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Verizon Adds 100 Sales Reps In Downtown Tampa

Verizon is opening a new national customer retention center in downtown Tampa and adding 100 full-time customer-contact representatives dedicated to the company’s landline products and services.

The company’s new sales representatives will provide after-hours sales and customer support functions for FiOS Internet and FiOS TV in 12 states, including Florida and Washington, DC.

"We want to be accessible to customers when they want to reach out. Our current employees do a marvelous job of serving the customers and getting results; we are confident that the 100 we hire will do the same," says Harry Mitchell, director of media and public relations for Verizon.

The new customer retention center will be housed in Verizon’s existing downtown Tampa office and will complete its launch in mid-September 2013 once the hiring process and training is complete. Customer-retention services were previously handled by an outside contractor.

Verizon's decision to bring services in-house was based in part on Tampa’s talented workforce and the valuable labor pool that results from the local educational systems, colleges and universities.

"There is a very good labor pool and available workforce, and there is good news happening in the area," says Mitchell.

"Verizon’s expansion in Tampa is an indication of how we are successfully growing our economy and why we are leading the state out of the recession,'' says Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. "I appreciate Verizon’s ongoing investment and look forward to welcoming 100 new employees to our downtown core."

For information on hiring opportunities visit Verizon’s website.

Writer: Kaye Brown
Sources: Harry Mitchell, Verizon; Bob Buckhorn, City of Tampa

USF School Of Public Affairs Provides Flexible Options For Working Professionals

For today's busy professional balancing a fulltime job along with family and other commitments, continuing education can sometimes be unattainable. The University of South Florida (USF) now offers a Master of Public Administration (MPA) Degree completely online, as a flexible option for those wanting to enhance their credentials.

Some students travel up to 125 miles round trip to complete coursework in the traditional program on the Tampa campus. The new online program provides savings in the form of transportation costs as well as flexibility. The 36-credit hour program is also shorter than the on-campus equivalent.

"It provides another opportunity for advancing yourself, your career and your knowledge on a flexed schedule," says John Daly, director of USF’s School of Public Affairs.

Applications are still being accepted for the first cohort of 25 to 30 students, to begin in August.

The degree is geared toward mid-career employees working in public service, but can also be applicable to those in the private sector.

USF currently offers 26 fully online programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and was recently ranked 25th by the National Center for Education Statistics in the 2013 “best overall” list of online programs.

USF is also collaborating with Pinellas County government to offer a cohort of its Graduate Certificate in Public Management to government employees and the general public at the Pinellas County Government Training Center in Clearwater. The first cohort for the 18-credit hour certificate program began this month with 17 students.

The flexibility and convenience of programs such as these make higher education more attainable, a goal of the Graduate Tampa Bay (GTB) initiative. GTB aims to increase the number of Tampa Bay residents with college degrees, which would in turn enhance the economic vitality of the region as a whole.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: John Daly, USF School of Public Affairs

Toffee To Go Grows, Adds 30 Jobs In Tampa

Tampa’s popular chocolate maker, Toffee to Go, is hiring 30 new employees, adding warehousing, cooks, sales support, customer service, retail shop associates and packaging assistants to accommodate its booming holiday season.

It all started with an intimate network of family and friends enjoying the mouthwatering chocolate treat from the Schalk family kitchen.

In 2002, the small, family-based business went live and decided to share their sweet handcrafted treasure with the world.

"We started out by giving it to our family and friends who we cared for and wanted to give a treat. They continued to say,  'You have to sell this!' " says Taylor Schalk, director of development.

With six current employees, Toffee to Go has grown 21 percent in 2013 alone, recently adding a new director of development as well as a new sales manager.

"We’ve always made an incredible quality product. We’ve become a community of toffee buyers," says Schalk.

The company’s growth is a result of bringing a creative new edge to its marketing mix. By creating key customer touch points and product education resources via their website, email newsletter and social media, customer and wholesale engagement grew while creating a new world of branding opportunity.

"What’s cool about Tampa is that everyone in the Tampa Bay community works together. Everyone here has big roots in the Tampa area, and everyone supports each other’s business, which is very unique to our city," says Schalk.

Featured at the Republican National Convention in Tampa in 2012, Toffee to Go’s initiatives include strengthening and growing corporate and tourism business channels by sharing the value of a local company with strong dedication to the community.

"It not only shows a local company but also gifting a wonderful treat to tell a little bit about the area," says Schalk.

For information on hiring opportunities, business partnerships or sweet treats, visit Toffee to Go’s website.

Writer: Kaye Brown
Source: Taylor Schalk, Toffee to Go

Crisis Center Of Tampa Bay Teaches Parents How To Counsel Children

The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay and USF are collaborating to study an innovative approach to treating trauma in children.

Children who have experienced trauma such as loss of a loved one, violence or a medical event traditionally receive one-on-one counseling from a trained professional. In a process known as Step Care Research, parents are taught how to counsel the children themselves. The results are cost savings and a deeper parent child relationship.

The program is based on the same model of cognitive and behavioral therapy and is designed to provide children with the skills and abilities they need to cope.

The Center is currently in the second year of two three-year research projects studying this technique, on children ages 7 to 12. A total of 100 families will be involved in both projects.  

Study results show that parents working at home with their child over six to eight weeks have 80 percent of the same effect as happens when a child undergoes professional counseling in a traditional 12 to14 week program. Results are measured by improvement in behavioral and emotional issues over time.

A second, and perhaps equally important, outcome is an enhanced parent child bond. "Parents are saying, 'this has been the best thing that happened to me and my kid,' " says David Braughton, president and CEO of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.

Next steps are to continue the study on a wider scale to further validate the approach, resources and materials used and then to advance the practice to other institutions. "Hopefully it will become one of those best practices to be used around the country," says Braughton.

The potential impact is tremendous. The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that for every child being seen for sexual abuse there are 15 who need treatment. The Step Care Program could expand treatment options and make them more available for the families who really need them but are not able to afford one-on-one counseling.

"For what it costs to treat one family, we can treat 10," says Braughton. "The long term benefits are immeasurable."

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: David Braughton, Crisis Center of Tampa Bay

RMC Property Group Merges With Ross Realty, Adds 15 Jobs

Commercial real estate services provider RMC Property Group and real estate property management firm Ross Realty Group joined forces this June, creating an expanded portfolio of services and opening the door for 15 additional property management, accounting, marketing, brokerage and administration team members.

The newly merged team plans to open a new office in the Westshore district by September 2013, moving the former Ross Realty Group from its Clearwater offices to enhance and increase team collaboration.

The former Ross Realty Group’s investment sales and leasing team has now become RMC Ross Realty; the firm’s property management team has joined RMC’s property division and will effectively operate under RMC Property Group.

"There is a synergy there which enables the combined entities to grow. The more opportunities come around, the more you’ll need to hire people and resources to get the job done. That’s the ultimate test -- to continue to grow," says RMC Property Group's President Susie Rice.

As RMC evaluated their operations, client offerings and existing business relationships, they saw an opportunity to expand by creating additional lines of business to accommodate growing customer needs.

"RMC’s business goal was to find another company to grow with and expand our business lines. We have clients that want us to handle more services for them," says Rice.

The recent merger allows RMC to incorporate the addition of three new lines of business: brokerage services, investment sales and tenant representation. The combined entities now manage more than eight million square feet of office and retail space.

"Our goal is to provide the best service and more services to existing and future clients, take our years of experience in the market, collaborate to grow the business, and add more services," says Rice.

As the team and leadership further acclimates to the merger, forward initiatives include additional collaboration, leading to new lines of business to effectively create additional firm growth and workforce additions.

"It’s been a really nice ride, and it is just really exciting for our entire team," says Rice.

For information on hiring and unique business opportunities, visit RMC’s website or call 813.960.8154.

Writer: Kaye Brown
Source: Susie Rice, RMC Property Group

Computer Mentors: Youth Helping Youth Bridge Digital Divide

Computer Mentors is increasing the skills of Tampa’s workforce while making an impact on local youth.  

The mission of the nonprofit, grassroots organization is to put technology in the hands of underprivileged youth while encouraging them to consider information technology as a career path.  

The group's main program, the STEM Corps High School Program, is a service learning model. After earning a certification, teens perform technology projects for other nonprofit organizations. Past projects include a website for Green ARTery, a neighborhood-based initiative to connect walkways and other green space in Hillsborough County, and a video for Positive Spin, which provides family support systems.

According to a 2011 study by the U.S. Department of Commerce, home computer and Internet use are strongly associated with household income. Almost half of households in the lowest income category did not have a computer, compared to 4 percent of those in the highest income category.

"There really still is a digital divide," says Ralph Smith, founder and executive director for Computer Mentors. "It hurts the country and hurts our area. Internet and computer power are very important to help kids have access to education."

Computer Mentors’ civic justice corps (CJC) program helps former juvenile offenders complete their GED and enter into a computer technology field. Participants recently worked with Community Stepping Stones, an afterschool learning center for at-risk teens based in the Sulphur Springs neighborhood of Tampa, to refurbish computers donated by the Patel Foundation. They also installed software and provided basic computer training.

"Tampa is becoming a well-known technology hub," says Smith. "Computer Mentors is trying to enlarge the talent pool for our companies to be able to grow here in our area."

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Ralph Smith, Computer Mentors

Convergence Consulting Group Grows, Adds 7 Jobs In Tampa

Convergence Consulting Group (CCG) is rapidly growing, surpassing its annual growth goals significantly and adding 7 new business intelligence consultants and administrators to its 50-member team.

"We set a goal to grow 30 percent year in and year out, and we’ve exceeded that. The last few years have been over 50 percent. In the first five months of this year we were at 28 percent growth already for this year. We plan to continue doing that -- we’re ok with exceeding our goal," says Todd Davis, CCG’s manager of recruiting and retention.

The CCG team has outgrown their existing offices and is all set for a September move to a new 7,600-square-foot office featuring a new cafe and technologically advanced collaborative workspaces.

CCG specializes in creating comprehensive and focused enterprise business intelligence and data warehousing strategies for companies throughout Tampa Bay and the Southeast U.S., partnering to access and interpret mission-critical information necessary for strategy implementation.

As companies mature in business intelligence solutions needs, properly extracting, organizing, evaluating and interpreting vital data that accumulates over time is critical in defining new strategies and creating future business growth opportunities.

"Our goal is to be the premiere provider of business intelligence and data warehousing in Tampa. I think we’re well on our way to being that," says Davis.

In 2001, CCG started with a team of five partners, implementing a controlled growth strategy as project needs arose. Over the past three years, CCG has grown from 9 to 50 employees.

The company’s growth model includes a healthy balance between reactive and proactive hiring: the evaluation of project needs while considering the overall team needs. The firm attributes its growth to a focus on quality and internal business culture.

"We’ve never had to do a layoff, and our turnover is very low. There are a lot of things we do strategically to maintain that," says Davis.

CCG is now gearing up for 3rd quarter growth, surpassing the current tally to support and accommodate new and existing client projects.

"We’re recruiting heavily now with several more in the pipeline," says Davis.

For information on career opportunities, visit CCG’s website, email your resume or call 813.968.3238.

Writer: Kaye Brown
Source: Todd Davis, Convergence Consulting Group

Awesome Tampa Bay Engages Community In New Pitch Sessions

Now the Tampa Bay community will have a front row seat to the people, projects and organizations that make the region awesome.

Since 2011, Awesome Tampa Bay has been providing quarterly $1,000 microgrants to support projects that make the region a better place. Whereas in the past the decisions were made during a selection meeting with nine trustees, the group is now choosing grant recipients using a Shark Tank-style pitch session. The top five applicants will pitch their idea to the now 12 trustees in a public format. They will then receive feedback on what they can do to improve their idea. Although the grant will still be awarded to one recipient each quarter, the pitch session will allow everyone involved to benefit from the connections. The first session will take place August 22.

Awesome Tampa Bay is also joining other similar organizations around the world to participate in "Awesome Day in the World" June 27 with a Mid-Summer Awesome Party. The free community event from 5 to 7 pm at Curtis Hixon Park in downtown Tampa will celebrate the vitality and richness of the region, asking people to communicate what they like best about Tampa Bay and what could be done to make it even more attractive.

"Awesome Tampa Bay gives us the platform to celebrate the great, bright spots in our community and encourages people to take risks in order to make the community great," says Rafaela Amador, dean of awesomeness for Awesome Tampa Bay. "Every quarter we find a way to say 'yes' to making the community better, $1,000 at a time."

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Rafaela Amador, Awesome Tampa Bay

Tampa Company Creates App For Online Giving

Companies can now involve their supporters in their charitable giving decisions, promote their favorite charities and increase social media engagement -- creating a community win:win:win.

Lots of companies make charitable contributions each year, with varying methods of determining where to allocate the funds. A new Facebook app called CharityVote allows companies to involve their customers and other Facebook fans in these decisions. Companies determine the amount they want to donate and create a contest involving five of their favorite charities. Facebook fans then vote on which charity should receive the money, with each receiving a portion of the donations. Since fans have to "like" the company page in order to vote, the app increases the company’s social media reach.

"It's kind of like a feel good app," says Charise Strandberg, social media marketing manager for Celestar Corporation, the app’s creator. "People like to vote on something they support. The fans of the brand feel good about what they’re doing, and they have a say-so in who actually wins."

The app provides the added benefit of increasing exposure for the charities in the contest as well as creating a community spirit, or giving network, for the company and its supporters.

The first organization to use the app was the Tampa Bay Storm. Fans selected between three charities during a weeklong contest: Southeastern Guide Dogs, Exalted Warrior Foundation and Warriors in Action. All three charities attended a Tampa Bay Storm game, where the funds were distributed to the winner, Southeastern Guide Dogs.

Whereas other charity apps are focused on individuals donating directly to the charities, CharityVote is also unique because it can be used by any company or brand.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Charise Strandberg, Celestar Corporation

Metropolitan Ministries Grows, Adds 20 Jobs

Metropolitan Ministries plans to open the doors to MiraclePlace on North Florida Avenue in Tampa in August, and is expanding staff to accommodate growing outreach initiatives.

Listed as one of the Top Places to Work in 2013, the organization has increased its staff by 20 percent over the past year and is now adding 20 new client services team members, including social workers, resident services assistants, counselors and administration.

"We look for what we call four C’s: confidence, character, chemistry and calling. It’s critical that our team believes in what we do and believes in recovery and self-sufficiency for our clients," says Keri Howard, director of human resources.

For more than 40 years, Metropolitan Ministries has served the Tampa Bay region, providing special care for at-risk and homeless individuals and alleviating suffering through resources that instill hope, love and reconciliation.

"Over the last six years, we’ve seen a great recession take hold of many families in our community that are living paycheck to paycheck. The needs of the community have really expanded, and we’ve expanded to meet that need," says President Tim Marks.

Two years ago, Metropolitan Ministries presented a value proposition to its board that would stir local economic change and stimulate sustainability for families in crisis:

Double the organization’s capacity, serving twice as many families at just a 25 percent increase in overall expenses.

Thus, MiraclePlace was born, an initiative to stamp out homelessness while offering transitional housing, crisis counseling, life skills, and educational and career development.

Prior to MiraclePlace, more than 50 families in crisis were on the waiting list to receive housing -- a number that did not sit well with Marks.

"We just thought it was wrong. We were just disturbed that many that were on the waiting list -- 25 percent or so -- were children," says Marks.

The first phase of MiraclePlace will open in August, featuring 52 new units of housing, an early childcare education center, an expanded dining room and a new welcome center. The opening allows Metropolitan Ministries to increase capacity to serve a 20 percent growth in families living on campus.

The final phase of MiraclePlace is expected to open by March 2014, adding another 47 units of housing and leading to a transition plan for 99 additional families. As the organization meets the needs of the initiative, forward growth includes a new K through 5 school, a new gymnasium, an assembly hall, a youth activity center and additional warehousing.

"We expect to be in construction for another 24 months at the main campus. We are also trying to put together a capital campaign for Pasco County to build out a new kitchen and 24 units of housing," says Marks.

The construction of MiraclePlace will add more than 115 construction jobs as well as additional subcontract positions. As developments continue, Metropolitan Ministries will continue to engage partners, staff and volunteers.

"Our civil engineer teams will continue to be engaged with us at the main campus and some additional resources will be involved in construction in Pasco. We have a very vibrant volunteer program, and we’d like to provide more volunteers and mentors that can be involved with the day to day activities," says Marks.

For information on hiring or volunteer opportunities, unique business partnerships, or the donation process, visit Metropolitan Ministries’ website.

Writer: Kaye Brown
Sources: Tim Marks and Keri Howard, Metropolitan Ministries

Travelogues In Tampa Feature Rocky Mountain, Everglades National Parks

Tampa Bay residents will have a chance to hear travel experiences depicted through photography and stories at Travelogues on Friday, June 7, from 7 to 9 pm at Cafe Hey in Tampa.

Travelogues, a mix of travel and monologue, have been represented in film and television for decades. The event series hosted by Vessel Collective started in Tampa Bay in January. Over 200 people have attended the events so far, which have included fun and insightful stories about travel experiences in India, Costa Rica, Macadonia and many areas of the United States.

"Cafe Hey is a great fit for the events, with its welcoming and community-oriented atmosphere," says Gina Moccio, founder of Vessel Collective.

Participants often share their stories and experiences as well, making it a truly collaborative experience.

The June 7 event will feature photographers Julie and James Branaman, who will share photographs taken during artist-in-residency programs at Rocky Mountain National Park and Everglades National Park. (Julie is managing photographer for 83 Degrees Media).

The Branamans decided to concentrate their efforts at Rocky Mountain on night photography, to feature the area in a different way than most people typically see it. The inspiration for this angle came from a quote by Enos Mills in the park ranger’s office: "By moonlight, the mountainous National Parks are enchanted lands. There is a serenity and a softness that is never known in its daylight."

Kristin Stigaard will also share stories from her travels to The Philippines, where she explored rice fields, ate and bartered at street markets, rode on horses and met her family for the first time. Stigaard will also provide a humble account of her first hand experience with third world poverty.

"“Everybody has travel stories," says Moccio. "It’s been really great to pull in these speakers that can come in and share."

The events take place the first Friday of every month, with different speakers each month.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Gino Moccio, Vessel Collective

Cardinal Solutions Group Expands, Adds 50 Jobs In Tampa

National IT solutions provider Cardinal Solutions Group is headed to Tampa Bay, expanding its operations to provide an extended level of support to its local client base. Plans call for the Tampa office to open in October 2013 and to grow from 10 employees to 50 over the next 36 months.

The firm is adding professionals having experience in MIS, IT, project management and business analysis.

"We are looking for people who are very dedicated and passionate about technology -- from recent graduates to senior-level employees," says Bill Nickley, director of business development for the Tampa office.

Headquartered in Cincinnati, Cardinal Solutions' portfolio touts a range of Fortune 500 companies, helping clients to build and deliver key software initiatives centered on mobile, cloud, social and data development solutions.

"Our customers want to work with a local firm, so new branch and new city expansions are a big element of our overall growth," says Chief Technology Officer Brandon Ebken.

Two years ago, Cardinal Solutions began to evaluate the next market in which to expand and deliver local client solutions. After researching cities throughout the Southeast and Midwest, Tampa Bay emerged as the number one place for the next expansion opportunity.

"We have a very healthy partner ecosystem that is encouraging the firm to go forward. We also have a very large list of employees who wanted to go for that next challenge," says Ebken.

As the firm presses toward the opening of the Tampa office this fall, the goal is to draw upon local interest and expertise in cloud, mobile, social and business intelligence while strategically collaborating and partnering with technology networks to introduce innovative IT solutions to the Tampa Bay market.

Cardinal Solutions partnered with Microsoft in May to host a case study focused on the benefits and business drivers behind moving to the cloud as well as the development and deployment of business-critical applications. The firm is hosting a Project Server 2013 seminar at the Microsoft Office on July 18th.

"All the information we collected on the area’s economic environment lined up with what we were looking for, and we have been very successful working together with Microsoft field sales and partner teams throughout the Southeast," says President Kelly Conway..

For information on hiring opportunities, visit Cardinal Solutions' website.

Writer: Kaye Brown
Sources: Kelly Conway, Brandon Ebken, Bill Nickley, and Erin Stanley, Cardinal Solutions Group

The Green Can Collects Recyclables At Tampa Bay Apartments

A Tampa-based company has found an economically viable way to help the environment.

The Green Can places large green recycling containers in the shape of a soda can in apartment complexes and other high traffic areas. Described as "the perfect marriage of economic and social responsibility," the cans have a triple benefit: they make it easy for people to recycle, they support charities through the donation of proceeds from recycling, and they benefit local businesses through advertising.

The idea came about when CEO and Founder Dennis Gallagher was working as a painter for apartment complexes. He noticed that none of them did any recycling, which he found odd. After crunching the numbers he realized the reason was probably economical, since the proceeds from recycling would only pay for the process itself. It was then that he came up with the idea of adding advertising to the process, to make the business profitable.

"To sweeten the deal, we donate the proceeds from the recycling, so everyone can benefit," says Gallagher.

There are currently around 200 cans at 130 locations in the Greater Tampa area. The company is expanding into Pinellas this week with the same of its first franchise to Boley Centers, a nonprofit that services the homeless, youth and those with mental disabilities in the Tampa Bay region.

Gallagher recently designed a cap for the containers to keep the water out and plans to start collecting clothing donations soon.

Close to one million cans have been recycled in roughly a year’s time, with an estimate of 4,000 pounds of aluminum and plastic being recycled each month.

The Green Can is one of 13 local businesses honored recently with The University of Tampa’s Earth Charter Sustainable Business Awards.The awards were based on three criteria: people (employee and community wellbeing), planet (environmental health) and profit (economic viability).

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Dennis Gallagher, The Green Can

Gulf Coast Commercial Expands, Adds Jobs In Tampa

Commercial real estate and business brokerage firm Gulf Coast Commercial, LLC (GCC) is on the move, expanding their corporate offices and adding real estate agents, business brokers, marketing analysts and administration to their 11-member team.

"We moved our corporate headquarters to Ybor because we have every intention to expand our staff, and this was a unique opportunity to occupy space within Ybor City. It’s historic Tampa and there are quite the amenities that are proving to be a good pool to attract talent here in the market," says Scott Dobbins, founder and managing partner at GCC.

In just a few short months, the firm added seven new agents and has settled into their chic, new 4,000-square-foot Centro Ybor digs. GCC will also retain their St. Petersburg office as a satellite location.

Traditionally focused on providing retail real estate services to regional and national retailers, GCC’s growth spurt is fueled by a unique blend of cyclical market changes and strategic investment opportunities.

As the real estate market experienced economic downturn, several of GCC’s clients approached the firm with requests to help sell their existing businesses or to find like businesses for them to acquire.

"It really jumped us into 12 to 18 months of underwriting the business brokerage business -- we hadn’t done it before," says Dobbins.

GCC struck up a partnership with Corporate Investments International (CII), the oldest business brokerage firm in the state of Florida, which had locations in Orlando, Jacksonville, and south Florida but no presence on the west coast of Florida. The strategic collaboration resultantly established CII Gulf Coast, a wholly-owned subsidiary of GCC and the firm’s new business brokerage division.

"We are seeing synergies back and forth that are very exciting to us. What we’re seeing is a positive trend with business sales and business acquisitions," says Dobbins.

The firm is now concentrating on developmental opportunities and investments in up-and-coming markets like the west coast of Florida.

"The west coast has a lot of attributes that will lead to very positive population growth. We have a real potential to double in population in the next 15 years. With that population, it leads to infrastructure and jobs."

GCC also identifies “leading edge indicators” of three types of buyers emerging within the targeted growth areas:

    •    Retirement 2.0: Baby boomers with a shifted view of traditional retirement who have had their nest-eggs shrink are now buying businesses, therefore creating jobs for themselves or families.

    •    The Lost Generation: Post-college graduates with unconventional employment opportunities are adding parents as investors and growing businesses organically.

    •    International Community: Foreign investors are purchasing local businesses and effectively receive citizenship through various visa programs that are available to them.

"We are converging upon affordability, lifestyle, climate, and a younger group coming in. Couple that with the population growth, and we think it is a recipe for success -- both in our commercial real estate business and in our business brokerage business," says Dobbins.

Within 18 months, GCC plans to add a regional office in southwest Florida.

For information on hiring opportunities visit Gulf Coast Commercial’s website.

Written By: Kaye Brown
Sources: Scott Dobbins, Gulf Coast Commercial, LLC

M-ize Launches My Products App, Adds Jobs In Tampa

Temple Terrace-based consumer and brand experience start-up M-ize has officially launched its new My Products mobile app, designed to enhance customers’ purchasing experience by connecting them to brands, family and friends via mobile and social networks.

Earlier this year, M-ize opened a 30-member development center in Hyderabad, India, and is now adding designers, software engineers, sales consultants, product managers, data architects and interns to grow their headquarters in Temple Terrace.

Kick-started in May 2012, M-ize was founded by entrepreneur and TiE Tampa Bay Charter Member Ashok Kartham after successfully developing a platform for 4CS, a service life-cycle management firm for high-end industrial products.

Kartham utilized the same life-cycle management concept, but custom-tailored it to the growing mobile and lifestyle needs of consumers. He created M-ize to focus on bringing smarter consumers together to connect them to products, community, advice and technical support by leveraging mobile, social, cloud and analytic technologies.

The new My Products app is a two-ended network where consumers can plug into any given brand’s products while being connected to trends, customer reviews and product information that is valuable to making significant purchasing decisions.

"The key is placing everything about products in a single, digestible format. We give you the big picture and also give you a more intimate picture by allowing you to ping your social network. It’s a more personalized picture," says CMO Bruce Burke.

The My Products app also connects consumers directly to a brand’s support, services and necessary accessories post-purchase.

The advantage for brands? Aggregation of customers during different stages of the purchasing process. The new app also integrates Smart Block for companies, where brands receive the benefit of utilizing the existing app platform while allowing them to customize their theme and share their tailored brand messaging to customers using the app.

"We currently have about one million products in the app. It’s the first generation of what will be a much larger community ecosystem that supports it," says Burke.

M-ize has already launched Support Me, a consumer-end app giving customers access to product support from anywhere.

Both M-ize and key team members are socially and technologically invested in Tampa Bay as well as the firm’s growth and innovation.

Kartham recently invested in the new Feathr app, designed to enhance networking connections at business events. Burke has been selected to receive Google Glass, and plans to utilize key innovations, trends, and technologies to help enhance the consumer experience for M-ize app users.

"Sometimes things come together because people are actually communicating with each other," says Burke.

For information on hiring opportunities and unique business partnerships, visit M-ize’s website.

Writer: Kaye Brown
Source: Bruce Burke, M-ize
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