Premier Business Showcase and Awards Night makes for a full day


The second day of EnterCircle 2023 was also the first full day of activities: a pitch competition, business expo, guest speakers, awards and a fundraiser for a nonprofit.

Pitch Competition

Raghu Misra, co-organizer of the annual entrepreneurship and business summit, called the pitch competition “the most exciting” part of the whole event.

The principals behind six startups had an opportunity to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges and get helpful feedback. It was good practice, as well, and there was always the chance that a pitch would interest a potential investor. At the end of the evening, awards were given out.

The award for “most innovative idea” went to Hero Medical Technologies, which aims to use innovative wearables and machine learning to transform how patients with head injuries and other trauma are treated.

Co-founder Debbie Kantor described the central problem associated with how head trauma is currently being treated and how that treatment might be improved.

According to Kantor, 40% of these patients are under-triaged or underdiagnosed and are discharged from the hospital. But about 35% have to return to the ER when they continue to experience effects from the trauma.

Sadly, some people go home and die in their sleep.

Hero Medical proposes a special bandage with technology to capture early data and save time. A sensor will alert caregivers if something requires their immediate attention. The technology can also use facial analytics to aid in pain assessment, as well as machine learning, to aid in improved treatment.

The “best presentation” award went to Offshift, pitched by CEO Dr. Mark Manera.

“We’re a digital health company leveraging AI to reimagine chronic disease management and prevention for industrial workers,” he told the judges. “We partner with self-insured industrial companies as an employee benefit to help cut down their overall health care spend.”

The company’s initial focus was the trucking industry, but plans are to expand across the industrial spectrum into warehousing, manufacturing and construction. Chronic disease is a problem for many workers, and a significant expense for companies, and addressing the issue means understanding the workers themselves.

“Truck drivers have a life expectancy 16 years less than the average population,” Manera said.

In working with the trucking industry and insurers, his company found a high incidence of diabetes, obesity and heart disease. But similar findings have appeared in other sectors of industry.

“Industrial companies are scrambling around, trying to figure out a solution to it, because the industrial sector alone is spending over $540 billion a year on health care costs directly associated with those chronic diseases,” Manera said.

Unfortunately, industrial workers have a distrust of the health care system, and it’s critical to get their participation.

“We’re creating an easy front door into the health care system for industrial workers,” Manera said.

Offshift helps these workers prevent and manage chronic diseases, in part by pairing them with a coach who can provide guidance as needed.

“They know what healthy food options are at each truck stop,” said Manera. “They help you exercise in the back of the truck. They give you a cellular blood-glucose monitor to stay ahead of your diabetes.”

These coaches make it easier to make health a priority. They might order groceries to be delivered to wherever the driver is parked, or they might make doctors’ appointments either virtually or in person wherever truckers are driving.

Manera was pleased to take part in the EnterCircle pitch competition.

“There were a lot of smart people asking great questions — the judges and the crowd,” he said. “I’m really happy that I was a part of it. Anytime I can get in front of a group of people and show the passion and show the excitement for what we are building and also work on being a better speaker and presenting what we’re building in an easy-to-understand manner, it’s always a win.”

The panel of judges gave the “most investible” award to Optic Systems, which conducts an array of inspections using 360-degree interactive video that can be made available to the client very quickly, saving time and money over traditional methods.

Launched in 2022, the company is already in 11 states and 18 geographic markets. CEO Wesley Hunt projected that, this year, the company will have done 10,000 video inspections across the country.

The company can do video inspections for HOAs, homes, commercial landscaping and public works.

“We can effectively bring the job sites to these individuals virtually,” Hunt said. This would allow the client to manage the inspection directly from an office without having to go out to the site.

The “crowd favorite” award went to Renew Her Essentials and CEO Emmy James. Her company would create and sell all-natural active wear for women that aims to enhance feminine well-being and reduce infections.

Also, Community Growth Awards were given to Grace Aerospace, Pinnacle Communications Group and ProfileGorilla.

Business Expo

In the common area at the link, several businesses set up tables and handed out information regarding their products and services. Free promotional items, raffle prizes and a kind of “passport” system encouraged people to visit the tables.

It also offered table sponsors chances to network with other professionals, trade business cards and “talk shop.”

Attendees also heard from a couple of speakers.

The first was newly appointed St. Johns County Administrator Joy Andrews, who introduced herself and gave some background on her career and how she worked in various capacities before getting her current job.

She also spoke about the county government and what issues it was working on.

One of the county’s challenges is meeting the demands of a rapidly growing population. People are coming to St. Johns County from all over, people with different backgrounds, opinions, values and points of reference.

“We have the diversity that we really didn’t have,” Andrews said.

One project the county is hoping to pursue is hosting the state’s first Black History Museum.

“That is really going to be huge,” Andrews said. “We really truly don’t think that there’s another suitable place for that to be than St. Johns County.”

Indeed, this was an epicenter for civil rights in the state, the only place in Florida where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested. Andrew Young spoke here. Frederick Douglass spoke here. Fort Mose was the first free Black community in what would become the United States.

Following Andrews was Melissa Wright, director of community relations and partnerships for the Northeast Florida Regional STEM2 Hub, this year’s EnterCircle charity.

“The Northeast Florida Regional STEM2 Hub, founded in 2018 by the Jacksonville business community, represents a concerted effort to strengthen the educational landscape in the STEM fields,” Wright said. “Our programs are designed to bolster the regional workforce, foster economic development and ensure that the local students are equipped with skills that are necessary to thrive in an increasingly technical world.”

STEM2 Hub has cultivated partnerships with businesses and school districts across seven counties.

“We provide structured support to over 100 afterschool programs across the region, affecting over 1,500 students each and every week,” Wright said. “We have empowered over 2,000 teachers to provide instruction in coding, computer science, robotics, engineering, 3-D printing and drone technologies.”

Not only are STEM2 Hub’s efforts preparing students to fill the technical jobs needed by so many industries, but their grades are increasing in other areas.

“The real-world impact of our programs has been profound, especially in academic achievement,” said Wright.

At the end of the night the link hosted a Cocktails for a Cause Charity Networking Night that raised money for Northeast Florida Regional STEM2 Hub.