Category Archives: Community

A Look Back: the Making of a Stronger Orlando

By: Megan Lanier

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Orlando. The City Beautiful.

I never truly understood the meaning of the city slogan until a week ago.

Orlando has never been more beautiful. Sadly, the catalyst for this profound beauty was a sudden jolt of tragedy, anger and despair. Never has an event like the Pulse Nightclub shooting affected me so deeply. Every day, we turn on the news to hear of murder in our cities and war in countries overseas – all horrific tales of unnecessary death and violence. Somehow though, the Pulse shooting was different. It was more than just a news story. It wounded my neighborhood.

I did not know any of the victims nor did anyone in my immediate circle of friends and family. Orlando is a close community, but even in a city of over two million people the supposed six degrees of separation can seem monumental at times. Even without knowing the victims and their families, the whole world seemed to bear the same pain.

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By the afternoon of June 12th, rainbow flags already adorned the entrances to local businesses, Facebook groups for a citizen’s response was started and an outpouring of volunteers waited in lines for hours to donate blood. I still do not have the words to express the incredible support, unity and acceptance that surged out of this city. It was obvious that we were all in this together. Complete strangers were now friends and pride for our city had never been stronger.

A week after the shooting on June 18th, my husband, some friends and I attended the candlelight vigil around Lake Eola (Orlando’s mainstay public downtown park). The Central Florida commuter train, SunRail, opened for a special Sunday service that day to provide another transportation option for attendees. 20,000 people were expected to attend. The group of us all rode our bikes to the nearby station planning to ride the train to the downtown stop. When the trains cars pulled up they were already packed to the brim with riders and dozens more pushed their way in. We knew this would be a big night.

Forgoing the train to cycle the entire trip instead, we arrived at Lake Eola Park 30 minutes before the vigil was scheduled to begin. The 23 acre lake was surrounded by people at least 10 feet deep along the perimeter. The park was strikingly beautiful and painted in a sea of colors by everyone in attendance. The final attendance count was estimated to be over 50,000 people.

Although it had been a weekend full of gray skies and rain, just minutes before the program began a massive rainbow emerged across the sky – directly over the park. Everyone erupted into applause as our gazes all turned upwards. We knew the meaning of that message.

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The vigil commenced with words from Orlando Mayor, Buddy Dyer, Orange County Mayor, Theresa Jacobs, and several other figureheads who were involved with the incident. Everyone shared a message of love, humanity and strength. Our city would not be overcome the actions of one. In the final moments, we lit our candles and the area sparkled as the names of the 49 victims were announced. It was a beautiful moment and one that will be fixed in my memory forever.

Following the close of the program, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” played. It was as if everyone was frozen in time. Although the announcement to leave had been given, it was as if we all just needed a few extra moments to take it all in. The lake glistened from the reflections of candlelight and there was a great sense of belonging.

The social media hashtags surrounding the event – #OrlandoStrong and #OrlandoUnited – could not be a more accurate representation of the feeling and response. We are together in grief as much as strength.

I have never been more proud to call Orlando home and I know that we will only become stronger.

A Look Back: JD Casto and what Pulse meant to him.

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It has been a little over a month since my hometown community was faced with the country’s worst mass shooting, words I would never attribute to the city in the shadow of the Mouse. Below is the story of a dear friend of mine who pushed himself to exhaustion to be there for the Orlando community. 

While the world came together to mourn the tragedy of the Pulse nightclub shooting, Orlando resident, J.D. Casto opened his heart and home to anyone who needed a safe space. Originally from Ohio, J.D. attended Rollins College and since graduation has been building his career as a photographer, videographer, and community organizer. Having chosen Orlando as his home, the events of June 12 hit particularly close to home.

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J.D. Casto is here on the left.

Even though he did not lose any close friends that night, the attack was personal. Pulse to J.D. is “a safe place to have fun and not be judged” and was a welcoming place for all kinds of people. In fact, his first time to the nightclub was with a group of straight male friends later in his college years.

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The last time he went to Pulse, he was invited by his straight guy friends to go out on a Tuesday. With excellent drink deals, the guys just wanted to enjoy a chill environment. J.D. remembers that the crowd was truly representative of the diverse community in Orlando.

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As the dust settles and life slowly returns to normal, J.D. was quick to point out that while we may focus on the gun control debate now, there is a larger issue at play. “We need to reform our education system. Without that, our communities will continue to only see differences and continue to be divided.”

The images above were made possible by J.D. Casto Photography and you can find his work on Facebook and Flickr.

The Best Conference for Orlando Problem Solvers… EVER!

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Entrepreneurship. A buzzword that either inspires like a life changing lecture or spooks like a perfectly executed Halloween prank. But what does it really mean? Can it be experienced without risking it all? And what would happen if a variety of fields came together to innovate? In 2007 the brainchild of the Kauffman Foundation, Global Entrepreneurship Week, was announced as the world’s opportunity to celebrate the entrepreneur in every person so they could provide solutions to the world’s problems. At this time, 77 countries have officially joined the movement. For the first time, Orlando, FL will be joining with a collaborative week long un-conference and partnership events called: The BIG Exchange.

How It Started in Orlando

Co-organizers Shea Glenny and Ryan Mickley attended a conference together and walked away, well, yearning for a bit more substance. Discussing it at a local coffee shop, Shea and Ryan identified that they wanted to host their ideal conference. It’s mission would allow anyone to explore their entrepreneurial spirit while addressing some of the community’s most pressing problems. Encouraged by a neighboring customer, Ryan and Shea discovered they were on to something pretty big. Less than a year later, the duo have pulled in 4 other millennial visionaries from a variety of fields to pull off this year’s celebration of entrepreneurship. With a focus on the power of bringing the unique gifts of each participant, the ultimate goal will be to create a sort of cross-synergy that allows true innovation to occur.

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The Run Down

Once registered, participants will self identify as Makers, Artists, Thinkers, or Educators. Then at the kickoff, participants will form groups of 8-12 and creatively solve a problem during the week. In addition to problem solving, participants will have access to workshops held throughout the greater Orlando area and partnership events throughout the city. At the Friday Showcase, teams close out the week with a presentation of their solutions and be in the running for a $30,000 prize pack.

Why you NEED to be there

First, just to meet the organizers and the people they have brought together. Aside from the fact that the Vision Board has developed into a close knit group, every sponsor they approached loved the idea and have found a way to support them. Second, the format of the conference will allow participants to come out with as Christa Rensel, a Vision Team member, stated, “A healthy rolodex of some of the most amazing people in Orlando.” Third, being an entrepreneur is risky business. Participants can try it out in a safe environment while learning processes on how to build something from a tangible idea. As Shea has been known to say, “you don’t have to be an entrepreneur to use entrepreneurial principles.” And if nothing else, $30K of prizes are at stake here. That’s better than any costume contest.

What if you can’t be there?

The whole week is being recorded, live-streamed, and live-tweeted. Also, anyone can submit a pressing problem that they believe should be addressed by November 10th. Get ahead of the game by following @Big_Exchange on Twitter and liking Big Exchange on Facebook.

If, somehow, you aren’t convinced check out the video below or peruse their website.

Cornerstone Investments for Central Florida’s Start up Community

Since returning to my hometown of Orlando, I have been trying to check out all of the resources available to startups and enterprising individuals. Earlier this week, I participated in the Melrose Center’s General Orientation to gain access to their video editing resources and what I found literally blew my mind. Made possible by an extremely generous donation by Dorothy Lumley Melrose and her family, the Orange County Library in Downtown Orlando was able to build a $1 million tech facility for it’s patrons.

From the second you step onto the second floor, you are drawn to the smiling face of Dorothy Lumley Melrose and the inviting glass wall behind her. Once you step through the glass doors to the 26,000 square foot space, you forget that you are in a library and get the bug to build something. With your Orange County Library Card, or for a small fee, members have access to a live recording studio, a professional television studio with green screen, sound booth equipment, a photo studio, an impressive array of classes, a simulation room, and, my personal favorite, a 12ft by 8ft interactive media wall.

Although the specifics of what they offer is impressive, the fact that all of it is free (aside from the conference room) is game changing for startups in the area. Equipment and collaboration space are some of the highest barriers to entry when starting a business. Having free access to both? It’s a life saver. This access, in addition to a GoFundMe campaign to address Orlando’s seed fund problem, are crucial pieces building explosive growth in Downtown Orlando’s startup sector.

Are there any other tools that you believe are necessary to build a thriving startup community? Do you know of any other areas that I should feature on my quest to find some of the best resources for entrepreneurs? Post in the comments below or email me directly at marissa@millennialtakeover.com.

Want to help build Orlando’s Startup community? Donate:

For access to equipment and classes, the Friends of the Orange County Library provide financial support to make it happen.

To provide critical seed funding for Orlando startups, go here.

Showcasing How Orlando is Growing from Tourism to Tech

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Growing up in Orlando always had it’s advantages. School field trips to Disney and other amusement parks, just starts that list. But, one thing that ALWAYS annoyed me was that whenever I met anyone new, inevitably they would ask, “So let me guess, you go to Disney, like everyday? Right?”

When I returned home I expected to see an Orlando wasting away in the shadow of the Mouse, with few opportunities to be a part of something bigger than a paycheck. But in the last two months I’ve discovered this, this incredible burgeoning tech industry. Who knew that the land of rest and relaxation could possibly be home to a growing number of tech startups?

OTW_Logo_FINAL_Yellow_Background canvs-logo-resized 1MillionCupsOrl EnvyLabs-logo-color-medium-transparent-300x159 This weekend, kicks off the first annual Orlando Tech Week, where a collaboration of events will be showcasing what this startup tech industry has to offer. I will be tweeting throughout the week so follow my handle @theMTakeover and will be providing a recap at the end of next week. If you are within safe travel distance it is not to late to get your tickets to hear from senior level execs from Mashable, Priceline.com, ESPN, Code School, NBC Universal, and many many others. Below I’ve pasted the Agenda as seen on Orlando Tech Week’s Website where you can get the most up to date information and buy tickets. See you there!

Agenda

September 27, 2014
BARCAMP ORLANDO
9:00 am – 5:00 pm, Church Street , Cheyenne Saloon
September 29, 2014
8:00 am – 1:00 pm 
September 30, 2014
8:00 am – 3:00 pm
ISUMMIT
Church Street
12:00 pm – 1:00 pm
PROCESSING ORLANDO: ART, GADGETS, AND TECH

Church Street Exchange
Nathan SelikoffNathan Selikoff                 Orlando TechOrlando TechMore info
6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
SCHWARTZ TECH AWARDS

Orchid Garden
October 1, 2014
9:00 am – 11:00 am
1 MILLION CUPS ORLANDO

Rollins College
12:00 pm – 1:00 pm
EQUITY CROWDFUNDING
Church Street Exchange
Ryan FeitRyan Feit                       Orlando TechOrlando TechMore info
6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
STARTUP SHOWCASE
Ceviche Tapas Orlando
Orlando TechOrlando Tech                 IndienomiconIndienomiconMore info
October 2, 2014
6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
LOWCOUNTRY BOIL & TECH MEETUP

Lake Eola Amphitheater
October 3, 2014
7:00 pm – 10:00 pm
T-PARTY

The Veranda

Defining Social Innovation and How to Get Paid to Do It

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing a dear friend of mine, Brian Bergman, the Assistant Director for the Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Miami University. As an alumnus of Miami University, Brian explored his interests in international politics through course work as well as an immersion experience in Geneva, Switzerland. After discovering that he was more interested in issues regarding poverty, Brian began the move away from “big table” politics and toward international development issues. Obtaining his Master’s in International Development from the University of Pittsburgh allowed him to do just that. Approaching graduation, one of Brian’s professors from Miami, who had been a mentor to him since his senior year, had him join his team.

Brian Bergman

For the past two years Brian has contributed to Miami’s training, curriculum development, and three academic studies on social entrepreneurship. Brian’s experience so far has allowed him to develop several great nuggets of wisdom for anyone wanting to pursue a meaningful life.

On Brian’s Career Path

I always went after personal growth opportunities. Going to Geneva was an opportunity for me to take my first international flight, going to Kenya was an opportunity for me to live in a mud hut. Those experiences allowed me to grow as a person and learn more about my strengths and weaknesses. I’ve also been lucky enough to have people who encouraged me to always have a couple of things lined up just in case the plan fell like dominoes.

On What You Need to be Successful in Social Innovation

First, a functional business background, not like “the man” type of business, but having a strong understanding of how a business works because everything needs have money to operate, even non-profits. Lean Startup Canvas is the bedrock of our curriculum. Second, not being afraid of numbers. Understanding how to use the right test for the right things is critical for conducting research. Third, knowing how technology works is crucial, you’ve got understand how the whole system works because technology is literally in everything that we do. Fourth, know what you are good at and keep developing those skills. When you go to work somewhere, there’s going to be a guy who loves doing the things that you may not be as good at so focus on just being you.

Top Tips for Any Social Entrepreneur

First, ask yourself what you are most passionate about. Then find out, what is the market? Who are the non-profits? What is the government doing? Are there gaps?  If there’s a gap, that’s where you opportunity lies.

Second, burnout is real. Everyone wants to be around positive people so you have to find ways to disconnect from the work. For example, I like to play ice hockey. When you are playing ice hockey you can’t think of anything else or you’ll get seriously injured.

Third, and possibly most important, is learn how to network. For every 100 contacts you have, you will have 2 to 3 really close contacts that can help guide you as you are developing your idea. For me, those close contacts have had the greatest impact and I wouldn’t be here without them.

Pursuing a career in social innovation is particularly challenging as it is a relatively newer field. In addition to following Brian’s advice, check out The Stanford Social Innovation Review to keep up to date with current trends. Are you working in Social Innovation? Share your wisdom below in the comments.

My Take on Central Florida’s Commuter Train – Sunrail

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It’s finally here!! After years of negotiating, being used as a political chess piece and deprived of federal funding the Sunrail is finally a running functioning commuter train. Last Friday, I rode it for the first time from the Winter Park Station to Church Street Station. Although there is plenty of room for improvement, overall it was FAR less stressful than driving and I plan to take it again in the future. Sunrail, here is my constructive feedback:

Things I loved

    • It’s sooooo cheap –  I paid $3.75 roundtrip, a fraction of the cost of parking in a garage downtown.
    • It’s so clean – Yes, I know it’s new, but I guess I was expecting litter or spill stains.
    • It makes you happier to ride it – In other cities you are traveling underground so you can actually see what you are passing.
    • It saves you from having to find parking … and then losing your car – Finding parking in Orlando can set off a minor heart attack. Then losing your white car in the huge parking lot can ruin any good day.
    • You are around people – driving in your car is a very solitary activity. It’s great for some alone time, but there aren’t a lot of opportunities in the Central Florida area where you feel like you are a member of a larger community.

Things that need improvement

  • Collecting fares To purchase a ticket, you go to a kiosk and use your debit or credit card. No cash option is a barrier, especially for tourists. Then, you have to find a cute yellow box to the left or right of the kiosk and tap your ticket before and after you board the train. The unmanned station, the lack of partitions makes for plenty of opportunities to grab a free ride. Admittedly, I had no clue how it worked so I didn’t tap in for my ride to Church Street. Small a request – have that friendly voice on the loud speaker go over those directions or have them written so people can actually pay for the service.
  • That good awful siren – that horrible fire drill sound had me looking for the nearest exit off the outdoor platform, until I realized that the train was approaching. A friendly voice announcing the arrival of the train might be enough and less torture on the ear drums.
  • Pedestrian walkways – moving large numbers of people around safely is one thing. If we are being encouraged to forgo our cars, more pedestrian crossings, especially when leaving the station, should be put a bit higher on the priority list.
  • Frequency – I understand that this is just the beginning, but trains have got to be running more often if you want community buy in. I had to wait 20 minutes on my way to Church Street and 30 minutes on my way back. If I had a tight schedule, I wouldn’t even consider taking the Sunrail.
  • It doesn’t run at night – The last train leaves Church Street at 9:25 pm. If you are going to a concert, a basketball game, or any other event, it’s not an option and a it is a missed revenue opportunity.

Have you ridden the Sunrail? Have you enjoyed the experience? Have I missed any areas of improvement? Comment below or tweet to @themtakeover.

Long term benefits to Student Loan Debt?

Each generation has had an issue that plagued their thoughts, dreams, and aspirations. For our grandparents, it was managing a Post WWII world. For our parents, it was dealing with drug abuse and the now invisible color lines. What could possibly plague our generation more than the broken system that we inherited? The financial crater left by pursuing the one thing that marketed guaranteed success: a college education. 
 
An estimated 7 out of 10 graduating seniors in 2012 walked into the “real world” with an average of $29,400 of student loan debt. According to this Huffington Post article, the burden can lead to a loss of license in some states and most importantly prevents many young people from qualifying for home loans, personal loans, small business loans, and car loans: the bread and butter of the American economy. If you don’t really understand how it all works check out this infographic that breaks it down.
 Student Loan Scheme.
 
Whether or not you or your child are dealing with this type of debt, it has market wide effects. Think about it, with significant portions of 30 million salaries going to feed a collective financial crater, who is going to be purchasing the high priced credit based goods that serve as the metric for a healthy American economy? How can you breed healthy work habits when personal finance is always going to be a significant anxiety? 
 
There are hundreds of suggestions on how to cope with the pressure of dealing with student loan debt, and it deserves serious attention and planning. But once in this crater, why not wear the burden as a badge of courage? Presumably, students don’t take out loans unless they need them in order to get to where they want to go in their careers. As it is in life, taking that kind of risk has forced many in this group to make sacrifices and choices in order to survive. It will be lessons we’ve learned from those choices that will mold the next Great Generation.
 
Lessons in dedication, perseverance, resourcefulness, and long term thinking will only serve us in in the long run. Our generation has already claimed the superlative “most entrepreneurial” and “most diverse” in U.S. history, once we have claimed positions of power these lessons will only make stronger leaders and truly change the direction of the world.
 
Have student loans impacted your life planning and decision making? If so, how?