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Innovation & Job News

Tech Bytes: Competitions spur tech innovation

Shesh Narayan Vaishnav of VRenewables wins a $3500 prize for "Best Pitch".

Hybrid street light powered with solar modules and wind turbines by VRenewables.

Vrinda Vairagi, left, and Shesh Narayan Vaishnav, both with VRenewables.




A woman-owned business, VRenewables LLC of Tampa, claimed a $3,500 cash prize March 29 for its design for a hybrid, standalone streetlight independent of the electric grid.

Led by Vrinda Vairagi and Shesh Narayan Vaishnav, the company has a vision to work toward a better future. Its streetlight, which uses solar power, took the Social Entrepreneur Student Pitch Award, sponsored by local companies Connectwise and Sourcetoad.

Vairagi has experience in business relations and HR management while Vaishnav is in photovoltaic research industry, says Vaishnav, CEO. Vrinda Vairagi, left, and Shesh Narayan Vaishnav, both with VRenewables.

The award was given at the 2018 Innovation Summit organized by the nonprofit Synapse. “I am planning to invest this money towards the research and development of the hybrid street light which will be powered by both Solar Module and Wind Turbine,” Vaishnav says. 

“I think Innovation Challenges are the single most effective way to catalyze innovation and spur collaboration in a very organic, tangible way,” says Trey Steinhoff, Lead Designer and Challenge Organizer at the Summit. There truly is nothing more inspiring than having groups of passionate, talented people put their heart into building something on a tight deadline.”

Other award winners were Tracy Ingram, owner of Dade City's Intention Technology, in a Connectwise challenge; and Matt Spaulding, in the Metropolitan Ministries Hackathon for Social Good. Both also won $3,500 each.

Connectwise was looking for an inclusive interface for employees and other users. “I built a [mobile-friendly] bot that could be put on any existing site with a few lines of code,” Ingram says.

Metropolitan Ministries sought digital solutions to help those in crisis, so it can operate more effectively. Details were not immediately available.

These awards were sponsored by Connectwise, Sourcetoad and Metropolitan Ministries. 

The creative problem solving that is required to compete in these events forces competitors to push their assumptions and come up with solutions that no one saw coming, not even the partner companies,” Steinhoff says. “The cherry on top is seeing these competitors working together with each other and the partner companies at and after the event. I have been to a lot of tech and entrepreneurial events in Tampa Bay and have yet to see another event that molds deep, genuine relationships quite like a hackathon or pitch competition.

Read on for more local tech news.

Thomas Wallace, managing partner of Florida Funders, will be featured at the April Diary of an Entrepreneur program. Wallace, an active angel tech investor for 25 years, co-founded his first business at the age of 23. His talk, "Startups and Raising Capital," will include insights from his career as a tech entrepreneur, executive, investor and more. The presentation by TEC Garage is scheduled from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. Tuesday, April 10, at Microsoft, 5426 Bay Center Dr., Suite 700, Tampa. The event is free, but reservations are requested because of limited seating. Learn more and/or register here.

• A panel discussion entitled “Cybesecurity – Skills, Trends and Industry” is planned at the next Trep Talks gathering for entrepreneurs at Hillsborough County’s Entrepreneur Collaborative Center in Ybor City. The event is planned at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 24, at 2101 E. Palm Ave. Sign up online here.

• Florida Venture Forum is hosting the 11th Annual Florida Early Stage Capital Conference and the 8th Annual Statewide Collegiate Business Plan Competition Friday, May 18, at The Westshore Grand in Tampa. Described as one of the largest angel and early-stage-investors’ gatherings in the Southeast, the event features pitches from dynamic Florida-based ventures, along with panel discussions, speakers and presentations. The deadline for presenter applications is Wednesday, April 18. Presenters are required to pay conference registration fees. Learn more here. At the event there will be two, $25,000 cash prizes to Accelerating Innovation Award winners from Space Florida.

• The U.S. Air Force is looking for help closing the science and technology gap, so it’s hosting a workshop Thursday, April 26, at the University of South Florida in Tampa. The workshop for the scientific community, academia, and business professionals will include ideas about how to facilitate a conversation about Air Force technological advances. The deadline to submit ideas is Friday, April 13. Learn more about the 8 a.m. event at CW Bill Young Hall.

• If you’re looking for recognition for your business, consider TechCo.’s Startup of the Year competition. It’ll give you the opportunity to expand your startup by providing opportunities to meet investors, gain insight, get funding and win prizes. Startups need to be innovative and have a live, viable product. Candidates must submit their applications before Monday, April 30. Check it out here.

• Florida Polytechnic University students in Lakeland have joined the quest for biofuel. Using algae from Polk County lakes, they are working with a professor of biology, Dr. Melba Horton, to find a renewable energy source. While algae already is being used for biofuel, this source would be cheaper. The research is being funded by Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute.

In other Florida Poly news, Dr. Kanwalinderjit K. Gagneja, a computer science professor, has won a $44,000 grant from the Florida Center for Cybersecurity at the University of South Florida to develop a new Digital Forensics course. Through hands-on training, the class would help address a shortage of cybersecurity experts.

The university drew a record crowd of 300 to its third annual Women in STEM Summit March 14, to hear a panel of successful individuals talk about how they applied science, technology, engineering and math to their careers.

• Knack, a Tampa-based peer-to-peer tutoring service, was as finalist in the 2018 Challenge Cup contest in Washington D.C. March 22. Tampa’s Preferhired was a semi-finalist in the contest hosted by 1776. The winning company was Caribu in Miami.

Read more articles by Cheryl Rogers.

Cheryl Rogers is a freelance writer and editor who enjoys writing about careers. An ebook author, she also writes Bible Camp Mystery series that shares her faith. She is publisher of New Christian Books Online Magazine and founder of the Mentor Me Career Network, a free online community, offering career consulting, coaching and career information. 
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