Cocovana founder Sheldon Barrett, wearing a blue Gator shirt and hat, drinks out of a coconut through a straw with an umbrella.
Cocovana founder Sheldon Barrett.

Cocovana wins $25,000 in 2020 Big Idea Competition

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Cocovana won first place at the 2020 Big Idea Gator Business Plan Competition.

Founded and led by Sheldon Barrett, Cocovana is a tropical lifestyle company currently focused on creating innovative tools for opening coconuts and other fruits, which promotes a healthier lifestyle and sustainability. Its first product, the Coconut Twist, allows anyone to safely open coconuts in seconds without creating a mess, much like a can opener, but for coconuts.

“Winning the Big Idea Competition makes me so proud to have chosen the University of Florida for my education,” Barrett said. “I am so grateful for everyone who have helped and believed in me from the UF Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center, as well as my Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering. I could not have won this competition without them.”

With his winnings from the Big Idea Competition, Barrett has won more than $50,200 from all the competitions he’s competed in and awards he’s received while a student at UF. Barrett’s love of entrepreneurship drove him to the decision to work full-time with Cocovana after he graduates from UF this week. He’s looking forward to refining his production process and expanding his team with his funding from the Big Idea Competition.

“A portion of this prize money will go towards completing manufacturing and optimizing the supply chain of our first product, Coconut Twist, in China,” Barrett said. “The rest will go towards hiring an accountant, sales/marketing, and expanding the product line of Cocovana.”

Presented by the UF Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center in the Warrington College of Business, the Big Idea Competition is a four-month event designed to help students grow their business ideas with a chance to win over $40,000 in prizes. Due to COVID-19, this year’s final event was hosted virtually. 

Of the more than 150 teams that submitted to compete in the Big Idea Competition last December, 16 teams made it to the semi-finals on April 23. The 16 teams were then narrowed down to the final four by a group of distinguished entrepreneurial judges. After the final four presented on Friday, the winners were announced, with Cocovana taking home the $25,000 top prize. Check out all of the winners from the 2020 Big Idea Competition below.

First place ($25,000): Cocovana; Sheldon Barrett (Industrial and Systems Engineering, Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering)

Second place ($10,000): Orchard; Sahil Deschenes (Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering), Ming Yang (Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering alumna) and Tianle Chen (Warrington College of Business).

Orchard is a managed marketplace that connects younger techies with senior citizens that provide in-home, personable tech help to customers. Orchard’s focus is in education so that seniors can become independent users of technology, with a goal to create an ongoing teaching relationship, not just a one-time call.

Third place ($5,000): Ease Alert; Elezar Tonev (Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering) and Blake Richardson (Flagler College).

EaseAlert is a patent-pending smart alerting system that works to mitigate the risk of the leading cause of line of duty death for firefighters: heart attacks. EaseAlert does this by reducing stress and improving quality of sleep for firefighters with a tactile pre-alert to prepare them for the alarm to sound. This pre-alert will mitigate their risk of dying from heart attacks by reducing their stress levels and improving their mental well-being.

Fourth place ($1,000): Pulse; Isaac Hetzroni (Warrington College of Business) and Jack Reinke (Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering).

Pulse specializes in nighttime and experiential promotional items. Through its flagship product, the Pulse Balloon, the company has created a device which is able to light up a 17” balloon to the beat of music playing aloud. The product and future products provide festivals the opportunity to drive more revenue by selling nighttime sponsorship packages where previously these sorts of opportunities were unavailable.

Best Technology Venture ($1,000): Lucere Labs; Vera Monlux, Connor Watson, Atticus Steinmetz.

Lucere Labs is a biotech R&D company that uses a unique d-luciferin synthesis to develop novel bioluminescent technologies.

Social Impact Award ($1,000): Bl!nk; Ryan Widgeon and Siddha Tiwari.

Bl!nk is a smart home service that provides customers the necessary tools to develop a sustainable home atmosphere.

Dreamer and Doer Award: FaceR; Enes Grahovac and Jake Albritton.

FaceR is creating a device that unlocks doors with a smile. The FaceR Lock connects to a smart lock and tells it to unlock when a recognized resident or guest is at the door.

Entrepreneurial Spirit Award: Nexas (Surfing Happy); Sean Biava and Frederico Rojas.

Nexas was founded to help consumers become more conscious of their relationships with their digital devices and the content they consume while using them. Surfing Happy is creating a revolutionary digital wellness tool so that people can focus on living their best life.