Every year in the University of Miami’s School of Business, students pitch their entrepreneurship ideas in front of a panel of judges in the Business Plan Competition (BCP) in the hopes to win the first, second and third place prizes of $10,000, $5,000 and $2,500, respectively. Additionally, the Paul Sugrue Entrepreneurial Spirit Award, which goes to a fourth contestant, gifts the winner $1,000.
From this competition, there have been students who have turned their ideas into reality. Two alumni placed during their time at UM and have used it as a springboard to jump-start their success.
Sidonia Swarm, last year’s BCP third place winner, graduated in May of 2014 and launched her company, REALDietitian, by July. Though she had an idea of what she wanted her company to be before the competition, the opportunity “came at a perfect time in my life,” she says.
REALDietitian is a mobile app that helps connect those who don’t have the resources to get in-person help with dietitians who are available by phone. Clients can either schedule calls with dietitians or use the 24-7 text and talk service, which is available for quick nutritional advice.
Swarm says that she originally wanted to be a dietitian. However, because she majored in management, marketing and entrepreneurship, she realized that she could best use her skills to connect people with medical services rather than practicing herself. She says she wanted to start a business that could be helpful to a larger group of people.
“I figured, if I don’t do this, another person is going to,” Swarm said. “[BCP] gave me structure about how to solidify [my idea] and do it.”
With only a core team of six people and 35 contracted dietitians in Florida, California, Illinois and Maryland, Swarm works with insurance plans and there are already “a couple hundred thousand networks” in place.
Swarm also says that during her time at UM, the diversity on campus and in her classes gave her a strong entrepreneurial foundation. Her professor, Susana Alvarez, also helped her.
“Taking my initial classes with Alvarez gave me … the most creativity,” Swarm said. “I learned how to speak to different kinds of people and present my ideas.”
For students who are planning to become entrepreneurs, Swarm says it’s not so scary.
“Try it, and if it doesn’t work the first, you’re going to learn from it,” she said. “There’s so much support at UM… just do it.”
Alumnus Rodolfo Saccoman also participated in the BCP in 2007 and won second place for his business, My Therapy Journal.
The journal allows people to post anonymous and private messages to a community of users who are searching for healthier and more enjoyable ways to live, according to MyTherapyJournal.com. The app also offers progress charts and graphs to help users with their journeys.
In 2009, Saccoman and his brother Alexis appeared in an episode of Shark Tank, an ABC entrepreneur show where teams pitch their companies to a group of five investors in hopes that one of them will express interest in their business.
Saccoman and his brother were one of the just 12 companies to successfully get an investment that season. Saccoman says the show gave them “incredible public relations exposure,” especially since “we needed to raise money.”
“I learned there are no manuals, you have to do your own thing,” he said. “You have to be able to navigate, change directions and be very liquid.”
He recently ventured into another company called AdMobilize, a start-up that provides real-time metrics for indoor and outdoor advertising. The company started about three years ago, and according to Saccoman, it has already raised over $3 million in investments.
“I saw there was a huge disconnect of what online analytics and the physical world is,” Saccoman said. “We’re creating a platform that connects the physical world to the online grid.”
Saccoman says that all of his accomplishments could not have been possible without UM.
“It gave me a lot of self-confidence to say, ‘You know what? It’s time to create and follow my true inner-voice,’” he said.
Saccoman also mentioned that he used his classes and the resources at the Launch Pad as a way to receive mentorship and additional knowledge about how to bring his ideas to life.
“Any student who thinks they have the fire in them to create, they should definitely go there,” he said.
Saccoman believes up-and-coming entrepreneurs need to understand their own weaknesses and fears, and find an idea “that doesn’t allow you to sleep.”
“[Being a student], it’s the best environment … you have all these teachers and your pressures are lower before you have kids and all that,” Saccoman said. “Get out of your comfort zone, experiment and go do things.”
Featured image courtesy 401(K) 2012 via Flickr