Business Plan Challenge

Meet the 2015 Business Plan Challenge judges

Sheri Colas-Gervais
Sheri Colas-Gervais

Community Track

Sheri Colas-Gervais is vice president of economic development and urban initiatives for the Beacon Council, Miami-Dade’s public-private economic development partnership. She is charged with stimulating growth of new jobs via small business development, expansion and retention strategies. Prior to joining the Beacon Council, she was general manager and principal of SCG Group and has held positions in Fortune 500 corporations in brand management, strategic planning and other areas.

Rafael Cruz is regional director of the Florida Small Business Development Center, in charge of all operations in Broward County. Cruz leads a team of certified business analysts who counsel and train entrepreneurs in all critical aspects of successfully starting and running a business. He is also on the faculty of The Artist as Entrepreneur Institute. A marketing and service-industry expert, Cruz held leadership positions in Fortune 500 corporations and privately held companies before joining FSBDC.

John Hall is executive director of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program at Miami Dade College. He has served as the managing partner, president and/or CEO of five businesses, including a venture capital fund and a publicly-traded commercial bank. He was successful in the turn-around of three troubled companies and served on the strategic acquisitions team for successful mergers and acquisitions valued at over $300 million. Hall was inducted into the South Florida Business Hall of Fame by the Florida Council on Economic Education.

Melissa Krinzman is co-founder and managing partner of Krillion Ventures, a $50 million venture capital fund that invests in emerging technology companies at the seed and venture stages. She is also the founder of Venture Architects, a business planning firm that positions early and growth stage companies for success in the capital-raising process. Since 1998, Venture Architects has worked with more than 900 companies that have raised more tha $1 billion in investment capital.

Richard Lent is co-founder and managing partner of Thesis Ventures, a hands-on, early stage venture fund based in Fort Lauderdale and focused on category-shaping consumer companies. Prior to Thesis, in New York City he founded Agency.net, one of the first independent digital marketing agencies, and TEN, a branding and innovation consultancy. Over his career, he has guided strategies for brands including Bacardi, The Bill Clinton Foundation, Viacom and Time Warner. Lent also co-founded the Society of Digital Agencies, serving as inaugural chairman.

Laura I. Maydón is managing director of Endeavor Miami, a nonprofit that searches and selects high-impact entrepreneurs to help them scale, with the objective of building an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Miami. She joined Endeavor with more than 15 years of experience identifying new business opportunities and driving growth in various industries, including in senior positions with Visa and Panamco. She also serves on the advisory board of Miami Dade College’s Idea Center.

Steven A. McKean specializes in starting and scaling technology companies. Most recently, he was CEO of Acceller, a company he founded and grew to 300 employees before merging with Bridgevine in 2014; he is vice chairman of the combined company. He also co-founded Animusoft and advises early stage companies in team-building, culture, financing and marketing. He is on the boards of Miami Children’s Hospital, the Orange Bowl Committee, YPO and the Zell Lurie Entrepreneurial Institute.

Joanna Schwartz is CEO and co-founder of EarlyShares, a leading online platform that gives accredited investors direct access to private opportunities in real estate, growth companies and investment funds. Prior to EarlyShares, Schwartz was the founder and managing director of Silver Hill Financial, which she grew to more than $1 billion in annual originations and 550 employees in offices nationwide. Schwartz, an angel investor, is past chair of the Miami chapter of the Young Presidents Organization.

Rob Strandberg is president and CEO of Enterprise Development Corp. of South Florida (EDC), a public-private partnership that assists emerging science and technology companies. He oversees the EDC’s mentor program, a number of incubators, EDC conferences, administration of the New World Angels and other programs. He has been a CEO of tech companies Xytrans, PSC and DATAMAX and a director of Sawtek/Triquint, Merix/Via Systems and Quipp/ITW. One of his passions is helping startups succeed.

Mike Tomás is president and CEO of BioHeart, a Sunrise-based biotech company focused on developing and commercializing stem cell therapies. Previously he spent nearly 20 years driving the evolution of telecom technology in the United States and Mexico in executive roles. An active investor, Tomás serves on boards of Avisena, Rokk3r Labs, Easy Solutions and Bioheart. He chairs FIU's Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center board and serves on the boards of Career Source Florida and Miami Dade College’s Idea Center.

FIU Track

Karlene C. Cousins is associate professor of Decision Science and Information Systems in the College of Business at Florida International University. As an attorney, entrepreneur and business planning and commercialization expert, she has worked with technology, healthcare companies and government agencies on regulatory, data privacy, intellectual property, business and strategic planning and commercialization issues. She also co-founded ITWomen NextGen at FIU.

John Fleming is the technology practice lead at Biztegra Partners, a social web agency headquartered in West Palm Beach. Fleming has started companies, raised money, built teams, had successes and, he acknowledges, his share of failures. He attributes his success to having been lucky enough to be part of fabulous teams that built great products that became market leaders in their space. He is on the board of the Florida International University Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center.

Robert H. Hacker is managing partner of GH Capital Partners, a Miami consultancy that specializes in growth strategies, acquisitions and turnarounds, is the former CFO of One Laptop per Child Association, and is the author of Billion Dollar Company. Hacker is an adjunct professor at FIU’s Engineering School and the Honors College and the MIT Sloan School of Management, where he teaches courses on developing business models and social entrepreneurship. He is also on the board of the FIU Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center.

Seema Pissaris is a professor at Florida International University’s College of Business. She is also an avid entrepreneur, including co-founding Blinds International in Fort Lauderdale. Her latest venture, Games Trader, became a publicly traded company on the Toronto Stock Exchange. She is particularly passionate about social entrepreneurship and consults for social enterprise organizations.

Kimberly Taylor is associate professor of marketing for Florida International University College of Business. Her research has been published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Journal of Advertising Research, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Sciences and other publications. Taylor has been active in working with student organizations such as the American Marketing Association and Alpha Kappa Psi, the international business fraternity, as well as as a mentor.

High School Track

David M. Añón is vice president of marketing for eMerge Americas, bringing to the position more than 20 years of global experience guiding brands through periods of accelerated growth in various industries including consumer electronics, mobile, broadcast and professional equipment, and sports and entertainment. He served as vice president and general manager for WWE in Latin America, managing a multi-million dollar revenue budget across all lines of business and was senior director of marketing for BlackBerry in Latin America.

Wifredo Fernandez, a social entrepreneur and professor, is the director of the Center for Research and Transformative Entrepreneurship (CREATE) at Miami Dade College, a venture incubator/accelerator for students. He co-founded The LAB Miami, a 10,000-square-foot campus for creative entrepreneurs in Wynwood. He has served as Adjunct Faculty at MDC and as a visiting fellow on Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Miami School of Law.

Leandro Finol is a serial entrepreneur, investor and professor. His first business in the United States was DIREC4U, a company that was formed with very little capital, grew to $76 million in revenue in six years and was sold in 2007. He has recently joined Miami Dade College as the executive director of the Idea Center, where he will work to bring innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship to the institution and community.

Rafael Saldaña is the dean of the School of Business at Miami Dade College. Saldaña has an extensive background as a business manager and banker, including as CEO of Banesco USA, and brings diverse market experience in the United States, Latin American and European institutions. His passion for education has led him to Miami Dade College. He is an Executive Committee Board Member of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and a Trustee of the Miami Foundation.

Joanie Stringer is a senior wealth strategist for the East Region of Northern Trust. Her primary responsibility is to develop customized financial solutions by leveraging Northern Trust’s expertise in financial planning, asset management, trust services, credit and technology. She has also served as the president of the Mid-Atlantic Region based in Washington D.C. and president of the Connecticut office based in Greenwich. She was on the United Way Leadership team that ran the 1999 and 2000 corporate campaigns.

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