Virtual Badge is Co-Winner of Startup Showdown Miami
The #MiamiTech momentum is palpable and in September, we hosted our first fully hybrid event, welcoming both in-person attendees to Startup Showdown Miami.
From the hundreds of applications received, 25 semifinalists were selected to attend Mentor Day to fine-tune their pitch. From there, our Investment Committee narrowed it down to six finalists (yes, we broke our own rules!) and these companies pitched a panel of investor judges under the bright lights and a sold-out crowd at one of Miami’s most sought after event venues. ss
The judging panel included Chris Adamo of Flamingo Capital, Brian Brackeen of Lightship Capital, Ana Paula González of The Miami Initiative for SoftBank Group International, and Mark Buffington and Paul Judge of Panoramic Ventures.
After the pitches and many pressing Q&As, the judges deliberated on the six pitches, ultimately selecting two winners for Startup Showdown Miami. Both Miami-based companies have each received a $120,000 investment prize and will join the Panoramic community.
Following the celebrations and transporting the life-size check home, we sat down with the winners to learn more about what they are building and the impact of Startup Showdown in their growth.
Virtual Badge transforms smartphones into an identity and workforce management platform. In this interview we sit down with co-founders, Georges Duplessy and John Simion to learn more about the platform and what the investment means for the future:
Congratulations on winning our pitch competition, Georges and John. Can you tell us a little about your backgrounds?
GD: I was born and raised in Haiti, and I’ve been coding software since I was about 10. As I got older, I started doing freelance work in various computer languages until the earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010, after which I moved to South Florida to pursue a degree in Computer Science at the University of Miami. Prior to starting Virtual Badge, I worked as a software engineer for a disaster relief organization that uses technology as part of its relief operations.
JS: My dad is American, and my mom is Filipino, but I was born in the Philippines, although I moved to the U.S. when I was small. I studied Engineering and Business at the University of Florida. After graduating, I spent a decade developing software and mobile apps, as well as working in operations management and corporate sales. As to how I got into all this, I’ve loved working with computers my whole life, which eventually led me to co-found Virtual Badge with Georges.
The MiamiTech ecosystem is so hot right now. What’s it like to be part of it?
GD: I’ve been in Miami for the past eight years, but really the last two years here have been the most exciting in terms of growth and what’s going on in the tech space. Some of the players have been here a while, but there’s also innovation—and capital—moving into the area. It’s a great place to be building a tech company and making connections right now.
When did the entrepreneurial bug first bite?
GD: I feel very lucky because both my parents are entrepreneurs in Haiti, so I was exposed to the concept and mechanics of building your own business from an early age. Even while I was still there, I was always doing entrepreneurial-type things and understood that it was a very possible way of life.
JS: Honestly, my foray into entrepreneurism just kind of happened. I was working at different jobs but felt like I was still looking for the right direction in terms of where I wanted to go in my career. I sort of fell into the opportunity to build a business with Georges and I quickly realized how much I enjoyed it and that maybe it was what I’d been looking for all along.
What is the Virtual Badge technology used for?
GD: Virtual Badge is the first ID badging system, employee onboarding solution, and risk management tool that works on smartphones. Compared to traditional plastic badges, our cloud-based technology delivers fast, hassle-free identity management.
As you might guess, Virtual Badge has potential applications across a wide range of industries. However, we’re currently very focused on the construction industry, where Virtual Badge can solve worker identification, compliance, and safety issues. It enables contractors to easily identify people coming into the jobsite and electronically track their certifications and documentation to reduce risk.
What can you tell us about your partnership with Endeavor Miami?
GD: We’re fortunate that Virtual Badge is part of Endeavor Miami, which accelerates the growth of early-stage companies through access to mentors, talent, and capital. Virtual Badge is part of the third cohort of EndeavorLAB, which is for minority-led companies that are younger and smaller in size compared to their ScaleUp Program. We went through its two-month accelerator earlier this year.
The Endeavor team is comprised of great people. They’ve taught us about running a business, helped us refine our pitch, and introduced us to knowledgeable and experienced leaders and mentors who have offered great advice along our journey.
How did you find out about our Miami Startup Showdown competition and what was your process in becoming part of it?
GD: I first found out about it directly from the Panoramic Ventures website. I was on the site because I was thinking about submitting information to be considered for an investment when I read about the Miami pitch competition. A little after that, I saw a Tweet from Tami McQueen, Panoramic’s VP of Marketing, that said Panoramic was looking to meet with Miami startups. We ended up talking with Tami via Zoom and then decided to apply to pitch.
Other than winning, of course, what was the most beneficial aspect of the competition for you?
JS: During the competition’s semifinalist stage we got to meet with four different mentors from four different sectors, all of whom had a lot of experience and knowledge. For instance, one of them really helped us to better understand the software sales process and gave us some great advice in that area. Several of the mentors also offered to help connect us with others who could be helpful to our business, such as other potential investors.
What do you plan to do with the $120,000 investment prize?
GD: John and I both have more of a technology background, so we plan to use the money to help us add sales and marketing resources. We’re especially looking for someone with significant sales experience within the construction industry.
What would you tell other startup founders who might be thinking about applying to pitch at one of our Startup Showdown events?
GD: I’d tell them to just do it. It was a great event, and all the people involved in making it happen, from the Panoramic team to the guest judges and mentors, did everything they could to make sure it was a worthwhile experience.
JS: Even if you don’t make it to the finalist stage, you’ll still get to learn a lot about yourself and your company, including what you’re doing right and what could be changed or improved upon. It was a highly competitive event, but the benefits are well worth the work and preparation. Like Georges said—just do it.
Thanks, Georges and John, we’re proud to welcome you to the Panoramic community.
Startup Showdown is a monthly pitch competition open to entrepreneurs everywhere. Apply to pitch at an upcoming Startup Showdown.