First Place: XDG Technologies
Dr. Juan Roig came up with a simple healthcare solution to help millions of people worldwide. With business partner Carlos Hondal, they formed XDG Technologies to take their XDG Clamp to market.
With the XDG Clamp, a doctor can treat polydactyly — the formal name for the condition of extra fingers or toes — and skin tags in 10 minutes. After removal, a high-compression procedure fuses the skin together so there is no need for sutures or further treatment, the team says.
When XDG Technologies won the Business Plan Challenge FIU Track last year, the startup had one product and one prototype.
“We now have four products which include two prototypes in development, with one that has successfully been used in compassionate-care situations,” said Hondal, who also founded CMH Advisors. “We’re not a one-trick pony anymore.”
The original product, the XDG Clamp, is for the birth defect problem, which affects a relatively small number of people, and also the much more common skin tag problem.
“We expect to begin clinical studies in early to mid 2015. Honestly, the clinical studies are for a documented validation of the success that we have already achieved with our current prototype that we have used in compassionate care situations. These results have been obtained with the approval of adults, parents and guardians in all cases,” Hondal said.
He said XDG also obtained additional provisional patents and filed a patent application including a “PCT” (Patent Cooperation Treaty) for international protection of its four inventions.
The company, funded so far by the founders and friends and family, obtained FDA approval in July as a Class1 medical device for its steel and plastic versions of the XDG Clamp, which exempts XDG from some filing requirements. It also obtained from the Small Business Administration a “small business entity qualification,” which saves XDG 50 percent in registration and other regulatory filing fees to develop prototypes and medical device patents. Ricardo Weisz, an investor and a Challenge judge for a number of years, gave Hondal and Roig important advice and guidance on targeting their market, Hondal said.
And one of the biggest developments of a busy year: XDG signed both an option agreement in April and then a term sheet in December for a license agreement with the University of Florida’s Research Foundation.
Three of XDG’s products relate to the skin tag affliction and the polydactly birth defect, “which we continue to feel strongly will change the standard of care,” Hondal said. The fourth product in development is for veterinary applications in the beef industry. Hondal said it could be revolutionary as a “bloodless castration” device that will improve the yield in the cattle, goat, and sheep industries. “It’s farther down the road but we have already met with veterinarians at the University of Florida. They said once we have a prototype they would help with a pilot study.”
Funding was XDG’s biggest short-term challenge. It is applying for a variety of national, state and local grants such as the Florida High Tech Corridor Grant as well as SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) and STTR (Small Business Technology Transfer) funding.
XDG has added two team members with skills in development and communications/grants and two experienced advisors to help with strategy and prototyping. It is now seeking a advisor or partner with deep experience and networks in both production and distribution to complete its team.
Hondal’s advice for this year’s contestants: “Have a good idea, make sure it solves a problem, be humble yet driven and listen as actively as you can.”
2nd Place: Summer Camp Live
The Summer Camp Live team worked hard to bring costs down for its camps and more choices for parents.
Summer Camp Live, developed by the husband-wife team of Vicky and Carlo de Colloredo-Mels, as well as Felipe Ospina and Juan Pablo Villegas, offers an online-directory and virtual event space for summer camps in the United States and around the world. On a recent Sunday, its free online directory listed 2,300 camps, including 168 in Florida. The team won second place in the Business Plan Challenge’s FIU Track last year.
Its site, www.summercamplive.com, also includes a virtual fair, with booths that offer much more information. In two weeks, Summer Camp Live will host the first virtual fair for the American Camp Association of New England, which follows two live events in 2014 that attracted parents from all over the U.S. and abroad. Since Summer Camp Live’s founding in 2013, it has registered about 42,000 camp seekers.
The biggest development for Summer Camp Live was around the tech itself. The website was redesigned to house the virtual fair within Summer Camp Live’s domain, and the platform no longer relies on a third party to support the company’s online fair offerings. “Our proprietary platform allows us the control and flexibility to support ongoing customization to better serve our customers,” said Vicky de Colloredo-Mels, director and founder for the team.
A byproduct of the redesign: One-year membership prices for the virtual fair fell from as much as $3,000 last year to $799 now. “Our membership prices are now streamlined to attract all types of camps and programs. User experience is impacted by providing parents with a wider array of camps to choose from,” she said.
Raising awareness within the parent community continues to be a challenge. “We continue to adjust our current SEO strategies to ensure we are visible online and create new social media and content strategies that complement this goal,” said de Colloredo-Mels, adding that the partnership with the ACA, the biggest camp association in the country, also brings Summer Camp Live important exposure. For instance, about 100 to 150 camps will participate in the upcoming ACA virtual fair hosted by Summer Camp Live, she said.
This year, the team plans to continue to concentrate efforts in Florida with an aggressive marketing campaign. It is also translating its entire site to Spanish to tailor to the Hispanic community in and outside of the United States.
Vicky di Colloredo-Mels’s advice to this year’s contestants: “Patience, persistence, research, planning, focus, and lots of hard work. It takes a lot of time and effort to be an entrepreneur. Do not give up! Before you move one step ahead, you must know in which direction you are going. Take the time to research, create a business plan, mark your path and then proceed. The time you invest in the beginning, will prevent many headaches and hiccups in the future. Do not be afraid to chart a new course. Re-center your needle every day and adjust your bearings.”
Third Place: Groove Caddy
Betting big on the premise that golfers love their gadgets, particularly ones that can improve their game, Jose “Joche” Espin invented the Groove Caddy, a handheld battery-operated brush that cleans the grooves on a golf club more easily than the current process of soaking and hand-brushing.
The score so far: Groove Caddy has made about 5,000 sales since winning third place in the Business Plan challenge FIU track in May. The next order of another 5,000 will go in in the next couple of weeks, Espin said.
Based on feedback from customers and retailers, Espin’s team has also developed a new version, smaller and more powerful. Groove Caddy is also exploring other product lines, all related to keeping clubs clean.
Groove Caddy got an initial bump after winning Best New Product last January at the PGA Show in Orlando, the largest golf merchandising event of the year. But since then sales have continued to flow in, Espin said. The Groovecaddy.com website has been upgraded as well.
The biggest challenge has been getting into big box retailers, Espin said. Groove Caddy is going to start working with distributors, a method recommended by the retailers.
To get the word out, Groove Caddy ran ads on the Golf Channnel, in Golf Digest and other publications, measuring the response and gauging feedback.
“It’s been a fun first year, we’ve gone through a natural learning curve and we hope to incorporate what we’ve learned into sales success,” Espin said. “I’ve learned you need to be strategic rather than just jumping into everything,”
His advice to entrants: “Be persistent and confident.”
People’s Pick: Kloset Karma
Fashionistas far and wide voted Kloset Karma into the winner’s circle last year for its virtual trading post for clothing.
Kloset Karma is a social fashion exchange marketplace mobile app that allows users to exchange their new or almost-new clothing for points they can use to get new outfits from other users within their communities. It was born out of the realization that “fast fashion” is a global epidemic that needed a sustainable solution rather than letting clothes die in the back of a closet or worse, in landfills, said Paula Celestino, its CEO.
Besides winning the Business Plan Challenge People’s Pick, Celestino pitched her app at a Tech Cocktail event and won the chance to participate at Tech Cocktail's Celebrate Conference in Vegas last October with about 50 startups from around the country.
“All this visibility helped us reach thousands of people that downloaded and used Kloset Karma,” she said. “We worked hard this last year to listen and learn from our users and ended up validating the problem they had.”
During the year, Celestino said she realized that the depth of the platform was beyond the team’s engineering capabilities: “What's next for Kloset Karma is to take all of the learnings from last year and finding a kick-ass engineer who is interested in fashion-tech and passionate about sustainability and innovation to take KK to the next step.”
The free Kloset Karma app is available on the iPhone. It is live, but Celestino said she isn’t marketing it until a new version with an improved user interface is up and running. “What we learned is we have to make the solution as simple as possible for users.”
She also said her startup journey inspired her to create a women in tech panel series called “A Conversation with Innovative Women” to help create an environment to foster mentorship and collaboration. She recently placed second in a Startup Weekend in Tampa and would like to organize one in Miami.
Celestino’s advice to entrants: “Even if you doubt your chances to win, submit your business plan anyway. The whole process from writing the business plan to preparing the pitch is an extremely helpful exercise to ask yourself difficult questions about your business model and objectives. I used the paloalto.com ‘Live Plan’ online software to write my business plan and I highly recommend it. It's $20 per month, but you can sign up for a month and cancel it right away to use it only for 30 days.”