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Startup Week returns to Tampa, St. Pete in mid-February

 Wondering how to raise $1 million for a startup in Tampa Bay? And why it’s different here than other places? You can get answers at Tampa Bay Startup Week Feb. 13 through 17.
 
The annual event is being held on both sides of the bay this year in Tampa and St. Petersburg.
 
“The event is designed to showcase all the resources that are available in Tampa Bay for entrepreneurs of all sizes,” says Gracie Leigh Stemmer, President of Startup Tampa Bay Inc., the nonprofit organization that runs the event.
 
The week kicks off with the first three days on the Tampa side, featuring an opening event at the Rialto Theatre at 1617 N. Franklin St. with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. The week winds to a close on the St. Petersburg side for the last two days at the Station House at 260 First Ave. S., with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman. It includes tracks for special interests such as coding and development, public relations and marketing, fashion and veterans’ entrepreneurship.
 
Highlights of the week include “How to Raise $1 Million in Tampa Bay” featuring local founders who have raised more than that for their companies: Pat Bhava, CEO of PikMyKid, which helps streamline car lines at school dismissal time; Ed Buckley, CEO of Peerfit, a fitness company; Reuben Pressman, CEO of Check I’m Here, a software platform for colleges; and David Osterweil, CEO of Fitlife Foods, a retail chain offering prepared meals with all-natural ingredients.The session is slated from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Feb. 16 in St. Petersburg.
 
Also planned are “Uncovering the Future with Tampa Bay Leaders” from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Feb. 15 in Tampa, featuring Danielle Vona, Founder and Chief Thinker, The Marketing Posse; and Ryan Ross, Executive VP of Marketing and Digital Commerce for HSN.

“How to Impact Your Startup Community with Brad Feld” is a Skype session from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. Feb. 15 in Tampa with Feld, an early-stage investor and entrepreneur for more than 20 years. The author of the Startup Revolution Series, Feld is co-founder of the venture capital firm, Foundry Group in Boulder, CO, and co-founder of Techstars, a global partner of Startup Week sponsored by Chase for Business.

“We know there’s a lot of entrepreneurs and business leaders. We’re hoping to use these events to connect them together,” says Michael Laplante, one of the event organizers.

To register for the free event, visit the Tampa Bay Startup Week website includes a slate of events and you can indicate which ones you want to attend, which will help them with planning. “We want people to be able to come in anytime they want,” Laplante says.

TechHire meeting slated to talk about employment needs

Tampa business leaders are meeting to talk about employment needs Feb. 9 as part of the nationwide TechHire initiative focused on jobseekers 17 to 29.
 
Among them is Mike Burnett, Regional Account Executive for Northern Technologies Group Inc., an IT solutions company in Lutz. NTG began operating a second facility in late January at Bears Avenue and Interstate 275, enabling it to better serve its client base.
 
NTG is looking to hire four to six employees and is expecting to continue to expand. NTG employs 60 and is “top-heavy with engineers,” Burnett says.
 
“We are currently the end-to-end IT department for organizations as small as 20 users and up to 1,500 total users,” he explains.
 
Burnett says he hopes NTG will be one of those places employees look to for opportunities through the TechHire program. They are looking for people with the “right attitude” who are “willing to learn” and be “part of our growing team,” he adds.
 
The Feb. 9 meeting will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. in the Ybor Room at Hillsborough Community College’s Ybor Campus, according to the event’s organizer, The Tampa Bay Innovation Alliance. Contact the alliance to reserve a seat.
 
The meeting also features Travis Bond, CEO and Founder of Caresync, a leading provider of software and services for chronic care management. Caresync has located its headquarters at Hidden River Corporate Park at Interstate 75 and Fletcher Avenue in Tampa -- and committed to expanding its staff to 500 this year.
 
The company recently brought 150 existing jobs to its Hidden River facility. It is looking to hire employees to work as clinical care coordinators and product developers, as well as in human resources, information technology and administration.
 
The meeting is for tech businesses and those who want to start a business. It follows a Dec. 15 meeting.
 
The alliance’s job is to provide feedback about the gap in talent in the area, says Kelley Sims, the alliance’s Senior Vice President. It would like employers to agree to give preference to graduates through the TechHire program.
 
“Our goal is to engage 150 businesses in the area to basically support and be prepared to look at these graduates,” Sims says.
 
The alliance wants to deepen its understanding of the area’s employment needs. “We want to mine the data on the specifics of who they’ve hired and where there have been gaps,” she says.
 
Tampa Bay was awarded $3.8 million last summer to pay for technical training and connect people with jobs. In December, Tampa Bay was officially recognized as a TechHire community.
 
The initiative was started by then-President Barack Obama in March 2015, with goal of creating a tech talent pipeline across the nation.

TiE Tampa Bay invites local startups to Pitch Festival

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

Innovation summit relocates to Tampa from Austin

Organizers of an innovation summit in Austin, TX, are moving the event to Tampa to better serve the military’s growing technology needs. “Tampa is the ideal epicenter to link the DOD’s [U.S. Department of Defense’s] massive innovation needs with global private sector solution providers,” says Dr. Matthew Laudon, CEO of the Austin-based TechConnect planning the summit.
 
The Defense Innovation Summit and Showcase prospects for businesses that can deliver private sector, early-stage technologies to the DOD. Its goal is supporting the warfighter with easy-to-use products that are rugged and will survive extreme heat, sand, or other harsh environmental conditions.
 
“You can think of this as a shark-tank [the popular TV show] for the military; prospecting for break- through technologies from outside of the traditional defense industry, yet aligned with national security needs,” Laudon says.
 
The event, scheduled Oct. 3 through 5 at the Tampa Bay Convention Center, is being held jointly with the Defense Innovation Technology Acceleration Challenges (DITAC 2017), and the National Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Innovation Summit. Together they are expected to draw more than one thousand innovations from across the country. The programs are expected to draw from 1200 to 1500, and include a high “concentration of defense innovation and early-stage federal funding leadership,” Laudon says.
 
Technologies will include Defense Energy, Advanced Materials, Advanced Manufacturing, Space Technologies, Cyber Security, Defense Medical, Advanced Electronics, Communications and Sensors. 
 
“The event consists of DOD populated panels and workshops on DOD initiatives and a series of ‘Shark Tank’ innovation pitch programs, with the DOD filling the role as the on-site reviewers,” Laudon says. “In addition, all innovators exhibit or demo their technologies during the evening Defense Innovation Showcase programs.”
 
The event’s organizer, TechConnect, has made a two-year commitment to Tampa. “We are looking for a long-term home for the event that is supported by a local and engaged Innovation Community, along with engagement from the Defense Innovation community,” Laudon says. “Our hope is that the Tampa Innovation Community will be that strong support partner so that we are able to keep the event permanently in Tampa.”
 
The decision to relocate was made by the TechConnect Innovation Advisory Committee with input from DOD leadership, including U.S. Special Operations Command and U.S. Central Command. As home to both SOCOM and CENTCOM, and the site of growing innovation community, the Tampa area was a natural draw.
 
“When you’ve got one of the largest … science and technology budgets really in the country, right at your backdoor, you as a community have a great opportunity,” says Bernice Glenn, Senior VP of Strategic Partnerships for National Security Technology Accelerator, of Arlington, VA, which is partnering with TechConnect.
 
NSTA, which will be helping to recruit keynote speakers, is involved with review panels. “We try to work ahead of the schedule of the summit to help identify, from the defense side exactly what they need, and get that information out to the tech side so the techs can respond meaningfully,” Glenn explains.
 
The Tampa event is one of three TechConnect events. The others are in Washington DC and Hawaii.
 
Marc Blumenthal, CEO of Florida Funders, which is actively interested in funding innovative companies, says moving the summit to Tampa is a “big deal.”
 
“The region is ... really beginning to become more recognized as a fantastic place to do business and notably, a great place for innovation to be fostered,” he says. “Austin is world renowned as a city that defines innovation and creativity and Tampa is well on its way to having many of the same attributes, with all of the other things that make Tampa, and Florida by extension, very special.” 
 
SBIR/STTR is a potential funding opportunity for the right innovative businesses. “Simply put, the SBIR program represents the nation’s largest angel capital fund available to early-stage innovators,” Laudon says. “The co-located National SBIR/STTR Innovation Summit represents over $2.5 billion in annual early-stage commercialization funding coming out of U.S. federal agencies.  Attendees and innovators have access to one-on-one meeting opportunities with SBIR Program Directors from over 20 federal agencies...”
 
DITAC prospects for “break-through technologies from outside of the traditional defense industry,” Laudon adds.
 
“Vetted and sub-selected innovations pitch their technologies to panels of DOD innovation leadership,” he says. 
 
To register, follow this link.
 
The summits are “high points” for year-round prospecting that helps both the defense and private sectors, Glenn says.

Tampa Bay leading in STEM jobs, online job ads

The Tampa Bay metropolitan area is experiencing robust job growth. The number of jobs climbed by 16.7 percent since 2010, with the addition of 186,000 jobs, says Cissy Proctor, Executive Director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. 
 
In 2016, Tampa businesses created 29,100 new private-sector jobs, according to Florida Gov. Rick Scott, in a written announcement about year-end employment data. Tampa led the state in job openings advertised online, the bulk of all openings, and in jobs in higher-paid fields including science, technology, engineering and math, he notes.
 
“We’re not surprised,” Proctor says of the Tampa numbers. “Tampa is part of the I-4 corridor, and we know that whole area is a STEM hub of the state.”
 
A lot of factors are behind the area’s job growth record, including the investment made by area universities and businesses, Proctor says.
 
Double-digit growth is expected during the next eight years in professional business services, leisure/hospitality and construction, she adds.
 
The number of jobs in the Sunshine State grew by 251,400 between December 2016 and 2015, an increase of 3.1 percent, state figures indicate. Leisure and hospitality made the strongest showing, with a 4.6 percent increase in jobs. Education and health services, professional and business services, construction, and trade, transportation and utilities also gained jobs.
 
Twenty-three of the 24 metropolitan areas statewide saw gains in non-agricultural jobs during the year. The largest gains were in Orlando-Kissimmee-Stanford, Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, and Ft. Lauderdale-Pompano Beach-Deerfield Beach.
 
Job growth statewide has been steady, but was especially strong for the last three years. “We have a very strong economy right now,” Proctor says. “Not only is our job growth rate stronger than the nation, our gross national product is stronger than the nation and our labor force is stronger than the nation.”
 
Florida’s unemployment rate dipped .2 percent since December 2015, to 4.9 percent, the figures show. Nationally, unemployment was 4.7 percent.
 
The Tampa Bay region fared slightly better in December, with a 4.5 percent seasonally non-adjusted unemployment rate in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan area, figures show. It remained unchanged from December 2015.

Brandon pain remedy firm joins USF incubator

Over a century ago, a Trinidadian named Arabella Skinner, dubbed Mother Skinner by her family, prepared a home remedy that helped them recover quickly from sprains.
 
“Back in the islands, they didn’t have access to modern medicine [then],” explains her grandson, W. Caleb Williams. “She spent her life developing remedies for curing different ailments.”
 
Today Williams has reformulated the remedy as an over-the-counter treatment. He is marketing it as RelieveIt, a brand by his Brandon-based company, SprainGo.
 
The University of South Florida has accepted the company into its Tampa Bay Technology Incubator. “While this particular remedy has been used for over a century, it’s important that we have clinical and empirical data to support our claims,” Williams says. “We’re seeking to run a clinical study to provide evidence.”
 
SprainGo currently sells: SprainGo, a gel packaged with an adhesive bandage; RelieveIt, for soreness; and RelieveIt Patch, a gel patch. A more potent version, SprainGo Med, is being developed for urgent care centers, chiropractors, physical and massage therapists and others. It is expected to be available in March. Feet Sore No More Foot Spray is slated for release in April.
 
In addition to help with product testing, Williams is looking to USF to provide mentoring, a marketing intern, and contacts to raise capital as the company grows.
 
“One of the things that we do with our affiliate companies is to help them make connections at USF departments and with faculty that have common interests with them,” says Laurie Sullivan, Program Coordinator for USF Connect, which governs USF’s incubators.
 
Skinners’ original formula has been augmented with an extract of Arnica Montana, a medicinal plant recognized as an inflammatory for some 2,000 years, Williams says.
 
“Our formula is natural and was registered with the FDA as a natural homeopathic product,” he says.
 
Although it was originally used on sprains and strains to reduce swelling overnight, Williams has found the product also provides relief for minor burns, muscle aches, fatigue, soreness, arthritis and fibromyalgia.
 
He believes his treatment can halve the number of sick days required after an injury. “We think we have the product that can get those people back to work much faster,” he says.
 
The formula has a mild scent compared to other products containing camphor, menthol or caprisin, which distract pain suffers for a short while with a sensation of hot or cold. “There’s no sensation with our RelieveIt,” he says.

Wanted: High school computer science, math scholars

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

Tampa Innovation Summit to boost local startup ecosystem

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

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

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

Sarasota County launches solar energy co-op program for homeowners

The sun began to peek through the clouds on an overcast morning at the Florida House Institute, where solar advocates gathered in early January to launch a new solar energy co-op program in Sarasota County. 

Representatives from the Sarasota League of Women Voters, Florida Solar United Neighborhoods (FL SUN), and the Florida House Institute met with Sarasota County homeowners to explore ways to add solar energy to their homes at a discount by sharing solar panel purchasing power -- and knowledge -- in bulk. 

Solar co-ops is a competitive bidding process to select a single company to install solar panels in participating homes, providing a discount of up to 20 percent for homeowners who participate in the program. Each person signs his or her own contract with the installer, and the entire group not only receives the discount, but also benefits from sharing knowledge about the process of transitioning to a solar-powered lifestyle. 

Jon Thaxton, Senior VP for Community Investment with the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, a FL SUN Sarasota partner, cites a report the GCCF issued on affordable housing in 2015. The housing report states that over 43,000 households in Sarasota County pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing--forcing them to make difficult decisions as to how they will afford food, transportation and childcare, Thaxton notes. 

"This initiative has promised to reduce the energy cost in these households, and thus reduce the financial strain on the budget on these service workers," Thaxton says, citing low income neighborhoods in Sarasota Springs, south Venice, Englewood and North Port.

"We are talking about, in terms of affordable housing, bringing not only hundreds, but thousands of these 43,000 cash-strapped households into a more sustainable situation with this initiative," Thaxton says. 

Phyllis Vogel, President of the Sarasota League of Women Voters, says that Florida currently lags behind other states in utilizing solar energy, and that programs like the FL SUN Sarasota co-op are critical to the Sunshine State's future. 

"Consider this: Florida, the Sunshine State, currently gets less than one-tenth of 1 percent of its energy from solar power," Vogel says. 

But recent public interest in solar energy is a catalyst for change.

"The defeat of Amendment One in the recent election is an indication that Floridians are ready to increase the use of solar power in our communities. We know it's cost effective, it's good for our local economy, and it's necessary for our future resilience as a coastal community," Vogel says.

Of the solar co-op initiative, Vogel states, "not only will it save homeowners and businesses money, but it will infuse our economy with a growth industry of well-paying green jobs. The League believes that solar energy takes a free market approach to putting power, literally and figuratively, into the hands of the people."

FL SUN Sarasota partners include The League of Women Voters, the Sarasota Classified Teachers Association, Sierra Club of Manatee-Sarasota, the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation, the Florida House Institute, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Sarasota, and FL SUN. 

To learn more about the co-op, Join FL Sun Sarasota for one of three upcoming information sessions:

Jan. 18, 1 p.m.
Venice Community Center
326 South Nokomis Avenue, Venice
RSVP here

Jan. 19, 5 p.m.
Selby Library
1331 1st Street, Sarasota
RSVP here

Feb. 24, 11 a.m.
Twin Lakes Park
6700 Clark Road, Sarasota
RSVP here

Wifi Waiter makes debut in Downtown Tampa

It’s lunch break and you’re on a tight schedule. You don’t want to spend your time waiting in line to order. No problem. Wifi Waiter has you covered.

Without an app, you can take a seat and order.

“What we’ve done is basically brought in tableside ordering,” explains Anup Balagopal, Founder and CEO of Tampa-based Torchfi.
 
Using the restaurant’s Internet service, Wifi Waiter levels the playing field for brick-and-mortar businesses that, ordinarily, don’t have the ability to recognize repeat customers when they walk in the door. “They faced a significant challenge when competing with online services. The one thing we wanted to do was bring in technology for offline business, and help them do the same things that online does.”
 
Wifi Waiter is live in two locations in downtown Tampa: The Attic and Moxies Cafe and Caterer. “We are always looking to improve the customer experience, and saw this as a unique opportunity for our customers to be able to 'skip the line' in our fast casual restaurant,” says Moxies’ co-owner Bob Carr. “It’s a great fit since we already deliver the food to the table, so the impact to operations is minimal to gain a near full-service experience.” 
 
Torchfi is targeting fast casual restaurants that, by definition, don’t have servers to take your order. Restaurants pay for a monthly subscription with little, upfront cost. “Once we have proven this product here in the Tampa Bay region, I believe we will be able to scale this across the country with the same chains,” Balagopal says.
 
Starting this week, Torchfi is expected to facilitate the ordering process for those who typically order the same, or similar, menu items. “We make it easier for the customer to actually place an order by recording their ordering history,” Balagopal says.
 
Torchfi’s engineering and backup operations are in India, but its headquarters moved to Tampa four months ago after being chosen to participate in Tampa Bay Wave, a non-profit to help entrepreneurs grow tech businesses. 
 
“They have been our angel in Tampa,” Balagopal says. “What Wave brings is an amazing network of mentors and industry experts who help identify what the market actually requires.”
 
Allen Clary, a Tampa Bay Wave Mentor and Entrepreneur in Residence, calls Torchfi “one of our shooting stars.” “It’s absolutely one of the most innovative company products we have in the Wave right now,” he says.
 
He notes Torchfi has made the cut for the Investor Pitch Day Jan. 27, meaning it has passed rigorous review and will be able to pitch to qualified investors in Tampa Bay.
 
Balagopal has his eyes fixed on even greater opportunities beyond the restaurant industry. He’s thinking about malls, stadiums and airports.

With a small Torchfi device connecting customers to an Internet router and  enabling free access, it doesn’t matter if you’re working on a laptop, or using a tablet or phone. “It’s simple and quick,” he says.

Online fitness company helps people get off the couch

Ed Buckley has found an innovative way to make money by encouraging people to exercise. Through Peerfit, a company he founded with Scott Peeples, he is working with insurers and employers to provide exercise credits at fitness centers across the nation.
 
“The idea is that we should give you an array of options, whatever is going to motivate you to get out of the couch,” says Buckley, Peerfit’s CEO. “You have the availability to do it, and you have no barriers to stop you.”
 
Buckley was studying group fitness at the University of Florida when he had an idea to start a fitness company. In 2010, when he met Peeples, another student, he pitched him the idea. By 2011, Peerfit was a reality.
 
“We’re pretty satisfied with the diversity of high-quality options we've put inside the [fitness] network, says Buckley, who holds a PhD from UF in Health Behavior, with a focus on Digital Health and Wellness.
 
A digital company based in Tampa, Peerfit works directly with insurance carriers and employers with wellness budgets. The companies buy credits that clients or employees can use at a variety of fitness studios such as CAMP, Soho Cycling and Epic Boxing in Tampa, or the national Lifetime Fitness.
 
The companies fund a certain number of credits every month. “It’s all about personalization and flexibility. That’s what we built the model for,” he explains.
 
The company was developed with capital from friends and family. In the summer of 2016, Peerfit raised $1.5 million, including some $400,000 through Florida Funders, a company developed in 2014 to help investors fund Florida businesses.
 
“Some of my friends like to call us the 20th century entrepreneurs,” quips Marc Blumenthal, Florida Funders’ CEO.
 
Florida Funders ferrets through 70 to 100 companies a month to find those one, two or three they will try to help financially. “We’re actually focused on tech-enabled companies,” he explains.
 
Florida Funders’ website serves as a platform to connect businesses with investors. In addition to making a profit through shares in the companies, its goal is to help make Florida a place where investors’ children and grandchildren can find good jobs.
 
“Peerfit is a very exciting company,” Blumenthal says. “We ... want to make sure they don’t leave to go somewhere else.”
 
Peerfit is already making its mark. During 2016, it helped 10,000 people.
 
After you find your footing, things move and they move fast,” Buckley says.

USF students, alumni offered free training in software coding

University of South Florida students and alumni can begin training now for lucrative software development jobs through an online training program by Reston, VA-based Revature, a technology talent development company.
 
The program paves the way for a free on-the-ground bootcamp and contract jobs in the field.
 
“We’re addressing the technology skills gap, as well as just the struggle of corporations to really find tech and software engineers for specific types of skillsets,” says Joe Vacca, Revature’s Chief Marketing Officer.
 
RevaturePro online training is ideal for those who are seeking a career in software development, whether they have liberal arts, business or computer backgrounds. It helps build the skills necessary for the Revature Coding Bootcamp, an intense 10- to 12-week program that builds skills needed to launch their careers.
 
Students must apply for the bootcamp, which requires a bachelor’s degree. When accepted into the bootcamp, housing and a weekly living allowance are provided.
 
“The companies in the Tampa area, Florida as well as the rest of the United States, are struggling to find software developers to fill the openings they have,” Vacca explains.
 
The bootcamp gives participants the equivalent of one to two years of experience, fast-tracking their career. “Many of these individuals within four years will be making six figure salaries given the demand,” he continues.
 
USF students and alumni can access the RevaturePro online program at revature.com/usf. The self-paced learning program can take from a month to a year to complete. Mentors are available to work with students.
 
“We’re very excited about our partnership with USF. We want to provide the pathway to their graduates. We feel like we’re going to get some of the top talent in the country,” Vacca says.
 
Joe Mitchell, Senior VP of University Partnerships with Revature, says they are in contact with area businesses about providing tech talent. “We’re looking forward to stimulating economic growth,” he says.
 
Revature is offering training in Java, .NET and SDET. Careers in software development involve backend codes that make company systems work, whether they involve a customer service program, managing a database, developing a website, or creating a mobile application.
 
Peter Thorsett, Communications and Marketing Officer for USF’s Department of Career Services, says the online program is ideal for sophomore, junior or even senior students who want to explore coding and software development. The exposure is good for students even if they don’t decide to pursue a software career. “We’re living in an era where technology permeates everything we do,” he says.
 
The bootcamp is an opportunity to pursue a software career, change careers or meld current experience with coding experience to qualify for tech-related jobs. “That leveraging of past experience is huge,” he says. “It’s a great way to get into a pipeline very quickly.”

White House recognizes Tampa Bay as TechHire Community

Tampa Bay is now officially a TechHire community, which is pretty good news for jobseekers here between 17 and 29. That is if they’re willing to learn new computer skills like java programming, mobile applications or web development.
 
White House officials and community leaders announced Tampa Bay’s TechHire designation last Thursday in separate events. Tampa Bay is now one of more than 70 such areas nationwide.
 
The designation indicates Tampa’s Innovation District, which includes the University of South Florida, Busch Gardens and Moffitt Cancer Center, has met White House TechHire standards. It bolsters the area’s opportunities to achieve job-training goals.
 
Mark Sharpe, CEO of Tampa Innovation Alliance, says the designation “cements you in the [TechHire] club.”
 
“The whole point of bringing the public and private institutions together is to create opportunities for everyone,” Sharpe adds. “There is a sense that not everyone has benefited from trade and from the emerging tech economy. When people don’t have that opportunity, it creates frustration and, in many instances, struggle.”
 
“It [the designation] identifies us as a community that is working towards improving our IT industry sector, that we’re looking for ways to make opportunities available -- for people, for companies,” adds Edward Peachey, President and CEO of CareerSource Tampa Bay, which is partnering in the initiative.
 
Tampa Bay received a $3.8 million federal grant last summer to fund technical training in the community and connect people with jobs. Some $150 million in grants were awarded to 39 TechHire communities, with the communities kicking in nearly $50 million in additional philanthropic, private and other funding.
 
Nationwide, more than 4,000 people have been trained and connected to higher-paying job opportunities.
 
Peachey notes the TechHire designation is distinct from the funding, which lasts for three years. “Being a TechHire community has a longer life to it,” he explains. “What really stands out is the partnership that it creates between employers and community-based organizations and government. And the recognition that we’re all working together to improve our community for the tech companies and tech employees.”
 
The designation also facilitates information sharing about developing a tech workforce, he adds.
 
The TechHire initiative, launched by President Barack Obama in March, 2015, is building a pipeline of tech talent to local communities across the nation, creating jobs and facilitating business growth.
 
Tampa Bay was one of 20 communities added to the initiative Thursday. Three others were in Florida: Central Florida, including Sumter, Lake, Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties; Alachua and Bradford counties; and Pensacola.
 
CareerSource Tampa Bay is fast-tracking IT training and employment opportunities for more than 1,000 out-of-school youth and young adults through 2020. Some jobs are in health care. Employers such as BayCare Health Systems and Cognizant Technology Solutions are working to advance the community’s economic health and technology industry.
 
The training program is short, and can take about four months, Sharpe says.
 
Those who are interested in free training can apply online at http://www.careersourcetampabay.com or visit one of the CareerSource Tampa Bay offices.
 
The alliance and other initiative leaders will be meeting with the business community Dec. 15 as part of its effort to develop its employment base – which already numbers more than 200.
 
Unemployment rates for IT jobs in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area were greater than one percent in August, 2015, compared to 5.2 percent overall, according to a CareerSource workforce analysis.

Study shows USF has $400M impact through innovation efforts

University of South Florida’s efforts to encourage innovation and economic development are paying off. A Washington Economics Group study shows USF’s innovation and economic development efforts have a statewide economic impact of more than $400 million annually.
 
The bulk of the money, $395 million, stays in the Tampa Bay region, where some 1,550 people are directly employed, the study reveals. An additional 1,467 people work for partner organizations and businesses that serve USF innovation operations, resulting in a combined household income of $149 million.
 
The study was commissioned by USF and the Florida High Tech Corridor, a partnership of more than 25 local and regional Economic Development Organizations and 14 state and community colleges. It focused on the impact of USF Research Park, Tampa Bay Technology Incubator, which hatches new businesses; and Technology Transfer Office, which handles patents, copyrights and other intellectual property rights issues.
 
“This helps us understand ourselves and how we can contribute to the rest of the community and business in the area,” says Paul Sanberg, USF’s Senior VP for Research, Innovation and Economic Development. “I thought it was important to do. ... We work so hard on the invention part and the education part that we don’t really see the bigger picture.”
 
About 80 percent of the jobs are in Knowledge-Based Services, including life sciences, information technology, financial services, professional and administrative services. This sector also effects tourism, real estate, transportation and other key areas of the economy, the report says.
 
The report asserts USF support efforts are “critical” to the economy in Florida and the Tampa region. “USF’s Innovation Enterprise’s commercialization activities add significantly to the high-wage job creation in targeted State industries such as life sciences,” it says.
 
The USF System has a $4.4 billion annual economic impact on the Tampa Bay Region, with 15,243 employees in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee, says Vickie Chachere, Director of Strategic Communications for USF Research and Innovation.
 
Universities have fostered innovation as corporate-funded research has declined. “At USF, leading edge research and entrepreneurship are ingrained in its culture. USF’s TBTI is currently home to over 60 resident and affiliate companies, with 58 percent of these companies directly coming from the USF’s TTO as spinouts,” the study notes. “The mentorship and resources from the TTO and the TBTI are key to the success of many of these startups.”
 
The report is “a pretty significant recruitment tool,” says Chachere. “This is everybody’s success story.”

Want to make a partial payment on a loan? New app developed by Tampa brothers may help

A flexible payment plan app invented by two brothers may soon bring new jobs to the Tampa Bay Area. 

Partial.ly is an innovative software program that allows businesses of any size to offer flexible payment plans to its customers. Partial.ly, ranked as one of the 10 best Quickbooks apps by Intuit, integrates with third-party retail software such as ShopifyWooCommerce, FreshBooks, Harvest and Quickbooks Online

Andrew Schmid, who founded the company with his brother Ben in fall 2015, says Partial.ly has grown exponentially over the past year. 

“We started developing the app in in September 2015 and had the official launch in November 2015,” recalls Andrew. “We’ve processed $1.3 million in payments.” 

Companies from all over the English-speaking world are using the payment processing system, including those in Great Britain, Canada and Australia. 

Partial.ly offers several user-friendly features, including the ability for the business to control the payment plan fee, down payment, terms and payment frequency, and it also makes it easy for companies to choose automated or manual payments, and for customers to adjust down payment amount and tweak the terms. 

What’s the big benefit for businesses? “It helps businesses improve payment processing.” It can also help boost sales figures and overall revenue, since customers are more likely to buy a product they can pay for over the course of time. 

Partial.ly generates legally binding contracts, facilitates transactions through eCommerce retail tool Stripe and can charge customers in a variety of currencies, including U.S. dollars, British pounds, and European euros. Businesses are charged a 5 percent fee per transaction plus 30 cents. Payments are SSL protected.  

The Schmids’ software program has gained plenty of steam in the one year since its launch. Its first moments in the spotlight were in the heart of Silicon Valley at the QuickBooks Connect 2016 Conference in San Jose, California, where the brothers were invited to spend three days pitching their product to competition judges and convention goers. 

The Schmids, who knew the way to San Jose is paved with hard work and dedication, have to this point managed to build their startup brand with only their own funds. 

“We bootstrapped it all ourselves,” says Andrew. “Maybe it was a gamble, but we think the product can prove itself better if we show the faith we have in it.” 

A lot of folks have faith in Partial.ly. So much so the company is expanding by leaps and bounds with every passing day. 

Right now, Andrew, a 2004 Tulane University computer science graduate, handles the technical development side. His brother, Ben, is a University of Tampa MBA graduate who spends much of his time reaching out to potential customers and handling the business end of the operation. The self-reliant brothers know there will soon come a time when they can no longer manage the growing Partial.ly brand all on their own. 

“We want to hire people in customer support,” he says. “We are also going to want a software developer.” 

Hiring hasn’t begun quite yet at Partial.ly, but those who do become new employees for the growing brand may be on the ground floor of the next big thing in eCommerce. Meanwhile, those who want to learn more about the software or download it for their businesses can find it on apps portals such as Shopify.
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