Innovate January 2018

Cox Business Supports Local Entrepreneurs

Written By: Ellen Andreu

When Sheldon Barrett suffered from high blood pressure during his college years, he began to drink coconut water to normalize his vitamin C and potassium levels. Normally, his father would open up coconuts for him using a machete, but Sheldon wanted to be able to open coconuts on his own.

In 2010, Barrett founded Cocovana, a tropical lifestyle company with a goal to provide everyone with access to fresh coconut water. The downside is that most bottled coconut water is pasteurized which destroys nutrition and alters taste.

This inspired Barrett to create the Coconut Twist, a tool to open coconuts.

With seven stores in Gainesville that currently carry fresh coconuts, fresh coconut water is a growing industry. With the Coconut Twist, everyone can open up coconuts easily and enjoy the benefits of fresh coconut water.

Barrett’s Coconut Twist was the winning invention out of several presented at Cox Business’s annual Get Started Gainesville Business Pitch competition. Cox Business understands the value of start-up businesses and through its competition, it aims to help others succeed in a competitive market.

“We continue to host these Get Started events because we believe in the small business and start-up community,” said Ken Kraft, the senior vice president of Cox Business Marketing.

The third largest cable company in the U.S. held the annual competition at the Florida Museum of Natural History on Oct. 3, 2017. Over 150 people attended the event to watch the pitches, network and listen to advice from established entrepreneurs on marketing, funding and business growth strategy.

During the competition, each business delivers a two-and-a-half-minute pitch to a panel of successful entrepreneurs and experts. The panelists included Susan Davenport, president and CEO of Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce; Alan Chatman, vice president of WCJB-TV20 in Gainesville; Leah Lytle, founder and CEO of Flirties and Artsy Abode & So Mermazing; James Coats, CEO of applied sciences at Phalanx Defense Systems; and Kevin Sheilley, president and CEO of Ocala Marion County Chamber and Economic Partnership.

Each panelist judged the pitches based on a set of criteria. The pitch needed to explain how the business will reach its target market, how the business will solve a certain problem, what competitive advantages the business has and what its revenue model will look like. Then the judges take into consideration how well the performance went overall. After the pitches, the judges have the opportunity to give advice and tips to the audience and the businesses participating in the competition. There is also a Q&A session with the panel of judges and the audience.

“Over 30 great start-up organizations applied for our third year of Get Started Gainesville,” said Harbin Bolton, vice president of Cox Business Florida and Georgia. “It was very difficult to narrow down to a list of five finalists.”

The five finalists included BehaviorMe Inc., SCUBOTICS, HealthSteps, Cocovana and AuxThera, LLC. BehaviorMe, Inc.

specializes in virtual reality simulations for healthcare professionals to provide to its clients. SCUBOTICS creates underwater drones to help divers capture their entire underwater experience. HealthSteps provides digital solutions to improve pediatric health outcomes. Cocovana designed the Coconut Twist, a tool to open coconuts, and AuxThera, LLC provides a three-step health plan for veterinarians and vet owners to help animals lose weight.

All the finalists are offered two consultation sessions before the event with a consulting company, PitchMaps, that helps businesses find its message. The company aids in refining each pitch to define five key parts: what the company does, why the audience should pay attention, a solution to a problem, a reason to believe in the company and an offer to the audience.

The winner was chosen on the innovation, ease of implementation and the extent to which the community can benefit from its business pitch.

Barrett applied for the Get Started Gainesville competition three years in a row before winning it all. His persistence and dedication to his business caught the attention of each panelist. The coconut “can opener” has been successfully pitched to Whole Foods and six other retailers including the second largest retailer in the nation, Kroger. The invention can also core apples, pears and pineapples.

Cox Business awarded the outstanding start-up business with a prize package valued over $20,000. The prize package includes a $10,000 cash prize, features in magazines, a $5,000 in-kind Cox Business Services for one year and a $2,500 production. These packages from Cox Media are designed to help kick start the business while giving the company the recognition it deserves.

“Entrepreneurship is strong in America and that spirit is alive and well in Gainesville,” said Kraft. “It is vital to the business community here.”

Start-ups and small business are what make Gainesville unique, and with this competition, Cox Business can assist start-up businesses the resources they need to succeed.


Ellen Andreu is a junior journalism student at the University of Florida. When she isn’t drinking coffee or writing, she is out on the water wakeboarding. She is known for her desire to travel, write stories and learn more about the world.


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