2012 FIU Track Winners

Challenge FIU Track winners launch, evaluate feedback, revise

 

First Place Geopon launched its app in beta — with a full release coming soon — and revamped its sales strategy.

ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

For Geopon, the past year has been all about thinking strategically while moving at the speed of mobile.

Geopon is a coupon, loyalty card and mobile payment solution that won first place in the 2012 Business Plan Challenge FIU Track and the People’s Pick video competition. Geopon’s mobile application allows users to find coupons and weekly deals, earn points or punches in loyalty programs and search restaurant menus, movie show times and mall guides. Its proprietary software allows merchants to target ads geographically, behaviorally and demographically.

Last spring and summer, Geopon was racing to market with its consumer app. Mission accomplished.

The Android Beta version of Geopon is out. “We had a successful launch event at Westfield Broward Mall on Sept. 6 during Fashion’s Night Out. As of today, we have over 3,000 registered beta users,” said Ido Meros, founder and CEO of Hollywood-based Geopon.

A full version of Geopon, including an iPhone app, is complete and just awaiting Apple’s approval, Meros said.

The Geopon team of 12 people also revamped the website that merchants use for managing their coupons and ads, improving functionality and aesthetics. That’s set to roll out Feb. 1.

Looking back on the last year, “our biggest challenge thus far has been the development of the platform,” said Meros, who has founded other businesses including Check21.com and Axis Interactive Media. “There have been many revisions to improve every aspect of Geopon as the development has progressed. There have been quite a few hurdles but the finish line is in our sight.”

Strategic changes were made along the way, he said, particularly with the sales strategy. “Initially, we focused on street sales to increase the merchant base. Today, we are in negotiations with prospective media conglomerates to rapidly increase both the user base and merchant base. We’re focused on building strategic partnerships.”

As with others, funding did not go entirely by plan. “Although we have not yet raised the capital initially sought in our business plan, we did receive a capital infusion, which facilitated the improved development of the platform and began the structure of our sales force.” Meros said he is in talks over a partial acquisition and investment into Geopon.

ESENEM

The co-founders of ESENEM, the second-place winner of the Business Plan Challenge FIU Track last year, made several big changes — starting with the name of their product, an iPhone application that provides a virtual office for lawyers on the go.

The product was called LegalFile; now it is Xibid.

Why Xibid? CEO and co-founder Milana Kuznetsova explains. “Xibid is short for ‘Xibidem,’ which is derived from the the word ‘ibidem,’ meaning ‘in the the same/from the same place.’ This name summarizes precisely what our system offers to our users: uninterrupted access to all data, communication and collaboration while on the go, in a single source... Xibid — staying in the loop while out of the office!”

Now that we have that out of the way, ESENEM has had a busy year. The product formerly known as LegalFile for the iPad was released to the iTunes store in late 2011 and the team evaluated feedback and made revisions. The new and improved Xibid will be released early this year.

The upgraded software, which will work with both iPad and iPhone, will reflect the new brand and features users have deemed a “must,” such as secure file management synchronization and a pixel-perfect PDF reader, said Kuznetsova, who is also a lawyer.

“We have also begun building out our cloud-based back-end to the system and are looking to partner ... with document management companies that need a mobile platform,” she said. ESENEM’s system can work alone or latch onto whatever document management system a law firm might be using to give it full mobile functionality. We can work with a firm’s IT department so the process is seamless.”

The team, which includes Chief Technology Officer Sean McNamara, organized an Early Access Program that lets early adopters use the software for free or a reduced rate and give feedback. “This is key because we don’t want to just build any software, we want to build the right software for our users,” Kuznetsova said. Those interested in the program can email info@esenem.com.

ESENEM has also been heavily involved in promoting the Miami tech startup scene and was the local organizer for two AT&T Mobile App Hackathons, which attracted record-setting participation. ESENEM was also chosen as a presenting company at FIU’s Americas Venture Capital Conference, and Kuznetsova, an FIU business alum, was honored by the Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center.

The company plans to grow its team of four: It’s looking to hire a back-end developer, a front-end developer and a designer. ESENEM also plans to add Compliant Ethics Certification and IT consulting services for law firms.

Of course the road hasn’t always been smooth, and securing funding continues to be a challenge, Kuznetsova said. “A line from one of my favorite bands, Coldplay, comes to mind: ‘Nobody said it was easy; no one ever said it would be this hard.’ ”

BidThatProject.com

Alan S. Macken, a developer, contractor, investor and entrepreneur, set out to develop a more efficient way of bidding on construction projects.

First he researched and built a business plan for his idea: BidThatProject.com, a website application to help homeowners and project owners locate, evaluate and potentially hire the most qualified contractors for their home improvement or construction-related projects at the best available price, all from the comfort of their home or office. The plan won third place in the Business Plan Challenge FIU track last year.

Then came the tougher part: building the actual company. Macken reports that it’s all going by plan. Exceeding plan, actually.

“Since winning the Business Plan Challenge, we have entertained a variety of investors, and recently completed the significant milestone of completing the site. We are entrenched in beta testing the site and look forward to the opportunities ahead,” said Macken, who is a principal in Macken Realty and other firms.

Developing a site that meets the demands of today’s customers while keeping an eye on what’s ahead has been a challenge for the team of four. In addition to the testing and tweaking, Macken is adding talent to the team. “We are bringing in younger blood to provide a fresh perspective.”

Macken said he has also been evaluating a variety of potential relationships, including with some big industry players he wouldn’t divulge. “Once we think we have the right [relationship], we are going to move as aggressively as we always do and take it to fruition.”

BidThatProject even caught the attention of ABC’s Shark Tank, which invited Macken onto the popular primetime TV show. But after evaluating the terms, Macken said it didn’t make business sense. “I turned them down, but I have an open invitation... We recognize these opportunities as a confirmation that what we have is ripe with potential and opportunity.”

Macken sees another positive indicator for BidThatProject. “I’m thrilled to report that our industry is rebounding. People are seeing the values coming back into their properties and they are ready to do projects.”

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