events, I saw that customers were so happy with them,'' says Andrews. "Being a part of a business where you can create something specifically for a customer that gets them excited, I was in search of, 'what can I do to be in that area of business?' ''

Despite a self-professed inability to carry a tune, Andrews and Anderson decided to try the world of music-making. They began to notice that while some individual artists were offering custom songs, they were struggling when it came to things like turnaround and customer service.
 
"They just want to create good quality music,'' Andrews says. "We thought there was a good opportunity there to create the platform, be the business side of it, and manage all of the back-end details for a site where artists could offer their services.''
 
The site standardizes things like pricing, quality, song length and turnaround time (two weeks).

"We give both the customer and the artist a guarantee, something to feel confident and comfortable with,'' says Andrews.
 
Sample songs are available on the CustomSong website.
 
From online research to attending Open Mic nights, scouting new talent is an aspect of Custom Song that Andrews and Anderson are discovering takes time.

A small number of musicians from the United States and the UK are currently active on the site. The cofounders plan to expand into other areas and attract more foreign-language speaking artists.
 
"We're trying to grow more artists, but to do it carefully and slowly. We want to make sure the artists also have a great experience,'' says Andrews. "The platform is very targeted to customers, but it's also a channel for artists to earn additional income. We want to find people who have creativity and talent, and work with them one-on-one to make sure that they fit with our model.''

Interested in creating music with Custom Song? Sign up here.

The most rewarding aspect of the process for Andrews is knowing that custom songs are a part of moments like weddings or expecting a new baby.

"I don't know the couple, but just knowing the background story, it touches me,'' she says. "It's amazing to be part of creating these songs for those big events in life.''

Writer: Justine Benstead
Source: Heather Andrews, CustomSong

Health Insurance Innovations Announces Acquisition, Expansion

With the introduction of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the demand for information about health insurance products has increased dramatically. Consumers often turn to websites to help them navigate the insurance space and learn about available options.

A recent acquisition by Tampa-based Health Insurance Innovations (HII) aims to capitalize on this need and provide more reliable, easily understood information for consumers.  

HII is a cloud-based technology platform that links health insurance agents with consumers to provide quotes and sell customized, flexible insurance plans. Silicon Valley-based HealthPocket is a data aggregation technology that provides a repository of health insurance information for consumers to view and purchase, including both private and government-funded options. The website allows consumers to rank available plans by price, doctor or other factors such as prescription drug needs.

The merging of the two companies will provide even more customized services for consumers to help navigate often confusing information about health insurance options.

HII plans to use the acquisition to fuel the company’s growth and competitive advantage, including sales and continuing the track record of success. The company is taking over additional office space in their Tampa location and will eventually expand their local employee base.

"Consumers will be engaged with the tools and data to help them make better and more informed decisions which lead to lower annual healthcare costs," says Kevin Coleman, head of research and data for HealthPocket. "We really hope to empower the consumer to make the best decisions."

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Sources: Kevin Coleman, HealthPocket; Mike Kosloske, HII
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