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.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

April 03, 2017

Eight schools compete in teen entrepreneurship showdown Innovate South Florida -- And the winners are...

Rentall

 

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

A concept for leveraging the sharing economy, a healthy food restaurant chain for lower income communities, a product for athletes and a video production service wowed the judges at last week's Innovate South Florida, a business plan competition among South Florida private schools to benefit the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) South Florida. It was held last Monday at the IDEA Center at Miami Dade College.

 In the event, eight of the top private schools in South Florida competed first in semi-final rounds and then in a final round to determine the winner. Each team did a 7-10 minute business plan presentation in front of the judges -- angel investor Greg Diamond, Ramiro Almeida of Miami Dade College's Innovation Lab, Ryan Cohen of Chewy.com and Jordy Levy of Softbank Capital  -- who then had five minutes to question them.

The team from American Heritage's Plantation Campus won with  RentAll, a business focused on  providing a consumer-to-consumer rental platform for products of all kinds.  The students presenting for American Heritage were Yash Daftary and Brandon Dinner (pictured above).

RentAll was also the 3rd place winner in the high school track in the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge in 2016, and the student entrepreneurs have been working hard to make their concept a reality. After winning in the Challenge, the teens also participated in a Startup Weekend to continue building their idea. The team recently developed and finalized more marketing and advertising strategies such as a student ambassador program that it will launch during upcoming beta testing.

What was RentAll's winning strategy for Innovate South Florida?

"We prepared for the competition by creating a pitch deck for investors and pitching that to the judges. We tried to hit every aspect possible so that not too many questions could be asked. We also watched a lot of startup pitches online so we could see what kind of questions could be asked and so we could get creative ideas for pitching our own presentation," said Daftary.

Other finalists in order of finish were Gulliver (second place) for Fresh Zone, an affordable healthy fast-food concept targeted at lower-income neighborhoods. The students were Dania Fernandez, Alex Anton and Orest Danyliv.

Third place went to Pine Crest School for Protecht Sports, an ankle support for high school and college athletes, presented by  students Jordan Taney, Blake Kravitz and Jared Gould.

Fourth place went to Palmer Trinity and the students' idea was TeenVe, which would provide video production services to schools supporting charitable endeavors. It was presented by students Henry Fernandez and Duncan Stoner.

Other schools participating were Ransom Everglades, Columbus High School, American Heritage Delray Campus and Hebrew Academy(RASG). Many of the schools, like Gulliver, held their own internal business plan competitions to determine their representative at this event. 

The event was supported by Wheels Up, Celebrity Cruises, PNC Bank, Seeman Holtz, EY, Evensky & Katz/Foldes Financial and DDB. Miami Dade College was the host for the second year in a row.

"I am so grateful for the support of the schools and their students who did an incredible thing participating in an event whose purpose is to raise awareness of and support for NFTE and its mission of providing entrepreneurship education to under-resourced students," said Richard Jackson, advisory board chairman of NFTE. NFTE South Florida is currently serving 39 public schools and has helped over 30,000 students learn about entrepreneurship and leadership.

NFTE also has been running school competitions in the run-up to its final showdown in its Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge May 18 from 6  pm to 9 pm at Briza on the Bay. Meet the young entrepreneurs at the event's Student Business Expo and cheer on NFTE South Florida's top youth businesses as they compete for a chance to represent South Florida at the National Challenge in New York City. Register here.

Innovate

All of the winners of the 2017 Innovate South Florida competition are pictured here. At top, Yash Daftary and Brandon Dinner pitch RentAll, which won the contest.

 

March 31, 2017

University of Miami School of Business awards nearly $50K in Business Plan Competition. And the winners are...

Ventures producing a high-performance computer with a water cooling system and an online portal to help high school student athletes obtain college scholarships have taken top honors in the 2017 University of Miami Business Plan Competition, hosted by the University’s School of Business Administration. The competition winners, who took home a combined total of nearly $50,000 in first, second, third and other prizes, were announced March 30 following the final round of competition the same day.

Grand Prizes

1st

David Gantt, pictured above, an international finance and marketing major at the School of Business and Chester Montefering, an industrial engineering major, won the Grand Prize and $10,000 in the undergraduate student category for XIX Computing. Their venture aims to produce a computer system with a water cooling system to better address the high-performance computing needs of the computer gaming industry.

1st too

In the graduate student and alumni category, Kelly Pierce, pictured above, who graduated in 2012 as a community and social change major, took home the Grand Prize and $10,000 for her venture, Pierce Plan. It’s billed as the first SAAS LMS licensing and delivery model to automatically track academic requirements in real time to help high school student athletes more easily obtain scholarships to pay for college. Pierce also won the People’s Choice Award and $1,000.

Second Place

2nd twoo

Second Place in the undergraduate student category and $6,000 went to Dylan Cohen (pictured above), a biology major, for Frest, a hand-held device and mobile application that facilitates contact information exchange.

2nd

 

Second Place in the graduate student and alumni category and $6,000 went to Thomas R. Byrd Jr. and Jason S. Keasler (pictured above), both 2016 MBA graduates from the School of Business, along with Joe Rjeili, for VarDragons, a reality mobile game that turns airplanes into dragons through mobile devices.

Third Place

3rd 22

Third Place in the undergraduate student category and $4,000 went to Nelly Sudri, an advertising management major and Lauren Peaslee, a public relations major, for Sobe Media Group (pictured above). It’s a Miami-based social media marketing agency aimed at helping brands increase their social media reach.

3rd

Third Place in the graduate student and alumni category and $4,000 went to Josh Fu, who graduated from the School of Business in 2010 as an international finance and marketing major, for Haathi Cloth (pictured above). The venture aims to produce modern, comfortable and machine-washable kurtas, an outfit worn at Indian weddings and dance competitions.

Honorable Mentions

An honorable mention and $1,000 was presented in the undergraduate student category to Don Sirivat, an engineering major, and Kevin Fich, a computer science major, for Cleanswipe, a mobile payment platform for scheduling laundry appointments. The honorable mention in the graduate student and alumni category went to Marcella McCarthy, who graduated in 2005 as an English major, for Skillied, a web platform where schools and other institutions can list their local classes and people can book a seat.

The 2017 Business Plan Competition started last fall when 81 concept papers were submitted to the judging committee. From those submissions, 31 semifinalist teams prepared business plans and were then presented to the judges on March 29. Four winners in each of the two categories were then named to compete in the final round on March 30, with the winners named shortly afterward.

This year’s competition sponsors included Sean Goldstein, The Gomberg Family, The Heffner Family, JES Global Capital Partners, The Nunez Family, and Oscar Callejas. Now in its 15th year, the Business Plan Competition is open to all University of Miami students and alumni.

Past winners in the competition have gone on to build their ventures into businesses that have garnered national attention. They include such companies College Hunks Hauling Junk and My Therapy Journal.com, both of which have been featured on ABC Television's “Shark Tank.”

Other Awards

In addition to the three top prizes and honorable mentions in each category, the Paul K. Sugrue Entrepreneurial Spirit Award and $2,000 was presented to Benjamin Leis, who graduated in 2004 as a broadcast journalism major, for Comic Cure. The venture uses the unifying power of laughter to uplift and engage communities around important causes.

The Best Presentation Award in the undergraduate student category went to Dylan Cohen for Frest. The Best Presentation Award in the graduate student and alumni category went to Jennifer Pierre, who graduated from the School of Business as an entrepreneurship and marketing major, for Melanites. Her venture designs diverse toys, storybooks and games that celebrate brown boyhood. Each Best Presentation Award winner received $2,000.

Entrepreneurship Symposium

In the lead-up to the competition finals, UM alumni Omar Soliman, co-founder and CEO of College Hunks Hauling Junk, Jamie Rosenberg, founder and CEO of ClassWallet and Albert Santalo, founder and former CEO of CareCloud, offered their ideas, advice and insights to students at the half-day Entrepreneurship Symposium, which also included panel discussions on Miami’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and venture capital opportunities.

“Starting a business is like running a marathon,” said Rosenberg. “You have to take micro steps one at a time. But the most important thing is understanding what’s driving your heart.”

“It has never been easier to become an entrepreneur,” added Santalo. “There are many great platforms to help you launch a business with very little outside funding. If you are serious about your idea and willing to work hard every day, I encourage you to jump in. Otherwise, you’ll be watching from the sidelines.”

READ THE ENTREPRENEURSHIP SYMPOSIUM RECAP HERE.

- Submitted by University of Miami

March 12, 2017

5 reasons to enter the Business Plan Challenge by March 20

Challenge illustration

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

 

May 09, 2016

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

Challenge illo (1)

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.

April 08, 2016

University of Miami's Business Plan Competition: And the winners are...

Groovy Guitar Picks-Undergraduate2

Groovy Guitar: Undergraduate student Grand Prize winner Ryan Pollowitz

 

AlulA-Graduate
AlulA; (L-R) Graduate student Grand Prize winners Jason Keasler, Thomas Byrd and Joe Rjeili

 

Amy & Her Friends-Alumni

Amy & Her Friends: (L-R) Alumni Grand Prize winners Andrew Aidman and Melanie DiPietro

Innovations in the areas of guitar picks, aerospace and cinema have taken top honors in the 2016 University of Miami Business Plan Competition, hosted by the University’s School of Business Administration. The competition winners, honored in an awards ceremony April 7, took home a combined total of $54,500 in first, second, third and other prizes.

Grand Prizes

Ryan Pollowitz won the Grand Prize and $10,000 in the undergraduate student category for Groovy Guitar Picks, a company that gives old, scratched vinyl records new life by turning them into high-quality guitar picks. In the graduate student category, Joe Rjeili, Jason Keasler, and Thomas Byrd took home the Grand Prize and $10,000 for their venture, AlulA Aerospace, whose patent-pending technology will securely gather and send to data centers, airplane black box data while still in air. And in the University of Miami alumni category, Andrew Aidman and Melanie DiPietro won the Grand Prize and $10,000 for Amy & Her Friends, a live-action movie that tells a story of a middle school girl’s journey to make friends.

Second Place

Second Place in the undergraduate category and $5,000 went to Justin Levy and Tommy Rappa for U-brella, an automated umbrella rental kiosk that can be located, and reservations made, via mobile app. Second Place in the graduate category and $5,000 went to Kristina Francillon of Savert Food, which manufactures a line of all-natural seasoning pastes for home chefs and is already in a few stores and farmers markets. Second Place in the alumni category was a tie with each team winning $3,750. One prize went to Sabrina Taldone, Bhaumik Shah, and Lokesh Ramamoorthi of Pathologix, an online platform that allows physicians in India to obtain real-time consultations with pathological sub-specialists in the U.S.; the other went to Carlos Lovera, George Wayne, Mark Jacobs, Anthony Perez-Sanz, and Aaron Bronshtein for Flolink, a venture developing a medical device that automates patient monitoring. 

Third Place

Third Place in the undergraduate category and $2,500 went to Jaqueline Gulla and Dominic Annecca for On-Demand Wash, an Uber-like laundry service phone app. Third Place in the graduate category and $2,500 went to David Getz for Fly Feet, a sock company that will introduce patented Snap Socks that snap together with a heat-proof plastic snap so they don't get lost in the laundry. 

In addition to the undergraduate, graduate and alumni category prizes, the Paul K. Sugrue Entrepreneurial Spirit Award and $1,000 was presented to Paula Landron and Michaela Senior of FUOCO, a pizzeria for the late-night crowd, made out of a shipping container. 

The new Heffner Spirit of Social Entrepreneurship Award and its $1,000 prize was awarded to Ashley Wrushen of Nutritexts, a free texting service for low-income families to purchase local, fresh and nutritious produce directly from food producers and retailers.  

“This year’s presentations were very sophisticated,” said Susy Alvarez-Diaz, director of entrepreneurship programs at the University of Miami School of Business. “Having events on campus such as Shark Tank tryouts and the coursework that involves practice pitching really prepares the students. This was not their first at-bat.” 

The Business Plan Competition started last fall when concept papers were submitted to the judging committee. Ultimately 15 final teams were selected to present to the judges on April 6-7, with the winners named on the second day. This year’s presenting sponsor was the Finker Frenkel Legacy Foundation.

Now in its 14th year, the Business Plan Competition is open to all University of Miami students and alumni. Past winners in the competition have gone on to build their ventures into businesses that have garnered national attention. They include such companies College Hunks Hauling Junk and My Therapy Journal.com, both of which have been featured on ABC Television's “Shark Tank,” a reality program in which entrepreneurs share their business ideas with a group of five self-made millionaires in hopes of getting venture capital to help them attain similar levels of success.

March 25, 2016

5 reasons to enter the Business Plan Challenge

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

You have about a few more days to participate in the 2016 Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge — and a little more time if you are a high school student. If you are on the fence about whether to enter, jump over. Here are five reasons to get moving:

  1. Motivation. Perhaps you’ve been meaning to write a short business plan. Well, 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. 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 [See last year’s video contest here.] 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 them for years to come.
  3. Feedback and education. I’ll share feedback from the judges with you if you request it, whether or not you are a finalist. Winners will also receive 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. 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 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 business staff and invited to FIU’s Hall of Fame reception honoring entrepreneurs.
  5. Pride. I know you’re passionate about your concept — and aren’t you just a wee bit competitive?

The deadline is March 28 for the Community and FIU Tracks; the High School Track deadline is April 4. Contest rules are at MiamiHerald.com/challenge.

If you entered last year and weren’t one of the top three winners, 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.

Do you have questions? Email ndahlberg@MiamiHerald.com or tweet @ndahlberg.


March 19, 2016

Tick-tock, Business Plan Challenge deadline looms - your questions answered

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Planning to enter the Business Plan Challenge? Time is ticking away.

We offer three tracks to win our contest, which is sponsored by the Florida International University Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center. There is a community track, open to all South Floridians; an FIU track for the university’s students and alumni; and a high school track. You can enter our contest with a business idea or an existing business if it is not more than 2 years old. The deadline is March 28 for the community and FIU tracks and April 4 for the high school track.

Here are some common questions we have received.

I entered last year but did not win. May I enter again?

Yes, we welcome repeaters, as long as you were not one of the top three winners or the People’s Pick and your business isn’t more than 2 years old. Several of our winners of the past did not bring home the win the first year they entered. Freshen up that plan and try again.

May I enter both the community and FIU tracks with the same plan?

Nope, pick one. For the FIU track, at least one member of your top management team must be student or alumnus of the university.

Is there a required template I should follow for my entry?

The short answer is no. Your entry is a three-page business plan, with one addendum page allowed for a chart or graphic, and we allow people the freedom to send it in as they would like. But we suggest you consider including all or most of this information: brief product or service description; problem it is solving in the market (market need); a little about your target market and competition; relevant experience of your team; your business model — how you will make money — and growth strategy (how will you scale it); your marketing strategy (how will you get the word out and sell it); and some financials, for example your startup costs and three years of projections. It can be done. Keep each section brief — bulleted items are your friend. Many use their extra page for their financial chart.

Some people download templates for business plans (easily found in a Google search) and include the categories most relevant. Some use an executive summary they already have written and add to it. People who already have investor decks already have the info in a concise way — just put it into a three-page word doc and you are done. If you are starting from scratch, good for you! You have probably been meaning to do it anyway, and it will be a roadmap you can continue to update in months and years to come. Find the rules of the Challenge here.

Why the page limit?

Short business plans are in vogue, actually. Investors (and judges) tell me they want the information fast and brief and will ask for more info as they need it. Learning to be concise is both a science and an art, and our judges (who are often in positions where they read a LOT of business plans) have told me over the years that in real life, if you don’t capture their attention in the first page or even the first paragraph, they will move on. Pro tip: Ask someone who doesn’t know anything about your business or business concept to read your plan, or at least the first few paragraphs, to make sure they understand it.

Also, though our judges are almost super-human, we can’t ask them to judge hundreds of full business plans. You can meet our judges here.

What is the biggest mistake people make when they enter?

A lot of entrants spend too much of their precious three pages talking about all the features of their product or service and don’t include enough about the problem it solves, your target market, your business model and how you plan to make money, your team, your financials and your marketing strategy.

Another judge comment I see on a lot of plans: Think bigger. A lot of entrants have concepts with market growth potential but don’t express how they would expand beyond their initial markets. A lot of advice was shared at our recent Business Plan Bootcamp – read about it here.

Any other tips?

Yep. Show your passion. Make every word count. Keep each section brief: Bullet points are your friend. Don’t forget financials: Judges want to see you have thought through startup and operating costs and would like to see projections for at least the first three years. Don’t wait till the last minute. Here are some good reasons to enter.

May I enter more than one business idea?

Yes, as long as they are separate entries.

Why don’t you have a social entrepreneurship track?

We welcome social entrepreneurial companies in all our tracks. We’ve had several winners in recent years with social-impact missions, particularly in the high school track. The plan must be for a for-profit business, not a nonprofit.

My daughter is in the eighth grade. May she enter in the high school track?

Yes, we welcome ambitious middle school students in the high school track. Good luck to her!

Ready, set, enter! Find everything you need on MiamiHerald.com/challenge.

Have a question? Email ndahlberg@miamiherald.com and put Challenge in the subject line.