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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SHARK LOCKS UP DEAL WITH AQUAVAULT

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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

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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.

 

HelloDotMiami opens pre-registration for .miami domain names

HelloDotMIAMI, a company specializing in domain name registrations, has opened pre-registrations for .MIAMI Internet domains ahead of their public availability on Oct. 2. Any business or individual can apply for a .MIAMI domain name at www.hellodotmiami.com starting at $23.99 per domain.

The new .MIAMI domain is like the traditional .COM, .NET, .ORG, etc. but identifies the website as made in or about the city of Miami, such as www.hotels.miami or www.beaches.miami. This new extension is part of a program developed by ICANN to increase the number of possible domains. Other major cities, including New York, London, and Berlin, have already launched their own domain extensions.

"We’ve seen a huge response for these city-focused domains elsewhere and expect the same excitement here in the MagicCity,” said Gerardo Aristizabal, director of HelloDotMIAMI, whose team was involved in .NYC domain.

August 13, 2015

Wyncode launches WynTank to partner Wyncoders with entrepreneurs, local businesses, nonprofits

Wyncode Photo3

“Have you ever had an app idea but you didn’t know where to start?” asks Juha Mikkola, co-founder of coding bootcamp company Wyncode Academy. “After just seven weeks at Wyncode, our students can build it for you.”

Wyncode Academy, with campuses at The LAB Miami in Wynwood and General Provision in Fort Lauderdale, has launched WynTank, a program that matches Wyncode students with local entrepreneurs, businesses, and nonprofits to help them bring their app ideas to life.

The participants with the best ideas will be invited to pitch their app concepts in front of Wyncode students who will vote on which apps to build for their team projects during the last two weeks of the course. To enter WynTank or for more information on the judging criteria and process, aspiring entrepreneurs can submit their ideas via http://wyncode.co/wyntank/

The completed, full stack web apps developed in WynTank will be presented and voted on by a panel of judges during Wyncode’s Pitch Day II on August 27 at its Fort Lauderdale campus within General Provision.

“We believe in the South Florida tech ecosystem and hope that WynTank projects can spur new businesses and build a stronger local and regional economy,” said Juha Mikkola. “A cross-community partnership between entrepreneurs, local businesses and nonprofits will allow some of our city’s up-and-coming coders to build apps that can really make a difference.”

The idea for WynTank was sparked when a Miami tech community member was invited to collaborate with a team of students and have their app idea built for Wyncode’s Pitch Day V.  The project, called Outnix, not only won Pitch Day V, but one of the students on the development team raised $50,000 for the company. Outnix joins a group of eight other startups that have originated in the Wyncode program.

A WynTank beta was held at the Miami campus on July 27 in preparation for Wyncode’s Pitch Day VI on August 13th. Two concepts from community members were selected. Stacy Glover of Caveat pitched the first concept, referred to as the Uber of tailoring. Mike Sarasti and Ernie Hsiung of MiamiDadeCounty pitched the second concept for an app aimed at simplifying the Miami commercial permitting process.

See the results at Thursday evening’s Pitch Day at The LAB Miami. See more information here.

 

August 10, 2015

Startup Spotlight: Blue Ring Technologies a one-stop shop for inventors

Bluering

Company name: Blue Ring Technologies

Headquarters:2240 SW 70th Ave., Suite J, Davie.

Concept: Blue Ring Technologies, a startup manufacturing company, specializes in helping entrepreneurs and businesses develop their ideas, manufacture their products and realize their dreams.

Story: Blue Ring Technologies began when its founder, Jay Prendes, was creating his own product, the Jayster, a keychain and app that used Bluetooth technology to find lost valuables. Having tech manufacturing experience with IBM and Motorola and a firm understanding of the development process, Prendes, a computer engineer, set out to assemble the necessary professional services to help bring Jayster to life and manufacture it in South Florida. Yet he found a lack of affordable engineering services that can help to prototype, design and manufacture plastic parts for small businesses within the immediate area.

Prendes decided to invest in 3D printing technology to help with his design process. Because of the success of his Kickstarter campaign in 2013, he was able to buy tooling equipment and injection-molding machines to help create Jayster in its product form. In the process, he began meeting fellow inventors who were seeking the same kind of services he put into place for Jayster: He saw a clear market need for a business with all the engineering services under one roof.

JaysterToday, Blue Ring Technologies handles hundreds of projects for clients ranging from individual, self-funded inventors who bring in ideas or rough prototypes for consumer products to larger companies such as Pavilion Furniture and Home Depot that may need a particular plastic part or project item manufactured. One of the products Blue Ring still manufactures is the former Jayster, which has undergone some iterations, was licensed by ShopLive, and is now called Beacon Plus.

Blue Ring Technologies provides additive manufacturing, 3D printing, rapid prototyping, product tooling and injection-molding services. In 2014, Blue Ring expanded into its 2,500-square-foot Davie facility. It has added 3D printers, CNC machines, which guide manufacturing tools by computer, and more advanced and larger-process injection-molding machines for plastic manufacturing, including with bio-degradable, eco-friendly plastics. A recent afternoon was abuzz with activity, as several of the machines were producing parts for companies, while engineers were working on designs and prototypes for other clients.

“We are most known for the ability to create products for our clients quickly and efficiently — in the most affordable manner possible,” said Prendes, 33, who worked for Motorola for seven years before jumping full time into entrepreneurship. “Though born with a focus on prototyping, Blue Ring has quickly evolved to become a one-stop shop for our clients, expertly bringing ideas from concept to finished product.”

Website: blueringtechnologies.com

Launched: 2012

Management: JoaquinJay” Prendes, president.

Employees: Rodrigo Lima, engineer/designer; Fernando Gomez, master machinist; Jesse Azueta, designer; Travis Pittman, machinist; Brian Fata, designer.

Financing: Raised $15,000 through Kickstarter in 2013. Now exploring raising capital for new equipment and ISO certification costs.

Recent milestones reached: “We have added CNC machines, moved into our larger Davie facility, added engineers to our team, started a tooling apprenticeship program, and signed major corporate accounts,” said Prendes, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer engineering at Florida International University. We just purchased another professional 3D printer, expanding our prototyping capability.”

Biggest startup challenge: Hiring qualified team members to serve its growing client list.Our team needs to be versatile, have experience in manufacturing and handle CNC machines. This is a very hard skill set to find,” he said.

Next step: Expansion through attaining full ISO 9001 certification, which will allow Blue Ring to pursue projects in the aerospace, medicine and government sectors. “We are seeking partnerships or investors that can help accelerate our ISO 9001 certification,” Prendes said.

Nancy Dahlberg

 

August 07, 2015

Grocery delivery service Shipt launching in South Florida soon

Shipt

By Miriam ValverdeSun Sentinel

Shipt, an app-based grocery delivery service, has announced plans to deliver groceries from Publix starting as early as Aug. 18.

The company, headquartered in Alabama, allows shoppers to use an app to order, pay and schedule the delivery of groceries. Deliveries can be made the same day, within an hour.

Shipt.com advertises that customers can join Shipt in the South Florida area and get one year of unlimited grocery delivery for $49, starting Aug. 18. A map on the website shows a coverage area stretching from Miami to West Palm Beach.

Publix has said it is not affiliated with Shipt, even though the delivery company says it's delivering Publix groceries. Since they're not working together, Publix doesn't have control over pricing, fees and other offerings, Publix spokeswoman Nicole Krauss said.

“We are aware of Shipt using our name in their advertisements,” Krauss said via email. “However, without an established partnership, any use of the Publix name is without our consent. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.”

Shipt’s prices are marked up from in-store prices: “Our members can expect to pay about $5 more on an order that normally cost $35 in the store to help cover the costs of picking and packing,” the website says. Delivery fees also apply for orders under $35 that are not part of a promotion.

With a different model, San Francisco-based Instacart launched in the Miami area in May and partners with Whole Foods, Winn-Dixie and other grocers, but doesn’t have a partnership with Publix. Instacart, which expanded in June, charges delivery fees but doesn’t require membership fees and does not typically mark up prices.

 

August 03, 2015

Will SpeedETab find its funders deep in the heart of Texas? Stay tuned!

CLIP-5

 

Are investor checks bigger in Texas? A bootstrapping South Florida startup founder is about to find out.

Adam Garfield (pictured above), co-founder of SpeedETab, will be the first entrepreneur to seek funding when a new CNBC show, “West Texas Investors Club,” premiers at 10 p.m. Tuesday. He will pitch his mobile application that modernizes the way customers order and pay for food and drinks at their favorite hangouts.

“West Texas Investors Club” is an eight-episode reality show set deep in the heart of West Texas featuring multi-millionaires Rooster McConaughey (brother of actor Matthew McConaughey) and Butch Gilliam, who struck their millions in the oil pipe business. In each episode the duo will be seeking their next big investment by interviewing up-and-coming entrepreneurs to uncover their potential as well as the potential of their products. The show is produced by the same team behind the network’s popular entrepreneur reality show “The Profit.”

Frustrated with poor service and long wait times in the hospitality industry, co-founders Garfield and Edward Gilmore developed SpeedETab to let customers order and pay for menu items right from their smartphone.  Once the drink is ready, SpeedETab sends a notification to the user to pick up their items; it can also deliver promotions and customer analytics. An  iOS version of the app is on the market, and  an Android version will be released on Tuesday, timed with the show.

Garfield, 27, was born and raised in South Florida, graduated from the University of Florida, worked in Boston after graduation at a hedge fund firm, and returned to South Florida earlier this year to work on his startup fulltime.

Garfield said he never set out to be on a reality show, but he met a Shark Tank producer at a Boston meetup who suggested he apply to be on Shark Tank. While that didn’t go anywhere, CNBC executives saw his application video for the contest on YouTube and reached out.

“At first I only knew that it would be a shark tank-like show,” said Garfield. But he is happy with the potential exposure. “It’s a little of Shark Tank meets Texas, the good old boys of Texas who have a slightly larger focus on the entrepreneurs behind the product as well as the product. We got to showcase that the product is serving a need, whether that need is South Florida or West Texas.” SpeedETab will be the focus of about 60 percent of the hourlong show, he said.

SpeedETab launched in South Florida in April with a dozen locations, mainly bars, and plans are to expand nationally. So far, the endeavor has been financed mainly by Garfield’s $100K in life savings.

So did SpeedETab get funded? Like with Shark Tank, the episodes have already been filmed --forget Hollywood or New York’s financial district, we’re talking Midland, Texas -- and Garfield is sworn to secrecy about the outcome.

Yet, the press materials say there was at least one aspect of the business model the investors really liked: They would get their drinks faster.

SpeedETab will be having  a viewing party Tuesday night at Tongue & Cheek, 431 Washington Ave., from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. You can also follow along on Twitter at #WestTexasInvestors. 

UPDATE AFTER THE SHOW: Funded! Garfield repped the #305 well, and in the end SpeedETab accepted the club's offer of $250,000 now in exchange for 40 percent of the business and another $250,000 once SpeedETab is in 250 bars.  Rooster and Butch promised help to get SpeedETab in Caesars and other establishments. And "we're going to have to stop drinking beer during these negotiations."

Something you'd never see on Shark Tank: The show went into the West Texas local Corky's bar and let Garfield loose to demo SpeedETab among the regulars. Though Corky's is not SpeedETab's target demographic, the bar goers really took to it -- the waitresses, not so much...

If you missed the premier episode, catch it on the web. 

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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 28, 2015

Wyncode offers bootcamp scholarships in low-income communities

Wyncode Academy, which runs coding bootcamps, will provide scholarships to nine Miami-Dade County residents from low-income neighborhoods.  The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is investing $75,000 to fund the scholarships.

Recipients of the Future Leaders of Tech scholarships will be enrolled in a nine-week Wyncode Academy cohort at its Miami campus, which is located within The LAB Miami in Wynwood.  Wyncode’s coding bootcamps are focused on project-based learning and promote hands-on education as students learn to build full stack Web applications.

“Our mission at Wyncode is to give anyone the skills and tools to begin a career in coding,” said Wyncode Academy co-founder Juha Mikkola said the scholarships “enable us to extend this opportunity to members of our community who lack the means, but certainly not the passion and drive, to follow their dreams and learn to code.”

Scholarships will be awarded on an ongoing basis, but to be considered for a scholarship in time for Cohort 7, which starts on Sept. 23, applications must be received by Sept. 2.   For more information or to apply, visit wyncode.co/futureleaders.