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 / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

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 (lemoncitytea.com 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 / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

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 (halfmoonempanadas.com) 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

Filthy food

Ralph and Daniel Singer, co-founders of Filthy Food

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

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 filthyfood.com. 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 / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

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" »

Vigilant Biosciences raises $5 million to take oral cancer detection products to market

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Vigilant Biosciences is developing products for the early detection and intervention of cancer. On Monday, the Fort Lauderdale life sciences company announced it closed a $5 million round of financing, bringing its total amount of funding raised to date to $12.5 million.

Existing investors participating in the Series B2 financing included White Owl Capital Partners, venVelo and others, as well as a group of angel investors.

Vigilant expects to use the funds to support international commercialization of its OncAlert Oral Cancer product line and the advancement of its OncAlert Labs product line. The funding also will support the continued research and development of additional products in Vigilant’s pipeline.

The funding round helps successfully transition Vigilant Biosciences to a commercial-stage company that will deliver breakthrough solutions to aid clinicians in the early detection of oral cancer, said Matthew H.J. Kim, founder, chairman and CEO of Vigilant Biosciences. “These funds will also enable us to continue research and development of additional applications of our unique biomarker technology.”

There are more than 440,000 new cases of oral cancer each year worldwide, particularly among high-risk populations, such as current and former smokers, heavy drinkers or those diagnosed with human papillomavirus, or HPV-16. Vigilant Biosciences’ product line based on patented technology currently includes the OncAlert Labs OraMark Test, a laboratory-developed test available only through OncAlert Labs, a CLIA certified laboratory; and the OncAlert Oral Cancer RAPID Test and the OncAlert Oral Cancer LAB Test, both CE Marked and available in select markets outside the United States.

In May, Vigilant said it will begin its first U.S.-based testing of its OncAlert Labs OraMark Tests, the first quantitative oral rinse test to accurately measure a tumor-initiating and stem cell associated biomarker for oral cancer detection at its earliest stages, the company said. Also in May, the Vigilant was cleared to launch its OnAlert Oral Cancer RAPID Test, an oral rinse test, across Europe.

Startup Spotlight: Mediconecta bringing telehealth to emerging markets

MKK00 Mediconecta News rk

Mediconecta, based in Miami, provides telehealth services in Latin America. The company, which won the eMerge Americas startup competition in April, now has 50 employees. Daniel Silberman, founder and CEO, and Daniel Fridzon, CTO, are pictured.

Company name: Mediconecta

Headquarters: Miami

Concept: Mediconecta.com is a telehealth innovator that provides on-demand medical consultations via videoconference. Using an in-house network of physicians and a robust proprietary platform, the company offers complete clinical resolution via web, its mobile app or telehealth kiosks.

Story: Daniel Silberman and Salomon Simkins, both engineers from Venezuela who received MBAs in the United States, started Mediconecta about five years ago and built it on the basic yet powerful premise that technology can be a pivotal element in the much-needed transformation of healthcare.

“By providing access to real time, on demand virtual medical visits that can take place anywhere the patient is located, we are able to drastically lower the constraints for delivering quality, affordable and timely medical care,” said Silberman, an industrial engineer who moved to the U.S. in 2004, received his MBA at MIT Sloan School of Management and did consulting and strategy work for a number of years before starting Mediconecta. Simkins, his co-founder and longtime friend, received an MBA from Harvard Business School and has a master’s in biomedical engineering from Penn State; he is based in Israel.

The company’s main business model is to provide telehealth services via the consumers’ insurance companies. “But what we are doing more and more is going straight to consumers through partnerships ... with channel partners who have broad reach in the mass consumer space,” Silberman said.

Today, Mediconecta is the largest telemedicine provider in Latin America with a presence in Mexico, Chile, Ecuador, Venezuela and Peru, with plans to expand into other specialties and product lines, including for U.S. Hispanics who have families in Latin America.

While Latin America is significantly behind the U.S. in telehealth adoption, “it’s really interesting how mainstream this will all become in the next few years,” Silberman said. “The business models that will exist and evolve in a few years will be different than they are today, so we are trying to stay ahead of the pack.”

Launched: July 2011

Management team: Daniel Silberman, founder and CEO; Salomon Simkins, founder and chairman; Daniel Fridzon, CTO

No. of employees: 50, most of them in Latin America.

Financing: $4.1 million in angel funding

Recent milestones reached: Mediconecta won the 2016 eMerge Americas late stage startup competition, winning $100,000 in investment as well as “giving us validation on a very credible platform” and “opening doors for investment and partnership opportunities,” Silberman said. Also, the company successfully deployed Medipunto health kiosks for employers and signed its first distribution partnership with a telecom company in Latin America.

Biggest startup challenge: Creating an entirely new service category in emerging markets. “Being the pioneers in the space, we now benefit from obvious advantages, although getting there was a lengthy process that took significant effort and resources,” Silberman said.

Next step: Mediconecta will continue to penetrate its core markets while expanding into several more countries in Latam and Spain. The service offering is also growing beyond its core in primary medical care and into other telehealth services including medical specialties and a virtual wellness hub, which provides access to virtual coaches in nutrition, fitness, maternity and other areas. The company will also be deploying more of its telehealth kiosks for employers for convenient, on-demand services.

In the United States, where the industry is growing more than 25 percent a year, Mediconecta has an opportunity to merge the medical need of Latinos in their home countries with the high quality medical care offered in the U.S. “This is a project the company will be pursuing via strategic partners, through a highly differentiated product to sell to their Hispanic customers,” Silberman said.

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg


July 07, 2016

Big data startup Candidate.Guru raises $600K on way to $950K round


Candidate.Guru CEO Chris Daniels with co-founder Steve Carter 

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Big data startup Candidate.Guru has raised $600,000 in funding led by The Fan Fund, an Orlando-based, early-stage fund that invests in technology and life science companies.

Candidate.Guru, winner of the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge this year, uses data analytics to analyze whether job candidates are a good cultural fit with a potential boss or team, and it is led by CEO Chris Daniels. The company, now with nine full- or part-time employees, launched earlier this year, is generating revenue and previously raised $475,000 in angel funding.

In addition to the $600,000 in funding, Candidate.Guru is close to closing an additional $200,000, Daniels said, and the company hopes to close out its $950,000 round this month. The company plans to use the funding for primarily for sales and marketing, but also some product development related to integrations with larger HR systems.

Research has shown that 75 percent of voluntary job resignations are due to a poor fit between the employee and the manager resulting in significant productivity loss as well as replacement cost.  Candidate.Guru’s proprietary software uses objective big data methods to rank the entire candidate pool for cultural fit, and can be used either at the early stage of the recruiting process to streamline recruiters’ work process, or at the late stage of the process to minimize chances of costly hiring errors.

“Our decision to invest in Candidate.Guru was supported by the qualities of the management team: business and domain experience, commitment to the business, a working and innovative technological approach, and the drive to succeed,” said Mitchel Laskey, managing director of FAN Fund.

This investment is the sixth for the FAN Fund since launching operations on Nov. 1, 2015. In the initial eight months, the FAN Fund deployed $1.55 million in financing rounds that totaled approximately $7 million.

In addition to winning the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge in May, Candidate.Guru won first place and $100,000 in funding in the Florida Venture Forum Early Stage Capital Conference's startup business competition.

Candidate.Guru was selected in 2015 for Florida Atlantic University's Tech Runway startup accelerator program in Boca Raton.

Read profile of Candidate.Guru here.

July 01, 2016

2016 American Entrepreneurship Awards: And the winners are ...


Two first place teams: Cheveral Deacon, above left, CEO of StatLab, accepts the first place American Entrepreneurship Award. Alain Fernandez, CEO of ValueDoc, below, also accepts the first place award. Each won $25,000 in funding and services from Libra Group.


Compiled by Libra Group

The American Entrepreneurship Award (AEA), a program created to support startup businesses and entrepreneurs, has announced the winners of its first contest. The award focuses on traditionally underserved communities in the United States and this year operated exclusively in Miami-Dade County and the Bronx. The AEA organizers, international business group the Libra Group, had originally pledged a prize of $25,000 in business start-up funding in each of the award regions. The quality of entrants was, however, so high that Libra raised prize funding to a total of $125,000 with multiple award winners being declared in each region. Winners will also receive mentorship and a range of business support services.

The winners in Miami-Dade are a mobile medical laboratory, an online healthcare marketplace and a legal services access system.  The winners in the Bronx are an eco-lighting company and an organic drinks company with the runner-up award going to a food market. The panel of judges selected winners from hundreds of entrants on the basis of business plans that exhibited sustainability, financial prudence and innovation, while accruing revenue and creating jobs predominantly in Miami-Dade County, Florida, or the Bronx, New York. Entries were accepted from individuals or groups with no previous business experience, or from existing private companies with an all-new business idea that was not related to their core activities.

The AEA was launched in October 2015 with an initial commitment of $500,000 from the Libra Group, a privately owned diversified business group with 30 subsidiaries active across six continents. The winners’ trophies for the Miami-Dade region were presented at a ceremony at The Idea Center at Miami Dade College by Jimmy Athanasopoulos, Head of Social Responsibility, Libra Group; and Carla Brillembourg-Clark, Deputy Head of Social Responsibility, Libra Group.

The winners in Miami-Dade County who were announced at a ceremony at The Idea Center at Miami Dade College are:

Statlab Mobile (statlabmobile.com), winning $25,000 in funding. A complete mobile medical laboratory with the capabilities to test blood and urine samples at any location. The company’s goal is to provide quality blood testing for the insured and the uninsured at a fraction of the traditional cost.

ValueDOC (doctors.valuedoc.com), winning $25,000 in funding. A free health and wellness marketplace where self-pay patients find pre-screened doctors offering services like dental cleaning, doctor visits, urgent care, acupuncture, and massage therapy, all at discounted prices up to 80% off retail. Doctors can be found based on their years of experience, convenience and patient reviews. Appointments can be booked online via credit card. [ValueDoc was also a first-place winner in the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge this year; read its story here.

The runner-up, winning $12,500 in funding, is Court Buddy (www.courtbuddy.com); James and Kristina Jones pictured below. An automated legal services matching system that pairs small businesses with attorneys. The legal services offered are à la carte, so clients pay based on their budget. [Court Buddy was a winner of the Business Plan Challenge People's Pick in 2015. Read its story here.]


Winning companies in the Bronx are:

Watt + Flux (www.wattandflux.com), an LED Inspire Company, winning $25,000 in funding. This company upgrades existing inefficient lighting systems in businesses, schools and marine vessels to new LED lighting systems that save time and money, and reduce environmental impact.

Ginjan Bros (drinkginjan.com), winning $25,000 in funding. A NYC based drinks company that develops and markets traditional African beverages. Their first product offering is "Ginjan", a popular West African drink made with all-organic fresh ginger, cold-pressed pineapples, fresh lemons, vanilla, anise extracts, and organic cane sugar.

The runner-up, winning $12,500 in funding, is South Bronx Food Market (www.southbronxfarmersmarket.com): a market that offers healthy, home-style menu items and meals made fresh daily with minimally-processed and locally-sourced ingredients.

In addition to the funding, which comes in the form of an interest-free loan, each winner will receive business support spanning legal, accounting, communications and IT consultancy services. They will also be assigned a mentor who will provide advice and guidance throughout every stage of their business start-up.

Commenting on the winners, Jimmy Athanasopoulos, Head of Social Responsibility at the Libra Group stated:

“This is the inaugural year for the American Entrepreneurship Award and has demonstrated the rich seam of innovation and sound commercial thinking in this country. We hope that the success of these smart young companies will inspire others to have the same self-belief and take the bold step of translating an idea into a business plan," said Jimmy Athanasopoulos, Head of Social Responsibility at the Libra Group. "New businesses are the raw materials of economic growth – they create employment and have the power to transform communities. We sincerely congratulate these winners whose innovation and sound commercial thinking has won the admiration and endorsement of the panel of judges.”

Other finalists in the 2016 award were:

AlulA (alulaaero.com), Miami-Dade County. An on-board aviation communications device (AlulA Heart) which enables affordable transmission of valuable ‘black box’ data in real time by broadcasting it to a new and innovative land-based, crowd sourced aircraft data receiver network.

Pepe Loves Books (www.alphatechblocks.com), Miami-Dade County. The company creates connected toys and mobile applications for early childhood education. Their first toy is AlphaTechBlocks™, the world’s first interactive alphabet blocks and a child’s first introduction to the digital world.

Noga Tech, the Bronx. The company’s patent pending product is a multifunctional backpack that can be utilized as a briefcase or messenger bag and additionally serves as a high-visibility safety vest, with the added benefit of being on trend with current fashions.

WeIntervene (www.weintervene.com), the Bronx. A start-up that serves as an online Referral Management System, empowering school counselors to find, share, manage and monitor community resources needed by students and their guardians. The scope of resource provision spans health and wellbeing, counseling, and extra-curricular programs.

The contest will be back in Miami-Dade County next spring, the organizers said. To learn more about the American Entrepreneurship Award, visit www.americanaward.com.

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: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/#storylink=cpy

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

Website: shanti.bar

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 23, 2016

Cooking up a combo: Hispanicize Media Group buys majority stake in Hispanic Kitchen


HispkitchenBy Nancy Dahlberg/ ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Hispanic Kitchen
, a Miami-based food website with a large social media following, looked mighty tasty to Hispanicize Media Group, which was looking to expand its digital media reach with brands.

“Hispanic Kitchen is a remarkable digital and social media platform for brands that want to engage audiences that are inspired by Latino culture and its passion for food, recipes and cooking in general,” said Manny Ruiz, founder and CEO of Hispanicize Media Group, the holding company for the annual Hispanicize event and DiMe Media.

Ruiz’s company recently announced it has acquired a majority stake in the Latino food media company. As part of the transaction, both Miami-based online advertising network Salvo Group and Hispanic Kitchen founder Jorge Bravo will own minority interests. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

This transaction is the first in a series of acquisitions that Hispanicize Media Group plans to enhance its expansion into digital media. “Combining the synergies of Hispanic Kitchen with our DiMe Media influencer network means we can now serve brands an incomparable 360-degree online solution that incorporates premium advertising, programmatic advertising, video integrations, social media engagement and influencer network marketing,” said Ruiz in the press release.

Founded in 2009 by veteran journalist Bravo, HispanicKitchen.com and its social media channels reach a combined 1.6 million monthly users. The newly re-launched website features a database of thousands of Latino recipes with 85 percent of its traffic coming from mobile devices and 90 percent driven by all major social platforms, especially Facebook, with nearly 1.2 million engaged fans.

“It's been a venture and an adventure,” Bravo said on his Facebook page. “I guess this is where I look back at what began as just an idea bouncing around in my head to where it is now, a growing, and much-loved food platform. We've had bumps along the way, but our fans have stuck with us. I value their loyalty and good wishes. I'm excited to begin this new chapter.”

Bravo, who like Ruiz formerly worked in the Miami Herald newsroom, said Hispanicize Media Group bought a minority stake in the company last year and they began working together, allowing the companies time to explore a larger partnership. “What we are trying to do is make HK the top destination for people looking for Latin flavors. This acquisition and the resources it provides ... brings the pieces together to help us get there. It’s been a seamless collaboration. ... We fully expect to be a major player in the space.”

Hispanic Kitchen will be led by Hispanicize Media Group’s Chief Operations Officer Piera Jolly. Bravo will continue as editorial director, overseeing the company’s team of writers and video producers. 

“When you start something like this you never know where it is going to go, but I knew there was a need because our fans told us so,” said Bravo. “We’re continuing to work on the product to meet that need and feed that hunger.”