January 09, 2017

Startup Spotlight: Sociallybuzz

Andre

Company name: Sociallybuzz

Headquarters: Weston

Concept: Sociallybuzz helps businesses grow using social media and data.

Story: Andre Kay bootstrapped Sociallybuzz from a small social media “do it for you” company to a nationally recognized social media agency and software company. But Sociallybuzz today is not anything like what it was conceived to be seven years ago. “It was supposed to be a social media influencer platform. The idea was to connect businesses with celebrities. I hired an outside engineer to assist me with building out the platform. After three months, he disappeared with my money and my codes. I was down thousands of dollars and nothing to show for it,” Kay said. “I was stuck at a two-way street deciding to quit or keep going.”

He kept going but changed the course of Sociallybuzz into a human-powered social media and tech agency. “That essentially became my greatest decision,” said Kay, who had co-founded and helped run Go Media Marketing, an outdoor marketing company, and was in bank management prior to launching Sociallybuzz. “I eventually grew the company from $0 to over $5 million with no outside investments. My ‘why’ for running this company is knowing that something that we’re doing at Sociallybuzz is helping other businesses grow. When they grow, the owners can support their families, hire more people, and those people can also support their families. That is what drives us to do what we do.”

There are many aspects to running a business that are never taught in school. So Kay applied for and was selected to be part of the three-month Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses at Miami Dade College in 2014 to get a better grounding in all aspects of running a small business – particularly the human resources side of the company. “I knew hiring the right people would be essential to growing the company,” said Kay, who is 34 and a proud graduate of the program. In 2015, Kay, who has won several entrepreneurship awards, launched the Sociallybuzz giveback program, which included pledging 1 percent of time, talent and treasures to the community. That pledge included donating over 200 turkeys and toys to families in need.

Growth often springs from more focus on the core business. In early 2016, Kay made the difficult decision of closing down the app side of his business, because it wasn’t gaining the traction the company needed to self-fund it, and went back to investing time and resources in growing Sociallybuzz’s core business model. Because of that change, company revenues grew 100 percent in 2016, said Kay, who was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and moved to South Florida when he was 16

“We’re now executing on our biggest change at the company. We’re adding content development, creative and paid media as core services, to complement our social media managed services and will be accepting up to 50 carefully selected new clients per year,” Kay said. “We want to continue to do amazing work to help our clients grow, but we can only do that if the businesses we’re working with also appreciate and understand the true value of social media. We’ll be launching the new website this month.”

Launched: 2009

Website: www.Sociallybuzz.com / Social: @Sociallybuzz

Management team: Andre Kay, founder and CEO; Thuy Nguyen, founding partner and account executive; Sharon Walters, human resources director.

No. of employees: 10

Financing: Self-financed

Recent milestones reached: Increased revenues by 100 percent in 2016; recently hit $5 million in revenue; launched new business model at start of 2017; added three core services: content development, creative and paid media.

Biggest startup challenge: Not understanding early on the true value of having the right people to help you run the company, whether they are at the executive level or at the day-to-day, getting your hands dirty level.

Next steps: To grow the company to $10 million.

Strategy for next steps: To continue to adapt to the constant change in social and digital media while expanding the knowledge of Sociallybuzz’s core team and hiring more talent.

Mentor’s view: “Many entrepreneurs do not have the discipline or the flexibility to put sales and marketing on hold for several months while prioritizing putting the right staff and back office operations in place. Andre had that discipline, and once he made corrections to the fundamentals that were not working smoothly, revenues and profits began to scale,” said John Hall, executive director of the local 10,000 Small Businesses program. Going forward, Hall’s advice for Kay is “to continue to push revenues in his current growing niches while pursuing ‘innovative differentiation’ in services and product lines that are not easily replicable, possibly with a tech component.”

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg

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December 25, 2016

Startup Spotlight: Condition Culture goes all-in on hair — and fur

Condition

Company: Condition Culture

Headquarters: Miami

Concept: Five beauty brands for people and their pets — as the company’s tagline says, “beauty for your best friend.” Condition Culture creates products that aim to enhance confidence and freedom of expression.

Story: Founded by twin sisters Alex and Donya Litowitz, Condition Culture launched its first product, Featherlocks (feather decorations for the hair), in April 2010, appearing in top fashion magazines and television shows. Condition Culture continues to sell the original hair feather extensions and has since developed several other products, including Puppylocks, feather accessories for dogs.

After graduating from the Kellogg School of Management in December, Donya decided to purchase the company and move it further into professional haircare products. Alex, a hair stylist who would put artistic feathers in her clients’ hair before they created the product, wanted to start a family and return to hair styling. “Since the purchase, I have focused on reorganizing the operations and product development to refocus the resources on the new direction,” said Donya, who had a background in real-estate finance.

Condition Culture’s latest brand, COLORSMASH color-kissed hairspray, a color hairspray with no iron oxides, launched in June at Cosmoprof in Vegas. It is also sold in Germany, the UK, South Africa, Australia, Italy, China, Korea, Israel Scandinavia and the Netherlands. The product (about $20 a can) results in professional-looking color without the commitment or mess like current options on the market, Donya said. It is now the company’s key product.

This year, international distribution has doubled for Condition Culture; the next growth focus is the Asian market. Donya has also increased the use of technology to increase efficiency and has reduced the team to eight core people in a flat organization where she interacts with all areas of the business as needed but allows each department to function independently. More deliverables are outsourced to keep the company lean and agile.

“We have created a very collaborative environment. It’s become a family; we spend a lot of time together, and working toward a common goal keeps us united and moving forward. Stella, the office dog, contributes just as much,” said Donya, a third generation Miamian. The company’s offices in Miami’s Little River area include a showroom, product design, business development and distribution. Stella is a key part of the staff, offering valuable feedback on the company’s pet products, as well as being a stress reliever and morale booster.

Plans include bringing more manufacturing back into the U.S., and new product development with a focus on COLORSMASH and Puppylocks. The next big product launch is in July. The company won’t dislose what’s coming but said it is aimed at significantly widening Condition Culture’s market. Condition Culture’s products are sold online at Conditionculture.com, as well as by retail partners. Its popular pet products are also sold at PetsMart.

“You have to make mistakes to learn anything,” Donya said. “Don’t compromise on what you really want.”

Founded: 2010

Management team: Donya Litowitz, CEO; Chris Askew, Product Development; Linda Uribe, International Accounts; Megan Patton, Domestic Accounts; Jenny Hernandez, Inventory & office management; Nicholas Piniero, Marketing/Creative; Stella, the dog, Director of Office Morale

No. of employees: 8

Financing: Self-funded and not looking for investment. “We were profitable from the first year and have reinvested into the development and growth of new products,” Donya said.

Website: ConditionCulture.com

Recent milestones: The launch of COLORSMASH hairspray, which has already established international distribution in Germany, South Africa, England, Australia and the Netherlands in less than five months and won the 2016 PDC Haircare Award for innovation in formulation/packaging compatibility and design.

Biggest startup challenge: The large financial and emotional investment that goes into running a company, the sleepless nights, and the ups and downs, Donya said. “But at the end of the day, I wouldn’t have it any other way. The key is to believe in what you’re doing and to surround yourself with people that encourage you to be better every day. Having a solid team is key. Everyone in my family are entrepreneurs, so I guess you can say it’s in our blood.”

Copycats have also been a problem for the company, but since the COLORSMASH hair spray took four years to develop and has a patent pending, Donya believes it will not be easily copied.

Next step: Expanding the COLORSMASH brand by evaluating the consumer response from the initial launch and continuing to improve the assortment of colors.

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

Condition2

 

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December 18, 2016

Startup Spotlight: Caribu app bridges the miles to connect families for reading, learning

BMStartupCaribu1200 Travele

 

 Miami-based Caribu offers a free app and marketplace that brings together children and family members through a video-call to read books, draw and learn together.

Company name: Caribu

Headquarters: Miami

Concept: Caribu is an innovative app and marketplace that allows families to connect through a video-call to read books, draw and learn together in real-time no matter where they are. Think FaceTime meets Kindle in a shared screen.

Story: By the time Alvaro Sabido conceived of the idea for Caribu with his co-founders, he had lived in four countries across the Americas and Europe and was accustomed to talking to his family via phone or video-calling services. Both of his parents worked at media and publishing companies, so he grew up exposed to books and the importance of literacy as a skill.

Around the time he and his teammates were brainstorming business ideas during their master’s program at Imperial College in London, a picture of a soldier that was trying to read a book to his daughter by holding up a book to his laptop was trending, That very image struck them into thinking: surely, there must be a better way to engage with your kids when you’re not together.

“We did a bit of research and found that the concept of sharing content through a video-call did not exist for the children’s content market,” said Sabido, who studied entrepreneurship and management in graduate school and industrial engineering and computer science as an undergraduate. His team won two competitions at the business school and used the prize money to bring the concept to life.

Shortly after releasing the first version, the team joined the Microsoft Ventures Accelerator in London and the UK’s Sirius Programme and went on to raise $100,000. Caribu brought international brands on board such as Mattel, Maverick and Usborne as well as worked with talented content creators big and small.

By the end of that first year, reality hit, and the startup went from a fun school project to a business that had to be run. Three of the guys opted to take their post-grad school offers and Sabido decided to come back to Miami, where he grew up, to continue with Caribu.

To rebuild his team, he looked for someone who could run the business side of Caribu, had a background in education, and was willing to move to Miami. Enter CoFounders Lab, a website that helps founders find each other. After five months of searching he found Maxeme Tuchman.

Tuchman was finishing up a White House Fellowship in D.C. but was from Miami, had run Teach For America Miami-Dade and was a former Miami-Dade County Public Schools teacher. She taught 12th grade Government and Economics to struggling readers, and because of that, recognized how important it was to get the fundamentals of literacy right in the early grades. “I was determined to provide the resources to parents and educational programs that are also focused on ensuring that all of our children have the basic skills to succeed in school and life,” she said.

BMStartupCaribu1200 PhoneDeThe app is free in the Apple App Store and revenue comes from in-app purchases of books that range from free to $3.99. Once Caribu introduces its B2B strategy, it plans to transition to a subscription model that will allow organizations to purchase access for their employees, patients, members, etc. The team is prototyping new literacy products that complement the platform and would add another revenue stream. The app’s bookshelf contains over 200 books, including educational workbooks and drawing pads, from publishers such as Mattel, Ustime and Santillana,in English, Spanish, Mandarin, French, German and Arabic. Caribu plans to include an Android and web version in the next development cycle.

“Caribu has been a huge hit in our house and with my mother-in-law in Las Vegas. She is a speech pathologist and loves that she can see the same thing my son does, so she can help him sound out tougher words,” said Brooks Anderson, a mother of three who lives at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C. “It's interactive and by having a grown-up reading along, my son was able to work on books above his reading level. Anything to help kids with their reading proficiency is a plus.”

Launched: January 2014

Website and social: Caribu.co / @CaribuApp / fb.com/Caribu

Management team: CEO: Maxeme Tuchman / CTO: Alvaro Sabido (pictured above)

Financing: $100,000 from a friends and family round and a $60,000 grant from UK Sirius Programme. Caribu seeks to raise $600,000 in seed capital.

Recent milestones: Officially global. Caribu is available worldwide and features 200-plus books in five languages. Caribu recently partnered with Education.com and Santillana to bring educational workbooks and Spanish-language stories to the platform. The company will also be introducing a new product in 2017 to build literacy skills and reading comprehension."

Biggest startup challenge and why: Taking its mainly B2C (business to consumer) company and incorporating a B2B model where it can license Caribu to partners that can reach more people who need its services, such as hospitals, early childhood centers, military organizations, organizations focused on seniors and corporate clients where employees work late or travel frequently.

“I would say that another challenge, that personally pains me, is fighting to keep our company in Miami,” Tuchman said. “We have a lot of potential investors that don’t know enough about the startup infrastructure here in Miami. I was born and raised here and believe deeply in Miami’s diverse community and the entrepreneurial ecosystem that community investors like Matt Haggman and the Knight Foundation have nurtured here. I want to keep our company in Miami and believe we can build the network of funding and mentorship that we need without leaving to an ed-tech mecca like New York City or Boston.”

Next steps: To move from a reading app to a literacy app. “Most parents know that reading to their child is important, but they aren’t trained to teach their children how to read. There is a huge demand for better apps that enrich literacy skills and have the added benefit of videoing in a tutor/ teacher/ parent,” Tuchman said. The team’s strategy is proprietary but it would involve adding features that will help parents know if and how their child is progressing in their ability to read on grade level. Stay tuned.

Nancy Dahlberg  @ndahlberg 

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November 27, 2016

Startup Spotlight: The Wynwood Coloring Book

Wynwoodcoloringbook

The Wynwood Coloring Book is a coloring book for adults inspired by the world famous street art of Wynwood. A second edition is planned, as well as a broader book featuring street artists from throughout the U.S.

Company name: The Wynwood Coloring Book, by AimfulMedia

Headquarters: MADE at the Citadel, 8325 NE Second Ave., Miami

Concept: The Wynwood Coloring Book is a coloring book for adults inspired by the world famous street art of Wynwood.

Story: As an entrepreneur, Diego Orlandini (pictured above) has always been passionate about ideas that are socially responsible and community-oriented and that deepen the human experience. He admires TOMS Shoes and similar companies that bring tangible positive social impact to their business models.

“Last year, when I was stressed trying to build AimfulMedia and writing a novel, my girlfriend at the time introduced me to a coloring book for adults. We imagined how cool it could be to color the murals of the city, and I saw that as the opportunity to put all my passions into one single project,” Orlandini said. Orlandini, a yoga enthusiast who traveled to India this summer, also discovered firsthand what research has shown to be true: Coloring can be a “mindful” way of relaxing and focusing.

Orlandini partnered with a number of Wynwood artists, and with the help of that community, the first edition of the $25 coloring book published in April. The 64-page book, made with high-quality environmentally friendly wood-free paper, features the work of 43 street artists, including Alex Senna, Mijares and Patch Whisky and includes a directory with information about each artist and work of art.

“The Wynwood Coloring Book is a lot of things. It’s a tool for mindfulness, to help people take a break from the hustle and remember a simpler time. It’s a souvenir for visitors who want to bring home a part of this place. And it’s a time capsule, capturing Wynwood at a pivotal moment in its young life, preserving today’s art long after it is painted over to make way for a new mural,” The New Tropic wrote earlier this year about the book.

The first printing of the Wynwood Coloring Book sold out in June and a second printing is nearly sold out. There will be one more printing before the next edition of Wynwood Coloring Book comes out featuring a new set of street artists. About 5,000 copies have been sold so far.

Orlandini also has plans to expand beyond Wynwood: “We are now embarking on the next bigger, larger project: A coloring book featuring over 100 artists around the country and a buy-one, give-one initiative that will come with it. For every book sold, we will place a textbook in the hands of schoolchildren in the developing world.”

Orlandini said he is working on a prototype for the national book now and will put out a call to artists in January.

Founded: 2015 (first book in 2016)

Management team: Diego Orlandini

Website: wynwoodcoloringbook.com

Financing: $5,000 via a successfully funded Kickstarter campaign. Hoping to raise $50,000 for a national project.

Recent milestones reached: The Wynwood Coloring Book is now available at Miami International Airport, Books & Books, several museum gift shops including PAMM, and top retailers in Wynwood, including The Wynwood Walls Shop, Glotman, Frangipani and Wynwood Letterpress. Faber-Castell approached the company and together they launched a Wynwood Coloring Book colored pencil set to accompany the book. The startup organized a coloring party at the Miami Book Fair that entertained hundreds of attendees, adults and children alike.

Biggest startup challenge: “Not having a mentor to guide me through the process was the biggest challenge,” Orlandini said. “I’m still looking for one!”

Next step: A coloring book with 100-plus artists and their street art from around the country and a buy one, give one program (for every book sold, the company will give a textbook to schoolchildren in the developing world). “Doing something like this has been a dream of mine since my college years,” he said.

Strategy for next step: With the rapid experience, important connections and growing audience as a result of The Wynwood Coloring Book, the company will implement the same lean process used to create this book, but at a much larger scale.

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

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November 21, 2016

Startup Spotlight: After 'Shark Tank, Three Jerks Jerky manages hyper-growth, expands product line

1Three Jerks Jerky 01 EKM

Three Jerks Jerky created a line of filet mignon beef jerky that is all natural and scored a Daymond John investment on Shark Tank. Now the startup has expanded, even offering burgers.

Company Name: Three Jerks Jerky

Offices: Miami, Los Angeles, New Jersey

Concept: Why should something as incredible as filet mignon be relegated to special occasions and celebrations? Friends Jordan Barrocas and Daniel Fogelson didn’t think so, so they formed Three Jerks Jerky and created a beef jerky that is and all natural and that fans say is melt-in-your-mouth delicious.

Story: After being disappointed with all of the jerky available — it was either too tough to eat or loaded with so many chemicals it was scary — Barrocas and Fogelson decided to make their own. “We didn’t want to make regular old jerky and felt that we needed something special. Filet mignon it was,” said Barrocas, who earned an MBA from the University of Miami and worked in the footwear industry before taking the entrepreneurial plunge.

After going door to door to stores with their samples they caught their first big break. “We aired on ABC’s ‘Shark Tank’ in October 2015 and partnered with Daymond John. The exposure from the show produced an overnight growth spurt and we expanded 600 percent in two months,” said Barrocas said.

[Read more: Miami entrepreneur will feed beef jerky to the sharks]

That short growth spurt brought more than a million dollars in sales but also significant challenges: They couldn’t supply the demand and maintain their production standards. “Our production partners were at max capacity and we weren’t coming close to filling our orders on time,” Barrocas said. To keep the wheels from falling off and alleviate growing pains, Daymond John introduced Three Jerks to Rastelli Foods Group, and they partnered up. “Rastelli quickly organized a supply chain for our filet mignon, improving price and reliability. They took control of managing our production schedules and sources new manufacturers for us,” Barrocas said. “Daniel and myself could get back to focusing on our brand and selling our jerky — essentially back to the Jerks we once were.”

Three Jerks Jerky is expecting to close the year up another 500 percent over last year, due to growth in the retail business, including expanding into Publix, Hy-Vee and Meijer grocery chains. Three Jerks offers five core filet mignon jerky flavors: Original (the best seller by far); Memphis BBQ; Chipotle Adobo; Maple Bourbon Churro; and Hamburger (yep, it tastes like a burger). A two-ounce pack (two servings) is $8.99 on threejerksjerky.com.

Next year, a new flavor will join the lineup. “It’s a teriyaki flavor that we developed in partnership with the company Soy Vay. They make the most amazing teriyaki sauce and I have been purchasing it for as long as I can remember. We figured the best teriyaki sauce and the best jerky were a match made in heaven,” said Barrocas, who enjoys cooking.

Beyond Jerky: The partnership with Rastelli has also helped the company introduce two burger varieties this past August: 100 percent Filet Mignon and the first-ever-to-market Pork Belly Blend (60 percent beef filet, 40 percent pork), Barrocas said. “Just like our jerky, the burgers are made from only the most premium cuts and contain no preservatives or artificial ingredients.”

Launched: October 2013

Website: www.threejerksjerky.com

Management team: Jordan Barrocas (based in Miami), Daniel Fogelson (Los Angeles), Ray Rastelli III (New Jersey)

No. of employees: Five

Financing: Primarily self-funded. Launched on Kickstarter and raised $40,000. Appeared on “Shark Tank” in 2015 and secured a deal with Daymond John, resulting in an investment of $100,000.

Recent milestones: Appeared on Shark Tank in October 2015. Secured an investment deal with Daymond John and grew the business 650 percent in 2015. Have since joint ventured with Daymond John and Rastelli Foods Group to create a partnership with strengthened supply chain and operations. Consequently, have lowered unit costs and are on pace to grow an additional 250 percent in 2016. Three Jerks has broken through in major grocery retail in the fourth quarter with Publix, Michigan-based Meijer and Iowa-based Hy-Vee.

Biggest startup challenge: Maintaining quality, consistency and on-time delivery through hyper-growth.

Next step: Deepen retail presence with continued supply chain growth and operational efficiencies with Rastelli partnership.

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg

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November 07, 2016

Startup Spotlight: Eben Naturals

EBEN

Photo of Milain David by Roberto Koltun

 

 

How a trip to the Congo kickstarted a skincare startup

Company name: Eben Naturals

Headquarters: WeWork Lincoln Road

Concept: Eben Naturals is a Miami-based skincare line geared toward the dark complexion segment. Its products are meticulously crafted to address issues common to its target market, such as uneven skin tone, dry body, breakouts, excess sebum secretion and oily skin.

Story: Milain David first thought of starting a skincare company about two years ago during a trip to the Congo, his native country.

“There I noticed the widespread use of skin-lightening products by misguided consumers who had no information whatsoever about their harmful effects. As a matter of fact, they feature a high dosage of hydroquinone, a product defined as carcinogenic by the FDA. So I thought it’d be great to promote products that would encourage people to embrace their natural skin tone,” he said.

When he returned to the U.S., he began looking into the beauty industry and realized that there was a lack of beauty solutions geared towards his demographic. This was later confirmed through extensive market research. “That’s when I decided to dive in and create Eben.”

David, an alumni of the University of Miami in economics and finance, received strategic advice about business planning and researching the market from UM’s entrepreneurship resource center, The Launch Pad. “It was like getting a very good business consulting firm, but for free.”

Once he graduated in May 2015, he jumped into Eben 100 percent, putting the business plan into action. Over the next year, he hired a chemist, and together they visited farms around the U.S. and rented small labs for R&D and creating the formulations. Once David had the formulations, he found a Doral manufacturer, The Pure Source, and began testing the product with his target market. To finance the production and get more early feedback from consumers, he launched a crowdfunding campaign this past summer. He raised $16,000, which was just enough to finance initial production and create some early marketing buzz.

David said Eben’s three-step product line is all-natural, vegan and cruelty-free. The company has launched its first line of products this fall and is selling on Amazon as well as www.ebennaturals.com.

Founded: June 2015; launched first product line in October.

Management team: Milain David, CEO and Chief Financial Officer; Valeria Quiros, branding and social media; Khadija Andrews, head of marketing; Daniel Lamus, sales adviser.

Website and social media: www.ebennaturals.com; https://www.facebook.com/ebennaturals/; https://www.instagram.com/ebennaturals/

Financing: The company is mostly bootstrapped and raised $16,000 on Kickstarter.

Recent milestones: Eben received approval from Amazon to become sellers in its highly competitive and restricted “Beauty and personal care category.” Eben also has an agreement with a major beauty sampling company to be featured in their limited edition Christmas box. “This would give us a major boost in terms of brand awareness.”

Biggest startup challenge: “The biggest startup challenge we face is to garner brand awareness with a very limited marketing budget. I like to think of it as having given birth to a child no one can see just yet,” David said.

Next step: The next step is to raise a seed round to finance customer acquisition efforts and improve processes. “The strategy is to consolidate our brand identity to show potential investors that they are putting their money in a viable lifestyle company and not just another startup,” David said.

Mentor’s view: David said he met Jacques Cohen, a long-time executive in the cosmetics industry, at a friend’s Shabbat dinner. They exchanged small talk and numbers, and Cohen has offered his guidance ever since. “Milain reminded me when I started, the enthusiasm and the will to succeed. Milain recognized and accepted some of the early constructive criticism, too,” said Cohen, CEO of Prestige Cosmetics, a leading cosmetics manufacturer based in Deerfield Beach.

“Though Milain’s category is not that crowded, he is going to have to promote and make his products known. His advantage is his positioning. The ethnic market is mainly and traditionally positioned as mass market. That demographic has evolved enormously and is looking for and willing to pay for good products,” Cohen said. “Fortunately, today advertising can be done very economically through social media.”

By Nancy Dahlberg, @ndahlberg

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October 10, 2016

Startup Spotlight: Caribé Exotic Juice offers taste of the tropics

Cristian

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@MiamiHerald.com

COMPANY NAME: Caribé Exotic Juice

Headquarters: Miami and Washington, D.C.

Concept: Build lasting supply chains to connect Caribbean and Latin American producers to the U.S. market. Right now, the company is focusing on helping small farmers in the Dominican Republic make use of excess fruit by purchasing produce the farmers ordinarily would discard and making cold-pressed juice from it. The juice is then sold in Miami and Washington, D.C., under the Caribé brand.

Story: While undergraduates at the University of Miami, Cristian F. Robiou (pictured above) and Luis Solis wondered why larger beverage companies did not source fruits at large scale "from the Caribbean and Latin America to make natural juices favored by Hispanic consumers. Passion fruit and sour sop, for instance, are popular in multicultural households, but high-quality, ready-to-drink options did not exist in the market.

That question was the intellectual genesis of Caribé. But the soul of the company developed later, as the founders tried to solve the question.

“While graduate students, we researched the question and found a suite of issues that made building a supply chain more prohibitive in this part of the world: wide-scale disorganization at the local governmental level in the Caribbean, disorganization as to the way representatives handled their duties, and even wider corruption at the EX/IM level. This angered us,” said Robiou. He was then in his first year at Harvard Law School, while Solis was in his first year at Darden Business School at the University of Virginia.

"The research project began as an aloe farm and eventually became Caribé Exotic Juice, a company selling cold-pressed juices made from exotic fruits imported from the Dominican Republic, where both Robiou and Solis grew up. Dominican farmers, who typically struggle to sell their products overseas, directly benefit. The arrangement in turn improves the social and economic conditions of thousands of agricultural workers in the DR. (article continues under photo)

Caribejuice

“We realized there was a lot of paving to be done to make sure we could make this concept work,” Robiou said. “But we did it because we care about helping and developing the Caribbean and doing so in a way that benefits U.S. consumers.”

In 2014, Caribé launched its juice in the mid-Atlantic. The local Whole Foods picked it up. Now the company has four juices, found in all Whole Foods in Washington, D.C., and Maryland, and soon will carry the juices in New York and New Jersey. The juice will also soon be in 50 Harris Teeter supermarkets and is approved to launch in 100 Krogers.

Caribé is also found in many fast-casual restaurants and independent stores in Miami, including The Daily Creative, Spring Chicken, Jimmy’z Kitchen, Wynwood Cafe and Pinecrest Wayside Market. Robiou hopes to get into Whole Foods and Publix in South Florida. “We’re committed to Miami. We are going to make it work.”

The four flavors are Starfruit (15 calories, drink it straight up or use as a mixer), Passion Fruit, Guava and Acerola Berry. Coming soon: a Caribé coconut water (made with Dominican coconuts and a splash of lime) and a mango mix. A cold-pressed coffee drink — with a Caribbean twist, of course — is in the works. The bottles retail for $2.99 to $3.49.

Website and social media: caribejuice.com and instagram.com/caribejuice

Launched: February 2014

Management team: Cristian F. Robiou (based in Miami); Luis Solis (based in Washington, D.C.)

No. of employees: Eight full-time employees spread out among operations, marketing and sales, plus 16 part-time employees.

Financing: $750,000 from friends-and-family financing rounds. The team expects to soon complete a $2 million financing round with Dominican and American investors.

Milestones: 34 new Harris Teeter supermarkets added to accounts. Likely closing a premier natural beverage distributor in the Northeast representing 13 new states that will feature Caribé. Met with the president of the Dominican Republic in late August to discuss the impact.

Biggest startup challenge: Dealing with the Caribbean and Latin American business culture, as well as Miami’s. “It’s very much who you know and less about the numbers … and I wasn’t prepared for that,” Robiou said. “I thought that if you can prove the business case, that’s that, but that hasn’t been the case here. But being here has forced me to address that weakness in myself. It has made me, I think, a stronger leader because you can’t forget that business is fundamentally about people, about relationships.”

Next steps: Building out broader partnerships within Miami and capturing key stores to help expand markets across relevant demographics. Caribé wants to bring in more marketing employees and focus explicitly on advertising for 90 days in 2017. The team is developing more dynamic branding tied to Miami.

“We want to be the standard here in Florida. I want someone to be able to walk into a Whole Foods or a Publix and find Caribé on the shelf,” Robiou said. That kind of availability brings home the idea we had when we started Caribé, of seeing Miami as this link to the best of the Caribbean. We care very, very much about growing from here and being something that stands for good in Miami.”

Mentor’s view: Seeing the health trends, Adam Meltzer, owner of The Daily Creative, said he began carrying Caribé products in his restaurant about a year ago and sales are strong. He also introduced Robiou to Gordon Food Service, a distributor that Robiou is now working with. “When I first tried the passion fruit flavor, I was immediately impressed with the unusual, yet refreshing taste. It piqued my interest to try them all,” Meltzer said. “The challenge that he faces moving forward is to keep the buzz going, to keep the Caribé name fresh in people’s minds with social media, tastings etc. Marketing will be the key to his success from here on.”|

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

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October 03, 2016

Startup Spotlight: Bammies, for fashion as comfy as your jammies

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JammiesCompany name:
Bammies

Headquarters: Miami Beach

Concept: Bammies is a core collection of comfortable-chic fashion staples that elevates comfort and minimizes decision fatigue. With two collections released per year, each Bammies season includes classic, creative styles designed for ease of use, quick and stylish dressing, and comfort.

Website: www.bammies.life

Story: Who wouldn’t want to go to work in clothing as comfortable as her jammies?

Founded by Rosario Chozas and Julia Ford-Carther, the made-in-South Florida brand embodies a fashion solution for busy women. After transitioning from a creative to a corporate environment, Chozas, who has a background in fashion, developed a brand concept that allowed her to dress appropriately, yet comfortably, and without sacrificing style that was authentically her. “People would always say, ‘Rosario you look so comfortable,’ and I would say, ‘These are my business jammies,’ ” Chozas said.

Chozas met Ford-Carther through her former work with eMerge Americas developing its track and events for women, called WIT. Ford-Carther at the time was senior editor of Ocean Drive magazine. They hit it off instantly and decided to partner up on Bammies (business plus jammies). They incorporated Bammies in July 2015 and launched the first collection in January. Over the summer they added plus sizes, by popular request.

The founders say their mission behind Bammies is two-fold: to minimize morning decision fatigue for women who need to quickly and aptly dress for the various appointments they have in a day, and to help women use fashion to feel comfortable in their own skin.

The Bammies line features tank tops, dresses, blazers and pants that are woven from natural fibers and polyester blends, and all of them can be paired and accessorized with items women already have in their closets. The Bammies Collection 02, launched last week, adds new fabrics and colors such as navy, burgundy and grays. Items range from $80 to $170. “It’s the way you’ve always wanted to dress,” said Ford-Carther, who has a background in media and marketing.

The founders are also working on a video series about how to style and accessorize their clothing using color theory. The videos would also generate suggested options for a job interview, a baby shower or a wedding, for instance.

So will men get Bammies, too? “We get so many requests for that, you have no idea,” Chozas said. So stay tuned. …

Launched to market: January 2016

Management team: Co-founders Julia Ford-Carther, CEO, and Rosario Chozas, creative director

Financing: Self-funded and raised $5,000 in friends and family funding and $3,500 through an Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign. Currently not seeking funding.

Recent milestones reached: Launched an extended-size run this summer to become a size-inclusive brand, offering the equivalent of XS to 4X. Accepted into the inaugural class of Babson College’s WIN Lab Miami accelerator program for female founders. Launched Collection 02 on Sept. 26 on www.bammies.life.

Biggest startup challenge: Building and marketing a bootstrapped business that focuses heavily on digital strategy.

Next step: Building a platform for the brand. “We’re taking cues from both personal and consumer brands to create a hybridized approach to platform building,” Ford-Carther said. “Because customers these days have less time … they like to have a one-stop-shop destination. … We’re marketing a lifestyle and we are becoming spokespeople ourselves, not just about our brand but about how to live the Bammies lifestyle.”

Adviser’s view: Rebecca Fishman-Lipsey, founder of Radical Partners and a member of Bammies’ advisory board, was attracted to the passionate, “magnetic” founders and the product itself.

“Their product resonates with so many people. They’ve been extremely lean, they’ve found local ways to grow, and they’ve responded to the voices of their customer base,” Fishman-Lipsey said. “Thousands upon thousands of people are sharing and liking … and the question now is how to translate the love of the brand into massive sales. We’ve learned a lot from seeing how magnetic Julia and Rosario are on camera. People are captivated by them and their story. They’re bringing more of themselves into their brand as a result.”

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

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September 23, 2016

Spotlight: Rising Tide Car Wash makes waves in social impact

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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

 

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September 14, 2016

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

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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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Modern OM, created mindfully

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