Pinecrest

Young entrepreneurs pitch business ideas to youths and families

Vicente Fernandez, 23, talked to kids about his sports aggregation website, SportsManias.
Vicente Fernandez, 23, talked to kids about his sports aggregation website, SportsManias. Miami Herald Staff

While on a trip to Colombia with her mom in 2011, Natalia Rodriguez found a box of instant coffee cubes at a small bodega in Barbosa.

As a coffee lover, Rodriguez, 25, enjoyed the convenience of having good coffee that can be made without a machine and not having to wait in line for a latte, especially when she was in a rush to get to class. That’s how she got the idea for Jiva.

Jiva, Rodriguez’s company, makes coffee cubes using just two ingredients: coffee and panela, unrefined cane sugar. The cubes come sweetened, unsweetened and flavored. She also has lemonade and hot chocolate cubes. All the cubes are vegan, kosher and gluten-free.

“We pride ourselves on using just those two ingredients and making sure they’re high-quality,” Rodriguez said. “We think we can take this product really far.”

Young entrepreneurs presented their businesses to about 20 kids, teens and parents at AlligatorZone, a free public program that gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch their startup companies to youths and families, answer questions, and get feedback on their products and ideas. The program partners with libraries to host the workshops. AlligatorZone was held at the Pinecrest library Monday evening.

The kids, ranging in age from 6 to 13, asked how the entrepreneurs make a profit, whether there is advertising on their websites, where they got their ideas from and how difficult it is to make a website.

Ramesh Sambasivan, a Tampa Bay entrepreneur and AlligatorZone leader, said the point of the program is for enterprising individuals to learn to simplify their message for a broad audience and not get caught up in technical jargon.

“For entrepreneurs, getting their message out with clarity and in simple language is one of the biggest challenges,” Sambasivan said.

Vicente Fernandez, 23, wanted to create a website that brought together sports content from different online platforms to one place. He and his mom, an advertising executive, co-founded SportsManias.

The website features aggregated Tweets, articles and videos from local and national sports reporters and sifts them into categories based on the sport and team. There’s no cost to join the website, and users can personalize their experience by logging in to the site and picking their favorite teams.

The site launched in October 2012 and now gets about 2.5 million unique visitors a month. SportsManias is also an iPhone and Android app.

“We wanted to capture the craziness that sports fans have for their teams and sports in one place,” Fernandez said. “This website is my life.”

Kim Carrier of Palmetto Bay took her boys Jaden, 13, and Kyan, 9, to AlligatorZone.

“They both have expressed an interest in running their own businesses, and I wanted to bring them to show them they can,” she said.

Kyan is interested in creating scholastic websites similar to Khan Academy. Jaden ran a video game, movie and book review blog and is now working on a blog with his mom about kids’ versus parents’ opinions about everything from homework and playing video games to getting in trouble.

For more information about the businesses and AlligatorZone, visit jivacubes.com, sportsmanias.com and alligatorzone.org.

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