Education-related startups and social-mission concepts were two big trends among this year’s entries in the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge.

Passion poured from the pages of the 234 business plan entries in the 19th annual Challenge, a near record, and included concepts for healthcare, education, the sharing economy, fashion, music, healthy living, toys, pets and food products.

Today, we reveal the semifinalists in the Community, FIU and High School tracks.

Having the right ingredients to win over our judges wasn’t easy. They were looking at the viability of the business model and the market opportunity. They wanted to see a strong team to carry out the big vision, a smart marketing strategy and realistic financial projections. For concepts in crowded fields — and there were a lot of those — product or service differentiation was critical. A good idea alone wasn’t enough: Our judges demanded a strong plan for execution.

To be sure, our three panels of judges — serial entrepreneurs, investors, academics and executives — had their work cut out for them. In addition to our judges, we called upon experts from CIC Miami, SCORE Miami-Dade and the Small Business Development Center at FIU to help us evaluate the plans. The Community Track drew the most entries, 109, presenting a mix of businesses representative of South Florida’s entrepreneurial diversity.

Competition in the High School Track, co-sponsored by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship South Florida, heated up with nearly 100 entries. Ransom Everglades and Gulliver Prep made them part of class projects and accounted for about half of the total entries. The track was rich with ideas for social-impact ventures.

For all 234 of you who entered, congratulations! You now have a strong start on your business plan — your road map to growing your business.

Whether or not you made this cut, we encourage you to take advantage of community resources to get help with your businesses, such as SCORE chapters around South Florida, the Small Business Development Centers at FIU and in Broward, or StartUP FIU, which is open to the community and has opened a new food incubator, and other accelerators. If you are in Miami-Dade, enter the American Entrepreneurship Award contest (, with a share of $125,000 in prizes up for grabs, by the April 27 deadline.

What’s ahead? Next week we will launch our People’s Pick video competition, which includes the top six finishers in the Community and FIU Tracks. We hope you will support them with your votes. The winners, finalists and semifinalists in all three tracks will be included in a special section of Business Monday on May 8.

Here, in alphabetical order, are the semifinalists:


Apollonix, by Jessica Shin, Paul Shin and Terri-Ann Brown, is the first online marketplace for ordering oral prosthetics and provides a win-win solution for both dentists and labs in this $10.9 billion industry.

Aquaco Farms, by Joe Cardenas, is an aquaculture company that has selected the Florida Pompano as the best species for its grow-out. This high-margin fish has been limited on menus due to the challenge of meeting demand from wild stock.

Cargo42, by Francine Gervazio, Murilo Amaral and Alfredo Keri, is a B2B marketplace for local trucking. It helps shippers find lower rates, access quality service and have their goods delivered on time by matching them with pre-verified trucks with empty space in them.

Caribu, by Maxeme Tuchman and Alvaro Sabido, marries video-calling and e-books to provide an interactive experience when family members are far apart. You simply make a call, choose a book together, and read or draw in real time as if you were in the same room.

Melanites, by Jennifer Pierre, designs and creates diverse toys, storybooks and games that celebrate brown boyhood. Its mission is to inspire children of color to dream big, stand tall and live out their childhood.

Modulux Lighting, by Bill Cummings, has created an LED-based grow-light product called GroMax focused on the massive cannabis market. GroMax lights are modular, programmable and scalable and can be assembled like Lego Blocks to create an efficient lighting solution for any size grower.

Pierce Plan, by Kelly Pierce, is the first software platform to automatically track academic requirements in real time to help high school student athletes more easily obtain scholarships to play in college, compete in the classroom and succeed in life.

School Climate Solutions, by Maribel Gonzalez, delivers customized on-demand content for educators, parents and students that helps improve school environments and creates pathways that lead to academic and social success.

Surgical & Aesthetic Supplies, by Camilo F. Sanchez and Dr. Sheri Prentiss, sells designer compression garments created to support recovery and healing at an affordable price for many inflammatory conditions including lymphedema, arthritis, swelling following surgery, fractures, burns or other trauma.

VarDragons, by Thomas Byrd Jr., Jason Keasler and Joe Rjeili, has created technology to transform real airplanes into dragons through mobile devices. VarDragons (Virtual / Augmented Reality Dragons) is an innovative massive multiplayer online mobile game using a new mixed-reality technology.

VideoRehearser, by Carlos Vazquez and David L. Kay, is a cloud-based training management system using neurobehavioral and educational principles to increase retention and improve professional and personal performance.

Zulubots, by Elizabeth, Monica and Julian F. De Zulueta, is a consumer robotics company that focuses on the design and fabrication of assistive robots for the home to improve the resident’s quality of life and provide prolonged independence. Zulubots is developing Carrli, a robot that helps customers lift and carry objects around the home.


DoUCare, by Maurice Pinto, is a cloud-based platform that uses a crowdsourcing business model to connect freelance caregivers to families seeking nonmedical home-care services for their elderly loved ones. Careseekers can get immediate or future-scheduled care services through a phone or web app. Caregivers can get access to an online marketplace that gets them hired locally at the rate of their choice.

Ketamine Health Centers, by Dr. Raul Cruz, Dr. Francisco Cruz, Dennis Diaz and May Nunez, will own, develop and operate multiple outpatient clinics to provide ketamine infusions, a new treatment modality for patients suffering from mental-health disorders. The clinic provides an innovative use of the FDA-approved anesthetic ketamine, whose effectiveness in the treatment of mental health is gaining recognition in the medical community.

MunchSquad, by Tara Demren, Eliana Alba and Don Sirivat, is a mobile app providing a real-time marketplace that allows food vendors (restaurants, bakeries, supermarkets) to reduce surplus food being thrown out at the end of the day by having it sold at a discount to students. MunchSquad also facilitates partnerships with local homeless shelters for the distribution of remaining food after student sales.

Nuvola, by Juan Carlos Abello, provides guest management software that helps hotels monitor and respond to hotel and guest needs and activities. Nuvola, staffed entirely by professionals with hospitality industry experience, has created a customer-service platform with mobile applications designed to be used by the hotel staff and by hotel guests.

SettleiTsoft, by Antonio Garcia, Carlos Garcia and Rich Rudner, provides a web-based and mobile accessible platform that offers 24/7 assistance to debtors and creditors as a bridge to facilitate and streamline the debt-negotiation process. It is designed to replace the traditional methods of debt resolution with an intuitive, interactive, transparent and secure online debt settlement process.

Use Your Words, by Yanesa Montenegro and Pablo Gomez, will develop an app used by parents to teach language and communication to their pre-verbal and nonverbal children on the autism spectrum. At its core, the app will be an interface of buttons with symbols representing words the child will press to communicate with parents, and will offer video tutorials and a progress recording feature.


BEST-Ware, by Eitan Dooreck-Aloni, Julia Ortiz and Erin Bakes of Ransom Everglades, is user-friendly software that enables parents to efficiently and effectively monitor and regulate their children’s phone usage while limiting the power struggle between parents and their children.

Coegi, by Yoav Grainer and Corey Kraftsow of Ransom Everglades, is a fun, innovative app that utilizes user restraint and gamification to discourage drivers from texting and driving. Coegi’s game rewards drivers for not using their phones while driving.

Equix, by Leonardo Nadais, Victor Rego and Aaron Carey of Gulliver Preparatory, is a portable, reusable water bottle that also includes a charger. Its target market is college students, athletes and office workers.

Gluton Free Zone, by Jamie Shapiro, Alexandra Yaniz and Juliana Yaniz of Gulliver Prep, is an app that would provide all the information necessary for anyone following a gluten-free diet, including what goods have gluten, gluten-free replacements, restaurant and supermarket recommendations, meal plans and more.

HART (High Altitude Rocket Transport), by Sebastian Abisleiman and Adrian Ruiz of the School for Advanced Studies, will inspire students around the world to consider engineering and STEM fields by providing innovative model rocket kits that can be improved upon by the collaborative global community.

LocatED, by Chase Feldman, Clinton Jules, Ben Manley, Marissa Manley, Eliza Morton, Stephanie Morton and Monica Wang of Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High, is a community emergency response app, helping registered users having a medical emergency find a medical device such as an inhaler or EpiPen nearby.

Micki’s, by Simon Bindefeld-Boccara and Jake Pelayo of Ransom Everglades, would create an app that enables restaurants to advertise real-time flash sales on specific meals when business has been slow, combating food waste and allowing more consumers to try their dishes.

Shock-Block, by Caroline Krystoff, Kate Heatzip and Danna Martinez of Pine Crest School, envisions Lacrosse Concussion Helmut Sensors that attach to the inside of a helmet to evaluate the impact and send an alert to the coach.

Smart Straws, by Susana Cappello, Carolina Baigorri and Victoria Roca of Gulliver Prep, would develop and market a line of straws that detect the most common rape drugs when they are placed in nonalcoholic or alcoholic drinks.

Speckey, by Aditya Devendra, Mihail Rogatykh and Paridhi Kapadia of American Heritage, is an innovative way to learn music and play a new instrument for beginners. Users can use the app to play via an interactive virtual diagram of the chords or keys.

SupportMe, by Harrison Kellner, Vivi Cardoso and Axel Rizzo of Gulliver Prep, is a social media app designed for teens who are victims of bullying or suffering from depression and anxiety. SupportMe will connect users who are going through similar struggles and also connect them with psychology students.

VetNet, by Carlos Esber, Austin Acosta and Julian Zighelboim of Ransom Everglades, is an app that would help veterans combat issues including unemployment, unavailability of resources like proper mental health therapy and lack of communication with people suffering similar experiences.

Congratulations to the semi-finalists and all 234 teams who completed plans and entered the Challenge. Keep us posted on your progress reaching your entrepreneurial dreams.