March 20, 2017

Crunch-time guide to entering the Business Plan Challenge -- deadline is midnight tonight

Procrastinators, take note: The deadline to enter the Community Track or FIU Track of the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge is Monday night, March 20. Don’t worry, you are in good company — most of our entries come in on the last day. Here is your quick guide to entering your business or concept.

Who can enter: Entrepreneurs with businesses less than 2 years old or with business concepts in the works. There is a community track, FIU track and high school track.

What to enter: Up to a three-page business plan (one additional page for charts or photos is allowed).

Entry deadline: 11:59 p.m. March 20 for all tracks.

Email entries to: Challenge@MiamiHerald.com (for the community track), FIUchallenge@MiamiHerald.com or to highschoolchallenge@MiamiHerald.com. You should get a confirmation your entry was received. If you do not get a confirmation, please email ndahlberg@miamiherald.com so that we can ensure your entry makes it to us.

Contest rules, judges’ bios, other info: MiamiHerald.com/challenge

Questions: ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

March 16, 2017

$300,000 in Florida Institute funding closes $1.1 million round for Candidate.Guru

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Candidate.Guru received a $300,000 investment from The Florida Institute for the Commercialization of Public Research, closing out its financing round at $1.1 million.

The Boca Raton-based startup developed its human resources software solution with technology developed at the Florida Institute for Human Machine and Cognition so it was eligible to apply for Florida Institute funding. The Florida Institute supports new company creation based on publicly-funded research, and bridges early funding gaps for companies spinning out of Florida-based universities and research institutions. To date, 65 Florida companies have been funded through the Institute, which makes matching investments up to $300,000; Candidate.Guru received the maximum.

Candidate.Guru developed a big-data software solution that can predict a culture fit between companies and prospective job candidates without the need for surveys and assessment tools. It was the winner of the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge in 2016.

ADVERTISING

“Our customers can easily submit job candidates to Candidate.Guru via LinkedIn, job boards and human resource systems, and we then return them in rank order based on strength of the culture fit with a specific hiring manager, team or the company itself. This enables our customers to prioritize thousands of job candidates instantly and reach out to the best culture fits first,” Candidate.Guru CEO Chris Daniels said in the news release. Daniels, a former executive recruiter, founded the company in 2014.

“Candidate.Guru is improving the hiring process by enabling companies to hire the best candidates more efficiently, thereby increasing long-term employee productivity,” added Jackson Streeter, Florida Institute’s CEO.

The new funding extends Candidate.Guru’s previously reported round to $1.1 million, which also included funding by Florida angel groups The FAN Fund, Florida Funders and Miami Innovation Fund. Before that, Candidate.Guru raised about $475,000 from friends and family. The revenue-generating Candidate.Guru has more than 20 corporate customers.

The Florida Institute has also funded South Florida companies Vigilant BioscienesBiscayne PharmaceuticalsKairos, Heart Genomics and Genetic Networks, among others.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

READ MORE: Candidate.Guru’s big-data solution solves HR quandary: Will the new hire fit in?



March 12, 2017

5 reasons to enter the Business Plan Challenge by March 20

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

It’s down to this: You have one week left to participate in the 2017 Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge. If you are on the fence about whether to enter, jump over. Here are five reasons to get moving:

  1. Motivation. This might just be that kick in the behind you need. Writing down your business strategy and road map will help you focus, and give you a document for potential partners or investors. Whether you are entering the Community Track — open to all of South Florida; the FIU Track — open to students and alumni of that university; or the High School Track — which is also open to eighth-graders this year, entering the Challenge will help you get moving.
  2. Publicity. If you are one of the top three winners in each track or the “People’s Pick,” you will be profiled in a special section of the Miami Herald’s Business Monday announcing the winners, in print and online, on May 8. If you are in the top six in the Community or FIU Tracks, you will participate in the People’s Pick, our popular video contest hosted on MiamiHerald. com. We also announce our first cut, the semi-finalists, to keep the interest going. Social networking is a key component of our contest. Next year, we will look back on our winners and we follow our winners for years to come.
  3. Feedback and education. Winners and finalists will receive feedback and opportunities for entrepreneurial education. If you are chosen for the aforementioned People’s Pick contest, that’s a terrific opportunity to polish your elevator pitch — you need to capture an investor’s attention in 90 seconds or less. If you are entering the FIU Track and are a top finalist, a live pitch contest gives you a chance to get face-to-face feedback and advice. If you are entering the High School Track, remember that winning sure looks good on a college application.
  4. Exposure and connections. It can’t hurt to have your plan read by South Florida’s top entrepreneurial experts, including serial entrepreneurs and investors (judges’ bios are at here at MiamiHerald.com/challenge). Sometimes long-lasting mentorships are developed. Some winners have been introduced to investors or potential partners; others gained key customers. If you are one of the winners, you will receive other opportunities for mentorship and connections — for example, the top Miami-Dade winner will have the opportunity to compete in the finals of the American Entrepreneurship Award (www.americanaward.com), with a $25,000 prize, and top finalists will receive tickets to the eMerge Americas conference. All winners will be honored at a luncheon with the judges and Miami Herald executives and business staff.
  5. Pride. I know you’re passionate about your concept — and aren’t you just a wee bit competitive?

The deadline is 11:59 p.m. March 20 for all three tracks. Contest rules and guidelines are at here at MiamiHerald.com/challenge. Email your entries to challenge@miamiherald.com (Community Track); fiuchallenge@miamiherald.com or highschoolchallenge@miamiherald.com.

The entry is a three-page business plan; think of it like a meaty executive summary. You may include a fourth page for your financial chart or other visuals. See more details in our launch piece here.

If you entered last year and weren’t one of the top three winners or the People’s Pick, regroup and try again. Business ideas in the ideation stage are fine for this contest. Class projects are welcome, and we love high school entries. Know an entrepreneurial teen? Tell them about this contest.

Questions? Email ndahlberg@miamiherald.com (put Challenge in the subject line) or tweet @ndahlberg.

Good luck!

READ MORE

Think big and enter the 2017 Business Plan Challenge

2017 Business Plan Challenge rules and guidelines

Meet the Business Plan Challenge judges

Miss the Business Plan Bootcamp? Here’s a recap

 

February 08, 2017

Court Buddy racks up 500 Startups investment, enters accelerator

Courtbuddy
By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Court Buddy, a legal-tech startup founded in Miami, received seed funding from global venture capital fund 500 Startups and was selected for its Silicon Valley accelerator.

Court Buddy will be using the $150,000 investment from 500 Startups to hire key personnel and to ramp up sales and marketing efforts, said CEO and co-founder James Jones Jr., who is also an attorney. Court Buddy will also be receiving mentorship and support from 500 Startups, and is participating in one of 500 Startups’ current accelerator cohorts.

Founded in 2015, Court Buddy is a national legal technology platform that allows consumers and small businesses to choose the a-la-carte legal services at flat rates and then instantly matching them to top, pre-screened solo and small law firm attorneys nationally. Once matched, consumers and small businesses can instant message, video chat, and make secured payments to attorneys for the legal services that they need.

In two years, courtbuddy.com has matched about 10,000 consumers and small businesses with attorneys across the country, helping clients avoid paying high retainers and hourly fees that traditional law firms charge while also helping thousands of solo attorneys and small firms grow their practices.

“Our goals are to grow the company and to continue to provide maximum value to our customers. This partnership with 500 Startups allows us to tap into a global network to accomplish these goals,” said Court Buddy president and co-founder Kristina Jones.

Court Buddy was named the winner of the American Bar Association’s Brown Select Award for Legal Access in January, a winner of the inaugural American Entrepreneurship Award in 2016, and was named the 2015 Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge People’s Pick Winner.

Headquartered in Silicon Valley, 500 Startups has invested in 1,400 technology companies worldwide since 2010. It has $200 million in assets under management.

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

January 12, 2017

Court Buddy racks up award and spot at ABA's Startup Alley

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Miami startup Court Buddy was named the winner of the 2017 American Bar Association’s BROWN SELECT award for Legal Access on Jan. 10. Roughly 6,000 people across the country voted to determine the winner.
 
To win the award, voters chose Court Buddy over 35 other nominees. Each had to meet certain criteria, which, according to the ABA’s website, included the ability to create significant improvement of the delivery of legal services and information for people of moderate income means, innovation in the development, funding or implementation of the delivery of legal services, the ability to replicate the system in other settings, and demonstrated success in the operation of the system.
 
Since 1995, the ABA’s Louis M. Brown Award has been presented annually to companies that advance access to legal services for those of moderate incomes in ways that are exemplary and replicable, according to the ABA’s website.

“This is a testament to the faith that the public has in the positive impact that we are making with this system,” said Court Buddy President Kristina Jones. “At the end of the day, creating and implementing the latest technology to help improve the lives of others is what we are really focused on.”

Court Buddy, run by co-founder couple James and Kristina Jones (pictured above), will receive the BROWN SELECT award at the ABA's midyear meeting on Feb. 4 in Miami.

Initially launched in South Florida in January 2015, Court Buddy's  platform has grown to match 10,000 consumers and small businesses with attorneys across the country, helping clients save money on legal fees by avoiding paying high retainers and hourly fees that traditional law firms charge while also helping thousands of attorneys grow their law firms.

Court Buddy, winner of the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge People’s Pick in 2015, was also selected to participate in the American Bar Association's inaugural 2017 Inaugural Startup Alley in Chicago. “I'm sure this is going to be the first of many ABA Techshows for Court Buddy in the years to come,” said Suzie Smith, ABA’s Vice President of Sales.

The Court Buddy team will travel to Chicago to participate in the event in March 2017.

January 11, 2017

Candidate.Guru of Boca attracts $950K from Florida angels to support its growth

Candidate.Guru, a Boca Raton-based human resources software startup, has raised $950,000 in funding from Florida angel organizations to support its growth.

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

The company, winner of the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge in 2016, uses its proprietary technology platform to predicts whether a job candidate is a culture fit for an employer. Florida Funders, The FAN FundMiami Innovation Fund and individual angels participated in the fund-raising round.

“We are impressed by technology-focused companies that provide unique solutions to current problems,” said Marc Blumenthal, CEO of the Tampa-based Florida Funders, which features an online investing platform. “Candidate.Guru is a great example of this, and we’re excited to be a part of the company’s growth in Florida and beyond.”

The funds will allow the company to focus on its sales and demand pipeline, and address sales requests in a timely manner. The funding also will help integrate Candidate.Guru with programs that companies already use during the hiring process.

CEO Chris Daniels (pictured above, at left, with co-founder Steve Carter), a former executive recruiter, founded Candidate.Guru in 2014 with the goal to create an easy-to-use hiring solution, enable greater productivity for HR professionals and reduce time spent in the hiring process. The revenue-generating company, now with seven employees, previously raised $475,000 in angel funding.

In addition to winning the Business Plan Challenge last May, Candidate.Guru won first place and $100,000 in funding in the Florida Venture Forum Early Stage Capital Conference's startup business competition. Candidate.Guru was selected in 2015 for Florida Atlantic University's Tech Runway startup accelerator program in Boca Raton.

READ MORE: Candidate.Guru’s big-data solution solves HR quandary: Will the new hire fit in?

August 18, 2016

Ride2MD, Lyft team up to fuel patient transport

Miami-based startup Ride2MD rolled out its service in Miami-Dade and Broward, and announced a partnership with Lyft for on-demand medical transportation. 

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Ride2MDMiami startup Ride2MD hit the streets this summer with its new medical transport service. This week it picked up a well-known partner in the on-demand transportation world: Lyft.

Ride2MD provides efficient, technology-enabled patient transportation to doctors’ offices, outpatient facilities and hospitals. George Fernandez, Ride2MD’s CEO, believes Lyft could provide 25 percent to 40 percent of Ride2MD’s transportation needs, primarily for Ride2MD clients who do not require ambulatory or wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

“Transportation no longer needs to be an inconvenience or barrier to those who need it most,” Fernandez said. “This is another conduit to providing good service to our clients. .. It’s cheaper than sending a taxi, it’s usually faster than sending a taxi, and it is something that people are getting more and more used to as a service level.” And as to Lyft team, Fernandez added: “They get healthcare.”

Fernandez, an executive in the healthcare insurance business before launching Ride2MD, said Thursday he was impressed with Lyft’s tool called Concierge that allows third parties to book rides on patients' behalves, and its commitment to the sector, including bringing on Gyre Renwick, who used to help run Google’s industry sector for healthcare.

“Every year, around 3.6 million Americans miss or delay medical care because they lack appropriate transportation to their appointments. We want to fix that. Getting a patient to their doctor appointment can lower the cost of care and increase the quality of care,” said Renwick, head of enterprise healthcare partnerships at Lyft. “Ride2MD has a similar viewpoint so our partnership is well-aligned.”

For patients that do need wheelchair-equipped or ambulatory vehicles, Ride2MD partners with medical transport companies. 

A few weeks ago, Ride2MD began its service in Miami-Dade and Broward, and plans to move into Palm Beach and Monroe as well as Central Florida in coming months.

Ride2MD, which won second place overall in the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge this year and also was the Challenge’s People’s Pick winner, is forecasting an aggressive growth trajectory, expecting to manage over half a million members within the next 24 months and upwards of 3 million within five years.

For now the service is for private-paying customers, but Fernandez said Ride2MD has reached agreement with two major health plans and those details will be rolled out soon. The company is also establishing contracts with assisted living facilities, nursing homes and healthcare providers.

Most of the trips so far have been to doctor’s offices but Fernandez said Ride2MD has also served patients with rides to family events. “It’s kind of evolved into patients with special needs that need a helping hand getting around,” said Fernandez. “And that’s great, that’s what I want to see.”

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

Read more: Ride2MD: Driving a plan to vastly improve medical transport

 

July 07, 2016

Big data startup Candidate.Guru raises $600K on way to $950K round

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Candidate.Guru CEO Chris Daniels with co-founder Steve Carter 

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Big data startup Candidate.Guru has raised $600,000 in funding led by The Fan Fund, an Orlando-based, early-stage fund that invests in technology and life science companies.

Candidate.Guru, winner of the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge this year, uses data analytics to analyze whether job candidates are a good cultural fit with a potential boss or team, and it is led by CEO Chris Daniels. The company, now with nine full- or part-time employees, launched earlier this year, is generating revenue and previously raised $475,000 in angel funding.

In addition to the $600,000 in funding, Candidate.Guru is close to closing an additional $200,000, Daniels said, and the company hopes to close out its $950,000 round this month. The company plans to use the funding for primarily for sales and marketing, but also some product development related to integrations with larger HR systems.

Research has shown that 75 percent of voluntary job resignations are due to a poor fit between the employee and the manager resulting in significant productivity loss as well as replacement cost.  Candidate.Guru’s proprietary software uses objective big data methods to rank the entire candidate pool for cultural fit, and can be used either at the early stage of the recruiting process to streamline recruiters’ work process, or at the late stage of the process to minimize chances of costly hiring errors.

“Our decision to invest in Candidate.Guru was supported by the qualities of the management team: business and domain experience, commitment to the business, a working and innovative technological approach, and the drive to succeed,” said Mitchel Laskey, managing director of FAN Fund.

This investment is the sixth for the FAN Fund since launching operations on Nov. 1, 2015. In the initial eight months, the FAN Fund deployed $1.55 million in financing rounds that totaled approximately $7 million.

In addition to winning the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge in May, Candidate.Guru won first place and $100,000 in funding in the Florida Venture Forum Early Stage Capital Conference's startup business competition.

Candidate.Guru was selected in 2015 for Florida Atlantic University's Tech Runway startup accelerator program in Boca Raton.

Read profile of Candidate.Guru here.

May 09, 2016

2016 Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge: And the winners are ...

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We are pleased to introduce you to the winners of the 18th annual Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge.

The winners’ circle contains concepts in healthcare, mobile commerce, big data, retail, human resources and law. 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 2016 winners and contestants represent the passion and diversity of the region’s emerging businesses. This year, a record 255 entries competed in our three tracks of the Miami Herald Challenge, sponsored by Florida International University’s Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center, and about 250 people attended our free Business Plan Bootcamp in March. 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.

And the winners are ...

Community Track: Candidate.Guru, big data for human resources, won first place; Ride2MD, the Lyft for medical transport, came in second; and Shoes Dsire, a robust tool for shoe lovers, was third. Candidate.Guru was also named the Challenge Champion for having the highest judge rating in the contest.

FIU Track: ValueDOC, an online health and wellness marketplace for cash patients, won first. Second place was Jurbid, a platform for legal services; and SkyBOX Checkout, an international e-commerce tool, was third.

High School Track: Digifeet, a solution for flat feet by a School of Advanced Studies student, was first. Smart-BagPack, a backpack reimagined by a Ransom Everglades student, was second; and RentAll, a peer-to-peer renting marketplace being developed by a trio from American Heritage, was third.

The weeklong People’s Pick, which attracted 12,646 votes, heated up social-media networks with images of sexy shoes, cars, kids and dogs in the quest to attract votes. In the FIU track, Joust, an automotive-services quote platform run by FIU students, tried to fight off Pooch Perks, a goodie-box subscription service for pampered pets. But in the end dogs won over cars. Pooch Perks drew 1,707 votes, while Joust fetched 1,556. ValueDOC was in third place.

In the Community Track’s People’s Pick competition, Ride2MD coasted to victory with 1,927 votes, but not without a fight from second-place Shoes Dsire, with 1,709 votes. Social-media followers were treated to shoe eye candy throughout the week. Coming in third was AlphaTechBlocks, creator of smart toys for kids.

What separated today’s featured winners from the pack? The quality of entries was so high that the written business plans scored well in all key areas, such as marketing strategies, financials, management teams, market opportunity, value propositions 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 today’s winners are first-timers; others are serial entrepreneurs or professionals with decades of industry experience. But all are in the early stages of their businesses — we’ll be following their progress!

Read the accompanying profiles of the 2016 Challenge winners linked above and on MiamiHerald.com/challenge.

May 01, 2016

Last day to vote in Business Plan Challenge People's Pick - send a startup to winner's circle

An online platform for automotive services, the Lyft for healthcare, a tool for shoe addicts. Or maybe it’s a logistics software creator, a tool for hiring managers to measure cultural fit, an online legal marketplace, or a monthly goody box for the pampered pooch? How about interactive alphabet blocks, an international e-commerce checkout solution, a health and wellness marketplace for cash patients or a tool to negotiate consumer debt? We’ve even got selfie gift wrap.

Who is building the best new business? You’re telling us!

The top six finishers in the Community and FIU Tracks of the 18th annual Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge are competing for the The People’s Pick. View the videos and scroll down to vote here hrld.us/BizPlan2016 up to once per day through 11:59 p.m. Sunday, May 1. Follow their creative tweets on @ndahlberg.

More than 11,500 votes have been cast so far. Winners in each track will be announced May 9.

The contenders are:

COMMUNITY TRACK

AlphaTechBlocks, pitched by Marilu Kernan and Taryn Keim, will create digital interactive alphabet blocks. With the accompanying mobile apps, kids learn ABCs and words in English and Spanish.

Candidate.Guru, pitched by Christopher Daniels, is a big data-analytics solution that can predict a culture fit between corporate hiring managers and prospective job seekers without the need for surveys and assessment tools.

Gift Wrap My Face, pitched by Vanessa Clavijo and Aryel Rivero, is the cure for the common gift. It allows the gift-giver to design his or her own selfie wrapping paper.

Ride2MD, pitched by George Fernandez, is the Lyft for healthcare, providing an innovative solution that eliminates wasted time and effort by streamlining the transportation process with real-time technology that offers complete transparency.

Shoes Dsire, pitched by Jane Bernacca, is a dynamic social commerce tool that combines cutting-edge visual search technology with crowdsourcing to provide a faster and more personalized experience for shoe shoppers.

TradeLanes, pitched by Vijay Harrell, automates document preparation for exporters. Exporters can orchestrate demand planning, supplier performance, inventory management and end-to-end logistics in one application.

FIU TRACK

Joust, pitched by Franco Aquino, Julio Benavides and Jonas Erthal, is an online platform that facilitates the quoting and payment process for automotive services.

Jurbid, pitched by Aydin Bonabi and David Johns, is an online legal marketplace that seamlessly connects clients with lawyers.

Pooch Perks, pitched by Tina Vidal, is pet-parent purchased, dog-tested and veterinarian-approved; it provides a monthly customizable box of carefully curated goods for the pampered pooch.

Settleitsoft, pitched by Rich Rudner, offers a free, web-based debt negotiation platform that will help resolve the global economic problem of consumer default on contractual obligations.

SkyBox Checkout, pitched by Taylor Philippi, is an anywhere-to-anywhere international e-commerce checkout solution with shipment to 200 countries and territories and multicurrency in 140 local currencies.

ValueDOC, pitched by Alain Fernandez, is an online health and wellness marketplace for cash patients.