Want to know about Miami startups? A user's guide to this blog

Dear reader, Starting Gate has been providing and archiving South Florida startup and tech community news, views and resources since 2012. New to the Miami area? Thinking about relocating here? Just want to keep up with news, events and opportunities? We're there for you.

How to use Starting Gate: Besides scrolling the blog for the latest entries, you can access news and views by category. The "Funding" category will capture venture capital and angel funding news of individual startups as well as stories about funders. The startup categories chronicle news and my regular "Spotlights," and in Q&As you'll find interviews with CEOs and leaders in the entrepreneurship ecosystem. There are also categories for guest posts, views, accelerators/incubators, resources, events and more.

Have news? Have an idea for a guest post? Send it to me at ndahlbergbiz@gmail.com. (See my Facebook announcement here)

Thank you for your support through the years and please come back often. Follow me on Twitter @ndahlberg. - Sincerely, Nancy Dahlberg

March 15, 2018

Co-founder Ryan Cohen stepping down as CEO of Chewy, a homegrown success story

ChewymiamiHerald

Ryan Cohen, CEO of Chewy.com, and his poodle Tylee at the company’s photo studio in Dania Beach in 2016. Photo by C.M. GUERRERO. cmguerrero@elnuevoherald.com


By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlbergbiz@gmail.com

PetSmart announced today that Ryan Cohen, the co-founder and CEO of Chewy.com, is stepping down.

In six years, the 32-year-old Cohen grew Chewy to a homegrown success story, selling it to PetSmart for about $3.35 billion last year, the largest e-commerce acquisition in history.

Chewy, headquartered in Dania Beach, will be led by Sumit Singh, current chief operating officer of Chewy, who joined the company in August 2017 from his role as director of Amazon Fresh Worldwide, the company said.

It’s a familiar story in corporate acquisitions -- that is, the founding CEO steps down to pursue other passions or is replaced at the top -- and it gives Cohen the opportunity to start or fund something anew in South Florida, which is what ecosystems are all about.

Cohen has quite a story of his own. Growing Chewy.com from zero revenues to a multi-billion company was an incredible ride, Cohen said in a keynote appearance at the Florida Venture Capital Conference early this month (see a post here). The pet supplies retailer now has about 7,000 employees nationwide.

Cohen, who has always been entrepreneurial and has no college degree, said he started Chewy to replicate the same “amazing” customer experience of his neighborhood pet store (he is pet parent of a poodle, Tylee), but online. He used Zappos, the massive shoe e-tailer, as a model and inspiration. When he needed capital to grow, he approached more than 100 investors – and they all passed. “But I thought there’s a chance … we were on to something genius. I felt with scale we will prove them wrong,” Cohen told the audience of investors and entrepreneurs at the conference.

When the sale to PetSmart was announced, some longtime customers worried their beloved brand would change, and this news will not make them feel better. Still, the hyper-growth continued after the acquisition. In February, Chewy opened a 100,000-square-foot facility for its customer service team, which had outgrown its space in the Dania Beach headquarters. In total, Chewy employs 1,500 in South Florida, with 1,000 in Hollywood, out of its 7,000 worldwide. Chewy plans to hire 400 more customer service employees for Chewy Hollywood this year, Cohen said earlier this year.

For its part, PetSmart said in a news release announcing the CEO change that the company will continue to operate largely as an independent subsidiary of PetSmart, focusing on its current business strategy.

“Ryan is an amazing leader who has built a unique and powerful ecommerce business with a strong culture that is laser-focused on serving the needs of customers and their pets. I have full confidence that this will continue under the leadership of Sumit, a seasoned ecommerce leader who is well equipped to carry Chewy’s strategy forward and grow the company,” said Raymond Svider, a managing partner at BC Partners and executive chairman of PetSmart.  “We have enjoyed a great relationship with Ryan and respect his desire to step back from running the company after the relentless pace of the last seven years; he has our unwavering support and we wish him well.”

Said Singh: “We will remain focused on Chewy’s founding vision, core values, operating principles and goals. Our business momentum remains strong as we continue to scale while improving our customers’ experience and lowering our costs. We will stay focused, keep moving forward and continue with our vision of making Chewy the best pet retailer on the planet.”

Singh has served as the chief operating officer of Chewy.com since November 2017. Prior to Chewy, Singh served as the Director of Amazon Fresh, and before that he worked for Dell. He received his M.B.A. from the University of Chicago, Booth School of Business and an M.S. in Operations and Logistics from the University of Texas at Austin.

In a statement Thursday, Cohen said: “The past 7 years have been a tremendous journey and the learning experience of a lifetime. In a short time span, Chewy has gone from a concept to disrupting and redefining an entire industry. I feel the time is right for me to pass on the torch so I can pursue personal goals and spend time with my family. I’m confident in Sumit and believe he will continue to carry on the vision of making Chewy the best and biggest pet retailer on the planet.”

What’s next for Cohen? He’s not saying yet, but no doubt it will be entrepreneurial. He also has the means to support other startups, should he want to go the investor route. But to be sure, entrepreneurship is in his DNA, he told the audience at his most recent appearance in South Florida.

“I have never been a clear cut career path kind of person. I started my first business when I was 14 or 15 building websites… My father was a business owner so I saw what it was. It was very clear early on that I would be my own boss,” he said at the appearance in January.

In the recent talk, he discussed the challenges along the way and shared war stories about Chewy, including the difficulty finding funding. He said he moved forward and never changed his business strategy, even after a hundred investor doors were shut on him.

“I spoke to over 100 investors and they all passed for one reason or another. At one point I got so desperate … we took a trip to Sand Hill Road [in Silicon Valley]. I literally went door to door -- that didn’t work. But one of those 100 investors that passed made a visit later and I remember it like yesterday.  I was 25 at the time, and looked like 15 years old. He followed up with us, was impressed with all of our numbers and ultimately he invested.”

Cohen, who describes himself as obsessive, relentless and contrarian, said the biggest challenge was managing the hyper-growth. He  talked about the transformative decision to bring fulfillment in house in 2014, rather than relying on a third party. “It was three or four months of pain. Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. We worked through those problems and … in order for us to scale a billion dollar company we needed to go through that.”

Cohen also had some advice to aspiring entrepreneurs.

“You need to make sure you are in a place in the world that you are ready for this. Scaling a business is going to test you physically and emotionally, it’s not for everyone. I have an 11 month old now, and scaling a startup from inception to reality is like taking a human being from infancy to adulthood in a very short period of time. It’s going to get sick in the middle of night and you are going to be up all night taking care of it. It’s going to make mistakes and you will learn from it. It is a huge act of selflessness and dedication and if you are ready for it, it is going to be a crazy, crazy, crazy roller-coaster and it will be the journey of a lifetime.”

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

March 07, 2018

Yes, more, more, more: Magic Leap raises $461 million, primarily from Saudi investors

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlbergbiz@gmail.com

Magic Leap, the Plantation-based mixed-reality startup, announced Wednesday that it has raised $461 million from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s investment arm, The Public Investment Fund. Magic Leap has raised more than $2.3 billion in funding to date.

 The Saudi Arabian fund contributed $400 million of the raise, which was forecast by Bloomberg.

The additional Series D funding is in addition to a previously reported $502 million funding round led by Singapore’s Temasek in October. The  Series D funding now stands at $963 million, the company says.

 “The Magic Leap team and I are happy to welcome The Public Investment Fund and the other new investors to the Magic Leap family. We look forward to having them join us on our journey to build an amazing future,” CEO Rony Abovitz said in a statement.

Magic Leap’s “mixed reality” glasses feature its digital lightfield technology. In December, it unveiled some more details of its first product in development, Magic Leap One, which will be available first to selected developers and designers. '

Magic Leap, founded in 2011 by Abovitz, is based in the former Motorola plant space in Plantation. Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance president and CEO Bob Swindell told the Sun Sentinel that the company already is outgrowing the space and the economic development agency is working with Magic Leap on options.

READ MORE IN THE SUN SENTINEL HERE.

 

March 05, 2018

Magic Leap sues employee who allegedly tried to extort ‘millions’

Magic Leap sued its senior director of global security, asserting he attempted to “extort millions of dollars” by threatening to make legal claims against the Plantation company, the Sun Sentinel reported.

In a lawsuit filed by Magic Leap on Feb 28 in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Texas, the company alleges that Todd Keil has demanded the payment of millions from Magic Leap in exchange for not publicly filing “whistleblower claims” that include alleged illegal conduct concerning competitor Microsoft’s HoloLens virtual reality headset, the Sun Sentinel report said.

Keil is a Texas resident who was hired in 2015 after leaving his assistant secretary position at the Department of Homeland Security in 2012. He oversees workforce and intellectual property-related security as well as strategic business risk mitigation, according to the lawsuit.  According to the South Florida Business Journal, Keil has said he was forced to resign from his Homeland Security post after criticizing management of a program to protect U.S. chemical plants from terrorist attacks.

At Magic Leap, Keil alleges wrongdoing centered on the company's receipt of advance copies of HoloLens. Magic Leap said they were obtained legally but returned as soon as they were discovered, all but one unopened.

Read the full story in the Sun Sentinel or the South Florida Business Journal.

READ MORE: More, more, more? $400 million investment may be in works for Magic Leap  

February 22, 2018

Home61 launches flat-fee service aimed at increasing efficiency, decreasing costs of home-selling

Home61_2

The traditional way isn’t the only way.

A Miami real estate-tech startup is offering owners a flat-fee service to sell their house or condo, rather than paying the traditional 3 percent.

Until now, Home61, which uses technology to streamline the residential home buying process, was primarily tackling the buying side of the market. But on Thursday, Home61 launched a flat-fee service that provides homeowners with dedicated agents who use  a data-driven platform to efficiently list, market, schedule viewings and close the sale of their properties.

“We are now entering the sell side with this flat fee structured home-selling service, aimed at offering a better service at an honest price to homeowners,” Olivier Grinda, CEO and co-founder of Home61, told Starting Gate. “Our ambition at Home61 has always been to become the real estate ecosystem for our clients. Adding the sell side offering was the natural next step.”

The fee, $6,100, would be lower than the traditional 3 percent real estate agent commissions for listing most homes . For any home selling for about $332,000 – the median existing-home sales price in South Florida – the service would save more than $4,000. On a $500,000 home or condo, the savings would be about $9,000. Home61 aims to sell over 200 homes through the service in 2018 and double that number in 2019.

“Our agents will maintain their commission split on deals with buyers, but for selling properties, the clients will work with a specialized team that has been trained on selling homes and work with the flat fee model,” said Grinda (pictured below), who was raised in France and moved to Miami from Brazil in late 2013. “We see both sides of the business as complementary, as managing listings brings new buyers to our traditional team and buy side clients will eventually sell.”

Home61

Home61 tested the service with a client in December. That client introduced Home61 to other clients and it ended up with seven properties under management. Two properties have already sold. “We did not anticipate such a ramp-up and had to hire more people faster,” Grinda said.

Home61 has about 65 real estate agents and expects to reach 100 agents by June on the buy side. In 2017, it generated more than $100 million and sales and completed its 1,000th closing of homes and rentals. Home61 expects to do 800 closings this year. [Read about its startup story here.]

Last fall, Home61 raised a $4 million round of financing from FF Angel, Founders Fund’s early stage investment vehicle, global marketplace investment firm FJ Labs, co-founded by brother Fabrice Grinda, and Miami Angels, South Florida's largest angel network formerly called AGP Miami, to help fund its national expansion.

“This new service is a continuation of our aim to bring honesty and transparency to the real estate industry,” said Grinda. “Innovation is sorely lacking in the space, and consumers end up paying the price for it – they pay overinflated commissions for sub-par service. Adding on this service allowed us to take a more holistic approach in addressing this problem by serving both sides of the market, buying and selling.”

December 20, 2017

Magic Leap reveals its first product: Magic Leap One, Creator Edition

Magicleap1 (1)

By Nancy Dahlberg and Jane Wooldridge

South Florida’s secretive virtual reality wunderkind has finally revealed its long-anticipated technology — sort of.

On Wednesday, Broward-based Magic Leap unveiled Magic Leap One, a mixed-reality headset that allows wearers to see and interact with people and objects that aren’t in the room with them — but will appear as if they were. Unlike current virtual reality headsets that replace the experience of the physical setting, Magic Leap’s technology allows for experiences within the existing physical setting.

The version released Wednesday includes goggle-like headgear, called Lightwear, hooked to a pocket-sized Lightpack computer. It is aimed at digital creators “who could change how we experience the world,” according to the company’s website — to create interactive shopping, games and lifelike meet-ups between people in different physical spaces. (Think Star Trek’s hologram room, and you’re heading toward the right galaxy.) The technology simulates 3-D images superimposed on the real world by projecting patterns of light to the eye.

According to the company’s digital release, the technology will ship in 2018, when the company led by local entrepreneur Rony Abovitz will also reveal a “Creator’s Portal.”

READ THE FULL STORY IN THE MIAMI HERALD HERE.

October 17, 2017

Endeavor's impact on South Florida entrepreneurship: It's in the numbers

WyncodeAuston-instructing-students
 

EverymundoSFBJBy Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com
 
EveryMundo, founded by Anton Diego and Seth Cassel (pictured here), provides performance marketing technology for airlines. The Miami startup  has grown the team to 60 employees and has experienced double-digit revenue growth every year. It's now working with about 30 airlines.
 
Founded by Juha and Johanna Mikkola, Wyncode offers coding boot camps that prepare students for the local tech job market. It has graduated more than 450 students and more than 200 companies have hired them. It recently raised funding and opened its own headquarters space (shown above).
 
Pincho Factory, the fast-casual restaurant concept inspired by Latin American street food founded in 2010, has been on a growth spurt since the beginning of 2016. It has gone from two locations to eight, with three more are on the runway, and has added 180 employees. Today it is closing in on $14 million in annual revenue systemwide. It was founded by Otto Othman and Nedal Ahmad.
 
What the three South Florida companies have in common is they were all selected by Endeavor, the global organization that provides mentorship and services to high impact entrepreneurs, including access to talent, capital and markets on local and global levels. The Endeavor Miami chapter, the global nonprofit's first office in the U.S., opened in 2013.
 
"Endeavor has been monumental in terms of mentoring and advising us with our growth strategy. We were able to truly learn how to raise funds and how to negotiate term sheets with the help of our mentors," said Othman. "The networking component provided to us by Endeavor has been huge for us as well. Meeting other fellow entrepreneurs and successful Miami locals has played a big role in our growth. From advising to sharing best practices, these are the lessons you just simply don't learn in school."
 
FigsThese companies and others were highlighted in Endeavor Miami's just released annual impact report, which shows that the 16 active Endeavor Miami companies are booking $130 million in 2017 revenue. Together they employ 1,600 people, and that's up 37 percent since 2014 while jobs statewide were up 9.4 percent in the same period. They've raised $15 million in capital, Endeavor Miami says in its new report.
 

These include companies such as the My Ceviche fast-casual restaurant company, which has grown from two restaurants to six, including its Midtown Miami, Coral Gables and MIA locations, since the founders were selected in 2013. Powerful's yogurt and other other all-natural products are in 10,000 stores, including Target, Walmart and Kroger. FIGS, founded by Trina Spear (pictured here) and Heather Hasson, offers antimicrobial, breathable and fashionable scrubs, and is also a B Corp. that has donated more than 75,000 sets of scrubs in 26 countries. Kairos, the facial recognition and  human analytics technology startup used by a number of enterprise clients, made a strategic acquisition and has raised some $8 million in funding to power its growth.

Brian Brackeen OfficeEndeavor Miami's network of 75 mentors have donated 1,371 mentor hours to help make these successes happen, according to the report. "It’s like having a network of experts at my disposal 24 hours a day, 7 Days a week. It’s family. They would do anything to help us to win," said Brian Brackeen, founder and CEO of Kairos.

To be sure, Endeavor is part of a whole network of community organizations and university programs offering services and support to entrepreneurs in South Florida. Endeavor focuses on selecting companies that are ripe to scale and could benefit from Endeavor's help, as well as founders who are likely to give back to the South Florida community after they've found success by helping the next generation of startups through mentorship and/or investment.

Four years in since the Knight Foundation funded the launch of Endeavor Miami, the community is already seeing the give-back, with entrepreneurs like Brackeen, the Pincho founders, the Mikkolas and many others mentoring startups, offering connections and speaking around town and beyond about entrepreneurship. The organization is celebrating with a benefit gala on Saturday honoring tech visionary Salim Ismail. 

Read the Endeavor Miami impact report here.

To nominate a company for the Endeavor network, go to www.endavormiami.org

October 12, 2017

Magic Leap could raise another $1 billion in new funding round

Magicleap2

A revamped Magic Leap website appears to be dropping hints of what's to come.

 

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Magic Leap could soon be flying high as a $7 billion company – without having yet launched a product.

Magic Leap, the secretive South Florida startup that has strongly hinted that its “mixed reality” technology may soon be revealed, is seeking to raise up to $1 billion in fresh funding from investors, according to reports of a new corporate filing on Thursday.

The company, based in Plantation, has authorized the sale of more than 37 million shares of Series D stock at $27 each to raise about $1 billion, according to the Oct. 11 filing with the State of Delaware obtained by venture data company CB Insights.

The filing does not mean that the company will raise that much, but it could, and it did not mention any investors. The filing also did not mention how much the company has raised so far. Magic Leap has declined to comment.

When asked if he was raising another large round, Magic Leap’s CEO Rony Abovitz said in June that the company is always in fund-raising mode. However, Bloomberg reported last month that the company has held talks with Temasek Holdings, an investment firm owned by the Singapore government, to join a $500 million investment.

The new financing round comes as Magic Leap readies a long-awaited debut product, believed to be a headset or pair of glasses that will integrate computer graphics onto the real world through its proprietary technology, making for a more natural experience for users, Abovitz, who founded the company in his garage, has said. Bloomberg’s sources said the new product could cost as much as $2,000 and product shipments may begin within six months. In the past couple of weeks, though, the company has unveiled a new logo, a website that proclaimed “we are taking you on this journey to launch” and a new promo video about Magic Leap’s beginnings.

Magic Leap has already raised $1.4 billion from investors such as Google, venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz and e-commerce company Alibaba, giving it a valuation last year of $4.5 billion. The new funding could raise the company’s valuation to about $7 billion, reports said.

The company, which has offices worldwide and at least 800 employees in its South Florida headquarters, has nearly 200 open jobs listed for its Plantation office alone.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

September 28, 2017

SpringBIG, a cannabis marketing platform, wins Shark Tank style pitch event -- and $50K

SpringBIG Pitch Jeffrey Harris

 

Arcview Forum Palm Beach brought in a crowd of over 100 high net-worth investors who gathered to observe 20 cannabis-related companies competing for investment at the Eau de Palm Beach Resort  during the September 19-20 event. The Arcview Investor Network includes more than 600 accredited investor members who have put more than $152 million behind 162 cannabis-related companies. Nine of the companies competed “Shark Tank” style to a panel of judges and investor attendees with the hope of coming out on top and bear the title of most investible concept. 

Judges agreed that springBIG, a Boca Raton based company pictured above, was the best. SpringBIG takes home the “Best Pitch” trophy  and the $50,000 “Winner’s Fund” award as well (pending due diligence).  

SpringBIG is a customer engagement and marketing platform for cannabis dispensaries and brands.  Their data-driven approach includes loyalty and rewards, personalized messaging and analytics.  The team has extensive experience in the loyalty sector and launched their platform in January of this year. 

"We've been working hard to solve some of the marketing and sales challenges that these new cannabis firms are facing. It feels great to know that the true insiders that are placing capital in this space have validated that we are on the right track and are putting their faith in us to deliver the best loyalty marketing and communications solution for this burgeoning industry,” said Jeffrey Harris, CEO of SpringBIG.

Magic Leap's road to the big reveal paved with $$$, teasers

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

MagicleapscreenHello, Magic Leap.

On its road to the big reveal, the secretive South Florida tech company has refreshed its website as another teaser of what’s to come. This all arrives fresh off reports that Magic Leap is raising another $500 million in funding, give or take a few million, and that insiders have said that its product launch could be within six months.

Go to MagicLeap.com today and there is no more 3-D whale flying through a gym. Gone are all the videos, blog posts and other distractions. Now its mascot greets you with a simple “Hello” and a message that reads, in part: “We’re taking you with us on this journey to launch. More to come ...” It invites you to submit your email for its mailing list.

The only other element on Magic Leap’s revamped website is a careers page, advertising 253 jobs, most of them in Plantation, where Magic Leap is based. Magic Leap’s social media pages have also been updated and simplified.

Magic Leap is reportedly building a wearable computing device based on its “mixed reality” technology called “Digital Lightfield.” The company has already raised nearly $1.4 billion from Google, Alibaba, Qualcomm and other venture firms, valuing the company that has yet to launch its first product at $4.5 billion.

The Bloomberg report earlier this month said that Temasek Holdings, an investment company owned by Singapore, may take part in a new financing round of more than $500 million, valuing Magic Leap at close to $6 billion. Magic Leap and the investment firm have declined to comment.

According to Bloomberg’s sources, the headset device — bigger than a pair of glasses but smaller than VR headsets on the market now — could cost between $1,500 and $2,000. People would have to carry a second device about the size of a smartphone to power the glasses, the sources told Bloomberg.

On the eMerge Americas stage in Miami Beach in June, Magic Leap’s CEO and founder Rony Abovitz shared his thoughts on the future of technology, his vision for more natural computing and the tech ecosystem in South Florida.

To experience the world more naturally, he said then, “we’re trying to build a computer that acts like people, so you don’t have to look at your phone all the time.”

Abovitz said then that Magic Leap had more than 1,000 employees, with about 800 in South Florida. “We are bringing in people from all over the world. This brain trust will at some point spin out their own startups,” he said.

What happens next is pure speculation, and it’s out there. Unnamed sources told a Bloomberg reporter earlier this month that the company’s first product could ship in the next six months. Since the revamped website launched Wednesday, Reddit commenters with time on their hands have uncovered what they say are hints within the website — including Morse code messages and Alpha Ceti symbolism within the coding pointing to a December launch.

Stay tuned.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

September 15, 2017

Miami-based tech company YouVisit selected to join global Endeavor network

Endeavor

From left, Endri Tolka, Abi Mandelbaum and Taher Baderkhan are co-founders of YouVisit.

 

YouVisit incorporates virtual reality and other technologies in its 360 experiences for brands and organizations.

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

An immersive technology player is the latest South Florida company to be selected to join the global network Endeavor.

Endeavor Miami announced this week that YouVisit is now the 16th Endeavor Miami company to be selected for the network of high-impact entrepreneurship. It was selected during Endeavor’s 74th International Selection Panel in New York City Sept. 11-13. Endeavor companies receive mentorship and access to capital, global markets and talent.

While international students at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, Abi Mandelbaum, Taher Baderkhan and Endri Tolka were frustrated by the lack of affordable options for international and out-of-state students to get a better sense for what it is like to live and study at different college campuses. They launched YouVisit in 2009 to enable prospective students and families to tour colleges and universities around the globe for free from the comfort of their own homes.  In 2012, their proprietary Virtual Guided Walking Tour technology had proven so effective on college campuses that institutions in other industries, including hospitality, started asking YouVisit to build immersive experiences for them.

Today, the Miami-based YouVisit, now with nearly 100 employees, is powered by its award-winning production studio and Aria, its proprietary enterprise platform that enables brands and organizations to interact with and convert audiences through 360-degree experiences incorporating virtual reality and other technologies.

 The company, which also has a big office in New York City, engages consumers across mobile, desktop and virtual reality for more than 800 clients, including the U.S. Army, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco, Hilton, Yale, Harvard PwC and the cities of Houston and Philadephia. Some clients use the YouVisit's 360 experiences for talent recruitment, while others use them for lead generation and marketing.

 "Now our biggest verticals are corporate and travel an of course education," said Mandelbaum, CEO of YouVisit, in an interview Friday. "We have invested over 200,000 development hours in Aria and it is a platform that all of our clients benefit from. That's been a big reason  why our client renewal rate is above 95 percent. We continually make improvements to our platform so that our clients stay at the forefront of this changing technology. ... Now we are starting to implement augmented reality."

He said the average engagement rate of YouVisit's 360 content is nine minutes -- an eternity in online time. YouVisit clients' average conversion rate is an impressive 20 percent.

"That's what differentiates us in the space. Most people in the virtual reality and 360 content space are very caught up in the technology, while for us it is how we use this technology to enable actual business results rather than just PR," Mandelbaum said.

To that end, YouVisit is starting to work with some retail clients to enable purchasing through the Aria platform. "We've continued to grow and solidified our leadership position," Mandelbaum said. "We all feel strongly that joining the Endeavor community is only going to accelerate that."

YouVisit has won several awards, including first place at VR Fest 2016 and 2017, as well as the Science and Technology Samsung Creator Award.

YouVisit was chosen during Endeavor’s International Selection Panels, a culmination of a rigorous selection process involving interviews with global business leaders. 

“We see Abi, Endri and Taher as innovative tech leaders transforming consumer engagement through virtual reality and immersive technologies,” said Laura Maydón, managing director of Endeavor Miami. “Having achieved impressive growth and traction, these three entrepreneurs will be inspirational role models for our Miami tech ecosystem. As Endeavor helps YouVisit scale, I hope their success will bring attention to the quality of the work that’s being done in South Florida tech.”

Endeavor Miami launched its operation in September 2013 with the support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. It now supports 28 entrepreneurs from 16 companies; recent selections have included Powerful Yogurt and, Pincho Factory and Citizen.  For more information on Endeavor Miami or to nominate Miami entrepreneurs,  visit www.endeavormiami.org

To date, Endeavor Global has selected more than a thousand individuals leading over 800 high-growth companies that have created over 600,000 jobs. Headquartered in New York City, Endeavor operates in 27 countries throughout Europe, Latin America, North America, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the U.S.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.