Florida Poly alum finds tech success with new Facebook partnership

Andre Ripley ’19 is developing a software-as-a-service platform to host Pistol Whip virtual reality gaming tournaments as part of a $120,000 partnership with Facebook and Oculus VR.

andre ripley

Florida Poly alum finds tech success with new Facebook partnership

LAKELAND, Fla. – For Andre Ripley ’19, Facebook provides much more than a way to stay connected to friends and family.

The social media and technology company is giving him a chance at a lucrative career and success as a tech entrepreneur.

Ripley, who graduated from Florida Polytechnic University with a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering, was awarded a $120,000 partnership deal with Facebook and Oculus VR to develop and run virtual reality gaming tournaments for the new Pistol Whip VR game. His company, Virtualities, will track elements such as players, prize money, teams, rules, and cheating.

“We negotiated with Facebook for probably four months and we finally closed the deal on New Year’s Day,” said Ripley, chief technology officer of the Salt Lake City, Utah, company. “That was a great start to the year.”

Virtualities is hoping to land a $1 million deal with Facebook this spring.

“We have to launch our platform and meet all the requirements for Facebook and as long as we keep our platform running, we have a good chance of closing the million-dollar deal,” Ripley said. “We’re almost done and ahead of schedule right now.”

Ripley said the traditional way of running gaming tournaments involves many people working on spreadsheets to track scores and other data.

“That’s really outdated and hasn’t been automated. Since the demand for esports is getting higher, we’re trying to solve that with the Facebook deal,” Ripley said.

The U.S Virgin Island native said that Virtualities ran a Beat Saber tournament last year with competitors from 78 countries.

“With the power of Facebook, I can’t imagine how many people will compete in the Pistol Whip tournament, but we’re prepared for anything,” Ripley said. “I never expected to be funded by Facebook – my first round of funding was from my dad, who gave me $300 to develop a prototype for a box that does appraisals for diamonds.”

In addition to his work with the growing tech start-up, Ripley also works with flight simulators as a software engineer at Collins Aerospace in Salt Lake City.

Ripley discovered his passion for entrepreneurship at Florida Poly after being encouraged to enter – and win – several entrepreneurship competitions throughout Central Florida and the state. This included a third-place victory in the 2018 Governor’s Cup competition with his team’s product, Insta-List – a product that captured, scanned, and listed items for digital selling in less than 10 seconds. His collegiate victories earned him 20,000 LinkedIn followers and a thirst to continue his efforts.

“The single best thing I’ve done was getting involved with the entrepreneurship program at Florida Poly because you don’t even need to have the best idea or be completely thought through, you just have to try and get feedback,” Ripley said.

“Even when I’ve failed it’s like I’ve won because I got crucial feedback and I implemented it into the Facebook deal.”

For the most recent university news, visit Florida Poly News.

About Florida Polytechnic University: Florida Polytechnic University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges and is a member of the State University System of Florida. It is the only state university dedicated exclusively to STEM and offers ABET accredited degrees. Florida Poly is a powerful economic engine within the state of Florida, blending applied research with industry partnerships to give students an academically rigorous education with real-world relevance. Connect with Florida Poly.


SEU Hosts Christian Conference

LAKELAND, Fla. — Southeastern University’s contemporary worship band, SEU Worship, will release its first collection of songs under the Provident Music Group label at the school’s ninth annual Christian conference, SEU Conference. The group’s EP, “Eden to Eternity,” includes six songs written and recorded by Southeastern students, staff and alumni.

SEU Worship signed with Provident, a division of Sony Music, in August of 2019, giving students the opportunity to work under a prominent Christian label and tour across the U.S.

“There is so much buzz around the conference, and so many members of the SEU family and potential students come here from different locations. We wanted to release the EP while our family is around us,” said Kenzie Walker, SEU school of worship coordinator.

With an expectation of over 2,500 guests, SEU Conference will take place from February 10 to 12 at Family Worship Center in Lakeland. It will feature speakers and musicians from across the nation, including Chris Durso, founding pastor of Misfit NYC; Sean Curran, vocalist for Passion; Levi Lusko, pastor of Fresh Life Church; Dharius Daniels, founder and senior pastor of Change Church; Nadine Raphael, author and preacher; Jimmy Rollins, pastor of i5 City; and Cody Carnes, worship leader.

“We have a bunch of groups flying in from out of state or visiting from other parts of Florida, and we’re excited to host them,” said Tori Hammer, executive director for the department of spiritual formation.

The main conference sessions at Family Worship Center will be held on Monday, February 10, at 7 p.m.; Tuesday, February 11, at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.; and Wednesday, February 12, at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Four breakout sessions, hosted by leadership experts and creatives, will take place on Southeastern’s campus in the Buena Vida Auditorium on Tuesday, February 11, at 2 and 3 p.m. and Wednesday, February 12, at 2 and 3 p.m.

“Our theme for conference this year is 2020, based on this new year and new decade. Our goal is to shift people’s perspective and give them clarity to pursue the vision and the calling on their lives. We want to fix our eyes on heaven, not on things of this earth, and setting a new standard of relentlessly pursuing Christ,” said Hammer.

The event is free and open to the public, and VIP tickets are currently on sale for $25. Each VIP ticket includes preferred parking, early entrance, preferred seating and access to a VIP lounge with complimentary refreshments provided by local vendors. During the week of the conference, VIP tickets can also be used for discounts at local restaurants and stores.

To register a church group, or purchase VIP tickets, visit seu.edu/conference/.

For further questions or information, email Tori Hammer at vmhammer@seu.edu. For media passes, contact the Media Relations and Communications Office at 863.667.5020.


Southeastern University Students Partner with Bonnet Springs Park

LAKELAND, FLA. – A group of Southeastern University (SEU) students will be working with Bonnet Springs Park to help raise community awareness and support for the new park, which is scheduled to open in 2021. On Wednesday, February 5, the students will tour the property on all-terrain vehicles with park leadership as they embark on the project.

Each year the students, who are a part of SEU’s Enactus team take on a number of projects to transform the lives of those in their local community and around the world. Enactus is a global nonprofit platform through which university students around the world empower their communities via entrepreneurial projects.

Bonnet Springs Park is a privately developed public 180+ acre park located just outside of downtown Lakeland. Funding for the park is based solely on public support. Students will be developing marketing initiatives to help grow public support of the park to assist with park projects and event programming.

There are several other projects the students are tackling this year as well, including assisting elementary school students and veterans.

Through an anti-bullying campaign, SEU students hold events at both Crystal Lake Elementary and Lakeland Christian. Another project, Heart Art, teaches 4th graders at Crystal Lake Elementary how to use recyclable products and repurpose them into artwork. The artwork will be sold at either one of Lakeland’s First Friday events or at one of the Downtown Farmers Curb Market days. The proceeds will be used for teacher supplies at the school. Heroes of Hope works with local veterans on resumes, mock interviews and hygiene.


To schedule an interview with the students or if you would like to get a photo or coverage of the students as they tour the Bonnet Springs Park site, please contact Dana Davis at dcdavis@seu.edu or 863.712.1997.


GiveWell Community Foundation Selects John Attaway as President/CEO

LAKELAND, FL (January 29, 2020) – GiveWell Community Foundation announced today that the organization’s board of directors selected John Attaway, Jr. as president and chief executive officer, effective April 1, 2020. The decision was made at the January 28th board meeting, when the CEO search committee presented their recommendation to the board of directors who voted to approve Attaway as the organization’s next president/CEO.

John Attaway, GWCF President and CEO

“We are thrilled to have someone of John’s caliber and reputation as our new president and CEO,” said Jeffrey Cox, Sr., chair of the board of directors. “John’s leadership skills, passion for the communities we serve, and vision for the future of the GiveWell Community Foundation are exceptional.”

Attaway previously served as senior vice president, general counsel, and secretary at Publix Super Markets, Inc. until he retired in May 2019 after 21 years with the company. He earned his undergraduate degree in Management Science from Duke University, his Juris Doctor degree from Stetson University College of Law and his Master of Laws Degree from the University of Florida College of Law. Attaway currently serves on numerous boards including Publix Super Markets Charities, Lakeland Regional Health System and Bonnet Springs Park. He served as a board member for the Community Foundation of Greater Lakeland from 2002 to 2006 and served as board chair for two of those years. The Community Foundation of Greater Lakeland later merged with the Community Foundation of Greater Winter Haven to create the GiveWell Community Foundation in 2013.

“I am honored to have the opportunity to work in service of the foundation and this community – one of the most generous and philanthropic communities in the nation,” stated Attaway. “I have always been inspired by the remarkable work of our community foundation. It has been exciting to watch the organization’s impact and collaboration grow in Lakeland and Winter Haven and now throughout all of Polk and Hardee and Highlands counties.”

As previously announced in October 2019, Terry Simmers, the foundation’s current president/CEO, will retire after a successful 12 years of driving the organization’s overall strategy and vision. He will depart September 30, 2020. Simmers expressed confidence in the board’s choice. “John is a great leader and valued member of our community,” said Simmers. “I am very happy with the board’s decision, and confident that John will ensure the community foundation continues its mission of championing charitable giving to improve the quality of life in the areas we serve, both now and for future generations.”

Lori Martini, GWCF Vice President

The board of directors also voted to promote Lori Martini to vice president. As vice president and chief philanthropic officer, she advises the foundation on philanthropic issues that affect our community. Martini, who has been with the community foundation for 12 years, currently serves as a board member of the Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce, Polk Vision’s Operating Board and Talent Pipeline, Estate Planning Council of Polk County, and the Advisory Board for the Polk County Continuum of Care. She attended Penn State University and is a graduate of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Organization Management, University of Georgia. Martini is also a graduate of Leadership Lakeland Class 28 and Leadership Polk Class 6. Prior to joining the community foundation in 2007, she served as vice president of communications with the Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce for 12 years.

About the GiveWell Community Foundation

GiveWell Community Foundation (GWCF) works with individuals, families, businesses, and nonprofits to build a stronger community throughout Polk, Hardee and Highlands counties and beyond through charitable funds and competitive grant cycles. The foundation is home to more than 300 charitable funds and the Impact Polk and Empower Polk grant cycles. GWCF has awarded $209 million in grants since its founding in 1997. To learn more about GWCF, visit givecf.org or call 863-683-3131.


SPCA Florida Invites Public To Take Dogs On Field Trips and Sleepovers

Lakeland:  Someone let the shelter dogs out – and it’s saving their lives and bringing out the public in droves. SPCA Florida launches new canine Sleepover Program called Pajama Pawty on Wednesday, February 5, 2020, to work in conjunction with existing Doggie Date Program, formerly known as Rent A Dog Program.  The Pajama Pawty Program pairs members of the community with shelter dogs for a sleep over.

Outings can last from one hour to all day, and can include a hike, a trip to a beach or lake, a sleepover in a home or even a nice dinner in a pet-friendly restaurant. Whether you already have a dog or aren’t ready to have one, it’s a great way to get your pet fix in.

The Doggie Date Program and Pajama Pawty Program were created in order to help reduce kennel stress and provide dogs with enrichment and increased visibility. Outings give the shelter valuable insight on how the dogs behave outside a shelter environment. It’s also a great excuse to spend a day doing something new or exploring the town.

Short-term fostering and sleepovers, Pajama Pawty, can reduce stress for shelter dogs and gives them a break from the shelter. They also benefit from interactions with the foster family, human interaction is known to improve animal welfare, particularly for highly social species like dogs.

The program was designed to make it easy for the community to participate, so signing up is easy. Participants will be provided with everything they need for a successful field trip (water bowls, poop bags, food etc…). Individuals interested in the Pajama Pawty program should visit spcaflorida.org/programs…. to sign up. Sign up opens 2/1/2020.

SPCA Florida is asking for financial, foster, and adoption support. To help, go online at www.spcaflorida.org and donate, foster or check out our available dogs and cats.

About SPCA Florida

Founded in 1979, SPCA Florida is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization headquartered in Lakeland. Dedicated to improving the lives of pets and people in the community, SPCA Florida provides caring, compassion and hope to more than 6,000 homeless animals entering our doors each year. Open to the public, our McClurg Animal Medical Center is a state-of-the-art veterinary facility that heals and helps 50,000 patients annually. Thousands more pets and people are served through our community outreach and education programs.