Business Monday

Tech Talk: Help with bringing ideas to reality

Ana C. Benatuil won the Global Impact Competition for sea-level rise.
Ana C. Benatuil won the Global Impact Competition for sea-level rise.

With the clock ticking, Silicon Valley’s Singularity University, a teaching organization and accelerator, launched a Global Impact Competition in Miami calling on innovators to find solutions for South Florida’s sea-level rise by using technology. “The Miami metropolitan region has the greatest amount of exposed financial assets and fourth-largest population vulnerable to sea-level rise in the world,” according to research by the University of Miami’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences.

Last week, eight finalists were invited to pitch their concepts to judges, and two of them received full tuition to Singularity University’s 10-week Graduate Studies Program in Mountain View, California, this summer, where they will work in teams with participants from around the world to develop their concepts. The project was supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The winners:

▪ Ana C. Benatuil, a graduate of Florida International University and now an architectural designer at Zyscovich Architects, believes sea-level rise in South Florida needs to be addressed in an urban master plan. Her “Cut Fill City” proposes strategies at three different scales — regional, city and building scale — allowing for different municipalities and entities to implement these ideas according to their needs and capabilities. “The implementation of Cut Fill City in South Florida could become a prototype to many other coastal cities around the world at risk of sea-level rise, improving the lives of millions, if not billions of people,” said Benatuil, who began this project as part of her FIU studies and has continued it on her own the past two years.

▪ Carlos Tamayo, a civil engineer working on his Ph.D at FIU, envisions comprehensive assessment and modeling of dike-subsurface barrier systems for adaptation in coastal areas. Providing effective protection against inland and coastal flooding and eliminating or minimizing the effects of groundwater flow and piping are the main goals, he said. In addition to sea-level rise and saltwater intrusion protection, his system is intended to provide effective protection against surge overflow and inland/coastal flooding by eliminating or minimizing the effects of groundwater flow through Miami’s limestone aquifer, Tamayo said.

Speaking of Singularity, the organization is becoming more of a fixture in South Florida. Salim Ismail, founding executive director and global ambassador of Singularity University and leading author of Exponential Organizations: Why New Organizations are Ten Times Better, Faster and Cheaper Than Yours (And What To Do About It), is giving his second full-day class on building exponential organizations in South Florida on June 1, together with Rokk3r Labs. The first workshop, held in March, received rave reviews from participants. Find out more and register here:


Competition was also in the air at Miami Dade College’s inaugural Startup Challenge, where six finalists pitched for prize money on Wednesday. Leandro Finol, executive director of the Idea Center, said the entrants came from all MDC campuses and many different areas of study.

The grand prize, $5,000, went to Onetown Boards, which presented a prototype for an interactive experience for skaters. Second place, winning $3,000, was Marketing Connections, a provider of affordable, high quality, digital marketing solutions for small businesses, and third place, also winning $3,000, was Hi Foods, a food cart offering a variety of healthy, alternative seafood options.

“We offer a waterproof longboard with dual cameras, one that points forward and one pointing toward the rider, with lights and LED lighting for safety, a speedometer and distance tracker that can be viewed in an LED screen,” said Felix Puello, who pitched Onetown Boards — his first business — in the contest and said his Idea Center mentor has been helping him every step of the way.

Puello, who has an art and design background, at first was hand-painting skateboards, but came up with the idea for a teched-up board that would both record the skater’s experiences and mitigate safety risks. The business student from MDC’s North Campus and his business partner, Socrate Elie, will use the $5,000 for product development and the patent process. “I’m meeting with engineers tomorrow,” said Puello, who is also planning a Kickstarter campaign.

Finol said it is not just about winning but the education — each contestant now knows how to start a business. “We planted the seeds of a program that will become part of the DNA of Miami Dade College in years to come.”


Where are the investors? While that has been a common refrain in South Florida’s startup community, it is becoming a little easier to find them. That’s because many are offering “office hours,” open coffees, dinners or other ways to give startups a chance to meet them and begin building a relationship — before the pitch for dollars.

On Wednesday, nine investors and mentors came together in Miami to host its first Godfather Day, a daylong session put on by Fourth Estate and Hacks/Hackers Miami, for six entrepreneur teams in news and media innovation. The session was a two-way conversation that allowed company founders and the mentors the opportunity to ask “off the record” questions to help get these startups to the next level.

Each entrepreneur team received nearly one hour with the entire group at one time. For entrepreneurs, it was an opportunity to sit down with investors in an informal setting and have a conversation to help investors better understand the founder and the business, said Jeff Brown of Fourth Estate. It also gave founders “a safe space” to ask candid questions of the investors and receive feedback, said Sally Outlaw of Peerbackers.

For the investors and mentors in the Knight Foundation’s boardroom, where the sessions were held, it was not only a chance to build potential deal flow down the road but also an opportunity to give back to the startup community and an efficient way to spoonfeed entrepreneurs access to experts.

“Ninety percent of the time they think they need money but what they really need is advice,” Ben Wirz of the Knight Foundation said. Dan Grech of Hacks/Hackers and Alex de Carvalho, Knight Innovator in Residence at FIU, also said it was an opportunity to support media innovation, which has been building in the past year.

Brown has also run UpPitch sessions, informal dinners that matched a couple of entrepreneurs with an investor, and said the Godfather Days will continue at least quarterly.

Read more about all these stories on the Starting Gate blog on

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