July 20, 2016

Rightsyde Media and partners to challenge startups in pitch contest for cash and prizes

Submitted by Christopher Guzman and Marc Boulos of Rightsyde Media

Jonathan Vilma, Al Nelson, Gauthier Darrien and David Salmon will make up the judge’s panel that will grant one startup company the ultimate toolset to launch their product: a $3,000 cash prize, free Minimal Viable Product development, $1,000 worth of legal work, and $1,000 worth of social media marketing.

That’s not all— any one of the judges could bid to invest in your startup if you are extremely convincing.  

Meet the Judges: 

Jonathan Vilma is a Super Bowl winning football player and University of Miami Legend. Since leaving the NFL, he has shifted his focus to investing. He now invests in many different companies and ventures, most notably Brother Jimmy’s and Pincho Factory.

Al Nelson is a shark tank dealmaker who struck a deal with Daymond John and Mark Cuban and now works closely with Daymond John in multiple projects. He is the Co-Owner of the wildly popular House of Mac food truck and an avid investor.

Gauthier Darrien is no stranger to the startup world. After launching Uber in Miami and being the Miami city director for Velocity, Gauthier now runs his own startup.  He understands the kind of discipline and work ethic it takes to run a startup, whether it’s a well-oiled machine like Uber, or a pre-launch startup like the one he is currently working on.

David Salmon is a lawyer who specializes in startup law and on his free time he runs his own startup. David has a phenomenal understanding of what it takes to make sure a startup runs smoothly and experience in making his own startup a success as well.

Where: 8400 NW 36th St Doral, FL 33166 Suite #450

When: Thursday, July 28th

DVLPER, Salmon Legal, StartUP FIU, Tank Brewing Co., and Pipeline Doral have all teamed up with Rightsyde Media, a digital and social media marketing company, to complete this event’s lineup. All submissions come with two tickets to the event for the applicant and an associate [Editor's note: It costs  $150 to submit your startup but event organizers say that money goes to the prize pool].

You also can purchase general admission tickets to gain access to free food and drinks, tequila and beer tasting, networking, giveaways and the big pitch competition.

Don’t miss out on this opportunity to grow your network and be a part of Miami’s booming startup future. You can buy your tickets today at http://rightsyde.media/start-up.

 

July 17, 2016

Entrepreneurship Datebook: Workshops, events in South Florida

Tech eggFounder Institute: Join an informational networking event and meet local Founder Institute graduates who will share their startup experiences, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 19, TamboWorks, 5790 Sunset Drive, South Miami. More info: http://FI.co/events

Tech Beach: Network and talk tech at monthly networker, 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, July 21, Drinkhouse Fire & Ice, 1672 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. More information here.

Fort Lauderdale Civic Hackathon: Code for Fort Lauderdale, a local civic technology group, along with coding bootcamp Wyncode, host the Fort Lauderdale Civic Hackathon (#FTLCivicHackathon) where teams will form to work on civic hacking projects, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, July 23, Axis Coworking Space, 333 Las Olas Way, Fort Lauderdale. More info on Eventbrite.

Broward Waffle Wednesday: Wynwood-based Waffle Wednesday powered by LiveNinja is expanding to Broward County with networking, presentations by startups and of course waffles, 9 to 10:30 a.m. July 27, Mad Studios, 101 NE 3rd Ave., Suite 1136. More information here.

Traditional Business vs. Franchising: Free seminar in Spanish, offered by Hispanic Business Initiative Fund (HBIF), 6 to 8 p.m. July 28, Florida Blue Center, 8895 SW 136th St., Miami. More info: 786-329-5830.

Have an entrepreneurship-related event you would like considered for the datebook? Email ndahlberg@miamiherald.com and put datebook in the subject line.

STARTING GATE

Keep up with startup news, including our recent series on food entrepreneurs,  and community views on the Starting Gate blog on MiamiHerald.com/business.

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

July 15, 2016

Uber, Snapchat drive national venture capital higher in Q2; Florida funding plunges

Money (1)

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

While mega-investments in Uber and Snapchat drove venture capital higher in the second quarter, it was back to reality for Florida.

According to a new report released Friday, 20 Florida companies attracted $100.6 million in 20 deals in the second quarter, plunging from $855.1 million in the first quarter dominated by Magic Leap’s $793.5 million round from Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group and other investors. The second quarter total was also down 51 percent from a year ago, when 18 Florida companies took in $152 million of venture funding. The top deal in the second quarter was Reliaquest, an IT security company from Tampa, which received $30 million in funding, according to the MoneyTree Report from PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association released on Friday.

South Florida companies receiving the most funding in the second quarter were electronic health records software provider CareCloud of Miami, $15 million; education-technology software startup Nearpod of Hallandale, $9.2 million; digital freight services provider iContainers of Miami, $6.7 million; and cloud-based software company Applicor Technologies of Boca Raton, $2.4 million. Other local companies receiving funding included ClassWallet, Videoo, Orthosensor and Kairos. In all, South Florida companies attracted $39.5 million in the second quarter, according to MoneyTree, based on Thomson Reuters data.

Nationally, Venture capitalists invested $15.3 billion in 961 deals in the second quarter, according to MoneyTree. Ride-hailing company Uber attracted $3.5 billion, and messaging company Snapchat received more than $1.7 billion, together attracting 31 percent of the total.

Total venture dollars deployed to startup companies for the quarter increased 20 percent and total deal count was down 5 percent, compared with the first quarter when $12.7 billion was invested in 1,011 deals. Compared with the second quarter of 2015, dollars and deals are down 12 and 22 percent, respectively, While mega-investments in Uber and Snapchat drove venture capital higher in the second quarter, It was back to reality for Florida.

Florida drew just two-thirds of 1 percent of the national venture capital total in the second quarter, the lowest total since 2012. The state typically draws less than 1 percent, but in the first quarter, because of Plantation-based Magic Leap’s mega-round, the state was on the venture map, drawing 7 percent of the national pie. In 2015, the state attracted $459.6 million.

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

July 13, 2016

Lemon City Tea Company: A new twist on tea now brewing

Lemoncity

Lauren Fernandez, Natalie Napolean de Bens and Gail Hamilton, founders of Lemon City Tea Company

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

The four women behind Lemon City Tea Company — Lauren Fernandez, Gail Hamilton, Natalia Napolean de Bens and Melissa Chamorro — believe tea can have attitude.

“Zen, no, that is not our tea; we want our tea to be full of life,” said Hamilton. “Our teas have personality and are experiential, designed to facilitate and enhance our customers’ everyday moments,” she added.

The name derives from the historic northeast Miami neighborhood of Lemon City, also known as Little Haiti, where the partners were enjoying after-work drinks and first came up with the concept.

And like many of the local food entrepreneurs, Lemon City strives to offer a high-quality, ethically sourced product. The company sources its tea leaves and tisanes from all over the world and combines these with tropical botanicals, natural herbs, fruits and essential oils.

“Our teas are inspired by the crazy, complex, diverse and exciting city we call home — Miami,” Hamilton said. “Lemon City develops and curates its Miami-inspired teas with Latin American, Caribbean and South Floridian flavors in mind. From a complex summery mate, to a mango-enhanced black iced tea and our soon-to-be-released signature Cafeci-té, our products proudly showcase this city’s robust culture, vibe and energy.”

Launched in 2014, Lemon City is self-funded. With just the team of four so far, Lemon City has built a wholesale book of business of 35 mainly local stores, salons and restaurants, including The Daily Creative, its first customer, Ms. Cheezious, Delia's, Rik Rak, Sakaya, Izzy’s Fish and Oyster Bar, Spillover, Lokal and O Cinema, said Napolean de Bens, a lawyer. The company also began shipping to two Philadephia restaurants.

The company, with about 30 blends that are certified organic, also has an online business (lemoncitytea.com also provides a playlist for tea time nontratraditionalists) and this year has shifted its focus to driving retail sales, including the launch of retail boxes, said Naolean de Bens. The company has finalized the design and size of its retail box.

“Our retail box is designed to delight both our current customers as well as introduce new customers to our brand,” said Hamilton, who owns a branding company and formerly worked at Bacardi. “It will offer a mixed selection of four of our most popular teas. We believe starting with a mixed box not only hits on what our current customers already enjoy but also gives a variety of options to try for someone that is new to our brand.”

The women, all friends, have day jobs (two attorneys, a branding consultant and an art director), but don’t call this a hobby business. For these passionate women it’s a full-time venture that they work on not from 9 to 5 but “from 5 til God knows what time — we don’t sleep much,” said Napolean de Bens. She and Hamilton worked in Asia for a time, honing their understanding and appreciation of tea. But the beverage has always been a part of the culture for the four, who are collectively of Jamaican, Haitian, Cuban and Nicaraguan decent.

Said Napolean de Bens: “We all grew up with tea — for any occasion or whatever ails you, there’s a tea.”

July 12, 2016

Half Moon Empanadas: Passion, perseverance powers company through tough start

Halfmoon

Half Moon Empanadas founders Juan and Pilar Guzman Zavala

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Juan Zavala and Pilar Guzman Zavala knew relatively little about the food industry when the couple went all in with their savings, their proceeds from a home sale and a lot of borrowed money.

Their concept: Half Moon Empanadas. Inspired by Argentina’s empanada culture and Latin American flavors, the food service company launched its first location in August of 2008, in Miami Beach. As its name suggests, Half Moon specializes in making and selling empanadas that are made from scratch, by hand and with the best ingredients, Pilar said. “We are empanada makers who are obsessed with product quality and superior service.”

Juan, born in Argentina, left his family-owned publishing company, and Pilar, who grew up in Mexico, left her full-time position at the Knight Foundation to pursue their dream. “Initially, we failed miserably, or should we say momentarily,” said" said Pilar, talking about their original 2,000-square-foot location in the heart of South Beach that was a financial mistake.

For a while it didn’t look like their business would make it. But the tough times forced the couple to get creative.

The couple worked several festivals like the South Beach Art Deco Festival and the Coconut Grove Art Festival, and realized they sold more in two days than what they could sell in a week at their SoBe location. A kiosk at University of Miami also did very well, producing 10-times the results of a former, more traditional vendor . Light-bulb moment: Much smaller, convenient, high-traffic, grab-and-go locations are key. “We learned from trial and error and listened to what the market told us,” Juan said. That led them to get out of their expensive SoBe lease and pursue all the locations they still have today at the University of Miami, Florida International University and Miami International Airport.

The airport location was a huge win. “We competed against six other local and national concepts. It took us "four years to open this location, from the moment we submitted the bid to the moment we opened the doors,” Pilar said. “We are among the few small businesses in the entire airport.”

The next huge hurdle was financing. Bank after bank after bank rejected them, even with contracts in hand. Then Pilar emailed their mentor and friend, Juan Martinez, CFO at the Knight Foundation, who referred them to TotalBank Chairman Jorge Rossell, who granted a personal meeting. “He believed in our potential, he believed in us,” said Pilar, who considers him a mentor and meets with him quarterly.

Since opening its first location in late 2008, Half Moon has built a new commissary while expanding aggressively into nontraditional and high-traffic venues and locations, including its commissary retail location and small café at 860 NE 79th St. in Miami, where the team is experimenting with specialty flavors and “build your own empanadas.” It also sells at three University of Miami kiosks, Miami International Airport (Gate D29), Florida International University and Sawgrass Mills mall.

In the past year, Half Moon Empanadas (halfmoonempanadas.com) has nearly tripled its revenue, has grown to 40 employees, and currently sells more than 40,000 empanadas a month. The 190-square-foot airport location, its top seller by far, is one of MIA’s five top-selling top five selling "food concessions per square foot, Juan said.

In time, Half Moon’s founders plan to expand nationally and globally, perhaps via a franchise model. Much like the international chain Auntie Anne’s did for pretzels, Half Moon Empanadas aims to lead the empanadas category well into the future, having survived a bumpy start, Pilar said.

“Quite frankly, we dusted ourselves off, we tightened our belts, and we survived, never abandoning our bigger dream of one day creating a new food category.”

Filthy Food: Raising the bar on cocktail garnishes

Filthy food

Ralph and Daniel Singer, co-founders of Filthy Food

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Can an actor formerly with the Royal Shakespeare Company run a food company?

“I’ve read Glengarry Glen Ross enough times. What else do you need to know? Always be closing.”

Or so Daniel Singer thought.

The British actor moved to Miami from London with a young family and wanted to start a business. He took the reins of a Miramar pickle company in 2004 and then in 2005 joined on to help run a meat company owned by his father. Singer had some success with expansion, but the passion just wasn’t there.

That is, until he had the idea to create a specialized company that focused on the cocktail niche.

The family sold National Deli (which had purchased the pickle company) and his father, Ralph Singer, a serial entrepreneur on both sides of the pond in textiles, child care, real estate and food companies, quickly signed on as a co-founder with the new venture. “It’s a gem of an idea that just needed a little polish,” Ralph said.

The idea for Filthy Food, a company with a line of cocktail pickles, olives, onions and cherries, was germinating as the current craft cocktail movement began to pick up steam. Growing up in an entrepreneurial family, it wasn’t difficult for Daniel to talk his documentary filmmaker brother, Marc Singer, into joining the company. “If you are an entrepreneur, it’s in you,” Daniel said. Together, they embarked on a two-year pilgrimage of olives in the name of research.

Did you know there are more than 200 varieties of cultivatable olives?

The proper olive is important, but the fermentation process is key — the ones on the market reeked of salt and oil, Daniel said. (Ever notice the little pool of oil on the top of your martini?) Filthy Food developed a proprietary fermentation process, and with samples in the back of their car, the brothers drove around New York pitching Filthy.

The big challenge: “To get people to care about something they didn’t think they needed to care about,” Daniel said. Bar olives and the like were thought of as commodities; Filthy is essentially creating a new category, he said.

In March 2010, they launched the Filthy Pickle, a cocktail pickle-olive garnish, at a trade show in Las Vegas. Let’s let the website for Filthy, “the world’s sexiest drink garnish,” describe it: “A beautiful, fleshy, seductive olive is the perfect place to put a firm, Filthy little pickle.” There are also descriptions for varieties of olives, cherries and onions. The big goal, Daniel said, is to become the most recognizable cocktail garnish company in the world. The W hotel on South Beach was the company’s first South Florida customers.

Although Filthy Food has always been headquartered here, the company last year consolidated its manufacturing from Chicago and New York to a 40,000-square-foot factory and headquarters in Miami Gardens refurbished to meet Filthy’s high production standard, said Daniel.

Today the company is 30 people strong, and Filthy’s products are shipped to all 50 states through liquor distributors and are served in cocktails in local places such as the Melting Pot, Yardbird, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Soho House, Juvia, Broken Shaker and Sweet Liberty as well as Total Wine & More, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, and on filthyfood.com. It’s on Carnival and Royal Caribbean cruise ships, too. “If they care about quality, Filthy is behind the bar,” Singer said in his best “Glengarry Glen Ross” mode.

Daniel handles branding and business development, while Marc, whose 2000 documentary “Dark Days” won awards at Sundance, runs operations. “I never regretted even for one day my massive career change,” Marc said. Their father, Ralph, a managing member for the company, describes himself as the rudder that keeps them on course. Also involved as an investor and full partner is actor and friend Josh Lucas, who has starred in movies such as “American Psycho,” “Sweet Home Alabama” and “A Beautiful Mind.” Said Daniel: “There’s the Josh that everybody sees on TV or in movies and there is the Josh that will be in New York with Marc getting boxes out the door.” Lucas has also helped with connections, such as getting Filthy on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.”

Best-sellers in liquor stores are the blue-cheese-stuffed olives, Daniel said. In bars and restaurants, because of the resurgence of American whiskey, black cherries are most popular (Daniel prefers them in the Classic Manhattan). Try Filthy Peppers with tequila or in a Bloody Mary.

And the original pickle? “The brand is unexpected and joyful, and the Filthy Pickle embodies that,” Daniel said. “It’s a real surprise in martinis or Bloody Marys.”

Nancy Dahlberg: 305-376-3595; @ndahlberg

Uber launches its UberEATS on-demand restaurant delivery service in the Miami area

UberEATS

By Nancy Dahlberg/ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Craving a Maple Bacon doughnut about now? UberEATS wants to speed it over to you, and maybe some for your office mates, too.

As part of its move beyond transportation, Uber, the fast-growing ride-sharing service, launched UberEATS in the Miami area on Tuesday, joining a full menu of on-demand restaurant delivery options in South Florida. Uber says it has about 100 restaurants signed on so far; the company initiated the service in the densely populated eastern corridor, from Brickell through Hollywood, with plans to expand Coral Gables, South Miami and other areas in time.

“What we’ve seen is that South Florida has really embraced Uber ... so over the last few months we thought, let’s further invest in the community to bring UberEATS down here,” said Kasra Moshkani, Uber’s general manager for South Florida.

Consumers can scroll menus and place orders via a free UberEATS app, available on Apple and Android. One does not have to be an app-carrying Uber member to use UberEATS, said Moshkani. Would-be customers can enter their addresses at ubereats.com/miami to determine if delivery is available.

Menu prices are the same as in the restaurants. Deliveries will be free for at least the next few weeks, he said; they will then rise to $4.99. As with its ride-sharing parent company, tips are not expected with UberEATS.

The company will tap its network of about 10,000 area Uber drivers to pick up and drop off food orders between 8 a.m. and midnight any day. Along with The Salty Donut and its famous Maple Bacon indulgence, restaurants include Wynwood Kitchen & Bar, Sushi Maki, Sliders, the Daily Creative, Ms. Cheezious, DIRT, Jar + Fork, Roasters N Toasters, The Rice House of Kabob, Salsa Fiesta and SoCalTaco.

In addition to drivers, Uber has a membership network of thousands of consumers in South Florida (Uber will not disclose membership numbers) to which it can market the service. It goes up against the mighty Amazon, which entered Miami-Dade County last month with its Amazon Restaurants app, offering free one-hour deliveries for Amazon Prime customers.

The two giants also compete with Postmates and GrubHub, part of the wave of on-demand services sweeping South Florida in the past two years, led by the ride-sharing services. These companies are joined delivery services for groceries and meal ingrediants. The battle for users has already had at least one casualty: San Francisco-based Caviar, a restaurant delivery service owned by Square, operated for about a year in Miami but quietly pulled out in the wake of Amazon’s and UberEATS’ arrival. It still operates in a number of other cities.

What’s driving this trend beyond the traditional pizza delivery: millennials’ preferences for more varied and healthier food options delivered conveniently via a few clicks on an app. The urbanization of downtowns — like Miami’s — swarming with young professionals also provides the density to potentially make these business models work.

Consider this: Restaurant delivery outside of pizza is growing strongly, up by 26 percent since 2012, while traditional quick-service pizza delivery overall is down 5 percent, according to new NPD Group food-service market research. While non-pizza food-service delivery is still a relatively small segment, NPD expects rapid growth with players like UberEATS and Amazon now in the mix. NPD forecasts that restaurant delivery will continue to outpace overall restaurant industry traffic growth over the next decade.

Bonnie Riggs, restaurant industry analyst with NPD Group, sees a big growth opportunity ahead for restaurants, as these tech-enabled restaurant-delivery services begin to move into smaller cities and suburbs. “Consumers are looking for convenient meal solutions beyond pizza and Chinese food and anybody that can address that need in a timely, price-related value situation can drive business,” Riggs said. “But it’s critical that these third-party providers deliver the food in a fast, efficient manner so it stays hot and fresh. That is going to be key.”

Miami marks the 19th U.S. city where UberEATS is offered and signals Uber’s strategy to use its on-demand logistics engine in industries beyond transportation. The company, which recently was legalized in Miami-Dade County after a long regulatory battle, was the eighth market to get UberPOOL, the car-pooling service it launched in Miami late last year, Moshkani said.

The company also offers UberRUSH, a package delivery service, in some markets.

“In all these areas, we are constantly experimenting and testing reception,” said Moshkani, who said that South Florida is one of Uber’s fastest growing markets. “UberEATS is our next bet on this market. Everyone’s got to eat and the food space is something this community is really proud of in its culture. That’s why we are making the investment here.”

Still, the move come as some analysts and venture capitalists are concerned the food delivery sector is overheating. Kevin Kopelman, an analyst at Cowen & Co. who follows the publicly traded GrubHub, warned in a recent research note that UberEATS could become a threat to GrubHub, citing Uber's 19 million U.S. users and 400,000 drivers.

He also said the cost of UberEATS is more digestible: A $25 meal from UberEATS comes to $30 with the delivery fee, and a comparable order could run as high as $38 from Postmates, $37 from DoorDash, $36 from Caviar and $33 from GrubHub, he said.

Though venture capital investment in the young food-tech sector hit a record $5.7 billion last year, investors have pulled back in 2016. If the current rate of investment holds, the sector will attract about half the investment as last year, according to data analysis firm CB Insights’ research.

Matthew Wong, a data analyst at CB Insights, expects “a more scrutinized funding environment” as well as market consolidation, he has said in a Miami Herald interview and other media reports. “Food is such a big segment of consumer spending, and we're going to see companies emerge as big players here,” Wong said in a recent Los Angeles Times report. “Some companies in the space might lose, but the space as a whole won't.”

Andy Rodriguez, co-owner of the Salty Donut, is betting on UberEATS. He said he likes that UberEATS platform doesn’t have the same restaurants as everyone else. He also praised the customer service and attention to detail he has received from the Uber team.

For that Maple Bacon delight or any other Salty Donut hand-crafted creation, you will have to wait a few days. The gourmet doughnuts will be available Thursday through Sunday on the app, coinciding with the hours of its Wynwood pop-up store and a new pop-up location at the Confidante Hotel in Miami Beach, Rodriguez said — “while supplies last.”

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

July 11, 2016

How millennial tastes shape a new generation of food startups

COLD PRESSED RAW

Cold Pressed Raw founder Tatiana Peisach

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

The craft movement has moved beyond beer. Today’s new food and beverage products are likely to be handmade, creative and adventuresome.

The eats and drinks are local, fresh and healthy too — often organic. And it doesn’t hurt to be a friend of the planet.

The front door is the new drive-through. Food arrives at the home or office with tech-enabled efficiency powering all aspects of the food supply chain.

According to entrepreneurship nonprofit Endeavor, South Florida is ripe for food-and-beverage startups building on these national trends because the critical ingredients are already here: a strong food service sector, culinary culture and an appreciation for green eating.

That last element is key to the nation’s $5.7 billion food-startup investment scene, which is driven by millennials, now the largest U.S. generation.

Millennials’ preference for healthier, “real food” married with convenience is the recipe for success, a 2015 Goldman Sachs report found. They are more likely than any other age group to buy all-natural and organic products, for instance, and are 45 percent more likely to buy these types of products than others. Millennials also are more likely than Boomers or GenXers to favor ethnic and artisanal food and beverage products — for indulgences, gourmet doughnuts are the new cupcakes.

“We expect millennials to account for more than 75 percent of growth within the food vertical over the next decade,” the Goldman analysts said. And while the world’s biggest food brands are beginning to embrace the trends, it is the small nimble companies that are most likely to drive innovation, the report said.

South Florida has plenty of those. Wynwood-born Panther Coffee is opening up cafes around South Florida and sells its artisan coffee worldwide. Tio Foods, maker of organic gazpacho-style soups in bottles, recently attracted General Mills as an investor. Homegrown meal delivery companies have proliferated, with the likes of DeliverLean, Fit2Go, The Fresh Diet and Fresh Meal Plan delivering health- and calorie-conscious meals to homes and businesses, making eating better as easy as ordering up an Uber.

Also sprouting up is an entire vertical of alcohol-related startups, including craft brewers and spirits makers, distributors and consumer apps — such as SpeedETab, Klink, Drizly and Minibar — that make it easier to order or bring the party to you.

As for comestible products, the common denominator, once again: artisan and adventurous. The family-run Filthy Food seeks to raise the bar on cocktail garnishes, creating a new craft category. “It’s the details that make a great drink experience, and bars that care about those details serve Filthy,” said Daniel Singer, one of the co-founders. (See related story.)

Continue reading "How millennial tastes shape a new generation of food startups" »

Vigilant Biosciences raises $5 million to take oral cancer detection products to market

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Vigilant Biosciences is developing products for the early detection and intervention of cancer. On Monday, the Fort Lauderdale life sciences company announced it closed a $5 million round of financing, bringing its total amount of funding raised to date to $12.5 million.

Existing investors participating in the Series B2 financing included White Owl Capital Partners, venVelo and others, as well as a group of angel investors.

Vigilant expects to use the funds to support international commercialization of its OncAlert Oral Cancer product line and the advancement of its OncAlert Labs product line. The funding also will support the continued research and development of additional products in Vigilant’s pipeline.

The funding round helps successfully transition Vigilant Biosciences to a commercial-stage company that will deliver breakthrough solutions to aid clinicians in the early detection of oral cancer, said Matthew H.J. Kim, founder, chairman and CEO of Vigilant Biosciences. “These funds will also enable us to continue research and development of additional applications of our unique biomarker technology.”

There are more than 440,000 new cases of oral cancer each year worldwide, particularly among high-risk populations, such as current and former smokers, heavy drinkers or those diagnosed with human papillomavirus, or HPV-16. Vigilant Biosciences’ product line based on patented technology currently includes the OncAlert Labs OraMark Test, a laboratory-developed test available only through OncAlert Labs, a CLIA certified laboratory; and the OncAlert Oral Cancer RAPID Test and the OncAlert Oral Cancer LAB Test, both CE Marked and available in select markets outside the United States.

In May, Vigilant said it will begin its first U.S.-based testing of its OncAlert Labs OraMark Tests, the first quantitative oral rinse test to accurately measure a tumor-initiating and stem cell associated biomarker for oral cancer detection at its earliest stages, the company said. Also in May, the Vigilant was cleared to launch its OnAlert Oral Cancer RAPID Test, an oral rinse test, across Europe.

Startup Spotlight: Mediconecta bringing telehealth to emerging markets

MKK00 Mediconecta News rk

Mediconecta, based in Miami, provides telehealth services in Latin America. The company, which won the eMerge Americas startup competition in April, now has 50 employees. Daniel Silberman, founder and CEO, and Daniel Fridzon, CTO, are pictured.

Company name: Mediconecta

Headquarters: Miami

Concept: Mediconecta.com is a telehealth innovator that provides on-demand medical consultations via videoconference. Using an in-house network of physicians and a robust proprietary platform, the company offers complete clinical resolution via web, its mobile app or telehealth kiosks.

Story: Daniel Silberman and Salomon Simkins, both engineers from Venezuela who received MBAs in the United States, started Mediconecta about five years ago and built it on the basic yet powerful premise that technology can be a pivotal element in the much-needed transformation of healthcare.

“By providing access to real time, on demand virtual medical visits that can take place anywhere the patient is located, we are able to drastically lower the constraints for delivering quality, affordable and timely medical care,” said Silberman, an industrial engineer who moved to the U.S. in 2004, received his MBA at MIT Sloan School of Management and did consulting and strategy work for a number of years before starting Mediconecta. Simkins, his co-founder and longtime friend, received an MBA from Harvard Business School and has a master’s in biomedical engineering from Penn State; he is based in Israel.

The company’s main business model is to provide telehealth services via the consumers’ insurance companies. “But what we are doing more and more is going straight to consumers through partnerships ... with channel partners who have broad reach in the mass consumer space,” Silberman said.

Today, Mediconecta is the largest telemedicine provider in Latin America with a presence in Mexico, Chile, Ecuador, Venezuela and Peru, with plans to expand into other specialties and product lines, including for U.S. Hispanics who have families in Latin America.

While Latin America is significantly behind the U.S. in telehealth adoption, “it’s really interesting how mainstream this will all become in the next few years,” Silberman said. “The business models that will exist and evolve in a few years will be different than they are today, so we are trying to stay ahead of the pack.”

Launched: July 2011

Management team: Daniel Silberman, founder and CEO; Salomon Simkins, founder and chairman; Daniel Fridzon, CTO

No. of employees: 50, most of them in Latin America.

Financing: $4.1 million in angel funding

Recent milestones reached: Mediconecta won the 2016 eMerge Americas late stage startup competition, winning $100,000 in investment as well as “giving us validation on a very credible platform” and “opening doors for investment and partnership opportunities,” Silberman said. Also, the company successfully deployed Medipunto health kiosks for employers and signed its first distribution partnership with a telecom company in Latin America.

Biggest startup challenge: Creating an entirely new service category in emerging markets. “Being the pioneers in the space, we now benefit from obvious advantages, although getting there was a lengthy process that took significant effort and resources,” Silberman said.

Next step: Mediconecta will continue to penetrate its core markets while expanding into several more countries in Latam and Spain. The service offering is also growing beyond its core in primary medical care and into other telehealth services including medical specialties and a virtual wellness hub, which provides access to virtual coaches in nutrition, fitness, maternity and other areas. The company will also be deploying more of its telehealth kiosks for employers for convenient, on-demand services.

In the United States, where the industry is growing more than 25 percent a year, Mediconecta has an opportunity to merge the medical need of Latinos in their home countries with the high quality medical care offered in the U.S. “This is a project the company will be pursuing via strategic partners, through a highly differentiated product to sell to their Hispanic customers,” Silberman said.

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg