April 28, 2015

AT&T Mobile App Hackathon results in 7 apps

Nearly 100 developers, students and entrepreneurs participated in the AT&T Mobile App Hackathon recently held at Nova Southeastern University, which  focused on building apps or websites that integrated the AT&T Enhanced WebRTC API.

The result of the hackathon was the creation of some great apps and websites.

Winners of the South Florida AT&T Mobile App Hackathon include:

● Best App Overall – WhiteBored

● Best Use of AT&T WebRTC (Tied) – Smart Class

● Best Use of AT&T WebRTC (Tied) – [Video] Call App

● Community Choice Award – TBD

● Most Useful Feedback for AT&T Enhanced WebRTC (Beta) – TBD

Below are the seven apps that resulted from the hackathon:

Agnostic - “We're giving AT&T and registered users the ability to make phone calls from their PC. Relaying Google Voice features to AT&T and registered users.”

[Video] Phone Call App - “Consumers have forgotten how to read. In fact, they are annoyed by businesses that lack a short explainer video. The problem is that these videos when shared across the web, lose contextual information normally present on the business website such as contact information. Our application embeds the call to action information directly into the explainer video itself, so a consumer can call the business directly from the video.”

Life: At a Glance - “Multi-platform application that integrates daily needs for a student who wants to keep in touch with their family, stay on top of their education, and altogether manage time in order to balance chaos in their lives.”

Tell Me, Doctor - “Facilitating private medical consults at any time and in any language.”

WhiteBored - “Collaborative white board that you can control with your my.”

Smart Class - “Smart Class is a web application that we developed for teachers and students to have easy access to one another without having to disclose personal information like phone numbers.”

PPPicturePhone - “Connect with people in your community who share your interests. Create a deeper connection to the people, places, and happenings that match your passions, purposes, and plans.”

  South_Florida_ATT_hackathon NEW

Team Smart Class


April 27, 2015

Meet the winners of the Business Plan Challenge

We are pleased to introduce you to the winners of the 17th annual Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge.

The winners’ circle contains concepts in healthcare, antiques, food, tech and social entrepreneurship. To rise to the top, winners had to make a strong case for how they planned to execute their business plan.

South Florida is often recognized as one of the nation’s most entrepreneurial communities, and the 2015 winners and contestants represent the passion and diversity of the region’s emerging businesses. This year, the contest attracted a record 248 entries in our three tracks of the Miami Herald Challenge, sponsored by Florida International University’s Eugenio Pino and Family Global Entrepreneurship Center, and many attended our Business Plan Bootcamp in February. The three-page plans were judged by experts from our community — successful entrepreneurs, investors, executives and academics — as well as by the public via our popular People’s Pick video competition.

For the FIU track, the judging included a live pitch session for the six finalists, which helped determine the final winners. Each team received up to five minutes to present their companies, followed by time for Q&A and feedback.

The HighBoy, an online marketplace for high-end antiques and fine art, took first place in the Community Track. Room2care, a home health service powered by the sharing economy, took first place in the FIU Track, and was also named Challenge Champion, based on judge scores and People’s Pick voting. And the winner in the High School Track — a popular contest this year with 109 entries — was Teenography, a photography service that employs teen shutterbugs.

Stow Simple, an on-demand storage service, and Juana la Iguana, a learning platform in Spanish for toddlers, took second and third, respectively, in the Community Track.

Wuelto, an online mall for Latin America, and Senzu Foods, a food product line for foods made with insects, took second and third in the FIU Track.

USAVT, a transportation system powered by veterans, and MyScholarship, a scholarship-finding service, won second and third in the High School Track, which is co-sponsored by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship South Florida.

In the People’s Pick, which attracted a total 13,002 votes, Juana la Iguana kept the lead most of the week and won in the Community Track, with 1,804 votes, with Coastal Risk Consulting, an online analysis for flood risk, and Stow Simple taking second and third place. On the FIU Track, Court Buddy, a platform for affordable legal help, came from behind the final weekend to win, with 2,168 votes, with Room2Care in second place and Wuelto in third.

What separated today’s featured winners from the pack? The written business plans scored well in more key areas, such as marketing strategies, financials, management teams, market opportunity and growth plans. With many of the plans that were entered, judges liked the ideas, but the plans themselves were not developed enough to win.

Some of the winners and finalists are first-timers; others are serial entrepreneurs with decades of industry experience. But all are in the early stages of their businesses — we’ll be watching how they do!

Read the accompanying profiles to learn more about the winners.

Meet the 2015 Business Plan Challenge judges


Business Plan Challenge finalists represent South Florida’s trending industries

View the videos from 2015 Business Plan Challenge Finalists



High School Track winners:

Duo’s app would simplify college-application process

Teenography: Weston teen’s business lets other students learn, profit

Trucking company plan salutes veterans

FIU Track:

Room2Care: Cost-sharing program gives seniors an alternative to assisted living

Out to change how Latin Americans shop

Senzu Foods team sees big appetite for insect-based foods

Service brings access to legal system to the people


Community Track

Lovable Juana la Iguana stars in apps for kids

To see the opportunity for Stow Simple, look up

The HighBoy: Online antiques marketplace reflects results

April 26, 2015

Entrepreneurship Datebook: Fashion, sustainability, hackathon, eMerge

Tech eggOPEN SOURCE FASHION'S FREESTYLE CONFERENCE:  Full-day program by a NYC-based fashion-tech networking organization on Wednesday, April 29, at Venture Hive. Use code StartingGate for $20 off. Tickets: https://ffcmiami.eventbrite.com. Read more about it here.

FASHINVEST: Second annual FashInvest Miami Capital Conference focused on how emerging fashion tech companies can make their brands attractive to investors, with presenting companies, Thursday,  April 30, at Venture Hive. Tickets:  http://www.fashinvest.com/event. Read more about it here.

#LOCALIS: A full-day digital conference with both virtual and live events on technology, entrepreneurship, sustainability and civic engagement on  Thursday, April 30, and produced by EcoTech Visions. Register:  mialocalis.com. Read more about it here.

EMERGE AMERICAS HACKATHON: To kick off eMerge Americas, the free 24-hour eMerge Americas Hackathon, in partnership with IronHack and Facebook, is focusing on developing innovative applications using some of Facebook’s newest technologies, on May 2-3 at Miami Dade College's Idea Center. Come with a team or  join one -- did we say there are $50K in prizes up for grabs? To  register, click here. Read more about it here.

EMERGE AMERICAS: Main conference is May 4-5 with keynote speakers including Deepak Chopra, Jim McKelvey, Julian Castro and Pitbull, three tracks of Summit talks, a Startup Showcase with $150K in investment as prizes, emerging tech on display, country pavilions, hiring fair, WIT Summit, several parties and more. More info and tickets: emergeamericas.org

ENTREPRENEURS ON TAP: Meet the Israeli innovators taking part in eMerge Americas at the first of a series of events by the Friends of Tel Aviv University, May 5, 6 p.m.-8 p.m., at the Miami Beach Edition Hotel. Free but space is limited and registration is required: Register here.


#Localis: Digital event on building a greener Miami & launch of 18 EcoTech ventures


From EcoTech Visions:

 #Localis is a day-long social-media based conference and has both virtual and live components all happening on April 30. The goal of the #Localis Digital Conference is to create awareness for the 18 EcoTech Ventures launching on April 30 and to stimulate discussions on technology, entrepreneurship, sustainability and civic engagement.  In addition to the launch of 18 EcoTech Ventures on April 30, these events are bringing together “#Localis Leaders,” politicians, popular culture trendsetters, investors, "eco-preneurs," and millennials to have important discussions around topics that affect our businesses, communities, and planet.

During the virtual and onsite #Localis events, there are over 40 “#Localis Leaders” who will be sharing tips, best practices and research on eco-preneurship and sustainable practices to build better, greener business models. All of the digital discussions can be followed and joined using the hashtags, #Localis and #EcoTechVisions1. The #Localis Digital Conference is free for participants, see the schedule of topics here.

A cadre of eco-preneurs, investors, political leaders and venture capitalists spanning the globe will lead the digital discussions and sessions, including the following:

  • * Brian Brackeen – Founder of facial recognition software, Kairos, with $5 million secured in funding and recognized as one of the Wall Street Journal’s top startup of 2013
  • * Dr. Pandwe Gibson – Founder, EcoTech Visions, a Miami-based incubator supporting green businesses
  • * Patty Soffer- founder of the Soffer collective.
  • * Shevrin Jones- Florida State Representative
  • * Oscar Braynon- Florida State Senator
  • * Myrna Sonora and Ismael Cifuentes  of the Hispanic Business Initiative Fund
  • * Chi Chi Chong- President of the US green Builders Council
  • * Marlin Hill- Business attorney partner at Hamilton and Miller

Additional details about #Localis and EcoTech Visions, including the schedule of events, confirmed speakers and participants, and registration information can be found at mialocalis.com.

EcoTech Visions (ecotechvisions.org) is rapidly developing as the steward of Miami’s green scene that creates and offers innovative programs and services that simultaneously impact systemic poverty and climate change. By facilitating the development of light industrial and manufacturing companies founded on green business principles.

In collaboration with Commissioner Monestime and his green corridors plan, EcoTech Visions is a growing collective of EcoPrenuers from across South Florida and the country.  They have joined forces to locate in the center of Miami.  The accelerator is located at 667 NW 90th street in Liberty City, Miami Dade County, and is hatching green manufacturing businesses with a mission of creating jobs that make both business and environmental sense.  This accelerator is the first of its kind in Florida.  It is comprised of meeting space, coworking space and offices like the others; however, it also has a Kitchen Lab for the development of topical products-- currently utilized by two companies’ RAW and Precisions Barber Club Products ; A Plastic Molding lab for Earthware  biodegradable cutlery cups and containers; A hydroponics lab and garden; and a mechanics lab currently occupied by Aeolus.

In addition to the #Localis  Digital Conference, the general public is invited to join in a live scavenger hunt, vegetarian organic lunch, networking event, and movie screening happening onsite at EcoTech Visions on Thursday, April 30. Here is more info for the onsite events:

Lunch Event: Physical and Digital Scavenger Hunt and Luncheon

Where: EcoTech Visions: 667 NW 90th Street, Miami, FL 33150

When: Thursday, 4/30, 12pm - 2:30pm

(bus departs for Scavenger Hunt at 12pm sharp, luncheon hosted at EcoTech Visions after Scavenger Hunt)

Evening Event: Networking and Film Screening of “Regeneration City”

Where: EcoTech Visions: 667 NW 90th Street, Miami, FL 33150

When: Thursday, 4/30, 6pm - 8:30pm

On Thursday April 30, take an active role in the discussions and solutions for building greener businesses, healthier communities and ending systemic poverty in Miami and our world! Register to be a part of #Localis!

April 24, 2015

CareCloud announces new CEO, $15M in funding

Ken-Comee-CareCloud-CEOCareCloud, the Miami-based provider of cloud-based practice management, electronic health record and medical billing software and services, announced that it has appointed a new CEO.

Carecloud announced that Ken Comée, with a background leading enterprise cloud technology businesses, will take the helm, replacing CareCloud’s founder, Albert Santalo, who will remain as chairman and chief strategy officer.

The company also announced $15 million in additional funding from its investors, which it said will be used to further advance product innovation and customer success.

During the past three years as a Carecloud board member and operational advisor, Comée has helped steer CareCloud’s fast growth. As CEO of Cast Iron Systems, Comée grew the company into the No. 1 brand in cloud integration, leading to its strategic acquisition by IBM, the company said. Most recently, he was CEO of PowerReviews, a leader in product ratings and reviews, and oversaw the scaling of its operations and fast growth in the market.

“The health information technology landscape has changed dramatically in the past year,” said Comée, in a news release. “Regulatory considerations once drove many purchasing decisions. Today, large ambulatory medical groups demand a true platform of choice that offers superior ease of use and better business results in support of patient care. As the first quarter of 2015 demonstrated, no company is better positioned than CareCloud to lead the charge in replacing legacy systems. I look forward to leading this team in support of that mission.”

SantaloThe company’s investments follow the achievement of record contract values in the first quarter of 2015: CareCloud signed seven of its largest deals to date in Q1, as average contract value tripled over the prior year. Among the nearly 50 new clients to select the CareCloudplatform in Q1 was a large, multispecialty urgent care group practice with locations across the Southwest.

“Since its inception, CareCloud has achieved incredible success and growth by delivering an unparalleled platform to help healthcare organizations run better than they ever have before through connected technologies. Ken has been a supporter, friend and confidant for a number of years now and I’m confident that the team, under his leadership, will reach new heights and continue to drive CareCloud’s mission,” said Santalo, in a news release.

Prior to the new funding, CareCloud, founded in 2009, raised more than $55 million in venture funding from firms such as Intel Capital, Norwest Venture Partners, Tenaya Capital and Adams Street Partners and received a $25.5 million debt financing commitment from Hercules Technology Growth Capital last summer. The company has 240 employees.

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg

April 23, 2015

Smart City Startups puts urban innovation in the spotlight




Curtis Tonge explains to Jed Hoffman, (center) and his brother Isaac Hoffma, (right) and mother Joana Hoffman, (back) about energy managment at Smart City Startups, which had about 100 startups demoing their products, all products that help cities work beter. This took place at the Wynwood Warehouse Project. Peter Andrew Bosch Miami Herald staff

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/technology/article19341024.html#storylink=cpy

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Inside and outside a Wynwood warehouse on a hot, rainy Thursday, startups were proudly demonstrating electric skateboards for city commuting, a city bench that doubles as a power station, new concepts in personal mobility and plenty of energy-saving products and services for homes, businesses and governments.

The startup festival, which was open to the public, featured nearly 100 startups and kicked off Smart City Startups, a two-day urban tech conference showcasing startups, entrepreneurs, new research and ideas that are transforming cities. Hundreds of people crowded into the Wynwood Warehouse Project and nearby LightBox theater for demos and talks. The conference, now in its second year, is being produced by Shaun Abrahamson and Stonly Baptiste, co-founders of Miami-based Urban.Us, an investment fund focused on supporting startups that make cities better.

Event2Festival-goers were introduced to emerging tech being used to solve pressing urban issues in areas such as energy consumption, transit, sustainable building, governance and public safety. Fueling this trend is this global urban reality: More than half the world now lives in cities, and in 30 years, 70 percent will live in cities, Abrahamson said. Large cities now consume two-thirds of the world’s energy and create over 70 percent of global CO2 emissions. In the United States, 80 percent of residents already live in cities, stretching resources.

Some of the startups that participated in the festival help budget-strapped cities provide services more efficiently and save money, such as SmartProcure of Fort Lauderdale, which offers an easy way to find out what other government agencies paid for contracts, offering transparency. Michigan-based MiniRent showed off a platform for municipalities to share large equipment, such as excavators and street sweepers. TransitMix, a software tool for quickly mapping transit routes and calculating costs, was the crowd favorite at a startup contest during the event. Co-founder Tiffany Chu said she has meetings lined up with Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach transit authorities on Friday.

Sandra Richter’s startup, Soofa, makes a smart city bench with a solar-powered charging station. “We took something every city has a lot of — benches — and makes them a place where they can charge their phones,” said Richter, who introduced the product at the White House Maker Faire last summer. “But it doesn’t stop there. The benches can be loaded with sensors collecting data on all kinds of uses.” The University of Miami will get a bench on Friday, she said.

Your park or campus doesn’t have smart benches yet? Perhaps you can charge your phone and protect the environment, too? Woosh is installing purified water stations in parks (complete with WiFi and electricity) in a half-dozen U.S. cities and Tel Aviv to encourage people to refill their bottles rather than buy disposable plastic ones.

Ludovic Roche, CEO and co-founder of PWRstation, was showing off his company’s portable, retractable solar power system. He is finding lots of interest in Europe, the Middle East and Africa for his product that unfolds to cover 480 square feet (60 by 8 feet), and is planning to go through the certification process for the U.S. market soon. For the startup, which has offices in Miami and Switzerland, ease of installation and the retractability are key differentiators, Roche said. Hurricane coming? Retract them. Moving? Take it with you. “We’re a product, not a project,” Roche said.

Direct Energy decked out a trailer with the latest innovations in smart appliances for the connected home that will tell you if you left something on the stove or signal unhealthy gases in the air. Also on display: Nest for energy and Rachio for water conservation.

MeterHero, which launched in California last year, creates rebate programs linking your water and gas company and issues cash rebates based on your conservation habits.

Existing utility-based rebate programs fund discounts on purchases like low-flow shower heads and toilets, but MeterHero is the first to offer cash for conservation. Rebates, which are funded by organizations, companies or individuals, are paid at $1 for each 100 gallons of water saved, 10 kilowatt hours of electricity saved, or 100 cubic feet of natural gas saved. Participants can earn $75 or more per month, the company says.

MeterHero and the Florida Clean Water Network announced a partnership this week to encourage Floridians to conserve water and energy. The Florida Clean Water Network is sponsoring conservation rebates for homeowners across the state who track their water and energy savings through MeterHero.

Of course, no tech conference would be complete without drones. While a booth inside showed how a construction drone works and the high-resolution images it collects, everyone wanted to see a drone fly. Dodging the rain, Trevor Duke was sending them up and down in the parking lot, while riders nearby tested out the OneWheel, an electric skateboard for personal mobility. Duke owns Icarus Arials and is a drone pilot for SkyCatch, which is putting drones to work to automate processes at construction sites around the world; people program the machines and push a button to send them to work.


The conference continues Friday with The Summit, a smaller, more intimate event for invited urban-tech startups, government officials and nonprofits from around the world, with discussions about procurement, city-startup partnerships, harnessing early adopters, and capital raising on the agenda.

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

See cover story about Urban.Us here.


 Soofa is a smart bench with a solar powered charging station. Middle photo: Kyle Doerksen, CEO of Future Motion, demonstrates a onewheel and how it works at Smart City Startups on Thursday at the Wynwood Warehouse Project.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/technology/article19341024.html#storylink=cpy

Startups rock the house at Venture Hive's The Swarm


Video marketing startup Cinemad offers a B2B solution to turn viewers into customers, and plans to first conquer the Latin American market, and then the U.S. Quotanda, now based here, is launching programs in Mexico now and its two-year goal is to be the largest student loan source in Latin Americas. Clicky is a reservation platform for sports facilities, already with 2,300 venues, including 10 in Miami. "It's like Open Table but for sports," said co-founder Ezequiel Bucai.

PRX Control Solutions, which develops solutions for reducing the expense of pharmaceutical treatments, moved the company to Miami and is focusing on the Latin America market initially. How about games for sports brands? "Thousands of teams, thousands of stars, the sky is the limit," said German Tarico of Argentina, who found his first investor here and says he plans to stay in South Florida.

These are some of the companies that presented at The Swarm, Venture Hive's version of the Demo Day.

And true to the name, Wednesday night's event was buzzing with activity. The 10 startups (pictured above) in the accelerator hailed from seven countries, including India and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The 10, plus one company from Venture Hive's incubator, Snapscore, presented their companies to a roomful of investors, mentors and community supporters.

"One of the things we worked on very hard over the last year is not only supporting ideas and MVP-state businesses but finding companies all over the world who already have solid businesses, who have investment, who  have traction and helping them be better," Susan Amat, founder of Venture Hive, told the crowd. "Tonight you are going to see 10 of those companies from seven countries, and one homegrown business."

The Swarm was the conclusion of an intensive  12-week accelerator program, the third annual class held  at the downtown Miami accelerator and supported by Miami-Dade County and Miami DDA.

Roberto Interiano, who has been involved with Venture Hive since the first year, said that this year was not only about helping the startups scale but also scaling Venture Hive. In addition to its programs in Miami, Venture Hive just announced it will open an accelerator for veterans in North Florida and it currently runs four virtual pre-accelerators with the Microsoft Innovation Center in Chile, Pakistan, Armenia and Nepal. Workshops and speaker sessions the third accelerator class took part in were taped and sent to the  pre-accelerators almost immediately as well as additional content and lessons. And each lesson was followed by a live Skyped Q&A session, Interiano said. Following the Swarm, Amat was headed to Chile and Armenia to take part in their demo days. "It's exciting to see the model being used all over the world -- and the results," said Interiano.

At the Swarm Wednesday night, each  team gave a six-minute pitch. The companies presenting were:

Cinemad: Interactive videos for converting viewers into customers. Website: cinemad.tv. Founders: Mariano Lo Cane, CEO; Gabriel Dominguez, COO. Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Clicky: An online booking platform for sports facilities. Website: clickyreserva.com. Founders: Ezequiel Bucai, CEO; Gonzalo Conde, CMO; Alejandro Silvestro, CTO. Cordoba, Argentina.

Fanjam: Fantasy basketball contests for cash. Website: fanjam.com. Founders: Toni Gemayel, CEO; TJ Weigel, COO; Travis Staton, CTO. Chattanooga, TN.

Helpjuice: An auto-updating knowledge base platform allowing companies to scale supporting & deliver instant answers to customers. Website: helpjuice.com. Founders: Emil Hajric, CEO; Eldin Hajric, VP. Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Paganza: A bill-paying app for the LATAM market. Website: paganza.com. Founders: Marcelo Lanfranconi, CEO; Leo Vernazza, CTO. Monteviedo, Uruguay.  

PRX Control Solutions: Solutions for the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, reducing the expense of pharmaceutical treatments in health plans. Website: prxcontrolsolutions.com. Founders: Alfredo Vaamonde, CEO; Miguel Ambrosio, CTO. Caracas, Venezuela.

Quotanda: A student financing platform democratizing access to education. Website: quotanda.com. Founders: Grant Taylor, CEO; Lino Pujol-Soliano, COO. Barcelona, Spain.

Referrizer: A total solution to generate new customers and keep existing ones loyal. Website: referrizer.com. Founders: Andre Cvijovic, CEO; Manuel Tuveri, VP. Deerfield Beach.

Rock N Roll Games: A gaming company for making sports brands rock. Website: rockandrollgamestudio.com. Founders: German Tarico, CEO; Ezequiel D'Amico, CMO. Buenos Aires, Argentina.             

Snapscore:  Measures individuals’ qualifications and provides meaningful insights to accelerate their careers. Website: snapscore.me. Founders: Newton Porter, CEO; Taylor Auerbach, COO. Miami.

TommyJams: Innovative technologies to revolutionize  music entertainment. Founders: Parth Saxena, CEO; Dhruv Saxena, CTO. Bangalore, India.


Accelerator companies TommyJams, above, and Quotanda, below, present at The Swarm at Venture Hive.

  Vh 2 IMG_1075

April 22, 2015

CBRE study: South Florida lags other markets for tech-talent growth

50 Miami, FL

Tech-talent clustering is a growing driver of demand for office space in both large and small markets across the United States, according to a research report released Tuesday by CBRE, a global commercial real estate and investment firm. But of the 50 top office markets it studied, Miami ranked at the bottom for tech-talent growth -- No. 50. Fort Lauderdale ranked 48th.

Among other Florida cities, Tampa ranked 36th and Orlando 47th. At the top of the list: Silicon Valley, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, San Francisco Peninsula, New York; Seattle, Boston, Baltimore, Austin and Atlanta. Smaller markets in the top 25 included Edison, NJ, Columbus, OH, and Salt Lake City, UT.

“Tech talent growth rates are the best indicator of labor pool momentum and it’s easily quantifiable to identify the markets where demand for tech workers has surged,” said Colin Yasukochi, director research and analysis for CBRE, in a news release. “Tech talent growth, primarily within the high-tech industry, has recently been the top driver of office leasing activity in the U.S.”

Orlando ranks as one of the most affordable of the markets in the U.S., based on rent and wage costs, according to the report.  Fort Lauderdale and Miami made it to the list as a result of the sizeable increase in their millennial workforce, which is considered a robust contributor to the growth of tech-talent pools. Since 2000, the population in Miami’s urban core has doubled, according to a recent Miami DDA study.

 Though tech talent  comprises only 3.4 percent of the total U.S. workforce (4.4 million workers), the high-tech industry accounted for more major U.S. office leasing activity than any sector in both 2013 (13.6 percent) and 2014 (19.0 percent), according to the CBRE report.

CBRE is tracking tech companies that are moving into Miami and hopes to have data to present to media and clients attending eMerge Americas, said Quinn Eddins, director of Research and Analysis, CBRE Florida.

“Why do we care? A strong tech sector is good for Miami in many ways of course, but also because there’s a strong correlation between tech clusters and high-performing office markets. Nationally, the tech talent labor force is growing at a rapid pace,” said Eddins. “More tech or tech-related jobs mean more demand for office space. More demand for office space means decreasing vacancy and rising rents, and that’s what makes a strong office market, and an attractive environment for investors.”

  48 Fort Lauderdale, FL

Social entrepreneurship leads FIU Track pitches in the Business Plan Challenge



The FIU Track of the Business Plan Challenge held a live pitch event as part of the judging. Here is a report from that. Who won? Find out April 27 in Business Monday or on MiamiHerald.com/challenge.

By Cynthia Corzo, FIU College of Business

Innovation for social good was the leading theme among the six semifinalists chosen in the FIU Track of the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge, co-sponsored by the College of Business’ Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center:

  • Court Buddy offers affordable access to legal services;
  • FlowKPI provides real-time performance data for retailers;
  • Relentless Roasters aims to create a specialty coffee bar and collaborative workspace for students;
  • Room2Care.com proposes a cost-effective solution for elderly care;
  • Senzu Foods offers affordable, high-protein foods made from bugs.
  • Wuelto taps the growing e-commerce marketplace for virtual mall experience;

“It’s nice to see people thinking big, solving big issues for the market and delivering proposals that are economically viable,” said John Fleming, Pino Center advisor and one of the judges on the FIU Track.

Senzu Foods’ founders gave their presentation an added boost, sharing cricket-based cookies with the judges and the other teams participating in the March 30 “Shark Tank Forum” at The Miami Herald. The consensus: they tasted good.

Impressed by the proposals, the judges offered three words of advice: “Don’t give up.”

It may not have been as fierce as the original “Shark Tank” television show, but the FIU Track judges spared little mercy in their questions to the participants.

“How are you going to deal with online fraud?” the judges asked Wuelto founder and FIU alumnus Alejandro Gomez. “Why should consumers buy from you and not Amazon?” added Seema Pissaris, professor at FIU’s College of Business Department of Management and International Business. They also quizzed the Senzu team on their failure to address the required FDA approval and pointed out the need for a food industry expert on their team.

Money was at the core of the judges’ questions to Relentless Roasters’ Daniel Choiseul, an FIU graduate, asking for details on cost per square foot and revenue per square foot – neither one covered in the presentation. “If you can’t explain those two numbers you can’t get anywhere,” said Karlene Cousins, associate professor in the Decision Sciences and Information Systems Department.

Difficult and demanding.

The annual Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge tasks contestants with creating a succinct yet detailed presentation of their business concept, the issues it will solve and how the venture will become a success. The ultimate goal: securing investors to get the venture off the ground or grow an existing business active for less than two years.

“This is real money and I expect you to do real things with it,” Fleming, , co-founder and technology practice lead of Biztegra Partners, told participants as they prepared to make their presentations. “If you’re taking other people’s money, you’re responsible for it.”

A record 248 entries were submitted for the 2015 competition, now in its 17th year. The six semifinalists selected in each track – Community, FIU and High School – all made live presentations before judges and filmed a 90-second video elevator pitch.

Participants in the FIU Track, the majority of them alumni, admitted the challenge wasn’t easy, with tough questions from the judges about costs and business models, competitors, target markets, and marketing strategies.

“It was tough, but it’s constructive criticism from someone who sees these types of presentations all the time,” Nicolexander Garza, an FIU undergrad who co-founded Senzu Foods with current FIU students Ricardo Delgado and Valerie Yoda, said about the shark tank forum, “They suggest what areas we need to work on and we learned from their questions to us and to the others.”

Court Buddy co-founders attorney James Jones Jr., an attorney, and Kristina Jones, an FIU alumna, were asked what their critical mass would be, both in terms of attorneys and non-attorney members, how they would attract new lawyers to the service and maintain interest of those already subscribed, and details about the actual costs of running the business.

“They brought up points that made us realize that we needed to focus more on the business side of Court Buddy,” said James Jones. “It’s a process that requires our daily attention and dedication to meeting our member’s needs.”

Lessons to be learned.

The judges described the business proposals as interesting, original and well presented. One of the areas that Business Plan Challenge contestants, and anyone who’s planning to launch a business, must overcome is the “assumption factor.”

“They have to help me understand the problem and how the business will fill in the gaps,” said Pissaris. “Paint a clear picture of what the market looks like, address the risks and have a plan to mitigate them, describe what makes you well matched to execute the business.”

The presenting teams also need to work on the competitive environment and how to execute the business plan, noted Cousins.

“Some couldn’t explain how their product would be better than competitors’ until they were probed,” said Cousins. “They have to examine legal and regulatory issues, provide solid information on the return for investors and conduct more sophisticated analysis about the business model.”

The grand finale comes on April 27, when a special edition of The Miami Herald’s Business Monday will showcase the winners – the judge’s top three selections in each track, the People’s Pick, and the overall 2015 Challenge Champion.

For a closer look at the contestants and their companies: go here.

Cynthia Corzo is Assistant Director of Media Relations and Communications for FIU College of Business.

April 21, 2015

Enstitute apprenticeship program launching in Miami this week

Enstitute, a national non-profit apprenticeship program, will launch its Miami Hub this week.

In conjunction with the launch, Enstitute is bringing in a dozen investors and entrepreneurs from around the country to explore the Miami startup ecosystem and meet with local founders and investors.

Visiting venture capitalists mainly from New York, San Francisco and Washington will spend 36 hours “founder dating” with about 30 Miami startups, touring local co-working spaces and communities such as Wynwood, Buro Midtown and The Idea Center, and have meetings with the Miami DDA, Knight Foundation, Venture Hive and other key Miami organizations, said Kane Sarhan, co-founder of Enstitute.

Investors include Nic Poulous of Bowery Capital, Scott Laughlin of LAO Ventures, Greg Rosen of BoxGroup, Patrick Murphy of Universal Music Group, Julia Taxin of GroTech, Megan Hannum of Comcast Ventures, Will Peng of Red Swan Ventures and others.

Enstitute is also hosting a launch event to introduce its program at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Venture Hive. More info: http://enstitutemiami.splashthat.com.

To equip millennials with relevant skills for 21st century careers, Enstitute provides participants with one-year, paid, full-time apprenticeships at high-growth startups, small businesses and corporations. Through Knight Foundation funding, Miami became the organization’s third hub; the others are in New York and Washington.