UT growing, showcasing new and innovative businesses in downtown Tampa

Leigh Buttner knows what it’s like to struggle with food allergies. It means a special diet with special ingredients, and buying in bulk can get expensive. “It’s so hard for people who do have intolerances to eat delicious desserts,” Buttner says.

So she came up with the idea for Bakers Lab, a company that offers pre-measured and packaged kits delivered to customers’ doorsteps. “We make it easier for the consumers to bake within the comfort of their own home,” she explains.

A master’s student in Entrepreneurship at the University of Tampa, Buttner partnered with teammates Jesse Malin and Conor Whipple to develop the idea in 12 weeks from a concept to an exhibit at the university’s 2018 New Venture Expo at the downtown Tampa campus. 

Buttner, a St. Petersburg native who now lives in Tampa, and her team claimed a first place, $1,000 prize at the UT Expo for their student-track entry.

“We’re just selling locally to anybody in the Tampa Bay area,” she says. “In the next year, we want to launch an online website.”

Bakers Lab caters to a large range of dietary requirements including gluten free, dairy free and soy free. Its goal is to be part of growing entrepreneurial ecosystem in Tampa Bay and support other local businesses by sourcing ingredients like local honey from them.

More winners

BSR Militaria, a company that endeavors to share and preserve military history and its artifacts, took the $1,000 award for the incubator/accelerator category. The company was represented by its founder, William Perez.

Verapy, a virtual reality game therapy company headed by CEO Jonathan Truong, claimed the $650 second place prize in the incubator/accelerator category. Third place in that category went to Firkin, a keg management or tracking system.

Other winners in the student category at April 13 expo were Uncle Tommy’s Moonshine, second place, $650; and N.O.P.E., third place, $300. 

Fifty-four businesses took part UT’s second large expo. Some with business ideas were earning a grade, others were obviously engaging in trade. 

“The philosophy that basically drives all academic programs here at the University of Tampa is learning by doing, the philosophy of experiential education,” explains Dr. Dean A. Koutroumanis, Associate Professor of Management and Associate Director of the John P. Lowth Entrepreneurship Center at UT’s John H. Sykes College of Business.

UT is in the thick of efforts to develop the Tampa Bay area’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. 

“We want to see Tampa Bay on the map when people think ‘where am i going to start my business’,” he says. 

Here are snapshot views of four other companies that participated.

Step aside, Don Adams

Don Adams’ shoe that turned into a telephone was novel in the 1960s, when the TV show Get Smart aired. But now there’s a newcomer on the scene: the video surveillance pen produced by iSpyPens.

Twenty-one-year-old Founder Andrew Gilliland, who began selling online at age 8, has been running the business out of his UT dorm room in The Boathouse. But he’s outgrown it. With three full-time employees and nine part-time contract workers, the junior from Boston is planning to move the business to a house.

“This past year did we about $160,000 in revenues. We’re on track for a lot bigger than that this year,” he says.

The pen, which streams wirelessly to phones, currently sells for $79. The company is targeting people who need discreet surveillance for security reasons, such as victims of workplace harassment or discrimination, as well as private investigators, process servers, lawyers and doctors.

“I look at Tampa Bay as a place of opportunity,” he says.

It’s (almost) a war

Clad in his old Navy uniform, 47-year-old Karlton Meadows of Riverview is quick to acknowledge staying fit is a battle. “It’s not a war, but close to it,” says Meadows, who describes himself as a fitness engineer. “The enemy is inactivity and obesity.”

His business, Tampa’s Underground Fitness Engineering Revolution or T.U.F.E.R for short, has been around since Meadows retired from the Navy in 2008. Originally from Gary, IN, he’s earning his master’s degree in Entrepreneurship at UT.

He offers a scientifically-based exercise program.

Caffeine-laced cookies

“I was going into nursing school and I was exhausted,” explains Tiffany Rodriguez, a UT student from Hasbrouck Heights, N.J. “I couldn’t stay alert.”

She didn’t like coffee -- and caffeine pills made her jittery and anxious. So her friend, Ilana Antelman, wanted to help.

The result? Power On Energy Snacks, which makes chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies that pack the caffeine of a cup of coffee. Next up are veggie and gluten-free cookies, snicker doodle cookies, brownies and muffins.

Both are now junior marketing majors at UT. “We started off doing it out of the dorms, and have recently moved into a [north Tampa] commercial kitchen,” says Antelman, who is from Clifton, N.J.

The 1 1/2-year-old company sells the cookies in single packages. Their customers are students and downtown Tampa businesses, who can subscribe to receive 50 to 150 cookies at a time. 

“Next semester we’re planning on going to farmer’s markets in the area and selling our cookies there,” Antelman adds.

After graduation, they plan to stay in Tampa and see where the business goes. “We love Tampa. There’s a lot of opportunity,” Antelman explains. “We want to be a part of the growing entrepreneurial community in Tampa Bay.”

Back to basics

When you’re short on cash, there’s always bartering. That’s the concept behind Tradebank of Tampa Bay. Hayden Stokes, Regional Manager, is running the local franchise of a 30-year-old Atlanta company.

“Essentially, we have them trade what they have for what they need, whether it’s a product or a service,” explains Stokes, who has around 60 clients.

The company uses trade dollars, which are digital, kind of like cryptocurrency. But traders must be part of the enclosed network.

“The similarity is it’s a form of currency that’s not the U.S. dollar, but it’s based on the U.S. dollar,” says Stokes, who graduated from UT last year with a bachelor’s of science in Entrepreneurship.

The Tampa resident keeps 12 percent of the transactions as his brokering fee. 

“It’s been well-received. I think we provide a level of personal service that some other bartering services don’t,” he says. “We can do a lot for startups.”
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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. Now a wife and mother, Cheryl discovered her love of writing as a child when she became enthralled with Nancy Drew mysteries. She earned her bachelor's degree in Journalism and Sociology from Loyola University in New Orleans. While working at Loyola's Personnel Office, she discovered her passion for helping others find jobs. A Miami native, Cheryl moved to the Temple Terrace area in 1985 to work for the former Tampa Tribune