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Clearwater BusinessáSPARKácelebrates one year of assisting entrepreneurs

When Clearwater SPARK launched last year, the business network targeted the needs of area entrepreneurs and start-up companies. The initiative planned to be a support system for these businesses, offering them a variety of services at all levels, from conception to operations.

At the time, the program brought together five partners: the city of Clearwater’s Economic Development and Housing Department, the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Small Business Development Center at Pinellas County Economic Development, Florida Business Incubator (formerly known as TAFFIE) and the Clearwater Public Library System. Each partner had something different to offer small business owners and SPARK would serve as the conduit between the organizations involved and local entrepreneurs.

SPARK introduced its partners to the community at its March 2016 kick-off event at the Clearwater Main Library. Now, as SPARK partners reflect on its first year, the network will host another event at the library, Wednesday, May 24, 6 to 8 p.m.

“It really feels like we’ve come full circle,” says Audra Aja, Clearwater’s Economic Development Coordinator. “Here we are a year later bringing the community back to the library.”

The business initiative has a lot to celebrate, adds Aja, who fields calls for SPARK from her office at City Hall. In its first year, she made around 150 referrals to the initiative’s partners.

“The community has really responded to us and shown its support,” she says. “We bring a much-needed service to the community.”

SPARK has also welcomed two new partners since its launch. In January, Prospera, formerly known as the Hispanic Business Initiative Fund, joined the network as a way to reach out to Hispanic-owned businesses in Clearwater.

The latest partner to join forces with SPARK, Pinellas County SCORE, will be formally introduced at the May 24 event. SCORE, a nonprofit association with thousands of business experts worldwide, offers mentorship for small businesses and other educational resources.

The organization has been involved with SPARK from the beginning. They held business workshops at the Main Library. “They just weren’t an official partner,” Aja says.

SCORE brings new resources to the table, she adds. “They’ll be able to help those in the beginning phases of exploring their ideas and getting started. That’s something we didn’t have in our network. SCORE comes in at the entry level.”
 
In addition to accepting more referrals from SPARK, SCORE will also offer one-on-one consultations at Clearwater venues as well as more workshops.

The May 24 event will also serve as an open house for the library’s Maker Studios, Aja says. The Main Library has five studios spread throughout the building: the Creation Studio, the Discovery Studio, the Innovation Studio, the Multimedia Studio and the Heritage Studio, which will open in July. The Maker Studios launched last May.

During the open house, guests will tour the Multimedia and Innovation Studios, where they will learn about the free programs for small businesses and entrepreneurs, and view hands-on demonstrations of the equipment available in these spaces. Software, programs and equipment available for use include business databases, 3-D printers and scanners, design and production software, and audio and video equipment.

Rino Landa, Maker Studios coordinator, says not many libraries offer a makerspace. So the Clearwater Main Library stands out as a space for entrepreneurs and small businesses, he says. The wide range of offerings – from painting and sewing classes to tools for start-ups to genealogy resources – is also remarkable. “We are unique in that we have multiple spaces throughout the library and so much to offer on each floor,” he says.

Aja says the Maker Studios is the most “underutilized” aspect of SPARK, so the May 24 open house is designed to remind residents that it’s available to them. It’s also continuing to evolve, she adds, especially as new technology is developed. She says the library will add more multimedia tools and expand its workshop schedule in the coming year. “We’re really very fortunate that the library has invested in this for the community,” she says.

Register for the May 24 event at the Clearwater SPARK website or call (727) 443-0217.

Looking for a new job? Goodwill, Tampa Airport, Bank of America, others plan local job fairs in May

Goodwill Industries-Suncoast Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to helping people find dignity through employment, is celebrating International Goodwill Industries Week with a Community Job Fair May 10. The St. Petersburg-based organization has scheduled the event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Pinellas Technical College’s St. Pete campus.

“The job fair is for anyone in the community that needs help finding a job,” says Chris Ward, Director of Marketing. “Already we’ve got 29 employers signed up.”

A mix of employers is anticipated, among them Home Shopping Network and Walmart. Staffing, bank and health care firms also are expected.

“We’ve done this for three years. We feel like it’s a great way to reach out and support the Goodwill mission of helping people,” Ward says.

Job seekers can learn more here

Goodwill’s Job Connection Center can help job seekers with preparing resumes, beefing up interviewing skills and more. A Skill Builder Workshop on resumes is planned from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. May 5 at the center at 3365 Central Ave., St. Pete. A workshop on overcoming the barriers of a criminal history is scheduled from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. May 4 at the center. To register, call 727-321-7337 or e-mail Job Connection.

The Suncoast division founded in 1954 operates 22 stores in the 10-county West Central Florida region.

An Airport Concessions Job Fair is slated from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 8 at Tampa International’s Airport Boardroom. Airport Concessions are looking to hire 350 to fill openings at new restaurants and shops expected to open this summer. Learn more.

Here are some other hiring events scheduled in the area.

• The Bank of America is holding a Recruitment Event from 10 a.m. to noon on May 11 at Tampa Center, 9215 N. Florida Ave., Conference Room #1. They are looking for inbound specialists and small business deposit servicing specialists who have one year of experience working with customers. Learn more.

Kaiser University Tampa Career Fair is slated from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 16 at 5002 W. Waters Ave., Tampa. The free event, open to students, graduates and people in the community, is expected to include employers from a variety of careers such as business, legal, technology, allied health, sports medicine and fitness, and criminal justice.

• CareerIntro is holding a Tampa Career Fair from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 23 at Doubletree, 4500 W. Cypress St., Tampa. Job seekers can meet local, regional, and Fortune 500 companies with openings. The event is free; professional attire is mandatory. Applicants are advised to register and submit their resume for review before the event.

•  Best Hire Career Fairs is planning its Tampa Job Fair from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 25 at Holiday Inn Tampa Westshore Airport, 700 North Westshore Blvd. Candidates are advised to update their resumes and upload them for employers in advance.


Peer-to-peer tutoring app gains traction on college campuses, national recognition

College students struggling with classes can face an uphill battle finding a reasonably priced tutor with up-to-date skills. But now a South Tampa-based tutoring service helps them connect to peers who have recently aced the very class they need help with.

“We’re completely peer to peer and we’re extremely course specific. It’s more relevant,” says Knack CEO Samyr Qureshi.

Knack, which originally launched its product in Gainesville in 2016, is gaining traction. It was chosen by the San Francisco-based Kairos Society, a group that finds promising entrepreneurs and connects them with potential funders and industry leaders, as one of 50 to attend a Global Summit in April in New York City.

The event was “probably one of the highlights of my year,” Qureshi remarked later. It signaled “Knack is a company that can truly make an impact on a global scale,” says Qureshi, who grew up in Palm Harbor after migrating from Dubai with his family.

Knack -- co-founded by Qureshi, Dennis Hansen, David Stoker and Shawn Doyle -- has joined the Kairos Society as a K50 Company and is discussing funding prospects. It was featured in Inc. Magazine’s article about the summit entitled “Meet 50 Young Entrepreneurs Rethinking the World's Biggest Problems.”

Knack got its start in a University of Florida incubator, then claimed the $25,000 grand prize in the 2016 Big Idea Gator Business Plan Competition upon graduation.

“We’ve been really focused on helping college students afford this service,” Qureshi says. “Ultimately we want to partner with organizations that can help us make that happen.

It already is working with the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, a nonprofit that sets aside a portion of scholarships to subsidize Knack tutoring. It also is partnering with UF Housing and Residence Education and UCF Student Government Association.

Through Knack apps for Apple and Android phones, students connect with some 900 tutors, for some 2,000 courses, most of them at the undergraduate level. A web app is in development. Students schedule a meeting, usually on campus, and pay with their debit card after a timed session.

Knack currently operates on six campuses including UF, the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Florida State University in Tallahassee, the University of South Florida in Tampa, North Carolina State University in Raleigh and the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

It has completed more than 25,000 tutoring hours and grown 143 percent, semester after semester, in revenue and completed sessions, Qureshi says.

Knack’s ultimate goals are to improve learning, help students finish college and provide flexible employment. Tutors set their own rates -- the current average is $22 -- and are paid at the end of the session. Knack keeps 20 percent of the fee.

Prospective tutors can sign up on the Knack website. The company also invites others to “Join the Knack Pack.” It is seeking a Full Stack Developer and Campus Ambassadors to help the company “knacktivate campuses across the nation,” the website says.

With some 80 percent of the tutoring market focused on kindergarten through 12th graders, “in college there’s a bit of a gap,” says Qureshi, who earned a BA in Law and Criminology.

It’s a gap Knack is working to fill, with help from Tampa Bay WaVE and the growing Tampa Bay tech community. “Knack is a Launch company in the WaVE program,” says Daniel McDonald, Accelerator Manager, Tampa Bay WaVE. “We have been helping Knack accelerate a lot with pitch coaching, community building and setting them up with local investors.”


Media marketing firm to fill 24 new jobs, host TechHire meetup

The Tampa digital marketing company MediaLab 3D Solutions, which specializes in interactive technology for the homebuilders’ market, is adding 24 new positions by the end of June.

Tara Harris, the company’s Human Resources Director, says the positions are needed because of large projects MediaLab has taken on. The company has been experiencing “conservative, measured growth” during the last three years, she says.

“For us to hire 24 people in one quarter is significant,” Harris says.

The company added 7,000 square feet to its offices in Telecom Park last year. It is looking for an architectural visualizer to work with animated graphics so they look real. Other positions include 3D modelers (junior and senior level), producers, project managers and floor plan artists.

The company employs about 100 in staff and has nearly a 50/50 mix of male and female in leadership roles. They are seeking to diversify the staff to include more minorities.

“We hire people that have a degree as well as those that are non-degreed,” Harris says. “We’re looking for a skillset.”

MediaLab has a “progressive, open-door culture” and is looking for people who want a career path and who enjoy camaraderie, she says.

“We don’t hire jerks,” Harris adds. “The majority of our people are artists.”

Most have some background in interior design, fine arts or computer animation.

MediaLab is hosting the third TechHire meeting to discuss local tech employment needs. The meeting, scheduled from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. April 19, will be at 13101 Telecom Drive, Suite 250. It features Stacy Jenkins, the company’s Director of Development.

The event is organized by Tampa Innovation Alliance, a multi-jurisdictional district working to revitalize the community surrounding the University of South Florida. Seating is limited and interested persons are advised to reserve a place. 

“Stacy Jenkins is going to speak about some of the challenges of finding qualified employees for [computer] developing roles, bringing diversity to the group we have,” Harris says.

MediaLab’s goal is to find and retain a skilled, diverse workforce. “It’s challenging for us to find the skilled people that are kind of younger in their career,” Harris says. “The generation that we appeal to tend to be a little more transient.”

The TechHire program, launched by former U.S. President Barack Obama in 2015, is building a pipeline of talent in communities throughout the country. Tampa Bay was officially designated a TechHire community in December. It received a $3.8 million federal grant last summer to fund technical training and connect people with jobs.


Local TV network seeks submissions from filmmakers doing video in 11 categories

A cable television channel in downtown Tampa is giving voice to the region’s filmmakers. Through its annual Film Showcase and Filmmaker Spotlight, the Tampa Bay Arts and Education Network provides opportunities for filmmakers to share their work on a broader scale.

“TBAE showcase runs yearly,” says Jessica Sturges, TBAE Director of Business Development. “June we’re closed for judges to complete review to make sure they meet our broadcasting standards and can play it on our cable channel.”

Filmmakers have 11 categories to choose from: animations, lectures, shorts, features, documentary, children’s programs, public service announcement, explainer/tutorial video, music video, culture video and television. Entries should not have nudity or strong adult language.

“It has to go through prescreening,” she says, “to make sure it meets those broadcasting standards.”

Winners will receive Laurel of Excellence Awards and have their work broadcast on Charter Spectrum Channel 635 and 636 and Frontier Communications Channels 32 and 34.

TBAE is working on a Netflix-like app that will expand its reach globally this fall.

Founded in 1987, TBAE broadcasts commercial-free arts, culture and educational content to some 1.3 million viewers in Hillsborough County. Its original content includes Characters of Ybor City, Circus Coming to Town, The Tampa Natives Show, Florida in the Space Age, and Filmmaker Spotlight featuring selected films from the Gasparilla International Film Festival.

It works with area colleges -- and even Blake High School -- to provide feedback and internships. “We work very closely with professors and teachers in the community to make sure they are producing what TV stations like us are looking for,” she explains.

Originally founded in the University of Tampa’s library, the nonprofit organization now encourages filmmakers from throughout the Tampa Bay/Central Florida region, including Sarasota, Bradenton and Orlando.

The network launched the area’s first film festival, The Independents’ Film Festival, in 1993, but had to discontinue it because of the cost, she says. Instead, they partner with the Gasparilla festival.

Filmmaker Spotlight ... is the result of this unique collaboration,” she says. “The program offers the viewer a behind-the-scenes interview with the filmmaker, before the film and after.”

The showcase was started in 2014 at the request of filmmakers who wanted to have the opportunity to air their work. TBAE normally broadcasts the showcase in August and September, she says.

Submissions can be made online here.  For more information, call 813-254-2253.


Real-time Tampa communications company automates business operations

Software companies usually offer free trials that attract potential users of their software to their websites. But if that software is not really easy to use, the potential customers move on to other websites. Large numbers of them leave a site -- if they have questions, if they’re asked to download communications software, or if they have to wait for customer service.

Tampa’s ThinkRTC, short for Think Real-Time Communications, is working to change that. “We automate the process of talking to your customers. Our product builds right into your website,” says Masud Hossain, Co-Founder and CEO.

ThinkRTC was developed last November during Startup Weekend by Hossain, Yusuf Shajahan, Stephen Hong and Jonathan Li, who met through their families or the University of South Florida. The company is growing 85 percent each month.

“It [the software] keeps your users from leaving [your website] and lets your business communicate instantly,” he says.

Hossain, who earned a bachelor’s degree from USF with a double major in biochemistry and physics, had been working for a software company that was having a hard time retaining its signups. When a customer wasn’t willing to connect with the software company on Skype or Google Hangouts, he or she “was falling off the face of the Earth,” he says.

Email was worse. “If businesses don’t migrate from email to real-time communications, they’re going to lose business,” he asserts.

Real-time communications is simpler – and it also avoids a 24-hour lag time often associated with emails. “They don’t want to have to wait for 24 hours,” he says, “because in that 24 hours they’ve probably found someone that’s better than you.”

It’s “very rare” for a company to have its screen-share capabilities like those available from ThinkRTC’s $25-a-month-per-agent subscription service, he says.

“A lot [of users] have to download software to do that,” he explains. “It makes it harder for the customer.”

ThinkRTC’s service can be up and running after copying and pasting a line of code into a company’s website. It doesn’t matter what type of computer, browser or software is in use, he says.

The service lets the business and customer share the screen and computer, as well as engage in video chat. A ThinkRTC app allows communication on the go.

Initially ThinkRTC was seeking customers in the software niche, but they’ve found it can help people in other industries too. “We noticed that lawyers and doctors were using our product, as well as car dealerships,” he says. “It’s more useful if clients stay at home where all their documents are.”

ThinkRTC can automate workflow by allowing customers to submit documentation online through the system. “One lawyer just stays at home now. He’s just doing everything online. It’s automated his work process completely,” Hossain says.

The company working out of USF’s Student Innovation Incubator is seeking $1.2 million in capital primarily to market and sell the service. Though they visited Silicon Valley and were offered funding, the founders were all born and raised in Tampa and want to keep the technology here. “We want to make a name for ourselves here in Tampa,” he says.


St. Petersburgĺs Innovation District launches search for director

South of downtown St. Petersburg in the city’s Bayboro Harbor District, lies a powerhouse collection of marine science and oceanographic organizations.

The University of South Florida College of Marine Science, SRI St. Petersburg, the Florida Institute of Oceanography and U.S. Geological Survey and are among the half dozen or more marine-related organizations collectively known as the Ocean Team.

According to the City of St. Petersburg, the Ocean Team collectively employs more than 1,600 people, most in highly specialized jobs.

Just a block away, is another growing consortium of world-class educational, research and healthcare organizations.  There’s the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, known internationally for its journalism education, and the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus, which just opened the new Kate Tiedemann College of Business.

In addition, there is a thriving healthcare corridor that includes Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and Bayfront Health St. Petersburg.  

The internationally renowned Dali Museum is also located here.

To capitalize on the area’s potential, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin have branded it as the city’s new Innovation District. A search is now underway to hire a director to help plan, manage and coordinate activities to take the district to the next level.

“The aspiration of the St. Petersburg Innovation District is to catalyze the major institutional anchors in one geographic space,” says Randall H. Russell, President and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, one of several anchor organizations working with the city to recruit a new director for the district.

“The unusual co-location of federal and local marine research, health care organizations, including the opening of the new Johns Hopkins All Children’s Research Center, combine to result in a unique combination of talent and opportunity,” says Russell.

Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital is currently constructing a seven-story, 225,000-square-foot research and education center that will house laboratories and offices in four key areas: pediatric heart disease, children’s cancer and blood disorders, brain protection sciences and maternal, fetal and neonatal institute. There are also expanded facilities for the hospital’s nationally accredited pediatric bio-repository to support clinical research.

In a 2015 report outlining the vision for the district, GAI Community Solutions Group writes: “Many Sunbelt cities are interested in developing this type of integrated place, but very few have the necessary cornerstone elements in place as St. Petersburg does.  Even fewer cities have those elements situation in a location with compelling natural environmental resources and economic characteristics to attract talent and jobs.”

The city envisions the Innovation District as a driver of economic development, job creation and collaboration that will attract new investment and revitalization to the area. Click here for an overview of the area from the city’s perspective

The salary range for the new Innovation District Director is $70,000 to $90,000. Job candidates must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university with major course work in urban planning, business administration or a related field, as well as five years of increasing responsible experience in a project management environment. Economic development, business development, marketing or public relations experience is preferred.

According to a news release, the new director “will work with the City of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County leadership, as well as Innovation District organizations to develop the infrastructure for the district and bring the concept to the next level.”

Prospera joins Clearwater SPARK, nurtures Hispanic businesses

Twenty-five years ago, Prospera -- then called the Hispanic Business Initiative Fund -- was established in a small West Tampa office. 

There was a need to support Hispanic entrepreneurs in the area, says Claudia Johnson, senior business development consultant on the West Coast. Prospera stepped in to fill this void by offering bilingual technical assistance and workshops to Spanish-speaking businesses.

Decades later, the organization has spread to markets in south Florida and as far north as Jacksonville. Additional offices have opened in Miami and Orlando. Over the past 25 years, Prospera has “supported several thousands of people,” Johnson says. “Our objective became to strengthen the state of Florida’s economical sector with Hispanics.” 

Now, Clearwater is the latest city in Prospera’s far-reaching network. As of January, the group became the sixth organization to join Clearwater Business SPARK, a city-led business incubator that brings together a variety of resources for entrepreneurs and small business owners.

Prospera was looking for a home base in Pinellas County, Johnson says, and Clearwater made the most sense for a partnership. “The city has the majority of Hispanics [in the county,]” she says. “So that is where we are working closely. Now we have a more clear collaboration, a strong collaboration.” 

Denise Sanderson, the city’s director of Economic Development and Housing, says Hispanic entrepreneurs and small businesses represent approximately 20 percent of the city’s population. “Hispanic-owned businesses are an important and growing sector of our local economy,” she adds.

While Pinellas County residents were always welcome to participate in Prospera’s workshops and grant programs in other cities, the organization is now specifically targeting Clearwater. The organization will host six bilingual public workshops covering a variety of topics of interest to small businesses at Clearwater libraries throughout the year. The first was held Jan. 31 with around 30 attendees, Johnson says. 

In addition to training, and mentorship assistance with marketing and business planning, Prospera offers grants to small businesses looking to pay for professional services such as accountants and attorneys. The group also helps facilitate small business loans to entrepreneurs through partnerships with several banking institutions. “We’ve facilitated about $20 million worth of money for loans for clients throughout the whole state,” Johnson says.

She adds, “We’re here to help strengthen their business -- from start-ups to ongoing businesses. We’re a very active organization to help Hispanics.”

Hungry? EatMobile can help you find nearest food truck, and help vendors find new customers

EatMobile Inc.’s story began with an ice cream sandwich. A refrozen, unappetizing ice cream sandwich. Matt Land had heard the tantalizing music of a passing ice cream truck. He was lured by the thought of a sweet and refreshing treat. Instead, he was in for a letdown.
 
“I didn’t finish the whole thing,” he recalls.
 
Fortunately for Land, that wasn’t the end of the story. He shared the incident with long-time friend Jacob Lishen, a sales and marketing expert, and his mother Lori Townsend, who has experience in project management in the global restaurant chain industry. Together with Robb Vandaveer, a Marine Corps veteran and software architect, they started EatMobile.
 
They now have a network of some 50 food trucks in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Sarasota and Lakeland, and plan to beta test the new service. The trucks represent a wide variety of culinary tastes from barbecue to seafood, tacos to vegetarian, and pizza. “Literally, everything you can think of, it’s here in this area, and it’s amazing,” says Land, the company’s CEO.
 
The first food truck he consulted with during the research phase was Blazin 28 Pizza. Dillon Walts operates his pizza food truck out of an old fire truck, where he’s built a wood-brick oven. He sells from a stand set up outside.
 
“Every truck is its own unique incredible business,” Land says.
 
EatMobile arranged some meals during Tampa Bay Startup Week February 13-17. He also shared his company’s journey with attendees.
 
“Our core purpose… is increasing local spending to these local businesses,” explains Land.
 
Located in Tampa, EatMobile has become part of the tech accelerator Tamba Bay WaVE. “It’s been incredible since we’ve been able to flip the switch,” Land says. “It really feels like it’s meant to be and there’s a path laid before us.”
 
Since that fateful day two years ago, when Land bought the ice cream sandwich, the team has done a lot of work researching and talking to consumers and clients. It officially launched with Startup Week after about seven months in operation.
 
EatMobile’s goal is to help people find food trucks for a quick bite in their area, or sign up food trucks for special events like weddings or company events. People can access services through their phones, tablets or computers. They are working on an app that can be downloaded.
 
Food trucks will have three levels of service through their online platform, including profiles, videos and imagery taken from drones or unmanned aircraft.
 
Land considers it an honor to provide a venue and business tools for families pursuing the American dream. In the past, they’ve been on their own. “They don’t have time for networking, hunting for catering opportunities,” he says.
 
Profits will come from multiple sources including food sales, vendor services, data services and advertising.
 
In the short term, EatMobile is connecting with technology experts to roll out its offerings into the market more quickly. It’s also looking for investors who share their goals.
 
 “This is something that truly has the potential to do a lot of good,” he explains. “It’s not about us, it’s about them.”
 
EatMobile is giving back through a monetary donation to Feeding Tampa Bay. It plans to expand into giving free meals to the homeless.
 
“We’re very passionate about giving back,” he says.

TiE Tampa Bay invites local startups to Pitch Festival

Two Florida businesses may gain global attention through TiE Tampa Bay’s upcoming investor pitch festival Feb. 23.  The non-profit is seeking startups to compete in the free contest with a Feb. 15 deadline to apply.
 
Winners of Judge’s and Audience’s awards will be part of the TiE Tampa Bay booth at the TiEcon’s May entrepreneurship conference in Silicon Valley, described as the world’s largest. The Judge’s Award winner will compete in the TiE International Startup Competition for the North America region, Investor Track.
 
“This is the first time we are doing something that is tied to an international competition,” says TiE Tampa Bay President Ramesh Sambasivan.
 
Ten Florida startups will be competing for the awards locally before an audience. The Judge’s Award winner will be chosen by a panel of TiE Tampa Bay angel investors, who have made pledges to a $2 million angel fund.
 
TiE International Startup Competition’s investor track will have finalists from Asia, Europe and North America, with winners being invited to TiEcon Silicon Valley for Global Finals. The winning teams receive two passes to TiEcon 2017, attend a one-day Power Boot camp hosted by TiE Silicon Valley, and enjoy additional business exposure.
 
Sambasivan says the event is being called a festival rather than a competition because its focus is less on competition than the international contest.
 
“I want it to be a little bit of competition. I want it to be where people can come together and know there is one place people can find support,” he says.
 
TiEcon Silicon Valley is a 2-day event that draws more than 4,500 of the top entrepreneurs and investors from around the world.
 
Startups can apply to the Pitch Festival here.
 
The festival, scheduled from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Oak View Room at USFCONNECT in Tampa, includes dinner. Reserve here.
 
TiE Tampa Bay is one of 61 TiE chapters in 18 countries. It can help startups in a number of ways, including connections and coaching. “Most think seed capital might be key to all their problems,” he explains. Valuable tips may open up markets. ... I’ve actually seen that happen.”

Wanted: High school computer science, math scholars

Saint Leo University is looking for high school juniors and seniors for a multi-disciplinary scholarship program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Sixteen students, eight in each grade, will receive up to $10,000 a year in scholarships to study either computer science or math at the private university on State Road 52 in Pasco County.
 
“Initially we are targeting students in the counties around Tampa Bay,” says Vyas Krishnan, Principal Investigator of the scholarship and an Associate Professor of computer science at Saint Leo’s.
 
Among the university’s goals is helping meet the area’s workforce needs. “What we want to provide for these recipients goes beyond the typical,” he says. “We wanted to open their eyes to the interdisciplinary nature of both of their careers.”
 
The result will be “better trained graduates,” he says. “We thought, why not provide them a much richer interactive experience in school so they are better prepared to hit the ground running?”
 
The eight students in each class, five in computer science and three in math, will be paired when they are admitted the first year. They will take common courses together and work on course-related projects, without having to enroll in any additional classes. They also would be assigned mentors.
 
Computer science degrees are broad and offer students a variety of career options. “A lot of math-related jobs have computing as a significant part of the work that they do,” he adds.
 
The Emerging Mathematics and Computer Science Scholars awards, valued at up to $10,000 annually, are renewable for four years. Students can be groomed for a variety of positions, including jobs as computer programmers, database specialists, computer network administrators, cyber security specialists, web developers, or tech support workers.
 
Saint Leo received a grant totaling about $650,000 from NSF. Some 95 percent will be used for scholarships, with the balance funding conferences, contests and other education-related expenses, he says.
 
High school seniors need to apply by March 1. Awards will be announced at the end of March.
 
College seniors from Florida who have applied to Saint Leo’s can contact Mike Halligan, the Associate Director of Admissions, if they want to be considered. Those who want more information can contact Krishnan. More information is available on the university’s website.
 
Juniors will need to apply for the scholarships next year.

Tampa Innovation Summit to boost local startup ecosystem

Twentieth century entrepreneurs are working hard to make the Tampa Bay region a place that attracts -- and keeps -- 21st Century businesses. Among their goals is helping young business minds recognize what they did: the Tampa Bay area is business friendly, has great weather (especially in the winter) and is an all-around beautiful place to live.

“We want the Tampa Bay region to be one of the best places in the country to build a company,” says Marc Blumenthal, CEO of Florida Funders, which looks to invest in between 12 and 25 companies annually. “We want people to seek us out, to stay here to build their companies.”
 
A Jan. 24 Innovation Summit, organized by The Tampa Bay Business Journal and sponsored by Florida Funders, is bringing together people who can participate in building the region into a major entrepreneurial ecosystem similar in reputation to that experienced by Austin TX, Boulder CO, Raleigh-Durham NC or Atlanta GA.
 
“Jan. 24, 2017, really marks the point in time in which Tampa Bay celebrates the successes that it already has,” Blumenthal says.
 
The summit will be inspiring people about ways to become involved. “You need all the ingredients in the recipe to work. We want to activate people,” Blumenthal explains.
 
The Innovation Summit, scheduled from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Tampa Marriott Waterside, is a showcase event featuring Jeff Vinik, Chairman and Governor of Tampa Bay Lightning; and Chris Sullivan, Chairman of Omnivore and MenuPad.
 
“Chris Sullivan is one of the gems of the Tampa Bay area,” Blumenthal says. “He and his partners built Outback [Steakhouse] many many years ago. They chose Tampa as the base. They got the time and the energy and the capital and the support that they needed.”
 
The slate of speakers and panelists also includes Mindy Grossman, CEO and Director of HSN Inc.; innovator Ron Klein; Bill Edwards, CEO of The Edwards Group and Chairman, CEO and Governor of Tampa Bay Rowdies; and governmental representatives.
 
The summit is preceded by an 8:15 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Workshop Action Meeting at the same facility to discuss findings of a Tampa Bay Ecosystem Study conducted through the University of Tampa. The study, which Blumenthal describes as “a bit of a prescription,” recommends the community build an entrepreneurial mindset and address its vision and collaborative efforts.
 
An Investor Lunch from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. will bring together accredited investors and early stage companies. Those who wish to attend can e-mail Florida Funders.
 
The Summit will help attract attention to what the Tampa Bay area has to offer to business. “I think that the visibility of our region, nationally and internationally, has really gone up significantly,” Blumenthal says. “Now’s the time. Now’s always the time. You can’t do it tomorrow, you can’t do it yesterday.”
 
The Summit aims to draw 400-500 people. Tickets are $90 each, with reservations available by following this link

At least 64 entrepreneurial support organizations have been training, mentoring and investing in new businesses in the area. "There is no shortage [of support] ... no shortage of passion and willingness to help build companies" Blumenthal says.

On The Ground: RCMA welcomes new leadership from Miami-Dade

To read this story in Spanish, please follow this link.

For the first time in 28 years, Redlands Christian Migrant Association (RCMA) of Florida will welcome new leadership.
 
Gayane A. Stepanian, 45, an executive with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Miami-Dade, has been picked as RCMA’s next Executive Director. 

Stepanian will succeed executive director Barbara Mainster, 75, on Jan. 2. 

RCMA is a nonprofit organization that provides high-quality child development services for farmworker families and other rural, low-income families in child-care centers, family day-care homes, after-school dropout prevention programs and charter schools. Mainster served as executive director from 1988 to the present. 

“I am inspired and humbled to join RCMA,” Stepanian says. “I am thrilled to join others who are absolutely dedicated to delivering world-class child care and education for our most vulnerable kids.” 

The organization, which began with 75 children in two child-care centers, now serves nearly 7,000 children in 68 centers in rural areas of 21 Florida counties. It also operates three charter schools, in Hillsborough and Collier counties.
 
“I think you will all agree that Gayane is a wonderful addition to the RCMA family,” Mainster told the RCMA staff, via e-mail. “I like her, and know you will, as well.” 

More than 80 percent of the children RCMA serves are Hispanic, and 11 percent are African-American. In addition, 85 percent of RCMA employees come from backgrounds similar to the communities they serve. 

Mainster believes that Stepanian’s background qualifies her as an excellent successor. Stepanian is the daughter of a Mexican mother and an Armenian father, and is fluent in English and Spanish. 

“My parents came to this country with nothing but their sheer will,” Stepanian says. “It is that same will and passion that I see in our volunteers, staff and families at RCMA. RCMA, to me, is like coming home.”
 
Since 2014, Stepanian has been Director of Grants Development for the Boys & Girls Clubs in Miami. She is a child safety expert with degrees in psychology and education, and is a mother of three teenagers. 

On The Ground: RCMA da la bienvenida a su nueva directora

To read this story in English, please follow this link.

Por primera vez en 28 años, Redlands Christian Migrant Association (RCMA) de Florida da la bienvenida a su nueva leader.
 
Gayane A. Stepanian, de 45 años, una ejecutiva del club Boys & Girls Clubs de Miami-Dade, ha sido elegida como la nueva Directora Ejecutiva de RCMA.

Stepanian sucederá a la Directora Ejecutiva Barbara Mainster, de 75 años, el 2 de enero. 

RCMA es una organización sin fines de lucro que provee servicios de desarrollo infantil de alta calidad para familias de trabajadores del campo y para otras de familias rurales de bajos ingresos en centros de cuidado infantil, guarderías familiares, programas de prevención de deserción escolar y escuelas chárter. Mainster  sirvió como Directora Ejecutiva de 1988 hasta el presente.

"Me siento inspirada y honrada de unirme a RCMA", dice Stepanian. "Estoy encantada de unirme a otros que están absolutamente dedicados a ofrecer cuidado de niños de clase mundial y a la educación para nuestros niños más vulnerables".
 
La organización, que comenzó con 75 niños en dos centros de cuidado infantil, ahora sirve a casi 7 mil pequeños en 68 centros en las zonas rurales de los 21 condados de la Florida. También opera tres escuelas en los condados de Hillsborough y Collier.
 
"Creo que estarán todos de acuerdo en que Gayane es una maravillosa adición a la familia de RCMA", dijo Mainster al personal RCMA, vía correo electrónico.
 
Más del 80 por ciento de los niños que atiende RCMA son hispanos, y 11 por ciento son afroamericanos. Además, el 85 por ciento de los empleados de RCMA provienen de orígenes similares a las comunidades que sirven.
 
Mainster cree que la experiencia y credenciales profesionales de Stepanian la califican como un excelente sucesora. Stepanian es hija de madre mexicana y padre armenio; habla inglés y español con fluidez.
 
"Mis padres vinieron a este país sin otra cosa que su pura voluntad", dice Stepanian. "Es esa misma voluntad y pasión la que veo en nuestros voluntarios, personal y las familias de RCMA. RCMA, para mí, es como volver a casa".
 
Desde 2014, Stepanian ha sido Directora de Desarrollo de Subvenciones para los clubes de Boys & Girls en Miami. Ella es una experta en seguridad infantil con una carrera en psicología y educación; es madre de tres adolescentes.

Checkers rolls out new look, expands in Tampa Bay Area in new year

Shaji Joseph is a man of firsts. He owns the oldest Checkers in Tampa and the first Checkers in a Walmart in the Tampa area, which is in Oldsmar. Now he is now making plans to open the first updated modular Checkers in Tampa.
 
For all appearances, this Indian immigrant is living the American dream. “I am so proud and happy to cherish what this great nation has offered me and my family,” the 46-year-old entrepreneur says. “[I] will forever be in debt to this great organization [Checkers] that believed in me and gave me such an awesome avenue.” 
 
Joseph attended business school in India, then became an assistant manager for Checkers in Pennsylvania. Fast forward 19 years, and Joseph owns eight franchises, with a commitment to build five more. His eighth location, in Spring Hill, is scheduled to open this month. The modular restaurant on Busch Boulevard is slated to open in the second quarter of 2017.
 
“I hit the ground running. I never stop. I never look back. I just keep going,” he says.
 
Formerly the corporation’s Director of Operations, Joseph is excited about the new design options, which enables him to save money and time. Each restaurant with a new modular design costs approximately $250,000 to build, which is $100,000 less than the traditional option.
 
The new modular restaurant features structural steel, which enhances sturdiness. It will have one instead of two drive-thru lanes plus a covered, outdoor seating area and a walk-up window.
 
His new Busch Boulevard location, which is currently awaiting city approval, is right by his franchise office, Wow Burgers LLC.
 
The new restaurants will incorporate the company’s traditional red, black and white colors. “There’s a lot of excitement and how it’s convenient,” he says. “We’re not losing our charm.”
 
Joseph’s Busch Boulevard location will be one of more than 50 in the nation with the Tampa-based Checkers & Rally’s Restaurants' updated designs. The new design is rolling out in key markets in Tampa, South Florida, Los Angeles, Nashville, Columbus and Houston.
 
Its Model 4.0 design gives franchise holders three options: traditional, modular and hybrid.
 
Jennifer Durham, Checkers & Rally’s Senior VP, says both the modular and hybrid designs are built offsite and feature structural steel. The hybrid design includes structural steel recycled from shipping boxes from overseas.
 
“It’s actually cheaper for manufacturers overseas to leave them behind than to ship them back empty,” Durham says. “We’re working through a third party to acquire the used shipping containers and remanufacture them into our buildings.”
 
Reusing the boxes isn’t quite as cost effective as she initially thought. “The more people that go after them, the price goes up,” she explains. “We weren’t the first or the last one to think of this design concept.”
 
She became interested in the concept after reading about them in architectural and design magazines. “To me, it was worth exploring. Given the size of our restaurant, its seemed like there was a natural fit,” she says.
 
With transport costs at $10 to $15 a mile for the pre-fabricated buildings, Checkers & Rally’s is considering multiple manufacturers across the country. It has more than 840 locations in the United States, and more than 250 more in the works.
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