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Florida tech startups compete for cash, exposure at USF Connect event in Tampa

Twenty Florida tech startups will have a chance to give 60-second elevator pitches May 30 to a three-judge panel including Dr. Kanwal Rekhi, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist meeting at USF Connect in Tampa.

Start-ups have until May 25 to submit their entries for the Start-up Shuffle, a Start-up Elevator-Pitch Competition by TiE Tampa Bay Chapter and USF Connect, says Ramesh Sambasivan, President of TiE Tampa Bay.

The Shuffle will provide a “scenic drive of Tampa Bay and the Florida entrepreneurial ecosystem,” he explains. A pre-screening committee will review all submissions.

“This is a place to pitch real start-up companies, not for vetting,” Sambasivan says. “If they want to vet their idea, there are already enough mentors in town to do that.”

Start-up companies should have a product or offering that has launched, although it could still be in beta, he says.

On the panel of judges with Rekhi of Inventus Capital Partners, is Matt Rice, a Partner in Ballast Point Ventures, and Sid White, Co-Founder of Chemical Angel Network.

TiE and USF Connect decided to hold the contest earlier this month. Rekhi already had been scheduled to talk about the challenges for technology start-ups that are disrupting highly regulated industries.

“We were trying to come up with a way that would be a little different than just having five companies pitch,” says Valerie McDevitt, Associate VP for Tech Transfer and Business Partnerships at USF. “You do literally find your self in a cab or elevator with just a few minutes with someone.”

The Start-up Shuffle kicks off at 6 p.m., followed by networking, a Start-up Expo and Dinner from 7:15 p.m. to 8 p.m. A fireside chat with Rekhi is slated from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m.

His talk is to include an in-person case study of Alok Jha, Founder/CEO of Assured Risk Cover, an innovator in the insurance industry.

The event also includes a “living history” of Storm Peace, a hurricane insurance provider and the dinner’s sponsor, Sambasivan says.

The Start-up Shuffle winner will be announced later in the evening, probably before the fireside chat. The winner will receive a $1,001 cash prize, a breakfast meeting with Dr. Rekhi the following morning, and a chance to pitch to TiE Tampa Bay angel investors. The runner-up wins a 30-minute one-on-one mentoring session with a TiE Tampa Bay Charter Member and a chance to pitch to TiE Tampa Bay angel investors.

The 20 finalists win one complimentary ticket to the entire program or a discounted annual membership to TiE Tampa Bay.

The event at USF Connect’s Galleria on the Tampa Campus is open to the public. Enter the free contest or register for the event here.

TiE events typically attract “undercover investors” who really are actively looking for investments, Sambasivan says. As a result, conversations may become serious.

“You never know where that diamond in the rough is,” he adds. “That’s what we are trying to uncover with these types of events.


Tampa staffing startup chosen for global tech showcase

A Tampa Bay staffing startup company, patterned after online matchmaking services, has been chosen to participate in Emerge Americas Startup Showcase in Miami, a major global business-to-business tech event featuring entrepreneurs from Latin America, North America and Europe.

Monikl was one of 125 companies selected in three categories for the June 12-13 business-to-business tech conference. It will have a booth at the event and the opportunity to participate in a pitch competition for up to $100,000.

The company, launched in January, is intended to save users time and money by matching job candidates and employers. What makes it different is its ability to perform like a full-time staff company from an Internet platform. It uses a quiz, that can be filled out in five to 10 minutes, to match applicants with companies that are suited to them.

“Instead of looking through thousands of resumes, you’re basically getting five to 10 high quality matches,” says Monikl CEO and Co-Founder Zachary Senz Kamler. “Our aim is to produce quality not quantity.”

Using an app for Android and Apple phones or the web, users sign up for free. The employer pays 7.5 percent of a direct hire’s salary, for the first year. It also works with temporaries and contract hires.

Monikl is generally targeting the tech and healthcare fields in the Tampa Bay area, or basically 50 miles from Tampa’s downtown. It already has some 1,000 job seekers and several companies -- and is growing steadily.

“In general our goal is to reach 10,000 users in the Tampa Bay area by the end of the year. Once we reach that, we’ll be able to acquire more capital and expand out to other cities,” he says.

Senz-Kamler, who has a background in staffing and a bachelor’s degree in Business and Entrepreneurship from the University of South Florida, is partnering with CTO Jonathan Antoneli.

“We’re clearing up the path to finding a job,” Senz-Kamler explains.

In Tampa Bay WaVE’s Build program, Monikl uses WaVE co-working space. “We have been setting them up with mentors, goals and connections. Monikl has some great leadership and hunger to grow and we love having them in our program,” says Daniel McDonald, Accelerator Manager.


Tampa firm trains, mentors IT sales development reps

Sales development is part of any business. Sometimes, it is the hardest. It's even harder in the tech field when there's not enough IT-trained sales representatives. So Matt Wheeler is trying to meet the need.

Wheeler is CEO of Qualified Meetings, a new Tampa company dedicated to helping tech businesses grow their customer base.

“I just saw there was a massive need,” he says.

Wheeler founded Qualified Meetings with Eric Byrd and Whitney Marshall in 2016. He is projecting about $2 million in sales and 20 employees in about three months.

The company’s sales developer program essentially white-labels Qualified Meetings' employees so they appear to be part of their clients’ sales team. Eventually, they may be.

Qualified Meetings trains and mentors, then its employee may be hired away by the client for a higher salary, with Qualified Meeting collecting a 20 percent fee. The newly trained staff can work remotely from Tampa, helping to build the tech community here while helping to keep labor costs in check for the employer.

“We work with sales. We work with marketing. We become a seamless additional team to those companies,” Wheeler explains. “We become experts in every product that we manage.”

Trained employees also may eventually work in Qualified Meetings software sales.

Qualified Meetings works with Optimizer, a web-based software that automates the sales operation and avoids cold calling. Currently in beta testing, Optimizer is expected to launch in 90 days.

The company currently employs 17 full-time employees and six summer interns. Within the next 60 days, it plans to hire nine marketing and/or sales development staffers for annual salaries between $45,000 and $65,000 each, with benefits.

The staff will grow as the company adds accounts, so Wheeler projects a staff of 30 by year’s end.

Part of the Tampa Bay WaVE program, which helps entrepreneurs launch and grow tech businesses, Qualified Meetings operates out of Channel District office space.

Wheeler, who bought his domain name more than five years ago, was living in Annapolis, MD, and visited other cities like Austin and Atlanta before deciding to move his family to Tampa about two years ago.

“I’m practically a poster child for Tampa now,” he says. “We fell in love with it.”

He describes Tampa as “big, but small,” enabling people to earn a reputation when they “maintain integrity.”


Clearwater Business SPARK celebrates one year of assisting entrepreneurs

When Clearwater SPARK launched last year, the business network targeted the needs of area entrepreneurs and start-up companies. The initiative planned to be a support system for these businesses, offering them a variety of services at all levels, from conception to operations.

At the time, the program brought together five partners: the city of Clearwater’s Economic Development and Housing Department, the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Small Business Development Center at Pinellas County Economic Development, Florida Business Incubator (formerly known as TAFFIE) and the Clearwater Public Library System. Each partner had something different to offer small business owners and SPARK would serve as the conduit between the organizations involved and local entrepreneurs.

SPARK introduced its partners to the community at its March 2016 kick-off event at the Clearwater Main Library. Now, as SPARK partners reflect on its first year, the network will host another event at the library, Wednesday, May 24, 6 to 8 p.m.

“It really feels like we’ve come full circle,” says Audra Aja, Clearwater’s Economic Development Coordinator. “Here we are a year later bringing the community back to the library.”

The business initiative has a lot to celebrate, adds Aja, who fields calls for SPARK from her office at City Hall. In its first year, she made around 150 referrals to the initiative’s partners.

“The community has really responded to us and shown its support,” she says. “We bring a much-needed service to the community.”

SPARK has also welcomed two new partners since its launch. In January, Prospera, formerly known as the Hispanic Business Initiative Fund, joined the network as a way to reach out to Hispanic-owned businesses in Clearwater.

The latest partner to join forces with SPARK, Pinellas County SCORE, will be formally introduced at the May 24 event. SCORE, a nonprofit association with thousands of business experts worldwide, offers mentorship for small businesses and other educational resources.

The organization has been involved with SPARK from the beginning. They held business workshops at the Main Library. “They just weren’t an official partner,” Aja says.

SCORE brings new resources to the table, she adds. “They’ll be able to help those in the beginning phases of exploring their ideas and getting started. That’s something we didn’t have in our network. SCORE comes in at the entry level.”
 
In addition to accepting more referrals from SPARK, SCORE will also offer one-on-one consultations at Clearwater venues as well as more workshops.

The May 24 event will also serve as an open house for the library’s Maker Studios, Aja says. The Main Library has five studios spread throughout the building: the Creation Studio, the Discovery Studio, the Innovation Studio, the Multimedia Studio and the Heritage Studio, which will open in July. The Maker Studios launched last May.

During the open house, guests will tour the Multimedia and Innovation Studios, where they will learn about the free programs for small businesses and entrepreneurs, and view hands-on demonstrations of the equipment available in these spaces. Software, programs and equipment available for use include business databases, 3-D printers and scanners, design and production software, and audio and video equipment.

Rino Landa, Maker Studios coordinator, says not many libraries offer a makerspace. So the Clearwater Main Library stands out as a space for entrepreneurs and small businesses, he says. The wide range of offerings – from painting and sewing classes to tools for start-ups to genealogy resources – is also remarkable. “We are unique in that we have multiple spaces throughout the library and so much to offer on each floor,” he says.

Aja says the Maker Studios is the most “underutilized” aspect of SPARK, so the May 24 open house is designed to remind residents that it’s available to them. It’s also continuing to evolve, she adds, especially as new technology is developed. She says the library will add more multimedia tools and expand its workshop schedule in the coming year. “We’re really very fortunate that the library has invested in this for the community,” she says.

Register for the May 24 event at the Clearwater SPARK website or call (727) 443-0217.

Florida Funders moves into new offices in Westshore, positions for growth

Florida Funders, a company that connects early-stage Florida businesses with accredited investors, has moved into newly renovated office space in Tampa’s Westshore district, expanding its collaborative workspace.

“Our own staff is growing, our investment base is growing, the number of collaborative meetings, early stage companies are growing,” says Marc Blumenthal, CEO.

Now located on the first floor of the Austin Center in some 5,000 square feet, it is better prepared to work with companies that come to make their pitches to investors.

“They specifically built this for us not only to have a better bigger space ... but to have lots of open work space,” Blumenthal says.

The new space was “completely gutted from the floor to the deck of the ceiling” under the direction from Jonathan Levy, managing partner for Redstone Investments, the center’s owner.

It outgrew space it shared with Quantum Capital Partners at nearby Tower Place.

“We already have about 15 companies in our portfolio,” he says. “That grows by 10-20 a year.”

Florida Funders has six on its staff full-time and another two part-time. It will be creating an Ambassadors’ program to broaden its networking in other communities throughout Florida this year, he says.

The Ambassadors will be volunteers well connected in their community. “We’re going to do all the heavy lifting. They’re the eyes and ears on the ground for us,” he explains.

Additionally, Florida Funders is planning a partner’s program, which may involve a Funders’ liaison to sit on the board of a portfolio company. “Most of those opportunities will have some form of remuneration from the portfolio company,” he says.

The funding company has invested some $4 million in 17 deals in the last two years and is expecting to pump an additional $5 to $7.5 million into start-ups in the next year.

“Our business model is really associated with the success of our investment. It’s a long-term view,” he explains. “Every year we’ll be investing more capital.”

Ultimately, Florida Funders wants “to see our best and our brightest stay here,” he says, and encourage other bright people to choose to live here for the climate, ease of doing business, and accessible business capital.

“Florida Funders is priming that pump. We think we’re taking the lead on that with some other great people across the state,” he says.


Tampa Bay job news: Vology, World Wide Technology, Connectwise growing, hiring

The Largo-based Vology, a managed IT service provider, has announced it will be adding up to 200 jobs within the next two to four years. The company relocated from Oldsmar to Largo last fall, investing $3.75 million.

“We’re still adjusting to our new buildings,” says spokesman Trent Brock. “We finally have everything up and running.”

Vology renovated and upped its space from 50,000 to 60,000 square feet when it moved from Tampa Road to the Bay Vista Office Park with a Clearwater mailing address.  It opted for the Largo location to be more centrally located within the Tampa Bay area.

“It gives an opportunity to take in a new market for IT talent,” he says.

Additional details on the new jobs weren’t immediately available, but job seekers are advised to check the company’s website for the latest details.

Meanwhile World Wide Technology, a St. Louis-based innovative technology and supply chain solutions provider, has revamped its Tampa offices.

“We decided to build a virtual or remote executive briefing facility,” explains Scot Gagnon, Director of Army and Special Operations. “It kind of looks like we’re all sitting in the same room because the technology has come so far.”

The upgrade accommodates remote testing and helps clients access the newest technology, without the travel. The offices at 5426 Bay Center Drive include new collaborative work spaces.

“We’re still unpacking, We literally just moved back in,” Gagnon says.

He has plans to hire two sales engineers this year to work with customers on product design.

WWT has been in Tampa since 2007.

Here are some other job opportunities in the Tampa Bay area.

  • The software company Connectwise, which beat is first Quarter goal in 2017, is posting a 22 percent growth rate. The Tampa-based company, which employs 900 workers globally, lists on its website openings for a benefits specialist, traffic manager, system administrator, illustrator, junior developer and more.
  • Kelly Career Network is looking for two web content professionals in St. Petersburg for two-month contracts, with pay set at $20 to $24 an hour. It is looking for a high school diploma or its equivalent and at least four years of related experience; an associate’s degree and at least one year of formal education in web design, development, or computer/internet sciences is preferred.
  • Syniverse, a global leader in mobile communications, is looking for a career success specialist for its New Tampa office. The position requires an undergraduate degree in business or marketing and strong interpersonal, communication, analytical and problem-solving skills. Other openings include a customer operations specialist, level I position.


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


Peer-to-peer tutoring app gains traction on college campuses, national recognition

College students struggling with classes can face an uphill battle finding a reasonably priced tutor with up-to-date skills. But now a South Tampa-based tutoring service helps them connect to peers who have recently aced the very class they need help with.

“We’re completely peer to peer and we’re extremely course specific. It’s more relevant,” says Knack CEO Samyr Qureshi.

Knack, which originally launched its product in Gainesville in 2016, is gaining traction. It was chosen by the San Francisco-based Kairos Society, a group that finds promising entrepreneurs and connects them with potential funders and industry leaders, as one of 50 to attend a Global Summit in April in New York City.

The event was “probably one of the highlights of my year,” Qureshi remarked later. It signaled “Knack is a company that can truly make an impact on a global scale,” says Qureshi, who grew up in Palm Harbor after migrating from Dubai with his family.

Knack -- co-founded by Qureshi, Dennis Hansen, David Stoker and Shawn Doyle -- has joined the Kairos Society as a K50 Company and is discussing funding prospects. It was featured in Inc. Magazine’s article about the summit entitled “Meet 50 Young Entrepreneurs Rethinking the World's Biggest Problems.”

Knack got its start in a University of Florida incubator, then claimed the $25,000 grand prize in the 2016 Big Idea Gator Business Plan Competition upon graduation.

“We’ve been really focused on helping college students afford this service,” Qureshi says. “Ultimately we want to partner with organizations that can help us make that happen.

It already is working with the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, a nonprofit that sets aside a portion of scholarships to subsidize Knack tutoring. It also is partnering with UF Housing and Residence Education and UCF Student Government Association.

Through Knack apps for Apple and Android phones, students connect with some 900 tutors, for some 2,000 courses, most of them at the undergraduate level. A web app is in development. Students schedule a meeting, usually on campus, and pay with their debit card after a timed session.

Knack currently operates on six campuses including UF, the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Florida State University in Tallahassee, the University of South Florida in Tampa, North Carolina State University in Raleigh and the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

It has completed more than 25,000 tutoring hours and grown 143 percent, semester after semester, in revenue and completed sessions, Qureshi says.

Knack’s ultimate goals are to improve learning, help students finish college and provide flexible employment. Tutors set their own rates -- the current average is $22 -- and are paid at the end of the session. Knack keeps 20 percent of the fee.

Prospective tutors can sign up on the Knack website. The company also invites others to “Join the Knack Pack.” It is seeking a Full Stack Developer and Campus Ambassadors to help the company “knacktivate campuses across the nation,” the website says.

With some 80 percent of the tutoring market focused on kindergarten through 12th graders, “in college there’s a bit of a gap,” says Qureshi, who earned a BA in Law and Criminology.

It’s a gap Knack is working to fill, with help from Tampa Bay WaVE and the growing Tampa Bay tech community. “Knack is a Launch company in the WaVE program,” says Daniel McDonald, Accelerator Manager, Tampa Bay WaVE. “We have been helping Knack accelerate a lot with pitch coaching, community building and setting them up with local investors.”


Tampa Bay Area Job News: DAS Health, CONMED, McKinsey hiring

A national healthcare services firm, DAS Health, is expanding its headquarters in downtown Tampa, and plans to add 30 new employees here in 2018.

“Tampa’s talent pool combined with the resources and support of the city made expanding our headquarters here the perfect choice,” says David Schlaifer, CEO of DAS Health.

The company is making a $145,000 capital investment and will be hiring for a variety of jobs with an average annual salary of $55,130. It already has hired four new employees in the last two weeks, Schlaifer says.

DAS Health provides health IT, management solutions and consulting services. The expansion follows the acquisitions of ConXit Technology Group and three other companies in 2016, which doubled DAS Health's size and solidified its role in the health IT and management sector.

Here are some other job opportunities in the Tampa Bay area.

• The global medical technology company CONMED is hiring at its Largo facility. Among the openings posted on its website are: corporate recruiter, which requires a bachelor’s degree and more than two years of experience; marketing associate, which requires a bachelor’s and 0 to two years of related experience; and a buyer, which requires a bachelor’s and two years of relevant purchasing experience.

•  McKinsey and Company, a global consultant firm, has multiple positions at its St. Petersburg location. Openings posted at its website include a Spanish-speaking accountant, human resources generalist, junior graphic designer, and learning event planner.

• The high traffic website covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, The Pewter Report is looking for an advertising representative, either full-time or part-time. Applicants must live in the area and have solid business contacts; a background in advertising sales is preferred. 

• The multimedia digital company YouConnex, based in Tampa and New York City, is hiring for its creative team. Applicants need to be living in the Tampa Bay area. The company is looking for people with a portfolio highlighting web and video editing skills. Duties include graphics design and video editing.

If your company is hiring skilled workers with five or less years of experience, drop us a line.


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).


Tampa as a smart city: Local roundtable focuses on how technology will shape our future

It’s no secret automation is making some jobs obsolete. As the digital revolution evolves, we’re working differently -- and some of us will need new skills to stay in the workforce and succeed.

“The roles are changing very very very quickly,” asserts Chelsea Collier, an Austin-based consultant holding a Tampa Roundtable April 28 at the University of Tampa’s Lowth Entrepreneurship Center.

Collier is the founder of Digi.City, a web platform where she shares what she has learned as a 2016 Zhi-Xing China Eisenhower Fellowship recipient.

The roundtable will look at Tampa as a “smart city,” which by Collier’s definition is a municipality that takes an “integrated approach” to delivering services more effectively through technology.

“Smart cities are the ones that apply the right technologies that increase the effectiveness of their cities,” she says.

The roundtable is aimed at technology enthusiasts, elected officials, public policy advocates and those interested in how policies are crafted to foster innovation and smart growth. It will be held from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Participants include Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, state Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa; Lucas Lindsey, Co-Founder of Launch Florida; Linda Olson, President of Tampa Bay WaVE; Ned Pope, Former President of Florida NEXT Foundation; and Dr. Rebecca White, Director of UT’s Entrepreneurship Center.

The discussion about Tampa’s smart city efforts is part of a multi-city series, Digi.City Connects. Meetings already have been held in Phoenix, San Diego, Boston and Austin.

“In three to four years, things will connect to things and humans won’t even need to be involved. It seems like the Jetsons,” Collier says, referring to the 1960s television cartoon show about a futuristic family.

In the end, services are provided more efficiently. For example, when 5G wireless technology is available, a refrigerator can connect with a delivery service to notify it that it needs eggs. It can be programmed to skip the order when the calendar shows the owner will be away.

The discussion is expected to touch on policy changes needed to prepare for the new technology, she says.

“You really have to start doing the work now to get the policies in place,” she says. “There’s a lot in play. Different cities handle this in different ways.”

The way cities and educators prepare for these changes will affect the workforce’s skillset – and ultimately the area’s economy.

Although the fellowship expires in mid-May, Collier says her work has just begun. “I’m going to ramp it up actually,” she says. “I think there’s a real need.


Natural gas-powered buses ready to roll in Pasco County

Pasco County Schools will soon be the first in Florida to build and run their own fast-fill compressed natural gas station. The first of its natural-gas buses will arrive in mid-May, when they will be completing the new gas station just south of State Road 54 along Interlaken Road north of Tampa.

“We are about a month away from taking ownership,” says Tad Kledzik, Manager of Transportation Services. “We will begin operations with start of the fiscal year [July 1].”

Thirty 2017 Bluebird Vision CNG buses will begin arriving, three at time, in mid-May, and be phased into the existing fleet of more than 400 buses. Some 48 of them are propane, which use the same motor but a different fuel.

Each bus costs about $130,000, about $30,000 more than a diesel bus.

Pasco County Schools are investing $3 million each in their fast-fill station and a maintenance, operations and parking facility for the new natural gas-powered buses. The district is expecting to pay an additional $3.9 million for the first 30 buses and potentially a total of $11.7 million for 90 natural gas buses at the facility. It also would use some 10 to 12 diesel buses already in the fleet.

There are a number of advantages of the buses fueled by gas from Louisiana and Texas, which is piped into Florida at Jacksonville.

“The big thing ... is cleaner emission,” Kledzik says.

It’s also less noisy, a plus when hauling a bus-load full of talking children. “That allows our drivers to hear a little bit better on the bus as to what is going on,” he says.

As a domestic source of fuel, CNG is less volatile in price. The ability to essentially lock-in the price gives the district a greater ability to manage finance costs. “What happens elsewhere is less likely to impact the cost of CNG here,” he explains. “There’s enough CNG here in the U.S. to meet certainly our needs and many more needs.”

The district has tapped into the system in the Odessa area. The CNG will be provided by Clearwater Gas.

A grand opening is scheduled at 9 am. May 16, says spokeswoman Linda Cobbe. The new buses will roll for the 2017-18 school year.

The district began looking into alternative fuel sources in 2012, before buses like these existed, Kledzik says. The vision for CNG came from Deputy Superintendent Ray Gadd.

Though the Pasco district will be the first to build and operate its own station, others are already going green with CNG buses using third-party fuel providers. “Leon [County’s school district] has a similar facility to what we’re producing right now. Leon entered into contract with a 3rd party provider,” he says.

In the Tampa Bay area, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority became the first public transit authority in Florida to begin converting from diesel to CNG in 2014, according to Sandra Morrison, Public Information Officer.

HART currently runs 34 CNG buses in its fleet of nearly 200 buses, plus an additional 39 of its 61 HARTPlus vans and all eight HARTFlex vans. Some 25 additional CNG buses are arriving this fiscal year, Morrison says.

Hillsborough County public schools are running 50 propane buses and another 40 are on order. “We just didn’t have an interest in it [CNG], simply because of the cost,” says Jim Beekman, General Manager of Transportation.

The propane buses cost only $4400 more than diesel.

Pinellas County’s school district began running 58 new propane-powered buses this school year. The buses save the district money on fuel and maintenance, in addition to being more environmentally friendly, a spokeswoman says.

As the Pasco district's personnel are trained on the new buses, Kledzik says they plan to let surrounding districts in on the education process, which will include information on propane buses as well. “We’re looking to open it up and make it more a multi-county effort,” he says.

Kledzik says the new CNG buses are a way to “diversify the composition” of the fleet. He expects the school district will continue to invest in propane – and diesel. Diesel still is preferred for long trips outside of the county, and even longer trips within the county, he says.

“I don’t believe we’d get away completely from diesel buses,” he says.

Tampa Bay Alternative Fuel Vehicle Expo is slated from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. April 20 at 11780 Tampa Gateway Blvd, Seffner.

More information on alternative fuels is available at the Alternative Fuels Data Center or the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Clean Cities Program at 1-800-CCITIES.


Local job fairs offer wide variety of career opportunities

Job seekers can connect to area employers at job fairs in the coming weeks, including two fairs at Hillsborough Community College April 18 and 19.

“Usually if a company is here, they have positions available,” says Lorraine Canalejo, Career Resource Center Manager at HCC’s Dale Mabry Campus. “I have a gym. It fills up.”

The fair at HCC’s Dale Mabry Campus is from 9:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. April 18 in the Dale Mabry Gym. A variety of companies are expected for computer-related and law enforcement careers and jobs at animal clinics, radio/TV stations, restaurants and hotels, childcare centers, malls and Busch Gardens.

She advises job seekers to check out potential employers they’d like to talk with. Interested persons can call her at 813-253-7310 for more information on the companies. “Dress appropriately. Bring your resume,” she suggests.

“Typically we have it [the fair] in the spring term because it’s graduation time, but the job fair is open to all of our students as well as the public,” she says. “They don’t need to register.”

The HCC Ybor Campus event is from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 19 in the Ybor Room.

On April 19, Talent Career Fairs is holding a Tampa Government, Financial, Sales and Education Career Fair to connect job seekers with leading local and Fortune 500 companies. The free event is planned from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Courtyard Marriott, 3805 West Cypress in Tampa.

Attendees can meet employers in financial services, management, IT, healthcare, government, education, accounting, sales, customer service, dispatch, retail, and other fields.

Here are some other job fairs scheduled in the area.

Echo’s Spring Job Fair is planned from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 13 at Boys and Girls Club Brandon. The free event features part-time and full-time opportunities.

• Every Wednesday in April there will be a job fair from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for Registered Nurses and Certified Nursing Assistants at Kindred Hospital St Petersburg, 3030 6th Street S. Come ready for an interview on the spot.

• Sales, business development and marketing are the focus of the Tampa Job Fair April 24 by United Career Fairs. The free event is scheduled from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Doubletree by Hilton Tampa Westshore Airport.

• A Job News Tampa Job Fair, by JobNewsUSA, is planned from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 26 at George M. Steinbrenner Field, Tampa. To register for the free event, visit Eventbrite.


Media marketing firm to fill 24 new jobs, host TechHire meetup

The Tampa digital marketing company MediaLab 3D Solutions, which specializes in interactive technology for the homebuilders’ market, is adding 24 new positions by the end of June.

Tara Harris, the company’s Human Resources Director, says the positions are needed because of large projects MediaLab has taken on. The company has been experiencing “conservative, measured growth” during the last three years, she says.

“For us to hire 24 people in one quarter is significant,” Harris says.

The company added 7,000 square feet to its offices in Telecom Park last year. It is looking for an architectural visualizer to work with animated graphics so they look real. Other positions include 3D modelers (junior and senior level), producers, project managers and floor plan artists.

The company employs about 100 in staff and has nearly a 50/50 mix of male and female in leadership roles. They are seeking to diversify the staff to include more minorities.

“We hire people that have a degree as well as those that are non-degreed,” Harris says. “We’re looking for a skillset.”

MediaLab has a “progressive, open-door culture” and is looking for people who want a career path and who enjoy camaraderie, she says.

“We don’t hire jerks,” Harris adds. “The majority of our people are artists.”

Most have some background in interior design, fine arts or computer animation.

MediaLab is hosting the third TechHire meeting to discuss local tech employment needs. The meeting, scheduled from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. April 19, will be at 13101 Telecom Drive, Suite 250. It features Stacy Jenkins, the company’s Director of Development.

The event is organized by Tampa Innovation Alliance, a multi-jurisdictional district working to revitalize the community surrounding the University of South Florida. Seating is limited and interested persons are advised to reserve a place. 

“Stacy Jenkins is going to speak about some of the challenges of finding qualified employees for [computer] developing roles, bringing diversity to the group we have,” Harris says.

MediaLab’s goal is to find and retain a skilled, diverse workforce. “It’s challenging for us to find the skilled people that are kind of younger in their career,” Harris says. “The generation that we appeal to tend to be a little more transient.”

The TechHire program, launched by former U.S. President Barack Obama in 2015, is building a pipeline of talent in communities throughout the country. Tampa Bay was officially designated a TechHire community in December. It received a $3.8 million federal grant last summer to fund technical training and connect people with jobs.


Local TV network seeks submissions from filmmakers doing video in 11 categories

A cable television channel in downtown Tampa is giving voice to the region’s filmmakers. Through its annual Film Showcase and Filmmaker Spotlight, the Tampa Bay Arts and Education Network provides opportunities for filmmakers to share their work on a broader scale.

“TBAE showcase runs yearly,” says Jessica Sturges, TBAE Director of Business Development. “June we’re closed for judges to complete review to make sure they meet our broadcasting standards and can play it on our cable channel.”

Filmmakers have 11 categories to choose from: animations, lectures, shorts, features, documentary, children’s programs, public service announcement, explainer/tutorial video, music video, culture video and television. Entries should not have nudity or strong adult language.

“It has to go through prescreening,” she says, “to make sure it meets those broadcasting standards.”

Winners will receive Laurel of Excellence Awards and have their work broadcast on Charter Spectrum Channel 635 and 636 and Frontier Communications Channels 32 and 34.

TBAE is working on a Netflix-like app that will expand its reach globally this fall.

Founded in 1987, TBAE broadcasts commercial-free arts, culture and educational content to some 1.3 million viewers in Hillsborough County. Its original content includes Characters of Ybor City, Circus Coming to Town, The Tampa Natives Show, Florida in the Space Age, and Filmmaker Spotlight featuring selected films from the Gasparilla International Film Festival.

It works with area colleges -- and even Blake High School -- to provide feedback and internships. “We work very closely with professors and teachers in the community to make sure they are producing what TV stations like us are looking for,” she explains.

Originally founded in the University of Tampa’s library, the nonprofit organization now encourages filmmakers from throughout the Tampa Bay/Central Florida region, including Sarasota, Bradenton and Orlando.

The network launched the area’s first film festival, The Independents’ Film Festival, in 1993, but had to discontinue it because of the cost, she says. Instead, they partner with the Gasparilla festival.

Filmmaker Spotlight ... is the result of this unique collaboration,” she says. “The program offers the viewer a behind-the-scenes interview with the filmmaker, before the film and after.”

The showcase was started in 2014 at the request of filmmakers who wanted to have the opportunity to air their work. TBAE normally broadcasts the showcase in August and September, she says.

Submissions can be made online here.  For more information, call 813-254-2253.


Real-time Tampa communications company automates business operations

Software companies usually offer free trials that attract potential users of their software to their websites. But if that software is not really easy to use, the potential customers move on to other websites. Large numbers of them leave a site -- if they have questions, if they’re asked to download communications software, or if they have to wait for customer service.

Tampa’s ThinkRTC, short for Think Real-Time Communications, is working to change that. “We automate the process of talking to your customers. Our product builds right into your website,” says Masud Hossain, Co-Founder and CEO.

ThinkRTC was developed last November during Startup Weekend by Hossain, Yusuf Shajahan, Stephen Hong and Jonathan Li, who met through their families or the University of South Florida. The company is growing 85 percent each month.

“It [the software] keeps your users from leaving [your website] and lets your business communicate instantly,” he says.

Hossain, who earned a bachelor’s degree from USF with a double major in biochemistry and physics, had been working for a software company that was having a hard time retaining its signups. When a customer wasn’t willing to connect with the software company on Skype or Google Hangouts, he or she “was falling off the face of the Earth,” he says.

Email was worse. “If businesses don’t migrate from email to real-time communications, they’re going to lose business,” he asserts.

Real-time communications is simpler – and it also avoids a 24-hour lag time often associated with emails. “They don’t want to have to wait for 24 hours,” he says, “because in that 24 hours they’ve probably found someone that’s better than you.”

It’s “very rare” for a company to have its screen-share capabilities like those available from ThinkRTC’s $25-a-month-per-agent subscription service, he says.

“A lot [of users] have to download software to do that,” he explains. “It makes it harder for the customer.”

ThinkRTC’s service can be up and running after copying and pasting a line of code into a company’s website. It doesn’t matter what type of computer, browser or software is in use, he says.

The service lets the business and customer share the screen and computer, as well as engage in video chat. A ThinkRTC app allows communication on the go.

Initially ThinkRTC was seeking customers in the software niche, but they’ve found it can help people in other industries too. “We noticed that lawyers and doctors were using our product, as well as car dealerships,” he says. “It’s more useful if clients stay at home where all their documents are.”

ThinkRTC can automate workflow by allowing customers to submit documentation online through the system. “One lawyer just stays at home now. He’s just doing everything online. It’s automated his work process completely,” Hossain says.

The company working out of USF’s Student Innovation Incubator is seeking $1.2 million in capital primarily to market and sell the service. Though they visited Silicon Valley and were offered funding, the founders were all born and raised in Tampa and want to keep the technology here. “We want to make a name for ourselves here in Tampa,” he says.

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