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Budding entrepreneurs strut their stuff

The enterprising spirit of University of Miami students and alumni is on display this week, with Global Entrepreneurship Week offering a fair, lectures, panel discussions, and networking opportunities.

UM graduate student Gabriel Dietsch, right. president and founder of My Pets Love It, explains to UM student Matt Vitiello how his homemade treats can help improve dogs' health.

UM graduate student Gabriel Dietsch, right, president and founder of My Pets Love It, explains to UM student Matt Vitiello how his homemade treats can help improve dogs' health.

It was supposed to be an escape from the pressures of college life, where Tyler McIntyre could unwind and not worry about studying for midterms or writing research papers. But even on a vacation getaway to the Bahamas, the University of Miami freshman’s entrepreneurial brain was hard at work.

As McIntyre used his iPhone to text message his mother in Brazil, he came up with an idea: Why not create a downloadable application that would allow different smartphones to communicate more effectively with each other?

So he took his idea to a team of developers, explaining to them the different features he wanted his application to perform, such as the ability to send messages, create chats, and share images and files.

McIntyre’s luciD Messenger, which the Cherry Hill, New Jersey, native is marketing as a downloadable tool that will connect major smartphone platforms such as iPhones and BlackBerrys, was one of several UM student and alumni ventures showcased Monday during The Launch Pad’s Entrepreneurship Fair.

From a shoe company specializing in high-end evening slippers to an online site for therapeutic journal writing to a space transportation firm that plans to ship goods to and from near-Earth orbit on its in-house-developed space plane, companies of every ilk were represented at the fair, which served as one of the kickoff events for UM’s Global Entrepreneurship Week 2009.

Celebrated around the world, the week is intended to introduce millions of young people to entrepreneurship and encourage them to turn innovative ideas into reality through business ventures. Out of the 1,185 organizations that took part in last year’s Global Entrepreneurship Week, The Launch Pad, a career resource center that helps students and alumni break into the business world, was ranked No. 1. This year the center is marking the week with a full slate of activities, including panel discussions, lectures, contests, and networking opportunities.

Laurie Silvers, cofounder of the Sci-Fi Channel and a UM School of Law alumna, speaks at the School of Communication on Tuesday as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week.

Laurie Silvers, cofounder of the SyFy Channel and a UM School of Law alumna, speaks at the School of Communication on Tuesday as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week.

Dana White, president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, spoke to students and the South Florida community at Gusman Hall. Laurie Silvers, cofounder of the SyFy (formerly Sci Fi) Channel and a UM School of Law alumna, addressed an audience at the School of Communication. Local pop artist Romero Britto appeared. Author and business journalist Suzy Welch, the wife of former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, appeared at a Women in Entrepreneurship event at Jungle Island.

It was the Entrepreneurship Fair, though, that helped get the week under way.

At the event, held in UM’s University Center, McIntyre sat at a table with marketing materials about his luciD Messenger system. UM classmates Tequila Graham and Diprete Iyabi walked up to McIntyre’s display, picking up pamphlets and asking him questions about his venture.

After a short presentation, they quickly signed up to receive an e-mail that will alert them when luciD Messenger is available for download. Graham, who uses an Android smartphone, and Iyabi, who owns a BlackBerry, both agreed the new application will be useful, since they often communicate with each other about lunch plans.

“I expect to break even after the first year,” said McIntyre, who is offering his new application through his start-up venture Lucid Technologies LLC. “But I’m not really into this for the money. I enjoy doing this as a part of life.”

Only a few feet away, Gabriel Dietsch stood at a table topped with cookies, muffins, small cakes, and pizzas. These tasty treats were for four-legged clientele, however. Dietsch’s company, My Pets Love It, makes healthy treats for dogs.

“No preservatives, no sugars, no dyes,” says the UM graduate nursing student, who started the company seven years ago when his beagle, Bear, became sickly.

Dietsch said his homemade dog treats, which his mom Elisa prepares, are high in protein and contain ingredients that are good for dogs’ skin and hair. He consulted with veterinarians to make the treats, which he credits with helping Bear recover. “We get our inspiration from dog owners,” he said.

Though Dietsch founded his company long before The Launch Pad was created, he said he plans to seek advice from the career resource center, hoping to get tips on how to expand his business beyond Internet sales and mass market his products to Petco and other top pet stores.

Susan Amat, executive director of The Launch Pad, said the fair and other Global Entrepreneurship Week events continue to attract considerable interest, despite the still-weak economy. “A different set of people have taken notice,” she said. “Many people were very happy in corporate jobs, and the layoffs and company closures have opened their eyes to the need to take control of their futures.”

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