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Gourmet flavoring company claims marketing award

The Clearwater-based Monin Americas has claimed a Marketing of the Year Award for its research process directing the marketing of its flavorings for coffee, tea, lemonade and cocktails.

Its eight-step, Flavor Forward Process involves online surveys and actual taste tests to determine which flavors are most worthy, says Cassie Kane, Brand Marketing Director in Clearwater.

“We develop a ton of flavors, that’s really what we are,” Kane says. “Years ago we didn’t have an organized way of really collecting our research and determining what we were going to produce.”

The Flavor Forward Process includes taking inventory, global insights, online databases that track menu offerings, demographics, other research sources, and input from its global Beverage Innovation Directors, she says.

“We ... take all of these trends, all of those things we see in the market,” she says.

The hand-blown glass award was given by Tampa Bay Chapter of the American Marketing Association for Market Research in March.

Monin Americas is a division of Monin Gourmet Flavorings, which opened in 1912 in Bourges, France. It offers more than 200 gourmet flavors in more than 145 countries.

Monin also ranked in the top 30 in the Tampa Bay Times’ 2017 Top Work Places.

Monin Americas, which oversees operations in North America, South America and the Caribbean, is located near Hercules Avenue and Drew Street in Clearwater. It employs more than 100.

In addition to their offices, there is a production facility that makes syrups for the Americas and an innovation center with a commercial kitchen, bar and cafe. Monin also has a new 100,000-square-foot warehouse in Largo, which is double the size of the warehouse it replaces, she says.

Monin offers a mix of flavors from the more traditional to innovative, including vanilla, caramel and hazelnut for coffee, and mango, raspberry and peach flavorings for tea and other beverages. Its Hawaiian island blend features yellow passion fruit, orange and guava.


Tampa Bay Area Job News: DAS Health, CONMED, McKinsey hiring

A national healthcare services firm, DAS Health, is expanding its headquarters in downtown Tampa, and plans to add 30 new employees here in 2018.

“Tampa’s talent pool combined with the resources and support of the city made expanding our headquarters here the perfect choice,” says David Schlaifer, CEO of DAS Health.

The company is making a $145,000 capital investment and will be hiring for a variety of jobs with an average annual salary of $55,130. It already has hired four new employees in the last two weeks, Schlaifer says.

DAS Health provides health IT, management solutions and consulting services. The expansion follows the acquisitions of ConXit Technology Group and three other companies in 2016, which doubled DAS Health's size and solidified its role in the health IT and management sector.

Here are some other job opportunities in the Tampa Bay area.

• The global medical technology company CONMED is hiring at its Largo facility. Among the openings posted on its website are: corporate recruiter, which requires a bachelor’s degree and more than two years of experience; marketing associate, which requires a bachelor’s and 0 to two years of related experience; and a buyer, which requires a bachelor’s and two years of relevant purchasing experience.

•  McKinsey and Company, a global consultant firm, has multiple positions at its St. Petersburg location. Openings posted at its website include a Spanish-speaking accountant, human resources generalist, junior graphic designer, and learning event planner.

• The high traffic website covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, The Pewter Report is looking for an advertising representative, either full-time or part-time. Applicants must live in the area and have solid business contacts; a background in advertising sales is preferred. 

• The multimedia digital company YouConnex, based in Tampa and New York City, is hiring for its creative team. Applicants need to be living in the Tampa Bay area. The company is looking for people with a portfolio highlighting web and video editing skills. Duties include graphics design and video editing.

If your company is hiring skilled workers with five or less years of experience, drop us a line.


USF ranks 19th in Milken study, seen as tech leader

The University of South Florida ranked 19th, among more than 225 universities nationwide, in a Milken Institute study about how well universities convert basic research into new technologies, products and companies.

“Concept to Commercialization: The Best Universities for Technology Transfer” notes USF jumped up from 74th place in 2006 after ramping up research and commercialization efforts.

“We really worked hard in the past 10 years in changing our culture,” acknowledges Paul Sanberg, USF’s Senior VP for Research, Innovation and Economic Development. “We want to be Tampa Bay’s corporate partner.”

USF efforts have gone beyond “great basic research which we’ve been known for,” he says, to patenting licenses, commercialization, business incubators and training programs.

“This has involved a real concerted effort to make these activities part of tenure and promotion,” Sanberg says.

Vickie Chachere, Director of Strategic Communications for USF Research and Innovation, says major companies look to be near major universities that are good at commercializing research and growing a talent pipeline. “Tampa is an emerging place if you want to have potential partners,” she says.

The rank is based on a University Technology Transfer and Commercialization Index that is derived from the four-year averages of patents and licenses issued, plus licensing income and the number of start-ups.

USF has a “diverse portfolio” spanning life sciences, engineering and other Science, Technology, Engineering and Math or STEM and the arts, Sanberg adds.

The study by Ross DeVol, Joe Lee ad Minoli Ratnatunga found all of the top 25 universities were in metropolitan areas. “Universities are a source of competitive advantage; they create a skilled workforce and through R&D and tech-transfer help create new technologies and new industries,” it asserts.

The University of Florida in Gainesville ranked third, following the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and Columbia University in New York City, in first and second place, respectively. Central Florida in Orlando ranked 22 while Florida State University in Tallahassee earned 88th place and Tampa’s H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute placed 95th.

“Research universities are one of the strongest assets America can use to compete in the age of innovation,” the report concludes. “Research funding should be a top priority for enhancing American economic growth.”

The Milken Institute, with offices in Washington, D.C., is a nonprofit organization working to boost global prosperity through collaboration. Its Center for Jobs and Human Capital seeks to develop innovative, doable economic solutions that facilitate job creation and enhance funding opportunities.

USF’s own study shows it ranked 10 among state universities nationwide, Sanberg notes. It ranks 9th among public universities nationally and 21st globally for the number of U.S. patents granted, according to Intellectual Property Owners Association/National Academy of Inventors (2015).


Natural gas-powered buses ready to roll in Pasco County

Pasco County Schools will soon be the first in Florida to build and run their own fast-fill compressed natural gas station. The first of its natural-gas buses will arrive in mid-May, when they will be completing the new gas station just south of State Road 54 along Interlaken Road north of Tampa.

“We are about a month away from taking ownership,” says Tad Kledzik, Manager of Transportation Services. “We will begin operations with start of the fiscal year [July 1].”

Thirty 2017 Bluebird Vision CNG buses will begin arriving, three at time, in mid-May, and be phased into the existing fleet of more than 400 buses. Some 48 of them are propane, which use the same motor but a different fuel.

Each bus costs about $130,000, about $30,000 more than a diesel bus.

Pasco County Schools are investing $3 million each in their fast-fill station and a maintenance, operations and parking facility for the new natural gas-powered buses. The district is expecting to pay an additional $3.9 million for the first 30 buses and potentially a total of $11.7 million for 90 natural gas buses at the facility. It also would use some 10 to 12 diesel buses already in the fleet.

There are a number of advantages of the buses fueled by gas from Louisiana and Texas, which is piped into Florida at Jacksonville.

“The big thing ... is cleaner emission,” Kledzik says.

It’s also less noisy, a plus when hauling a bus-load full of talking children. “That allows our drivers to hear a little bit better on the bus as to what is going on,” he says.

As a domestic source of fuel, CNG is less volatile in price. The ability to essentially lock-in the price gives the district a greater ability to manage finance costs. “What happens elsewhere is less likely to impact the cost of CNG here,” he explains. “There’s enough CNG here in the U.S. to meet certainly our needs and many more needs.”

The district has tapped into the system in the Odessa area. The CNG will be provided by Clearwater Gas.

A grand opening is scheduled at 9 am. May 16, says spokeswoman Linda Cobbe. The new buses will roll for the 2017-18 school year.

The district began looking into alternative fuel sources in 2012, before buses like these existed, Kledzik says. The vision for CNG came from Deputy Superintendent Ray Gadd.

Though the Pasco district will be the first to build and operate its own station, others are already going green with CNG buses using third-party fuel providers. “Leon [County’s school district] has a similar facility to what we’re producing right now. Leon entered into contract with a 3rd party provider,” he says.

In the Tampa Bay area, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority became the first public transit authority in Florida to begin converting from diesel to CNG in 2014, according to Sandra Morrison, Public Information Officer.

HART currently runs 34 CNG buses in its fleet of nearly 200 buses, plus an additional 39 of its 61 HARTPlus vans and all eight HARTFlex vans. Some 25 additional CNG buses are arriving this fiscal year, Morrison says.

Hillsborough County public schools are running 50 propane buses and another 40 are on order. “We just didn’t have an interest in it [CNG], simply because of the cost,” says Jim Beekman, General Manager of Transportation.

The propane buses cost only $4400 more than diesel.

Pinellas County’s school district began running 58 new propane-powered buses this school year. The buses save the district money on fuel and maintenance, in addition to being more environmentally friendly, a spokeswoman says.

As the Pasco district's personnel are trained on the new buses, Kledzik says they plan to let surrounding districts in on the education process, which will include information on propane buses as well. “We’re looking to open it up and make it more a multi-county effort,” he says.

Kledzik says the new CNG buses are a way to “diversify the composition” of the fleet. He expects the school district will continue to invest in propane – and diesel. Diesel still is preferred for long trips outside of the county, and even longer trips within the county, he says.

“I don’t believe we’d get away completely from diesel buses,” he says.

Tampa Bay Alternative Fuel Vehicle Expo is slated from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. April 20 at 11780 Tampa Gateway Blvd, Seffner.

More information on alternative fuels is available at the Alternative Fuels Data Center or the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Clean Cities Program at 1-800-CCITIES.


Media marketing firm to fill 24 new jobs, host TechHire meetup

The Tampa digital marketing company MediaLab 3D Solutions, which specializes in interactive technology for the homebuilders’ market, is adding 24 new positions by the end of June.

Tara Harris, the company’s Human Resources Director, says the positions are needed because of large projects MediaLab has taken on. The company has been experiencing “conservative, measured growth” during the last three years, she says.

“For us to hire 24 people in one quarter is significant,” Harris says.

The company added 7,000 square feet to its offices in Telecom Park last year. It is looking for an architectural visualizer to work with animated graphics so they look real. Other positions include 3D modelers (junior and senior level), producers, project managers and floor plan artists.

The company employs about 100 in staff and has nearly a 50/50 mix of male and female in leadership roles. They are seeking to diversify the staff to include more minorities.

“We hire people that have a degree as well as those that are non-degreed,” Harris says. “We’re looking for a skillset.”

MediaLab has a “progressive, open-door culture” and is looking for people who want a career path and who enjoy camaraderie, she says.

“We don’t hire jerks,” Harris adds. “The majority of our people are artists.”

Most have some background in interior design, fine arts or computer animation.

MediaLab is hosting the third TechHire meeting to discuss local tech employment needs. The meeting, scheduled from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. April 19, will be at 13101 Telecom Drive, Suite 250. It features Stacy Jenkins, the company’s Director of Development.

The event is organized by Tampa Innovation Alliance, a multi-jurisdictional district working to revitalize the community surrounding the University of South Florida. Seating is limited and interested persons are advised to reserve a place. 

“Stacy Jenkins is going to speak about some of the challenges of finding qualified employees for [computer] developing roles, bringing diversity to the group we have,” Harris says.

MediaLab’s goal is to find and retain a skilled, diverse workforce. “It’s challenging for us to find the skilled people that are kind of younger in their career,” Harris says. “The generation that we appeal to tend to be a little more transient.”

The TechHire program, launched by former U.S. President Barack Obama in 2015, is building a pipeline of talent in communities throughout the country. Tampa Bay was officially designated a TechHire community in December. It received a $3.8 million federal grant last summer to fund technical training and connect people with jobs.


Real-time Tampa communications company automates business operations

Software companies usually offer free trials that attract potential users of their software to their websites. But if that software is not really easy to use, the potential customers move on to other websites. Large numbers of them leave a site -- if they have questions, if they’re asked to download communications software, or if they have to wait for customer service.

Tampa’s ThinkRTC, short for Think Real-Time Communications, is working to change that. “We automate the process of talking to your customers. Our product builds right into your website,” says Masud Hossain, Co-Founder and CEO.

ThinkRTC was developed last November during Startup Weekend by Hossain, Yusuf Shajahan, Stephen Hong and Jonathan Li, who met through their families or the University of South Florida. The company is growing 85 percent each month.

“It [the software] keeps your users from leaving [your website] and lets your business communicate instantly,” he says.

Hossain, who earned a bachelor’s degree from USF with a double major in biochemistry and physics, had been working for a software company that was having a hard time retaining its signups. When a customer wasn’t willing to connect with the software company on Skype or Google Hangouts, he or she “was falling off the face of the Earth,” he says.

Email was worse. “If businesses don’t migrate from email to real-time communications, they’re going to lose business,” he asserts.

Real-time communications is simpler – and it also avoids a 24-hour lag time often associated with emails. “They don’t want to have to wait for 24 hours,” he says, “because in that 24 hours they’ve probably found someone that’s better than you.”

It’s “very rare” for a company to have its screen-share capabilities like those available from ThinkRTC’s $25-a-month-per-agent subscription service, he says.

“A lot [of users] have to download software to do that,” he explains. “It makes it harder for the customer.”

ThinkRTC’s service can be up and running after copying and pasting a line of code into a company’s website. It doesn’t matter what type of computer, browser or software is in use, he says.

The service lets the business and customer share the screen and computer, as well as engage in video chat. A ThinkRTC app allows communication on the go.

Initially ThinkRTC was seeking customers in the software niche, but they’ve found it can help people in other industries too. “We noticed that lawyers and doctors were using our product, as well as car dealerships,” he says. “It’s more useful if clients stay at home where all their documents are.”

ThinkRTC can automate workflow by allowing customers to submit documentation online through the system. “One lawyer just stays at home now. He’s just doing everything online. It’s automated his work process completely,” Hossain says.

The company working out of USF’s Student Innovation Incubator is seeking $1.2 million in capital primarily to market and sell the service. Though they visited Silicon Valley and were offered funding, the founders were all born and raised in Tampa and want to keep the technology here. “We want to make a name for ourselves here in Tampa,” he says.


SunView Software of Tampa wins innovation award

A Tampa software company has won a coveted Gold Award for its IT platform enabling the use of artificial intelligence.

SunView Software, a leading provider of IT Service Management software, claimed the Innovation Of The Year Award at the annual IT Service Management Conference and Exhibition, Pink 17, in Las Vegas.

Its ChangeGear 7 Service Manager with Service Smart Technology beat out Silver Award winner CA Technologies’ CA Service Management – xFlow User Experience at the industry’s No. 1 event in February.

SunView’s flagship platform, ChangeGear is an enterprise-grade IT Service Management platform with a full suite of services including Help Desk, Change Management, Incident Management, Problem Management, Configuration Management and more.

The latest release, ChangeGear 7, is a first-to-market platform delivering artificial intelligence to the service desk.

The conference, organized by global training, consulting and conference service provider Pink Elephant, was the 21st annual international event. Pink Elephant also gave top Project Of The Year and Practitioner Of The Year awards.

Sunview Software helps companies deliver, manage and monitor IT services. It has invested $1 million into expanding its headquarters – and added more than 45 employees since early 2016.

Growth is ongoing.

SunView Software is part of a growing Tampa Bay tech community that is gaining traction. “Over the last few years, we’ve seen an increasing number of new venture-funded technology startups form in and around the Bay area, making Tampa a competitive hub for software development jobs in the marketplace,” says Seng Sun, SunView’s CEO. “Being a Tampa-based company ourselves, we recognize the tremendous potential in the community we have here. That’s why we’ve teamed up with the USF Computer Science Department and the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation to help us to discover, recruit and retain local talent. Last month’s award win is indicative our initiative’s success.”

Now the privately-held company is gearing up for HDI 2017 Conference & Expo on May 9-12 in Washington D.C. At the showcase, it will be giving people a look at ChangeGear’s new mobile experience, plus enhancements to its AI technology and self-service capabilities, including a chatbot virtual support agent.


St. Petersburg’s Innovation District launches search for director

South of downtown St. Petersburg in the city’s Bayboro Harbor District, lies a powerhouse collection of marine science and oceanographic organizations.

The University of South Florida College of Marine Science, SRI St. Petersburg, the Florida Institute of Oceanography and U.S. Geological Survey and are among the half dozen or more marine-related organizations collectively known as the Ocean Team.

According to the City of St. Petersburg, the Ocean Team collectively employs more than 1,600 people, most in highly specialized jobs.

Just a block away, is another growing consortium of world-class educational, research and healthcare organizations.  There’s the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, known internationally for its journalism education, and the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus, which just opened the new Kate Tiedemann College of Business.

In addition, there is a thriving healthcare corridor that includes Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and Bayfront Health St. Petersburg.  

The internationally renowned Dali Museum is also located here.

To capitalize on the area’s potential, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin have branded it as the city’s new Innovation District. A search is now underway to hire a director to help plan, manage and coordinate activities to take the district to the next level.

“The aspiration of the St. Petersburg Innovation District is to catalyze the major institutional anchors in one geographic space,” says Randall H. Russell, President and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, one of several anchor organizations working with the city to recruit a new director for the district.

“The unusual co-location of federal and local marine research, health care organizations, including the opening of the new Johns Hopkins All Children’s Research Center, combine to result in a unique combination of talent and opportunity,” says Russell.

Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital is currently constructing a seven-story, 225,000-square-foot research and education center that will house laboratories and offices in four key areas: pediatric heart disease, children’s cancer and blood disorders, brain protection sciences and maternal, fetal and neonatal institute. There are also expanded facilities for the hospital’s nationally accredited pediatric bio-repository to support clinical research.

In a 2015 report outlining the vision for the district, GAI Community Solutions Group writes: “Many Sunbelt cities are interested in developing this type of integrated place, but very few have the necessary cornerstone elements in place as St. Petersburg does.  Even fewer cities have those elements situation in a location with compelling natural environmental resources and economic characteristics to attract talent and jobs.”

The city envisions the Innovation District as a driver of economic development, job creation and collaboration that will attract new investment and revitalization to the area. Click here for an overview of the area from the city’s perspective

The salary range for the new Innovation District Director is $70,000 to $90,000. Job candidates must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university with major course work in urban planning, business administration or a related field, as well as five years of increasing responsible experience in a project management environment. Economic development, business development, marketing or public relations experience is preferred.

According to a news release, the new director “will work with the City of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County leadership, as well as Innovation District organizations to develop the infrastructure for the district and bring the concept to the next level.”

Mobile app helps property owners find repair services

Imagine your toilet is overflowing and you call a repair service only to learn no one can come out for a couple of days. Or temperatures are 90+ degrees and your air conditioner quits running. You have to pay extra if you want someone the same day, if anyone is available at all.

A Tampa-based fix-it company, Homee on Demand, was created to help out in times like these. It maps subcontractors in your area who can arrive quickly, usually within 30 minutes around the clock.

“Pricing is usually 30 percent better than you’ll get going direct to the individual company,” says Doug Schaedler, Co-founder and CEO.  “You can select who you would like to come.”

Homee does repairs and remodeling on homes, condominiums, apartments and commercial establishments.

Homee Founders Schaedler and business colleague Dave Theus, Chief Technology Officer, have discovered people like to use the service even for non-emergency situations. About 60 percent are looking for a handyman primarily for “non-urgent work,” Schaedler says.

Homee’s app lets property owners and managers connect with repair workers on demand through their Smartphones or tablets. “It’s meant to be a mobile platform,” Schaedler says. “It automatically identifies your location.”

Users download the app at the Apple or Google Play stores, connecting with 350 repair services in the Tampa Bay region. They can find plumbers, electricians, handymen, and heating/venting/air conditioning repair service providers.

Nearly 20,000 people already have installed the app and can access more than 1,000 total subcontractors in the Homee network.

Homee serves the Tampa Bay region, in the north up to Inverness, in the south to Sarasota, in the east to Lakeland and the west to the Gulf of Mexico. It also services Orlando, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Jacksonville. In January, it began serving Cincinnati as well.

“Our plan is begin the national rollout here in the next few months, and do an additional 12 to 15 cities by the end of this year,” Schaedler says.

The company has raised $1.35 million in capital.

Theus and Schaedler got the idea for the app after experiencing problems getting home repairs themselves. Homee launched the app last summer and, as the licensed general contractor, screens and signs up subcontractors.

Homee, which offers work to subcontractors during idle time, is able to set discount pricing, Schaedler says.

“Every month we’ve been doubling both the number of transactions and the number of users,” he says.

Homee on Demand currently is hiring for a variety of positions. “We’re doing a lot of hiring especially here in Tampa which is our headquarters,” Schaedler adds.

He expects to double the staff of 15, adding tech savvy individuals for positions like VP of marketing and marketing managers. Other jobs are in software development or involve staff interaction with subcontractors.

“We just brought on an additional three people,” he says.

Wages are negotiated but, in general, will be “above local Tampa wages,” he says.

“We think it [Homee] is a unique thing for Tampa. We’re really pleased with the progress so far,” he says.


CO.STARTERS program targets creatives, health professionals, techies

TEC Garage will be offering a nine-week program to help aspiring entrepreneurs in the creative arts, healthcare and technology industries beginning March 28. Called CO.STARTERS, the program will help prospective entrepreneurs test their ideas and potentially launch their businesses.

“This program is being sponsored in part by Creative Pinellas. We are asking the other tech companies to pay their portion of the fees,” says Tonya Elmore, CEO of Tampa Bay Innovation Center.

TEC Garage was developed by the TBIC to support entrepreneurs. It typically works with tech businesses, not artists. But they started receiving inquiries from local artists interested in starting businesses, so the TEC Garage pilot tested the program with creative types last year. 

“We wanted to see if they played well in the sandbox together and they did,” she says.

CO.STARTERS will be held on Tuesdays from 6-9 p.m. at TEC Garage, 244 2nd Ave. North, St. Petersburg. During the series, J.J. Roberts, director of TEC Garage, and other business professionals from the Tampa Bay area will be featured as guest speakers.

More information is available on the classes here.

The CO.STARTERS program normally costs $275. The fee includes two months of co-working space at the TEC Garage upon graduation, which is usually priced at $150. More information is available at 727-547-7340.

Scholarships are available through Creative Pinellas, an organization dedicated to fostering the Pinellas County arts community. They are offered to artists, those who are part of artists’ organizations, and entrepreneurs in creative industries, says Barbara St. Clair, Executive Director of Creative Pinellas.

“If you’re a professional artist, you are a business,” she explains. “All of those things that a business knows ...  are really relevant to you.”

Attendees may have more in common than the obvious tie-ins between art and technology in careers such as graphic arts. The separation has become “very porous,” St. Clair says.

There are more subtle connections between art in healing and though collaborations between the technological and the creative. “There are some exciting ways in which the two cross over and meet with each other,” St. Clair says.

The pilot program apparently had a big impact. “We sold out the first one in like 48 hours, which is why we are doing it again. People are very excited.”

Some said the course changed their lives. “It really did seem to have a significant impact on the individuals who participated,” she adds.

The Company Lab, a Chattanooga, TN organization, developed CO.STARTERS, which is available to startups nationwide.


Prospera joins Clearwater SPARK, nurtures Hispanic businesses

Twenty-five years ago, Prospera -- then called the Hispanic Business Initiative Fund -- was established in a small West Tampa office. 

There was a need to support Hispanic entrepreneurs in the area, says Claudia Johnson, senior business development consultant on the West Coast. Prospera stepped in to fill this void by offering bilingual technical assistance and workshops to Spanish-speaking businesses.

Decades later, the organization has spread to markets in south Florida and as far north as Jacksonville. Additional offices have opened in Miami and Orlando. Over the past 25 years, Prospera has “supported several thousands of people,” Johnson says. “Our objective became to strengthen the state of Florida’s economical sector with Hispanics.” 

Now, Clearwater is the latest city in Prospera’s far-reaching network. As of January, the group became the sixth organization to join Clearwater Business SPARK, a city-led business incubator that brings together a variety of resources for entrepreneurs and small business owners.

Prospera was looking for a home base in Pinellas County, Johnson says, and Clearwater made the most sense for a partnership. “The city has the majority of Hispanics [in the county,]” she says. “So that is where we are working closely. Now we have a more clear collaboration, a strong collaboration.” 

Denise Sanderson, the city’s director of Economic Development and Housing, says Hispanic entrepreneurs and small businesses represent approximately 20 percent of the city’s population. “Hispanic-owned businesses are an important and growing sector of our local economy,” she adds.

While Pinellas County residents were always welcome to participate in Prospera’s workshops and grant programs in other cities, the organization is now specifically targeting Clearwater. The organization will host six bilingual public workshops covering a variety of topics of interest to small businesses at Clearwater libraries throughout the year. The first was held Jan. 31 with around 30 attendees, Johnson says. 

In addition to training, and mentorship assistance with marketing and business planning, Prospera offers grants to small businesses looking to pay for professional services such as accountants and attorneys. The group also helps facilitate small business loans to entrepreneurs through partnerships with several banking institutions. “We’ve facilitated about $20 million worth of money for loans for clients throughout the whole state,” Johnson says.

She adds, “We’re here to help strengthen their business -- from start-ups to ongoing businesses. We’re a very active organization to help Hispanics.”

Tampa company develops new software for scan-to-print

Computer-aided design software can be used in the creation a number of things, like cars and bridges. The CAD model is important when the bridge is built -- and even when it needs repair. But what happens when there is no computer model? When the original is an arm or a part for a car no longer being made? What happens when the object is scanned into a computer?
 
It used to take an engineer to figure things out. But, thanks to Dr. Dan Simkins Jr., an associate professor at Tampa’s University of South Florida, that’s no longer the case. Simkins has developed a software suite that resolves the problem. And it’s expected to become available in eight weeks.
 
“We have the software. It works. We can demonstrate it,” he says.
 
Simkins, of USF’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and serial entrepreneur Art Slowe co-founded Formerics in 2011. With help from four of Simkins’ doctoral students over the years, they are bringing the software to market.
 
The idea came from Simkins’ research before he earned his PhD. “What’s new for us is that now people want to start to do engineering on things they didn’t create from scratch, like a heart,” explains Simkins, the company’s Chief Technical Officer.
 
Computers come up with mathematical descriptions that are used in computerized models. When computers are used in the design process, it’s easier to test the strength of that bridge, for example. Creating a design for use in surgical planning was “a new kind of problem,” he says.
 
Additionally, the use of new materials brought new challenges. So Simkins found a way to work with these laminate materials. “What our technology does is it enables manufacturers to maximize the capability of those materials,” Slowe says.
 
The software can be used in a variety of industries, including medicine, entertainment, aerospace, defense and automotive.
 
“It will take a generation to fully implement this technology,” Slowe asserts.
 
The software does automatically what it used to take an engineer to accomplish, significantly reducing the cost of scan-to-print services. “We can convert a laser scan of an object into a 3-D printable version of that object without human intervention. That sounds silly but it’s a big deal,” Slowe explains.
 
Formerics got its name from the Latin words for model and number. It received a $50,000 seed loan from the USF Research Foundation, which was matched by the Florida High Tech Corridor. It also is a member of the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps, designed to help professors learn how to commercialize research.
 
Part of USF’s Tampa Bay Technology Incubator, Formerics is targeting the North and South American markets. “We’re resident in the USF Connect building. We’re closely tied with the USF community,” Slowe says. “We did not do this on our own. We had support and it’s made a material difference.”

Networking events: Upcoming local tech meetings offer education, opportunities

Marketing guru Ron Stein will be speaking March 14 about a very important business topic: How to get customers. “I think a company’s message is the single most import selling and marketing tool that they have. It cuts across everything,” Stein says.
 
Stein is featured at TECH Talk at 8:30 a.m. March 14 at Microsoft offices at 5426 Bay Center Dr., Suite 700, in Tampa. The event is being held by Tampa Bay Innovation Center.
 
A columnist on selling and marketing for Florida Trend magazine, Stein is founder of More Customers Academy and FastPath Marketing. He also offers mentoring at the Tampa Bay Innovation Center and other tech incubators.
 
The program, “How to Get People to Buy from You Instead of Your Competition,” will target small- and medium-sized tech business and those interested in the local tech industry. He will speak about why customers should choose your business, offering practical tips and examples about to empower a sales team.
 
A Miami native, Stein holds a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Florida. He’s gained practical business experience by doing it. He’s worked as CEO of an Israeli tech startup, lectured at UF’s business school, and honed his experience for more than 25 years in selling, marketing and business development. Most of it has been in the tech sector.
 
The event is free, but reservations are advised through Eventbrite.
 
Through TEC Garage, the innovation center offers programs for entrepreneurs, innovators, investors and others interested in the growth of the local tech community.
 
Here are some more tech-related meetings in the area:
 
  • Local entrepreneur Pat Bhava, whose startup technology platform – PikMyKid obtained $1 million in funding, will be sharing his experiences at 8 a.m. March 3 at BIZCONNECT@PLATT. The event will be held at Jan Kaminis Platt Regional Library at 3910 S. Manhattan Ave., Tampa.
  • Florida GovCon Summit 2017 is focusing on teaming together for larger federal contracts. It is aimed at small businesses looking for federal tech contracts in Florida. The event begins at 8 a.m. March 29 and ends at 5 p.m. March 30 at DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Tampa Airport-Westshore. To register, visit the summit website.
  • Gulf Coast MakerCon 2017 will be showcasing hometown innovation and invention starting from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 8 at Florida State Fairgrounds. In its sixth year, the event with a manufacturing and tech focus allows people to share resources, learn a craft, perfect their skills, find educational and career opportunities, try new tools and more. Learn more.

Hungry? EatMobile can help you find nearest food truck, and help vendors find new customers

EatMobile Inc.’s story began with an ice cream sandwich. A refrozen, unappetizing ice cream sandwich. Matt Land had heard the tantalizing music of a passing ice cream truck. He was lured by the thought of a sweet and refreshing treat. Instead, he was in for a letdown.
 
“I didn’t finish the whole thing,” he recalls.
 
Fortunately for Land, that wasn’t the end of the story. He shared the incident with long-time friend Jacob Lishen, a sales and marketing expert, and his mother Lori Townsend, who has experience in project management in the global restaurant chain industry. Together with Robb Vandaveer, a Marine Corps veteran and software architect, they started EatMobile.
 
They now have a network of some 50 food trucks in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Sarasota and Lakeland, and plan to beta test the new service. The trucks represent a wide variety of culinary tastes from barbecue to seafood, tacos to vegetarian, and pizza. “Literally, everything you can think of, it’s here in this area, and it’s amazing,” says Land, the company’s CEO.
 
The first food truck he consulted with during the research phase was Blazin 28 Pizza. Dillon Walts operates his pizza food truck out of an old fire truck, where he’s built a wood-brick oven. He sells from a stand set up outside.
 
“Every truck is its own unique incredible business,” Land says.
 
EatMobile arranged some meals during Tampa Bay Startup Week February 13-17. He also shared his company’s journey with attendees.
 
“Our core purpose… is increasing local spending to these local businesses,” explains Land.
 
Located in Tampa, EatMobile has become part of the tech accelerator Tamba Bay WaVE. “It’s been incredible since we’ve been able to flip the switch,” Land says. “It really feels like it’s meant to be and there’s a path laid before us.”
 
Since that fateful day two years ago, when Land bought the ice cream sandwich, the team has done a lot of work researching and talking to consumers and clients. It officially launched with Startup Week after about seven months in operation.
 
EatMobile’s goal is to help people find food trucks for a quick bite in their area, or sign up food trucks for special events like weddings or company events. People can access services through their phones, tablets or computers. They are working on an app that can be downloaded.
 
Food trucks will have three levels of service through their online platform, including profiles, videos and imagery taken from drones or unmanned aircraft.
 
Land considers it an honor to provide a venue and business tools for families pursuing the American dream. In the past, they’ve been on their own. “They don’t have time for networking, hunting for catering opportunities,” he says.
 
Profits will come from multiple sources including food sales, vendor services, data services and advertising.
 
In the short term, EatMobile is connecting with technology experts to roll out its offerings into the market more quickly. It’s also looking for investors who share their goals.
 
 “This is something that truly has the potential to do a lot of good,” he explains. “It’s not about us, it’s about them.”
 
EatMobile is giving back through a monetary donation to Feeding Tampa Bay. It plans to expand into giving free meals to the homeless.
 
“We’re very passionate about giving back,” he says.

Local software developers to hack cars in GM event

General Motors has chosen Tampa Bay for the first stop in its Makers Hustle Harder Hackathon tour, enabling software developers to put their apps into GM cars here for testing.
 
“My team will help them load their app in the car and drive it around and test it,” says Daphne L. Zargar, GM’s Global Manager – Partner Relations, Application Ecosystem and Development. “For any developer, of any age, or background, or company, that’s unprecedented.”
 
Zargar’s team developed the software that developers can download to make apps, potentially for GM’s app store. Apps may be able to do things like turn your car into a moving weather station, map the locations of potholes in the road, or even select your preferred music before you enter the car. A user, for example, also might be able to choose a preferred Global Positioning System.
 
The event kicks off Feb. 27 at Tampa Hackerspace at 4931 W. Nassau St. in the Westshore area. From 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., a live webinar will introduce participants to the hackathon.
 
“We’re expecting 60 to 80 developers to participate,” says Bill Shaw, President and Founder of Hackerspace. “It’s going to be a pretty packed event. We’re actually expecting it to reach capacity.”
 
When the kickoff webinar is completed, hackers can get to work. The GM team will be available for support throughout the week that culminates in Hackathon Day March 4. That’s the day developers will be able to see their apps in action; presentations start at 4 p.m. with prizes following.
 
“This is a brand new thing for GM. They’ve never really opened up their software like this before,” Shaw says.
 
The Detroit automaker, which employs 215,000, released a software development kit in late January that lets developers interact with its cars. With its kit, developers can test in-vehicle applications for GM’s infotainment systems without traveling to Detroit.
 
GM approached the 4-year-old Tampa Hackerspace, described as the largest facility of its kind in Florida, about putting together the event. “I really am wanting to get out into the new grass roots cities that are helping to support these kinds of technology,” Zargar says.
 
Rather than hold the event in New York or the West Coast, they opted for “non-obvious cities,” Zargar says.
 
A former Clearwater resident, she’s familiar with the Tampa Bay area. Much like Detroit, she says, St. Petersburg has “come full circle with restaurants.” And tech sector has grown. “I’m very passionate about supporting them,” she says.
 
Plans are being made for separate events in Boston and Chicago. “We want to get our platform out to developers and hackers’ hands without a lot of constraint,” she explains.
 
Learn more or sign up to participate. Developers can download what they need here.
 
Hackers, tinkerers and builders have lots of options with the new GM data. In addition to all the practical apps, there’s also potential for fun and games, literally. The car can be a simulator for video games.
 
While it may seem like a far out idea now, things will change when cars are able to run driverless. “There are all of these things you can suddenly do,” Shaw observes.
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