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Clearwater targets entrepreneurs with new business SPARK

The City of Clearwater has launched a new initiative to serve as a catalyst for economic development and business innovation in North Pinellas County.

The Clearwater Business SPARK brings together a network of resources targeting the growth of small businesses and entrepreneurs.

“It’s all about supporting our small business and entrepreneurial community,” says Audra Aja, who is with the City of Clearwater Economic Development and Housing Department and program coordinator for Clearwater Business SPARK.  

Rather than being an acronym, SPARK is simply meant to “embody the thought of sparking innovation through business success, growth and entrepreneurship,” says Aja.

Partners in SPARK include the city of Clearwater’s Economic Development and Housing Department, Clearwater Public Library, Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce, Florida Small Business Development Center of Pinellas County and Technical Arts Facility for Innovation and Entrepreneurship or TAFFIE.

“The real driver for launching SPARK was a study that identified the need to work together from a number of different angles to promote Clearwater as a viable area for business,” says Elaine Mann, executive director of TAFFIE.

An Urban Land Institute study undertaken by the city identified 23 software and information technology companies located in the downtown area. And those companies had over 800 employees.   

That was a surprise to a lot of people.

“People, even those who live here, tend to think of the beaches and tourism when they think of Clearwater, but we have a quite a number of large and small businesses and technology companies,” says Mann.

The study spurred the city to pursue a number of initiatives, including identifying the downtown Clearwater Redevelopment Area as a technology district and putting together a technology council focused on helping brand and market the downtown area as a tech hub. 

Putting together SPARK was the next step in the process. 

“We realized that we have a lot of great resources already here in Clearwater, but we did not have a cohesive, formal way of working together,” says Aja. 

To determine the best direction to take, she says the group visited the St. Petersburg Greenhouse, the Tampa Bay WaVE in Tampa, and the HuB in Sarasota – in total about nine different venues that support innovation and entrepreneurs.  

“We have spent about a year-and-a-half solidifying our programs and figuring out how to best deliver them to the community,” said Aja.

In a news release announcing SPARK, Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos says, “The creation of Clearwater Business SPARK begins a relationship between the city and its local partners that will ignite entrepreneurship and business development in greater Clearwater and enhance the city’s future and its business community.”

SPARK partner Steve Allen is president and CEO of DocuPhase/iDatix, a Clearwater-based software technology company.

Allen is also the founder of TAFFIE, which is located in the iDatix corporate headquarters and serves as an incubator, accelerator and co-working space for local business startups.

TAFFIE opened in 2013 as a result of Allen’s interest in helping the city brainstorm how to create an ecosystem for attracting the right business talent, says Allen.  

“One of the things the group of us talked about was how we did not have an area for these small tech companies to congregate,” says Allen. “I had available space in my own company.  And after the Urban Land Institute study pointed out the need for an business incubator and accelerator, I decided to pull the trigger.’’

TAFFIE has evolved as a co-working and incubating space for emerging and small businesses, as well as the “go-to” site for several entrepreneurial programs open to the public, such as the monthly entrepreneurs’ roundtable and a twice monthly Rise and Shine morning education and networking meeting.

In addition to the resources offered by TAFFIE, other SPARK partners, such as the Clearwater Public Library provide free business-related tools like Lynda.com, a professional video learning library on topics ranging from business management to graphic design, and database access to mailing lists and numerous other topics.  

One of the library’s coolest new offerings is the “Makerspace,” which gives individuals, inventors and startups access to 3D printers, and other high-tech equipment.  All it takes to participate is a Clearwater library card.

In addition, through SPARK, the city is also offering business coaching, site selecting and permitting assistance, access to financing and grant opportunity exploration.

For more information, contact Audra Aja, program coordinator, at 727-443-0217 or info@ClearwaterBusinessSpark.com

St. Pete event celebrates wealth of local muses

Beyond the goddesses of Greek mythology who preside over song, poetry, arts and sciences, Merriam-Webster defines muse as “a source of inspiration; especially, a guiding genius.” 

St. Petersburg will recognize its own local creative guiding geniuses this Friday, Jan. 29th, at its third annual MUSE Awards. The awards are designed to recognize the breadth and beauty of the city’s arts and culture and “pay tribute to those that continue to inspire and guide St. Petersburg to its standing as an international arts destination.” 

The event, to be held at the Museum of Fine Art, promises to be a night of surprises, pop-up entertainment and of course, artists and fine art down to the food that is served. Proceeds will benefit artists, arts education, and arts & cultural organizations through the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance programs and services. Tickets are available, but going fast. 

“Collectively, the MUSE award winners this year have each made a very distinctive contribution to our community,” says John Collins, Executive Director of the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance. “They are all very involved with community engagement, and these awards were created to shine a spotlight on St. Petersburg.”

Collins uses the term “transformational” when describing any of the winners. It’s hard to argue with that.  

The winners include nationally and internationally acclaimed Artist Steven Kenny whose captivating blend of surrealism with the classic human figure earned him the MUSE Visual Arts Award. Originally from New York, Kenny has been a resident of St. Petersburg for over three years, crediting in an interview with wowxwow.com the Salvador Dali Museum for initially drawing him to the City and his subsequent excitement about the creative energy of the local grassroots art scene as factors in his decision to move. 

The MUSE Arts Ambassador Award recognizes a beloved St. Petersburg artist (of any discipline) who is a stellar representative of the “City of the Arts” to the world. Among her many accolades, Collins praises this year’s winner, muralist and installation artist Ya La’ford, for her “singular commitment to not only doing a mural in a tunnel, the ‘Sunnel,’ but her experiential workshops that have made art very, very relevant in our community.” The artist and professor whose work has been displayed recently at Miami Art Basel, Harlem Art Flux and Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum is also known for her work with children. On Martin Luther King Day of this year, La’ford’s “King’s Dream Unite,” a 30x30 mural created in collaboration with 25 students from MYcroSchool Pinellas, was unveiled on the side of the historic Manhattan Casino in St. Petersburg

The MUSE Patron of the Arts award goes to the J. Crayton Pruitt Foundation which made a “leadership gift” of $200,000 to the Warehouse Arts District enabling the creation of the ArtsXchange, which in just its initial phase will provide 11,000 square feet of affordable studio and performing arts space for the district’s artists of all disciplines.

The St. Petersburg City Theatre recently celebrated its 90th anniversary is the oldest continually operating community theatre and will be recognized with the MUSE Performance Arts Award.

Last but not least: the literary arts. Maureen McDole, Author and co-Founder of Keep St. Pete Lit, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting greater St. Petersburg’s literary community through arts, education and events will receive the MUSE Literary Arts Award. McDole says she sees her organization -- which has provided free classes to over 400 students in the past six months through its LitSpace -- as a “vehicle to spread literary love around our community.”  

“If Keep St. Pete Lit can be a catalyst to creativity and healing in people's lives through literature,’ says McDole. “What's better than that?”

Winners will receive an original hand-blown glass bowl by acclaimed St. Pete Artist Duncan McClellan. 

Startups compete for top spot in Bright House pitch competition

Five startup companies formed in the Tampa Bay area have been selected from a pool of more than 30 small businesses to compete as finalists in the Bright House Networks Pitch 6 competition.

Finalists include:

Motorworks Brewing
Residential Acoustics, LLC (learn more about the company in this 83 Degrees profile)
Safer Home Services
Urban E. Recycling 
VetCor, LLC

The annual Bright House Networks Regional Business Awards recognize a number of regional companies in categories for startups, mid-size, small and large businesses. The Pitch 6 competition serves as the final phase in selecting a winner for the Start-up Category of the awards.

"The Tampa Bay region’s best start-ups will pitch their company to our panel of judges," says Joe Durkin, Sr. Director of Corporate Communications at Bright House Networks.

Bright House Networks partners with local and regional Chambers of Commerce, including those in Hillsborough, Hernando, Pasco, Pinellas and surrounding counties, to select local businesses and startups for recognition in the awards program each year.

For a complete list of the finalists in every category, click here

The Tampa Pitch 6 startup competition will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, January 26, at the Straz Center's Jaeb Theater in downtown Tampa. A post-show reception will immediately follow.

Winners of the "shark tank style" event will be announced on February 11th at the communication company's Regional Business Awards Gala, where up to $1 million in prizes and services will be awarded to winners across the four categories.

UF researchers cultivate hybrid poinsettias that thrive year-round in Florida

Hybrid poinsettias decked the halls of the Hernando County Government Center during the Christmas season of 2015, and researchers at the University of Florida say they could soon be popping up in landscapes throughout Florida.

While poinsettias, also called “Christmas flowers,” were first brought to the United States from southern Mexico by Joel Roberts Poinsett in the 1820s, they don’t necessarily grow well in North America because they aren’t cold tolerant and are susceptible to problems such as root-borne diseases. Still, there has been increasing demand for poinsettias to be included in landscaping as a year-round plant.

Researchers at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) have spent 20 years studying various poinsettia cultivars. 

“The interest in utilizing poinsettias for southeastern landscapes as shrubs, trees, and combination bedding plants has been voiced as the variety of poinsettia possibilities is expanding beyond its designated holiday,” remarks George Grant, a researcher with the National Poinsettia Trials at UF. “For the poinsettia market to thrive in an environment outside of the greenhouse or home, it will require newer, redefined cultivars and education to the consumers on how to grow them effectively.” 

What are the objectives that poinsettia breeders and researchers such as Grant must confront? “To the consumer, color is what sells. However, growers want cultivars that will sell, but also are easy to grow, produce a quality plant without a lot of chemicals and will transport well.” He adds, “it is a challenge for breeders to come up with new cultivars that satisfy all of these requirements.” 

Some of these challenges were beautifully met with the hybrid poinsettias that Hernando County showed off in its 2015 holiday display. Some of the new poinsettia cultivars on stage at the busy county government center included “Autumn Leaves 2016,” “Luv U Pink,” “Red Glitter” and “Winter Rose Early.” Grant says these cultivars, produced by poinsettia breeder Dümmen Orange [http://dummenorange.com/], are novelty poinsettias that vary in bract (flower) color and growth habit. “They do all share one characteristic,” observes Grant. “Uniqueness.” 

The plants were brought to Hernando County by master gardeners Wynn Miller and Conny Cunningham, who traveled to UF to select the innovative hybrid poinsettias and install them in the government center.

“I’m very proud of how our master gardeners have transformed the atrium at the County Government Center from a neglected space to more of a ‘theme park’ type of display, complete with seasonal color and flowers,” says Dr. William Lester, an urban & commercial horticultural agent with the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension in Hernando County. Lester and his colleagues with the Master Gardener program are working toward training volunteer gardeners on a wide array of gardening disciplines.  

According to Grant, the hybrid poinsettias don’t usually turn up in places such as the local grocer or big box stores. “Finding these types of poinsettias will require a little searching [at] local nurseries, ornamental gardens stores, or the University of Florida’s Annual Poinsettia Show [every] December, where over 150 cultivars of poinsettias are sold to support the Environmental Horticulture Club.” 

Grant adds a few tips to those who are looking to include poinsettias (hybrid or otherwise) in their landscape. “Choosing a planting location away from street lights or external light sources that come on at night is essential. This incidental light can actually delay or restrict your poinsettia from ever producing flowers.” 

He says poinsettias need full morning sun and shade during the afternoon, and they also require a planting area with good drainage. Grant tells gardeners that poinsettias don’t establish well outdoors when temperatures are less than 50 degrees. Therefore, new poinsettias are best kept indoors during the winter; they should be situated near a window that lets in full sun. “Once your poinsettia is planted, or when the spring time comes, you will notice how quickly it grows into a tree-like shrub. It is completely up to the property owner as to how tall or wide their plant will get as it is mainly controlled by pruning.”

West Pasco Business Challenge includes $1K cash prize

Local Tampa Bay area businesses will have the chance to pitch their ideas and compete for cash prizes and services in the West Pasco Chamber "Business Challenge" on January 28.

“The goal of the Business Challenge is to say ‘New Port Richey is open for business,’ explains City of New Port Richey Economic Development Director Mario Iezzoni.

The Chamber of Commerce advanced the idea of a local business challenge “because West Pasco County consists of many family-run businesses,” Iezzoni says.“The Business Challenges is one of several conduits New Port Richey is implementing to provide as a resource for further business development.”

A long-time professor of Entrepreneurship at the University of South Florida and a CPA, Iezzoni says the city hopes to convey a message of community growth through locally owned businesses.

“I’ve come to realize that children raised in a family-run business environment, witnessing the challenges their parents experience in the daily grind of operating a business, do exceptionally well in their own enterprises,” Iezzoni says. “The business challenge is one small step in a chain of events that must occur to achieve this lofty goal.”

Business Challenge finalists will present to a panel of judges, which includes: 
  • John Gaston, of Tampa Bay MultiMedia
  • Steve Farrell, of Team Farrell
  • Minh Mai, of Venom
  • Irene Hurst, Director of the USF MBA Program
  • Bob Carroll, of Bob Carroll Building Contractor, Inc.
Event prizes include a cash prize of $1,000 from an anonymous donor and a variety of cash and service donations from local businesses, including Waverly Media, HITS 106, Wiseman Accounting and Bookkeeping, Minuteman Press, The Tampa Bay Times, 72HRPrint.com, WPCC, and ABCO Graphics and Printing.

The presentations, which are open to the public, will start at 3 p.m. on January 28 at the Richey Suncoast Theatre. An awards program will be held at 5 pm at Dulcet Restaurant & Lounge.  

“The goal is to activate what I believe is a rather large talent pool of potential entrepreneurs,” Iezzoni says. “The goal is to leverage generational talent as an economic development strategy to address many of the economic challenges that exist along the Highway-19 corridor.”

Along with an emphasis on entrepreneurial talent among local business owners, the city is taking strides toward a goal of defining itself “as the next New Urbanism City,” Iezzoni says.

Efforts include an emphasis on walking, biking and upgrading IT infrastructure, as well as the development of two residential complexes that Iezzoni says are being designed as “new urbanism concepts” geared toward millennials.

“Millennials don’t want to waste time traveling, they want resources - such as the business incubator we’ve developed in town that is a crossroads and gathering place,” Iezzoni says. “They want recreation, nice parks, affordable neighborhoods, and unique natural resources such as the Grey Preserve to be close by, all within 5 minutes. Our city offers that.”

HCC to offer free entrepreneurship program for veterans

A new entrepreneurship program that is geared toward military veterans will be locally implemented with the help of Hillsborough Community College in Tampa.

The nonprofit Veterans Florida, which developed the entrepreneurship program, was developed itself by the Florida Legislature in an effort to create more job opportunities for vets in the state.

As a network partner of Veterans Florida, Hillsborough Community College will offer training and entrepreneurial education to veterans living in Florida who aim to open their own businesses through the Veterans Florida Entrepreneurship Program.

HCC has the distinction of being the only community college selected as a network partner of the program, which will also be implemented at the University of West Florida, University of North Florida, Florida Gulf Coast University and Florida Atlantic University. The colleges and universities will allocate existing small business development resources to the development and implementation of the program.

“Entrepreneurs fuel our growing economy,” HCC president Dr. Ken Atwater noted in a news release. “This program will help our service men and women get equipped with the necessary tools and knowledge to be successful in the global marketplace."

The Veterans Florida Entrepreneurship Program is provided free of charge to Florida resident veterans who are active duty or who have been honorably discharged; $1 million in program funding was granted from the Florida Legislature. Vets who plan to relocate to Florida to pursue entrepreneurship are also eligible for the program.

Program participants begin training with an online entrepreneurial development-training course before moving on to on-site training at one of the five partner institutions, including HCC. The program covers travel expenses for the in-class portion of training.

During in-class training, veterans will have the opportunity to work with local business leaders and entrepreneurs to further develop and examine business plans.

Following the intensive, face-to-face phase of the program, veterans will receive continued mentorship as they grow and lauch their businesses, as well as follow-up support from Florida Small Business Development Council business consultants.

The Veterans Florida Entrepreneurship Program host partner, the University of West Florida, will oversee the program from its Florida SBDC Network and Military and Veterans Resource Center. At HCC, the program will be administered through the college’s Institute for Corporate and Continuing Training.

“We are pleased to build upon the programs that we currently offer to the thousands of veterans we serve each through the Veterans Florida Program at HCC,” Atwater said.

The education received through the Veterans Florida Entrepreneurship Program “will empower the next generation of great veteran entrepreneurs to make lasting contributions to the state’s economy,” says the group’s executive director, Bobby Carbonell, by offering veterans in the state “access to high value, entrepreneurship education through our world-class state universities and colleges.”

The Veterans Florida Entrepreneurship Program website is set to launch in February 2016; interested veterans can visit the website to apply for the program or contact (850) 898-3489 or info@FloridaVetBiz.org for more information.

USF Tampa, Patel College host global ecotourism conference in January

The inaugural Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference (ESTC), which is organized by The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), will be hosted by the University of South Florida Patel College of Global Sustainability in Tampa January 25-27, 2016. TIES is an internationally recognized nonprofit organization that seeks solutions for more environmentally sustainable tourism options, including ecotourism. 

The ESTC conference will draw many notable tourism industry experts, including representatives from TIES, National Geographic Explorer, United Nations World Tourism Organization, the Walt Disney Company, and many others from the United States and around the world.

Hosting the conference in Tampa is seen as a natural fit because much of the Tampa Bay area’s economy is based around tourism, and the state of Florida as a whole saw 97.3 million visitors in 2014. For those reasons and others, David Randle, Director of Sustainable Tourism at the USF Patel College of Global Sustainability, says the ESTC conference should matter to locals. 

“The world is facing increasing challenges from issues such as climate change, ocean acidification, nitrogen and phosphorous overload, changing land use patterns, threats to our water supply, chemical pollution, and more,” says Randle. “These changes, while not always on the radar of the average Tampa resident, are changes that will impact us all.” 

He says tourism accounts for 9 percent of the world’s gross domestic product and 11.5 percent of the globe’s workforce, making it one of the world’s largest industries. “It is also the fastest-growing industry in the world, and the sustainable tourism sector is the fastest-growing sector within tourism. It is perhaps the best opportunity for humans to leverage needed change in our world.” 

The theme of the 2016 Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference is “Transforming Our World Through Sustainable Solutions” and will discuss solutions to global challenges that can be found in the local setting. On the docket are presentations about international sustainable tourism opportunities, a look at ecotourism options in Florida, dinner at Busch Gardens and a sustainable meal by the Chiles Group

Those interested in learning more information about the 2016 ESTC Conference, which will be held at the Patel Center for Global Solutions at USF Tampa, can check out the conference’s website

Paramedic positions come with big bonus in Pinellas County

Sunstar Paramedics, the emergency medical care provider for Pinellas County, is hiring for 50 paramedics to work in the county in early 2016.

“Our goal is to attract qualified paramedics from around the state to Pinellas County,” Sunstar Paramedics chief administrative officer John Peterson says. “Recruiting has become more difficult over the past few years as private colleges and universities offering first responder programs have closed.”

Sunstar Paramedics, which provides Pinellas County's 911 ambulance transport service, hopes to see the incentive plan attract new hires- but the company’s ultimate goal is to create long-term employees, Peterson says.

How does the company plan to bolster numbers as well as keep employee turnover low? By offering a $35,000 cash bonus to a newly hired paramedic after he or she has worked for Sunstar Paramedics for five years.

The new 5-35 program “is designed to attract the most qualified paramedics to serve the community and keep them in Pinellas County,” Peterson says.

All “qualified paramedics” currently working at Sunstar Paramedics have the opportunity to join the 5-35 program, Peterson says. Many ambulance providers offer large sign-on bonuses, says, but by offering the bonus as a future incentive, “we are hoping to keep good employees in place.”

“Sunstar Paramedics wanted to create a program that rewarded our paramedics for their commitment to the organization and our community,” says Peterson. “It’s an opportunity to place Sunstar Paramedics as an employer of choice among emergency service providers.”

The requirements for working as a paramedic with Sunstar Paramedics include securing CPR, Basic Trauma Life Support (BTLS), and Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) certification. All paramedics applying to Sunstar Paramedics are also required to hold a current Florida paramedic certification and a valid Florida driver’s license.

Additionally, successful candidates must be at least 20 years of age and hold a high school diploma or equivalent.

Sunstar is also hiring temporary paramedics to work around five shifts per month through June.

“With a population of more than a million residents and a record number of tourists, there is a high demand for emergency services, and in turn, skilled EMS professionals,” Peterson says.  

To learn more about available positions or to apply, visit the Sunstar Paramedics employment website.

Cigar City Brewing founder among speakers at upcoming 'business failures' meetup

Inspirational quotes that highlight growth out of failure and the ability to overcome setbacks on the path to success abound, especially online. Rather than read about successes and failures, however, members of the local startup community can mingle with area entrepreneurs during the second edition of F*** Up Nights Tampa Bay on Thursday, January 14. 

That's when Tampa Bay's high-profile meetup - with the not-so-family-friendly name - is back, for the group's first gathering in 2016. Many an f-bomb will be dropped, if the inaugural event is any indication.

Cigar City Brewing founder Joey Redner is among the speakers at FUNTampaBay's upcoming get-together, where business owners will share failure stories with Tampa Bay area startup founders in an informal way over beer, wine, and light snacks.

Along with Redner, speakers at FUNTampaBay on January 14 include the former NFL guard Ian Beckles, who is also the longtime co-host of The Ron & Ian Show on iHeartMedia, and successful serial entrepreneur Joy Randels, who has launched more than a dozen technology companies around the country.

Randels is herself the organizer for the Tampa Bay chapter of Startup Grind, which invites successful - and sometimes not-so-successful - founders to join Randels in a fireside chat and Q&A before a live audience.

Since the launch of FUNTampaBay in October 2015, event organizer and University of South Florida alumni Maria Alithinos says the group has been getting "more and more interest from the Tampa Bay community.

"To make the next event a bit more engaging, we're adding an 'Open Mic F*ckUp,'" Alithinos explains. After speakers finish their presentations, audience members can take the stage for five minute mini-sessions.

The open mic element is unique to Tampa Bay, and while Alithinos says she doesn't know how it will play out, "It could be cathartic" for attendees who open up about past mistakes to the crowd.

FUNTampaBay: Vol II will be held at Redner's Cigar City Cider & Mead1812 North 15th Street in Ybor City. The meetup will take place from 6:00- 9:00 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016. Alithinos expects the event to hit the venue's 75-person capacity. To register for tickets or learn more about the event, click here

The inaugural FUNTampaBay event unfolded in CoWork Ybor and The Blind Tiger Café. Local business owners and serial entrepreneurs Brent C.J. Britton, Chuck Papageorgiou, and Scott Moore spoke at the meeting, which drew around 50 guests on a weeknight in early October 2015. Speakers shared anecdotes about losing millions on bad deals, crippling whole companies, and how to make the perfect mistake in business.

"I really hope FUN becomes part of the Tampa Bay startup and entrepreneurial ecosystem," Alithinos says. "I think it's valuable. It would be awesome for the movers and shakers in the area to share their professional bad luck stories...because we all have one." 

Mingle with local tech crowd at upcoming Tampa Bay area meetups

Meet like-minded friends and potential business partners at the upcoming Collaborative Technologies of Tampa Bay, Tampa Bay Startup Week, and other technology events put on by and for tech enthusiasts and members of the Tampa Bay startup scene in spring 2016.

Thursday, January 14
6 p.m.
Cigar City Cider and Mead
Ybor City

The second edition of F*** Up Nights Tampa Bay -- or FUNTampaBay -- will be held at event speaker Joey Redner's Ybor City outpost, Cigar City Cider and Mead. During the informal gathering, hear discussions about success and failure from speakers including Redner, local serial entrepreneur Joy Randels, and former NFL guard turned media personalist Ian Beckles. The event will also open the floor to audience members for an "Open Mic" portion.

To search for tickets or learn more about FUN events around the world, click here.

1 Million Cups
Wednesday, January 20, recurring
9 a.m.
St. Petersburg GreenhouseHillsborough County Entrepreneur Collaborative Center

1 Million Cups, a weekly Wednesday morning gathering where area business leaders and local residents come together to hear aspiring startups and growing companies pitch their ideas, has become a staple of both the St. Petersburg and Tampa business communities. The Bay area's first 1 Million Cups event took root at St. Petersburg's Greenhouse in 2013, and expanded across Tampa Bay to the Hillsborough County Mark Sharpe Entrepreneur Collaborative Center in 2015. Now, each week brings a packed house of community members to hear new ideas and sip on donated Kahwa Coffee

Each Wednesday morning, visitors to either location can hear from new startups or get updates from past presenters. To learn more about Tampa's 1 Million Cups meetups or to apply to present, click here; see information about 1 Million Cups in St. Petersburg or apply to be a presenter here.

Tampa Bay Startup Week
February 8-12

Tampa Bay technology enthusiasts and members of the startup scene saw a new concept unfold in 2015 - a full week of dedicated events, broken down by track and then further by subject matter. Topics ranging a wide gamut of interests from coding to beer brewing drew a diverse crowd to the events -- some interactive -- that took place around the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg.

The 2016 Tampa Bay Startup Week main event sponsor is Chase, working together with tech.co. Stay tuned for more info about events, speakers, and special opportunities - in 2015, events culminated with an open skate on the ice at Amalie Arena.

To learn more or register for Tampa Bay Startup Week events, click here.

1776 Challenge Cup
Wednesday, February 10
Tampa Bay WaVe offices

The 1776 Challenge Cup offers grand prize winners up to $1 million in prizes during the final round of a startup pitch competition. A local round one will take place at startup business accelerator and venture center Tampa Bay WaVe in downtown Tampa on February 10. The Cup is billed as a ‘worldwide tournament for the most promising, world-changing startups to win cash prizes, make international connections and share their vision on a global stage.'

Southeastern Entrepreneurship Conference
February 19-20
8 a.m. - 6:30 p.m.
University of Tampa John P. Lowth Entrepreneurship Center 

At the two-day 2016 Southeast Entrepreneurship Conference (SEEC 2016), local college students will come together with students from top-ranked schools across the nation to compete in the Spartan Pitch Competition at the John P. Lowth Entrepreneurship Center on the University of Tampa campus.

During the competition, students will pitch startup ideas to a panel of judges in hopes of securing funding for their business ventures. Along with the business challenge portion of the event, students will have the opportunity to network with business leaders and peers. Around 20 speakers will also share insights on business and entrepreneurship.

The event is open to the public, and members of the local business community are encouraged to attend. To register, click here.

#Collabtb (Q1 Tech & Entrepreneur Peer Networking Event)
Thursday, March 3
5:30 p.m.
The Getaway
St. Pete

Hosted by Collaborative Technologies of Tampa Bay with partnership from Tampa Bay Tech Events, #collabTB quarterly meetups draw a crowd of several hundred to the laid-back beach bar behind St. Pete staple The Getaway. The focus of the gatherings is networking and community-building in a relaxed atmosphere, with no speakers or formal agenda.
Tech startups and area entrepreneurs,aspiring students, and those who want to make new connections in the community are encouraged to attend. Raffles, "swag," and giveaways will be offered.

To register for the Collabtb Q3 Tech and Entrepreneur Peer networking event, click here. Be sure to use the hashtag #Collabtb on Twitter.

Are you, or an organization you know, hosting a tech-oriented event in the Tampa Bay area in 2016? Let us know in the comments below to have your activity included in a future 83 Degrees newsletter!

January job news: Who's hiring in Tampa Bay in 2016

Digital marketing agencies, architecture consulting and stonework firms, beachfront customer service and other roles with expanding local companies are highlighted in the first 83 Degrees job news roundup of the year. 
Here's who's hiring in Tampa Bay in January 2016:

St. Petersburg-based A1 Marketing Concepts is seeking to fill several fulltime marketing and communications positions, including Marketing Coordinator, Public Relations Assistant, Business Management Associate, Sales Account Representative, and Customer Relations Associate. The company provides targeted marketing and promotional campaigns to clients in a variety of industries. 

A digital marketing agency with the distinction of being a full-service HubSpot Gold partner is seeking a Marketing Director to join the Big Sea team in downtown St. Petersburg. Job requirements for the role at Big Sea include five or more years of marketing industry experience;  a BA/BS degree in Communications or Marketing is "strongly preferred"; excellent written and verbal communication skills; time management and organization skills; the ability to think creatively; HubSpot certifications, WordPress and web-based CMS experience preferred.

L-3 Communications is hiring an ISR Systems Engineer in the company's Tampa offices. Qualifications include a BS or MS in a relevant field, with eight or more years of intelligence analysis or C4ISR experience, or specialized training combined with 10 or more years experience. 

Masonite International is hiring for a variety of roles at the company's Tampa offices; current openings range from senior roles in accounting and auditing to customer service or internship positions. 

The Fortune 1000 Pall Corporation is seeking a Manufacturing and Industrial Engineer to work from the materials science company's New Port Richey offices. Job requirements include a minimum BS in Engineering; at least three years related work experience in a technical capacity; five years preferred. Computer proficiency, with experience using SAP and CAD/CAM, and in the Filtration and Aerospace industries, preferred.

PGT Industries has operated from Sarasota County for several decades as a leading industry supplier and manufacturer of custom aluminum, vinyl and impact resistant house windows, doors and porch enclosures. PGT plans to hire dozens of new employees in fields that range from sales to customer service to finance or engineering.

Downtown St. Petersburg-based Symphoni Media is hiring a Web Designer. Two or more years of experience with HTML and CSS is required, along with a portfolio, strong design skills, and excellent communication skills. 

The 20-acre beachfront hotel property Tradewinds Island Resorts on St. Pete Beach is hiring for dozens of positions in early 2016. Job roles are both part- and full-time positions, including Valet, Cook, Reservations Agent, Front Office, Security, Night Auditing, Bartending, and many more; available positions cover a range of experience and educational requirements. 

Hiring in the Tampa Bay region? Send a note to tips@83degreesmedia.com. Hired? Reach out on Twitter @83degreesmedia if our job listings put you on the path to success.

UT student team wins local round of Hult Prize competition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tampa father, son build tiny house as model for others

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information on the tour, visit their website.

In-Towner trolley gives free rides in downtown Tampa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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