2017 Innovation Awards Results

Ione Villegas

Pensacola Bay Oyster Co.

Innovation isn’t a word commonly used to describe oyster farming. When the owners of Pensacola Bay Oyster Co. explained the innovation and research that lies beneath the surface of this new industry, they secured first place – and the $100,000 cash prize –  at the 2017 Innovation Awards.

The Innovation Awards is Florida’s most lucrative business plan competition. At the end of the competition on April 13 at the Hilton Pensacola Beach hotel, 12 companies walked away with cash and prizes that will help them to continue to grow their businesses.

Jim McClellan, chairman of the board of directors of Innovation Coast and marketing director of AppRiver, said the competition was the culmination of a long and exhaustive process for the finalists.

“This was an amazing day and an incredible journey for not only the winners but for all of the individuals and companies who participated,” he said during closing remarks for the event. “We hope you don’t let anything take you off the path that brought you here.” 

Pensacola Bay Oyster Co.’s owners Donnie McMahon and Doug Ankersen will use the prize earnings they received from the University of West Florida’s Office of Economic Development and Engagement to expand their oyster hatchery and create clean, high-skilled jobs that grow the region’s economy and improve the environment. It also hopes to position Northwest Florida as a hub for aquaculture research, innovation, and investment. They will also receive a six-month membership for Vistage Florida’s coaching and mentorship program.

In the post-revenue category, second place went to NumNum, an emerging baby brand based in Pensacola, and received $50,000 from UWF’s OEDE; and Robotics Unlimited, Inc., a company bringing cutting-edge robotics to the toy market, placed third and received a two-hour consultation from S. Nevin Shaffer, an intellectual property law attorney, and meeting space at Co:Lab.

In the pre-revenue category, first place went to Cognitive Big Data Systems, developer of a computer vision app that allows machines to learn and build memories, received $25,000 from Innovation Coast; NeuBev, a startup that developed an eco-friendly smart water cooler, placed second and received $15,000 from Innovation Coast; and Fast Informatics, a startup using machine learning to makes sense of data, placed third and received meeting space at Pensacola Socialdesk.

In the veteran category, first place went to Mine Survival, Inc., a manufacturer of respiratory escape systems, and received the $10,000 Landrum Veteran Award; Invictus Knowledge Institute, a non-profit offering advanced technology training and development, placed second and received $5,000 from AppRiver; Naggy, an app that motivates kids to complete chores, placed third and received meeting space from Venture Hive in Fort Walton Beach.

In the student category, first place went Halo Technology, an app that uses location-based augmented reality technology, and received $5,000 from AppRiver/Office 365; Stadium Finder, an app that allows users to order concession stand food from their stadium seats, placed second and received $2,500 from Innovation Coast; and HomeTheater, a service that will allow virtual reality headset users the convenience of watching new movies from the comfort of home, placed third and received a five-hour consultation with business entity law by Kimberly Sullivan of Moore, Hill & Westmoreland.

The 12 finalists were chosen out of 61 companies that registered for the Innovation Awards. The five judges representing the technology sector, finance, military, academia, and corporate leadership were: Joel Smith, chief technology officer at AppRiver, Kathy Chiu, managing director of the FAN fund in Orlando; Vernon Niven, president of Buy Like Me; Kathy Anthony, Northwest Florida chair for Vistage Florida; Tommy Tait, president of the Pensacola market for Summit Financial Enterprises.


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UWF named by NSA as National Center of Academic Excellence Cybersecurity Regional Resource Center for the Southeast region

The University of West Florida has been named by the National Security Agency as the National Center of Academic Excellence Cybersecurity Regional Resource Center for the Southeastern region. In this role, the UWF Center for Cybersecurity will provide leadership to advance cyber defense education among colleges and universities in the region and support new and existing CAE institutions.

UWF will serve as the CAE Regional Resource Center for all institutions of higher education in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Puerto Rico. The University will receive a nearly $200,000 grant and will work with the NSA CAE Program Office and other regional and national hubs across the country to enhance cybersecurity education and expand the CAE Program across the nation.

“This prestigious designation recognizes the excellent and innovative programs offered by the UWF Center for Cybersecurity,” UWF President Martha D. Saunders said. “Our selection as a regional resource center recognizes the leadership role that Dr. Eman El-Sheikh and her team have taken in this vital area. UWF has developed a number of partnerships with key players in the field of cybersecurity that prepare our students for successful careers.”

The CAE-Cyber Defense Program Office named six CAE institutions to serve as CAE Regional Resource Centers, as well as four CAE National Resource Centers and four CAE Consultation Resource Centers across the nation.

In May 2016, the NSA and the Department of Homeland Security designated UWF as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education. The National Centers of Academic Excellence program seeks to reduce vulnerability in the nation’s information infrastructure by promoting higher education and research in cyber defense and increasing the number of professionals with cyber defense expertise.

“We are honored to serve as the CAE Regional Resource Center for the Southeast,” said Dr. Eman El-Sheikh, UWF Center for Cybersecurity director. “Building on our successes and partnerships, UWF will lead efforts to advanced cybersecurity education and expand the cybersecurity workforce. We will work to increase the number of CAE designated institutions in the Southeast and also provide support and resources to existing CAE institutions.

“This will include cybersecurity program development support, faculty professional development activities, and enhancing research and education collaborations among Southeast institutions. Our mission is highly rewarding: build a strong cybersecurity community to advance education, workforce development and innovation in the Southeast and nationally.”

For more information about the National Centers of Academic Excellence Program, jointly sponsored by the NSA and DHS, visit: niccs.us-cert.gov

The UWF Center for Cybersecurity is the regional hub for cybersecurity education and research, including multidisciplinary programs and certificates, research opportunities, outreach activities, and industry partnerships. To learn more about the UWF Center for Cybersecurity, visit uwf.edu/cybersecurity.

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Skills every aspiring entrepreneur must master

By Ione Villegas, Innovation Coast Staff Writer

If you want to succeed in business, you must learn the art of the elevator pitch. Whether networking at an industry event, attending an entrepreneurship conference or striking up a conversation with potential customers, there are ample opportunities to share your story.

Think of an elevator pitch as a conversational icebreaker that succinctly articulates your company vision, describes the opportunity in the marketplace and provides an objective solution – all within a limited timeframe. In the digital age where consumers’ attention spans have been reduced to eight seconds, brevity is key to getting your message across. Entrepreneurs who master the elevator pitch have an advantage over their competition.

For the past 40 years, Patrick Rooney has advised, coached and mentored would-be entrepreneurs, and experienced the highs and lows of developing (and sustaining) various business ventures. He said entrepreneurs sometimes fall into the trap of approaching an elevator pitch like they are trying to "sell" something.

"An elevator pitch is not a formal presentation like a sales pitch," said Rooney, lead principal consultant at Coastal CXO, a consulting firm specializing in supporting small and midsize companies. "The goal of an elevator pitch is to deliver a short message that garners enough interest to generate a second, longer discussion."

 Writing and practicing an elevator pitch organizes your thoughts and hones soft skills – a combination of interpersonal social and communication skills – that help you project the right image.

"An elevator pitch is an important exercise that trains entrepreneurs to bring their message into focus by understanding what they have to offer," said Rooney, who is also a business consultant at CO:LAB. "Survival is what separates people earning a paycheck from those who must find customers to sustain their businesses. As an entrepreneur, you have to do some extraordinary things to survive."

Contests like the 2017 Innovation Awards provide training ground for entrepreneurs to fine-tune their elevator pitches for a competition where it can really pay off. With more than $250,000 in cash and services up for grabs, the Innovation Awards can be a launchpad for business growth. This year, the contest is open to veteran-owned businesses, and entrepreneurial community college or university student teams. Don't miss your chance, the deadline to register for the contest is today at midnight. Register at awards.innovationcoast.com/register.

To give the next startup generation a head start, the College of Business at the University of West Florida is offering elevator pitch seminars, culminating with an Elevator Pitch Contest event on March 25.

Dr. Robert Perkins, an assistant professor of management in the College of Business at UWF, said more than 60 percent of students hope to own their own business someday.

"There is a well of creativity in our student population," he said. "They have ideas, but don’t know how to get them off the ground. The seminars and Elevator Pitch Contest provide students with the mental framework they need to make it happen later in life. These lessons will make them more competitive in the business world where an entrepreneurial mindset is required."  

 UWF students are learning that a good elevator pitch takes planning and practice to deliver it quickly, on the spot and under pressure. Perkins said there are several things to consider before writing an elevator pitch:

  1. Develop framework for success – The three areas to articulate in an elevator pitch are your vision for the company, how your brand and values differentiate you from top competitors, and how your team's skill set will make it happen. If you can get those things across in your pitch, you are in great shape.
  2. Champion your brand – Companies that think about their brand from day one do better because they are focusing on customers. If you don't stand out from the crowd, no one is going to be aware of you or buy your product.
  3. Learn from the pros – There is no shortage of supply of online videos showing the right way to deliver an elevator pitch. Perkins recommends watching Jane Chen's TED talk, titled "Embrace."
  4. Enter elevator pitch contests – Practicing your elevator pitch is important, but so is getting feedback from experts. Research has shown that advanced training can increase the success rate of a business from 50 percent to up to 70 percent. Whether you are involved in a student startup or are a budding entrepreneur, there are pitch contests available to give you the practice and coaching you need.


To register for the Innovation Awards, go to awards.innovationcoast.com/register.

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