October 10, 2016

Startup Spotlight: Caribé Exotic Juice offers taste of the tropics


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)


“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

Read more Startup Spotlights in the Startup Spotlight category on this blog or here:

Would you wear business jammies? Fashion startup creates ultra comfy work clothes

Rising Tide Car Wash stars in new Starbucks video series

Toy inventors believe 'there's a hero inside every boy'

This startup wants to take you shopping – through virtual reality

Grocers, distributors catch the Banana Wave

Octopi making waves in shipping industry

Mediconecta brings telehealth to emerging markets.

October 03, 2016

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

JammiesCompany name:

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

Read more Startup Spotlights:

Rising Tide Car Wash stars in new Starbucks video series

Toy inventors believe 'there's a hero inside every boy'

This startup wants to take you shopping – through virtual reality

Grocers, distributors catch the Banana Wave

Octopi making waves in shipping industry

Mediconecta brings telehealth to emerging markets.

Why Hope Solo is partnering with this startup


September 23, 2016

Spotlight: Rising Tide Car Wash makes waves in social impact

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. 


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.



Read more Startup Spotlights

Toy inventors believe 'there's a hero inside every boy'

This startup wants to take you shopping – through virtual reality

Grocers, distributors catch the Banana Wave

Octopi making waves in shipping industry

Mediconecta brings telehealth to emerging markets.

Why Hope Solo is partnering with this startup

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


September 14, 2016

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


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.

Read more Startup Spotlights

This startup wants to take you shopping – through virtual reality

Grocers, distributors catch the Banana Wave

Octopi making waves in shipping industry

Mediconecta brings telehealth to emerging markets.

Why Hope Solo is partnering with this startup

Modern OM, created mindfully



August 29, 2016

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


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.

Read more Startup Spotlights

Grocers, distributors catch the Banana Wave

Octopi making waves in shipping industry

Mediconecta brings telehealth to emerging markets.

Why Hope Solo is partnering with this startup

Modern OM, created mindfully

Need a ride? Freebee revs up to expand

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

Read more Startup Spotlights

Octopi making waves in shipping industry

Mediconecta brings telehealth to emerging markets.

Why Hope Solo is partnering with this startup

Modern OM, created mindfully

Need a ride? Freebee revs up to expand

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 08, 2016

Startup Spotlight: Octopi making waves in maritime industry

Cetus Labs 01 EKM

Company: Octopi (formerly Cetus Labs)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Website: octopi.co

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more: Mediconecta brings telehealth to emerging markets.

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

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

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

July 11, 2016

Startup Spotlight: Mediconecta bringing telehealth to emerging markets

MKK00 Mediconecta News rk

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

Company name: Mediconecta

Headquarters: Miami

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

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

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

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

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

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

Launched: July 2011

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

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

Financing: $4.1 million in angel funding

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

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

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

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

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg


June 27, 2016

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

Lauren Feingold_Ashanty Williams

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

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

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

Headquarters: Miami

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

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

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

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

Hope Solo (4)

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

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

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

Company launched: March 2015

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

Employees: 31

Website: shanti.bar

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

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

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

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

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

Nancy Dahlberg @ndahlberg

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

SHANTI Bar_Group