A message from Lee Williams, CFRE
Regional Vice Chancellor for Advancement and Alumni Relations
A ribbon cutting–opening a state-of-the-art simulation nursing lab—marked the start of our spring 2020 semester for our inaugural class of 30 students in our Accelerated Nursing Program.
We are thrilled to partner with Sarasota Memorial and Manatee Memorial hospitals to offer experiential learning opportunities for this cohort. You’ll learn more about the lab and the impact of it in the following pages.
In this newsletter, we expand upon our partnership with Selah Freedom. USF Sarasota-Manatee campus professors provide critical research to help the organization make decisions and measure outcomes. Read about the educational offerings for the incarcerated, in our region, through our entrepreneurship course. You’ll also learn about a FinTech conference which we recently hosted; we proudly welcomed Northwestern Mutual and Sylint Group as significant sponsors of this well attended event.
Our students are touched by philanthropic gifts to the University, and we accept a wide variety of estate gifts; as a result, Howard Rutherford is featured in this issue. You’ll enjoy reading about his background and his experience in helping donors fulfill their gift intentions.
Be sure to mark your calendar for two signature events: the 10th annual HospitaBull Evening –scheduled for Tuesday, March 24, at the Ritz Carlton, Sarasota and USF Sarasota Manatee’s Brunch on the Bay –planned for Sunday, Nov. 1, on campus.
For tables or tickets to HospitaBull, call Pam Gleason at 941-359-4603 or visit our website: https://usf.to/hospitabull
Brunch on the Bay has a new title sponsor for the next three years! The USF Federal Credit Union will open a branch on Clark Road in Sarasota, and they wanted to engage with the community through Brunch. So, mark your calendar for Sunday, Nov. 1, to attend our signature scholarship fundraiser, and join our event chairperson, Elizabeth Moore, in supporting local students with much needed scholarship support. As you may know, Brunch on the Bay is presented by another terrific community partner, Mary Kenealy Events of Sarasota.
The 27th annual gathering is sure to be memorable. To reserve a Brunch sponsorship, a table or a ticket to Brunch on the Bay, feel free to call me directly at directly at 941-359-4582.
Have a question or want to learn more about USF Sarasota-Manatee or get involved? Feel free to email or call me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 941-359-4582, and we can explore how your interest in the university and students can make a difference in our community.
A message from Karen A. Holbrook, PhD, Regional Chancellor
USF is less than a month away from submitting consolidation documents to SACSCOC (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges), our accrediting agency. It has been a long and arduous task, involving countless numbers of administrators, faculty, students and staff, guided by seven Principles for Consolidation. While these principles were designed for the specific purpose of consolidation, they also guide what we do as an institution and are evident in the stories included in this newsletter.
The principle at the top of the list is “commit to Students First.” We greeted 130 potential new students and family members on Saturday, Feb. 22, and assured them that every student will have a personalized and professionalized experience at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus, which means professors will know them, make every possible effort to secure their academic success, and provide co-curricular experiences such as internships, mentoring, research, study abroad, and consulting opportunities that engage them in on-the-ground activities to “try-out” their future careers. One of those experiential programs is featured in the HospitaBull article.
Our approach to students also aligns with the principle to preserve our unique identity in the consolidated institution. The College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership is uniquely USF Sarasota-Manatee, and a second degree, accelerated nursing program (BSN) has just started with 40 more students expected to join in 2021.
A third principle is a commitment to high impact research. Research at USF Sarasota-Manatee is carried out by our faculty often working with undergraduate students. USF Sarasota-Manatee faculty conduct a wide range of research across all disciplines. Research is featured in our magazine Research: USFSM and some of it is highlighted in this newsletter. The story about Sandra Stone, PhD, Fawn Ngo, PhD, and Jessica Grosholz, PhD, focuses on a project to evaluate the work of Selah Freedom, an anti-sex trafficking organization, and Grosholz and her colleague, Jean Kabongo, PhD, have an ongoing program of research focused on inmates in the high security Hardee Correctional Institution. Although many of the inmates will never leave the facility, they are nonetheless able to elect a class in entrepreneurship. Having seen first-hand the impact this program has on developing dignity and self-esteem of the inmates underscores the value of education to this population. And, the program includes selected undergraduate criminology students who gain invaluable experience.
Two conferences, FinTech (in partnership with Northwestern Mutual and Sylint) and Financial Literacy Day (co-sponsored with Cumberland Advisors and the Global Interdependence Center) were recently held on the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus. Both connect the University with the community, demonstrate the cutting edge of research in advancing the digital revolution by our faculty and highlight a unique facility (the Bloomberg Lab) that prepares our students to contribute to the regional economy (another Principle of Consolidation).
All the stories in this issue underscore the impact and relevance of USF Sarasota-Manatee to our community, region and the to-be-consolidated University of South Florida!
HospitaBull: A culinary learning lab
On March 24, guests will gather at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, for the annual HospitaBull event, a sophisticated, upscale dinner planned, organized, cooked and served by University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee students and faculty, in conjunction with the Ritz-Carlton culinary team.
The HospitaBull series was created in the spring of 2011 and allows students to gain hands-on experience. Students in the restaurant management, event management and food prep courses will help organize, plan and execute both front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house aspects of the event.
According to Joe Askren, PhD, professor and Program Director of Culinary Operations, “Students connect with the staff of The Ritz and train a week or two prior to the event. They learn ‘the Ritz way,’ which places the emphasis on customer service and exceeding expectations.”
Askren noted that it is a win-win for both The Ritz-Carlton, which is exposed to talented soon-to-be graduates who will be entering the workforce, and for the students, who learn, in a hands-on way, what is involved in putting on a successful event.
“The Ritz-Carlton is always looking for the best talent,” Askren said. “Their management and staff love to talk about their brand and promote it with our students.” Currently there are a number of students from USF Sarasota-Manatee working at Ritz-Carltons across the country, he said.
Events such as HospitaBull complement the students’ class work in USF Sarasota-Manatee’s College of Hospitality and Tourism Leadership (CHTL), which offers graduate and undergraduate degrees in hospitality management. Students work in USF Sarasota-Manatee’s Culinary Innovation Lab on Main Street in Lakewood Ranch, a state-of-the-art teaching facility that serves as home for CHTL programs. The lab provides a fully equipped teaching center for students, as well as a venue for USF Sarasota-Manatee events, such as Bulls Bistro.
Students also experience hands-on learning at the official “Teaching Hotel” for the College: The Resort at Longboat Key Club. Each semester, CHTL students shadow leaders at the resort through a variety of departments.
With these and other tools, USF Sarasota-Manatee hospitality students gain the knowledge and hands-on experience to work at leading hotels, restaurants, resorts, cruise lines and other hospitality organizations.
This year’s HospitaBull event will include a reception, dinner and live auction, led by local restaurateur John Horne, co-proprietor of the Anna Maria Oyster Bar. The event will be held Tuesday, March 24, at 6 p.m. at the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, 1111 Ritz-Carlton Drive. Individual ticket prices start at $175. Proceeds from the event will support student scholarships, faculty development and equipment purchases.
Register here to attend HospitaBull.
Nursing skills lab opens new opportunities
The opening of a new state-of-the-art Nursing Skills Lab on Jan. 15 on the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus has enabled students to hone their skills in a simulated hospital environment. The lab supports USF Sarasota-Manatee’s new Accelerated Second Degree bachelor of science in Nursing (BSN) program.
According to Natasha Zurcher, PhD, who oversees the new lab and the Accelerated Second Degree nursing program, the skills lab is a nine-bed area that resembles a typical hospital patient room. “The set-up will allow students to learn a broad range of skills such as taking blood pressures, giving medications and doing CPR. We have nine adult manikin/simulators on which students can practice, as well as a variety of infant and child manikins for the pediatrics/obstetrics course,” Zurcher said.
Students will typically spend time in the new lab learning and practicing skills and techniques and then transfer that effort into clinical settings at Sarasota Memorial Hospital and Manatee Memorial Hospital. Clinical rotations average 60-180 hours depending on the course, and students will be able to practice in adult, maternal, pediatric, psychiatric and community health settings throughout the program.
In addition to the opening of the new lab, the event also recognized the first 30 students accepted to the Accelerated Second Degree program in Spring 2020. Designed for students who already have earned a bachelor’s degree, the program offers a pathway for students to earn a nursing degree through a four-semester, 16-month program. Students entering in Spring 2020 will graduate with a bachelor of science in nursing in May 2021.
Zurcher, who has been in nursing for nearly 22 years and joined USF in 2017, said, “As healthcare delivery continues to evolve and organizations are encountering new challenges, the Bachelor’s prepared nurse becomes increasingly important. As nurses, we work collaboratively with the medical team — not under them — and with many other disciplines, including pharmacy, social work, allied health and others. National organizations such as the American Nurses Association have endorsed the importance of having a BSN-prepared nurse as the minimum standard in practice,” she said.
That goal is supported by The Suncoast Nursing Action Coalition (SNAC), a regional advocacy group that works to enhance the nursing profession. According to SNAC, just 31 percent of nurses in the four-county region of Sarasota, Manatee, DeSoto and Charlotte counties have BSNs. Their goal is to increase that number to 80 percent.
“Nurses represent our first line of defense in keeping patients safe and promoting the best patient outcomes, and we as a nation must do all that we can to invest in their education and help prepare them for the challenges ahead,” SNAC Co-Founder Charles Baumann said. “We are very fortunate to have visionary organizations like USF Sarasota-Manatee nursing joining in SNAC’s mission to keep our community safe and healthy.”
Zurcher said a severe nursing shortage exists globally, nationally and locally. “Although accelerated, our program still has a very robust curriculum that will place USF Sarasota-Manatee nurses at an advantage when they enter the job market. Organizations will often look to the BSN nurse for roles such as charge nurse, unit educator and care coordinator. Also, students with a BSN are also able to enter graduate programs much more quickly, if they desire.
“Nursing labs such as ours function as the ‘heart’ of a nursing program,” Zurcher said. “From an instructor standpoint, we can evaluate their readiness to enter the clinical setting and provide very personalized prescriptive feedback,” all of which helps to prepare students to meet the ever-growing needs of the regional health care industry.
Professors’ evaluations help Selah Freedom achieve its goals
Three University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee professors — Sandra Stone, PhD, chair of the Department of Social Sciences, Fawn Ngo, PhD, and Jessica Grosholz, PhD – were asked by Selah Freedom, a national anti-sex trafficking organization based in Sarasota, to evaluate its programs.
It was Ngo who was originally contacted by one of her former students about evaluating its work.
“I agreed, because I did not know much about this topic at the time and wanted to learn more about it,” Ngo said. “Human trafficking is a real and significant social and legal issue, even in our region. Today, I am even more interested in working with Selah Freedom because I believe with the researcher-practitioner collaboration that we currently have, Selah Freedom’s program could serve as a national model for other agencies and organizations.”
Grosholz agrees, adding that it is important for social service agencies and organizations to have unbiased, objective evaluations on the work and services provided.
“Without outside in-depth evaluations, these agencies are unable to fully disclose whether the work they are engaged in is effective,” Grosholz said. “These evaluations enable them to proactively make changes to improve services offered.”
For more than 1 ½ years, the three have conducted research on the organization’s four main programs: awareness, prevention, outreach and its residential program.
Awareness is basically public relations and community education, Stone explained. Its prevention piece was originally geared toward high-school kids, then was expanded to include middle school kids, and now includes pre-K and elementary-aged children. “They developed their own age-appropriate prevention curricula,” she said. “For the younger children, it’s about things like being aware of strangers, that sort of thing. For the middle- and high-school kids, it’s about the process of being recruited and groomed, about resources, who you can talk to, and how you can protect yourself. They also talk a lot about cyber-trolling, and do some educational programs with parents, as well.”
In the outreach program, Selah Freedom partners with the police in different jurisdictions. They actually go out on patrols with law enforcement, raising awareness of Selah Freedom and its programs among women in need of help. They also work with a special court, Turn Your Life Around (TYLA), in Sarasota and Manatee counties, and conduct outreach in local jails.
The residential program, which is the long-term part of Selah Freedom, includes an assessment house, where assessments on addiction, emotional, and psychological factors are completed, Stone explained. If the women want to continue and are stabilized, they move into the main residential facility, a home where they can stay while they are working through whatever issues they are facing.
“It is a very structured program,” Stone said, explaining that the program includes classes and therapy. The next step is an intermediate house, on the same property, where the women can leave and work during the day and return at night. The final phase is independent living. It is still on the same property, so Selah Freedom is there for them if they need help.
“It is a long process and very intensive,” Stone said. “We have been working with them to evaluate the different parts of this program. We have done quite a bit on the residential program, on which we recently published a book chapter. We will continue to publish on other aspects of the program as we get more information.”
Since its beginnings in Sarasota, Selah Freedom has expanded and now has offices in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. The organization recently received a federal grant from the Office of Victims of Crime to establish an eight-county task force, spearheaded by the St. Petersburg Police Department.
“They brought us in as a subcontractor in January to do some evaluation with this new task force, so, our work will also be expanding,” Stone said, adding that the new project focuses on human trafficking, not just sexual trafficking. That includes bringing people in to work in the hospitality and agriculture arenas. “Up to now they have only been focused on adult women. This new area includes adults and children, boys and girls. So, this is very big for them.”
With this new task force, Stone anticipates that the evaluation project may be extended for another several years. She hopes that through publicity generated by their work, people will become more aware and informed about human trafficking.
Ngo agrees: “I hope our collaboration with Selah will help policymakers and criminal justice administrators develop and implement effective, humane and rational programs to combat human trafficking and empower victims of this crime.”
Jessica Grosholz, PhD, and Jean Kabongo, PhD: New beginnings through entrepreneurship
Two University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee professors, Jessica Grosholz, PhD, an assistant professor of criminology, and Jean Kabongo, PhD, associate professor of management, have created an innovative program that is changing the lives of prison and jail inmates for the better.
Grosholz earned her bachelor’s degree from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, her master’s at George Washington University and her doctorate at Emory University in Atlanta. Her position at USF Sarasota-Manatee was her first job out of school. All of her degrees are in sociology, though she is a criminologist. USF Sarasota-Manatee has a criminology unit within its department of social sciences, offering both a criminology major and a master’s in criminal justice.
Originally from the Congo, Kabongo earned his master’s degree in Mexico and his doctorate from Laval University in Quebec City in Canada. Entrepreneurship is central to both his teaching and research.
The two professors discovered they had a common interest in entrepreneurship and how it might be applied to a prison population. While they started working on the idea in 2015, their first class at the Hardee Correctional Institution took place on Sept. 12, 2016.
The program they established is a 10-week course, with a completion ceremony in week 11. So far, 118 men have finished the prison program. Last summer, the Sarasota County Correctional Facility expressed interest in a similar program.
“They knew what we were doing at the state prison and asked if we would be willing to bring our program to their jail population,” Grosholz said. “Of course, we were interested, but we had to manipulate the program to suit a jail’s population. In a prison, you have a population that will be there for an extended period of time. In a jail, you have a very transient population, so we had to rework the program, without minimizing the content.”
The program they developed for the local jail was six hours each day for three days and three hours on the fourth day. “They are very intensive programs,” Kabongo said. “It has worked well so far. We offered two classes last fall, in August and October, and thus far, 26 men have completed our classes in the local jail.”
So, what do the inmates learn?
“Realizing that entrepreneurship is an attitude – not necessarily about starting a business – we opened our classes to any prison inmate who had an interest. Our approach to entrepreneurship is that it is a change of mindset,” Kabongo said. “So, someone can become entrepreneurial in terms of trying new things, even within a prison environment. They can start a program, for instance, or a discussion group. It is all about creating a different way of thinking for these men.
“For those who will be getting out of prison, we want them to be prepared, to become productive citizens in society. We want to give them hope that they can come out and contribute. That is our main message.”
Added Grosholz: “And, we want to let these men know that everyone is capable of change, if they are provided with the right tools. Those who just sit in our jails and prisons, who don’t take advantage of the programming, won’t have the toolkit to help them become productive citizens.”
Of the 118 men who have completed the program at the prison, 75 have been or will be eligible for release at some point. Of those 75, 20 have already been released, and none have gone back to prison. “We can’t say that those numbers are all due to our class, but we believe it is definitely having an impact,” Kabongo said.
“As a criminologist, I know that correctional programming is effective in reducing recidivism,” Grosholz said. “Those who take part have a 43 percent lower chance of returning to prison. While currently there are few entrepreneurship programs in state prisons, the Florida House of Representatives recently passed House bill 7125, which determined that there will be some form of entrepreneurial education within the Department of Corrections, and Tallahassee has reached out to us, to possibly use our program as a model going forward.”
There have been many success stories, including a former prison inmate who has now written two books, a children’s book and a book based on his own experiences. He sent
Kabongo a copy of his books, which are now selling on Amazon. “I opened the package and there was a letter saying that he had taken our class and was now an entrepreneur – a published author,” Kabongo said.
Kabongo added that this project is research for both he and Grosholz, which they intend to publish. “This research will be very important if we are to truly understand how to change the criminal mindset to an entrepreneurial mindset,” he said. They also hope that the methods they are developing will be able to be replicated at other correctional institutions.
“If 95 percent of the people we send to prison and jail will someday be coming home, I would like to be part of their journey to be successful when they get out,” Grosholz said.
E. Howard Rutherford: The art of planned giving
E. Howard Rutherford, senior director of development in the USF Foundation Office of Gift Planning, is that rarest of breeds — a native Floridian.
Born in Naples Rutherford grew up with a love of our local beaches and the natural environment. That, and weekly family stay-cations on Keewaydin Island, a barrier island just south of Port Royal in Naples, firmly instilled a love of all things related to science and our oceans.
That led Rutherford to earn his bachelor of science degree in marine chemistry at Eckerd College in 1988 with four other classmates who helped shape the marine science program. Following two years of teaching conversational English to middle school students in Japan, Rutherford returned to the Gulf Coast and started graduate school at the USF College of Marine Science.
After earning his graduate degree, Rutherford went to work at The Pier Aquarium in St. Petersburg, where, for 14 years, he served as President and CEO.
The not-for-profit aquarium and marine education science center was located on The Pier on the St. Petersburg bayfront and sought to enhance the public’s understanding of the value and fragility of the global marine environment.
“Running a nonprofit was challenging, but gave me the skill set to do what I am doing today,” he said. “During this time, I maintained a close relationship with USF and the College of Marine Science,” he said. “The founding dean, Peter Betzer, PhD, felt it was important for the research that was being conducted to be shared with the general public. The Pier Aquarium became the public face for much of the research that was being done at the college.”
Rutherford says that the current dean, Jacqueline Dixon, PhD, asked him to join her leadership team as director of development for the College of Marine Science, a position he held until one year ago, when he moved over to the USF Foundation Office of Gift Planning, as senior director of development, where he has the opportunity to help facilitate planned gifts university-wide.
“During my tenure at the College of Marine Science, the largest gift that I had the pleasure of facilitating was not specifically for marine science, but for the USF St. Petersburg campus,” he said. It was significant, you might say transformational.”
Today, he is part of a three-person department, along with Stephanie Walgamott, assistant director of development and Marion Yongue, associate vice president of development for the USF Foundation.
He describes their department as one central to USF, working with each of the regional campuses as well as the main campus in Tampa. While each person in the department is the primary gift planning liaison for specific units across the university (Rutherford is the primary liaison for University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee), they use a team, donor-centric approach in serving their colleagues and USF supporters.
“In the Office of Gift Planning, I enjoy seeing what is going on throughout the entire university,” Rutherford said. “There are no two days that are the same. We refer to the relationships we form as marathons, because they are long-term. These are mostly deferred gifts, so we get to know our donors over the course of many years,” he said.
People can make planned gifts in a variety of ways, though the most common is through a bequest through their wills, trusts and estates. There are additional methods, including creating charitable gift annuities (in which the donor transfers cash or property to a charity in exchange for a partial tax deduction and a lifetime stream of income from the charity), making USF the beneficiary of a life insurance policy, or a retirement account, transferring appreciated stocks to the university or making a qualified charitable distribution from an IRA.
While Rutherford said every donation, of any size, is meaningful to the university, he remembers one in particular where the client received such amazing medical care at a regional medical center that was staffed by USF-trained doctors and nurses, that she established a nursing scholarship at USF. She had benefited from a nursing scholarship when she was in school and had worked as a nurse herself.
“She had no previous affiliation with USF, but was so grateful for the care she had received, that she wanted to give back in some way,” Rutherford said. He added that, for charitable individuals, planned giving is a way to ensure that you are maximizing the impact of your gift and leaving a legacy that will have an impact for years to come. “The amount is not what is important. It is about the impact that you want to make.”
Anyone can provide support for students, programs, faculty, and facilities at USF Sarasota-Manatee. To learn more about gift planning at the University of South Florida, please visit usfgiving.org or contact Howard Rutherford at email@example.com or at 813-974-4502.
FinTech 2020: Exploring the future of financial services
The University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus recently hosted its first-ever financial technology conference, “FinTech 2020: Financial Services and the New Digital Technology.” Northwestern Mutual was title sponsor of the event, which was held in Selby Auditorium on the Sarasota-Manatee campus, and attracted CEOs, businesses executives, digital marketers, investors, and innovators from the Sarasota-Manatee communities.
A number of speakers from USF and USF Sarasota-Manatee took part in the conference. In his keynote address, Kiran Garimella, PhD, chief scientist and CTO of KoreConX and USF faculty member, noted that “The FinTech of the 2020s will be as different from the FinTech of the last decade as email was to snail mail. The evolution of artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain are inevitable, but it is up to us to shape their path.” He added that “conferences such as FinTech are tremendously important because they make us face the realities of the trade-off in ethics, privacy, efficiency, convenience and cost. Such conferences take away any excuses of ignorance or assuming an attitude of disengagement and helplessness.”
Also speaking at the conference was Thomas Becker, PhD interim dean of USF Sarasota-Manatee’s College of Business, who spoke on crypto-assets, such as Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies. According to Becker, “Crypto-assets remain risky investments, and people need to be better educated about the risk and possible benefits of such investments.”
During the lunch break, Eddie Sanchez, professor of finance at USF Sarasota-Manatee, took those interested on a tour of the campus’ state-of-the-art Bloomberg Lab. “The Bloomberg Finance Lab and software provides USF Sarasota-Manatee students with a unique finance experience that helps them build the necessary skills needed for a successful career in today’s ever-changing business environment,” Sanchez said.
Bhuvan Unhelkar, PhD, professor of information technology in USF Sarasota-Manatee’s College of Business, added that today “businesses are keen to drive value from their big data. … Therefore, the financial industry now depends on artificial intelligence to not only get answers, but also suggestions on what questions to ask.”
In a session moderated by Tom Witmer, President and CEO of SageLegion, Rachel Wei West, CEO of InfoAlliance, noted that she is optimistic about the future, but also concerned. “As we connect the physical and virtual worlds, the data is everywhere,” she said, adding that figuring out your game plan can be tough. Millennials are interested in two things, she said, speed and self-service. “A lot of banks are closing branches,” she said. “You no longer need a physical person for every step of the financial process.”
Also on the panel was Brent Arslaner, a tech entrepreneur and investor, who said that we have to understand the value of our data. “Are privacy issues stifling innovation?” he asked. “Yes, but that is a cost of convenience.” When it comes to regulations, he said, the United States is still the Wild West. His advice? “Buyer Beware. Be careful what data you are sharing.”
Keynote speaker was Craig Schedler, managing director with Northwestern Mutual Future Ventures. Speaking on “Remaining Relevant in a Rapidly Changing Digital World,” Schedler noted that more than 80 percent of consumers, when considering which financial firm with which to bank, place a company’s digital offerings as their number one priority.
“Banks and tellers worked for a long time. Fast forward and we are living in a digital 24/7 world,” Schedler explained.
“So, it isn’t just [a bank’s] location and hours anymore. It’s how can I get this done on a self-serve basis online when I want to do it?” he said. “They are looking for that digital experience.”
Consequently, he said, consumers are driving a digital revolution that is affecting every aspect of the financial sector and sidelining those companies that cannot adapt. “Fifty-two percent of the Fortune 500 companies have disappeared in the last 15 years,” he said.
Also at the conference from Northwestern Mutual was Anthony Holds, a wealth management advisor in Sarasota. “From the 1850s to the present, we have been best-known for insurance,” he said. “Now, we have added financial planning and investments and in the last five to seven years, our move into financial-tech has become a competitive advantage for our company. We are still in the process of rebranding, showing millennials that we can speak their language.”
Following lunch, John Jorgensen, president and CEO of Sarasota-based Sylint Group (silver sponsor of the FinTech Conference), got everyone’s attention with an eye-opening and, at times, frightening view of the growing problem of cyber-security.
Jorgensen worked for more than 25 years for the National Security Agency (NSA) in the military, as a civilian employee, and as a government defense contractor. He also served as Director of Program Development for Loral Data Systems prior to founding Sylint. He has overseen the computer forensic analysis in thousands of successful cases.
Today, Sylint is one of only 12 firms of its kind certified by the NSA.
With so much data flowing through the Internet today, he said, companies are finding themselves increasingly exposed to hacking from a variety of different directions, including malware and ransomware.
Ransomware breaches are on the rise, Jorgensen said. Hackers find a way into a network, insert ransomware, and demand money for an encryption key. It’s high-tech blackmail. Or, they may extract data and sell it on the dark web, he said.
“We understand how a breach occurs, and who is doing the hacking,” Jorgenson said, adding that most breaches are carried out by well-monetized, well-organized groups.
Sylint deals exclusively with major clients, including Fortune 100 companies and governments around the world.
No businesses, or individuals, are immune from the threat of hacking. “If you are targeted you will be hacked,” he said, adding that law firms, financial firms and hospitals are especially vulnerable. “Companies need to protect their data, and that’s what we focus on,” he said.
“Cybercrime is a $120 billion industry. That’s what it costs the U.S. every year,” Jorgensen said, adding that his company is called in several times a week to deal with attacks from rogue nation-states, as well as criminal and terrorist organizations. “If companies fail to encrypt their most sensitive data, including their back-up data, they are at risk,” he said. “It is easy to disrupt a company’s business.”
Also speaking at the FinTech Conference were Nick Wichert, Northwestern Mutual’s senior director of strategic business development; Gabe Higgins, co-founder of BlockSpaces and Brian Sallee, CEO of Avorit.