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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.

3.0 Leaders innovation, investment conference returns to Bradenton

The fourth annual 3.0 Leaders Innovation and Investment Convergence Conference is slated Feb. 22 and 23 in Bradenton. The event by the consultancy firm, Spark Growth, endeavors to connect people to innovators, bringing focus and enhancing their skills.
 
“What one thing that makes our conference different… is the focus on takeaways,” says Sarah Hand, conference Founder. “Our big takeaway this year is the 2018 food innovation event.”
 
Action sessions at the end of the conference give speakers, panelists and others in attendance an opportunity to break into work groups. “With seed funding already in place, one group will begin laying the foundation for the inaugural 2018 International Food Innovators Conference in the Bradenton/Sarasota area. Another will be identifying assets and resources to move forward with an Impact Investment education initiative for deploying capital more effectively,” she says.
 
Sessions also revolve around Startup Florida Rocks, which is launching a multi-city tour for entrepreneurial pitch events across Florida, and global entrepreneurial networks. The global group assists international companies expanding into the U.S. market, as well as Florida businesses expanding globally.
 
The conference’s itinerary includes a keynote address from Sandy Carter, former Fortune 25 Business Executive Leader, who will talk about “Innovation Revisited” Feb. 22. Her presentation will focus on how technology is changing how we live, how we conduct business and how we connect with one another.
 
Also that morning Carlos Garcia, a leader in digital marketing, driving traffic and sales conversions, will talk about companies growing their businesses online through the use of social media.
 
An afternoon session by Bonny Moellenbrock, Executive Director for Investors’ Circle, is “It’s All About the Money – or Is it?” Moellenbrock, leader of the largest impact investor organization in the world, will talk about how impact investing is affecting communities and businesses. Ashwin Sanzgiri, VP of Scaale Group Global Operations: Capital, Sales and Advisory, will talk about how cross border investment is empowering entrepreneurs and diversifying investor portfolios.
 
The program continues Feb. 23 with “Innovation Knows No Borders” featuring Kaushal Chokshi, President of Scaale Group and Founder Cross Border Angels, talking about how technology is transforming business growth. Celena Aponte, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center, speaks on “Entrepreneurs and Investment in a Global Market.”
 
To sign up for the conference at Manatee Performing Arts Center, visit the 3.0 Leaders website.
 
3.0 Leaders is working to cultivate a network of thought leaders globally, with the goal of sharing and learning best practices.
 
3.0, a term associated with web development, reflects today’s dynamic Internet environment that has evolved beyond the first, static read-only experience and the second-stage interactive experience. At the third level, information is collected and delivered to us.

Job News: Tampa Bay Area companies creating new jobs in tech, logistics, finance

Looking for a your first job or considering a new job? Businesses expanding or relocating to the Tampa Bay Area are good prospects, and they may open the door to a variety of job opportunities.
 
A good example is Suncoast Credit Union. The company broke ground Feb. 2 on a three-story, 107,176-square-foot building at 6536 East Hillsborough Avenue, according to a company announcement. That means more jobs, about 450 new jobs during the next five years, and an economic boost for the area. With the additional jobs, the credit union’s main location will employ a total of some 1,100 employees in 12 buildings.
 
"We do expect to continue to grow and will need qualified and enthusiastic team members," says Gary Vien, the credit union’s Chief Administrative Officer.
 
Suncoast is Florida’s largest credit union. It runs 62,000 full-service branches in 21 counties, servicing approximately 700,000. “If interested today, job seekers can apply to the numerous openings we have by clicking on the career link at the bottom of our website,” Vien says.

Another company that is expanding is ReliaQuest, a Tampa-based IT security firm planning to add 150 jobs this year. It announced expansion plans earlier this month to meet cybersecurity challenges for its customers. The expansion will allow the company to build a new Research and Development arm of the firm called RQ Innovation Team, as well as introduce advanced monitoring solutions.
 
The company, which added nearly 110 jobs last year, operates from a state-of-the-art headquarters on Harbour Island and Security Office Centers in Tampa and Las Vegas. ReliaQuest is looking to recruit and retain high-quality IT professionals. It is applying for the Veterans Florida Business Training Grant Program aimed at providing talent from trained and skilled military veterans in the state. Learn more.
 
Here are some other potential opportunities:
 
• Sourcetoad Development Studio, which develops custom enterprise applications, has just moved into new digs on W. Busch Boulevard in Tampa, and is looking for a product/project manager and a frontend engineer with experience in either Angular, the Google-backed JavaScript, or React, the Facebook-backed JavaScript. “We have a growing need for good engineers with a strong JavaScript background,” says CEO Greg Ross-Munro. Learn more. 
 
• BlueLine Associates announced plans in January to relocate its global headquarters from Cary, N.C., to Tampa. It is expecting to create 150 new jobs and invest $2 million in the local economy. The company is moving its financial, legal, and human resources services here into its already existing Tampa office, according to a company announcement. Its average annual wage is $71,909. Learn more.
 
* Cott Corporation, a beverage producer and distributor headquartered in Tampa, is expanding its operations in Hillsborough County, creating 60 new jobs and investing $800,000, according to an announcement last month. Learn more

Startup Week returns to Tampa, St. Pete in mid-February

 Wondering how to raise $1 million for a startup in Tampa Bay? And why it’s different here than other places? You can get answers at Tampa Bay Startup Week Feb. 13 through 17.
 
The annual event is being held on both sides of the bay this year in Tampa and St. Petersburg.
 
“The event is designed to showcase all the resources that are available in Tampa Bay for entrepreneurs of all sizes,” says Gracie Leigh Stemmer, President of Startup Tampa Bay Inc., the nonprofit organization that runs the event.
 
The week kicks off with the first three days on the Tampa side, featuring an opening event at the Rialto Theatre at 1617 N. Franklin St. with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. The week winds to a close on the St. Petersburg side for the last two days at the Station House at 260 First Ave. S., with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman. It includes tracks for special interests such as coding and development, public relations and marketing, fashion and veterans’ entrepreneurship.
 
Highlights of the week include “How to Raise $1 Million in Tampa Bay” featuring local founders who have raised more than that for their companies: Pat Bhava, CEO of PikMyKid, which helps streamline car lines at school dismissal time; Ed Buckley, CEO of Peerfit, a fitness company; Reuben Pressman, CEO of Check I’m Here, a software platform for colleges; and David Osterweil, CEO of Fitlife Foods, a retail chain offering prepared meals with all-natural ingredients.The session is slated from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Feb. 16 in St. Petersburg.
 
Also planned are “Uncovering the Future with Tampa Bay Leaders” from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Feb. 15 in Tampa, featuring Danielle Vona, Founder and Chief Thinker, The Marketing Posse; and Ryan Ross, Executive VP of Marketing and Digital Commerce for HSN.

“How to Impact Your Startup Community with Brad Feld” is a Skype session from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. Feb. 15 in Tampa with Feld, an early-stage investor and entrepreneur for more than 20 years. The author of the Startup Revolution Series, Feld is co-founder of the venture capital firm, Foundry Group in Boulder, CO, and co-founder of Techstars, a global partner of Startup Week sponsored by Chase for Business.

“We know there’s a lot of entrepreneurs and business leaders. We’re hoping to use these events to connect them together,” says Michael Laplante, one of the event organizers.

To register for the free event, visit the Tampa Bay Startup Week website includes a slate of events and you can indicate which ones you want to attend, which will help them with planning. “We want people to be able to come in anytime they want,” Laplante says.

Innovation summit relocates to Tampa from Austin

Organizers of an innovation summit in Austin, TX, are moving the event to Tampa to better serve the military’s growing technology needs. “Tampa is the ideal epicenter to link the DOD’s [U.S. Department of Defense’s] massive innovation needs with global private sector solution providers,” says Dr. Matthew Laudon, CEO of the Austin-based TechConnect planning the summit.
 
The Defense Innovation Summit and Showcase prospects for businesses that can deliver private sector, early-stage technologies to the DOD. Its goal is supporting the warfighter with easy-to-use products that are rugged and will survive extreme heat, sand, or other harsh environmental conditions.
 
“You can think of this as a shark-tank [the popular TV show] for the military; prospecting for break- through technologies from outside of the traditional defense industry, yet aligned with national security needs,” Laudon says.
 
The event, scheduled Oct. 3 through 5 at the Tampa Bay Convention Center, is being held jointly with the Defense Innovation Technology Acceleration Challenges (DITAC 2017), and the National Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Innovation Summit. Together they are expected to draw more than one thousand innovations from across the country. The programs are expected to draw from 1200 to 1500, and include a high “concentration of defense innovation and early-stage federal funding leadership,” Laudon says.
 
Technologies will include Defense Energy, Advanced Materials, Advanced Manufacturing, Space Technologies, Cyber Security, Defense Medical, Advanced Electronics, Communications and Sensors. 
 
“The event consists of DOD populated panels and workshops on DOD initiatives and a series of ‘Shark Tank’ innovation pitch programs, with the DOD filling the role as the on-site reviewers,” Laudon says. “In addition, all innovators exhibit or demo their technologies during the evening Defense Innovation Showcase programs.”
 
The event’s organizer, TechConnect, has made a two-year commitment to Tampa. “We are looking for a long-term home for the event that is supported by a local and engaged Innovation Community, along with engagement from the Defense Innovation community,” Laudon says. “Our hope is that the Tampa Innovation Community will be that strong support partner so that we are able to keep the event permanently in Tampa.”
 
The decision to relocate was made by the TechConnect Innovation Advisory Committee with input from DOD leadership, including U.S. Special Operations Command and U.S. Central Command. As home to both SOCOM and CENTCOM, and the site of growing innovation community, the Tampa area was a natural draw.
 
“When you’ve got one of the largest … science and technology budgets really in the country, right at your backdoor, you as a community have a great opportunity,” says Bernice Glenn, Senior VP of Strategic Partnerships for National Security Technology Accelerator, of Arlington, VA, which is partnering with TechConnect.
 
NSTA, which will be helping to recruit keynote speakers, is involved with review panels. “We try to work ahead of the schedule of the summit to help identify, from the defense side exactly what they need, and get that information out to the tech side so the techs can respond meaningfully,” Glenn explains.
 
The Tampa event is one of three TechConnect events. The others are in Washington DC and Hawaii.
 
Marc Blumenthal, CEO of Florida Funders, which is actively interested in funding innovative companies, says moving the summit to Tampa is a “big deal.”
 
“The region is ... really beginning to become more recognized as a fantastic place to do business and notably, a great place for innovation to be fostered,” he says. “Austin is world renowned as a city that defines innovation and creativity and Tampa is well on its way to having many of the same attributes, with all of the other things that make Tampa, and Florida by extension, very special.” 
 
SBIR/STTR is a potential funding opportunity for the right innovative businesses. “Simply put, the SBIR program represents the nation’s largest angel capital fund available to early-stage innovators,” Laudon says. “The co-located National SBIR/STTR Innovation Summit represents over $2.5 billion in annual early-stage commercialization funding coming out of U.S. federal agencies.  Attendees and innovators have access to one-on-one meeting opportunities with SBIR Program Directors from over 20 federal agencies...”
 
DITAC prospects for “break-through technologies from outside of the traditional defense industry,” Laudon adds.
 
“Vetted and sub-selected innovations pitch their technologies to panels of DOD innovation leadership,” he says. 
 
To register, follow this link.
 
The summits are “high points” for year-round prospecting that helps both the defense and private sectors, Glenn says.

Tampa Innovation Summit to boost local startup ecosystem

Twentieth century entrepreneurs are working hard to make the Tampa Bay region a place that attracts -- and keeps -- 21st Century businesses. Among their goals is helping young business minds recognize what they did: the Tampa Bay area is business friendly, has great weather (especially in the winter) and is an all-around beautiful place to live.

“We want the Tampa Bay region to be one of the best places in the country to build a company,” says Marc Blumenthal, CEO of Florida Funders, which looks to invest in between 12 and 25 companies annually. “We want people to seek us out, to stay here to build their companies.”
 
A Jan. 24 Innovation Summit, organized by The Tampa Bay Business Journal and sponsored by Florida Funders, is bringing together people who can participate in building the region into a major entrepreneurial ecosystem similar in reputation to that experienced by Austin TX, Boulder CO, Raleigh-Durham NC or Atlanta GA.
 
“Jan. 24, 2017, really marks the point in time in which Tampa Bay celebrates the successes that it already has,” Blumenthal says.
 
The summit will be inspiring people about ways to become involved. “You need all the ingredients in the recipe to work. We want to activate people,” Blumenthal explains.
 
The Innovation Summit, scheduled from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Tampa Marriott Waterside, is a showcase event featuring Jeff Vinik, Chairman and Governor of Tampa Bay Lightning; and Chris Sullivan, Chairman of Omnivore and MenuPad.
 
“Chris Sullivan is one of the gems of the Tampa Bay area,” Blumenthal says. “He and his partners built Outback [Steakhouse] many many years ago. They chose Tampa as the base. They got the time and the energy and the capital and the support that they needed.”
 
The slate of speakers and panelists also includes Mindy Grossman, CEO and Director of HSN Inc.; innovator Ron Klein; Bill Edwards, CEO of The Edwards Group and Chairman, CEO and Governor of Tampa Bay Rowdies; and governmental representatives.
 
The summit is preceded by an 8:15 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Workshop Action Meeting at the same facility to discuss findings of a Tampa Bay Ecosystem Study conducted through the University of Tampa. The study, which Blumenthal describes as “a bit of a prescription,” recommends the community build an entrepreneurial mindset and address its vision and collaborative efforts.
 
An Investor Lunch from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. will bring together accredited investors and early stage companies. Those who wish to attend can e-mail Florida Funders.
 
The Summit will help attract attention to what the Tampa Bay area has to offer to business. “I think that the visibility of our region, nationally and internationally, has really gone up significantly,” Blumenthal says. “Now’s the time. Now’s always the time. You can’t do it tomorrow, you can’t do it yesterday.”
 
The Summit aims to draw 400-500 people. Tickets are $90 each, with reservations available by following this link

At least 64 entrepreneurial support organizations have been training, mentoring and investing in new businesses in the area. "There is no shortage [of support] ... no shortage of passion and willingness to help build companies" Blumenthal says.

Wifi Waiter makes debut in Downtown Tampa

It’s lunch break and you’re on a tight schedule. You don’t want to spend your time waiting in line to order. No problem. Wifi Waiter has you covered.

Without an app, you can take a seat and order.

“What we’ve done is basically brought in tableside ordering,” explains Anup Balagopal, Founder and CEO of Tampa-based Torchfi.
 
Using the restaurant’s Internet service, Wifi Waiter levels the playing field for brick-and-mortar businesses that, ordinarily, don’t have the ability to recognize repeat customers when they walk in the door. “They faced a significant challenge when competing with online services. The one thing we wanted to do was bring in technology for offline business, and help them do the same things that online does.”
 
Wifi Waiter is live in two locations in downtown Tampa: The Attic and Moxies Cafe and Caterer. “We are always looking to improve the customer experience, and saw this as a unique opportunity for our customers to be able to 'skip the line' in our fast casual restaurant,” says Moxies’ co-owner Bob Carr. “It’s a great fit since we already deliver the food to the table, so the impact to operations is minimal to gain a near full-service experience.” 
 
Torchfi is targeting fast casual restaurants that, by definition, don’t have servers to take your order. Restaurants pay for a monthly subscription with little, upfront cost. “Once we have proven this product here in the Tampa Bay region, I believe we will be able to scale this across the country with the same chains,” Balagopal says.
 
Starting this week, Torchfi is expected to facilitate the ordering process for those who typically order the same, or similar, menu items. “We make it easier for the customer to actually place an order by recording their ordering history,” Balagopal says.
 
Torchfi’s engineering and backup operations are in India, but its headquarters moved to Tampa four months ago after being chosen to participate in Tampa Bay Wave, a non-profit to help entrepreneurs grow tech businesses. 
 
“They have been our angel in Tampa,” Balagopal says. “What Wave brings is an amazing network of mentors and industry experts who help identify what the market actually requires.”
 
Allen Clary, a Tampa Bay Wave Mentor and Entrepreneur in Residence, calls Torchfi “one of our shooting stars.” “It’s absolutely one of the most innovative company products we have in the Wave right now,” he says.
 
He notes Torchfi has made the cut for the Investor Pitch Day Jan. 27, meaning it has passed rigorous review and will be able to pitch to qualified investors in Tampa Bay.
 
Balagopal has his eyes fixed on even greater opportunities beyond the restaurant industry. He’s thinking about malls, stadiums and airports.

With a small Torchfi device connecting customers to an Internet router and  enabling free access, it doesn’t matter if you’re working on a laptop, or using a tablet or phone. “It’s simple and quick,” he says.

Checkers rolls out new look, expands in Tampa Bay Area in new year

Shaji Joseph is a man of firsts. He owns the oldest Checkers in Tampa and the first Checkers in a Walmart in the Tampa area, which is in Oldsmar. Now he is now making plans to open the first updated modular Checkers in Tampa.
 
For all appearances, this Indian immigrant is living the American dream. “I am so proud and happy to cherish what this great nation has offered me and my family,” the 46-year-old entrepreneur says. “[I] will forever be in debt to this great organization [Checkers] that believed in me and gave me such an awesome avenue.” 
 
Joseph attended business school in India, then became an assistant manager for Checkers in Pennsylvania. Fast forward 19 years, and Joseph owns eight franchises, with a commitment to build five more. His eighth location, in Spring Hill, is scheduled to open this month. The modular restaurant on Busch Boulevard is slated to open in the second quarter of 2017.
 
“I hit the ground running. I never stop. I never look back. I just keep going,” he says.
 
Formerly the corporation’s Director of Operations, Joseph is excited about the new design options, which enables him to save money and time. Each restaurant with a new modular design costs approximately $250,000 to build, which is $100,000 less than the traditional option.
 
The new modular restaurant features structural steel, which enhances sturdiness. It will have one instead of two drive-thru lanes plus a covered, outdoor seating area and a walk-up window.
 
His new Busch Boulevard location, which is currently awaiting city approval, is right by his franchise office, Wow Burgers LLC.
 
The new restaurants will incorporate the company’s traditional red, black and white colors. “There’s a lot of excitement and how it’s convenient,” he says. “We’re not losing our charm.”
 
Joseph’s Busch Boulevard location will be one of more than 50 in the nation with the Tampa-based Checkers & Rally’s Restaurants' updated designs. The new design is rolling out in key markets in Tampa, South Florida, Los Angeles, Nashville, Columbus and Houston.
 
Its Model 4.0 design gives franchise holders three options: traditional, modular and hybrid.
 
Jennifer Durham, Checkers & Rally’s Senior VP, says both the modular and hybrid designs are built offsite and feature structural steel. The hybrid design includes structural steel recycled from shipping boxes from overseas.
 
“It’s actually cheaper for manufacturers overseas to leave them behind than to ship them back empty,” Durham says. “We’re working through a third party to acquire the used shipping containers and remanufacture them into our buildings.”
 
Reusing the boxes isn’t quite as cost effective as she initially thought. “The more people that go after them, the price goes up,” she explains. “We weren’t the first or the last one to think of this design concept.”
 
She became interested in the concept after reading about them in architectural and design magazines. “To me, it was worth exploring. Given the size of our restaurant, its seemed like there was a natural fit,” she says.
 
With transport costs at $10 to $15 a mile for the pre-fabricated buildings, Checkers & Rally’s is considering multiple manufacturers across the country. It has more than 840 locations in the United States, and more than 250 more in the works.

Online fitness company helps people get off the couch

Ed Buckley has found an innovative way to make money by encouraging people to exercise. Through Peerfit, a company he founded with Scott Peeples, he is working with insurers and employers to provide exercise credits at fitness centers across the nation.
 
“The idea is that we should give you an array of options, whatever is going to motivate you to get out of the couch,” says Buckley, Peerfit’s CEO. “You have the availability to do it, and you have no barriers to stop you.”
 
Buckley was studying group fitness at the University of Florida when he had an idea to start a fitness company. In 2010, when he met Peeples, another student, he pitched him the idea. By 2011, Peerfit was a reality.
 
“We’re pretty satisfied with the diversity of high-quality options we've put inside the [fitness] network, says Buckley, who holds a PhD from UF in Health Behavior, with a focus on Digital Health and Wellness.
 
A digital company based in Tampa, Peerfit works directly with insurance carriers and employers with wellness budgets. The companies buy credits that clients or employees can use at a variety of fitness studios such as CAMP, Soho Cycling and Epic Boxing in Tampa, or the national Lifetime Fitness.
 
The companies fund a certain number of credits every month. “It’s all about personalization and flexibility. That’s what we built the model for,” he explains.
 
The company was developed with capital from friends and family. In the summer of 2016, Peerfit raised $1.5 million, including some $400,000 through Florida Funders, a company developed in 2014 to help investors fund Florida businesses.
 
“Some of my friends like to call us the 20th century entrepreneurs,” quips Marc Blumenthal, Florida Funders’ CEO.
 
Florida Funders ferrets through 70 to 100 companies a month to find those one, two or three they will try to help financially. “We’re actually focused on tech-enabled companies,” he explains.
 
Florida Funders’ website serves as a platform to connect businesses with investors. In addition to making a profit through shares in the companies, its goal is to help make Florida a place where investors’ children and grandchildren can find good jobs.
 
“Peerfit is a very exciting company,” Blumenthal says. “We ... want to make sure they don’t leave to go somewhere else.”
 
Peerfit is already making its mark. During 2016, it helped 10,000 people.
 
After you find your footing, things move and they move fast,” Buckley says.
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