For Florida Atlantic University student Thomas Gregory and his friends, South Florida always has been a playground. Growing up in Fort Lauderdale, Gregory enjoyed boating, fishing, kayaking, and other outdoor activities that residents of this area also enjoy year-round.
“So, I thought, why not make a whole brand out of it?” said Gregory, a junior majoring in management with a concentration in entrepreneurship. “It was a lifestyle that our group of friends enjoyed, so I decided to capitalize on that.”
Gregory did just that on April 10 when his company, SoFla Sunwear, took first place in the student track of FAU’s 2015 Business Plan Competition.
A beach apparel company, SoFla Sunwear sets out to distinguish and celebrate the lifestyle that exists in South Florida. Gregory, 22, first developed a business plan as part of a class assignment for his advanced business planning course with FAU professor Kevin Cox, who encouraged him to enter the competition, which is hosted by the Adams Center for Entrepreneurship and the College of Business.
Teams in the FAU student track and entrepreneur track competed for a share of more than $200,000 in cash and prizes to launch their business. Red Pepper Group was the event’s presenting sponsor. The competition provided the opportunity for participants to vet their business ideas before a panel of successful entrepreneurs, early stage investors and venture capital principals. More than 200 teams originally registered to compete, with judges selecting 16 teams to advance to the final round.
“I worked really hard on my presentation and practiced for two weeks before I faced the judges,” Gregory explained.
He’s now talking to investors and developing a plan to scale the business. He’s investing the funding he won in the competition into the business and plans to make a major launch in the coming months.
“The Business Plan Competition allowed me the opportunity to take a small company to the big stage,” Gregory said. “It’s giving us a real shot to grow and flourish.”
Second place in the student track went to Hyperbius, LLC, creator of the HyperChiller, a simple device that takes up to 12 ounces of hot coffee fresh out of a single-serve machine down to room temperature within 60 seconds after brewing stops without diluting the coffee’s strength. Third place winner of the student track is TripsCommerce, a SaaS-based system, e-commerce solution for travel operators to manage and automate their business more efficiently and economically, enabling travel operators to establish their business online in minutes without any need for designers or programmers.
First place winner of the entrepreneur track is Rotation Manager, a company that makes clinical rotations in nursing and allied health programs easy and compliant by bringing students, hospitals and colleges into one unified platform. Second place went to Transfasten, a posterior minimally invasive approach to sacroiliac joint fusion to alleviate sacroiliac joint pain. Third place winner in the entrepreneur track is CO2 Conversion/Dioxide Materials, a new chemical value chain that uses waste CO2 and renewable energy instead of oil and gas to provide an inexpensive route to high volume chemicals.
Kimberly Gramm, director of the Adams Center for Entrepreneurship and associate vice president for FAU’s Tech Runway, said the competition “celebrates the entrepreneurial spirit that we see all over South Florida.”
“The presentations we saw from the finalists engaged their audience and made the judges’ decisions very difficult,” she said. “All of these entrepreneurs have placed themselves on the path to success.”
The three-day event began with the Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce’s Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) Investor Panel, a culmination of a 30-week program in which students in grades 6-12 developed legitimate businesses and pitched to investors for seed funding.
At the Kick Off Reception and Elevator Pitch Event, each of the 16 final round teams presented a 90-second elevator pitch, and reception guests voted for their favorite. The winner, Let It Rot, received the $5,000 People’s Choice Award sponsored by JPMorgan Chase & Co. Let It Rot, is a social enterprise working under the already established nonprofit organization, the Palm Beach County Food Bank, and is working to heighten the efficiency of the Food Bank by repurposing their food waste into a marketable worm compost product.The competition concluded with business plan presentations from the FAU student and entrepreneur tracks and a keynote talk by Dr. Maurice Ferré, co-founder of MAKO Surgical Corp., a world leader in robotic orthopedic surgery.