2013 Community Track Update

New ideas, innovation for the new economy

 

ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

1st Place: MakeTHEMBeg

For MakeTHEMBeg to grow, it’s all about turning up the volume.

The past few months have been an adventure in scaling a business, for the vibrant duo behind the personal-branding venture that won first place in the Community Track. The business offers branding education and coaching mainly through the Internet, capitalizing on the self-employment and entrepreneurial trends of the new economy and the need to develop a “Brand You.”

Since winning the challenge, Jessica Kizorek and Michelle Villalobos have been investing in the technology to power MakeTHEMBeg.com to convert sales leads into customers, and it has been capital-intensive. Last year MakeTHEMBeg had its biggest single day of sales ever — with $14,500 coming in, said Kizorek, who also runs badassbusinesswomen.org and produces videos for nonprofits through her other business, Two Parrot Productions.

A challenge has been hiring for and managing the operational aspect of the online marketing and sales funnel. “We’re a volume business. It’s the same amount of work whether it is 75 students for 7,500 students but obviously 7,500 students would be really sweet,” said Kizorek. “The process has been slower than we’d like.”

“People talk about passive revenue like it is the Holy Grail, but you have to keep feeding the beast with leads and having those leads convert automatically,” added Villalobos, a consultant, speaker, author and founder of the Miami-based Women’s Success Summit. But she said the team’s hard work is starting to bear fruit, with a flurry of new sales last month that were unexpected. The team is refocusing its business model on offering content it can create once and deliver forever rather than a monthly model, she said.

The women have sought out mentors, and both said they hope to find a partner offering guidance and capital to grow. More changes are afoot, said Kizorek. “We’re undertaking a big strategic shift based on some of the feedback we got from mentors after winning the Challenge last year. We’ll be sharing more on that later this year.”

2nd Place: AdMobilize

Rodolfo Saccoman’s AdMobilize is out to change the face of old-school outdoor advertising.

For the second-place winner of the Business Plan Challenge, 2013 was the year for launching the service, registering “AdMobilizers,” forming partnerships, raising seed funding and growing a team. And as Saccoman sees it, “2014 will be our breakout year.”

AdMobilize offers a new kind of advertising network, where people who sign up to participate — AdMobilizers — get paid to wear backpacks that hold iPads with the ad on the screen or drive their cars displaying a brand in the back window. At CollegeFest in Boston, AdMobilize signed up 700 students in 12 hours; the company now has more than 1,500 AdMobilizers around the world. But the secret sauce of his company, Saccoman says, is AdMobilize’s patented technology. Through its platform and AdBeacon, advertisers for the first time can get real-time metrics and in-depth analytics on just who viewed their ads. Think Nielsen for the outdoor advertising world.

Last week, AdMobilize closed a deal with Gotcha Rides to become its “advertising, street team management and offline metrics platform” for cart advertising and street team campaigns, Saccoman said. Swoop Miami is another key partnership, and others, including one with a large cell carrier and another with a car dealership, are under development, he said.

AdMobilize advisor Mok Oh, a former chief scientific officer at PayPal, spent five days with the AdMobilize team dissecting every aspect of the business, an exercise Saccoman highly recommends for any entrepreneur. Saccoman and Oh also held an event at Nova Southeastern in January attended by more than 80 potential clients.

Saccoman plans to become cash-flow-positive by mid-year. The next-generation of AdBeacon will be out next month. The company has raised $700,000 since inception; it is raising a seed round of $1 million now and accepting new investors. With a team of five, AdMobilize plans to hire two or three more people to the team early this year. The company recently added three more board members.

Ultimate goal? “We will be known as the catalyst and premier company that changed the outdoor media industry forever,” said Saccoman.

3rd Place: SpendLO

For spendLO, attracting customers was the easiest part of its entrepreneurial journey.

SpendLO, founded in Delray Beach by Corey Leff and Kristin Delaney, empowers consumers to “name their price” on their service needs and then crowd sources the business opportunities to its network of service professionals, ensuring users receive the most aggressive pricing. The service provider certification requirements, simple one-page service request form and proprietary matchmaking technology provide consumers with a time-effective solution to identify and hire service professionals.

For spendLO, which won third place last year in the Business Plan Challenge, the highlight of the past year was the September launch of a revenue-sharing media distribution partnership with the Sun Sentinel and Tribune Company.

That’s because finding a media distribution partner was key to spendLO’s business model. “We realized that if we could entice a partner to provide the exposure and distribution, we’d be able to eliminate the largest expense from the company’s bottom line thus giving the company a chance to compete on a start-up budget,” said Leff, spendLO’s CEO.

“While we figured out the consumer acquisition piece, and there are certainly no shortage of prospective media partners interested in digital revenue generation opportunities, we underestimated the time and difficulty required to build the network of service professionals. In order to scale, the company realistically needs to align itself with a partner who can offer a professional network for us to tap in to,” said Leff. “We are currently working on finalizing a partnership that would enable us to have pros in every market in the country overnight.”

SpendLO is currently raising a $750,000 seed round, and it’s following the money — all the way to New York City. Leff and Delaney have relocated.

“We chose NYC because it has an active tech/startup community, an active investment community and was where I was best connected to take advantage of it all,” said Leff. “If South Florida is ever going to become the tech hub everyone wants it to be, local investors are going to have to invest in local companies. If that doesn't occur, promising businesses are always going to leave and go to where the money is.”

People’s Pick: DeliverLean

DeliverLean delivered.

It was a huge growth year for the young South Florida gourmet meal delivery service with a national appetite. Scott Harris founded the company, and its sister company OnJuice, to fight the obesity epidemic and because he saw a need in the marketplace for tasty, convenient meals.

When the company won the People’s Pick in the Business Plan Challenge, DeliverLean was already serving hundreds of customers in the tri-county area. Since then?

“We now have 21 delivery routes and well over 1,100 clients in South Florida and that number is increasing rapidly. January was our biggest sales month since inception,” said Harris. “Along with winning the People’s Pick Award for the Miami Herald Business Challenge, we were also ranked eighth nationally in the Food & Beverage Category for the INC. Hire Power Awards.”

There have been no big changes to the business model, but there have been tweaks: “We’ve been expanding our options in order to give our clients more variety so that we can improve overall retention,” said Harris. “In this past year, we’ve added vegetarian, pescatarian and vegan meal plans to our already-expansive menu. We’ve also implemented an e-commerce section of our website for ease of ordering.”

DeliverLean is raising money for its national expansion: The first target will likely be New York City, a market six times the size of South Florida. The company presented at the Florida Venture Capital Conference last week to a packed ballroom of investors.

“We are improving our technology for more customization and a better customer experience and preparing for a national rollout into New York and the West Coast,” said Harris. “We’ll also be focusing on rolling out our direct-to-consumer raw snack brand and also on a kid friendly meal delivery service to help the younger generations build healthy habits at an early age. DeliverLean has a big year ahead.”

Read more Business Plan Challenge stories from the Miami Herald

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