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Find Your Next Startup Investment Through This New Website

Florida Funders, LLC, a conduit for connecting investors with startups seeking funding, launches in Tampa Bay.

The latest innovation out of Tampa Bay's growing tech scene was inspired by personal experience. Florida Funders co-founders David and Kathleen Chitester, who have started and sold two companies together, know the difficulty of getting funding for a startup firsthand.

After doing some research for their next venture, Tampa -- their own backyard -- caught the couple's eyes.

"We noticed that the Tampa Bay community was starting to embrace entrepreneurs with accelerators and incubators, but financing was not following along,'' David Chitester explains. "We saw a huge gap between 'family and friends financing' and venture capital.''

Florida Funders was created to fill that gap.

The company's main mission: to keep entrepreneurs from leaving the state to find capital.
 
"We are losing too many young, promising entrepreneurs to places like Silicon Valley and Austin,'' Chitester says. "If we can fund some of these firms, they can grow here, and the local community will benefit.''
 
The initial Florida Funders launch rolled out in late March with two established Tampa area startup companies open for financing: SavvyCard and Carvoyant. A third local venture, Alorum, is in "preview'' mode.

Carvoyant was previously accepted into the Gazelle Lab accelerator program at USFSP, while SavvyCard was among the first group of startups accepted into the FirstWaVE Accelerator Program in spring 2013 in Tampa.
 
So how does Florida Funders work?

The company curates early stage ventures and startups seeking investment and lists them online for SEC-accredited investors to review. This part is free. If there is a match, Florida Funders then creates a single purpose fund, or LLC, for the startup company, to be distributed for investment by a third party agent. This LLC is now the "investor'' in the company, and the individual investors/funders are members of the LLC. Investment increments begin at $1,000.

Companies like California-based AngelList and FundersClub have employed this business model, known as online venture capital, successfully.

Florida Funders is self-funded by Chitester and a few angel investors, including partners Randy Greene and Lance Raab. The company operates under a business model of carried interest, based on the success of the investments Florida Funders make in the startup companies it accepts.
 
Florida Funders plans to list 20 to 30 companies in its first year, funding 12-20 of them.

"That said,'' he notes, "we also have to make money ourselves. We have to not only find and fund companies, but they have to be successful for us to get paid.''

Chitester acknowledges that early stage ventures are "always a high risk for investors.''

Florida Funders is less risky, he says, because backers can put smaller investments toward multiple companies. Investors can take advantage of backing several startup companies for the same "$50,000 minimum some venture capital companies require,'' Chitester suggests, "which actually reduces their risk versus one $50,000 investment. If some of those companies are successful, they have a better chance of overall profit.''
 
David Chitester holds a degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh and an MBA from Northern Michigan University. A serial entrepreneur, he has created and subsequently sold several companies including Red Vector, Spanish language social network Questamente, and Pay Per Visit Email, an email service provider. His latest venture, Florida Funders, intends to provide seed money to Florida startups, enticing them to set up shop, create jobs, and pay taxes in state.

Kathleen Chitester attended Rutgers College in New Brunswick and Rutgers College of Arts and Sciences in Camden, NJ. She has more than 30 years of experience in marketing and over 15 years of experience starting companies, including cofounding Red Vector, Pay Per Visit Email, and Latin social network Questamente with her husband. She also cofounded Vetrack, an online continuing education portal for veterinarians, and previously managed Chitester Management Systems, a professional consultancy firm that David Chitester began in 1995 and the couple sold in 2008.

Write: Justine Benstead
Source: David Chitester, Florida Funders

Startup Aims To Improve Your Shopping Experience With One Simple App

Almost every product you purchase in day-to-day life has one thing in common: a paper receipt.

For flexReceipts, that's a problem. What's their solution? Going paperless.

Backed by an investment from TiE Tampa's Angel Network in late March 2014, the startup company is poised to enter the national market with a tech-savvy answer to traditional paper receipts.

Customizable digital receipts tie in modern tech trends such as recommendations from retailers, social media, tailored special offers and more. flexReceipts intends to simultaneously solve a pain point for consumers and provide an enhanced marketing platform for businesses.

"flexReceipts has great growth potential,'' says TiE Tampa Charter Member Ashok Kartham. "I think it can be a success story that the area needs, to showcase tech startups from the Florida region.''

Tomas Diaz, flexReceipts founder and CEO, was a sales executive at Whirlpool for more than a decade before developing the startup company in 2011. Diaz and other management team members "bring deep retail experience'' to the startup, says Kartham.

flexReceipts has received several previous rounds of funding, including an investment by The Florida Technology Seed Capital Fund, LLC (FTSCF), a subsidiary of the Institute for Commercialization of Public Research, in March 2014, and an investment from Winter Park venture fund and business accelerator venVelo in August 2012. The company is also active on AngelList.

Four investors from the TiE Tampa Angel Network -- Kartham, Prashanth Rajendran, Seema Jain and Dr. Rajan Naik -- invested in the Orlando-based startup. The company, which has already partnered with some major retailers, plans to bring new technology jobs to Florida over the next few years.

TiE Tampa's goal is to expand angel investors beyond charter members and commit $1 million in angel capital in 2014. To this end, Rajendran is assembling a structured, experienced team and due diligence processes as part of an Angel Forum initiative to help lower the risk associated with angel investment and enable more syndicated deals, Kartham says.

"TiE is uniquely positioned to make a difference to the growing startup ecosystem in the Tampa Bay area and Florida,'' Kartham says. "We hope to invest in innovative startups in Tampa in coming months.''

This is the second angel investment out of TiE Tampa. The first was awarded to mobile conference app Feathr, which "has made significant progress and grown revenues since receiving TiE angel funding more than a year ago,'' Kartham says.

Writer: Justine Benstead
Source: Ashok Kartham, TiE Tampa

'Shark Tank' Entrepreneur To Headline Book Launch At CoCreativ in South Tampa

You many know him from "As Seen On TV'' or ABC's "Shark Tank.'' On April 8, Kevin Harrington will be just one of the Florida entrepreneurs to launch a new book at CoCreativ in South Tampa.

CoCreativ CEO Joseph Warren invites "entrepreneurs, small business owners, freelancers, and business professionals who could benefit from hearing the stories, struggles and triumphs of local business authors'' to attend the free evening event.

Hosted at the startup's co-working space on Henderson Boulevard in South Tampa, the book launch is expected to draw prominent local entrepreneurs.

Clearwater resident Harrington and co-author Anthony Amos will promote their new book, "How to Catch A Shark.'' Along with Harrington and Tampa-based entrepreneur Amos, local authors who will launch books at the event include:

·      Pierce Brunson, entrepreneur and owner of Firefly Event Photography: "Learning Curve"
·      Artist and Answered Prayers Cross founder Elizabeth Bunbury: "On the Road"
·      James Chittenden, founder of Triumph Business Communications: "The Public Triumph: Public Relations for the Strong, and Those Who Want to Be"
·      Degrees of Success President Gen Dobson: "Failing Successfully: Life After Debt"
·      Meredith Rodgers, president and owner of Mere's One More Time, Inc.: "What You Don't Know... Just Might Hurt You"
·      CoCreativ CEO Joseph Warren: "What’s In It For Me?"

The book launch and cocktail party will take place from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, April 8, at CoCreativ, 3902 Henderson Blvd, Ste 208. Meet and greet the authors, get your favorite book signed, and enjoy complimentary wine and music from Tampa resident and saxophonist Marlon Boone.

Each of the six books that will launch on April 8 was published by Tampa-based Richter Publishing.

"In the past 90 days, Tara Richter has published Kevin Harrington's latest book and helped seven local business owners to become published authors!'' Warren shares. "She made it possible for each of them to share their story with a wider audience, as well as acquire national attention for their brands.''

CoCreativ, a flexible workspace for small businesses, recently moved across the Bay from downtown St. Petersburg to a second-story suite in the Bay Cities Bank Building in South Tampa.

Writer: Justine Benstead
Source: Joseph Warren, CoCreativ CEO

Hillsborough Community College Hosts April Job Fairs

Students and alumni from Hillsborough Community College (HCC) as well as the general public can meet local employers at one of three upcoming job fairs.

The job fair series begins with the HCC Brandon Campus fair April 2, continuing with the Ybor City Campus April 7 and ending with the Dale Mabry Campus April 15.

"We are proud to serve the Tampa Bay area and want to help individuals succeed in their professional and academic life," says Gianna Nicholas, job placement assistant at HCC’s Dale Mabry Campus.

Companies in attendance will discuss current position openings in the Tampa Bay region. A wide range of industries and companies will be represented. Participants include Busch Gardens, Moffitt Cancer Center, Tampa Electric Company, Grow Financial Federal Credit Union, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, Early Autism Project, Randstad, Hilton Worldwide and USAA.

Position openings will be both part-time and full-time, and include: research analysts, therapists, customer service associates, retail sales associates, benefits consultants, law enforcement officers, engineers, information technology professionals and accountants.

The job fairs are marketed for HCC students, but are open to anyone in the Tampa Bay community who is seeking a new position.

"Our Career Center’s mission is to assist anyone in the community, not just our students," says Randy Disks, manager of the Career Resource Center at HCC’s Brandon Campus. "Our philosophy as a community college is that we are part of the [larger] community."

Disks noted that the job market seems to have steady growth in recent years, as is demonstrated by the strong employer interest in the upcoming career fairs. The fairs are a good way to gauge the companies that are hiring in the Tampa Bay area.

Workshops will also be held leading up to the job fair on topics such as resume writing and how to prepare for the fair.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Sources: Randy Disks, Gianna Nicholas, HCC

Gasparilla Fringe Festival Features Uncommon Arts To Make You Gasp!

As the 2014 Gasparilla festivities wind down, there’s one more opportunity to experience the arts Gasparilla style, but not in the traditional realm.

Gasp! The Gasparilla Fringe Festival presented by Creative Loafing and Tampa Museum of Art promises to enlighten and indulge attendees with multidisciplinary arts experiences not to be found elsewhere.

On March 28 from 6 to 10 p.m., the Museum will be transformed into a performing arts mecca with performances from over 30 local visual and performing artists, including both emerging and established.

"The event speaks to the vibrancy of the culture here, that so many different kinds of performing arts are thriving," says David Warner, editor-in-chief for Creative Loafing. "This is a way to support them and also get a taste of all of them.”

Actors and actresses will perform short plays inside Mini Coopers, affectionately referred to as "Mini Plays."

Post Dinner Conversation will perform improv, while letting the audience call the shots.

Musician Acho Brother will collaborate with a live action artist painting an oil canvas in reaction to the music.  

Graphicstudio will bring a printing press, and Creative Loafing’s Peter Meinke and Erica Dawson will create "chat books" called cordelistas. The studio’s exhibition, Graphicstudio: Uncommon Practices at USF, will also be open exclusively for attendees.

Lynn Waddell, author of Fringe Florida, will present in collaboration with Ward Hall, legendary carnival talker.

The event is designed to be a true reflection of the vitality and diversity of the arts community in Tampa Bay.

"They’re very talented people, making this work here," says Warner. "It reflects the community in ways the community doesn’t always get reflected."

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: David Warner, Creative Loafing

Startup Surge Aims To Deliver 'Action-Oriented Event' For Entrepreneurs

Tampa Bay area startup founders will have the opportunity to hear from and pitch to local entrepreneurial experts on Friday, March 28, during Startup Surge, an event aimed at helping individuals launch and grow their businesses.

Tampa Bay WaVE, a sizable presence in Tampa's active tech scene, is inviting entrepreneurs to attend Startup Surge events, which include open office hours, workshops, featured speakers, networking and a startup showcase competition for more than $1,000 in cash and prizes.

Startup Surge is an action-oriented event, says Gracie Stemmer, marketing manager at Tampa Bay WaVE.

"The goal is for attendees to get answers to tough questions, create a strategy, move forward and become one of Tampa's success stories,'' Stemmer says.

Who should consider attending?

Stemmer recommends the events to supporters of Tampa's entrepreneurial community, prospective entrepreneurs with an idea or current entrepreneurs who have questions about their companies.
 
In the evening, the Startup Surge Showcase will be held at the Firestick Grill at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Startups, including several developed as the result of past Startup Weekend or Startup Bus events, will compete for more than $1,000 in cash and other prizes. Drawer, LilyPad, MamaBear App, SavvyCard, Shootrac, WeVue and others have signed on to present.

"The showcase is the icing on the cake,'' Stemmer says. "It shows attendees how the community has fostered the current successes who are presenting at the event.''

Featured speakers include Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Dr. Peter Mansoor, a retired U.S. Army Colonel and former executive officer to General David Petraeus.

Bright House Networks Business Solutions is the title sponsor for Startup Surge Day, while the Tampa Bay Lightning is the title sponsor for the Surge Showcase.

Tampa Bay WaVE is a nonprofit organization and home to a venture center and coworking space in the Sykes building in downtown Tampa. WaVE's programs are supported in part by Hillsborough County Economic Development's Innovation Initiative called EDI2.

"We are looking to put Tampa Bay on the map as a home to successful tech companies and a vibrant tech startup community,'' Stemmer says.

Writer: Justine Benstead
Source: Gracie Stemmer, Tampa Bay WaVE

First Fit Provides Community Approach To Health, Fitness

A new model for getting fit has arrived in the Tampa Bay region that combines a small group feel with high-intensity exercises for maximum impact.

Founded in 2013, Tampa-based First Fit Health and Fitness Studio was created by Co-Owners Jim White and Joey Graham.

A lifetime fitness buff, White worked at several big box fitness studios before realizing he wanted to provide something different. At most larger studios, customers are given an initial orientation and then left on their own. Some may hire a private trainer, but for others affordability and the intimidation factor make this out of reach. White wanted to provide a community feeling, taking the quality of functional training and coupling it with equipment that’s easy to operate. A mutual friend introduced White to Tampa native and NBA professional Graham, and the two took the concept to market.

First Fit delivers high intensity interval training, or HIIT. Customers perform a specific exercise at a high intensity for 30 seconds. They then take a short 15 – 25 second break and then start another exercise. This process drives up metabolic rates and keeps them higher for approximately 12 hours after completing the workout, allowing for more calorie burning. Customers work out in groups of 14 people, providing a community effect.

"When people are in a group setting, they’re much more supportive, much more secure and have a whole lot more fun," says White.

Graham has a particular interest in using the gyms for summer camps for youth. Having done several camps in the Tampa Bay area, Graham always found it difficult to find gym space. He also has an interest in the nutrition side, which goes hand in hand with fitness.  

"We want to promote health and wellness for all the young kids in the Hillsborough area, and everywhere." says Graham.

Another unique aspect of the studio is its location. The first branch of First Fit opened February15 inside Westfield Citrus Park in Tampa. The mall location provides convenience as well as ample parking.

The company hopes to open more mall-based locations in the near future. They intend to hire Fitness Instructors and Assistant Management positions within the next 60 days.

A grand opening will be held March 29 from 11 am to 3 pm.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Jim White, Joey Graham, First Fit Health and Fitness Studio

USF Researchers Discover Potential New Therapy For Psychological Disorders

Researchers at USF Health may have found a more viable treatment for patients with neuropsychiatric illnesses, such as bipolar disorder.

Currently, FDA-approved lithium carbonate is one of the oldest and most widely used drugs to treat these illnesses. The drug, however, comes with a major drawback -- toxicity. There are alternatives on the market, but none have the same efficacy without the side effects, which include hand tremors, vomiting, diarrhea, weight gain and thyroid problems.

A team of researchers at the University of South Florida recently discovered a previously untested lithium salicylate (an alternative salt form) while working on a collaborative endeavor with a chemistry professor. The group used crystal engineering techniques to change the component of the new solid forms of lithium and published a salicylate containing co-crystal. This prompted researcher Adam Smith to wonder what other lithium salts could do.

The downside to current lithium therapy is that it’s eliminated very rapidly from the body. Therefore, patients have to take it once or twice daily to achieve optimum absorption levels, leading to potential toxicity. The new therapy has the potential to stay in the body for up to 48 hours, leading to a decrease in the number of pills taken. By modifying the dosing regiment, researchers hope to improve patient compliance and reduce the potential for side effects.

"We hope that these findings lead to a more effective lithium therapy,"says Adam Smith, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow at the Center of Excellence for Aging and Brain Repair at USF Health.

Animals trials have shown promise thus far. Next steps are to conduct additional animal trials that more closely mimic reality with multiple doses and then begin human trials.  

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Adam Smith, PhD., USF Health

Social Mobile Conference Embraces Branding In New Economy

As consumers move beyond traditional ways of finding information, purchase decisions are made based on sharing, comparing and rating experiences using social media. Real-time information through a mobile device is becoming an expectation. In light of this, brands are continuously looking for new and meaningful ways to connect with customers.

The Social Mobile Engagement Conference & Code Challenge, September 4-5, 2014 at the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel and Marina, is designed to be an outlet for this kind of information while highlighting local talent and organizations to senior tech leaders from across the nation.  

The event is an expansion of the Social Mobile Payments Conference, which took place twice since 2011 and focused on social media and mobile commerce. After the last event in 2013, organizer Bruce Burke started looking at the thought process leading up to the transaction of buying a good or service. By focusing on just the payment aspect he felt he was missing part of the story. By widening the scope and audience, Burks hopes to appeal to an even broader audience that is interested in learning more about the customer journey, including the user and social experience. "Engagement starts when the product is first discovered by the consumer," says Burke.

Burke’s company, Gulf Bay Consulting, is organizing the event but his motivation behind it is a sense of purpose and wanting to see the Tampa Bay community help create the next big thing.

The first day will consist of workshops on topics such as user experience, social communities, mobile engagement, big data and gamification. The second day will be a code challenge, sponsored in part by the Hillsborough County Economic Development Innovative Initiative (EDI2). Coders will hack, explore and create. The afternoon will be open to the public, where people can vote for and cheer on their favorite teams and coders.

Abstracts are being accepted until March 28 for individuals and companies interested in presenting at the event.  

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Bruce Burke, Gulf Bay Consulting

Hillsborough County Grants More Than $200K To Local Tech Events

Hillsborough County has awarded $230,000 in funding to 31 local applicants through its flagship tech-centric program, the Economic Development Innovation Initiative (EDI2).

The EDI2 program is the first of its kind of Florida. Established in June 2013, the program aims to bring innovation, job creation, technology and new business to the Tampa Bay region. In an effort to lead this movement, the Hillsborough County Economic Development department set aside $2 million in funding to award to events and programs that are centered around technology and innovation. Led by County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, EDI2 awarded $307,000 to applicants in the first round of funding in fall 2013.

Some of the latest round of funding will go toward programs and events already well-established within the Tampa Bay community, such as Startup Weekend Tampa Bay 2014 in March, monthly StartupGrind events, and the Moffitt Cancer Center's Business of BioTech 2014.

The bulk of the funding was awarded to one-off conferences like Gulf Bay Consulting's Social Media Engagement event in September 2014, which received $12,375. Girls in Tech Tampa Bay, meanwhile, was awarded $12,500 for outreach and an event in December 2014, and TiE Tampa Bay's TiE Breaker III 2014, which took place in January, received $19,000. The University of Tampa's Entrepreneurs Student Organization was awarded $14,500 for its Southeast Entrepreneurial Conference in February 2014.

Other funded programs include the Computer Mentors Group, Inc., which was awarded $25,000 for the 2014 STEM Education Showcase Tampa, and Nuturism Media Group, Inc., awarded $25,000 for Running Lean Bootcamp. Both are in May 2014.

To view a full listing of funded projects and applications, visit the Hillsborough County website.

Events and programs must meet several stages of criteria before they are awarded funding, including the ability to measure event metrics and a way to clearly identify the economic development impact of each project.

EDI2 is "focused on building a vibrant and sustainable startup community and is centered on the use of technology and innovation,'' according to a news release from Hillsborough County.

Hillsborough County is currently accepting applications for its third cycle of EDI2 funding. Applications and additional information can be found at the EDI2 website. The deadline to apply for the third round of EDI2 funding is April 1, 2013.

Writer: Justine Benstead
Source: Annette Spina, Hillsborough County

USF Student Entrepreneurs Gain Real-World Experience By Helping NonProfit

The student chapter of Enactus at the University of South Florida recently partnered with a Tampa-based nonprofit to advance their motto: "Entrepreneurs in Action for the Greater Good."

Enactus is a global organization of student, academic and business leaders with 1,600 student chapters at universities across the world. The group’s goal is to use entrepreneurial skills to create sustainable communities by helping those in need develop their skills.

The student chapter at the University of South Florida (USF) is meeting this goal by identifying problems in the Tampa Bay community and working toward solving them in a way that empowers people. Knowing that homelessness is a major issue locally, the students selected New Beginnings of Tampa as their most recent project.

New Beginnings is a nonprofit organization in Tampa that provides transitional housing, counseling and job training services to rehabilitate the homeless.  

The team of 10 students targeted four areas where they could make the most impact based on their skills sets. First, they organized a charity golf tournament to help engage former clients and others who want to help the organization in a meaningful way. The event not only brought in $6,000 but will also serve as a template for the organization to continue on a yearly basis.

Second, they partnered with Hillsborough County Public Utilities to install low-flow shower heads and sink aerators, saving $12,000 in the first year alone.  

Next, they updated the organization’s website and social media plan and trained their employees so they could continue these initiatives.

Finally, they outfitted New Beginnings’ clients with professional suits to wear for job interviews using surplus suits from Enactus’ Suit-a-Bull program, which rents suits to USF students for career fairs and job interviews.

The student team not only helped the community, but gained valuable skills from the experience as well, particularly in the areas of motivation, problem solving and teamwork.

"We worked as a unit to get it done," says Sarah Schmidt, Management Information Systems major at USF and project leader. "I think everyone has come out of this project a lot more professional and realistic when it comes to expectations in the business world."

The team plans to enter the project in a national Enactus competition in April.

"It’s been a really awesome experience," says Schmidt. "You get out of it what you put into it."

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Sarah Schmidt, Enactus

Tampa Entrepreneurs Create Innovative Solution To Noise Disturbance

Three entrepreneurs in Tampa have created the solution for noise disturbance for both commercial businesses and residents with a product that goes beyond absorbing noise to keep the noise from entering in the first place.

Founded in 2013, Residential Acoustics’ signature product is the AcoustiCurtain, a soundproof curtain designed to make life quieter for urban businesses and residents.

The inspiration for the product came from partner Walker Peek’s personal experience. Living near the Selmon Expressway, Peek experienced a lot of noise outside his residence from airplanes, construction, traffic and other things. Peek discussed his frustrations with business partners Dylan McCandless and Zach Levine, and the team constructed a curtain to help reduce the noise. The product worked so well, they decided to mass produce. A company in Odessa now manages the production process, and the team works from home on the marketing and sales, when not involved with their fulltime jobs.

The curtain is made out of a mass loaded vinyl material in between two pieces of cloth, giving it sound blocking characteristics. Supported by grommets at the top, it is also visually appealing and available in a variety of patterns and colors. The curtains are customized to exact dimensions to provide the best coverage for the space needed. They can be retracted to let in light, sound and air if desired. They are currently being sold in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago.

The company just started utilizing the mentoring services provided by the Tampa Bay Technology Incubator for assistance with marketing, sales and legal advice.

They plan to remain in the Tampa Bay region in the long term. "There is a big need for new companies where you can have employees that are local," says McCandless. "Lots of manufacturing happens here. We’re excited to bring more to the area."

The company plans to expand the product line and partner with large retail outlets in the near future.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Dylan McCandless, Residential Acoustics

New Partnership Makes Digital Signage More Accessible, User-Friendly

Wondersign and IAdea recently announced a partnership that will enhance the flexibility and user-friendliness of the digital signage world.

Wondersign is a cloud-based content delivery system for digital signage. Customers purchase the signage hardware for restaurants, stores or other areas and use Wondersign’s product to manage the content design and development. The drag and drop interface works with any web browser and doesn’t require advanced technical knowledge. Based out of Switzerland, Wondersign runs its North American operations from its Tampa office.

Taiwan-based IAdea provides media players and sign boards to power large-scale, commercial grade digital signage projects. The partnership offers customers a way to manage their devices out of the box, simplifying their deployment and operation.

"The fact that [IAdea] has identified a cloud-based software-as-a-service like Wondersign as a strategic partner for the future shows where the industry is going,” says Casper Fopp, director of marketing and public relations for Wondersign.

The partnership is particularly useful for small- to medium-sized businesses that may be new to the world of digital signage and overwhelmed with the prospect of managing multiple signage locations. The cloud-based nature of the software is attractive to businesses that have different locations and are not able to have a physical presence everywhere their signage is placed.

"The partnership helps a lot of people get into the digital signage world with easier access," says Alvin Kuo, senior sales manager for IAdea.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Sources: Casper Fopp, Wondersign; Alvin Luo, IAdea

Brickmania Brings STEM, LEGO Together In Tampa Bay

A family-friendly event with a focus on building blocks and building bonds is coming to Tampa Bay on March 22, 2014. Brickmania, a STEM education program founded in South Florida, will take place at 2 p.m. on the Carrollwood Day School campus.

Open to all families with students in kindergarten -- eighth grades, Brickmania will feature STEM-centric exhibits, interactive activities, and a LEGO contest.

Brickmania Founder Jennifer Weinman describes the event as "an opportunity for Bay Area students to try out their communication skills and build bonds within our community.''

Through interactive "Brick and Mortar'' STEM-centered activities, kids will be expected to mingle with other students in a fun-filled environment.

"Each year, students can go through an anxious transition time as they enter new situations. Much of this stress and anxiety is caused by unknown social concerns of 'Will I know anyone, and will I fit in?' '' Weinman explains.

She notes that "building bonds'' is an important theme.

"Most STEM careers require team collaboration, where good communication skills are a must. We are giving students a chance to practice this skill in a fun, safe environment,'' says Weinman. "They will build their confidence.''

The event aims to help students learn more about STEM education and careers as they get to know each other. Professors and other professionals will be available to talk with kids about their work in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.

Event exhibitors already lined up include Microsoft, Syndaver, USF College of Engineering, and USF College of Marine Science. USF professor Dr. Yu Sun and his students from the USF Robotic Perception Action Lab will be exhibiting their "On-Body'' Learning System, a projection game for students to learn about basic anatomy.

"The projection images will move and turn with the student's moving body, creating fun spatial 3D learning,'' says Weinman.

The display highlights anatomy and healthcare careers, "but also promotes engineering ideas that are used in game and medical equipment development,'' she explains.

The day's flagship event will be the LEGO contest.

"Students have amazing imaginations, and the Brickmania LEGO contest is all about imagination,'' says Weinman.

Contestants will be asked to create their entries at home using LEGO blocks and bring them in the day of the event for judging. LEGO creations should be a student’s original design. 

Contest divisions and themes in 2014 include: "How Does Your Garden Grow'' for grades K-2; "Florida'' for grades 3-5; and “The Ultimate Theme Park” for grades 6-8.

To reserve a space in the LEGO contest, forms and fees are due by Tuesday, March 18th, 2014. Forms may be submitted online, mailed, or dropped off in person at Carrollwood Day School. Questions? Email Event Chair Jennifer Weinman.

Brickmania will donate a portion of its proceeds to USF Center for Autism and Related Disabilities, a local comprehensive outreach and support program.

Writer: Justine Benstead
Source: Jennifer Weinman, Brickmania

Webber Kerr Associates, Junior Achievement Partner To Guide Next Gen Business Leaders

A new partnership utilizes the knowledge and experience of a Tampa-based business to guide and educate local youth.

Webber Kerr Associates, an executive search and consulting firm based in Hyde Park, is partnering with Junior Achievement to provide financial support, mentoring and guidance.

Webber Kerr wanted to select a charitable organization to donate a percentage of search fees for every contract signed during 2014.

"Discussions kept coming back to children, education and preparing the next generation of leadership," says Emily Wagner, managing director for Webber Kerr.

The employees were particularly impressed with Junior Achievement’s mission, which is helping youth achieve skills in entrepreneurship, economics and financial literacy through real-world experience with business leaders.

In addition to the financial support, the company wanted to have a physical connection with the charity. They are allowing their employees paid volunteer time to participate in speaking engagements, mentoring programs as well as the Pam & Les Muma JA BIZTOWN, a mini city that contains up to 23 fictitious businesses to allow youth to experience economics in a real life setting. Students receive "jobs" such as accountant, retail sales representative and banker, and there’s even a city mayor.

A native resident of Dunedin and University of South Florida graduate, Wagner participated in BIZTOWN herself while in fifth grade. "I remember exactly what job I had and what a good experience it was." The experience left such a good impression, she wanted her company to play a major role in giving back to today’s youth in the same way.

"We have to be focused on children, their education and growing their careers, giving whatever we can, whether it be monetarily, guidance or mentorship" says Wagner, speaking about the business community in Tampa Bay. "The economic health of the entire area depends on it."

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Emily Wagner, Webber Kerr Associates
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