November 04, 2017

Nuvola brings digital white-glove service to the hotel industry

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By Ana Acle-Menendez

Perhaps no other industry relies as heavily on customer service as the hotel industry.

So, imagine if there was a way for guests to communicate to staff directly and conveniently through the touch of a button on their mobile phone. And imagine if guests would be notified of happy hour specials while walking by the bar in real time, allowing hotels to gather behavioral data and provide better service.

Juan-Carlos-Abello-NUVOLA-2That communication platform was imagined and created. Now, it is offered by a guest service management software developed by Nuvola, a Miami-based company founded by Juan Carlos Abello, who worked as a manager at various hotels.

But while Abello developed a solution for hotels, he needed solutions of his own to grow his new startup business.

He heard about the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge, a contest for startup entrepreneurs, through Florida International University (FIU), his alma mater. While creating the video presentation for the contest, Abello then learned about the Florida SBDC at FIU — the small business development center at the College of Business, which provides no-cost consulting to entrepreneurs and small-business owners.

“My biggest obstacle was closing on my first customers,” said Abello, who earned an MBA from Emory University and a bachelor’s degree in international business from FIU. “In technology, if you don’t have references and you’re selling software that’s intangible, it’s a tough sales pitch. Closing on my first 20 to 30 customers was the biggest challenge.”

He specifically wanted guidance on finding an investor.  “In my particular case, I was looking to accelerate the growth of the company,” he said. “I was looking for funds and I was assigned to an advisor who had experience as an investor.”

For the next six months, he met with the expert consultant every two weeks on Saturdays, going over spreadsheets, sales pitches and the program to grow more capital.

It soon paid off.

“I was extremely satisfied because I was able to raise additional funds for the company,” Abello said. “I closed with two investors and now basically I’m living my dream.”

What started three years ago with business development and sales of $30,000 doubled every year. Now Nuvola is well over $1 million in sales this year, Abello said.

What’s more, his one-man team has now grown to 18 full-time employees.

“I would recommend the SBDC,” Abello said. “First, because they understand that you’re an entrepreneur — you don’t have a flexible schedule — and most of the time they were able to accommodate my needs.

“Second, I felt that every single member of the organization that I interacted with was professional, willing to assist and the advice they gave was definitely significant in terms of the objective that I had,” he continued.

“Lastly, it’s a free service,” Abello said. “They do understand that starting a business is not easy and you’re going to face a lot of obstacles. Most of the time they know what obstacles you’re going to face so you can anticipate them, which is great.”

Additionally, he said he made friends during the process and still keeps in touch with his advisor. He is also mentoring others so they can sell to their first 20 to 30 customers before going to investors.

By the way, in case you’re wondering, Abello and his team won first place in that Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge in the FIU Track category. That’s another feather in his cap that he can use for marketing purposes.

 

Ana Acle-Menendez wrote this article for Florida SBDC at FIU, which gave Starting Gate permission to post it.

 

READ MORE about Nuvola here. 

 

October 24, 2017

Maxeme Tuchman of Caribu wins South Florida award at Demand Solutions Start-up Challenge

Demand Solutions Miami_367

 

Maxeme Tuchman, CEO of Caribu, was the South Florida winner of the Miami Dade College – InterAmerican Development Bank “Demand Solutions” Start-up Challenge that featured nearly 20 start-ups from Latin America and Miami, most owned by women entrepreneurs.

Tuchman took home the $15,000 prize and the “Most Innovative Startup in South Florida” distinction for Caribu, described as the place where FaceTime meets Kindle, for kids.

The education platform helps parents, family, and mentors read and draw with children when they’re not together. It provides an engaging livestream shared-screen experience in a carefully designed, platform with an in-app bookstore containing hundreds of books, in six languages, and educational workbooks with interactive drawing overlays. It was also a winner in the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge and other contests.

 Here are the other awards:

An Ecuadorian startup that created a platform for Latin American emerging writers was declared the winner of the Inter-American Development Bank's fifth pitch competition, held as part of the Demand Solutions event in Miami last week.

The event, featuring 18 innovative startups from across Latin America and the Caribbean, was co-hosted by the IDB and Miami Dade College (MDC). Demand Solutions, the IDB's flagship event on innovation and entrepreneurship, brings together creative minds from around the world to share solutions that improve lives.

The event closed with a pitch competition featuring 18 startups from Barbados, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Miami.

Galo Vargas, cofounder of the Ecuadorian startup Inkspired, won the top prize of $30,000 for being the Creative Entrepreneur with the Highest Potential for Global Impact. Inkspired is a platform that allows emerging fiction writers from Latin America and the world to publish their books and creative series, connecting them with interested readers and providing them with metrics to improve their work and make their stories more appealing.

Ariana Green, cofounder of Couple Six from Barbados won the Disruptive Creativity for Development Award, a $15,000 USD cash prize from the IDB. Couple Six is the first videogame development studio in Barbados; it features games based on narratives of the history and culture of the Caribbean.

Ariana also won a special award by Creative Business Cup : an invitation to participate in the Global Finals competition in Copenhagen in November.

Barbara Arteaga, cofounder of Ecoplaso from Mexico, won the Creativity for Social Impact Award, a $7,000 USD award by the IDB. Ecoplaso is a Mexican startup run by 5 women who use their proprietary biotechnology to turn fruit waste into textile substitutes of leather and fast fashion fabrics.

The entrepreneurs pitched their startups' innovations to an audience of more than 300 people and a jury composed of leading specialists from Santander Universidades, the Innovation Lab of Miami Dade College, Creative Business Cup, the Cambridge Innovation Center in Miami (CIC Miami), Latam Startups, Endeavor Miami, Babel Ventures, 23 Design, Lobo Ecosystem Builders, Babel Ventures and the Inter-American Development Bank.

The startups were selected from over 300 candidates to showcase their innovative products and services at the one-day Demand Solutions event, designed to connect startups with investors, mentors and thought leaders.

One representative from each startup traveled to Demand Solutions Miami for the Pitch Competition and to take part in two days of activities with innovators, mentors, entrepreneurs and investors, organized by MentorDay.

Other awards include:

Linda Franco, cofounder of Machina, won the award for the High-Growth Woman Entrepreneur, an invitation to participate in WeXchange Annual Forum in Santiago, Chile, in December 2017.

Julio Oliveto, cofounder of Livre, won the Lean Case award: legal and accounting services directed to startups from the creative and cultural industries to expand their business to Colombia.

All 18 startups were awarded free co-working space and network connections for programmatic objectives at the Cambridge Innovation Center in Miami (CIC Miami).

The event was sponsored by Santander Universidades. Other partners included Endeavor MiamiBabson Win Lab and Americas Society/Council of the Americas.

The livestream of the startup pitches is available here.

This was the ninth edition of Demand Solutions. The next edition of Demand Solutions will take place on November 9th in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

 

October 04, 2017

Court Buddy co-founder becomes 14th African American woman ever to raise $1 million or more

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Only 14 African American women have raised $1 million or more in venture capital, and Kristina Jones of Miami-based Court Buddy is one of them.

Court Buddy is a legal tech startup founded by James and Kristina Jones that helps 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. The company announced Wednesday that it has raised $1 million in seed funding.

When Court Buddy launched in 2015 in Miami, its web-based instant-matching platform allowed consumers to choose the a-la-carte legal services  at flat rates and then matched them to pre-screened solo and small law firm attorneys. Since then, Court Buddy has launched an app, CourtBuddy Chat, and a secured attorney-client payment exchange, CB Direct Pay. Now once matched, consumers can instant message, video chat and pay  attorneys for the legal services that they need, and solo attorneys can create and manage the legal tasks they perform for clients and collect legal fees.

The Court Buddy platform has grown to match over 11,000 consumers with attorneys across the country.

Earlier this year while participating in the 500 Startups seed program, Court Buddy soft-launched Instaclient for lawyers, which allows lawyers to pre-screen payment-verified clients who have pending court appearances or court-related matters before representing them. More than 5,000 lawyers signed up within 30 days of the launch. It also opened its San Francisco office.

LDR Ventures led the seed funding round, with participation from XFactor Ventures/Flybridge Capital, UpHonest Capital, GingerBread Capital/KKR, LSS Fund, Equipo Ventures, 500 Startups, L.A. Women Angels, and angel investors. Andrew Koven of LDR Ventures will join Court Buddy’s board of directors as part of the deal.

“With the new infusion of capital from our investors, not only can we continue building on our core products, but we can also hire more top talent to support the company’s rapid growth and expansion,” said CEO James Jones Jr., also a Florida attorney.

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

August 16, 2017

A match made in startup heaven? Candidate.Guru acquires Elevated Careers by eHarmony

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Cadidate.Guru co-founders Chris Daniels and Steve Carter in 2016.

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

It's a match.

Boca-Raton startup Candidate.Guru, provider of a recruiting technology platform that matches job candidates to employers, has acquired Elevated Careers by eHarmony, an employee engagement, personality and skills matching solution by the dating-software pioneer.

Terms of the deal were now disclosed, but Candidate.Guru CEO Chris Daniels said eHarmony will become a shareholder in the company.

Elevated Careers will deepen Candidate.Guru’s technology holdings and widen its product offerings, Daniels said.

Candidate,Guru, founded in 2014, uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to help companies better vet and rank their massive candidate pipeline by culture fit and is used by companies in the early part of the recruiting process. Elevated Careers, founded about three years ago and launched last year, does a deeper analysis internally and externally with an employee engagement solution that assesses how its employees feel about their organization and a candidate-matching feature to determine whether job candidates match up by personality, culture and skills, he said. But eHarmony reportedly found some irreconcilable differences with the human resources industry and put Elevated Careers up for sale earlier this year.

“With this acquisition, we are gaining cutting-edge employee/job candidate survey and matching technology, the perfect complement to the artificial intelligence technology Candidate.Guru has already developed to predict a culture fit between job candidates and companies,” said Daniels, a former executive recruiter whose company won the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge in 2016.

Candidate.Guru will sell Elevated Careers as a separate product rather than incorporating it into Candidate.Guru's product, at least initially, Daniels said. Dan Erickson, general manager and vice president of Elevated Careers, will join Candidate.Guru and be based in Los Angeles.

Candidate.Guru is a team of eight based at FAU TechRunway. In March, 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, which also included a number of Florida angel groups. The revenue-generating startup has more than 20 corporate customers.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

 

 

 

June 18, 2017

DonorCommunity merges with West Coast nonprofit management software company

Two nonprofit-management software companies based on opposite coasts have merged.

Fort Lauderdale-based DonorCommunity, developers of a cloud-based platform for online fund-raising, donations, volunteer management, event management and email marketing software for nonprofits, and Telosa Software, developers of donor management solutions, announced that they have merged to form Arreva, a software company serving the fund-raising needs of nonprofit organizations. Terms of the deal were not released.

DavidblyerDonorCommunity was founded by computer industry veteran and software entrepreneur David Blyer in 2010 (pictured here); in 2011, the company won the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge. Telosa Software, based in Palo Alto, Calif., was founded by philanthropist and computer scientist Susan Packard Orr in 1986. Combined, Arreva has thousands of customers, including the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Jewish Federations of North America, Ronald McDonald House Charities, The Arc, The National Association of Police Athletic Leagues, Variety - the Children’s Charity, Meals on Wheels America and others.

“This merger is a major milestone, not only for us, but also for the nonprofit industry as a whole,” said Blyer, a serial software entrepreneur who founded and sold Vento Software before starting DonorCommunity. “As Arreva, we’ll be able to offer nonprofits of every size a suite of best-of-breed applications for online fundraising, event management, campaign manager, grant management, gifts manager, people and organizations, donor relationship management, volunteer management, peer-to-peer fundraising, email marketing and website content management.”

Arreva will be headquartered in Fort Lauderdale with sales and support operations in Palo Alto. Blyer will lead Arreva as CEO; Telosa CEO Gregg Davis becomes executive vice president and chief operating officer. Blyer and Orr will have seats on Arreva’s board.

May 08, 2017

2017 Business Plan Challenge: And the winners are ...

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We are pleased to present the winners of the 19th annual Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge.

The winners’ circle contains concepts in education, hospitality, logistics, healthcare, tech, social impact and the sharing economy. To rise to the top, winners had to make a strong case for how they planned to execute their business plans.

South Florida is often recognized as one of the nation’s most entrepreneurial communities, and the 2017 winners and contestants represent the passion and diversity of the region’s emerging businesses. This year, a near-record of 234 entries competed in our three tracks of the Miami Herald Challenge, sponsored by Florida International University’s Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center; more than 200 people attended our free Business Plan Bootcamp in March.

The three-page plans were judged by experts from our community — executives, investors, entrepreneurs and academics — as well as by the public via our popular People’s Pick video competition. The Community Track attracted the most qualified entries in the contest: 109.

Nearly 100 high school student teams entered the Challenge this year. Their business plan entries were dominated by ideas for apps, most with a social-impact twist. 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 company, followed by time for Q&A and feedback.

A first for this contest: Two winners, one from the FIU Track and one from the High School Track, tackled the same big problem — restaurant food waste — with somewhat similar solutions. We suggest they team up!

And the winners are ...

Community Track: Cargo42, a B2B sharing-economy solution that matches shippers in need with local trucking companies with cargo space to fill, won the Community Track. Apollonix, an online platform for marketing and ordering and oral prosthetics, came in second. Third was Caribu, an app that marries video-calling and e-books to provide an interactive experience when family members are far apart.

FIU Track: Nuvola, creator of guest management software that helps hotels monitor and respond to hotel and guest needs, won the FIU Track. MunchSquad, a mobile app that enables restaurants, bakeries and supermarkets to reduce surplus food by selling it to hungry college students, was second. Third went to Use Your Words, an app used by parents to teach language and communication to their pre-verbal and nonverbal children on the autism spectrum.

High School Track: Smart Straws, a plan to offer a straw that detects the most common rape drugs when placed in drinks, won the track. Micki’s, an app that would enable restaurants to advertise real-time flash sales on specific meals when business has been slow, was second. VetNet, an app that would help veterans combat issues including unemployment and unavailability of resources, won third. An honorable mention went out to LocatED, a community emergency response app.

The weeklong People’s Pick competition, which attracted 12,130 votes, heated up on social media. In the end, SettleiTsoft, a web-based and mobile platform that offers 24/7 assistance to debtors and creditors to streamline debt negotiation, won the FIU Track with 2,812 votes and the most elaborate consumer-focused social media campaign, in two languages and spanning the Americas. Use Your Words came in second with 1,225 votes, and MunchSquad came in third in the FIU race.

In the Community Track’s People’s Pick competition, Cargo42 came in first with 1,820 votes, Caribu was on its tail with 1,682, and School Climate Solutions, customized on-demand content for educators, parents and students that helps improve school environments, came in third.

And, drumroll please ... The Challenge Champion, our overall winner, was Cargo42 because of the high judges’ scores and the strong People’s Pick showing.

What separated today’s featured winners from the pack? The written business plans scored well in most of the key areas, including business model, marketing strategy, financials, management team, value proposition and market opportunity. Many of the teams have sought mentorship and support from community entrepreneurship organizations — and it showed.

Some of today’s winners are first-timers or hoping to turn a side hustle into a full-time business; some are serial entrepreneurs or professionals with decades of industry experience. Yet they all are in the early stages of their startups. We will be following their progress!

Find profiles of the 2017 Challenge winners through the links below or on MiamiHerald.com/challenge.

Challenge Champion: Trucking meets tech in Cargo42’s winning strategy

FIU Track Winner: Software created by hoteliers for hoteliers is primed to scale

High School Track Winner: A simple straw to help combat a widespread rape problem? ‘Brilliant’

This startup wants to help you keep your toothy smile

Far away, yet so near: App lets kids, distant loved ones read together

Excess restaurant food + hungry college students = winning social venture idea

Startup developing a useful, affordable tool to help nonverbal children

Attacking consumer debt with a next-generation tech solution

Flash sales for foodies can help restaurants tackle food waste

Helping and connecting U.S. veterans is mission of VetNet

Emergency response app has real-time potential to save lives

Challenge finalists represents a range of industries

Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge judges

Entrepreneur bootcamp basics: Focus your vision, build a great team, listen to your customers

 

April 20, 2017

Latest national data on female-led teams show little progress, but there's hope for South Florida's future

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

17 percent: The percentage of tech startups that have at least one female founder. That number hasn’t budged much since 2012, Crunchbase’s updated study found.

Crunchbase’s inaugural study on female founder representation of U.S.-based companies was published in May 2015; this week it published an update.

Other findings from Crunchbase, an open-source database spun out from TechCrunch that tracks startups and funders:

For companies with an initial raise in 2016, female-founded companies are weighted toward education (32 percent), e-commerce (31 percent), healthcare (21 percent) and media and entertainment (21 percent) startups.

Female-led companies are raising less as they go up the venture food chain, Crunchbase found. In 2016, companies with at least one female founder raised 19 percent of all seed rounds, 14 percent of early-stage venture and 8 percent of late-stage venture rounds. They companies raised 17 percent of seed dollars, 13 percent of early-stage dollars and 7 percent of late-stage dollars.

Let’s put that in dollars and sense: Across all funding stages in 2016, $10 billion went to companies with at least one female founder contrasted with $94 billion invested in male-only founder teams, Crunchbase found.

Read about the study here.

Anecdotal evidence in South Florida suggests the numbers may be similar in South Florida but higher in the future. From my own observations, the number of women at tech events and conferences has been growing, albeit very slowly. I would be interested to know how much Refresh Miami’s female membership has grown percentage-wise, for instance.

But there seems to be more women-led companies developing in the very early stages. South Florida now has an accelerator for female entrepreneurs – Babson WIN Lab – and organizations aimed at growing more female angel investors such as Aminta Ventures are developing here. StartUP FIU’s second cohort of its Empower accelerator, open to all, is about 40 percent women. In the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge this year, which attracts pre-venture companies from all industries at the earliest stages, 48 percent of the entrants this year had female-led teams (either the CEO was female or the majority of the co-founding team was female), up from 12 percent in 2009. All this suggests more women-led businesses may be growing in our midst.

Stay tuned.

April 17, 2017

You be the judge: Vote in the Business Plan Challenge People's Pick

Challenge illustration

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

A way to combat restaurant food waste, an online platform for dental prosthetics, or a line of toys for boys of color? Or maybe it’s the sharing economy for trucking, the sharing economy for home-care services, or a grow-light for cannabis?

Or how about or a tool to negotiate consumer debt, a guest management platform for the hospitality industry, or a new clinic for mental health therapy? In the education space, an app that helps kids on the autism spectrum communicate with their parents, a solution for schools to combat bullying and a tool to bring families together at storytime complete the offerings.

Who is building the best new business? You tell us!

Today, we unveil the top six finishers in the Community and FIU Tracks of the 19th annual Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge, and we are asking you to support your favorite competitors. The People’s Pick is open for voting.

With just a couple of days’ notice, the contenders, all with emerging South Florida companies, presented elevator pitches under the hot lights of the Miami Herald and FIU studios.

To vote for your favorite startups, here’s what to do:

Find the voting page here or at hrld.us/BizPlan2017. View the short videos of the finalists’ elevator pitches. The six selections in the FIU Track follow the Community Track. Then scroll to the bottom of the voting page to cast your ballot, voting for one video in each track. You may vote once per day.

Lastly, get out the vote! Give your favorite entrepreneurial team more support by asking your social networks to vote. . Use hashtag #2017BizPlanMiami to follow along.

Voting closes at 11:59 p.m. April 24. The top voted team from each track track will be awarded the People’s Pick and honored in the May 8 Business Monday section along with the judges’ selections.

The contenders are:

COMMUNITY TRACK

Apollonix, pitched by Jessica Shin and Terri-Ann Brown, is the first online marketplace for ordering oral prosthetics and provides a win-win solution for both dentists and labs in this $10.9 billion industry.

Cargo42, pitched by Murilo Amaral and Alfredo Keri, is a B2B marketplace for local trucking. It helps shippers find lower rates, access quality service and have their goods delivered on time by matching them with pre-verified trucks with empty space in them.

Caribu, pitched by Maxeme Tuchman, marries video-calling and e-books to provide an interactive experience when family members are far apart. You simply make a call, choose a book together, and read or draw in real time as if you were in the same room.

Melanites, pitched by Jennifer Pierre, designs and creates diverse toys, storybooks and games that celebrate brown boyhood. Its mission is to inspire children of color to dream big, stand tall and live out their childhood.

Modulux Lighting, pitched by Bill Cummings, has created an LED-based grow-light product called GroMax focused on the massive cannabis market. GroMax lights are modular, programmable and scalable and can be assembled like Lego Blocks to create an efficient lighting solution for any size grower.

School Climate Solutions, pitched by Maribel Gonzalez, delivers customized on-demand content for educators, parents and students that helps improve school environments and creates pathways that lead to academic and social success.

FIU TRACK

DoUCare, pitched by Maurice Pinto, is a cloud-based platform that connects freelance caregivers to families seeking nonmedical home-care services for elderly loved ones. Careseekers get immediate or future-scheduled care services through a phone or web app. Caregivers get access to an online marketplace that gets them hired at the rate of their choice.

Ketamine Health Centers, pitched by Dennis Diaz and May Nunez, will own, develop and operate multiple outpatient clinics to provide ketamine infusions, a new treatment modality for patients suffering from mental-health disorders. The clinic provides an innovative use of the FDA-approved anesthetic ketamine, gaining recognition in the medical community.

MunchSquad, pitched by Tara Demren and Eliana Alba, is a mobile app providing a real-time marketplace that allows restaurants, bakeries and supermarkets to reduce surplus food being thrown out at the end of the day by having it sold at a discount to students. MunchSquad also facilitates partnerships with homeless shelters for the distribution of remaining food.

Nuvola, pitched by Juan Carlos Abello, provides guest management software that helps hotels monitor and respond to hotel and guest needs and activities. Nuvola, staffed entirely by professionals with hospitality industry experience, has created a customer-service platform with mobile applications designed to be used by the hotel staff and by hotel guests.

SettleiTsoft, pitched by Rich Rudner, provides a web-based and mobile accessible platform that offers 24/7 assistance to debtors and creditors as a bridge to facilitate and streamline the debt-negotiation process. It is designed to replace the traditional methods of debt resolution with an intuitive, interactive, transparent and secure online debt settlement process.

Use Your Words, pitched by Yanesa Montenegro, will develop an app used by parents to teach language and communication to their pre-verbal and nonverbal children on the autism spectrum. At its core, the app will be an interface of buttons with symbols representing words the child will press to communicate with parents, and will offer video tutorials and a progress recording feature.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

READ MORE: Find the complete list of semifinalists, including the High School Track, here.

April 10, 2017

234 entries, now it’s down to 30. The Business Plan Challenge semifinalists are ...

 

 

 

 

 

Challenge illustration
By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Education-related startups and social-mission concepts were two big trends among this year’s entries in the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge.

Passion poured from the pages of the 234 business plan entries in the 19th annual Challenge, a near record, and included concepts for healthcare, education, the sharing economy, fashion, music, healthy living, toys, pets and food products.

Today, we reveal the semifinalists in the Community, FIU and High School tracks.

Having the right ingredients to win over our judges wasn’t easy. They were looking at the viability of the business model and the market opportunity. They wanted to see a strong team to carry out the big vision, a smart marketing strategy and realistic financial projections. For concepts in crowded fields — and there were a lot of those — product or service differentiation was critical. A good idea alone wasn’t enough: Our judges demanded a strong plan for execution.

To be sure, our three panels of judges — serial entrepreneurs, investors, academics and executives — had their work cut out for them. In addition to our judges, we called upon experts from CIC Miami, SCORE Miami-Dade and the Small Business Development Center at FIU to help us evaluate the plans. The Community Track drew the most entries, 109, presenting a mix of businesses representative of South Florida’s entrepreneurial diversity.

Competition in the High School Track, co-sponsored by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship South Florida, heated up with nearly 100 entries. Ransom Everglades and Gulliver Prep made them part of class projects and accounted for about half of the total entries. The track was rich with ideas for social-impact ventures.

For all 234 of you who entered, congratulations! You now have a strong start on your business plan — your road map to growing your business.

Whether or not you made this cut, we encourage you to take advantage of community resources to get help with your businesses, such as SCORE chapters around South Florida, the Small Business Development Centers at FIU and in Broward, or StartUP FIU, which is open to the community and has opened a new food incubator, and other accelerators. If you are in Miami-Dade, enter the American Entrepreneurship Award contest (americanaward.com), with a share of $125,000 in prizes up for grabs, by the April 27 deadline.

What’s ahead? Next week we will launch our People’s Pick video competition, which includes the top six finishers in the Community and FIU Tracks. We hope you will support them with your votes. The winners, finalists and semifinalists in all three tracks will be included in a special section of Business Monday on May 8.

Here, in alphabetical order, are the semifinalists:

COMMUNITY TRACK

Apollonix, by Jessica Shin, Paul Shin and Terri-Ann Brown, is the first online marketplace for ordering oral prosthetics and provides a win-win solution for both dentists and labs in this $10.9 billion industry.

Aquaco Farms, by Joe Cardenas, is an aquaculture company that has selected the Florida Pompano as the best species for its grow-out. This high-margin fish has been limited on menus due to the challenge of meeting demand from wild stock.

Cargo42, by Francine Gervazio, Murilo Amaral and Alfredo Keri, is a B2B marketplace for local trucking. It helps shippers find lower rates, access quality service and have their goods delivered on time by matching them with pre-verified trucks with empty space in them.

Caribu, by Maxeme Tuchman and Alvaro Sabido, marries video-calling and e-books to provide an interactive experience when family members are far apart. You simply make a call, choose a book together, and read or draw in real time as if you were in the same room.

Melanites, by Jennifer Pierre, designs and creates diverse toys, storybooks and games that celebrate brown boyhood. Its mission is to inspire children of color to dream big, stand tall and live out their childhood.

Modulux Lighting, by Bill Cummings, has created an LED-based grow-light product called GroMax focused on the massive cannabis market. GroMax lights are modular, programmable and scalable and can be assembled like Lego Blocks to create an efficient lighting solution for any size grower.

Pierce Plan, by Kelly Pierce, is the first software platform to automatically track academic requirements in real time to help high school student athletes more easily obtain scholarships to play in college, compete in the classroom and succeed in life.

School Climate Solutions, by Maribel Gonzalez, delivers customized on-demand content for educators, parents and students that helps improve school environments and creates pathways that lead to academic and social success.

Surgical & Aesthetic Supplies, by Camilo F. Sanchez and Dr. Sheri Prentiss, sells designer compression garments created to support recovery and healing at an affordable price for many inflammatory conditions including lymphedema, arthritis, swelling following surgery, fractures, burns or other trauma.

VarDragons, by Thomas Byrd Jr., Jason Keasler and Joe Rjeili, has created technology to transform real airplanes into dragons through mobile devices. VarDragons (Virtual / Augmented Reality Dragons) is an innovative massive multiplayer online mobile game using a new mixed-reality technology.

VideoRehearser, by Carlos Vazquez and David L. Kay, is a cloud-based training management system using neurobehavioral and educational principles to increase retention and improve professional and personal performance.

Zulubots, by Elizabeth, Monica and Julian F. De Zulueta, is a consumer robotics company that focuses on the design and fabrication of assistive robots for the home to improve the resident’s quality of life and provide prolonged independence. Zulubots is developing Carrli, a robot that helps customers lift and carry objects around the home.

FIU TRACK

DoUCare, by Maurice Pinto, is a cloud-based platform that uses a crowdsourcing business model to connect freelance caregivers to families seeking nonmedical home-care services for their elderly loved ones. Careseekers can get immediate or future-scheduled care services through a phone or web app. Caregivers can get access to an online marketplace that gets them hired locally at the rate of their choice.

Ketamine Health Centers, by Dr. Raul Cruz, Dr. Francisco Cruz, Dennis Diaz and May Nunez, will own, develop and operate multiple outpatient clinics to provide ketamine infusions, a new treatment modality for patients suffering from mental-health disorders. The clinic provides an innovative use of the FDA-approved anesthetic ketamine, whose effectiveness in the treatment of mental health is gaining recognition in the medical community.

MunchSquad, by Tara Demren, Eliana Alba and Don Sirivat, is a mobile app providing a real-time marketplace that allows food vendors (restaurants, bakeries, supermarkets) to reduce surplus food being thrown out at the end of the day by having it sold at a discount to students. MunchSquad also facilitates partnerships with local homeless shelters for the distribution of remaining food after student sales.

Nuvola, by Juan Carlos Abello, provides guest management software that helps hotels monitor and respond to hotel and guest needs and activities. Nuvola, staffed entirely by professionals with hospitality industry experience, has created a customer-service platform with mobile applications designed to be used by the hotel staff and by hotel guests.

SettleiTsoft, by Antonio Garcia, Carlos Garcia and Rich Rudner, provides a web-based and mobile accessible platform that offers 24/7 assistance to debtors and creditors as a bridge to facilitate and streamline the debt-negotiation process. It is designed to replace the traditional methods of debt resolution with an intuitive, interactive, transparent and secure online debt settlement process that gives consumers complete control of negotiations.

Use Your Words, by Yanesa Montenegro and Pablo Gomez, will develop an app used by parents to teach language and communication to their pre-verbal and nonverbal children on the autism spectrum. At its core, the app will be an interface of buttons with symbols representing words the child will press to communicate with parents, and will offer video tutorials and a progress recording feature.

HIGH SCHOOL TRACK

BEST-Ware, by Eitan Dooreck-Aloni, Julia Ortiz and Erin Bakes of Ransom Everglades, is user-friendly software that enables parents to efficiently and effectively monitor and regulate their children’s phone usage while limiting the power struggle between parents and their children.

Coegi, by Yoav Grainer and Corey Kraftsow of Ransom Everglades, is a fun, innovative app that utilizes user restraint and gamification to discourage drivers from texting and driving. Coegi’s game rewards drivers for not using their phones while driving.

Equix, by Leonardo Nadais, Victor Rego and Aaron Carey of Gulliver Preparatory, is a portable, reusable water bottle that also includes a charger. Its target market is college students, athletes and office workers.

Gluton Free Zone, by Jamie Shapiro, Alexandra Yaniz and Juliana Yaniz of Gulliver Prep, is an app that would provide all the information necessary for anyone following a gluten-free diet, including what goods have gluten, gluten-free replacements, restaurant and supermarket recommendations, meal plans and more.

HART (High Altitude Rocket Transport), by Sebastian Abisleiman and Adrian Ruiz of the School for Advanced Studies, will inspire students around the world to consider engineering and STEM fields by providing innovative model rocket kits that can be improved upon by the collaborative global community.

LocatED, by Chase Feldman, Clinton Jules, Ben Manley, Marissa Manley, Eliza Morton, Stephanie Morton and Monica Wang of Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High, is a community emergency response app, helping registered users having a medical emergency find a medical device such as an inhaler or EpiPen nearby.

Micki’s, by Simon Bindefeld-Boccara and Jake Pelayo of Ransom Everglades, would create an app that enables restaurants to advertise real-time flash sales on specific meals when business has been slow, combating food waste and allowing more consumers to try their dishes.

Shock-Block, by Caroline Krystoff, Kate Heatzip and Danna Martinez of Pine Crest School, envisions Lacrosse Concussion Helmut Sensors that attach to the inside of a helmet to evaluate the impact and send an alert to the coach.

Smart Straws, by Susana Cappello, Carolina Baigorri and Victoria Roca of Gulliver Prep, would develop and market a line of straws that detect the most common rape drugs when they are placed in nonalcoholic or alcoholic drinks.

Speckey, by Aditya Devendra, Mihail Rogatykh and Paridhi Kapadia of American Heritage, is an innovative way to learn music and play a new instrument for beginners. Users can use the app to play via an interactive virtual diagram of the chords or keys.

SupportMe, by Harrison Kellner, Vivi Cardoso and Axel Rizzo of Gulliver Prep, is a social media app designed for teens who are victims of bullying or suffering from depression and anxiety. SupportMe will connect users who are going through similar struggles and also connect them with psychology students.

VetNet, by Carlos Esber, Austin Acosta and Julian Zighelboim of Ransom Everglades, is an app that would help veterans combat issues including unemployment, unavailability of resources like proper mental health therapy and lack of communication with people suffering similar experiences.

Congratulations to the semi-finalists and all 234 teams who completed plans and entered the Challenge. Keep us posted on your progress reaching your entrepreneurial dreams.

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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