Student Entrepreneurs Compete in Startup Challenge at MDC

Budding entrepreneurs competing for seed money to make their ideas turn into real businesses. That's the premise of the popular CNBC show, Shark Tank. It's also the idea behind the Startup Challenge at Miami-Dade College's Idea Center.

“Last time I felt this was when my 12-year-old daughter was in the spelling bee competition, I really want all of them to win, they all deserve to win," said Leandro Finol, the Idea Center's executive director.

The Startup Challenge started four months ago when Finol called for entries to the contest from the student body. Ideas for 80 projects came in, and from those, six were chosen as finalists. Those six competed in the final round of judging Friday. Five volunteer judges, all from South Florida's business community, watched the presentations and decided which two runners up would receive $3,000 each, and which winning plan would receive $5,000.

“The prize is great but the educational experience is the whole idea, all of them now know how to start a startup," Finol said.

The six finalists included an idea to start an all-seafood, gourmet food cart; one student created his own all-natural stain remover; another group started a marketing firm; two students collaborated on creating a video production service, and another has already started a website that allows customers to shop at local stores on-line.

Felix Puello and Socrate Elie showed the judges a prototype of their product idea. They started a company called Onetown Boards to create skate boards which have speedometers, video cameras, and front and rear lights built in.

“There’s nothing like it on the market and I think and I hope that it will definitely revolutionize the longboard industry," Puello said.

Elie says he and Puello have surveyed their fellow skateboarders, they've talked to managers at the local surf and skate shops, and they're confident their roll-out will be successful, if they can get that far.

“It’s everything into one," Elie said. "So you don't have to spend extra money and the lights provide safety at night."

Ginette Transtama is starting a non-profit service agency called second chance, focusing on counseling and tutoring kids who’ve been arrested. Why? Because she's been there herself, is now in the nursing program at MDC, and wants to help other kids break the cycle of getting into trouble and dropping out of school.

“This is something I’m passionate about, my whole life is based on helping people," said Transtama.

Her approach has already worked. Belineda Osias was always in trouble. She was expelled from school. Ginette stepped into her life and turned Belineda's life around.

“As much as I wanted to be rebellious, she was very persistent," Osias said. "There’s someone here trying to better my life, why not listen to her?”

"I got her to focus on school, she stopped skipping, she started getting better grades and she even graduated valedictorian of her class at her new high school," Transtama said.

Now Osias is a Miami-Dade College student, with plans to go into the health care field as well.

Second Chance did not make the judge's cut. So who won the big prize?

“Today we have six finalists, but all of them are winners," Finol said. True, but everyone in the room wanted to see who was going to get a $5,000 infusion of capital.

After announcing the runners up, Marketing Connections and then Hi Foods, the food cart idea, Finol got down to business.

“And the winner of our first startup challenge competition," he said into the microphone to the silent room, "Is Onetown Longboards!”

You could say Puello and Elie are now chairmen of the boards. The two business majors plan to invest every cent of the prize money into their company.

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