Business Plan Challenge

Meet the 2017 Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge judges

Sheri Colas-Gervais is a Business Plan Challenge judge. See the other judges in photo gallery below.
Sheri Colas-Gervais is a Business Plan Challenge judge. See the other judges in photo gallery below.

Our 2017 Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge judges are serial entrepreneurs, investors, executives, professors and leaders of entrepreneurial organizations.


Sheri Colas-Gervais is vice president of Economic Development and Urban Initiatives for Miami-Dade Beacon Council, the county’s official public-private economic development partnership. Her goal is to stimulate job creation with an emphasis on small-business growth in Miami-Dade and new business investments and solutions in urban communities. Colas-Gervais’ track record includes business-growth achievements in both the entrepreneurial and Fortune 500 corporate sectors in the U.S. and the Caribbean.

Bhavik Daftary is a serial technology entrepreneur, executive, private-equity investor and mentor. He is chairman and CEO of Oxaliz Technologies and chairman of Daftary Investments. Daftary has mentored more than 90 student entrepreneurs in the past four years, many of whom have achieved various accolades and launched startups. He is also a worldwide judge for the Global Entrepreneurs Challenge. Before this, Daftary built and sold SysZen Technologies, a leading systems integration firm and built and sold Systems by Design, an e-commerce design firm.

Robert Hacker is co-founder and director of StartUP FIU, the university’s new innovation hub and incubator for university and community startups. Hacker has taught traditional and social entrepreneurship at FIU for 11 years and also teaches social entrepreneurship at MIT. He is the former CFO of One Laptop per Child, where he practiced social entrepreneurship for three years. Earlier in his career, he built a publicly traded billion-dollar company in Indonesia. He is and the author of two books on entrepreneurship.

John Hall is executive director of Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses at Miami Dade College, an initiative that has helped more than 250 local businesses to accelerate revenue and access capital. He has acquired, founded or managed six private companies, including a venture capital fund and a publicly traded commercial bank. Hall shepherded the turnaround of three troubled companies and served on the strategic acquisitions team for mergers and acquisitions valued at over $300 million.

Jackie Hodes is a partner with Jones Day, representing strategic buyers and sellers, private equity-fund sponsors and family offices in complex global transactions with a strong emphasis on groups doing business in the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean. Hodes handles transactions across a broad range of industries, with a focus on transportation and logistics, healthcare, life sciences and health insurance. She also spearheads an angel-investing group that evaluates early-stage companies. Prior to joining Jones Day in 2016, she was a partner at DLA Piper.

Deborah Johnson is Miami chapter president of Keiretsu Forum, a Series A angel investment organization that is part of one of the largest angel groups in the world. She also is a special events coordinator for Enterprise Development Corporation in South Florida and is managing a startup mentoring program in Southwest Florida called Fusion Pointe, coordinating educational workshops and other events for both organizations. She is also founder of Plum Ventures, a consultancy.

Melissa Krinzman is managing partner of Krillion Ventures, a $50 million Miami-based venture capital firm that actively invests in seed and early-stage technology companies in the financial services, real estate and healthcare sectors. Her fund has invested in 18 early-stage companies, nine of which have South Florida roots. Krinzman also founded Venture Architects, a business-planning firm that has positioned early- and growth-stage companies for success in the capital-raising process. since 1998.

Ivan Rapin-Smith leads Watsco Ventures, the startup incubator and corporate venture capital fund of Watsco Inc., a Fortune 1000 company headquartered in Coconut Grove. Before his current role, Rapin-Smith ran the startup accelerator program at Venture Hive. Before moving to Miami in 2011, he co-founded and ran Idealy, the first startup accelerator in Belgium, and before that, he co-founded two technology startups.

Gabriela Sabate is founder of Health Semantics, which develops healthcare applications and tech services for preventive medical care and disease management. Previously, she was chairman and CEO of mobile software company Tiaxa and headed the Miami office at Softbank Latin America as executive director, leading investments in mobile and tech and serving on the board of five portfolio companies.

Jacqueline Bueno Sousa is regional director of Florida SBDC (Small Business Development Center) at FIU. Before joining FIU, Sousa was a director with an international business-intelligence and strategic-advisory firm, advising multinational companies with business-intelligence needs related to new market entries, regulatory issues and competitive analysis. Sousa has been a reporter or editor with the Wall Street Journal, American Lawyer Media and the Miami Herald, and she also launched and operated a regional media company.

Mike Tomás is CEO of US Stem Cell, a Sunrise-based biotech company focused on developing and commercializing stem-cell therapies. Previously, he spent two decades in executive roles in telecommunications in the U.S. and Mexico. An active investor, Tomás is on Rokk3r Labs, Easy Solutions and US Stem Cell boards. He chairs FIU’s Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center board and is on boards of Career Source Florida, Miami Dade College Idea Center and St. Thomas University Science and Technology Institute.

Rhys L. Williams is chairman, co-founder and immediate past president of New World Angels, a member-managed, structured angel-investor group with chapters in seven Florida cities, now in its 14th year. He is also managing director of FAU Tech Runway, Florida Atlantic University’s innovation hub. Williams has been active in efforts to commercialize biotechnologies from Florida’s research universities and institutes, having co-founded several biotechnology spin-out ventures. Previously he was a venture capitalist with SI Ventures.


Jose Alvarez is the assistant vice president of the South Florida office of Prospera, formerly HBIF. Alvarez’s main duties include supporting the region’s vice president, handling business counseling to local Hispanic business owners in addition to coordinating all the local bilingual outreach, educational efforts and fund-raising in the region.

Karlene Cousins is associate professor of information systems and business analytics in the College of Business at the Florida International University, where she teaches courses in technology innovation, information systems strategy and governance and healthcare information law. She serves as an expert panelist and speaker in the mobile technologies area and is director of the ATOM Think Tank, FIU’s first faculty technology consulting practice.

Anna Etienne is the program director for StartUP FIU’s Food Incubator. The incubator seeks to partner with local food entrepreneurs pursuing sustainability and a scalable business model. Before joining the team, Etienne helped launch the first and subsequent cohorts of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program at Miami Dade College, where she served as the program manager for three years.

Seema Pissaris is a professor in the College of Business at Florida International University and is also an avid entrepreneur responsible for launching numerous successful companies, one of which became a publicly traded company on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Pissaris enjoys working with students on their ventures and empowers them to become agents of change and to launch ventures that also achieve a social good.

Ricardo Weisz is a consultant with the Small Business Development Center at FIU, founder and president of Northvest, president of Miami Innovation Fund and founder of Interim Healthcare, all in Miami. He is an investor and C-level executive expert in raising equity capital, finance, marketing, startups, turnaround management, content, brand development, licensing and marketing of products, and services. Weisz has headed various ventures with successful exits.


Chris Caines is Miami program associate of the Knight Foundation. Before that, he worked with the Excite! All Stars organization in New Orleans to teach children food safety, fitness and entrepreneurial skills, in addition to creating a curriculum for classes on anti-oppression and social justice.

Eli Guevara is founder and CEO of Koala-T time. Her career began at Motorola, where she progressed from credit analyst to senior finance manager, and she was later recruited by Citrix as the company’s senior manager of finance.

Alice Horn is director of new business development for Resort Homes of Florida. Previously, she spent 15 rewarding years devoted to successfully building a program and movement teaching entrepreneurship to 3,500 low-income South Florida youth as executive director of the nonprofit NFTE South Florida and as founder of KidVentures.

Richard Jackson is a business law instructor at Miami Dade College and board chair of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship’s South Florida Advisory Board, which he has been a member of since 2013. Through his work with NFTE, he co-founded Innovate SFL, a private school business plan contest that raises funding for NFTE's mission of providing entrepreneurship to at-risk students. Previously, he was a shareholder at Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff and Sitterson, P.A.

Natalia Martinez-Kalinina is leading the expansion of the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC) to Miami and is founder of Awesome Foundation. CIC is the U.S.’s oldest and largest hub of startup activity and a leader in creating innovation districts. Prior to CIC, she served as the chief innovation and technology officer for a nonprofit focused on Cuba and has stayed involved with this issue, recently co-authoring the 10x10K Cuba innovation challenge, a startup competition for entrepreneurs on the island.

Stephanie Sylvestre is chief operations and programs officer of the Children’s Trust, and she is known for her community activism and professional history as a problem-solver and team builder. Previously, she worked in the private sector with Independent Purchasing Cooperative, Burger King Corp., Initiatives Corp. and Cambridge Technology Partners.

Yenvy Truong is CEO and co-founder of HealthSnap Solutions. A graduate of the University of Miami, where she obtained her bachelor’s in biomedical engineering and an MBA, Truong has worked with large companies such as Ivax Pharmaceuticals as well as medical diagnostics startups that she has helped grow from concept stage to profitable.