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'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.

Local library Venture Club introduces Tampa Bay area kids to entrepreneurship

Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Libraries has taken another step toward embracing modern technology and innovation with a new five-month program aimed at elementary-school children: the Venture Club. 

Venture Club begins with students brainstorming to identify a need that they see either in their home or their school communities. Then, with the help of volunteer speakers and mentors, students will attempt to develop ideas for something that can help solve that issue. 

“It’s more about the process than the product,” Senior Librarian Laura Doyle emphasizes. “We want to help students figure out the skills that entrepreneurs use to recognize an audience, evaluate the resources around them and information in front of them, and how to make decisions based on that.”
Venture Club is based on curriculum provided to the library by Venture Lab, a group that has developed several successful programs geared toward teaching children how to innovate. Venture Club has been implemented as an after-school program in other areas of the country, but Tampa’s is the only club based in a library. 

The club, open to students in grades 3-5, will meet two Saturdays per month from January through May in The Hive at John F. Germany Library. Classes will run through May to coincide with the academic school year. The Friends of the John F. Germany Public Library subsidize program materials and costs.

Bimonthly sessions include topics like, “What is Entrepreneurship?” and “Prototyping” and “Practicing/Preparing Pitches,” which will be presented by volunteers who are well-versed in the subject matter.
Current volunteer speakers and mentors come from a wide range of skills, backgrounds and experience levels, from a high school student who runs his own successful photography business to community leaders like Daniel James Scott, the new Executive Director of the Tampa Bay Technology Forum.
Good mentors are “people who can share their experiences, encourage kids, challenge them, empower them, ask questions and help guide them to resources to develop their ideas,” Doyle says.

Venture Club first met on Jan. 10, but several seats are still available for interested students. Doyle plans to offer a recap of previous sessions to new students. 

HCPL introduced programs like volunteer-run CoderDojo (where mentors teach children to code) in 2013, along with Alligator Zone (a family-friendly ‘Shark Tank’-like pitching event) and the revamping a large area in the John F. Germany Library into The Hive, a mixed-use maker space, in 2014.

The library is aligned with Hillsborough County’s efforts toward building up the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the area, says Doyle. 

“We’re trying to get to know the entrepreneurial community better, to serve them better,” Doyle explains. “Starting with the kids and getting them to see that they can solve problems right here in their community is very important.”

1 Million Cups comes to Tampa, Hillsborough County

Entrepreneurs and startup founders in Tampa will soon have a new platform for sharing their visions with the local community. 

1 Million Cups, a Kauffman Foundation program that operates in cities across the country, is set to launch at the Hillsborough County Mark Sharpe Entrepreneur Collaborative Center in Ybor City. Tampa’s inaugural 1MC Cups will take place on Wednesday, Feb. 4, 8-10 a.m. at the ECC.

Those 1 million cups? That’s the amount of coffee 1 Million Cups hopes to serve during weekly meetups. Each week, two startup founders present their companies to local leaders, entrepreneurs and students. Presentations are followed by Q&A sessions with audience members.

While a coffee sponsor for Tampa’s location has not yet been announced, Kahwa Coffee has served 1 Million Cups at its St. Petersburg location The Greenhouse since that program launched in Oct 2013.

Some of the many startup companies that have presented at the 1MC St. Petersburg location include SavvyCard, a web-based business card; Florida Funders, a crowd-funding portal for entrepreneurs; WazInIt, a mobile application that won Startup Weekend Tampa Bay in Nov 2013; and Venture House, an effort to turn vacant houses into housing and job sites for local entrepreneurs and artists.

The ECC, located at 2101 E. Palm Ave. in Ybor City, celebrated their grand opening in Dec 2014.

The ECC serves as a small business services center, as well as a meeting place for community partners and local businesses. Entrepreneurs and “wannapreneurs” alike can use the center’s resources, all of which are at little or no cost, says the county’s Economic Development Manager Lindsey Kimball. Those resources include conference space, free classes, business training, and workshops aimed at helping startup founders build their businesses.
Headquartering 1 Million Cups in Tampa at Hillsborough County’s new entrepreneurial space is the latest in a series of efforts to bring a focus on local business to the community, from the upcoming Startup Week Tampa Bay to Venture Club, a meetup for entrepreneurial children that lauched in Jan 2015 at the county’s flagship library. 

Meanwhile, north of Ybor City, near the University of South Florida, Busch Gardens and Moffitt Cancer Center, steps are being taken to revitalize the area into an “innovation district,” led by former Hillsborough County Commissioner Sharpe, for whom the ECC is named. Sharpe stepped into the role of executive director for the Tampa Innovation Alliance in late 2014.

Chase, UpGlobal select Tampa to host pilot Startup Week in February

Tampa has hosted its share of startup-related events, from pitch contests to networking groups, and in 2015, entrepreneurs are taking center stage for the area’s first Startup Week.

During the five days of Startup Week festivities, Feb 2-6, 2015, attendees can choose among 50 unique events that fall under one of 10 “tracks,” from the startup tried-and-true (Developer) to the unique (The History of Tampa Bay) to the innovative (Craft Beer Entrepreneurship).

Startup Week events will be hosted at spaces like Tampa Bay WaVE in downtown Tampa and The Greenhouse in downtown St. Petersburg, as well as smaller venues such as The Blind Tiger Café in Ybor City. Tampa Startup Week partners USF Connect and the University of Tampa will also host industry experts at events in which attendees can discuss entrepreneurship.
The week’s sessions will culminate at Amalie Arena with a special skate night for attendees on Friday, Feb. 6.

Tampa Bay was selected by the event’s premiere sponsor, Chase, and by Startup Weekend founding group UpGlobal, as one of seven cities across the country to host a Startup Week in 2015.

“When we found out that they picked us, we were elated. They could have picked any number of cities, and they saw lots of potential in the Tampa Bay area,” says Gracie Stemmer, one of Startup Week’s co-organizers.
Tracks were inspired by previous Startup Week models, but developed around the local entrepreneurs who will lead them, making the event uniquely Tampa-oriented with topics like “Playable Cities,” which will be run by Tampa group Urban Conga.

Lead Organizer Ryan Sullivan “saw this as an opportunity to bring the different aspects of the entrepreneurial community together with the goal of changing the conversation.” 

Sullivan, who previously organized Tampa Bay Startup Week Youth, hopes to see Startup Week create momentum for entrepreneurs and bystanders.

The Startup Week organizing team anticipates 3,000-4,000 attendees across all of the events.
What is Sullivan most excited about? Well, there’s the Tampa Bay launch of Plum Alley, a crowd-funding site for women; the craft brewing entrepreneurs track, “something unique that highlights why Tampa is a top five best beer city”; the youth events (“very exciting because the community is demanding more and more of these”); as well as the maker track, which Sullivan hopes to see elevate the maker movement in the community. 

“Our main goal for Startup Week is to let all of Tampa Bay know the entrepreneurial things that are going on in our city,” says Stemmer. “We want to change the discussion from ‘There’s not much going on here’ to ‘Wow, there’s so much going on here.’”

For more information during Startup Week, visit Chase Basecamp, located at 1930 7th Ave in Ybor City, Feb 2-6. The base camp will host breakfasts, daily Happy Hours, speaker panels and mentor hours.

TekBank appoints Tampa tech leader, expands to Tampa Bay

Washington, D.C.-based technology consulting firm TekBank has chosen Tampa Bay as the hub for its Southeast expansion efforts. The firm has a global reach and more than 20 years of industry experience, with enterprise giants like Amtrak on their list of customers.

TekBank’s expansion into the Tampa Bay market will mean job creation locally, along with a focus on growing consulting efforts in Florida and nearby states.

The company “strategically picked Tampa Bay as an expansion hub for the Southeast,” says newly appointed Senior Partner S. Khurrum "Sid'' Hasan.

Hasan will head up TekBank’s business development efforts in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota, Orlando and Miami, Florida. 

Hasan brings over 15 years of consulting and business development experience to TekBank. While he moved to Tampa from D.C. only recently (in 2014), Hasan has already begun to establish himself as a community leader in the Tampa Bay scene. The technology executive was selected as a judge for the 2014 HULT Prize regional competition at the University of Tampa, where student entrepreneurs pitched startup ideas as solutions to a global social issue. Hasan also co-founded CUPS, a neighborhood program for Channelside District residents.

Now Hasan will bring his leadership and expertise to TekBank’s consulting services.

The company specializes in the compute stack and offers businesses functional and technical consulting, from conceptualization to post-launch follow-up. TekBank’s services include: application development, mobility, quality assurance, infrastructure support, and PMO.

“Our DNA historically has been centered around customers that offer a B2B and B2C land, sea and air function,” says Hasan. “We hope to employ a consulting practice centered around our suite of services.”

TekBank’s Southeast Launch will take place at The Tampa Club, 101 E Kennedy Blvd, from 5:30-7:30 pm on Thursday, Feb 12.

Kobie Marketing in St. Petersburg grows, adds 55 jobs

Kobie Marketing is experiencing tremendous growth and as a result adding jobs in all departments.

The loyalty marketing firm will be 25 years old this coming April. Founded in St. Petersburg, Kobie Marketing helps companies bring customers closer to their brand and increase revenue through marketing programs. The company uses touch points and communication tools such as point of sale, email and social media to keep customers informed and engaged with the products and services they love. They also provide research, data analytics, brand management and creative services to support the loyalty marketing programs.  

The company’s growth has been trending for several years, going from 30 employees in 2007 to 138 today. 35 new hires were made in 2014, and 55 are expected in 2015. The company attributes its growth to new clients both nationally and globally, particularly those with large branding needs such as a recent partnership formed with Synchrony Financial. Other industries the company works with include consumer package goods, retail, entertainment and lifestyle.

Current open positions include: IT Developers, Project Managers, Account Managers, Senior Data Analyst, Director of Business Intelligence, Director of Loyalty Strategy, Loyalty Consultant, Email Specialist and Email Marketing Manager.

"It’s an amazing organization with huge potential for growth," says Selena McLaughlin, director of human resources and administration. "It’s small enough that it feels like a small company, and the impact that anybody has coming into the organization can be huge. You really do have a voice here."

Custom and disaster recovery software provider adds 3 jobs

A growing company that provides software for custom design and to assist with disaster recovery is adding project and developer positions.

Tampa-based Zenzio has two major areas of focus: custom software development meeting a variety of client needs, and disaster recovery for events such as hurricanes and tornadoes.

The disaster recovery product is designed to assist private contractors who ultimately receive FEMA funds with operations and efficiency after a natural disaster. The software provides operational efficiencies and ensures safety and other protocol are met during tasks such as cleaning up debris, inspecting houses and keeping track of assets such as generators.

"We’re positioning ourselves as a technology provider to all of the players, all of the contractors who deal with a disaster clean-up," says Andrew Grubbs, founder and CEO, a serial tech entrepreneur who moved to Tampa from Washington in 1995.

The company was founded in 2011 as a different product all together that didn’t pan out, which led to the increase in custom software clients and eventually the disaster recovery product.

Zenzio is expanding its current team of six full-time workers and seven subcontractors with the addition of a Project Manager and two Microsoft Developers. The growth is the result of client’s expansion as well as the enhancement of the disaster recovery focus.  

Grubbs plans to keep the company in Tampa for the long run, noting that the business environment is a nice mix of fast and moderate pace. "It’s both relaxed, and it has energy," says Grubbs. "I like dealing with the people down here."

Mobile software development company adds 7 tech jobs In Tampa

At Nitro Mobile Solutions, company culture is critical.

The software development company, based in Hillsborough County just east of Tampa near the intersection of I-75 and I-4, is currently hiring for seven tech positions. Nitro Mobile Solutions is seeking: two iOS developers; two C# developers; one Android developer; one support specialist and one quality assurance specialist.

“The characteristics we seek in our employees, in order of importance, are: passion, drive, ownership, critical thinking, problem solving, and then skill,” explains Nitro’s Social Marketing Specialist Lauren Webber. “Many companies put ‘skill’ first, but we can teach skill -- we can’t change who you are. It is vital to our company to find employees who align with why Nitro exists, not only what we do during our existence.”

Nitro CEO Pete Slade founded the company in 2009 in Tampa after years of experience as a programmer ad solution architect both here and in the UK. The company’s products include full-service mobile applications and platforms that can be fully customized and managed by customers, with no coding experience required. 

“Our mission is to empower our clients through mobility,” says Webber. “Our services have morphed overtime from building business applications, to including middleware, to offering a complete ecosystem atop a platform. Flexibility in our vision, especially in this industry, keeps us current and competitive.”

Could you be the right fit for Nitro? The company, which has nearly doubled in size in 2014 alone, focuses on organic growth and cultural fit when seeking new talent. 

“Being open to different personalities who can collaborate together is vital to our office culture, “explains Webber. “We play just as hard as we work—and we work extremely hard, so it’s important to find new employees who fit into the culture we’ve created.”

A few unique job perks include quirky office lighting like lava lamps, complimentary coffee, and healthy snacks. Creativity, innovation, and freedom to “think outside the box” are encouraged, Webber says.

“Nitro provides an environment in which our employees can exercise their creativity. We encourage our employees to make each project their own,” Webber says. “The freedom, trust and value given to each team member adds to our collective job satisfaction.”

USF teams receive grants to develop socially beneficial products

Five teams at the University of South Florida in Tampa were recently selected as part of the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program.

The program is designed to foster an environment within the science community that encourages the development of innovations that benefit society. Each I-Corps team receives a $50,000 grant designed to help determine the viability of their technology, product or process and, if viable, help transition them to the next level. Teams are developed from previously or currently funded NSF projects.

Five teams were selected from the University of South Florida, making it the largest grant receiver in Florida and ranking them third in the nation out of 153 total teams representing 91 universities.

One of the USF teams created software designed to increase quality control in the use of nanotechnology, or the act of manipulating atomic particles that leads to new discoveries in areas such as medicine and energy production. The software suite provides engineers with the ability to more easily identify defects, saving time and resources and improving quality.

The team wrote the software and enlisted the assistance of the USF Patent and Licensing office to receive a provisional patent. The next step is to use the grant funding to see if there a market for the tool as well as investigate its social impact.

"One of the goals is not to focus on your patent or technology, but where is the pain point? Why are people struggling?" says Sanjukta Bhanja, associate professor, Electrical Engineering at USF and principal investigator for the team.

The teams consist of USF faculty, researchers, graduate students and a mentor with entrepreneurial experience. NSH provides additional mentoring assistance as well as an immersive learning experience to help transition the research into feasible products or processes.

Other projects include a walking crutch/cane and a mobile health network.

Aqua Marketing positions Bradenton as top travel destination for sports enthusiasts, pet owners

St. Petersburg-based Aqua Marketing & Communications recently received international recognition for promoting unique aspects of the Bradenton area for tourists.

Founded in 2011, the company is a full service firm specializing in the tourism and economic development industries within the State of Florida. Current and past clients include Collier County, the City of Dunedin, Manatee County and the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The company’s recent projects for the Bradenton area helped them win international recognition from the Hospitality Sales & Marketing International (HSMAI), the lead international association for the hospitality industry.  

The company put together a sports marketing campaign to position the area as a destination for athletes, coaches and tournament directors to come for training and competitions. The campaign included a virtual “Sports Playbook,” which provided highlights of the region as a destination, facilities available for tournaments and other events, and resources such as medical rehab and therapy, dining and entertainment.

The second piece targeted men’s travel, an often untapped market for the tourism and travel industry, where marketing if often focused on women. They offered a 3-night, 4-day “guys’ getaway,” which included boating, fishing and cigar bars. The promotion is believed to be the first of its kind in the travel and hospitality industry.

A third piece for the Bradenton area was a sweepstakes targeting pet travel. Bradenton is already well-positioned in this area, with several beaches, cafes and restaurants that allow dogs, as well as a high percentage of pet-friendly accommodations. Aqua Marketing created a Pet Owners’ guide to the Bradenton area, which included a list of all of pet-friendly hotels and resorts, activities that can be done with dogs and dog boutiques and bakeries.  

The judges were impressed with the innovation displayed in the campaigns, as well as the results achieved.

The company has nine full-time employees, in addition to part-time employees and freelancers and recently hired several new employees to meet demand. They intend to remain in St Petersburg for the long term.

"Downtown St. Petersburg is a very robust, great place to have a business," says Dave Di Maggio, the company’s Founder and President, noting the central location, robust restaurants and events and the accessibility and attractiveness for clients.

Littlejohn engineering firm opens new office in Tampa

A national engineering firm specializing in transportation, urban planning, health and safety and community development opened its first office in Tampa in October.

Littlejohn was founded in Nashville in 1989 and has since grown to a national company with nine offices, including one in Orlando. Tampa Bay-based projects have historically been handled by the Orlando office, which opened in 2011. Recent growth has caused the company to open an office in Tampa for closer proximity to its customers and to manage future growth.

Projects already completed or currently underway in Tampa Bay include: Blake Medical Center in Bradenton, Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg, Oak Hill Hospital in Brooksville and Largo Free Standing Emergency Department (FSED) in Clearwater.

The Tampa and Orlando offices specialize in civil engineering, land planning, landscape architecture, economic development and transportation and traffic planning. The transportation design and planning in particular is what started the Tampa office, seeing the area primed for growth and opportunities.

"We wanted to introduce our transportation design capabilities into Florida through the Tampa Bay area," says Lennie Arnold, Florida Regional Manager for Littlejohn.

The firm recently brought on Senior Project Manager Marty Morlan to lead the Tampa office. The goal is to increase capacity within the next two to three months and then hire additional employees to manage the work.

"The workforce seems to be well established here," says Arnold, noting that a gap in experience level has been seen across the nation, mostly attributed to the recession. The company sees more people with the experience they are looking for to fill that gap in Tampa than in other areas.

8-Count Studios adds new twist to urban dance battles

Downtown Tampa’s newest renovated theater space turned dance studio hopes to revolutionize the way dance battles are run.

Traditionally, a ballroom or swing dance studio will host a recital to allow its students to show off their work, sometimes with a competition element. In the urban and hip hop scene, their version of a recital is referred to as a battle or jam. Jamming originated as an informal show-off of dance moves in a social circle, where dancers would clear a circle and then take turns displaying their best moves. In a battle, the circle becomes more formal and individuals or pairs of dancers pair off against each other in a competition-style event.

Most battles lack an element of formality, with different dance styles competing against each other. In a desire to formalize these events, 8-Count Studios on North Franklin Street in Tampa is hosting a Layer Cake Battle on January 3.

"We want to revolutionize how battles are run," says Hope Donnelly, co-owner of 8-Count Studios.

The event is named Layer Cake Battle because of the layered judging that will be done in rounds. Using Donnelly’s sports dance background, the studio will introduce a bracket system that will list names of dancers on a board. Dance brackets include: popping and locking, wacking and voguing, breaking, and krumping. Each winner will progress to the next level with prizes awarded in each bracket until an ultimate Best of Show winner is announced.

"Dancing is a sport, so we’re treating it like a sport," says Donnelly. "Dancers are athletes; they are competitors."

Well-known choreographers and judges will be flown in from across the country. The event will also include workshops, vendors and a concert. Cash and other prizes will be given to the winners, as well as a private brunch session with the judges.

The event is open to the public. The price of admission is $20 per person.

BAMA offers scholarships to support manufacturing education

High school seniors looking into manufacturing careers have an opportunity to apply for a scholarship to continue their education.

The Bay Area Manufacturers Association (BAMA) is offering three $1,000 scholarships to students in Hillsborough, Pasco or Pinellas County. Any student planning to continue his or her education at a technical, state or community college in a program that supports manufacturing industries is encouraged to apply.

BAMA has been providing the scholarships for over 20 years to students entering into a manufacturing field, which can include machining, welding and trade jobs as well as technical and engineering fields. The organization is partnering with Hillsborough Education Foundation and Pinellas Education Foundation to administer two of the scholarships in those counties.

The goal of the scholarship program is to support the local manufacturing workforce in an effort to support the industry. According to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, there were 2,728 manufacturing companies in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas County in 2013. Employment in manufacturing industries increased by 1.8% in Florida that same year.

"We want to promote education, and in turn to help manufacturing grow," says Becky Burton, association executive for BAMA. "Without continuing education for people going into manufacturing, you aren’t going to bring new industry here or help them fill the jobs they need in order to keep them here."

BAMA is a 100-member organization whose mission is to support manufacturing in the Tampa Bay region through growth and economic development efforts. Services include networks for idea exchange and support of local educational programs. BAMA hosts an annual awards ceremony that highlights local science fair winners and also supports the robotics team at Middleton High School in Tampa.
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