Skip to Content
All eyes on FIU at eMerge Americas
Student entrepreneurs – representing, from left, companies bonnee, Beyond Sight and Sireen – hope to secure funding for their enterprises while at eMerge Americas.

All eyes on FIU at eMerge Americas

April 18, 2024 at 9:30am

Once again, the world is convening for South Florida’s premier global tech conference and expo. Taking place April 18 and 19 at the Miami Beach Convention Center, eMerge Americas brings together innovators, entrepreneurs, investors and changemakers from across the planet.

The event provides a unique opportunity for the FIU community to network and stay up to date on the latest tech trends. (Complimentary access is available to faculty, staff and students as part of the university's sponsorship. At the registration page, select "Tech Pass" and enter code TNMFLITE.)

FIU annually contributes to the dynamic gathering, which educates and informs both current and aspiring professionals across industries and connects enterprising individuals over new ideas and commercial ventures.

University experts speaking as part of the program include Executive Dean Michael Heithaus of the College of Arts, Sciences & Education and Professor and Director of the Institute of Environment Todd A. Crowl, who are leading a conversation around climate tech, and Interim Dean Ines Triay of the College of Engineering & Computing, who is addressing the value of academic-industry collaborations.

The FIU exhibit booth features Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine research in the field of drug development and delivery for brain diseases. On display is information about oral drugs for the potential treatment of Alzheimer's disease; a patented nasal spray with the potenital to ward off neuroinflammation and cognitive dysfunction; and a patented nanogel with the potential to cross the blood-brain barrier and possibly target HIV-infected cells hiding in the brain.

Also worth checking out: FIU students pitching their startups to investors. Young innovators actively building their companies are invited to present their concepts in a public forum in anticipation of catching the attention of funders. Meet a few the Panthers - all of whom have worked with StartUP FIU, the university's innovation hub - who are part of the showcase, below.

Beyond Sight, an AI alternative for the visually impaired

Electrical engineering majors Gabriel Habech and Michael Romano wanted to make a difference through entrepreneurship.

“When Gabriel and I met at FIU, we immediately began to talk about various business ideas that would allow us to implement our engineering knowledge to solve a critical social problem,” said Romano.

During a winter break visit to his hometown in Brazil, Habech reconnected with a family friend who was visually impaired and described his difficulty navigating unfamiliar places and the problem of colliding with people and things in his path.

The friend's story inspired Habech and Romano to create BeyondSight, which consists of smart glasses and a special belt that together provide the wearer with the location, height and distances of nearby objects. The tech relies on AI and haptic feedback – the use of vibrations or motions to create an experience of touch for a user - to guide the individual with visual impairment as they moving through their surroundings. Habech and Romano say there is no other device like BeyondSight on the market for visually impaired.

“We’ve created a prototype, which we are continuously testing with the blind community,” said Habech. “We’re excited to share our innovation to improve the lives of the visually impaired around the world, enhancing their safety and independence.”

The two students have spent the last few months working closely with StartUP FIU mentors Emily Gresham and Robert Hacker to perfect their pitch for eMerge and make improvements to their invention.

“The advice and mentorship we’ve received from StartUP FIU has been critical in helping us gather the data we need and prepare for BeyondSight’s next steps,” said Michael. “We are thrilled to share our innovation at eMerge and generate more awareness of this game-changing technology.”

bonnee, the clothing swap app

As more people strive to live sustainably and make eco-friendly consumer choices, clothes swapping has become a popular way to update one’s closet on a budget.

Seeing this trend blossom in South Florida, three entrepreneurial women decided to launch a new clothing swap app – bonnee – making it easier for people to trade their clothes and accessories with others.

“Fashion is the second largest polluting industry in the world,” said Meredith Vey MBA '02, one of bonnee’s founders. “We want to help promote the idea that you don’t have to buy new clothes and accessories in order to stay fashionable, just swap with others.”

Cofounded with sisters Vanessa Sanchez and Maritza Sanchez Shubert, bonnee works by offering members of their swap community credit every time they post an item to be traded. All items are free, but prospective "shoppers" must post at least one item to give away before they can look at what's on offer.

Vey always knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur, and she credits her experience earning an international MBA at FIU and working with StartUP FIU with providing her the skills to be a successful founder.

“My time at FIU has been incredible, allowing me to meet all kinds of fascinating people and further tap into my creative side,” she said. “I’m eager to see bonnee become a stronger presence on campus and invite even more young people to make the eco-friendly, budget-conscious choice to swap clothes and accessories!”

Sireen App, the eyes and ears of the forest (to be exhibited but not pitched)

In an effort to better detect and control the damage caused by forest fires, four FIU students built the Sireen system.

Sireen works by attaching sensors to trees throughout the forest that calculate sounds, temperature, oxygen levels and other critical data. If these data points rise to unsafe levels, alarms will trigger alerts.

The creative minds behind the app are all international students who came to FIU to strengthen their knowledge of entrepreneurship and business: Vania Arredondo Vera '23, who studied data science; Ishel Zain and Thi Thuy Nga Pham, both studying business analytics & information systems; and Allan Prieb Perez, working on a combined BS in computer science and an M.S. in information systems.

“We designed Sireen to be the ‘eyes and ears’ of the forest,” said Arredondo Vera. “Our hope is that governmental agencies and other large organizations can utilize our system to help prevent or at least, better control, forest wildfires.”

Working closely with StartUP FIU, the team has already won recognition, placing among the runners up at the NASA MSI Incubator Challenge and winning first place at the AIS Global Competition last in 2023. By participating in eMerge Americas and continuing their work with NASA, the team hopes to gain additional funding for further research and development.

“We are so lucky to be in an environment where our entrepreneurial spirit is valued nurtured,” said Vania. “We have learned how to work as a team to find success, challenge each other and make a product that can positively impact the environment.”