Published Monday, December 17, 2001
Blast from the past
A look at last year's winners
BY JOHN DORSCHNER
Win a few, lose a few -- that could be the motto of last year's
winners of The Herald's Business Plan Challenge.
Last year's No. 3 is still chugging along. Paul McKain, a
Sunrise firefighter, keeps plugging away with Play Safe
Systems, which senses pressure flowing through pool
pumps. If there is a major change -- such as a child blocking
the drain -- the device shuts the pump off. That could save
lives, such as that of a 12-year-old Kendall boy who became
stuck to a drain in a Bahamian pool and drowned two years
McKain knew he had a good concept, but he didn't have the
business experience to promote it. Since the contest last
year, he says, he has found investors ``who really know how
to develop this thing. . . . They have the expertise I don't,''
Maria Perez, speaking for the investors, say they don't want
to identify themselves at the moment or say how much
they've invested. The ``new, improved'' product had a ``great
rollout'' at a trade show in Phoenix last month, Perez says,
and now has its own website, www.playsafesystems.com.
Last year's No. 2 and No. 5 winners -- a husband and wife
team who run ImagExpress in West Dade -- report mixed
results with their ideas.
Richard O'Brien's PDF Law was intended to help the legal
profession move from paper to digital. His second-place
finish, he says, was ``an affirmation of good writing skills,
but it generated practically zero interest.''
Since O'Brien came up with his idea a year ago, Adobe
Acrobat, leaders in PDF (portable document format), have
been moving actively into the legal field, offering features that
promote direct e-filing from law office to courthouse, although
Adobe doesn't yet provide the ``seamless integration'' of
exhibits and other documents that O'Brien envisioned.
His wife, Barbara B. Thomas, reports better luck with a
version of her idea for BusinessCardCD.com.
Her original idea was to sell miniature compact discs that
would be stuffed with information, graphics and charts and
written documents, that salesmen and executives could give
out as high-tech business cards.
Caught in the tech implosion last year, Thomas wasn't able
to generate any venture capital. Still, she has gone ahead,
finding there was more interest in the full-sized CDs for a
variety of uses.
She has been using in-house duplicating equipment to make
copies of CDs for customers and has gotten into the
business of silk-screening CDs. One use: Putting a
company's logo on CD-Rs, so that later, when the company
makes a CD to send out to customers with visuals or
documents recorded on it, the logo is already on the surface
of the disk.
This summer, her multimedia production department did a
test project for Dole Fresh Flowers, producing a CD with an
eight-minute video and an interactive presentation about the
Altogether, says Thomas, the CD business has accounted
for about $100,000 in sales.
Not so fortunate, apparently, were last year's winners -- Tony and Alex Muñoz-Suárez, who were developing FlowerGarage.com, intending to link flower growers around the world with retailers.
They had a lot going for them. Alex had been a Latin
American financial expert with J.P. Morgan. Brother Tony
knew all about flowers as owner of Heaven Scent in
After they entered the contest (but before they won), venture
capitalists committed $1.4 million -- a huge sum last fall
considering that many dot.coms were already collapsing.
Marketing experts told them FlowerGarage was a crummy
name. They changed it to Seedra and vowed to manage their
It didn't work out. Seedra.com isn't a functioning site. Nor is
FlowerGarage. The brothers' New York and Miami phone
numbers have been disconnected. A woman at Heaven
Scent says the brothers sold the business and she has no
idea what happened to them.
Much better off is a concept that some of our judges liked,
with reservations. Wind and Rain, Andy Parrish's idea for
constructing affordable housing in poor areas, finished sixth
in the judges' eyes.
It fared much better at the Harvard Business School.
Working with a new partner, Andy Louis-Charles, Wind and
Rain came in first among 300 entries in the school's African
American Student Union Entrepreneurial Ventures
Wind and Rain walked away with the $10,000 grand prize --
and is now working with the Knight Foundation and others to
expand their reach in South Florida.
Copyright 2001 Miami Herald