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46 posts from February 2013

February 28, 2013

Iacobucci's VirtualWorks grows management team to roll out first products

VirtualWorks Group, a pioneer in content virtualization solutions for tackling data sprawl, announced the addition of three software industry veterans to new senior executive positions: Jeffrey Krantz has joined as chief technology officer; Andy Stergiades as vice president, products group; and Charlie Clements as vice president, worldwide sales and marketing.

All three executives were key players during the formative years of Citrix Systems, which was co-founded by VirtualWorks CEO and Chairman Edward Iacobucci. In addition, the company has added five senior software developers since the beginning of the year, the company said. The new team is focused on rolling out the company’s first products built on the ViaWorks™ platform, content virtualization software that makes all of a company’s data instantly available, no matter the format, structure, application or location.

Founded in 2009 by Iacobucci, VirtualWorks is based in Boca Raton and has regional offices in Norway and Sweden.

Business Plan Basics: What to include to impress an investor or contest judge

BIZMON_bootcamp03xx a epf
Steven McKean, Richard Ginsburg, Mike Tomas and Melissa Krinzman discuss business planning and capital raising at the Miami Herald Business Plan Bootcamp at Miami Dade College Feb. 26. Shown below is entrepreneur Jessica Kizorek posing a question to the panel. Photos are by Patrick Farrell of the Miami Herald.


If you are crafting a short business plan to enter into this year’s Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge or to send to an investor, how do you make your plan stand out?

With the March 11 deadline for the Challenge looming, our judges, all very experienced in business planning and capital-raising, have some advice for you on writing a plan, whether you are starting your very first business or are a serial entrepreneur. “You have a short space, we get a stack of these, you have to grab our attention from the start,” Melissa Krinzman told the audience Tuesday night at our Business Plan Bootcamp at Miami Dade College. So let’s get started.

Krinzman, a veteran Challenge judge and managing director of Venture Architects, which helps companies with business planning and the capital-raising process, moderated a panel that included  Richard Ginsburg, a former CEO of electronic security companies and co-founder of G3 Capital Partners, a young mid-market and early stage investment company that has invested in two local companies; Steven McKean, founder and CEO of Acceller, a 13-year-old Miami-based tech company in the business of customer acquisition for phone, cable and satellite companies, and a Challenge judge; and  Mike Tomas, CEO of Miami-based Bioheart, president of ASTRI Group, an early-stage private equity investment group in the healthcare space, and a Challenge judge in the FIU Track.

According to the panel, a short business plan should always include:

* A strong opening statement: “We want to know what it is you actually do. If we have to keep guessing we don’t want to keep reading. Action verbs are important: Do you manufacture, do you sell, do you create. Be specific,” said Krinzman.

* The problem  you are solving in the marketplace: Also include how your solution makes you different, better, cheaper, faster than the competition. And don’t say you don’t have any competition; directly or indirectly there is always competition.

* How you plan to make money: This may seem obvious but it is surprising how many entries expend all their space on explaining their product or service and its awesome features and forget to include this. Are you a subscription-based models, are you selling a product nationally or locally. Tell us.

* Sales and marketing: If you are already on the market, briefly tell us your marketing strategy, your traction so far and about your customers. If you don’t have customers yet, who do you think they will be and how will you market to them?

* Team: No need for long bios here -- include relevant experience for you and members of your team.

 “Include why you the right management team and why we should bet on you,” said Tomas.  What particularly impresses an investor, he said: relevant industry experience, if you’re a serial entrepreneur and been there before and if you have people around you that are stronger than you are.

The panelists also talked about their vast capital-raising experiences, as both entrepreneurs and investors.  “I have been raising money my entire life, you never stop,” said Tomas. “To me the most important component is networking -- go to as many events as you can and get to know folks… Some of the best leads I got for raising funds were from folks who have never written a check.”

All mentioned looking for  investors that can offer more than a check -- expertise in your industry, connections, potential customers, management expertise. There's value even if the answer is no.

“When someone takes a meeting with you to hear your idea, there is a lot more you can get out of it than just the money,” said McKean. “You can get a relationship out of it, you can get customer referrals, but I think the most valuable thing you can get out of it is feedback."

 “I invest in people. If you are passionate about your business, if you invested your own money in it and went to your mom and she invested her 401k, that means a lot to me. I also have a car ride test, if I don’t want to share a 90 minute car ride with you I probably don’t want to invest,” added Ginsburg. It goes both ways and you have to like your investor as well. “You are in the trenches with your investor -- you are going to go through tough times with them.”

Sometimes the best investors might be retired executives in your industry, Krinzman said. Tomas added it is very important to allocate resources for a good lawyer and other professional services. “Some will disagree with me, but debt is cheaper than equity,” he added. “Bootstrap as much as you can.”

BIZMON_bootcamp03xx b epfDuring the bootcamp, some entrepreneurs in the audience pitched their businesses while others came armed with questions for the experts. It's important to note that in the Business Plan Challenge, all types of businesses -- from high-growth to small, local  businesses -- are welcome and are judged by how well you convey your strategy to make it a success in your market.  Some of the panelists' answers and advice:

* Cut the jargon. Explain your business in simple language. Use analogies to simplify.

* Read Starting Gate, join MapYourStartup.com and check out events that are going on and who’s attending who can help you in your industry. Look at speakers’ bios. Follow them on Twitter -- it shows you are aggressive.

* Sometimes starting your plan with an example or two will help explain it to the reader. Tell a story -- at the end of the day businesses are about the story, and why this business is important, Krinzman said.

* On financials (yes, include a financial section in your Business Plan Challenge entry – you might want to use your supplemental page for this), show that you understand what it costs to find, acquire and keep a customer. Source your assumptions where appropriate, Krinzman said. “Have a methodology, have a thought process, outline your assumptions and where they are rooted and you are away ahead of the game,” Ginsburg added.

* Be realistic on the financials. If you are showing 90 percent net three years out, we’re not going to believe you, McKean said. It has to pass the sanity test.

* If you have already raised capital, it validates your business plan. Definitely include it in your plan, said Ginsburg. Customers are even better, added McKean.

 * Most investors are looking for a company, not a product. If you have a single product with plans for additional products, you could do a section called additional opportunities or you can show your growth strategy with bullet points on the additional products you plan to launch, Krinzman said.

 * Books to read: McKean recommended “Great by Choice” by Jim Collins, “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits” by Verne Harish on managing a growing company, and “Playing to Win” by AG Lafley on integrating strategy and execution. Krinzman recommended reading the blogs of the celebrity investors like Fred Wilson, Brad Feld and Mark Suster. “Those are some of the guys that write daily, are brilliant, and will give you an inside point of view on growing a business, thriving in business and what investors look for.” She also recommends Inc magazine.

* Favorite entrepreneur? Ray Kroc, hands down, said Ginsburg. “That guy got involved with the McDonald’s brothers in his mid-40s. You can do it at any age. You don’t have to be 19 to start a successful business.”

ADEM1354 Business Plan Logo 2013Questions about the Business Plan Challenge? Email me at ndahlberg@miamiherald.com. Contest rules and more tips can be found here. Did I say the deadline is March 11? Get moving! And follow me on Twitter @ndahlberg

(Photo in the middle is of entrepreneur Jessica Kizorek of Badass Business Women posing a question to the panel.)

February 27, 2013

#miamitech @ #sxsw

By David Notik
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Miami's tech and startup community has continued to grow by leaps and bounds, thanks to the tireless efforts of many committed people and organizations.  Every positive action helps -- big and small.

It was not even a year ago that our community didn't quite know which hashtag to rally around on social networks, which meant our collective presence in online chatter was scattered and therefore undiscoverable.  We were missing an important opportunity to amplify our efforts and our very existence as a community.  The obvious and straightforward choice was #miamitech, especially as a growing number of folks were using it for their sharing.  Today, that hashtag brings up a steady stream of community activity on Twitter and Instagram, all discoverable by the next entrant to our community, or investor, or big internet company curious about our tech scene.

MiamiTech.org, powered by the early stages of a "collaborative network" my company is building, quietly began last year to try and make it easier to discover the events, news, groups and other assets in our community.  We've indexed 169 groups (meetups, organizations, places, more), and 142 events were listed for February alone.  It made a lot of sense to take what our community was sharing and amplify it by inserting it into the conversation, a method we call "aggregate and disseminate".  These days you'll find us sharing amongst the #miamitech activity, and we've helped solidify the hashtag's use.

Mt_72dpiWhen the site began back in June, I threw up a quick logo based on the hashtag -- after all, the site's about everything #miamitech.  Today, I'm introducing a new logo and sharing that we plan to give our community and our cause a little grassroots exposure at next week's SXSWi in Austin.  We're making stickers and will spread the love across that funky little town, which will be swarming with tech, film and music geeks for the next few weeks.

 While in Austin for SXSW the past two years, I noticed the best growing tech communities had a strong presence.  This year's no exception -- I've noticed the Vegas tech communityCanada's efforts, the powerhouse New York tech communityIsrael's efforts, and so much more.  I know we've got at least .CO and WahWah representing, and I'm hoping that our stickers and promotion of the hashtag (and the site) will do their little part to bring some attention to the fact that Miami does indeed have a growing tech scene.  Perhaps some startup kids prefer the lifestyle here? In future years, I'd love to see more representation for Miami at SXSW, perhaps even a killer party, but this is a small action that I hope does some good.

If you'll be in Austin, I hope you'll find me.  And definitely stop by and see me at The LAB here in Miami.
I welcome your thoughts and I'm always happy to help wherever I can.


David Notik is the founder of Woven, a Miami-based startup that is building a platform to help groups coordinate their activities and propel their shared cause.  He runs MiamiTech.org, the place to find events, news and more in our burgeoning tech community.

Editor's Note: Starting Gate welcome guest posts from the SXSW! Email me at ndahlberg@miamiherald.com if you can contribute.

Knight News Challenge IdeaJam, LAB Miami's grand opening Saturday

The following is from The Knight Foundation about an event this Saturday:

We are holding an idea jam this Saturday, March 2nd, at 3pm, focused on one question: how might we make Miami more awesome through information and technology?

We're currently running a contest on open government, looking for innovative ideas to improve the way citizens and governments interact (www.newschallenge.org). Winners will get a share of $5 million and support to make their project happen. For the past few weeks, we've been hosting events around the country talking about opportunities and brainstorming ideas. They've been great, but we’re most excited about this one here at home.

Please join us Saturday, March 2 at 3 pm at The LAB Miami in Wynwood to eat, drink, and talk ideas. Everyone is invited and welcome — all that's required is an interest in making Miami more open and awesome.

To RSVP, please sign up here (for the free "Knight News Challenge IdeaJam" ticket).  We’ll have
food and drink on offer, along with other cool stuff going on at LAB Miami that day—it’s their official launch party from 2pm-8pm.

-- Matt Haggman, Chris Barr,  Chris Sopher and Ben Wirz

And this is from The LAB Miami about its Grand Opening:

The LAB Miami will host a carnival-style grand opening on Saturday, March 2nd from 2:00-8:00pm in Wynwood. Entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to pitch to a panel of investors in a “shark tank” format. The winner will take home $500 in cash, LAB Miami workspace and bragging rights.

This work-learn campus offering an in-house community of mentors and investors providing guidance, support and counsel for up to 300 members, will be transformed for the day into a Startup Carnival. The event will showcase the diverse programs The LAB Miami offers such as their technology hackathons, Gutter Film series featuring B-movies and Cult Classic movies, a series of continuing
education programs, art exhibits from local artists and various community events.

New York’s Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator will also be participating in the Startup Carnival at LAB Miami to meet with local startups and entrepreneurs. Murat Aktihanoglu, Founder and Managing Director, will be on hand to provide feedback and advice to participating startups. “We are excited to be part of this event and, even more so, to see the growth of Miami’s entrepreneurial community,”  said Aktihanoglu.

More info and to register for the event: http://cirqueducowork.eventbrite.com/

For more information on The LAB Miami, its list of upcoming events and how to become a member or mentor visit www.thelabmiami.com.

February 26, 2013

JustAskBoo closes funding round, focuses of rapid growth

Throughout the Business Plan Challenge contest season, we look back on the progress of past winners. JustAskBoo was a winner in 2009. We cover our winning companies for years to come. If you are entering the Challenge, act fast -- the deadline is March 11. More info on MiamiHerald.com/challenge

Boo Headshot - Spring 2013
Looking for the best doctor for a high-risk pregnancy? How about a school for children with special needs, an architect, a marriage counselor or a lost Labrador?

Five years ago this month, Boo Zamek (pictured at right) launched a Coral Gables-based e-newsletter business called JustAskBoo, where its readers, called JABBERS, can post questions seeking referrals and offer recommendations to one another.

“We also shed light on people who need help in the community,” explains Zamek, whose company won third place in the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge and took first in the People’s Pick video competition in 2009. “From a JABBER asking for prayers for her 10-year-old daughter who is battling cancer to a woman seeking an egg donation to overcome fertility issues, our readers are always there.”

Today, JustAskBoo’s newsletters in Miami-Dade (north and south editions), Broward and Palm Beach counties, have more than 30,000 subscribers. The company is closing a $200,000 round of financing and is entering a “rapid growth phase,” says Zamek, president of a team of 15 women. With the financing, JustAskBoo intends to ramp up the marketing, including holding more events, to grow subscribers and advertising.

“We want to get to the place where we own our demographic in South Florida — affluent women, mostly moms, the financial decision makers,” says Zamek.

JustAskBoo’s newsletters are free and it makes its money off advertising, classifieds and subscriptions to the “Treasure Chest,” where readers can unlock a trove of archived recommendations — all vetted by editors. “We always use real names. You know who is giving the recommendations. The sources are reliable and local — which is huge,” Zamek says.

Zamek says she expects this growth phase to last about three years, and then the company will assess expansion outside of South Florida. That was the advice of her investors.

Another piece of advice she follows religiously: Print out your business plan, marketing plan and financial projections, put them on your desk and refer to them all the time.

“I love what I do, my investors know that,” Zamek says. “My investors aren’t looking for quick payouts; they know we might sell the business to the right buyer some day. But what we are doing right now is to grow, grow it strong. That’s our goal.”


February 25, 2013

EvoLux Transportation of Boca wins Sikorsky Entrepreneurial Challenge

 Sikorsky Innovations, the technology development organization of Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., has selected EvoLux Transportation LLC as the winner of its second Entrepreneurial Challenge Competition. Sikorsky is a subsidiary of United Technologies Corp. The Entrepreneurial Challenge is designed to identify and accelerate the development of emerging, transformational business solutions across all markets that can be applied to specialized aerospace and rotorcraft markets.

Sikorsky recently selected EvoLux Transportation, a helicopter focused tech-travel company based in Boca Raton, for its presentation of a social media platform offering unprecedented connectivity in the urban VIP helicopter marketplace, a press release said.

The award entitles EvoLux to join previous Challenge winners, rent-free, in the Sikorsky Innovations' "incubator" space at the Stamford iCenter in Stamford, Conn. The iCenter, a recently named cornerstone hub of the Connecticut Innovation Ecosystem, provides the entrepreneurs with direct access to the East Coast investment and entrepreneurial communities. During that time, Sikorsky mentors will provide coaching, along with an education program to assist in maturing and growing their business, and will provide EvoLux with an investment evaluation.

"There are some very real challenges facing vertical lift operations and it's extremely refreshing to see Sikorsky Innovations' leadership approach in identifying these areas and engaging with entrepreneurs to provide immediate solutions," said EvoLux founder, Raymond Leavitt, in the press release. "Igor Sikorsky's entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well and our team is very excited to work with the Innovations team to further execute and accelerate our award-winning business plan."

Q&A with Matt Haggman: Promoting a startup community

MattHaggmanMCBBy Nancy Dahlberg, ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

For the past year through his new role at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Matt Haggman has been a man on a mission — to help put Miami’s startup community on the map.

As the Knight Foundation’s Miami program director, Haggman has been the face of the foundation’s new efforts to accelerate a technology hub and startup community in South Florida. Haggman and Ben Wirz, Knight’s director of business consulting, set out to make foundation investments in key areas so that entrepreneurs would have places to meet, collaborate and learn and programs and networks offering access to mentorship, training and investor funding. The ultimate goal is a robust, sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The office’s biggest investment so far: $2 million over five years, to bring Endeavor, the global nonprofit, to Miami to mentor, promote and accelerate high-impact entrepreneurs. Endeavor, which launched in Latin America in the late ‘90s and now has operations in 14 countries around the world, chose Miami for its first U.S. office. Haggman said it all started with a get-to-know-one-another meeting with Peter Kellner, the co-founder of Endeavor, who now lives in South Florida, in the lobby of a Miami Beach hotel last spring. With more study, which included a trip to Mexico City to interview entrepreneurs, leaders and mentors involved with the program, “I became convinced this is the perfect thing for Miami,” said Haggman, a former Miami Herald reporter.     

      The foundation has also invested in a co-working campus, The LAB Miami in Wynwood, and has been sponsoring dozens of events, contests and organizations around town. For nearly a year, Haggman and Richard Florida, the urban affairs expert and author, had been discussing and planning the recent Startup City: Miami, a day-long event that drew more than 1,000 people. And there’s more to come: “We’re just getting started,” Haggman says.

Haggman answered some questions recently about the Knight Foundation’s current projects in entrepreneurship and offered some thoughts about the entrepreneurial community.

Q. Let’s go back a little bit. Why did the Knight Foundation’s Miami office choose entrepreneurship as a focus?

A. Our mission at Knight Foundation is helping create more informed and engaged communities. With that in mind, in each city we work, we try to develop a locally-focused initiative that builds on trends in that particular city and in an area where we can have an impact.

For the past five years, we’ve helped develop the local arts scene in Miami. As we looked around a year ago, we saw a great opportunity in widening our lens on the creative community to focus on helping build the startup and entrepreneurial community — from social entrepreneurs to for-profit efforts.

Q. The Knight Foundation seems to be a sponsor of entrepreneurship events all over town, from the AT&T Hackathon, the NewME Pop-up Accelerator, TekFight, HackDay and the Americas Venture Capital Conference to the recent Startup City: Miami, last week’s SuperConf and many others. Is that by design?

A. Yes, it is by design. One of the pillars of our strategy is to make it easier for entrepreneurs to connect, exchange ideas and learn from each other. A fundamental challenge is that we as a community are siloed and quite fragmented, yet the elements are all here. To remedy that, we’re looking to increase the frequency, quality and variety of convenings in the startup community.

Q. In building a tech ecosystem, what can be learned from Miami’s success — and the Knight Foundation’s leadership — in the arts and culture?

A. That things can move quickly in Miami and that we have the ability to change, fast. That we must focus on the grassroots, while building at the organizational level too. That it’s a community effort — hierarchies and top-down approaches don’t work, and success hinges on building a strong, diverse network of people and organizations. That we at Knight Foundation don’t have the answers, but the community certainly does.

Q. Complete this sentence: South Florida’s startup community most needs ...

A. ... more big, homegrown successes.

Q. You’ve traveled and met with entrepreneurs in other communities, from Berlin to Mexico City. What are the takeaways for Miami?

A. Miami has many of the elements needed to succeed, and its gaps can be filled.

The characteristics that Miami shares with robust startup communities include strong universities, a thriving cultural scene, a highly diverse and international population, a widely-shared entrepreneurial spirit, an increasing urban density, easy accessibility from other cities, and a high concentration of wealth. Yet, we lack the infrastructure and support system — the strong connections between entrepreneurs, mentors and smart capital.

Q. Helping to bring Endeavor to Miami to set up its first U.S. center for high-impact entrepreneurs is Knight’s biggest investment to date in this area. Why is this a cornerstone of your strategy?

A. Endeavor’s model aims to solve the problems that Miami confronts: a lack of connection, mentorship and access to smart funding. For some 15 years, Endeavor has developed a pay-it-forward model in cities around the world that not only propels leading entrepreneurs but in which more than 65 percent of Endeavor Entrepreneurs go on to become future mentors and funders of other entrepreneurs.

Q. What’s ahead for Knight’s entrepreneurship investments?

A. We’re just getting started. And, by the way, this is a total team effort at Knight: Ben Wirz, our director of business consulting, has spent countless hours and is a partner on this. Our aim is to connect, educate and inspire. To do that, we’re focusing in six core areas: helping build physical places for entrepreneurs to meet, work and share; expand mentor networks; increase the richness of convenings, from weeknight meetups to large-scale conferences; improve communication platforms; better connect entrepreneurs and investors; and improve skills and capabilities — like expanded Internet access in our poorest areas — that broaden and further diversify our base of entrepreneurs.

Q. What will be your metrics for success?

A. Our ultimate goal is to help make Miami more of a place where ideas are built. The talent is here in Miami. Lindsay Hyde who founded the mentoring program Strong Women Strong Girls, and Jeff Bezos at Amazon — they called Miami home as kids. The challenge is getting our best innovators, social entrepreneurs and doers of all kinds to see that Miami has the people, the tools, and wherewithal to build their ideas here.

Q. How are you finding your career transition from journalism to philanthropy?

A. Enjoying it. There are similarities about the two jobs. The ongoing learning, the people.

Q. Favorite book?

A. Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Tracy Kidder.

Q. What inspired you to work with Richard Florida and the Atlantic team to put on the recent Start-Up City: Miami?

A. Richard is perhaps the leading thinker on what makes cities succeed. He and his wife Rana have grown increasingly attached to Miami and for nearly a year we’ve been discussing the conference. We couldn’t be more thrilled with how it went. New World Center was packed; so much energy and so many insights.

The idea was to combine both local doers and thought leaders, with national leaders in the field, and take a hard look at Miami. The feedback has been very good. But the big takeaway for me wasn’t the speakers, but the attendees. Miami turned out in a big way. Clearly something is stirring.   

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/02/24/v-fullstory/3251801/qa-with-matt-haggman-promoting.html#storylink=cpy

February 24, 2013

UHack – and the winners are…

By Oscar Sanchez

UHACKlogoUHack (http://uhack.us) was a free 24-hour hackathon taking place Feb. 23-24 at the University of Miami’s University Center. UHack was aimed at students (all students weew invited – not just UM students) who are interested in app development and want a way to showcase their efforts.

Our four judges: Demian Bellumio, Jose Hernandez-Solaun, John Bullard, and Neeraj Singh were incredibly supportive and the right judges for this event. They made great decisions when naming the following the winners.

The winners were:

Grand Prize: winner of $1,500, Free Year memberships to CodeSchool, 3 months of co-working space at LAB Miami, and an optional entrance to an accelerator program with the LAB Miami to gain mentorship and possibly pursue a possible business.

  • SoundCompass-- A music discovery iOS app in which you can search for music local to a city (i.e. artists originated there or near there) by genres.
    • Lauren Ramgattie
    • Matt Ragonese
    • Sharif Ahmed
    • Sean Wilkinson
  • All UM students (juniors or seniors)
  • This team ALSO won:
    • Best use of Senzari's API - They were able to create curated playlists based on Senzari's recommendations and streaming capabilities with 7 Digital. (iPad)
    • Best use of Miami Beach API - If you allow user location to be enabled, they can recommend certain events in the Miami Beach area for you based on music likes. ($300)

Second Place: winner of $750, free year membership to CodeSchool, and 1 month of co-working space at LAB Miami.

  • UTrax-- A mix of the 8Tracks music playlist program and Senzari API for curating recommendations for users. This is a windows 8 app.
    • Tom Caldwell (UM Senior)

Third Place: winner of $500, free year membership to CodeSchool, and 1 month of co-working space at LAB Miami.

  • Force Beats -- 3 non-programmers chose to work on something they know and enjoy: hardware! They brought breadboards, arduinos, copper wires and more to create a music instrument combining piano and guitar sounds with motion sensors.
    • Andrew Rodriguez
    • Miguel Caldera
    • Joseph Socarras

Fourth Place (chosen by the audience): Winner of $250

  • Nullinator - Joke apps. 1 creates a plaid shirt design based on the sound waves of a song. Another replaces your face in a video with that of Nicholas Cage. A crowd pleaser.
    • Jordan Reimers

Honorable Mention (announced on the spot by the judges): Winner of a free month of co-working space at LAB Miami and a swag-bag by Miami TekFight

 Leap Music--- Use motion detection to control audio files. Speed up the song by moving closer to the sensor or distort the bass by waving your hand from side to side. Become a dj by having fun.

  • Colin Francis
    • Adam Orshan
    • Thomas Cooper
    • Rob Rankin
    • Ash Sampath

Best of use Microsoft Technology: Winner of an XBox360 and copies of Halo 4

  • Pixel Book- - Create beautiful pixel art used in video games, videos, and comic books by using a simple to control canvas. You can even create animations by drawing different frames and connecting them together.
    • Andy Mok
    • Daniel Gonzalez
    • Fang Zheng

Best use of SendGrid: Winner of a Sphero Ball

  • Miami Buzz -- Using a large database of events taking place in Miami, go the extra mile and keep connections, have users sign up, and be able to send important notification emails to registrants to events.
    • Chris Knowles

SuperConf and other scenes from a busy Miami Tech Week

(This is my Business Monday column)

By Nancy Dahlberg, ndahlberg@MiamiHerald.com

TecheggMiami Tech Week. Social Media Week. Entrepreneurship Week. A Wahwah Bike and Beer Ride in Wynwood, culinary rock star demos at Refresh Miami, a Startup Blastoff at SuperConf, UHack for college students. These were just a few of the highlights last week in South Florida’s tech community.

For some entrepreneurs, it was a week to showcase their new companies. Jose Pimienta, for instance, won the SuperConf blastoff for his pitch for his recently launched company, Vinylfy. Vinylfy.com helps record collectors keep track of their collections, as well as trade and share with fellow collectors.

 In December, Pimienta had little more than an idea and a simple landing page for his passion for vinyl when  he and one of his co-founders, Osniel Gonzalez — who had just moved here from Cuba in July — decided to devote nights and weekends the past two months to launch Vinylfy, Pimienta said, showing some of the iterations of the site on his smartphone. Both men have full-time jobs at a local tech company in Miami now, but their friendship goes back more than 10 years. Gonzalez was even Pimienta’s programming professor in Cuba for a while. Read their story here. 

After the $22,000 prize for Vinylfy was announced, Wifredo Fernandez, co-founder of The LAB Miami, offered the team six months of free co-working space. “You can build your company at The LAB and we can all help you,” Fernandez told Pimienta. Other offers of support also came in tweets. That’s the entrepreneurial ecosystem at work.

AustonAuston Bunsen (pictured at left), founder of the three-year-old homegrown SuperConf that concluded Friday, said  he was pleased with the success of this year’s two-day event, which attracted a record 210 attendees and included presentations by eight startups, speeches by nine tech experts and social events and  benefits provided by a host of sponsors. But he and his co-organizers, Brian Breslin and Davide DiCillo, are already looking ahead to next year.  “This conference was definitely a step above the others but it can be so much better,” Bunsen said. “We’re taking the appropriate measures next year to make sure it’s a conference everyone wants to come to.”

Read more startup news and views at The Starting Gate on Miamiherald.com/business, including a wrap-up of the Herald’s Small Business Forum, a guest view by Mike Greenberg and a Q&A with Nicolette Moreno of Open English.

This week, Starting Gate will bring you some dispatches from Geeks on A Plane by Adam Boalt, a serial entrepreneur who moved back to Miami from the Washington, D.C. area last year. I am also lining up some guest posts from SXSW in early March.

Have startup news or a view to share? Email me at ndahlberg@miamiherald.com and follow me on Twitter @ndahlberg


February 23, 2013

SuperConf winner Vinylfy "an American Dream story"

Jose Pimienta of Vinylfy won the Startup Blastoff at SuperConf 2013. Photo provided by SuperConf.

By Nancy Dahlberg, ndahlberg@miamiherald.com 

Jose Pimienta had never pitched to an audience when he got the call last week that he was selected to compete in the Startup Blastoff at this week’s SuperConf technology conference -- in front of judges and about 200 people. He didn’t even have a pitch deck or presentation for his new company, Vinylfy.

 So what did he do? He taught himself to pitch over the weekend using a slide show and  an explanatory video on “How to pitch a VC” by Dave McClure, founder of 500 Startups. “I watched it three times,” he said, and quickly put together a presentation.

On the Monday before Thursday's showdown, he made his pitch to Auston Bunsen, Davide DiCillo and Brian Breslin, the organizers of SuperConf who watched the pitches of all eight entrants before the conference and made suggestions for improvement. They told him his presentation was strong, but it needed  to be more personable. He incorporated all their advice.

“I was really nervous,” said Pimienta, but all the hard work paid off. Pimienta and  his co-founder, Osniel Gonzalez, won the competition at SuperConf, the homegrown two-day technology conference that concluded Friday.

Vinylfyuser-profile-previewTheir new company, Vinylfy, helps record collectors keep track of their collections, trade and share with others online. The two co-founders both have day jobs at a local technology company, but they started working on it just two months ago on nights and weekends. Their total investment: under $200.

 “Now that is bootstrapping,” said Juan Pablo Cappello, a serial entrepreneur, investor and lawyer and one of the judges of the competition.

"This is my third year as a SuperConf judge and not only has the conference gotten better every year but the quality of the startups as well," added SliceHost co-founder Matt Tanase. "It was a tough decision, but what really stood out for us about Vinylfy was his passion and how important the success of vinyl records was to him. There was also a very clear path to revenue ... And he has gotten some traction with no advertising, all word of mouth. It was really impressive."

With their winnings of $22,000 in cash and prizes, Pimienta and Gonzalez intend to work on their customer acquisition strategy and legal protections, Pimienta said.  

Pimienta, a record collector, said he understands first-hand the problem his company is trying to solve. “My collection grows so fast, I even forget what I have. I wanted a way to always know what I have, and to socialize and trade with other collectors.”

OsneilDSC_0197But for Pimienta, 24, and Gonzalez, 29, (pictured at right), their entrepreneurial journeys go back more than a decade. They both knew each other in Cuba, became friends and shared a love of music. They both learned to code there, despite the outdated workbooks, low Internet penetration and bare-bones computing infrastructure. Gonzalez was even Pimienta’s professor at a university in Cuba for awhile.

 Pimienta moved here from Cuba in 2009; Gonzalez moved here from Cuba just last July. They have a third co-founder in Cuba.

Vinylfy is not their first project together. They recently built dNominator, an iPhone app to help  generate names for your startups, projects or apps and check domain and twitter handle availability in seconds. They have also used their design and programming skills to build numerous websites for other people through their design company, Alpis Design http://alpisdesign.com/

How are they finding the startup community in Miami so far? “We didn’t know anybody, so we started going to Refresh Miami. The people in the community are really good people. They have been really helpful,” Pimienta said.

After they won the award, offers of help began to pour in.  Adam D’Augelli of True Ventures, one of the judges,  gave Pimienta his card and asked him to follow up. Congratulations and offers of help came through tweets.  Wifredo Fernandez, co-founder of The LAB Miami, offered the team six months of free co-working space.

"We are so inspired by their journey and really want to do all that's possible to help them succeed," Fernandez said. "It really is an American dream story."