When the Miami Herald’s annual open call for entries into the Business Plan Challenge went out, South Florida delivered — in a record-setting way.
The passion poured out from the pages of the 255 business plan entries in the 18th annual Challenge. Concepts for education, fashion, music, healthy living, toys, pets, social gaming and food filled our email box. There were startups linked to South Florida’s largest industries, such as healthcare, financial services, real estate and logistics, and tech tools to help fellow small businesses. Your creativity showed through as well — how about a hip-hop yoga app, a kitty cat cafe or selfie gift wrap?
So who will win the 2016 Challenge? Today, we reveal the semifinalists in the Community and FIU 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, sound — and, ahem, realistic — financial projections and more. A good idea alone didn’t get you very far: Our judges were looking for a strong plan for execution.
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This year, the competition was especially fierce. In fact, only plans that excelled in all the categories made it to the semifinalist circle.
To be sure, our three panels of judges — serial entrepreneurs, investors, academics and executives — had their work cut out for them. The Business Plan Challenge, sponsored by FIU’s Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center, drew the most business plan entries ever. In addition to our judges, we called upon experts from Entrepreneurs’ Organization South Florida and SCORE Miami-Dade to help us evaluate the plans. The Community Track drew the most entries, 122, presenting a mix of businesses representative of South Florida’s diversity. Veteran judges said the quality of entries was higher than previous years.
Competition in the High School Track, co-sponsored by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship in South Florida, was especially heated with more than 100 entries from schools throughout the tri-county area — we will be unveiling the 12 high school finalists next Monday.
For all 255 of you who entered, congratulations! You now have a strong start on your business plan — your road map to growing your business.
Even if you didn’t make the list this time, we know you will carry on; please let us know how you do. (I’m personally rooting for the cat cafe!)
I encourage you to take advantage of resources in the community to get help with your businesses, such as SCORE chapters around South Florida or the Small Business Development Centers at FIU and in Broward. If you are in Miami-Dade, enter the American Entrepreneurship Contest (americanaward.com), with a $25,000 prize, by the April 29 deadline. And I will be happy to share our judges’ feedback on your plans after the Challenge is over. Please email me after May 9 (firstname.lastname@example.org) and put “Challenge feedback” in the subject line.
What’s ahead? Next week, in addition to revealing our High School finalists, 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 semi finalists in all three tracks will be included in a special section May 9.
Here, in alphabetical order are the semifinalists:
AlphaTechBlocks, by Marilu Kernan, Taryn Keim and Leslie Pinto, will create digital interactive alphabet blocks. With the accompanying mobile apps, kids learn ABCs and words in English and Spanish.
AlulA, by Thomas R. Byrd Jr., Jason S. Keasler and Joe Rjeili, offers a universal solution to affordably broadcast aircraft critical diagnostic information in real time.
Candidate.Guru, by Christopher Daniels, is a big data analytics solution that can predict a culture fit between corporate hiring managers and prospective job seekers without the need for surveys and assessment tools.
ChallengeStar, by Jed Royer, is a new mobile app that allows you to raise money and awareness via social media by leveraging the social networks of your supporters. It is gamifying fundraising in a fun, familiar and legal way.
Drinkables, by Mark Kahn and Douglas Halperin, will offer advertising space on 16-ounce plastic cups (think Red Solo cups) and distribute them to college fraternities through a bi-monthly subscription model.
Gift Wrap My Face, by Vanessa Clavijo-Rivero, Aryel Rivero, Jessica Van Sack, Kathleen McIntyre, Fernanda Bressan and Pablo Bressan, is the cure for the common gift. It allows the gift-giver to design his or her own selfie wrapping paper.
HeroBoys, by Ed and Crissi Boland, will produce toys and related products featuring a team of six child superheroes brought together by their mentor, “The Gentleman,” to help save a city being overwhelmed by self-centered behavior.
Becasted.com (formerly My Style Blox), by Sandy Kacura and Mario Aguayo, is a marketplace for the fashion industry where talent and client can come together and conduct business, removing middlemen and agencies from the process.
Pets2Go International, by Angelina Cortez, Blair Blacker and Torben Riise, has developed and tested a portable litter system for cats and a portable abode for dogs that address the needs of traveling families. Both products are easy to assembly, disposable and biodegradable.
Ride2MD, by George Fernandez and Raul Rodriguez, is the Lyft for healthcare, providing an innovative solution that eliminates wasted time and effort by streamlining the transportation process with real time technology that offers complete transparency.
Shoes Dsire, by Walter Bernacca, Jane Bernacca, Ankit Sharma an Steve Kasakatis, is a dynamic social commerce tool that combines cutting-edge visual search technology with crowdsourcing to provide a faster and more personalized experience for shoe shoppers.
TradeLanes, by Vijay Harrell, Matthew Drazan and Corey Myers, automates document preparation for exporters. Exporters can orchestrate demand planning, supplier performance, inventory management and end-to-end logistics in one application.
Zulubots, by Elizabeth De Zulueta, Monica De Zulueta and Julian Francisco De Zulueta, is a consumer robotics company that focuses on the design and fabrication of assistive robots for the home. The Carrli robot, for instance, helps lift and carry objects.
Joust, by Franco Aquino, Julio Benavides, Jonas Erthal and Alejandro Jerez, is an online platform that facilitates the quoting and payment process for automotive services.
Jurbid, by Aydin Bonabi and Sia Anasseri, is an online legal marketplace that seamlessly connects clients with lawyers.
Pooch Perks, by Tina Vidal, is pet-parent purchased, dog tested and veterinarian approved; it provides a monthly customizable box of carefully curated goods for the pampered pooch.
Settleitsoft, by Antonio Garcia, Mazin Fitiany, Carlos Garcia, Martha Henry, Wilson Velandia and Rich Rudner, offers a free, web-based debt negotiation platform that will help resolve the global economic problem of consumer default on contractual obligations.
SkyBox Checkout, by Paul Gartlan and Emilio Lizarraga, is an anywhere-to-anywhere international e-commerce checkout solution with shipment to 200 countries and territories and multicurrency in 140 local currencies.
ValueDOC, by Alain Fernandez, is an online health and wellness marketplace for cash patients.
Business Plan Challenge Timeline
April 25: High school finalists revealed.
April 25-31: People’s Pick video competition.
May 9: Winners announced and profiled in a Miami Herald Business Monday special section that will also include semifinalists and finalists and on MiamiHerald.com.