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,''

                                      says McKain.


                                      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,


                                      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


                                      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, 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

                                      money carefully.


                                      It didn't work out. 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