FIU students and alum make their pitch for the votes in the Business Plan Challenge.

Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge

The quest for the win is on.

FIU students and alumni competing in the annual Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge recently pitched their ventures live before a panel of judges. They included e-commerce ventures, health and wellness platforms and a web-based debt negotiation service.

Now through May 1, community members can visit to watch the pitch videos and vote for the People’s Pick contest among the FIU Track finalists.

The Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge, now in its 18th year, opens the door for anyone with a business idea or an operating startup that is under two years old to compete for funding that could get the venture off the ground or grow an existing business.

The contest is sponsored by FIU’s Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center.

“For more than a decade, this exciting and rewarding competition has given countless entrepreneurs a chance to turn their business idea into reality,” said Jesus Padilla, program assistant at the Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center.

A record 255 business plans were submitted this year, covering concepts in education, fashion, music, healthy living, toys, pets, social gaming and food. Their ultimate goal: securing investors to get the venture off the ground or grow an existing business active for less than two years.

The Top 6 entries in the FIU Track pitched their ideas before a panel of judges on April 12 at the Miami Herald.

The FIU Track finalists:

Joust, presented by students Jonas Erthal, Julio Benavides & Franco Aquino (BBA ’15), is an online platform that streamlines the quoting and payment process for automotive services.

Jonas Erthal, Franco Aquino & Julio Benavides
Jonas Erthal, Franco Aquino & Julio Benavides

Jurbid, presented by Aydin Bonabi (BBA ’05, MBA ’06), is an online legal marketplace that connects clients to lawyers. Clients can post their case online for free, review lawyer proposals, and hire a lawyer.

Aydin Bonabi
Aydin Bonabi

Poochperks, presented by Tina Vidal (BBA ’05, MBA ‘06), provides a monthly customizable box of carefully curated goods for the pampered pooch.

Tina Vidal
Tina Vidal

SettleiTsoft, presented by Rich Rudner & Carlos Alberto Garcia (MS ’12), is a free, web-based debt negotiation platform designed to facilitate communication between debtors and creditors.

Rich Rudner
Rich Rudner

SkyBox Checkout, presented by FIU student Taylor Phillippi and Emilio Lizarraga, is an international e-commerce checkout solution with shipment to 200 countries and territories and multicurrency in 140 local currencies.

Taylor Phillippi
Taylor Phillippi

ValueDoc, presented by Alain Fernandez (BBA ’04), is an online health and wellness marketplace where cash-paying patients can secure appointments for more than 100 services with licensed health professionals.

Alain Fernandez
Alain Fernandez

Insight and guidance.

In addition to securing investors’ dollars, many contestants pointed to guidance from experts and entrepreneurs as an important driver to enter the Business Plan Challenge.

“This was our first pitch,” said Franco Aquino, who presented Joust. “As such, we came in ready to obtain some feedback on our idea and proposed implementation plan.”

At the conclusion of each presentation, the judges provided feedback on each plan, as well as on achieving business success in general. Rich Rudner, of debt-negotiation platform SettleiTsoft, said he received “excellent suggestions that will impact future presentations.”

FIU alumnus Alain Fernandez, presenter of the online health and wellness marketplace ValueDoc, entered the Business Plan Challenge hoping to get professional feedback and direction from start-up experts. He was “humbled” to reach the final round.

For some of FIU’s prospective entrepreneurs, being a part of the contest was the culmination of many years of hearing about the event. “I first heard about The Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge several years ago when I was becoming more familiar with the rise of start-ups in Miami,” said Aydin Bonabi, who hopes to launch Jurbid, an online legal marketplace.

Which is Your Favorite?

Visit to watch the pitch videos and vote for the People’s Pick contest among the FIU Track finalists.

And the winner is…

On May 9 winners will be announced and profiled in a Miami Herald Business Monday special section, and on, that will also include semifinalists and finalists.

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