Business Plan Challenge

Recession was downfall of early startups

There are few things harder than trying to run your own business — even if the idea behind it is so good that it wins the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge.

Which is why only about half of the companies that have won over the past two decades appear to be active in 2018.

Most that failed to make it share a common feature: They won before 2008, the year of the global financial meltdown.

A typical example is FlowerGarage.com, which won the Challenge in 2000. A concept created by brothers Alex and Tony Muñoz-Suárez to link growers with retailers, the company had already raised nearly $2 million in venture funding by the time they were declared Challenge winners in 2000.

Along the way, the brothers changed the name of the company to Seedra. And that’s where the trail runs cold — neither FlowerGarage.com nor Seedra.com appear to be up and running, and neither brother could be reached for comment.

Cameron Gunn, who founded hurricane-resistant window company Shield Technology Group, was declared a co-winner in 2002. By 2008, Gunn said his company had $1 million in annual revenues.

Today, Gunn serves as a vice president for US Methanol LLC, according to his LinkedIn page. He could not be reached for comment.

Other past winners that appear to have been knocked out include ProTop, the 2003 winner that the Herald described as a biodegradable successor to the Post-It Note; Boobaloo, the 2004 winner that sought to put brightly colored children’s shopping carts into malls; and Dish Rags, a dish satellite covering tech firm that won in 2006.

The apparent survivor-winners from before 2008 also seem to have a commonality: They are in science and medicine, fields largely immune from market gyrations. Peter Sayet, founder of 2002 winner Precision Medical Devices, said his urology incontinence relief device has been successfully tested in animals and is almost set for human trials. Naphtali Rishe, an FIU computer science professor, declined to comment on the status of his TerraFly project, which was a 2002 co-winner. But the TerraFly.com website is still up and running.

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