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UT student team wins local round of Hult Prize competition

A student-led team from the University of Tampa hopes to pitch their ideas to President Bill Clinton and a panel of judges for the chance to earn $1 million in startup funding.

Each year, hundreds of teams from universities around the world compete in the Hult Prize competition to solve a pressing issue related to education and poverty.

The 2016 challenge: “Can we build sustainable, scalable and fast-growing social enterprises that double the income of 10 million people residing in crowded urban spaces by better connecting people, goods, services and capital?”

The annual competition awards one million dollars in start-up funding to the team of students that develops the most compelling solution to this question.

Each student team competes in a regional round before moving on to the finals in New York City next fall; but before teams can head to Boston, San Francisco, London, Dubai, or Shanghai for regionals, they must win the competition at the local level. In December 2015, a student team from UT, led by business management student Bay Downing, took top honors in the local round of competition.

Team OptiMrkt was chosen of the 10 competing teams because they “had the most compelling idea,” explains Hult Prize at UT Campus Director Caio Amaral. “The main argument was that the initiative and team work in OptiMrkt was very optimistic.”

OptiMrkt aims to reinvent the way that trade works for those “on the bottom of the pyramid” with a fresh approach to urban markets.

The team also “had partnerships lined up, and a business model that impressed most of the majority of the judges,” says Amaral, who competed for the prize in 2014 on team BamBoost (read about their story here).

OptiMrkt team members include Downing along with MBA-seeking Chenoy Ceil and entrepreneurship students Luciano Perdomo and Monty Berrow.

“UT is very proud of OptiMrkt and how far they have come,” Amaral says.

OptiMrkt will compete with around 50 teams, including those from Ivy League schools like Harvard and MIT, during a regional competition March 11-12, 2016. If they win the regional phase, team members will have the opportunity to attend the Hult Prize Accelerator program in summer 2016, along with the top five teams from other regions.

There, Amaral says, “They will launch from a simple idea to being feasible in the market.” 

Finally, they will travel to New York City to pitch their solution before world leaders at the Clinton Global Initiative’s next annual meeting in late September 2016.

The University of Tampa is no stranger to the Hult Prize competition; multiple teams have made it to regional and final competitions in previous years. Team Tembo, which operates from the UT Innovation and Collaboration building, has transitioned from student project into a full-scale, growing business.

To learn more about Tembo’s efforts to provide education to children and parents in urban slums through mobile phones and an evidence-based curriculum, or to contribute, visit their GoFundMe page

Tampa father, son build tiny house as model for others

A father-and-son duo in Valrico are hoping to make a big impact with their little house. The 200-square-foot-home the two are building together will soon be going on a 20-city tour across the U.S. to teach others the importance of quality control in construction practices.

Paul Lynch, the patriarch of the team, is an attorney with Shumaker, Loop and Kendrick, LLP based out of downtown Tampa. Working with his eldest son, Corbett Lunsford, the two are building the tiny house to be efficient, with solar panels, a composting toilet, sensors built into the walls to measure performance and the highest-quality non-toxic materials available.

“My son is an expert in testing homes, like a doctor for houses, and in his view and those of his fans, once you have metrics about your home you can make educated decisions and get control,'' says Lynch. “Like the craze for Fitbit pedometers, or feedback displays in new cars, better information about how the things we own are performing means we become better owners.”

The first stop on the 20-city tour will be in St. Augustine in April 2016. For the purpose of the tour, the tiny house will be called the 'tiny lab' due to its innovative features including technology from Mitsubishi that uses an infrared eye to sense areas in the home that need the temperature adjusted. During the tour, Lunsford and his team will spend one week in each city offering tours, workshops and contractor training.

During the tour, Lunsford and his wife will also be taping a TV show called Home Diagnosis and a web series called Ms. Tiny Detective. According to Lynch, it really is a family effort.

“Not a lot of guys get the opportunity to build a house with their kids, so I'm trying to enjoy the whole thing,” he says. “Obviously it's a bit stressful, we're building a house that has to withstand a hurricane and earthquake at the same time. But it's going to make great memories, and I'm proud of what we've already accomplished with the structure.”

For more information on the tour, visit their website.

In-Towner trolley gives free rides in downtown Tampa

The free In-Towner trolley makes getting around downtown Tampa a little less expensive. 

The trolley, operated by the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) Authority, provides weekday trips from 6-8:30 a.m. and 3:30-6 p.m. 

“It’s more convenient,” says HART CEO Katharine Eagan. “It’s one more option we’re providing so people can easily travel downtown while leaving behind their cards and congested parking lots. Whether it’s for medical appointments, shopping, entertainment, or work, we want people to be aware that the can use public transportation to take them there.” 

The rubber-wheeled trolleys make trips every 15 minutes along their routes that conveniently take riders to several major destinations, including Harbour Island, the Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa Convention Center, Tampa Museum of Art, Curtis Hixon Park, David A. Straz, Jr., Center for the Performing Arts, Tampa Theatre, Tampa City Hall, the major downtown Tampa hotels, the TECO Line Streetcar system, the federal and county courthouses, and the Marion Transit Center. Service animals are allowed on the trollies, which are also equipped with bicycle racks for those who wish to take along their bikes. 

According to HART Public Information Officer Sandra Morrison, the free trollies are seeing sufficient foot traffic, though service is confined now to fairly limited service hours that largely serve the rush-hour crowd. “There has been talk about extending hours on the weekdays and also offering weekend hours,” she says. “The trollies were just made free on October 1, so it’s still a relatively new service.” 

Creator of Chinese family robot talks tech at Startup Grind Tampa Bay on Dec. 16

The final meeting of Startup Grind Tampa Bay in 2015 will feature a founder who is visiting Tampa as a potential U.S. headquarters for his company, Solbit, which is currently based in Shenzhen, China.

Gavenraj Sodhi, CEO of 7 Senses Labs (formerly iMedia), will visit Tampa along with Solbit, the company's product and namesake. The founder and CEO will demonstrate the prototype of Solbit, a family robot, at the Startup Grind Tampa Bay event at CoWork Ybor on Wednesday, Dec. 16.

Sodhi initially launched iMedia as an edutainment company using gamification for students in grades K-8, but the technology has since evolved into Solbit, a company that aims to deliver educational materials focused on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) through the use of the family-friendly robot.

Solbit's robot features integrated camera capabilities and a cloud-based language library that help the robot to serve as a child’s personal learning companion. 3D printing functions, voice recognition and other Artificial Intelligence functions are just some of the improvements Sodhi hopes to makes to the robot in time.

Initially, Solbit is aimed to serve as a learning-based companion for children ages 4-7.

Team data scientist and robotics engineers are working to further develop ways to foster two-way communication between child and robot to create a better learning experience, Startup Grind Tampa Bay founder Joy Randels says. 

"From an artificial intelligence standpoint, our ecosystem is developing into a content-friendly, data-rich environment," Randels wrote in an email. "The robot is meant to learn and adapt with the child and family."

Solbit, which is incorporated in Hong Kong with offices in Shenzhen, is currently funding its product through bootstrapping, some funding from JD.com, which is akin to Amazon.com in China, and winnings from several competitions, like the 1776 Challenge Cup for Education.

Randels, who has long known Sodhi and served on the board of one of his previous startup companies, offers some highlights of Solbit:
  • Dr. Cory Kidd, a long-time robotics expert and MIT Media Lab alumni, has joined as Director of Robotics and will be supporting 7 Senses Labs in the development of learning robots and the A.I. portion of the platform
  •  Bater Makhabel, from Tsinghua University, joined as Data Scientist with a focus on machine learning and algorithm development
  • Solbit just launched with Essential Learning Group in Shanghai, a pilot for a first learning module, that leverages Leap Motion and Intel Real Sense for kids to gesture during the learning exercises for skills mastery and for those that have learning disabilities. The module launched in September in Apple and Android stores and will be supporting Solibit integration 
Click here to register to attend Startup Grind Tampa Bay at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, December 16, at CoWork Ybor, 1901 E. 7th Ave.

Upcoming Tampa Bay career fairs include local schools, construction company

A number of Tampa Bay area companies are seeking candidates for part- and fulltime positions in a variety of fields across Tampa and St. Petersburg during late 2015 and early 2016. Career fairs in Tampa Bay can connect job seekers in the Tampa and St. Petersburg areas with the industry leaders and resources that help open the door for new hires.

College students and new graduates, young professionals who seek entry into a new field, or individuals planning a career change, take note of these upcoming winter 2015/2016 Tampa Bay area career fairs:
 
Tuesday, December 15: North American Roofing Career Fair 
10 a.m. - 7:30 p.m.
Executive Suites at Lakewood Ranch
6151 Lake Osprey Drive, Suite 300, Sarasota

The large commercial roofing company is hiring for positions in project coordination, project management, inside sales and more.
 
Tuesday, December 15: Tampa Ultimate Staffing Job Fair 
9:30 a.m. - 1 p.m.
4300 W Cypress St, Suite 150, Tampa

Tampa Ultimate Staffing is hiring for bilingual call center customer service representatives.
 
Tuesday, December 15: Pinellas County Schools First Annual Winter Job Fair 
Pinellas County Schools Administration Building
301 4th St SW, Largo

The Pinellas County School District job fair is aimed specifically at recent and current college interns. Jobs available include instructional positions for elementary education, early childhood education, ESE, English language arts, reading, math, science, guidance, and speech/language pathologists. Email Jenny Furlott to confirm attendance.
 
Wednesday, December 16: Yale Enforcement Services, Inc. Job Fair
 9 a.m. – 1p.m.
5602 Thompson Center Ct, Suite 400, Tampa

Those with a current and valid state of Florida security license (D or G) are invited to attend; veterans and retired law enforcement are encouraged to apply.
 
Thursday, December 17: Career Showcase Job Fair
5 p.m.
Holiday Inn Tampa Westshore
700 N. Westshore Blvd, Tampa
 
Monday, January 11, 2016: Tampa Bay Job and Career Fair presented by the Tampa Bay Times
10 a.m.-3 p.m.
The Coliseum
535 4th Ave N, St. Pete
 
Tuesday, January 12, 2016: National Career Fairs Tampa Career Fair
11 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Doubletree by Hilton Tampa Westshore Airport
4500 West Cypress St, Tampa
 
This career fair will feature an iPad giveaway.
 
Wednesday, January 20, 2016: CareerIntro Career Fair
10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Crowne Plaza
5303 West Kennedy Blvd, Tampa
 
February 2, 2016: University of South Florida Career Fair Week
10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Marshall Student Center Ballroom, USF campus
4103 USF Cedar Cir, Tampa

Wednesday, February 24, 2016: USF St. Petersburg Career Center Job and Internship Fair 2016
10 a.m.-2 p.m.
University Student Center
6th Ave S, St. Pete

This job fair aims to connect USFSP students with local companies to facilitate matches for jobs and internships. 
 
Employers, are you hosting an upcoming career fair in the Tampa Bay area? Put potential future employees on the right path by sharing the details of your upcoming job or career fair in Tampa Bay with 83 Degrees. Reach out over on Twitter (@83degreesmedia) if our job listings put you on the path to success.

Tampa native launches mobile boating app for marinas

A mobile app that allows boaters to make reservations for docking vessels with the ease of booking a table at a restaurant has expanded to Tampa Bay area marinas.
 
Dockwa, which launched in the New England area in May 2015, has seen rapid expansion on the eastern coast of the United States and into the Bahamas, with more than 175 participating marinas in 16 states getting on board with the application.
 
“There's an incredibly vibrant entrepreneurial spirit within Tampa, and I'm grateful to be a part of it and eager to expand Dockwa's footprint in the region," explains Dockwa co-Founder and CEO Michael Melillo, a Tampa native. 
 
Dockwa is marketed as “Open Table meets Hotel Tonight.” The award-winning mobile application and marketing platform has raised over $1.4 million in angel and private investments from such investors as David Skok of Matrix Partners and HubSpot CEO Brian Halligan. 

The app has a simple, straightforward premise aimed at connecting boaters to marinas in real time: interested parties can download Dockwa, explore the app’s maps, and hit a button to reserve a slip. Payments don’t go through until customers verify their reservations on site at the marinas; all information is kept in an integrated database.

A growing number of marinas in the Tampa Bay area have joined the Dockwa network, which includes 40 marinas across the state. Local partners include:
  • Gulfport Marina in Gulfport
  • Port Tarpon Marina in Tarpon Springs
  • Marina Jack in Sarasota
  • Longboat Key Club Moorings in Longboat Key
  • Tampa Marriott Waterside Marina in downtown Tampa
An expansion to the Gulf Coast made sense, Melillo says: “Tampa is among the top boating destinations in Florida.”

But bringing his business to Tampa Bay also struck a personal chord, Melillo says. "Expanding Dockwa to the Tampa Bay area has been an important milestone both personally and professionally for me. Tampa is also where I was born, lived for a number of years, and frequent often to see family.

“Having the opportunity for them to see Dockwa contribute to the Tampa community and economy is an especially rewarding experience,” says Melillo, who earned a BS in Finance/Economics from Elon University and spent time as a financial analyst before co-founding Dockwa in fall 2014.  

The Boat Owners Association of the United States (BoatUS) launched a partnership with Dockwa in October 2015 that allows members who arrange dockage through the Dockwa app or online platform to waive booking fees.
 
By early 2016, Melillo plans to expand the company to include marina partners on the west coast of the U.S.

St. Pete launches free shuttle route in time for holiday visitors

Visitors to St. Petersburg have one more reason to spend their weekends seeking out award-winning cuisine, strolling through local parks or window shopping in the many boutiques and stores found in downtown and the nearby thriving Central Arts District.

On Friday and Saturday nights through May 2016, weekend visitors to DTSP and the Central Arts District neighborhood can park once at the Sundial (117 Second Street North) or South Core (101 First Ave. South) parking garages (regular rates apply), then board the free shuttle.

Destinations along the Park Once route include the downtown waterfront, Beach Drive and the Central Arts District. Shuttles will run on a continuous loop on Friday and Saturday nights between 5 p.m. and midnight, with about 7-10 minutes between each stop. 

The Park Once shuttle route also intersects with the area’s already implemented Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority's Central Avenue Trolley and Downtown Looper routes. 

Five Park Once shuttle stops are located at the Sundial garage on First Avenue North; outside the South Core garage on Central Avenue; on Central Avenue, at Fourth Street; at Fifth Avenue North, in front of the Vinoy; and on Bayshore Drive at Second Avenue North.

Evan Mory, director of Transportation and Parking for the city of St. Petersburg, notes that the program will be re-evaluated after six months to determine whether the Park Once program “should be made permanent, with any tweaks to make it even better.”

The City of St. Petersburg launched the Park Once downtown shuttle pilot program in November 2015 and Mory says that the response from the public has been “very positive.”

By the second weekend of the Park Once program, “we had a good turnout that will continue to grow,” Mory says.

Drivers and two motor coaches for the Park Once program are contracted through Largo-based Escot Bus Lines, Mory says. Shuttles are air-conditioned, equipped with bicycle racks and a wheelchair lift, and can each seat 30 passengers.

Along with the free shuttle, the Park Once program will expand in 2016 to include components like a bike share program and bus route re-alignments in the downtown neighborhood.

Who's hiring in Tampa Bay? Search engine, IT company, CPA, staffing agency, and more

The most recognizable name on the internet is bringing a new technology to Tampa Bay: Google is seeking applications for multiple roles in Tampa Bay. Hilton Hotels, a local marketing agency and other businesses are also hiring for part- and full-time positions in the Tampa Bay area in December 2015.  

Here's the 83 Degrees Media monthly Tampa Bay jobs roundup:

Online giant Amazon is still hiring for a number of temporary, seasonal positions at the megastore's Lakeland fulfillment center. Seasonal Fulfillment Associates must be 18 years or older and have a high school diploma or equivalent. To learn more or apply, visit the company's website

Bollenback & Forret, PACPAs Clearwater-based full service accounting and consulting firm, is hiring for a Tax Accountant. Requirements include five or more years of tax experience working in public accounting, an active CPA Certification and excellent people skills, as the role requires working with and alongside staff and clients. 

The firm is also hiring for an administrative assistant. To learn more or apply for either position, visit the Bollenback & Forret website

Fintech (Financial Information Technologies), is hiring for two roles at the company's Tampa headquarters. Fintech provides the alcohol industry with an electronic payment platform. The company is hiring for a Marketing Assistant and Customer Support Specialist.

Visit the company website for more details about job requirements, or to apply.

Google is seeking candidates for several roles related to Google Fiber, including City Manager, Community Impact Manager, and Associate City Manager. The search engine company notes in the job listings: "At this time, there is no guarantee that Tampa will be named a Google Fiber city. We’re exploring interest and talent for the opportunity in advance." 

As a member of Google's business operations team, the roles would involve representing Google Fiber to members of the community, from startup spaces to homeowner's meetings, and managing the team. 

Primary responsibilities for the Community Impact Manager position include developing and managing relationships within the community, with nonprofit organizations, and with community leaders. Minimum qualifications include at least 10 years of professional experience in nonprofits, coalitions, field campaigns, advocacy or managing volunteer networks; and a BA/BS degree, or equivalent practical experience. The City Manager role requires a BA/BS degree or equivalent practical experience as well as 15 years of experience in general management, operations or strategy roles. 

Hilton Hotels is hiring for part-time work-from-home positions in a number of cities, including Tampa. The Virtual Reservation Sales Specialist is virtual and requires at least six months of experience working in a performance driven role, computer proficiency, excellent communication skills, and at least one year of steady job experience in a sales role. High school diploma required, Associate’s or Bachelor’s Degree preferred.

To apply, visit the Hilton careers website.
 
Hire Ed Solutions is seeking to fill a variety of full-time positions in Tampa, including Business Analyst, Email Marketing Coordinator, Instructional Designer, and Social Media Marketing Coordinator, among other positions. The company, which is based in Tampa, is a boutique staffing agency that identifies, recruits and places candidates in professional and executive positions in the field of post-secondary education. 

To explore all open positions in post-secondary education staffing with Hire Ed Solutions, click here.
 
Marketing agency Sparxoo is hiring for a full-time Multimedia Designer, Web & Mobile Developer and Strategic Account Director in Tampa. The full-service agency, which has offices in downtown Tampa as well as Miami, is also seeking several interns in the fields of graphic design, marketing and social media.

To apply or learn more about these positions with Sparxoo, visit the company website.

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.

8 female entrepreneurs to compete in regional SBA InnovateHER Challenge

LocalShops1 Creator Ester Venouziou is partnering with the Gulfport Area Chamber of Commerce to offer eight Tampa Bay area female entrepreneurs the chance to compete for up to $70,000 in prizes during the Small Business Association InnovateHER Challenge. 

While all of the applications in the local round came from women entrepreneurs, the competition is open to both male and female business owners whose products and services focus on women and their families.

Finalists in the Pinellas County regional round of the InnovateHER Challenge include:“One of the goals of LocalShops1 is to put local businesses in the spotlight,” Venouziou says, and the SBA InnovateHER Challenge “gives us an excellent opportunity to do so on a national level. Tampa Bay has so many creative and talented entrepreneurs, so let's show them off to the rest of the world.”

The LocalShops1 round of the national SBA InnovateHER Challenge will take place from 5-8 pm on Wednesday, Dec. 2, at Catherine Hickman Theatre, 5501 27th Ave S in Gulfport.

Following an opening reception hosted by Pinellas County businesses Three Birds Tavern, Out of the Weeds and Red Hot Tiki Market, finalists will participate in a live pitch competition moderated by Gulfport Chamber president Barry Rubin.

Isabel Laessig, Founder of Family Foodie, is keynote speaker for the event.

Laessig “turned a hobby -- cooking and blogging -- into not only a successful business, but a national movement encouraging families to eat together,” Venouziou says. 

The judges panel for the pitch competition includes Gallerie 909 Owner Carla Bristol; Diana M. Hechavarria, an entrepreneurship professor at the University South Florida; Marie Tomassi, a managing partner at Trenam Law; Rita Lowman, COO of C1 Bank; and Robin King, co-Owner of  Three Birds Tavern and Out of the Weeds.

Winners of regional rounds will be submitted to the SBA National headquarters for consideration in the live pitch final round on March 16 and 17, 2016, in Washington. DC, where selected finalists will compete for prizes from Microsoft that total $70,000.

Venouziou expects to see more than 100 local business owners, civic leaders and community members attend the regional round of the challenge. To register for the free event, click here

“We hope the contestants and all the entrepreneurs -- and entrepreneurs-to-be -- in the audience walk away inspired and with a better understanding of what they need to run a successful business,” Venouziou says. “And of course, we hope that our local winner will make it to the national round and win one of the cash prizes!”

Venouziou commends the city of Gulfport and the Gulfport Area Chamber of Commerce, as well as event sponsors and community partners, for supporting the event. St. Pete Chamber of Commerce, St Pete Greenhouse and SCORE will be on hand during the Dec. 2 competition to provide free resources available to local businesses.

Meanwhile in Tampa, The Centre for Women is working with the SBA as a partner agency to prepare Tampa entrepreneurs for the competition. Winners of the local round will receive $5,000 in cash or prizes furnished by sponsors and supporters of The Centre.

Online continuing education company hiring, expanding Tampa HQ

An online educational training company has expanded its headquarters in Tampa’s Westshore business district and is hiring for seven full-time positions locally.

RedVector, a division of the larger organization Vector, has provided online training space for engineering, construction, industrial and public businesses since 1999. The Tampa-based business was developed and sold by David Chitester, whose Florida Funders group of angel investors is gaining traction locally -- most recently, by partnering with Uber on a 'ride-and-pitch' event that put potential entrepreneurs alongside angel investors and venture capitalists for 15-minute spins around town.

RedVector, which employs more than 80 workers in the Tampa Bay area, has recently moved from the 7th floor to the 3rd floor of the Urban Centre II building at 4890 West Kennedy Blvd., expanding its national headquarters in the city’s Westshore business district.

“We take a lot of pride in RedVector’s close-knit culture, but we were pretty squeezed for space at our old location,” explains RedVector CEO Tom Wallace.

The company’s vision for the new, 18,000-square-feet offices was "to create a larger, free-flowing environment, without taking away from that unified culture that we love so much,” Wallace says.

Aspects of the new RedVector offices include a large break room and coffee station, six conference rooms named for the company’s core values (Entrepreneurship, Learning, Integrity, Teamwork, Excellence, WOW), healthy snacks, and even a production studio.

One unique feature of the new space: a private ‘mother’s room.’

A number of full-time positions with RedVector in Tampa are currently available, including:
  • Accounts Payable Specialist
  • B2B Sales Representative
  • Business Development Representative
  • CRM Analyst
  • Inside Sales Representative - Education Advisors
  • Sales Representative - B2B Industrial
  • Vice President of Enterprise Sales
Visit the company website to learn more about job qualifications or to apply for these positions. 

Wallace hopes to see the new headquarters, designed with "more modern features, like low cube walls and glass partitions, foster even greater collaboration and creativity and attract new talent.”

Wallace, who serves on the Board of Directors of well-known local companies like Tribridge, is also a co-founder and past president of the Tampa Bay Technology Forum (TBTF). Wallace attended Indiana University of PA, and presently serves on TBTF's Board of Directors and Executive Committee. He is also a trustee of the University of Tampa.

Global VC tournament to take place in Tampa in 2016

A startup pitch competition offering $1 million in prizes to a global winner is headed toward Tampa Bay. The 1776 Challenge Cup, which will take place at startup business accelerator and venture center Tampa Bay WaVe in February 2016, is billed as a ‘worldwide tournament for the most promising, world-changing startups to win cash prizes, make international connections and share their vision on a global stage.’

The Challenge Cup competition, which was created by Washington, D.C.-based incubater 1776 in fall 2013, takes place in three rounds across 45 cities and nine regions across the world, culminating in a global competition in D.C. in spring 2016. Startups that focus on solving challenges related to topics like health, education, energy and smart cities have been determining criteria for past winners. 

Current and prior local hosts for the competitions in the United States have included tech hubs like Denver, Austin and San Francisco. So how was Tampa Bay selected as a host for a local round of the 1776 Challenge Cup this year?

“Tampa Bay just made its case for its startup community," Nick Caputo says. "This is really just further evidence of the growing startup community in Tampa Bay.”

Caputo, who interned with Tampa Bay WaVe from spring 2014 through fall 2015 while completing a Bachelors in Entrepreneurship at the University of Tampa, began working for the business as a part-time marketing assistant and later accepted a full-time role as an SEO analyst for Rank K.O., an internet marketing company housed at WaVe’s new, expanded downtown headquarters

“We all know that it is difficult -- not impossible -- to find funding in our region,” Caputo says, and the 1776 Challenge Cup could “enable some of our startups to get experience that they will rarely have the chance to get.”

Not to mention exposure, he adds. 

“You don't receive many opportunities to be showcased on a global scale,” Caputo says. “This is going to be huge for our region’s entrepreneurship community.”

What makes the 1776 Challenge Cup a different kind of pitch competition from the many others that Tampa Bay has seen in the past few years? It's primarily focused on scalable startups that aim to solve problems and modern challenges -- in other words, social good companies. 

Two startups have already applied to compete in the local challenge, Caputo says, but both teams are from Gainesville, two hours north of Tampa Bay. 

“I will be ramping up outreach in the coming weeks, so applications will be starting to roll in very soon,” Caputo says.

To apply to compete in the local Tampa Bay round of the 1776 Challenge Cup, visit the challenge website. Deadlines listed on the event website indicate that applications must be received three weeks prior to any event.  

The local Tampa 1776 Challenge Cup will take place on February 10, 2016, at Tampa Bay WaVe, 500 E. Kennedy Blvd, Suite 300. WaVe headquarters relocated from Tampa’s Skyes Building to the new location in Oct. 2015 after earning a second i6 Challenge grant (for $500,000 in 2014; the first was for $1 million in 2008), and a $50,000 Growth Accelerator Fund Grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), which was presented at WaVe's Grand Opening event.

Popular Tampa blog partners with Ybor City businesses to create candles, clothing

In 2012, Nicholas Catania and Ryan Sullivan, along with friend Allison Vetter, formed the social group Never Have I Ever Tampa Bay, launching a blog and a tradition of trying everything local.

The goal of the three transplants from the Northeastern U.S.: to 'discover' and share all of the unique sights, sounds and tastes of the Tampa Bay area with friends and strangers alike through their blog, social media platforms and word of mouth.

Today, newfound friends and first-time visitors attend NHIE events across the Tampa Bay region. Through their joint efforts, Catania and Sullivan (graduates of local colleges University of Tampa and the University of South Florida, respectively), also have a hand in helping to shape many of the entrepreneurially focused or innovative startup business events that occur throughout the region, such as the upcoming Startup Weekend at UT.

Now, NHIE branded merchandise can be found at select Tampa stores.

In October 2015, the NHIE team announced a new partnership with Ybor City mainstay Seventh Avenue Apothecary, a local small business where candles are still poured by hand. Earlier in 2015, the team partnered with Black & Denim's Roberto Torres to create the 'Everything Local' T-shirt, which is sold in Torres' Blind Tiger Cafe and online.

Catania, a teacher, and Sullivan, a marketer, "decided to branch out and create local products because we love supporting local businesses," Catania says. "We live by the phrase ‘everything local,’ and enjoy finding all of the new and unique stops throughout Tampa Bay.”

Black & Denim and 7th Avenue whose candles are sold in boutiques throughout the country, became NHIE's first partnerships because those two businesses are “local companies doing cool things in the community,” Catania says.

NHIE’s candle from 7th Ave “carries a locally inspired Black Tea and Valencia Orange scent, representative of Tampa Bay," says Catania. Meanwhile, the 'Everything Local' T-shirt collaboration with Black & Denim "is meant to appeal to anyone who appreciates and supports local businesses."

Take a look at the shirt's design here.

Any proceeds from the sales of locally inspired merchandise will allow the duo to expand efforts in the Tampa Bay area. NHIE also plans to invest in future partnerships with other local businesses.

“We hope to expand our collaborations in the future to include a whole line of NHIE ‘Everything Local’ products,” Catania says. In fact, the NHIE team is currently “in talks with a few other local brands -- so stay tuned.”

Upcoming in February 2016, NHIE will host the first-time Everything Local Market, showcasing local goods from artisans and business owners in the Tampa Bay community.

“We want our community to experience these products in their own lives, and also want new people to join us as we continue to explore ‘Everything Local,’ Catania says. 

Local artisans and business owners interested in being featured at NHIE’s market event in February can email NHIE for more information. 

Pitch competition offers prize money, mentorship to local winners

Startup companies affiliated with several business incubators in the Tampa Bay area will have the opportunity to win $1,000 in prize money at an upcoming business pitch competition.

Building Entrepreneurship Around Tampa (B.E.A.T.) Pitch Competition, sponsored by South-Florida based investors New World Angels, is a collaborative pitch event open to companies currently working with Tampa's USF CONNECT or Tampa Bay WaVE, Pasco County's SMARTstart and St. Pete's TEC Garage.

The B.E.A.T. Pitch Competition will provide local entrepreneurs from six finalist companies with the opportunity to pitch their ventures to angel investors on November 17, 2015. The winner of the pitch competition will receive $1,000 in prize money. Perhaps equally as valuable, winners also earn 20 hours of coaching. 

First, second and third place winners will also receive the opportunity to pitch in front of 15 investors at a New World Angels monthly meeting.

The pitch competition comes at a time when local innovation efforts are expanding through the leadership of groups like the Tampa Innovation Alliance and Hillsborough County. USF CONNECT Program Coordinator Amy Yonai expects the B.E.A.T. Pitch Competition to attract “an expanded network of individuals, due to the growth of the economic ecosystem in Tampa.”
 
The B.E.A.T. Pitch Competition is tapping into that growth by hosting a “TEC Talk” during the event -- attendees can sip coffee and start a conversation with Tampa Innovation Alliance Director Mark Sharpe and Stephanie Ashley, Director of Incubation Programs and Economic Development at USF Research.

Along with the TEC Talk, the B.E.A.T. Pitch Competition will feature a keynote speaker and “Entrepreneurship Breakout Sessions” that cover a gamut of topics from potential legal concerns to adversity and leadership or startup funding.

“B.E.A.T. is an event that supports the entrepreneurial ecosystem though a showcase of innovative start-ups, educational programming and opportunities to pitch for capital,” says Yonai, who received a BA from the University of California, Irvine.

Local start-ups, business leaders, entrepreneurial support organizations, [and] anyone interested in becoming involved in the economic ecosystem in Tampa" should consider attending the event, says Yonai, who has worked as a program coordinator at Duke University and a fellowship coordinator at UNC Chapel Hill.

Yonai stepped into the role of program coordinator at USF Connect and the Tampa Bay Technology Incubator (TBTI) in May 2015.
 
USF CONNECT works to provide support for technology start-ups and connects new companies from counties across Florida to business opportunities with the school. USF CONNECT and the USF Research Foundation are located at the University of South Florida, 3802 Spectrum Blvd., Suite 100, in Tampa. To learn more about the B.E.A.T event, click here.

The Telling Project: Veterans tell their stories of war experiences

Given that only 1 percent of the U.S. population has served in the military over the last dozen years of war, it may be hard for many to understand or relate to the experiences and struggles many veterans encounter. The Florida Humanities Council, based in St. Petersburg, and Tampa’s WEDU PBS TV are working to change this.

“Veterans: The Telling Project” is the result. It’s a TV documentary that follows six Tampa Bay area veterans and one military spouse who participated in an innovative theater project, providing intimate insight into individual challenges.

The documentary, which debuted last week in Tampa, will air again on Veteran’s Day, Wednesday, November 11, at 8 p.m. on WEDU+ which corresponds to Channel 605 on Brighthouse/476 Verizon/203 Comcast -- and throughout the week on other Florida PBS channels. Check your local TV listings. The program will air nationwide beginning in January.

“Veterans are coming back with injuries and issues and are feeling isolated because the general population is unaware,” says Barbara O’Reilley, Communications Director of the Florida Humanities Council. The Tampa Bay Telling Project, she says “is a way to bridge the communication gap between veterans and the population at large – tell their experiences directly to the communities.”

The Telling Project is a national performing arts nonprofit that “employs theater to deepen our understanding of the military and veterans’ experience.” Founded in 2008 by Jonathan Wei, the project was brought to Florida by the Florida Humanities Council (FHC), which hopes to expand the project to several cities in the state. Pensacola, which is home to a large veteran population, was picked for a second performance, which is currently underway.

Through an intensive interview process, Wei extracts the veterans’ stories and crafts a scripted play using their own words; the veterans also serve as the actors. The result is a deeply personal account of their military experiences and ongoing struggles, laid all the more bare because none of the Tampa Bay area veterans had ever performed on stage before. The Tampa Bay Telling Project plays took place this past spring around the region and included talk-back sessions afterward. 

Unique to the Tampa project is that FHC was able to partner with WEDU and chronicle the process of the project -- from creating the story to building performers -- in documentary form, accessible to all via public television.

Though FHC is a statewide organization, O’Reilley says they piloted the program locally  “so we could really be hands on.” She notes that the Tampa Bay region was ideal for the project with Central Command headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, a huge multi-generational veterans community and access to “great stage theater venues” in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

“Every single one [of the performances] received standing ovations,” says O’Reilley. She notes that the talk-back sessions were often as powerful, oftentimes with members of the audience saying, " 'I am a veteran and that happened to me, too, and it makes me feel better that I am not alone'.'' 

Veterans, active military invited to compete for funding in HCC business pitch competition

Veterans and active duty military seeking to open a business or embark on a new career path, mark your calendars.

Hillsborough Community College will host the 3rd Annual Veterans Entrepreneurship Training Symposium (VETS) on Saturday, November 14, 2015 at the school’s Plant City campus.

“This high impact day is designed to provide veterans with an opportunity to learn all about self employment and entrepreneurship,” explains event co-Organizer Beth Kerly, HCC Instructor of Entrepreneurship, Management and Marketing.

Veterans and active duty military members with an early stage business, or an idea for one, can apply to compete in a business pitch competition for up to $6,000 in prize money furnished by the HCC Foundation.

The symposium will feature workshops covering an array of topics related to starting up and running a small business. Keynote speakers for the event include Tampa Innovation Alliance President and former Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, along with HCC alum Valerie Ellis, Founder of veteran-focused staffing service Veterans2Corporate, and Clint Day, Entrepreneur-in-Residence at State College of Florida.

Kerly hopes to see attendees take “a basic idea of what it takes to be self employed” from the symposium. 

“Empowered to take the ‘leap,’ into entrepreneurship” she says, or perhaps to create “a list of community contacts that can help them on their journey. And, maybe a pitch prize to get their idea validated, a prototype.”

Those with active-duty experience are 45 percent more likely than those without to be self-employed, Kerly says, noting, “We have a huge military population in the area."

"In 2007 -- the latest data available from the U.S. Census Bureau -- veterans owned 2.4 million businesses, or 9 percent of all businesses nationwide, generating $1.2 trillion in receipts and employing nearly 5.8 million people.” Kerly says. “Veterans jump into entrepreneurship much more readily than civilians.”

The 3rd Annual Veterans Entrepreneurship Training Symposium (VETS) will take place from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday, November 14. To register, click here. Those interested in applying for the business pitch aspect of the symposium can click here to learn more.

Veterans, active duty military,and spouses are invited to attend the free event; guests are welcome.

“This event provides an excellent opportunity for you to network with business professionals from the Tampa Bay area, learn about the various dimensions of entrepreneurship,” says Kerly.
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