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Innovation Fusion: Wix and Waze leaders to share journey at Tampa event

Innovation Fusion, the signature event for The Florida-Israel Business Accelerator (FIBA), is expected to draw 500 people to hear top tech executives and meet representatives of the accelerator’s latest eight-member cohort.

Danny Brigido, Director of Customer Solutions in Miami for the Tel Aviv-based Wix website development platform, will be talking about the challenge of hiring tech employees in Florida. Aron DiCastro, Waze Head of Global Partnerships and Business Development, will be sharing about Waze’s integration into Google and plans for growth.

Brigido, who developed Miami’s Wix office, will be speaking about how he hired more than 100 Floridians for the operation, which provides support to users of the platform. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Communications from the University of Tampa and a master’s degree in Animation from The Savannah College of Arts and Design.

A GPS navigation app, Waze was built by an Israeli startup acquired by Google for $1.3 billion in 2013. DiCastro, who has relocated from Tel Aviv to Google headquarters in Silicon Valley, has been heading global business development and partnerships at Waze for more than a year. In the past, he led the Google 'Startup Nation' Department involving international business.

The event presented by Valley National Bank culminates the introductory portion of the cohort program for companies interested in doing business in the U.S. market. “The purpose of Innovation Fusion is to bring together the Tampa Bay community around exciting innovation happening in our area,” says Rachel Marks Feinman, FIBA’s Executive Director. 

It attempts to build a bridge between the Israeli innovation ecosystem and what is happening in the Tampa Bay community, she says.

“The companies that we’re serving really have no connection or tie to Tampa Bay other than through FIBA,” she says.

The event, scheduled from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday, June 13, at Bryan Glazer Family JCC, 522 N. Howard Ave., Tampa, is expected to attract about 200 more people than the inaugural Innovation Fusion event last year. At that time a member of the 2017 cohort, Tomobox, announced it was opening its U.S. headquarters in Tampa.

Another cohort company, Stemrad, has also chosen to open a U.S. subsidiary in Tampa -- and hired former FIBA Executive Director Jack Ross.

More accomplishments are anticipated through FIBA. “We expect similar successes from our 2018 cohort. It’s a little early to make any announcements,” Feinman says.

Founded by the Tampa Jewish Community Centers and Federation, in late 2016, FIBA is working closely with community partners such as Synapse, a Tampa nonprofit working to better connect members of the area’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, and Tampa Bay Wave, a nonprofit accelerator for tech businesses.

It also recently worked with a University of Tampa public relations class to craft media plans for the organization.

“We’re all working together as a community to make sure that we have all the necessary tools in the toolkit, if you will, for our growing companies to be successful,” Feinman says.

She adds that Tampa Bay has a “well of talent” that may not necessarily be trained, or have experience in tech jobs.

“I think over the next several years we’ll see an influx of that talent grow here,” she says.

Here are the companies in the 2018 cohort:
• BetterCare, which aims to improve nursing home care by enhancing communication between caregivers, nurses and staff;
• ECOncrete, whose goal is to change the way our coastlines look and function through cost-efficient concrete solutions to rising sea levels and superstorms;
• Nucleon, the provider of an innovative cyber threat monitoring system to protect users from professional hackers, governments and other attackers;
• UC-Care, a developer and manufacturer of medical devices for urologists working with prostate cancer;
• GlobeKeeper, an encrypted communication platform designed to keep security personnel safe, saves money and improves decision-making;
• Intervyo, an advanced interview simulation engine able to screen job applicants and accurately gauge their suitability for the position;
• Say, which enables you to wear your display on clothes or accessories and control it with your smartphone; and
• WiseShelf, which offers dynamic inventory management to retailers through low-cost hardware and sophisticated software. It also helps businesses fill online orders.

To register, or get more information about the companies, visit the FIBA website.

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.


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.”


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.”


Digital wellness company raises $2.3M in latest funding effort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bswift is a leading provider of employee health benefits services.

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

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

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

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

You can read our previous article about Peerfit here.


USF adds accelerated nursing studies in Pinellas, Sarasota, Manatee counties

The University of South Florida is launching a new five-year track for students from Pinellas, Sarasota and Manatee counties pursuing their second degree in nursing. The partnership between USF’s College of Nursing, USF St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota-Manatee is intended to boost the number of baccalaureate-trained nurses in the Tampa Bay Area.

“I want USF College of Nursing to be the first solution to prepare nurses at the baccalaureate level for the Suncoast region,” says Dr. Victoria Rich, whose appointment as Dean of the USF College of Nursing and Senior Associate VP of USF Health was announced May 18.

The Suncoast Nursing Accelerated Pathway program allows students to earn bachelor’s degrees in Biology at the USFSP or USFSM campuses, then transition into the College of Nursing’s accelerated Bachelor’s of Science degree in Nursing program. While enrolled in the Tampa nursing program, students would be able to do clinical work in their home counties.

The program starts next fall.

Rich, who holds master’s and PhD degrees in nursing administration from the University of Pittsburgh, says the program makes it easier for students who enter college with a different major to switch into nursing. She knows firsthand what that is like. “I wanted to be a PhD botanist. I loved plants. I loved growing things. Then I realized after I had my children ... I want to be a nurse,” recalls Rich, whose first degree was in biology.

Students who pursue the five-year track will not only be better trained for bedside treatment, but will be on the career path to becoming nursing scientists and researchers. In this role, they typically research symptom management.

This background in biology will actively be very powerful moving forward as we prepare nurses for the future,” Rich says.

USF students on the Tampa campus have a number of paths to earn a second degree in nursing, including an added five-semester program they can pursue after earning another degree like biology, psychology, journalism or marketing.

The new Accelerated Pathway Program is intended to make it easier for students who find it difficult to travel to Tampa for classes. “We’re hoping the candidates going into this program are more likely to stay in the Suncoast region hospitals,” she adds.

USF is hoping to enroll 10 students in the program at each of the USFSP and USFSM campuses, but there’s not really an upper limit they will accept. “If this becomes a tremendous program, we will find the faculty,” she asserts.

A large portion of Florida is considered “medically underserved” according to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration.

Rich joined USF’s College of Nursing in 2015, and had been serving as interim associate dean of academic programs. She begins her new job June 15.

She has more than 35 years of leadership experience, having served as Chief Nurse Executive and Associate Hospital Administrator for the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center and Associate Professor of Nursing Administration at the University of Pennsylvania Health System’s School of Nursing.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, with highest honors.


USF ranks 19th in Milken study, seen as tech leader

The University of South Florida ranked 19th, among more than 225 universities nationwide, in a Milken Institute study about how well universities convert basic research into new technologies, products and companies.

“Concept to Commercialization: The Best Universities for Technology Transfer” notes USF jumped up from 74th place in 2006 after ramping up research and commercialization efforts.

“We really worked hard in the past 10 years in changing our culture,” acknowledges Paul Sanberg, USF’s Senior VP for Research, Innovation and Economic Development. “We want to be Tampa Bay’s corporate partner.”

USF efforts have gone beyond “great basic research which we’ve been known for,” he says, to patenting licenses, commercialization, business incubators and training programs.

“This has involved a real concerted effort to make these activities part of tenure and promotion,” Sanberg says.

Vickie Chachere, Director of Strategic Communications for USF Research and Innovation, says major companies look to be near major universities that are good at commercializing research and growing a talent pipeline. “Tampa is an emerging place if you want to have potential partners,” she says.

The rank is based on a University Technology Transfer and Commercialization Index that is derived from the four-year averages of patents and licenses issued, plus licensing income and the number of start-ups.

USF has a “diverse portfolio” spanning life sciences, engineering and other Science, Technology, Engineering and Math or STEM and the arts, Sanberg adds.

The study by Ross DeVol, Joe Lee ad Minoli Ratnatunga found all of the top 25 universities were in metropolitan areas. “Universities are a source of competitive advantage; they create a skilled workforce and through R&D and tech-transfer help create new technologies and new industries,” it asserts.

The University of Florida in Gainesville ranked third, following the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and Columbia University in New York City, in first and second place, respectively. Central Florida in Orlando ranked 22 while Florida State University in Tallahassee earned 88th place and Tampa’s H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute placed 95th.

“Research universities are one of the strongest assets America can use to compete in the age of innovation,” the report concludes. “Research funding should be a top priority for enhancing American economic growth.”

The Milken Institute, with offices in Washington, D.C., is a nonprofit organization working to boost global prosperity through collaboration. Its Center for Jobs and Human Capital seeks to develop innovative, doable economic solutions that facilitate job creation and enhance funding opportunities.

USF’s own study shows it ranked 10 among state universities nationwide, Sanberg notes. It ranks 9th among public universities nationally and 21st globally for the number of U.S. patents granted, according to Intellectual Property Owners Association/National Academy of Inventors (2015).


USFSP adding master's program in conservation biology

The University of South Florida St. Petersburg is launching a master’s degree program in Conservation Biology in the fall 2017, in an attempt to fill a void in the state university system for the thesis-based biology degree.

“We looked at our faculty research base and realized this was ... a degree that was really missing from this area,” says Dr. Melanie Riedinger-Whitmore, who prepared the proposal for the program.

The degree program is being developed in connection with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, U.S. Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The university also reached out to representatives of city and state government, as well as environmental consulting firms.

“It is important ... especially for coastal populations to address those issues that are affected by climate change and the environment,” says Dr. Martin Tadlock, USFSP’s Regional Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs.

He adds that society likely will be looking for leadership on conservation issues such as reducing waste, improving living conditions, and having a positive or at least neutral impact on the environment.

“The goal really is to meet the demand in the region and in the state for individuals in the field to assume leadership roles,” he says.

The Master of Science degree would prepare students to be conservation biologists, conservation specialists, wildlife biologists as well as to fill other positions requiring a strong biology background to deal with wildlife.

“Students who have a degree in this program hopefully will be broadly trained,” Riedinger-Whitmore says. “They’re going to be learning the latest techniques.”

The average mean wage in 2015 for conservation scientists in Florida was $70,000-$90,220, among the highest in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Dr. Riedinger-Whitmore, who will teach a core course in conservation biology theory, says the university already has had students express an interest in the program. “We had a lot of students participate in undergraduate research,” she explains. “A lot are excited they can continue on progress they’ve started as undergraduates.”

Initially the graduate program is expected to have 15, a figure determined by funding. “We wanted to make sure we had a small cohort we all could work with,” she says.

More information will be available at the Graduate Program’s Open House from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. April 15 at USFSP’s downtown St. Petersburg campus. Interested persons can apply to the program here.

The popular biology undergraduate program has more than 750 students. Since the university opened the undergraduate program in the College of Arts and Science in 2012, it has become the largest major in that department.

Students are expected to have access to newly renovated labs as well as being involved in the community and workplace, Tadlock says.

Spending time in nature is part of the program. “Being out in nature is going to be a big part of this degree. I think our focus initially is going to be the aquatic and terrestrial and coastal communities of west Central Florida,” Riedinger-Whitmore says.

USFSP will be looking to provide internship opportunities at local agencies that deal with conservation, as well as state, regional and private consulting firms.

It also will be soliciting instructors from the professional community. “We like doing this. It really introduces students to potential employers,” she says. “They get to interact with someone that is in the workforce.”


Tampa Bay Area job fairs connect jobseekers, employers

Jobseekers can connect with potential employers at several job fairs in the Tampa Bay region in coming weeks.

CareerSource is gearing up for three job fair events, including its Tampa Bay internship hiring event for students and recent graduates on April 4.
 
Jason Druding, Special Projects Coordinator for CareerSource Tampa Bay and CareerSource Pinellas, says the event for interns is expected to include 20 employers, among them the insurance provider Amerilife, one of the event’s sponsors, and Brookdale Senior Living, an assisted living, long-term care provider in the Tampa Bay area.
 
All positions -- including internships, entry level and full-time -- are paid.
 
Opportunities will be in science, technology, engineering and math-related careers, including graphic design, registered and licensed practical nurses, as well as business sales, marketing and development, Druding says.
 
The event, expected to attract some 200 jobseekers, is scheduled from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at DoubleTree Tampa Airport-Westshore. There is no charge for jobseekers or employers. Pre-register at Eventbrite.
 
On April 12, CareerSource Tampa Bay's Veterans/General Career Fair will focus on entry level through mid-level management. The event kicks off at 10 a.m. and will be open exclusively to veterans for the first hour. It then opens to the general public through 1 p.m.

“We feature up to 50 employers. Last year we had over 1,200 candidates who attended,” Druding says.
 
The career fair is expected to include a wide variety of career opportunities including call center, hospitality, healthcare and construction.
 
It will be held at T. Pepin Hospitality Center on 50th Street near Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Tampa. Pre-registration is available at the Career Source website.
 
A Youth Virtual Job Fair with more than 150 employers is scheduled May 14 through 20. The event focuses on youths 14 through 24, who are encouraged to set up profiles, upload resumes and interact with employers online.
 
“The profile allows them to showcase who they are and what kind of experience they bring to the table,” Druding explains.
 
The virtual fair is expected to draw some 2,000 candidates. Registration begins in mid-April.
 
“Candidates are welcome to utilize resources available through CareerSource Tampa Bay and CareerSource Pinellas offices to ... help prepare for these events,” he adds.
 
Here are some other hiring opportunities:
 
• The Tampa Job Fair by Coast-to-Coast Career Fairs is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 20 at Doubletree by Hilton Tampa Airport - Westshore. Jobseekers can attend free and interview with multiple employers.
 
* The Career Job Fair and Resource Expo is slated March 27 at the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County in Ybor City. The event by Red Carpet USA Entertainment and Events Inc. will feature 25 or more employers from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Admission is free.
 
Resume help is available.
 
* National Career Fairs is holding a free, Live Hiring Job Fair for jobseekers from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 11 at Doubletree by Hilton Tampa Westshore Airport, Tampa.

• Keiser University TAMPA CAREER FAIR 2017 is planned from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 11 at 5002 W. Waters Ave., Tampa. The event is open to students, graduates and jobseekers in the community. 

Tampa company develops new software for scan-to-print

Computer-aided design software can be used in the creation a number of things, like cars and bridges. The CAD model is important when the bridge is built -- and even when it needs repair. But what happens when there is no computer model? When the original is an arm or a part for a car no longer being made? What happens when the object is scanned into a computer?
 
It used to take an engineer to figure things out. But, thanks to Dr. Dan Simkins Jr., an associate professor at Tampa’s University of South Florida, that’s no longer the case. Simkins has developed a software suite that resolves the problem. And it’s expected to become available in eight weeks.
 
“We have the software. It works. We can demonstrate it,” he says.
 
Simkins, of USF’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and serial entrepreneur Art Slowe co-founded Formerics in 2011. With help from four of Simkins’ doctoral students over the years, they are bringing the software to market.
 
The idea came from Simkins’ research before he earned his PhD. “What’s new for us is that now people want to start to do engineering on things they didn’t create from scratch, like a heart,” explains Simkins, the company’s Chief Technical Officer.
 
Computers come up with mathematical descriptions that are used in computerized models. When computers are used in the design process, it’s easier to test the strength of that bridge, for example. Creating a design for use in surgical planning was “a new kind of problem,” he says.
 
Additionally, the use of new materials brought new challenges. So Simkins found a way to work with these laminate materials. “What our technology does is it enables manufacturers to maximize the capability of those materials,” Slowe says.
 
The software can be used in a variety of industries, including medicine, entertainment, aerospace, defense and automotive.
 
“It will take a generation to fully implement this technology,” Slowe asserts.
 
The software does automatically what it used to take an engineer to accomplish, significantly reducing the cost of scan-to-print services. “We can convert a laser scan of an object into a 3-D printable version of that object without human intervention. That sounds silly but it’s a big deal,” Slowe explains.
 
Formerics got its name from the Latin words for model and number. It received a $50,000 seed loan from the USF Research Foundation, which was matched by the Florida High Tech Corridor. It also is a member of the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps, designed to help professors learn how to commercialize research.
 
Part of USF’s Tampa Bay Technology Incubator, Formerics is targeting the North and South American markets. “We’re resident in the USF Connect building. We’re closely tied with the USF community,” Slowe says. “We did not do this on our own. We had support and it’s made a material difference.”

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.”

USF celebrates record year for cultivating startups, new products

USF’s success with transferring ideas and patents into products results in a record year.
 
With nine startups and 113 license and option agreements executed this fiscal year, the university is celebrating a 12-percent increase over fiscal year 2015. This success brings USF in the top 10 nationally among public universities for generating new inventions, according to the annual ranking by the Intellectual Property Owners/National Academy of Inventors.
 
“We are one of the nation’s largest public research universities and we play a leading role in growing and elevating the Tampa Bay Region’s economy through our discoveries,” USF System President Judy Genshaft states in a news release. “Through innovation and invention, our talented faculty and students are at the forefront of projects that are producing new technologies, developing new cures, and making life better for others.”
 
There is a common thread of making life better for others that is woven among all of the startups coming out of USF this year. Moterum is one of those new companies. With its clinical grade MTip Crutch Tip, the startup hopes to improve walking assistance, gait and control of post-stroke patients. Another startup, Depression Army, is working to remove the stigma revolved around depression through its sale of T-shirts and other merchandise. Meanwhile, Culture Biosystems is an innovative concept that reduces the cost of harvesting algae with the use of technology to enable large-scale production for biofuels, aviation fuels, proteins and nutraceuticals.
 
“At the end of the day, we are passionate about helping create products and businesses that will help people,” says Valerie McDevitt, Associate VP for Technology Transfer and Business Principles at USF.
 
Many of the startups created at USF get help from the university’s Seed Capital Accelerator Program, which was founded in 2013. The program helps startups launch their businesses from the university to the marketplace. Earlier this year, USF created another program to help innovators and inventors earlier on in the start up phase. The Bull Ring Accelerator Grant Program (BRAG) provides $25,000 of grant funding to early stage companies, providing infrastructure, training and resources to entrepreneurial teams helping them translate their ideas into viable products and companies.
 
“We have had great success this year due to our focus and prioritization on cultivating startups,” McDevitt says. “With the increased amount of license and option agreements we had this year over last, I know if we continue that focus we will have an even better year ahead.”

USF's mobile Alzheimer's unit brings trials, medications to community

An innovative service from USF Health will bring help to those suffering from memory loss in their own neighborhoods.

The USF Health Byrd Alzheimer's Mobile Research Suite is a clinic on wheels that is able to bring clinical trials and medications to those showing signs of the deadly disease. The idea behind the concept came after researchers discovered the need for outreach to the community.

“The mobile unit idea stemmed from our knowledge that it can take years and millions of dollars for pharmaceutical companies to recruit subjects into clinical trials, and to get new drugs approved for treatment of Alzheimer’s disease," says Dr. Amanda Smith, Medical Director at USF Health. “Part of the reason is that many people do not live near centers that are conducting the trials. By bringing research trials to their communities and making it convenient for them to participate, we can fill studies faster with the ultimate goal of bringing new treatments to the market sooner.”

The mobile service, which started in August, goes into neighborhoods around the region.

“We have visited The Villages and St. Petersburg, with plans to bring it to New Port Richey, Sun City Center, Bradenton, Clearwater, Lakeland, and beyond.”

There is no charge to participants, and they do not need an appointment to be seen. If a patient does show signs of Alzheimer's Disease, they can enroll in trials for new medications.

“We are currently using the mobile unit to screen people in the community for memory problems, whom we can then refer for further evaluation,” Smith says. “More importantly, we are using it to recruit subjects for participation in clinical trials so ultimately we can bring new treatments to market sooner.”

For more information, visit USF Health.

Moffitt chosen to be site of cell therapy studies, latest treatment in cancer

Moffitt has been chosen by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute as a research facility for cell therapy.

The world-renowned cancer center in Tampa, Moffitt, is one of five institutions selected and approved facilities to produce cell-baed therapies for scientific research by the National Institute of Health (NIH), and its National Hearth, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

Cell-based therapies are treatment in which living cells are injected into a patient. This emerging science could be a game-changer when it comes to treating cancer.

"Until recently, cancer treatment options have been largely limited to radiation and chemotherapy,” says Linda L. Kelley, Ph.D., principal investigator and director of Moffitt’s Cell Therapy Facility. “Immunotherapy represents a paradigm shift in which the person’s own immune system is boosted to specifically target and kill tumor cells.”

The cancer center in Tampa will manufacture human cells, which will be used to help develop clinical trials to evaluate the new therapies safety and effectiveness.

Being one of the chosen centers for this innovative study is considered an honor, and includes infrastructure funding from NHLBI, with an opportunity to receive additional funds as the center completes therapy requests from other institutions across the country.

“The award was competitive,” Kelley states. “Interested centers had to go through a rigorous application process to demonstrate their expertise and capabilities. Moffitt has the appropriate cell therapy facilities, renown investigators performing cutting-edge research in immunotherapy and on-going clinical trials for patients using novel immunotherapies.”

She goes on to say that while up to eight facilities were considered, only five were ultimately chosen. The four other institutions selected are City of Hope, University of Miami, University of Minnesota and Baylor College of Medicine.

MOSI collaboration aims to enrich experience for those on autism spectrum

MOSI is making changes to its museum for visitors on the Autism spectrum.

The Museum of Science & Industry (MOSI) has developed a partnership with Behavioral Consulting of Tampa Bay (BCOTB). Working under the motto “partnering toward a more autism accessible experience,” the duo hopes to offer families and children in the autistic community more opportunities to participate, without overstimulating.

“Accessibility and inclusiveness is at the heart of what we are all about,” says Grayson Kamm of MOSI. “So as we look at ways to eliminate any barriers to accessibility that we have unintentionally created, it's a perfect fit to have a partnership that helps us understand the best ways to serve families who have members with Autism Spectrum Disorder.”

Some of these barriers include revising maps and signs so families will know what kind of sensory exposure they will experience (lights, sounds, etc) and rearranging some exhibits allowing families to bypass sections that may be cause over stimulation. MOSI is also incorporating these changes on its new website, set to launch in September.

“Our families are always searching for places where they can spend time together that will be supportive of their needs and won’t overwhelm them,” BCOTB President and Founder Kelley Prince  stated in a press release. We’re excited to help MOSI take that to the next level.”

BCOTB works one-on-one with families on the spectrum, with programs customized for each child's needs. The company has been honored with an Autism Impact Award from the International Center for Autism Research and Education, as well as named Most Valuable Resource by Autism Speaks Tampa Bay.

Grayson says the some of the changes BCOTB has recommended will come quickly, while others will take some time, however the community can aid in this process.

“Things like maps and signage can be upgraded without any major delay,” he says. “Larger projects, like rearranging exhibits to group them in a more sensory-friendly way, depends on available funding and planned maintenance schedules; donations or a dedicated funding source would allow us to speed up this process.”

To find out how you can help, click here.
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