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Business Incubator Brings Coworking Space To Bradenton

A new “innovation center” for entrepreneurs and small business owners is unofficially open in Bradenton. 

Collaborative coworking, along with an incubation program to provide formal education and mentoring for client companies, is the focus of the space. The Innovation Center will also house a cafe, training areas, open workspaces, and several dedicated workstations for regular visitors. Offices for incubator clients are currently being built out. 

The space may be rebranded from Bradenton Innovation Center in the future, but “we know that the name of the incubator lies in the history of the firehouse and area of town we're located in -- the historic Village of Manatee, now part of the City of Bradenton,” explains cofounder Stan Schulte.

Bike racks, lockers, mail facilities and free parking in a historic downtown setting round out the amenities that will be offered to community members.

Fundraising and architectural renovations are currently underway. Applications for client companies will be accepted in late fall 2014, and programs should begin in early 2015.

Currently, meetings are being held with community supporters and potential partners for the Bradenton Innovation Center, says Schulte.

The incubator will be organized as a 501(c)3, Schulte explains. “The building is city-owned, and support will come from both the city and county,” he says. “Grants and sponsorships will be utilized for build-out and programs, but the majority of sustainable funding will come from coworking memberships, office rentals and incubator program fees.“ 

In order to qualify for the incubator program, companies will have to complete an application process along with a prerequisite 4-week Excellence in Entrepreneurship course. 

They will be evaluated quarterly for suitability to the program based on growth and meeting plan objectives, says Schulte. Mentors and partner businesses in the community will also have to apply.

Goals of the incubator include creating “sustainable, knowledge-based, high wage jobs that will stay in the local area, and to help to mitigate the “brain drain” from local universities & companies,” says Schulte. 
 
The programs at the Innovation center will be geared toward companies that have already launched and are seeking sustainable, rapid expansion. 

“There will not initially be any lab or industrial space available, so it will be most suitable to knowledge-based companies not needing specialized facilities,” says Schulte.

“It will serve as a catalyst for development of an entrepreneurial ecosystem for creation of new companies in high-growth strategic industry sectors,” he explains.

“Communities today need innovative companies and strong entrepreneurial networks to link and leverage assets to boost productivity and convert 21st Century brainpower into wealth through innovation.”

Schulte and Sara Hand, founder of SP Hand and Associates, are cofounders of Spark Growth in Sarasota and jointly back the BIC project.

The Bradenton Innovation Center is located at 912 7th Ave. E. Photos of progress can be found on the center’s Facebook page.

Writer: Justine Benstead
Source: Stan Schulte, Bradenton Innovation Center

Hillsborough's EDI2 Program Celebrates Successes

Hugs, handshakes and a bit of humor keep the energy level high at Tampa Bay WaVE as a growing number of technology entrepreneurs leading the local startup community and public officials celebrate the 1st anniversary of Hillsborough County’s Economic Development Innovation Initiative (EDI2) program. 

Hillsborough County commissioners led by Mark Sharpe, who will join the Tampa Bay Innovation Alliance after he leaves office in November due to term limits, set aside $2 million to provide financial support for growing the startup community. The Alliance includes USF, University Community Hospital, H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Busch Gardens.  

Setting aside funding for EDI2 is a recognition by Hillsborough that future economic and job growth, particularly in the Tampa Bay region, is much more likely to result from the cumulative effect of nurturing innovative startups than by investing the bulk of additional resources into attracting giant corporate headquarters.

So far, since its launch in June 2013, 55 applicants have received $598,583 to support networking and educational events, industry promotions and service providers. Additional program and application information is available online.

Some of the programs funded include:
  • East Tampa Business and Civic Association for the 2014 MLK Technology Business Expo
  • Hillsborough Community College Foundation for the Veterans Entrepreneurial Symposium
  • Learning is for Everyone, Inc. for the Robocon Tampa Bay 2013
  • Moffitt Cancer Center for the Business of Biotech 2014
  • Startup Bus for the Startup Bus Tampa Bay
  • Startup Grind, Inc. for eight monthly meetings
  • Tampa Bay Technology Forum for the Tech Trek 2014, Engine Peer Network Event, and Entrepreneur Network
  • Technova Florida, Inc. for the Tampa Code Camp and Ignite Tampa Bay
  • TiE Tampa Bay for the TiE Breaker III and TiE Angel Forum
  • University of Tampa for the Southeast Entrepreneurship Conference 2014
For more information about EDI2, contact Economic Development Manager Jennifer Whelihan with Hillsborough County’s Economic Development Department at 813.272.6217.

Writer: Diane Egner
Source: Jennifer Whelihan, Hillsborough County’s EDI2

Programming Academy The Iron Yard Expands To Tampa Bay

A new school for programmers is coming to Tampa Bay this fall. The Iron Yard Academy, an intensive 12-week-long training program, is set to open its doors in downtown St. Petersburg in September 2014.

The programming school will be located "within walking distance of some of the best local spots in town,'' says George Junginger, campus director for the Iron Yard's Tampa Bay location.

Aspiring developers can apply to either Rails or Front End Engineering courses. The cost for each 12-week course is $10,000. Part of this price tag includes mentoring, job placement after course completion and career support.

The Iron Yard Tampa Bay staff has already begun to build partnerships with local software and tech companies, including Collaborative Technologies of Tampa Bay.

"[CToTB] founder and CEO Sylvia Martinez is on our Employer Advisory Board, and will work closely with our staff to help us develop our program in a way that's best for Tampa Bay area companies,'' says Junginger.
  
A full staff, including two Tampa natives, has been hired to run the Tampa Bay branch of the Greenville, S.C.-based startup school. The Iron Yard has 10 other locations scattered through the country, mostly in the southeast. Tampa Bay is the second Florida location for the startup school; the other is in Orlando.

Brian Burridge, a Safety Harbor resident who attended St. Petersburg College, is set to be Rails instructor. Burridge is the CEO and founder of Commendable Kids. Justin Herrick, a Tampa resident who is a self-taught programmer, is Front End instructor.

Students in the Rails program will be taught Ruby on Rails (a popular framework for building servers) and develop skills to manage databases. Front End Engineering students will learn skills to create attractive, functional websites and applications.

The Iron Yard is currently accepting applications for classes, which are slated to begin September 22nd, 2014. Each course will be capped at 15 students per 3-month session.

"We chose to start small, so that we'd maintain the level of quality we know employers are looking for in developers,'' says Junginger, who expects both courses to fill. A few applicants have already been accepted.

The Iron Yard Academy welcomes students from a variety of backgrounds and skill levels.

"We're looking for a pre-existing mindset, not necessarily a pre-existing skill set,'' says Junginger. "The five attributes of the optimal Iron Yard student are: passion for solving problems with technology; genuine enjoyment of the craft of programming; genuine desire to have a career in or related to programming; extremely strong work ethic; and an ability to learn quickly,'' he explains.
 
Before searching for a space, the Iron Yard began conversations with leaders in the local tech community. The feedback is clear, says Junginger: "Everyone has been extremely excited about what we are bringing to the tech economy in the area and sees it as a need.''
 
Free programming classes for kids aged 7-17 will be offered later in 2014.

"There are great resources for startups in Tampa, and we want to support the people doing that work by training great developers,'' says Junginger. "We're privileged to play a part in the growing Tampa Bay tech scene.''
 
Writer: Justine Benstead
Source: George Junginger, The Iron Yard

How To Create A Custom Song For Your Special Event

When a couple wanting to have a baby got the news that they were expecting, the sister of the mother-to-be commemorated the event in a uniquely modern way: by requesting a custom song for the new family.
 
CustomSong, an entrepreneurial startup based in the Tampa Bay region, brings musicians from around the world together on one website. Customers can request an artist or have one assigned to create a personalized piece of music for a special event, from birthdays to baby showers. Choose between a range of styles like acoustic guitar, soft romantic piano and full band.

Songs can be gifted or earmarked for a specific event, like the parent's dance at a wedding or a custom birthday tune. Customers fill in the details for lyrics, communicating directly with the artist via the Custom Song platform. Once lyrics are finalized and approved, the artist will record the song.

"It's a song that is truly original and personal, created just for you,'' says Custom Song cofounder Heather Andrews of Tampa. "It really helps create a special moment.''

Andrews, a graduate of James Madison University in Virginia, and co-Founder Kristina Anderson of Clearwater, a USF grad, operate CustomSong out of their home offices, local co-working spaces and coffee shops.   

If you are making a video or photo montage of the event, says Andrews, your custom song is a natural soundtrack.

CustomSong began in 2013 and launched in summer 2014, but Andrews had the idea in mind for years. The personalized event product concept was inspired by Custom Ink, where Andrews previously worked.

"Working there and making these custom shirts for special events, I saw that customers were so happy with them,'' says Andrews. "Being a part of a business where you can create something specifically for a customer that gets them excited, I was in search of, 'what can I do to be in that area of business?' ''

Despite a self-professed inability to carry a tune, Andrews and Anderson decided to try the world of music-making. They began to notice that while some individual artists were offering custom songs, they were struggling when it came to things like turnaround and customer service.
 
"They just want to create good quality music,'' Andrews says. "We thought there was a good opportunity there to create the platform, be the business side of it, and manage all of the back-end details for a site where artists could offer their services.''
 
The site standardizes things like pricing, quality, song length and turnaround time (two weeks).

"We give both the customer and the artist a guarantee, something to feel confident and comfortable with,'' says Andrews.
 
Sample songs are available on the CustomSong website.
 
From online research to attending Open Mic nights, scouting new talent is an aspect of Custom Song that Andrews and Anderson are discovering takes time.

A small number of musicians from the United States and the UK are currently active on the site. The cofounders plan to expand into other areas and attract more foreign-language speaking artists.
 
"We're trying to grow more artists, but to do it carefully and slowly. We want to make sure the artists also have a great experience,'' says Andrews. "The platform is very targeted to customers, but it's also a channel for artists to earn additional income. We want to find people who have creativity and talent, and work with them one-on-one to make sure that they fit with our model.''

Interested in creating music with Custom Song? Sign up here.

The most rewarding aspect of the process for Andrews is knowing that custom songs are a part of moments like weddings or expecting a new baby.

"I don't know the couple, but just knowing the background story, it touches me,'' she says. "It's amazing to be part of creating these songs for those big events in life.''

Writer: Justine Benstead
Source: Heather Andrews, CustomSong

Health Insurance Innovations Announces Acquisition, Expansion

With the introduction of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the demand for information about health insurance products has increased dramatically. Consumers often turn to websites to help them navigate the insurance space and learn about available options.

A recent acquisition by Tampa-based Health Insurance Innovations (HII) aims to capitalize on this need and provide more reliable, easily understood information for consumers.  

HII is a cloud-based technology platform that links health insurance agents with consumers to provide quotes and sell customized, flexible insurance plans. Silicon Valley-based HealthPocket is a data aggregation technology that provides a repository of health insurance information for consumers to view and purchase, including both private and government-funded options. The website allows consumers to rank available plans by price, doctor or other factors such as prescription drug needs.

The merging of the two companies will provide even more customized services for consumers to help navigate often confusing information about health insurance options.

HII plans to use the acquisition to fuel the company’s growth and competitive advantage, including sales and continuing the track record of success. The company is taking over additional office space in their Tampa location and will eventually expand their local employee base.

"Consumers will be engaged with the tools and data to help them make better and more informed decisions which lead to lower annual healthcare costs," says Kevin Coleman, head of research and data for HealthPocket. "We really hope to empower the consumer to make the best decisions."

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Sources: Kevin Coleman, HealthPocket; Mike Kosloske, HII

On Tampa Bay's Radar: A New Exercise App To Help You Get Fit

Do you spend a lot of time traveling for work or constricted in a home office? The new iOS app Fittr could be your fitness solution.

Initially developed as a workout service for people at home with limited equipment, Fittr now features unique workouts suitable for home, the gym, a park or a hotel room.

Fitness is a fast-growing niche market for purveyors of mobile applications. From exercise apps designed for your smartphone or tablet to app-based nutritional databases, there is no shortage of opportunity to exercise with the help of a hand-held device.

The Tampa Bay-based startup team behind Fittr plans to distinguish itself from the competition in a few ways.

"The noticeable difference between our workouts and our competition is that ours is a 1-2-3 punch: It's adaptive on the run, it learns from the user over time, AND learns from the data of the entire group,'' says Fittr's Chief Marketing Technologist Kiki Schirr. "Here's an example: Don't want to do squats today? Swap it. Swap squats a few times and we'll stop suggesting it,'' Schirr explains.

Once the app learns the habits and likes or dislikes of your age group or weight range, it will aim to offer tailored suggestions that take the data into account.

In addition to adaptive fitness routines, the Fittr app utilizes a motivational point system that rewards users who increase workout difficulty or length over time. Exercises that earn a certain number of points on day one earn less on day four unless you up the intensity or number of reps. To boost your overall Fittr score (and to get a more well-rounded workout), you'll have to change things up. Points are calculated based on a variety of factors, including your personal fitness level as well as data from the overall set.

Once opened, the application prompts you to answer a few questions about your fitness level and workout habits. Choose between goals like Lose Weight, Get Cut and Get Stronger. Track metrics that matter to you, whether it's weight lost or inches gained. Plug in preferences and custom information like the type of equipment you have available on a given day.
Fittr CEO Tyler Perkins, an athlete and ACE-certified personal trainer, designed the foundation of every Fittr workout.

New users can download the app and enjoy a free one-week trial of built-in exercises. After that, it's $11.99 per month to join the workout service. Multi-month packages will be available soon, Schirr says.

Along with Schirr and Perkins, Fittr's team includes Chief Design Officer and Project Manager Nolan Perkins and CTO Seo Townsend.

The first version of Fittr was released during a launch party on July 16 at Tampa Bay WaVE. A Fundable campaign for Fittr also opened that day.

Post-launch plans include adding nutrition content and building an Android-compatible application.

"After nutrition, we'll be adding social aspects. After social aspects, it's device integration. Then social round two, then adding niche exercises, then more devices, and then... we have so many wonderful things planned for this app!'' Schirr says.

The startup team was recently accepted to Tampa Bay WaVe's FirstWAVE accelorator program.

"Fittr is incredibly grateful for all the opportunities that the Tampa Bay area has provided. From the [Hillsborough County] EDI2 initiative, Tampa Bay Innovates, Ignite Tampa Bay, StartupGrind (http://www.83degreesmedia.com/features/grind042214.aspx), TBTF, or Collaborative Technologies of Tampa Bay, everyone has welcomed us with open arms,'' says Schirr. "However, we owe an even deeper debt of gratitude to Tampa Bay WaVE, which has provided us access to amazing mentors and other startups who've been there before.''

"Tampa is full of great opportunities for startups,'' Perkins agrees. "We're grateful for all the support of the Tampa Bay community.''
 
Writer: Justine Benstead
Source: Kiki Schirr, Chief Marketing Technologist, Fittr

Bike-Share Program Gets Ready To Roll In Tampa

Bicycle wheels are almost ready to roll on Tampa streets. Some assembly is required.
 
Beginning in late August, 300 rent-able bicycles scattered across more than 30 locations in downtown, Channelside, Ybor City, Hyde Park and Davis Islands will kick-start Coast Bike Share, the city's long-anticipated "bike share" program.
 
Mayor Bob Buckhorn hopped aboard one of the blue bicycles for a short spin down the sidewalk by City Hall.
 
"I think it is one more amenity that will allow the city to take its place as a great American city," he says. "I couldn't be more excited. We want them to succeed. I want to see blue bikes all over downtown. We're going to paint the town blue with these bikes."
 
Before residents get their pedal time, Coast Bike Share  will assemble more blue bicycles at a warehouse on Franklin Street. But ahead of the August launch, memberships are available for purchase.
 
They include a special $99 annual membership that comes with 90 minutes of ride time per day instead of the standard 60 minute ride, and a free helmet.
 
Daily ride costs will be $5, monthly memberships, $30, and annual memberships, $79. Reservations will be available on the spot via a keypad on the bicycle, online or by phone.
 
The bicycles weigh in at a relatively light 39 pounds, well below the industry standard of 51 pounds. Cruising speed is 11 miles per hour. They have baskets in the front and operate with a shaft drive rather than greasy chains. "They are very easy to ride," says Eric Trull, Coast's program manager.
 
The bike share system, and its tech savvy bicycles, are from New York City-based Social Bicycles which also has programs in Phoenix, Orlando and San Francisco. Tampa's program is managed by Miami-based Cyclehop which has 20 years experience in the cycling industry.
 
Residents can keep their eyes peeled for "coming soon" signs that will be placed at rental hubs including Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and City Hall. As the program expands, Coast officials anticipate adding kiosks in the SoHo district, Tampa Heights, Seminole Heights and Westshore. The University of South Florida plans to launch its own bike-share program, Trull says.
 
Advertising opportunities also are available for small businesses and other organizations that want to sponsor a bicycle kiosk. For information send an email to this address.
 
Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn

Florida Universities Rank Among Best For Patents, Innovation

Innovation continues to grow among Florida’s top research universities, as indicated by a recent global ranking of universities by the number of patents granted in 2013.

The University of South Florida (USF), University of Florida (UF) and University of Central Florida (UCF) were granted 239 patents all together. This puts the group ahead of other prestigious groups such as the research Triangle in North Carolina (Duke University, North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill) and the Texas universities (the entire University of Texas system, Rice University and Texas A&M University), all of which have a longstanding tradition of high quality research and technology innovation.

Together, the Florida universities head the Florida High Tech Corridor Council,  an economic development initiative whose mission is to grow the state's high tech industry through research, marketing, workforce development and entrepreneurship. The Corridor’s partnership involves over 25 organizations, 14 state and community colleges and 12 workforce boards.

"It’s great to be recognized by the National Academy, which is well more than 100 universities." says Randy Berridge, Florida High Tech Corridor Council President. "The report reflects the strength in our 23-county corridor region."

The report was produced by the Tampa-based National Academy of Inventors and the Intellectual Property Owners Association and recognizes the role that patents play in university research, innovation, technology and eventually workforce enhancement. The goal is eventually to commercialize the patents, thus creating companies and jobs surrounding the success of the products or services.

Berridge attributes the success to the leadership within each university and the emphasis placed on the importance of high quality research. "It represents not only the university but the professors who are doing the heavy lifting in generating the technologies through their input and that of their top students," says Berridge.

USF was ranked 12 overall, with 95 patents granted – up from 83 in 2012.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Randy Berridge, Florida High Tech Corridor

Fitness Website Helps Users Find Their YES!

Fitness is the new craze. Everywhere you look you hear about someone running a race, reaching a fitness goal or buying the latest gadget to track their progress.
 
Lakeland-based Make YES! Happen is a hub for all things fitness, with the goal of making things easier and more accessible to both novice and advanced fitness buffs.  The site defines YES! as “that moment when aspiration and inspiration come to fruition in exuberant success.”  

The concept was developed in 2008 when CEO Kevin Transue (also known as Captain YES!) was a financial planner training for a half iron man triathlon in his spare time. The experience made him realize how fragmented the event and fitness industry is. He wanted to create a stadium concept of sorts, to help people stay motivated and support others with common interests.

"I want one location where I can see how many calories I’ve burned and how far I run," says Transue. "At the same time I want to connect with others who are like me."

The idea became reality in 2012 when Transue connected with co-founder Scott Parker to create the site, which is expected to officially launch toward the end of June.

The team hopes to help users find their YES! moment through education, guidance, mentoring, accountability, interaction and rewards.

Users will be able to connect their fitness devices such as Fit Bit or Run Keeper into one location to easily access statistics such as calories burned or run times. They will also connect with others with similar fitness interests for motivation and support. Through the event portal, they can find out which events their friends are participating in. Nonprofits that run fitness-related events will be able to use the fundraising platform to easily capture funds and attract runners. The coaching portal will allow fitness coaches to access information for their clients and make comments about their workouts.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Kevin Transue, Make Yes Happen

St. Petersburg College's Innovation Lab Offers Free Flow Of Ideas

A new lab at St. Petersburg College (SPC) offers an open, creative learning environment for all ages to play and discover.

The Innovation Lab is now open to the public and located in the Seminole Community Library at SPC. If you have an interest in computers, science or digital arts, you can share new ideas and develop new skills with equipment such as the FreeFab3D Monolith 3D Printer, which was built locally using other 3D printers. Or, discover your inner musician with the littleBits Synth Kit, which allows you to produce music and create your own instruments. Use the MaKey MaKey Original Invention Kit to turn an everyday object into a keyboard and connect it to the Internet.

"I think of it more as a collaborative learning incubator for ideas," says Chad Mairn, Information Services Librarian at SPC and the lab’s creator.

The original premise was to give people an open space where they can be uninhibited and have the freedom to fail, a key aspect of the creative process. With a recent trend in libraries becoming more than simply a source of books and growing into a hub for information, both physical and digital, it was a natural fit.

The lab’s equipment was funded by an Innovation Grant from the SPC Foundation. Knowing the importance of design, Mairn also wanted an environment that is conducive to creativity and innovation, so he approached SPC Provost Jim Oliver and obtained additional funding for interior design work.

Future plans include workshops and other business-oriented thinking in the lab. The main goal is to give people the resources to become successful.

"It’s an invitation to play," says Mairn.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Chad Mairn, St. Petersburg College

USF Encourages STEM Majors With Summer Academy

First-year students at the University of South Florida in Tampa will soon have a way to better integrate into STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) majors early in their studies through a new summer STEM Academy.

The Academy will be offered to incoming freshmen beginning in the summer of 2015. It aims to serve 480 students, who will break into groups of 24 and receive mentoring from seniors and graduate students as well as connect with peers who share their academic interests. They will be able to experience the disciplines first hand through lab exercises that provide a realistic picture of their first year in the courses.

The concept was developed by a team of faculty and administrators at USF who researched student records of incoming students across multiple majors. They learned that four of every 10 of the 1,500 – 1,800 students who enter USF and declares a STEM major each year ultimately graduates with that degree. Their research suggests that a high population of those students are not leaving college all together, but are changing majors. Possible causes for this may be students not feeling connected or engaged with the large cohort of peers in their major, or that the entry level curriculum isn’t what they expected.

 "This particular experience will not only help the students understand what they will experience walking into the university, but more importantly will allow them to truly connect with other students and peers who have been successful to really understand how they can have the greatest student success and also that it’s possible to build relationships with others within the university," says Richard Pollenz, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies and the Director of the Office for Undergraduate Research at USF and member of the team that developed the STEM Academy.

Students participating in the Academy will also have the opportunity to be a part of an innovative Living Learning Community, where they will live on the same floor of a campus residence hall and share experiences with their peers throughout their first year. The community is one of 12 similar concepts on USF campus, where students who share common interests live and study together.

The program recently received a five-year, $1.2 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute for the summer enrichment program, one of 37 research universities to receive the grant aimed at bolstering the nation’s STEM capabilities.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Richard Pollenz, USF

AT&T Wireless Growth Spurs Hiring In Florida, 40 Jobs In Tampa Bay

AT&T is expanding its employee base across the State of Florida, with nearly 640 total openings.

The growth is fueled by an expansion of mobile services and an enhanced focus on customer service being offered through the company’s new Project Velocity IP (VIP). Project VIP is a $14 billion plan to invest in and expand the company’s wireless and wireline IP broadband networks. The investment is a result of increased customer demand for high-speed Internet access, enhanced TV services and mobile cloud services.

"We’re growing our mobile devices, and what we’re doing in stores," says Karen McAllister, spokesperson for AT&T. The recently opened store of the future in Tampa is an example of the new interactive, customer-focused shopping experience. "Our job growth is really fueled by being able to ensure that our customers have a great experience."

Current openings in Tampa Bay include Principal Database Developer and Database Programmer. Retail Sales Consultants and Manager positions are also available. In all, the company is looking to hire 40 retail employees in the Tampa Bay market, with more than half being newly created jobs. Currently there are 860 employees in Tampa, Clearwater and St. Petersburg.

"We’re looking for people that are looking to grow with the company and are excited about the future of mobile," says McAllister.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Karen McAllister, AT&T Florida
 

Google For Entrepreneurs Powers Startup Weekend Tampa Bay 2014

What makes Tampa's upcoming Startup Weekend distinctive? 

For one, Google for Entrepreneurs is backing the event. And new in 2014, the weekend will expand to include Youth and Maker events along with the core startup-driven competition.

Three years ago, Startup Weekend formed in Tampa as part of an international movement in more than 200 cities around the world. At the weekend-long, volunteer-led event, anyone is welcome to pitch an idea for a startup business. For the next 54 hours, teams form, vote for the top ideas, and dive in to all aspects of developing a fresh new product -- from coding to marketing to creating a working prototype. There are winners, and sometimes real-world businesses form as a result.

The winner of the third Startup Weekend Tampa Bay developed his proposal from a pain point he'd encountered upon arrival to the event. Seeking a more interactive, real-time way to engage with other attendees, Todd Goldberg pitched the product that would go on to win Tampa's 2012 Startup Weekend -- EXMO, now Eventjoy. The business, which provides fee free ticketing and organization for events, is now a Y-combinator backed Tampa Bay success story.

Wazinit, an app to help consumers identify food ingredients and allergens, has achieved notoriety of its own since winning Startup Weekend Tampa Bay 2013. The beta-stage mobile application gained a place in Tampa Bay WaVE's First WaVE accelerator program, garnered almost $1,000 at crowd-sourcing festival OneSpark in Feb. 2014, and took a second place finish as a Top Tech creator at the event.

A similar standout startup could evolve from this July's Startup Weekend Tampa Bay. Don't consider yourself an expert, or even an experienced, techie? Co-organizer Michael LaPlante says that diversity amongst attendees will be a focus in 2014. Traditionally, the event caters to a tech-savvy crowd who already know about coding or creating a product.
 
"This year, we are really trying to target a different demographic and go outside of just technology,'' LaPlante explains. "We want all entrepreneurs to feel welcome to come pitch their ideas and have a life-changing experience.''

"You will be able to contribute, no matter what, if you participate,'' he says.

A weeklong event "focused around bringing the community and all the events together into a culmination of 'awesomeness' '' is also on the radar, LaPlante teases. This Startup Week concept is set to roll out in six core cities, including Tampa, according to Startup Weekend founder Andrew Hyde.
 
Startup Weekend Tampa Bay 2014 will take place July 25-27 at the Hillsborough Community College Dale Mabry Campus. To register or volunteer, visit the Startup Weekend Tampa Bay 2014 website.

Writer: Justine Benstead
Source: Michael LaPlante, Startup Weekend Tampa Bay

Pinellas County Public Schools Teach STEM Skills Through Interactive Play

Elementary and middle school students in Pinellas County Public Schools participate in hands-on learning and experimentation with robots that teach not only STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) but business and communication skills as well.

Thanks to a $10,000 grant from Suncoast Credit Union Foundation, 48 fourth- and fifth-grade students at Leila Davis Elementary School in Clearwater participate in a STEM Academy after school. The students design and build robots that allow them to explore scientific concepts with a hands-on approach. They also learn entrepreneurship, presentation skills and public speaking.

The initiative is part of a wider effort that began in October of last year by Pinellas County Superintendent Michael Grego. The program is funded by grants as well as county taxes. In all, 63 STEM academies have been created in elementary and middle schools within the past year, engaging students in fourth through eighth grade. The goal is to have all elementary and middle schools participating within the next year.

Students at Leila Davis Elementary are currently creating soccer players that move using robotics. They’re also designing
an alligator that will allow them to learn about the motion of its jaw and formation of its teeth. They’ve even designed a drummer and learned about the way it moves its hands and connects to music. Once the LEGOs are designed, students can make modifications using a computer program that interfaces with the robotics.

The program is 30 weeks long and has received positive feedback from parents and teachers.

Students also participated in a STEM expo at University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Each of the 63 schools had project boards that displayed their STEM components and how they relate to real-world concepts. Students shared their successes, challenges and how they overcame them.

The county’s overall goal is to encourage students to select accelerated math and science courses in high school and then ultimately a career path in a STEM field. The school district is currently working with business partners to make sure students graduate with the skills in demand for jobs.

"We’re trying to help fill a gap and provide our students with multiple opportunities to apply for different jobs and be competitive," says Laura Spence, STEM Coordinator for Pinellas County Schools.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Laura Spence, Pinellas County Schools

Bright House, City Of Tampa Partner To Provide Free WiFi In Downtown Parks

People who live, work and play in downtown Tampa parks will now have a way to access the Internet for free on their laptop, tablet or smartphone thanks to a partnership between the City of Tampa and Bright House Networks.

The project is the latest in a series of technology-focused initiatives started by Mayor Bob Buckhorn, which includes hack-a-thons and mobile payments for parking meters. The effort will make it easier for people to use the parks on a more regular basis, as well as allow people who work downtown to work in the parks.

"It’s one more factor that makes downtown even more attractive and more exciting for the intellectual capital that we’re trying to attract," says Buckhorn. "If people want to live, work and play in the urban core, then you’ve got to have urban amenities to facilitate that."

The WiFi will also be available the entire length of the Tampa Riverwalk, which spans from the Florida Aquarium to the Heights and Water Works Park north of the Straz Center for the Performing Arts. It is free for the first two hours, up to 1 GB per month. Bright House customers will be able to use complimentary WiFi in other parts of downtown as well.

The WiFi is funded by Bright House Networks and part of a larger agreement that allows Bright House access to city infrastructure to place hot spots elsewhere in the city. It’s scheduled to be complete by the end of 2014.

Free WiFi is offered in other cities including New York, Paris and Hong Kong.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn
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