July 27, 2017

Modernizing Medicine to add 838 jobs, double office space

Health-tech company Modernizing Medicine announced on Thursday that it will be expanding, creating more than 800 new jobs and doubling its office space in Boca Raton.

Modernizing Medicine currently employs about 550 people and is generating $100 million in revenues annually, making it one of South Florida’s largest and fastest-growing tech companies. “There are not many companies growing as fast as Modernizing Medicine — in the world,” said Gov. Rick Scott, who was on hand for the announcement in Boca Raton.

Modernizing Medicine will receive $6 million in state, county and city incentives for creating the jobs by 2022, according to the Sun Sentinel. The 838 new, mostly software positions will have an average salary of $65,000 a year. In exchange, Modernizing Medicine will make a $15 million investment in the region.

To handle its growth, Modernizing Medicine is leasing 50,000 square feet at Boca Raton Innovation Center, former home of IBM, to add to its similarly sized headquarters space at the FAU Research Park and an office in Weston. In May, Modernizing Medicine announced it had received a $231 million investment from private equity firm Warburg Pincus. “If there was any doubt that you could found and scale a company in South Florida, hopefully those doubts are now erased,” CEO Dan Cane said at the time.

Founded in 2010 by Cane and Dr. Michael Sherling, Modernizing Medicine has been one of the recent tech success stories in South Florida. Cane, a serial entrepreneur who earlier in his career co-founded and exited education-tech company Blackboard, met Sherling, his future co-founder, in the doctor’s office. Modernizing Medicine’s flagship product is EMA, which is a mobile, cloud-based, specialty-specific electronic health record system now used by more than 10,000 providers at thousands of specialty practices nationwide, and the company now offers a full suite of products and services including practice management, revenue cycle management, telehealth for dermatology and analytics.

July 26, 2017

In growth spurt, AGP Miami funds Animusoft, other South Florida startups

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Why are local investors a critical piece of South Florida’s entrepreneurship community? Look no further than what AGP Miami is doing to help fill a funding gap.

AGP, a South Florida network of angel investors, closed on its latest investment last week: Animusoft. The Miami-based startup, which built a software platform for the drone industry called ALIVE under founder and CEO Daniel Rodriguez, has raised $1 million in funding, of which about half was raised from AGP members.

Now with nearly 100 members, AGP focuses on investing in South Florida companies, many of whom have made significant traction through bootstrapping, such as Animusoft. At a time when access to capital continues to be a challenge for South Florida entrepreneurs, AGP, originally funded by the Knight Foundation and now self-sustaining, is one of the locally based networks that has been doubling down on its mission to address the funding gap and expanding its funding activity.

Raul Moas (c) (2)In the past quarter, AGP Miami invested $1.25 million into local, early-stage companies, said Raul Moas, managing director of the network. In addition to Animusoft, recent fundings include Home61, Nearpod, Gramercy, Birch and Eventplicity.

AGP recently added Melissa Krinzman, managing partner of Krillion Ventures, Mark Kingdon, founder of Quixotic Ventures, and Tigre Wenrich, CEO of the LAB Miami who heads up LABVentures, to its board of directors. “All three of them are exceptional individuals – that was a big win for us,” Moas said. They join Nico Berardi, AGP’s former managing director, Juan Pablo Cappello and Marco Giberti.

AGP’s staff is also growing. Rebecca Danta, a Miami native, returned to Miami this summer to be AGP’s venture associate, where she's heading up AGP’s dealflow management, Moas said. Most recently she worked for General Assembly in New York City.

Although South Florida deals will continue to be AGP’s primary focus, Danta will also be looking around Florida, including Gainesville, for potential deals.

“Miami is home and will continue to be home base ... but there are great deals around Florida, in particular Gainesville, and the same thing in Latin America,” Moas said. “We think that in the next 12 months, we will be positioned to start either establishing a presence in some of these markets or at the very least scouting them more actively.”

Feathr, Birch and Eventplicity are all AGP portfolio companies founded in Gainesville. “We have an opportunity to bring them into the fold of what is happening here,” Moas said. They plan to hire a scout there for the fall.

At a time when international startups are increasingly making Miami their corporate or U.S. base, AGP will also look more aggressively for companies in Latin America that members can get into early, and as the companies grow and if it makes sense for them, AGP could be their soft landing in Miami, Moas added. “We want to be there to support them. The expertise is already here.”

[READ MORE: Hatching a tech future: South Florida startups are gaining strength]

Since 2014, AGP has invested in 24 companies and invested $7.2 million, Moas said. That’s up from $4.6 million a year ago, when AGP had about 80 members.

AGP screens hundreds of deals to find companies that could be a good fit for members. Then a screening committee further selects companies that will be invited to pitch to the full membership. AGP members decide individually whether to invest in a startup.

To be sure, AGP is not the only local funder that has been expanding activity – for instance Krillion Ventures and New World Angels have invested in a number of local companies in the last couple of years, and others such as Las Olas Venture Capital are beginning to take off. At a time when venture capital still lags in Florida, AGP and other local funders are providing critical seed and Series A capital.

Animusoft will be using the new funding to build out marketing, sales and business development efforts as well as augment engineering staff with additional data scientists, Rodriguez said. 

Five large architecture, engineering and construction firms are now piloting ALIVE, an operating system for drones, on job sites. Animusoft is also partnering with seven drone manufacturers, which will be packaging its software with their drones. “We are in active conversations with maritime cargo companies, logistics companies, law enforcement and farmers for other applications of drones powered by the ALIVE platform,” Rodriguez said.

As it expands, including a presence in the California Bay Area, Rodriguez says he plans to keep engineering, product and research efforts in Miami. “I am a Miami native, and plan to keep a solid footing here in South Florida. This is my home.”

For Animusoft and other portfolio companies, local investors provide critical capital to grow their early-stage ventures.

July 22, 2017

Pitch Perfect: How I landed my product on Walmart shelves


WinnerBy Angela Horevitz

Anyone who has spent time baking knows the heartbreak that ensues when you arrive at your destination only to find your beautiful baked goods have been ruined in transit.

After being a victim of this one too many times, I created Bakers Sto N Go, a food storage container with adjustable trays that helps cooks stack and transport baked goods safely.

The idea came to me during a quiet meditation one day. ‘How could something so simple not exist,’ I wondered.

I had always wanted to be an inventor, so my husband told me to go for it. I spent the next 12 months working tirelessly until my product was perfect.

I made countless dozens of cookies, cakes, muffins and brownies, using every store-bought mix available to ensure the dimensions were right.

I eventually went to a mold maker, created a prototype, and in January 2007 attended my first trade show with the finished product.

Bakers Sto N Go was an immediate hit! Over the next 10 years, I sold my product in stores, online and in catalogs.

Earlier this year, I saw a promotion about a “Made In America” product search on Walmart’s website. I completed an online application, then waited. On the morning of May 26, I logged into to my computer and saw an email that said “Congratulations! You’re on your way to Walmart.”

A month later, I traveled to Walmart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. I was intimidated by the idea of pitching the world’s largest retailer, but the people at Walmart went out of their way to be helpful. 

The next morning, more than 700 entrepreneurs attended a meeting with company executives. The room was electric. One guest, Mr. Bassett from Bassett Furniture, delivered an incredible speech about the importance of Made in America products. He was an inspiration to us all. 

After the group session came the breakout pitch meetings. Mine consisted of 6 people, from buyers to specialty employees.

My presentation was detailed. I explained why my product was a good fit for Walmart, and how it will benefit shoppers. We talked numbers and inventory.

They complimented me for doing my homework, especially the fact that I visited a Walmart store and showed pictures of where my product should be displayed. I wanted this account, and I was determined to make that clear. 

After 30 minutes, my buyer pulled out a green slip that read, “Congratulations. You’re in Walmart.” My eyes grew as big as oranges – I was so happy!

I left the room, we shot a quick video, and soon it was time for me to catch my midnight flight back to South Florida. The next morning, I got to work preparing for Bakers Sto N Go to debut on Walmart shelves. I wasn’t wasting any time.

I’m still pinching myself. The whole experience was like a dream. I came away inspired by my peers and proud to be a “Made in America” entrepreneur. 

Sometimes a simple idea takes you down a winding road. The past three months have been a whirlwind for my family, and I cherish the day when I’ll walk into Walmart only to find Bakers Sto N Go on the shelf.

Angela Horevitz is the founder of Bakers Sto N Go of Fort Lauderdale, www.bakersstongo.com

July 21, 2017

Babson College plans to launch Miami campus for graduate programs

Kerry

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Babson College plans to announce Monday that it is expanding to Miami, where it will begin offering some of its top-ranked graduate programs in the fall of 2018.

Babson’s newest hub, which will be located at the Cambridge Innovation Center at 1951 NW 7th Ave., will build on its base of 1,300 area alumni, the institution’s fourth largest alumni group, and a growing relationship in Miami’s entrepreneurship community. Miami will be Babson’s third location outside its main campus in Wellesley, Mass. It also has campuses in Boston and San Francisco.

The Miami expansion is part of Babson President Kerry Healey’s global growth strategy.

“We think Miami is a wonderful place geographically for us to be. It helps us cover the country in an important way but also it allows us to be where the entrepreneurs are,” said Healey (pictured above), noting that Miami ranked No. 1 for startup activity in the 2017 Kauffman Index report.

The graduate programs have been approved by the State of Florida and will include one of Babson’s premier degrees, its Blended Learning MBA, which combines online and face-to-face instruction, Healey said. That graduate program is ranked No. 5 in the nation and No. 1 for average alumni earnings by the Financial Times.

In the hot field of big data, a Master of Science in Business Analytics will be offered, she said. Other planned courses include a self-paced certificate program in advanced management, whose credits can be applied to a future Babson degree.

Miami offers a rich diversity of public and private graduate business programs, including those at the University of Miami, Florida International University, Nova Southeastern University, Barry University and Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, which opened a Coral Gables campus about a decade ago.

Babson, which has been ranked No. 1 for entrepreneurship education by the Princeton Review and U.S. News and World Report for more than 20 years, is no stranger to Miami. Babson created the curriculum for the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program, which opened a program at Miami Dade College in 2014. That local program, which helps entrepreneurs grow their businesses, has graduated more than 300 entrepreneurs.

Babson’s WIN Lab, an accelerator for women-led startups, opened a chapter in Miami in 2016. The program’s second cohort will be starting in the fall.

“When we had the opportunity through the Knight Foundation to bring WIN Lab to Miami in 2016, we did it with the view of seeing if this was the right place to bring our graduate programs as well,” Healey said. “Our experience has been extraordinary.”

Miami is also a hub for family businesses, and the 98-year-old Babson’s emphasis on family business is a differentiator, Healey said. “One of the founding interests of Babson College was as support for family businesses and today nearly half of our students come from business families still,” she said. “Every generation of a family business needs an entrepreneur. Family businesses are founded by entrepreneurs but they are also kept alive by entrepreneurs.”

Babson will rent classroom space at Cambridge Innovation Center Miami, an entrepreneurial co-working center that opened in the University of Miami Life Science and Technology Park building last year. Students will also have access to CIC’s conference rooms, cafe and events. Babson will announce the new programs at CIC Miami at 10 a.m. Monday.

“We from the CIC side have had a tremendous experience hosting the WIN Lab and we all know that Miami is starting to get on the radar of interesting institutions and stakeholders,” said Natalia Martinez-Kalinina, general manager of CIC Miami. “We are working with Babson to facilitate how best to support their mission and vision.”

Martinez-Kalinina said CIC Miami has a number of collaborations with the University of Miami and will soon be opening up shared wet labs spaces to researchers and startups at UM and later other universities. CIC also hosts a series about the future of various industries with university experts and has been including local universities in its “soft landing” program for newly arrived international entrepreneurs, she said.

Babson is accepting applications for the Miami programs. More information is available on www.babson.edu/miami.

Nancy Dahlberg: 305-376-3595, @ndahlberg

July 18, 2017

Matt Haggman resigns as Knight's Miami program director

Haggman

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

After five years largely spearheading a movement in Miami to develop an entrepreneurship hub, Matt Haggman, Knight Foundation program director for Miami, has resigned, the foundation said on Tuesday.

Chris Caines, who has served as Haggman’s associate since January 2016, will assume responsibilities as Knight interim program director for Miami, the foundation said. The resignation is effective Friday.

“It has been the best job I have ever had in my life,” Haggman said on Tuesday. “The opportunity to work with amazing entrepreneurs, amazing innovators, to re-imagine how Miami could evolve into a center for innovation and play a role in building all of that has been the greatest privilege of my life. And that work for me will continue but that will continue in different ways.”

Haggman has been rumored to be considering running for U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s District 27 seat that will be up for grabs in November 2018. Tuesday, he would not talk about what’s next for him; all he would say is “stay tuned.”

Since Haggman joined Knight in 2011 and launched entrepreneurship funding in 2012, Knight has invested more than $28 million in supporting high-growth entrepreneurship in Miami and South Florida. Knight pledged its continued support to the entrepreneurship focus.

“We intend to continue this important work and to generate a more connected, better supported community of entrepreneurs. Our goal continues to be to make Miami a hub of ideas and innovation,” said Sam Gill, Knight Foundation VP/Communities and Impact in a note sent to supporters. 

“Chris has been working closely with Matt, our grantees and partners. He embodies Knight Foundation’s commitment to informed and engaged communities and will continue the work seamlessly,” he said in the note. “Matt leaves Knight with our profound gratitude for his leadership and efforts.”

After about six months of fact-finding, Haggman and Knight laid out a strategy and launched the Miami office’s focus on accelerating tech and entrepreneurship in mid-2012. Soon after Knight  made the foundation’s first investments to organizations that supported entrepreneurship, including a founding grant to The LAB Miami, one of the area’s first entrepreneurial co-working spaces. In October, Knight followed with a $1.25 million investment to launch venture-building and corporate innovation programs within The LAB.

“By leading Knight Foundation's efforts to support entrepreneurship, Matt has been the cornerstone of a renaissance in Miami tech,” said Thomas “Tigre” Wenrich, CEO of The LAB. “While we are still only in the early innings, we would not have the dynamic ecosystem we have today without Matt’s tireless work over the past five years. We will miss Matt’s presence on the board of The LAB, but we are excited to support him as he enters a new phase in his career.” 

Since the founding investment in the LAB, Knight has made grants or investments ranging from about $20,000 to more than $2 million to over 200 organizations, events and projects, from funding the weekly Waffle Wednesday gatherings in Wynwood to supporting a number of education programs, startup accelerators and coding school scholarships to funding the relaunch of Accelerated Growth Partners, an angel investing network.

Some of the larger investments over the years include: $2 million committed to bring Endeavor, a global organization that supports high-growth entrepreneurship, to Miami in 2013 for its first U.S. chapter; $2.18 million in 2014 to help launch the Miami Dade College Idea Center, a campus-wide entrepreneurship program; $1.25 million announced in 2014 to help bring LaunchCode, a tech apprentice program, to Miami; $1.5 million for eMerge Americas, a homegrown technology conference, as it headed into its second year in 2015; $2 million to bring Startupbootcamp to Miami, an accelerator for digital health that launched in 2016; and in February, $1.2 million in new support for Code Fever’s signature event Blacktech Week. Knight’s funding was also instrumental for the Miami launch of Babson WIN Lab, an accelerator for women-led companies, last year.

Laura Maydón, managing director of Endeavor Miami, said: “It was thanks to Matt Haggman’s leadership through Knight Foundation’s support that Endeavor Global considered launching its first U.S. affiliate. He has been a pioneer in Miami and has spearheaded the entrepreneurial movement by bringing many proven entrepreneurial organizations to Miami through Knight Foundation’s contributions. I consider Knight Foundation a key partner and contributor to our success.”

Before joining Knight, Haggman, who has a law degree, worked at the Miami Herald as a business reporter covering real estate and then metro reporter covering politics and won several awards for investigative reporting, and during that period also got to know Alberto Ibargüen, Knight’s CEO who previously was Miami Herald publisher. Before that, he worked at the Daily Business Review. 

Haggman was past co-chair of Miami-Dade Beacon Council’s One Community One Goal, Miami-Dade County economic development initiative. Haggman serves on the boards of Endeavor Miami, New World Symphony, The Underline and The LAB Miami. He is a longtime volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Miami.

Ironhack receives $3 million in funding for global expansion

Ironhackclass

Ironhack, a coding bootcamp in Miami with campuses in Madrid, Barcelona and most recently Paris, received $3 million in financing led by Madrid-based JME Venture Capital.

The funding will be used for international expansion, including coding campuses in Latin America and Europe, TechCrunch reported.

Founded by Ariel Quinones, who is based in Miami, and Gonzalo Manrique, Ironhack launched its bootcamp in Miami in 2015 after launching them in Madrid and Barcelona. The company opened its Paris location earlier this year. Its Miami bootcamps are held at Building.co.

"We’re very excited to have JME join us as our partners. Their investment will allow us to accelerate our pace of expansion, improve our product and curriculum, and hire top talent as we continue build one of the world’s top tech schools," said Quinones in TechCrunch.

Ironhack has been part of a wave of coding bootcamps opening across the nation, including Wyncode in Miami. Its cohorts end with demo nights, and it recently provided coding school scholarships to Uber drivers and riders in Miami.

Singularity U's Salim Ismail to be honoree, speaker at Endeavor Miami Gala. Here's what he's been up to in Miami.

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Go big.

That’s the advice an expert on exponential technologies has for the startup ecosystem in Miami.

IsmailSalim Ismail is the founding executive director and now the global ambassador for Silicon Valley’s Singularity University and a board member of XPRIZE, well-known organizations that inspire, educate and fund people and projects trying to solve world-changing problems through technology.

“In Silicon Valley, people think on a global scale. In many other parts of the world, Miami included, people are trying to build a niche product or feature,” said Ismail, the author of “Exponential Organizations.”

Yet Ismail, now a Miami area resident, also said Miami has passion that you don’t find everywhere. “When you can align the natural passion of the residents here with a very big purpose or outcome, there is literally no limit as to what could happen.”

Ismail is being honored with Endeavor Miami’s Impact Award at its fourth annual benefit gala, which will be held Oct. 21 at the Faena Forum in Miami Beach, Endeavor Miami announced. During an address to gala attendees, Ismail will share his vision for entrepreneurship and what emerging technology trends mean for the future. Endeavor Miami is an arm of the global organization that selects, mentors and accelerates high-impact entrepreneurs around the world.

“We choose honorees each year that reflect the characteristics we believe will inspire our entrepreneurs and exemplify the progressive mindset that Endeavor selects in its companies,” said Laura Maydón, managing director of Endeavor Miami. “Salim is a visionary leader whose accomplishments are shaping the future of entrepreneurship and technology.”

Of particular local interest, Ismail is also the co-founder of Fastrack Institute, along with South Floridians Rodrigo Arboleda, an architect who co-founded the global nonprofit One Laptop Per Child and CEO of Fastrack, and Dr. Maurice Ferré, co-founder of Mako Surgical and now is running Insightec and other healthcare-technology ventures. Fastrack, a one-year-old nonprofit developing in Miami, plans to partner with cities that then become launching pads to rapidly build companies that can solve critical urban problems – such as mobility or access to quality healthcare or education, for example – in those cities and then scale those technologies globally.

Because Fastrack teams work through legal, regulatory and safety issues with cities as they are building the companies, “we found with Fastrack we can solve a problem facing a city at about one tenth the current cost, which makes it economically very compelling,” said Ismail, in an interview this week. “What we want to do is make Miami the capital for this kind of thinking ... what an ideal city should look like.”

Fastrack, which counts University of Miami’s Center For Computational Science as a partner, has been running pilot programs in Medellín, Colombia, and now about 20 cities around the world are interested in becoming Fastrack cities, including Miami, he said. One Fastrack problem could be traffic, he said. “Think about it. If we can solve it in Miami then that becomes an export industry that applies to every city in the world.”

Exponential companies, however they are built, need to be information-based because that scales, said Ismail, who also helps established companies quickly incorporate an exponential mindset through his company ExO Works. “Airbnb’s information is enabling people’s extra bedrooms. Ride-sharing is creating more of a liquid workforce,” he explained. Just as importantly, he said, exponential companies also need to have a massive transformative purpose. “It’s not enough to have a great product – it needs to effect meaningful change in the world.”

Ismail believes solar energy will be one of the world’s most powerful exponential technologies.

“Energy has been scarce for the whole of the history of humanity. It is about to become abundant in the next five to seven years and that will radically change the global geopolitics of it,” he said. “The Middle East will be essentially rendered mostly worthless. In Canada, the Keystone Pipeline will be irrelevant before it is even built. The poorest companies in the world are also the sunniest countries in the world; solar will really change the global equation.”

And there are other exponential technologies, including autonomous cars, drones and artificial intelligence, he said. Bitcoin and blockchain-based technology will radically change government services and public services even more so than the private financial sector, he said. Biotech technologies give people the power to edit the human genome, allowing the human body to become a software engineering problem.

Ismail, who was an executive at Yahoo and started companies before joining Singularity in 2008, moved to Miami in 2014 and has led or spoken at several events, including most recently eMerge Americas. “I love it. I am an avid tennis player and I am from India originally so I am like a lizard on the rocks – I love the humidity. I travel a lot and the airport is one of the best connected airports in the world.”

He also loves the natural diversity of the region – the ethnic makeup, the arts, the mix of industries, he said. “Absolutely the biggest success factor for any city is diversity and the richness that comes from it. All great ideas come when you cross disparate domains together.” And it has the power to attract: “It’s fascinating to see the talent that is now arriving in Miami, it really is.”

Calling himself a massive technology optimist, Ismail sees climate change as South Florida’s biggest urban challenge. “Miami has an opportunity to act as a world leader because it is going to be first affected. Whatever solutions come out of here, it will apply to about 60 percent of the global population.”

He calls Endeavor one of the most important and interesting initiatives to ever get created in entrepreneurship.

Endeavor Miami is the first U.S. affiliate of Endeavor Global. Since Endeavor Miami’s 2013 launch, 15 South Florida companies and 24 entrepreneurs have become part of Endeavor’s global network of business leaders, mentors and investors.

Previous IMPACT award recipients include Jessica Goldman Srebnick, CEO of Goldman Properties; Jim McKelvey, co-founder of Square and founder of LaunchCode; and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, co-founder of Gilt and GLAMSQUAD.

The 2017 Endeavor Miami Gala will be held Oct. 21 from 7:30 p.m. to midnight at the Faena Forum. Proceeds from the event directly support Endeavor Miami’s mission. Find more information about the gala here.

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

July 16, 2017

Heading to Dadeland Mall? App finds you prime parking spot

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

MyPark Dadeland Screenshot (2) (1)For shoppers who might hit the mall more often if they could snag a parking spot by the door, a Miami startup has a solution.

Beginning Tuesday, MyPark, an app-based parking service used by malls and private and public garages, is partnering with Dadeland Mall for the debut of its on-demand self-parking service. With the app, shoppers willing to pony up a few bucks can book a prime parking spot when and where they need it.

Dadeland Mall has installed 30 reserved, numbered spaces in various locations, such as near the main entrance, the food court, CVS, Macy’s and the fashion wing. Luis Mayendia, CEO of the Miami-based MyPark, said the company hopes to expand the relationship as the results prove the value for customers and tenants at Simon Properties.

To save themselves from the endless circling or a long schlep to the entrance in the summertime rain, a shopper can reserve a prime space for $3 for up to two hours, and $3 an hour thereafter. Users of the app, available for iPhone and Android devices, choose their section (the best spot is selected automatically by default). Once users arrive at their reserved space, they tap a button on the app and a MyPark reservation unit blocking the space will lower to give them access. (No, you can’t scalp your coveted spot at holiday time). Retailers and restaurants can offer validated parking to their customers if they wish.

“We continually evolve to offer our customers more choices and enhance their experience,” said Maria Prado, general manager of Dadeland Mall.

While Dadeland Mall is MyPark’s first foray into Florida malls, MyPark is in use at a handful of other malls including Simon’s Lenox Square in Atlanta and Westfield Garden State Plaza, New Jersey’s largest mall. MyPark is also available at South Beach’s Pelican Garage and several office buildings.

Later this summer, MyPark (usemypark.com), founded in 2013, plans to expand into Puerto Rico, Mayendia said.

Plum, maker of innovative wine appliance, attracts $9 million in funding

Plum2

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

David Koretz introduced the first appliance that preserves, chills and serves wine by the glass. A $9 million round of funding will help the South Florida entrepreneur further expand into the luxury hotel center.

His startup, Plum, announced Thursday that its Series A round was led by Khosla Ventures, locally based Las Olas Venture Capital and several angel investors. Wine and hospitality industry veterans also participated in the funding round.

“The support from investors of this caliber is a welcome validation of our core mission to let people enjoy a single perfect glass of wine on demand in their homes and hotel guest rooms,” said Koretz, Plum’s founder and CEO, in a press release.

Plum appointed Joe Berger, executive vice president and president of the Americas for Hilton Hotels & Resorts, to its board. “There is an incredible need for innovation inside the hotel room to surprise and delight guests and elevate their experience with each stay,” said Berger, who oversees operations of more than 350 corporately managed Hilton hotels and Hilton Grand Vacation resorts. 

The company’s Plum for Hotels program brings on-demand, in-room wine by the glass to guests. Plum has already signed deals with Four Seasons, Marriott, SBE Group, Langham, Hyatt, Hilton, and Rosewood flags. 

“Hoteliers will be able to unlock new incremental revenue streams,” said Mark Volchek, founding partner at Las Olas Venture Capital that has funded several South Florida companies in the past year. “David is an experienced entrepreneur who has a strong track record of success, and we are excited to be backing him on his latest venture.”

Plum’s appliance, which is in production, holds and preserves two bottles and serves each wine at the idea temperature for that varietal. Plum is headquartered in Dania Beach and has offices in Silicon Valley. Koretz moved to South Florida in early 2015 from the valley to start Plum, even though VCs at the time told him he was crazy.

 

Startup Spotlight: Voyhoy

Voyhoy1

From left: Ignacio Vial, Mateus Rocha, Jake Moskowitz (seated) CEO, Juan Arredondo, and Roger Robinson at the offices of Voyhoy on June 22. Voyhoy, which recently won the big prize at eMerge Americas, has a travel app where people can buy tickets for Latin American travel on bus, flight, ferry and train — sometimes all in the same trip in one place online. Roberto Kolton/Miami Herald.

 

Company name: Voyhoy

Headquarters: Miami, with operations office in Santiago, Chile.

Concept: Voyhoy is a multimodal travel platform in Latin America, helping people compare and buy tickets on buses, planes, ferries and trains. The startup focuses on the most affordable tickets for the most price-sensitive travelers in the region.

Story: Despite diverse backgrounds, Voyhoy co-founders Jake Moskowitz, Roger Robinson and Ignacio Vial can thank coincidence and Santiago’s tightly-knit expat community for bringing them together. To affordably book trips for his clients at his former tourism company while working in Chile, Moskowitz, from Atlanta, would visit multiple bus terminals with wads of cash and sit in line for hours to buy seats on passenger buses rather than pay for an expensive charter bus. For personal travel, he and Robinson, an expat from Washington, D.C., struggled to find transportation information online and constantly encountered problems with disorganized ticket offices.

Jake Moskowitz, CEO of Voyhoy, at the company offices in Miami.

Roberto Koltun rkoltun@miamiherald.com

They found that travelers in Latin America are faced with ever-increasing options to get from point A to point B. But limited connectivity and route coverage, disproportionate trip prices, and a lack of transparent information, the best route is rarely apparent. Also, most travel sites that cater to Latin America only sell flights — the most expensive mode of transportation — whereas most travelers prefer more affordable options like buses and low-cost airlines, most of which are not even listed on travel sites in the region. This fragmentation forced travelers to buy their tickets in person or on the individual sites of each operator without comparing multiple companies at once.

The co-founders, including Vial, a Chilean native, created a free version of Voyhoy as a proof of concept. “After traffic grew quickly and more and more travelers were using Voyhoy to find the best trip, we decided to make this our lives’ mission,” Moskowitz said.

Voyhoy received initial funding from local Chilean investors to hire developers and build a monetized version of Voyhoy: “We then simply followed the demand, partnering with the companies that offered the routes with the highest search volumes in Voyhoy. Each time we added a new company, our revenue increased.” Voyhoy was then accepted into a highly competitive Techstars accelerator program focused on mobility.

As it was Santiago’s community that brought the team together, it was a leader in Miami’s tech community that brought the startup to Miami. “A charismatic” Kairos CEO Brian Brackeen met the co-founders by chance at a pitch event in Detroit and immediately began to pitch them on relocating to Miami. A subsequent 30-minute call with Brackeen turned into two hours; Brackeen made introductions; and soon, they were flying down for a tour by Brackeen and meetings with tech community leadors and entrepreneurs. The Voyhoy team relocated in January, believing Miami to be the ideal location for an international headquarters for its growing customer base in Latin America.

“I’m glad they chose Miami as their headquarters after TechStars. The entrepreneurs have a lot of passion, are hard workers and are good listeners,” said mentor Laura Maydon, managing director of Endeavor Miami. “Importantly, they are solving an important problem.”

Today, travelers can use Voyhoy to buy tickets from over 1,000 providers across transport modes for over 100,000 routes in Chile, Argentina, Peru, Brazil and Colombia, with other markets on the way. For transport operators, Voyhoy increases their ticket sales by modernizing their technology capabilities and diversifying their passenger base.

Voyhoy also helps some partners increase their ticket inventory by combining their existing trips with other providers to sell interlined tickets to new destinations both on Voyhoy.com and on their own sites.

“We realized that providing a simple tool to find the best tickets wasn’t enough,” Moskowitz said. “We developed virtual interlining technology that allows travelers to buy multiple travel legs in single transactional tickets. We call them smart tickets. (Bus + flight, train + ferry, etc.). Our smart tickets help travelers find new ways to get to their destinations, save money against overpriced direct options, and save time for inefficient overland journeys.”

Launched: September 2015

Website: voyhoy.com

Management team: Jake Moskowitz, CEO; Roger Robinson, CTO; Ignacio Vial, COO; Mateus Rocha, marketing director; Juan Arredondo, project manager.

No. of employees: 16

Financing: $500,00 pre-seed from angel investors, Techstars and CORFO (Chilean government); undisclosed seed round from Fontinalis Partners, 1776, Outbound Ventures and Autonebula. Currently look to raise additional $500,000.

Recent milestones: Finalized partnership agreements and technical integrations to launch Voyhoy in four new markets. Recently relocated headquarters to Miami. After closing a round of funding, made strategic hires in Miami and in Chile. In June, won the eMerge Americas Startup Showcase, taking home $100,000 in prizes.

Biggest startup challenge: “Our biggest challenge is trying to accomplish too much too quickly and the opportunity cost that comes with being forced to prioritize one thing over another,” Moskowitz said.

Next step: Implementing marketing campaigns across all Voyhoy’s markets, releasing smart tickets for the routes with the largest price discrepancies or most limited trip options, and providing a more personalized and targeted customer experience. “We’re also developing new technologies, making new hires, and signing new strategic partners to diversify our product, add more tickets, and open up new revenue channels,” Moskowitz said. “We’re currently hiring a full-stack developer and a commercial director.”

Investor’s view: “Voyhoy has done a great job of quickly establishing numerous partnerships, which signals to us that its approach is validated by others in the market,” said investor and advisor Christopher T. Stallman, partner of Fontinalis. “Each market has its own nuances — both opportunities and challenges — and it’s important that they execute well in each country they operate within. As we’ve advised the company, this means leaning on in-country experts, whether they’re advisors or strategic partners, and growing deliberately and effectively versus quick but haphazardly.”

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg

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