Read the original article on The Gainesville Sun.

The innovation of Gainesville startups was on competitive display Tuesday night as entrepreneurs pitched companies as varied as the developing virtual reality to help autistic kids, artificial intelligence processing and guest boxes for hotels and Airbnb properties in vying for prize money.

Startup Challenge 18 drew entries from nine Florida counties, with Alachua County among them. The process began four months ago at the University of Florida’s Infinity Hall, which is designed to foster student collaboration. It was sponsored by Signet, a global investment firm, and the BMD law firm.

It culminated Tuesday night at the Hippodrome Theatre with nine finalists making their pitches to a panel of judges. But first came some encouragement from one of the judges, Signet Chairman Anthony Manna.

“It’s not enough to work hard. It’s not enough to be smart. You have to have a plan that someone is going to buy into,” Manna said. “The point is, that everybody in this room can be an entrepreneur … Don’t ever let anybody tell you you can’t do it.”

The finalists, who were mentored during the challenge by other business leaders, had only a few minutes to make their sell with the hope of earning money to grow their companies.

BehaviorMe, for instance, is developing virtual reality simulations of everyday actions such as crossing a street that therapists can use to aid autistic children.

“BehaviorMe is the science of human behavior meeting the technology of virtual reality. We are providing therapists with the tool needed to teach life experiences,” said co-founder Andy Chavez, who earned a master’s in entrepreneurship from UF. “We have a wait-list of individuals and clinics who want to try out our virtual reality. But we are also doing some on our own.”

Several other finalists were health-related. NiekAab Desal, also based in Gainesville, develops water purification technology. Precision One Health provides platforms with medical information for patients and doctors.

Others focused helping companies find ways to boost their business earnings.

GuestBox makes gift boxes with high-end food, toiletries and pet items tailored to individual hotels, Airbnbs and other hospitality businesses to give to their customers. Ideally, the result will be better reviews on websites and through word of mouth, boosting the customer base.

“It’s for guests to enjoy during their stay or to take back home with them,” said GuestBox founder Shuchi Vyas. “Our brand is to bring luxury, convenience and value. Our logo has been designed to create warmth and elegance.”

The pitches were made to a theater full of budding business people, many of whom were UF students. Startup Challenge is one of several events in Gainesville aimed at fostering young companies that were created here.

Signet’s 2018 Start-Up Challenge – Gainesville Showcases Budding Entrepreneurs in Inaugural Event
Read the original Press Release on PR Web

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (PRWEB) March 15, 2018

The inaugural Startup Challenge, the largest startup event in North Florida, brought together for the first time the brightest minds from across nine counties to collaborate and compete in a business start-up pitch competition for the opportunity to receive a grand prize of $10,000 and potential funding from program sponsor Signet, LLC.

The idea for Startup Challenge was born out of a collaboration between Signet, LLC,, the business law firm of Brennan, Manna & Diamond and Launchpad. The Signet team strategically chose Gainesville as its inaugural location based on the firm’s history in the local area and throughout north Florida. Additionally, Signet’s real estate arm, Signet Real Estate Group, developed and owns Infinity Hall at Innovation Square through a partnership with the University of Florida, which serves as a living learning community for UF’s entrepreneurial-focus students. This community houses several innovative and entrepreneurial programs from UF as well as Signet-sponsored incubator, Launchpad.

“Over the past few years, our partners at Launchpad have built solid relationships with the local startup community and have helped many new companies succeed. With Signet’s approach to company investment and growth, Startup Challenge was the ideal platform to showcase the area’s newest ideas and to seek future partnership opportunities,” says Signet CEO Kenneth Krismanth.

Startup Challenge is one of several events and organizations in Gainesville aimed at fostering business growth and collaboration for entrepreneurs and start-up companies that were created locally. The final pitches were made on February 20th in front of a packed house at the Hippodrome Theatre to a group of business people and budding entrepreneurs, many of whom were UF students.

Among the panel of judges responsible to award cash prizes were members of Signet’s leadership team, including Chairman Anthony Manna, CEO Kenneth Krismanth, Jason Perry, President of Signet Real Estate, and Dane Grey, President of Elite Parking.

Anthony Manna shared a few words of advice and encouragement with the event contestants. “It’s not enough to work hard,” said Manna. “It’s not enough to be smart. You have to have a plan that someone is going to buy into,” Manna said. “Everybody in this room can be an entrepreneur. Don’t ever let anybody tell you can’t do it.”

Shuchi Vyas, entrepreneur and founder of GuestBox, was selected as the first-place winner. Shuchi developed GuestBox, a company geared towards providing high-end food, toiletries and skincare items tailored to individual hotels, Airbnb and other hospitality businesses. GuestBox was born out of Signet’s own Launchpad, a business incubator located on the ground floor of Infinity Hall.

Second place and winner of $2,500 was awarded to BehaviorMe, a virtual reality simulation of everyday actions that therapists can use to aid autistic children. A $1,000 student prize was awarded to peer to peer textbook marketplace company Outsider Technologies.

In addition to the cash prizes, Signet will provide Vyas’ GuestBox with the opportunity for funding and consultation from its executives. Signet hopes to geographically expand the Startup Challenge into new markets as the contest continues to grow.

About Startup Challenge
The Startup Challenge brings together the brightest minds from across Gainesville, Jacksonville, and more to collaborate and compete for cash prizes and bragging rights as North Florida’s best startup. Learn more at

About Signet, LLC.
Signet brings an innovative, unconventional approach to global investment that embodies creativity and forward thinking to achieve long-term success. With leadership and expertise in the areas of project structuring, capital formation, operational investment and management, we tailor strategy and resources to meet each unique opportunity. Boundless in ideas and tactics, Signet has spent 20+ years crafting collaborative partnerships that advance initiatives in real estate, diversified manufacturing, health and wellness, emerging technologies, investment banking and finance. Learn more at