Business Plan Challenge

And the 2017 Business Plan Challenge winners are ...

We are pleased to present the winners of the 19th annual Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge.

The winners’ circle contains concepts in education, hospitality, logistics, healthcare, tech, social impact and the sharing economy. To rise to the top, winners had to make a strong case for how they planned to execute their business plans.

South Florida is often recognized as one of the nation’s most entrepreneurial communities, and the 2017 winners and contestants represent the passion and diversity of the region’s emerging businesses. This year, a near-record of 234 entries competed in our three tracks of the Miami Herald Challenge, sponsored by Florida International University’s Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center; more than 200 people attended our free Business Plan Bootcamp in March.

The three-page plans were judged by experts from our community — executives, investors, entrepreneurs and academics — as well as by the public via our popular People’s Pick video competition. The Community Track attracted the most qualified entries in the contest: 109.

Nearly 100 high school student teams entered the Challenge this year. Their business plan entries were dominated by ideas for apps, most with a social-impact twist. For the FIU track, the judging included a live pitch session for the six finalists, which helped determine the final winners. Each team received up to five minutes to present their company, followed by time for Q&A and feedback.

A first for this contest: Two winners, one from the FIU Track and one from the High School Track, tackled the same big problem — restaurant food waste — with somewhat similar solutions. We suggest they team up!

And the winners are ...

Community Track: Cargo42, a B2B sharing-economy solution that matches shippers in need with local trucking companies with cargo space to fill, won the Community Track. Apollonix, an online platform for marketing and ordering and oral prosthetics, came in second. Third was Caribu, an app that marries video-calling and e-books to provide an interactive experience when family members are far apart.

FIU Track: Nuvola, creator of guest management software that helps hotels monitor and respond to hotel and guest needs, won the FIU Track. MunchSquad, a mobile app that enables restaurants, bakeries and supermarkets to reduce surplus food by selling it to hungry college students, was second. Third went to Use Your Words, an app used by parents to teach language and communication to their pre-verbal and nonverbal children on the autism spectrum.

High School Track: Smart Straws, a plan to offer a straw that detects the most common rape drugs when placed in drinks, won the track. Micki’s, an app that would enable restaurants to advertise real-time flash sales on specific meals when business has been slow, was second. VetNet, an app that would help veterans combat issues including unemployment and unavailability of resources, won third. An honorable mention went out to LocatED, a community emergency response app.

The weeklong People’s Pick competition, which attracted 12,130 votes, heated up on social media. In the end, SettleiTsoft, a web-based and mobile platform that offers 24/7 assistance to debtors and creditors to streamline debt negotiation, won the FIU Track with 2,812 votes and the most elaborate consumer-focused social media campaign, in two languages and spanning the Americas. Use Your Words came in second with 1,225 votes, and MunchSquad came in third in the FIU race.

In the Community Track’s People’s Pick competition, Cargo42 came in first with 1,820 votes, Caribu was on its tail with 1,682, and School Climate Solutions, customized on-demand content for educators, parents and students that helps improve school environments, came in third.

And, drumroll please ... The Challenge Champion, our overall winner, was Cargo42 because of the high judges’ scores and the strong People’s Pick showing.

What separated today’s featured winners from the pack? The written business plans scored well in most of the key areas, including business model, marketing strategy, financials, management team, value proposition and market opportunity. Many of the teams have sought mentorship and support from community entrepreneurship organizations — and it showed.

Some of today’s winners are first-timers or hoping to turn a side hustle into a full-time business; some are serial entrepreneurs or professionals with decades of industry experience. Yet they all are in the early stages of their startups. We will be following their progress!

Find profiles of the 2017 Challenge winners through the links below or on

Challenge Champion: Trucking meets tech in Cargo42’s winning strategy

FIU Track Winner: Software created by hoteliers for hoteliers is primed to scale

High School Track Winner: A simple straw to help combat a widespread rape problem? ‘Brilliant’

Runners up:

This startup wants to help you keep your toothy smile

Far away, yet so near: App lets kids, distant loved ones read together

Excess restaurant food + hungry college students = winning social venture idea

Startup developing a useful, affordable tool to help nonverbal children

Attacking consumer debt with a next-generation tech solution

Flash sales for foodies can help restaurants tackle food waste

Helping and connecting U.S. veterans is mission of VetNet

Emergency response app has real-time potential to save lives

Challenge finalists represents a range of industries

Related content:

Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge judges

Entrepreneur bootcamp basics: Focus your vision, build a great team, listen to your customers