August 31, 2015

Save the date: The free TigerDirect Tech Bash returns Nov. 6

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Scenes from Tiger Direct Tech Bash 2014

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Save the date:  The TigerDirect Tech Bash returns on Nov. 6 for an evening of innovation, emerging technology and interactive entertainment. Now in its fourth year, TigerDirect Tech Bash will take place at Miami Marlins Stadium from 6:30-10:30pm with free admission for all.

All Tech Bash attendees can not only see and experience products from some of the world’s leading tech brands, including Samsung, Intel, Lenovo, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, Western Digital, Logitech, and Alienware among others, but also purchase their favorite products anywhere in the ballpark. The Tech Bash app offers attendees one-night-only deals and lets buyers choose to have products shipped to their home for free, or pick them up at the TigerDirect pop up store located on the field.  

More than 18,000 people attended in 2014 and organizers are expecting more than 25,000 attendees this year.   “If you consider yourself an early adopter, gamer, love technology, or just want to know what to buy the technophile in your life, TigerDirect Tech Bash is the must-attend event of the year,” said Steven Leeds, Director of Marketing at TigerDirect.

While the Tech Bash is free, for $20 attendees can gain early access from 5:30-6:30 pm and see the latest technology with limited attendees and receive an official TigerDirect t-shirt, bag and $20 discount to the TigerDirect store. The first 100 early access attendees will also have the opportunity to meet Kevin O’Leary, aka “Mr. Wonderful” of ABC’s Shark Tank.

To learn more about Tech Bash or to register, visit www.TigerTechBash.com or follow on Twitter @TigerTechBash and Facebook.com/TigerTechBash.

See more scenes from last year's Tech Bash.

The Wynwood Yard to open a culinary incubator in Miami

Myumi

By Evan S. Benn / ebenn@MiamiHerald.com

The Wynwood Yard, a new community gathering space opening soon at 70 NW 29th St. in Miami, will be home to a culinary incubator that’s a little like Shark Tank meets The Great Food Truck Race with some Art Basel mixed in.

The Yard will host four pop-up food kiosks, along with a bar, in a green space with garden beds, shaded seating areas and communal tables. A focal point with be a prototypical container home from design start-up Wyn-Box, and local art and design elements will be present throughout.

The first two food tenants to sign on: Myumi, an omakase-style sushi truck (pictured above) that was previously parked a few blocks away in another Wynwood lot, and Della Test Kitchen, which will offer plant-based bowls, juices and sweets.

Della%20HeimanDella Heiman (pictured here), CEO and founder of The Wynwood Yard and Della Test Kitchen, said the space is aiming for a November grand opening.

Heiman has brought on chef Jeffrey Brana as her director of culinary operations. The former chef of Norman’s and Restaurant Brana in Coral Gables, Brana will oversee research and design and day-to-day operations of the Della food truck.

The Yard is accepting proposals from other potential food operators: apply at thewynwoodyard.com/read-me. Entrepreneurs with fitness, art, design or other creative ideas also are encouraged to apply.

“This is the kind of space where you can engage in activities all day,” Heiman said in a statement. “You can arrive in the morning for a sunrise yoga class ... maybe take an urban gardening class. In the evening, gather your friends and savor food and wine on a picnic blanket under the stars while enjoying live music or a speaker series.”

Every few months, the participating food start-ups will have a chance to pitch their concepts to investors, real estate developers and business owners, Heiman said.

“We’re building a collaborative ecosystem where entrepreneurs can rapidly test, iterate and incubate ideas on a daily basis,” she said. “Start-ups will continuously hone their product based on real-time customer feedback, resulting in surprising new experiences for guests each time they visit The Wynwood Yard.”

Jake Smith, a Brooklyn transplant who helped bring Myumi to Miami, said the Yard is “exactly the kind of cool, collaborative environment food start-ups like us are looking for in Miami.”

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/living/food-drink/article32855553.html#storylink=cpy

Miami Mini Maker Faire, now a 2-day festival, announces dates, new venue

Mini maker faire

Maker movement enthusiasts of all ages, save the dates: The Miami Mini Maker Faire returns for  a  two-day festival Feb. 20-21, 2016.

Expecting more than 5,000 attendees, the third Maker Faire will gather at the iconic campus of the National YoungArts Foundation  for a weekend full of inventions, performances and workshops by more than 150 local and regional innovators in science, technology, multi-disciplinary arts, education and design. The Faire is an opportunity for artists, engineers, tinkerers, entrepreneurs and educators to share their passions, connect with peers and inspire the next generation of makers.

Produced by MIAMade in association with Maker Media, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, Miami Mini Maker Faire is a community-focused event at the cross-section of a thriving cultural arts scene and burgeoning science and technology sector. It features local “makers” and entrepreneurs specializing in everything from robotics, DIY science and technology, and traditional handcrafts, to emerging talent in the visual, literary, design and performance arts. For 2016, YoungArts has joined the Faire as a title sponsor.

“Since its launch in 2013, Miami Mini Maker Faire sought to explore and celebrate the natural relationship between STEM and the arts by highlighting local and regional talent in these fields. Partnering with YoungArts for the 2016 festival really takes that mission to the next level and sets a new standard for representation of the arts in Maker Faires throughout the world,"  said MIAMade founder Ric Herrero.

For ticketing information, or to apply to exhibit your project, please visit makerfairemiami.com, and follow Miami Mini Maker Faire on Facebook and Twitter. The Call for Makers (exhibitors, performers, speakers and educators) is open through January 20, 2016. For inquiries, please email us at miamimakers@gmail.com.

 

 

August 30, 2015

Entrepreneurship Datebook: Workshops, events in South Florida

Tech eggACTION DESIGN MIAMI MEETUP: Topic will be behavioral economics and offer practical techniques you can use in products you're creating, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Rokk3r Labs, 1680 Michigan Avenue #815, Miami Beach. Register here.

EARLY STAGE INVESTING: Principals from SEEDCHANGE, a Silicon Valley early stage tech investment firm, lead an introduction to early-stage investing, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, mindwarehouse, 111 NE 1st Street, 8th Floor, Miami. More info: http://aninsidelookatearlystageinvest.splashthat.com

CODE FOR FORT LAUDERDALE: Presentation by Natasha Fernandez-Fountain: Lessons from a Code for America fellow, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Citrix, 851 West Cypress Road, Fort Lauderdale, More info: http://www.meetup.com/Code-for-FTL

BUILDING A BANKABLE BUSINESS: Workshop by SCORE Miami-Dade addresses lending resources, preparing a personal financial statement and alternative financing strategies, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, 2000 Ponce Business Center, 2000 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables, Room 569 5th Floor. More info: miamidade.score.org.

STARTING GATE

FIU unveiled its $3 million Tech Station, Daymond John came to town, Sime MIA announced new dates, investors and format and HelloDotMiami is taking reservations for the .Miami domain name. Keep up with these stories and more startup news, resources, events and community views on the Starting Gate blog on MiamiHerald.com/business.

Nancy Dahlberg @ndahlberg

August 28, 2015

Celebrity in the house: Daymond John shares his advice at Thrive Seminar

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Daymond John started his $6 billion clothing empire FUBU in his mother's basement with just $40. Thursday, the celebrity Shark Tank host and author came to Miami to share some of his secrets of success.

To the highly fashionable audience of 450 people who packed the Colony Theater on Lincoln Road for the first Thrive Seminar, presented by The Nelson Foundation, John shared advice on authentic branding, extremely important in the age of social media. “You are the brand before anything else, you have to be able to put yourself in two to five words,” said John, author of The Brand Within. “If you don’t know what you stand for, you leave it to us to interpret who you are.”

What characteristics separate successful entrepreneurs from the pack> “The successful ones don’t call failure failure; they know it is part of the process,” he said. “And the successful ones absolutely love what they do. They would do whatever they are doing for free if they could.”

The Shark’s advice for getting started: “Take affordable next steps. Don’t mortgage the farm just because you have this idea. ... you have to try to sell, then sell more and then sell more.”

Saying that he was challenged to find like-minded people and mentors when he was getting started with FUBU, he advised the audience to build a mastermind group of people around them with the same objectives to pull one another through the tough times. And, he said, be brutally honest with yourself on why you are starting a company. “If you are doing it for fame, for money, you are not going to make it.”

Visualize your goal and build a strategy to get there, and finally, do your homework, said John, who has spoken in Miami several times, including in conjunction with Miller Lite’s Tap the Future contest and at an Entrepreneurs’ Organization global conference. “You will never create something new in this world again. You may have a new angle or a new delivery system, but it won’t be new, so you have to find out what other people did that made mistakes and what other people did that were successful.”

Giving a shout-out to his mother in the audience, he even had some advice for parents: “Follow @sharkmommajohn, she’ll give you information on how to raise a Shark.”

John said he will be continuing to work with the entrepreneurs he invests in through Shark Tank for years to come; Aventura-based AquaVault is one of his most recent Shark Tank investments. As to what’s next, he said, he’ll be involved in educating people about dyslexia, a condition he has too. “Twenty percent of the world is dyslexic, four out of six the Sharks are dyslexic, ... 85 percent of professional chefs and 40 percent of entrepreneurs are dyslexic,” he said. Testing and early diagnosis is key because there are no drugs you can take. “As a kid, the only thing to do is to learn more and read more and do more work.”

Finally, he said he also wants to work to take illegal guns off the street. “I am going after as many corporations as I can and all the rappers to get involved; I’d like to see five anti-gun drives happening every single weekend in our cities.”

The 50-minute-talk and audience Q&A, which ended with a group selfie, was just one part of Thursday’s Thrive Seminar, which was designed to expose participants to successful and put on by The Nelson Foundation with support from community partners. The Nelson Foundation’s mission is to fuel the entrepreneurial spirit of under-represented communities through investment, mentoring and education.

Leading up to the Thrive Seminar, The Nelson Foundation selected three entrepreneurs to pitch their emerging business concepts in front of a panel of judges – Brett David, owner of Lamborghini Miami; Bernard Stewart, music entrepreneur and vice president of ESPN; Nabyl Charania, CEO of Rokk3r Labs; Will Stute, lawyer and private euqity investor; and Dawn Dickson, CEO of Flat Out Heels – and the audience.

After the pitches, the judges chose Smpfly, pitched by Lester Mapp and Teon Prudent, a concept that will use proprietary algorithyms to match the right social media influencers with branding campaigns. The judges independently decided to add to the pot: Rokk3r Labs, which helps build high-growth companies, will take Smpfly through its “Think Phase” to develop a solid plan to take to market and then Stute will allow Smpfly to pitch to his private equity firm for a serious investment. The other two finalists were Chris Filsaime of Rain Up, a product for automobiles that detects rainfall and automatically closes windows and sunroofs, and Michael Hall of Kurator, a platform to make art as accessible as music.

Al Nelson, chairman of The Nelson Foundation, said he asked John to kick off the inaugural Thrive Seminar because John gave him his first big opportunity. Nelson pitched on Shark Tank three years ago and John and Mark Cuban invested in his company, EzVip.com.

“From there I knew that anything was possible and I was able to scale and create other companies but it started with them believing in me,” Nelson said. “I always thought when I am in position to help someone else I would ... so we created The Nelson Foundation, and we want to grow with every entrepreneur.”

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

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Lester Mapp, right, and Teon Prudent pitch Smpfly, which won $10,000 and other prizes at Thursday's Thrive Seminar. Photos by Nancy Dahlberg.

 

August 27, 2015

Help send Miami-based Tio Gazpacho to national contest finals

Samuel Adams and Entrepreneur announced that Tío Gazpacho is a finalist for the Brewing the American Dream Pitch Room Wild Card Competition hosted on Entrepreneur.com.  The virtual competition invited food and beverage small business owners from across the country to upload a two-minute video of their best sales pitch, which was then evaluated by a panel of experts from Samuel Adams and Entrepreneur.

Based in Miami, Tío Gazpacho makes three varieties of gazpacho that are USDA certified organic, non-GMO, gluten-free and vegan, and redefines the way Americans consume soup by offering it in a convenient drinkable format,

Tío Gazpacho’s video has been posted on Entrepreneur.com, as well as submissions from five other finalists, and the general public is now invited to vote for their favorite through September 7th. The small business owner who receives the most votes for his/her sales pitch will be named the Wild Card winner and receive a trip to participate in the Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream Pitch Room finals this December in New York City where they will compete for a $10,000 business grant and extended mentoring from Samuel Adams.

August 26, 2015

FIU inaugurates $3 million Tech Station in community event

 

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/technology/article32486670.html#storylink=cpy

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From left, John Aguilar, Kelly O’Connell, Renee Brown work in a hardware laboratory in Florida International University’s new Tech Station at its main campus in west Miami-Dade County. The $3 million center will serve as a hub for student innovation and preparation for technology jobs. Below, Caitlin Lima, right, and Diana Gonzalez in a study hall at Florida International University’s  Tech Station. Photos by PETER ANDREW BOSCH MIAMI HERALD STAFF

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

With a ribbon-cutting and an open house with executives from South Florida’s largest technology companies and promising startups, Florida International University inaugurated its $3 million Tech Station on Wednesday.

The new 8,000-square-foot College of Engineering and Computing facility, 16 months in the making, includes high-tech classrooms, team rooms, advisory centers for mentoring, research and computer labs, a maker garage, event spaces for community events, workshops and hackathons, brightly colored co-working areas and a café.

The classrooms, where big data, cybersecurity, cloud computing and other subjects will be taught, include mobile desks and in-the-round instruction, and they are complemented with smaller team rooms decked out with 70-inch screens where four people can hook up their laptops and collaborate on projects, said Steve Luis, director of technology and business relations for the School of Computing and Information Sciences. He spearheaded the Tech Station project, located in the first floor of Parking Lot 6.

“We know that this community and state need our talent,” FIU President Mark Rosenberg said in remarks at the event, attended by more than 150 community members, FIU faculty and students. “We also know FIU graduates have the highest starting salaries of any university in the state. Let’s keep the momentum going.”

Much of the talk during a panel discussion involving executives from IBM, Citrix, Ultimate Software, Game Changer Tec, Alta Systems, Refresh Miami and Rokk3r Labs was about how corporations can collaborate with universities to help turn out talented students not only for big companies located here, but who also will create their own companies as part of South Florida’s startup ecosystem.

“Citrix, quite frankly, has had to import a lot of our talent. We have to look here first — the talent is right here,” said Chris Fleck, vice president of emerging solutions for Citrix. “We think there is more we can do to step this up.” Fort Lauderdale-based Citrix recently bought a South Florida startup, Virtu.al, and Fleck reminded the crowd of the power of an ecosystem – Citrix’s first 10 employees came from IBM.

Also announced on Wednesday was Ultimate Software’s $1 million donation to help fund Tech Station. Part of the funding will go to expand the existing Ultimate Software Academy, which trains high school teachers and students. “We want to scale this out with Miami-Dade Public Schools to bring in as many teachers and students as we can for advanced training, workshops and programs,” Luis said, adding that the “Innovation Garage” maker space will host hackathons, coding clubs and programs like Girls Who Code.

Ultimate Software, homegrown and based in Weston and now with 2,600 employees, began an internship program with FIU in 2007 and has hired more than 100 FIU engineers into full-time jobs, said Adam Rogers, Ultimate’s chief technology officer. He said the college listens to suggestions and is quick to improve the curriculumn.

Rogers said the partnership goes beyond the financial contribution. “We think the bigger contribution is embedding ourselves with [FIU’s] faculty and students for years to come.”

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

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Shadeh Ferris Francis, left, demonstrates a version of "RoboCop," which would enable disabled police and military officers to remotely conduct patrols, at FIU’s Tech Station on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015.  PETER ANDREW BOSCH MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/education/article32483427.html#storylink=cpy

 

August 25, 2015

South Florida's consumer product makers are on the ball

BY NANCY DAHLBERG

ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

  • “We kept hearing ‘you really have something here.’ If you hear that enough, you can’t give up,” said Joseph Signorile, who is part of a team developing an innovative fitness product.

Signorile is part of South Florida’s fast-growing cadre of new entrepreneurs. In June, Miami landed at No. 2 on the Kauffman Foundation’s index for startup activity, just behind Austin, Texas, and ahead of Silicon Valley. People often equate “startup” with “high tech,” but Kauffman’s index includes all kinds of new businesses, including consumer product companies. South Florida is no different. In the Miami Herald’s annual Business Plan Challenge, for instance, typically 30 to 40 percent of the entries involve consumer products such as foods, fashion products, gadgets and accessories.

Yet product companies face challenges different from service businesses. Along with the common business needs of office systems, staffing, accounting and marketing, product entrepreneurs often also need to foot the cost of product development and manufacturing long before they see their first dollar in sales.

“Cash flow is a huge issue — they get the contracts and then they don’t have the cash flow in order to deliver,” said Pandwe Gibson, founder of EcoTech Visions, an incubator for local green manufacturing startups.

Investment capital is a challenge too, as most banks want to see two to three years of tax returns that startups don’t yet have, she said. Venture and angel funds more typically flock to high-growth tech companies; in the case of consumer products, investors want to see sales. But the entrepreneurs still need capital to build their prototype and engineer the manufacturing process.

Some incubators and grant programs help entrepreneurs line up investment. But working with a variety of interests — manufacturers, suppliers and retailers — to get the costs down is critical. “Retailers often want unrealistic markups. People need to learn to compromise and work together,” said Sam Hollander, managing director of Concept One International, which has taken hundreds of products to market.

Distribution is another critical requirement — one that has become concentrated. Most product makers need to crack WalMart, Target or Amazon if they want to build a $100 million company, said Robert Hacker, who teaches entrepreneurship at Florida International University’s Honors College and is an instructor and mentor for the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program at Miami Dade College.

“To succeed with those three, you have to become really effective at your own messaging,” he said. “Today the consumer pulls, the retailers no longer push the product. … You’ve got to be able to advertise and self-promote a lot more effectively because there is so much more competition.”

Like tech companies, consumer product companies should keep in-house those functions that are critical to success — such as product development, sales and customer experience — and outsource or take on partners to handle manufacturing, distribution and logistics, Hacker advises.

“Consumer companies tend to grow in stages, zero to $1 million in revenue is the proof of concept stage, $1 million to $3 million is where you’re seeking a depth of customers in your product-market fit, and $3 million to $10 million is where you are learning to scale,” said Hacker. But too often, Hacker says, companies get to the $1 million mark and stay there. “These companies provide their owners with a living and the owners get comfortable but they are afraid to push on. You just can’t get stuck at a million dollars.”

And as with tech companies, big payouts are possible — with the right innovative product and a sizable market opportunity. Take Spanx, for example. Founder Sara Blakely started her company in her Atlanta apartment with $5,000 at age 29. Twelve years later, her company generated $250 million in revenue, according to Forbes.

Few companies will become the proverbial overnight success story that often actually takes 10 or 15 years, said Jack Chadam, a marketing expert and mentor at FAU Tech Runway, an accelerator for startups. A big hit takes perseverance — and perhaps a little bit of luck.

“The challenge for an entrepreneur is to have something that is unique that you can protect and you can own, affording you with the first mover advantage — and you can do a heck of a lot with your product or other versions down the line,” said Chadam. “But it takes a real entrepreneur, not someone playing the entrepreneur. It takes someone who truly gets it, who truly understands the hustle and commitment.”

South Florida’s young product companies are riding entrepreneurial roller coasters. Here are a few of their startup stories.

KEEP AN EYE ON THE BEST BALL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SHARK LOCKS UP DEAL WITH AQUAVAULT

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Ever wonder what a Shark Tank appearance can do for your business?

AquaVault, maker of portable safes that can be locked onto the backs of beach chairs or onto bikes or even dorm room closet bars, not only got funded on the show, but the deal survived post-show due diligence. That puts the team in an impressive minority.

Daymond John, the Shark who tasted opportunity on the show and bit, is now an investor, said Jonathan Kinas, CEO, who would not disclose terms of the investment.

“He is fully involved in the business. He has been instrumental in preparing us with certain deal structures and providing us with contacts and key insights that have been instrumental in making strategic decisions,” said Kinas. He and friends Avin Samtani and Robert Peck founded the Aventura company in 2014 after their valuables were stolen while they were enjoying the pool at a SouthBeach resort. The patented small, hard lockable case is large enough to easily hold a wallet, keys, smartphone and other valuables and can be locked onto a bar attached to a chair or bicycle.

In March, the month the Shark Tank show aired, the company logged about $100,000 in sales, more than the previous year, Kinas said. Customers now include retailers at hotels, water parks, theme parks, casinos, cruise ships and boutique stores, and individuals who purchase online at www.theaquavault.com. SeaWorld is a customer, and Disney World and Norwegian Cruise Line are testing the product, he said. “We are getting inquiries from distributors around the world on a weekly basis, and we attribute that to the publicity fromShark Tank.”

Calling entrepreneurship “the perfect roller coaster,” Kinas said big challenges have included developing a distribution strategy and figuring out how to market the product.

Shark Tank has helped with both.

“We are working harder now than we were before Shark Tank. Along with all the opportunities comes more hard work and efforts to make all these opportunities turn into success. To manage a business that explodes overnight, you have to prepare yourself for the unexpected,” said Kinas. “Any time we have any situations where we need a little bit of insight or a veteran’s opinion, we give Daymond a call.”

The AquaVault team appeared on HSN in July with John and sold out of 500 AcquaVaults in 10 minutes, said Kinas. The team has had interest from investors but currently is not raising capital, Kinas said.

“It’s always exciting to walk to the beach and see the product being used by people and knowing that we were drawing it on a napkin a few years ago.”

BLOQUV SEES A BRIGHT FUTURE

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BloqUV is now in more than 6,650 retail stores and does a robust online business. But about five years ago, when the venture was just getting under way, the future didn’t look so bright for the company that makes sun protective active wear.

“I started it with my BFF who is no longer my BFF,” said Corina Biton, who had worked in marketing and public relations. “She had the apparel experience, I had the marketing, but it was all my money, my debt. so when it didn’t work out, I was left holding this bag of the business.”

To fund the business, she cashed out her 401(k), took out a loan on the equity in her condo, and sold her jewelry and artwork. She found a high-quality pattern maker, and learned the business on the go.

The first couple of years were particularly tough, but she found some help by locating her company in a Miami building full of both young and more mature fashion companies to share best practices and offer advice. Suddenly, the journey wasn’t as lonely.

Biton began selling her line to surf and swim stores, country clubs, golf stores, tennis stores, running stores, dermatologist offices and resorts and spas. Since 2011, business has been doubling every year, she said. She hopes to be in 900 stores by year’s end and expects to end the year with about $2.2 million in revenue. Online sales at Bloquv.com are growing steadily as more people discover her brand; it’s now about 15 percent of her business.

Like other entrepreneurs, Biton says cash flow is a continuing challenge. Small manufacturers typically have to pay in full when a shipment is delivered — even if the factory delivers more goods than the order specified. And the small business doesn’t make revenue until the items are sold.

“In the beginning, [the business] was a money pit. It sucked more than double what I thought it would. Now it is finally easier, but cash flow is still an issue. ... Business is doing great, knock on wood, but now I have to produce double.”

The sales cycle can take up to six months, particularly with private-label logoed products, because the order may sit in line for two weeks for embroidery before the clothing is put on the rack. After items are invoiced, BloqUV may not be paid for weeks or months. Now, finally, her manufacturer is willing to extend her credit.

Biton also has learned the customer is always right — even when the customer washes the item in bleach (a no-no in the care instructions) and then complains. (The company simply ate the cost.) And unexpected problems will creep up.

One year, “the yarn [made specifically for BloqUV] got damaged and [the manufacturer] had to start from scratch. That is a 30-day process,” said Biton. She lost the entire summer season.

BloqUV’s soft, sun protective clothing blocks 98 percent of the sun’s rays. It has always done well in the golf and tennis market, said Biton, in part because the company makes garments with long sleeves: “You’ll see other brands with UV but short sleeves, which sort of defeats the purpose.”

She said the clothing lasts six to seven years if washed correctly. “Our UV doesn’t wash away because we don’t dip it.”

Biton and her team log about 200 national and regional trade show days a year, where buyers purchase for the season. This month BloqUV exhibited at the Summer Outdoor Retailers Show in Salt Lake City with 27,000 buyers in attendance to exploit new market opportunities — the hiking market, marine stores and lifetime fitness, said Biton. She’s also recently added the ski market and will be hitting the Running Show in December.

Her expanding line is now in 20 colors and includes about 1,000 SKUs; most items are priced between $60 and $80. BloqUV recently added a crop top, a turtle neck for women, another running top, a men’s mock neck and a beach coverup. So far, she hasn’t touched the kid’s market. They grow out of the clothing too fast and she can’t get the price down enough, though she does offer extra extra small for women and small for men.

BloqUV’s biggest territory is Florida, followed by California. “My first customer was the Fontainebleau, and I’ll never forget that,” said Biton. It’s still a loyal customer.

TONE-Y-BANDS FIND A FITTING FAN BASE

Tone-y-Bands Janice Haley

Sometimes innovation is best achieved by taking an existing idea and improving it, said Janice Haley, founder and CEO of Tone-y-Bands, a new fitness product. She’s been through the entrepreneurial journey before. She and her husband Steve launched, grew and went public within seven years with Celsius, a Boca Raton company that created a calorie-burning drink that took off.

The Tone-y-Band is a stylish wrist band with weights that feels more like a comfortable watch than smelly Velcroed weight belts. So much so that customers are also wearing them outside the gym — like when they are doing the dishes.

VIDEO: Tone-y-Bands provide a stylish way to wear weights

In fact, the idea came to the Haleys about two years ago when her husband was at the sink and wondered if there was a way to get more exercise from the dish-washing experience. The first iteration was a bangle, but later became a black or white watch-like band weighing a half-pound or one pound.

“My passion is helping busy people fit fitness into their lives,” said Haley, who secured a manufacturer in China and is seeking one in the U.S. She began testing her product in 2013 and launched in late 2014. The product sells on toneybands.com and in some exercise studios.

To refine the bands, Haley has been testing them with customers to get feedback on the look and feel, colors and weight. She opened and manned a kiosk at BocaTownCenter mall and sold them for four months this spring. “I learned a lot about my core consumer,” said Haley. “One market I didn’t think about was dog walkers; 90 percent of the people who came up walked dogs and wanted to get more exercise out of the experience.”

She also was recently accepted into FAU Tech Runway, an accelerator and entrepreneurship center run by the university but open to the community. “What I was most interested in was the mentors. I found they had everything you need from legal, accounting, operations, production and marketing, and they help prepare you for asking for funding.”

One of those mentors, branding expert Jack Chadam, had a connection with the Zumba program, the South Florida-based global fitness sensation. Next thing she knew, Haley had a meeting, and then was invited to exhibit her product at Zumba’s annual high-energy convention of 7,000 influential fitness instructors from around the world. Another of her mentors, Jean Evans, joined her in her Zumba booth.

“I had tested Tone-y-Bands in Zumba classes and [the instructors and students] loved it. They called them sexy, so I knew they would do well there.” During the four-day show, she sold out of some styles and had requests from studio owners to sell and stock Tone-y-Bands. Zumba instructors often also teach other fitness classes where Tone-y-Bands would be appropriate — such as barre, piloxing, step, yoga and spin.

Haley hopes to partner with Zumba on a private label product. She would also like to take her product to HSN or QVC.

One of her biggest challenges, she said, has been having limited resources. “As an entrepreneur, you do it all — accounting, sales, marketing. Many times, it’s the first time you’ve done something so there is a learning process, which takes additional time. That makes it hard to stay focused on the goals you’ve set.” FAU Tech Runway has helped her set goals and monitor progress.

So far, Haley’s pursuit has been self-funded with an investment of about $140,000. “It shows we have confidence in the product and the brand.”

SNOW LIZARD EVOLVES TO CONQUER

Snow Lizar_2 (3)

Snow Lizard may be just as resilient as the products it makes.

The Miami maker of a line of products that turn iPhones and iPads into outdoor electronics launched its Xtreme line with a successful Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign in early 2012, raising about $200,000. By the end of the year, the first version of its iPhone4 product was shipped.

“What we learned is there was a lot more uses for phones and tablets in the outdoors. Our SLXtreme line will convert an iPad into the poor man’s marine electronics for boating — that in itself is a big market,” said Steve Calle, CEO and co-founder of Snow Lizard, which sells its products globally now through Amazon and its own website, snowlizardproducts.com. Whether people want to take pictures or videos underwater, or use all the apps and not worry about the power, Snow Lizard not only powers and protects but enhances the personal device, said Calle. “It’s waterproof, solar powered battery powered, rugged — all together in one device.”

Reviews have been favorable — USA Today said “The SLXTreme cases from Snow Lizard take protection to an almost absurd level” — but being a consumer product company, the course is not always easy. Snow Lizard raised some capital from angel investors that enabled it to launch more products, such as its iPad and iPhone5 version, as well as waterproof cases. The company is packing more features in too, such as GPS inside an iPad model, and there is more to come with sensors and apps so the cases can do more, Calle said. An iPhone6 version is coming soon and available on pre-order.

But as with so many other product companies, manufacturing problems almost submerged the small company.

“We’ve had so many issues. It is really difficult to be a hardware company and be completely dependent on the factory,” said Calle, formerly director of engineering for Alienware. “If something happens you won’t get product. Without product, you won’t get revenue. With no revenue, it will be difficult to survive.

“We are dependent on Apple, so every time Apple changes its phones we have to change our product. Our factory lost its [Apple] certification, and we didn’t deliver for the holiday season. It was a big mess, but we are getting back on our feet and climbing out of it. We are on the move,” said Calle. To minimize risk, Snow Lizard is now working with two different Apple-certified Chinese factories.

Snow Lizard recently joined the incubator at downtown Miami’s Venture Hive and partnered with strategic investors who are experts in sales and logistics. “It’s personally challenging trying to grow a company by yourself. You don’t have all the answers and there are only so many people who can relate to you without being in the trenches,” said Calle. “Now these partners are handling big parts of the business and I don’t have to worry about it because I know they will do a good job.”

The next step is big retailers, and Calle is talking to boating, marine, outdoor and consumer electronics chains. Snow Lizard is also raising capital, seeking about $1.5 million.

Every Thursday at Venture Hive, Calle shares issues his company has confronted with other emerging hardware entrepreneurs.

“I tell them ... you have to have a great product and you have to be a great marketing company. This is what we learned at Alienware. We were competing with the likes of Dell and H-P and all these guys, and we stayed true to the marketing efforts of being high end and niche and gaming. ... We are sticking to our niches of high end, marine and outdoor, and if you market yourself very well, you can become a market leader in that niche and you can start playing with the mainstream guys.

“And that is how you grow exponentially.”

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

BEST BALL

Founders: Joseph Signorile, Samuel Hollander

Time frame: Five years since inception, product is ready, now seeking marketing partners.

Development costs so far: About $250,000

AQUAVAULT

Founders: Jonathan Kinas, Avin Samtani and Robert Peck

Time frame: 18 months since inception; the team appeared on Shark Tank in March, catapulting sales and opportunities.

Development costs: The team invested “six figures” before Shark Tank funding.

BLOQUV

Founder: Corina Biton

Time frame: Launched in 2009; sales began doubling annually in 2011; now in 665 stores and online.

Development costs: About $400,000

TONE-Y-BANDS

Founder: Janice Haley

Time frame: Two years since inception; launched the product on toneybands.com in 2014.

Development costs so far: About $140,000

SNOW LIZARD

Founders: Steve Calle, Andreas Haase

Timeframe: Launched successful Kickstarter for Xtreme line iPhone case in 2012; later added features and added models for the iPad, iPhone5 and other devices.

Funding raised: $600,000 from angels and strategic investors; $200,000 from Kickstarter.

 

Green product businesses get help at EcoTech Visions

Ecotech- barbara jacques 2

BY NANCY DAHLBERG / ndahlberg@MiamiHerald.com

Everything was humming along for Barbara Jacques (pictured above), who followed her passion and started Jacq’s Organics at her kitchen table. She was selling her all-natural skin, bath and body care products online, at farmers’ markets and charity events, and received favorable reviews and press. Then:

“Six months after I quit my day job and was all in, I got calls from huge companies and we couldn’t fulfill the orders.”

Pandwe Gibson, founder of the incubator EcoTech Visions, doesn’t want cash flow to be an insurmountable hurdle for Jacques or other entrepreneurs. That’s why a big focus of her new program is helping early-stage companies with raising capital and managing manfacturing processes.

Seeing local manufacturing as a job generator and believing local product entrepreneurs were underserved, Gibson opened EcoTech in west MiamiShores to serve green businesses. The current 20 member businesses include Aeolus, an electric motorcycle company; Earthware, a sustainable cutlery maker; Culito de Rana, creator of all-natural topical applications to soothe sunburns and prevent mosquito bites; Precision Barber Club, which makes skin-care products; and Fruit of Life Organics, builder of aquaponic systems.

EcoTech offers coworking space, workshops and mentorship and helps raise capital. Gibson is raising funds herself to add a manufacturing area so that incubator companies can make products onsite. She’s already been granted $450,000 from Miami-DadeCounty; much of that money she makes available to the member companies in the form of $25,000 loans. EcoTech also helped seven of its companies win $10,000 CRA grants to help fund their prototypes.

Gibson is helping three South Florida companies — Earthware, D Squared Engineering and Konie Cups — to pursue a joint school board contract. Developers do that all the time, so why not other companies? she thought. Earthware offers sustainable cutlery, Coney offers cups, and D Squared offers containers.

“Who wouldn’t want a sustainable fork if it costs the same as a plastic fork?” asked Gibson. But a big challenge for these companies is securing large enough contracts to get the manufacturing costs down.

EcoTech also helps entrepreneurs with their investor presentations and encourages them to join pitch competitions. Seven of them will be pitching at the upcoming Thrive Seminar with Daymond John on Thursday.

The incubator also is helping Jacq’s Organics with a business plan, pitch deck, human resources needs, and connections, Jacques said.

Jacq’s Organics curently works out of a 600-square-foot studio in DaniaBeach certified for light manufacturing. Raising capital investment and applying for grants has been a big challenge; investors and granting organizations don’t work on a startup schedule and “you jump through a lot of hoops just to be told no,” she said.

Jacques is now working with a couple of large companies to break up the big orders into more manageable shipments. In one case, she’s filling an order for 200,000 pieces in 60,000 increments, while continuing to service smaller orders from boutique businesses, a never-ending challenge for a small business, she said. “I’m looking at 600 bars of soap right now that I need to get out tonight.” But there are worse problems to have.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

Ecotech_EARTHWARE_CPJ (2)

Michael Caballero, CEO of Earthware, left, and Pandwe A. Gibson, CEO/executive director at EcoTech Visions are photographed at the incubator helping 25 green product companies in the Miami-Dade area. Earthware makes sustainable cutlery. Carl Juste MIAMI HERALD STAFF

 

A sampling of resources for South Florida's product entrepreneurs

  Moonlighter 2

BY NANCY DAHLBERG ndahlberg@MiamiHerald.com

Get out of the garage — and into a maker space, incubator or entrepreneurship program. For consumer product startups, there’s no reason the journey needs to be solitary.

A growing number entrepreneurial resources are available to help consumer product companies in South Florida. Here are just a few:

Inspiration and collaboration: Maker spaces are popping up all over South Florida. For a membership fee, maker spaces provide the space, tools for designing, prototyping and fabricating your next innovation in a community of like-minded people who can help get the creative juices flowing. They often also provide workshops and events.

For example, Moonlighter Makerspace (pictured above) opened this month at 2041 NW 2nd Place in Miami. Members get access to tools that include a Makerbot 3D-printing lab, laser cutter, CNC Mill, a LittleBits Circuit Lab, handheld 3D-printing pens and industrial sewing machines. It’s one of a handful scattered around the tri-county area.

Co-working spaces also bring the like-minded creators together, and some, such as The LAB Miami, provide maker gatherings and workshops. Some like MADE at the Citidel also include maker spaces. A new co-warehousing space in Miami’s Little River area for product entrepreneurs and artists is in the works by Pipeline Workspaces that will include co-working spaces and conference areas, storage space for products, shared shipping and logistics support and a coffee shop.

Developing the business: Locally, incubators and accelerators provide mentoring services and important connections for product entrepreneurs, and engineering shops will provide services to develop your prototype. In addition, agencies such as SCORE (score.miamidade.org and broward.score.org) and the Florida Small Business Development Centers, including a relatively new center at Florida International University (SBDC.FIU.EDU), as well as university programs provide mentoring and workshops on various aspects of building a business. A fashion startup incubator, a project spearheaded by the Beacon Council and Macy’s, is expected to open in the next year.

Tech Runway , the Boca Raton entrepreneurship center and accelerator open to the community, as well as FAU students, is getting ready to welcome its third class of startups. The accelerator offers a 12-week program, where the companies are matched with teams of mentors and given workspace and $25,000 in grant funding. Tech Runway is industry-agnostic, so product companies mix with tech companies. When its space is complete, it also will include a maker space, said its director, Kimberly Gramm. In Miami, EcoTech Visions is a specialized incubator for green product manufacturers (see sidebar).

Businesses at least two years old with at least four employees and $150,000 or more in annual revenue can apply to Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses at Miami Dade College. The free program provides 12 weeks of intense classroom instruction through a curriculum developed by Babson College, mentorship, networking and ongoing support even after program is over, said executive director John Hall. Applications are now open for the program’s seventh cohort; more than 120 entrepreneurs have graduated so far from the program that launched locally about 18 months ago. The Small Business Administration offers a free seven-month program for qualifying businesses called Emerging Leaders.

In addition, a number of businesses provide engineering services catering to startups and investors. Blue Ring Technologies is one example of a one-stop-shop for all kinds of services under one roof. Founder Jay Prendes developed the Davie company when he had trouble finding services to manufacture his own product several years ago. Today, its clients include independent inventors to large companies, and it can help with design, prototyping and small-batch manufacturing.

Protecting the business: The Institute for Commercialization of Public Research recently launched the Florida Patent Pro Bono Program in partnership with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The program links qualified inventors and small businesses with volunteer patent agents and attorneys who provide pro bono legal assistance on specific aspects of the patent process.

The Institute will match low-income inventors with patent lawyers. “It’s an issue of fairness and economic development. When you unlock that innovation, that is how you make a difference,” said Jennifer McDowell, USPTO pro bono coordinator in an interview earlier this year. “And once these matches get made and the patent applications get filed, we want the inventions to turn into money-making machines.”

If accepted into the Florida Patent Pro Bono Programwww.florida-institute.com/FloBono, applicants may expect exposure to intellectual property experts, support in certain aspects of the patent application process and partnership opportunities to enhance business development. The legal services would be free; the inventors would still need to pay the patent filing fees but could qualify for steep discounts.

Show me the money: Venture capital and angel-funding dollars typically go to high-growth technology startups, and consumer product startups often have to think outside that box. Consumer products often play well on Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms.

Companies making coffee makers, boating accessories, toys, educational products, food and fashions have all appeared in recent crowdfunding campaigns. Several South Florida consumer product makers have excelled recently on Kickstarter and Indigogo, including BeatBuddy, a musician’s foot pedal machine for drum sounds, and Kabaccha Shoes, a men’s line with colorful soles.

Currently, 136 Miami-area products and projects are vying for funders on Kickstarter. Still, crowdfunding campaigns require time and strategic planning and aren’t for everyone. Kickstarter’s success rate is just 37 percent.

Other avenues open to consumer-product entrepreneurs: friends and family investments, loans, government grants and loan programs including Miami Bayside Foundation, and pitch contests, such as the upcoming Thrive Seminar with Daymond John on Thursday.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.