By Nancy Dahlberg
Back in November, the Ford Motor Company Fund and 1863 Ventures announced an inaugural pitch competition for women entrepreneurs in South Florida, as it launched a full day program of speakers and panel discussions at the Miami Dade College Idea Center. They planned to have a big finale pitch competition and event in March, but the coronavirus pandemic had other plans. So last night, the organizations held a Shark Tank-style virtual event to choose the winners of the $50,000 in cash prizes and in-kind support.
Ten finalists with businesses focused on sustainability, biotech, health and wellness, food & beverage and other sectors competed in the HI-HerImpact competition through a live video platform for the funds to launch or grow their businesses. They were chosen based on the following criteria: the social enterprise must exist to solve a real community problem, have a business model that will ultimately be sustainable, and focus on a product or service people will pay for.
The judges: Mary Culler, president of Ford Motor Company Fund; Kevin Cadette, executive director of Black Angels Miami; and Natalia Martinez-Kalinina, general manager of CIC Miami.
And the new HI-HERImpact Miami winners were…
- First Place: Patricia Buendia of Lifetime Omics – $25,000 (Growth stage)
- Second Place: Alexandra Ivanovitch of Equality Lab – $20,000 (Growth stage)
- Third Place: Vanessa Pierre of EcoRenew Solutions – $5,000 (Early stage)
“Ford Fund is proud to award first place to Patricia Buendia of Lifetime Omics, whose company utilizes the latest biotechnology and scientific methods to provide people with actionable insights to improve their health and wellbeing,” said Yisel Cabrera, Community Relations Manager for Ford Motor Company Fund.
Buendia, who has a background in bioformatics and has studied infectious diseases, founded Lifetime Omics in 2018. She has brought on two co-founders, Gabriela Sabate and Areeya Lila -- they all met as part of WIN Lab Miami -- and with the current coronavirus public health crisis, they have pivoted to direct their focus on building their CLAIRE platform that will use artificial intelligence and metagenomics to predict the severity and progression of bacteria and viral diseases like COVID-19, she said. The data can help inform physicians in their treatment decisions to help improve health outcomes and better use healthcare resources.
Buendia, Lifetime Omics' CEO, also has a large team of advisors and consultants, as she has worked with many scientists over the years. At Lifetime Omics, we work hard to impact communities and fight infectious diseases with technology and science. "We are currently writing a grant for the National Institutes of the Health, and we have a collaboration with the University of Miami Hospital to do this work," she said.
What's ahead? The team would like to hire a data analyst to join the team and may even establish its own lab, Buendia said. "We want to approach local hospitals to help them analyze their electronic health records, especially the ones from COVID-19, to see if through machine learning we find some patterns of which patients are progressing faster ... and are more at risk of ending up in ICU."
Second place winner, Alexandra Ivanovitch of Equality Lab, is using cutting-edge virtual reality technology to allow seniors to have transformative, immersive experiences. The third place winner, Vanessa Pierre of EcoRenew Solutions, is dedicated to the environmental upkeep of Haiti by re/up-cycling post-consumer and industrial goods.
Other finalists pitching were Jessica Barnes of 20Lighter; D Marie Thompson of MyRA Technologies; Shakeia Kegler of GovLia; Dani Spikes of Beloved Box; Julie Evans of Sustalytics; Brenda Noralus of Lush Delicacies Food Products; and Analys Rodriguez of Starloop.
“During these unprecedented times, it’s paramount that we support women entrepreneurs with the resources necessary to continue growing their mission-driven companies,” Cabrera said.
The HI-HERImpact initiative, which moved to Miami from DC last fall, is a joint venture between Ford Motor Company Fund and 1863 Ventures. Read about the kickoff event here and about one of the keynote speakers here. Its mission is to provide women entrepreneurs with resources like educational opportunities, technical assistance, mentoring, coaching, and financial resources to support their plans to create small businesses or startups that will also make communities better places to live. Since 2018, Ford Fund has awarded more than $250,000 in total funding to women-led enterprises in Detroit, Washington D.C. and now Miami.
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