July 22, 2017

Pitch Perfect: How I landed my product on Walmart shelves

WinnerBy Angela Horevitz

Anyone who has spent time baking knows the heartbreak that ensues when you arrive at your destination only to find your beautiful baked goods have been ruined in transit.

After being a victim of this one too many times, I created Bakers Sto N Go, a food storage container with adjustable trays that helps cooks stack and transport baked goods safely.

The idea came to me during a quiet meditation one day. ‘How could something so simple not exist,’ I wondered.

I had always wanted to be an inventor, so my husband told me to go for it. I spent the next 12 months working tirelessly until my product was perfect.

I made countless dozens of cookies, cakes, muffins and brownies, using every store-bought mix available to ensure the dimensions were right.

I eventually went to a mold maker, created a prototype, and in January 2007 attended my first trade show with the finished product.

Bakers Sto N Go was an immediate hit! Over the next 10 years, I sold my product in stores, online and in catalogs.

Earlier this year, I saw a promotion about a “Made In America” product search on Walmart’s website. I completed an online application, then waited. On the morning of May 26, I logged into to my computer and saw an email that said “Congratulations! You’re on your way to Walmart.”

A month later, I traveled to Walmart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. I was intimidated by the idea of pitching the world’s largest retailer, but the people at Walmart went out of their way to be helpful. 

The next morning, more than 700 entrepreneurs attended a meeting with company executives. The room was electric. One guest, Mr. Bassett from Bassett Furniture, delivered an incredible speech about the importance of Made in America products. He was an inspiration to us all. 

After the group session came the breakout pitch meetings. Mine consisted of 6 people, from buyers to specialty employees.

My presentation was detailed. I explained why my product was a good fit for Walmart, and how it will benefit shoppers. We talked numbers and inventory.

They complimented me for doing my homework, especially the fact that I visited a Walmart store and showed pictures of where my product should be displayed. I wanted this account, and I was determined to make that clear. 

After 30 minutes, my buyer pulled out a green slip that read, “Congratulations. You’re in Walmart.” My eyes grew as big as oranges – I was so happy!

I left the room, we shot a quick video, and soon it was time for me to catch my midnight flight back to South Florida. The next morning, I got to work preparing for Bakers Sto N Go to debut on Walmart shelves. I wasn’t wasting any time.

I’m still pinching myself. The whole experience was like a dream. I came away inspired by my peers and proud to be a “Made in America” entrepreneur. 

Sometimes a simple idea takes you down a winding road. The past three months have been a whirlwind for my family, and I cherish the day when I’ll walk into Walmart only to find Bakers Sto N Go on the shelf.

Angela Horevitz is the founder of Bakers Sto N Go of Fort Lauderdale, www.bakersstongo.com

June 19, 2017

BBX Capital acquires IT'SUGAR for $57 million

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

With a growing sweet tooth for the candy business, BBX Capital Corp. announced Monday it has acquired the majority stake in South Florida-based candy retailer IT’SUGAR in a $57 million transaction.

Fort Lauderdale-based BBX previously acquired Hoffman’s Chocolates of Palm Beach County, and its Sweet Holdings unit holds a number of other candy makers.

IT’SUGAR, founded in 2006 and based in Deerfield Beach, is the largest specialty candy retailer in the United States with 95 locations in 26 states and Washington, D.C. During the 12 months ended April 30, IT’SUGAR generated net revenues of $78.4 million, BBX said.

JeffrubinJeff Rubin (pictured here), IT’SUGAR’s founder and CEO, will remain in his current position and continue to hold “a meaningful membership interest,” BBX said.

With thousands of candy choices, “IT’SUGAR is not just a candy store,” Rubin said in a 2014 Miami Herald article. “We’ve really positioned ourselves as a gift store that lives at the intersection of attitude and fun. ... We sell humor, we sell fun.”

BBX said it now owns 93 percent of IT’SUGAR and plans to further expand IT’SUGAR by opening new retail locations in high traffic leisure locations. In South Florida, IT’SUGAR stores are at Miami International Airport, Aventura Mall, Sawgrass Mills and 10 other locations.

“IT’SUGAR has had great success expanding its presence across the United States as a modern-day candy playground, and we are very pleased to partner with Jeff Rubin and the IT’SUGAR management team to support continued expansion of its retail footprint and grow the brand in other channels,”said Jarett Levan, president of BBX Capital, who called it an “excellent fit” with the growth strategy of BBX Sweet Holdings.

BBX is a diversified holding company that owns timeshare company Bluegreen Corp. and other joint ventures and investments in real estate. BBX Sweet Holdings invests in and acquires manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers of chocolate and confectionery products, including Hoffman’s Chocolates, Anastasia Confections, Droga Chocolates, Williams & Bennett, Helen Grace Chocolates and Kencraft Confections.

May 27, 2017

Calling all Miami area creators: WeWork holding regional contest awarding $1.5M+ in grants open to all


The way we work is changing and WeWork believes that the way we recognize and reward work must change too. Miami entrepreneurs, SMBs, non-profits, artists or anyone with a great idea are eligible to compete for a grant from the $1.5 million-plus prize pool available at the Creator Awards South Regional Finals in Austin over June 27. But hurry, the application deadline is June 12.

What's exciting about the opportunity is that it's open to everyone (WeWork members, non-members, all industries, all stages, even folks who may just have a good idea) and that beyond the financial awards there will be a full day of public programming in Austin. This is the first year of what will become an annual program. 

Grants from $18,000 to $360,000 will be awarded in three categories: Incubate (ideas or projects); Launch (startups and nonprofits that have launched but still learning); and Scale (a record of success, ready for next level).  

Winners have ranged from a nonprofit teaching tech skills to low income individuals, to a new coalition of journalists who improve care for Alzheimers patients by writing their life stories, to a new trading platform for sustainable agriculture. (See photo from Washington DC regional event below)

"WeWork wants to honor all types of creators from entrepreneurs to artists to nonprofits. There are incredible things happening and big ideas being born in Miami every day,” said Adam Wacenski, WeWork’s General Manager for the South. “The Creator Awards is a new opportunity to share their ideas, connect with other creators and hopefully win a grant that can make a real difference in their work and in their life."

Here are the details:

WHAT: Entries are now open for the Creator Awards, a new global initiative from WeWork that will award $20 million-plus to entrepreneurs who are thinking in new ways, building fresh projects and achieving real change across all industries.

Miami applicants are eligible to compete for $1.5 million-plus at the Austin Regional Finals on June 26 and 27 and have the opportunity to advance to the Creator Awards Global Finals in New York in November where additional prizes will be awarded.

WHO: WeWork, a global platform for creators with 140+ locations including Miami, Miami Beach, Dallas, Austin, Atlanta and coming soon to Houston, Nashville and Kansas City

WHERE: Residents of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia

WHEN: Application Deadline: June 12

Creator Awards South Regional Finals: June 27

In addition to financial awards, the South Regional Finals brings together everything it takes to make a life, not just a living. The public event will include a pop-up market with local sellers, a series of master classes and workshops, a job fair as well as live pitches and an awards ceremony and celebration.

HOW: To apply or to nominate others: https://creatorawards.wework.com/

Wework Creator Awards DC-366_Credit WeWork

Photo taken at a WeWork Creator Awards regional finals event in Washington DC. Photo provided by WeWork. 


May 12, 2017

Deadline approaching to apply for free Smart & Sustainable Neighborhood Development Executive Training Program

Here is an opportunity for small businesses: The first Smart & Sustainable Neighborhood Development Executive Training Program taking place at FIU Urban Studios June 9-23. The cost is free for the 25 small business professionals selected. 
You can access the 5 minute application here: 
Once the course with exam is completed successfully, you will be accredited in the following top accreditations that give you a competitive edge for over $15B worth of local infrastructure, construction, urban planning, resiliency and land use projects locally: 
  • EcoDistricts AP 
  • LEED Green Associates (GA) 
  • LEED Neighborhood Development (ND) 
The program will be taught by LEED Fellows Jonathan Burgess and Rob Hink of Spinnaker Group and Eric Corey Freed of EcoDistricts.  
The deadline to apply is Monday, May 15th. 

April 18, 2017

PetSmart to buy Chewy.com, and the price fetched may be eye-popping


By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

The biggest e-commerce acquisition deal in history could be going to the dogs.

PetSmart, the nation’s largest pet-supplies retailer, has agreed to acquire Dania Beach-based Chewy.com, the market’s No. 1 online retailer.

The combination of Phoenix-based PetSmart, with 1,500 stores nationwide, and Chewy will enhance both companies’ reach, the companies said Tuesday. The acquisition, which is subject to customary regulatory approvals, is expected to close by the end of PetSmart’s second fiscal quarter.

Terms of the transaction were not disclosed. However, tech media site Recode is reporting that the deal in place is valued at $3.35 billion, according to its sources. That would make the sale of Chewy the biggest e-commerce acquisition to date, even larger than Wal-Mart’s $3.3 billion deal for jet.com last year.

“We are focused on improving our customers’ experience in-store and online as we continue to execute against our long-term strategic initiatives. Chewy’s high-touch customer e-commerce service model and culture centered around a love of pets is the ideal complement to PetSmart’s store footprint and diverse offerings,” said Michael Massey, PetSmart president and chief executive officer, in the announcement.

Chewy, which had been rumored to be a candidate for going public, has seen explosive growth since it was founded by Ryan Cohen (pictured above) and Michael “Blake” Day in 2011. The privately held company registered $26 million in sales during its first full year in business and logged more than $900 million in sales in 2016, the company said.

Although it was not yet profitable, Cohen said in February Chewy was projected to increase revenues to nearly $2 billion this year — nearly a 7,600 percent growth spurt in just six years. Today it has about 5,000 employees nationwide.

[READ MORE: Chewy has seen fantastic growth, but can it keep up the pace?]

The company built its following — more than 2 million customers nationwide — on customer service. Among its many campaigns, it sends hand-painted pet portraits as thank you gifts to 700 randomly selected customers every week.

“Since we started Chewy, we have been dedicated to understanding and satisfying the evolving needs of our customers to deliver the highest quality pet products and customer service,” said Cohen, Chewy’s CEO. “Combining our strong e-commerce expertise with PetSmart’s best-in-class infrastructure, footprint and breadth of offerings including services will help us wow our customers even more.”

Chewy will operate as an independent subsidiary of PetSmart run by Cohen and will remain focused on its current business strategy, while PetSmart will continue to execute its strategic initiatives across the combined company, PetSmart said.

Chewy tried to reassured customers on social media Tuesday that Chewy wasn’t going anywhere and the level of service would not change after the acquisition.

According to 1010Data, Chewy.com holds 51 percent of the online pet food market, including 40.5 percent in direct sales and 10.2 percent in subscription sales. But Chewy always had bigger aspirations.

“If you look at where we are today in the business, we’re still scratching the surface in terms of the total addressable market. We want to be No. 1. We’re No. 1 online. We want to be the largest pet retailer in the world,” Cohen said in a Miami Herald cover story in February.

Chewy had raised several rounds of capital — about $236 million in total — to support its growth. On Feb. 1, Wells Fargo Capital Finance had become the latest investor, announcing an agreement to lend $90 million over the next five years to Chewy.

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg



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:


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.


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 15, 2017

Linda McMahon, from WWE to now heading the SBA: ‘I’ve walked in their shoes’


U.S. Small Business Administrator Linda McMahon and HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson share a laugh at the cafe bar at Versailles Cuban restaurant in Miami. After the gathering with Carson, she headed to the SBA offices to meet with small businesses. C.M. GUERRERO cmguerrero@elnuevoherald.com

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/article144511784.html#storylink=cpy

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Linda McMahon, 55 days into her job as the new chief of the U.S. Small Business Administration, spent 24 hours in Miami on Thursday, in the first of a number of city visits she intends to make.

The co-founder and former CEO of wrestling entertainment giant WWE said the Cabinet position is in her wheelhouse.

“My husband and I built our business from the ground up, starting with sharing a desk in the basement, and at one point we went bankrupt and lost everything ... I like to tell small business owners and entrepreneurs I get it, I have your back on this, I understand about regulation, I understand how taxes are taxing, I understand what it is like not to be able to borrow money when you need it.”

She said when she talks about and to small businesses, she is using every skill she learned scaling WWE: How to start and grow a company, how to manage people and processes, how to expand into new markets and how to go international. “I’ve walked in their shoes. I don’t talk about things I don’t know about.”

McMahon said she will first be examining all existing SBA programs, such as its flagship 7(a) loan program and its export programs, and making sure they are the best they can be before launching new programs. She also said she wants to update the website and expand marketing and outreach.

Her goals for the SBA: “Some of them are the obvious. We want to create more jobs, we want to qualify more lenders and expand lending markets. But also I want a very different SBA – it’s not your father’s SBA. I want to modernize it and reposition it so when people think about jobs, they think about how the Small Business Administration would really be helpful.”

During the short visit, she attended a housing briefing with HUD Secretary Ben Carson and local mayors, lunched at Versailles and met with the district SBA office staff and small businesses.

One of the small businesses she met early in the day was Freebee, a local startup that provides free city transportation via golf cart-like vehicles and said she enjoyed hearing the co-founders’ story. “They had worked very closely with SBDC [Small Business Development Center] and it was terrific to hear them talk about how the technical assistance and the counseling was as important as money. You hear those stories and you know that SBA services in so many different ways.”

Later in the afternoon, McMahon held a roundtable discussion for local small businesses and organizations to talk about what SBA does right, what needs to improve and what needs to be jettisoned.

“We’ve seen over the past few years a decline in startups,” she said. “But what you are starting to see now is a bit more confidence. More entrepreneurs are looking to come back to start businesses, and that is where SBA is perfectly positioned to be helping more people to realize their dreams.”

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg


April 11, 2017

Incubator program for food entrepreneurs launches at FIU

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

AnnaEtienneStartUP FIU, a university-wide entrepreneurship initiative at Florida International University, this month has opened its second program: StartUP FIU FOOD.

Funded with a $500,000 grant from Citi Foundation, StartUP FIU FOOD assists small community food entrepreneurs to grow their businesses, leveraging the Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management’s large commercial kitchen and providing workshops for skills development, food science training and mentorship. StartUP FIU FOOD also helps food entrepreneurs to incorporate, generate financial statements and apply for micro-finance loans and traditional commercial bank loans.

READ MORE: Multi-campus StartUP FIU gets ready for takeoff

“There is an unmet need in Miami for not only affordable commercial kitchen space, but also for startup incubator services, business advising and entrepreneurial networking. Sometimes we have to create opportunity.” said Emily Gresham, an FIU assistant vice president and co-founder of StartUP FIU.

Anna Etienne (pictured here)  will lead day-to-day activities as director of StartUP FIU FOOD. The inaugural cohort includes these local food entrepreneurs:

Joe’s Sweets: Specialty fresh baked pastries and bread

Greathouse Gourmet Inc: Gourmet condiments and sauces that blend Caribbean flavors.

Lemon City Tea: High-quality, ethically-sourced teas inspired by Miami.

Helene's Ice Cream, LLC: Artisanal frozen desserts: ice cream, frozen custard, sorbet, and custom ice cream cakes.

Frice Cream: Handcrafted ice cream and pastries using locally sourced and natural ingredients.

Timeline Brewery: Beer with flavors influenced by culture and history.

Sweet Jalane's Inc: “Made from scratch” desserts, flavored cakes and cupcakes, mini bundt cakes, pies, pastries, fruit cobblers and cookies.

Etienne plans to accept new applicants to the program throughout the year. More information: http://startup.fiu.edu/food.

StartUP FIU launched an accelerator program last fall on the Modesto Maidique campus and has a technology-focused program planned for a Kendall location in the plans for launch within the next year.

READ MORE: How millennials tastes shape a new generation of food startups

South Florida business owners have been growing revenue and hiring, survey shows

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Nearly 70 percent of business owners in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties surveyed by Entrepreneurs’ Organization reported higher revenue over the past six months, and 57 percent said they hired additional full-time employees, according to a new report from the worldwide economic development institution.

EO’s Global Entrepreneur Indicator survey also showed that more than 80 percent of respondents expect to increase revenue and net profit, and more than 63 percent plan to hire more full-time workers over the next six months. What’s more, a near unanimous 98.8 percent of South Florida respondents said they would be willing to launch a business in today’s economic climate.

South Florida business owners are outperforming their peers and are more confident about the future, according to the survey. South Florida entrepreneurs outpace their counterparts around the world by about 10 percent in recent performance, projected results and in optimism. About 4,000 business owners worldwide responded to the study.

“Economic growth has been strong in South Florida, resulting in these great survey scores,” said Aaron Lee, president of EO’s South Florida chapter and founder of Miami Lakes-based Illuminati Studios. “And the level of startup optimism is even more exciting for so many of us working to build the area’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

EO South Florida is one of the world’s largest EO chapters with about 180 members who run businesses that account for more than 10,000 jobs and $2 billion in annual revenues in the tri-county region, the organization said. For details on the GEI survey, visit www.eonetwork.org.

April 06, 2017

Mundo Lanugo wins Hispanicize small business competition


At Hispanicize 2017, the national Latino influencers and trendsetters event in Miami, Mundo Lanugo was announced the winner of the 2nd Annual “The Latino Perfect Pitch” small business competition sponsored by Wells Fargo. As the grand prize winner, Mundo Lanugo will receive $5,000 to help build and grow its business.

Mundo Lanugo  is a socially responsible entertainment world that connects kids to Hispanic culture and promotes the use of Spanish language while building identity and self-esteem. Via fun animated videos, a culturally relevant app, and authentic live shows, each Lanugo character presents a facet of Latino culture, including music, crafts, traditional games, cooking and storytelling. Mundo Lanugo teaches culture to children and awakens their curiosity to learn more about themselves.

“The Latino Perfect Pitch” is a small business competition for entrepreneurs, digital influencers and bloggers seeking an opportunity to take their business to the next level. The competition was open to entrepreneurs who have been in business no more than five years and three finalists were selected to pitch their business to a panel of expert judges for a grand prize at Hispanicize 2017.

The other finalists were Dvdendo and  Visual Montessori

READ MORE: Startup Spotlight on Mundo Lanugo