March 16, 2017

Have a big idea to tackle climate change? Singularity U’s Global Impact Challenge wants you


Have an idea to tackle climate change in South Florida? Singularity University and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced the 2017 Global Impact Challenge in Miami on Thursday.

Singularity University is an education and innovation center based in Silicon Valley that uses exponential technologies to tackle the world’s biggest challenges. Its Miami Global Impact Challenge invites individuals from any technology or science discipline to enter.

Previously hosted in Miami in 2015, the Knight-supported Global Impact Challenge is open to all U.S. residents and citizens over the age of 21. Applications can be submitted through April 16. The winning team will receive a full sponsorship to attend Singularity’s Global Solutions Program held June 17-Aug. 17 and work with Singularity’s network of mentors and technology labs.

“This year, we are looking for applicants who have the skills and passion to develop big ideas to help solve climate-related challenges in South Florida, including ideas ripe for innovation, such as sea level rise, extreme flooding and other vulnerabilities to civic strategies of awareness, education and resiliency,” said Regina Njima, director of Singularity University Global Impact Challenges.

More information on the Singularity Global Impact Challenge:


March 13, 2017

Startups: Apply now for eMerge Americas Startup Showcase, offering $175K in prizes



By Nancy Dahlberg /

eMerge Americas, Miami’s homegrown technology conference now heading into its fourth year, is accepting applications for the June event’s Startup Showcase, which brings together entrepreneurs from around the world to compete in front of expert judges and thousands of attendees.

The eMerge Americas team traveled throughout Latin America meeting with accelerator partners and investment groups, and as part of that eMerge also hosted several startup competitions in the region. eMerge Americas CEO Xavier Gonzalez expects a number of those startups to be participating in the showcase.

“We think there will be a stronger than ever Latin American flair amongst the entrepreneurs. But at the same time, as evidenced by all the funding rounds coming out and startups bubbling up within South Florida, we think the showing and the quality from South Florida will also be stronger,” Gonzalez said. “We think it will be a good showcase of the continued evolution of the ecosystem here in South Florida and in Latin America.”

The Startup Showcase, presenting opportunities for startups to connect with investors and business leaders, is accepting applications at through March 31. This year’s showcase, sponsored by Visa, will include participation from 125 startups in three tracks: Early stage, later stage and university.

All startups chosen for the showcase will be able to exhibit free of charge in the Startup Showcase area at eMerge Americas and participate in a free startup bootcamp before the conference. During the conference, they will pitch their ideas to judges for the chance to win up to $175,000 in cash and in-kind prizes, and finalists will present on stage.

The tech conference will return June 12-13 to Miami Beach Convention Center with a packed agenda of speakers and an active expo floor. WIT (Women, Innovation and Technology) Summit, launched in year two and bringing together women leaders from varying fields, and eGov, a gathering of public and private sector leaders, will also return as part of eMerge Americas. “We’ve spent the past few months working diligently to strike new partnerships and secure unique speakers to ensure eMerge 2017 surpasses all expectations,” Gonzalez said.

Last year’s conference, featuring Tony Hawk, Colin Powell, Ray Kurzweil, Monica Lewinsky and others, attracted about 13,000 attendees.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.



March 12, 2017

5 reasons to enter the Business Plan Challenge by March 20

Challenge illustration

By Nancy Dahlberg /

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 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 (, 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 Email your entries to (Community Track); or

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 (put Challenge in the subject line) or tweet @ndahlberg.

Good luck!


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


March 07, 2017

SUP-X: Entrepreneurial success is about being a humble hustler, visionary and hiring smart, SDI CEO says



By Nancy Dahlberg /

When Carmen Castillo gathers her worldwide executive team together a couple of times a year, she invites them to her house and she cooks for them.

“Why wouldn’t I? They would do anything for me. I want to show them they don’t work for me, I work for them,” said Castillo, who founded and heads SDI International, the U.S.’s largest company owned by a Latina. SDI, a Fort Lauderdale-based company that provides global procurement outsourcing, generates more than $3 billion in revenues and has locations all over the world. She was one of the keynote speakers (pictured above) at SUP-X: The Startup Expo at the Broward County Convention Center on Monday. SUP-X founder Bob Fitts called her a rare combination of phenomenal success and humility.

Castillo, a native of Spain, always knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur, something she believes you have to be born with. She was a certified chef when she came to this country 26 years ago, and almost overnight she went from running a kitchen to running SDI in South Florida. Only problem: Her business opened the day Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992. She hustled the company back on its feet in 1993.

“The first thing I did was learn about getting certified as a Latina minority and that was my secret to success,” said Castillo, who is president and CEO. “That program opened the door for most of my clients I have right now – IBM, Microsoft, Motorola, Lenovo – we are the number 1 worldwide supplier for Lenovo.” She said she always attends the NMSDC (National Minority Supplier Development Council) conference, which has a South Florida chapter. “Diversity opens doors but you have to bring value,” she said.

Successful entrepreneurs need to have vision, sales skills and constantly learning, she said. Another tip: Always hire people smarter than you, she said.

When Castillo interviews for executives and managers, she asked two questions: How are you smarter than me and what you will do for SDI. Once hired, the person is expected to run their operation like their own business.

She wasn’t surprised that research shows if you have a gender or minority diverse team your profitability goes up. Women-owned and minority-owned businesses grow faster than the community at large, she said.

“The fact we are immigrants means we are very daring,” she said. “When you start with nothing, you have nothing to lose. ... Small minority companies do go the extra mile, as we did, and they bring new ideas, they bring technology, they bring creativity. That is how they survive.”

Also at the conference, Rachel Braun Scherl, serial entrepreneur and principal of SPARK Solutions for Growth, told of her experience raising money from the overwhelmingly male venture capital industry for her startup with a female sexuality product, and then of an even tougher experience trying to get her ads placed. But she was much more successful selling her story about her ad fight to Nightline, and that was the big break her company needed.

Other conference speakers also talked about challenges women and minorities face raising capital. Corporate funds that invest in minority-run startups total about $150 million while venture totals more than $90 billion. For Golden Seeds, investing in women-led startups is not a social mission, but an investment thesis, said Rob Delman, managing director of the fund.

Felecia Hatcher, co-founder of Blacktech Week, reminded the crowd that diversity brings new perspectives. Take the jitney system in Little Haiti that has been operating for decades – sounds a lot like UberPOOL. “That was a missed opportunity for investors,” she said.

Other topics of the annual SUP-X on Monday included the nuts and bolts of angel investing, building a successful hardware startup and next-gen entrepreneurs, including Rachel Zietz, the Boca Raton teen founder of Gladiator Lacrosse who appeared on Shark Tank. The conference continues Tuesday with talks on startup marketing, social impact investing, healthcare innovation and a hardware competition.

Several dozen startups from South Florida and farther afield exhibit their solutions, including Winspire from Fort Lauderdale; The THX Co. from Hollywood; Jinglz from West Palm Beach; and UX Gofer, Emerge, Bid.Aero, Apollonix and Cargo42 from Miami. A handful of finalists will be selected to present to judges Tuesday afternoon for the chance to win a $30,000 grand prize.



And the startup competition winners were:
1st Place ($25,000) - Dev/Con Detect (Tampa)
2nd Place ($15,000) - Apollonix (Miami) pictured above and below
3rd Place ($10,000) - Edu(k)ate (Orlando)
The Hardware Cup regional winner was PlayDate out of New York




February 13, 2017

TechCrunch Pitch-Off Miami: And the finalists are ...


The Miami TechCrunch Meetup + Pitch-Off is Feb. 23, and the 10 competitors have just been announced. The startups will get 60 seconds to make their rapid-fire pitches to the audience and judges that will include local VCs and TechCrunch editors. The first place winner will receive a table for exhibiting at the upcoming TechCrunch Disrupt NY and runners-up will receive tickets to Disrupt.

Here are the finalists:

Even if you’re not on these lists, you’ll still have a shot to hop on stage because TechCrunch will be  raffling off one spot in the pitch-off as the WILDCARD startup.

Attendee tickets are $10 and the event, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., will be at the Paris Theater in Miami Beach.

You can buy tickets here.

February 06, 2017

23 South Florida startups selected to compete at SUP-X

Twenty-three South Florida startups have been selected as semi-finalists in the SUP-X: The StartUp Expo's startup competition in Fort Lauderdale in March.

The companies will each receive a free booth at the international conference and will be considered for the finals to compete for $50,000 in cash prizes. In total, 50 startups from 10 states and 25 cities have been selected.

The 23 selected South Florida participants are: Paywithchip, GoGig, RentLit, and Winspire from Fort Lauderdale; Slurpits from Dania Beach; The THX Co. from Hollywood; GoGym from Palm City; Pickk from Pompano Beach; from Stuart; Jinglz and Carpe Solutions from West Palm Beach; Honorlock and Candidate.Guru from Boca Raton; and Project Ghost Studios, Symptify, UX Gofer, Same Day Pros, People As A Service, Emerge, Bid.Aero,, Apollonix, and Cargo42 from Miami.

 “We have startups coming from all over North America and the Caribbean," said conference founder Bob Fitts of Miami, in the announcement. "The exchange of ideas, learning opportunities and chance to form relationships make for a great experience for them. It will be interesting to see who wins, but it should be a very valuable experience for them regardless.”

The two-day conference and expo will be held March 6-7 at the Broward Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale. In addition to its startup competition, SUP-X will  feature a “Diversity in Entrepreneurship Forum” and about 18 panels, speeches and keynote addresses on topics such as the importance of good design, minority access to capital, fintech and blockchain, raising capital and becoming a better angel investor.  Speakers include Scott Decker, CEO of MDLive; Carmen Castillo, founder, president and CEO of Fort Lauderdale-based SDI International; Albert Santalo, founder of CareCloud; and Rachel Zietz of Boca Raton,  who recently appeared on Shark Tank.

Tickets to SUP-X range from $59-$399. More information about SUP-X: or contact  


January 31, 2017

American Entrepreneurship Award, with $125K in prizes, opens for entries

The American Entrepreneurship Award (AEA), a program created and funded by the Libra Group, has begun accepting submissions for its second annual award.

The AEA focuses on identifying promising entrepreneurs in Miami-Dade County and the Bronx, New York, whose business plans exhibit sustainability, innovation and a positive impact on the local communities. Applications can be submitted at until April 27 and winners will be announced in June. Interested entrepreneurs can also take advantage of training events slated for March and April, including business ideation, entrepreneurship legal clinics, and funding and marketing boot camps, to help improve their applications.

Launched with an initial $500,000 commitment from Libra, the AEA provides six winners with a share of $125,000 in business startup funding, as well as mentorship and business support services. The award’s panel of judges comprises a group of seasoned entrepreneurs including Daymond John, the founder of FUBU, Presidential Ambassador of Global Entrepreneurship and Co-star of ABC’s Shark Tank.

The 2016 American Entrepreneurship Award winners from Miami-Dade County were:

*StatLab Mobile ( a complete mobile medical laboratory with the capabilities to test blood and urine samples on site at any location. Their goal is to provide quality blood testing for the insured and the uninsured at a fraction of the traditional cost.

*ValueDoc ( a free online health and wellness marketplace where cash or self-pay patients find local, quality, pre-screened doctors offering basic services, like dental cleaning, cardiology consultations, MRI, urgent care visits, plastic surgery, physical therapy, acupuncture, skin consultation, etc., at discounted prices of up to 80% off retail.

*CourtBuddy ( an automated legal matchmaking system that pairs consumers and small businesses with solo attorneys for a-la-carte legal services based on an individual’s budget.

"Winning the 2016 AEA was a game changer for Court Buddy," said James Jones, Jr., Esq, CEO of Court Buddy. "Being able to tap into this network has helped our founding team become better business owners and has helped Court Buddy scale exponentially to provide affordable and needed legal services to the residents of Miami-Dade County and beyond."

To learn more about the American Entrepreneurship Award, visit

January 25, 2017

Apply by Feb. 6 to compete at TechCrunch Pitch-Off Miami


Calling all South Florida startups!

You have till Feb. 6 to put your name in the running to pitch your company at TechCrunch’s Meetup+Pitch-Off Miami event on Feb. 21.

The TechCrunch editorial team will pick about 10 local startups to pitch their companies on stage for 60 seconds in front of a panel of Miami VCs, entrepreneurs and TechCrunch editors. Winners will get tickets or demo space to TechCrunch’s flagship Disrupt New York conference in May.

Enter to pitch here. 

If you don’t get picked to pitch, no worries, TechCrunch is also going to pull a wildcard drawing, where one lucky startup in the audience will randomly be selected to pitch on stage. You can buy tickets to the event here. This is the first time the event has come to Miami.


January 17, 2017

SUP-X: The StartUp Expo to host regional finals of national hardware startup competition

SUP-X: The StartUp Expo announced that it had formed a partnership with Pittsburgh based accelerator AlphaLab Gear and that it will host the Southeast Regional competition of AlphaLab Gear’s Hardware Cup, one of the country’s most prestigious startup competitions focused on hardware.   

“We can’t wait to see who they select as finalists to compete at SUP-X,” said Bob Fitts, founder and producer of SUP-X, which is held at the Broward Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, each winter.

Six teams will be chosen from online applications to give a four-minute pitch in front a panel of Hardware Cup judges at SUP-X.  Judges will have five minutes to ask questions and the teams are judged on commercial viability, team capability and demonstrated commitment.  Regional finalists receive $3,000, a free one-year SOLIDWORKS license, as well as other prizes and a chance to win a $50,000 investment from Startbot VC at the Hardware Cup National Finals in May.  

“The growth of IoT, the falling cost of sensors, and increased access to tools and resources through makerspaces like TechShop make it cheaper, faster, and easier than ever before to get a hardware startup off the ground,” said Ilana Diamond, managing director at AlphaLab Gear. "The goal of the Hardware Cup is to find and highlight the most promising hardware startups in the nation, and we can't wait to hit the road and see what talent is out there this year."

SUP-X and Fort Lauderdale join Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Boston, Washington DC, Chicago and Austin as regional Hardware Cup hosts.  

Startups interested in applying to the regional Hardware Cup competition at SUP-X may apply at

SUP-X: The StartUp Expo is March 6-7, 2017, at the Broward Convention Center.  SUP-X is a two-day, international startup and early-stage conference at the Greater Fort Lauderdale-Broward Convention Center.    The event features a special “Diversity in Entrepreneurship Forum” to address the needs of those typically under-addressed in the startup and venture capital communities.  SUP-X will also have about 18 speeches and panel discussions on topics of interest to investors and entrepreneurs alike, as well as  its own startup competition with $50,000 in cash divided among three winners.  Fifty startups from over three-dozen US cities will exhibit at SUP-X for free.  Tickets to SUP-X range from $59-$399. 

More information about SUP-X may be found at or by contacting

There will be a free Miami kickoff event for SUP-X with a pitch contest on Jan. 26 at More info and to register:

- Submitted by SUP-X: The StartUp Expo

Read last year's Miami Herald coverage from SUP-X here.



Check out the 12 Miami finalists of the 2017 Knight Cities Challenge

A neighborhood market for Overtown, a civic innovation competition for college students and a network of mobile popup containers ready for activations are among the Miami finalists in the the third annual Knight Cities Challenge.

Chosen from a pool of more than 4.500 applicants, 144 concepts nationwide have made it to the finalist round, including 12 from Miami, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced Tuesday. The Knight Cities Challenge is a national call for ideas to make the 26 communities where Knight invests more vibrant places to live and work.

Winners, who will receive a share of up to $5 million, will be announced in the spring.

The finalists from Miami are:

95 Park by Omni Community Redevelopment Agency (submitted by Jason Walker): Giving the Omni community a place to gather by converting three blighted, vacant city blocks into a large urban park with businesses, a skate park, art installations and restaurants.

Dan Paul Park Recreation Center (submitted by Mauricio Velazquez): Transforming Dan Paul Park into an active recreation hub by installing soccer fields, bike paths and a playground.

Green Space Pop-ups by Audubon Florida (submitted by Eric Draper): Creating incentives for developers to lend private vacant land for green spaces in urban Miami-Dade.

Instant City: A micro-urban infrastructure (submitted by James Brazil): Creating a network of mobile pop-up containers to activate underused public spaces and carparks around the city.

Ludlam Days by Green Mobility Network (submitted by Mari Chael): Building momentum for the Miami Loop, a proposed 70-mile greenway, through a series of events and demonstrations.

Magic City Innovation Challenge by Venture Cafe Miami (submitted by Leigh-Ann Buchanan): Nurturing Miami’s native talent and emerging innovation ecosystem through a competition that challenges college students to solve real-world civic and business problems.

Miami Great Streets Program by Street Plans Collaborative (submitted by Anthony Garcia): Establishing a program within Miami-Dade County in partnership with local transportation nonprofit Green Mobility Network that advances low-cost, quick-build transportation and open space projects.

The MIA Market (submitted by Mauricio Velazquez): Reinvigorating Overtown while creating opportunities for residents and chefs by repurposing a vacant warehouse into a neighborhood market.

OurSchoolYards (submitted by Wifredo Fernandez): Bridging the divide between communities and their public schools by transforming underused school yards into public parks.

Rep(resentative) MIA by Engage Miami (submitted by Rob Biskupic-Knight): Breaking down barriers to civic participation by putting clear, actionable information about local elected officials directly into citizens’ hands.

WiFi Parks @ Overtown by Venture Cafe Miami (submitted by Leigh-Ann Buchanan): Bringing public Wi-Fi to parks in Overtown to improve digital access and encourage people to connect in the outdoors.

Civic Incite: Citizens Setting the Agenda (submitted by Civic Incite): Inspiring civic engagement with an online platform that tracks public meetings and legislation across cities to promote in-person engagement with local governments. Finalist in the “Multiple Cities” category.

In addition, there were two finalists from Palm Beach County: 12 for 12: Pop-up to Rent, with a plan to activate 12 empty storefront spaces as an economic catalyst for West Palm Beach, and The Tie Beam, which creates a public space parallel to the railroad tracks in downtown West Palm Beach that encourages pedestrian activity and integrates public art, transportation and urban design.

“The finalists use creativity and inventiveness to tackle community challenges and realize new opportunities, proposing ideas that are unique to their city, but also hold lessons and inspiration for civic innovators across the country,” said George Abbott, Knight Foundation director for community and national initiatives.

Last year, three Miami projects were winners: The Underline project, a linear park under the Metrorail, “Biscayne Green,” a pop-up park spearheaded by the Miami Downtown Development Authority underway now, and a civic technology user testing group. In total, they received $495,000 in funding.

Nationwide, applicants proposed a wide range of ideas, from technology to better connects local government with the public and increase voter engagement, to creating public spaces – parks, trails, pools, and even treehouses – that connect people from diverse backgrounds and contribute to economic growth. Many of the projects also address racial divides, blighted neighborhoods, and social and economic inequities.

Now in its third year, the challenge is part of a three-year, $15 million commitment that Knight Foundation launched in the fall of 2014. Since then, the Knight Cities Challenge has named 69 winning ideas. See the full list of 2017 finalists at