August 08, 2016

Startup Spotlight: Octopi making waves in maritime industry

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Company: Octopi (formerly Cetus Labs)

Headquarters: Venture Hive, 1010 NE Second Ave., Miami

Concept: Octopi builds and sells a modern and smart Terminal Operating System (TOS) that helps seaport terminal operators manage operations, track cargo, and communicate electronically in real-time with their commercial partners.

Story: Ninety percent of everything around you was carried over on a shipping container before it reached you. It’s the industry that puts food in your plate, clothes on your back and enables the success of e-commerce globally. Yet, very few companies are trying to solve the hard problems facing this industry, says Octopi co-founder Luc Castera.

“Our company was built with the mission to help the key players in this industry operate more efficiently using modern software. We are a team of software developers with lots of experience in developing modern software tools,” Castera said.

According to the International Chamber of Shipping, about 90 percent of world trade is carried by the international shipping industry, and the United Nations estimates that the maritime industry contributes about $380 billion to the global economy. It’s also one of Miami’s dominant industries.

“When we started learning about the shipping and maritime industry, we saw that there was a big opportunity to help companies in that space be more efficient using technology,” said co-founder Guille Carlos. “Everybody is impacted by the shipping industry so we feel like we can have a meaningful impact in the world by helping the players in this industry be more effective.”

Launched: Octopi went live with its first customer in October 2015.

Management team: Luc Castera and Guille Carlos [pictured above], who have more than 20 years of combined experience developing software. Previously, Castera was CTO of Intellum and Carlos was the first tech hire of FiveStreet, which was acquired by in 2013.


Financing: Bootstrapped. The co-founders said they are not in need of funding now but have had conversations with local investors and are building relationships with them in case they decide to raise funds in the future.

Recent milestones reached: In October 2015, Octopi went live with its first customer. In May 2016, the company signed a contract with Caribbean Port Services (CPS), which manages all the terminals at the port of Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. With that contract, about 85 percent of all containerized cargo going to Haiti now goes through Octopi. In June 2016, Octopi completed its billing module, which allows the software product to interface with accounting software such as Quickbooks Online or Microsoft Dynamics GP.

Octopi (then called Cetus Labs) was also the winner of the 2016 early-stage Startup Showcase competition at eMerge Americas in April, winning $50,000, and it participated in the 2016 Venture Hive class.

Biggest startup challenge: Focus. Carlos says: “We see so many problems we could solve in the shipping and maritime industry but we must remain focused on the problem we are currently solving for terminal operators, and not get distracted by other product ideas.”

Next steps: To continue improving the product. “We love to work closely with new customers and involve them early as possible as we develop our product. This ensures that we are solving their problem and we are not developing software in a vacuum. As such, we are always looking for container terminals that have a forward-thinking executive team and that are willing to build a strong alliance with their software vendor. It’s a win-win situation: They help us build a great product, and they get a better software at a better price,” Castera said.

Mentor’s view: “This is exactly the type of startup we need more of in Miami,” said Mike Lingle, who mentors the team at Venture Hive. “My favorite thing about Luc and Guille is that they've built a sustainable business with real revenue and customers, and they don't need to raise money. They both write code, but they also take the time to learn how to run the business, drive sales and marketing, etc. ... The next step is to focus on sales and build a predictable revenue stream. B2B sales cycles are often long and involve multiple stakeholders, so it's important to focus on this sooner rather than later.”

Read more: Mediconecta brings telehealth to emerging markets.

Read more: Why Hope Solo is partnering with this startup.

Read more: Need a ride? Freebee revs up to expand

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

August 06, 2016

Fourth Estate launches journalism startup hosting program

The Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corporation  announced a program aimed to provide news and journalism startups with no-cost media hardened web hosting.

The JournSpark™ program was started as an an unofficial internal initiative where the Fourth Estate provides free web hosting for selected at-risk public interest news sites and several university faculty for their classroom journalism projects.  The program has now grown into a official journalism incubation program offered by the Fourth Estate in support of its public benefit mission.

“It is imperative that entrepreneurs that are involved in startups that are committing public service journalism be given the runway that they need to gain a market foothold,”  Jeff Brown, founder and CEO said. “JournSpark is a no-brainer for a entrepreneurs in the media and journalism space that are just getting started and don’t have a traction yet. It [the program] provides full featured, enterprise class hosting that is journalism hardened, all at no cost to the startup.” 

The JournSpark™ program was developed with the company’s web hosting division, Scoop.Host, to provide premium hosting services and technology at no cost for one year to qualified journalism startups. TheJournSpark™ Startup Program allows journalists and media entrepreneurs a full suite of services, at no cost during their initial startup phases..

How to Apply:

To apply for the program please visit

The program Includes:

  • No cost for qualifying journalism startups.
  • An complete enterprise-ready web hosting solution including 150 GB of data storage and unlimited data transfer.
  • World-class web hosting technical support from Scoop.Host.
  • DDoS attack protection using CloudFlare’s Project Galileo.

Qualifying Startups:

To qualify for the program a participant must be a legally registered business, engage in original news gathering, act in the public interest (broadly defined), be a small commercial entity or a not-for-profit organization or official college/university program, be less than 3 years old, privately held, and earn less than $1M annually.

Getting Started:

  • Go to
  • Complete the online applications to apply to the program.

August 05, 2016

UberEATS expands to Gables, Grove, South Miami

UberEATS Delivery_1

Following the July launch of the UberEATS app in the Miami area, Uber, the ride-hailing service, announced Monday the service is expanding. In addition to its Brickell-to-Hollywood and Miami Beach service area, UberEATS will also serve Coral Gables, Coconut Grove, South Miami and parts of Blue Lagoon area.

Now with more than 180 Miami-area restaurants featured, the UberEATS app now includes Buns & Buns, My Ceviche, GreenStreet Café and Harry’s Pizzeria in Coconut Grove, among others. UberEATS users can get up to $15 off their first two orders using the promo code EATSMIAMIWELCOME.

On-demand delivery services have been proliferating in South Florida but there has been consolidation. Caviar and Favor pulled out of the Miami market this summer, just as Amazon Restaurants and UberEATS were entering. 

Read more: Get that bacon doughnut at your door; UberEATS now delivers in Miami

July 25, 2016

‘I feel like I was ripped off!’ The Fresh Diet closes without alerting employees, clients

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The Fresh Diet founder Zalmi Duchman in 2010. Joe Rimkus Jr. Miami Herald file photo

By Chabeli Herrera /

In an abrupt decision, Miami-based The Fresh Diet, a gourmet food delivery service, closed shop Friday without informing most employees and clients, many of whom paid for the service months in advance.

The national company had been sold back to founder and Miami food entrepreneur Zalmi Duchman in March. He tried to turn the business around, but it was too late, said Daniel Gielchinsky, Duchman’s general consul.

Previous owner Innovative Food Holdings had driven the company to financial ruin, Gielchinsky said, taking on too many employees and attempting to grow too quickly without a set expansion plan.

“Mr. Duchman attempted to implement an ambitious turn-around plan but was unable to do so because of certain obstacles and ultimately was forced to close the company because of the manner in which it was hemorrhaging cash,” Gielchinsky said.

The company is now filing for the Florida-equivalent of a bankruptcy, known as an assignment for benefit of creditors.

A temporary manager was in charge of informing employees and clients of the closure but “the manager may not have followed through on all of the notices that were intended to be given,” Gielchinsky said.

“We are looking into that,” he added.

Gielchinsky declined to say how many people The Fresh Diet employed, but said the number is below the threshold for a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act notice of a business closure. Under a WARN notice, businesses must give notice if an employment site is being shut down resulting in displacement for 50 or more employees — excluding those who have worked six months or less in the last year and those who work less than 20 hours a week — during a 30-day time period.

Kelisha Able, who worked helping clients with special food needs, said she and her husband, who is a driver for the company, were informed of the closure Thursday night through a manager. The parents of three elementary-school age children are both without jobs now, Able said.

“Right now, I am going crazy,” Able said. “We don’t know how we are going to pay our rent, we don’t know how we are going to start for our kids to go back to school, all the bills that we have. Our job is paycheck to paycheck, it’s not like we have a lot in savings.”

Able, who worked for the company for five years and seven months, said she only had one clue that the business was in trouble: when plans were being discounted from $34.99 to $19.99 a day. At The Fresh Diet, clients pay a daily fee to have breakfast, lunch, dinner and two snacks delivered to their doorstep every morning.

Right now, I am going crazy. We don’t know how we are going to pay out rent, we don’t know how we are going to start for our kids to go back to school, all the bills that we have. Kelisha Able, The Fresh Diet employee

Able said she finally got her two-week paycheck, due to her Friday, on Monday morning — but it was only for one week.

“We are trying to figure it out,” Able said. “I’ve applied for unemployment but that’s it, we don’t know what we are going to do.”

Several clients only realized the business closed when they stopped receiving their morning meals.

Longtime New Jersey client Hayley Stein said she and her fiancé paid nearly $11,000 in two meal plans purchased on a Black Friday deal in 2015. Stein has been using The Fresh Diet since 2011 and has been “thrilled” with the program and its customer service.

But on Saturday morning, for the first time since she’s ordered her meals, the food did not arrive.

“I feel like I was ripped off,” Stein said.

She said she has paid the full cost of the plans and still has more than 200 days remaining. Most surprising, Stein said, is that on July 1 she received an email from the business with a subject line, “Introducing our new custom plan,” with information on a customizable diet plan. The email was signed by Duchman.

It didn’t seem like a company on the edge of ruin, Stein said.

Gielchinsky said the company is also “looking into” refunds for customers who already paid for meals.

Since the abrupt closure, clients have posted on Twitter and Yelp about money owed to them. Andrew Buck, director of infrastructure at the local Fresh Diet office, said Duchman texted him over the weekend asking him to delete The Fresh Diet’s Twitter, Facebook and some Yelp accounts. The website remains active but calls to a posted number go unanswered.

“Hey Zalmi, I hear that Fresh Diet has closed, and I paid a lot of food in advance. You owe me $2000! How are you going to fix this?” tweeted user @izrak2.

July 13, 2016

Lemon City Tea Company: A new twist on tea now brewing


Lauren Fernandez, Natalie Napolean de Bens and Gail Hamilton, founders of Lemon City Tea Company

By Nancy Dahlberg /

The four women behind Lemon City Tea Company — Lauren Fernandez, Gail Hamilton, Natalia Napolean de Bens and Melissa Chamorro — believe tea can have attitude.

“Zen, no, that is not our tea; we want our tea to be full of life,” said Hamilton. “Our teas have personality and are experiential, designed to facilitate and enhance our customers’ everyday moments,” she added.

The name derives from the historic northeast Miami neighborhood of Lemon City, also known as Little Haiti, where the partners were enjoying after-work drinks and first came up with the concept.

And like many of the local food entrepreneurs, Lemon City strives to offer a high-quality, ethically sourced product. The company sources its tea leaves and tisanes from all over the world and combines these with tropical botanicals, natural herbs, fruits and essential oils.

“Our teas are inspired by the crazy, complex, diverse and exciting city we call home — Miami,” Hamilton said. “Lemon City develops and curates its Miami-inspired teas with Latin American, Caribbean and South Floridian flavors in mind. From a complex summery mate, to a mango-enhanced black iced tea and our soon-to-be-released signature Cafeci-té, our products proudly showcase this city’s robust culture, vibe and energy.”

Launched in 2014, Lemon City is self-funded. With just the team of four so far, Lemon City has built a wholesale book of business of 35 mainly local stores, salons and restaurants, including The Daily Creative, its first customer, Ms. Cheezious, Delia's, Rik Rak, Sakaya, Izzy’s Fish and Oyster Bar, Spillover, Lokal and O Cinema, said Napolean de Bens, a lawyer. The company also began shipping to two Philadephia restaurants.

The company, with about 30 blends that are certified organic, also has an online business ( also provides a playlist for tea time nontratraditionalists) and this year has shifted its focus to driving retail sales, including the launch of retail boxes, said Naolean de Bens. The company has finalized the design and size of its retail box.

“Our retail box is designed to delight both our current customers as well as introduce new customers to our brand,” said Hamilton, who owns a branding company and formerly worked at Bacardi. “It will offer a mixed selection of four of our most popular teas. We believe starting with a mixed box not only hits on what our current customers already enjoy but also gives a variety of options to try for someone that is new to our brand.”

The women, all friends, have day jobs (two attorneys, a branding consultant and an art director), but don’t call this a hobby business. For these passionate women it’s a full-time venture that they work on not from 9 to 5 but “from 5 til God knows what time — we don’t sleep much,” said Napolean de Bens. She and Hamilton worked in Asia for a time, honing their understanding and appreciation of tea. But the beverage has always been a part of the culture for the four, who are collectively of Jamaican, Haitian, Cuban and Nicaraguan decent.

Said Napolean de Bens: “We all grew up with tea — for any occasion or whatever ails you, there’s a tea.”

July 12, 2016

Half Moon Empanadas: Passion, perseverance powers company through tough start


Half Moon Empanadas founders Juan and Pilar Guzman Zavala

By Nancy Dahlberg /

Juan Zavala and Pilar Guzman Zavala knew relatively little about the food industry when the couple went all in with their savings, their proceeds from a home sale and a lot of borrowed money.

Their concept: Half Moon Empanadas. Inspired by Argentina’s empanada culture and Latin American flavors, the food service company launched its first location in August of 2008, in Miami Beach. As its name suggests, Half Moon specializes in making and selling empanadas that are made from scratch, by hand and with the best ingredients, Pilar said. “We are empanada makers who are obsessed with product quality and superior service.”

Juan, born in Argentina, left his family-owned publishing company, and Pilar, who grew up in Mexico, left her full-time position at the Knight Foundation to pursue their dream. “Initially, we failed miserably, or should we say momentarily,” said" said Pilar, talking about their original 2,000-square-foot location in the heart of South Beach that was a financial mistake.

For a while it didn’t look like their business would make it. But the tough times forced the couple to get creative.

The couple worked several festivals like the South Beach Art Deco Festival and the Coconut Grove Art Festival, and realized they sold more in two days than what they could sell in a week at their SoBe location. A kiosk at University of Miami also did very well, producing 10-times the results of a former, more traditional vendor . Light-bulb moment: Much smaller, convenient, high-traffic, grab-and-go locations are key. “We learned from trial and error and listened to what the market told us,” Juan said. That led them to get out of their expensive SoBe lease and pursue all the locations they still have today at the University of Miami, Florida International University and Miami International Airport.

The airport location was a huge win. “We competed against six other local and national concepts. It took us "four years to open this location, from the moment we submitted the bid to the moment we opened the doors,” Pilar said. “We are among the few small businesses in the entire airport.”

The next huge hurdle was financing. Bank after bank after bank rejected them, even with contracts in hand. Then Pilar emailed their mentor and friend, Juan Martinez, CFO at the Knight Foundation, who referred them to TotalBank Chairman Jorge Rossell, who granted a personal meeting. “He believed in our potential, he believed in us,” said Pilar, who considers him a mentor and meets with him quarterly.

Since opening its first location in late 2008, Half Moon has built a new commissary while expanding aggressively into nontraditional and high-traffic venues and locations, including its commissary retail location and small café at 860 NE 79th St. in Miami, where the team is experimenting with specialty flavors and “build your own empanadas.” It also sells at three University of Miami kiosks, Miami International Airport (Gate D29), Florida International University and Sawgrass Mills mall.

In the past year, Half Moon Empanadas ( has nearly tripled its revenue, has grown to 40 employees, and currently sells more than 40,000 empanadas a month. The 190-square-foot airport location, its top seller by far, is one of MIA’s five top-selling top five selling "food concessions per square foot, Juan said.

In time, Half Moon’s founders plan to expand nationally and globally, perhaps via a franchise model. Much like the international chain Auntie Anne’s did for pretzels, Half Moon Empanadas aims to lead the empanadas category well into the future, having survived a bumpy start, Pilar said.

“Quite frankly, we dusted ourselves off, we tightened our belts, and we survived, never abandoning our bigger dream of one day creating a new food category.”

Filthy Food: Raising the bar on cocktail garnishes

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Ralph and Daniel Singer, co-founders of Filthy Food

By Nancy Dahlberg /

Can an actor formerly with the Royal Shakespeare Company run a food company?

“I’ve read Glengarry Glen Ross enough times. What else do you need to know? Always be closing.”

Or so Daniel Singer thought.

The British actor moved to Miami from London with a young family and wanted to start a business. He took the reins of a Miramar pickle company in 2004 and then in 2005 joined on to help run a meat company owned by his father. Singer had some success with expansion, but the passion just wasn’t there.

That is, until he had the idea to create a specialized company that focused on the cocktail niche.

The family sold National Deli (which had purchased the pickle company) and his father, Ralph Singer, a serial entrepreneur on both sides of the pond in textiles, child care, real estate and food companies, quickly signed on as a co-founder with the new venture. “It’s a gem of an idea that just needed a little polish,” Ralph said.

The idea for Filthy Food, a company with a line of cocktail pickles, olives, onions and cherries, was germinating as the current craft cocktail movement began to pick up steam. Growing up in an entrepreneurial family, it wasn’t difficult for Daniel to talk his documentary filmmaker brother, Marc Singer, into joining the company. “If you are an entrepreneur, it’s in you,” Daniel said. Together, they embarked on a two-year pilgrimage of olives in the name of research.

Did you know there are more than 200 varieties of cultivatable olives?

The proper olive is important, but the fermentation process is key — the ones on the market reeked of salt and oil, Daniel said. (Ever notice the little pool of oil on the top of your martini?) Filthy Food developed a proprietary fermentation process, and with samples in the back of their car, the brothers drove around New York pitching Filthy.

The big challenge: “To get people to care about something they didn’t think they needed to care about,” Daniel said. Bar olives and the like were thought of as commodities; Filthy is essentially creating a new category, he said.

In March 2010, they launched the Filthy Pickle, a cocktail pickle-olive garnish, at a trade show in Las Vegas. Let’s let the website for Filthy, “the world’s sexiest drink garnish,” describe it: “A beautiful, fleshy, seductive olive is the perfect place to put a firm, Filthy little pickle.” There are also descriptions for varieties of olives, cherries and onions. The big goal, Daniel said, is to become the most recognizable cocktail garnish company in the world. The W hotel on South Beach was the company’s first South Florida customers.

Although Filthy Food has always been headquartered here, the company last year consolidated its manufacturing from Chicago and New York to a 40,000-square-foot factory and headquarters in Miami Gardens refurbished to meet Filthy’s high production standard, said Daniel.

Today the company is 30 people strong, and Filthy’s products are shipped to all 50 states through liquor distributors and are served in cocktails in local places such as the Melting Pot, Yardbird, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Soho House, Juvia, Broken Shaker and Sweet Liberty as well as Total Wine & More, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, and on It’s on Carnival and Royal Caribbean cruise ships, too. “If they care about quality, Filthy is behind the bar,” Singer said in his best “Glengarry Glen Ross” mode.

Daniel handles branding and business development, while Marc, whose 2000 documentary “Dark Days” won awards at Sundance, runs operations. “I never regretted even for one day my massive career change,” Marc said. Their father, Ralph, a managing member for the company, describes himself as the rudder that keeps them on course. Also involved as an investor and full partner is actor and friend Josh Lucas, who has starred in movies such as “American Psycho,” “Sweet Home Alabama” and “A Beautiful Mind.” Said Daniel: “There’s the Josh that everybody sees on TV or in movies and there is the Josh that will be in New York with Marc getting boxes out the door.” Lucas has also helped with connections, such as getting Filthy on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.”

Best-sellers in liquor stores are the blue-cheese-stuffed olives, Daniel said. In bars and restaurants, because of the resurgence of American whiskey, black cherries are most popular (Daniel prefers them in the Classic Manhattan). Try Filthy Peppers with tequila or in a Bloody Mary.

And the original pickle? “The brand is unexpected and joyful, and the Filthy Pickle embodies that,” Daniel said. “It’s a real surprise in martinis or Bloody Marys.”

Nancy Dahlberg: 305-376-3595; @ndahlberg

July 11, 2016

How millennial tastes shape a new generation of food startups


Cold Pressed Raw founder Tatiana Peisach

By Nancy Dahlberg /

The craft movement has moved beyond beer. Today’s new food and beverage products are likely to be handmade, creative and adventuresome.

The eats and drinks are local, fresh and healthy too — often organic. And it doesn’t hurt to be a friend of the planet.

The front door is the new drive-through. Food arrives at the home or office with tech-enabled efficiency powering all aspects of the food supply chain.

According to entrepreneurship nonprofit Endeavor, South Florida is ripe for food-and-beverage startups building on these national trends because the critical ingredients are already here: a strong food service sector, culinary culture and an appreciation for green eating.

That last element is key to the nation’s $5.7 billion food-startup investment scene, which is driven by millennials, now the largest U.S. generation.

Millennials’ preference for healthier, “real food” married with convenience is the recipe for success, a 2015 Goldman Sachs report found. They are more likely than any other age group to buy all-natural and organic products, for instance, and are 45 percent more likely to buy these types of products than others. Millennials also are more likely than Boomers or GenXers to favor ethnic and artisanal food and beverage products — for indulgences, gourmet doughnuts are the new cupcakes.

“We expect millennials to account for more than 75 percent of growth within the food vertical over the next decade,” the Goldman analysts said. And while the world’s biggest food brands are beginning to embrace the trends, it is the small nimble companies that are most likely to drive innovation, the report said.

South Florida has plenty of those. Wynwood-born Panther Coffee is opening up cafes around South Florida and sells its artisan coffee worldwide. Tio Foods, maker of organic gazpacho-style soups in bottles, recently attracted General Mills as an investor. Homegrown meal delivery companies have proliferated, with the likes of DeliverLean, Fit2Go, The Fresh Diet and Fresh Meal Plan delivering health- and calorie-conscious meals to homes and businesses, making eating better as easy as ordering up an Uber.

Also sprouting up is an entire vertical of alcohol-related startups, including craft brewers and spirits makers, distributors and consumer apps — such as SpeedETab, Klink, Drizly and Minibar — that make it easier to order or bring the party to you.

As for comestible products, the common denominator, once again: artisan and adventurous. The family-run Filthy Food seeks to raise the bar on cocktail garnishes, creating a new craft category. “It’s the details that make a great drink experience, and bars that care about those details serve Filthy,” said Daniel Singer, one of the co-founders. (See related story.)

Continue reading "How millennial tastes shape a new generation of food startups" »

June 27, 2016

Startup Spotlight: Shanti Bar founders passionate about health, attract Hope Solo

Lauren Feingold_Ashanty Williams

Shanti Bar, a line of energy and protein bars sold in more than 150 venues, is created, manufactured and distributed by a Miami-based startup. The Olympic champ and soccer star Hope Solo recently endorsed Shanti Bar as her performance bar of choice.

Read more here:

Company name: Organically Raw (produces Shanti Bar line of products)

Headquarters: Miami

Business: Organically Raw is aiming to disrupt the functional food bar category by introducing superfoods to the masses, and to be the leader in the high-performance, high-protein, nutrient-dense, raw superfood space. “We want to create a revolution whereby sports and active performance nutrition is fueled by natural sources and superfoods,” CEO Lauren Feingold said. The company’s first product line is Shanti Bar. To the co-founders, Shanti Bar celebrates the raw power of female excellence and beauty and supports sexual equality.

Story: Feingold and Ashanty Williams (pictured above), who both studied culinary arts and have a passion for health and wellness, met at a local gym in Miami in 2012 and became friends. Williams asked Feingold to try a Shanti Bar she developed. “Once I did, I was hooked and the two of us formed a partnership based on a mutual dynamic skill set of the culinary arts, business management and ambition to see the endeavor through.”

Most all products in the market contained loads of unnecessary ingredients and lacked nutritional and functional health benefits, Feingold said. “We believe the consumer deserves more and should have a product they can rely on whether it is at the gym, work, traveling, or on the go.”

Shanti Bar is manufactured, produced and distributed from its facilities in Miami, and this summer, Organically Raw is set to launch Shanti Bar into mainstream retailers. While the market is crowded with competitors, this 100 percent raw, vegan and organic product has a secret weapon: Olympic champion Hope Solo.

Hope Solo (4)

Solo said “the brand represents the idea of what a powerful and purposeful woman is” and last month endorsed the Shanti Bar as her “performance bar of choice.”

“Female entrepreneurs are a very strong and vibrant community, and they want to help each other,” said Solo, who was already a fan and regular customer of Shanti Bar. “I’m excited to work with Lauren and Ashanty — they’re incredible women who want to chart their own path and have found something they love and believe in.”

The energy and protein bars are sold in nearly 150 locations in South Florida, including Tunies Natural Market, Beehive, One Hotel, The Standard, Soho House, Native Sun Grocers, Juice n Java and Miami Cafe, and are now distributed nationally in New York, Colorado, California, Georgia, Oregon and Nevada.

Company launched: March 2015

Management team: Lauren Feingold, CEO; Ashanty Williams, COO; Zussy Williams, facility manager.

Employees: 31


Financing: Mainly self-financed. Obtained a few equipment loans.

Milestones: Partnership with Hope Solo, a two-time Olympic Gold Medalist and FIFA World Cup Champion goalie, was announced in May. Also this year, the company further automated its production in order to manufacture mass quantities and launched a new flavor, Acai Lush, in its Shanti Bar Mini line.

Biggest startup challenge: “There isn’t anything easy about it,” Feingold said. “But probably the biggest challenge has been penetrating the natural channel’s mainstream retailers and mass market key accounts.”

Next steps: The company is working with a broker to help take Shanti Bar nationwide. It also plans to participate in various trade shows outside of its natural channel — for example, Shanti Bar could be marketed for hiking, biking, camping, skiing, etc.

“Ashanty and I are dedicated and determined to make a positive impact in the world of health and wellness nutrition and sports and active performance nutrition,” Feingold said.

Nancy Dahlberg @ndahlberg

[Read more Startup Spotlights here and here and see more small business coverage here.]

SHANTI Bar_Group

June 21, 2016

A case study for helping companies grow: Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses

Locally, 10,000 Small Businesses at Miami Dade College has helped 230 companies grow their businesses, adding revenue and jobs. Revenues have more than doubled for Miami entrepreneur Enrique Torres’ business, Excellent Fruit & Produce. Still, challenges remain for small businesses, as a new study by Babson College shows.


Enrique Torres, owner of Excellent Fruit & Produce in Miami.


By Nancy Dahlberg /

Nearly 62 percent of small businesses in America have four or fewer employees, and we know in South Florida that number tops 90 percent.

Helping small businesses scale offers enormous, and largely untapped potential in creating new jobs and generating economic development, according to a new report titled “The State of Small Business in America” by Babson College.

“We all benefit if we are able to foster a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem that best supports ongoing small business growth and job creation in America,” said Babson College President Kerry Healey. “Public and private sectors must work together to support small businesses, which comprise 99 percent of all U.S. employer firms and which account for more than half of the private sector’s net new jobs over the past two decades.”

More than 1,800 businesses across the United States were surveyed for the report. Most of them were participants in Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses, a national program available in South Florida that helps existing small businesses grow. Key findings included:

Obtaining capital remains a big hurdle. Small businesses are four times more likely to go to a bank for capital needs. Looking across all sources of capital, survey respondents apply for a median amount of $100,000, but receive only 40 percent of what they seek. Businesses say they need more flexible loan terms.

Business owners find regulation both difficult and time-consuming. On average, four hours per week is spent dealing with government regulations and tax compliance, which totals over 200 hours per year.

The skills gap is overwhelmingly a small business owner’s No. 1 issue with respect to hiring. Over 70 percent of respondents find it difficult to hire qualified employees because they say potential candidates lack the requisite skill sets — over and above competition for talent, salary requirements, and the provision of benefits.

This new report comes out on the heels of the Kauffman Foundation’s Index of Growth Entrepreneurship ranking the Miami area as second to last among metro areas for scale-up businesses. Yet the 10,000 Small Businesses Program, among other programs, is directly addressing the very issue of helping existing small businesses to scale, including assistance with capital raising, navigating government regulations, and team building.

And it’s working.

Nationally, over about six years, 10KSB with program locations in 22 states has now served more than 6,100 businesses, representing more than $5 billion in total revenues and more than 80,000 employees. Nationally, more than 60 percent of program alumni have added jobs 30 months after graduating with average job growth at the rate of 114 percent, and 82 percent of program alumni have increased revenues by an average rate of 106 percent within 30 months.

John Hall, executive director of the 10,000 Small Businesses at Miami Dade College program, said the growth trends of local 10KSB graduates have been consistent with the national averages. The local, free 16-week 10KSB program, which uses Babson’s curriculum and supplements the education with individual mentorship and a sharp focus on growth strategy, kicked off its first cohort in early 2014.

Enrique Torres, who owns Excellent Fruit & Produce in Miami, was part of Cohort No. 1. Since graduating in May 2014, he said his company, a fresh produce distributor to restaurants, hotels and hospitals in the region, has more than doubled revenues and employees. Through the program’s workshops, “I discovered the identity of my company,” he said, and that resulted in a complete re-branding, from new trucks to the design of the produce boxes.

Torres said he learned how to hire smarter, professionalize procedures, add technology to make the company more efficient and, in essence, “using all the tools to attain your goals.” Networking with fellow entrepreneurs who are outside his industry was also very valuable, he said. The homegrown company that he has owned since 2005 now has 16 full-time employees.

Locally, 39 companies are enrolled in Cohort 8, the largest class yet for the business education program that launched at Miami Dade College in September 2013 with $5 million in funding from Goldman Sachs.

“The local program has served a total of 230 businesses to date, representing more than 3,900 jobs throughout Greater Miami and more than $340 million in aggregate revenues,” Hall said.

The 10KSB program at Miami Dade College’s Wolfson Campus runs several cohorts every year. Applicants should own or co-own a business in operation for at least two years, with at least $150,000 in revenues in the most recent fiscal year. To apply, visit or call or call 305-237-7824.

Babson College is also involved locally in launching the Women Innovating Now (WIN) Lab, a new Miami accelerator program that aims to help female entrepreneurs start and grow businesses. Find out more about WINLab here.

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg. Read more small business coverage here.