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SoHo businesses to host April block party in South Tampa

Local businesses and nonprofits in the growing Courier City neighborhood of South Tampa are coming together in April to host SoHo's first “block party” of 2015.

Austin’s Board Shop, Fruitwood Standup Market, Surf Outfitter and onbikes will co-host the block party on April 18 at 2205 W. Swann Ave. (near the corner of Swann and Howard Avenues). The block party will be 5-8pm that Saturday, with live music by Morgan Davis.

“We’re going to try to do one every couple of months, rotate it around and get more people involved,” Austin’s Board Shop Owner Michelle Marcum explains. “We just want to get the whole neighborhood interested.”

Austin’s Board Shop, located at 301 S. Melville, usually carries around 60 boards in stock, which can range from $100-200 to more than $500 for custom boards and upgrades. The shop has created custom boards for Gorrie Elementary and Berkeley Prep to auction in fundraisers. Marcum and her son, co-owner Austin Anderson, will be raffling off a longboard during the block party to benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities of South Florida. 

“It’s very important to both of us that we are very connected to the community,” Marcum says.

Other items will be raffled at the April 18 block party, including a GoPro; along with RMHC, proceeds will benefit Surfrider Foundation, a grassroots environmentally focused nonprofit, and a fundraising group for ALS awareness, Pray for Jay.

In 2013, Justin Clark opened Fruitwood Standup Market at 2203 W. Swann Ave. next door to the Smoothie King he owns in SoHo. Marcum recommends the apple lemonade and flatbreads at the casual, fresh concept space where salvaged brick and wood decorate the space and light bulbs hang in mason jars.

Marcum has known Clark since her father coached the Tampa Bay Storm years ago. They reconnected and, in turn, she was connected with Charlie Schiller of Schiller's Architectural and Design Salvage in Seminole Heights, who supplied wood for the Fruitwood space and later worked with Marcum and Anderson on the design concept for Austin’s Board Shop.

Surf Outfitter, located at 1413 S. Howard Ave., Suite 104, sells a range of “lifestyle” apparel, accessories and equipment that is handpicked by staff members. The Tampa-based small business counts contributing to nonprofits and charity, along with supporting the environment, as a primary part of their mission.

Florida Bike Association chose onbikes as the 2014 Program of the Year because of the group’s efforts to help make bicycling safe and accessible. Onbikes Executive Director Julias Tobin called the recognition an “unbelievable honor” on social media sharing service Instagram.

As the Courier City area grows into a South Howard foodie paradise and welcomes bicyclists or foot traffic to a more pedestrian-friendly Platt Street, the Neighborhood Association has been actively developing a community presence by hosting social meetups at The Hyde Out and MacDinton’s Irish Pub in recent weeks. Meanwhile, a new boutique, The Paper Seahorse, hosted a Maker’s Market in Feb 2015, bringing together local vendors.

Now, the upcoming block party’s hosts aim to continue the momentum of a neighborhood on the move.

“We knew this neighborhood was the most ‘walkable’ in Tampa, and we just love it – it’s perfect,” Marcum explains. "This whole group (the Neighborhood Association) is so excited that we’re here, that Mr. Penguin’s here – that it’s not another just bar.” 

Calling all women in tech for Tampa meetup

Local women in the technology industry will have the opportunity to meet and greet peers, mingle with local tech leaders and hear from female field experts during a free event at the Seminole Heights Library on Monday, March 30.

The Women in Tech gathering aims to highlight females in the industry, and to teach and inspire young women to pursue careers in technology through shared connections and resources.

Attendees can expect a variety of activities at the free networking event; along with a tech meet and greet and a speed networking round, Women in Tech will also include a “Learn to Code!” class and will culminate with an interactive panel.

Collaborative Technologies of Tampa Bay founder and CEO Sylvia Martinez, who will be on hand to help out with the speed networking segment, encourages women who are actively in the tech field to participate in Monday’s meetup, but also suggests that those who are not yet in the field, students motivated by technology, and “any woman looking to support the awesome ladies in tech that we have here in Tampa Bay” should attend. 

Hillsborough County Economic Development Director Lindsey Kimball will moderate the interactive panel, whose members include:“I am very much looking forward to being part of this event. It's inspiring to be surrounded by other women who want to positively impact this thriving tech ecosystem just as much as I do,” Martinez explains.

Women in Tech will be held from 1-4pm on Monday, March 30, at the Seminole Heights Library, 4711 N. Central Ave. The free networking event is part of Hillsborough County’s economic development innovation initiative, with local partners like Kahwa Coffee and Eureka Factory providing resources and sponsorship. 

To register for Hillsborough County’s Women in Tech event on March 30, click here.

Martinez, who runs a quarterly networking meetup for tech professionals through CToTB, is “a firm believer in peer events. It's fantastic when those that share common goals and interests can come together and support one another,” she says. “The synergy is incredible and it's great to have others like you that you can learn from.”

Since launching in June 2013, the $2 million in funding set aside by Hillsborough County commissioners for the EDI2 program has helped to host events from coffee shop gatherings to the weekly 1 Million Cups program to local and regional conferences. In Dec 2014, EDI2 and Small Business Information Center programs were relocated to the new Mark Sharpe Entrepreneur Collaborative Center at 2101 E. Palm Ave. in Ybor City.

USFSP grad's startup 'Check I'm Here' hiring lead developer, campus outreach coordinator

Reuben Pressman has had a busy start to 2015. His newest startup venture with friend Evan Brady, Stacktive, launched in St. Pete in February, with immediate plans to expand to more locations including Tampa, Orlando and Miami.

Now, the University of South Florida Saint Petersburg graduate’s successful company Check I’m Here is expanding, too. Pressman, a two-time 1 Million Cups presenter, says the startup has more than doubled in team size in recent months; they’ve also received some external funding.

Check I’m Here, a campus engagement platform, is hiring for a lead software developer and a campus outreach coordinator. 

Which skills does Pressman think are most valuable for success at Check I'm Here?

“Communication, self-direction, a fun attitude, creativity and problem solving, and a growth mindset,” he says. 

The ideal lead software developer “not only has a passion for creating new software and solving new problems” but has the leadership experience necessary for “developing and managing the processes to do these and growing a team to execute them,” Pressman explains.

Requirements include 5+ years' experience with .NET web application development as well as with Microsoft SQL development.

The campus outreach coordinator, a new position within the company, will be responsible for initiating a relationship with prospective customers in a sales development role.

A successful candidate “should be very comfortable on the phone talking with new people, inspiring and learning about others, and will have an extreme affinity for organization,” Pressman says.

Both positions are in-house, but the company is open to the possibility of some remote work. 

Back when Pressman served as VP of Student Government at USFSP, he witnessed firsthand the pain points that student government and student affairs pros encounter when it comes to “retaining students, allocating funding and assessing success.”

This experience led to the creation of a seamless online interface for engaging students at campus events.

Company culture at Check I'm Here is casual, but with a focus. Perks include an open floor plan with standup desks, flexible schedules, open vacations, major holidays off, and a day off to volunteer in the community.

“We work a block off the water in a coworking space we started, surrounded by other startups,” Pressman says.  “With all of this, we all share a mindset of working hard and constantly challenge each other and ourselves, but want to make sure this is a place that we enjoy working hard in.”

Pressman expects to hire for positions in coming weeks. More details about open positions can be found on the company’s website.

Test your sleuthing skills in The Great Escape Room

It's elementary, dear Watson: Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick would fit right in at a new entertainment space in downtown Tampa.

Inside The Great Escape Room, mysteries abound as teams of up to 12 “detectives” participate in a timed adventure to escape a locked space, solving riddles along the way.

Part scavenger hunt, part puzzle, the real-life room escape game is based on similar computer and mobile application-based games. Some puzzles involve strength in mathematics, some strategy, and others organizational skills. All are equally important for solving the room's challenges -- and escaping -- in under 60 minutes.

In February 2015, reporter and social media personality Meredyth Censullo joined a small group of Tampa Bay area bloggers and social media users for an early preview of The Great Escape Room, which she says is “unlike any other entertainment experience I've ever had -- and I'm all about trying new things!”

Tampa's version of the Great Escape Room is located in the heart of downtown, just upstairs from Taco Bus and Crumb and Cork on a busy block in easy walking distance from the Tampa Riverwalk, Tampa Theatre, and other downtown attractions restaurants, cafes, and The Vault event space.

The first Great Escape Room location opened in Orlando in May 2014, quickly followed by branches in Miami, Royal Oak (MI), and a soon-to-come Washington D.C. destination.

During their visit to The Great Escape Room, Censullo's teammates initially worked together to find clues, and then “generally gravitated toward working on the individual challenges and puzzles that suited their skills best,” she explains.  

Many “detectives” don’t solve the room’s riddles in time, but Censullo’s team of eight outwitted their competitors by a few minutes, escaping the room in 44 minutes and 29 seconds.

And if the challenge proves impossible –- or you simply get stuck? There is a little help available in the form of a representative who remains in the room during the detective game and can trade hints for clues hidden within the space.

“I love that Tampa is bringing new, fresh ideas to the city,” Censullo says. “Overall, the experience was a lot of fun -- there was a ton of laughing, which always makes for a great time.”

The blogger outing to The Great Escape Room was organized by Never Have I Ever Tampa, a trio who run a website dedicated to exploring local events, activities, and Tampa Bay area destinations, from dining to detective work (read more about NHIE Tampa in an 83 Degrees feature).

While there is no minimum number of attendees required to participate, heading to The Great Escape Room with familiar faces can make it even more enjoyable, Censullo says. The space’s website recommends visiting for parties or team-building sessions.

“I would definitely recommend that others try it,” Censullo says. “This would be a group date night out.”
 
You don’t have to leave junior detectives at home, either; the Great Escape Room is suitable for anyone over 12 years of age.

“I think kids would love searching for clues, and older kids likely could solve the puzzles,” Censullo says.

The Great Escape Room in Tampa opened Thursday, Feb. 26, at 300 E Madison St, Ste. 301. The cost is $28 per person.

Hannah's Shoebox provides stylish shoes to preteen girls

Tampa mother Colette Glover-Hannah has had a difficult time finding age-appropriate shoes for her preteen daughter since she was only six years old and in the first grade. By the time her daughter reached fifth grade and age 11, she was also wearing a size 11 women’s shoe.
 
Many parents of preteen and “tween”-aged girls know first-hand the challenge of finding affordable, suitable yet stylish footwear that is outgrown long before it’s used out. For young girls with larger shoe sizes, it can be even more challenging to find age-appropriate shoes, especially for special occasions or formal events.
 
Most women’s shoes for special occasions either have high heels or an overall aesthetic that is too mature for a young girl, Glover-Hannah says. And after talking with other parents in the Tampa area, she realized that she wasn’t the only person with that predicament.
 
“Many girls enter women's shoe sizes while in elementary school,” she says, “so I decided to open an online shoe store to address this challenge.” 
 
Glover-Hannah founded Hannah’s Shoebox, a new online retailer for age-appropriate shoes for preteen or “tween” girls who wear women’s shoe sizes 5-13, in 2014.
 
The online store carries a range of fashion footwear, from boots to flats to dressy and casual sandals, as well as special occasion shoes. The criteria for shoes that make the Hannah’s Shoebox cut? All heels are below two inches.
 
The company has no immediate plans to move into areas beyond specialty shoes, but will continue to expand services in the Tampa area.
 
“Tampa is where the core of my customers are and it's where I am developing and growing my business,” Glover-Hannah says.

Hannah’s Shoebox ships to all 50 states in the U.S. and to the District of Columbia. For additional information or to place large or custom shoe orders, email Hannah’s Shoebox.
 
The online startup store was recently selected to be part of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce 2015 Startup Scholars class, along with:
 
No Mo Nausea, a wristband that combines mint and pressure to relieve feelings of nausea;
Arcturus Creative, a creative marketing team that builds custom visual brand strategies;
LilyPad, an activity management platform for professional workforces; and
PikMyKid, a simple but streamlined mobile app that allows public schools in the U.S. to organize and manage the after-school dismissal process.
 
“I am looking to the Startup Scholars program to help me develop a solid foundation for building a sustainable business,” Glover-Hannah says. “I simply want Hannah’s Shoebox to become synonymous with age-appropriate, larger size shoes for preteen and tween girls.”

Student entrepreneurs to compete for $4,000 prize at University of Tampa

Win $4,000 in 90 seconds? Student entrepreneurs in the southeasten United States will have just that opportunity during the Spartan Business Pitch Competition at the University of Tampa.

The event is a part of the 2015 Southeast Entrepreneurship Conference, which will take place at UT on Feb. 27-28, 2015.

Students of all academic majors through the southeast are invited to register, particularly students who have already developed an entrepreneurial enterprise.

During the two-day conference and competition, enterprising students will hear from more than 20 nationally renowned speakers, including keynote speeches from Joe Quaglia, president of Americas of Tech Data Corp, and Daniel James Scott, executive director of the Tampa Bay Technology Forum.

Scott’s keynote speech will focus on the realities of entrepreneurial success – and failure.

“When entrepreneurs hit big, we usually only hear the positive spin of their journey to the top. Most success, in reality, is a path that was longer and more difficult than ever imagined,” Scott says. “I'm going to dispel the myths that attitude and failure are the magic bullets for achievement, and talk about the three shared traits - that you don't learn in college - that afford us the opportunity to win.”

SEEC 2015 sponsors include local Tampa companies Agile Thought, Total Quality Logistics and Gray-Robinson Attorneys. The conference’s emcees are professional speaker Topher Morrison and American performance coach Jairek Robbins.

SEEC brings participants together for networking opportunities with students and speakers alike. The conference is hosted by UT Entrepreneurs, the UT chapter of the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization (CEO).

“Tampa Bay is quickly becoming a major hub for Entrepreneurship education,” Scott says, noting that the Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (ASBE) and the Entrepreneurship Education Project Conference are both headquartered in the Tampa Bay area.

The USF, USF St. Petersburg, and UT Entrepreneurship programs have all received accolades in recent years; the programs at USFSP and UT were back-to-back winners of the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (USASBE) Outstanding Emerging Entrepreneurship Program Award, in 2013 and 2014; and students in the Entrepreneurship program at USFSP are three-time winners of the CEO's national Startup Simulation Challenge Champions (2012-2014).

Scott himself was named the ASBE Entrepreneurship Educator of the Year in 2013; UT’s Eric Liguori was named the Lyles Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship's Entrepreneurship Education Excellence Award winner in 2014; Bill Jackson at USFSP was named the USASBE Entrepreneurship Educator of the Year in 2015; and Rebecca White at UT was named a Fellow of USASBE in 2015.

“Every student in an Entrepreneurship program in the US should attend and pitch at this event,” Scott says. “The visibility is outstanding, it is an opportunity to practice pitching, and there is an award and cash available. It is a win all the way around.”

“Plus,” Scott adds, “Who wouldn't want to be in Tampa Bay during February?”

The final round of the Spartan Pitch Competition is open to the public and will take place at 3pm on Saturday, Feb 28, in the Reeves Theater at UT. To learn more about SEEC 2015 or to register, visit the event website.

Tampa Tank expands to Hillsborough County, adds 108 jobs

A new headquarters for Tampa Tank, Inc. & Florida Structural Steel in Ybor City could spell up to 24 new jobs at the company’s main offices. A refurbished manufacturing facility in Port Redwing at the Port of Tampa will create as many as 84 new jobs.

Altogether, the company’s expansion into Hillsborough County is anticipated to generate more than $18 million in capital investment and up to 108 new jobs. New positions will pay nearly 150 percent of the state’s average wage.

To learn more about open job opportunities, refer to the company’s website.

“Tampa Tank has long been a supporter of the Tampa community and Port Tampa Bay,” said Paul Anderson, Port Tampa Bay’s President and CEO, at the annual State of the Port luncheon in late January 2015. “We are excited for their growth and expansion. We look forward to supporting them for years to come.”

Tampa Tank, which has been in business since 1953, and Florida Structural Steel, which was acquired by the company in 1984, provide custom designs and repair steel products for customers around the world.

The company considered going outside the United States to other locations, but a hefty incentives package from the Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation, the City of Tampa, and Hillsborough County kept them close to home. Tampa Tank was provided with a competitive package of state and local incentives totaling $2,080,795. 

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn commended the move, saying at the luncheon, “This project is a big win for Tampa, for Port Tampa Bay, and for our local residents who will secure high-wage jobs. Tampa Tank’s expansion will kick off an historic revitalization of this important industrial asset, and fuel greater economic growth for our port community.” 

The company will lease two buildings at the port to fabricate steel and iron structures for export, and will invest some $18 million  into the expansion at Port Redwing. 

The Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation works to develop and sustain a thriving local economy through the attraction, retention and expansion of high wage jobs and capital investment within targeted industry sectors. Locally, the EDC helps existing businesses access the tools and resources they need to succeed, now and in the future.

HCC awarded $100,000 to create Tampa jobs for low-income residents

Hillsborough Community College was recently awarded $100,000 to help promote job creation for lower-income residents of the city of Tampa.

As part of regional and local efforts to create a wide spectrum of jobs in tech and innovation, HCC’s Institute for Corporate and Continuing Education (ICCE) was granted the $100,000 through the Community Development Block Grant by the City of Tampa’s Housing and Development Division.

These funds will aid the creation and development of a Workforce Development and Training Initiative (WDTI) at HCC, which aims to promote job creation for low-income residents who reside within a specific target region in the city of Tampa’s borders.

That area, defined as a “Green Tech Corridor area" or the Tampa Industrial Park/ USF Research Park, falls along East Fowler Avenue, between 30th Street and 50th Street. The neighborhood is along the edges of the innovation district of the University of South Florida, which represents a critical mass of education, science, medicine and research including the Moffitt Cancer Center, Florida Hospital, and USF.

The up-and-coming neighborhood is part of an innovative district whose revitalization is under the leadership of Mark Sharpe, a former county commissioner working to revitalize the USF neighborhood from a “Suitcase City” into a vibrant and sustainable area.

The Tampa Innovation Alliance plans to create to “live, work, play” atmosphere in the USF and Busch Gardens area of north Tampa.

Meanwhile, ICCE expects the implementation of the WDTI to serve as a catalyst for improving employment opportunities for residents and businesses within the target area.

“With this funding, HCC will be able to provide free, career-driven training programs that will effectively increase the competencies of individuals seeking professional development in preparation for the workforce,” said Yolanda Levell-Williams, HCC’s executive director, in a press release.

HCC’s Institute for Corporate and Continuing Education promotes short-term educational programs and services which lead to economic growth and advancement in the community, including continuing education, professional development, and personal enrichment programs and services. 

Other efforts the county has taken to promote economic development include the support of many local startup events, pitch contests, and the economic development innovation initiative. The next round of EDI2 funding for Tampa area startups closes on Monday, March 2, 2015.

Wristband developed in Tampa is designed to relieve nausea

For Jacqueline Darna, necessity truly was the mother of invention. While in the hospital for the birth of her second child, Darna felt so miserable from nausea that she couldn't even enjoy her newborn baby girl.

The only relief came when an anesthetist pressed a pair of peppermint leaves into Darna’s hands.

In the days that followed, she taped a small piece of medical gauze to the inside of her wrists, at the P6 pressure point. That, combined with smelling the peppermint leaves when a wave of nausea struck, was the best Darna could do while in the hospital.

Upon returning home, she searched for an anti-nausea product that combined these two well-documented strategies: acupressure and aromatherapy.

“None of the traditional drugs were working for me,” Darna explains. “The rest is history and the No Mo Nausea Band was born.”

The No Mo Nausea Band is the first natural oil infused acupressure and aromatherapy wristband designed to reduce nausea and vomiting from common causes like morning sickness, motion sickness, seasickness, and headaches.

“The quickest way to the brain is through the nose, so that is why I utilize aromatherapy of natural peppermint oil,” Darna explains. “Menthol is the active ingredient within peppermint oil that helps alleviate nausea and vomiting instantly. Medically, peppermint is a calcium channel blocker of the gastrointestinal tract, meaning that it relaxes an upset stomach.”

Darna was well equipped to develop the idea; she is an anesthesiologist assistant who graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in biomedical sciences, religious studies and biomedical physics before earning dual masters degrees in health sciences & anesthesia from NOVA Southeastern.

No Mo Nausea is among the five startup businesses in the Tampa area who were selected by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce as its 2015 class of Startup Scholars. The three-year-old Startup Scholars program engages participants in an eight-month mentorship program that focuses on providing growth and assistance in the areas of seed capital, best management practices, and sales growth.

Darna hopes to take away strategy, business knowledge and “lasting interpersonal relations with the business men and women I will meet” during the program.

She plans to use Startup Scholars seed capital for marketing to target areas: pregnant mothers, parents of children with carsickness, chemotherapy patients, and headache and migraine sufferers, to name a few.

Future goals include “becoming recognized as a leader in the Tampa business community, while associating my product, the No Mo Nausea Band, as a local household name,” Darna says.

Darna also plans to secure an office space and fulfillment center within Tampa to handle large distribution orders, which could lead to job creation down the line.

The No Mo Nausea band is endorsed by U.S. physicians and is considered the anti-nausea product of choice by NAUI licensed scuba divers, Darna says.

The band itself is slim, lightweight, waterproof and latex- and drug-free. A set of two costs $11.99 on the company’s website.

The 2015 Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce Startup Scholars class includes: No Mo Nausea, along with Arcturus Creative, a creative marketing team that builds custom visual brand strategies; Hannah’s Shoebox, a startup that specializes in custom shoes for all occasions for “tween” and preteen girls with larger shoe sizes; LilyPad, an activity management platform for professional workforces; and PikMyKid, a simple but streamlined mobile app that allows public schools in the U.S. to organize and manage the after-school dismissal process.

New St. Pete startup streamlines your workout

Reinvent the way you workout.

That’s the selling point behind Stacktive, a new St. Pete-based startup company that offers members a universal fitness membership to an array of area gyms and sports clubs.

Stacktive, founded by University of South Florida Saint Petersburg graduates Evan Brady and Reuben Pressman, launched in early February 2015 in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Stacktive aims to reduce the hassle of multiple gym memberships through a streamlined service. And like many startups, Stacktive was inspired by personal experience: at one point, CEO Brady maintained three separate memberships to a Crossfit gym, a boxing gym and a traditional gym.

“I had to pay full price at each, just to split my time between them. I definitely was not getting my money’s worth,” Brady said in a press release.

The company plans to expand to Tampa quickly, Pressman says – and to other cities in Florida throughout 2015, including Orlando and Miami.

“We've had lots of interest already and people saying they'll be signing up,” Pressman says. “We've begun discussions and have actually had partners in Tampa request to join already.”

Participating gyms can be found on the startup’s website. Stacktive has already secured partnerships with a wide range of 14 St Petersburg-area gyms and businesses. Stacktive partners specialize in crossfit, yoga, MMA, kickboxing, paddleboarding, and more.

There are multiple plans to choose from, capping out at $99 per month for unlimited access to partner gyms and studios. These include Crossfit 9, Elite Training Center, IAMFITNESS, Citygym, Elevate Fitness, YogaBlu, and others in St Petersburg. All partners are locally owned, boutique locations.

“You will never find the expertise and personal attention at a gym chain that you will at the boutique gyms and studios that Stacktive has partnered with,” says Brady.

Membership cards have been replaced with a mobile app for iOS and Android phones. Members will be able to work out at any participating gym in any city.

Stacktive is fully bootstrapped and may seek future funding.

A local perk? The startup offers unlimited kayak and paddleboard rentals in St. Petersburg to members. 

USF Young Innovators compete for chance to appear on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

Teams from the upcoming USF Young Innovator Competition could have the chance to appear on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”
 
The University of South Florida, along with Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI Tampa) and Home Shopping Network (HSN), is sponsoring the contest to seek out innovative young inventors.
 
The USF Young Innovator Competition is open to students in grades K-8 in the Tampa Bay area. The top inventor will be awarded a $1,000 cash prize.

During a practice session on Feb 7 at the HSN studio in St. Petersburg, the top 10 finalists in the competition will be filmed presenting their innovative ideas. With parent permission, USF Young Innovator Competition leaders will send these videos on to "Tonight Show" producers, in hopes of helping finalists get selected to appear in an upcoming “Fallonventions” segment. 
 
Even if students don’t achieve a slot on the nationally televised show, all participants will win a day pass to MOSI. Finalists and runners-up earn additional awards, including cash prizes and annual family passes to MOSI.
 
In addition, each winner’s school receives a matching cash prize to support science and engineering programs.
 
Anton Hopen, director of the USF Young Innovator Competition, offers would-be young inventors a tip: build a model.
 
“Judges are looking for inventions that are creative, useful and could reasonably be produced,” Hopen says. “Students who actually try and build a prototype tend to have better invention descriptions, because the idea is more thought-out.”
 
The USF Young Innovator Competition is seeking ideas that identify a problem with current technology and offer a potential solution. Students will be expected to explain their invention and demonstrate how it works. Judging criteria includes creativity, persuasiveness, public benefit and marketability.
 
The top 10 finalists will present their ideas and prototypes at USF on Feb 11 (famed inventor Thomas Edison’s birthday) before a live panel of judges.
 
Several past finalists in the USF Young Innovator Competition have commercialized their inventions and secured patents, including Marissa Streng, Luke Anderson and George Seits.
 
 Interested students can now submit online or via paper copy before the entry deadline of Feb 1.
 
For full contest rules and details, visit the USF Young Innovator website or contact Anton Hopen, director of the USF Young Innovator Competition.

Connections, coffee brew at new meetups in Tampa, Hillsborough County

Homebrew Hillsborough, a coffee shop meetup where community members can make connections and share ideas with local government, is the latest in a series of efforts to support small business by Hillsborough County’s economic development department.

For those familiar, Homebrew Hillsborough will be essentially the same as Mark Sharpe's Friday meetups at Buddy Brew, during his run as county commissioner before stepping into his current role.

“We wanted to carry on the tradition that he started,” says the Economic Development Director Lindsey Kimball. “We welcome everyone to join us and be part of the community of creatives.”

One marked difference in Homebrew Hillsborough from previous events is that the coffee shop meetups will take place at a different location each month.

Upcoming Homebrew Hillsborough talks will take place on Feb 27 at Jet City Espresso in Seminole Heights; on March 27 at Zeal Coffee Roasters & RareHues in Carrollwood; and on April 24 at Krazy Kup in Plant City.

Homebrew Hillsborough’s kickoff coffee shop meetup is at 8:30 a.m. on Fri., Jan. 30, at Buddy Brew, 2020 W. Kennedy Blvd. in Tampa.

Jennifer Whelihan, Hillsborough County’s Economic Development Manager, will represent the economic development department during these monthly meetups.

“Come collaborate and support your local area coffee shop to help our community expand with people, ideas and connections. I look forward to meeting up monthly to see how we can help make our community a ‘Homegrown Hillsborough’,” says Whelihan. “We look forward to welcoming everyone.”

Attendees “can expect a chance to network with others from the technology and innovation ecosystem,” says Kimball. “Our partners never have a strict agenda -- we are there to let ideas flow and make new connections.”

Homebrew Hillsborough supporting partners include Laicos, National Day of Civic Hacking and Eureka! Factory.

“Our goal is to take the show on the road and bring the energy around the county,” Kimball says. “We want to reach as many people as possible. We want to hear everyone's voices.”

'Shark Tank'-style competition invites companies to compete for $1,000 prize

Tampa Bay area companies are invited to participate in a business competition that will award the winning idea with $1,000. ThinkPitch Tampa Bay is a first-time “Shark Tank” style tech event that will take place at TEC Garage in downtown St. Petersburg on Jan 27. 

Following the competition, a free Happy Hour Networking event will be held at Central Avenue Sports Bar in DTSP from 4:00 pm-6:00 pm.

IT professionals and companies who can provide innovative technology solutions, as well as “’out of the box’ thinkers,” are encouraged to participate, says Kristin Jackson, an account executive with event sponsor AC4S Consulting.

Jackson anticipates around 20 presenters in the free pitch competition, which will be held in a closed conference room at TEC Garage, the Tampa Bay Innovation Center’s incubator space. Each participating company will have 10 minutes to pitch ideas that would help solve problems for a Fortune 100 retailer, followed by a five-minute Q&A session.

Judges for ThinkPitch Tampa Bay include Martin Davis, a former Chief Technology Officer with Wells Fargo; Joanne Isham, a former Deputy Director for Science and Technology for the CIA; and Hugh Campbell, the CEO and president of AC4S and AC4S Consulting, Inc.

The ThinkPitch challenge: Solve problems for a Fortune 100 retailer.

The categories:
  • “Barcode Replacement: How can a retailer connect physical products to their digital identities, providing valuable information to both retailer and customers regarding the product that will help enable better decision making?
  • Next Generation Wearable Technology: How will wearable technology influence the way in which retailers operate their business today? What are the form factors around ways to make associates more ‘hands free’ while improving productivity, and what is the look and feel of that user interface?
  • Modular Integrity: How can a retailer stay in stock at the right place at the right time for customers on an ongoing basis?
  • Open: How can a large retail chain improve any aspect of their business with innovative technology solutions?”
Sponsored by AC4S Consulting and the Tampa Bay Innovation Center, ThinkPitch Tampa Bay will be held from 1:00 pm until 4:00 pm at TEC Garage, located at 244 2nd Avenue N. in St. Petersburg.

The First Prize for ThinkPitch is $1,000, while Second Prize is $500. Winners will be announced January 28.

For more information about the event, call (813) 609-4320 or find tickets.

Tech startup KiteDesk expands, adds 2 jobs in Tampa

A Tampa-born startup business is adding jobs as the company expands its presence both locally in the Tampa Bay area and in Silicon Valley during 2015.

KiteDesk, a cloud-based social sales platform, “will be hiring in all areas of our business,” says CEO Sean Burke. “Sales, marketing, product, development; as well as building a data science team.”

With the rapidly growing popularity of social media, platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn and KiteDesk provide ample opportunity for “social selling,” says Burke.

“Access to decision-makers through social channels has become a smarter option then trying to cold call them,” he explains.
Social selling is a form of modern sales that takes advantage of social platforms to find new clients.

By harnessing data from email, calendars and other sources, KiteDesk aims to facilitate the sales process by helping clients learn who to sell to and how to sell it. From platform customization to lead-generating criteria, the platform is geared toward increasing sales productivity for clients.

Social selling allows businesses to “grow their networks, listen and learn about (customer) interests, engage in meaningful dialogue with them, share valuable content with them, and guide them through the buying process,” Burke says. 

KiteDesk is currently hiring for an Operations Manager and Director of Marketing.

KiteDesk “takes culture seriously. It's an integral part of our hiring process,” Burke says. “We want people to challenge themselves and others to put out the best work possible, but balance that with enjoying the challenge and each other in the process.“ 

At the core of the company’s culture, says Burke, are shared values: individual responsibility, collaboration, creativity, transparency and humor.

“Each one of these values helps to guide us as we make important decisions - but humor allows us the freedom to be ourselves and to enjoy the journey.” 

The Tampa startup company, which was launched in 2011 by co-founders Jack Kennedy and Jared Rodriguez, was a part of the inaugural class of startups in the Tampa Bay WaVE FirstWaVE Accelerator program. KiteDesk is currently a coworking tenant at Tampa Bay WaVE, located at 400 North Ashley Drive, Suite 1500, in Tampa.

St. Petersburg Chamber announces $3,000 scholarship for Iron Yard student developers

The St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce will provide one student with a $3,000 scholarship toward tuition for an upcoming course at The Iron Yard, an intensive 12-week coding class for developers.

“The Iron Yard has become another destination attractor for our community,” says the St. Pete Chamber’s president and CEO Chris Steinocher. “Talent from around the country are coming to St. Pete for this type of training, and it changes the paradigm of how we think about ourselves and our ability to compete for talent.”
 
The St. Pete Chamber is partnering with The Iron Yard to provide a scholarship to a student in part because The Iron Yard “fits so well in our community,” explains Steinocher. “Their unique and powerful model for cutting edge skill development is empowering for those seeking to pursue their passions.”

A $3,000 scholarship will be awarded to one student in The Iron Yard’s upcoming Tampa Bay - St. Petersburg Front End Engineering course, which begins on Jan 26.

The scholarship is centered on an innovative topic: “What would you build?”

Developers and interested students with little technical experience alike are invited to apply for the scholarship. Interested parties should apply for The Iron Yard’s Tampa Bay class starting on January 26th and include a 250 word essay explaining what kind of app or website you would build after graduating from The Iron Yard’s course. 

St. Pete has a sincere focus on nurturing a life-long learner -- and providing the lift for anyone wanting to work hard to pursue their dreams,” Steinocher says. ”This scholarship is just a symbol -- a welcome mat for Iron Yard and for those wanting to grow smarter in St Pete.”

The St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce and The Iron Yard will jointly judge submissions and select one winner.

Applicants “should be energized by this new opportunity, need an intense interest in wanting to learn, and a willingness to make their dreams come true,” says Steinocher.

They should also “be willing to sleep a little less for the next 12 weeks,” he explains, “because it is an ‘all-in’ proposition.”

To learn more about The Iron Yard, visit their website.
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