Scooters, robotic florists, Guiado: They were all at 2019 eMerge Americas

PitBull congratulates Danya Sherman, founder and CEO KnoNap, winner of the eMerge Americas 2019 Shark Tank startup competition, Miami Beach, Florida, Tuesday, April, 30, 2019.
PitBull congratulates Danya Sherman, founder and CEO KnoNap, winner of the eMerge Americas 2019 Shark Tank startup competition, Miami Beach, Florida, Tuesday, April, 30, 2019.

The 2019 eMerge Americas conference closed Tuesday with a familiar face: Armando Perez, better known as Pitbull.

“Mr. 305,” a founding equity partner of the conference, ended the conference by announcing the winner of this year’s startup pitch competition. Washington D.C.-based KnoNap, a specially designed napkin that can detect harmful drugs in drinks, won overwhelming applause from the audience and a warm reception from judges, including Perez, who praised founder Danya Sherman’s crisp and enthusiastic presentation.

KnoNap beat out four other finalists: Mexico-based Swap, a payments system; Brazil-based FlowSense, a digital marketing platform; Colombia-based TiendApp, a shopping platform; and Miami-based Bioverse Labs, an insect detector. Sherman, a senior at George Washington University, receives $100,000 in Google cloud credits, expenses for a San Francisco visit to meeting with tech accelerator Y Combinator CEO Michael Seibel, and 6 months office space at LAB Miami.

Attendees at the conference’s sixth edition praised the quality of speakers and the 106 startups — some just launching, others full-fledged products — that showcased their ideas.

This year, the speaker group included Juan Guaidó, who is seeking to oust Venezuela’s Nicholas Maduro as president. Guaidó appeared as part of a video presentation in an interview taped April 25, before Tuesday’s uprising brought protests and loyalists to Venezuela’s streets.

Guaidó called for the creation of a venture fund that would support Venezuelan entrepreneurs at home and abroad. In an interview, Wellington-based lawyer Franklin Hoet-Linares, who helped facilitate Guiadó’s appearance, said he is leading the fund’s creation and hopes to raise $20 million.

Under the new leadership of CEO Felice Gorordo and president Melissa Medina, eMerge made a determined effort to attract startups from throughout the hemisphere—the product of the company’s roadshow last fall and winter. About 500 applied for the showcase; selection included booth space and travel to the show.

About three dozen startups came from South Florida. That included Fort Lauderdale-based Floravina. Founder Alex Frost, from a family of florists, led a team that has designed a robotic arm that can solve a fundamental problem now plaguing the industry: a shortage of florists with the knowledge of the physical arrangements required for mass shipping. He said his arm can save wholesalers 80 percent on labor costs. He plans to market the arm to florists and mass retailers like Walmart and Publix, who also handle bouquets.

Also in the showcase was Arturo Malave, founder of Boatrax, a Miami-based veteran of eMerge, said his company has pivoted from a boating services platform to marketing a device that can track boats that are being rented out through boat-sharing companies like Boatsetter. Boatrax can also monitor real-time gauges like fuel use and equipment monitors.

And Miami-based SunVessel formally unveiled a scooter-like product that resembles a unicycle but is easier to ride. It’s designed for dense urban cores; founder Sebastian Gomez-Puerto has expansion plans for the entire U.S.

eMerge organizers once again highlighted female entrepreneurs—like Samantha Desgranges. She created an app and New York-based company, called Hello Trainer, that lets users access personalized, localized recommendations for physical trainers and fitness gurus. Launched earlier this year, the app already has hundreds of users.

Lauding female leaders in the male-dominated tech industry is one eMerge goal. But the over-riding mission — cementing Miami as a tech hub — was best articulated by Mr. 305, who proclaimed his new name for the city as 30-FI. As the super-wifi-connected center of Latin America. The audience cheered.