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Tech Bytes: PikMyKid ramps up school safety efforts

With recent school shootings and other tragedies elevating concerns about the safety of students in schools, a Tampa company – through its use of technology -- is positioned to help make a difference.

Founded in 2015 after a mistake in a school pickup line resulted in retrieving the wrong child, PikMyKid is gaining attention as a problem solver. Its founders are headed for San Francisco to participate as a finalist in an international software-and-information-industry competition June 13.

We’ve always been seen as a startup so far,” says Chitra Kanagaraj, Co-Founder and Chief Operations Officer. “This is the award that is beyond startup.”

The company was named a finalist in the 2018 SIIA CODiE Award contest, Best Emerging Education Technology Solution for Administrators category, after virtual presentations. It was one of 152 finalists in 39 education technology categories.

 

PikMyKid, which now operates in public and private schools in 27 states, began rolling out a school-safety training program in Florida this month. That follows the release of its panic-button alert system being offered free while schools test the program and plan next year’s budget. The company's goal is to get initial responders to schools faster when there are intruders.

“We are giving schools one product that they can just focus on if there is a safety issue,” Kanagaraj says.

The company got off the ground with help from the Tampa Bay Technology Incubator at USF Connect and the Startup Scholars at the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. Now part of the Tampa Bay WAVE program, it also works with the TEC Garage in downtown St. Petersburg.

The mixup that inspired the company occurred when her husband, Pat Bhava, now Co-Founder and CEO of PikMyKid, went to pick up their fifth-grader and ended up with another girl in the backseat. The error was swiftly corrected, but it did trigger concern.

“It was really something we could change, rather than blaming the school or blaming ourselves,” she says.

When teachers are standing in the sun after a full day of class, facing a line of cars, things may not always go as planned. “It’s not their intent to mess up, but it does happen,” she says.

The app, licensed for use by the school or school district, is downloaded free by parents. It facilitates the pickup process by consolidating pickup changes and authorizations, improving safety and saving staff time.


Through a dashboard, parents have real-time communication with the school and are alerted as soon as the child leaves campus. “If there is anything wrong, the parents are able to fix the issue immediately,” she says.

PikMyKid, located at 5115 Memorial Highway, currently employs 10 and some part-time consultants. But it expects to add another four employees during its peak time in July and August, as schools gear up for the 2018-19 year. They are hoping to keep these full-time.


Company officials are looking for people with teaching backgrounds to work in customer service. “We think we’re competitive with what they’re getting from the public school system,” she says.

Read on for more news about Tampa Bay’s tech scene.

•  Monikl, which works similar to a dating service for jobseekers, has received a $25,000 Bizpark Grant from Microsoft and a Google Cloud for Startups Grant of $20,000, says spokesman Zachary Wright. The 1-year-old company now has some 25,000 active job candidates in its system. The company uses an algorithm to assess experience, skills, workplace preferences and personality.

Join Working Women of Tampa Bay and Tampa Bay WAVE for a morning of networking Wednesday, May 23. The event runs from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. at the Entrepreneur Collaborative Center, 2101 E. Palm Ave., Tampa. It’s followed by 1 Million Cups of Coffee, which is featuring two women-owned businesses as presenters.

• Homebrew Hillsborough, a networking group for techies and entrepreneurs in Hillsborough County, will be meeting at 8:30 a.m. Friday, May 25, at SecureSet Tampa Campus, 1403 E 9th Ave., Tampa. The group will be touring SecureSet, which offers comprehensive training for those interested in careers in cybersecurity. Sign up online.

• The Clearwater-based Digital Media Solutions, a digital marketing company, has acquired Avenue100 Media Solutions, LLC, a specialist in performance-based marketing and analytics in education. Avenue100 Media Solutions will join DMS’s education division, but operate as a separate subsidiary based in Massachusetts. DMS, which provides end-to-end customer acquisition solutions, has been recognized as one of America’s “Best Places to Work” in 2017 by Inc. magazine.

• TeamWerx, a platform designed to find innovative solutions to warfighter problems, has announced two challenges with cash prizes totaling $25,000. The submission deadline is Thursday, May 31, for help expanding the TeamWerx ecosystem, with a $2,000 prize. The deadline is Saturday, June 30, to enter a contest to figure out how to retrieve data from mobile locations using a mobile device but without revealing the locations of sensors. That prize is $23,000. Learn more.

Florida Polytechnic University graduated its first class of 220 May 4 in Lakeland. The group included most of the students who enrolled when the university opened in fall 2014. Dedicated to science, technology, engineering and math, Florida Polytechnic is located on Interstate 4’s high-tech corridor between Tampa and Orlando.

The university’s robotics team, Purple Fire, earned the Judges Award recently at the VEX Robotics World Championship. The team of eight students won half of its matches and ranked 22nd internationally out of 45 teams.

And Florida Poly is attracting attention in Mexico for its bookless, digital library. The university’s Vice Provost of Academic Support Services, Dr. Kathryn Miller, was a guest speaker at the first International Colloquium on Library Architecture and Environments, hosted by the National Autonomous University of Mexico earlier this month.


Opioid Update: Sarasota firm working on Smart pill dispenser

A Sarasota design firm is working to curb opioid addiction -- and save lives -- with a Smart container that dispenses pills at pre-configured time intervals.

Called PILL, the product in development by ROBRADY design is packaged similar to a Z-Pak of antibiotics. “It just happens to be Smart,” explains Rob Brady, CEO and Design Director.

The design has developed over the last six years, ever since physician assistant Afton Heitzenrater observed opioid prescriptions were being filled too quickly. Her husband Jeff and Jeff’s uncle, Joseph Bujalski, were on board to help develop a solution. Bujalski came up with the idea of controlling the timing between doses, obtained the first patent, and brought the idea to ROBRADY.

During the last 18 months, ROBRADY has invested “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to develop the concept into what it is today, Brady says. It has a broader patent pending and, through consultant and team member Rob Hartwell, is reaching out to governmental leaders and potential industry partners.

With recycled parts and a projected cost of $2 per unit, the PILL is seen as a low-cost means of controlling opioid prescriptions and discouraging unauthorized use. The prescribed pills are locked into the device until pre-set times, after which the user can remove them from the foil blister pack. The dispenser and unused pills are returned to the pharmacist, keeping them out of the hands of the black market, those who would abuse them and potentially become addicted, and community water supplies. If it's been tampered with, it's noted through the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, along with pharmacists' comments.

The white computer chip and battery that power the device can be removed, checked, scrubbed of data and re-used. Pharmacists can retrieve usage data which can help future studies about how opioids are being used.

“In talking with physicians about this idea, they really like it,” Brady says.

Clinical trials could begin in six to nine months, but it’s uncertain when it might be commercially available to physicians and their patients. “Obviously, we wanted this thing available yesterday,” he adds. “We’re looking for a couple million more to take it across the finish line.”

Opioid addiction and overdoses have reached epidemic proportions in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, emergency department visits for suspected opioid overdoses rose 30 percent from July 2016 through September 2017, based on data from 52 jurisdictions in 45 states.

ROBRADY received positive feedback when it took a team to Washington, D.C. in April to promote PILL, and fight the epidemic claiming more than 120 lives every day. The group met with representatives of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Food and Drug Administration, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, along with U.S. Senators Marco Rubio, R-FL, and Lamar Alexander, R-TN.

The Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018, which has passed unanimously out of committee, calls for package design to help prevent abuse and overdose.

“We think we have a real shot of getting this to market,” Brady says. “We’re lacking a few more partners.”

While the initial user is an individual prescribed opioids for pain, Brady doesn’t discount it may potentially have other roles. “I would love to see this thing help people that are already addicted,” he says.

But the device isn’t tamper proof, just tamper evident, which means it flags problems early. “If you smash it, if you break it, if you ‘lose it,’ you don’t get more,” he says. “Our position is we’d like to find that information out in the first 15 pills -- and not with the first overdose.”

So their initial focus is on those who potentially may become addicted. "We greatly reduce the people that we’re treating [for opioid addiction and overdoses,]” he says.

Keeping focused can help them do the job right. “We know that opioids are a huge problem,” he says. “We’ve got all kinds of things to tackle.”

Florida StartupBus team runner-up in national contest

For the second year in a row, Florida’s StartupBus has claimed a top prize in the national competition that enables teams of potential strangers to start businesses in about three and a half days.

This year dadSAK, a team which created a versatile backpack enabling dads to tote infants, baby gear and other stuff, was runner-up in the New Orleans competition.

“It was really an amazing experience,” says Robert Blacklidge, Conductor. “We grew those individuals extensively in three days. They went out into the world. This is what’s really amazing about it.”

The Florida StartupBus rolled out of Tampa Friday, April 27, bound for New Orleans, where teams from eight different buses presented their businesses conceived and developed on the journey. Three teams were created on the bus that headed north from Tampa into Georgia, where riders stayed two nights in Helen while enjoying side trips to Nashville and Atlanta. Riders also stayed overnight in Biloxi.

The StartupBus was in New Orleans at the same time as the big Collision tech conference, where riders were able to share what they’d just learned with others.

DadSAK, a patent pending baby carrier/diaper bag/backpack, was the brainchild of Lance Robinson. Other members of the team, with representatives of Tampa Bay, Atlanta, and Charlotte N.C., included Walter Mathews, Jeremy Losaw, Vanel Marc, and Geovanni Suplee.

The team put together a protype and website in the allotted time, advertising the dadSAK as a solution by dads, for dads from SAK LABS. It can be used separately as a infant carrier or backpack, or combined into a single unit. The website indicates dadSAK is taking pre-orders, with shipments starting in November.

Other teams were Buddy Bunker, designed to help people find a suitable golfing partner, and PolitiTrust, a functioning chatbot to help people find politicians that share their values.

Buddy Bunker team members were Edward Sanchez, Kyle Sasser, Kim Mohr, and Tatyanna Cobb. On the PolitiTrust team were Richard Kim, Rosmarie Morales, Adam Cummings and Jahtia Haynes.

Mentors on the bus were Brent Henderson, Chris Mcelveen and Prateek Gupta.

After the demanding schedule of the trip, Blacklidge advises teams to take a break rather than forging ahead immediately with business plans. “My methodology is to tell them to take a month out,” Blacklidge says.

The StartupBus began nine years ago after the first participants decided to challenge themselves to create a company as they traveled across the country to a conference.

Last year two Florida teams made it to the finals, with DropIn Pedals claiming second place for an adapter that converts clipless bike pedals into flat pedals that can be used with casual shoes. That team from Dunedin included Morgan Thacker and Tyler Baumgardner.

Now Blacklidge, whose team Course Align made it to the finals in 2017, is planning to independently expand upon the StartupBus concept. He’s making plans to offer a similar entrepreneurial experience aboard a cruise ship, and may partner with an airline on an entrepreneurial program as well.

“It teaches people what they’re capable of,” he says of the StartupBus concept.

Blacklidge is not a newcomer to hackathons. He already has experience organizing events like 2017’s BizSprint, designed to help veterans develop their businesses.

“I’ve always known the power of hackathons,” he says. “What I want to do is really take it to a larger scale and grow it across the world.”


New service arms parents in battle against cyberbullying

Bullying is bad, but at least children can escape it when they are safe at home. With cyberbullying, not so much.

“Bullying no longer ends when the child goes home from school. It follows them home because it’s social media,” explains Allison Mook, Vice President of Client Services for a new Tampa-based service, BulliPatrol.

The company is trying to address the cyberbullying problem by raising parental awareness of their children's online activity. Its goal is to reach the most vulnerable with the message that they are not alone and can get help.

“Bullying now is different,” asserts Andrew Grubbs, Founder and President, a programmer who came up with the idea. “It’s always a threat. That’s where we need to accept that the genie is out of the bottle. Social media is here to stay. Kids are going to use it.”

The service works by analyzing phrases in online messages. “Once the child starts receiving messages that are negative, the parent receives an alert,” explains Mook, who is handling marketing.

The service, which costs $5.99 a month, has launched in Tampa Bay, with plans to expand nationally. It already is generating a fair amount of interest in the TV media locally and in North Carolina and Indiana.

It’s hard to say exactly what BulliPatrol’s staffing needs will be just yet. But Grubbs expects hires to be in Tampa Bay.

“We aren't hiring currently, but have identified our personnel needs and will be able to fill them as we gain momentum,” Mook adds.

In the meantime, they are reaching out to moms, mom and dad blogs and websites, schools, libraries and churches, even the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay. “We feel like this is something we can actually make an impact with on a national level,” she says.

What’s next? “We’re always looking at how do we help the kids escape from the problem they’re experiencing,” Grubbs says.

Tech Bytes: TiE recognizes area business leaders

At its annual TiECON Florida, the nonprofit TiE Tampa Bay did what it does best: It connected businesses and investors to help them achieve success. The result was raising awareness about some of the region’s successful companies.

Three “Present Your Startup” competitors, culled from 42 submissions, were recognized. Five other companies were chosen for special awards.

“There are much larger competitions in terms of prize money. What is far more important is the visibility that these entrepreneurs get on a national and global stage,” says Kannan Sreedhar, TiECON Florida’s program chair. “That is one of the unique things that we do as TiE.

The event on March 31 drew nearly 250 to the Sam and Martha Gibbons Alumni Center at the University of South Florida, where they heard presentations from Arnie Bellini, Co-Founder and CEO of the Tampa-based IT firm Connectwise; Steve Raymund, Founder and Former Chairman/CEO of Clearwater’s Tech Data; and others.

“Present Your Startup” winners were Prefer Hired, a Tampa-based company for online recruitment, first place, $1500; Simpleshowing, a real estate brokerage firm operating in Tampa, second place, $750; and Russellville, TN-based Shockwave Motors, the designer of a three-passenger electric roadster that recharges in eight hours from a standard wall outlet, third place, which did not come with a cash prize.

“All three winners have the opportunity to present to the local TiE angel community," he says. “Top winners will also have the opportunity to present at TiE Global.”

Other winners, who received crystal globes, included Tony DiBenedetto, Co-Founder of Tampa's Tribridge, who claimed the Super Entrepeneur Award for having a significant positive economic impact on Florida through job creation and for leading a profitable enterprise with at least $25 million in annual revenues.

The Social Entrepreneurship Award went to MacDonald Training Centers for its positive social impact, while the Angel Investor Award was awarded to Dr. Vijay Patel for investing in Tampa-based startups in 2017. Paul R. Sanberg, Senior VP for Research, Innovation and Knowledge Enterprise at USF, was given the Community Champion Award for backing the community in 2017. The Startup of the Year Award went to Pik-My-Kid, which provides a tool to make school dismissals safer and more efficient. It made a profit within one year.

Nominations came from the greater Tampa Bay Area.

TiE was founded in Silicon Valley in 1992 by successful people with roots in the Indus Region. It has grown into a global organization with 11,000 members and 60 chapters in 17 countries. The Tampa Bay chapter, started in 2012, is now setting its sights on hosting a global conference in the future.

A charter member of TiE Tampa Bay, Liberty Group Hotels Executive Chairman Raxit Shah will be featured in TiE's Entrepreneurship Series later this month. He will share his journey and provide information about the establishment of Liberty Group, with current investments of more than $450 million in 55 hotels. The event, free to TiE members, is slated at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 24, at USF Connect, Oakview Room, 3802 Spectrum Blvd., Tampa. Registration is scheduled at 6:30 p.m.; dinner is at 8 p.m. after the presentation. Non-members and guests pay $10. Learn more by visiting the Events page and searching for the TiE Tampa Bay chapter.

Read on for more Tampa Bay Area tech news.

• If you need help defining your target business market, check out the free “Tools to Find Your Target Market” class at Entrepreneur Collaborative Center, 2101 E. Palm Ave., Tampa. The event is scheduled from 10:30 a.m. until noon Wednesday, May 2. The class by the Hillsborough County Public Library Cooperative will include information about free electronic resources you can use to conduct demographic research and define your target market. The event is free. No registration is required.

The event follows 1 Million Cups of Coffee, a regular weekly program to educate, engage and connect business owners.  That free event runs from 8 a.m. until 10 a.m. Wednesday, May 2, at the ECC. You can just show up.

• CEO and Co-Founder of Next Machine. Phillipa Greenberg, will be speaking on “How to Lead with Grit and Grace” from noon to 1:30 p.m. Thursday, May 3, at USF CONNECT, Oak View Room, 3802 Spectrum Blvd., Tampa. Hosted by the USF Student Innovation Incubator, the event is free for Tampa Bay Technology and Student Innovation Incubator companies. Others pay $10 at the door. Lunch is  included. Register online.

Also at USF Connect, The CEO Forum: Tampa Bay featuring DiBenedetto is slated from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 8, at Oak View Room. The event is co-sponsored by GrowFL. General admission is $15. Register online.

• Have you been wondering how business analytics can help you make strategic decisions? Then the Florida Business Analytics Forum is for you. Designed for mid- and senior-level executives across various industries, the free event offers a program with important insights on topics like machine learning, artificial intelligence, blockchain, algorithmic fairness, health-care analytics and various ways to interpret big data. The event is scheduled Tuesday, May 15, at USF’s Marshall Student Center Ballroom in Tampa. Check-in starts at 11 a.m. The forum is presented by Suntrust Foundation, the USF Muma College of Business, and the Center for Analytics and Creativity. Register here.

• The countdown is on for poweredUP, the Tampa Bay Tech Festival, on Wednesday, May 23, at Mahaffey Theater, 400 1st St. S., St. Petersburg. Doors open at 12:30 a.m. for the 1 p.m. event highlighting people and projects in Tampa Bay’s tech ecosystem. “Last year we had 650 registrations and more than 500 attend. This year we anticipate doubling last year’s numbers,” says Daniel James Scott, Co-Executive Director of Tampa Bay Tech.

On the calendar this year is a panel of CIOs talking about the future of technology and our workforce: Sigal Zarmi, PwC; Andrew Wilson, Accenture; John Tonnison, Tech Data; and Kim Anstett, Nielsen. Also featured is CEO2CEO, with David Romine, CEO of AgileThought; and Tom Wallace, CEO of Florida Funders; and Otto Berkes, Co-founder of Xbox, developer of HBO Go and CTO of CA Technologies. Tech tracks are planned on cybersecurity, data science and innovation.

Tickets are free for members, which includes employees of member companies. Non-members pay $100. Learn more.

• Six Florida Polytechnic University students have been interning at the Winter Haven Economic Development Council this semester with the goal of helping Winter Haven become a smart community. The plan is to build on the city’s fiber optic network and expand residential and business markets. Students have been interviewing residents, businesses and government leaders to determine how different sectors can benefit from being a smart city, a move that uses technology to prepare for the future.

• Mark your calendars for Ignite Tampa Bay, where some of the area’s most talented people share their stories. Ignite 2018 is slated Wednesday, June 13, at Palladium Theater, 253 5th Ave. N., St. Petersburg. The evening features five-minute presentations intended to teach, enlighten, or inspire. Topics vary. The event by the Tampa-based nonprofit Technova Florida, Inc., which is dedicated to creating tech and maker communities empowering positive change, came to Tampa Bay in 2011. Learn more.

• President/CEO Linda Olson of Tampa Bay Wave, a Tampa-based nonprofit growing tech-based companies in the region, has been named to Rays 100. The group is advocating for the Rays’ move from St. Petersburg to Ybor City and increasing business support for it. The Wave also has announced support for Tampa Bay Rays 2020, the nonprofit securing community support for the move. The Rays announced they were all in for a new Tampa stadium in February.


Commuting without a car: Tampa ridesharing aggregator offers cost-saving option

Users of ridesharing apps like Uber or Lyft can find prices surging after a Tampa Bay Lightning, Bucs or Rays game. With prices potentially more than double, it’s a good time to shop for the best price. But who wants to stand on the sidewalk thumbing through a bunch of apps to find a bargain?

With the ridesharing aggregator Whipster, you don’t have to. The free, Tampa-based app enables ridesharing customers to find the service that offers the best service in real time.

“Our revenues are generated on the backend with those business relationships,” explains Founder and CEO Russel Olinger.

Whipster was officially incorporated in January 2017. Since then, it’s expanded to 400 U.S. and Canadian cities. It also operates overseas when a vendor services that area.

Olinger says the aggregator used on Androids and iPhones is needed because there are simply too many ridesharing apps, some 40 across North America.

“The single biggest response we get [to our app] is ‘I had no idea that there were so many rideshare companies out there,” he says.

In Tampa Bay, Whipster gives riders a variety of options. Besides Uber and Lyft, it includes taxis, bike share, and public transit. Curb, a taxi app, appears to be pushing into the Tampa market, he says.

Whipster helps smaller vendors to compete with more established providers, especially in new markets, Olinger says.

Its next goal is “telling the world we exist,” he adds.

With the cost of a car at about $750 a month, millennials and other cost-conscious commuters in urban areas are ditching the car to get around at a fraction of the cost, Olinger says.

“They’re looking to urban transportation options,” he adds.

Bike sharing is an option available in downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg and other neighborhoods, as well as at the University of South Florida, through the Coast Bikes brand.

Some 600,000 bike miles have been logged since 2014 when Coast Bikes first came to downtown Tampa, says Eric Trull, Regional Director-Florida for the provider, Cycle Hop.

Pay-as-you-go pricing at $8 an hour, along with membership rates, are even attracting bike owners for one-way trips. Computers mounted on the bikes and GPS systems are a deterrent for bike thieves.

Trull says the response to bike sharing has been tremendous.

These bikes are getting a ton of use,” he says.

Started in Tampa, Coast Bikes is now offering bike sharing in the United States and Canada. 

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority offers yet another sustainable option through its 50 Compressed Natural Gas buses, 46 HARTPlus vans and eight HARTFlex vans. Together they remove nearly 580 cars worth of carbon dioxide emissions from the road annually, according to Sandra Morrison, HART Deputy Press Secretary. 

HART called attention to its effort to go green by handing out plant kits on April 17 in honor of Earth Week.


New Orleans-bound StartupBus rolls out of Tampa on Friday

The Florida StartupBus -- packed with 30 entrepreneurial-minded people who may be strangers to each other -- is set to roll out of downtown Tampa at 8 a.m. Friday, April 27. The bus embarks on a 72-hour journey of more than 650 miles to New Orleans, stopping at Atlanta, Nashville, and cultural and entrepreneurial hotspots.

Along the way, participants can create a product and business, take risks without consequences, and connect with mentors and collaborators who can help make their venture a success.

For some, it may be a life changer. “StartupBus is about experiencing, essentially, the first year of a startup,” explains Robert Blacklidge, the Lead Conductor. “We compress it into a short amount of time.”

Ultimately, the StartupBus is not about churning out a bunch of businesses, however. “Our goal is not to create companies,” he says. “It’s to give people the experience of creating a company in a short amount of time.”

The route the bus will take wasn’t disclosed.

“When you’re starting an entrepreneurial experience, you don’t know what the road is ahead of you,” Blacklidge says. “We like to keep the experience that way too.”

About a third of this year’s participants are veterans, like Blacklidge, who served in the U.S. Air Force. He describes the StartupBus as a boot camp that puts together hackers, or the creators, with hipsters, the designers, and hustlers, the marketers.

They’re in for a grueling experience: 15- to 18-hour workdays where they rely on Red Bull and coffee to function. “It’s not a cakewalk,” he points out.

In the end, it’s about opportunity rather than “creature comforts,” or “habit,” he says.

“We’re showing them a mountain that they don’t have a choice but to climb,” he explains. “All the time, people will rise to the challenge.”

Bus riders with be in the Big Easy on Monday, April 30, and Tuesday, May 1, along with the big Collision tech conference April 30-May 3.

Some 30 teams from eight buses, including a bus from New York City with women interested in block chain, the technology used to build crytocurrency, will be presenting their businesses before industry leaders.

The prize is the experience, the people you meet and the bragging rights,” Blacklidge says.

This trip’s sponsors include Veterans Florida, Hillsborough County’s Economic Development Innovation Initiative EDi2, and the technology consulting and software development firm, Sourcetoad.

Nine years ago, the first StartupBus wasn’t planned. Some entreprenuers were headed across the country to a conference, when they decided to challenge themselves to create a company along the way. Since then the idea has been growing, turning into an international challenge that spurs inventiveness and creativity.

“You would be amazed what gets created in a short amount of time,” Blacklidge says. “It’s truly an incredible experience.”

In 2017, two Florida teams were among the five finalists: Course Align and DropIn Pedals.

Blacklidge came up with the idea for his company, Course Align, while on the bus. The company, designed to help universities develop curriculum that meets evolving business needs, is in the seed-funding stage with 14 employees, most of them unpaid interns.

Conductors Morgan Thacker and Tyler Baumgardner, a 2017 team out of Dunedin, placed second with DropIn Pedals, an adapter transforming clipless bike pedals into flat pedals that can be used with casual shoes.

A limited number of seats are available on the bus for latecomers this year. “Every year we get one or two people that just found out about it,” Blacklidge says.

Potential participants can sign up at http://Startupbus.com/florida using the invite code 83Degrees.

“They will need to fill out the application and schedule an interview when they sign up,” Blacklidge says. “The time line will be tight to get them through the process and on the bus.”

Participants need to pay for a $399 ticket, plus food, hotels and airfare.


Tech Bytes: Competitions spur tech innovation

A woman-owned business, VRenewables LLC of Tampa, claimed a $3,500 cash prize March 29 for its design for a hybrid, standalone streetlight independent of the electric grid.

Led by Vrinda Vairagi and Shesh Narayan Vaishnav, the company has a vision to work toward a better future. Its streetlight, which uses solar power, took the Social Entrepreneur Student Pitch Award, sponsored by local companies Connectwise and Sourcetoad.

Vairagi has experience in business relations and HR management while Vaishnav is in photovoltaic research industry, says Vaishnav, CEO. 

The award was given at the 2018 Innovation Summit organized by the nonprofit Synapse. “I am planning to invest this money towards the research and development of the hybrid street light which will be powered by both Solar Module and Wind Turbine,” Vaishnav says. 

“I think Innovation Challenges are the single most effective way to catalyze innovation and spur collaboration in a very organic, tangible way,” says Trey Steinhoff, Lead Designer and Challenge Organizer at the Summit. There truly is nothing more inspiring than having groups of passionate, talented people put their heart into building something on a tight deadline.”

Other award winners were Tracy Ingram, owner of Dade City's Intention Technology, in a Connectwise challenge; and Matt Spaulding, in the Metropolitan Ministries Hackathon for Social Good. Both also won $3,500 each.

Connectwise was looking for an inclusive interface for employees and other users. “I built a [mobile-friendly] bot that could be put on any existing site with a few lines of code,” Ingram says.

Metropolitan Ministries sought digital solutions to help those in crisis, so it can operate more effectively. Details were not immediately available.

These awards were sponsored by Connectwise, Sourcetoad and Metropolitan Ministries. 

The creative problem solving that is required to compete in these events forces competitors to push their assumptions and come up with solutions that no one saw coming, not even the partner companies,” Steinhoff says. “The cherry on top is seeing these competitors working together with each other and the partner companies at and after the event. I have been to a lot of tech and entrepreneurial events in Tampa Bay and have yet to see another event that molds deep, genuine relationships quite like a hackathon or pitch competition.

Read on for more local tech news.

Thomas Wallace, managing partner of Florida Funders, will be featured at the April Diary of an Entrepreneur program. Wallace, an active angel tech investor for 25 years, co-founded his first business at the age of 23. His talk, "Startups and Raising Capital," will include insights from his career as a tech entrepreneur, executive, investor and more. The presentation by TEC Garage is scheduled from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. Tuesday, April 10, at Microsoft, 5426 Bay Center Dr., Suite 700, Tampa. The event is free, but reservations are requested because of limited seating. Learn more and/or register here.

• A panel discussion entitled “Cybesecurity – Skills, Trends and Industry” is planned at the next Trep Talks gathering for entrepreneurs at Hillsborough County’s Entrepreneur Collaborative Center in Ybor City. The event is planned at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 24, at 2101 E. Palm Ave. Sign up online here.

• Florida Venture Forum is hosting the 11th Annual Florida Early Stage Capital Conference and the 8th Annual Statewide Collegiate Business Plan Competition Friday, May 18, at The Westshore Grand in Tampa. Described as one of the largest angel and early-stage-investors’ gatherings in the Southeast, the event features pitches from dynamic Florida-based ventures, along with panel discussions, speakers and presentations. The deadline for presenter applications is Wednesday, April 18. Presenters are required to pay conference registration fees. Learn more here. At the event there will be two, $25,000 cash prizes to Accelerating Innovation Award winners from Space Florida.

• The U.S. Air Force is looking for help closing the science and technology gap, so it’s hosting a workshop Thursday, April 26, at the University of South Florida in Tampa. The workshop for the scientific community, academia, and business professionals will include ideas about how to facilitate a conversation about Air Force technological advances. The deadline to submit ideas is Friday, April 13. Learn more about the 8 a.m. event at CW Bill Young Hall.

• If you’re looking for recognition for your business, consider TechCo.’s Startup of the Year competition. It’ll give you the opportunity to expand your startup by providing opportunities to meet investors, gain insight, get funding and win prizes. Startups need to be innovative and have a live, viable product. Candidates must submit their applications before Monday, April 30. Check it out here.

• Florida Polytechnic University students in Lakeland have joined the quest for biofuel. Using algae from Polk County lakes, they are working with a professor of biology, Dr. Melba Horton, to find a renewable energy source. While algae already is being used for biofuel, this source would be cheaper. The research is being funded by Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute.

In other Florida Poly news, Dr. Kanwalinderjit K. Gagneja, a computer science professor, has won a $44,000 grant from the Florida Center for Cybersecurity at the University of South Florida to develop a new Digital Forensics course. Through hands-on training, the class would help address a shortage of cybersecurity experts.

The university drew a record crowd of 300 to its third annual Women in STEM Summit March 14, to hear a panel of successful individuals talk about how they applied science, technology, engineering and math to their careers.

• Knack, a Tampa-based peer-to-peer tutoring service, was as finalist in the 2018 Challenge Cup contest in Washington D.C. March 22. Tampa’s Preferhired was a semi-finalist in the contest hosted by 1776. The winning company was Caribu in Miami.


Tourme: A digital platform transforming the tourist industry

Bill Marquez’s quest for a pineapple-picking farm in Maui turned into an unforgettable adventure. He realized -- with help from friendly residents -- other travelers could fulfill their dreams too.

As a result, Tourme was born.

Developed by the St. Petersburg-based International Touring Apps LLC, the Tourme platform makes it easier to book memorable personalized tours at a savings.

“We’re really mainstreaming tours and travel,” says Brittany Cooper, Tourme’s Marketing Coordinator.

As a child, Marquez had noticed tourists disembarking from cruise ships in Bonaire, the Dutch island near Arruba in the Caribbean, with cellphones that didn’t work. He wanted to make it easier for them to connect to the locals. Later, he recognized the niche in the market when he wanted to book his own pineapple-picking tour.

He eventually became business partners with Gary Capuano, company Co-Founder and Principal, who had witnessed the rise in development in St. Petersburg.

Today Marquez is CEO of the company located in co-working space in the Station House in downtown St. Pete. At 2 years old, it has six employees, most of them remote. International Touring Apps is scouting for an office worker to help manage tours, and expects to hire local residents for office and management in the future. “We’re taking it day by day,” she says.

Prospective employees should visit partner.tourme.com to apply for tourist guide and other positions.

Tourme received more than 10,000 applications from tour guides since the beginning of the year. About 800 have been approved in more than 180 cities across the world. The platform offers at least 400 user-generated tours -- and plenty more are pending.

The number of users wasn’t disclosed, although the company is projected to have 50 million downloads by the end of 2020. “It’s gong to be huge in the next couple of years. We anticipate having millions of users,” she says.

The company, which launched its platform earlier this month, is preparing for rapid growth. “I think that it’s going to be a great tool for the tourist industry,” she says.

Tourme is expected to benefit both tour guides and tourists. “We just really want to streamline that process,” she says. “It will be disruptive, in a sense. I think it will be an asset.”

It will make it easier for guides to book customers. Tourists will find it easier to find reputable guides and book their tours without using big companies or cruise lines. Larger groups are expected to benefit most from the peer-to-peer approach.

“I think we’re just following the natural progression of how business is done these days,” she explains.

Tourme will be adding badges to some profiles to show the guides are licensed. Ratings and personal endorsements will be available.

The platform has an app for tour guides and an app for tourists. Now available in the App Store and Google Play, both are free to download and use.

Tourme makes its money through a 25.5 percent cut of the touring fee. “Taxes vary by location,” she says. “No one booking a tour in Florida will have to pay a service charge.”

The company’s mission right now is building recognition for the brand and strengthening partnerships with visitor and convention bureaus and others.

It is enjoying the sense of community in downtown St. Petersburg. “The industry for startup companies has just been booming in St. Petersburg for the last couple of years,” she says. “It just really fell together and seemed like the perfect place to get started.”

Read on to learn more about the Tampa Bay Area job market.

• If you’re interested in helping grow Tampa’s downtown, check out Strategic Property Planners, a joint venture between Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment LLC that is developing Water Street Tampa. It lists 10 openings on its website, including an asset manager, assistant controller, IT help desk and systems administrator, real estate development manager, senior development analyst, senior graphics designer, senior development multi-family residential manager, senior recruiter, and VP for construction management-office. An open-ended “Opportunities at SPP” listing invites applicants for urban developer, construction project manager, marketing expert, accountant, real estate technology visionary, or finance expert. Learn more about job openings at SPPTampa.

• The Tampa-based chronic care management company, Caresync, lists 17 job openings in Tampa, including telephonic nurses, nurse phone care coordinators, a medical care coordinator, and project administrator. Learn more about the jobs.

• The Mentor Network, a national network serving those with intellectual and developmental disabilities or other medical-related needs, lists two job opportunities in the Tampa Bay area. One is for a quality improvement specialist in Tampa, who must have at least three to five years of experience in quality improvement or a related field, and a direct support professional or caregiver in New Port Richey, who must have at least one year of related, direct care experience. Check out the details here.

• Robert Half is seeking a junior, mid-level software engineer to work with a client in St. Petersburg. This permanent position pays $50,000 to $70,000 annually and requires C# and SQL knowledge. Check into opportunities through Robert Half.

Know of other growing companies adding jobs in the Tampa Bay Area? Email tips@83degreesmedia.com


Tampa Innovation Summit features Hyperloop, Tesla, IBM, Water Street Tampa, and more

Imagine traveling from Tampa to Tallahassee or from Tampa to Miami in 20 minutes or so? Or zipping across the continent from Florida to California on the ground, at airplane speeds, safely and securely? It may sound like a science fiction plot, but it isn’t.

It’s a revolutionary, tube-based transport system capable of speeds of 700 miles per hour, which has been under development since 2013 by Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, a California-based company.

Hyperloop has put together a team of more than 800 on six continents to work on the system powered by magnets and sunlight. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but it’s already attracting plenty of interest. A Cleveland-to-Chicago run could well be the first in the United States. And it has already passed the muster of a major reinsurer, Munich RE.

So where does Tampa Bay fit into this, you might ask? Hyperloop’s CEO Dirk Ahlborn will be a featured speaker at the 2018 Innovation Summit March 28 and 29 at the Amalie Arena in downtown Tampa. The event organized by the nonprofit Synapse is part of an effort to unify the community to make Tampa Bay a “very welcoming and easy place to do business,” says Marc Blumenthal, a Founding Partner of Synapse. 

What Hyperloop is developing has the potential to change the way people think and operate as well as where they can live,” he says.

They’re designing this thing to be far more affordable than ... most rail,” he adds.

Ahlborn’s talk, part of a segment on the future of mobility after lunch on the 29th, is expected to lead to further meetings among community leaders. “Clearly Hyperloop is something that can be considered to move people around the region and the state,” Blumenthal says.

The summit is expected to include 257 exhibitors, more than 70 pavilions and 55 breakout sessions. It also has at least a couple of more items of special interest on transportation. Kasra Moshkani, a General Manager for Uber in the southeastern U.S., is expected to share Uber’s vision for the future in that segment on mobility. 

“It’s not going to be whatever they do today. It’s going to be what they do tomorrow," explains Blumenthal. “Somebody’s got to move you the last mile.”

Tesla will have a number of vehicles on hand on the 28th to give people rides around the arena and downtown.

Look who else is talking

Other key speakers include Jeff Vinik, Tampa Bay Lightning owner and part owner of Strategic Property Partners, the real estate entity which has embarked on the $3 billion Water Street Tampa project; Dr. Bernard Meyerson, Chief Innovation Officer of IBM; Lakshmi Shenoy, CEO of the Innovation Hub started by Vinik; Arnie Bellini, CEO of the Tampa-based Connectwise; Dr. A.J. Seth, CEO of Bionic Miracle; Col. Josh Potter of the U.S. Special Operations Command’s Transnational Threats Division; and Blaire Martin, Executive Director of Florida Angel Nexus.

There will be sessions for folks of varying interests, allowing them to focus on topics like financial tech and blockchain, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things, biotech and healthcare, defense and cybersecurity, building a business, urban tech, software, coding and more.

Participants also can take in exhibits like On Med, a telemedicine booth facilitating physical examination and treatment without the doctor or pharmacist being physically present. Or from Marxent, a St. Petersburg software company which has developed View In Room Augmented Reality for furniture retail. Or the Tampa-based Flymotion Unmanned Systems, a veteran-owned small business utilizing drones for public safety purposes.

Signups for the summit have already far surpassed last year’s 600. We anticipate no less than 2500. We can probably support 4,000. They should hurry up and get their tickets,” Blumenthal says. “We just want people to participate. It’s for everyone. It’s not just for people involved in tech.”

Reservations for breakout sessions are encouraged but not required. A mobile app will enable users to sign up on their Smart phones or on the web.

At the event, Synapse is rolling out its digital platform to help businesses make those all-important connections required to further their endeavors. “Tampa’s success is the state’s success,” he says. “We believe it’s important to nurture those relationships, those connections across the entire state.”

Momentum is building for the Tampa Bay Area’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. “You can sense that this is the moment. This is the crescendo, where we bring all the great members of this community together and we start working for a common vision,” Blumenthal says.

Learn more or signup on the Synapse website here.


Tech Bytes: TiE looking for novel tech startups for pitch opportunity

The deadline is fast approaching for entrepreneurs who want to pitch their startups at TiECON Florida 2018, an annual conference by the nonprofit TiE Tampa Bay to foster entrepreneurship.

“We are looking for entrepreneurs who have an idea in terms of digital transformation across any and all industries,” explains Kannan Sreedhar, program chair for the conference. “It could be in the areas of social, mobile and cloud services. They could be leveraging artificial intelligence, virtual reality or augmented reality and Iot, Internet of Things.”

Applicants have until March 12 to apply for “Present Your Startup,” which will give about 10 startups the platform for seven-minute pitches to a panel of judges and angel investors.

The top three finalists will have an opportunity to pitch to the national or global TIE organization as well,” Sreedhar adds.

The emphasis is on opportunity and exposure. “People recognize the TIE brand,” Sreedhar says. “We will help you build your brand. We will help you get recognized. What we are not is a foundation.”

TiECON 2018 offers a day packed with activities starting with registration at 8 a.m. and lasting through 10 p.m. March 31 at the University of South Florida’s Sam and Martha Gibbons Alumni Center on the Tampa campus. This year the program includes three featured speakers, instead of one keynote speaker, and has a more enterprise rather than consumer feel, Sreedhar says.

Featured speakers are: Arnie Bellini, Co-Founder and CEO of Connectwise, a Tampa-based IT firm, who’s having a question-and-answer session on entrepreneurial life lessons; Steve Raymund, Founder and Former Chairman/CEO of Clearwater’s Tech Data, who’s speaking on the challenges of growing an organization organically over a long period of time; and Sarvajna Dwivedi, Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of the Redwood City, CA-based Pearl Therapeutics, now a division of United Kingdom-based Astra Zeneca, who’s sharing about why he became an entrepreneur.

Other highlights include sessions by Apparsamy Balaji, Director of Enterprise Data Management and Web Applications for BayCare Health System, on analytics in healthcare; and Theodora Lau, Director of Market Innovation for AARP, on caring for the aged at home. Other sessions focus on financial, urban and government technology, angel investing, and patents.

Awards also will be given, including the Super Entrepreneur Award, Social Entrepreneurship Award, Angel Investor Award, Community Champion Award and Startup of the Year Award. Winners will receive crystal globes. 

The event is free to TiE members; non-members pay $100, the regular annual membership fee. “We are not looking for one time participation,” he says. “The more you participate, the greater the value you get.”

Learn more and register here.

TiE, short for The Indus Entrepreneurs, was started in Silicon Valley in 1992 by successful people with roots in the region. The global organization has 11,000 members and 60 chapters in 17 countries. The Tampa Bay chapter was founded in 2012.

Read more about what’s happening in the hot Tampa Bay tech scene.

• Hillsborough County Community College has received a $250,000 grant from the Everyday Entrepreneur Venture Fund in Norwalk, CT, as a seed fund for students. The fund is to help launch community college students into business; matching funds will be sought from area businesses.

•  Tampa is getting closer to having driver-less cars. As part of a demonstration for transit experts and local leaders Feb. 27, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, city of Tampa, and the Michigan-based May Mobility arranged for a May Mobility fleet to carry passengers on the city streets and Marion Transit Way corridor. HART is hoping to implement the driver-less vehicles in this same area by the end of this year – and May Mobility is being considered as a potential partner.

• Clients at the Florida Israel Business Accelerator (FIBA) are featured at the 1 Million Cups Tampa networking event from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Wednesday, March 7, at Entrepreneur Collaborative Center, 2101 E. Palm Ave., Tampa. 1 Million Cups is hosted weekly and it’s free. Registration is not required.

• Artificial intelligence will be the focus of a meetup from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 7, at Entrepreneur Collaborative Center, 2101 E. Palm Ave., Tampa. The monthly event is open to anyone interested in artificial intelligence, robotics, and machine learning. It’s free and registration is not required.

• If you are a Latino tech entrepreneur, check out the free co-working space at Tampa Bay WaVE in downtown Tampa. Its FirstWAVE Venture Center at 500 E. Kennedy Blvd., Suite 300, is open to Latino founders and cofounders on the first Wednesday of the month – March 7, etc. at 8 a.m. Not Latino? Women entrepreneurs can come free on the second Wednesday of the month starting at 9 a.m. Veteran businessmen and businesswomen can come at 9 a.m. on the third Wednesday of the month. Learn more and sign up here.

• “What’s the Buzz about Blockchain?” is the topic at the next meeting of Tampa Bay Women in Technology International scheduled from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, March 15, at Girl Scouts of West Central Florida, 4610 Eisenhower Blvd., Tampa. The event costs $25 for non-members; members are free. Register online here.

• The St. Petersburg-based InformedDNA, a large independent supplier of genetics services, has been expanding its counseling services into 14 major health systems nationwide. InformedDNA services include a variety of specialty markets including oncology, ophthalmology, maternal and fetal medicine, pediatrics, and cardiology.

Sabal Smart Homes, a new townhome development at 532 Fourth Avenue South in downtown St. Petersburg, is offering high-tech options like an electric car charger, and a connected-home “Einstein Package,” a rooftop alfresco kitchen and in-home private elevator. The home automation system includes technology from companies like Sonos, Nest, Lutron and Alarm.com. Developed by Salt Palm Development, the initial eight units start at $740,000 and feature three bedrooms, multiple baths and a one-car garage. Construction already has begun on a second building expected to open by the end of the year.

• Payton Barnwell of Tampa was one of 41 globally to receive the 2018 Brooke Owens Fellowship, which ensures her a paid summer internship at one of the nation’s leading aviation companies. A junior at Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland, Barnwell will be interning at Generation Orbit, an Atlanta aviation firm that builds launch systems. Barnwell also will be mentored by a senior aviation professional.

In other Poly news, a new 8,600-square-foot Student Development Center featuring geothermal heating technology opened Wednesday, Feb. 28. Relying on the Earth’s heat, the competition-sized, eight-lane pool is kept at near-constant temperature. The building was designed by Straughn Trout Architects LLC in Lakeland and utilizes natural lighting in the interior. It features a strength and cardio training area, plus office space and a multi-purpose room.

ª TeamWERX, a prize challenge program to help warfighters, has released two new challenges. It’s looking for a light-weight and rugged hose storage and delivery system compatible with Air Force Special Operations’ hose lengths and sizes, by March 31. The deadline is April 15 for augmented reality navigation assistance using GeoPackage. Learn more.

• It’s almost time for WAMICON. The 19th annual IEEE Wireless and Microwave Technology Conference is planned April 8 and 9 at Sheraton Sand Key. The theme is "mm-Waves and Internet of Things (IoT) for Commercial and Defense." Learn more.


Tech Bytes: A modern business matchmaking service prepares to go live

Singles often go online to numerous dating sites in hopes of meeting that special someone. Making business connections, especially for busy entrepreneurs who must stay laser focused to keep moving forward but need the help of other specialists, isn't as easy.  

Now a Tampa nonprofit is preparing to launch a digital platform to help businesses make meaningful connections that can mean the difference between going nowhere and getting ahead.

“There’s a lot of customers here. There’s a lot of talent,” says Brian Kornfeld, a founding partner at Synapse. “There’s also a lot of money. ... The connections aren’t taking place.”

The platform, slated to go live March 29, is “slick,” “easy to use” and capable of digitally pairing Tampa Bay businesses better than regular search engines, he says. Whether people want to know how to invest in a startup or real estate, learn about blockchain, build a business or host an event, or simply need to work with a specialist such as an accountant, an attorney or a success coach.

Signup is free for most users, such as entrepreneurs, inventors, mentors, jobseekers, employers, entrepreneurial service organizations and government workers. Those considered innovation enablers, like patent attorneys, bankers, accountants, software developers and marketers, would pay a small fee.

Kornfeld, Marc Blumenthal and Andy Hafer are founding partners in the effort underway since last year. The platform's launch is anticipated during Innovation Summit 2018, the second summit in Tampa Bay connecting innovators, entrepreneurs, corporations and community leaders.

The summit will be held March 28 and 29 at Amalie Arena in Tampa, and will feature Tampa Bay Lightning Owner Jeff Vinik as the keynote speaker during the kickoff at 9 a.m. He will share updates since the event last year as well as future plans.

Also slated to speak are IBM Chief Innovation Officer Bernard Meyerson, Henry Ford Health System Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer Mark Coticchia, Water Street Tampa’s Innovation Hub CEO Lakshmi Shenoy, and Dr. Ajay Seth, who is famous for his bionic work advancing treatment prospects for prosthetic patients.

Multiple innovation hubs, focusing on defense technology, Internet of things, blockchain, cryptocurrency, wearables, robotics, 3D printing, renewables, energy, augmented reality, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, machine learning, digital health, urban tech, and financial tech, will feature product demonstrations and speakers from companies in the region.

To buy tickets, visit the Synapse website.

Read on to learn more about what’s happening in the Tampa Bay tech scene.

Tampa Bay WaVE has launched a new TechDiversity Accelerator Program funded by a $100,000 grant from The Nielsen Foundation. The 90-day program is for early-stage technology firms with a majority ownership by a minority, woman, veteran, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender person or combination of these.

The WaVE is currently accepting applications for the program to run this summer. The application period closes March 31.

• 1 Million Cups Tampa, a free national program to engage, educate and connect entrepreneurs, is scheduled from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 21, at Entrepreneur Collaborative Center, 2101 E. Palm Ave., Tampa. The event is free and registration isn’t necessary.

Homebrew Hillsborough is meeting at 8:30 a.m. Friday, Feb. 23, for a visit and tour of AVI/SPL, an audio video technology company, at 6301 Benjamin Rd., Suite 101, Tampa. Homebrew is held monthly at different locations for techies and entrepreneurs to network.

Sixteen-year-old Abby Forman has developed an app for fellow Berkeley Prep students named Flower Sale – and it has been accepted into the App Store. An alumna of Tampa’s Hillel Academy, Forman created the app so students can buy flowers for one another. Funds raised are designated for the Students Helping Students Scholarship program through the school’s French Club.

• Four companies in the Tampa Bay region made G2 Crowd’s list of the top 25 companies in Florida’s business-to-business tech scene. They include Qgiv of Lakeland, ranked 7th place, followed by VIPRE Security of Clearwater, 17th; Connectwise of Tampa, 19th; and SunView Software of Tampa, 24th. The top ranking company was Goverlan of Coral Gables.

• Florida ranks third in the nation for cybercrime and losses reported to the FBI, according to a report, The State of Cybersecurity in Florida, released Feb. 8 by The Florida Center for Cybersecurity (FC2) at USF. On the plus side, the report done with Gartner Consulting says “Florida is well positioned to develop a strong workforce, with nearly 100 cybersecurity certificate and degree programs offered by institutions of higher education across the state.”

• At Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland, faculty members are working on next-generation spacesuits to make astronauts happier, more comfortable, and efficient. Because astronauts can be adversely affected by lack of exercise, excessive light and lack of sleep, professors Dr. Arman Sargolzaei and Dr. Melba Horton, together with Computer Science student James Holland, are developing Smart Sensory Skin to detect deficiencies through wireless sensors. The sensors can initiate changes in temperature, light exposure, light color, and oxygen levels.

In related news, seven of 10 science and engineering students chosen for the Hays Travel Award from the Florida Academy of Sciences Council are from Florida Polytechnic. Students will be presenting their research projects March 9 at Barry University in Miami Shores, during the FAS Annual Conference. The winners were Mechanical Engineering student Brian Gray of Tampa, Mechanical Engineering student Sean Cloud of Brandon, Mechanical Engineering student Geoffrey Doback of Brandon and Computer Science student Nathaniel Florer of Kissimmee, Mechanical Engineering student Ecieno Carmona from Summerfield, Innovation and Technology graduate student Jephté Douyon of Haiti, and Innovation and Technology graduate student Mohammad Bharmal of Pakistan.

• Digital currency: risky business or a big moneymaker? Bitcoin Pioneer Charlie Shrem can help you decide what to believe. Shrem will be speaking on “Bitcoin, Blockchain, and the Future of Finance” from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., Thursday, March 1, at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg’s College of Business. The event is open to the public. Register by Feb. 28 here.

• Students at USF St. Pete are participating in 2018 Ex Labs, a competitive Accelerator Lab involving the latest technology. Teams will be creating new products, business plans and marketing strategies March 12 through 16. One team will win a training package from Cisco valued at $2,300.

• In Manatee County, the Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller Angel Colonneso has begun offer e-filing through Simplifile. The office now is able to electronically receive, stamp, record and return documents in minutes with less error and cost.

• A licensed and registered Microsoft refurbisher, Goodwill Manasota’s Tech Connection program kept more than 208,000 pounds of e-waste from the area’s landfills last year. It raised nearly $71,000 last year, plus more than $17,000 in January. The program to refurbish and resell computers and accessories, headquartered at Goodwill’s Ranch Lake store at 8750 E. State Road 70, Bradenton, installs the Microsoft Digital Literacy Program, helping to improve basic computer skills.

• The Mulberry-based ArrMaz has opened a new, state of the art Innovation Center at the company’s headquarters. Designed for its research and development team, the center features a modern work environment with cutting-edge laboratory equipment for analytical and synthetic chemistry. Its open layout facilitates collaboration, team-based research and innovation. A 50-year-old company, ArrMaz is a global producer of specialty chemicals for the mining, fertilizer, asphalt, industrial ammonium nitrate, and oil and gas industries.


Top educators to provide free training to inner city businesses

Businesses in or near urban or economically underserved areas in the Tampa Bay region can receive free training from top name educators beginning Feb. 28.

The Inner City Capital Connections program, rescheduled from Sept. 12 as a result of Hurricane Irma, will kick off with a conference at University of South Florida’s Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS) in downtown Tampa.

This is a really awesome opportunity for businesses to get the tools that they need to achieve the success that they desire,” says Hyacinth Vassell, director of the program.

The goal is to help businesses overcome obstacles to growth, such as lack of capital. “It’s an opportunity to work on their business while they are being guided by the most brilliant minds in the U.S.,” she says.

To be eligible, businesses must be in or near a depressed area or have 40 percent or more of their employees living in a distressed area. That’s broadly defined to include “parts of the city that have had little investment or disinvestment” as well as major population centers, adds Jeremy King, VP of Corporate Communications for Regions Bank, an ICCC partner.

“That’s almost everywhere in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. We don’t want anyone to feel limited,” King says.

The company must be at least two years old and have $500,000 or more in revenue.

What ICCC primarily looks for is “readiness to participate,” Vassell says, “readiness for growth.”

“This is about helping each business take stock where it is now, identify where it wants to be in the future and identify a path how to get there,” King adds.

Founded in 2005, the program is ICCC’s first in 2018 and first in Florida, unless you count last year’s training relegated to webinars after Irma.

The ICCC training consists of modules on growth strategies, including talent management, entrepreneurial finance, marketing and sales, and access to capital. Among the experts involved are:

Dobbin Bookman, an adjunct lecturer from Harvard University who holds dual master’s degrees from Harvard and who works with MBA students and the Harvard Business School’s Career Services program to assist businesses;

• Gail Taylor, a professor of Business Administration at Dartmouth College, who is an expert in marketing communications, retail promotions and services marketing; and

• Susan Perkins, an Associate Professor of Strategic Management at University of Illinois-Chicago, whose specialties include business strategy, corporate governance, and organizational learning.

The deadline, originally set for Feb. 9, has been extended to Feb. 16. Interested companies, which can send one representative in a senior leadership role, can apply at www.iccapitalconnections.org. Click on “Tampa Bay” and “application page” to access the form.

Run by the Roxbury, MA-based Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, a nonprofit, ICCC is offered free because of partnerships with Regions Bank and other regional sponsors including Florida Blue, Carlton Fields, the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, Ernst and Young, United Way Suncoast, the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and Valpak. ICIC was started by Michael Porter, a Harvard Business School Professor, to build communities through education and investments from the private sector.

“Our goal as we sponsor ICCC is to connect with the small business communities in various markets that we serve, and work with them hand in hand,” King says.

The Birmingham, AL-based Regions will be providing coaching, expertise, and information. “This is about beginning a relationship and providing access to opportunities for these businesses long term,” he explains.

According to its preliminary 2017 report, the ICCC has trained 1,659 businesses and created 15,946 jobs. Average revenue grew 172 percent while raising capital of more than $1.47 billion.

ICCC is heading for 14 cities where they will hold executive education seminars in 2018, including Atlanta, Memphis, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and Baltimore. The program also includes webinars and a live meeting at the conclusion.

It hasn’t been decided if, or when, the ICCC program will be offered again in Tampa.


Millennial Mixer: Diverse networking group hits one-year mark

He’s an internist. She’s a general dentist. Together, they run the Healthy Bodies Medical and Dental Center in Brandon. The husband-and-wife team, Martha and Watson Ducatel, got their start with help from Millennial Mixer, a regular East Tampa event that brings together millennials and those who want to connect with them.

“It’s really just to connect millennials and to connect other people with millennials,” explains Fort Myers native Ivy Box, Millennial Mixer's founder and curator. “We just want to provide a comfortable atmosphere.”

Millennial Mixer attracts a diverse crowd to its gatherings at 5508 Co-working and Collaboration Exchange, a place where small minority-owned businesses can operate affordably. While there, attendees might munch on finger foods, order drinks at the cash bar, or buy food from food trucks.

The space is donated. Sometimes wine is donated to be sold at the event. So people show up and mingle. Businesses show up and advertise for free.

“It’s a mixed crowd. A majority of businesses are minority owned,” says Box, whose parents migrated to Florida from Haiti for a safer environment and more financial opportunity. “They’re diverse in their background and they’re diverse in their professions.”

The idea developed to make more people aware of the exchange run by Tampa-Hillsborough Action Plan Inc. and Coastal Bay Properties. “It just made sense. Provide something for millennials to do. Get them over to 5508 to see what’s going on,” says Box, a millennial herself.

So Millennial Mixer began as an every other month event – and celebrated its first year in existence with a gathering Jan. 24 at 5508 N. 50th St. In the future, Box may hold the mixers on a quarterly basis and involve more people, perhaps by collaborating with other groups on themed events.

Many who come aren’t familiar with the facility made of refurbished old storage units converted into offices and businesses. Its conference center is the event space, where vendors can set up tables and people can sit at high top tables in the middle and socialize while music plays in the background.

Through word of mouth and social media promotion, the event has grown from 30 people and three vendors to more than 100 with 13 to 14 vendors. “That’s all that can fit in that room. We’ve had to run away vendors,” she says. “We’re almost at the point where we probably need to get a bigger space. For now, we’ll stay at the space that’s free.”

What sets Millennial Mixer apart is its demographic and its laid back approach. After all, there are no memberships, meeting agendas or admission fees. “Here people can ... loosen up a little bit. They can chill at the bar,” she says.

In keeping with the millennial style, the mixers last about two hours. “We like it fast and quick,” Box says.

Box, the chief executive officer of the nonprofit Voice T.H.E. Movement, has a passion for encouraging those who seek to inspire others. A portion of money generated goes toward the organization seeking to improve individuals’ quality of life through health, education, arts, entertainment, and technology.

A marketing consultant and former castmate on Black Entertainment Television‘s hit reality TV series College Hill: Interns, the event helps Box connect to marketing clients. It’s also a place where she can sell her self-help book, The 365 Go Get H.E.R.S. Guide.

Though Millennial Mixer is designed for business, personal relationships could potentially develop. “For us, it’s strictly business,” Box says. “Whatever happens, it’s on them."


Tampa company works to cut power costs for businesses

The Tampa-based COI Energy Services has gone live with a platform designed to cut energy costs from 6 to 30 percent for commercial and industrial users. Among its first clients are the University of South Florida Research Park and an undisclosed Tampa-based utility.

We’re getting a lot of attention from utilities. This is definitely a problem that has not been solved [previously],” says Founder and CEO SaLisa Berrien. “It is a unique solution.”

The company is preparing for growth by raising seed capital to pay for 12 additional staff members needed to serve more than 1,000 customers. It’s hiring people in software engineering, marketing, business development, and customer’s experience within the next quarter.

USF Research Park was to be the first to use the platform. That installation was completed Thursday, Feb. 1, with training following.

The park also lined up a $1,650 rebate on a 150-ton air conditioning unit.

“Energy sustainability is an important issue at the University of South Florida Research Park, and we are proud to be one of the first customers for COI and explore how this new technology can provide us greater insight into how we use energy,” says Allison Madden, director of USF Research Foundation Operations.

Site inspections for some 100 users are required before the utility can utilize the system. “It will save in time and cost to support the grid. Simply put, our platform saves time, saves money, and saves the environment for both the utility and its business users,” Berrien says.

Another major customer is PBS39, a key account for Pennsylvania Power and Light.

A public demonstration is scheduled at 11:30 a.m. Friday, Feb. 9, at the Galleria of USF Research Park. It is expected to attract investors, potential customers and partners. “Anybody that is interested in clean tech is welcome to come,” she adds.

The 2-year-old company helps energy users save in three key ways: 1) by alerting customers when are able to cut waste, and 2) notifying them about potential rebate programs they qualify for, and 3) facilitating the sale of renewable energy into the grid. It is designed for businesses with a peak use of at least 50kW.

“We can predict their bill, based on how they are using their energy now,” Berrien says. “If they’re fine with the way the bill looks, they can continue operating as they are.”

COI Energy already has outgrown its three-person office space at USF Connect in the Research Park. The staff is using communal office space at the facility while the company waits for a larger office. It also is considering space in Channelside.

Additionally, COI Energy has been participating in the climate economy innovation accelerator, Accel-VT, in Montpelier, VT. It is slated to complete the three-month program, aimed at helping with capitalization, next week.
 

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