STUDENTS GAIN INSIGHTS AND PRACTICAL ADVICE AT ENTREPRENEURSHIP SYMPOSIUM
BY RICHARD WESTLUND (MBA ’83) 

Thirteen years ago, Omar Soliman (BBA ’04), prepared the winning business plan for the School of Business’ second annual Business Plan Competition. Today, he is co-founder and CEO of College Hunks Hauling Junk, a $70 million company with 2,000 employees nationwide. “I stepped out of my comfort zone and took a risk,” said Soliman at the School’s Entrepreneurship Symposium, which closed out this year’s Business Plan Competition on March 30. “If you can form an emotional connection with your customers and deliver on your promise, everything else about your business will fall into place.”

Soliman was one of three successful alumni who offered their ideas, advice and insights to students at the half-day symposium, which included panel discussions on Miami’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and venture capital opportunities.

“Starting a business is like running a marathon,” said Jamie Rosenberg, founder and CEO of ClassWallet, a paperless solution for educators to allocate spending and track purchases. “You have to take micro steps one at a time. But the most important thing is understanding what’s driving your heart.” Rosenberg started his career as a corporate mergers and acquisitions attorney. But his life took a different path in 1998 after he was able to coax a “high five” from a partially paralyzed Haitian student he had been helping as a volunteer mentor. “I started a charity called AdoptAClassroom to raise money for teachers, and began asking for donations,” he said. “More recently I started ClassWallet to have a bigger impact.”

Albert Santalo launched Avisena, a health care software company in 2001, successfully raising money in the wake of the dot-com recession. Eight years later, he founded CareCloud, a Miami-based company that offers practice management software and back-office services to health care providers. After stepping down as CEO and chairman, Santalo is now planning his next venture. “It has never been easier to become an entrepreneur,” he said. “There are many great platforms to help you launch a business with very little outside funding. If you are serious about your idea and willing to work hard every day, I encourage you to jump in. Otherwise, you’ll be watching from the sidelines.”

At the symposium, JC Whitner (BBA ’11), director of business development for Startup Bootcamp, moderated a discussion on “The Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Miami” with panelists Wifredo Fernandez, co-founder of The Lab Miami; Natalia Martinez-Kalinia, general manager of Cambridge Innovation Center Miami; Peter Martinez, co-director of Refresh Miami; and Matt Haggman, program director for the Knight Foundation.

“If you see yourself as a change-maker, Miami is the place to be,” Martinez said. “We are all very collegial, making it easy to access the right resources. Even well-established companies contribute to the ecosystem here.” Haggman noted that Miami is one of the top five U.S. cities in new business formations, with an appealing lifestyle, international population and global connections. “Miami is at a formative stage, with a wide-open field that rewards innovation and entrepreneurship. In many ways, we represent America's future.”

Whitner also moderated “Everything You Need to Know About Venture Capital,” a panel discussion with Raul Moas (BBA ’10, MS ’11), managing director at AGP Miami; Ben Kosinski (BBA ’11), managing partner of Kosinski Ventures; Jason Shuman (BBA ’13), principal of US Investment Partners and a former Business Plan Competition Grand Prize winner; and Ana Paul González, Miami operations for 500 Startups. “When looking for capital, you need to focus on building relationships,” Moas said. “Be polite, be persistent and be sure your financial partner is a good fit for your business.”

Spring 2017
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