Calling all developers: Hackathon with $30K in prizes open for registration

Emerge+TW eMerge Americas Techweek will host hundreds of developers, designers and technology enthusiasts vying for $30,000 in prizes at the eMerge Americas Techweek Hackathon.  The hackathon will bring together competitors from across the Americas from May 2-4 at the University of Miami Life Science and Technology Park’s Miami Innovation Center.

More than 100 developers have already signed up to participate, and organizers are expecting up to 300 competitors, said Xavier Gonzalez, executive director of the Technology Foundation of the Americas.

The challenge for the hackathon will be Doing Social Good: Using Technology to Solve Problems in Communities in Emerging Markets.   The applications developed by the teams of developers and designers will be judged based on:

  • * Presentation - Ability to clearly articulate the functionality of the application
  • * Sophistication - Difficulty of technical implementation
  • * Functionality - How well the technology works

"The Hackathon is the ultimate event that will engage developers, designers, entrepreneurs and technology enthusiasts in the overall eMerge Americas Techweek event,” said Brian Breslin, founder of Refresh Miami, South Florida’s largest tech organization.  “This will be a truly unique opportunity for the top developers in South Florida to compete against peers from Latin America and the Caribbean. "  

With support from Amazon Web Services (AWS), .CO and Wexford Science and Technology, a $20,000 cash prize will be awarded to the first place team, $7,500 to the second place team and $2,500 to third place team.  In addition, $100 in AWS Activate Credits will be provided to each participant.

The Hackathon will kick off the evening of Friday, May 2, with an informational session and pizza for participants. Saturday, May 3, the teams will be provided with the APIs and directions for the challenge and the teams will present their applications for final judging on the afternoon of Sunday, May 4.

For more information on the hackathon, visit http://emergeamericas.org/experience/exhibitions/hackathon

Read more about eMerge Americas Techweek plans here.


eMerge Americas Techweek to bring in array of experts, events

With more than 100 speakers and about a dozen events, contests, expos and parties, next month’s eMerge Americas Techweek will bring together executives and entrepreneurs from large technology companies and emerging ventures throughout South Florida and Latin America. Together with leaders from Miami’s key industries, such as healthcare and entertainment, they will explore technological advances and trends and shine a spotlight on the region’s emerging tech community.

eMerge Americas Techweek, May 2-7, will be the inaugural conference produced by the Technology Foundation of the Americas, an organization founded by tech entrepreneur and Terremark founder Manny Medina. It’s not just a conference, it’s the kickoff of a movement, said Diane Sanchez, CEO of the Technology Foundation of the Americas.

“The foundation’s objective is to ignite a vision of Miami as the technology hub of the Americas. We will do this by leveraging the unique features of the Miami region to build a new model for technology centers and be the catalyst that combines the South Florida technology community of today with Miami's Latin American connections and cultural assets to achieve that vision,” she said.

At the heart of Techweek will be the summits, Sanchez said. More than 100 experts will talk about the latest developments in technology, their application to their fields and the implications for the future. A few of the speakers include Paul Maritz, CEO of Pivotal; Sue Siegel, CEO of GE Ventures; Dave Thomas, managing director of Intel Capital; Peter Diamandis, CEO of XPrize; and Armando Christian Pérez, better known as Pitbull.

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Startup Grind coming to Miami; first event May 13

Startup Grind LogoWe’ve got Tech Cocktail, CreativeMornings and soon Startup Grind.

Aimed at shining a light on the local movement, Startup Grind is in 85 cities in 35 countries, including Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, Singapore, Dubai, Stockholm, Tel Aviv and London. Jason Ibarra, a South Florida digital marketing entrepreneur and leader, worked to bring a Startup Grind chapter here.

Startup Grind is designed to educate, inspire and connect entrepreneurs and will hold monthly events in which an entrepreneur, investor or leader is interviewed. The conversations will be videoed and released on the global Startup Grind website, powered by Google for Entrepreneurs.

Notable guests globally have included Clay Christensen (Innovator's Dilemma), Steve Blank, Ben Silbermann (Pinterest), Jessica Livingston (Y Combinator), Bill Maris (Google Ventures), Vinod Khosla (Kholsa Ventures), Dave McClure (500 Startups), Ali Pincus (One Kings Lane), Naval Ravikant (AngelList), Tony Conrad (About.me), Jeff Clavier (SoftTech VC), and Kevin Rose (Digg, MILK). 

Jason Ibarra - HeadshotIbarra plans to have the first event from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. May 13 at The LAB Miami and interview South Florida entrepreneurs, investors and supporters.

 “My motivation for doing this is to give Miami tech a global spotlight, a megaphone if you will, to get our talent, determination and successes known around the world. Startup Grind is here as a tool to help all of Miami's techpreneurs,” he said.

 Find out more about Startup Grind here

New seminar series aims to spur local angel investment, highlight university-developed technologies

The Florida Institute for Commercialization of Public Research, a nonprofit that works with state research universities and institutions to create new companies and jobs, will launch a program to educate participants on the power of angel investing. The “Doing Well While Doing Good” angel investor seminars will kick off on April 17 with $60,000 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

According to the institute, Florida universities produce more $2 billion a year in research, with a large percentage generated in Miami and South Florida. The “Doing Well While Doing Good” seminars will help spur local investment by educating participants on the angel investment process and highlighting innovative technologies and products developed by public universities. The quarterly events will bring university startup experts, entrepreneurs and experienced angel investors together.

“In most cases many years and millions of dollars go into developing new discoveries locally, but too often the potentially game-changing technology leaves the state and is developed elsewhere,” said Jane Teague, chief operating officer of the institute.  “The goal of the seminars is to educate investors about the local spinout companies that are bringing these technologies and products to market, and the rewarding opportunities that the local market holds.”

The institute works with technology licensing offices at public universities and private research institutions to create viable companies primed for investment. It offers both company building and company funding programs for promising startups. 

The first event in the series will take place on April 17 at the Coral Reef Yacht Club in Miami. For more information contact: info@florida-institute.com. Space is limited. 


Sale of .CO closes; jobs and office will stay in Miami


Signing the deal: .CO Internet co-founders Juan Diego Calle, Jose Rasco, Lori Anne Wardi and Nicolai Bezsonoff.

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com 

Champagne popped and bonuses flowed after .CO Internet closed its chapter as an independent company and became part of the publicly traded Neustar on Monday afternoon.

The Sterling, Va.-based  provider of real-time analytics and registry services was also already providing a critical piece of .CO Internet’s technology  infrastructure. Neustar  maintains the .biz and .us top-level domains and has been selected to provide services for up to 350 new domain extensions as a result of Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers’ ongoing global domain name expansion.  Launched globally  in 2010, .CO Internet was the exclusive operator of the worldwide registry for Internet addresses with the “.co” top-level domain, and had grown to managing 1.7 million names under management in more than 200 countries and territories. .CO sold for $109 million,  according to the SEC filing.

In his first comments to the press about the transaction, Juan Diego Calle, co-founder and former CEO of .CO, said that last year the co-founders hired RBC Capital Markets, an investment bank with experience in mid-tier tech companies, to explore raising a significant round of financing to expand into many more product lines. “In the process of discussions with private equity firms, VC firms and strategic players like Neustar, we very quickly realized what was driving the interest of these companies was not the grander vision but it was .CO itself," said Calle. They then decided to raise money for .CO itself or consider selling -- "we were soon getting offers for the entire business.”

The timing was right for both sides, Calle said. “We are going from a very regulated environment where there are a limited number of domain extensions into a world where there is essentially an unlimited number of options for consumers,” said Calle, referring to the thousands of new domain name options coming into the marketplace. “There’s this movement by the larger players in the industry to consolidate their positions of power and be market leaders in the new paradigm, and here we are, .CO, the most appealing of the new alternatives, so you can grab that asset and make it your flagship brand.

“And for us, we were a small company with limited resources, we were profitable, we were growing. In that paradigm with thousands of alternatives, having a public company behind us owning the asset is a huge competitive advantage.”

Calle said Neustar’s plan is to keep the offices – and the jobs – in Miami and Colombia for the forseeable future.  There are 20 full-time employees  going to Neustar, plus a few consultants.

“All of our employees are getting better jobs than they had at .CO, better benefits … and  everyone got a sizable bonus. Letting them know they were getting the money and celebrating the transaction with them was the highlight of my career from an entrepreneurial standpoint -- really very cool,” said Calle, who has been an outspoken proponent of launching and growing companies in Miami.

Of the co-founders, Calle and Nicolai Bezsonoff, the former COO,  will serve as strategic advisors, managing the integration of the companies. Lori Anne Wardi will remain in the role of vice president, and will continue overseeing the evolution of the .CO brand, as well as help Neustar with  .NYC, New York City’s soon-to-be-launched official domain extension. Jose Rasco will continue as managing director of STRAAT Investments, independent of Neustar. Eduardo Santoyo, based in Bogota, will continue to lead the Colombia office and all matters relating to government relations and Internet policy.

“I’m over the moon," said Wardi on Monday. “This has been our baby, we saw such potential in these two letters and what they would become. … I feel so proud every time I see a .co.”

Before the sale, STRAAT and the co-founders were planning to open a headquarters and co-working center in the Brickell area that they call Building, and that will still open in September, Calle said. Building will house the Neustar team as well as other ventures. “The idea of Building is to attract companies in a similar life cycle as .CO. We want to fill the later-stage niche instead of going after the pure startup plays. We are considering whether to expand the concept and to take it to other cities like San Francisco, New York and London. That is a business plan we are going to be actively developing now that we have sold .CO,” he said.

Neustar didn’t  acquire the subsidiary Pop.co, which allows consumers to set up a domain name, email account and website in 60 seconds. Said Calle: “You will see more push from us to build that out. Our goal is to make it one of the leading retail sites. We have a couple of other interesting things brewing, but right now the focus is on integrating .CO into Neustar as seamlessly as possible.”

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.


.CO team sellfie in elevator on way to celebration cocktails Monday night.

View: Miami is near heavenly as a startup city

By Mario Cruz

Mario_CruzRumblings from Sand Hill Road say that the only money that matters is money from them. Sam Altman, president of Ycombinator, says Miami is not a startup city. It's the old guard protecting what they have, like the auto industry in the 80s. The reality is that San Francisco is in turmoil, battling a price and culture war* while the rest of the US is finding out that any city in this country can produce everything the valley can, except long-term investments on crazy ideas.

Miami isn't perfect, we don't pull our resources and money together to share risks and rewards on those long-term crazy ideas. We need state and local government support, rewarding startup and early-stage business investors with tax breaks and penalizing companies for leaving. These companies will create jobs and government revenue -- everyone benefits.

As technology continues to get cheaper, angels are enjoying a competitive advantage in funding very early-stage companies with the capital needs. A tech startup today needs a fraction of capital that needed 10-15 years ago.

Miami has the crazy ideas, talent and environment conducive to startups: arguably the best weather, lower cost of living than the valley**, and better access to Europe and South America.

This place is near heavenly, what we need are angels.

* (Kevin Rose issue over the weekend http://instagram.com/p/mdW5tsQRJv/ http://www.businessinsider.com/anarchist-protest-kevin-rose-digg-3-billion-2014-4?op=1 )

**Average 1 Bedroom Apartment in City Centre
SF     $2,578.40
Mia    $1,200.00

Mario Cruz is co-founder and CTO of Choose Digital. Follow him on Twitter @mariocruz.


With Criptext, this conversation never happened ...

Criptext, which takes private text messaging to the B2B marketplace, was one of 10 startups presenting at Venture Hive's The Swarm.

CriptextBy Nancy Dahlberg 

Mayer Mizrachi and his team created a platform for text-messaging technology that makes messages disappear. One upping that, they created a cool iPhone app that lets users quickly and seamlessly add short muted video clips to their disappearing texts. For instance, instead of the text only saying “I got in,” the message could be accompanied by the teen sender jumping up and down with the acceptance letter from the university she applied to. In fact, the free app, called HASH, quickly gained more than 150,000 enthusiastic users, particularly teens.

But there was a problem. The teen users were not the market Mizrachi was targeting. And the market the team hoped to tap — individual politicians, lawyers and other professionals who wanted to be able to send messages without a trace left behind — were not embracing it.

While working on the app as part of Miami’s Venture Hive accelerator, Mizrachi got a call from a Latin American government that asked for a version of Hash just for its group. Then a big Panamanian telecommunications company wanted its own branded version to offer as an exclusive service for clients. Then it hit him: The target is a business-to-business marketplace. “Companies don’t want to use Whatsapp; they want to have full control and they will pay for the service,” said Mizrachi, 26, whose team of five works mainly from Ecuador and Panama.

Now, while the HASH app is still available along with plenty of competitors in the consumer market, Mizrachi and his team are focused squarely on the business-to-business model. His company, Criptext, will officially launch next month at TechCrunch Disrupt in New York but Mizrachi has already delivered the product to his first big enterprise customer and has others in the pipeline.

“Criptext will be the LinkedIn of messaging. Work and play should be separated,” said Mizrachi, who came up with the initial idea while working on a digital strategy for a presidential campaign in Panama and seeing a leaked text message conversation crucify a candidate.

With Criptext, messages are protected three ways: Once you open a message you have 15 seconds to read it before it self-destructs from the phone and the servers. Unlike competitors, the message is also screenshot-safe by never showing the name of the sender in the same screen as the message, and it’s untraceable in the backend. Companies, organizations and government entities will pay a yearly fee for the users it specifies — Criptext is currently testing pricing models. It will also have the ability to send messages to specified affiliates.

“Sometimes you set out to build a product for a particular market segment and realize along the way that there’s a better, more viable business model in a different market segment. Criptext started out focusing on consumers but realized it made more sense to pivot to a government and enterprise market,” said Ivan Rapin-Smith, program director at Venture Hive. “Mayer is now laser focused on this b2b business model and building a profitable, sustainable business.”

Mizrachi presented Criptext for the first time on Friday at the Swarm, Venture Hive’s version of the demo day. There, he and the nine other accelerator companies from seven different countries pitched to a roomful of investors and community supporters. “He represents us well and is a great example showing that world class tech companies can start and grow in Miami,” said Susan Amat, founder of Venture Hive, which is supported by Miami-Dade County and the Miami Downtown Development Authority.

At the Swarm on Friday, each startup team gave a six-minute presentation; then the teams were available for follow-up questions and meetings with investors. Other accelerator companies presenting Friday included Aprefis, which helps cruise companies increase profits through big-data pricing algorithms, Properati, an online and mobile platform for the real estate market in Latin America and now the U.S., and The Fan Machine, a social marketing platform in Latin America that is expanding into the United States, and Waleteros, a mobile wallet solution aimed at the unbanked U.S. Hispanic marketplace.

The Swarm closed out the intense 12-week program but the companies are provided free Venture Hive office space to continue working on their companies the rest of the year, and many of the companies from the first accelerator class, such as SWOL, Hair Construction, NightPro, Everypost and Raw Shorts, have stayed on at Venture Hive as part of its incubator. Mizrachi praised the structured program and the mentorship, and said the $25,000 grant each accelerator company receives allowed him to focus on building his business, rather than on raising money.

Photo of Mayer Mizrachi is by Al Diaz of the Miami Herald. Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg or reach her at ndahlberg@MiamiHerald.com.


Entrepreneurship datebook and startup news to note


TecheggMICRO-LENDING AND COACHING: Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream event for small-business owners involved in food, beverage, craft brewing and hospitality will include speed coaching with experts from Sam Adams, beer distributor Gold Coast and micro-lender Accion; 6-8:30 p.m. Monday, April 14, at Gold Coast Miami, 10055 NW 12th St. Register: http://btadmiami.eventbrite.com.

SUSTAINATOPIA: Three conferences covering sustainability, impact investing and ethical fashion, plus festivals and other events, take place at the Miami Beach Convention Center and other locations Wednesday, April 16, through April 22. Info: http://www.sustainatopia.com

SOCIAL MEDIA CLUB SOUTH FLORIDA: Special guest speaker is Shel Israel, co-author of "The Age of Context” and “Naked Conversations,” speaks on his latest research, 7 p.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday, April 15, at The James Royal Palm hotel in Miami Beach. More info: https://m.facebook.com/events/288221818011730

TRADEMARKS: SCORE Miami-Dade presents the workshop “Protecting Your Trademarks,” 6 p.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday, April 15, SBA offices, 100 S. Biscayne Blvd, 7th Floor, Miami. $40 in advance. Info: http://www.miamidade.score.org

BRAINFOOD: This month’s event features Albert Santalo of CareCloud, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 15, at The LAB Miami in Wynwood. $50. Info: thelabmiami.com


Last week was a big week for entrepreneurial news: South Florida medical device maker New Wave Surgical was sold for more than $100 million. Skyjoy launched its first video game gloablly. Endeavor chose Leapfactor co-founders to be Endeavor Entrepreneurs. Venture Hive’s accelerator companies presented at the Swarm. Urban.Us is launching an inaugural conference to help startups help cities April 24-25. The Kauffman Foundation released its entrepreneurial activity report, and the Miami area slipped to No. 3 among the 15th largest metro areas for entrepreneurial activity. Read more about these stories and others on the Starting Gate at MiamiHerald.com/business.



Miami Dade College’s Robotics Team places 1st in state among public universities

Miami Dade College’s engineering students continue to bring innovative ideas to life -- and out-perform major universities at regional and national competitions. At this year’s Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers  2014 SoutheastCon, recently held at the University of Kentucky, the nine-member MDC Robotics Club developed an autonomous robot that can navigate shooting lines and score points, in a game similar to basketball. The project earned the team first place in the state among public universities and eighth among more than 40 colleges that competed from the southern United States region.

Robotics-shotThis is the second year that MDC has competed at the prestigious competition and ranked higher than major universities, such as the University of Miami, Duke University, the University of South Florida and Clemson University, among others. Additionally, the team’s robotics project was recognized as the second overall fastest. The students achieved this feat with no funding, which speaks volumes about their ingenuity, level of commitment and training provided at MDC.

“I could not be happier with the outcome of the competition, where MDC students beat top universities in Florida, including the University of Florida, Florida International University and the University of Central Florida,” said  Miguel Alonso, chair of the School of Engineering. 

To prepare for the competition, MDC Robotics Club members met weekly and pooled their knowledge and skills to perfect the mechanics of the completely autonomous basketball game, in which robots maneuver through the court and shoot Nerf darts at their targets.

 “There are several reasons why these competitions are vital for students studying in our program. First, it gives them co-curricular experiences that challenge them to be creative as engineers, well beyond what can be done in the classroom. It also serves as a soft-skill building experience,” added Alonso. “Additionally, when we have success like the one at SoutheastCon, it raises the profile of MDC’s engineering program and demonstrates the quality of our program to the greater community and more importantly, to companies looking to hire.”

 Pictured in the photo (l-r) are MDC engineering students and Robotics Club members Matias Akman and Robert Glazebrook. Glazebrook started MDC’s Robotics Club at the Kendall Campus.  Photo courtesy of MDC.

Youth entrepreneurship: Miami Country Day team takes home first place in high school contest

The 2014 South Florida High School Business Plan Competition to benefit the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship was recently held at Ransom Everglades and the team of Ryan Amoils and Alvero Ortega from Miami Country Day brought home first place. The Ransom team of Amin Gulamali, Kevin Hoffer-Hawlik, and Spencer Hamersmith came in second.

The inaugural competition amongst private schools in South Florida was a warm up for the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge and raised money for and awareness of NFTE’s mission to help provide students from low income communities with entrepreneurship education and training. Each year,  thousands of students in Miami-Dade and Broward County Schools compete in NFTE business plan competitions that eventually lead to the NFTE national finals in New York.

More than 65 student teams from South Florida entered this year's Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge High School Track. Semifinalists will be announced APril 21 and winners will be announced May 19. Stay tuned!