October 21, 2015

Guest post: Why tech startups should incorporate in Florida

By Lior Leser

LeserEvery journey, even an entrepreneurial one, starts with a first step. Every new product, innovative service or groundbreaking technology starts with the formation of a company. Forming a company, forces us to move beyond the theoretical, the idea. It enables us to create a concrete vehicle in which to form, crystalize and enable our dreams. More so, forming a company, provides the us with many important legal benefits; chief among these are (1) limited liability (2) tax benefits and (3) deduction of expenses. But where should you form the company?

Most entrepreneurs know that they need to form an entity. What few understand is in what state should they form their next tech startup? Many are advised to incorporate in Delaware. Others are intrigued by having a California or New York company. Most are surprised to find out that Florida is one of the best and most popular states in which to incorporate tech startups.

Technologies startups are unlike startups in most other industries. The tech industry is unique in allowing successive failures and missteps to grow into tremendous successes. In many industries failure can be hard to overcome. Failure brands the individual and makes him less likely to attract talent and funds in the future. Not so in technology. One of the keys to success in technology is the ability to innovate, execute and most importantly pivot.

Entrepreneurs are continuously challenged to develop new and innovative products and services with full knowledge than many, if not most, will fail to gain market traction. What professional investors backing these startups are looking for in entrepreneurs is the ability to execute, learn and where necessary change. The ability to realize as quickly as possible where failure lies can often be the key to future success.

In a few states, Florida included, the legal environment supports this unique take on corporate evolution and growth. In these states, forming a corporate entity is (1) inexpensive (2) quick (preferably online)(3) and can easily be accomplished by the entrepreneurs themselves.

The reality is that across the 50 states, Florida stands among only a handful of states that enable tech entrepreneurs to quickly, easily and inexpensively form companies. Today, California claims it takes about a week to form a company. In my experience, it can take as long as a couple of months. In comparison, in Florida you form a company immediately and receive a confirmation by email the next business day.

In Delaware and California, all company formations are submitted in writing. Legal documents together with a cover letter must be typed, submitted by mail and use explicit formatting styles delineated by the state. In comparison, in Florida company formation can be done online using a simple fill in the blank format. No complicated legal forms need to be drafted.

In Florida, entity formation fees are straightforward. Forming a corporation costs $70 and forming a limited liability company (LLC) costs $125. In California, in comparison, forming a corporation costs $100. When forming an LLC in California, you pay $70 at the time of formation but are also likely to face a minimum tax of $800 a year. In NY corporate formation costs $125 and an LLC costs $200 for formation and an extra $50 for a required newspaper publication. In Florida the process is just simpler, faster and cheaper.

It is important to accept the possibility that the company you form today is not likely to be the one where all your dreams are realized. Spending weeks on forming the company, expending resources on drafting legal documents is likely to result in wasted efforts. You can imagine that if you had to do this multiple times, the legal process is even worse.

Everyday I speak with tech entrepreneurs struggling to get their next big idea off the ground. When they ask about where to form their next venture, I always recommend Florida. We are lucky to live in a state that long ago invested in the tools needed to enable quick and inexpensive corporate formations. The unintended consequence of this was that Florida has quickly become one of the best places to form new tech startups. Add to that the state’s favorable tax code and one of the strongest corporate shield laws protecting your personal assets, and it is easy to see why entrepreneurs across the US flock to Florida to form their new companies.

So head out to www.sunbiz.org. Start a new company and execute on your great idea. If you need to pivot or close down an entity as a stepping stone to the next idea, feel assured that forming the next company will be just as easy, quick and inexpensive. And when the day comes when ideas, execution and opportunity converge and a venture capital firm is ready for a multimillion dollar round, rest assured that, if needed, you can move your company to another jurisdiction, like Delaware.

Lior Leser is an attorney trained at Stanford Law School and licensed in Florida and California. He works predominately with technology startups. If you have any questions about this or any other tech startup topic, feel free to reach out at lior@lwesq.com.


October 14, 2015

Continental National Bank launches entrepreneurship program with FIU, Miami Bayside Foundation

Continental National Bank announced the launch of its GROW Entrepreneurship Program designed to help professionals grow their companies, improve and strengthen their skills, and make meaningful contributions to their communities.

Developed in collaboration with Miami Bayside Foundation, Florida International University’s Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center and the Florida Small Business Development Center at FIU, began training sessions for its first class on Tuesday. Continental National Bank is accepting applications for the program’s upcoming sessions through its website https://www.continentalbank.com/grow

Through its GROW Entrepreneurship Program, Continental National Bank seeks to help the next generation of Miami business leaders through courses designed to foster an entrepreneurial mindset. Qualifying professionals will have the opportunity to work with experienced SBDC mentors, attend workshops,and develop connections. They will also have access to a competitive small business loan program from the Miami Bayside Foundation.

“Our GROW Entrepreneurship Program is a resource that can open lucrative doors for local business owners. Professionals enrolled will have access to unique tools to increase their revenue, create jobs, and drive growth in our community – a goal that we are strongly committed to,” said Jaqueline Dascal-Chariff, chairman of Continental National Bank.

To review program eligibility criteria, visit www.continentalbank.com/grow.


October 07, 2015

Endeavor taps EveryMundo, Yandiki to join global network

EveryMundo is a marketing technology company serving the travel and hospitality industry. Yandiki leverages the cloud to connect enterprises with on-demand talent. The founders of these two young Miami companies were selected Wednesday as Endeavor Entrepreneurs at the global nonprofit’s 61st International Selection Panel in Morocco.

SethAntonAnton Diego (left) and Seth Cassel (right), co-founders of EveryMundo, and Silvina Moschini, CEO and co-founder of Yandiki, join Endeavor Miami’s growing portfolio of high-impact entrepreneurs, which now includes 11 companies in its portfolio. The three join a total of 22 high-impact entrepreneurs representing 18 companies from nine countries selected at the panel. Endeavor Entrepreneurs receive targeted services including mentorship and access to capital, markets and talent.

“Endeavor has been incredibly influential for us in the preparation for entry into the organization. Our advisors have shaped our strategy, personnel and growth tactics over the past year,” said Cassel, from Morocco. “We are excited for what's to come.”

EveryMundo works with numerous airlines worldwide to increase their direct customer acquisition and therefore own their customer relationships. The company offers software products and services to increase online and mobile traffic acquisition and transaction conversion, in any language and country worldwide, said Cassel, adding that the team is comprised natives of 11 countries speaking 10 languages.

SilvinaYandiki’s core product, WaaS, functions as a marketplace with filtering features (skills, rating, cost, and productivity) for talent, verified through a series of customizable online tests, video interviews, and user generated feedback and certifications. The product allows for workforce monitoring including project and task management, real-time business analytics and billing, and clients include Twitter, MasterCard, Criteo, Tinder and Google, said Moschini, an international expert on Internet marketing.

"I experienced Endeavor while I was part of the leadership team at Patagon.com (the internet bank that was later sold to Banco Santander Central Hispano for $785 million and was one of Endeavor's first companies) and I cannot be happier that now I am joining their network," said Moschini. "I am super confident that they will bring me on step closer to make my dream of changing the world of work a mainstream reality."

Matt Haggman, Miami program director for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and an Endeavor Miami board member, said: “The expanding group of Miami Endeavor entrepreneurs aligns with the consistent growth we’ve seen in the city’s innovation and startup ecosystem over the last few years. These new additions also highlight both the creativity and variety of ideas that are fueling Miami’s evolution.”

Endeavor’s International Selection Panel is a three-day process, where panels composed of six top global business leaders interview candidates about their businesses, high-impact leadership potential, and timing. To be selected, an entrepreneur must receive a unanimous vote.

Endeavor Miami launched its operations in September 2013 with the support of Knight Foundation and an active local board of business leaders. For more information on Endeavor Miami or to nominate entrepreneurs, visit www.endeavormiami.org.


September 30, 2015

Q&A on SBDC at FIU's first 20 months: 900 entrepreneurs served, and counting ...

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Since early 2014, the Florida Small Business Development Center at Florida International University has helped more than 900 South Florida entrepreneurs. The SBDC’s services are free and available to the community.

Jacqueline_Bueno Sousa_TORSO SHOTJacqueline Bueno Sousa, the program’s founding regional director, said SBDC at FIU looked at the landscape and needs in Miami-Dade County’s entrepreneurial community so that the services it offered would be value added. It settled on focusing on scalable existing businesses as well as startups, and particularly ones with global ambitions. In fact, one program it is starting later this year will focus on helping young companies go global from day one as well as helping existing companies reach new markets. “We have a focus on helping our companies grow globally because we think that is a game changer in terms of the local economy,” Sousa said.

SBDC specializes in offering entrepreneurs one-on-one counseling, and in many cases entrepreneurs get access to a team of SBDC consultants who specialize in different areas, such as finance, distribution, government contracting or marketing, Sousa said. The office, with 14 consultants, also has held a number of training programs and workshops in partnership with FIU’s Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center and IronHack coding school.

SBDC at FIU (sbdc.fiu.edu) is part of a statewide network that includes offices in Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe counties and is funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration, the state of Florida and other public and private partners. SBDC at FIU is also supported by FIU’s College of Business, where the office is based, and private funding.

The Miami Herald talked with Sousa about the SBDC at FIU’s first 20 months and what’s ahead.

Q. What is your one-liner for SBDC?

A. SBDC at FIU helps businesses grow and succeed.

Q. What services do you offer a small business?

A. We have a team of highly experienced business consultants who work one-on-one with small- and medium-size businesses to help them succeed. We have experts in finance, marketing, international business development, contracting, HR — all the major areas in which businesses experience growth challenges.

Continue reading "Q&A on SBDC at FIU's first 20 months: 900 entrepreneurs served, and counting ... " »

September 22, 2015

10,000 Small Businesses at MDC taking applications for Cohort 7

Miami Dade College is accepting applications for Cohort 7 of the 10,000 Small Businesses program scheduled to begin Jan. 28.

Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses is a classroom-based business education program that gives entrepreneurs skills for growing their businesses, the opportunity to access capital and networking opportunities at no cost to participants. The curriculum includes one-on-one advice, clinics and workshops; participants learn to identify and evaluate opportunities, understand financial statements, hire, retain and lead employees, negotiate successfully and create a comprehensive growth plan. The local program was launched in October 2013, funded with a five-year, $5 million grant from Goldman Sachs.

Applicants should be an owner or co-owner of a business with at least four employees and in operation for at least two years with revenues of at least $150,000 in the most recent fiscal year. So far, the program has graduated 132 businesses and Cohort 6 is in progress with 31 businesses. The range of annual gross revenue of the participating businesses has been $150,000 to $35 million.

Courses will be held at MDC’s Wolfson Campus. To apply, visit www.10KSBapply.com or call 305-237-7824. The deadline to apply for Cohort 7 is Oct. 8. To learn more, RSVP for an upcoming Webinar here.

August 27, 2015

Help send Miami-based Tio Gazpacho to national contest finals

Samuel Adams and Entrepreneur announced that Tío Gazpacho is a finalist for the Brewing the American Dream Pitch Room Wild Card Competition hosted on Entrepreneur.com.  The virtual competition invited food and beverage small business owners from across the country to upload a two-minute video of their best sales pitch, which was then evaluated by a panel of experts from Samuel Adams and Entrepreneur.

Based in Miami, Tío Gazpacho makes three varieties of gazpacho that are USDA certified organic, non-GMO, gluten-free and vegan, and redefines the way Americans consume soup by offering it in a convenient drinkable format,

Tío Gazpacho’s video has been posted on Entrepreneur.com, as well as submissions from five other finalists, and the general public is now invited to vote for their favorite through September 7th. The small business owner who receives the most votes for his/her sales pitch will be named the Wild Card winner and receive a trip to participate in the Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream Pitch Room finals this December in New York City where they will compete for a $10,000 business grant and extended mentoring from Samuel Adams.

August 25, 2015

South Florida's consumer product makers are on the ball



  • “We kept hearing ‘you really have something here.’ If you hear that enough, you can’t give up,” said Joseph Signorile, who is part of a team developing an innovative fitness product.

Signorile is part of South Florida’s fast-growing cadre of new entrepreneurs. In June, Miami landed at No. 2 on the Kauffman Foundation’s index for startup activity, just behind Austin, Texas, and ahead of Silicon Valley. People often equate “startup” with “high tech,” but Kauffman’s index includes all kinds of new businesses, including consumer product companies. South Florida is no different. In the Miami Herald’s annual Business Plan Challenge, for instance, typically 30 to 40 percent of the entries involve consumer products such as foods, fashion products, gadgets and accessories.

Yet product companies face challenges different from service businesses. Along with the common business needs of office systems, staffing, accounting and marketing, product entrepreneurs often also need to foot the cost of product development and manufacturing long before they see their first dollar in sales.

“Cash flow is a huge issue — they get the contracts and then they don’t have the cash flow in order to deliver,” said Pandwe Gibson, founder of EcoTech Visions, an incubator for local green manufacturing startups.

Investment capital is a challenge too, as most banks want to see two to three years of tax returns that startups don’t yet have, she said. Venture and angel funds more typically flock to high-growth tech companies; in the case of consumer products, investors want to see sales. But the entrepreneurs still need capital to build their prototype and engineer the manufacturing process.

Some incubators and grant programs help entrepreneurs line up investment. But working with a variety of interests — manufacturers, suppliers and retailers — to get the costs down is critical. “Retailers often want unrealistic markups. People need to learn to compromise and work together,” said Sam Hollander, managing director of Concept One International, which has taken hundreds of products to market.

Distribution is another critical requirement — one that has become concentrated. Most product makers need to crack WalMart, Target or Amazon if they want to build a $100 million company, said Robert Hacker, who teaches entrepreneurship at Florida International University’s Honors College and is an instructor and mentor for the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program at Miami Dade College.

“To succeed with those three, you have to become really effective at your own messaging,” he said. “Today the consumer pulls, the retailers no longer push the product. … You’ve got to be able to advertise and self-promote a lot more effectively because there is so much more competition.”

Like tech companies, consumer product companies should keep in-house those functions that are critical to success — such as product development, sales and customer experience — and outsource or take on partners to handle manufacturing, distribution and logistics, Hacker advises.

“Consumer companies tend to grow in stages, zero to $1 million in revenue is the proof of concept stage, $1 million to $3 million is where you’re seeking a depth of customers in your product-market fit, and $3 million to $10 million is where you are learning to scale,” said Hacker. But too often, Hacker says, companies get to the $1 million mark and stay there. “These companies provide their owners with a living and the owners get comfortable but they are afraid to push on. You just can’t get stuck at a million dollars.”

And as with tech companies, big payouts are possible — with the right innovative product and a sizable market opportunity. Take Spanx, for example. Founder Sara Blakely started her company in her Atlanta apartment with $5,000 at age 29. Twelve years later, her company generated $250 million in revenue, according to Forbes.

Few companies will become the proverbial overnight success story that often actually takes 10 or 15 years, said Jack Chadam, a marketing expert and mentor at FAU Tech Runway, an accelerator for startups. A big hit takes perseverance — and perhaps a little bit of luck.

“The challenge for an entrepreneur is to have something that is unique that you can protect and you can own, affording you with the first mover advantage — and you can do a heck of a lot with your product or other versions down the line,” said Chadam. “But it takes a real entrepreneur, not someone playing the entrepreneur. It takes someone who truly gets it, who truly understands the hustle and commitment.”

South Florida’s young product companies are riding entrepreneurial roller coasters. Here are a few of their startup stories.


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Samuel Hollander has 35 years of go-to-market experience developing consumer products, the kind you’ve seen over the years on shopping channels and in big-box stores. Joseph Signorile is a University of Miami professor who is an expert in the science of fitness; he also wrote Bending the Aging Curve and co-authored the South Beach Diet Supercharged. About five years ago, the biking buddies found themselves reimagining a product that has been rolling around gyms and fitness centers for a half-century.

“As we rode, we talked. One of the things that came up was the typical exercise stability ball, and we started joking about how people don’t use them, how you see them lined up against that wall,” said Signorile.

VIDEO: Demonstration of the Best Ball, a fitness ball that won't roll out from under you

They thought about making a ball that would give people a greater sense of safety but would still roll, providing all the exercise value in core stability and balance.

The long road from idea to market is paved in perseverance. After too many nights and weekends to count and multiple iterations, the pair finally has a product.

Their first few ideas – putting the ball into a skeletal frame that would still allow it to roll somewhat — were ditched because shipping costs would be prohibitive.

“The packaging was monstrous,” said Hollander. “You can make the greatest product in the world, but how will you package it? How will you ship it? How much space will it take on a retailer’s shelf?”

Their idea shifted to adding resistance wings to the ball. “We covered the ball with sponge material where the wings would be and showed it to some engineers. Everyone thought the concept was terrific but no one understood how we could manufacture it,” Hollander said.

But on a trip to visit Chinese manufacturers, the new concept began to gel. They found the perfect — though expensive — biodegradable material. A high-quality ball manufacturer in China set out to make the mold, Hollander said. The first mold was a bust — a $40,000 bust at that — but No. 2 was a charm. “Now we have a product.”

Called the Best Ball, it’s a patented fitness ball that doesn’t roll out from under the person. Better yet, the wings create resistance that increases as the person rolls further away from the central balance point, creating a better workout, said Signorile, a professor of exercise physiology.

The patent process has been expensive, costing the pair about $55,000 in the U.S. and $20,000 in the EU plus separate fees for each country.

They haven’t determined a price for the product yet but it will be priced for the mass market, said Hollander, whose company, Concept One International, has helped develop hundreds of products for manufacturers and private label clients such as Target, WalMart and KMart. Quality is key. “Many [companies] say, how cheap can we make it? We say, how good can we make it?”

With Hollander’s experience, the packaging has been designed to include a ball, pump and training DVD, and additional training programs have been developed, such as one for yoga. Now they are ready to introduce it to the market. But today, making high quality infomercials and buying TV time is costly, and shopping channels like QVC and HSN often won’t touch the product until after it has had an infomercial, Hollander said.

To bring the Best Ball to market, Hollander and Signorile are seeking a partner, such as a fitness company or marketing company.

They have been showing their Best Ball off to fitness companies, gyms and yoga studios, rehabilitation centers and wellness clinics. “They all have their fitness experts, and we can’t get the ball away from them,” said Hollander.

So far, the endeavor has been financed by Hollander and Signorile — “a quarter of a million, conservatively,” said Hollander.

Said Signorile, “If it wasn’t for the fact I know Sam, I would have given up a long time ago. I look at the way this process works and sometimes I feel cheated and sometimes I feel disturbed, because you don’t understand what the heck the whole business process is like.”

Yet, Hollander and Signorile believe in the power of the product and are committed to seeing this through. They are meeting with potential partners and talking with a TV shopping channel. “We will not give up — we’re ready,” said Hollander, who hopes the Best Ball will be on the market by the start of the new year. That’s prime time for fitness products.

“You think, great, here’s my product, they are going to look at it, they are going to fall in love with it, and I’m going to make a lot of money, and that just isn’t the way it works. This is real R&D on a shoe string, much of it in my living room,” said Signorile. “This is hard work.”


Aquavault 08042015 1 JLB (1)

Ever wonder what a Shark Tank appearance can do for your business?

AquaVault, maker of portable safes that can be locked onto the backs of beach chairs or onto bikes or even dorm room closet bars, not only got funded on the show, but the deal survived post-show due diligence. That puts the team in an impressive minority.

Daymond John, the Shark who tasted opportunity on the show and bit, is now an investor, said Jonathan Kinas, CEO, who would not disclose terms of the investment.

“He is fully involved in the business. He has been instrumental in preparing us with certain deal structures and providing us with contacts and key insights that have been instrumental in making strategic decisions,” said Kinas. He and friends Avin Samtani and Robert Peck founded the Aventura company in 2014 after their valuables were stolen while they were enjoying the pool at a SouthBeach resort. The patented small, hard lockable case is large enough to easily hold a wallet, keys, smartphone and other valuables and can be locked onto a bar attached to a chair or bicycle.

In March, the month the Shark Tank show aired, the company logged about $100,000 in sales, more than the previous year, Kinas said. Customers now include retailers at hotels, water parks, theme parks, casinos, cruise ships and boutique stores, and individuals who purchase online at www.theaquavault.com. SeaWorld is a customer, and Disney World and Norwegian Cruise Line are testing the product, he said. “We are getting inquiries from distributors around the world on a weekly basis, and we attribute that to the publicity fromShark Tank.”

Calling entrepreneurship “the perfect roller coaster,” Kinas said big challenges have included developing a distribution strategy and figuring out how to market the product.

Shark Tank has helped with both.

“We are working harder now than we were before Shark Tank. Along with all the opportunities comes more hard work and efforts to make all these opportunities turn into success. To manage a business that explodes overnight, you have to prepare yourself for the unexpected,” said Kinas. “Any time we have any situations where we need a little bit of insight or a veteran’s opinion, we give Daymond a call.”

The AquaVault team appeared on HSN in July with John and sold out of 500 AcquaVaults in 10 minutes, said Kinas. The team has had interest from investors but currently is not raising capital, Kinas said.

“It’s always exciting to walk to the beach and see the product being used by people and knowing that we were drawing it on a napkin a few years ago.”


Corina Biton (1)

BloqUV is now in more than 6,650 retail stores and does a robust online business. But about five years ago, when the venture was just getting under way, the future didn’t look so bright for the company that makes sun protective active wear.

“I started it with my BFF who is no longer my BFF,” said Corina Biton, who had worked in marketing and public relations. “She had the apparel experience, I had the marketing, but it was all my money, my debt. so when it didn’t work out, I was left holding this bag of the business.”

To fund the business, she cashed out her 401(k), took out a loan on the equity in her condo, and sold her jewelry and artwork. She found a high-quality pattern maker, and learned the business on the go.

The first couple of years were particularly tough, but she found some help by locating her company in a Miami building full of both young and more mature fashion companies to share best practices and offer advice. Suddenly, the journey wasn’t as lonely.

Biton began selling her line to surf and swim stores, country clubs, golf stores, tennis stores, running stores, dermatologist offices and resorts and spas. Since 2011, business has been doubling every year, she said. She hopes to be in 900 stores by year’s end and expects to end the year with about $2.2 million in revenue. Online sales at Bloquv.com are growing steadily as more people discover her brand; it’s now about 15 percent of her business.

Like other entrepreneurs, Biton says cash flow is a continuing challenge. Small manufacturers typically have to pay in full when a shipment is delivered — even if the factory delivers more goods than the order specified. And the small business doesn’t make revenue until the items are sold.

“In the beginning, [the business] was a money pit. It sucked more than double what I thought it would. Now it is finally easier, but cash flow is still an issue. ... Business is doing great, knock on wood, but now I have to produce double.”

The sales cycle can take up to six months, particularly with private-label logoed products, because the order may sit in line for two weeks for embroidery before the clothing is put on the rack. After items are invoiced, BloqUV may not be paid for weeks or months. Now, finally, her manufacturer is willing to extend her credit.

Biton also has learned the customer is always right — even when the customer washes the item in bleach (a no-no in the care instructions) and then complains. (The company simply ate the cost.) And unexpected problems will creep up.

One year, “the yarn [made specifically for BloqUV] got damaged and [the manufacturer] had to start from scratch. That is a 30-day process,” said Biton. She lost the entire summer season.

BloqUV’s soft, sun protective clothing blocks 98 percent of the sun’s rays. It has always done well in the golf and tennis market, said Biton, in part because the company makes garments with long sleeves: “You’ll see other brands with UV but short sleeves, which sort of defeats the purpose.”

She said the clothing lasts six to seven years if washed correctly. “Our UV doesn’t wash away because we don’t dip it.”

Biton and her team log about 200 national and regional trade show days a year, where buyers purchase for the season. This month BloqUV exhibited at the Summer Outdoor Retailers Show in Salt Lake City with 27,000 buyers in attendance to exploit new market opportunities — the hiking market, marine stores and lifetime fitness, said Biton. She’s also recently added the ski market and will be hitting the Running Show in December.

Her expanding line is now in 20 colors and includes about 1,000 SKUs; most items are priced between $60 and $80. BloqUV recently added a crop top, a turtle neck for women, another running top, a men’s mock neck and a beach coverup. So far, she hasn’t touched the kid’s market. They grow out of the clothing too fast and she can’t get the price down enough, though she does offer extra extra small for women and small for men.

BloqUV’s biggest territory is Florida, followed by California. “My first customer was the Fontainebleau, and I’ll never forget that,” said Biton. It’s still a loyal customer.


Tone-y-Bands Janice Haley

Sometimes innovation is best achieved by taking an existing idea and improving it, said Janice Haley, founder and CEO of Tone-y-Bands, a new fitness product. She’s been through the entrepreneurial journey before. She and her husband Steve launched, grew and went public within seven years with Celsius, a Boca Raton company that created a calorie-burning drink that took off.

The Tone-y-Band is a stylish wrist band with weights that feels more like a comfortable watch than smelly Velcroed weight belts. So much so that customers are also wearing them outside the gym — like when they are doing the dishes.

VIDEO: Tone-y-Bands provide a stylish way to wear weights

In fact, the idea came to the Haleys about two years ago when her husband was at the sink and wondered if there was a way to get more exercise from the dish-washing experience. The first iteration was a bangle, but later became a black or white watch-like band weighing a half-pound or one pound.

“My passion is helping busy people fit fitness into their lives,” said Haley, who secured a manufacturer in China and is seeking one in the U.S. She began testing her product in 2013 and launched in late 2014. The product sells on toneybands.com and in some exercise studios.

To refine the bands, Haley has been testing them with customers to get feedback on the look and feel, colors and weight. She opened and manned a kiosk at BocaTownCenter mall and sold them for four months this spring. “I learned a lot about my core consumer,” said Haley. “One market I didn’t think about was dog walkers; 90 percent of the people who came up walked dogs and wanted to get more exercise out of the experience.”

She also was recently accepted into FAU Tech Runway, an accelerator and entrepreneurship center run by the university but open to the community. “What I was most interested in was the mentors. I found they had everything you need from legal, accounting, operations, production and marketing, and they help prepare you for asking for funding.”

One of those mentors, branding expert Jack Chadam, had a connection with the Zumba program, the South Florida-based global fitness sensation. Next thing she knew, Haley had a meeting, and then was invited to exhibit her product at Zumba’s annual high-energy convention of 7,000 influential fitness instructors from around the world. Another of her mentors, Jean Evans, joined her in her Zumba booth.

“I had tested Tone-y-Bands in Zumba classes and [the instructors and students] loved it. They called them sexy, so I knew they would do well there.” During the four-day show, she sold out of some styles and had requests from studio owners to sell and stock Tone-y-Bands. Zumba instructors often also teach other fitness classes where Tone-y-Bands would be appropriate — such as barre, piloxing, step, yoga and spin.

Haley hopes to partner with Zumba on a private label product. She would also like to take her product to HSN or QVC.

One of her biggest challenges, she said, has been having limited resources. “As an entrepreneur, you do it all — accounting, sales, marketing. Many times, it’s the first time you’ve done something so there is a learning process, which takes additional time. That makes it hard to stay focused on the goals you’ve set.” FAU Tech Runway has helped her set goals and monitor progress.

So far, Haley’s pursuit has been self-funded with an investment of about $140,000. “It shows we have confidence in the product and the brand.”


Snow Lizar_2 (3)

Snow Lizard may be just as resilient as the products it makes.

The Miami maker of a line of products that turn iPhones and iPads into outdoor electronics launched its Xtreme line with a successful Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign in early 2012, raising about $200,000. By the end of the year, the first version of its iPhone4 product was shipped.

“What we learned is there was a lot more uses for phones and tablets in the outdoors. Our SLXtreme line will convert an iPad into the poor man’s marine electronics for boating — that in itself is a big market,” said Steve Calle, CEO and co-founder of Snow Lizard, which sells its products globally now through Amazon and its own website, snowlizardproducts.com. Whether people want to take pictures or videos underwater, or use all the apps and not worry about the power, Snow Lizard not only powers and protects but enhances the personal device, said Calle. “It’s waterproof, solar powered battery powered, rugged — all together in one device.”

Reviews have been favorable — USA Today said “The SLXTreme cases from Snow Lizard take protection to an almost absurd level” — but being a consumer product company, the course is not always easy. Snow Lizard raised some capital from angel investors that enabled it to launch more products, such as its iPad and iPhone5 version, as well as waterproof cases. The company is packing more features in too, such as GPS inside an iPad model, and there is more to come with sensors and apps so the cases can do more, Calle said. An iPhone6 version is coming soon and available on pre-order.

But as with so many other product companies, manufacturing problems almost submerged the small company.

“We’ve had so many issues. It is really difficult to be a hardware company and be completely dependent on the factory,” said Calle, formerly director of engineering for Alienware. “If something happens you won’t get product. Without product, you won’t get revenue. With no revenue, it will be difficult to survive.

“We are dependent on Apple, so every time Apple changes its phones we have to change our product. Our factory lost its [Apple] certification, and we didn’t deliver for the holiday season. It was a big mess, but we are getting back on our feet and climbing out of it. We are on the move,” said Calle. To minimize risk, Snow Lizard is now working with two different Apple-certified Chinese factories.

Snow Lizard recently joined the incubator at downtown Miami’s Venture Hive and partnered with strategic investors who are experts in sales and logistics. “It’s personally challenging trying to grow a company by yourself. You don’t have all the answers and there are only so many people who can relate to you without being in the trenches,” said Calle. “Now these partners are handling big parts of the business and I don’t have to worry about it because I know they will do a good job.”

The next step is big retailers, and Calle is talking to boating, marine, outdoor and consumer electronics chains. Snow Lizard is also raising capital, seeking about $1.5 million.

Every Thursday at Venture Hive, Calle shares issues his company has confronted with other emerging hardware entrepreneurs.

“I tell them ... you have to have a great product and you have to be a great marketing company. This is what we learned at Alienware. We were competing with the likes of Dell and H-P and all these guys, and we stayed true to the marketing efforts of being high end and niche and gaming. ... We are sticking to our niches of high end, marine and outdoor, and if you market yourself very well, you can become a market leader in that niche and you can start playing with the mainstream guys.

“And that is how you grow exponentially.”

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.


Founders: Joseph Signorile, Samuel Hollander

Time frame: Five years since inception, product is ready, now seeking marketing partners.

Development costs so far: About $250,000


Founders: Jonathan Kinas, Avin Samtani and Robert Peck

Time frame: 18 months since inception; the team appeared on Shark Tank in March, catapulting sales and opportunities.

Development costs: The team invested “six figures” before Shark Tank funding.


Founder: Corina Biton

Time frame: Launched in 2009; sales began doubling annually in 2011; now in 665 stores and online.

Development costs: About $400,000


Founder: Janice Haley

Time frame: Two years since inception; launched the product on toneybands.com in 2014.

Development costs so far: About $140,000


Founders: Steve Calle, Andreas Haase

Timeframe: Launched successful Kickstarter for Xtreme line iPhone case in 2012; later added features and added models for the iPad, iPhone5 and other devices.

Funding raised: $600,000 from angels and strategic investors; $200,000 from Kickstarter.


A sampling of resources for South Florida's product entrepreneurs

  Moonlighter 2

BY NANCY DAHLBERG ndahlberg@MiamiHerald.com

Get out of the garage — and into a maker space, incubator or entrepreneurship program. For consumer product startups, there’s no reason the journey needs to be solitary.

A growing number entrepreneurial resources are available to help consumer product companies in South Florida. Here are just a few:

Inspiration and collaboration: Maker spaces are popping up all over South Florida. For a membership fee, maker spaces provide the space, tools for designing, prototyping and fabricating your next innovation in a community of like-minded people who can help get the creative juices flowing. They often also provide workshops and events.

For example, Moonlighter Makerspace (pictured above) opened this month at 2041 NW 2nd Place in Miami. Members get access to tools that include a Makerbot 3D-printing lab, laser cutter, CNC Mill, a LittleBits Circuit Lab, handheld 3D-printing pens and industrial sewing machines. It’s one of a handful scattered around the tri-county area.

Co-working spaces also bring the like-minded creators together, and some, such as The LAB Miami, provide maker gatherings and workshops. Some like MADE at the Citidel also include maker spaces. A new co-warehousing space in Miami’s Little River area for product entrepreneurs and artists is in the works by Pipeline Workspaces that will include co-working spaces and conference areas, storage space for products, shared shipping and logistics support and a coffee shop.

Developing the business: Locally, incubators and accelerators provide mentoring services and important connections for product entrepreneurs, and engineering shops will provide services to develop your prototype. In addition, agencies such as SCORE (score.miamidade.org and broward.score.org) and the Florida Small Business Development Centers, including a relatively new center at Florida International University (SBDC.FIU.EDU), as well as university programs provide mentoring and workshops on various aspects of building a business. A fashion startup incubator, a project spearheaded by the Beacon Council and Macy’s, is expected to open in the next year.

Tech Runway , the Boca Raton entrepreneurship center and accelerator open to the community, as well as FAU students, is getting ready to welcome its third class of startups. The accelerator offers a 12-week program, where the companies are matched with teams of mentors and given workspace and $25,000 in grant funding. Tech Runway is industry-agnostic, so product companies mix with tech companies. When its space is complete, it also will include a maker space, said its director, Kimberly Gramm. In Miami, EcoTech Visions is a specialized incubator for green product manufacturers (see sidebar).

Businesses at least two years old with at least four employees and $150,000 or more in annual revenue can apply to Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses at Miami Dade College. The free program provides 12 weeks of intense classroom instruction through a curriculum developed by Babson College, mentorship, networking and ongoing support even after program is over, said executive director John Hall. Applications are now open for the program’s seventh cohort; more than 120 entrepreneurs have graduated so far from the program that launched locally about 18 months ago. The Small Business Administration offers a free seven-month program for qualifying businesses called Emerging Leaders.

In addition, a number of businesses provide engineering services catering to startups and investors. Blue Ring Technologies is one example of a one-stop-shop for all kinds of services under one roof. Founder Jay Prendes developed the Davie company when he had trouble finding services to manufacture his own product several years ago. Today, its clients include independent inventors to large companies, and it can help with design, prototyping and small-batch manufacturing.

Protecting the business: The Institute for Commercialization of Public Research recently launched the Florida Patent Pro Bono Program in partnership with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The program links qualified inventors and small businesses with volunteer patent agents and attorneys who provide pro bono legal assistance on specific aspects of the patent process.

The Institute will match low-income inventors with patent lawyers. “It’s an issue of fairness and economic development. When you unlock that innovation, that is how you make a difference,” said Jennifer McDowell, USPTO pro bono coordinator in an interview earlier this year. “And once these matches get made and the patent applications get filed, we want the inventions to turn into money-making machines.”

If accepted into the Florida Patent Pro Bono Programwww.florida-institute.com/FloBono, applicants may expect exposure to intellectual property experts, support in certain aspects of the patent application process and partnership opportunities to enhance business development. The legal services would be free; the inventors would still need to pay the patent filing fees but could qualify for steep discounts.

Show me the money: Venture capital and angel-funding dollars typically go to high-growth technology startups, and consumer product startups often have to think outside that box. Consumer products often play well on Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms.

Companies making coffee makers, boating accessories, toys, educational products, food and fashions have all appeared in recent crowdfunding campaigns. Several South Florida consumer product makers have excelled recently on Kickstarter and Indigogo, including BeatBuddy, a musician’s foot pedal machine for drum sounds, and Kabaccha Shoes, a men’s line with colorful soles.

Currently, 136 Miami-area products and projects are vying for funders on Kickstarter. Still, crowdfunding campaigns require time and strategic planning and aren’t for everyone. Kickstarter’s success rate is just 37 percent.

Other avenues open to consumer-product entrepreneurs: friends and family investments, loans, government grants and loan programs including Miami Bayside Foundation, and pitch contests, such as the upcoming Thrive Seminar with Daymond John on Thursday.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.


August 08, 2015

Endeavor taps South Florida entrepreneur Marcell Haywood for global network

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

MarcellHaywoodWith $300, Marcell Haywood started a maintenance company as a side business while in college. Today, Encompass Onsite, formerly called Dirt Pros, is a multifaceted service business with hundreds of employees that has been lauded for its fast growth and socially responsible actions. And this week, Endeavor Miami announced that Haywood was selected as an Endeavor Entrepreneur.

Haywood joins Endeavor Miami's growing portfolio of high-impact entrepreneurs -- now 16 entrepreneurs from 10 companies in industries such as technology, restaurants and food, and education. Endeavor is a nonprofit organization that supports and accelerates entrepreneurs around the globe, and Miami was Endeavor's first U.S. city to join the network. Endeavor Entrepreneurs receive targeted services including mentorship and access to capital, markets and talent, as they become part of the global network of the organization.

Encompass Onsite was selected late Friday by panelists with global expertise at the conclusion of Endeavor Global’s three-day International Selection Panel, which was held in San Francisco. Haywood joins a total of 35 high-impact entrepreneurs representing 24 companies from 16 countries selected at this panel.

"Marcell is an inspiring entrepreneur who has the potential to innovate in a traditional industry with a huge impact on job creation," said Annette Franqui, partner at Forrestal Capital and an Endeavor Miami mentor who reviewed Haywood during the local selection process.

Encompass Onsite, based in Fort Lauderdale and with additional offices in Miami and West Palm Beach, provides facilities maintenance and management services throughout Florida to businesses in the healthcare, education and hospitality sectors. Through environmentally friendly practices, the company offers service and products in five divisions: integrated facilities maintenance, housekeeping, engineering and maintenance/repair operations, specialty maintenance and corporate services. The company as Dirt Pros landed on the Inc. 500/5000 list of fastest-growing companies two years in a row. Haywood said the company has a couple hundred clients but would not disclose the number of employees or its revenues.

"We provide institutional real estate owners with scalable solutions to better manage their facilities," said Haywood, CEO. “Our BHAG, our Big Hairy Audacious Goal, is to create 1,000 better jobs for maintenance professionals throughout the state, ... jobs with upward mobility. We'll be there in the next 18 months, without a doubt."

Conceived while Haywood was a computer science student at Florida State University and launched in 2004, Dirt Pros outgrew its name. The company recently rebranded as Encompass Onsite, and the new website, encompassonsite.com, went live Friday. "The name was suggestive, and the business had evolved so much since I initially named it on a whim during college," said Haywood, who is 35. "Over the years we became more and more aware it just didn's fit. It is really all about aligning our brand with the world-class brand that we support across the state."

Innovating a traditional industry has been challenging, and Haywood said bringing energy management and green solutions to its customers as well as leveraging technology to bring transparency to the business have been innovations, as well the company's focus on developing career development programs with local universities.

He wants Endeavor's help to prepare the company to scale beyond Florida and eventually the U.S. "And I'd love at some juncture to switch hats and be able to mentor younger entrepreneurs and share my experience with scaling a company in a very challenging industry," said Haywood, who is on the boards of Entrepreneurs' Organization South Florida, with more than 160 members, and FAU Tech Runway, an entrepreneurship center and accelerator for FAU students and the community.

"I''m thrilled that Marcell was selected because he truly represents an Endeavor high-impact entrepreneur who is committed to building a scalable businesses while having an impact in the community through job creation," said Laura Maydon, managing director of Endeavor Miami.

Endeavor's International Selection Panel is the culmination of a rigorous selection process, where panels composed of six top global business leaders interview candidates about their businesses, high-impact leadership potential and timing. In order for an entrepreneur to be selected, he or she had to receive a unanimous vote. Endeavor looks for entrepreneurs who will in turn give back to the entrepreneurial community as mentors and investors.

Endeavor Miami launched its operations in September 2013 with the support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and an active local board of business leaders. Knight's $2 million grant to bring Endeavor to Miami, a drive spearheaded by Knight's Miami Program Director Matt Haggman, was one of the foundation's largest investments to date in the area of accelerating entrepreneurship.

Since 1997, Endeavor Global has selected, mentored and accelerated more than 1,000 high-impact entrepreneurs from over 700 companies across 23 countries; Endeavor Entrepreneurs have generated nearly 500,000 jobs and over $7.5 billion in revenues in 2014. For more information on Endeavor Miami or to nominate entrepreneurs, visit www.endeavormiami.org.

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

Hear a podcast with Marcell Haywood on EntrepreneurRadio.org.


August 03, 2015

On-demand storage startup Stow Simple launches in Miami area

Stow simple

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Joining the “on-demand economy” with a new twist on traditional storage, Miami-based Stow Simple has launched its valet storage service in Miami’s urban core from Brickell through Midtown, as well as Coconut Grove, Miami Beach, Key Biscayne and Coral Gables, with plans to continue to expand in South Florida.

Stow Simple, runner-up in this year’s Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge, aims to offer another alternative to schlepping boxes to the storage facility. The transaction can be booked through its mobile-friendly website, stowsimple.com, and an app is under development. Stow Simple provides free bins and pickups. Items are photo-catalogued and stored in a secure, climate-controlled facility. Customers can log into their account any time to see what they have or schedule delivery or pick up of items.

Siblings Silvia and Jorge Camps (pictured above), founders of Stow Simple, soft-launched in a smaller area in June and said they have been going door to door to Brickell property managers and doing direct mailings, online ads and events to get the word out. Based on feedback, they added more pricing options for customers, too; customers can now rent a 5-foot-by-5-foot or 5-foot-by-10-foot space, in addition to its four bins for $28 a month or per item pricing. “We will store as much or as little as you want,” Silvia Camps said.

Bag with 2 bins_smallThe company has also partnered with the Miami Rescue Mission to make it simple for customers to give back. With branded donation bags provided at the time of bin drop-off, customers can simply fill up the bag with any unwanted clothing, which will then be delivered free to the Mission as a tax-deductible donation.

People who have been using our service have been using it again and that is very encouraging,” said Silvia Camps, adding that customers so far have included downsizing families, international customers who also rent out their second home when they aren’t there, college students coming and going and small businesses and law firms undergoing renovation or moving to new offices. “It isn’t peak storage time yet, which is great for us because it has given us time to learn. We want to hit the fall full throttle.”

Stow Simple has national aspirations, but is starting with the South Florida market. Read more about Stow Simple here.