April 11, 2017

Young Miami entrepreneur Andres Cardona honored by Gov. Scott


On Tuesday, during a meeting of the Florida Cabinet, Gov. Rick Scott recognized Andres Cardona, 23, with the Young Entrepreneur Award. Cardona is the founder and CEO of Elite Basketball Academy, a youth basketball program founded in 2011 and is based in Miami.

Gov. Scott said, “I’m proud to present Andres with the Young Entrepreneur Award today. It’s great to see Florida entrepreneurs follow their dreams of starting a business and make a difference in their community. It takes dedication and hard work to start a business, and I look forward to seeing Elite Basketball Academy’s success in Florida.”

Cardona, a finance student at FIU,  launched his business at age 14. It all began when Cardona joined the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) program after his mother lost her job, and decided he was going to help the family financially. A basketball player, he recognized the lack of affordable options for learning the sport in South Miami and started the camp.  Since then the camp has grown steadily, and he has won a number of honors, including being honored as  Global Entrepreneur of the Year for NFTE,  representing NFTE at the E&Y World Entrepreneur of the Year Award event and winning the regional competition of the Entrepreneurs' Organization Global Student Entrepreneurship Award.

“It’s an honor to be recognized with the Governor’s Young Entrepreneur Award," Cardona said. "Elite Basketball Academy is focused on providing youth with everlasting principles in the Miami area. We work hard to develop outstanding citizens. I’m grateful for the success we have seen, and I can't wait to see what the future holds.”

To learn more about Elite Basketball Academy, visit eliteballacademy.com. To learn more about the Governor’s Young Entrepreneur Award, visit HireFloridaGrads.com.

April 10, 2017

234 entries, now it’s down to 30. The Business Plan Challenge semifinalists are ...






Challenge illustration
By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Education-related startups and social-mission concepts were two big trends among this year’s entries in the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge.

Passion poured from the pages of the 234 business plan entries in the 19th annual Challenge, a near record, and included concepts for healthcare, education, the sharing economy, fashion, music, healthy living, toys, pets and food products.

Today, we reveal the semifinalists in the Community, FIU and High School tracks.

Having the right ingredients to win over our judges wasn’t easy. They were looking at the viability of the business model and the market opportunity. They wanted to see a strong team to carry out the big vision, a smart marketing strategy and realistic financial projections. For concepts in crowded fields — and there were a lot of those — product or service differentiation was critical. A good idea alone wasn’t enough: Our judges demanded a strong plan for execution.

To be sure, our three panels of judges — serial entrepreneurs, investors, academics and executives — had their work cut out for them. In addition to our judges, we called upon experts from CIC Miami, SCORE Miami-Dade and the Small Business Development Center at FIU to help us evaluate the plans. The Community Track drew the most entries, 109, presenting a mix of businesses representative of South Florida’s entrepreneurial diversity.

Competition in the High School Track, co-sponsored by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship South Florida, heated up with nearly 100 entries. Ransom Everglades and Gulliver Prep made them part of class projects and accounted for about half of the total entries. The track was rich with ideas for social-impact ventures.

For all 234 of you who entered, congratulations! You now have a strong start on your business plan — your road map to growing your business.

Whether or not you made this cut, we encourage you to take advantage of community resources to get help with your businesses, such as SCORE chapters around South Florida, the Small Business Development Centers at FIU and in Broward, or StartUP FIU, which is open to the community and has opened a new food incubator, and other accelerators. If you are in Miami-Dade, enter the American Entrepreneurship Award contest (americanaward.com), with a share of $125,000 in prizes up for grabs, by the April 27 deadline.

What’s ahead? Next week we will launch our People’s Pick video competition, which includes the top six finishers in the Community and FIU Tracks. We hope you will support them with your votes. The winners, finalists and semifinalists in all three tracks will be included in a special section of Business Monday on May 8.

Here, in alphabetical order, are the semifinalists:


Apollonix, by Jessica Shin, Paul Shin and Terri-Ann Brown, is the first online marketplace for ordering oral prosthetics and provides a win-win solution for both dentists and labs in this $10.9 billion industry.

Aquaco Farms, by Joe Cardenas, is an aquaculture company that has selected the Florida Pompano as the best species for its grow-out. This high-margin fish has been limited on menus due to the challenge of meeting demand from wild stock.

Cargo42, by Francine Gervazio, Murilo Amaral and Alfredo Keri, is a B2B marketplace for local trucking. It helps shippers find lower rates, access quality service and have their goods delivered on time by matching them with pre-verified trucks with empty space in them.

Caribu, by Maxeme Tuchman and Alvaro Sabido, marries video-calling and e-books to provide an interactive experience when family members are far apart. You simply make a call, choose a book together, and read or draw in real time as if you were in the same room.

Melanites, by Jennifer Pierre, designs and creates diverse toys, storybooks and games that celebrate brown boyhood. Its mission is to inspire children of color to dream big, stand tall and live out their childhood.

Modulux Lighting, by Bill Cummings, has created an LED-based grow-light product called GroMax focused on the massive cannabis market. GroMax lights are modular, programmable and scalable and can be assembled like Lego Blocks to create an efficient lighting solution for any size grower.

Pierce Plan, by Kelly Pierce, is the first software platform to automatically track academic requirements in real time to help high school student athletes more easily obtain scholarships to play in college, compete in the classroom and succeed in life.

School Climate Solutions, by Maribel Gonzalez, delivers customized on-demand content for educators, parents and students that helps improve school environments and creates pathways that lead to academic and social success.

Surgical & Aesthetic Supplies, by Camilo F. Sanchez and Dr. Sheri Prentiss, sells designer compression garments created to support recovery and healing at an affordable price for many inflammatory conditions including lymphedema, arthritis, swelling following surgery, fractures, burns or other trauma.

VarDragons, by Thomas Byrd Jr., Jason Keasler and Joe Rjeili, has created technology to transform real airplanes into dragons through mobile devices. VarDragons (Virtual / Augmented Reality Dragons) is an innovative massive multiplayer online mobile game using a new mixed-reality technology.

VideoRehearser, by Carlos Vazquez and David L. Kay, is a cloud-based training management system using neurobehavioral and educational principles to increase retention and improve professional and personal performance.

Zulubots, by Elizabeth, Monica and Julian F. De Zulueta, is a consumer robotics company that focuses on the design and fabrication of assistive robots for the home to improve the resident’s quality of life and provide prolonged independence. Zulubots is developing Carrli, a robot that helps customers lift and carry objects around the home.


DoUCare, by Maurice Pinto, is a cloud-based platform that uses a crowdsourcing business model to connect freelance caregivers to families seeking nonmedical home-care services for their elderly loved ones. Careseekers can get immediate or future-scheduled care services through a phone or web app. Caregivers can get access to an online marketplace that gets them hired locally at the rate of their choice.

Ketamine Health Centers, by Dr. Raul Cruz, Dr. Francisco Cruz, Dennis Diaz and May Nunez, will own, develop and operate multiple outpatient clinics to provide ketamine infusions, a new treatment modality for patients suffering from mental-health disorders. The clinic provides an innovative use of the FDA-approved anesthetic ketamine, whose effectiveness in the treatment of mental health is gaining recognition in the medical community.

MunchSquad, by Tara Demren, Eliana Alba and Don Sirivat, is a mobile app providing a real-time marketplace that allows food vendors (restaurants, bakeries, supermarkets) to reduce surplus food being thrown out at the end of the day by having it sold at a discount to students. MunchSquad also facilitates partnerships with local homeless shelters for the distribution of remaining food after student sales.

Nuvola, by Juan Carlos Abello, provides guest management software that helps hotels monitor and respond to hotel and guest needs and activities. Nuvola, staffed entirely by professionals with hospitality industry experience, has created a customer-service platform with mobile applications designed to be used by the hotel staff and by hotel guests.

SettleiTsoft, by Antonio Garcia, Carlos Garcia and Rich Rudner, provides a web-based and mobile accessible platform that offers 24/7 assistance to debtors and creditors as a bridge to facilitate and streamline the debt-negotiation process. It is designed to replace the traditional methods of debt resolution with an intuitive, interactive, transparent and secure online debt settlement process that gives consumers complete control of negotiations.

Use Your Words, by Yanesa Montenegro and Pablo Gomez, will develop an app used by parents to teach language and communication to their pre-verbal and nonverbal children on the autism spectrum. At its core, the app will be an interface of buttons with symbols representing words the child will press to communicate with parents, and will offer video tutorials and a progress recording feature.


BEST-Ware, by Eitan Dooreck-Aloni, Julia Ortiz and Erin Bakes of Ransom Everglades, is user-friendly software that enables parents to efficiently and effectively monitor and regulate their children’s phone usage while limiting the power struggle between parents and their children.

Coegi, by Yoav Grainer and Corey Kraftsow of Ransom Everglades, is a fun, innovative app that utilizes user restraint and gamification to discourage drivers from texting and driving. Coegi’s game rewards drivers for not using their phones while driving.

Equix, by Leonardo Nadais, Victor Rego and Aaron Carey of Gulliver Preparatory, is a portable, reusable water bottle that also includes a charger. Its target market is college students, athletes and office workers.

Gluton Free Zone, by Jamie Shapiro, Alexandra Yaniz and Juliana Yaniz of Gulliver Prep, is an app that would provide all the information necessary for anyone following a gluten-free diet, including what goods have gluten, gluten-free replacements, restaurant and supermarket recommendations, meal plans and more.

HART (High Altitude Rocket Transport), by Sebastian Abisleiman and Adrian Ruiz of the School for Advanced Studies, will inspire students around the world to consider engineering and STEM fields by providing innovative model rocket kits that can be improved upon by the collaborative global community.

LocatED, by Chase Feldman, Clinton Jules, Ben Manley, Marissa Manley, Eliza Morton, Stephanie Morton and Monica Wang of Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High, is a community emergency response app, helping registered users having a medical emergency find a medical device such as an inhaler or EpiPen nearby.

Micki’s, by Simon Bindefeld-Boccara and Jake Pelayo of Ransom Everglades, would create an app that enables restaurants to advertise real-time flash sales on specific meals when business has been slow, combating food waste and allowing more consumers to try their dishes.

Shock-Block, by Caroline Krystoff, Kate Heatzip and Danna Martinez of Pine Crest School, envisions Lacrosse Concussion Helmut Sensors that attach to the inside of a helmet to evaluate the impact and send an alert to the coach.

Smart Straws, by Susana Cappello, Carolina Baigorri and Victoria Roca of Gulliver Prep, would develop and market a line of straws that detect the most common rape drugs when they are placed in nonalcoholic or alcoholic drinks.

Speckey, by Aditya Devendra, Mihail Rogatykh and Paridhi Kapadia of American Heritage, is an innovative way to learn music and play a new instrument for beginners. Users can use the app to play via an interactive virtual diagram of the chords or keys.

SupportMe, by Harrison Kellner, Vivi Cardoso and Axel Rizzo of Gulliver Prep, is a social media app designed for teens who are victims of bullying or suffering from depression and anxiety. SupportMe will connect users who are going through similar struggles and also connect them with psychology students.

VetNet, by Carlos Esber, Austin Acosta and Julian Zighelboim of Ransom Everglades, is an app that would help veterans combat issues including unemployment, unavailability of resources like proper mental health therapy and lack of communication with people suffering similar experiences.

Congratulations to the semi-finalists and all 234 teams who completed plans and entered the Challenge. Keep us posted on your progress reaching your entrepreneurial dreams.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

April 03, 2017

Eight schools compete in teen entrepreneurship showdown Innovate South Florida -- And the winners are...



By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

A concept for leveraging the sharing economy, a healthy food restaurant chain for lower income communities, a product for athletes and a video production service wowed the judges at last week's Innovate South Florida, a business plan competition among South Florida private schools to benefit the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) South Florida. It was held last Monday at the IDEA Center at Miami Dade College.

 In the event, eight of the top private schools in South Florida competed first in semi-final rounds and then in a final round to determine the winner. Each team did a 7-10 minute business plan presentation in front of the judges -- angel investor Greg Diamond, Ramiro Almeida of Miami Dade College's Innovation Lab, Ryan Cohen of Chewy.com and Jordy Levy of Softbank Capital  -- who then had five minutes to question them.

The team from American Heritage's Plantation Campus won with  RentAll, a business focused on  providing a consumer-to-consumer rental platform for products of all kinds.  The students presenting for American Heritage were Yash Daftary and Brandon Dinner (pictured above).

RentAll was also the 3rd place winner in the high school track in the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge in 2016, and the student entrepreneurs have been working hard to make their concept a reality. After winning in the Challenge, the teens also participated in a Startup Weekend to continue building their idea. The team recently developed and finalized more marketing and advertising strategies such as a student ambassador program that it will launch during upcoming beta testing.

What was RentAll's winning strategy for Innovate South Florida?

"We prepared for the competition by creating a pitch deck for investors and pitching that to the judges. We tried to hit every aspect possible so that not too many questions could be asked. We also watched a lot of startup pitches online so we could see what kind of questions could be asked and so we could get creative ideas for pitching our own presentation," said Daftary.

Other finalists in order of finish were Gulliver (second place) for Fresh Zone, an affordable healthy fast-food concept targeted at lower-income neighborhoods. The students were Dania Fernandez, Alex Anton and Orest Danyliv.

Third place went to Pine Crest School for Protecht Sports, an ankle support for high school and college athletes, presented by  students Jordan Taney, Blake Kravitz and Jared Gould.

Fourth place went to Palmer Trinity and the students' idea was TeenVe, which would provide video production services to schools supporting charitable endeavors. It was presented by students Henry Fernandez and Duncan Stoner.

Other schools participating were Ransom Everglades, Columbus High School, American Heritage Delray Campus and Hebrew Academy(RASG). Many of the schools, like Gulliver, held their own internal business plan competitions to determine their representative at this event. 

The event was supported by Wheels Up, Celebrity Cruises, PNC Bank, Seeman Holtz, EY, Evensky & Katz/Foldes Financial and DDB. Miami Dade College was the host for the second year in a row.

"I am so grateful for the support of the schools and their students who did an incredible thing participating in an event whose purpose is to raise awareness of and support for NFTE and its mission of providing entrepreneurship education to under-resourced students," said Richard Jackson, advisory board chairman of NFTE. NFTE South Florida is currently serving 39 public schools and has helped over 30,000 students learn about entrepreneurship and leadership.

NFTE also has been running school competitions in the run-up to its final showdown in its Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge May 18 from 6  pm to 9 pm at Briza on the Bay. Meet the young entrepreneurs at the event's Student Business Expo and cheer on NFTE South Florida's top youth businesses as they compete for a chance to represent South Florida at the National Challenge in New York City. Register here.


All of the winners of the 2017 Innovate South Florida competition are pictured here. At top, Yash Daftary and Brandon Dinner pitch RentAll, which won the contest.


March 31, 2017

University of Miami School of Business awards nearly $50K in Business Plan Competition. And the winners are...

Ventures producing a high-performance computer with a water cooling system and an online portal to help high school student athletes obtain college scholarships have taken top honors in the 2017 University of Miami Business Plan Competition, hosted by the University’s School of Business Administration. The competition winners, who took home a combined total of nearly $50,000 in first, second, third and other prizes, were announced March 30 following the final round of competition the same day.

Grand Prizes


David Gantt, pictured above, an international finance and marketing major at the School of Business and Chester Montefering, an industrial engineering major, won the Grand Prize and $10,000 in the undergraduate student category for XIX Computing. Their venture aims to produce a computer system with a water cooling system to better address the high-performance computing needs of the computer gaming industry.

1st too

In the graduate student and alumni category, Kelly Pierce, pictured above, who graduated in 2012 as a community and social change major, took home the Grand Prize and $10,000 for her venture, Pierce Plan. It’s billed as the first SAAS LMS licensing and delivery model to automatically track academic requirements in real time to help high school student athletes more easily obtain scholarships to pay for college. Pierce also won the People’s Choice Award and $1,000.

Second Place

2nd twoo

Second Place in the undergraduate student category and $6,000 went to Dylan Cohen (pictured above), a biology major, for Frest, a hand-held device and mobile application that facilitates contact information exchange.



Second Place in the graduate student and alumni category and $6,000 went to Thomas R. Byrd Jr. and Jason S. Keasler (pictured above), both 2016 MBA graduates from the School of Business, along with Joe Rjeili, for VarDragons, a reality mobile game that turns airplanes into dragons through mobile devices.

Third Place

3rd 22

Third Place in the undergraduate student category and $4,000 went to Nelly Sudri, an advertising management major and Lauren Peaslee, a public relations major, for Sobe Media Group (pictured above). It’s a Miami-based social media marketing agency aimed at helping brands increase their social media reach.


Third Place in the graduate student and alumni category and $4,000 went to Josh Fu, who graduated from the School of Business in 2010 as an international finance and marketing major, for Haathi Cloth (pictured above). The venture aims to produce modern, comfortable and machine-washable kurtas, an outfit worn at Indian weddings and dance competitions.

Honorable Mentions

An honorable mention and $1,000 was presented in the undergraduate student category to Don Sirivat, an engineering major, and Kevin Fich, a computer science major, for Cleanswipe, a mobile payment platform for scheduling laundry appointments. The honorable mention in the graduate student and alumni category went to Marcella McCarthy, who graduated in 2005 as an English major, for Skillied, a web platform where schools and other institutions can list their local classes and people can book a seat.

The 2017 Business Plan Competition started last fall when 81 concept papers were submitted to the judging committee. From those submissions, 31 semifinalist teams prepared business plans and were then presented to the judges on March 29. Four winners in each of the two categories were then named to compete in the final round on March 30, with the winners named shortly afterward.

This year’s competition sponsors included Sean Goldstein, The Gomberg Family, The Heffner Family, JES Global Capital Partners, The Nunez Family, and Oscar Callejas. Now in its 15th year, the Business Plan Competition is open to all University of Miami students and alumni.

Past winners in the competition have gone on to build their ventures into businesses that have garnered national attention. They include such companies College Hunks Hauling Junk and My Therapy Journal.com, both of which have been featured on ABC Television's “Shark Tank.”

Other Awards

In addition to the three top prizes and honorable mentions in each category, the Paul K. Sugrue Entrepreneurial Spirit Award and $2,000 was presented to Benjamin Leis, who graduated in 2004 as a broadcast journalism major, for Comic Cure. The venture uses the unifying power of laughter to uplift and engage communities around important causes.

The Best Presentation Award in the undergraduate student category went to Dylan Cohen for Frest. The Best Presentation Award in the graduate student and alumni category went to Jennifer Pierre, who graduated from the School of Business as an entrepreneurship and marketing major, for Melanites. Her venture designs diverse toys, storybooks and games that celebrate brown boyhood. Each Best Presentation Award winner received $2,000.

Entrepreneurship Symposium

In the lead-up to the competition finals, UM alumni Omar Soliman, co-founder and CEO of College Hunks Hauling Junk, Jamie Rosenberg, founder and CEO of ClassWallet and Albert Santalo, founder and former CEO of CareCloud, offered their ideas, advice and insights to students at the half-day Entrepreneurship Symposium, which also included panel discussions on Miami’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and venture capital opportunities.

“Starting a business is like running a marathon,” said Rosenberg. “You have to take micro steps one at a time. But the most important thing is understanding what’s driving your heart.”

“It has never been easier to become an entrepreneur,” added Santalo. “There are many great platforms to help you launch a business with very little outside funding. If you are serious about your idea and willing to work hard every day, I encourage you to jump in. Otherwise, you’ll be watching from the sidelines.”


- Submitted by University of Miami

December 20, 2016

Young innovator to watch: Felipe Gomez del Campo of Weston




Felipe Gomez del Campo one of four innovators nationally chosen for U.S. Department of Energy’s new entrepreneurship program

He’s been recognized as a rising energy innovator in Forbes “30 under 30” and honored at the White House as an emerging global entrepreneur by President Barack Obama.

Next up for Case Western Reserve University graduate student Felipe Gomez del Campo: He was selected as one of four innovators nationally to participate in a new two-year entrepreneurship program at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, Illinois.

On Tuesday in Chicago, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz joined U.S. Senator Richard Durbin and officials from DOE to announce Gomez del Campo and the three other participants in Chain Reaction Innovations (CRI), the Midwest’s first entrepreneurship program to embed innovators in a national laboratory.

All four were selected to embed at Argonne for two years to access the lab’s scientific expertise, world-class facilities and mentorship to develop their innovative technologies.

“For an entrepreneur/ technologist, this is huge because the future is never certain,” said Gomez del Campo, a native of Mexico City who is from Weston, Florida. “You never know when you’re going to run out of money, if you'll be able to find more, what technological problems you're going to run into, etc. Joining the first cohort of CRI means that I don't have to worry as much about fundraising, and I can fully commit to developing the technology and get it to market.” 

CRI is part of a new initiative to accelerate the development of sustainable and energy-efficient technologies and drive manufacturing growth by helping startups and innovators reduce development costs and risks. A panel of judges selected the inaugural cohort of five Chain Reactions innovators from more than 100 applications.

Applicants for CRI came from 22 states. About half were with startups; the rest were students, professors, postdocs or members of industry. The four recipients represent Colorado, Indiana, North Dakota and Ohio.

Gomez del Campo, a graduate student in aerospace engineering at Case Western Reserve, is founder and CEO of FGC Plasma Solutions LLC, a Cleveland-based company that is developing a novel fuel injector for jet engines and gas turbines. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Case Western Reserve in 2016.  

The other three technologies in the first CRI cohort: a novel radioisotope battery made from nuclear waste; membrane-free electrochemical devices; and carbon material synthesis through sustainable bio-manufacturing methods.

Argonne National Laboratory, with a staff of 1,600 scientists and engineers, is the largest federally funded research and development facility in the Midwest. The CRI program provides the selected entrepreneurs dedicated laboratory and office space, support securing additional project funds, research and development assistance and access to a broad innovation ecosystem.  

Gomez del Campo was honored as an emerging global entrepreneur by Obama at the White House in 2015 and was selected by the State Department to represent the United States at the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit.

He earned a spot on the Forbes “30 under 30” list for 2016 in the energy category, the “Who’s Who to Watch in Technology” by Crain’s Cleveland Business and as one of Mexico’s six extraordinary young people by GQ Mexico. He also has been named a member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Aerospace, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers.

FGC Plasma Solutions is working on a fuel injector that incorporates plasma to better control combustion in jet engines and gas turbines. By reducing fuel consumptions during idling, fuel savings of between 1 percent and 5 percent per flight are possible. The technology will also enable benefits from lower emissions, increased fuel flexibility and improved reliability.

Gomez del Campo said he will likely start the CRI program in late January or early February. CRI is a one-year commitment that can be extended to two years. He is working on his master’s in aerospace engineering, swims on the Case Western Reserve swim and dive team and works part-time.

“Even though I will be at Argonne, I will still be working on my thesis — which is on my technology incidentally — and taking classes online to finish my master’s,” he said. “Although it means a lot of changes for me and I will miss CWRU a lot, it is a fantastic opportunity and I am very excited.” 

- Submtted by Case Western Reserve University 

November 16, 2016

UM student startup wins 1st round of $100,000 Global Student Entrepreneur Awards


Pictured: Mark Sanna of EO-SOFLO, Felix Puello, runner-up, Alex Coren, winner of the regional Global Student Entrepreneur Awards, and Aaron Lee of EO-SFLO.


Alex Coren, University of Miami student and founder of startup healthcare technology company Wambi, has earned the chance to compete for a grand prize worth $100,000 in prize money and services to boost her business, as part of the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA) competition hosted by the South Florida chapter of Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO-SOFLO).

Coren and five other local finalists presented their business plans Wednesday to EO-SOFLO judges at the Miami Dade College (MDC) Idea Center.

Wambi is a digital caregiver management and reward platform designed to improve patient care and “bring compassion back to the forefront of healthcare.”

The event runner up was MDC student Felix Puello of Onetown Boards, a company which uses technology to improve skateboard performance and safety. (Felix was recently featured in this Miami Herald story.)

“All of the kids’ ideas were fantastic,” said Mark Sanna, GSEA chairman and former EO-SOFLO president. “We’re going to be hearing much more from these young business leaders in the years to come.”

For the local win, Coren earned $1,000 in cash, $16,500 in services and an all-expenses-paid trip to the national finals in Kansas City, Missouri, where she will compete against 25 other student entrepreneurs from around the country.  The national winner then travels to Frankfurt, Germany in April for the chance at the global prize worth $100,000.

“The competition is tough, but we’re fortunate to have so much young talent and entrepreneurial resources here in South Florida that create a rich environment for business inspiration and success,” said Aaron Lee, president of EO-SOFLO and founder of Miami Lakes-based Illuminati Studios.  “Our organization is very proud to be part of this entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

EO-SOFLO has sponsored GSEA for six years, in addition to teaming up with MDC’s Idea Center, Florida International University, University of Miami, Nova Southeastern University, Florida Atlantic University and other institutions to foster student and other start-up business initiatives.

EO-SOFLO is one of the world’s largest EO chapters, with approximately 180 members whose businesses account for more than $2billion in annual revenues and 10,000 jobs in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

For more information, visit www.eosoflo.com.

November 10, 2016

Latin American and Caribbean entrepreneurs complete Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative in Miami


The 14 YLAI fellows with Mark Sanna and Lillian Roberts of EO (Entrepreneurs' Organization) South Florida.


By Maria de los Angeles

On Friday, November 4, young entrepreneurs from Latin America and the Caribbean pitched their business plans to a panel of local judges at Florida International University’s Brickell campus. The pitch session was the final event in the month-long Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI), a fellowship program initiated by President Obama and funded by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The program matched 250 emerging social and business leaders from Latin America and the Caribbean with local mentors in 21 city hubs across the U.S.; 14 of them did their residency in Miami with the help of Global Ties Miami, a non-profit that has been facilitating citizen diplomacy through cultural, educational and professional exchange tours since the 1950s.

YLAI set out to establish networks between young leaders and business mentors across the hemisphere. While in Miami, the fellows worked with their mentors for take-aways they could apply to their existing startup ventures back home.

The mentors and hosts were as diverse as Miami’s international business community. Fellows ranged from a cacao farmer in Belize to an Augmented Reality app developer from Trinidad and Tobago, to an environmentally conscious shoe manufacturer from Peru and a bespoke seamstress from Costa Rica, among others.

Some of the hosts were themselves Miami startups that have moved beyond the alpha phase: a biscuit manufacturer from Guyana worked with Lemon City Tea; the owner of a brand management company in Paraguay received mentorship from The New Tropic; and an e-commerce businessman from Nicaragua learned about tech business models from Tesser Health.

All of the fellows have founded businesses that are poised for next-level growth. They came to the U.S. to learn best practices from their mentors and to explore ways of developing their homegrown ideas within an international network.

“We were thrilled to host this group of inspiring young entrepreneurs in Miami,” said Emilie Baird, Director of Programs for Global Ties Miami. “The YLAI program contributed to deeper community connections and collaborations, both internationally and locally.

Nomad Tribe Shop and Lemon City Tea, who were both hosts and have since partnered, or the partnership that has developed between David Medina, founder of Qubo (Queer Bogotá, a non-profit that works to build self-esteem in the LGBT community through sports) and his host organization, the World Out Games, a major olympics-like event that will be coming to Miami in 2017.”

During the pitch session on November 4, each fellow had four minutes to present their business models to a panel of judges for the opportunity to compete in a national competition in Washington, D.C. with other fellows chosen from the 21 host cities. The final winner is set to win a cash prize to use for business development at home.

The judges included Carlos A. Huerta, President and Founder of PLC International, Emma Wing, Business Advisor ITMS Group, a company she co-founded with her husband, Robert Wing, and Christopher McKenney, media entrepreneur and CEO of Mango Media.

The third place winner, Guillermo Jimenez worked with mentor Humberto Lee of Tesser Health and is the founder of Eleganza Boutique, an e-commerce platform in Nicaragua. E-commerce giants E Bay and Amazon don’t sell products in the country of six million where most people are wary of online shopping -- only 20% are active, according to Jimenez. The entrepreneur seeks to build trust and to “become the Amazon for Central America.” He currently sells imported merchandise via the Facebook marketplace but the business will grow with a proprietary website.

Second place went to Bahamian entrepreneur Ashleigh Rolle, who saw room for improvement in travel options to connect the 700 islands that make up the nation. “It’s Uber for boat travel,” she said as she explained Skipper, an online platform that connects local commuters and travelers to boat captains operating in the Bahamas. Rolle’s mentor was Nicholas Scherb of 26 North Yachts, a brokerage based in Fort Lauderdale.

Kadeem Pet-Grave of Jamaica won first place for Educatours JA, a company that plans and executes gamified tours and team building activities for schools. “Learning shouldn’t be boring,” said Pet-Grave as he explained how schools can request customized mobile technology gamification for field trips featuring fun activities such as treasure hunts with score keeping and prizes. Pet-Grave’s mentors were Charles Kropke and Alison Klapper-León of Coral Gables-based tour company Dragonfly Expeditions.

The current YLAI program will continue into Spring of 2017, when some of the mentors will travel to their fellows’ countries for continued professional learning exchanges.

Maria de los Angeles is an independent journalist who writes for Global Ties Miami.


Nicaragua fellow Guillermo Jimenez working with host mentor Humberto Alexander Lee of Tesser Health.

June 22, 2016

Two Thiel Fellows are gaming entrepreneurs from Fort Lauderdale

Two Fort Lauderdale men were among  The Thiel Foundation's 2016 class of 29 Thiel Fellows announced today. The fellowship provides young people with $100,000 to learn by doing rather than by following conventional paths like college. This year’s cohort was selected from more than 6,000 applications received from around the world.

“We launched the fellowship in 2011 to test a simple thesis: college isn’t right for everyone—especially for young people who want to create new things,” said Blake Masters, president of the Thiel Foundation. “This has been proven true—by the successes of our past fellows, by the new applications we get every year, and by the growing numbers of young people who are creating their own career paths outside of college, with or without a fellowship from us.”

Thiel Fellows receive mentorship and guidance from current and former fellows, as well as from the Thiel Foundation’s network of technology entrepreneurs, investors, and scientists. The Fort Lauderdale fellows, both involved in gaming startups,  are:

Joey Levy (now living in New York)
Sports Gaming
Joey founded Draftpot, a daily fantasy sports platform, from his dorm room in 2014. He is now working on Quizr, a sports betting application that launches in Europe in late 2016.

Matthew Salsamendi (along with James Boehm) (now living in Seattle, WA)
Social Gaming
Matt and  James co-founded Beam, an interactive live-streaming platform for gamers. Beam lets viewers of live-streamed video game sessions get involved in the game, influencing gameplay in real time.



June 06, 2016

Multi-campus StartUP FIU gets ready for takeoff



Emily Gresham and Robert Hacker, shown at Florida International University’s Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, are spearheading the StartUP FIU program. It will include three hubs, with programs for food businesses, tech and social entrepreneurship, and will be open to the community as well as to students. Alexia Fodere For The Miami Herald

Below: One of the events held for students as part of StartUP FIU. Photo by Daniela Ferrato.


By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Cheng photoIn the culinary kitchens of Florida International University’s Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, Michael Cheng smelled opportunity. The commercial facilities were only being used about half time; as the director of the food-and-beverage program, Cheng thought FIU should offer the excess capacity to companies for a fee.

But after a discussion with Emily Gresham, who is spearheading a university-wide StartUP FIU program, and its student leader Valeria Siegrist, Cheng’s mindset changed. “They opened my eyes... They told me ‘there is an entire community of food entrepreneurs out there who would die to have this space but they can’t afford it.’ and I said ‘Well, let’s open that up to them.’ That’s how Food FIU got started.”

Beginning this fall, the Food FIU program will help entrepreneurs from low- and moderate-income communities in three stages of development – those at the idea stage, entrepreneurs selling in farmers’ markets but are ready to move to the next level, and later stage companies that want to scale. Cheng (pictured at right), who is also an associate processor, said StartUP FIU will start working with firms from North Miami, where the Biscayne Bay Campus is located, with a potential Homestead outpost at a later time. The program is free, and the entrepreneurs do not have to be affiliated with FIU in any way.

The Food innovation hub, supported in part by a $500,000 grant from Citi Foundation, will be one leg of a larger effort called StartUP FIU launching this fall. The interdisciplinary multi-campus resource for students, faculty, staff, alumni and entrepreneurs in the community will include physical spaces, programs and events for entrepreneurs and entrepreneur-wannabes to meet, collaborate, be mentored and take training. An accelerator will work with teams on commercializing concepts.

“Our economy increasingly offers opportunities to people who are able to make good jobs rather than take good jobs. We see this transformation as emblematic of what we have to do at FIU,” said FIU President Mark Rosenberg. “FIU is a huge cluster of talent ... What we are trying to do is provide platforms for that talent to come together around the capabilities that we have. ... We want to provide a safe haven for that talent to come together, with some supervision, to develop products, ideas and opportunities.”

Initially, StartUP FIU, will take root in three locations: the Modesto Maidique campus in Sweetwater, the Hospitality School at the Biscayne Bay campus, and a facility near Tamiami airport serving the growing cadre of technology and medical businesses there. The program has been appropriated $1.25 million from the state in addition to the Citi Foundation funding. It is run by Gresham, FIU’s assistant vice president for Research – Innovation and Economic Development, and Robert Hacker, StartUP FIU’s director.

The program joins existing FIU entrepreneurship resources including the Small Business Development Center, a new Tech Station, the Miami Fintech Forum and the Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center, most located on the Maidique campus on Tamiami Trail. FIU is also a designated “changemaker campus” for Ashoka, the global network for social entrepreneurship.

Despite those existing resources, students had no one-stop-shop for connecting with resources, concluded StartUP FIU’s team after conducting more than 100 interviews with students, faculty and community leaders. Often, students didn’t know where to go, nor were they connecting with the larger community.

“Our students are our energy, our talent, and the diversity of our students, faculty, alumni and the community improves collaboration,” said Gresham. “We’ve decided to have a more inclusive StartUP FIU, which means everyone’s welcome.”

Regionwide, students have more resources than just a few years ago. The Idea Center at MDC opened 18 months ago with an accelerator for MDC students, startup contests, events and a coding school. The University of Miami has been expanding its commercialization efforts, particularly in the healthcare area, working closely with dozens of startups. Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton opened Tech Runway, an accelerator that also offers funding and mentorship for student and community teams. Broward College opened its incubator last month.

These join a region-wide effort, fueled by the Knight Foundation, to accelerate entrepreneurship by expanding resources for mentorship, talent-building and funding. Entrepreneurial co-working spaces, incubators and accelerators have been proliferating, but most are in Miami’s urban core.

That’s the void in the ecosystem StartUP FIU hopes to help fill by focusing on Miami-Dade’s lower income communities and far west suburbs. “There’s a lot of activity, but we are still looking for depth, right?,” said Gresham. “We think we have something to offer in terms of depth building.”

Social entrepreneurship will be a key facet of the program, said Hacker. He expects ongoing themes to include sustainable cities, sea level rise, food supply, medical technology and education technology. An international businessman, Hacker has been teaching entrepreneurship and socially concsious business for more than a decade at FIU’s Honors College and Engineering School and MIT’s Sloan School.

“Miami enjoys the distinction of being the only city in the world that has two Ashoka Changemaker campuses – FIU and MDC. I think that both universities are fomenting all kinds of social entrepreneurs looking for support. We are interested and committed to putting incubators in communities that have not been served by incubators, and I think that will also naturally produce social entrepreneurs,” said Hacker.

As a startup itself, StartUP FIU has been developing over the past year, gaining grassroots support. StartUP FIU student directors Siegrist and Alessia Tacchella took Hacker’s course on Entrepreneurship and Design Thinking. That got the entrepreneurial juices flowing. But instead of working on their own startups, they jumped on the opportunity to help develop StartUP FIU. Tacchella, a finance/economics major who recently graduated, took the lead.

They gathered a diverse group of students with marketing, finance and technical expertise and began meeting weekly to plan the launch and test concepts, she said. About 80 to 100 students have been turning out for events. “When you tell them you want to help them to make their idea become a company, they are thrilled about it. They can’t believe all the resources we are bringing in on campus,” said Siegrist, a communications student.

Wifredo Fernandez, who co-founded The LAB Miami and was one of the founders of MDC’s’ Idea Center, offered insights on best practices and valuable connections, said Gresham. He now works with Gresham in the Innovation and Economic Development department and is StartUP FIU’s associate director.

Applications are being accepted at startup.fiu.edu for the accelerator’s first class. The free 13-week program will begin Sept. 6, will include weekly programs, mentorship and regular milestones for teams to meet, and end with a traditional demo day in which teams pitch to investors. The new StartUP FIU hub at the Maidique campus, a-10,000-square-foot space in the Marc building, should be ready by January; the program will operate in temporary space until then. Programs at the Biscayne Bay campus and near the Tamiami Airport will also get underway in the fall. The services are free.

“It’s an idea whose time has come,” said Rosenberg. “We’re pumped, we’re ready to go.”

Nancy Dahlberg; 305-376-3595; @ndahlberg





April 26, 2016

Code Art Miami funds MDC scholarship to encourage women to get into animation, gaming

Members of Code Art Miami’s event committee present MDC with a check to fund a new scholarship for Animation and Gaming students at MAGIC. From left to right: Diana Bien Aime (MDC Wolfson Dean of Academic Affairs), Josie Goytisolo, Sofia Garcia, Mauricio Ferrazza (MAGIC Chairperson), Amy Austin Renshaw, Lander Basterra, Maria Mejia, Lisa Hauser and Allison Cammack.

By Amy Austin Renshaw

For the past two years I have had the privilege to be an instructor with the Girls Who Code Club at iPrep Academy. The club was founded last school year by then junior, Maria Mejia, who was inspired to get more girls into coding after completing the Girls Who Code summer immersion program. This year Maria wanted to do even more to inspire girls to learn to code, and from that was born the idea for Code Art Miami, an event aimed at encouraging more girls to learn to code by highlighting the creative side of computer science through a student digital art exhibition and speaker symposium. 

Volunteers from three local Girls Who Code Clubs (iPrep Academy, The Idea Center @ MDC, and Pinecrest Library) and CODeLLA, a local organization that teaches coding and tech skills to Latina girls, came together to plan the event, which was hosted in early February at the Miami Animation & Gaming International Complex (MAGIC) at MDC Wolfson Campus. The event was a great success with over 300 attendees and over 150 student submissions of art-generating programs that ran on digital flat screens throughout the event venue.

In addition to the event, Maria worked to establish the Code Art Miami Scholarship fund at MDC to give back to our host and to make a positive impact on more lives. "A disadvantaged student should not be limited by finances in order to pursue an education, especially when the odds are already against her. Just as I have been fortunate enough to have an entire network of supportive friends and mentors, the Code Art Miami scholarship is my way of providing those same resources to someone else,” said Maria. 

"In setting up the scholarship, we were amazed to learn that just $7,000 would cover tuition costs for one student for both years in the two-year MAGIC program,” said iPrep math teacher and Girls Who Code Club advisor Lisa Hauser. Funds for the scholarship were raised at the event through a silent auction, which included donations from Miami Heat player Chris Bosh and artist Ahol, and through continued post-event sales of a limited-edition print donated by London-based artist Ryca. By early April, we reached our fundraising goal, and on April 20th, Maria and the rest of the Code Art Miami planning committee presented MDC with a check for $7,000 to establish a scholarship fund for women or other underrepresented minorities enrolled in one of MAGIC’s two-year programs. “Currently only about one-fifth of gaming developers are women. This new scholarship will help encourage more women to enter this field,” said Mauricio Ferrazza, MAGIC Chairperson. 

Volunteers who helped Maria make the event and the scholarship fund a reality include my event co-chairJosie Goytisolo and executive planning committee members Lander Basterra, Allison Cammack, Marina Ganopolsky, Sophia Garcia and Lisa Hauser, all of whom share a passion for education — particularly computer science eduction — and a belief in its ability to change lives. Speaking for the group, Allison said, "Coding teaches problem-solving, teamwork, and tenacity. Whatever you can dream, coding gives you the tools to build. And with imagination and determination, you can change the world.” 

Work is already underway for next year’s event. We are reaching out now to area schools to schedule information sessions and workshops in the fall for both teachers and students in the hopes of involving more girls next year. In addition to including more students, we plan to add age brackets and categories for next year’s competition. “It was incredibly difficult to choose just three winners from this year’s submissions, which came from girls in grades 4-12 and included still images, 3D-printed art, animations, and interactive art programs,” said Head Judge Marina Ganopolsky. To learn more about Code Art Miami or schedule an information session at your school or club, email amy@codeart.miami.