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

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

Local software developers to hack cars in GM event

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

3.0 Leaders innovation, investment conference returns to Bradenton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Innovation summit relocates to Tampa from Austin

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

Tampa Innovation Summit to boost local startup ecosystem

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

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

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

Wifi Waiter makes debut in Downtown Tampa

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

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

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

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

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

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

Online fitness company helps people get off the couch

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

Restaurateur encourages patrons to skip the straw

Drinking straws are standard fare at most restaurants. Whenever we order a cold beverage, it usually comes with a straw, and we use it to slurp our water, teas or sodas in a matter of minutes. Afterwards, the straws end up littering our beaches and landfills.
 
“We see those [straws] out on the beach everywhere, those and cracker wrappers,” says Ed Chiles, owner of Chiles Restaurant Group.
 
So Chiles decided to do something about it. He has quit serving “old-style,” non-biodegradable plastic beverage straws.
 
“If they want a straw they’re going to get a straw. We’ve got a good [biodegradable] backup,” says Chiles, who owns Ana Maria’s Sandbar, Bradenton Beach’s Beach House and Longboat Key’s Mar Vista Dockside restaurants.
 
Chiles is partnering with the Washington, D.C.-based Ocean Conservancy to educate the public about the single-use plastic straws and protect our oceans. According to the Conservancy, straws are one of the top 10 items collected during cleanups.
 
Chiles’ campaign includes green messages encouraging customers to “Skip the Straw.”  So far, it has been working.
 
“I think it has gone very well overall. I think people understand. At first, there’s that little pause. They think about it and they get it,” Chiles says.
 
His servers are on board. “Our people have embraced it. If your servers aren’t behind it, you’ve got a problem,” he explains.
 
Chiles calls removing the plastic beverage straw “one small step.” He’s already ditched plastic cups and individually wrapped crackers, opting for glasses and sleeves of crackers. Plans include a complete line of eco-friendly “to go” containers and reusable packing crates.
 
He has gardens to grow their own herbs and spices. “The kitchen guys go out and work it,” says Chiles, an honorary faculty member of the University of South Florida’s Patel College of Global Sustainability. “We are all about local sustainable.”
 
Although his menus feature seafood, you also may find wild boar, considered an invasive species. “We take lemons and make limoncello,” he quips. “People think they [wild boars] are not any good, but they’re wrong. It’s fabulous. It’s one of my favorite meats.”
 
Even his parking lots are environmentally friendly. For the last decade, he has been a leader in pervious or porous parking lots, setting an example about how to deal with stormwater on commercial properties.
 
Chiles isn’t stopping with the beverage straw. Now he’s looking for a bio-degradable cocktail straw.

USF students, alumni offered free training in software coding

University of South Florida students and alumni can begin training now for lucrative software development jobs through an online training program by Reston, VA-based Revature, a technology talent development company.
 
The program paves the way for a free on-the-ground bootcamp and contract jobs in the field.
 
“We’re addressing the technology skills gap, as well as just the struggle of corporations to really find tech and software engineers for specific types of skillsets,” says Joe Vacca, Revature’s Chief Marketing Officer.
 
RevaturePro online training is ideal for those who are seeking a career in software development, whether they have liberal arts, business or computer backgrounds. It helps build the skills necessary for the Revature Coding Bootcamp, an intense 10- to 12-week program that builds skills needed to launch their careers.
 
Students must apply for the bootcamp, which requires a bachelor’s degree. When accepted into the bootcamp, housing and a weekly living allowance are provided.
 
“The companies in the Tampa area, Florida as well as the rest of the United States, are struggling to find software developers to fill the openings they have,” Vacca explains.
 
The bootcamp gives participants the equivalent of one to two years of experience, fast-tracking their career. “Many of these individuals within four years will be making six figure salaries given the demand,” he continues.
 
USF students and alumni can access the RevaturePro online program at revature.com/usf. The self-paced learning program can take from a month to a year to complete. Mentors are available to work with students.
 
“We’re very excited about our partnership with USF. We want to provide the pathway to their graduates. We feel like we’re going to get some of the top talent in the country,” Vacca says.
 
Joe Mitchell, Senior VP of University Partnerships with Revature, says they are in contact with area businesses about providing tech talent. “We’re looking forward to stimulating economic growth,” he says.
 
Revature is offering training in Java, .NET and SDET. Careers in software development involve backend codes that make company systems work, whether they involve a customer service program, managing a database, developing a website, or creating a mobile application.
 
Peter Thorsett, Communications and Marketing Officer for USF’s Department of Career Services, says the online program is ideal for sophomore, junior or even senior students who want to explore coding and software development. The exposure is good for students even if they don’t decide to pursue a software career. “We’re living in an era where technology permeates everything we do,” he says.
 
The bootcamp is an opportunity to pursue a software career, change careers or meld current experience with coding experience to qualify for tech-related jobs. “That leveraging of past experience is huge,” he says. “It’s a great way to get into a pipeline very quickly.”

For Good: Classes on human trafficking offered in South Hillsborough County

To read this story in Spanish, please follow this link.

Seeking to educate the community in Hillsborough County about how to effectively combat human trafficking in the area, the Campaign Against Human Trafficking-Sun City Center/South Shore is offering two free four-hour courses on Jan. 11, 2017
 
Florida is one of the leading states in the nation for human trafficking activity and Tampa Bay is a hub for child sex trafficking and Internet pornography, according to a documentary aired by PBS in 2013 titled “Too Close to Home: Human Trafficking in Tampa Bay.”

Children may have been picked up in malls, off the streets or from connections on the Internet. They may believe they are headed for a fun afternoon, a cute date, or maybe they run away and are found by a pimp (usually within 48 hours of being on the street). Some have been labeled as “throw-away” children, those whose parents have kicked them out or sold them off. The average age of a trafficked child is 12, and many will never live past their 19th birthday, according to data posted on the CAHT Website.
 
The stories are heartbreaking. Hoping to combat this phenomena, the Campaign Against Human Trafficking-Sun City Center/ South Shore founded by June M. Wallace works to bring awareness about this criminal activity and educate the community on how they can actively work to put an end to human trafficking.
 
“The Many Faces of Human Trafficking” from 8 a.m. to noon is open to all community members, and will focus on providing an understanding of the origins, methods of operation, and indicators of trafficking along with an understanding of the unique victimization process. An emphasis will be placed on the importance of building alliances and coalitions as part of a coordinated community response to human trafficking using case studies as examples.
 
“Introduction to Human Trafficking,” from 1-5 p.m. is exclusively for law enforcement and victim services. This course will focus on an overview of best practices for investigating cases, legal remedies for trafficking victims, and interviewing victims. Special attention will be placed on human trafficking being a victim-centered crime.
 
Both courses are sponsored by the Florida Regional Community Policing Institute, which is part of St. Petersburg College’s Center for Public Safety Innovation, and will take place at SCC United Methodist Church, 1210 Del Webb Boulevard West, Sun City Center. 

“Human trafficking educational opportunities of this caliber are becoming difficult to find,” Wallace says. 

To register for the “The Many Faces of Human Trafficking” training, click on this link.  

To register for the “Introduction to Human Trafficking” training, click on this link.

For questions about these courses, please contact Laura Heisler at 727-341-4437. 

The Campaign Against Human Trafficking fosters community and faith-integrated actions to end Human Trafficking in Hillsborough County by providing support to the Tampa Bay Task Force on Human Trafficking. The organization also focuses on raising awareness, education, victim services, and fundraising.

White House recognizes Tampa Bay as TechHire Community

Tampa Bay is now officially a TechHire community, which is pretty good news for jobseekers here between 17 and 29. That is if they’re willing to learn new computer skills like java programming, mobile applications or web development.
 
White House officials and community leaders announced Tampa Bay’s TechHire designation last Thursday in separate events. Tampa Bay is now one of more than 70 such areas nationwide.
 
The designation indicates Tampa’s Innovation District, which includes the University of South Florida, Busch Gardens and Moffitt Cancer Center, has met White House TechHire standards. It bolsters the area’s opportunities to achieve job-training goals.
 
Mark Sharpe, CEO of Tampa Innovation Alliance, says the designation “cements you in the [TechHire] club.”
 
“The whole point of bringing the public and private institutions together is to create opportunities for everyone,” Sharpe adds. “There is a sense that not everyone has benefited from trade and from the emerging tech economy. When people don’t have that opportunity, it creates frustration and, in many instances, struggle.”
 
“It [the designation] identifies us as a community that is working towards improving our IT industry sector, that we’re looking for ways to make opportunities available -- for people, for companies,” adds Edward Peachey, President and CEO of CareerSource Tampa Bay, which is partnering in the initiative.
 
Tampa Bay received a $3.8 million federal grant last summer to fund technical training in the community and connect people with jobs. Some $150 million in grants were awarded to 39 TechHire communities, with the communities kicking in nearly $50 million in additional philanthropic, private and other funding.
 
Nationwide, more than 4,000 people have been trained and connected to higher-paying job opportunities.
 
Peachey notes the TechHire designation is distinct from the funding, which lasts for three years. “Being a TechHire community has a longer life to it,” he explains. “What really stands out is the partnership that it creates between employers and community-based organizations and government. And the recognition that we’re all working together to improve our community for the tech companies and tech employees.”
 
The designation also facilitates information sharing about developing a tech workforce, he adds.
 
The TechHire initiative, launched by President Barack Obama in March, 2015, is building a pipeline of tech talent to local communities across the nation, creating jobs and facilitating business growth.
 
Tampa Bay was one of 20 communities added to the initiative Thursday. Three others were in Florida: Central Florida, including Sumter, Lake, Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties; Alachua and Bradford counties; and Pensacola.
 
CareerSource Tampa Bay is fast-tracking IT training and employment opportunities for more than 1,000 out-of-school youth and young adults through 2020. Some jobs are in health care. Employers such as BayCare Health Systems and Cognizant Technology Solutions are working to advance the community’s economic health and technology industry.
 
The training program is short, and can take about four months, Sharpe says.
 
Those who are interested in free training can apply online at http://www.careersourcetampabay.com or visit one of the CareerSource Tampa Bay offices.
 
The alliance and other initiative leaders will be meeting with the business community Dec. 15 as part of its effort to develop its employment base – which already numbers more than 200.
 
Unemployment rates for IT jobs in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area were greater than one percent in August, 2015, compared to 5.2 percent overall, according to a CareerSource workforce analysis.

Study shows USF has $400M impact through innovation efforts

University of South Florida’s efforts to encourage innovation and economic development are paying off. A Washington Economics Group study shows USF’s innovation and economic development efforts have a statewide economic impact of more than $400 million annually.
 
The bulk of the money, $395 million, stays in the Tampa Bay region, where some 1,550 people are directly employed, the study reveals. An additional 1,467 people work for partner organizations and businesses that serve USF innovation operations, resulting in a combined household income of $149 million.
 
The study was commissioned by USF and the Florida High Tech Corridor, a partnership of more than 25 local and regional Economic Development Organizations and 14 state and community colleges. It focused on the impact of USF Research Park, Tampa Bay Technology Incubator, which hatches new businesses; and Technology Transfer Office, which handles patents, copyrights and other intellectual property rights issues.
 
“This helps us understand ourselves and how we can contribute to the rest of the community and business in the area,” says Paul Sanberg, USF’s Senior VP for Research, Innovation and Economic Development. “I thought it was important to do. ... We work so hard on the invention part and the education part that we don’t really see the bigger picture.”
 
About 80 percent of the jobs are in Knowledge-Based Services, including life sciences, information technology, financial services, professional and administrative services. This sector also effects tourism, real estate, transportation and other key areas of the economy, the report says.
 
The report asserts USF support efforts are “critical” to the economy in Florida and the Tampa region. “USF’s Innovation Enterprise’s commercialization activities add significantly to the high-wage job creation in targeted State industries such as life sciences,” it says.
 
The USF System has a $4.4 billion annual economic impact on the Tampa Bay Region, with 15,243 employees in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee, says Vickie Chachere, Director of Strategic Communications for USF Research and Innovation.
 
Universities have fostered innovation as corporate-funded research has declined. “At USF, leading edge research and entrepreneurship are ingrained in its culture. USF’s TBTI is currently home to over 60 resident and affiliate companies, with 58 percent of these companies directly coming from the USF’s TTO as spinouts,” the study notes. “The mentorship and resources from the TTO and the TBTI are key to the success of many of these startups.”
 
The report is “a pretty significant recruitment tool,” says Chachere. “This is everybody’s success story.”
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