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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To buy tickets, visit the Synapse website.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tampa company works to cut power costs for businesses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Synthetic body manufacturer grows in Tampa

The Tampa manufacturer of synthetic bodies for medical testing and training is in a growth streak. SynDaver, located near Tampa International Airport, has acquired the London area-based Lifecast Body Simulation, which specializes in making life-like mannequins, and a $186 million contract from the U.S. Department of the Army.

“Our bodies are made of a proprietary mix of water, salt and fiber,” explains Kevin King, the company’s VP of marketing. “It’s the closet thing ... to a real human for the medical training market.”

SynDaver, which handles management and assembly in Tampa, expects to merge the companies’ capabilities to create ultra-realistic, next-generation synthetic human and animal bodies. The models will include fully functioning anatomy and life-like tissues; humans will appear realistic enough to replace stuntmen in films.

“We’ve been making such great tissues from the skeleton on up,” King says. “Lifecast we thought was the world leader in the exterior.”

SynDaver did not release details about the acquisition made Sunday, Jan. 14.

Its models, distinguishable from cadavers because they don’t have a grayish cast caused by preservatives, are designed for use in anatomy and funeral science instruction, surgery simulation, clinical training, consumer product testing, automobile crash testing, TV and movie production, medical device testing and military product development. They are replacing live animals and cadavers.

“We want to continue driving the notion of patient safety and patient care as far as we can take it,” King says. “It’s all about the patient. As long as the focus remains there, we believe we are going to be successful.”

The company, which derived its name from the words synthetic and cadaver, is expected to supply both virtual patient simulation systems and whole body patient simulators for human medical and veterinarian training through its new government contract. Mark Owens, head of the company’s new Global Government Business Unit charged with overseeing the Army contract, described the deal as the "largest single award from DOD [the Department of Defense] that SynDaver has received."

Under the five-year contract with the Department of the Army’s Joint Project Management Office for Medical Modeling and Simulation, SynDaver is expected to deliver an indefinite number of simulators inside and outside of the United States for the training, evaluation and certification of medical personnel. The models will be used to train surgical personnel for both humans and canines.

Owens is one of seven recent hires in leadership roles, according to its website. "We are hiring nonstop right now for production and sales and also hiring in engineering," Founder Christopher Sakezles says.

Started in 2004, the company is experiencing rapid growth. “We’re growing at multiples of the compound annual growth rate of the industry,” King explains.

Among its clientele are industrial clients like Apple and Google, educational clients like the University of Florida and University of Saskatchewan, government customers like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and media customers like CBS, NBC and PBS.

The company’s models range in cost from $8,000 to $100,000 depending on the features sought.

SynDaver also is screening potential investors of $100,000 or more for its next private offering.

The technology used in the synthetic bodies dates back to 1993, when UF was involved in initial studies to create synthetic tracheas to replace live animals when testing airway devices. The materials developed are now used in the industry to mimic simple veins and arteries.

Sakezles, the president, chief technology officer, and chairman of the Board of Directors for SynDaver, is a Tampa native who earned a master’s in Materials Science and Engineering and a Ph.D. in Polymer Science from UF. He earned a bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering from the University of South Florida.

Sakezles is expected to investigate live tissue replacement such as artificial hips or knees in the future. “We believe can play a role in the medical device and replacement arena,” King says.

For now, the company with strategic national and international flight access is working on new animals; a cat is coming out in the spring. They’re also working with a horse model. “We are driving toward rats and mice as well. They are being used so prevalently in testing,” he explains.

While the synthetic bodies are expected to replace real animals in surgeries like gastropexy, used to treat a life-threatening condition involving the stomach, they aren’t life-like enough to use in movies because they have no fur.

But Lifecast already has supplied human synthetic bodies for films like Saving Private Ryan and Gladiator, for which it won an Academy Award.

There are no plans for SynDaver models to be paired with robotics to do mundane tasks like clean house or pick fruit. “It’s just not something that’s in our wheelhouse, nor is it in our short term roadmap,” King says.

If something like that becomes a reality, he says, “it won’t be our stuff.”


DOD courts local innovators for MD5 accelerator

Business accelerators and hackathons are all the rage these days. Even the federal government is getting in on the act: its MD5 is on the local tech scene to help innovators create new products.

“We reach out to innovators that typically would not be working with the DOD [Department of Defense],” explains William Kernick Ph.D., a principal in the MD5 national security technology accelerator, which is part of the DOD. “We want to make these communities of innovators aware of very interesting and challenging problems. ... Part of what we’re doing is building those connections.”

MD5 held its first event in the Tampa Bay area in December in partnership with the Ybor City-based SOFWERX, an organization formed to facilitate collaboration between innovators and the U.S. Special Operations Command, or SOCOM. Called Hacking the Human Element, the three-day hackathon brought together participants from across the United States to develop prototypes using wearable technology to boost productivity in austere environments.

Squad Dr. Bones McCoy claimed a prize worth up to $15,000 to work on a prototype that monitors vital signs through wearable technology, helping first responders to more easily assess the urgency of medical treatment.

 

“What we focused on was the telemedicine aspect,” says team spokesperson Tracy Ingram, CEO of Intention Technology based in Dade City, which is building non-invasive medical diagnostic tools.

In a combat situation, Squad Dr. Bones McCoy’s automated alert system would enable medics to identify stable patients from those whose conditions are rapidly deteriorating, or who are deceased. It relies on off-the-shelf technology that is commercially viable.

 

A member of Pasco Economic Development Council’s SMARTstart Incubator, Ingram recruited a seasoned team after showing up at the event's trade show. “We had this perfect mix of all these people that kind of came together to make this happen,” he says.

Members of the large team included David Hirschberg, Natalie Concors, Asia Hall, Alec Thurman, Brian Meredith, Steve McCalmont, Yves St Laurent and Terry Shaw.

The team expects to use the money to seek a Small Business Innovation Research grant for $200,000 to further the technology, with the goal of making it available to the military and commercial markets.


“Really what you are doing is extending telemedicine from the hospital room to potentially the home or wherever that patient would be,” says Ingram, co-Founder of the nonprofit Healthcamp Florida, which identifies innovative medical technologies.

The other teams receiving up to $15,000 were:

• Squad Smart Tourniquets, which showed how tourniquets embedded in undergarments could stop bleeding in extremities;

• Squad Blood Suckers, which demonstrated how an intravenous diagnostic probe can provide real-time and continuous blood analysis; and

• Squad Fabric Communications, which showed how fabric could be used to ensure communication in austere environments.


In addition to the money and mentoring, teams were recognized by Manufacturing USA at the Defense Manufacturing Conference (DMC 2017) in Tampa in December.

While MD5 is working to improve the national security, its efforts are not solely to assist warfighters. “When we work with entities on these ideas, we like to focus on something called dual use,” Kernick says, adding it should be aimed at national defense and commercial markets. “Just doing a national security application is not sufficient for a company to be successful. You also want them to make sure they’re looking at dual use.”

 

A good example of why this is important is GPS, which was military technology 40 years ago. Commercializing the product advanced the product and reduced its cost.

 

The prize money will be awarded to teams for follow through on product development, with installments given at designated milestones. “We give them the freedom to put their plan in place,” he says. “We’re very flexible about how they deploy the funds. They have to keep it going.”

MD5’s customized approach doesn’t include a physical cohort, application process, or set program. Instead, the hackathon is the “lead-in,” Kernick says.

“It’s more like they’re now in the fold, so we continue to work with them,” he explains.

Kernick says discussions are underway about another event with SOFWERX. “We want to keep going and figure out another way to do a collaboration,” he says.

Interested in learning more about SOFWERX? Check out this article in 83 Degrees Media.


Tech Bytes: Tampa Bay WaVE joins Global Accelerator Network

The Tampa Bay WaVE, downtown Tampa’s tech accelerator, has become the first in Florida to join the Global Accelerator Network, a move expected to create new international opportunities for Tampa Bay’s tech community.

It adds credibility, its adds visibility and basically collaboration with the worldwide tech community,” explains Rich Heruska, Interim Accelerator Director. “It further puts the Tampa Bay and Florida tech system on the map.”

The Global Accelerator Network, which includes 90 top accelerators in more than 120 cities globally, can advertise the WaVE’s programs, giving it international exposure in its efforts to attract tech companies to Tampa Bay. It also will create new potential funding opportunities for WaVE companies, provide access to discounts, and enable free shared workspace opportunities in other cities, he says.

The WaVE has been interested in joining the network, which charges an annual fee of more than $10,000, for five years. “They don’t accept everybody,” he points out.

The nonprofit also has added three new board members: Joe Hodges, Stewart Kelly and Kailah Matyas. Alfred Goldberg of Absolute Marketing Solutions will continue to serve as board chair.

A pioneer in the healthcare field, Hodges’ latest venture is the Tampa-based CareValet, which helps to solve the healthcare access maze for consumers. Kelly is a sales account executive at Florida Blue with more than nine years of experience in the healthcare insurance industry. Matyas, managing partner at Redwood Partners, is expert at finding the best people to build successful businesses and accomplish their goals.

Additionally, Avril Stinson, a seasoned investor relations manager, has joined The WaVE as its new director of development. Her duties include community support and strategic leadership. Stinson previously worked as investor relations director for the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation.

In other tech news, Penny Hoarder Founder and CEO Kyle Taylor is scheduled to speak at the Tampa Bay Innovation Center’s quarterly Diary of an Entrepreneur program at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 13, at Microsoft Headquarter offices, 5426 Bay Center Dr., Suite 700, Tampa. His talk will share how he grew his blog on personal student loan and credit card debt into a thriving website with millions of readers monthly.

When I first racked up all this debt I was afraid to tell anybody about it,” Taylor admits. “What I learned was that all that hiding was making the situation even more shameful for me. When I started to own it, and started telling people about it, is when I started making a difference.”

He’s developed a brand that shares stories from people who have accomplished their financial goals. “We really try to stay focused on our mission, which is to us money in people’s pockets. It really drives every decision that we make,” he explains.

That means turning away half of the advertisers, and passing on story ideas that would attract web traffic, whenever they don’t stay true to its mission, he says.

The event is free, but registration is recommended.

Read on for more tech happenings in Tampa Bay.

SOFWERX, a U.S. Special Operations Command-funded agency that works with the community to meet military and civilian needs, will be awarding six $50,000 prizes for passive infrared projects. Its Passsive IR Rapid Prototyping Event kicks off with an information session today, Jan. 16, and runs through Friday, Jan. 19. Winners will be announced after pitches are made Sunday, Jan. 28, and Monday, Jan. 29; they have two to four weeks to complete their prototypes. A second ThunderDrone Rapid Prototyping Event Tech Expo is planned Monday, Jan. 29 through Wednesday, Jan. 31, with more than $600,000 in prize money available.

• The survey deadline is Wednesday, Jan. 17, for the Startup Genome Project 2018. The group surveys 100+ local startups from assorted industries to support emerging startup hubs and produce a Global Startup Ecosystem Report.  It takes about 15 minutes to fill out; you’ll find the survey here.

Homebrew Hillsborough, a free monthly networking meeting, features a tour of the advertising firm Adjoy at 8:30 a.m. Friday, Jan. 26, at 1906 N. Armenia Ave., Tampa.

• Geeks are gathering for their monthly Geek Breakfast at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 25, at Jimbo’s Pit Bar-B-Q, 4103 W. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. The event is held regularly on the last Thursday of the month. Learn more.

Computer Mentors, an East Tampa nonprofit that helps youths build self esteem by teaching them computer skills, has launched a fundraiser to buy 100 computers for seven schools: Foster, Mort, Oak Park, Potter, Sheehy, and Booker T. Washington elementaries and Memorial Middle School. The computers will be used in classrooms or to create computer labs. Computer Mentors is trying to raise $210 for each computer by the end of January. More information is available at 813-236-1191.

• Interested in networking with the Tampa Bay tech community? The national nonprofit Launchcode is holding a Tampa Bay Networking Open House from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 1, at Entrepreneur Collaborative Center, 2101 East Palm Ave., Tampa. The free event is an opportunity for recent graduates of Launchcode’s LC101, as well as newcomers to the local tech scene, to hang out with potential employers in an informal setting. Free parking is available across Palm Avenue. Online registration is available.

• Ken Countess, managing director of the Countess Group, is featured at “Linkedin for Business: How to Get More Out of Linkedin,” from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 8, at USF Connect’s Oak View Room, 3802 Spectrum Blvd., Tampa. You can register online.
 

• The career site Zippia has recognized the “10 Best Startups to Work for in Tampa”: Whooshfly, SavvyCard, LumaStream, Fair Warning Inc, Therapist Assisted Online, Nitro Solutions, Priatek, Washlava, Peerfit, and PikMyKid!

 


Tampa-based startup focused on weight loss considers options for growth

When Mark Springer was in middle school, he was a chubby guy who joked about his weight to mask the pain. “I didn’t know where to get good information [about weight loss],” he recalls. “The best I could come up with was, what if I just start doing what skinny people do? They must run. They probably eat a lot of salads.”

So in high school, he took up running. He joined the cross-country team and he dieted by not eating. Although he shed unwanted pounds, he became gaunt. “I was just skin and bones. I had no muscle,” he says. “I was like a stick.”

At Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, LA, where he played football, Springer figured out how to beef up with a different body composition. “It changed my life. It gave me so much confidence,” Springer adds. “It really did turn my life around.”

Springer started Avatar Nutrition three years ago to share what he’s learned -- and help others sidestep the pitfalls of mass-marketed fad diets. Today, at 28, Springer is CEO of Avatar Nutrition, which customizes dietary recommendations for each of its 24,000 users.

“Most people don’t know what the scientific methods are for losing fat,” says Springer, who partnered with Katie Coles, now the chief science officer.

Dieters suffer because their bodies learn to survive on fewer calories when they are on low-calorie diets, he says. When their metabolisms continue to slow down, the diets eventually becomes unsustainable. In those cases, he recommends a “reverse diet” to rev up the metabolism again.

“Metabolism can adapt in both directions,” he says. “It’s a survival mechanism.”

He says low-carb diets appear to be helpful by causing dieters to lose water weight. “Basically, you’re just peeing off all this body weight,” he explains. “It was never fat.”

While the Avatar’s program is nutritionally sound, it doesn’t require users to choose whole foods instead of fortified foods. “We’re not saying you shouldn’t eat whole foods. You’re not locked to them to be successful,” he says.

Avatar, which uses an app, charges $10 a month to gain access to the membership service. Members have access to a team of experts, such as a registered dietitian or certified strength and conditioning expert.

The program offers flexible dieting, which means there aren’t any no-nos. Users just adjust their protein, carbohydrate and fat requirements to include their favorite foods, or that piece of birthday cake.

“As your body changes, your needs for each of those micronutrients changes as well,” he says.

It takes the long-term, rather than short-term, approach to dieting. “It’s not just about what I can do in this six-week program,” he explains. “You have your entire life ahead of you. You need long-term thinking and planning to have results that stick.”

Avatar attracts users of all ages and walks of life, including women from a senior ladies ski club in Utah, nurses, and bartenders -- even a contingent of 200 from Singapore. “There’s almost like built in virality to it,” he explains.

Currently operating with a staff of 12, with a family-style office culture, Avatar is also employing four remote workers across the United States. “It’s a lot of fun. We kind of think of ourselves as a big family,” he says.

The company was growing so fast last summer they had to slow down the marketing. “The program is so effective that people using it are advertising it by word of mouth,” he says. “So many of our users are becoming walking billboards.”

Located on Northdale Boulevard in Carrollwood, Springer has decided to move to Austin, potentially next spring, to accommodate the company’s rapid expansion.

He is interested in Austin is for its commercial campuses that allow companies to grow to a few hundred employees in a building -- as well as for its favorable tax structure.

But his options are open for the time being. “I’m all ears for possibilities,” he says. “If Tampa and the region can offer incentives that are more enticing to stay ... then I want it.”


West Tampa startup Dabbl launches consumer-friendly advertising app

Consumers no longer sit still for advertisements. Instead of watching TV with ads, they watch on demand or use ad-free services like NetFlix. Or they opt out of advertising, or employ an ad block.

“The digital media industry is doing the best that they can to deliver what their sponsors need,” says Tampa entrepreneur Susan O’Neal. “The game has changed. The world has changed.”

Enter Dabbl. The Tampa-based digital ad company takes a new approach to that old challenge of how to engage customers.

“There’s always been a demand for consumer attention, but most of the time companies are buying consumer attention from a third party,” explains O’Neal, Dabbl’s founder and CEO. “Dabbl is the first time that a consumer is able to skip that part.”

Instead of relying on a broadcaster to provide a free show, advertisers connect directly with their audience through a campaign on Dabbl. They may ask their potential customers to view a video or take a survey, for example. In all, the interchange may take something like 23 seconds.

The kicker is the consumer gets paid.

“At the conclusion, money goes into your Dabbl wallet,” O’Neal says. “Once you get $10, you can choose any number of gift cards from our partners.”

While it’s not intended to be a job, it is a way to make a little extra while you’re waiting at a doctor’s office or the airport. That few seconds may net you .30 a clip, which amounts to $46 an hour.

With the average person spending some five hours a day on their Smartphone, this is a better way to use their downtime, O’Neal says.

“I don’t want anyone to make this his or her full-time job,” she adds.

While people of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds like to interact this way, the ideal user is likely someone who buys groceries for the household, has a little bit of extra time, likes to learn about new products, and likes spending downtime on his or her Smartphone.

When they are paid for their time, consumers are more likely to be focused. “Most of the time you are going to give me your full and genuine attention,” O’Neal says. “The message that the brand was creating has a chance of doing what it was intended to do.”

O’Neal believes the advertiser/consumer relationship has matured. “We have to interact with consumers as partners, as peers,” she says. “Dabbl is the only place currently where as a marketer you can do that, and consumers respond honestly and enthusiastically.”

It creates a conversational experience in a digital space, rather than a gaming experience in a mall or retail space like the St. Petersburg-based Priatek does with Wheel of Fortune and JEOPARDY!

In the United States, companies spend $1 trillion on marketing, about $8,000 per household, according to the Association of National Advertisers. It’s been hard for companies to measure its actual value.

Digital ads may not even be seen because they may count as a chargeable impression when they are only partially visible for two seconds, O’Neal says.

“Digital advertising in particular is very broken,” she asserts. “Ads that aren’t seen can’t work.”

Dabbl, which opened in August, has some 30 to 40 advertisers, plus an undisclosed number of users who had some 6 million engagements in the company’s first 45 days of operation.

O’Neal founded Dabbl after an aha moment where she recognized marketing methods weren’t consumer friendly. “If I tried to use them in my personal life, I would probably not have friends,” she explains.

Headquartered in West Tampa in an old cigar factory at Armenia Avenue and Spruce Street, Dabbl has 35 employees, 20 in Tampa. They are looking to hire software engineers and sales personnel, possibly marketing support.

“There’s quite a bit of talent in this area that knows how to think about consumer relationships,” says O’Neal, a native Floridian from Fort Myers.

Their challenge is to grow both the advertising and consumer sides at about the same pace. “It takes awhile to change the way an industry thinks about how they interact with their audience,” she points out.

Dabbl is available from Google Play for the Android phone, or online at this link.


Florida trade mission to Israel solidifies local economic development efforts

Dr. Vicki Rabenou was an OB-GYN juggling motherhood in the 1990s and her very demanding profession. One day she got a life-changing wakeup call: Her two young children were talking to her in the native language of their nanny, a Filipino.

“I felt so guilty,” she recalls. “I took one year leave of absence.”

That was the end of her career as a physician. Instead the Jerusalem native discovered her love of helping entrepreneurs. She migrated from Israel to the United States, and eventually landed in Tampa.

I really fell in love with Tampa. This is a great place,” she says. “Everybody is so welcoming and happy to work with you.”

Today Rabenou is co-Founder, President and CEO of StartUp Nation Ventures, an Orlando-based company with offices in Tampa and Tel Aviv. She is positioned to change attitudes when Israeli companies view Florida as a place for tourism and agriculture, not tech.

“I believe that our solution is a complete solution that really takes care of 360 degrees of the needs of companies that are looking to reach out to the U.S. market,” she says. “It’s for the long run.”

SUNV is partnering with the Israel Innovation Authority to spur the growth of Israeli companies that want to locate their U.S. headquarters in Florida. It will be investing up to $500,000 in select, innovative Israeli companies -- who are eligible for a 50 percent match from the Israeli government -- through the Israel-Florida Innovation Alliance, a cooperative initiative, says SUNV co-Founder A.J. Ripin.

The government money is a loan to be repaid when a company has sales.

“Startup nation is a nickname that Israel has been called in the business marketplace, because of the success that Israeli companies have had,” he explains.

“Memorializing” the SUNV agreement was part of a Florida trade mission to Israel earlier this month that included Florida Gov. Rick Scott and an entourage of nearly 70, he says.

This collaboration that I’ve signed with the Israeli Innovation Authority is all about going to market,” Rabenou explains. “Most times Israeli Innovation will only finance research and development that is done, and stays in, Israel.”

“The idea is that we will do it by [industrial] cluster. We will choose clusters that we have strength with here in Florida,” she adds.

Israeli companies are interested in economic opportunities abroad because of limited opportunities at home in the state about the size of New Jersey, Ripin points out.

“The Israeli companies are really advanced. They just don’t have the opportunities because of the small size of the state,” he explains. “Their natural place for that is the U.S. ... Once their product and solution work in the U.S. market, then they’re able to compete in the global market.”

The initiative gives Florida access to a pipeline of innovation for industry clusters throughout the state. It will focus on two to four areas in 2018; possible areas include cybersecurity, hotel technology, agriculture technology, automated vehicles, smart city, smart city innovation, and medical technology.

SUNV leaders point out Israeli innovation already is having a positive impact in the United States. A 2016 economic impact study shows Israeli innovation is a major driver of the Massachusetts economy. It indicates more 200 Israeli businesses made the greater Boston area home in 2015, bringing in more than $9 billion that year.

“This is the right time to reach out to these Israeli startups,” Rabenou asserts. “I believe we can duplicate what they have in Massachusetts. This is the first step.”

During the trade mission to strengthen its economic development/trading partnership with Israel, Gov. Scott also recognized the first class of graduates from the Tampa-based Florida-Israel Business Accelerator. In addition, FIBA attracted the attention of the Israeli media.

Rachel Marks Feinman, FIBA’s executive director, who made the trip, says the mission gave FIBA an opportunity to cultivate both relationships with Florida leaders as well as people in the Israeli startup community. “If we can have a critical mass of Israeli companies that call Florida their U.S. home, or even their international headquarters, that can really set Florida apart,” she says.

“I’m pleased that there is this effort to support Israeli companies,” she says of SUNV. “I think the FIBA program has its own way of achieving its goals.”

FIBA, a technology accelerator launched in 2016 by the Tampa Jewish Community Centers and Federation, is preparing for another cohort of eight companies to begin arriving by mid-February. It will be choosing from a pool of at least 40 applicants.

“There’s a lot of work to do in a short period of time,” she says.


Exclusive dating app launches in Tampa, Orlando

An exclusive group of 507 in the Tampa Bay Area will gain access to an invitation-only dating app called The League today, Tuesday, Dec. 12. The app’s goal is to connect ambitious high achievers who are career focused -- and want partners to balance them.

“We weren’t planning to do this until spring 2018,” says Meredith Davis, head of Communications for the San Francisco-based company. “Once we launched Miami, we saw numbers in Tampa and Orlando skyrocket.”

The League had 2,524 in Tampa sign up, but pared that down for the initial class. Five percent are teachers, 3 percent are lawyers and 3 percent are founders. They live primarily in South Tampa, downtown Tampa, and northwest Tampa, representing 7, 5 and 3 percent of the class, respectively.

The League’s goal is to curate its membership much like universities do its students, using data from applicants’ Facebook and Linkedin accounts. It blocks colleagues and first-degree connections so users can keep their dating profiles and professional lives separate.

Users need clear photos, including face and full-body shots, of themselves alone rather than in groups.

Each week, a team at The League will sort through the wait list and invite more members, with the goal of having a diverse group in terms of race, ethnicity, religion, education, profession, and more.

The wait is intended to vet members and make sure they are interested in regular rather than casual dating.

The League profiles become live at noon. At 5 p.m. every day, dubbed Happy Hour, members will receive three potential matches. There also are groups similar to those on social media sites; groups might be for dog owners, or hikers, or people who like to eat brunch.  Members also can meet at special events, either The League events (such as a launch bash for Valentine’s Day) or community events like a parade.

“We’re really building a community,” Davis says. “It’s not just about dating. It’s about meeting other singles in your area.”

The app, which is free to download, can be used on iphones, Androids and tablets, but users pay for upgrades like additional matches or expedited review. It is different from apps like Tinder or Bumble because it is invitation only, she says.

“Not everyone gets in and the reason for that is this is a curated community,” Davis explains. “There are dating apps for everyone. Those are a great platform when you are looking for that.”

Members for the Tampa dating community will come from a 100-mile radius of the city. So far, the group includes women 22-32 and men 23-33, but later on The League will broaden the pool to include older adults. Their core demographic is for 28 to 35 year olds, she says.

Founded by its CEO Amanda Bradford, The League launches in Orlando Dec. 12 as well. Other cities may go live when they reach 2,500 applicants. “We wouldn’t open a city until we hit that number,” she says.

Davis is a success story for the app operating in New York City, Los Angeles, Boston, Washington D.C., Chicago, San Francisco and other areas across the United States; she currently is dating someone she met in The League. “We’ve seen tons of success stories form it,” she says. “We even have a few league babies right now.”


SavvyCard, MetLife, other growing companies hiring in Tampa Bay Area

Two new partnerships with publicly traded companies are propelling SavvyCard, the St. Petersburg-based digital advertising platform, into the national marketplace. As it gears up for more growth, SavvyCard is planning to expand its staff and open new offices in New York City and San Francisco.

New partnerships with the Irvine, CA-based CoreLogic and the Annandale, N.J.-based Verify Smart Corp. will help SavvyCard more effectively penetrate the real estate market.

CoreLogic’s Multi-Listing Service software serves 70 percent of the U.S. real estate market, allowing Savvycard to tap into that client base when they’re engaging in regular business activities.

“Our partnership with them means they are gong to be selling our product,” says David Etheredge, CEO, who co-founded the company with Daud Power, Lisa Nalewak and John-David Sims in 2011. “For a small startup, this is a huge benefit.”

Verify Smart Corp. is partnering with SavvyCard to jointly develop proximity services, enabling users to learn more about a listed property while they are nearby.

Verify Smart has made a “substantial” investment in SavvyCard and intends to use it as a “landing platform” for its “proximity solutions,” says Lou Pingitore, Verify Smart Corp.’s CEO.

“We’re very excited about the partnership,” Pingitore says. “What we want to do is really provide proximity marketing solutions to the industry.”

Real estate is one of its first proximity markets, he says.

SavvyCard automates marketing by integrating marketing tools like a business card, brochure, website and social media presence. It targets the real estate industry, business/membership organizations and individuals.

“It’s not just a digital business card,” Etheredge explains. “It’s a mobile marketing tool for people, for businesses, and for products.”

When networking, instead of handing someone a printed business card, SavvyCard users can email or text their new contacts, instantly connecting them to information they normally would have to visit a company website to get.

“You can share your card directly, you can link your card to any type of digital advertisement that you are doing, or you can post your card to social media,” Etheredge explains.

Currently free for individual users, SavvyCard is expected to begin charging $9 per month for individuals and $29 for businesses in early 2018. Large organizations pay a rate based on the number of users.

SavvyCard currently has about 144,000 users, mostly in Florida. About half are in the real estate sector. It employs 12 full-time employees and an additional four are either contract workers or part-time.

Plans call for the addition of four more staffers, probably early next year. “As we begin to scale the business, we’ll be looking to hire [even] more,” Etheredge says. “We’re currently looking for two product managers or product directors, a graphic designer and ... an office manager/operational manager.”

Those who are interested in apply can call 727-502-6012 or visit the company website and use the Contact Us form.

The new offices likely will be co-working or business accelerator-type space, and are intended to facilitate the negotiation of contracts in the Northeast and West, Etheredge says.

SavvyCard is currently in a funding round to raise capital for the expansion. It already has raised some $2.1 million out of its $3.5 million goal.

Read on for more information about opportunities in the Tampa Bay job market.

  • MetLife Inc., which currently employs more than 1500 in Tampa, will be adding another 430 jobs as part of a $25 million Tampa expansion, the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation announced earlier this month. A leading financial services company, MetLife will be paying on average more than 150 percent of Hillsborough County’s private sector wage. The company provides insurance, annuities, employee benefits and asset management to individuals and organizations. For more information, follow this link.
  • Home Buyers Marketing II is looking for real estate brokers in Tampa with two or more years of experience and an active real estate license.
  • The non-profit Ultimate Medical Academy, which trains healthcare workers, has several career opportunities in Tampa. Among them are an Admissions Representative, Senior Operations Analyst and Software Engineer II. Learn more.
  • The St. Petersburg-based Triad Retail Media, a global leader in digital media, is hiring a Director of Sales, Sales Manager, Account Manager and Accounting Manager. Learn more about these fulltime jobs here.
  • Davidson Hotels and Resorts, a large hotel management company, has several openings at Don Cesar Resort Hotel on St. Petersburg Beach. It’s seeking an Assistant Controller, Receiving Clerk and some cooks. Check it out here.


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s more techology news.

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

WURK: Community radio for East and West Tampa

When Dee Jackson was growing up in the 1970s and '80s in West Tampa, his neighbors helped keep him in line when he became too curious. They were quick to reprimand him -- all over the neighborhood -- before he even got home.

But many people are reluctant to discipline another’s child these days, which empowers them to do wrong things, he says.

“That village concept, we have to get that back,” Jackson asserts.

That’s the idea behind 96.3 low-power FM station WURK, a community radio station serving East and West Tampa and a diverse audience of 460,000 potential listeners 24 hours a day in Hillsborough County. Its broadcast area extends from Mango on the east to the Howard Frankland Bridge on the west, Lutz on the north and MacDill Air Force Base on the south.

Other platforms, such as the Internet, expand the 100-watt station’s listening area to the entire globe.

WURK is intended to be a positive voice in the East and West Tampa neighborhoods, reporting the good news instead of the bad. It will be working to boost literacy and reduce high school dropout rates through job training.

“I know we will utilize radio as a tool to get the village back in shape,” says Jackson, who co-founded WURK with Horace Bailey.

The nonprofit, locally programmed station was made possible by the Local Community Radio Act, signed into law by former President Barack Obama. It was about five years in the making.

As a music producer, recording engineer and graphic designer, Jackson had been interested in doing radio programming as an outlet for musicians for a long time. He was inspired to actually start one while volunteering as an after-school youth arts coordinator in Brooksville.

WURK, owned and run by Rainbow Heights Neighborhood Association and Crime Watch Inc., offers music in a wide range of styles including Hip Hop, Folk, Latino, Jazz, Blues, Rhythm and Blues, Classical and Reggae. It is intended to appeal to African American, Carribean, Irish, Scottish, Italian, Latino, Indian, Jewish, Chinese, and other local groups.

“Our goal is to eliminate the division and create unity,” Jackson says.

Jackson, WURK’s General Manager, wants the station to serve as an outlet for musicians, but it also is intended to be a training ground for journalists, producers and graphic artists. The process has begun with two youths reading public service announcements. Later on trainees could cover high school football games.

In the future, he would like to partner with other media, training broadcast trainees by having them read on the air news stories written by the partners. Attributing the stories to the original news outlets would help them gain potential new readers.

Those who are trained may find jobs at the station as it grows. Job and business opportunity announcements by the station are intended to help others find success.

WURK also intends to help bridge a generation gap by reaching out to seniors and young people. “There was a communication breakdown,” he explains.

Now the radio station is focusing its attention on recruiting advisory board members; it currently has five including Dr. Carolyn Collins, former NAACP Tampa Chapter President; businessman Willie Anderson; James Green, who retired from United Parcel Services; Ralph Smith of Computer Mentors of Tampa; and Benjamin Baisden of West Tampa Alliance.

It's also soliciting funds to better help what he calls the “underserved,” in Tampa. “Funding is the key to be able to initiate those programs,” he says.

WURK, which has been on the air since April 2, already has raised some $25,000 for the endeavor. “I think the market is watching,” he says. “Participation is coming, and we’re growing with the help of a lot of our volunteers ... sharing our info on social media.”

While the station’s name is in line with its mission to train youths for jobs, it was actually inspired by all the work required into getting its call letters approved, Jackson says.


North Tampa company wins BioPitch competition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Innovative Smart Lab to open in Tampa in 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Smart Lab will primarily be staffed with existing workers.

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

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

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

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

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


Next for travelers? Ridesharing app for charter flights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s what people love,” he says.

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

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

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

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

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