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8 female entrepreneurs to compete in regional SBA InnovateHER Challenge

LocalShops1 Creator Ester Venouziou is partnering with the Gulfport Area Chamber of Commerce to offer eight Tampa Bay area female entrepreneurs the chance to compete for up to $70,000 in prizes during the Small Business Association InnovateHER Challenge. 

While all of the applications in the local round came from women entrepreneurs, the competition is open to both male and female business owners whose products and services focus on women and their families.

Finalists in the Pinellas County regional round of the InnovateHER Challenge include:“One of the goals of LocalShops1 is to put local businesses in the spotlight,” Venouziou says, and the SBA InnovateHER Challenge “gives us an excellent opportunity to do so on a national level. Tampa Bay has so many creative and talented entrepreneurs, so let's show them off to the rest of the world.”

The LocalShops1 round of the national SBA InnovateHER Challenge will take place from 5-8 pm on Wednesday, Dec. 2, at Catherine Hickman Theatre, 5501 27th Ave S in Gulfport.

Following an opening reception hosted by Pinellas County businesses Three Birds Tavern, Out of the Weeds and Red Hot Tiki Market, finalists will participate in a live pitch competition moderated by Gulfport Chamber president Barry Rubin.

Isabel Laessig, Founder of Family Foodie, is keynote speaker for the event.

Laessig “turned a hobby -- cooking and blogging -- into not only a successful business, but a national movement encouraging families to eat together,” Venouziou says. 

The judges panel for the pitch competition includes Gallerie 909 Owner Carla Bristol; Diana M. Hechavarria, an entrepreneurship professor at the University South Florida; Marie Tomassi, a managing partner at Trenam Law; Rita Lowman, COO of C1 Bank; and Robin King, co-Owner of  Three Birds Tavern and Out of the Weeds.

Winners of regional rounds will be submitted to the SBA National headquarters for consideration in the live pitch final round on March 16 and 17, 2016, in Washington. DC, where selected finalists will compete for prizes from Microsoft that total $70,000.

Venouziou expects to see more than 100 local business owners, civic leaders and community members attend the regional round of the challenge. To register for the free event, click here

“We hope the contestants and all the entrepreneurs -- and entrepreneurs-to-be -- in the audience walk away inspired and with a better understanding of what they need to run a successful business,” Venouziou says. “And of course, we hope that our local winner will make it to the national round and win one of the cash prizes!”

Venouziou commends the city of Gulfport and the Gulfport Area Chamber of Commerce, as well as event sponsors and community partners, for supporting the event. St. Pete Chamber of Commerce, St Pete Greenhouse and SCORE will be on hand during the Dec. 2 competition to provide free resources available to local businesses.

Meanwhile in Tampa, The Centre for Women is working with the SBA as a partner agency to prepare Tampa entrepreneurs for the competition. Winners of the local round will receive $5,000 in cash or prizes furnished by sponsors and supporters of The Centre.

Online continuing education company hiring, expanding Tampa HQ

An online educational training company has expanded its headquarters in Tampa’s Westshore business district and is hiring for seven full-time positions locally.

RedVector, a division of the larger organization Vector, has provided online training space for engineering, construction, industrial and public businesses since 1999. The Tampa-based business was developed and sold by David Chitester, whose Florida Funders group of angel investors is gaining traction locally -- most recently, by partnering with Uber on a 'ride-and-pitch' event that put potential entrepreneurs alongside angel investors and venture capitalists for 15-minute spins around town.

RedVector, which employs more than 80 workers in the Tampa Bay area, has recently moved from the 7th floor to the 3rd floor of the Urban Centre II building at 4890 West Kennedy Blvd., expanding its national headquarters in the city’s Westshore business district.

“We take a lot of pride in RedVector’s close-knit culture, but we were pretty squeezed for space at our old location,” explains RedVector CEO Tom Wallace.

The company’s vision for the new, 18,000-square-feet offices was "to create a larger, free-flowing environment, without taking away from that unified culture that we love so much,” Wallace says.

Aspects of the new RedVector offices include a large break room and coffee station, six conference rooms named for the company’s core values (Entrepreneurship, Learning, Integrity, Teamwork, Excellence, WOW), healthy snacks, and even a production studio.

One unique feature of the new space: a private ‘mother’s room.’

A number of full-time positions with RedVector in Tampa are currently available, including:
  • Accounts Payable Specialist
  • B2B Sales Representative
  • Business Development Representative
  • CRM Analyst
  • Inside Sales Representative - Education Advisors
  • Sales Representative - B2B Industrial
  • Vice President of Enterprise Sales
Visit the company website to learn more about job qualifications or to apply for these positions. 

Wallace hopes to see the new headquarters, designed with "more modern features, like low cube walls and glass partitions, foster even greater collaboration and creativity and attract new talent.”

Wallace, who serves on the Board of Directors of well-known local companies like Tribridge, is also a co-founder and past president of the Tampa Bay Technology Forum (TBTF). Wallace attended Indiana University of PA, and presently serves on TBTF's Board of Directors and Executive Committee. He is also a trustee of the University of Tampa.

Global VC tournament to take place in Tampa in 2016

A startup pitch competition offering $1 million in prizes to a global winner is headed toward Tampa Bay. The 1776 Challenge Cup, which will take place at startup business accelerator and venture center Tampa Bay WaVe in February 2016, is billed as a ‘worldwide tournament for the most promising, world-changing startups to win cash prizes, make international connections and share their vision on a global stage.’

The Challenge Cup competition, which was created by Washington, D.C.-based incubater 1776 in fall 2013, takes place in three rounds across 45 cities and nine regions across the world, culminating in a global competition in D.C. in spring 2016. Startups that focus on solving challenges related to topics like health, education, energy and smart cities have been determining criteria for past winners. 

Current and prior local hosts for the competitions in the United States have included tech hubs like Denver, Austin and San Francisco. So how was Tampa Bay selected as a host for a local round of the 1776 Challenge Cup this year?

“Tampa Bay just made its case for its startup community," Nick Caputo says. "This is really just further evidence of the growing startup community in Tampa Bay.”

Caputo, who interned with Tampa Bay WaVe from spring 2014 through fall 2015 while completing a Bachelors in Entrepreneurship at the University of Tampa, began working for the business as a part-time marketing assistant and later accepted a full-time role as an SEO analyst for Rank K.O., an internet marketing company housed at WaVe’s new, expanded downtown headquarters

“We all know that it is difficult -- not impossible -- to find funding in our region,” Caputo says, and the 1776 Challenge Cup could “enable some of our startups to get experience that they will rarely have the chance to get.”

Not to mention exposure, he adds. 

“You don't receive many opportunities to be showcased on a global scale,” Caputo says. “This is going to be huge for our region’s entrepreneurship community.”

What makes the 1776 Challenge Cup a different kind of pitch competition from the many others that Tampa Bay has seen in the past few years? It's primarily focused on scalable startups that aim to solve problems and modern challenges -- in other words, social good companies. 

Two startups have already applied to compete in the local challenge, Caputo says, but both teams are from Gainesville, two hours north of Tampa Bay. 

“I will be ramping up outreach in the coming weeks, so applications will be starting to roll in very soon,” Caputo says.

To apply to compete in the local Tampa Bay round of the 1776 Challenge Cup, visit the challenge website. Deadlines listed on the event website indicate that applications must be received three weeks prior to any event.  

The local Tampa 1776 Challenge Cup will take place on February 10, 2016, at Tampa Bay WaVe, 500 E. Kennedy Blvd, Suite 300. WaVe headquarters relocated from Tampa’s Skyes Building to the new location in Oct. 2015 after earning a second i6 Challenge grant (for $500,000 in 2014; the first was for $1 million in 2008), and a $50,000 Growth Accelerator Fund Grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), which was presented at WaVe's Grand Opening event.

Popular Tampa blog partners with Ybor City businesses to create candles, clothing

In 2012, Nicholas Catania and Ryan Sullivan, along with friend Allison Vetter, formed the social group Never Have I Ever Tampa Bay, launching a blog and a tradition of trying everything local.

The goal of the three transplants from the Northeastern U.S.: to 'discover' and share all of the unique sights, sounds and tastes of the Tampa Bay area with friends and strangers alike through their blog, social media platforms and word of mouth.

Today, newfound friends and first-time visitors attend NHIE events across the Tampa Bay region. Through their joint efforts, Catania and Sullivan (graduates of local colleges University of Tampa and the University of South Florida, respectively), also have a hand in helping to shape many of the entrepreneurially focused or innovative startup business events that occur throughout the region, such as the upcoming Startup Weekend at UT.

Now, NHIE branded merchandise can be found at select Tampa stores.

In October 2015, the NHIE team announced a new partnership with Ybor City mainstay Seventh Avenue Apothecary, a local small business where candles are still poured by hand. Earlier in 2015, the team partnered with Black & Denim's Roberto Torres to create the 'Everything Local' T-shirt, which is sold in Torres' Blind Tiger Cafe and online.

Catania, a teacher, and Sullivan, a marketer, "decided to branch out and create local products because we love supporting local businesses," Catania says. "We live by the phrase ‘everything local,’ and enjoy finding all of the new and unique stops throughout Tampa Bay.”

Black & Denim and 7th Avenue whose candles are sold in boutiques throughout the country, became NHIE's first partnerships because those two businesses are “local companies doing cool things in the community,” Catania says.

NHIE’s candle from 7th Ave “carries a locally inspired Black Tea and Valencia Orange scent, representative of Tampa Bay," says Catania. Meanwhile, the 'Everything Local' T-shirt collaboration with Black & Denim "is meant to appeal to anyone who appreciates and supports local businesses."

Take a look at the shirt's design here.

Any proceeds from the sales of locally inspired merchandise will allow the duo to expand efforts in the Tampa Bay area. NHIE also plans to invest in future partnerships with other local businesses.

“We hope to expand our collaborations in the future to include a whole line of NHIE ‘Everything Local’ products,” Catania says. In fact, the NHIE team is currently “in talks with a few other local brands -- so stay tuned.”

Upcoming in February 2016, NHIE will host the first-time Everything Local Market, showcasing local goods from artisans and business owners in the Tampa Bay community.

“We want our community to experience these products in their own lives, and also want new people to join us as we continue to explore ‘Everything Local,’ Catania says. 

Local artisans and business owners interested in being featured at NHIE’s market event in February can email NHIE for more information. 

Pitch competition offers prize money, mentorship to local winners

Startup companies affiliated with several business incubators in the Tampa Bay area will have the opportunity to win $1,000 in prize money at an upcoming business pitch competition.

Building Entrepreneurship Around Tampa (B.E.A.T.) Pitch Competition, sponsored by South-Florida based investors New World Angels, is a collaborative pitch event open to companies currently working with Tampa's USF CONNECT or Tampa Bay WaVE, Pasco County's SMARTstart and St. Pete's TEC Garage.

The B.E.A.T. Pitch Competition will provide local entrepreneurs from six finalist companies with the opportunity to pitch their ventures to angel investors on November 17, 2015. The winner of the pitch competition will receive $1,000 in prize money. Perhaps equally as valuable, winners also earn 20 hours of coaching. 

First, second and third place winners will also receive the opportunity to pitch in front of 15 investors at a New World Angels monthly meeting.

The pitch competition comes at a time when local innovation efforts are expanding through the leadership of groups like the Tampa Innovation Alliance and Hillsborough County. USF CONNECT Program Coordinator Amy Yonai expects the B.E.A.T. Pitch Competition to attract “an expanded network of individuals, due to the growth of the economic ecosystem in Tampa.”
The B.E.A.T. Pitch Competition is tapping into that growth by hosting a “TEC Talk” during the event -- attendees can sip coffee and start a conversation with Tampa Innovation Alliance Director Mark Sharpe and Stephanie Ashley, Director of Incubation Programs and Economic Development at USF Research.

Along with the TEC Talk, the B.E.A.T. Pitch Competition will feature a keynote speaker and “Entrepreneurship Breakout Sessions” that cover a gamut of topics from potential legal concerns to adversity and leadership or startup funding.

“B.E.A.T. is an event that supports the entrepreneurial ecosystem though a showcase of innovative start-ups, educational programming and opportunities to pitch for capital,” says Yonai, who received a BA from the University of California, Irvine.

Local start-ups, business leaders, entrepreneurial support organizations, [and] anyone interested in becoming involved in the economic ecosystem in Tampa" should consider attending the event, says Yonai, who has worked as a program coordinator at Duke University and a fellowship coordinator at UNC Chapel Hill.

Yonai stepped into the role of program coordinator at USF Connect and the Tampa Bay Technology Incubator (TBTI) in May 2015.
USF CONNECT works to provide support for technology start-ups and connects new companies from counties across Florida to business opportunities with the school. USF CONNECT and the USF Research Foundation are located at the University of South Florida, 3802 Spectrum Blvd., Suite 100, in Tampa. To learn more about the B.E.A.T event, click here.

Veterans, active military invited to compete for funding in HCC business pitch competition

Veterans and active duty military seeking to open a business or embark on a new career path, mark your calendars.

Hillsborough Community College will host the 3rd Annual Veterans Entrepreneurship Training Symposium (VETS) on Saturday, November 14, 2015 at the school’s Plant City campus.

“This high impact day is designed to provide veterans with an opportunity to learn all about self employment and entrepreneurship,” explains event co-Organizer Beth Kerly, HCC Instructor of Entrepreneurship, Management and Marketing.

Veterans and active duty military members with an early stage business, or an idea for one, can apply to compete in a business pitch competition for up to $6,000 in prize money furnished by the HCC Foundation.

The symposium will feature workshops covering an array of topics related to starting up and running a small business. Keynote speakers for the event include Tampa Innovation Alliance President and former Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, along with HCC alum Valerie Ellis, Founder of veteran-focused staffing service Veterans2Corporate, and Clint Day, Entrepreneur-in-Residence at State College of Florida.

Kerly hopes to see attendees take “a basic idea of what it takes to be self employed” from the symposium. 

“Empowered to take the ‘leap,’ into entrepreneurship” she says, or perhaps to create “a list of community contacts that can help them on their journey. And, maybe a pitch prize to get their idea validated, a prototype.”

Those with active-duty experience are 45 percent more likely than those without to be self-employed, Kerly says, noting, “We have a huge military population in the area."

"In 2007 -- the latest data available from the U.S. Census Bureau -- veterans owned 2.4 million businesses, or 9 percent of all businesses nationwide, generating $1.2 trillion in receipts and employing nearly 5.8 million people.” Kerly says. “Veterans jump into entrepreneurship much more readily than civilians.”

The 3rd Annual Veterans Entrepreneurship Training Symposium (VETS) will take place from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday, November 14. To register, click here. Those interested in applying for the business pitch aspect of the symposium can click here to learn more.

Veterans, active duty military,and spouses are invited to attend the free event; guests are welcome.

“This event provides an excellent opportunity for you to network with business professionals from the Tampa Bay area, learn about the various dimensions of entrepreneurship,” says Kerly.

Job seekers: Fall, winter career fairs in Tampa Bay

As the end of the year approaches, a number of Tampa Bay and St. Petersburg area companies and local governments are seeking candidates for part- and fulltime positions.

New graduates, young professionals, those seeking a career change or industry advancement, take note of these upcoming job and career fairs in the Tampa Bay area in fall 2015 and winter 2016. Events include job fairs for veterans, law enforcement and students.

Career fairs in Tampa Bay can connect job seekers in the Tampa and St. Petersburg areas with the industry leaders and resources that help open the door for new hires.

Monday, November 2: Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office Job Fair
noon-4 p.m.
Falkenburg Road Jail Assembly Room (North side)
520 N Falkenburg Road, Tampa

Thursday, November 12: City of Tampa Mayor’s Alliance for Persons with Disabilities Job Fair
9 a.m.-1 p.m.
Port Tampa Bay, Terminal 2,
651 Channelside Drive, Tampa

Veterans and persons with disabilities are encouraged to attend. To register as an employer, click here

Thursday, November 19: Tampa Career Fair 
11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Doubletree by Hilton Tampa Westshore Airport
4500 West Cypress Street, Tampa

Friday, December 11: Tampa Career Fair 
11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Doubletree by Hilton Tampa Westshore Airport
4500 West Cypress Street, Tampa

Monday, January 11, 2016: Tampa Bay Job and Career Fair presented by the Tampa Bay Times
10 a.m.-3 p.m.
The Coliseum
535 4th Ave North, St. Pete

More than 50 local employers will be in attendance. Professional business attire required. Bring at least 20 copies of your resume.

February 2, 2016: University of South Florida Career Fair Week
10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Marshall Student Center Ballroom, USF campus
4103 USF Cedar Cir, Tampa

Employers, are you hosting an upcoming career fair in the Tampa Bay area? Put potential future employees on the right path by sharing the details of your upcoming job or career fair in Tampa Bay with 83 Degrees. Email the 83 Degrees Innovation & Job News editor with "Hiring" in the subject line. Reach out over on Twitter (@83degreesmedia) if our job listings put you on the path to success.

USF students gain real-world experience by shadowing alumni in new program

The University of South Florida aims to build a database of alumni volunteers around the world through a new career services program. Shadow-A-Bull will allow USF students to work directly in occupational fields and real-world situations at businesses owned or operated by USF alumni.

The program’s goal is to connect students with volunteer alumni worldwide, explains Alexandra Moubarak, a USF career counselor who developed the free Shadow-A-Bull program with the assistance of the school’s Career Services team.

“The real incentive to be a Shadow-A-Bull host is to make a difference and impact the lives of USF students,” Moubarak says. “Alumni hosts will contribute valuable, industry-related knowledge and assist students in determining their career paths and futures.”

To sign up as a Shadow-A-Bull Alumni Host, visit the USF Career Services website and follow instructions to register. To learn more about the program, click on this email link.

Once they've registered for the program, students choose to connect with registered alumni and arrange to participate in a variety of activities, including half- or full-day shadowing, industry interviews or workplace tours.

“A Shadow-A-Bull host will be able to share valuable, industry-related knowledge and have a direct impact on USF students,” says Moubarak, who is also an adjunct instructor and consultant for USF’s College of The Arts, Honors College and School of Humanities.

While students do not earn school credit for participation in the program, Moubarak says, “We’re promoting networking and encouraging communication. It’s a great opportunity that will assist them with career decisions which will have an impact on them for life."

So far, students have shown a high level of interest in the Shadow-A-Bull program, Moubarak says. “We have numerous students who are eager to shadow and connect with professionals in the field, especially if they are alumni.”

Shadow-A-Bull runs year-round, so students can work with local Tampa Bay area alumni during the semester and potentially form networks with alumni in their home cities during vacations, summers or school breaks. Where physical shadowing isn’t available, students and alumni will be able to participate in the program through email and phone or Skype calls.

The flexibility of the Shadow-A-Bull program “may potentially open up opportunities for students in terms of shadowing, internships, part-time, [or] full-time work in the future,” Moubarak says, “since it will assist with communication and networking."

To visit the Shadow-A-Bull website, click here.

International event for journalists to be held in St. Petersburg, November 2015

St. Petersburg-based World Partnerships, Inc. will host this year’s “Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists.” The annual event named after the legendary radio news broadcaster spans seven days in which journalists from around the world get a chance to meet up, share experiences and learn from one another.

“This is the tenth anniversary, and we will be having journalists coming from more than 80 foreign countries,” says Gary Springer, president of World Partnerships, Inc.

The event, November 4th to 10th, includes a community service project at Fort DeSoto Park in Pinellas County, a 2-day training symposium hosted and organized by the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg and a dinner honoring select journalists on Sunday, November 8.

“We have also partnered with U.S. Special Operations Command and U.S. Central Command to do a briefing for all of these journalists, so that will be an exciting highlight during the week,” Springer says.

Attendees will include senior journalists, both on-air and behind the scenes, including reporters, editors and producers in TV and radio.

With an estimated 100 journalists arriving from all over the world, event attendees will examine the essential role of independent media in fostering and protecting freedom of expression and democracy around the world.

“This is a great opportunity for the area as it become more internationally oriented,” says Springer. “Also, this annual event brings together journalists who would otherwise never cross paths.”

For more information on the event or World Partnerships, Inc., visit their website.

Startup Weekend brings Global Startup Battle to UT campus in November

Startup Weekend events have helped shape the entrepreneurial community of Tampa Bay in recent years, with notable businesses and connections forming as a result of the 54-hour weekend coding and creating marathons.

83 Degrees asked Startup Weekend event co-organizer Michael LaPlante what's new and fresh about this year's meetup, who might want to attend, and how Startup Weekend has impacted Tampa Bay. LaPlante, who earned a BS in web design from Full Sail University in Orlando and runs a web development business in Tampa, has helped organize several Startup Weekend events and curates Tampa Bay Startup Digest.

Check out the Q&A below to see his responses and score a $25 coupon code for Techstar's Startup Weekend Tampa Bay, which will take place at the University of Tampa's John P. Lowth Entrepreneurship Center November 13-15, 2015.

83 Degrees: What's new or different this year at Startup Weekend?
MP: This year, we are really trying to blow it out of the park during the Global Startup Battle event. There are more prizes and tracks to advance to than ever before. We are really trying to connect to the community this event, and we have teamed up with the University of Tampa to also reach out to the younger crowd. 

83D: How is the event financed? Is the city or county providing funds? 
MP: In the past, we have worked with Hillsborough County through their EDI2 grant to help fund our event along with sponsors, but this year we are back to hitting the ground and finding local community sponsors that can make the event possible. If [you] want to get [your] name out there, definitely reach out. Nothing is too big or too small, and it all goes back to making the Tampa Bay community even more awesome.

83D: Who would you recommend consider registering to participate in Startup Weekend?
MP: Anyone with an idea, or an itch to solve a problem: this is your space to be. Whether you are new to the area, or have been here for years, you can always meet new people and grow your network. 

The amount I see people grow in the span of 54 hours during our events is tremendous. I can guarantee everyone will learn something. I have been doing these for almost five years, and have been involved in more than 20 in some way, shape, or form, and I still learn something new every time.

83D: Do you think SW events have positively impacted the community in the past few years? How/why?
MP: I certainly think the past events have greatly impacted our community. We have seen companies form, friendships and partnerships birthed, and ideas come to life. I still hear buzz all throughout the year about the events... I am constantly asked when the next event will be, because someone has an idea they would love to pitch.

Our goal is to show anyone they can follow their dream and build a thriving business here in the Tampa Bay region, and we work with awesome partners and sponsors to help bring that to life.

83D: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
MP: Readers can use code “83DEGREES” to get $25 off any normal price ticket.

To register for Startup Weekend Tampa Bay events, click here.

Military Hackathon challenges developers to innovate solutions to DoD challenges

A Hackathon focused on solving potential problems using military and defense tactics took place in Tampa over the weekend.

Hackathons are events at which groups of programmers and developers come together to create solutions to posed problems. The Mil-OSS Tampa Hackathon, which kicked off with a Friday night networking event and concluded with a Sunday evening awards ceremony, could “provide potential solutions to challenges faced within the DoD,” says event organizer Jeff Young.

The goal of the Hackathon: to “showcase talent that is interested in supporting the defense community,” Young explains.

Tampa Bay is home to the U.S. Special Operations Command and U.S. Central Command, and the two commands worked with the event organizers to develop the Mil-OSS Tampa Hackathon. The challenge was expected to bring out members of the government and military, as well as local students and professors.

Hackathon topics were selected by experts from the Department of Defense, Young says. Challenges for this event will focus on topics such as open source framework, cyber security and cloud security, tactical terrain models, and 3D model visualization.

The MIl-OSS Tampa Hackathon kicked off at SOFWERX, 1910 North Ola Avenue in Tampa, but teams were able to choose between working from the event headquarters or a location of their choosing. Participants were required to work on their own devices during the Hackathon.

Event organizers expected around 50-70 challenge participants and another 20 to 30 attending to observe. People from across Florida, as well as out of state, visited Tampa Bay to participate in the Hackathon alongside teams “from local industry and academia,” says Young, who is VP of Marketing and Business Development at Marjau Systems Corporation, a tech company that focuses on providing IT solutions for government and private entities. Young, who attended college at the University of San Francisco, previously worked for Brighthouse and Time Warner Cable and is a charter member of the Marketing Advisory Committee for United Way of Tampa Bay.

Mil-OSS goals include improving tech development and innovation through creating networking opportunities, connecting veterans, and creating solutions.

Expenses for the Hackathon are covered by a myriad of event sponsors; all remaining funds will be donated to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. Hackathon sponsors include the University of Tampa, Kahwa Coffee, Hillsborough County, Tribridge, Agile Thought, Reliaquest, and other local businesses.

Tampa Innovation Alliance hosts global thought leader at dinner

Tampa Innovation Alliance will unveil an updated plan for revitalizing a section of Tampa once known as “Suitcase City” at a dinner celebrating author Bruce Katz on Oct. 29.

Katz, a renowned expert on innovation districts, is founding director of D.C.-based think tank The Brookings Institute and author of The Metropolitan Revolution. Tampa Innovation Alliance Founder, Mark Sharpe, a former Hillsborough County commissioner, who follows and engages with Katz on social media, invited him to speak at the dinner.

“We realized that as we launch an innovation district, there’s no one better to come in and assess the situation and be a part of it,” explains Kelley Sims, director of communications and community engagement for the Tampa Innovation Alliance.

“It’s time for us to really launch the vision for the district,” says Sims. “We have a sense for the change that can be made and how it will happen here, and it’s really time for us to share that with the community. A great deal of forward movement is happening.”

The Museum of Science and Industry will host the “cooking with science” concept dinner, which is open to the public. The event will “feature science and technology in a lot of different ways,” says Sims.

The Tampa Innovation Alliance was developed by Sharpe in 2014 and launched almost one year ago with four program “anchors”: the University of South Florida, Busch Gardens, Florida Hospital and Moffitt Cancer Center

“Anchor institutions that were doing things on their own weren’t necessarily working together before,” Sims says, “but now, you see this incredible dynamic between them.”

Membership has increased to around 90 members since the Innovation Alliance launched, including community leaders like MOSI and big-name brands like Brighthouse. The addition of University Mall owners New York-based RD Management to the Alliance executive committee is “very exciting,” Sims says, “because they have plans to put as much as $150 million into a complete revitalization of that mall -- a completely new concept.”

The Alliance sees the mall “as sort of the town center,” Sims says, “a beginning of the revitalization of the whole alliance area.”

The area comprises about 25,000 acres -- bordered by Bearss Ave to the north and Busch Boulevard to the south, between interstates 275 and 75. Working with Hillsborough County’s Economic Development Corporation has helped the Alliance to identify an “inner core,” where an innovation district will be centrally defined over time, Sims says.

Discussions regarding some gateway projects have also begun; these could include freeway identifier signs to brand the district.

“There’s serious momentum with regards to change, and it will be nice for folks to see that as they enter the area,” Sims says.

Students and professors from USF are assisting the Alliance with studying the area and conducting planning studies.

“We feel that this is incredibly important: to involve the community that already lives in our area,” Sims says. “We want those who are living here to have opportunities for better wage jobs, better education, startup business support; and we want to make sure the community is involved and their ideas are represented in our planning."

“We’re building an innovation district where people want to 'live, work, play, study, and stay.' Having involvement at every age is really important to us.” 

Visit Eventbrite for tickets to the Premiere Innovation dinner or visit the Tampa Innovation Alliance website for more information. Katz will also speak at the Florida Chamber of Commerce quarterly innovation caucus during his visit; contact Sims to attend.

Unconference draws tech crowd to USF College of Business

Annually each fall, a group of technology enthusiasts from the Tampa Bay community comes together at the University of South Florida’s large, airy College of Business building to listen to local speakers give off-the-cuff presentations about all things tech.

BarCamp Tampa Bay 2015, which is now in its eighth year, bills itself as an “un-conference,” one where tech industry programmers, developers, designers and entrepreneurs come together to share knowledge and develop connections. Marketers, copywriters and other web-related content creators are also welcome at BarCamp events.

One constant of any BarCamp is change. Each year’s speakers and topics are laid out in a first-come, first-served informal format. Instead of assigning topics or asking for presentation outlines ahead of time, BarCamp organizers crowdsource topics and the speakers from the local tech community. Topics can range from agile development and user experience design to 3D printing, startup funding or networking tips. 

“We never know until the morning of the event exactly what is going to be presented,” explains event co-organizer Ken Evans.

The one-day event took place on Saturday, October 17, with early morning speaker signup and a steady stream of topics presented from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. A break for lunch included a mile of subs donated by Firehouse.

Startup Monkey Founder Evans hopes to see participants walk away “with an appreciation for what others know and a willingness to freely share with each other as peers. BarCamp’s greatest asset may be that someone in the audience last year is inspired to get up and be a speaker this year.”

"Cool T-shirts" and an after party are also part of the BarCamp package. This year, the after party took place at the newest location of the successful Tampa-based tavern, World of Beer, on Fowler Ave. 

The event has been hosted at USF for the past four years, and Evans, who attended Syracuse University in New York, was “delighted” to see the event welcomed back to the campus in Tampa's growing Innovation District for a fifth.

USF’s Muma College of Business is “a wonderful venue host,” Evans says. “I know they see the value in what we are doing for the students, as well as the broader tech and business community.”

Collaboration is key for technology professionals, Evans says. BarCamp Tampa Bay is a “fun and rewarding program that has meant so much to the growth of the local tech ecosystem.”

Evans estimates that coworking spaces, dozens of companies, and “an effort to bridge government, economic development and the tech community all began as a result of BarCamp and the people involved in fostering that spirit. It all comes down to the fact that BarCamp is not only a day of sharing, but also a day of action.”

Action that Evans hope to see last through the rest of the year. “Get involved and keep that spirit of sharing technical and start-up business knowledge alive,” he urges.

BarCamp Tampa Bay is organized by Evans, Joy Randels and TechNova board members, along with community volunteers, and it is supported by Hillsborough County's Economic Development Innovation Initiative fund (read more about EDI2 here).

TechNova is a volunteer-run nonprofit organization based in the Tampa Bay region that organizes annual community tech events like Ignite Tampa Bay and BarCamp.

Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission wins award for best practices

Hillsborough County’s Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) was honored this month by Sustainable Florida, a statewide organization with a vision to “protect and preserve Florida’s environment while building markets for Florida’s businesses” through sustainable best practices. The group awarded its Best Practice Award for Community Engagement to EPC’s annual Clean Air Fair initiative.

“Our agency is really big on outreach,” says Jeff Sims, General Manager of EPC’s Air Division, which runs the fair. The fair, he says, “becomes a big interaction point for the public.” Sims says the award is new to Sustainable Florida this year and that the EPC was among stiff competition, about 20 businesses, competing for it from around the state. 

Margaret Rush, the EPC’s Sustainability Coordinator says beyond providing a forum for educating the public on what the exhibitor companies are doing – something that is not always easy to understand in the abstract – the Clean Air Fair also creates a unique networking opportunity for a cross-section of business, civic and governmental groups “to talk about minimizing pollution” and for businesses to gain peer-to-peer knowledge on sustainable best practices. 

Launched in 2001, the EPC’s Clean Air Fair is an annual event meant to celebrate the month of May as Clean Air Month, as designated by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The Clean Air Fair is open and free to the public and exhibitors alike, with the aim of raising awareness and promoting environmental and sustainable practices.  

This year’s event attracted more than 1,000 attendees, with more than 50 exhibitors from a wide range of businesses – from solar management and conservation organizations to major companies like TECO and Publix. The bustling, open-air event purposely takes place at a location that is “great for pedestrians” at the Poe Plaza in downtown Tampa. In addition to live music, complimentary food items and other give-aways, for the past several years they have showcased alternative vehicles – such as the fully electric Tesla, which claims to get 270 miles to a single charge. The innovation on display, Sims says, “draws in people to the more cutting-edge stuff.” 

Rush says she is noticing a greater interest in sustainability ”especially if you can make an economic case for it as well as social. More and more [sustainable initiatives] are coming in line as the cost of ‘business as usual.’ It just makes sense,” she notes. “That’s why it is important to learn about them.” 

USF rolls out succesful share-a-bike program

Students at USF's Tampa campus now have an innovative solution to the challenge of maneuvering such a large property as the bike sharing program is rolled out. The Share-A-Bull Bikes program, which officially launched September 28th, allows students the opportunity to borrow one of the 100 bikes on campus to get to their destination.

“Since we have an urban campus with lots of traffic, we had to come up with an alternative to help students get where they need to go,” says Francis Morgan, Assistant Director for Outdoor Recreation. “There were three things that really pushed this initiative, one being that is would increase physical activity, the second being it would decrease carbon emissions and finally it would get people from one place to another.”

In order to participate in the program, students must enroll at which point they receive a 16 digit account code that they will use to unlock one of the bikes. Once they have unlocked a bike, they can ride up to two hours per day at no cost. Each bike is equipped with a GPS system, which helps student locate available bikes through a Smartphone app or through the USF website.

According to Morgan, there are over 1,600 active members who have registered to date.

“This program has been very successful,” he says. “In fact, it is six times more successful than any other bicycle system in the world.”

Share-A-Bull Bikes program is funded through USF’s Student Green Energy Fund, which is a student fee funded program that the student body voted on. The purpose of the fund is to reduce the carbon footprint on campus.

“This is something the students asked for, and from its success so far, it’s seems to be something they appreciate.”
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