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Design-a-thon invites student innovators to pitch solutions

College students with innovative ideas, mark your calendars for April 10-11.

That’s when USF St. Petersburg’s Kate Tiedemann College of Business, along with the student chapter of the Tampa Bay Technology Forum, is hosting a first-time event: a "design-a-thon” and pitch competition, during which enterprising students will have the chance to solve a real-world problem proposed from the local business community.

One small catch? Innovation Overnight is a 20-hour long event, beginning at 3 pm on April 10 and culminating in an 11 am awards ceremony April 11. Students can leave from midnight to 7 am, but they are also welcome to stay and keep working.

During the marathon brainstorming and building session, students will work through the phases of design thinking to build a functioning prototype that solves a problem sourced from event sponsors (including Jabil Inc, Valpak and the Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer team).

Games like “Are You Smarter than a Freshman?” and a hula hoop competition will help keep things light during the long hours.

Similar to Startup Weekend events, Innovation Overnight aims to connect members of the community in an informal but inspirational environment. Unlike Startup Weekend events, only students are permitted to participate.

Jessica Chin, co-creator and Chief Innovation Officer for the event, says that Innovation Overnight was developed to help students focus on approaching a problem using “design thinking and a structured thought process.”

Design thinking refers to a process of problem solving through specific phases: “Explore, Ideate, Build and Test,” Alison Watkins, associate dean of the USFSP COB and event co-creator, explained in a news release. It is “particularly useful in terms of defining multifaceted problems and providing innovative, multidimensional solutions to complex business challenges.”

The 20-hour design-a-thon, which mixes play with problem-solving, will include time to pitch a prototype solution to judges, network with potential employers, and learn design thinking tactics from keynote speaker Michelle Royal. Judges will include representatives from several Innovation Overnight sponsors, USFSP, and the TBTF.

Royal, CEO of Royal Innovation Design Group, was selected as keynote speaker “based on her willingness to engage in higher education and her professional expertise,” Chin explains.

Students can sign up for Innovation Overnight as individual participants, but Chin recommends that interested students engage each other on social media before the event to create a team, or contact her to facilitate team creation.

“Innovation Overnight provides an opportunity for students to connect classroom learning to real world situations, demonstrating to the business community that there is high quality talent graduating from area colleges,” TBTF’s Pat Gehant noted in the release. “This program lifts the bar for developing tech talent in the Tampa Bay area.”

The event will be held at USFSP’s University Student Center, 6th Ave S., in Ball Room A. Student pitches, which are open to the public, begin at 9 am on Friday, April 10; an awards ceremony and reception begins at 11 am Saturday, April 11. 

To learn more or to register for Innovation Overnight, click here.  

Maker convention brings inventors together in the DIY spirit

Gulf Coast MakerCon just keeps growing.

This year’s Tampa Bay area community do-it-yourself celebration will be held at the Florida Living Center at the Florida State Fairgrounds on Saturday, April 18. Lead organizer Terri Willingham anticipates about 800-1,000 guests at the one-day event. 

Gulf Coast MakerCon 2015 is open to the public and covers a wide array of technical, creative and professional workshops and sessions across more than 80 anticipated indoor and outdoor exhibits, from modern tech like 3D printers to “heritage tech” that focuses on woodworking and fiber arts.

Entertainment and educational opportunities at Gulf Coast MakerCon 2015 range from the Mid-Pinellas Comic Con exhibit and Gamers on the Edge tabletop gaming area to the Tampa Amateur Radio Club and the Tampa Bay Inventors Council “Inventors Showcase” to the USF Robotics Interest Group “Fight Robots” competition and a Young Makers section.

More than 30,000 square feet of available exhibit space triples the size of last year’s MakerCon, and the “makers” who have applied more than double last year’s numbers, as well; about 60, with applications still coming in. 

“We're excited about the diversity of exhibitors and programs we have on tap,” Willingham says.

The annual springtime festival is produced by Eureka! Factory, the nonprofit that Willingham runs with her husband Steve, and is supported by a grant from Hillsborough County’s Economic Development Innovation Initiative (EDI2). 

“We believe Gulf Coast MakerCon showcases the best of our community and inspires others to try their hands, hearts and minds at making and learning new things,” Willingham says. 

The community DIY festival “fits in perfectly with our mission to help move people from passive consumption to active creation --making!” Willingham explains. “A society of capable, creative, self-reliant people is a healthy, empowered and productive society."

Making things -- "products, solutions, services, inventions, games, gadgets, industrial and commercial tools like robots, mechanical devices and assistive technologies, and resources for sustainability," she says, is good for economic development, academic enrichment and personal fulfillment.

Back in 2012, the Willinghams introduced Tampa's first and only maker festival, the Tampa Bay Mini Maker Faire. In 2014, the event expanded into Gulf Coast MakerCon. This year, big name community sponsors like USF Connect and the Florida High Tech Corridor have signed on.

“We've got some amazing collaborative partners this year,” Willingham says. “MityMo Creative in St. Petersburg has been doing all our promotional materials and graphic design; TBIC has been actively curating and providing promotional and other event support; Scrap on Spot is sponsoring the Deconstruction Zone; and the Innovation Lab at Seminole Community Library at St. Petersburg College has been organizing our ComicCon and Gaming Festival.”  

Gulf Coast MakerCon 2015 is a designated USA Science & Engineering Festival satellite event, as well as a National Robotics Week event.

Tickets, which are $10 per person ages 13-up and $8 for children ages 6-12, can be purchased online at the event website

Call for Florida startups: April 6 deadline to present at entrepreneurial conference

Executives and entrepreneurs with select Florida-based startups and early-stage companies will have the chance to pitch their businesses to a group of potential investors and venture capitalists during a May conference at the well-known Vinoy resort in St. Petersburg.

Florida Venture Forum, a nonprofit, statewide support organization for venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, organizes the annual conference to serve a dual purpose: providing a platform for growing Florida startups and companies to pitch to potential investors, and promoting networking opportunities through workshops and expert panel discussions.

The annual event coincides with the organization’s 5th Annual Statewide Collegiate Business Plan Competition, which will see entrepreneurship students from across Florida (including the University of South Florida’s Center for Entrepreneurship, the University of Florida’s Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation and The Lauchpad at the University of Miami) competing for a presenter spot at the Early Stage Conference.

Florida Venture Forum president Kevin Burgoyne anticipates that this year’s conference will be “a record-breaking success,” citing increased interest among national investors and a number of early-stage companies that have already applied to present.

Cumulatively, past presenters at Early Stage Conferences have raised more than $20 million in investment capital. 

“We are thrilled to help another dynamic group of emerging companies connect with capital sources from across the country,” Burgoyne said in a press release. “This sends a clear message that Florida’s rapidly growing entrepreneurial ecosystem continues to gain momentum and national attention.“

Day one will consist of a workshop focusing on post-investment best practices, including topics such as: the fundamentals of preparing and executing a post-investment plan; mentoring entrepreneurs; management transition; board of directors; tax issues; follow-on funding; and exits. Florida Venture Forum presents the workshop in partnership with the Kauffman Foundation, the catalyst behind the 1 Million Cups meetups in cities around the country (including St. Pete and Tampa locations), and its Angel Resource Institute.

Day two of the eighth annual Early Stage Conference will include the collegiate business plan competition, pitch presentations and a panel discussion. 

The 2015 Early Stage Conference will take place Wednesday, May 13, 1:30 pm-5:30 pm; and Thursday, May 14, 7 am-5:30 pm, at the Vinoy Renaissance Resort & Golf Club, 501 5th Ave NE, in St. Petersburg. Requirements for presenting companies can be found on the event website.

Interested early- to mid-stage Florida-based companies and entrepreneurs must apply to present at the 2015 Early Stage Conference by April 6, 2015.

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.

Hillsborough County woos Johnson & Johnson with $2M in incentives

Health care giant Johnson & Johnson is considering a massive move to the Tampa area.

In March 2015, Hillsborough County commissioners voted unanimously to approve a $2.1 million incentive package in hopes of encouraging the Fortune 500 company to invest in Tampa Bay. If Tampa is selected, hundreds of new jobs would be relocated or created at a new “shared services” headquarters for Johnson & Johnson.

Hillsborough County economic development director Lindsey Kimball says that the move would be a good one, economically, for the community.

“If Johnson & Johnson chooses to locate in Hillsborough County, the project will potentially represent 700 new higher wage jobs in the community and a $23.5 million capital investment,” Kimball says. “These jobs are in what we call a ‘targeted industry,’ which means the primary customers for their services are outside of our market -- and that is a good thing because they expand our local economy, driving demand for local services and goods.”

By the terms of the agreement, if Tampa is selected, Johnson & Johnson would be required to create the first group of about 200 jobs by December 31, 2016.

If Johnson & Johnson does set up shop in Hillsborough, the created jobs will be “shared services” functions typical of a headquarters operation, such as accounting, marketing, human resources, IT and legal. 

The average salary for these jobs would be around $75,000.

It is likely that not every position will be relocated, meaning the potential for new hires from within the Tampa Bay community.

“I would like to add that this project, if it chooses to locate here, will strengthen the biosciences cluster within our community by adding an additional marquis company to join Bristol-Myers Squibb, Draper, and Bausch and Lomb,” Kimball says. 

The Bristol-Myers Squibb North American Capability Center opened in Hillsborough County at 5104 Eisenhower Blvd. S. in January 2014 after similar wooing efforts from dozens of cities. Draper Lab, an engineering and tech research facility from MIT, has had a presence at the University of South Florida since 2009 and in Pinellas County for years at 9900 16th St. N. in St. Petersburg. Bausch and Lomb, the pharmaceuticals company, has had a manufacturing plant presence in Tampa since 1993 at 8500 Hidden River Parkway. 

Before the deal is decided, Johnson & Johnson will continue to look to several other states for the expansion. Florida’s incentive package depends on the $2.1 million from Hillsborough County along with a state incentive package of $7 million from the state’s economic development organization, Enterprise Florida, totaling a $9.1 million overall incentive package.

TGH offers new surgical relief from sleep apnea

Tampa General is one of the first hospitals in the nation and the first in Florida to offer a new “sleep pacemaker” solution to patients who suffer from severe sleep apnea.

Clinical trials were held at 22 hospitals nationwide – including TGH, the primary teaching hospital for USF Health – with results published in the New England Journal of Medicine

Dr. Tapan Padhya, professor and vice chair of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, was the chief investigator for Tampa General’s trials and co-authored the "sleep pacemaker" study results.

The technology in the implant is “similar to a cardiac pacemaker, re-applied for sleep apnea patients,” says Dr. Padhya. 

Sleep apnea occurs as the result of muscles in the tongue and throat relaxing, which makes breathing more difficult. As people with the condition sleep, oxygen supply runs low, which in turn causes them to wake up to take a breath, often accompanied by a snoring or gasping noise.

The disorder has typically been treated with the CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine, which involves wearing a mask over the nose, and occasionally mouth, while sleeping. The mask can keep airways open by pumping pressurized air into the mouth, but for many people, it can be difficult to sleep with.

Enter the "sleep pacemaker" neurostimulation device, developed by Minnesota-based Inspire Medical Systems, which is meant to help sleep apnea patients for whom other treatments were ineffective.

Here’s how it works: an implant described as half the size of an iPhone is placed under a patient’s collarbone. It can deliver a small electrical stimulus to the base of the tongue when the patient takes a breath. 

Patients with the Inspire device can activate it with a remote control before sleeping.

“It will gently push the tongue out to help the air flow," Dr. Padhya says. "You have an open airway. You don’t have that struggle to breathe.”

Most telling, says Padhya, is the fact that there are clinical trial patients still using the device several years after the surgical procedure.

Millions of people suffer from severe sleep apnea, a disorder that causes shallow breathing while sleeping, disrupting rest periods and leading to daytime fatigue and other health issues including insomnia, behavioral changes and disruption to executive functions like decision-making, reaction time, memory, and learning.

Because other factors can cause some of these effects, people with sleep apnea can sometimes be unaware that they suffer from the condition. However, if untreated, the disorder increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure and other health problems.

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.

USF Tampa wins green awards for renewable energy project

When Hometalk, the largest home improvement and garden how-to online network, wanted to offer readers cool eco-friendly and sustainable ideas for green living, they turned to the nation’s universities and colleges.  

“We decided who better to reach out to for great ideas than colleges students,” says Tikva Morrow, editor of Hometalk.  

A renewable energy project at the University of South Florida was among five projects selected by Hometalk staff as the best examples across the country for “green living initiatives” that readers could duplicate at home or work, says Morrow.

“Hometalk has a large audience and our readers are real people who want to find better ways of living that help the environment.” Says Morrow.  “It’s all about changing the world by helping people change their daily practices.”

USF’s project, called Renew-a-Bull-Biodiesel, is a student designed, operated and maintained project in which students pay a voluntary green energy fee toward the cost of turning dining hall waste oil into biodiesel to run university buses.  David Townsend, USF student and co-project leader, said the program is a “prime example of the efforts made at USF to reduce the university’s carbon footprint.”

While Morrow points out that readers might not easily develop their own biodiesel, they could reduce their carbon footprint with simple green practices, such as turning off lights and adding better insulation to reduce electric bills and using green cleaning products that are better for the environment.

To identify the top college green living initiatives, Hometalk staff researched sources that included the Princeton Review’s Guide to 322 Green Colleges. USF was one of only 22 schools in Princeton Review’s 2014 Green Honor Roll.

From several hundred possible university projects, the Hometalk staff then narrowed the list to 25 potential finalists. The next step was to reach out to the various schools and talk with student leaders who were running the projects, says Morrow.  After much discussion, the final five were named.  

The other university projects selected included a campus farm at Duke University in North Carolina; a water conservation program at Stanford University in California; a recycling program at Green Mountain College in Vermont ; and a green living program called Ecovillage at Berea College in Kentucky.

Hometalk’s designation is not the only green accolade that USF has earned in the last year. Sierra Magazine ranked USF seventh out of 173 schools in the annual Sierra “Cools School” green list. USF’s 20,000-watt solar charging station for electric vehicles was mentioned as an example of an outstanding green initiative.

Who's hiring? Brew Bus, Tampa Musuem of Art, and more

Did you know? 83 Degrees Media searches for growing companies to bring you exciting job opportunities in the Tampa Bay area. Reach out over on Twitter @83degreesmedia if our job listings put you on the path to success!

On the search for a job in advertising? Two high-profile Tampa ad agencies are currently hiring.

Schifino Lee 

Hyde Park-based advertising agency Schifino Lee seeks an experienced Media Buyer. The successful candidate will plan and buy for a variety of B2C and B2B accounts. Job requirements include superior negotiation skills, attention to detail, the ability to work directly with clients, and a familiarity with new media opportunities and digital strategies. 

Required Education: Bachelors Degree or related experience. Send a resume and work samples via e-mail to jobs@schifinolee.com.

Walker Brands

Full-service Tampa branding agency Walker Brands seeks a Brand Manager and a Part-Time, In-House Graphic Designer in Tampa. To apply for either position, submit a resume and work samples via email to careers@walkerbrands.com.

The brand manager role requires 8+ years in branding, marketing or advertising, with a preference for agency experience as well as real estate branding and marketing experience. The position will require leading several client accounts, and the ideal candidate will combine creativity and innovation with logic and business aptitude. Required Education: Bachelors Degree in a related field.

The part-time graphic designer position requires 2 years of related professional experience in file packaging for both online and print vendors. Advanced proficiency in Creative Suite (including Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Acrobat) is preferred. Mac proficiency is required.

Tampa Museum of Art

Card-carrying museum-goers, read on: the Tampa Museum of Art seeks a Development Officer for Sponsorship and Corporate Programs.

The Development Officer's primary responsibilities include securing corporate support and meeting event sponsorship goals for the Museum; stewarding funders and collaborating with board trustees, volunteers, long-time supporters, and other staff; and engaging with the region’s business community. The successful candidate will have fundraising or sales experience, with marketing and donor database experience preferred. An education that includes art history or a related field is a bonus. A Bachelor’s Degree and minimum of 2-4 years of related experience is also necessary.

Brew Bus

Hop aboard the Brew Bus, which takes patrons on tours of Tampa Bay craft beer breweries, bars, and restaurants, is hiring for two part-time positions: “Beertender” and Brew Bus Vehicle Operator

The Beertender position requires familiarity with the craft beer industry (particularly local breweries); basic service industry knowledge; strong social skills; and the ability to lift up to 50 lbs. A high school diploma or equivalent GED is required. Safe Serve certification and Cicerone beer certification are a bonus. 

The Vehicle Operator role requires a clean driving record and CDL with P endorsement, with previous experience. Brew Bus Vehicle Operators transport clients or “riders” throughout the area and possibly throughout the state. Qualified Brew Bus Vehicle Operators will possess a high school diploma or equivalent GED, the ability to lift up to 50 lbs, and a CDL Medical Card. 

Employers, if you have a career opportunity you would like to promote, please email tips@83degreesmedia.com with "Hiring" in the subject line. 

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.
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