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Local library Venture Club introduces Tampa Bay area kids to entrepreneurship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Million Cups comes to Tampa, Hillsborough County

Entrepreneurs and startup founders in Tampa will soon have a new platform for sharing their visions with the local community. 

1 Million Cups, a Kauffman Foundation program that operates in cities across the country, is set to launch at the Hillsborough County Mark Sharpe Entrepreneur Collaborative Center in Ybor City. Tampa’s inaugural 1MC Cups will take place on Wednesday, Feb. 4, 8-10 a.m. at the ECC.

Those 1 million cups? That’s the amount of coffee 1 Million Cups hopes to serve during weekly meetups. Each week, two startup founders present their companies to local leaders, entrepreneurs and students. Presentations are followed by Q&A sessions with audience members.

While a coffee sponsor for Tampa’s location has not yet been announced, Kahwa Coffee has served 1 Million Cups at its St. Petersburg location The Greenhouse since that program launched in Oct 2013.

Some of the many startup companies that have presented at the 1MC St. Petersburg location include SavvyCard, a web-based business card; Florida Funders, a crowd-funding portal for entrepreneurs; WazInIt, a mobile application that won Startup Weekend Tampa Bay in Nov 2013; and Venture House, an effort to turn vacant houses into housing and job sites for local entrepreneurs and artists.

The ECC, located at 2101 E. Palm Ave. in Ybor City, celebrated their grand opening in Dec 2014.

The ECC serves as a small business services center, as well as a meeting place for community partners and local businesses. Entrepreneurs and “wannapreneurs” alike can use the center’s resources, all of which are at little or no cost, says the county’s Economic Development Manager Lindsey Kimball. Those resources include conference space, free classes, business training, and workshops aimed at helping startup founders build their businesses.
 
Headquartering 1 Million Cups in Tampa at Hillsborough County’s new entrepreneurial space is the latest in a series of efforts to bring a focus on local business to the community, from the upcoming Startup Week Tampa Bay to Venture Club, a meetup for entrepreneurial children that lauched in Jan 2015 at the county’s flagship library. 

Meanwhile, north of Ybor City, near the University of South Florida, Busch Gardens and Moffitt Cancer Center, steps are being taken to revitalize the area into an “innovation district,” led by former Hillsborough County Commissioner Sharpe, for whom the ECC is named. Sharpe stepped into the role of executive director for the Tampa Innovation Alliance in late 2014.

Chase, UpGlobal select Tampa to host pilot Startup Week in February

Tampa has hosted its share of startup-related events, from pitch contests to networking groups, and in 2015, entrepreneurs are taking center stage for the area’s first Startup Week.

During the five days of Startup Week festivities, Feb 2-6, 2015, attendees can choose among 50 unique events that fall under one of 10 “tracks,” from the startup tried-and-true (Developer) to the unique (The History of Tampa Bay) to the innovative (Craft Beer Entrepreneurship).

Startup Week events will be hosted at spaces like Tampa Bay WaVE in downtown Tampa and The Greenhouse in downtown St. Petersburg, as well as smaller venues such as The Blind Tiger Café in Ybor City. Tampa Startup Week partners USF Connect and the University of Tampa will also host industry experts at events in which attendees can discuss entrepreneurship.
 
The week’s sessions will culminate at Amalie Arena with a special skate night for attendees on Friday, Feb. 6.

Tampa Bay was selected by the event’s premiere sponsor, Chase, and by Startup Weekend founding group UpGlobal, as one of seven cities across the country to host a Startup Week in 2015.

“When we found out that they picked us, we were elated. They could have picked any number of cities, and they saw lots of potential in the Tampa Bay area,” says Gracie Stemmer, one of Startup Week’s co-organizers.
 
Tracks were inspired by previous Startup Week models, but developed around the local entrepreneurs who will lead them, making the event uniquely Tampa-oriented with topics like “Playable Cities,” which will be run by Tampa group Urban Conga.

Lead Organizer Ryan Sullivan “saw this as an opportunity to bring the different aspects of the entrepreneurial community together with the goal of changing the conversation.” 

Sullivan, who previously organized Tampa Bay Startup Week Youth, hopes to see Startup Week create momentum for entrepreneurs and bystanders.

The Startup Week organizing team anticipates 3,000-4,000 attendees across all of the events.
 
What is Sullivan most excited about? Well, there’s the Tampa Bay launch of Plum Alley, a crowd-funding site for women; the craft brewing entrepreneurs track, “something unique that highlights why Tampa is a top five best beer city”; the youth events (“very exciting because the community is demanding more and more of these”); as well as the maker track, which Sullivan hopes to see elevate the maker movement in the community. 

“Our main goal for Startup Week is to let all of Tampa Bay know the entrepreneurial things that are going on in our city,” says Stemmer. “We want to change the discussion from ‘There’s not much going on here’ to ‘Wow, there’s so much going on here.’”

For more information during Startup Week, visit Chase Basecamp, located at 1930 7th Ave in Ybor City, Feb 2-6. The base camp will host breakfasts, daily Happy Hours, speaker panels and mentor hours.

Innovation Alliance invites businesses to help transform University area of north Tampa

The Tampa Innovation Alliance aims to transform almost 15,000 acres of commerce, housing and retail surrounding the University of South Florida and affiliate hospitals into a revitalized “Innovation District” that will attract local visitors and tourists.

After a 10-year stint as a Hillsborough County commissioner, Mark Sharpe has stepped into the role of executive director for the Tampa Innovation Alliance. The group formed in 2011 with intentions to redevelop the university area as a premiere destination, but focused too much on a “master plan,” Sharpe says. “I want to make sure that we focus on our key mission: to create this ‘Innovation District’ core.”

The area, which stretches from I-75 on the east to I-275 on the west; north to the Bearss/Bruce B Downs intersection; and south to Busch Blvd, is comprised of thousands of acres in which run-down retail and residential blocks co-mingle with specialized hospitals like Moffitt and the VA center, the University of South Florida’s campus, and popular entertainment destinations like Busch Gardens and MOSI Tampa, the Museum of Science and Industry.

“I think there is a way to capture some of the market that is driving past or through, not stopping, at the local businesses that abut these major anchors,” Sharpe explains. “We’re going to focus on outreach and bring in members, large and small, who will all partner together.”
 
A kick-off luncheon on Friday, Jan. 9, serves as the group’s first outreach to the broader community, Sharpe says. Local businesses both inside and outside the future Innovation District are invited to join Sharpe and other Tampa Innovation Alliance members, such as USF President Judy Genshaft, at the USF Connect Building to discuss the group’s next steps and ideas for area branding.

Businesses are invited to provide feedback at Friday’s meeting, along with a series of monthly meetings Sharpe plans to host, similar to those he conducted at Buddy Brew during his run as a county commissioner. The first of these meetings, open to the public, is scheduled for Jan 23.

The first focus is getting organized, Sharpe says. “I’m doing it all right now – I’m approving colors of the logo, and spellchecking things, and calling people to encourage them to come.”

The group’s current members and partners include Fifth Third Bank, the Tampa Bay Lightning, Brighthouse, Tampa International Airport, EWI Construction, and more. Tampa Innovation Alliance’s Kickoff Luncheon will be held 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 9, 2015, at USF Connect, 3802 Spectrum Boulevard in Tampa.

TekBank appoints Tampa tech leader, expands to Tampa Bay

Washington, D.C.-based technology consulting firm TekBank has chosen Tampa Bay as the hub for its Southeast expansion efforts. The firm has a global reach and more than 20 years of industry experience, with enterprise giants like Amtrak on their list of customers.

TekBank’s expansion into the Tampa Bay market will mean job creation locally, along with a focus on growing consulting efforts in Florida and nearby states.

The company “strategically picked Tampa Bay as an expansion hub for the Southeast,” says newly appointed Senior Partner S. Khurrum "Sid'' Hasan.

Hasan will head up TekBank’s business development efforts in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota, Orlando and Miami, Florida. 

Hasan brings over 15 years of consulting and business development experience to TekBank. While he moved to Tampa from D.C. only recently (in 2014), Hasan has already begun to establish himself as a community leader in the Tampa Bay scene. The technology executive was selected as a judge for the 2014 HULT Prize regional competition at the University of Tampa, where student entrepreneurs pitched startup ideas as solutions to a global social issue. Hasan also co-founded CUPS, a neighborhood program for Channelside District residents.

Now Hasan will bring his leadership and expertise to TekBank’s consulting services.

The company specializes in the compute stack and offers businesses functional and technical consulting, from conceptualization to post-launch follow-up. TekBank’s services include: application development, mobility, quality assurance, infrastructure support, and PMO.

“Our DNA historically has been centered around customers that offer a B2B and B2C land, sea and air function,” says Hasan. “We hope to employ a consulting practice centered around our suite of services.”

TekBank’s Southeast Launch will take place at The Tampa Club, 101 E Kennedy Blvd, from 5:30-7:30 pm on Thursday, Feb 12.

Parts of The Invisible Man video web series shot in Tampa

Bathed in palm trees and scenic waterfront vistas, Tampa is not the typical spot used as a stand-in for a Rocky Mountains movie location.

But two independent filmmakers with ties to Hillsborough County made it work.

Sean Malone and Timothy Compton have recreated H.G. Wells’ classic novel “The Invisible Man’’ into a five-part web series set in present-day America. Produced by their company, Waterfoot Films, the web series was filmed in Tampa, North Carolina and Colorado over a 15-month period.

“We really couldn’t have done it without a couple of businesses that helped us out,” Malone says. “The Frontier Cattleman’s Steakhouse on Sligh Avenue near I-275 let us shoot our saloon scenes there. The other was Behind the Fence Bread and Breakfast in Brandon.

“Even though the series takes place in Colorado, we shot a good part of it in Tampa.”

The two former University of Miami film students hatched the idea to turn the classic story into a modern-day adaptation after watching the 1933 original movie about five years ago. But their creative collaborations date back years before then.

Malone and Compton both attended Florida College in Temple Terrace. Although they were on campus several years apart, it was that connection and a mutual interest in filmmaking that brought them together.

During Malone’s eight years in Tampa, he also taught at the University of Tampa. Compton, who lived here four years, earned his bachelor’s degree at UT.

Malone, 33, now lives in Los Angeles, and Compton, 30, calls Chicago home, but their long distance partnership has produced numerous award-winning short films.

They attributed much of the success of producing “The Invisible Man’’ to the supporters of their Kickstarter fundraising campaign.

“A lot of people who helped us out in Kickstarter was from Florida and particularly Tampa,” Malone says.

The creative duo reintroduced The Invisible Man as a cinematic work that reflect both men’s different approach to the genre. Malone emphasized the classic Hollywood feel. Compton saw the film as an intense thriller.

“Sean (Malone) is a very talented cinematographer, so the snowy Colorado vistas are gorgeous,” says Lucy Griggs of JL Art House Productions in Tampa. “He and Tim (Compton) write suspenseful, moving films that portray the struggle between self and other, power and belonging.”

The main character, Griffin, portrayed by actor Johnny Hightower of Tampa, is a creepy anti-hero with issues. The film leaves viewers to decide whether the mad scientist is just crazy or are his actions a result of the personal experimentation.

Following a special screening in Tampa in October, the web series now is available on YouTube and expected to be released on DVD by the beginning of the year.

Plant City native brings Christmas cheer in new movie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Custom and disaster recovery software provider adds 3 jobs

A growing company that provides software for custom design and to assist with disaster recovery is adding project and developer positions.

Tampa-based Zenzio has two major areas of focus: custom software development meeting a variety of client needs, and disaster recovery for events such as hurricanes and tornadoes.

The disaster recovery product is designed to assist private contractors who ultimately receive FEMA funds with operations and efficiency after a natural disaster. The software provides operational efficiencies and ensures safety and other protocol are met during tasks such as cleaning up debris, inspecting houses and keeping track of assets such as generators.

"We’re positioning ourselves as a technology provider to all of the players, all of the contractors who deal with a disaster clean-up," says Andrew Grubbs, founder and CEO, a serial tech entrepreneur who moved to Tampa from Washington in 1995.

The company was founded in 2011 as a different product all together that didn’t pan out, which led to the increase in custom software clients and eventually the disaster recovery product.

Zenzio is expanding its current team of six full-time workers and seven subcontractors with the addition of a Project Manager and two Microsoft Developers. The growth is the result of client’s expansion as well as the enhancement of the disaster recovery focus.  

Grubbs plans to keep the company in Tampa for the long run, noting that the business environment is a nice mix of fast and moderate pace. "It’s both relaxed, and it has energy," says Grubbs. "I like dealing with the people down here."

Mobile software development company adds 7 tech jobs In Tampa

At Nitro Mobile Solutions, company culture is critical.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

USF teams receive grants to develop socially beneficial products

Five teams at the University of South Florida in Tampa were recently selected as part of the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program.

The program is designed to foster an environment within the science community that encourages the development of innovations that benefit society. Each I-Corps team receives a $50,000 grant designed to help determine the viability of their technology, product or process and, if viable, help transition them to the next level. Teams are developed from previously or currently funded NSF projects.

Five teams were selected from the University of South Florida, making it the largest grant receiver in Florida and ranking them third in the nation out of 153 total teams representing 91 universities.

One of the USF teams created software designed to increase quality control in the use of nanotechnology, or the act of manipulating atomic particles that leads to new discoveries in areas such as medicine and energy production. The software suite provides engineers with the ability to more easily identify defects, saving time and resources and improving quality.

The team wrote the software and enlisted the assistance of the USF Patent and Licensing office to receive a provisional patent. The next step is to use the grant funding to see if there a market for the tool as well as investigate its social impact.

"One of the goals is not to focus on your patent or technology, but where is the pain point? Why are people struggling?" says Sanjukta Bhanja, associate professor, Electrical Engineering at USF and principal investigator for the team.

The teams consist of USF faculty, researchers, graduate students and a mentor with entrepreneurial experience. NSH provides additional mentoring assistance as well as an immersive learning experience to help transition the research into feasible products or processes.

Other projects include a walking crutch/cane and a mobile health network.

Littlejohn engineering firm opens new office in Tampa

A national engineering firm specializing in transportation, urban planning, health and safety and community development opened its first office in Tampa in October.

Littlejohn was founded in Nashville in 1989 and has since grown to a national company with nine offices, including one in Orlando. Tampa Bay-based projects have historically been handled by the Orlando office, which opened in 2011. Recent growth has caused the company to open an office in Tampa for closer proximity to its customers and to manage future growth.

Projects already completed or currently underway in Tampa Bay include: Blake Medical Center in Bradenton, Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg, Oak Hill Hospital in Brooksville and Largo Free Standing Emergency Department (FSED) in Clearwater.

The Tampa and Orlando offices specialize in civil engineering, land planning, landscape architecture, economic development and transportation and traffic planning. The transportation design and planning in particular is what started the Tampa office, seeing the area primed for growth and opportunities.

"We wanted to introduce our transportation design capabilities into Florida through the Tampa Bay area," says Lennie Arnold, Florida Regional Manager for Littlejohn.

The firm recently brought on Senior Project Manager Marty Morlan to lead the Tampa office. The goal is to increase capacity within the next two to three months and then hire additional employees to manage the work.

"The workforce seems to be well established here," says Arnold, noting that a gap in experience level has been seen across the nation, mostly attributed to the recession. The company sees more people with the experience they are looking for to fill that gap in Tampa than in other areas.

8-Count Studios adds new twist to urban dance battles

Downtown Tampa’s newest renovated theater space turned dance studio hopes to revolutionize the way dance battles are run.

Traditionally, a ballroom or swing dance studio will host a recital to allow its students to show off their work, sometimes with a competition element. In the urban and hip hop scene, their version of a recital is referred to as a battle or jam. Jamming originated as an informal show-off of dance moves in a social circle, where dancers would clear a circle and then take turns displaying their best moves. In a battle, the circle becomes more formal and individuals or pairs of dancers pair off against each other in a competition-style event.

Most battles lack an element of formality, with different dance styles competing against each other. In a desire to formalize these events, 8-Count Studios on North Franklin Street in Tampa is hosting a Layer Cake Battle on January 3.

"We want to revolutionize how battles are run," says Hope Donnelly, co-owner of 8-Count Studios.

The event is named Layer Cake Battle because of the layered judging that will be done in rounds. Using Donnelly’s sports dance background, the studio will introduce a bracket system that will list names of dancers on a board. Dance brackets include: popping and locking, wacking and voguing, breaking, and krumping. Each winner will progress to the next level with prizes awarded in each bracket until an ultimate Best of Show winner is announced.

"Dancing is a sport, so we’re treating it like a sport," says Donnelly. "Dancers are athletes; they are competitors."

Well-known choreographers and judges will be flown in from across the country. The event will also include workshops, vendors and a concert. Cash and other prizes will be given to the winners, as well as a private brunch session with the judges.

The event is open to the public. The price of admission is $20 per person.

BAMA offers scholarships to support manufacturing education

High school seniors looking into manufacturing careers have an opportunity to apply for a scholarship to continue their education.

The Bay Area Manufacturers Association (BAMA) is offering three $1,000 scholarships to students in Hillsborough, Pasco or Pinellas County. Any student planning to continue his or her education at a technical, state or community college in a program that supports manufacturing industries is encouraged to apply.

BAMA has been providing the scholarships for over 20 years to students entering into a manufacturing field, which can include machining, welding and trade jobs as well as technical and engineering fields. The organization is partnering with Hillsborough Education Foundation and Pinellas Education Foundation to administer two of the scholarships in those counties.

The goal of the scholarship program is to support the local manufacturing workforce in an effort to support the industry. According to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, there were 2,728 manufacturing companies in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas County in 2013. Employment in manufacturing industries increased by 1.8% in Florida that same year.

"We want to promote education, and in turn to help manufacturing grow," says Becky Burton, association executive for BAMA. "Without continuing education for people going into manufacturing, you aren’t going to bring new industry here or help them fill the jobs they need in order to keep them here."

BAMA is a 100-member organization whose mission is to support manufacturing in the Tampa Bay region through growth and economic development efforts. Services include networks for idea exchange and support of local educational programs. BAMA hosts an annual awards ceremony that highlights local science fair winners and also supports the robotics team at Middleton High School in Tampa.

Special networking events for techies help make connections in the Tampa Bay area

Are you looking for a job in the tech industry? Networking with the attendees at Collaborative Technologies of Tampa Bay’s upcoming event could be your ticket to scoring an interview at a hot new startup or growing local company.

Likewise, businesses looking to invest in top regional talent for a freelance or full-time role might want to send a representative to The Getaway on December 4 for the Q4 Tech & Entrepreneur Peer Networking Event, hosted by CToTB.

Tech students, established entrepreneurs and those just starting out all mix, mingle and network at the quarterly events, which usually see around 300 attendees. Treats like free T-shirts, a tech-themed drink special and giveaways from Microsoft are all part of the draw. 

“We’re making great connections, especially with USF St. Pete and their Entrepreneur and tech programs,” explains CToTB founder Sylvia Martinez.

Martinez, a longtime Tampa resident, launched the staffing company in January 2014. With a background in business development, marketing and sales within the tech world, Martinez felt poised to fill a gap in Tampa Bay’s workforce: connecting skilled professionals with companies looking to make a new hire.
 
“It was a natural place for me, to help people find their dream job or find a connection that can lead them to doing great things. That’s really been my passion,” she says.

The business is largely based on a referral system from networking events within the Tampa Bay area – typically, Martinez or her contractors attend 2-3 per week. 

Too many of the events Martinez attended shared a similar theme: technical resources thought they were inundated with vendors, sales people and recruiters, and didn’t want to attend. So she started quarterly events for entrepreneurs to come together with no agenda besides networking amongst peers.

“It’s a safe zone to talk and collaborate. You meet people from all different technologies – Java, .Net, mobile – but who can all share experiences,” Martinez says.
 
Hillsborough County’s EDI2 program is helping CToTB fund some of the events. Both former Hillsborough Commissioner Mark Sharpe and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn made appearances in support of the event, which has provided tangible results already.

“Not only have I heard about great hires taking place, but I have also heard of people working on applications or creating products together,” Martinez says. 

“If you’re hiring and you want to collaborate with people that can help your company grow and succeed, come and meet people with the skill sets to help you obtain those goals,” says Martinez. “Our main initiative is to help small startups to mid-size companies build out their technical resources and teams. We like to recruit out of our network. Our tagline is ‘Put our network to work for you.’ “

Lighthouse Guidance Systems grows, adds COO

A growth stage software company in Tampa recently added a new COO in an effort to grow its services and client base.

Lighthouse Guidance Systems, Inc. was founded in 2012 by William Farragut. A graduate of Sickles High School and the University of South Florida in Tampa, Farragut developed the concept during his community work with teenagers. While helping a student with his college application, he realized how many variances there are among college admissions criteria. For instance, some colleges place more emphasis on a weighted GPA while others look more heavily at the basic GPA. It can be difficult for students to keep track of the varying requirements and establish an academic path early.

Farragut wanted to find a fresh, user-friendly way to use technology to help schools, parents and students master this and other nuances involved with educational processes. The company’ software product, Guidmii, provides a way to enhance communication and tracking to achieve this goal. Parents can track and receive announcements about GPA via text message. Schools can closely monitor academic performance and identify at-risk students early. Students are motivated by setting realistic, attainable academic goals.

The software is currently being used in all middle and high schools in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

They recently hired Pablo Godel as COO. Godel is a PHP development expert, having founded a PHO Hosting Company and currently co-organizing user groups in South Florida.

"We’re excited about Pablo because not only is he a seasoned developer, but is business-minded because he has owned his own company," says Lisa Farragut, Relationship Manager for Lighthouse Guidance Systems, Inc.

The company currently has three full-time employees in addition to contractors and interns and plans to hire more developers once funding is secured.

They are located at USF Connect, a business incubator at the University of South Florida that provides mentors and seasoned business executives to help start-ups and growing companies with their business models.
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