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

BY NANCY DAHLBERG

ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

  • “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.

KEEP AN EYE ON THE BEST BALL

01BM cover product makers_C (1)
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.”

SHARK LOCKS UP DEAL WITH AQUAVAULT

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.”

BLOQUV SEES A BRIGHT FUTURE

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 FIND A FITTING FAN BASE

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 LIZARD EVOLVES TO CONQUER

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.

BEST BALL

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

AQUAVAULT

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.

BLOQUV

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

TONE-Y-BANDS

Founder: Janice Haley

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

Development costs so far: About $140,000

SNOW LIZARD

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.

 

July 29, 2015

The Idea Center launches MarketHack, a new digital marketing program

Submitted by the Idea Center at Miami Dade College

The Idea Center at Miami Dade College (MDC), Miami’s hub of innovation and entrepreneurship, is launching a comprehensive professional training program in digital marketing called MarketHack.  Registration is open now at theideacenter.co/markethack

The program, which will include workshops and public events, will tap into top industry experts and use real-life group projects to teach participants how to influence customers in the digital era, create connections, sell products and ultimately grow their businesses.

MarketHack aims to fill the gap in the South Florida marketplace for highly skilled and broadly knowledgeable digital marketers, a key discipline for any enterprise.

“Miami is a creative city with top marketing and advertising agencies, but there has not been a place to learn about the latest digital marketing tools and techniques—until now,” said Leandro Finol, Executive Director of the Idea Center at MDC. “With MarketHack, we are creating a talent pipeline for the marketers of the 21st century.”

The first MarketHack course, a 16-week introductory course in digital marketing, runs from August 25 through December 15, 2015. The course will cover the techniques and tools used by digital marketers to generate and sustain conversations with their customers and, more importantly, conversions. It will feature guests from the top creative agencies to expose students to state-of-the-art techniques in this fast-moving industry. 

MarketHack courses will be taught by two top digital marketing professionals: Dan Grech, Vice President of Marketing at Offercraft, and Mike Schott, Director of online marketing at Open English.

“We have been hearing from employers across South Florida that they simply cannot find local talent in digital marketing.  We aimed to solve that,” said Grech.

The program will build relationships with local companies and creative agencies to create a pipeline for internships, apprenticeships and jobs. “República is committed to being a leader in South Florida's innovation ecosystem. As Miami emerges as the tech hub for the Americas, we are thrilled to partner with The Idea Center at MDC to launch MarketHack, a groundbreaking program that will cultivate some of the best and brightest digital marketing professionals in the country," stated Jorge A. Plasencia, República's co-founder, chairman and CEO.

Subsequent courses and workshops, with deep dives into specific topic areas, such as Search Engine Optimization (SEO) will roll out starting in 2016.  The course costs $1,499 for community members, with an early-bird price of $999 until August 21. Current degree-seeking Miami Dade College students pay $249.

For more information, please contact Leandro Finol at lfinol@mdc.edu.

WHAT:            MarketHack: Introduction to Digital Marketing

WHEN:            Tuesdays, August 25 thru December 15, 6p.m. - 9p.m.

WHERE:         MDC, Idea Center Building 8, Fifth floor, 315 NE 2nd Ave

 

July 07, 2015

A new competition for food & beverage startups, small businesses

WHAT:                 Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream Pitch Room Wild Card Competition in partnership with Entrepreneur Magazine. This virtual competition will allow food and beverage small business owners in Miami to submit a product sales pitch for a chance to win a $10,000 business grant and extended mentoring from Samuel Adams.

HOW:                   Miami entrepreneurs with a food or beverage product, including craft brewers, are invited to upload a two-minute or less video of their best sales pitch. A panel of experts from Samuel Adams and Entrepreneur will judge the videos based on criteria including pitch quality, creativity, product viability and passion.

The top 5 best video submissions from across the country will then post to the Entrepreneur site, and the general public will be invited to vote for their favorite. 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 for two to participate in the Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream Pitch Room finals this December.

WHEN:                 Applications will be accepted from July 7th to July 30th.

Top 5-6 submissions will be posted on Entrepreneur.com for public voting from August 16 to Sept. 7th.

Winner will be invited to compete in the finals in NYC this December.

WHERE:               Entrepreneur.com via http://entm.ag/samadamspitch2015

WHY:                    The Wild Card Pitch Room Competition is part of Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream, a micro-lending and coaching program for food and beverage small businesses including craft brewers that provides a unique combination of the two things Sam Adams brewer and founder, Jim Koch, wished he had when starting Sam Adams: access to capital and expert business advice. As an important extension of the program’s coaching and mentoring activities, the Pitch Room Competition helps small business owner’s better position and communicate about their products.

- Submitted by Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream Pitch Room Wild Card Competition

 

Shyp will deliver your donations to Goodwill in July for free

 
About that stack of clothes you've been meaning to drop off at a charity...
 
Shyp, the on-demand shipping service that launched in Miami last year,  announced that for the month of July it will pick up your donations in Miami (as well as San Francisco, New York and LA) and deliver it for free to Goodwill.
 
Here's how to donate: Simply update your Shyp app to the latest version and add a shipment. When you go to input the destination, you’ll notice there’s a new featured recipient, Goodwill. Tap that, take a photo of your items and request a pickup. Within 20 minutes, a courier will arrive at your door, armed with bags to retrieve your items and get them to Goodwill. Shyp will then email you a tax donation receipt after pickup. Shyp says donations should be small household items and clothing that can be transported in a car -- its couriers do not have room for your couch!
 
Shyp tried this in April in San Francisco and reported that Shyp donated 21.5 tons of unneeded items. That's over 165,000 square feet of freed-up space and over $300,000 in tax write-offs. Can Miami do better than that? We will see! 
 
See earlier coverage of Shyp in Miami here and here.
 

June 25, 2015

Jack Dorsey joins SBA talk about payment technology

Dorsey and contreras-sweet

Payment technology may not be a topic that would draw a small-business crowd -- except when the speaker is Square CEO (and interim Twitter CEO) Jack Dorsey.

Dorsey, co-founder of one of the world's leading payment technology companies,  joined U.S. SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet in a free public event Thursday morning held at the  FIU College of Architecture + The Arts Miami Beach Urban Studios and sponsored by Rokk3r Labs. The objective: to get out the word about major changes in payment security coming Oct. 1 and how small businesses can prepare. 

"Sixty-eight percent of small business have been hacked, they have been victims of cyber security fraud," said Contreras-Sweet. "Effective Oct. 1, the credit card companies say you need the chip reader because they are changing the security. We want to get the word out."

Dorsey demonstrated the present technology and why hacks have been relatively easy and explained what is involved in making the switch.

The bottom line, he told small businesses: Now, if you run a fraudulent card, banks absorb the costs. Starting in October, if someone pays with a fraudulent chip card, and you’re not set up with the new authenticated payment devices (whether it is Square's or one of its competitors) after Oct. 1, "you will be on the hook for fraudulent transactions. The banks won't have your back."

"Technology doesn't have to be complicated, it doesn't have to be inaccessible, it should be something that just works" he continued. "Our industry hasn't moved fast enough in pushing this so we are working with the SBA to make sure first and foremost sellers know this is coming and there are a string of solutions to address this, Square is just one. ...  The important thing is bringing more security, more safety to transactions." 

Dorsey grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and co-founded Square with Jim McKelvey, now a Miami resident and founder of the LaunchCode apprenticeship program. Dorsey also shared some stories about growing up with entrepreneurship -- his father started a pizza restaurant and his mother later ran a coffee store.

What he's learned: "Entrepreneurs are not necessarily born with these skills, they have a do whatever it takes attitude to learn what they need to get to the next step and then there is a new challenge. I never had dreams of being a CEO, I had dreams of getting the world communicating in a very free and empowering way."

As for founding Square in 2009 in San Francisco, Dorsey said he hated the cumbersome credit card system and said he saw how it could destroy families. You have to ask the questions, why is it this way and then go after the answers, he said. "Our purpose at Square is to make commerce easy."

The co-founder of two of the most well-known tech companies in the world also told the mostly small-business audience: “The choice to stay small is just as admirable as the choice to go global.”

Dorsey said he is particularly proud of a couple of stats about Square and the companies Square serves: Fifty-six 56 percent of the small businesses who use Square are owned and run by women, and 75 percent of Square’s employees report to three women in the executive ranks.

Contreras-Sweet, a former banker, shared some information about SBA programs and products,  including the new LINC on sba.gov that eliminates the need to fill out dozens of loan applications. When you enter answers to 20 questions online, banks will get back to you within 48 hours with what they can offer, she said.  

Near the end of the program, Contreras-Sweet and Dorsey brought up four local small businesses to briefly share their stories: Panther Coffee, LuLu's Ice Cream, Sugar Yummy Mama and Wynwood Warehouse Project.

 

Smallbizpanel

Sorry, no talk about retaking the reins at Twitter or if/when Square may go public.

 Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg

 

June 20, 2015

Beyond selfies: Social Media Day South Florida returning June 28

IMG_1703

Did you know Miami is No. 3 in the world for selfies? Alex de Carvalho shared this Magic City claim to fame and other facts, figures and advice about social media -- in which a third of the world is now participating in -- at a recent talk he gave to the Miami Herald Media Company earlier this week.

Want more about the present and future of social media and how better to use it in your business? You’ll  have to go to Social Media Day South Florida on Sunday, June 28, with a full afternoon of talks planned, ending with a sunset cocktail hour. The event takes place from noon to 9 p.m. at the Hyatt Pier 66 in Fort Lauderdale.

Here’s more about the event from de Carvalho’s press release:

Popularized by Mashable, Social Media Day is an international celebration of digital media that attracts thousands to events around the world. Social Media Day South Florida was one of the first of these global meet-ups to take a conference-style approach. Attendees will learn from expert speakers on digital media trends, discover career opportunities and network with the region’s brightest digital media minds. 

Noted as one of the top Social Media Day events, the South Florida gathering is celebrating its fifth year.  “There is a groundswell of digital media activity and expertise in South Florida. This is not just a celebration of social media in South Florida; it is a valuable opportunity for learning, networking and recruitment,” said de Carvalho, Knight Innovator in Residence at FIU School of Journalism and Mass Communication and President of Social Media Club South Florida.

This year’s keynote address will be provided by Adam Boalt, CEO of LiveAnswer. Based out of Pipeline Brickell, LiveAnswer is one of South Florida’s fastest growing startups and a shining example of the region’s prowess in digital innovation.  While Boalt will be discussing the future of the digital media landscape, his company LiveAnswer also sees Social Media Day South Florida as a valuable opportunity for talent recruitment. “As South Florida grows its identity as a home for experts in social and digital technology and trends, Social Media Day South Florida is a platform to share our individual expertise while building our collective knowledge base,” said Boalt.

 For instance, LiveAnswer has partnered with Enrique Iglesias’ Atlantico Rum to develop a VIP experience centered on talent recruitment. Those who apply to become LiveAnswer’s newest “Marketing Rockstar” will gain two access passes to the Atlantico Rum VIP Suite during Social Media Day.

Other topics include branding (personal and company), SEO trends, tweeting responsibly, building a blogging network and getting the most from the various platforms. Presentations and panel discussion topics can be viewed here: www.smdaysf.com/agenda.

Social Media Day South Florida is co-organized by local social media leaders and influencers Blanca Stella Mejia and Karl Nybergh. The event is being sponsored by LiveAnswer, Lift Digital Media and Ford en Español.

Those looking to join the online conversation can do so here:

Twitter: @SMDAYSFL

Instagram: @SMDAYSFL 

Facebook: SMDAYSFL

For more information on Social Media Day South Florida and tickets, which cost $33 in advance or $48 at the door, visit www.smdaysf.com.