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Tech Bytes: Tech awards, new funding for tech programs highlight tech scene

Ray Carr, chief technology officer of Tampa’s Occam Technology Group, was named Technology Executive of the Year at an energy-charged tech gathering Friday, Nov. 10. At the gathering the organizer, Tampa Bay Technology Forum, officially announced its new name, Tampa Bay Tech.

Usually a traditional black-tie affair, the 14th Annual Tampa Bay Tech Award show reflected the growth and excitement of the developing Tampa Bay tech community. “The energy was quite palpable,” says Jill St. Thomas, the organization’s director of Partnerships and Engagement.

The group also exhibited a team spirit, reflective of the collaboration in Tampa Bay. “Working together gets us a lot further than standing in our own spots, our own lanes,” St. Thomas explains. “We wanted our organization to really be at the front of that.”

Nextech, a healthcare technology company in Tampa, was named Technology Company of the Year. Other winners were Michelle Curtis, senior manager of IoT Solutions Group, Americas, at Tech Data Corp. in Clearwater; Emerging Technology Leader of Year; Harness of Tampa, Emerging Technology Company of the Year; Jeremy Rasmussen, chief technology officer of Tampa’s Abacode, Technology Leader of the Year; Valpak in St. Petersburg, Technology Project of the Year; Vology of Largo, Excellence in Service; and Fintech of Tampa, Workplace Culture Program of the Year.

Tampa Bay Tech members represent more than 2 million employees, $300+ million in venture capital, and $500+ billion in annual revenue.

“We really are significant nationally and, for those of us that have been in the Tampa Bay market for along time, this is where we want to be,” St. Thomas says.

The organization’s new name was an attempt to rebrand and update. “We wanted our brand to feel a bit more reflective of the strength that we’re seeing in this market,” she adds.

At the event, Tampa Bay Tech also announced it would be holding its poweredUP Technology Festival May 8 at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg.

Here’s more techology news.

  • St. Petersburg College has landed a $250,000 grant to help build the Tampa Bay tech talent pipeline. JPMorgan Chase awarded the grant to fund a new program to help residents be hired by employers needing skilled tech workers. Working with TBT, the college will provide classroom and online training, plus provide a website where employers can connect with students and faculty. Funds also are expected to support the expansion of a boot camp developed by companies to give students real-world experience.
  • Tampa Bay WaVE , a tech industry accelerator in downtown Tampa , has snagged a $50,000 prize from the U.S. Small Business Administration. A three-time winner, it was one of 20 in SBA’s fourth Growth Accelerator Fund competition. The WaVE is looking to beef up services to women entrepreneurs in the tech sector; it offers open and free co-working for women tech entrepreneurs on the second Wednesday of every month. The intent of the SBA contest is meet needs for attention and funding in parts of the country where gaps exist in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. The WaVE also is holding its Pitch Night at the Attic at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 30. It is accepting applications its accelerator program through March 9, 2018.
  • Interested in personal watercraft? SOFWERX is having a collaborative event with a Nov. 17 RSVP deadline. It’s looking for partners to develop a functional prototype to assist warfighters. The event is planned Wednesday, Nov. 29. To RSVP or get more information, visit the SOFWERX’s Event Calendar.
  • Code for Tampa Bay is having an Open Hack at 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 18, at Tampa Bay WaVE, 500 E Kennedy Blvd #300, Tampa. The group is trying to use technology to make government information and services easier to use. The meeting is open to anyone interested. A Code for America Brigade, Code for Tampa Bay typically meets at 6:30 p.m. on the first Monday of the month, but is beginning to meet on a Saturday to involve those unable to attend during the week.
  • Building Cities of the Future, a Commercial Real Estate and UrbanTech Summit, is being held Tuesday, Dec. 5, at  Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel and Marina. The event, by Bisnow and Dreamit, features Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik as an opening keynote speaker. The first-ever event, slated from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., is intended to drive commercial real estate through innovation. Bisnow is a commercial real estate news and events platform. Dreamit Ventures is a New York City-based global accelerator holding its first UrbanTech accelerator in Tampa. For more information or to register, visit Bisnow, click on Events and choose Tampa.
  •  Celebrate the holidays in Ybor with Tampa Bay Agile, Tampa Java User Group, Tampa Bay UX, and Front End Design communities. A celebration is planned from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 7, at Tampa Bay Brewing Company, 1600 E. 9th Ave., Tampa. To RSVP, go here.
  • Steve Parker, an entrepreneur, executive and mentor, has been chosen as Director of TEC Garage, an incubator and co-working space run by the Tampa Bay Innovation Center. TEC Garage fosters the creation of high-tech jobs by nurturing early-stage ventures.

North Tampa company wins BioPitch competition

As Medical Director for Personalized Medicine at Moffitt Cancer Center, Howard McLeod became frustrated at the lack of tools to help individualize treatments for cancer patients. “If no company is going to provide these for us, we’d better build them ourselves,” he decided.

So McLeod, PharmD. and Moffitt Personalized Medicine Strategist Neil T. Mason, Ph.D., created their own company, Interpares Biomedicine. With Moffitt’s Jamie Teer, Ph.D., an Assistant Member, and a seasoned biotech executive Kevin Krenitsky, M.D., they created their own set of tools to help doctors and patients sort through a number of seemingly equal immunotherapy options.

“The big challenge in oncology going forward is how do to we pick, from amongst these apparently equal options, the one that is going to work?” explains McLeod, the company’s President and Chief Scientific Officer.

Interpares Biomedicine works with the blood to gauge the effectiveness of treatment. Through the blood, it can examine circulating tumor cells, rather than cells from a biopsy or surgical resection that occurred at diagnosis.

“As time goes on, it’s more and more difficult to understand the cancer you’re really treating,” he says.

It is important with immunotherapies to assess potential toxicity, because it can be fatal. “We’re looking at a patent’s immune system, the type of T-cells that are present. That gives us some indication how well they are going to respond to treatment,” he adds.

What sets them apart in the marketplace is that they’re looking at the immune system and the DNA, plus the potential toxicity. “More often than not that’s why we have to stop therapy,” he says.

Interpares Biomedicine won the 2017 BioPitch Competition in October in St. Petersburg, a contest which helps build interest from venture and angel funders. It was one of more than 40 companies that applied to compete for the award given at BioFlorida’s annual conference.

BioFlorida, which represents almost 6,000 research, biopharmaceutical, medical technology and bioagriculture organizations, chose 15 to make presentations in a closed-door session. Four progressed to the finalist stage, which involved an open presentation before panelists at the conference.

What’s next for the North Tampa company with a staff of 12?  It’s working to perfect its ability to predict drugs’ effectiveness. It’s also looking at other innovations it can adapt to its toolset to broaden its scope.

“At this point, we’re in clinical testing mode,” he says. “We want to generate additional data.”

As the company grows, it’ll be looking to add lab and sales staff. “Tampa is right on the verge of expanding its biotech sector,” he adds. “I’m very hopeful this can really help that continue.”


Natural skin care company grows with help from black business development initiatives

Renee Edwards didn’t set out to start a business. She was a mom with a problem: Her daughter was suffering from acne -- and she wanted to help.

So Edwards, who works in clinical research at St. Petersburg’s Hill Top Research, began experimenting with essential oils and exfoliation.

“It worked for my daughter [Jakara Fitzpatrick],” she says. “I thought I could sell it.”

And sell it she has. Her Skin Kandii products are available in nine retail outlets in St. Petersburg and Clearwater, including the St. Pete Store and Visitor’s Center.

A ceremonial ribbon-cutting was held last Thursday at the Second Avenue North store to mark the occasion.

“I think the real root of cleaning the skin, and relieving acne, is exfoliation,” she asserts. “I think the vitamins that are added to the scrub, and the essential oils ... aid in the healing.”

Edwards, Skin Kandii’s CEO, participated in two Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg-funded initiatives designed to help black businesses open and grow: Community Business Development Initiative and CATCH.

“It [the Community Business Development Initiative] has resulted in the creation of 27 new businesses,” says Sean Kennedy, Manager of The Greenhouse, which created the program. “Twenty existing businesses have seen revenue growth.”

The initiative was designed to encourage black-owned businesses, which are under-represented in the community, Kennedy says.

“The point of the program was to eliminate the barriers to entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial growth,” he explains.

Skin Kandii became the first African American-manufactured product line sold in The St Pete Store, a retail showcase backed by the City of St. Petersburg and the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce.

Fitzpatrick was about 13 when she was experiencing severe skin issues, Edwards recalls. “She wouldn’t wear shorts or skirt in her early middle school and high school years,” she continues.

It took three years of testing, but Edwards eventually discovered sugar and essential oils could be used to exfoliate two or three times a week -- and get that problem under control.

“Once you exfoliate your skin, you also need to use a sunscreen,” she adds. “The fresh skin was turning darker.”

Along the way, with feedback from family and friends, Edwards learned enough to develop eight different scrubs she’s priced at $12.99 each. She’s also developed a lotion bar, lip balms and bath balms.

She has a stress reliever, a skin replenisher, a relaxing anti-inflammatory scrub, and even an Island blend to boost energy. Edwards’ best-selling product is a dry skin formula that has become popular as a foot scrub. It also can help with eczema.

Skin Kandii got is name as Edwards developed the dry skin formula to help her nephew, Jeremieco Robinson, with eczema. She enticed him by saying the product was candy for his skin.

Edwards also offers create-your-own formulas made with the essential oils the user prefers and containers labeled with a distributor’s name. In addition to being available in stores, Skin Kandii is sold at house parties.

Edwards would like to have a TV commercial in six months and eventually sell on St. Pete’s Home Shopping Network.

While Skin Kandii currently is run by a staff of three, she hopes to expand to hire “a whole lot of people,” she says.

She’s working on soy candles, to go on sale in December, and all natural soaps, to sell in the summer of 2018.

The Greenhouse is looking at funding options to continue the initiative, which offered training and business financing. The program already has assisted 60 businesses, among them the affordable housing firm Sago House, the youth employment company I Support Youth, the educational consulting company Global Intelligences and Brea’s Coffee, which also held a ribbon-cutting in October.

Meanwhile Tahisia Scantling, a consultant working with the Tampa Bay Black Business Investment Corporation, which now is backing the other program Edwards participated in, says the community development financial institution holds two cohorts of CATCH per year. It offers training and financing to help businesses.

Although a $100 application fee is charged, the fee is returned to the 10 businesses selected for the 15-week training program.

The CATCH acronym stands for coachable, action-oriented, timely, collaboration help. The program now is also being offered in Hillsborough County, with sponsorship by Wells Fargo.


Innovative Smart Lab to open in Tampa in 2018

The innovative builder Suffolk is planning to open a Smart Lab in Tampa that will help clients visualize construction projects using virtual reality. The construction firm, which already has opened a similar lab in New York City and San Francisco, currently is building the Tampa Smart Lab adjacent to its Channelside office.

“We are looking to open early in 2018, hopefully in January or February,” says Josh Christensen, VP for the Suffolk’s West Coast Operations in Florida.

The Smart Lab features a virtual reality cave, which simulates what it will be like inside a building that has not been constructed yet. “We call it a lab for a reason. We’re testing things,” he says. “You don’t have to go build in the field to see if you like it.”

Models will be technically accurate. “It’s a working model, not just a cartoon,” Christensen says.

A whole wall will be a touch screen for interactive planning and collaboration. “We used to do with sticky notes back in the day,” Christensen explains. “Now you do it all virtually, and all by touching.”

Another wall, for data, includes live camera feeds of the jobs.

The company has been relying upon virtual reality goggles, which limits the experience to one or two people instead of about six to a room. “Most people don’t love putting the goggles on,” he says.

Suffolk is adding an additional 2,200 square feet, 1,500 for the lab, to its office at 615 Channelside Drive, Suite 102. The office, which opened last spring, will now be 6,600 square feet. Cost figures weren’t released.

We’re in an existing building, We just took it back to the studs,” he explains.

The Smart Lab will primarily be staffed with existing workers.

Suffolk’s Smart Labs are expected to facilitate brainstorming in ways that can significantly alter project designs. For the industry, it may mean changing the way buildings are designed and built.

Its emphasis on innovation meshes well with the “entrepreneurial spirit” in Tampa, Christensen says.

“We have some challenging, logistically complex jobs, and it will really help us,” he adds.

More Smart Labs are to open in Boston, Miami and Los Angeles on varying schedules.

The national building contractor generates some $2.9 billion in revenue annually serving clients in healthcare, science and technology, education, federal government, gaming, aviation and commercial sectors.


Next for travelers? Ridesharing app for charter flights

A Jacksonville company is test marketing a ridesharing program for air travelers which would enable them to split the cost of chartering small planes with others. Called Whooshfly, the company -- currently in the Tampa Bay WaVE early launch program -- is making plans to move to Tampa next year, potentially in the spring.

“This is not for everyone pricewise. If you were to share the flight ... with a bunch of people, it would still cost you a little bit more than a first class ticket, but it’s not going to cost you an arm and a leg,” explains Joel Relova, Founder and CEO.

The service, being tested in Florida, Georgia and Utah, relies on smaller aircraft with 3 to 12 seats. It is available in beta as an Apple iphone app, with Android and web-based apps anticipated later. “You can fly anywhere as long as you can afford it,” he says.

People can defray the cost of a chartered plane by sharing a flight with friends, relatives and co-workers attending the same event, or with other people in their network. Or they can open the flight up to others who are flying to the same destination. They also could choose to book a private flight.

People download the app from the Apple Store and make a request for service, which is submitted to operators who respond with price quotes. The users can then choose a veted provider and book their flights.

Co-founded with Wendell Chindra, Whooshfly currently has about 400 users and 12 operators, who have access to 60 airplanes in the Florida/Georgia region. Users pay a service fee in addition to fares. “Once you use it, you don’t want to go back to any other means,” Relova says. “The value there is really the experience.”

He explains users can avoid lines while enjoying the perks of a small airport, like having the airplane parked 50 feet from the door or being greeted by a pilot who knows them by name.

“That’s what people love,” he says.

The idea started about 10 years ago when Relova noticed a smaller jet at an airport, and learned it cost less than a million, far less than other jets. Things took off about two years ago after a presentation on the concept in Jacksonville. Since being admitted to the WaVE program last spring, Whooshfly has been utilizing the co-work space at the WaVE periodically.

“The WaVE has been very good to us. I love the people there. I love the energy. I love their passion for startups,” he says. “They’ve opened a lot of doors for us.”

What sets Whooshfly apart is travelers’ ability to pay as they go, without encountering membership/subscription fees or having to become one of the plane’s owners.

Moving to Tampa is part of their plan once the platform passes the market-testing phase. “We believe Tampa is the right fit for us. They have the environment, the ecosystem, that would support a tech startup like us,” Relova explains. “I understand there’s a lot of things going on from a tech and from a startup business perspective. We want to be part of that."


Tampa attorney heads Israeli business accelerator

Rachel Marks Feinman, the new Executive Director of the Florida-Israel Business Accelerator, believes bringing innovative Israeli ideas and products to Tampa can help set it apart in the competitive entrepreneurial tech scene.

My hope is that people understand that this is not a Jewish cause. This is an economic development effort that the [Tampa Jewish Community Centers and Federation] has really undertaken, and to a certain degree, is underwriting,” she explains. “My hope is that we really can engage the entire business community, and that they understand the value of attracting these companies here.”

Feinman, who succeeds Jack Ross at FIBA’s helm, brings to the organization her expertise in law and business as it prepares its second cohort.

“We’re definitely in a growth mode,” says Feinman, who was raised in the Tampa area.

Ross has taken a job with StemRad, a participant in the FIBA’s first cohort, that has decided to open its U.S. subsidiary in Tampa.

Feiman has been working closely with many investors and businesses in the community as a corporate partner with the Tampa-based Hill Ward Henderson law firm. While President of the Gasparilla International Film Festival, she gained experience in fundraising, cultivating relationships, and overseeing development.

Founded by the Federation in 2016, FIBA has had eight companies complete its program, and is planning a second cohort of eight between February and June. It will be split into two groups of four each, with each spending six to eight weeks of intensive training in Tampa. That’s up from one week, with the goal of enhancing their successes.

One of our key focuses is on customer generation for these companies,” she says.

The Israeli companies that work with FIBA are established businesses that can benefit from its help acculturating into U.S. society. “These companies all have a product that’s ready for market -- and ideally have customer traction in Israel or another market,” she says.

The goal also is to bring innovative ideas and products that can help solve local problems and build the local economy, distinguishing it from medium-sized cities looking to attract tech companies.

“We’re on our way to doing that,” she says.

Since she assumed her new job earlier his month, Feiman has been meeting with people. “Our plans really for now are to grow organically and work on successes for the companies that will translate into success for our community,” she adds.

There’s a long history of innovation in Israel that a lot of people are unaware of, she says. An example is an Intel chip which our computers rely upon.

Israel’s compulsive military service program, for Jews and those from the ethnic Druze community, puts lots of its workers in desk jobs using computers to solve problems. “A lot of them come out of the Army with ideas for businesses,” she says.


Clearwater advertising firm grows, new manufacturing jobs come to Pasco County

The 45-year-old Our Town America, an advertising firm that targets new residents, has moved its headquarters into 44,000-square-feet of office space in Clearwater -- and is making plans to hire 15 to 20 additional staffers.

I’m anxious to get them in here and give them an opportunity to grow with our company,” says CEO Michael Plummer Jr.

The company in a growth mode by working with businesses that want to advertise to new residents. Such businesses are often grocery stories, restaurants, hair salons and auto repair shops, or doctors and dentists who want to develop new business relationships. Businesses pay on average $200 a month to target potential customers by things like age, size of household, income, and other demographics.

About two to six weeks after move-in, residents receive an envelope offering “housewarming gifts” such as gift certificates for a free pizza or haircut to entice them to drop by and check out the neighborhood businesses.

When people move in, they’re still searching for those business,” Plummer explains. “They want to know where to go.”

Our Town America disseminates about half a million envelopes every month -- or more than 8 million each year. With some 63 franchises nationwide, they focus primarily on neighborhoods rather than zipcodes.

A lot of it is designed ... to get you off the couch and into those locations,” he says.

Once the initial contact is made, businesses may choose to follow up with another offer, a simple thank you, or a request for feedback.

Our Town America moved last week from smaller rented space in Pinellas Park to its own headquarters at 13900 U.S. Highway 19 N. Clearwater. Built by local contractor Mike Sinwelski, the facility features a 2,700-square-foot, high-tech conference room, a huge breakroom, and LED lights, plus a roof with solar power options.

The company, which employees about 58 locally, was founded by Plummer’s father in Des Moines, IA. After relocating to Omaha and Houston, the company moved to the Tampa Bay Area in 1990. It began selling franchises in 2005, and sold a record-breaking 12 this year. Despite its growth, it continues to be a family-based business with a welcoming atmosphere, which includes catered lunches, potluck dinners, company cruises and other perks.

“The vast majority of our folks have been here for a very long time,” he adds.

Our Town America is hiring for both part-time and full-time positions, with openings in customer service, appointment setting, inside sales and possibly production help for mailouts. Learn more by visiting the OTA website or calling 1-800-497-8360.

Here are more job opportunities in the Tampa Bay area.

Meopta U.S.A. will be opening a new facility in western Pasco County and hiring for 47 new advanced manufacturing positions. Headquartered in Hauppauge, NY, Meopta U.S.A. specializes in the manufacture of and distribution of precision optics such as binoculars and spotting and rifle scopes. It also makes prisms, optical mirrors, aerospace and medical assemblies, and tank periscopes. The jobs will be in the Trinity area and pay an average of about $49,000 annually.

• With all the jockeying by communities seeking Amazon’s second headquarters, the major online retailer is certainly on people’s minds. If you’re wondering about job prospects, read on. Brenda Alfred, Amazon’s Regional Operations PR Manager, says the retailers will be hiring 5,000 employees in Florida, most of them for the holiday season. She did not provide specifics for the Tampa Bay region.

“We employ temporary employees as a way of finding high-quality talent while managing variation in customer demand,” she says. “Following last year’s holiday season, thousands of seasonal employees found regular, full-time roles with Amazon.”

Interested individuals should visit the Amazon website.

Heart Gallery of Pinellas & Pasco, an agency working to increase the number of foster children who are successfully adopted, is looking for an Executive Director in St. Petersburg.


Working Women of Tampa Bay excels at networking, making connections

While working as a TV news producer for Channel 10, Jessica Rivelli wanted a casual, after-hours women’s networking group in the Tampa Bay area. But she didn’t find any.

“When I couldn’t find it, I chose to start it,” she recalls.

As a result, Working Women of Tampa Bay -- which serves Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties -- was born. Since November 2008, it has grown to 600+ members.

The group caters to entrepreneurs, wannabe entrepreneurs and women working in corporations, offering “affordable educational opportunities that just don’t exist elsewhere in Tampa Bay,” she says.

Starting from the Dunedin restaurant Casa Tina’s, it grew to 300 members in one year. A core group of 20 just invited women they knew. In 2010, Rivelli left her broadcast career of some 10 years to lead the group full-time, which fueled more growth.

I call myself an accidental entrepreneur,” says Rivelli, whose business is her membership organization. “I had not planned to become an entrepreneur.”

Working Women of Tampa Bay has become a virtual tribe of women supporting women, with a calendar of 20 events a month providing educational and professional development. Usually they appeal to both entrepreneurs and corporate workers.

We do have things specifically for entrepreneurs,” she adds. “Women Entrepreneur Exchange is one of those.”

The Exchange typically meets from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the first Tuesday of each month at Frazier & Deeter, 401 E Jackson St, Suite 2425, Tampa. Attendance is limited to 12 and the topic isn’t fixed; pre-registration is required.

The Entrepreneur Exchange a place where solo entrepreneurs, women who are often working alone out of their own homes or in co-working spaces, can connect with women of similar interests.

Everybody gets their own time [to speak] to be able to bring up their own challenges,” she says.

As a result of the relationships they form, they can put together a mini board of directors, solve business problems and gather much-needed feedback.

What sets Working Women apart is its ability to help women contemplating or starting businesses. “There are a lot of them who are transitioning from corporate America to owning their own business. They need everything from business cards to websites and networking,” she explains. “A lot of them are completely green when they come to Working Women.”

Its Young Women’s Leadership Exchange focuses on young women looking for help with professional development. The group operates similar to Entrepreneur Exchange, gathering women to talk about topics that interest them, like managing your manager and how to look for opportunities within your organization.

Meaningful Mentoring connects experienced business owners and employed women. The group pays for lunch to promote mentoring, allowing women to ask questions pertinent to them.

Working Women, which has an Orlando counterpart, charges a membership fee and offers membership discounts on its paid events, almost all of which are open to the general public. “We want people to come and try us out and see if we’re a good fit for them,” she explains.

The group also offers many resources – including handholding. “They need a support system for when things go good and things go bad,” she continues. “Every small business owner is going to have challenges.”

Ultimately, the group is a “safe space for women to really be themselves,” she says.

“We’ve formed a group of women that are really able to be honest and share what they’re going through with one another,” she says.

Working Women gives back to the community by giving seed money to business owners who need “a little bit of money” to put up a website, expand a shop, purchase marketing materials, or the like, she says. Membership isn’t required; applicants just need to be women in the Tampa Bay area.

“They have to tell us what they’re using it for,” she adds. “We want to make sure it’s something that is a game changer in their business.”


Author proposes pilot education project for adult learners

A Tampa author is gaining traction with an idea for a pilot education project to enable adults to attend college without encumbering a lot of debt. Vinny Tafuro, an economist and author of Unlocking the Labor Cage, appeared on the Tampa Bay Arts and Education Network last week and expounded upon his idea.

In a studio fireside chat with Debbi Stone, VP of Education for The Florida Aquarium, he continued to build on his proposal to fund adult learners through reserves corporations may have routed overseas to avoid taxes.

“Now it’s been broadcast on somebody else’s channel, not my own,” he quips.

What Tafuro is proposing is a pilot project that could mitigate the risk for adults who want to return to school in their 30s, 40s, or 50s. At that point, they’re likely giving up a salary they need to pay bills.

A college-educated, employed individual is more likely to make money for companies like Facebook, he says. Those students may even be inspired to become an entrepreneur -- and an advertiser. They also might be more likely to leave reviews, which is critical to Amazon’s sales model.

Instead of competing with a bunch of other cities offering similar amenities for Amazon’s new headquarters, Tafuro believes this pilot project is something unique Tampa Bay can bring to the table -- while skirting the competition from other cities. It could potentially fund 49,200 students nationwide.

It could appeal to Amazon, Facebook, Google or Microsoft, enabling them to boost their earning potential by increasing the education level of their users and bettering society.

“We’re the only community making the proposition,” he points out.

By convincing businesses to invest their reserves, or repatriate the money as Tafuro says, the pilot project might even help make things easier for former college students saddled with debt. “Right now there’s no incentive for the college loan industry to soften its edge,” he says.

Originally from Long Island, Tafuro has lived in the Tampa Bay area for nearly 26 years. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Communications from the University of Tampa.

His book, released on Amazon in July 2016, introduces the concept of using cash reserves to fund education. Read an excerpt here.


Startup Week 2018 recruits volunteers, planning kicks off now

Organizers of the fourth annual Tampa Bay Startup Week are recruiting volunteers for the 2018 event that will again span both sides of the bay, offering presentations and mentoring for budding entrepreneurs.

“We really try to have a wide range of industries and topics for anyone,” says Gracie Stemmer, President of Startup Tampa Bay and Co-Leader of the event.

The event, organized by the nonprofit Startup Tampa Bay, is scheduled Feb. 12-16, 2018.  A kickoff, scheduled from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 17, at The Franklin Manor, 912 N. Franklin St., Tampa, gives interested individuals a chance to learn more about the event and how they can become involved. Those who can't make it can get in touch with organizers through Facebook or the Startup website.

Stemmer says they are trying to tap into the community’s top talent to speak and run workshops, in addition to reaching out to experts regionally and nationally.

Co-Leader JR Griggs, President of Tampa’s Red Wall Marketing, says volunteers are needed to run industry or topic tracks. These track captains will line up speakers and help locate sponsors. There’s also a need for help with sponsorships, marketing, public relations, the street team, check-in, customer service, and cleanup.

“We’re just eager to work with anyone and everyone that wants to be a part of this,” Stemmer says.

Startup Week is designed to help people vet a business idea, get one-on-one mentoring to launch or grow their business, showcase their businesses, develop their professional networks, or expand their knowledge base. Businesses can be tech related, or traditional brick and mortar.

This year’s Startup Week, which might be starting in St. Petersburg and finishing in Tampa, is expected to feature some tried-and-true topics like design, veteran-owned, PR and marketing, hospitality, women-owned, robotics, cybersecurity and possibly a social entrepreneur track.

Mentors will be on hand throughout the week – and individuals can book a time slot with someone with expertise in their industry, Griggs says.

The current plan is to hold the event at the same venues as last year, Station House in St. Pete and Realto Theatre in Tampa.

“Our biggest goal right now is to get as many volunteers as possible,” Griggs says. “The goal is to make this bigger and better.”


Tampa Bay jobs: New healthcare, restaurant positions on tap

Cognizant Technology Solutions has opened its fourth Tampa facility, with plans to hire an additional 75 employees. And Dave & Busters is planning to hire more than 230 for its new restaurant/ entertainment complex in the vicinity of Brandon Mall.  

The latest Cognizant expansion follows a 2014 commitment to invest $5.7 million in Tampa area facilities and hire 412 employees here. “We’re now increasing that commitment, investing approximately $500,000 more in capital expenditures and creating 75 additional jobs over the next 4 years,” says Eric Westphal, Cognizant’s Senior Director in Global Corporate Affairs.

Westphal indicates Tampa’s business climate was a draw.

“Tampa is home to many of the Fortune 500 and 1000 clients we serve, particularly in the healthcare and financial services industries,” he says. “Among the area’s outstanding features is the strong local talent pool of skilled business process, IT and consulting professionals.”

He notes a “thriving array” of support organizations in the area.

“Cognizant also has a growing partnership with CareerSource Tampa Bay and Hillsborough Community College to develop technology training courses for students,” he adds. “Driving these types of programs is central to our business philosophy as one of the nation’s largest employers of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) professionals.”

Cognizant is hiring full-time high-skilled technology and business professionals, with wages typically meeting or exceed local averages. Among the sought-after skills are IT application development, IT application testing, business process services, and application value management.

More information is available on the career page on the Cognizant website.

One of the largest providers of services to healthcare organizations in the United States, Cognizant’s new Tampa facility will focus primarily on healthcare support and services. The company, which also has operations in East and West Tampa, opened its new office earlier this month in approximately 30,000 square feet at 4631 Woodland Corporate Blvd. in West Tampa.

The Dallas-based Dave & Buster’s, which operates some 100 restaurant/entertainment complexes in North America, is scheduled to open its Brandon restaurant October 30, with hiring commencing September 27.

General Manager Tim Johnson is looking to hire for a wide variety of positions, including cooks, dishwashers, food runners, bussers, hostesses, servers, bartenders, plus technicians that work on the games and interact with the folks in the midway arcade area. He also is seeking guest ambassadors, front desk personnel, and customer service help in the winner’s circle, where people redeem their game tickets.

Salary is based on experience.

Experience is always a plus, but it’s not required,” Johnson says. “I usually hire everybody in as a part-time employee. I hope they’ll be full time.”

Interested persons can apply online.

The new 40,000-square-foot facility, which is under construction, will feature a dining room, sports lounge with a big TV and billiards, a main bar and midway gaming area. It will offer hundreds of the latest arcade games plus some old favorites like Pacman.

We’re entertainment across the board. It’s not just food and games,” says Johnson, who is relocating from Panama City Beach. “We’re just excited to be coming down to the Brandon/Tampa area. ... I bought a home there and I’m planning on making it home.”

Here are some more job opportunities.
 

  • Full-time temporary jobs are available to people eligible for Disaster Unemployment Assistance because their jobs were impacted by Hurricane Irma. CareerSource Tampa Bay and CareerSource Pinellas are developing temporary jobs for eligible individuals who want to assist with recovery efforts. Learn more at www.careersourcetampabay.com or www.careersourcepinellas.com. Disaster assistance is available for employers and individuals; there is an Oct. 16 deadline to apply.
  • As the nation recovers from hurricanes Irma and Harvey, the Small Business Administration is seeking temporary help with disaster relief in areas affected by the storms. Bilingual language skills are helpful. SBA is seeking damage verifiers, customer service representatives/public information officers, information technology specialists, construction analysts nationwide. Learn more.
  • The engineering company UC Synergetic has expanded it regional operations in ComPark 75 in Wesley Chapel and is expecting to create 25 new jobs. The Fort Mill, S.C.-based company, with 41 offices and 1,600 employees in 40 states, currently employs 80 in its 19,000-square-foot Wesley Chapel office. A a subsidiary of Pike Corporation, one of the largest providers of outsourced construction, repair and engineering services to U.S. utilities, UC Synergetic specializes in engineering and project management services.
  • Check out the latest career opportunities in the arts at the Art Council's TampaArts website. There currently are job openings for a museum operations assistant at Tampa Museum, a community programs coordinator at Straz Center in Tampa, and a part-time art coordinator at the SouthShore Library in Ruskin.
  • Ecological Consulting Solutions, Inc. is seeking a full-time biologist for its Tampa office. Duties for the Environmental Scientist I include working on surveys of threatened and endangered species, analysis of environmental constraints, wetland delineation, and permitting for wetland and listed species.
  • A data scientist position is available with SysMind LLC in Tampa. Two years of professional experience with Python is required. Duties include acquiring and organizing data so it can be used in advanced natural language generation apps.
  • Feather Sound Country Club in Clearwater is looking for someone to maintain its tennis courts for some 30 to 39 hours a week. Applicants should be knowledgeable about all phases of court maintenance, be able to inventory and repair equipment, and have basic computer skills such as MS Word and Excel.

Dreamit’s UrbanTech program launches in Tampa

The New York City-based Dreamit, a top-10 ranked global accelerator and venture capital firm, has chosen eight companies for its first UrbanTech accelerator program, which it is holding in Tampa. One of the companies, Raxar Technology Corp., is Tampa-based.

“We’re really hoping to be able to contribute to the progress that is happening in Tampa Bay,” says Kurt Akman, who heads the company’s growth and marketing division.

Raxar, founded by Akman’s brother Peter, helps companies go mobile with its platform of tools that facilitate data collection and background analytics. The tools are especially helpful in any industry where people manage complex physical assets.

Dreamit received more than 300 completed applications for its first accelerator program focusing on technological solutions for real estate, city infrastructure and urban living. The selection process looked at the company’s idea, its potential in the market, the competitive landscape and the company founders.

It became interested in Tampa through a Dreamit alumni, Gainesville resident Bharani Rajakumar, an advocate of keeping Florida talent in the state. Rajakumar connected Dreamit with Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, who is partnering in a massive $3 billion, 53-acre project downtown called Water Street Tampa.

The accelerator program had been scheduled to officially kick off September 11 in Tampa, but the Tampa component is being rescheduled because of Hurricane Irma.

“We didn’t allow it to put a hindrance on what we were doing. We did things virtually rather than in person in Tampa,” says Seth Berk, Dreamit’s Chief Marketing Officer. “We’re going to be spending a few weeks in Tampa for sure as part of the cycle.”

The accelerator is placing the startups at CoWorkTampa offices within close proximity to the Water Street Tampa project, facilitating collaboration and instruction.

The UrbanTech program includes two, two-week road shows, one focusing on potential customers and the other one on investors. “Our hope is always that these customer meetings result in business relationships, a pilot program or full-fledge contracts,” Berk says.

The program includes a December 5 summit at downtown’s Marriott Waterside, which is expected to draw some 200 to 250 for a program including guest speakers and workshops.

Here are the other seven companies chosen for the cohort.

• Bignay Inc. is the developer of Gi Fly, a foldable, electric bike commanded by a mobile app. The bile can ride 40 miles on a single charge and is intended to facilitate urban commutes.

Cityzenith helps builders aggregate and analyze data sources involved with construction. Its InstaBIM tool offers easy drag-and-drop assistance with designing, building, and operating complex projects.

Ecomedes simplifies the buying process with a digital data management program. It helps users find the best products for their projects and simplifies the analysis of economic and environmental impacts.

• The wind turbine manufacturer Flower Turbines, which creates small and quiet turbines to be used near buildings and people, offers turbines ideal for urban settings.

Knowify, which offers a software platform for commercial subcontractors, assists users with bidding, tracking, and invoicing jobs. The platform increases efficiency, decreases mistakes and sets the stage for growth.

Lotik uses wireless sensors in its water monitoring service. The sensors clamp onto pipes to recognize water flow, find leaks and send the data in for analysis.

Twist Homes offers a turnkey lighting control system that includes wireless speakers, wifi repeaters and a platform for sensor modules.  It adapts easily to changes in building codes.


Tech Bytes: Small business symposium offers tech help

Owners of small businesses have an opportunity to learn how technology can benefit their businesses September 30 at a free symposium offering assistance with digital marketing, websites, social media and productivity.

“In 2017, you’re only limited by your imagination,” says Carrol Josephs-Marshall, President of Central Florida Community Planning & Development, the event’s organizer.

The symposium offers free help to startups, businesses in the growth mode and successful companies ready to ramp up. We offer technological assistance that is designed to help companies compete in a world that is becoming more and more digital,” she explains.

“We also take the digital discussion a step further by covering Business Intelligence and how it can make a small company an immediate competitor of a much larger corporation,” she says.

The event is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, at the Ybor City campus of Hillsborough Community College; 1320 E. Palm Ave., Tampa.

The program features industry experts who want to share practices they use in their own businesses. “Each attendee will have an opportunity to interact with presenters and get contact information so they may be able to get a one-on-one meeting at a later time,” she adds.

This year’s itinerary includes Janette Blanco, a business consultant with Florida Small Business Development Center; Andrew Gold, Ph.D., with Hillsborough Community College, and Co-Founder of e2Venture and Operation Startup; Rita Sauri, with Hillsborough County Economic Development; Gregory Hart, Managing Director of Minority and Small Business for the City of Tampa; and Charles Young Jr., a CPA and Managing Partner with Young and Son, Inc.

Also on the program are Sean Josephs, of The Josephs Group, Inc.; Leighton Kyler, of Peak Performance Paradigm LLC; Dr. Veronica Walters, Founder, The Walters Academy for Entrepreneurship; Brandy Hastings, Regional Partnership Manager, Visit Florida; Fabian Yepez, VP,  Prosperausa West Coast; and Robert West Jr., Store Manager/AVP, TD Bank.

Check out more tech-related opportunities in Tampa Bay below.

• Tampa Bay is participating in the 1776 Challenge Cup September 19, joining more than 70 cities worldwide that are holding a pitch competition to single out their top startup. Winners will fly to New York City for the Challenge Cup Global Finals in November. If you’d like to come out and hear the pitches, the event is planned from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Tampa Theatre, 711 N. Franklin St. You can learn more about the event by the nonprofit business accelerator Tampa Bay WaVE here.

• Are you up for a challenge? You can help Hillsborough County control mosquitoes -- and prepare for a Zika threat. The Hack Zika 2017 event is scheduled for multiple dates, including a group hack September 22 to 24, independent teamwork from September 25 to 29 and presentations and awards September 30. The event is scheduled at Tampa Bay WaVE, 500 E. Kennedy Blvd., Suite 300, Tampa. Designers, programmers, developers, game engine experts, UX/UI experts, graphic designers and others are being asked to write software to help Hillsborough County Public Works Mosquito Control District combat mosquitoes through education, data collection and analysis. Zika is a disease spread by the Zika virus.

• Need funding for an innovative startup? The University of South Florida Chapter of National Academy of Inventors is holding a workshop to help you with that. Workshop: Avenues to Fuel Your Startup is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. September 25 at 3720 Spectrum Blvd., Oakview Room - USF IDRB Building, Tampa. A panel will talk about SBIR/STTR, VC funding and other seed resources. The event is free, but interested persons are advised to RSVP by September 18 by email or phoning 813-974-6414.

• Learn how artificial intelligence can affect our future at the Artificial Intelligence Summit from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. September 26 at Ramada Westshore Hotel, 1200 N. Westshore Blvd., Tampa. The effect of driverless Teslas, new search engine optimization rules on Google, and how wearable tech can help you save time are part of the program priced at $199. Members of Tampa Bay Business Owners pay $99 with a code. Learn more here.

• Learn how to get connected on the professional networking website, Linkedin, at Linkedin for Business Building, a program offered by Operation Startup. Operation Startup offers a wide range of business startup services to veterans. The program is scheduled from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. September 29 at Hillsborough County's Entrepreneur Collaborative Center in Ybor City, 2101 E. Palm Ave., Tampa. Walk-ins are welcome.

• In an attempt to make football safer, the National Football League and Football Research, Inc. are partnering with Duke University’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute on HeadHealthTECH Challenges. The series of challenges are focused on head protection, materials science, head kinematics and more. If you’ve got an idea, you can submit it by September 29. There will be multiple awards totaling up to $1 million a year, including in-kind support.


Clearwater boat manufacturer adding jobs after merger

After a merger, one of the largest catamaran builders in the United States is ramping up its Pinellas County headquarters and marina with plans to double its staff.

The Seattle-based Coastal Marine initiated the merger with the Clearwater-based Endeavour Catamaran Corporation because it was looking to increase its market base.

The new company is called Endeavour Corporation.

“We saw a potential for both brands,” explains Rob Harty, Endeavour Corporation’s President. “We used to have boats only up to 42 feet and now we have boats up to 50 feet. The brands complement each other.”

Coastal Marine was founded in Hong Kong in 2008 during the economic downturn. As the company looked to scale upwards, it moved to Seattle in 2012. Now it has resettled in Clearwater, where Endeavour Catamaran had an established name in boatbuilding.

“If we’re going to be in the United States, the Florida market is 10x larger than anywhere else in the country,” he says. “This is the mecca of boating.”

Endeavour, which is producing luxury and performance catamarans, is looking to double its local staff of 20, possibly in the next year. It is seeking skilled boat builders: people experienced in carpentry, mechanics, electrical, and fiberglass technology. It also is looking for office staff in sales, administration and marketing.

The company may hire at the entry level, train workers, and move them up in the company. “That’s always how I found it to work best,” he says. “Some of our needs are bigger than entry level.”

Experience in a related field may be helpful. “A boat’s very much like a house,” he says.

Endeavour Catamaran, which dates back to the 1970s, already had an extremely experienced staff that has been with the company for decades, he notes.

“When owners bring their EndeavourCats in for upgrading or maintenance, they’re likely to have the same staff who built their boat performing that service,” he says.

The merger occurred as a result of a successful collaboration between the two companies, which both were industry leaders in the design, manufacture and sales of power catamarans.

“The collaboration is a win-win for all involved. Blending the 40-year history and stellar reputation of EndeavourCats with the innovative spirit of ArrowCat has made the Endeavour Corporation a power cat powerhouse,” Harty says.

Endeavour is operating its manufacturing facility at 3703 131st Ave. N. in Clearwater and a marina at 13030 Gandy Blvd., St. Petersburg.

We’ve made a substantial investment in our 60,000 square foot manufacturing facility in Clearwater, where we’re planning to introduce and build two new entry-level boat models in the next six months,” Harty says.

“American Yacht and Custom, our servicing center, is due to open by the end of the year, thanks to a significant investment. We’re excited to offer top-notch boatyard services as well as custom rigging and detailing,” he says.

“We’re really proud of our new, massive, state-of-the-art paint facility. As the largest in the region, it’s certainly going to advance the use of composite coatings in the boating industry,” he adds.

The company’s boats are typically used for expeditions. “Our boats are used by people who really want a more all-purpose boat,” Harty says. “You can stay on this boat for extended periods of time protected from the elements.”

The catamarans are stable, high-performing, comfortable and convenient, he says.

“These boats are like Humvees. If there was ever a four-wheel drive monster boat, that is what we build,” he says. “People are not afraid to take it anywhere.”

The semi-custom boats sell for $289,000 up to $1 million.

Endeavor will be producing luxury catamarans under the Endeavor TrawlerCat brand and performance catamarans with the ArrowCat name. Its Endeavour 340 model, the result of collaboration between Coastal Marine and Endeavor Catamaran Corporation, will be featured this fall, offering a blend of simplicity, elegance, and efficiency.

What does the future hold? “Down the road we’ll expand to offer sailing catamarans,” Harty says.


Diary of an Entrepreneur: Tony DiBenedetto, Tribridge

Editor's note: Due to the threat of Hurricane Irma to the Tampa Bay Area, this event has been postponed until November 14th, 2017, same time, same place as described below.

Tampa Bay Innovation Center, an innovation and entrepreneurship center for technology businesses, will hold its quarterly “Diary of an Entrepreneur” program, part of the TECH Talk series, on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017, at 8:30 a.m. at Microsoft Headquarter offices, 5426 Bay Center Dr., Suite 700, Tampa.
 
The September Diary of an Entrepreneur program, “From startup to public company: the strategic investments that fueled the growth of Tribridge,” will be presented by Tony DiBenedetto, Tribridge chairman and CEO. 

DiBenedetto will discuss leading Tampa-based Tribridge from a startup in 1998 to a $180 million software, services and cloud business before recently being acquired by DXC, the world’s leading independent, end-to-end IT services company. He will share his journey on growing Tribridge through outside capital as well as strategic investments in developing culture, talent and innovation, according to a news release.

83 Degrees asked DiBenedetto a few questions to give our readers a sneak peak at the discussion. Here’s the result:

83 Degrees: What advice do you have for a young, tech startup today?

Tony DiBenedetto: Here are a few things I’ve learned from being an entrepreneur:
  • Passion. You have to really love the product or service you are selling. Starting a business is a 24/7 job and can put a lot of stress on your relationships. Also be prepared to get turned down -- rejection is part of it. Passion for what you do will help you overcome the personal obstacles.
  • Good People. Whether you need 1 or 300 employees, you’ve got to be able to attract talent. What will make someone take the risk in joining a start-up? Some people are attracted to the business idea itself, for some it’s leadership and for other it’s compensation. I would start with people who share your values and then evaluate their skills. 
  • Cash is King. Having a great idea for a new business isn’t enough. You need a well capitalized plan with plenty of cash. Take the time to think through the business model and what the costs truly are. Go into it with low expectations of revenue while you ramp up.  
  • Differentiate. Find an underserved market, and distinguish yourself from the competition. Even if it’s a large market, you can still identify a need or a gap that needs to be filled. You have to want to make the product or service better than what is already out there in order to truly differentiate your business.
83D: Please discuss the importance of innovation and how it has contributed to Tribridge’s success story.

TD: Technology is a highly competitive market so we have to be innovative and take risks. Entrepreneurial spirit has been one of our core values since Tribridge was started. Many of our software and cloud solutions came from ideas from our team members. We also use the fast fail model to help drive innovation. It’s a cultural movement that empowers people to implement new ideas. But if the idea doesn’t work, you pull the plug and quickly move on rather than trying to salvage something to the detriment of your customers, team members and the business. You have to build a culture of open communication and collaboration where team members feel comfortable generating a lot of ideas. Then you take action – launch the new service or pilot program – establish the goals for success early and measure them often. 

There is no fee to attend the Tampa Bay Innovation Center TECH Talk series, but space is limited. Advance registration is suggested.
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