September 23, 2016

Spotlight: Rising Tide Car Wash makes waves in social impact

Risingtide
From left, Andrew D’Eri, Donna D’Eri, John D’Eri, Tom D’Eri and Rajiv Chandrasekaran, celebrate ‘Employing the Full Spectrum,’ part of Starbucks’ new ‘Upstanders’ series.

This social entrepreneurial company focuses on employing adults with autism. 

Name: Rising Tide Car Wash

Location: 7201 N. State Road 7, Parkland

What it is: A car wash with a focus on employing adults with autism. 

Website: risingtidecarwash.com

Services provided: Washes, some cleaning services. Prices start at $6 for a simple, basic wash of the exterior and use of a free vacuum. 

How it began: An existing car wash was purchased and renovated in 2012, and then launched as Rising Tide in April 2013 in Parkland. The business gives job opportunities to people with autism. When John and his son Tom D’Eri learned that 80 to 90 percent of adults with autism are unemployed, they set out to change that statistic. The D’Eris researched options and determined a car wash would be the ideal business for creating jobs for people with autism, like Tom’s brother Andrew, who likes structure and performing repetitive tasks and follows safety guidelines to the letter. 

Management team: John D’Eri, CEO; Tom D’Eri, co-founder and COO; Tom Sena, CFO. Dr. Michael Alessandri, executive director of the University of Miami-Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities, is an advisor.

Number of employees: 42, with 35 on the autism spectrum. 

Competitors: Others are in the area including Express Car Wash in Boca Raton and Sample Road Auto Spa in Pompano Beach.

Year-over-year: Six months after it started its car-wash operation, the business had tripled its customer base of 35,000 to 40,000 and had its first profitable month in October 2013. In its first full year, Rising Tide did about 110,000 car washes. In its second year, it did 142,000. For its third year, the company projects 160,000 to 170,000 washes. 

Milestone: 

September 2016: Starbucks is highlighting the business in one of 10 videos “about ordinary people doing extraordinary things to create positive change in their communities,” as it says in a news release. The “Upstanders” series, as it’s called, is available through the coffee chain’s mobile app, website (Starbucks.com/Upstanders) and its YouTube account. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and Rajiv Chandrasekaran, senior vice president of public affairs at Starbucks and the executive producer of the company’s social impact media initiatives, wrote and produced the series. Shot over two days in August, the six-minute video entitled “Employing the Full Spectrum” shows Andrew D’Eri drying cars and polishing tires with fellow employees at Rising Tide as well as scenes from D’Eri’s family’s home life in Fort Lauderdale. John and Tom D’Eri also are in the video.

Watch video below:

Upcoming: A second location in Margate is planned, with groundbreaking expected in the next two weeks. It’s projected to be completely built in about six months, with a spring opening. The new car wash  will be on 1.5 acres at 2970 N. State Road 7 that were purchased for $1.5 million and will be about one and a half times larger than the one in Parkland. It will cost about $3.4 million to get  it up and running. More than 50 people will work at the Margate location. 

Major keys to success: “You can’t do this without dedicated employees,” John D’Eri said. He cites “the dedication of all his employees, their willingness to follow proper protocol, their desire to deliver value, the fact that they treat clients with respect, value their position in the company and create a culture of acceptance” for the success of Rising Tide.

Strategy for success: John D’Eri said the company plans to replicate the success of the business locally, regionally and then nationally with a hub-and-spoke concept with the Parkland operation as a hub. In addition, he said, the company plans to analyze and use the knowledge gained to produce a superior product and delve into other businesses, using best practices as they relate to people on the autism spectrum — “the autism advantage,” he calls it.

RORY CLARKE

 

Read more Startup Spotlights

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To see all Startup Spotlights, go to the Startup Spotlight category of this blog.

 

September 19, 2016

MealPass rebrands as MealPal, unveils 'Pal' feature, launches in Chicago, DC


By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Screenshot 1 (1)When subscription lunch service MealPass launched in Miami in January, and over the next few months in three other cities, it was all about offering customers lots of lunch choices from a curated list of local restaurants. Turns out, maybe it was too many choices for some customers. 

"One of the pieces of feedback we kept getting was that it was getting increasingly difficult to select what you wanted to have for lunch because there were so many choices on the site ... We needed to make it easier," said Mary Biggins, who co-founded the company with Katie Ghelli. 

So MealPass today re-brands as MealPal, and introduces "Pal," a smart bot that uses artificial intelligence to make reserving lunch easier and more personalized. "Pal will know if you like big lunches or small lunches, if you like cheese, if you like meat or are a vegetarian, if you likes beets, etc, so it can make really good recommendations to you," Biggins said.

MealPal is an app and browser-based subscription service that offers members access to a wide selection of restaurant-prepared lunch dishes near where they live or work, while providing an efficient way for restaurants to increase revenue during their busiest hour of the day. To use the service,  MealPal subscription members visit the website or mobile app to browse the daily menu, reserve a meal by 9:30 a.m., choose a pickup time and skip the line.

In conjunction with the rebranding, MealPal also launches in Chicago and Washington, DC, today with more than 50 restaurants in each city. The fast-growing Miami-based venture-backed startup now with 22 employees followed its launch in the Brickell area with Boston in February, New York in April and San Francisco in June.  In eight months, members of the service have  now ordered over 500,000 meals from more than 1,000 restaurants. Members can use the service in any of the six cities where it’s now available.

Mealpal_beatsNew York is its biggest market, with 600 restaurants from Central Park to Wall Street, said Biggins, who also co-founded ClassPass. "New York is such a perfect market for us, with the density that works really well."

MealPal's Pal bot will ask consumers a series of questions to understand which ingredients they like and don’t like, so they will only see meal options that will please their palates. Pal will remind users to reserve lunch on any given day if they have forgotten, and will integrate lunch reservations in their calendar.

“Our goal is to eliminate the everyday hassle associated with the lunch hour rush,” said Biggins. “The new personalization features and calendar integration take the platform a step further in easing the lunch hour burden for thousands.”

MealPal in Miami offers 50 restaurants in the downtown-Brickell area and three meal plans: 20 meals per month ($5.19 per meal) for $103.80 per month; 12 meals per month ($5.39 per meal) for $64.68; or 6 meals per month ($5.99 per meal) at $35.94 per month.

"People in Miami tend to eat healthier than in the other markets," said Biggins. "There are more Latin influences -- places with authentic cuisine do very well in Miami."

Read more about Mary Biggins here.

 

 

 

 

Following up on White House pledge, Wyncode releases its graduation, placement rates

  WyncodedayWyncode bootcamps end with pitch days. This one is Pitch Day IX at The LAB Miami. Photo by David Salazar.

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

While Miami's Wyncode Academy has been busy growing its bootcamp business, the coding education startup has also been at the forefront of a national effort to  build a strong -- and transparent -- foundation for its emerging industry.

Last year, in support of the White House and President Obama's TechHire initiative, Wyncode and nine other young coding schools formed a new trade organization called the New Economy Skills Training Association (NESTA). NESTA's purpose is  to establish best practices, standards and increase accountability for claims such as graduation and placement rates for students nationwide who typically plunk down $10,000 to $12,000 or more  to learn to code in under three months. One only has to look at the mess the for-profit college industry is now mired in to know the importance of building in  standards and transparency from the beginning.

Today, Wyncode will release its first independently verified job placement report for 2014 and 2015,  following its commitment made publicly in a letter to  President Obama in March 2015. Wyncode follows New York’s Flatiron School, San Francisco’s Hack Reactor and Austin’s MakerSquare  with its results. (Other bootcamps that have pledged are App Academy, Dev Bootcamp,  General Assembly, Galvanize, Turing School and Hackbright Academy.)

“Wyncode continues to lead the way for transparency in the coding bootcamp industry,” Wyncode co-founder Juha Mikkola said. "This is a major milestone for this type of education, not only in Florida but across the country. We are just the fourth school in the nation to release reviewed outcome results, something that is a major topic in for-profit education."

The findings, verified by accounting firm MBAF, show that  Wyncode's graduation rate is 97 percent and nearly all of its job-seeking graduates found jobs in time. Today, Wyncode is also releasing an interactive web app that allows interested parties, including potential students, to drill down using gender, ethnicity and educational background in order to visualize how students with particular  backgrounds have fared after the program, said Johanna Mikkola, the other half of the co-founding team.

Later today, find the app at http://wyncode.co/studentoutcomes/ and the job placement report at http://wyncode.co/jobs-report/.

Wyncode offers 10-week full-time coding bootcamps in Wynwood and Fort Lauderdale. The program attracts people without a programming background from a variety of careers, including chefs, lawyers, salespeople, accountants, concierges, marketing executives and entrepreneurs, and it focuses on tech skills like Ruby, JavaScript, HTML and CSS and the business skills that startups require to be successful.

Wyncode's report showed that 97 percent of its job-seeking graduates in 2014 and 2015 found work, though some took more than four months; 43 percent were placed in jobs within 30 days of graduation and 77 percent within 90 days. Of those that found work, 73 percent were fulltime jobs; the others were entrepreneurial, internships, apprentices,  part-time or  contract. The percentage of students placed in "technical" roles was 84 percent. The average age of Wyncode graduates is 30.

Here are a few other highlights of Wyncode's report for 2014 and 2015:

 * Straight out of Wyncode, more than 1 in 10 students make over $60,000 per year and 1 in 20 make more than $80,000. The average salary, based on available information from 111 respondents, was $46,200. The majority of graduates stayed in South Florida. 

 * Females graduating from Wyncode have a higher starting salary than males. Females started at an average of $2,000 more, despite the fact the technology industry is male dominated;

 * Wyncode graduates have created 12 startups and counting;

 * Post-Wyncode, students with a high school diploma perform at similar levels to those with advanced degrees and overall placement rates are similar among all ethnicities.

Wyncode Academy is licensed by the Florida Department of Education and has graduated over 300 Wyncoders. About 80 companies have hired Wyncoders and more than 30 companies hiring at least a second Wyncoder. Wyncode's campuses are in the Wynwood Arts District of Miami and Fort Lauderdale’s Flagler Arts and Technology Village, and it is the leading student reviewed in-person program on  Course Report, with over 100 reviews and a 4.7 out of 5 star rating. Current bootcamps cost $11,500.

Wyncode’s next 30-person cohorts, which always end with popular demo nights, begin in Miami on Oct. 3 and Jan. 9 and in Ft. Lauderdale on Oct. 10 and Jan. 17. Apply at wyncode.co.

“Learning to code is the new literacy,” Johanna Mikkola said. “We get a lot of questions if this is really possible after our 10 week course. This is why transparency of outcomes is extremely important to Wyncode, so that prospective students can see the real picture of Wyncode grads after graduation.”

Read more: Learn to code in 10 weeks? Try one day  

September 14, 2016

Startup Spotlight: Toy inventors believe ‘there’s a hero inside every boy’

BMSpotlightHeroboys0912+Fly+MSH

Whimzy Entertainment, a Miami startup, developed HeroBoys, bringing thoughtful, age-appropriate superhero fun to young boys in a line of comics and toys. But what about HeroGirls? They’re coming.

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Company name: Whimzy Entertainment (HeroBoys is first product line)

Headquarters: Venture Hive, Miami

Concept: HeroBoys is a line of comics and toys for young boys.

Story: Inspired by their sons, Charlie, 8, and Jamie, 6, and the lack of thoughtful superhero-related content available for young boys, Ed and Crissi Boland (pictured above) created the HeroBoys. The startup’s signature item is an 18-inch plush/plastic hero, and related comic books provide fun superhero stories for kids.

“Boys love superheroes. … But there is not much there for boys under 10 that is thoughtful, developmentally appropriate and not violent. Boys also love comic books, and it is a great tool to promote literacy because it combines words and pictures in such a dynamic way,” said Ed, a former venture capitalist with Scout Ventures.

They developed an early prototype and wrote a comic book for a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign last fall, raising $58,000 and exceeding their goal. But more importantly, it helped validate the concept.

Two prototypes later and the Bolands have a team of six diverse HeroBoys, each with his own name and personality developed through the comic book stories. “These are designed to encourage children to find their own strengths and become the best version of themselves they can be,” Ed said. “There’s a hero inside every boy.”

The Bolands have sold more than 500 HeroBoy toys, which retail for $65. They have published four comic books ($7.99 each), which come in the mail addressed to the child, just like back in the day. In the comic book stories, the HeroBoys have to learn to work together as a team and bring their abilities to bear when the situation calls for it, because they are living in a city that is being overrun by selfishness and narcissistic behavior.

“All the comics are meant to be teachable moments and encourage the values that we want to encourage in our own children, such as compassion, humility and diligence,” said Crissi, a sales expert who managed a business for 10 years. “It is good, wholesome superhero fun.”

This Saturday at 11 a.m. at Books & Books in Coral Gables, the Bolands will give a community reading at a HeroBoys’ launch party, and the first edition of the comic book in hardcover as well as the HeroBoy toys will be for sale. The products are also available on heroboys.com, Amazon.com and will be appearing on Zulily in the fall, the Bolands said. T-shirts, caps, masks and capes are also for sale, and apps and games are in the plans.

Crissi said that during a series of readings in local schools, the girls often asked, “Where are the HeroGirls?” In 2017, the company will introduce HeroGirls. The Bolands have already started to plant them in the comic books as background characters, and some will soon be joining the team. Every year, some character will graduate and new characters will be introduced.

“It will allow us to go to a lot of places where there hasn’t been a lot of representation of superheros — girls, ethnically diverse characters, superheroes with disabilities,” Ed said. “In the comics, we can travel through time and space and worlds and countries. We can run with our imaginations.”

Launched: October 2015

Management team: Ed and Crissi Boland, co-founders, and Tom Butkiewicz, a manufacturing specialist.

Website: www.heroboys.com

Financing: Self-funded initial R&D; $58,000 raised on Kickstarter; currently closing $150,000 angel round.

Recent milestones reached: Fully launched with initial product line; exhibited at the Atlanta Gift Show; participated in the 2016 Venture Hive Accelerator.

Biggest startup challenge: Creating an end-to-end supply chain for a new product, balancing quality content creation with quality product development, manufacturing and distribution.

Next step: Making HeroBoys a “must have” toy this holiday season. To do this, the startup will focus on evangelizing early adopters, developing supplemental media content such as YouTube videos, and focusing on partnerships, marketing and public relations.

Investor’s view: “I’m the mother of five and have two boys in the target market HeroBoys is designing for. It was an easy decision for me to get involved because I know that there is great demand for an alternative option to Marvel/DC comics action figures that tend to be too violent (PG-13/R ratings) and not educating our children at critical moments in their development,” said Melissa Medina Jiménez, executive vice president of eMerge Americas and HeroBoys’ first investor. “HeroBoys has great potential not only to have a positive impact on our children, but we also believe it has an incredible opportunity to become a market leader in the action figurine and comic book series space by providing significant product differentiation through various revenue streams.”

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

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BMSpotlightHeroboys0912+Display+MSH

 

September 09, 2016

Do you like Pincho Factory? So does Endeavor

Pinchu Factory

Cousins Nedal Ahmad and Otto Othman of the Pincho Factory, a Miami-based fast-casual food company that has plans to expand. The two founded the company with Nizar Ahmad. Photo by CHARLES TRAINOR JR./Miami Herald

 

The Miami-based fast-casual restaurant chain was chosen to join the Endeavor network and will get help to scale.  

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

The global nonprofit Endeavor tapped a Miami-based food and beverage company on Friday to join its network that will help the young company grow.

Pincho Factory is now the 15th Endeavor company from Miami, after being selected into the program at Endeavor Global’s 66th International Selection Panel in Boston this week. Endeavor, a global nonprofit that selects, mentors and accelerates high-impact entrepreneurs from all industries, opened its Miami office with Knight Foundation support in 2013. Endeavor Entrepreneurs receive services that include mentorship and access to capital, global markets and talent.

Pincho Factory, a fast-casual restaurant chain created by cousins Nedal Ahmad, Otto Othman and Nizar Ahmad in 2010, brings street food to a casual setting. The name comes from pinchos or kebabs which, along with hamburgers, are the company’s signature menu items. Pincho Factory, with about 150 employees, has already expanded to six locations in South Florida, one in Orlando and has 15 stores in the pipeline. In 2015, Pincho Factory brought in about $3 million in revenue and projections for this year are to triple that figure, due to new restaurant openings and impressive traffic gains at existing stores, the company said in a Miami Herald article in July.

“We have big plans for the future, and with Endeavor’s world-class mentorship opportunities and resources, we know that Pincho Factory will continue to thrive in Miami and beyond,” Othman said on Friday. 

Pincho Factory joins a growing number of food and beverage startups in Miami that are gaining traction. In addition to Pincho, three other local food-related companies — DeliverLean, My Ceviche and ginnybakes — are in the Endeavor global network, and more are in the pipeline, said Laura Maydón, managing director of Endeavor Miami. “We’re looking forward to offering them a suite of services to help them accelerate their growth.”

In an Endeavor Miami study last year, Endeavor found that food and beverage is one of five areas that could sizzle for entrepreneurial activity in South Florida because the ingredients are already here. There’s a foodie culture here, expertise, a talent base and educational opportunities to augment progress, as well as a strong healthy and green trend to ride upon, the report found.

Endeavor’s ISP is the culmination of a rigorous three-day selection process. Steve McKean, a serial entrepreneur, Endeavor Miami mentor and Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge judge, participated as an ISP panelist. Selected Endeavor Entrepreneurs from around the world received unanimous votes from their panels. “The founders of this company embody what it means it be an Endeavor Entrepreneur: innovative, forward-thinking and eager to foster the growth of our Miami entrepreneurial ecosystem,” said Matt Haggman, Knight Foundation’s Miami program director and Endeavor Miami board member.

Endeavor Global supports more than 1,200 high-impact entrepreneurs from over 780 companies across 25 countries. To nominate a South Florida company, visit www.endeavormiami.org.

Nancy Dahlberg: 305-376-3595; @ndahlberg

Read more: Pincho Factory’s burgers and kebabs win fans in South Florida and beyond

Read more: How millennial tastes shape a new generation of food startups

August 29, 2016

Startup Spotlight: Avenue Planet's VR puts you on world's finest shopping streets

Avenueplanet

Company name: Avenue Planet

Headquarters: Pipeline Brickell in Miami

Concept: Avenue Planet is developing a first-person, fully immersive 3D and virtual reality-based shopping experience platform. Users will be able to walk down 12 of the most famous shopping avenues on the planet (including Lincoln Road, Rodeo Drive, London’s Oxford Street and Tokyo’s Ginza), and browse and buy from some of the best stores in the world from the comfort of their own homes. Users simply plug their smartphones into a pair of VR-enabled goggles and are instantly transported to a premier, international shopping plaza.

Story: When coming up with the idea for Avenue Planet, the company’s founding members had a clear mission: to deliver content in a digital environment that feels as though it is being experienced in the real world. With today’s advances in 3D development and the recent penetration of virtual reality (VR) headsets across the global markets, the vision for Avenue Planet is becoming a reality. The company is moving ahead with plans to deliver a platform where the lines between the offline, online and real word user experience start to fade.

Avenue Planet began its Miami operations in February 2014. The company’s corporate headquarters is based out of Pipeline Workspaces’ Brickell location with a development center in Barcelona and satellite offices in Porto and London. Avenue Planet launched the world’s first virtual reality art gallery at Art Basel in 2015. “We believed the international audience and diverse attendance of this international art fair would be the perfect venue to debut our VR platform that enables artists to tell the story behind their work in a different way with a completely immersive experience,” said Kabir Frutos (pictured above), who directs the company’s North and South American business activities, its principle market, and recruits and manages the brands within the platform.

Avenue Planet recently finished its proprietary payment technology allowing for seamless in-app purchases. The company is entering its final stages of development, and its platform will be ready to launch in the coming months. The Avenue Planet team is planning its launch campaign and working to secure partnerships with headset manufacturers in order to provide users with the best possible experiences.

Founded: Avenue Planet was founded in 2011 with virtual reality becoming its main focus in 2014.

Management team: Two founding partners, Bruno Carvalho and Sanjay Daswani, with an executive team that includes Kabir Frutos, North and South America director; Franco Casado, head of design and creative director; Cesar Couto Ferreira, head of Marketing and Partnerships; Daniel Abad, technology director and head of VR payment system; Filipe Mezquita, head of brand and advertising; and Hector Zapata, strategic technical director.

No. of employees: 19

Website: avenueplanet.com

Financing: Founder funded with $450,000; $250,000 in early stage funding; and, of course, much sweat equity.

Recent milestones reached: Created final version of first virtual reality payment system that does not require the use of a keyboard or input device, allowing for seamless in-app purchases and transactions; added five prominent brands to the Avenue Planet platform; acquired three strategic partners.

Biggest startup challenge: A lack of public knowledge around virtual reality. “This means that anyone that is brought into our ecosystem must experience the platform first-hand, which can present logistical challenges as we work with brands all over the world,” Frutos said.

Next step: “We are finalizing Lincoln Road within our platform, which will feature approximately 10 brands and 15 experiences, in time for our Q4 2016 launch event. We will also be making a formal announcement to the media that will include all the exciting companies and celebrities we are working with,” Frutos said. Stay tuned.

Strategy for next step: Continue building upon current relationships and establish new ones with people, partners and brands that want to invest and/or become part of this new ecosystem that will be used by many to access great content and live unimaginable experiences.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

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August 26, 2016

Miami-based fantasy game startup scores investment from New World Angels

LetsRUMBL SPLASHBy Marcia Heroux Pounds / Sun Sentinel

Boca Raton's New World Angels has invested in a fantasy sports game startup.

Miami-based Synkt Games has a mobile app, letsRUMBL, designed to attract the nonprofessional player. They can choose to play against friends or random individuals in daily baseball and basketball games or weekly football games. The app has "tens of thousands" of users, said Synkt Games CEO Bryan Abboud.

Synkt's latest version of the app will launch through Apple's iTunes on Friday, in time for football season, he said.

An unusual investment for this South Florida  angel group? Not so, said Steve O'Hara, president of New World Angels, a 63-member group of investors who only finance companies that are based in or have a major tie to the state.

"We invest in small startup companies on the verge of exploding," O'Hara said. Those have traditionally included investments in consumer, medical and technology companies, not gaming or apps, and it has invested a total of $7.4 million since the angel group was founded in 2003.

O'Hara said he likes the app game because he's not an experienced player but enjoys competing with his son, who lives in Chicago.

But he likes the investment, $140,000, because of Abboud's gaming industry experience. Synkt Games has raised more than $1 million in total, according to CrunchBase, which tracks innovative companies and their funding.

Abboud, who also is a director at New World Angels, previously co-founded IGW Software, which provided software and tech support to the online gaming industry, and the Interactive Gaming Council, a trade association for the industry.

With letsRUMBL, Abboud said he wanted to create a game app that was more accessible to the casual player, designed to be easy to use and more affordable.

Aboud"If we play an event that's $2 each, we take 40 cents off the top and pay out the rest to the winner," he said.


Most daily fantasy sports games are over-run by "highly experienced" players, he said. However, spokeswomen for two of the most popular games, DraftKings and FanDuel — which claim 7 million and 6 million users, respectively — dispute this, saying only a small percentage of their users are so-called "pros."

New World Angels has been particularly active in 2016, with both add-on investments in portfolio companies and new investments including: Miami-based Kairos, a facial recognition software company; Newberry-based OBMedical, which has developed products to monitor fetal heart rate; and Gainesville-based Admiral, which has developed software to prevent ad blocking.

The group's biggest investment this year has been $750,000 in Polarean, a Durham, N.C., company with some Florida operationsthat has developed a device to improve the readability of lung scans.

August 21, 2016

Startup Spotlight: Banana Wave hits Whole Foods, now expanding nationally

Banana milk 2

Company name: Fresh Start Beverage Co. (Banana Wave)

Headquarters: Palm Beach Gardens

Concept: Fresh Start Beverage Co. is creating a new category in the milk-alternative industry. “We are the first company to actually make milk from a universally loved fruit — bananas. We call it Banana Wave,” said H.E. Neter Kush Ben Alkebulan (pictured above), co-founder and chief beverage officer.

Story: Entrepreneurial passion can take you to places you never thought you’d go. For these co-founders, getting their business off the ground meant living in a car for a while — and success still means donning a banana suit.

Banana wave 3Fresh Start Beverage Co.’s mission is to make humanity healthy, happy and strong one refrigerator at a time, said Neter, who founded the Palm Beach County startup along with his fiancée Trendolyn Hopkins and his mother Claudette Patron. Their first product is a nondairy beverage called Banana Wave banana milk. Neter says the delicious superfood originated in Africa’s Nile Valley around 3000 B.C., and has been his family’s specialty for generations.

While attending Florida Memorial University and working three jobs in 2012, he and Hopkins went to the Nova Southeastern University library every night to learn everything they could about business plans and running a company. Saving money by living in a car for six months, they went all-in working on their business full time in 2014; their first break came that year, when they won the People’s Choice award in Florida Atlantic University’s business plan competition and a couple of others.

The winnings, plus about $727,300 raised from family, friends and angel investors after the contests, allowed them to spend most of 2014 and 2015 testing out the product in farmers markets across South Florida, including ones run by Whole Foods, gathering feedback and making tweaks, testing price points and making sales. By January of this year they had the product made commercially and began selling it.

In May, their big break came: Banana Wave is now in Whole Foods throughout the state. The couple have done demonstrations (Neter wears a banana suit) at stores throughout the summer. The banana milk is a first for Whole Foods, Neter said. “They sell a lot of products but they have never seen anything like Banana Wave.”

He has had meetings with Wal-Mart and Kroger over the summer. Wal-Mart has already said yes, Neter said, and they are discussing 2017 launch plans. “I really want to get into Publix; Publix is on my radar.”

Launched: March 19, 2013

Banan2Management team: Co-founders H.E. Neter Kush Ben Alkebulan, chief beverage officer; Trendolyn Hopkins (pictured here), chief brand officer; Claudette Patron, chairman of the board (pictured here).

No. of employees: 9

Website: bananawave.com, www.facebook.com/drinkbananawave

Financing: $727,300 raised from family, friends and angel investors.

Recent milestones reached: Expanded distribution into the Northeast, through Market Basket, into the Southwest, through HEB, and into the West Coast, through Unified Grocers. Won the Category Pioneer Award in Beverage World Magazine in July. Currently working on a chocolate version of Banana Wave.

Biggest startup challenge and why: “Our biggest startup challenge was obtaining distribution for Banana Wave. We created the new category so food & beverage distributors had no historical data to rely on to determine sales volume,” Neter said.

Next steps: Obtain a national presence within Whole Foods Market. Give back to the community by sponsoring sporting events and local festivals. Provide impeccable service to distributors and retailers, while creating healthy beverage products that add value to consumers’ lives.

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

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August 18, 2016

Ride2MD, Lyft team up to fuel patient transport

Miami-based startup Ride2MD rolled out its service in Miami-Dade and Broward, and announced a partnership with Lyft for on-demand medical transportation. 

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Ride2MDMiami startup Ride2MD hit the streets this summer with its new medical transport service. This week it picked up a well-known partner in the on-demand transportation world: Lyft.

Ride2MD provides efficient, technology-enabled patient transportation to doctors’ offices, outpatient facilities and hospitals. George Fernandez, Ride2MD’s CEO, believes Lyft could provide 25 percent to 40 percent of Ride2MD’s transportation needs, primarily for Ride2MD clients who do not require ambulatory or wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

“Transportation no longer needs to be an inconvenience or barrier to those who need it most,” Fernandez said. “This is another conduit to providing good service to our clients. .. It’s cheaper than sending a taxi, it’s usually faster than sending a taxi, and it is something that people are getting more and more used to as a service level.” And as to Lyft team, Fernandez added: “They get healthcare.”

Fernandez, an executive in the healthcare insurance business before launching Ride2MD, said Thursday he was impressed with Lyft’s tool called Concierge that allows third parties to book rides on patients' behalves, and its commitment to the sector, including bringing on Gyre Renwick, who used to help run Google’s industry sector for healthcare.

“Every year, around 3.6 million Americans miss or delay medical care because they lack appropriate transportation to their appointments. We want to fix that. Getting a patient to their doctor appointment can lower the cost of care and increase the quality of care,” said Renwick, head of enterprise healthcare partnerships at Lyft. “Ride2MD has a similar viewpoint so our partnership is well-aligned.”

For patients that do need wheelchair-equipped or ambulatory vehicles, Ride2MD partners with medical transport companies. 

A few weeks ago, Ride2MD began its service in Miami-Dade and Broward, and plans to move into Palm Beach and Monroe as well as Central Florida in coming months.

Ride2MD, which won second place overall in the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge this year and also was the Challenge’s People’s Pick winner, is forecasting an aggressive growth trajectory, expecting to manage over half a million members within the next 24 months and upwards of 3 million within five years.

For now the service is for private-paying customers, but Fernandez said Ride2MD has reached agreement with two major health plans and those details will be rolled out soon. The company is also establishing contracts with assisted living facilities, nursing homes and healthcare providers.

Most of the trips so far have been to doctor’s offices but Fernandez said Ride2MD has also served patients with rides to family events. “It’s kind of evolved into patients with special needs that need a helping hand getting around,” said Fernandez. “And that’s great, that’s what I want to see.”

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

Read more: Ride2MD: Driving a plan to vastly improve medical transport

 

August 17, 2016

Pipeline Workspaces opens Fort Lauderdale co-working location

Pipeline

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

 Pipeline Workspaces is on the move again.

Thea national shared workspace company that started in Miami opened its fifth U.S. location this month in downtown Fort Lauderdale.

Pipeline occupies a floor at One Financial Plaza at 100 SE Third Ave., marking its entry into the Broward market and expanding Pipeline’s presence in South Florida. The 28-story office tower is one block off of Las Olas Boulevard and home to the popular dining spot Tower Club.

Pipeline Lauderdale is the company’s fourth location in South Florida; it previously opened in the Miami's Brickell neighborhood, Coral Gables and Doral. Part of a wave of co-working spaces opening around the Miami area, all the spaces offer sleek open co-working space, tech-enhanced conference rooms, phone booths, dedicated desks and private offices designed to foster productivity and collaboration.  Each space has a different theme or feel fitting with the neighborhood; Pipeline Lauderdale has a nautical theme, and it was designed by architecture firm Gensler and built by high-end interior specialists Amicon Construction. 

 “The opening of our Fort Lauderdale workspace is a natural next step in our growth strategy given the established and growing high-tech, legal and international business community in Downtown Fort Lauderdale,” said Todd Oretsky, who co-founded the company with Philippe Houdard, in a news release.  “Our goal is to create a business and social network that makes it possible for individuals in different stages of the business cycle to have access to each other’s talents and resources to build meaningful connections that will help them prosper.”

Pipeline also runs a Pipeline location in Philadelphia.