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Local artists learn business skills at TEC Garage

Creative Pinellas and TEC Garage are collaborating on a program to help artists and creative professionals learn the entrepreneurial skills needed to be successful in today’s marketplace.

Thanks to funding from Creative Pinellas, artists and arts-related organizations in Pinellas County can apply to participate at no cost in TEC Garage’s nine-week Co.Starters Program that begins September 5.

TEC Garage is part of the Tampa Bay Innovation Center, an innovation and entrepreneurship center for tech businesses that is managed by STAR-TEC Enterprises, Inc., a not-for-profit Florida corporation “whose goal is to foster jobs and promote economic development through assistance and support programs.” Located in downtown St. Petersburg, TEC Garage houses co-working and incubation space, as well as mentoring programs for emerging tech companies and entrepreneurs.

This will be the third time that Creative Pinellas has collaborated with TEC Garage to offer the course to the local arts community, says Barbara St. Clair, executive director of Creative Pinellas. Creative Pinellas is a nonprofit agency supporting the arts community with grant programs, events and activities.

The agency’s new emerging artist grant was featured in a March 21 story in 83 Degrees Media.

St. Clair says she first learned about TEC Garage when she inquired about the program’s co-working space before joining Creative Pinellas in 2016.

“I was impressed with the quality of the program,” says St. Clair. “Then after I was hired at Creative Pinellas, I met with Tonya Elmore, President and CEO of the Tampa Bay Innovation Center, and we agreed that tech entrepreneurs had a lot in common with artists. Both are creative, independent, self-starters and on the leading edge of change. We decided if there was ever an opportunity for us to combine resources we would do that.”

About 20 artists, including Carlos Culbertson, a St. Petersburg mural artist better known as Zulu Painter, have participated in the Co-Starters Program since Creative Pinellas began offering funding for the course.

“Several artists have told us that it was one of the best programs that they had ever attended -- a life-changing experience,” says St. Clair. Originally developed by an arts organization in Cincinnati, OH., Co.Starters is now being duplicated in cities across the U.S. with the mission of teaching entrepreneurs how to turn a creative idea into a thriving and sustainable business.

St. Petersburg’s program is taught by Chris Paradies, president of Paradies Law, a boutique law firm specializing in entrepreneurs and small businesses. JJ Roberts, director of TEC Garage, is a guest speaker in the program. Participants meet once a week for three hours in the evening to discuss topics ranging from team building, problem solving and competition to understanding the customer, identifying the right message and marketing and understanding licenses, revenue, legal issues and distribution.

AirSpew: Teams build prototypes, compete for cash

Good will missions usually take a pilot, a co-pilot and an assistant to toss pamphlets out of the plane about an impending drop of food, medicine and supplies. But thanks to the Tampa-based OpenWERX, the process might become cheaper and easier.

It's latest challenge, AirSpew, has attracted 30 teams creating prototypes that spew information. They're vying for a $10,000 grand prize.

“We’re just trying to think outside the box, what else would make it easier for war fighters to communicate to a crowd,” explains Jeff Young, one of OpenWERX’s creators.

The challenge is the latest in a series by OpenWERX, which was formed nearly a year ago to help the public help the military and others. “If purely based on participation, this will be our biggest one,” he says.

The contest is called AirSpew because teams are making prototype devices that literally spew out literature or a verbal message using a speaker or radio. Teams also are working on mounts to attach the prototypes to the popular Phantom 4 drones.

The devices would reduce flight time and personnel hours.
 In addition to helping with good will missions, the invention might be used for law enforcement, Young adds.

Prototypes were due August 21; judging and awards will be on September 7. The first place team receives $10,000, while second place winners claim $5,000 and the third prize winners take away $3,000.

OpenWERX initially held month-long competitions, but decided to switch to quarterly contests because the teams asked for more time to work. The change also allows OpenWERX to offer larger cash prizes.

Challenges appeal to what he describes as the “maker community,” folks that like to use their hands to make things on their off hours. They may be engineers by trade, but most teams have people with differing skill sets. Some are students.

“I’ve seen definitively an outstanding turnout from folks like the University of South Florida, their engineering students have definitely been involved," he adds.

Ideas are submitted by war fighters and screened to see which ones are most suited to the program. The topic for the next challenge has not yet been chosen, and will be announced at September’s event.

Interested parties can sign up for alerts here.

OpenWERX is part of the Ybor City-based SOFWERX, named for its connection to Special Operations Forces. SOFWERX is a place the public can go to share ideas for what might become tomorrow’s hot inventions.


Think Anew, Superior Precast, announce new jobs in Tampa Bay Area

An innovative, Mississippi-based tech company serving the healthcare market has opened its first Florida office in Tampa and is hiring 20 with a budget of $1.2 million.

“What we desire is to make a call to Florida’s and Tampa’s best and brightest,” says Don Glidewell, President, Founder and CEO of the Flowood-based Think Anew. “Their only limitation is how big they want to dream, and how hard they are wiling to work to achieve those dreams.”

Think Anew opened in June at 1413 Tech Blvd., Suite 213, in Pinebrooke Office Park in the Interstate 75 corridor of eastern Hillsborough County. It is expanding its eight-member staff to include entry-level support staff as well as individuals in engineering, tech administration, network administration, field services, development or programming, web development, and marketing and sales.

“We are extremely competitive with our salaries,” he says.

Plans already are underway to double its 3,500-square-feet offices as part of a $100,000 investment into the community.

Glidewell was impressed with the area’s passion to recruit employers and the growing tech workforce. “This tech talent growth is really starting to bubble over,” he says. “We feel like we’re in the best place to achieve our business goals.”

Glidewell expects the Tampa office, the company’s third, to become a hub for the 10-year-old company that strives to be a one-stop, tech shop targeted to the senior living, long-term healthcare sector. A government mandated switch to electronic data keeping has brought major change to the industry.

“Imagine doing everything on paper and never using a computer, and then one day your facility is filled with computers. There was no in between there,” he explains. “We handle everything: training, implementation, security, disaster preparedness.”

Among its innovative products is a BOOMBOX,TM a disaster communications system that allows a healthcare facility to continue to chart medications and produce electronic health records with a 16-pound box emitting wireless Internet. It also offers phone calling, video conferencing and HAM radio. The company is accepting pre-orders for the $299-a-month emergency service.

“We’re a group of creators. We love to create new things,” he adds. “We’re really good at listening to our client’s pain points.”

Gov. Rick Scott announced Think Anew’s expansion into Florida August 8.

Here are some other companies hiring in the Tampa Bay region.

• A new Florida Department of Transportation supplier, Superior Precast, has decided to locate in Dade City in 62,777 square feet at Dade City Business Center. It plans to hire 100 people from the communities in the area, 27 of them by September.

Superior Precast makes precast concrete products for major road projects in the state. It is working with CareerSource Pasco-Hernando to recruit, hire and train its workforce. Salaries are close to 125 percent of the county’s average annual wage.

Jobs they are looking to fill include Plant Manager, Quality Control Manager, Office Manager, Administrative Assistant, Quality Control Technician, Forklift Operators, Carpenter, Welder, and Precast Production Workers. Jobseekers can apply here.

• The Tampa-based BlueLine Associates is seeking a Technical Recruiter with a bachelor’ degree and/or relevant experience in the staffing industry.

Tops Barber Shop on Temple Terrace Highway in Tampa is looking for a barber/hair stylist to cut men and women's hair. A barber or cosmetology license is required, along with at least two years of experience. The barber/stylist, who will work as an independent contractor, must know how to shave with a straight blade and hot lather. The position is for 36 to  38 hours a week, with Sundays and Mondays off.

Sun Trust is looking to hire and train a full-time universal banker for Pinellas County. Applicants should have at least a high school diploma and its equivalent plus one year of experience in service, sales, cash handling or payment transaction for another firm. The individual would be trained while waiting for a permanent assignment.

Linder Industrial Machinery Company has an opening for a payroll specialist in its Plant City Office. Applicants should have an associate’s degree and at least five year’s of payroll experience, plus excellent communications skills and proficiency in Microsoft Word, Excel and other related software.


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


Tech Bytes: TechHire Boot Camp and more tech-related tidbits in Hillsborough County

Students were issued dog tags. They used an original, comic book-styled text. From their classroom in a previously vacant storefront at Tampa’s University Mall, they studied core concepts needed for technology jobs.

In the end, some 10 students graduated in mid-July from the first USF-TechHire Technology Boot Camp taught by Clinton Daniel, an instructor in Business Analytics and Information Systems at the University of South Florida’s College of Business.

“The second Boot Camp starts the week after Labor Day,” Daniel says, adding they are working with Metropolitan Ministries to supply a place. “We still don’t have a permanent home. That makes it tough.”

After a rigorous 30-day program, the first graduates are being recognized August 30 at a TechHire talk slated from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. at USF CONNECT Galleria.

“We’re taking a different tack,” says Kelley Sims, a spokeswoman for the organizers, !p Potential Unleashed, a multi-jurisdictional district in north Tampa.

The talks are part of a series of business community meetings intended to build a pipeline of tech talent in the Tampa Bay region, as part of a TechHire initiative launched by then-President Barack Obama in 2015. The program is intended to create jobs and facilitate business growth.

Ninety percent of the Boot Camp is hands on, with the balance being discussion, Daniel says. “My philosophy was if these folks are going to try to get a job, the employer most likely wants to know ‘what can you do’?” explains Daniel, who designed the curriculum and text, called Core Technical Manual.

Daniel relied on his military background to develop the practical training, presented in a non-threatening way. Students could opt to write code for their projects – or not.

Boot Camp graduates, who also could opt into a paid internship, for the most part had attended or graduated from college. “We thought maybe it would be a bunch of students that never went to college,” he acknowledges.

“Surprisingly enough, there’s a lot of people who have gone to college, and they can’t find jobs,” Daniel adds. “There’s just more demand out there for tech.”

Some 348 have enrolled in the area’s TechHire program, according to Michelle Schultz, Programs Director for CareerSource Tampa Bay and CareerSource Pinellas. Some 142 already have completed training.

In other tech news Dreamit, a top-10 ranked global accelerator and venture capital firm in New York City, has set up offices at CoWorkTampa in the historic Garcia & Vega Cigar Factory. Dreamit is preparing to launch its first UrbanTech accelerator program with eight to 10 companies in September.

The workspace will be used by out-of-town startups when they are in Tampa for parts of the program, says Andrew Ackerman, Dreamit’s Managing Director.

Our aim is to put Tampa on the map for UrbanTech innovation and, more generally, establish it as the startup hub for the Southeast U.S,” he says.

Check out more tech-related news in Tampa Bay below.

• Nominations are open for the Technology Executive of the Year, the Technology Leader of the Year and the Emerging Technology Leader of the Year awards. The Tampa Bay Technology Forum is accepting nominations until 5 p.m. August 18 for these and other awards. You can even self-nominate. Get the scoop here.

•  A weekend-long hackathon for the hospitality industry, Hack Hospitality, is scheduled August 25-27 at Station House / The Iron Yard in St. Petersburg. Teams will be working to solve real-life industry challenges – and competing for a $3,000 first-place prize. The event is being held by Startup Tampa Bay.

Homebrew Hillsborough is touring the mobile cellphone business pioneer Syniverse at 8:30 a.m. August 25. Located at 8125 Highwoods Palm Way, Tampa, Syniverse has as customers more than 1,500 cellphone carriers, enterprises and ISPs from nearly 200 different countries.

• Kunal Jain, Founder and President of Practiceforces, is the featured speaker at USF Connect’s Innovation Frame of Healthcare Ventures program from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. August 31 at the Oak View Room, 3802 Spectrum Blvd., Tampa. The talk, which is free to attend, will focus on six things that affect new healthcare ventures: structure, financing, public policy, technology, consumers and accountability.

Tampa Bay WaVE accepted 10 new companies in its latest cohort, for a total of 50 companies. The companies included Kaginger, Metasense Analytics, LLC, The SuperMom Box, Monikl, Script, MyCourtCase, Finly Tech, Farady Inc., Mahatma Technologies, and WhooshFly.

Tampa Bay Innovation Center has announced its fiscal year results: 59 clients with 207 employees, and client revenues of nearly $10.5 million. Five trademarks and three patents were filed. Of the clients, 33 were involved with the incubator; the remaining 26 were co-working clients.


Tampa tech company automates LED light sales proposals

Though LED lighting uses less energy -- and can reduce carbon emissions, convincing people to invest in it can be a tough sell. But Devon Papandrew is making the task easier.

Papandrew’s South Tampa company, SiteLite, automates the sales proposal preparation process, cutting the time needed from two days to 20 minutes. “It’s a software that does most of the work for the LED sales company,” he points out.

Currently about 96 percent of lighting is what Papandrew calls “legacy,” mostly metal halide or high pressure sodium lighting. Declining prices on LED or light-emitting diode lights have made it more affordable to convert.  

With a 10- to 15-year guarantee, LED can pay for itself in two to three years of energy savings. Still, talking people into spending money upfront requires solid numbers that usually takes time to compile. And it’s prone to error.

With SiteLite, the salesperson visits prospective companies with an iPad, iPhone, tablet or computer connected to the Internet. Using Google Maps, a digital photo or digitized floor plan, the salesperson can digitally alter the existing lighting in the software, substituting it with LED lighting. This allows users to quickly visualize the changes.

“They can do it all in one site visit,” he says.

Founded in February, SiteLite is a privately funded company that works primarily with small- to medium-size businesses in Florida and in the Southeast U.S. “There are a couple of quite large ones that we sell to,” he says.

Sales firms pay a monthly fee of $599 for a base package for up to 10 sales personnel.

LED bulbs can last at least 25,000 hours, than more than 25 times longer than traditional light bulbs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. If everyone switched to LED lights in a 20-year span, the United States could slash electricity consumption by almost 50 percent while avoiding 1,800 million metric tons of carbon emissions.

Papandrew, who holds a bachelor’s in science in Physics and Economics from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., came up with the idea of the company after seeing how much work was required to develop LED sales proposals. Although there are some other systems, what sets SiteLite apart is its visual component, quality and value. A patent is pending.

Raised in Largo, Papandrew formerly was employed as a bank business analyst who wrote up software requirements for software developers. He started out doing the same thing with SiteLite, then taught himself how to write the software code.

“I’m not writing requirements anymore. I’m just writing the software,” he says.


Digital marketplace can cut surgical supply expenses

A Largo-based startup has opened a digital marketplace for the surgical supplies resale industry. Think eBay. Or Amazon. For single-use surgical supplies like staples, needles, shears, forceps, mesh and patches.

The company, called The Index, wants to combine both E-bay and Amazon online sales strategies for the niche market where waste adds up to billions annually.

“The manufacturers, they typically sell in boxes of six, 10 or 100. That’s the only way a facility can buy a product,” explains Founder Jon Bird. “Once they open a box, the manufacturer won’t take it back.”

These medical/surgical supplies only have a limited shelf life, so items used infrequently can easily expire. Additionally, a change in physicians and/or contracts may mean certain supplies are not used, or not used as much.

“They come from the manufacturer with a finite shelf life, typically about five years,” Bird says. “We have an opportunity to sort of rescue those products before they expire.”

The first online marketplace designed to bring together hospitals, surgical centers, manufacturers, wholesalers, and resellers, The Index requires users to sign up and be vetted. Sellers can list their own products for sale, much like vendors do on Ebay, or let The Index handle the sales and shipping, much like Amazon does.

Membership is free. The Index makes money by keeping 10 or 20 percent of the sales, depending on the sales model.

Bird noticed the need for more advanced technology when he was employed in the medical supply industry. He realized how inefficient it was for buyers to request multiple quotes on one or two items by email, then wait for replies.

“I just felt that there had to be a more efficient way, without having all the overhead of brick and mortar,” he says. “I felt we could accomplish this if we had the right tool, the right technology.”

The Index, started in late 2015, has 50 buyers and sellers primarily in the southeastern United States, plus more than 10,000 unique product listings.

“The back-end technology, which is proprietary, is relatively revolutionary,” Bird says. “What it can accomplish can be revolutionary.”

It will save money, reduce waste and allow hospitals to do what they do best: save lives, adds spokesman Franco Ripple.

Although the medical/surgical resale market is huge, with some hospitals potentially spending $5 to $10 million annually on these products, the company doesn’t plan to stop there. Its goal is to expand into medical equipment and medical power tools.

The privately-funded company has a staff of six and plans to grow its sales staff in the next year. “Our goal is to add between four and eight sales people,” he says. “Some would be inside, and some would be out.”

 It also plans to double its 3500 square foot offices at the end of the year.

The Index is entering the scene at a time when the industry’s group purchasing organizations are coming into disfavor. Some facilities are choosing to do their own purchase negotiations -- and avoid the fees.

I think we’ve come in at a great time,” Bird notes.


Meet employers face-to-face at Tampa Bay Area job fairs

With digital job applications the rage, many jobseekers submit their resumes or applications online and wait, in hope of a reply.  But job fairs offer an opportunity to meet employers face-to-face.

“Nothing beats meeting an employer face to face. In this day and age almost all job search is done online,” asserts Mark Walker, National Sales Manager for National Career Fairs, which schedules more than 300 events in 80 cities annually. “You hope somebody reads your resume and application and gives you a call.”

Its St. Petersburg Job Fair, a live hiring event, is planned from 11 a.m to 2 p.m. August 15 at Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront, 333 1st Street South.

Preparing ahead of time can help jobseekers make the most of the opportunity. By visiting the National Career Fairs website, they can view the Event Calendar and see the logos for companies signed up for the fair.

 “None of our events are industry specific,” he adds. “We are open to all employers.”

Submitting a resume online, in addition to carrying several hard copies to the fair, is a good idea. “We compile a resume database for the event,” he says. “The employers that are at the event get the resume database.”

The website also has a job board, where employers participating in events can list openings.

The most important thing a jobseeker can do is “dress for success,” he advises.

“You cannot believe the number of people ... that show up in shorts and T-shirt instead of being dressed in nice business attire,” he says.

It’s also important to realize employers are actively recruiting -- and be prepared to answer interview questions, he adds.

Below you’ll find some other job fairs scheduled in the Tampa Bay area in August.

The Tampa Career Fair by Career Intro is slated from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. August 9 at Hilton Tampa Airport, 2225 N Lois Ave. Jobseekers can register online and submit a resume for the free event.

• A JobNewsUSA Lakeland Job Fair is slated from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. August 23 at The Lakeland Center, 701 W. Lime St. Jobseekers should be prepared for on-the-spot interviews and job offers. Online registration is available; admission and parking are free.

• Best Hire Career Fairs is holding its Tampa Job Fair from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. August 24 at Holiday Inn Tampa Westshore Airport, 700 N. Westshore Blvd. The fair attracts employers from a variety of industries, including accounting, advertising, biotechnology, green technology, health, pharmaceutical, publishing, telecommunications and video gaming. Hiring is done on the spot. The event is free; online registration is available.


Tampa Bay startup: Washlava debuts app-enabled laundry in Tampa

The nation’s laundry industry is largely coin operated, but that may change soon thanks to a new app. The app, pioneered at a Carrollwood neighborhood laundromat in Tampa, enables laundries to ditch the quarters and rely exclusively on digital payments.

“Tampa is our first laundromat conversion,” says Washlava Founder and CEO Todd Belveal. “We do not take coins. We do not take a credit card swipe. You cannot access the store unless you download the app.”

Belveal converted the family’s Carrollwood laundry, Washlava Carrollwood, to the app this month, making it the first entirely app-enabled laundromat. It previously beta-tested the app on dorm machines at the Gainesville-based University of Florida, with students preferring the Washlava app 12 to 1 over quarters and 7 to 1 over credit cards.

It is now looking to expand into 20 markets, cities like Austin, Washington D.C., New York City, Dallas, Denver, San Francisco and Chicago. “We’re looking for urban, dense communities where there’s a heavy rental population,” he says.

Younger people also are more likely to rent and rely upon the app, which finds Washlava locations, checks for machine availability, reserves washers, accepts payment and notifies users when the laundry is done.

Belveal entered the laundry business as part of a family venture more than three years ago, when they bought a laundromat at 11819 N. Armenia Ave. for $60,000. He quickly learned laundries weren’t that easy to run. There were buckets and buckets of quarters to weigh.

He didn’t set out to make an app though, until after a burglar pried their coin machine off the wall. He decided there had to be a better way to run the business. “There has to be an app,” he thought.

Except he couldn’t find one. “I really expected to find something like Parkmobile that took a coin-based business and turned it into something digital,” he says.

Instead, he found an industry “completely untouched by modern technology,” he says.

Fortunately, Belveal was no stranger to how apps could automate a business. He’d already started Silvercar, a car rental company where customers book with a smartphone, which he later sold to Audi.

So he founded Washlava, naming it lava both for the Spanish word lava, which means wash, and the English word lava associated with heat from volcanoes.

Converting to the Washlava platform involves installing hardware into the machines for $149 each. “We simply drop our technology into their fleet of equipment, and brand it or not,” Belveal says.

Washlava keeps a percentage of gross receipts on each cycle completed. “We get paid when they get paid,” he says.

With the Carrollwood conversion behind them, the Washlava staff of 12 is making plans to convert its second and possibly third laundromat in early fall.

“After here, New York is likely second,” he says.

Plans call for hiring another 10 to 20 in the fall as the business expands into new territory, with those positions being split between Tampa and the new location. A lot of support will be provided remotely. “They don’t need to be there. They’ll be here,” he says.

Founded in 2015, Washlava has already raised some $4 million in two rounds of funding. “Our intent is to create a network of convenient locations,” he says.

Users must have a smartphone and a credit card or debit card, or alternatively a pre-paid card. “Ultimately, we’ll probably expand the number of options, but we’ll never move towards cash,” he says.

It may be a welcome change for laundromat customers who spend on average 200 quarters every month to wash and dry clothes. “There are several million vended machines that live in dorms, hotels and military bases. They’re hidden from public view, but there’s a lot of them,” he says.


New app, Script, enhances communications between educators, parents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Online storytelling platform moves home base to Tampa

A Oviedo startup company, TSOLife, has relocated to downtown Tampa for support from Tampa Bay Wave and the area’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. “Tampa almost is unrivaled in Florida,” says Founder and CEO David Sawyer. “Everyone just seems to embrace the startups.”

Located at the Wave, Sawyer says it was a “driving force” in his decision to move the company here. He says he looks forward to participate in events are helpful.

Tampa Bay Wave gets it, and they offer the best of the best,” he says.

Started in 2014, TSOLife won the University Stage business competition in June at eMerge America’s Startup Competition in Miami, which drew some 13,000 people from across the world to network, compete and learn about the latest technology.

“We beat out 24 other university teams that were there for exhibiting. It was a pretty cool event,” he says.

Sawyer got the idea for the business after his grandmother, Muriel Sawyer, died. She lived in Gloucester, MA, and visited for four months in the winter, which never gave them much time to talk about how she met his grandfather, how she raised his dad, or what college was like.

“We never got to have those conversations,” he explains.

So he founded a business with Stella Parris, COO, to share family legacies online. “We really wanted to create a way to better personalize and pass down these stories,” Sawyer says, “so that no grandchild should ever wonder what their grandparent was like.”

He had help from an entrepreneurial club at Stetson University in Deland, where he was studying finance.

While many people like to write a book, or track down family genealogy on Ancestry.com, TSOLife offers people an opportunity to share their stories online and in a documentary. In a way young people can relate to them.

When was the last time you saw a 13 year read an actual book?” he asks. “When was the last time you saw them pick up an iPad? Literally two seconds ago.”

Trial memberships are free for 30 days, allowing people to post their stories. “We like to run the company with a conscience and a heart. We keep everything and do not delete,” he adds.

After that, if they want to continue adding stories, it’s $14.99 monthly or $275 for life. Documentaries start at $1500.

Each story has its own privacy setting, so the contributor can make it public or allow only his or her descendants access.

TSOLife, which serves North America, already has done a documentary on former U.S. Senator and Stetson University alumnus Max Cleland, which is in the Library of Congress.

The company is in the midst of its second round of $200,000 funding. It’s already raised $95,000 of that, which will be used for future development.

What’s next? They’ll be hiring two or three people for high-tech development within the next four months and following up with another $200,000 capital campaign.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The experience led him to learn software development.

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

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


Digital wellness company raises $2.3M in latest funding effort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bswift is a leading provider of employee health benefits services.

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

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

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

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

You can read our previous article about Peerfit here.


Tampa tech firm, Hivelocity, expanding data services

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

Their philosophy? To help customers succeed.

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

It has paid off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What lies ahead? More organic growth, Eschweiler says.

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

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


Shiftgig hiring for hourly, Tampa Bay jobs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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