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The Launch Pad Celebrates Seven Years of Empowering Decision-Makers

The Launch Pad Celebrates Seven Years of Empowering Decision-Makers

By Maya Bell
UM News

Celebrating The Launch Pad’s anniversary are, from left, Adrian Alvarez, Sam Palmer Shields, Isabelle Martinez, Will Silverman, Elijah Kirkland-Andrews, Connor Masterson, and Robert Welbon.

Celebrating The Launch Pad’s anniversary are, from left, Adrian Alvarez, Sam Palmer-Shields, Isabelle Martinez, Will Silverman, Elijah Kirkland-Andrews, Connor Masterson, and Robert Welbon.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (August 26, 2015)—About one a day. That’s how many ideas walk into The Launch Pad at Toppel every year. Not by themselves, of course, but in the laptops, notebooks, sketchpads, hearts, and brains of University of Miami students and alumni yearning to start a new venture.

Over the past seven years, nearly 300 of those ideas have evolved into start-up companies and about 900 jobs, which by many measures would make the first-of-its kind resource center for budding entrepreneurs an unqualified success. But as The Launch Pad celebrated its seventh anniversary with an open house on Wednesday, co-founder William Scott Green, senior vice provost and dean of undergraduate education, and director Will Silverman said they measure success not by what The Launch Pad’s participants—or their businesses—make, but by what they learn.

And that’s incalculable.

“What we’re really doing is creating empowered decision-makers,’’ said Silverman, a former biomedical researcher who joined The Launch Pad as a Venture Coach at its inception in fall 2008 and became its director four years later. “We don’t tell people what to do. When they come in and say, ‘I want to sell cookies,’ we help them figure out what they mean by asking the right questions. Do they want to sell at farmer’s markets, or do they want to be the next Mrs. Fields?”’

And even though roughly 3,500 students and alumni have come to The Launch Pad hoping to start or strengthen their ventures, Green added, it is not a small business development corporation. “It is,” he said, “a fundamental exercise in experiential learning. The Launch Pad’s programs are co-curricular and voluntary, and each venture is unique. Students in The Launch Pad learn entrepreneurship individually, by trying it on, so to speak, to see if it fits them. That kind of learning tends to be durable, to stick with you.”

Lucy Calamari, who earned her business degree in 2013, knew she had to give it a try in 2011, when she heard about The Launch Pad, the first college center to promote entrepreneurship as a viable career option, at orientation.

“My first stop was here,” Calamari recalled, sitting inside The Launch Pad’s Whitten University Center office (it’s not really at the Toppel Career Center), while students lined up on the patio outside to learn about the guidance, encouragement, and networking opportunities Silverman and The Launch Pad staff and volunteers offer.

“I dropped in and said, ‘Hello, I’m Lucy, and you are going to see me a lot,’’ Calamari said. “I knew I wanted to make chocolates and I knew how to make my chocolates, but that’s all I knew. What my business was going to look like and how I was going to develop it, I had no clue.”

Three years later, Calamari’s Lucky Lucy Chocolates, with their distinctly South Florida flavors—including mango, key lime, mojito and café mocha—won the $10,000 grand prize in the alumni category of the University of Miami’s 2014 Business Plan Competition, hosted by the School of Business Administration.

That “seed money,” Calamari said, enabled her to learn another lesson and expand her line. “When you have more money to spend on raw materials, you spend less for it,” she said. “So I am doing well, making a living, and new products.”


The Launch Pad’s Sam Palmer-Shields hands out T-shirts to students at the open house celebrating the resource center’s seventh anniversary.

As Green enjoyed the sights and sounds of new students eager to learn more about The Launch Pad at the open house celebration, he noted there is no single recipe for entrepreneurial success, no set of skills, that once mastered, bestows a certificate in entrepreneurship. But on The Launch Pad’s seventh anniversary, he reflected on one key reason for its success:

“The Launch Pad is effective because all the businesses are authentic,” he said. “It’s not a theoretical exercise about a potential venture with a potential business plan. It’s for real.”

For more information about The Launch Pad, call 305-284-2789, visit The Launch Pad online, or drop by on the first floor of the Whitten University Center, room 1319.



Posted in Freeze Frame, News

Tropical Gastronomies Launches Culinary History Initiative

Tropical Gastronomies Launches Culinary History Initiative

By Sarah Block
Special to UM News

From left are Cristina Favretto, Norman Van Aken, Mandy Baca, and Gretchen Schmidt.

From left are Cristina Favretto, Norman Van Aken, Mandy Baca, and Gretchen Schmidt.

Local food experts reflected on South Florida’s abundant natural offerings, strong multicultural seasonings, and rich supply of untapped resources—all shaping the area’s evolving culinary landscape—during a panel discussion last week at UM Special Collections’ “Tropical Gastronomies,” featuring chef and cookbook author Norman Van Aken, food blogger and Edible South Florida editor Gretchen Schmidt, and author and historian Mandy Baca. 

Moderated by Special Collections Head Cristina Favretto, the discussion touched on well-established fares and flavors such as stone crabs, citrus, and mangos, the formation of Van Aken’s New World Cuisine, and how recent developments like the farm-to-table movement are shedding light on lesser-known edible flora and fauna.

The event was held as part of a UM Libraries-wide exhibition exploring the rich culinary traditions of South Florida, Cuba, and the Caribbean. Vintage restaurant postcards and menus, local organizational cookbooks, dining brochures from Pan American World Airlines, Inc., and other materials are on display from Special Collections. During the event, Favretto announced that Special Collections aims to further its collection of food- and cooking-related materials through the establishment of the Culinary History Collection of Florida, and is seeking donations of historical materials such as restaurant menus, local and regional recipe books, oral histories with chefs, and images of restaurants, grocery stores, and farmers markets

Individuals interested in contributing to the archive are encouraged to contact Special Collections at 305-284-3247 or asc.library@miami.edu.

Posted in Features, News

UM Joins Partnership for a Healthier America

UM Joins Partnership for a Healthier America

Healthier.PartnershipCORAL GABLES, Fla. (November 17, 2014)—The University of Miami is joining the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) in a three-year commitment to make its campus healthier by adopting guidelines around food and nutrition, physical activity, and programming.

PHA works with the private sector and honorary chair First Lady Michelle Obama to make healthier choices easier. In joining the partnership, this initiative will impact nearly 17,000 students and more than 14,000 faculty and staff on campus.

“The University of Miami is proud to be at the forefront of this national partnership,” said President Donna E. Shalala. “As one of 20 schools in the first cohort, the University has reaffirmed its commitment to creating a culture of wellness and fostering a healthy lifestyle for our students and campuses, in all aspects of daily life.”

Shalala served as secretary of Health and Human Services during the Clinton administration, and is currently co-chair of the Nutrition and Physical Activity Initiative under the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC).

The University’s new PHA initiative supports BPC’s 2012 report, “Lots to Lose: How America’s Health and Obesity Crisis Threatens our Economic Future,” which called on large institutions, including hospitals and universities, to procure and serve healthier foods using their market power to shift food supply chains and make healthier options more readily available.

The partnership was announced on Sunday, November 16 at the American Public Health Association’s (APHA) 2014 Annual Meeting & Exposition. UM is one of the first schools to sign on to PHA’s Healthier Campus Initiative, which includes 19 other colleges and universities, collectively impacting more than 500,000 students and 126,000 faculty and staff. Ashley Falcon, assistant director for wellness, represented UM at the APHA meeting.

The University’s commitments to the Partnership for a Healthier America include a wide range of health and wellness initiatives focusing on three key areas: food and nutrition, physical activity, and wellness programming. The commitments range from offering healthier food options at on-campus dining locations and supporting locally grown, sustainable menu items to developing physical activity guidelines for campus audiences and bolstering its already comprehensive wellness programming.

“Colleges and universities are in a unique position to help shape tomorrow’s leaders, whether they are teachers, coaches, policymakers, CEOs, moms, or dads,” said PHA Chief Executive Officer Lawrence A. Soler. “We know that going to college is a time of change for many students—we also know that means it’s a time when new habits are formed. By creating healthier food and physical activity environments today, campuses and universities are encouraging healthier habits that will carry over into tomorrow.”

Across campuses, the Herbert Wellness Center and UHealth Fitness and Wellness Center provide educational opportunities to raise awareness and develop wellness skills, while UM Dining Services provides healthy menu options, nutritional information, and the assistance of a registered dietician. The availability of fresh produce from the weekly farmer’s market and organic food buying club, both initiatives established by student organizations, further supplement these efforts by increasing the availability of healthy choices on campus.

For more information on PHA’s Healthier Campus Initiative, visit www.ahealthieramerica.org/campuses.

Posted in News

From Food to Finances, Meditation to Men’s Health, UM’s Week of Well-Being Promotes Holistic Health

UM News
By Robert C. Jones Jr.

Fidelity's Kathy Murphy with UM President Donna E. Shalala during one of the Week of Well-Being's many offerings.

Fidelity’s Kathy Murphy with UM President Donna E. Shalala during one of the Week of Well-Being’s many offerings.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (April 07, 2014) — It was a “wakeup call” for Kathy Murphy’s mother that came at the wrong time. With three of six children in college, her husband died at 57, leaving her to raise a family alone and figure out how to budget and save.

“We focused a lot on saving, but not investing,” Murphy, president of Fidelity Personal Investing, told an audience of about 300 University of Miami employees. Continue Reading

Posted in Features, Freeze Frame, News

Business Plans Blow Judges Away, Earn Students and Alums $65,000 in Prizes


The SnagTag’s Jake Elliot, left, and Nicholas Sando present their team project to the judges.

Special to UM News

CORAL GABLES, FLA. (April 4, 2014) – New ventures including a mobile application for shopping, a data analytics solution for hospitals to reduce heart failure readmissions, and art deco chocolates that represent South Florida’s cultural mecca have taken top honors in the University of Miami’s 2014 Business Plan Competition, hosted by the  School of Business Administration. The competition winners, honored in an awards ceremony April 4, took home a combined total of $65,000 in prizes.

Jake Elliot, Andrew Rodriguez, and Nicholas Sando won the grand prize and $10,000 in the undergraduate student category for SnagTag, an application for your smartphone that enhances the retail shopping experience by connecting retailers and consumers in a way never seen before.

In the graduate student category, Matt Varghese, Cristina del Toro, Sabrina Taldone, Joshua Cameron took home the Grand Prize and $10,000 for their venture, Valens, which provides a next generation data analytic solutions that allows hospitals to maximize efficiency in reducing heart failure readmissions while improving patients’ lives through better health care delivery systems.

And in the UM alumni category, Lucy Calamari won the Grand Prize and $10,000 for Lucky Lucy’s Chocolates, inspired by the colorful flavors and cultures of South Florida.  Her chocolates reflect colorful retro designs of the city’s Art Deco movement.

“This year’s young entrepreneurs came to the competition with an extraordinary mix of great business ideas,” said Isaias Sudit, CEO and founder of TROVE and one of the Competition judges. “It is clear to this panel of judges how these winners are ready to go beyond the idea stage and truly execute.  They will be exciting to watch and we are happy to send them on their way with some funding.”

Second place in the undergraduate category and $5,000 went to Paola Campodonico and Austin Zaslow for The Nest, a recovery center that accommodates prenatal and postpartum women, and post-surgical patients and offers 24/7 nannies, breastfeeding support, and other services to make recovery faster and easier. Second place in the graduate category and $5,000 went to Joe Bucciero of AdMoney, a mobile phone application that places ads on the background of a smartphones or tablet lock screens  for a monthly fee.  Second place in the alumni category and $5,000 went to Alex Suma of Ibis Power, which offers customized solutions for local renewable energy generation that overcomes all downsides of current technologies. It is almost ready to enter the U.S. and European markets.

Third place in the undergraduate category with a $2,500 prize went to Sultan Saleh Alghamdi for Central Express Laundry, a full-service laundry business in Saudi Arabia. Third place and $2,500 in the graduate category went to Rodolfo Hernandez for The Quiet American, a sustainable men’s luxury-yet-affordable clothing brand made of Alpaca wool; third place and $2,500 in the alumni category went to Thien Van Tran for Leash, an electronic security company that provides both hardware and software solutions to remedy the rise of smartphone theft.

“The judges were blown away by the caliber of ideas presented by the University of Miami entrepreneurs,” said Susy Alvarez-Diaz, director of entrepreneurship programs at the UM School of Business. “They have no doubt we will be hearing more about these companies as we have others that have grown out of our past competitions.”

In addition to the undergraduate, graduate and alumni category prizes, the Paul K. Sugrue Entrepreneurial Spirit Award and $2,500 was presented to Sidonia Swarm of On Demand Dietician, which streamlines access to dieticians for corporate employees. Also, four Heffner Internship Awards of $2,500 each were awarded to Maxim Bjelos, Alex Cantwell, Joey Lopez, and Kenthia Farmer.

The Business Plan Competition started last fall when 42 concept papers were submitted to the judging committee. Ultimately 16 semifinalists were selected to present to the judges April 1-3, with the winners named the following day. The judges included roughly one dozen successful entrepreneurs and venture capitalists from South Florida and Latin America.

Now in its 12th year, the Business Plan Competition is open to all University of Miami students and alumni. Past winners  have gone on to build their ventures into businesses that have garnered national attention. They include such companies as College Hunks Hauling Junk and My Therapy Journal.com, both of which have been featured on ABC Television’s “Shark Tank,” a reality program in which entrepreneurs share their business ideas with a group of five self-made millionaires in hopes of getting venture capital to help them attain similar levels of success.

Posted in News

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