Want to know about Miami startups? A user's guide to this blog

Dear reader, Starting Gate has been providing and archiving South Florida startup and tech community news, views and resources since 2012. New to the Miami area? Thinking about relocating here? Just want to keep up with news, events and opportunities? We're there for you.

How to use Starting Gate: Besides scrolling the blog for the latest entries, you can access news and views by category. The "Funding" category will capture venture capital and angel funding news of individual startups as well as stories about funders. The startup categories chronicle news and my regular "Spotlights," and in Q&As you'll find interviews with CEOs and leaders in the entrepreneurship ecosystem. There are also categories for guest posts, views, accelerators/incubators, resources, events and more.

Have news? Have an idea for a guest post? Send it to me at ndahlbergbiz@gmail.com. (See my Facebook announcement here)

Thank you for your support through the years and please come back often. Follow me on Twitter @ndahlberg. - Sincerely, Nancy Dahlberg

September 14, 2017

NFTE among organizations receiving new Knight funding

Submitted by Knight Foundation

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced more than $590,000 in new funding for three projects aimed at fostering community among entrepreneurs and tech innovators while advancing the city as a diverse and inclusive innovation hub.

From an innovation district designed to support emerging entrepreneurs and add vibrancy to Miami’s Opa-locka neighborhood to a technology entrepreneurship course for young people to a newly-launched nonprofit that will provide promising local entrepreneurs access to the startup world’s top resources and leaders, the projects focus on supporting and propelling entrepreneurs across the community. They also work to expand opportunity for groups that are underrepresented in the technology sector.

“Ensuring Miamians have access to the opportunities they need to scale their ideas and solve the problems they care about is essential to creating an inclusive innovation ecosystem. These projects will help to diversify Miami’s pipeline of technologists and entrepreneurs and enable Miami startups to access the best resources in new and low cost ways,” said Chris Caines, Knight Foundation interim program director for Miami.  

The projects receiving support:

NFTE - Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship ($250,000) – Helping young, aspiring entrepreneurs develop their entrepreneurial mindset by expanding Startup Tech, a technology entrepreneurship course for middle and high school students from underserved neighborhoods. The program provides students the opportunity to develop a working mobile app-based business, as well as entrepreneurship training. As part of the program,students create an original app that addresses a community need, craft a business plan and, pitch the plan to a panel of expert judges for the chance to win funding. With Knight support, NFTE will expand the program to five program sites in greater Miami public schools.

Opa-locka Community Development Corporation ($135,000) – Expanding opportunity and entrepreneurship in Opa-locka by supporting the THRIVE campus’ innovation lab and makerspace, and urban farm and market. At the innovation lab Opa-locka residents will be trained to use new media and technology, and earn marketable industry certifications, while sharing resources and knowledge in a co-working space. The urban farm will allow people to help build and manage the farm, and offer them agriculture, marketing, and training opportunities. The urban market will transform a vacant lot into a community and retail space, including redesigned shipping containers where local entrepreneurs can sell the farm’s produce and food from the campus’ commercial kitchen.

Platform.Miami ($208,000) – Supporting early stage entrepreneurs through the newly-launched Platform.Miami, a nonprofit which will provide promising local entrepreneurs access to the startup world’s top resources and leaders. The organization will offer online and offline education opportunities and services to help entrepreneurs better structure, setup and scale their startups. To this end, Platform will create "The Playbook,” a resource for best practices on product-market fit, business models, digital marketing, legal structure, and attracting venture capital. It will also showcase a selected list of top service providers to help entrepreneurs find the best professional services to support their growth.

Support for these projects is part of Knight Foundation’s broader effort to invest in Miami’s emerging innovators and entrepreneurs as a tool to build community while fostering talent and expanding economic opportunity. Over the past five years Knight has made more than 200 investments in entrepreneurship in South Florida.

September 02, 2017

When children build for real clients: A summer filled with collaboration, creativity and community

  Moonlighter-Urban Hacking

By Tom Pupo and Daisy Nodal

Each Summer, we host our Summer S.T.E.A.M. maker camps that engage kids in hands-on projects exploring Design Thinking, Electronics, Sustainable Design, and more. But this Summer, to make the impact even greater, we partnered with various organizations and local small businesses to provide real-world challenges that the kids would design and build solutions for. It was uncharted territory for many involved, but it ended up being an incredibly rewarding experience! These two projects put the power of community transformation in the hands of children— of course, with the help of a committed team of local makers!

 Urban Hacking Camp

We partnered with Learn 01, Mano Americas and Codella to create the ultimate maker camp experience: a real-world sustainability project, built in our community, incorporating both physical and digital skills, and inclusive to all kids using fund-raised scholarships.

There were 5 project categories that the kids could chose to join. The groups were tasked to collaborate, design, develop, and build their own visions for improving the Smartbites Community Garden + Cafe. They learned how to use power tools, design software, and digital fabrication technologies to build corn hole games, outdoor tables that grow spices and herbs, art pieces made of recycled plastics, sensors that monitor moisture levels in the soil, two vertical farming systems, and more!

It was a transformative experience, for both the kids, the staff, and the team of MDCPS high school Summer interns who were also learning and assisting during the whole process. They learned by doing, by manipulating materials, looking things up online for reference, and testing their ideas with prototypes. These are the skills they need to be successful in the 21st century. You can see their incredible work by visiting SmartBites.

The Mobile Reading Pod

Our Design Thinking camps usually use imaginary characters as clients. But this year, thanks to The New Tropic, the camp had a real client — The Miami Book Fair! Their task was to design an installation that would travel to different neighborhoods, provide a nice place to sit and read, dispense free books, and promote literature. The kids dreamed up all sorts of fantastical technologies like giant drones that deliver books, autonomous library vehicles, etc. but the panel of judges chose one winner —  The Mobile Reading Pod by 9-year old Allen Hasbun.

With the help of his family and our staff, Allen spent the next month at Moonlighter refining his design and building his creation in full scale!  He learned how to use the various software and fabrication equipment in the space and actively took part in every step of the process, never shying away from the work involved to realize his vision.

It debuted at The Wynwood Yard and will travel to the Miami Book Fair in November. Allen also intends to open source his design. When given the tools, skills, and resources to build, you’ll be surprised what kids are capable of building — and of the impact they can have on their community. By empowering future generations, we can build an innovative maker city!

*For the full article and photo essay, visit www.moonlighter.camp

Tom Pupo and Daisy Nodal are co-founders of Moonlighter Makerspace in Wynwood.  

Moonlighter-Reading Pod

June 15, 2017

NFTE students pitch -- and win -- on the eMerge Americas stage


Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) students got a chance to pitch on the eMerge Americas center stage last week -- and some of them took home winnings to fund their businesses.

Like in the regional finals last month, Ashley Bellinger (pictured above) took home the big prize, followed by the team of Fresh Fit. They will represent the South Florida Region at the NFTE 2017 National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge in October in New York City where they will present and defend their business plans to compete for prizes totaling $20,000. 

Here is a rundown of all the eMerge Americas winners:

1st Place - $2,500 – AmberAsh – Ashley Bellinger

AmberAsh is a fashion business dedicated to creating clothing with graphic designs that represent minority women. She was inspired by a trip to the clothing store with her litter sister, Amber who was disappointed that none of the little girls on the t-shirts looked like her. Ashley decided to create a t-shirt for her and AmberAsh was born!

2nd Place - $1,500 – Fresh Fit – Manny Mollinedo & Danny Martinez

Fresh Fit is provides customers with a time saving and inexpensive way to keep their protein-blending bottle Fresh with the perfect Fit.

3rd Place - $500 – Brushah Brushah – Addy Gold & Allison Heighl

Brushah Brushah is a mobile app that encourages young children to brush their teeth regularly through gamified characters and songs that all sync to the parents’ account.

4th Place - $500 – Tech Trade In – Jorge Troitino & Mark Hurtado

Tech Trade In specialized in conveniently purchasing used and broken tech devices, repairing and selling them to new owners.

The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship  is an international nonprofit that activates the entrepreneurial mindset in young people and builds their knowledge about business startup.  NFTE focuses its work on under-resourced communities, with programs in 22 locations in 9 countries. In South Florida, thousands of students across 38 schools are enrolled in the NFTE program.



May 22, 2017

NFTE high school entrepreneurs headed to national competition


The student winner of the 2017 NFTE South Florida Entrepreneurship Challenge owned the stage during her presentation in front of hundreds of people. She executed her pitch so perfectly, she didn't even need the cute cameo role her little sister provided (though it didn't hurt.)

That was Coral Gables Senior High School student Ashley Bellinger (pictured above), who won first place in the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship South Florida Regional Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge last week.  Hialeah Gardens Senior High School students Manny Mollinedo and Danny Martinez placed second. They will represent the South Florida Region at the NFTE 2017 National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge in October in New York City where they will present and defend their business plans to compete for prizes totaling $20,000. 

Ashley  won $1,500 for her plan for Amber Ash, her t-shirt fashion company that celebrates diversity and individualism; her little sister modeled one of Ashley's designs during the presentation.  Manny and Danny  created Fresh Fit and won $1,000.  These students presented their plan for a company which creates and distributes liners for fitness shaker bottles. Jacqueesha Jones from Miami Northwestern Senior High School who presented her plan for The Brownie Factory, an organization that sells brownies to raise college scholarship funds for low-income students, was the third place finalist, receiving a prize of $500. 

 “NFTE activates the entrepreneurial mindset and builds startup skills in youth both to ensure their long-term success and a more vibrant economy and society,” says Shawn Osborne, NFTE President and CEO.  “Youth today are not prepared for the jobs of today or to create and fill the jobs of tomorrow.  Many of the high-growth jobs of today barely existed a decade ago and the jobs of the future likely do not exist today.  The entrepreneurial mindset is therefore key to success for any young person who wants to be ready for a fast-changing future.”            

The teens demonstrated their command of the entrepreneurial mindset, the way entrepreneurs recognize opportunities and overcome challenges.  Young people presented and defended their business plans before a prestigious panel of judges and an audience of key business and school leaders. All the finalists received mentoring before they competed, and the student winners will receive more mentoring before competing in New York this fall.

The judges for the South Florida regional competition were: Chris Caines, Miami Program Associate, Knight Foundation; Ralph Campbell, Managing Partner, 4D Associates; Ana Karina Felix, Senior Vice President, CCAR LATAM, Citi; Erik Pupo, Managing Director, Accenture; Dr. Stephanie Scott, Director of Research & Evaluation, United Way of Broward County, and Stephanie Sylvestre, Chief Programs Officer/Chief Information Officer, The Children’s Trust.

NFTE Regional Youth Entrepreneurship Challenges will take place in cities across the country supported by Microsoft and the Citi Foundation as part of its Pathways to Progress global expansion to prepare urban youth for today’s competitive job market.  Additional support for the South Florida Challenge was provided by Mastercard, along with Bank of America, Celebrity Cruises, EY, Royal Caribbean, and Santander. The South Florida regional competition was held on May 18 at Briza on the Bay in Miami.

Also part of the May 18 event was a fast-pitch contest involving about 10 students. Each gave a one-minute pitch and the audience voted.   And the winner of the fast-pitch was ... middle-school student Jonathan Jeancharles for his pitch for Extra Learning XL. Jonathan was a fan favorite for sure. Before the student fast-pitch competition started, the students networked with the audience and wore nametags that said "Ask me to pitch." Jonathan was an aggressive networker -- he didn't wait to be asked to tell us about his business idea.

The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) is an international nonprofit that activates the entrepreneurial mindset in young people and builds their knowledge about business startup. Students acquire the entrepreneurial mindset (e.g., innovation, self-reliance, comfort with risk), alongside business, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), and presentation skills—equipping them to drive their best futures in the 21st Century. NFTE focuses its work on under-resourced communities, with programs in 22 locations in 9 countries. In South Florida, thousands of students across 38 schools are enrolled in the NFTE program. This was the final event of the school year, although some of the students will be participating in NFTE summer programs.

Congratulations to the South Florida teen winners!


First place winner Amber Ash.


Second Place winners Fresh Fit.

Third Place winner: The Brownie Factory.


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.