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Entrepreneurship : Innovation + Job News

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Burger 21 Expands, Adds 50+ Jobs in Tampa

Award-winning fast-casual dining chain Burger 21 is expanding to include on-going franchise development, which will create up to 50 new jobs per restaurant. The company is also adding operations as well as research and development positions to support the company’s continued growth.

There's no doubt that Americans love burgers -- especially a better, livelier experience that serves a fresh burger with style. With fast-casual dining and the better burger concept rolling in $75 billion per year within the overall burger industry, fast-casual dining represents less than 3 percent of that number.

Burger 21 serves a variety of high-quality, fresh made-to-order gourmet burgers, fries, salads and shakes to people of all ages in a modern environment.

"It's a very small sliver of the burger business, but it’s growing at a rate of double digits. Clearly, there's enormous potential there. We are capitalizing on the need and desire for consumers to have higher quality burger options. At Burger 21, we focus on variety," says Dan Stone, VP of franchise development.

Founded by the owners of The Melting Pot Restaurants, Inc., Burger 21 opened its first location in Westchase in November 2010 and sold its first franchise in early 2012. The company has since sold more than 20 franchises across nine states and plans to sell 20 new franchises this year.

The Burger 21 brand experienced significant growth in 2013, opening five new franchise restaurants and generating $12.4 million in systemwide revenue. The company’s strategic growth goal also includes the addition of 10 new franchise units this year, which is expected to generate more than $24.5 million in total systemwide revenue.

"The more we sell, it has a trickling effect of us being able to provide increased support to our restaurants. The more we open, the more support we will need at our home office. Much of what will happen this year is a result of activity and sales that happened last year," says Stone.

Since 2010, Burger 21 has added more than 150 new jobs to the Tampa Bay region. The company is targeting expansion in Pinellas County by 2015.

"We definitely have a strong interest in bringing the brand to Pinellas. We are franchising all other areas," says Stone.

The company is hosting a February 13 webinar on franchise development. To register for the live webinar, visit the company’s franchise website. For career development opportunities, visit the company online.

Writer: Kaye Brown
Source: Dan Stone, Burger 21

Traveling Tampa To Austin: StartupBus Southeast 2014 Seeks Applicants

Some startups are born in a basement, others in an office. Just a few are inspired by a weeklong bus trip with a group of "hackers, hustlers, and hipsters'' -- an experience known by many in the tech community as the StartupBus. This year, StartupBus Southeast leaves Tampa for Austin on March 2nd, 2014.

As the bus from the Southeast region travels toward SXSW in Texas, a group of 20-30 selected "buspreneurs'' will develop and execute an original startup idea to present at the end of the trip.

2014 StartupBus Southeast organizer Ashley Mooney of Tampa explains, "This is more than a hackathon, more than a road trip, and much more than a pitch competition. It's a journey of passionate entrepreneurs aboard 7 different buses from around the country. Each team must conceive, build, and launch a startup in around three days.''

Interested? Applications are due by mid-February.

"Those who should apply are startup-minded Web and mobile developers, designers and business developers who can generate buzz in a short period of time and know how to pitch their face off,'' says Mooney. "Our advice to applicants is: If you have technical skills, show 'em off -- give us links to your work. Show us why you're an outstanding choice and get creative!''

For almost five years, StartupBus has played a role in fostering the Tampa startup community. StartupBus Southeast invites applicants from the entire region, so "buspreneurs'' from Tampa's startup community will have the opportunity to mingle and make connections with entrepreneurs from surrounding areas.

The ultimate takeaway, says Mooney, is the opportunity that waits at the destination. "You pitch your startup to big name venture capitalists, high profile members of the tech startup community, and in front of hundreds of other entrepreneurs. The best outcome would be that you get funded -- it's happened -- and even if you don't, you are launching your business in front lucrative eyes that can really get the word out about your new startup,'' she explains. "Attendees are pitching to major investors along the way, like Dave McClure from 500 Startups and Robert Scoble from Rackspace.''

Mooney, a digital content manager for Organic Salon Systems and early Google Glass Explorer, will ride the bus as both a participant and organizer in 2014. This year's Bus Conductors, who have participated in previous years, are each members of the Tampa startup and tech scene. Mooney is joined by co-conductors Will Mitchell, of StartupBros, Taylor Wallace, of WeVue, and Lindsey Nickel-de la O, of Nickel Communications.

"Tampa residents who go on the bus have an incredible opportunity ahead of them,'' Mooney says.

The participation fee for "buspreneurs'' is $299. Ticket cost does not include accommodations, food, drink or return trip. To learn more, visit StartupBus Southeast on Facebook or Twitter.

Writer: Justine Benstead
Source: Ashley Mooney, StartupBus Southeast

CollegeBom Offers Online Marketplace For Students

College students will soon have access to an online marketplace where they can buy, sell and trade items with other students at their university without having to pay transaction fees or shipping.

CollegeBom allows students to sell items of interest to other students -- whether it be a microwave, laptop, textbook or even furniture.

The site is unique in that it automatically pairs buyers and sellers. Users create a profile and then enter a description of what they want to buy or sell. The site automatically sends a notification when items are available, and then the users take it from there.  

For security purposes, users must have an official university email address, which is confirmed. Paypal integration is also being added so users don’t have to exchange cash.

The site is the brainchild of Steve Solomon, a freshman at the University of South Florida who plans to graduate in 2017 with a double major in International Business and Finance.  

"I wanted to create a centralized marketplace for college students. …a great resource that will genuinely help them." says Solomon, CollegeBom’s founder.

The site also provides adverstising opportunities to small businesses situated in neighborhoods near the university, allowing them to grow student traffic.

Launch is scheduled within the next two months for USF students. Eventually it will expand to other college campuses.

CollegeBom is a charter member of the USF Student Innovation Incubator, and is taking advantage of the office space and mentorship opportunities. "They try to do as much as possible to help you, says Solomon. "I can almost guarantee I wouldn’t be this far without the incubator."

Solomon also attended Startup Weekend Tampa Bay recently, where he gained knowledge and connections to help with the launch.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Steve Solomon, CollegeBom

Two Maids & A Mop Expands To Tampa, 15 New Jobs

Residential cleaning company Two Maids & A Mop is expanding to Tampa Bay, launching its first franchise development and creating up to 15 new jobs in management, sales and personnel over the next year.

Featured in Inc. 500 as one of the nation’s fastest-growing residential cleaning companies in the consumer products and service industry, the company grew from a small staff of 4 to 140 employees by 2013.

"We are a Southeastern-based company. We identified a couple different markets that we absolutely wanted to be in, and Tampa was one of them," says Ron Holt, CEO and founder of Two Maids & A Mop.

With 12 company-owned locations in five states, Two Maids & A Mop took a large part of 2013 to explore and research the potential for strong franchise development after receiving several inquiries for franchising opportunities from across the country and as far away as the United Kingdom.

The company’s expansion into Tampa Bay was a unique collaboration of a targeted strategy, key business relationships and the right timing.

Holt had developed a friendship with Nick Friedman and Omar Soliman, owners of College Hunks Hauling Junk and College Hunks Moving. Friedman and Soliman’s business growth plan included expansion into the cleaning service industry.

And so it was.

A joint-venture business relationship developed, merging Friedman’s and Soliman’s new cleaning concept under the Two Maids & A Mop mantra, and emerging as the company’s first franchise location.

Moving forward, Tampa will serve as regional headquarters for franchise development as the company further develops new franchise locations throughout the United States, creating up to 40 more jobs in Tampa in the process.

"The first step is to create a huge success in Tampa, to build a large business, to employ a lot of people, and to create more job growth in the Tampa area. The second step is to begin marketing the franchise concept all over the country," says Holt.

For more information on career opportunities, visit the Tampa company website. To inquire about franchise development opportunities, visit the company’s franchise website.

Writer: Kaye Brown
Source: Ron Holt, Two Maids & A Mop

FindMyClass App Navigates Campus For College Students

The beginning of the semester can be stressful for college students -- learning new faces, making new decisions and finding new classrooms. A mobile app launched at the University of South Florida takes away the guesswork involved in finding classrooms on campus.

FindMyClass was developed by Tampa natives and brothers Michael and Ryan Schmidt. Michael is a graduate and Ryan is a current student in the University of South Florida College of Engineering. The idea came about while the two participated on campus in a Windows Phone Competition sponsored by Microsoft. They attended a series of workshops in which they learned how to code apps and then won a development contest with FindMyClass.

"I always had trouble navigating around campus," says Michael Schmidt. He and his brother felt the need all long but never really thought about building an app to meet that need until the competition.

After downloading the app, users select a campus and then a college. From there they can search for a building. The app puts a line between their current location and the building, and rotates with them as they walk or drive to find it. Users can also view a list of food locations and parking garages.

The app is available on 10 college campuses in Florida, including all campuses of Hillsborough Community College, University of South Florida in Tampa and St. Petersburg and The University of Tampa. Eventually the team plans to expand to as many campuses as possible.  

The app is free to download, and the first three building searches are free.

FindMyClass is a charter member of the USF Student Innovation Incubator and is using resources such as pro bono legal advice for their trademark application. "USF is definitely helping us out a lot," says Schmidt.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Michael Schmidt, FindMyClass

St. Pete Celebrates Women Of Vision, Inspiration

Do you know a woman in Pinellas County who provides vision, leadership and inspiration to others? Perhaps someone who shows a passion for the region and puts her heart and soul into her business and the community?

The St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce is looking to recognize these women at the Iconic Women of St. Petersburg luncheon on May 14 at Hilton St. Petersburg, Carillon Park.

"There are so many amazing people in Pinellas County," says Jo-An Thomas, Chair of the luncheon and multimedia consultant for Business Observer. "We often don’t know who these people are who are doing wonderful things in our communities every day."

Now in its 15th year, the event celebrates women who live or work in Pinellas County and are nominated by their peers in one of seven different categories: large business, small business, entrepreneur, nonprofit, community service, Woman to Watch (under the age of 40) and INSPIRE! Women of the Year.

Past honorees include Ashley Rhodes-Courter, 2012 International Woman of the Year. Rhodes-Courter spent a majority of her childhood in 14 different foster homes and is now an international speaker and advocate for education, community, youth and families. Lorraine Yaslowitz, 2013 INSPIRE! Woman of the Year, founded The Partners for Life Foundation in honor of her late husband Jeff, a fallen police officer. The Foundation offers support for families who have lost loved ones due to acts of violence. Deputy Mayor Dr. Kanika Jelks-Tomalin, 2012 Woman to Watch, is a fifth generation St. Petersburg resident and healthcare industry leader on the local and national levels. Her rich history of community involvement also includes Pinellas County Urban League and the Green Light Pinellas transportation initiative.

The event’s presenting sponsor is Ceridian. Nominations are sought through January 31.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Jo-An Thomas

Forward Thinking Initiatives Launches First Youth Entrepreneurship Academy In St. Petersburg

Forward Thinking Initiatives, a nonprofit organization that helps Tampa Bay teens learn the value and principles of entrepreneurship and innovation, is partnering with the St. Petersburg Greenhouse to launch its first youth entrepreneurship academy.

The first class of the academy, ART-repreneurship for Teens, launches in February 2014 and is designed to teach students the importance of incorporating passion of the arts with business savvy in order to promote their expertise while bringing themselves to market.

"It’s a lot more than teaching a business plan. These skills are critical whether you’re an intrapreneur or an entrepreneur," says the organization’s founder and President Debra Campbell.

In 2004 with the support from the Tampa Bay Partnership, Florida High Tech Corridor and Verizon, Campbell created Forward Thinking Initiatives as an economic development initiative aimed at providing teens and educators with entrepreneurship education focused on innovation, leadership and critical thinking necessary to our evolving workforce.

The initiative grew out of an effort to create a vital link between education and economic development.

"We found that entrepreneurship skills were so critical to what is now called common core. It crosses all kinds of educational, real-world curriculum," says Campbell, who has a background in economic development.

FTI recently partnered with the St. Petersburg Greenhouse, an extension of the City of St. Petersburg which evolved from the city’s Business Assistance Center into an epicenter connecting businesses and entrepreneurs with a wealth of resources designed to support and promote successful and continued business growth.

Campbell’s central goal is to encourage and cultivate entrepreneurial mindsets and behaviors that transform youth into empowered thinkers, essentially promoting personal growth while motivating the region’s economic growth.

"They are learning entrepreneurship through specific subject matter like arts entrepreneurship or technology entrepreneurship. This is a unique experience that provides valuable employees and workforce associates to our companies," says Greenhouse Manager and Economic Development Coordinator Sean Kennedy.

FTI’s February class will cover:
- How to market yourself, your portfolio and your product for school or career
- Identifying real business opportunities
- Career opportunities in the arts
- Launching your own business in the arts
- Meeting and learning from professional artists and entrepreneurs

FTI is currently registering students for the program which runs from February 17 to March 27. The fee is $260 for the full program.

For more information on Forward Thinking Initiatives' mission and ART-repreneurship program registration, visit them online.

Writer: Kaye Brown
Sources: Debra Campbell, Forward Thinking Initiatives; Sean Kennedy, St. Petersburg Greenhouse

Community Crowdfunding Grows Tampa Hackerspace

Crowd-sourced funding can be a modern, effective way to get innovative ideas off the ground. In Tampa, a hackerspace that opened in fall 2013 has proven this point, exceeding their Kickstarter pledge goal of $10,000 by around 50 percent.
 
Money raised through the Kickstarter project, which will be funded at 9 p.m. Tuesday, January 14, will allow Tampa Hackerspace to grow and evolve as a community innovation hub.

Pledge goals include equipment upgrades and community outreach through workshops, local partnerships, and hosting educational events (specifically: helping people who "don't know they are makers yet,'' and teaching kids).

"Our top priorities are to purchase a CNC Mill, Laser Cutter and electronic kits made specifically to get kids inspired and confident about making,'' says Tampa Hackerspace Cofounder Ryan Holmes notes.

Workshops like the quarterly Restart Tampa event will "inspire/help the local community to repair their own appliances by providing them with tools and the confidence to do so,'' says Holmes. "Besides Restart, we are focusing on making programs specifically focused on kids on Sunday afternoons.''

The first "Kid's Open Make'' was held on January 5, 2014; click here for a calendar of upcoming Hackerspace events.

When the group reached 20 percent of their initial $10,000 Kickstarter goal in just a few hours, Holmes was "flabbergasted.'' So far, over 130 backers have pledged donations ranging from $3 to $2,500.

"I definitely knew that there was support out there, but I didn't know it was that digitally connected enough to push out $2,000 in two hours. Just goes to show how much people really want it,'' says Holmes.

Tampa Hackerspace, a state-level nonprofit, is housed on the ground floor of the CoWork Tampa building in West Tampa at 3104 N. Armenia Ave.

The Hackerspace Kickstarter page notes that CoWork Tampa "will significantly discount their $57 coworking membership to $20 per month for six months to every backer of our Kickstarter, plus every member of Tampa Hackerspace, when we reach our $15,000 stretch goal.''

To pledge a donation, visit the Tampa Hackerspace Kickstarter page before 9 p.m. (EST) on Tuesday, January 14.

Writer: Justine Benstead
Source: Ryan Holmes, Tampa Hackerspace

St. Petersburg Celebrates All Things Local at LocalTopia

Williams Park in St. Petersburg will turn into a mecca for community, arts and locals on February 1.

Localtopia is a celebration of locally owned and independent businesses in St. Petersburg. The event will include a full entertainment lineup, a craft beer garden with local brews on tap, local food trucks, a children’s area and other offerings from independent businesses.

Local artists will provide live painting, and Creative Clay will make valentines.

Williams Park, the city’s first park, used to be a vibrant area for community gatherings. The group is hoping to use this event to bring that community feeling back to the park.

"We want to be a catalyst for other activities in the park throughout the year," says Olga Bof, founder and president of Keep St. Petersburg Local. "It will be a really visually rich event."

The event is the 2nd anniversary celebration for Keep St. Petersburg Local, an all-volunteer, non-profit organization affiliated with the American Independent Business Alliance. The group supports locally-owned, independent businesses through promotional campaigns, events and advocacy.

With over 400 members, the group’s accomplishments in its first two years of operations have included educational sessions to help local businesses grow, a city proclamation for independent week, and the first Guide to Independent Businesses publication. Members were recently highlighted in Kevin Bacon’s campaign to support buying local over the holidays.

"We want to spread the message even wider so that it becomes a way of life rather than a special occasion where you buy local,'' says Bof. "It's really about having our community think local first because it means that they’re supporting their family, their friends, their neighbors."

Funds from Localtopia benefit Keep St. Petersburg Local, as well as St. Petersburg Free Clinic and Suncoast Center.

The event’s presenting sponsor is Mazzaro’s Italian Market. Other supporters include Brown Distributing, Paper Street Market, The Hideaway Café and the City of St. Petersburg.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Olga Bof, Keep St. Petersburg Local

Project Transition USA Helps Veterans Find Civilian Careers

For many military veterans, making the transition from military to civilian life can prove challenging -- especially landing a good job.

Project Transition USA is on a mission to ease that process by using the power of LinkedIn to help military veterans find and position themselves for unique post-military career opportunities.

The nonprofit organization teaches LinkedIn workshops to transitioning military, veterans, and dependents, showing them effective LinkedIn and professional strategies that will help ease their transition into the civilian workforce.

"We teach them how to brand themselves and be attractive in the market," says Nancy Laine, president and workshop facilitator.

Laine, the daughter of an Army Chaplain and also known as "The Linked Concierge," discovered the potential of LinkedIn after making a valuable new client connection via the online professional network.

Laine and the Project Transition USA workshop team share personal experiences and success stories with veterans about the benefits of using LinkedIn as a networking resource that can lead to rewarding civilian career opportunities.

For several, personal networking or using a platform such as LinkedIn can be a bit uncomfortable after having been removed from the normalcy of every-day career advancement opportunities.

"We start out by addressing their number one fear -- privacy," says Laine.

The Project Transition USA team then starts veterans out with LinkedIn 101, easing them through the learning curve of LinkedIn’s platform while teaching them how to best share their skills that many employers and recruiters look for in candidates, sharing information on:

- Creating a noticeable profile to showcase your skills
- Strategies to build a network to promote hiring
- Effective job-searching techniques on LinkedIn's website
- How to connect with influential people with common interests
- Guidance from professional recruiters and influential community leaders

Although 93 percent of recruiters are currently using LinkedIn as a resource to find qualified candidates, a substantial 69 percent of military veterans report finding a job as the most significant hurdle in their transition.

In November 2012, Project Transition USA collaborated with MacDill Air Force Base to bring the LinkedIn Job Search Workshop to MacDill’s Transition Assistance Program (TAP) -- the first held on a military base anywhere in the world.

The organization’s progressive goal is to additionally teach civilian career transition strategies to active duty service members prior to being discharged, integrating the approach in collaboration with each United States military base to capitalize upon the long-term benefits of career preparation to prospective employers after military service.

"They want a meaningful career, and we point them in the direction of whatever makes them come alive," says Laine.

For information on workshops or how to get involved, visit Project Transition USA on LinkedIn or online.

Writer: Kaye Brown
Source: Nancy Laine, Project Transition USA

LumaStream, St. Petersburg College Partner To Meet Workforce Needs

A new partnership combines academic learning with real world training to prepare students for high demand manufacturing jobs.

LumaStream, a designer and manufacturer of energy-efficient LED lighting systems, recently moved into a 22,000 square foot facility in midtown St. Petersburg. Within that facility is classroom space that is used to train and certify students from St. Petersburg College (SPC), providing highly technical training and electronics skills that can eventually leads to an associate of science degree and national certification.

The training is one program being funded by a $15 million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Labor provided to the Florida TRADE Consortium, a partnership of twelve state and community colleges throughout the state of Florida. Funds are designed to help colleges better develop the technical workforce in their region through innovative, non-traditional initiatives.

Out of 120 applications, the first class of 11 students started January 4.

Students will use LumaStream’s facility and equipment for hands-on studies and will also be mentored and taught by their engineers and technicians. The company’s ultimate goal is to hire some of the students in the program, but some may go on to work at other companies.

"It’s about developing and growing talent organically in our own community rather than deciding to have to move someplace else," says Kelly Bousman, vice president of Marketing for LumaStream.

The company plans to stay in Tampa Bay, noting the attractiveness of the natural environment, weather and culture. They recently moved their manufacturing base from Canada to St. Petersburg and plan to hire more highly skilled, trained workers as a result of this partnership.

Partnerships like these increase local educational attainment, a goal of the Graduate Tampa Bay initiative launched in March 2012.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Kelly Bousman, LumaStream

Stop Rubbernecking Grows, Adds Jobs in Bradenton

If you have ever been an inquisitive passer-by or "rubbernecker" of an accident or crime scene, you know all too well of the potential safety hazards it can create.

Local Bradenton-based company Stop Rubberneccking has developed a portable barrier system to prevent others from seeing what's going on at the accident scene and giving responding officers an added layer of safety.

The company is expanding nationally and internationally, adding distributors, manufacturing and sales contractors.

"I had an inclination to invent something that I felt was necessary to keep people from rubbernecking at accident scenes. There would be an accident, and on the other side of the street, people would stop, stare and cause additional accidents," says President Carl Cannova.

Cannova, a retired president and CEO for Sysco Food Services of West Coast Florida, began to design and develop a prototype for the system in 2011 while working with Ro Brady, a local design company in Sarasota. The company went live in 2012 by incorporating and receiving patents, and by 2013 they were distributing and selling units of the SRN1000.

The SRN1000 is a portable barrier system that protects victims of accidents and their families from prying eyes, keeps officers safe while working accidents, and hides traumatic scenes from onlookers while also preventing rubbernecking. The screen is meant for use of law enforcement officers and has even been used by coroners and investigators who rely on the safety of the screen as well as the ability to protect from possible contamination and interruption to investigations. The system adjusts to 6 feet high by 12 feet wide and is expandable by attaching other SRN1000 systems.

Since February 2013, the company has sold more than 100 units throughout the U.S., and is now increasing national market penetration with new law enforcement clients throughout Washington, Arizona, Texas, Nevada and Kansas.

"We are thrilled to have the support of not only law enforcement agencies locally, but now also across the country. There’s so much opportunity in the U.S. Everything is manufactured here, shipped and assembled in Bradenton," says Cannova.

Stop Rubbernecking is also reaching out to markets in Europe and Bermuda.

As the company continues to grow, the need for distributors to handle the products has increased. The firm’s long-term growth plan includes the addition of manufacturing, administration and sales employess in addition to warehousing space.

For more information on products or career opportunities, visit Stop Rubbernecking online.

Writer: Kaye Brown
Source: Carl Cannova, Stop Rubbernecking

USF Entrepreneurship Alumni Crowdfund Youth Community Center

Alumni from USF are on a mission to “Turn on the Lights” at the yet to be opened Youth Development Center in Tampa Heights.

The USF Alumni Society of Entrepreneurs, an organization of Masters of Science in Entrepreneurship and Applied Technologies graduates from USF, has developed Tampa Heights Unite. The project is using the crowd funding platform Indiegogo to raise funds for lighting a the new youth community center. Donors can contribute any amount toward their goal of $5,000, which they hope to raise by December 31.

The center is a project of the Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association, a community-based nonprofit that provides leadership and civic development for youth in Tampa Heights through mentoring and support. The group is renovating an abandoned church at 2005 N. Lamar Ave., built in 1905, to turn it into a thriving, inviting place for at-risk youth and families.

"I walked into the church and could see the vision they had for the center," says Mit Patel, USF Masters in Entrepreneurship graduate and board member for the Tampa Heights Civic Association. "I fell in love with the project."

Patel’s company, MIT Computers is donating a computer lab, and Columbia Restaurant Group is providing a kitchen.

"We’re getting a lot of support from the community," says Patel. "It’s really a community-based, grassroots movement."

The renovation is part of a larger project, which includes a community garden, entrepreneurial garden club and playground that are already in existence.

The 9,055-square-foot center will include a Learning Center, Teen Center, Center for Creativity and rental space for meetings and events. Programs to be offered include: leadership skills, business and entrepreneurship, financial literacy, workforce preparation and technology training.

Completion of the renovation is expected for summer 2014.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Mit Patel, USF Alumni Society of Entrepreneurs

WaZINIT App Wins Startup Weekend Tampa Bay With Focus On Food Allergies

A mobile app that identifies food ingredients and allergens has won Tampa Bay's fifth Startup Weekend. WaZINIT is designed to help consumers with allergies and specific preferences compare products directly from their smartphones.

WaZINIT President and St. Petersburg native Brian DiVito has lived with Crohn's disease for over half of his life. For 16 years, he navigated a cycle of flare-ups, hospital stays, abdominal surgery and recovery related to the condition.

Along the way, DiVito learned that he had about 30 food allergies. He developed a new diet that avoided trigger foods. Today, he experiences virtually no Crohn's-related issues.

"With 30 allergies, I kept thinking, 'There's got to be a better way','' DiVito explains. "I spend a ridiculous amount of time reading ingredient labels in the store.''

Multiple food allergies also kept DiVito from trying new things. "Once I found a food product that worked, I'd stick with it,'' he says. "Current solutions that are out there limit you, many times, to the eight FDA allergies. They also charge a super-high premium.''

The eight major food allergens identified by the Food and Drug Administration include: milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans.

"Our app will allow you to focus on many more specific ingredients: Do you want to eat this, or avoid it?'' says DiVito, who attended the University of South Florida, where he studied Architecture and Civil/Structural Engineering.

As a "hobbyist'' front-end developer, DiVito had been "kicking around'' the idea of an app that could help consumers search a large database for specific products or ingredients. Smartphone and tablet users will be able to scan products and identify ingredients from the app's directory.

Enter Startup Weekend Tampa Bay. The team included DiVito and his wife, Christina DiVito, along with Gregg Hilferding, Zach Kanzler, Todd Broyles, Adriane Jacobsen, Collete Lawson and Elizabeth Rugg. WaZINIT won.

"Our pitch for the judges was focused on how we could monetize the app -- but for me, the most important thing is to keep it free,'' DiVito explains. "Whatever their reasons, I want people to be able to use it and share it with family and friends for free.''

Now that Startup Weekend is over, the team is back down to a skeleton crew as they work to develop a beta version, market the app and source funding. They applied to the First WaVe Accelerator program, and competed in the Global Startup Battle, which is sponsored by Coca-Cola. DiVito hopes to "attract the attention and support'' of manufacturers like the brand.

"Ultimately, the goal is to keep the mobile app free of charge for the user,'' Di Vito says.

WaZINIT will be released in 2014 for mobile devices.

Writer: Justine Benstead
Source: Brian DiVito, WaZINIT

Tampa Native Opens Online Vintage Thrift Store

Maegan Hayward has always been both a thrift store and a fashion junkie. She says her sense of style gives her the unique ability to throw together trendy looks using what is already available.  

Growing up in Tampa, her passion for vintage thrift store finds started when her father, also an entrepreneur, took her to her first thrift store. As an adult, she started selling vintage finds on eBay and has now turned her hobby into an entrepreneurial venture with a website called Red’s Vintage Threads.

Affectionately named after Hayward’s red hair, the site features items she finds at thrift stores across the country, ranging from styles popular in the 1940s through the 1990s. There are close to 300 pieces of clothing for sale, in addition to shoes and accessories. You’ll find everything from a leopard coat to a Metallica T-shirt to a New Kids on the Block hat.

"It’s fashion forward, which really doesn’t make sense because it’s really fashion backward," says Hayward while laughing.

The site can be searched by size, price, color and era.

Hayward also runs a recording studio in New York, doing film and TV work while spending her free time thrifting for the store. She enjoys scouting a vareity of thrift stores to put together unique looks for the site. "It’s kind of neat to see the stuff that people have discarded," says Hayward.

Another motivator for her is the sustainability and environmental factor of reusing things.

Future plans include expanding online sales and eventually opening a store front.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Maegan Hayward, Red's Vintage Threads
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