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New app, Script, enhances communications between educators, parents

A Tampa-based company is gaining traction in the education field with an innovative app that uses technology to ease the administrative burden on teachers. Called Script, the firm has secured funding from local partners Ark Applications and PAR Inc.

“Schools are absolutely loving it. Parents are loving it too,” says Aaron White, Co-Founder and CEO. “They don’t have to rely on little Johnny to bring home the paperwork.”

White, who worked in the tech education field in the Tampa Bay area for eight years, found Script in 2016 after recognizing the mounds of paperwork teachers were managing.

“They can’t focus on what they’re best at, which is teaching. There’s no other solution out there,” he explains. “I decided that I was going to build one.”

Along with Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer Patrick Cahill, White has been working in beta mode to fine-tune their service with feedback from educators.

Now part of the Tampa Bay WaVE Launch program, Script will have its “first big rollout” this year, he says. Script charges a transaction fee; payment arrangements are worked out with each school.

Their immediate goal is to help with forms for field trips, parental permission slips and monetary payments.

Parents can access the program with an app through iOS, Android and the web while educators use an online dashboard. Payments can be made quickly with credit or debit cards.

“We handle all the heavy lifting technology wise,” White says.

An undisclosed amount of investor dollars will be used to develop the Tampa team and expand the company, first In Florida and then nationally. “We want to do this product really well and then look on other things,” he says.

Ark Applications is a privately held equity and consulting firm and PAR is the publisher of assessment instruments, software and related materials.

Script currently employs three, but will be adding another customer service representative, a developer and one or two sales people within the next two months.

They eventually want to manage the transfer of any document to the parent. “Right now when we hand a little paper to Johnny we don’t know if the parent sees it,” he says.


British group taps Tampa man for playable city program

Tampa’s Ryan Swanson, Founder and CEO of The Urban Conga design firm, will be representing the United States in England as part of a program aimed at making cities fun places to live and work.

Swanson was one of 15 chosen from a field of 544 candidates across the globe for Creative Producers International’s 2 1/2-year empowerment program starting in October in Bristol, England. The goal is to enable creative producers to learn from each other what makes cities “more playable, more activated at that street level,” Swanson explains.

“I’m excited to go and learn ... and see how we can integrate our work,” he says.

Swanson originally became connected to CPI through social media, and actually was a finalist in the competition for the last two years. “The reason I got selected is because of what I’m doing with The Urban Conga,” he says.

Swanson, who holds a master’s degree in architecture from the University of South Florida in Tampa, initially founded the firm three years ago with a couple of colleagues. Funding for projects usually comes through the cities, private organizations or a grant.

As one of the 15 creative chosen after Skype interviews, Swanson will participate in a three-week lab, participate in the Making The City Playable Conference in October in Bristol, produce a project, and meet for another conference in Japan. The group includes several from the United Kingdom, as well as representatives from Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Ireland, Australia, South Africa and Denmark.

“They fund me going out there,” Swanson says. “We get paid a small stipend to come back and implement a project.”

Creative Producers International is a talent development program led by Watershed, a Bristol-based organization enabling artistic vision and creative collaboration worldwide.

On the home front, Swanson built ping pong tables in Lykes Gaslight Park and a musical bench, which can be played similar to a marimba or xylophone, near the Straz Center for the Performing Arts. Another project was a dominos/chess table for Ybor City. Additionally, he has worked in areas such as New Orleans and Fort Lauderdale.

His innovation has captured a lot of media attention from news outlets like PBS, The Atlantic and Fast Company.

A 29-year-old, he strives to help people engage with one another in the simpler ways they did as children, instead of spending their time eyeing their cellphones.

“No one really talks to people. No one really physically engages with people in pubic spaces,” he says.

The young and the seniors seem the most receptive to playing, the middle agers more hesitant. But when the middle-aged decide to play, they linger the longest, he says.


Get on board: Tampa StartupBus rolls toward New Orleans July 31

Led by Conductors Kevin Mircovich and Brent Henderson, a busload of techies and innovators will leave Tampa July 31 to travel more than 650 miles to New Orleans on the StartupBus.

Described as an entrepreneurial boot camp and hackathon on wheels, the StartupBus brings together marketers, developers and designers to launch startups in 72 hours.

“StartupBus offers a platform to launch your idea. It’s an opportunity to build a team around your concept and take it from idea to reality,” Mircovich explains. “You’ll validate your idea, build an MVP [minimum viable product] and get traction all in a week.”

What riders usually have in common is an interest in entrepreneurship, plus a desire to sharpen their skills and develop a network. “We get people from all kinds of careers and backgrounds. We get everything from successful business owners, to aspiring entrepreneurs, students, and retirees,” he says. “Generally participants have some kind of experience or background in tech, but we’ve of course had non tech-savvy riders that excel.”

The StartupBus offers prospective entrepreneurs an opportunity to build a business team -- or work on someone else’s. “This is a chance for people with a business idea to recruit a team, and the people without an idea to find a team or idea they are interested in working on,” he says.

Riders face a number of challenges, such as working in the limited space onboard the bus with sporadic wifi service. “Some of the best work you’ll get done is in hotel lobbies along the way. Most teams take advantage of that and will work all night in the lobby,” he advises.

Participants pay a $299 registration fee, plus reduced rates on lodging. They also must pay for food and transportation home.

The journey ends for the approximately 30 riders August 4 at StartupBus Finals in New Orleans, where they have a chance to pitch their new business projects to investors and industry experts -- along with teams from six other regions in North America.

Although there aren’t any cash prizes, Mircovich says the rewards are greater than cash. “You’ll learn a ton about starting a company (through experience), you’ll find that you’ve become a no-excuses / get things done kind of person, and you’ll build great relationships with people you may work with in the future,” he explains.

Mircovich, now a software engineer, knows firsthand. In 2014, he rode the bus to Austin, TX, as a rookie. “I jumped on the bus, not knowing what to expect, and in the 72 hours my team and I came up with an idea, developed a solution, created a brand, closed some sales, and pitched what we built on stage in front of hundreds of other entrepreneurs. It really pushed me out of my comfort zone and into entrepreneurship,” he recalls.

The experience led him to learn software development.

More than 2,000 have participated in StartupBus since it began in San Francisco in 2010. Hundreds of companies have formed on the bus or through the alumni network.

The first Tampa bus rolled in 2012 after a number of residents participated in the 2011 trek from Miami. If you'd like to apply for the 2017 ride, visit North America Startup Bus and use the invite code 83degreesmedia.


Digital wellness company raises $2.3M in latest funding effort

The Tampa-based Peerfit, a digital wellness company that encourages people to exercise, has raised $2.3 million capital in its latest round of funding. Tampa Bay Lightning NHL team owner Jeff Vinik and Founder of Outback Steakhouse Chris Sullivan were among the investors, which included some from the healthcare and digital health sectors.

“The biggest thing we’re doing is opening up some major cities and areas of the country that we hadn’t touched before,” says Peerfit President Scott Peeples.

Peerfit has more than 30,000 in its network spanning more than 30 cities. It recently expanded into New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Portland OR and Charlotte NC.

A digital platform that enables insurance carriers, brokers and employers to offer boutique fitness classes to clients and employees, Peerfit surpassed its initial target of $1.5 million for the bridge round of funding.

“As we got close to our original target of 1.5, we extended the offering. That’s where we ended up having some new people come in and join in,” Peeples says.

The bridge round was “a way for us to raise some capital more quickly,” he adds.

Long-time technology investor Lee Arnold, Colliers International Florida Executive Chairman, led the round and was joined by investors from Florida Funders’ online investing platform and PAR/ARK Applications.

Peerfit has raised nearly $5 million since 2011, some $1.5 million last summer.

Through Peerfit, companies can offer fitness credits that its clients or customers can use at a variety of fitness centers.

CEO Ed Buckley came up with the idea for a fitness company when he was studying group fitness at the University of Florida. He pitched it to Peeples, another student, in 2010.

Among the industry powerweights that invested in the round were representatives of the New York City-based Frenkel Benefits, a large independent employee benefit brokerage and benefit administration firm. They were President Craig Hasday and Executive VP Adam Okun. Rich Gallun, Co-founder of the Chicago-based bswift, acquired by Aetna in 2014, also participated in the round, along with digital health innovator Joseph Hodges, President of Tampa-based INETICO and Care Valet.

Bswift is a leading provider of employee health benefits services.

Peerfit has added industry veterans Todd Slawter and Adam Lowe to its leadership team. Slawter, the Chief Growth Officer, will develop the sales team while Lowe, the Chief Technology Officer, will build infrastructure to support national expansion efforts.

It expects to double the size of its development team, including coders and programmers, and its sales team, including those working on studio sales and enterprise health teams, by the end of year. That should boost the staff from 30 to 40.

Peerfit also is partnering with MINDBODY, which provides cloud-based business management software to the wellness services industry. The partnership makes it easier for fitness studios to find corporate wellness programs in their area, while expanding the network of providers for employers.

Peeples says the industry is realizing there is a demand for a modern fitness product. “Our single biggest goal with this is to be the industry standard,” he says. “We’re looking to raise series B in the fall.”

You can read our previous article about Peerfit here.


Tampa tech firm, Hivelocity, expanding data services

Hivelocity opened for business as a shared web hosting company in 2002. Its founders, Steve Eschweiler, Mike Architetto and Ben Linton, were looking to run a tech business on a budget.

Their philosophy? To help customers succeed.

“We have a vested interest in all of our customers being wildly successful,” explains Eschweiler, COO.

It has paid off.

Today Hivelocity has an international customer base and is expanding its footprint with its third data center, its second in Tampa. The data centers house servers clients essentially rent to store their data to customers here and in faraway places like Africa, Brazil, the Middle East and Japan.

“We have customers from about 134 different countries," says Rick Nicholas, VP of Colocation and Managed Services. “These people just go on our website, click and buy the use of our server.”

Hivelocity held a grand opening at its data center June 22 at Hampton Oaks Business Park on U.S. Highway 301 near Interstate 4. “We rebuilt and retrofitted it for our purposes,” Nicholas explains. “It’s got great bones, fiber connectivity to it.”

It invested in the “eight figures,” he says, but would not provide a specific number. 

Hivelocity is occupying 30,000 of the 90,000 square feet in the center and plans to open up the rest as the company grows. The center, that doubles the company’s capacity, opened in March. Construction took a year to complete.

The company, which employs 60, offers a broad range of services including backup, management, performance and security services. Some nine employees were added for the new data center and more will be hired as the company grows.

One of its more recent endeavors is offering colocation services, or the ability to place clients’ servers in Hivelocity’s facilities. “We’re the only large and locally owned colocation option in the [Tampa] market,” Nicholas says. “Customers value knowing who's running the company they’re trusting with their critical data and equipment.”

Hivelocity knows firsthand how important colocation services can be. “We’re a very large consumer of colocation space ourselves,” he explains. “We needed to expand our footprint due to growth, regardless of whether or not we offered colocation to other customers, and it's a business we like very much.”

What lies ahead? More organic growth, Eschweiler says.

We are actively seeking acquisition opportunities,” he says. “We are currently looking at several that will either give us a new service or fill an area of service where we may have a gap.”

With offices already in Tampa, Miami, Atlanta and Los Angeles, it hopes to open offices in the Midwest and in Europe.


Shiftgig hiring for hourly, Tampa Bay jobs

A Chicago-based company is acting like a matchmaker for Tampa Bay employers and employees looking for shift-based, or hourly, gigs. Called Shiftgig, the company uses apps to sign up individuals for work in a variety of career fields.

“There’s a lot of hospitality, a lot of sports and entertainment [jobs]. Those work very well in the app because there are a lot of one-off shifts,” explains Laura Turner, Managing Director of Shiftgig’s Tampa office.

The 6-year-old company operates in 15 cities nationwide, and is growing. An Orlando office is expected to open within two months.

It developed from of a Chicago job board for the hospitality sector, as the need to fill shifts grew.

Tampa’s office, which opened in February 2016, typically fills some 100 to 200 gigs from about 200 employers a day.  Some 1500 have signed up as “specialists,” or employees, Turner says.

“Typically they work as much as they want to work. We have some specialists that piece together a 40- hour work week,” she says.

About 65 percent of its employees have full-time jobs and are looking to supplement their income. “The other 35 percent are people that are looking for full-time jobs but don’t necessarily want to work at the same place all the time,” Turner says.

About half of the workforce in Tampa are millennials. “The technology is attractive to them,” she says.

Shift jobs are available in warehousing and logistics, hotels, food and beverage, and general labor.

Jobseekers can apply online in about two minutes, Turner says. They receive an email in 48 hours inviting them to a group interview session. “Everyone goes through a criminal background screen,” she says.

Applicants can opt into a drug screen, which is required by some employers.

Shiftgig’s employees have varying education and experience levels. Sometimes they’re recruited on their college campuses when the colleges partner with Shiftgig. E-learning is available to enhance their skills.

Workers usually are paid weekly by direct deposit or a pay card functioning like a debit card. “We’ve actually just implemented an option that, if they want to be paid after each shift they work, they are able to opt into that,” she adds.

Employers can get the word out about openings quickly to a pool of qualified individuals. “Those shifts are picked up really quickly,” she says.

The company's Tampa office serves the greater Tampa Bay area including Hillsborough, Pinellas, Sarasota, Manatee, Pasco and Polk counties.

Shiftgig was recognized in May by the Spend Matters website as one of 50 Providers to Watch, for the Contingent Workforce category.


Mall goers to play Wheel of Fortune, JEOPARDY!, other game shows in kiosks

Tampa Bay mall goers will soon be able to play the popular game shows Wheel of Fortune, JEOPARDY!, Family Feud and The Price is Right at mall kiosks. As part of its in2win advertising promotions, the St. Petersburg-based Priatek is expected to launch the games June 27.

“What we’ve been able to do is connect consumers with advertising in a fun and rewarding way,” says Milind Bharvirkar, Priatek’s President.

Priatek began offering games at mall kiosks in November, but its new revised app will include the popular reality show games, plus loyalty points and gift card programs. Currently there are 80 kiosks operating in the Tampa and Orlando areas.

The goal of the Priatek program is to engage consumers when they are pre-disposed to buy. So they allow consumers to play games for free and win prizes and coupons offered by advertisers, who pay when a customer chooses their product. When consumers register during the process, they’re more likely to follow through with a purchase, Bharvirkar says.

“It doesn’t matter if you play the game or you skip the game,” he says.

Lots of people love to play though, as was evidenced in the past by McDonald’s popular Monopoly promotion. Bharvirkar saw it first hand with coin-operated games for a San Jose, CA, business he founded, Global VR.

“The game element is simply about putting you in a positive state of mind. The games in general are an escape for people,” he explains. “... Just the anticipation of winning sets off dopamine in our brains that leads to a positive connection to that brand.”

Prizes or coupons are issued instantly; there’s a limit of 20 per day. Some people win big prizes like diamond earrings, cruises, VIP passes to the Daytona 500, and fishing trips.

Users can download the app starting June 27 from the Apple and Google app stores, enabling them to play some of the games at the mall on their cellphones and tablets, but not computers.

In July, Wheel of Fortune and JEOPARDY! will be on a mobile app as well. Priatek doesn’t have mobile rights yet for Family Feud and The Price is Right.

Kiosks are installed at Tampa Bay area malls, including Tyrone Square, University, Westfield Brandon, Westfield Citrus Park, Westfield Countryside, and Westshore Plaza. Discussions are underway regarding International Plaza.

Bharvirkar is looking to expand into sports arenas, big box retailers, hotels and large retail chains.

Advertisers small and large can link their brand with a popular game show for as little as $100 a month. “Nobody’s ever been able to do that,” he says.

Priatek is interviewing to possibly hire two advertising sales reps for the Tampa Bay area soon. They’ll be hiring elsewhere too: Priatek is expanding nationally this year, starting with New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.


Tampa tech company helping brewery sales reps do their jobs

Much like a lily pad offers strategic help to frogs leaping across a pond, the Tampa company Lilypad is assisting brewery sales reps on their daily routes.

And it’s growing in leaps and bounds.

“We’re all about keeping these reps moving and executing in the field,” explains Eric Rabinovitz, CEO, who co-founded the company with Peter Ladis about five years ago.

Lilypad has grown more than 1,200 percent since January, 2016, and now logs 107 clients, all in the alcoholic beverage industry.

Rabinovitz was working as Executive Vice President for Actsoft, a Tampa company providing mobile solutions for field workers, when he came up with the idea.

Actsoft is serving the blue-collar worker; he saw a need for help with sales. So Actsoft CEO and Founder, Tom Mitchell, helped them get started with a “strategic investment,” Rabinovitz  says.

Although they initially served sales people in different industries, Lilypad settled into the alcoholic beverage industry about three years ago. There they allow brewery sales reps, who work through distributors to sell their products, to sidestep more time-consuming sales methods involving spreadsheets, text messages and email.

“Lilypad enables the supplier sales team to execute more efficiently in the field and communicate more efficiently with their distributors,” he says.

The mobile- and web-based platform costs $50 per user per month; volume discounts are available.

Lilypad makes it fun for sales reps by enabling them to score points for performing sales activities. Much like a Fitbit makes users more conscious of the steps they log every day, Lilypad makes sales reps more conscious of their efforts.

A majority of distillery reps are millennials, and it works well, he says.

“Technology made you more aware, which made you change your behavior,” he says. “We’ve added that element to the business world.”

Being in the niche beverage market allows Lilypad to address needs specific to the industry, some through ancillary services, he says.

Lilypad currently employs 10 at its location at Waters Avenue and Anderson Road. It likely will hire five more staffers within the next six months, three in customer service/implementation and two in product development.

It is serving customers in more than 35 states, including Florida, California, Texas, Georgia, and in the northeastern United States. It recently signed up its first international customer, from Australia.

Lilypad is part of the Tampa Bay WaVE Launch program. “We love what they’re doing,” Rabinovitz  says.  “It really does open up a lot of doors.”


Tampa tech company speeds up business site selection process

The stakes are high when a company decides to invest in a brick-and-mortar storefront. A business can spend millions, only to fail because of the wrong location.

But the Tampa-based SiteZeus® is working to boost their clients’ odds of success.

“Our software helps you determine what are the best sites,” says Chuck Cooper, Executive VP of Product Development for SiteZeus.

The company is attracting quite a bit of attention lately. On May 2, it won two bronze Stevie® Awards at the 15th Annual American Business Awards for “Best Software Product of the Year,” Data Visualization Technology, and “Tech Startup of the Year,” Software. Then it claimed the $75,000 Gold Award at the 10th Annual Florida Early Stage Capital Conference May 19.

It also was featured in Microsoft’s BizSpark Startup Stories May 23.

Last year, it racked up two awards, claiming both BIG Awards, as Startup of the Year and CIO Review’s Top 100 Big Data Solutions.

What makes SiteZeus unique is its transparency -- and its ability to do in seconds or minutes what normally could take months, explains Jorge Hermez, Director of Marketing.

There’s no curtain where all this stuff is happening behind the scenes,” he says.

It is able to process data that humans can’t.

“We’ve created a data agnostic pipeline,” Hermez says. “The more data we inject into SiteZeus, the larger variety of users we’ll get.”

“It doesn’t matter what type of business you’re in, if you’re in business to make money,” asserts Cooper.

SiteZeus’ partnerships with data set add-ons, UberMedia, Black Box Intelligence, and INRIX, have helped to fuel its success.

The cloud-based software, offered on subscription, lets users securely input data and receive predictive models without sharing it with anyone. “Once you’ve imported your data you can play around with the models. You can adjust the variables to see what kind of impact that it has on sales,” Cooper says.

SiteZeus was founded in 2013 by brothers Keenan and Hannibal Baldwin. Business climbed an average 51 percent each quarter during the last year. The number of employees rose from seven to 13 in the last year as well, and it continues its search for talent in sales, software engineering, quality assurance engineering, graphic design, web development and content creation.

The company currently serves the United States, but is planning to go global by next year. Among its clients are the Pincho Factory, a fast-casual burger and kebab chain popular in South Florida; Fitness Premier, a midwest fitness company now available for franchising in 40 states; Campers Inn RV, one of the largest U.S. RV outlets, located in 10 states; and SafeSplash Swim School, the leading swim school franchise in North America.


Florida tech startups compete for cash, exposure at USF Connect event in Tampa

Twenty Florida tech startups will have a chance to give 60-second elevator pitches May 30 to a three-judge panel including Dr. Kanwal Rekhi, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist meeting at USF Connect in Tampa.

Start-ups have until noon on Friday, May 26th, to submit their entries for the Start-up Shuffle, a Start-up Elevator-Pitch Competition by TiE Tampa Bay Chapter and USF Connect, says Ramesh Sambasivan, President of TiE Tampa Bay.

The Shuffle will provide a “scenic drive of Tampa Bay and the Florida entrepreneurial ecosystem,” he explains. A pre-screening committee will review all submissions.

“This is a place to pitch real start-up companies, not for vetting,” Sambasivan says. “If they want to vet their idea, there are already enough mentors in town to do that.”

Start-up companies should have a product or offering that has launched, although it could still be in beta, he says.

On the panel of judges with Rekhi of Inventus Capital Partners, is Matt Rice, a Partner in Ballast Point Ventures, and Sid White, Co-Founder of Chemical Angel Network.

TiE and USF Connect decided to hold the contest earlier this month. Rekhi already had been scheduled to talk about the challenges for technology start-ups that are disrupting highly regulated industries.

“We were trying to come up with a way that would be a little different than just having five companies pitch,” says Valerie McDevitt, Associate VP for Tech Transfer and Business Partnerships at USF. “You do literally find your self in a cab or elevator with just a few minutes with someone.”

The Start-up Shuffle kicks off at 6 p.m., followed by networking, a Start-up Expo and Dinner from 7:15 p.m. to 8 p.m. A fireside chat with Rekhi is slated from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m.

His talk is to include an in-person case study of Alok Jha, Founder/CEO of Assured Risk Cover, an innovator in the insurance industry.

The event also includes a “living history” of Storm Peace, a hurricane insurance provider and the dinner’s sponsor, Sambasivan says.

The Start-up Shuffle winner will be announced later in the evening, probably before the fireside chat. The winner will receive a $1,001 cash prize, a breakfast meeting with Dr. Rekhi the following morning, and a chance to pitch to TiE Tampa Bay angel investors. The runner-up wins a 30-minute one-on-one mentoring session with a TiE Tampa Bay Charter Member and a chance to pitch to TiE Tampa Bay angel investors.

The 20 finalists win one complimentary ticket to the entire program or a discounted annual membership to TiE Tampa Bay.

The event at USF Connect’s Galleria on the Tampa Campus is open to the public. Enter the free contest or register for the event here.

TiE events typically attract “undercover investors” who really are actively looking for investments, Sambasivan says. As a result, conversations may become serious.

“You never know where that diamond in the rough is,” he adds. “That’s what we are trying to uncover with these types of events.


St. Pete investor, USFSP create forum for OPEN learning, sharing ideas

Much like open source software transformed the software industry, a St. Petersburg-based thought cooperative is poised to change people's lives through intellectual exchanges and collaborations in the greater Tampa Bay Area.

The cooperative is aptly called OPEN, the Open Partnership Education Network. It will be encouraging open sharing and innovation, while providing the tools that make it possible.

“In our current paradigm, the philosophy is closed and you work within your silos,” explains Walter Fernando Balser, OPEN’s Founding Director.

Similar to the collaboration spawned in the software industry by open collaboration on software like Wordpress, an open source publishing platform, OPEN looks to bring together people to share ideas. Some themes they are working with include seeds, future cities and radical schools.

“It’s revolutionary for the city of St. Petersburg, but it’s not revolutionary for other cities like Austin, Texas,” Balser asserts.

Themed events are more than interesting meetings where people can network, talk about interesting ideas and then go home and forget about it. “You have a framework in place that allows those thought leaders to continue to collaborate on the next experiences,” he explains.

The open framework for St. Petersburg could be shared very easily with any community, he adds.

OPEN evolved from an idea by Jim Aresty, a St. Petersburg transplant, who enjoyed the intellectual stimulation offered by the nonpartisan forum, the Aspen Institute in Colorado. A retired women’s clothing manufacturer, Aresty was a long-time resident there and frequent summertime visitor of the institute.

After he began spending the winter’s in St. Petersburg about three years ago, he became captivated. “I absolutely just fell in love with the city. First and foremost, I just love the people,” Aresty says. “It feels really Midwest to me, very uncompetitive, friendly.”

But he missed the institute while here.

“I want the community to be invigorated and enlivened and educated, in the hopes that it will improve people lives,” Aresty says.

He now splits his time between St. Petersburg and Aspen, spending seven months in St. Pete. And OPEN is off and running, expected to officially start themed discussions in November in connection with the city’s Et Cultura Festival featuring music, film and interactive culture. All thanks to contributions from Aresty.

Initially, he provided enough funds for a staff director for one year, expected to expire in July, with office space and administration provided by USFSP. Now he’s providing significant funding that can continue the endeavor for five years, after which it’s intended to be self-supporting.

OPEN is partnering with the USF College of Marine Science, St. Petersburg College’s Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions, Poynter Institute for Media Studies, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and Et CulturaIt plans to continue to grow its network.

Ultimately, Aresty believes St. Pete will be attracting more people like him: middle-aged and older folks with part-time residences here who want “to be inspired and to be invigorated intellectually, to be involved and to have ways to learn and to grow,” he says.

“I just thought it was a great way to give to my new city that I love,” he says.


Tampa staffing startup chosen for global tech showcase

A Tampa Bay staffing startup company, patterned after online matchmaking services, has been chosen to participate in Emerge Americas Startup Showcase in Miami, a major global business-to-business tech event featuring entrepreneurs from Latin America, North America and Europe.

Monikl was one of 125 companies selected in three categories for the June 12-13 business-to-business tech conference. It will have a booth at the event and the opportunity to participate in a pitch competition for up to $100,000.

The company, launched in January, is intended to save users time and money by matching job candidates and employers. What makes it different is its ability to perform like a full-time staff company from an Internet platform. It uses a quiz, that can be filled out in five to 10 minutes, to match applicants with companies that are suited to them.

“Instead of looking through thousands of resumes, you’re basically getting five to 10 high quality matches,” says Monikl CEO and Co-Founder Zachary Senz Kamler. “Our aim is to produce quality not quantity.”

Using an app for Android and Apple phones or the web, users sign up for free. The employer pays 7.5 percent of a direct hire’s salary, for the first year. It also works with temporaries and contract hires.

Monikl is generally targeting the tech and healthcare fields in the Tampa Bay area, or basically 50 miles from Tampa’s downtown. It already has some 1,000 job seekers and several companies -- and is growing steadily.

“In general our goal is to reach 10,000 users in the Tampa Bay area by the end of the year. Once we reach that, we’ll be able to acquire more capital and expand out to other cities,” he says.

Senz-Kamler, who has a background in staffing and a bachelor’s degree in Business and Entrepreneurship from the University of South Florida, is partnering with CTO Jonathan Antoneli.

“We’re clearing up the path to finding a job,” Senz-Kamler explains.

In Tampa Bay WaVE’s Build program, Monikl uses WaVE co-working space. “We have been setting them up with mentors, goals and connections. Monikl has some great leadership and hunger to grow and we love having them in our program,” says Daniel McDonald, Accelerator Manager.


Clearwater Business SPARK celebrates one year of assisting entrepreneurs

When Clearwater SPARK launched last year, the business network targeted the needs of area entrepreneurs and start-up companies. The initiative planned to be a support system for these businesses, offering them a variety of services at all levels, from conception to operations.

At the time, the program brought together five partners: the city of Clearwater’s Economic Development and Housing Department, the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Small Business Development Center at Pinellas County Economic Development, Florida Business Incubator (formerly known as TAFFIE) and the Clearwater Public Library System. Each partner had something different to offer small business owners and SPARK would serve as the conduit between the organizations involved and local entrepreneurs.

SPARK introduced its partners to the community at its March 2016 kick-off event at the Clearwater Main Library. Now, as SPARK partners reflect on its first year, the network will host another event at the library, Wednesday, May 24, 6 to 8 p.m.

“It really feels like we’ve come full circle,” says Audra Aja, Clearwater’s Economic Development Coordinator. “Here we are a year later bringing the community back to the library.”

The business initiative has a lot to celebrate, adds Aja, who fields calls for SPARK from her office at City Hall. In its first year, she made around 150 referrals to the initiative’s partners.

“The community has really responded to us and shown its support,” she says. “We bring a much-needed service to the community.”

SPARK has also welcomed two new partners since its launch. In January, Prospera, formerly known as the Hispanic Business Initiative Fund, joined the network as a way to reach out to Hispanic-owned businesses in Clearwater.

The latest partner to join forces with SPARK, Pinellas County SCORE, will be formally introduced at the May 24 event. SCORE, a nonprofit association with thousands of business experts worldwide, offers mentorship for small businesses and other educational resources.

The organization has been involved with SPARK from the beginning. They held business workshops at the Main Library. “They just weren’t an official partner,” Aja says.

SCORE brings new resources to the table, she adds. “They’ll be able to help those in the beginning phases of exploring their ideas and getting started. That’s something we didn’t have in our network. SCORE comes in at the entry level.”
 
In addition to accepting more referrals from SPARK, SCORE will also offer one-on-one consultations at Clearwater venues as well as more workshops.

The May 24 event will also serve as an open house for the library’s Maker Studios, Aja says. The Main Library has five studios spread throughout the building: the Creation Studio, the Discovery Studio, the Innovation Studio, the Multimedia Studio and the Heritage Studio, which will open in July. The Maker Studios launched last May.

During the open house, guests will tour the Multimedia and Innovation Studios, where they will learn about the free programs for small businesses and entrepreneurs, and view hands-on demonstrations of the equipment available in these spaces. Software, programs and equipment available for use include business databases, 3-D printers and scanners, design and production software, and audio and video equipment.

Rino Landa, Maker Studios coordinator, says not many libraries offer a makerspace. So the Clearwater Main Library stands out as a space for entrepreneurs and small businesses, he says. The wide range of offerings – from painting and sewing classes to tools for start-ups to genealogy resources – is also remarkable. “We are unique in that we have multiple spaces throughout the library and so much to offer on each floor,” he says.

Aja says the Maker Studios is the most “underutilized” aspect of SPARK, so the May 24 open house is designed to remind residents that it’s available to them. It’s also continuing to evolve, she adds, especially as new technology is developed. She says the library will add more multimedia tools and expand its workshop schedule in the coming year. “We’re really very fortunate that the library has invested in this for the community,” she says.

Register for the May 24 event at the Clearwater SPARK website or call (727) 443-0217.

Florida Funders moves into new offices in Westshore, positions for growth

Florida Funders, a company that connects early-stage Florida businesses with accredited investors, has moved into newly renovated office space in Tampa’s Westshore district, expanding its collaborative workspace.

“Our own staff is growing, our investment base is growing, the number of collaborative meetings, early stage companies are growing,” says Marc Blumenthal, CEO.

Now located on the first floor of the Austin Center in some 5,000 square feet, it is better prepared to work with companies that come to make their pitches to investors.

“They specifically built this for us not only to have a better bigger space ... but to have lots of open work space,” Blumenthal says.

The new space was “completely gutted from the floor to the deck of the ceiling” under the direction from Jonathan Levy, managing partner for Redstone Investments, the center’s owner.

It outgrew space it shared with Quantum Capital Partners at nearby Tower Place.

“We already have about 15 companies in our portfolio,” he says. “That grows by 10-20 a year.”

Florida Funders has six on its staff full-time and another two part-time. It will be creating an Ambassadors’ program to broaden its networking in other communities throughout Florida this year, he says.

The Ambassadors will be volunteers well connected in their community. “We’re going to do all the heavy lifting. They’re the eyes and ears on the ground for us,” he explains.

Additionally, Florida Funders is planning a partner’s program, which may involve a Funders’ liaison to sit on the board of a portfolio company. “Most of those opportunities will have some form of remuneration from the portfolio company,” he says.

The funding company has invested some $4 million in 17 deals in the last two years and is expecting to pump an additional $5 to $7.5 million into start-ups in the next year.

“Our business model is really associated with the success of our investment. It’s a long-term view,” he explains. “Every year we’ll be investing more capital.”

Ultimately, Florida Funders wants “to see our best and our brightest stay here,” he says, and encourage other bright people to choose to live here for the climate, ease of doing business, and accessible business capital.

“Florida Funders is priming that pump. We think we’re taking the lead on that with some other great people across the state,” he says.


Tampa Bay job news: Vology, World Wide Technology, Connectwise growing, hiring

The Largo-based Vology, a managed IT service provider, has announced it will be adding up to 200 jobs within the next two to four years. The company relocated from Oldsmar to Largo last fall, investing $3.75 million.

“We’re still adjusting to our new buildings,” says spokesman Trent Brock. “We finally have everything up and running.”

Vology renovated and upped its space from 50,000 to 60,000 square feet when it moved from Tampa Road to the Bay Vista Office Park with a Clearwater mailing address.  It opted for the Largo location to be more centrally located within the Tampa Bay area.

“It gives an opportunity to take in a new market for IT talent,” he says.

Additional details on the new jobs weren’t immediately available, but job seekers are advised to check the company’s website for the latest details.

Meanwhile World Wide Technology, a St. Louis-based innovative technology and supply chain solutions provider, has revamped its Tampa offices.

“We decided to build a virtual or remote executive briefing facility,” explains Scot Gagnon, Director of Army and Special Operations. “It kind of looks like we’re all sitting in the same room because the technology has come so far.”

The upgrade accommodates remote testing and helps clients access the newest technology, without the travel. The offices at 5426 Bay Center Drive include new collaborative work spaces.

“We’re still unpacking, We literally just moved back in,” Gagnon says.

He has plans to hire two sales engineers this year to work with customers on product design.

WWT has been in Tampa since 2007.

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

  • The software company Connectwise, which beat is first Quarter goal in 2017, is posting a 22 percent growth rate. The Tampa-based company, which employs 900 workers globally, lists on its website openings for a benefits specialist, traffic manager, system administrator, illustrator, junior developer and more.
  • Kelly Career Network is looking for two web content professionals in St. Petersburg for two-month contracts, with pay set at $20 to $24 an hour. It is looking for a high school diploma or its equivalent and at least four years of related experience; an associate’s degree and at least one year of formal education in web design, development, or computer/internet sciences is preferred.
  • Syniverse, a global leader in mobile communications, is looking for a career success specialist for its New Tampa office. The position requires an undergraduate degree in business or marketing and strong interpersonal, communication, analytical and problem-solving skills. Other openings include a customer operations specialist, level I position.


If you are hiring skilled workers with five or less years of experience, drop us a line.

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