March 04, 2015

LaunchCode signs up 102 companies, now accepting apprenticeship applicants


Liftoff for LaunchCode.

LaunchCode, a tech-employment nonprofit, aims to attack the tech-talent gap by matching candidates with short-term apprenticeships at partnering companies -- 102 South Florida companies and counting (see photo below). In an event at the Idea Center at Miami Dade College on Wednesday attended by several hundred people, LaunchCode founder Jim McKelvey said  the organization is now ready to take applications. Candidates can apply at

LaunchCode tests all candidates, and if they already have the skills, LaunchCode can place them tomorrow in positions that are the right fit for them, McKelvey said. No degree? No experience? No problem. If they don't have the skills, LaunchCode will suggest training options, such as  coding bootcamps IronHack and Wyncode or free  online classes. The Idea Center, Miami Dade College's entrepreneurship hub, launched its first LaunchCode training class Tuesday; a group of about 100 students are taking a free 19-weeklong introductory programming course taught by Harvard University. The online training is supplemented by in-person help from the Idea Center. After training, many of the students could be ready for apprenticeships.

The past couple of months has been all about onboarding companies, and now the real work begins -- making great matches and expanding the talent pipeline. "It's what we do," said McKelvey, who co-founded Square and now lives in South Florida. Typically, the apprentices are hired full-time after the one- to three-month apprenticeships because they have been matched appropriately, he said.

At the event, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez shared the stage with other speakers including McKelvey; Matt Haggman, Miami program director for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which provided major support to bring LaunchCode to Miami and establish The Idea Center; Leandro Finol, executive director of the Idea Center, a key partner for LaunchCode and where LaunchCode is based; and Jorge Plasencia, an early LaunchCode supporter and  CEO of República. Both The Idea Center and LaunchCode are Knight Foundation grantees. “Miami-Dade County has committed to hiring LaunchCode apprentices for our IT department and I encourage all South Florida companies to consider this innovative program,” the mayor said.

Lc3LaunchCode has already placed its first apprentice. 

Digital and advertising agency República hired Nate Beers, a recently trained web developer who formerly was a professional poker player.  Wanting to make a career change, Beers took a coding bootcamp in San Francisco and then applied to LaunchCode. Now he is helping to create websites for Republica clients. “Nate has been doing great work and we look forward to bringing on more LaunchCoders in the future,” said Plasencia.

Mckelvey 2

 See related story here.

March 01, 2015

Black Tech Week spotlights pioneers, rising stars


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Silicon Valley pioneer Roy Clay Sr. received a lifetime achievement award at Black Tech Week. Photo by Nancy Dahlberg/Miami Herald

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The inaugural Black Tech Week at Miami Dade College’s North Campus and other venues featured 10 events, dozens of speakers and plenty of conversation and connections.

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inaugural Black Tech Week at Miami Dade College’s North Campus and other venues featured 10 events, dozens of speakers and plenty of conversation and connections.
Read more here:
ck Tech Week at Miami Dade College’s North Campus and other venues featured 10 events, dozens of speakers and plenty of conversation and connections.
Read more here:
and plenty of conversation and connections.
Read more here:

The inaugural Black Tech Week at Miami Dade College’s North Campus and other venues featured 10 events, dozens of speakers and plenty of conversation and connections.

By Nancy Dahlberg /

Roy Clay Sr.’s mother told him “you will face racism the rest of your life, but don’t ever let that be a reason why you don’t succeed.” With a degree in mathematics, he landed his first tech industry job at IBM in 1956 — after five years of being told “we have no jobs for professional Negroes.”

Among many game-changing career highlights, Clay developed Hewlett-Packard’s first computer in the 1960s. In the ’70s he was instrumental in nurturing Tandem Computers, Compaq and Intel. Clay, who grew up in Ferguson, Missouri, then turned to mentorship, founding scholarship and education programs, and even serving on the city council of Palo Alto, California, a city that was 1 percent black at the time.

At Miami’s inaugural Black Tech Week at Miami Dade College’s North Campus on Friday, Clay was honored with a lifetime achievement award. In accepting the award, he told the audience of students and young technology entrepreneurs his mission continues and he will help however he can. Backstage, he said he wanted to stay involved in Miami’s efforts to promote a diverse ecosystem.

To close out Black History Month, Clay and some of today’s tech innovators kept Black Tech Week firmly focused on the future. Founded by Felecia Hatcher and Derick Pearson of Code Fever, a nonprofit that teaches coding and entrepreneurship to kids in low-income communities, the inaugural event — planned and executed in under a month — aimed to help create a stronger entrepreneurial ecosystem for people of color and was open to the public.

Throughout the week, African American entrepreneurs and technologists hosted “Hours of Code” in South Florida schools, sharing with K-12 students ways to be creators of technology, not just consumers. College students participated in mentor meetups and young entrepreneurs took to the stage to pitch their businesses before panels of judges, all investors or serial entrepreneurs, and two winners took home $1,000 cash prizes.

Btw pitch lab

Presenters at a Black Tech Week Pitch Competition at The LAB Miami on Tuesday wait for results. The winner was music startup GoldPlay (, pitched by Zeferiah Gonzalez and Adams Fontin, and they won a check for $1,000 and other prizes.  During a Monday night pitch contest at EcoTech Visions, Michael Caballero of  Earthware ( won $1,000 from the Awesome Foundation for his pitch for his sustainable cups cutlery and containers company. Photo by Nancy Dahlberg / Miami Herald. 

 Btw andre

Andre Kay of Sociallybuzz shows students his app at Black Tech Week’s Hour of Tech at Bethune Elementary School of the Arts in Hollywood. | Photo provided by Sociallybuzz

Btw felecia

Felecia Hatcher, co-founder of Code Feber, talks to students about careers in  technology and entrepreneurship during a Black Tech Week event. | Photo by Dante’ Fillyau Shades of Mahogany

But the highlight of the week was the summit on Thursday and Friday, where dozens of luminaries from around the world shared stories and advice on topics as diverse as the skills gap, opportunities in Africa, Cuba and Jamaica, design thinking, fund-raising, manufacturing, healthcare and education. It included innovators and top technologists at companies such as Google, SnapChat and Coca-Cola as well as a number of venture capitalists.

  Btw justin

Justin Washington, who grew up in Detroit, graduated from the University of Michigan in 2010, and has been an engineer at Apple and Twitter and is now at SnapChat, said he was often the only African American in his EE classes of 70 or 80. / Photo by Nancy Dahlberg

The summit was heavy on advice, which continued in the hallways and lunch tables.

“Entrepreneurship is a contact sport. You are going to have to engage the world. … It’s the soft skills that will inform your success — it’s the ability to connect with people almost at an emotional level. Think of your work in terms of how it improves people’s lives,” said John Lewis, global chief diversity officer of the Coca-Cola Co. “The world needs you. The world needs bright, multicultural, dynamic leaders to chart this new way.”

Also contributing to the two-day conversation: Chinedu Echeruo, who sold his company HopStop to Apple for $1 billion; Delane Parnell, at 22 one of the nation’s youngest venture capitalists; and Jon Gosier of Appfrica and MetaLayer. South Florida entrepreneurs and investors who spoke at the conference included Brian Brackeen of Kairos, Pandwe Gibson of EcoTech Visions, Stonly Baptiste of and Faquiry Diaz Cala of Tres Mares Group, among others.

Btw apple

 Entrepreneur and investor Chinedu Echeruo talked about founding and selling HopStop at Black Tech Week at Miami Dade College’s North Campus. After selling, he went to Africa for awhile and now he is back running a lab for creating companies. | Nancy Dahlberg Miami Herald

Btw brackeen

Brian Brackeen, CEO of Miami-based Kairos, a facial recognition company, talks with Delane Parnell, of IncWell Venture Partners who at age 22 is said to the youngest African American VC in the country. Parnell, formerly an entrepreneur in the automotive industry, said he is a founder-friendly VC. | Nancy Dahlberg Miami Herald

Btw pandwe

Pandwe Gibson of EcoTech Visions, a Miami incubator for companies with sustainable products, shows off a dress designed and made by young teens at DesignLab in North Miami. The dress lights up – technology is everywhere, she said, be creative. | Nancy Dahlberg Miami Herald

Read more here:

Although the event focused on celebrating tech innovators of color, it was prompted by the current state of diversity. Most of the marquee Silicon Valley companies — Facebook, Twitter, Google — have workforces with under 5 percent black technologists.

“Google’s mission is to be universally accessible and useful, but here’s the reality internally: what we have all heard, 2 percent black, 3 percent Hispanic. But here is another reality: $111 billion in economic activity changes hands on Google in 2013. Are you getting a piece of that pie?” asked Jewel Burks of Accelerate with Google.

Google has a couple of programs to help you do that, Burks said. Accelerate with Google Academy is a free 12-week bootcamp for helping business owners get people to your website. A new program for businesses that make something that Google could use, the Google Small Business Supplier Diversity Program, promises payment within 15 days among other benefits, she said.

As to the numbers in the workforce, she said, “There are great people working on that problem and it will be solved.”

Btw panel

From left, John Lewis Jr. of Coco-Cola, Aurelia Crews of Rokk3r Labs, Jewel Burks of Accelerate with Google and PartPic, Mary Spio of Next Galaxy and Michael Hall of Digital Grass talk about tech diversity at Black Tech Week at Miami Dade College’s North Campus./ Photo by Nancy Dahlberg, Miami Herald

Read more here:

As part of a spirited panel discussion on diversity and inclusion lead by Miami’s Michael Hall of Digital Grass, Burks, who is also CEO of a startup, PartPic, said she’s been told if she were a white male she would have raised $10 million by now. Mary Spio, founder of Next Galaxy in Miami Beach who started her career as a rocket scientist at Boeing, said she was voted out of one of her earlier companies because an investor thought it needed to be led by a white male instead of her.

Still, all the panelists said the black community can also do more to support their own community, and it wasn’t lost on this panel that the event Thursday was sparsely attended (Friday’s summit drew a fuller house). “We have to support each other, we have to invest in our communities,” Spio said.

And mentorship is really key — we didn’t get here by ourselves and now we need to lift others, said Aurelia Crews, a director of Rokk3r Labs, which helps cobuild young companies.

Black Tech Week, with about 10 events, was organized by a steering committee of a half-dozen people representing organizations promoting entrepreneurship, STEM education and diversity. The inaugural event received $100,000 in Knight Foundation funding as well as other sponsorships.

Btw endingThe conference concluded Saturday with a youth hackathon, women’s brunch and series of workshops at the MDC Meek Entrepreneurial Education Center in Liberty City (Photo of the Black Tech Week finale at left by Theodore Karantsalis). Videos from the conference as well as behind-the-scenes conversations will be available on within a few weeks, Hatcher said.

“We are absolutely doing this again next year,” Hatcher said on Friday. “We’ve been asked to bring this to other cities already, but we are committed to always keeping this in Miami. Our overall goal with Black Tech Week will become similar to Global Entrepreneurship Week, where partners, organizations, educational institutions and individuals will host Black Tech Week events all over the globe under our four pillars — creativity, culture, technology and innovation — during the last week of Black History Month.”

Hatcher said she heard from many people about how accessible the speakers and venture capitalists have been to answer questions. “They also told me ‘I was comfortable and confident in my own skin all week.’ ”

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

February 21, 2015

Business Plan Bootcamp: Focus, share, test, learn



By Nancy Dahlberg /

Focus on customer experience first. Share your idea widely to gain valuable feedback. Start building your network and never stop learning.

A panel of serial entrepreneurs and investors — most were both — shared that advice and more with 325 attendees at the Miami Herald’s Business Plan Bootcamp Wednesday night at Miami Dade College. The bootcamp was held in conjunction with the

2015 Business Plan Challenge, the Miami Herald’s annual entrepreneurship contest that is open for entries until March 16.

Panelists included Melissa Krinzman, co-founder of Krillion Ventures; Steven McKean, serial tech entrepreneur and startup advisor; Benoit Wirz, director of venture investments for the Knight Foundation; Leandro Finol, executive director of Miami Dade College’s Idea Center; and Adam Smith, partner at Medina Capital.

What do they look for when they are reviewing business plans?

"What’s the problem you are trying to solve but also how do you know it is a real problem, what’s the evidence?" Wirz said. "What is it about you, specifically the team, that makes me believe you can solve that problem? As a general rule, the more competitive the space, the more important it is you have a very specific background that gives you an unfair advantage."

Wirz also looks for a plan for how customers find out about your product. "If you have some secret hook, an advantage you can leverage, that’s great," Wirz said. Be sure to show evidence of product-market fit, added McKean.

Krinzman and McKean, veteran Business Plan Challenge judges, also advised paying attention to the storytelling. Said Krinzman: "You have to remember that there is a person reading the plan, and we need to be interested. ... Work hard on your first paragraph and define the problem you are solving: why should we care, why should we keep reading, and do we understand what you are talking about. Share at least your first couple of paragraphs with someone who doesn’t know your business and see if they understand it."

Include financials in your plan, but be realistic and include assumptions. A photo or rendering is good to include, particularly if you are a product company. In live pitches, product demos are effective, Smith said. If you get to the finalist stage of the Challenge, you will be presenting your elevator pitch on video.

Advice on starting a business came pouring out. "If you are small and don’t have a lot of capital, go after a small but growing market and think about world domination later," Finol sad. In selecting your idea, follow your passion and do it because you love it, he said. "Branding is important but focus on user experience first," Finol added. Focus on the why — why should customers tell others to use your products. The branding will evolve."

Wirz said in most cases entrepreneurs shouldn’t be so secretive: "Tell everyone about your idea, and get feedback. The more feedback the stronger your idea will become and the more ready you are to build your business."

If you are a first-time entrepreneur, you can establish some credibility through social proof, said Krinzman. One way to do this: Create a board of advisors of people who believe in you and have credibility in your category or can add value.

When capital raising, do your homework and target investors in your industry or sector, Smith said. It sounds obvious, but the investors said the great majority of emails they receive are not fits. If you do get in the door, "don’t be defensive, you are going to be challenged, and you can’t have all the answers so don’t worry about that," said Smith. "Be engaging and conversational and you will get through it."

Get introduced the right way. Get active on LinkedIn and build your networks, McKean said. It’s a relationships game.

The good news on that front: Thanks to the Knight Foundation and others, South Florida’s entrepreneurial ecosystem has evolved. "It’s an ecosystem that is very open and if you are part of it, opportunities will come to you as well. More doors will open," Finol said.

A not to be missed event, particularly if you are in tech, is the eMerge Americas conference coming up in May. A sampling of other resources mentioned by the panelists (get on their mailing lists): Refresh Miami (, the largest meetup group for early stage entrepreneurs; The LAB Miami (, a co-working space in Wynwood with many events; and AGP (, an active angel network. For companies much further along, there’s Endeavor Miami ( providing mentorship and support. Take advantage of local resources and follow the Starting Gate blog (on

Some recommendations on other blogs, books and websites from the panel: The Hard Thing about Hard Things, by Ben Horowitz, Brad Feld’s books on capital raising, blogs by well-known investors such as Fred Wilson ( and Mark Suster (; and Eric Reis’ The Lean Startup, particularty if you are a tech company. is an enviable collection of investor decks, and there’s "How to get an investor to say yes," by Adeo Ressi (

"Over the winter break I went through "How to Start a Startup" by YCombinator’s Sam Altman ( It is free and it is unbelievable," said Finol.

Listen to podcasts. Smith suggests Jason Calacanis’ "This Week in Startups" podcast (, which includes a new series for his Launch incubator with great speakers. Another is "Startup," a series by Gimletmedia (

At eMerge Americas last year, Manny Medina interviewed Pitbull; an amazing and enlightening interview worth watching, the panelists said (watch it here).

Just getting started? Finol said the Idea Center,, offers a workshop on design thinking every month that will help you create, refine, validate and test innovative ideas. After the Bootcamp, he suggested  this template  may also help -- start with the pains and gains sections.

"Find mentors who have been there before to help get you there faster," McKean said. "Your ability to grow a company will be dependent on of how fast you are able to learn. The fastest learning will come from who you surround yourself with."




Panelists were Melissa Krinzman, co-founder of Krillion Ventures; Steven McKean, serial tech entrepreneur and startup advisor; Benoit Wirz, director of venture investments for the Knight Foundation; Leandro Finol, executive director of Miami Dade College’s Idea Center; and Adam Smith, partner at Medina Capital.


Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg and find rules, tips, a Q&A and other resources for the Business Plan Challenge at

Posted Feb. 21, 2015

February 19, 2015

The FlatIron School to offer immersive coding school at Palmer Trinity

Joining a wave of new coding-school options for South Florida high school students, Palmer Trinity School of Palmetto Bay is teaming up with The Flatiron School, a New York City school well-known for web and mobile development, to offer immersive coding courses to local high school students this summer.

Students aged 13 to 18 enrolled in The Flatiron Pre-College Academy at Palmer Trinity will learn how to build and launch web applications using tools such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript and Ruby. The curriculum is based on The Flatiron School’s rigorous Web Development Immersive, which is known for helping graduates launch careers as developers at The New York Times, MakerBot, Etsy, Kickstarter , J.Crew and other companies. The Flatiron School has been expanding its programming to other cities, including Miami.

"The goal of Flatiron Pre-College Academy at Palmer Trinity is to give students a comprehensive understanding of the technologies used to build some of the world’s most popular websites and applications, and to broaden their horizon of what’s available in this sector," said Patrick Roberts, Head of School.

There are five courses offered – beginner and advanced software engineering, beginning and advanced web design and entrepreneurship – in three full-time two-week sessions starting in June. The two-week course is $2,000, and scholarships will be available for students who are already active in the technology community or who have demonstrated financial need. For more information:

Posted Feb. 19, 2015


February 11, 2015

Business Plan Bootcamp speakers announced; sign up today

Real advice, no fluff: That’s what experts at the upcoming Miami Herald Business Plan Bootcamp promise to deliver.

Krinzman__2__3_1_SJ1TVKKK_L54772747The free event on Feb. 18, held during the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge entry season, will help entrepreneurs getting started in their businesses as well as those who are further along. “Whether you’re applying to the Business Plan Challenge, raising investment capital or thinking about raising capital, the Bootcamp is not to be missed,” says Melissa Krinzman, who will lead a panel discussion with advice on what elements make a winning short business plan, as well as do’s and don’ts when pitching investors.

Krinzman, who has been a judge for the Business Plan Challenge for 10 years, is co-founder and managing partner of Krillion Ventures, a $50 million venture capital fund that invests in emerging technology companies at the seed and venture stages. She is also the founder of Venture Architects, a business planning firm that positions early and growth-stage companies for success in the capital-raising process. Since 1998, Venture Architects has worked with more than 900 companies that have raised more than $1 billion in investment capital.

Leandro Finol

Her panel of experts will include:

Leandro Finol, a serial entrepreneur, investor and professor. His first business in the United States was DIREC4U, a company that was formed with very little capital, grew to $76 million in revenue in six years and was sold in 2007. He has recently joined MiamiDadeCollege as the executive director of the IdeaCenter, where he will work to bring innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship to the institution and community. Finol will also be a judge in the Business Plan Challenge High School Track.

  Steven McKean
Steven A. McKean, who specializes in starting and scaling technology companies. Most recently, he was CEO of Acceller, a company he founded and grew to 300 employees before merging with Bridgevine in 2014; he is vice chairman of the combined company. He also co-founded Animusoft and advises early stage companies in team-building, culture, financing and marketing. McKean is a veteran Business Plan Challenge judge in the Community Track.

Adam SmithAdam T. Smith, a partner at Medina Capital. Smith has more than 17 years of experience as a legal executive with expertise in managing global legal affairs, corporate securities, technology contracting and mergers and acquisitions. He is responsible for sourcing potential investment opportunities and providing Medina Capital’s portfolio companies with strategic advice with business development, mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance, intellectual property protection, contracting and all legal issues.

 *BenWirz Benoit Wirz, director of venture investments at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Wirz manages the Knight Enterprise Fund, a venture fund investing in early stage startups that improve access to quality, useful information. He also helps advise the nonprofits in Knight’s portfolio around issues of sustainability and growth. Prior to Knight, he was a partner with US Global, where he invested in and developed energy, manufacturing and technology companies.

The bootcamp will be 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Feb. 18 (check in at 6:15) in the ChapmanConferenceCenter at MiamiDadeCollege’s downtown Miami Wolfson campus (300 NE 2nd Ave., Building 3, Room 3210). The program will start promptly. There is free parking in the MDC lot at 500 NE 2nd Ave. (entrances are on NE 5th and 6th Streets).

There is no cost but space is limited so registration and required. Register here: If you have a question, please email and put bootcamp in the subject line.

Be sure to come with your questions: There will be plenty of time for Q&A.

Follow Nancy Dahlberg @ndahlberg on Twitter.


You have five weeks left to enter the 17th annual Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge, our annual contest to showcase South Florida’s entrepreneurial might.

If you have a business idea or your startup is under 2 years old, submit your entry in the form of a three-page business plan. There are three ways to win: a community track for all South Floridians, an FIU Track for students and alumni of that university and a High School Track.

See the contest rules and tips for preparing your entry, find judges’ bios, questions and answers and more information on Deadline: March 16. Good luck!

February 06, 2015

SBA's free Emerging Leaders program for small businesses accepting applications

The U.S. Small Business Administration’s South Florida District is seeking 17 Miami-Dade small business owners for its SBA Emerging Leaders program that will give them a three-year, tailored strategic growth plan for their businesses. 

For a second year, Miami-Dade County was selected to be part of SBA’s Emerging Leaders initiative, a federal training initiative that focuses on business executives poised for growth in historically challenged communities, said SBA South Florida District Director Francisco "Pancho" Marrero.  “This initiative will provide executives from 17 Miami-Dade businesses with the organizational framework, resource network, and motivation required to build sustainable businesses and promote the economic development within the county,” he said.

While the executive-level course is free for businesses accepted into the program, executives must commit to about 100 hours of classroom and out-of-classroom work.  The first class meets April 14 and will meet on alternating Tuesday evenings through October.

This will be the second program offered. Moises Montanez, owner of Miami’s Alta Home Remodeling, was among the 13 graduates from the inaugural Emerging Leaders Class. He is in the process of remodeling his general contracting business with the knowledge he gained from the class.

For the next class, SBA is again partnering with the Small Business Development Center at Florida International University. Classes will be at FIU Downtown on Brickell Center at 1101 Brickell Ave. in Miami. The curriculum called the StreetWise Steps to Small Business Growth includes instruction on financials, marketing and sales, resources (human resources, accessing capital and government contracting); and strategic growth planning.

Business leaders interested in the program should be the owner or principal in the small business that has annual revenues of at least $400,000; been in business for at least 3 years; and have at least one employee other than himself.

The application deadline is March 20.  The SBA South Florida district will make the final selection from the qualified applicants, said Marrero. 

Register at 

More information about the program: 

Posted Feb. 6, 2015


January 24, 2015

Sign up now for Miami Herald Business Plan Bootcamp Feb. 18

OK, I am usually posting other people's entrepreneurship-related events on this blog but here is one of mine. Hope you can make it! 

Want expert advice on crafting a short business plan and pitching your company to investors? Mark your calendars and sign up for our free Miami Herald Business Plan Bootcamp.

Melissa Krinzman, co-founder of Krillion Ventures, which invests in early-stage tech-enabled companies, will moderate a panel of investors and entrepreneurial experts. Confirmed speakers include serial entrepreneur Steven McKean, who is the former CEO of Acceller, Adam  Smith, a partner in Medina Capital, a private-equity fund for growth-stage companies, Benoit Wirz, director of venture investments for the Knight Foundation, where he manages the Knight Enterprise Fund, and Leandro Finol, entrepreneur, investor and director of Miami Dade College’s new Idea Center.


This bootcamp is ideal for people planning to enter the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge (deadline March 16; more details on as well as for other startup entrepreneurs and those planning to start businesses.

There will be plenty of time for Q&A with the audience so bring your questions.

The bootcamp will be Wednesday, Feb. 18, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Miami Dade College’s Chapman Conference Center on the Wolfson Campus. There's no charge for the event but space is limited, and registration is required. Sign up for the Business Plan Bootcamp at

Questions? email and put bootcamp in the subject line.


January 16, 2015

'Shark Tank' casting call draws wide range of pitches from UM alumni, students


Buttercream:   Kristine Graulich (left, BBA '00) and Jose Cuellar.


 Room2Care:   Todd Florin, (left, MD and MBA '12) and Richard Ashenoff (MBA '12)

By Richard Westlund 

Todd Florin, who earned an MD/MBA degree from the University of Miami in 2012, believes America is ready for a new concept in senior residential care.  Jordan Barrocas, who earned his MBA from UM in 2011, wants to expand his fillet mignon beef jerky business, while Justin Lichtenstaedter, a 2010 business school graduate, is ready to roll out Yapper, a location-based mobile chat service.

On Friday,  more than a dozen University of Miami alumni and student teams pitched their entrepreneurial concepts at a casting call for "Shark Tank," the critically acclaimed business-theme TV series airing on ABC and in syndication on CNBC.  

"Our school has an excellent reputation for having alumni who start successful businesses," said Susana Alvarez, director of entrepreneurship programs at the UM School of Business Administration, which hosted the casting call. "The 'Shark Tank' producers took that into consideration when selecting UM as the site of this casting call."   Two teams led by UM School of business graduates, Rodolfo Saccoman and Omar Soliman, were featured on the show in 2009.

Making their pitch on Friday were UM alumni Florin and Richard Ashenoff II, founders of "America is aging and there is a serious shortage of affordable senior care," Florin told the three "Shark Tank" evaluators, Mindy Zemrak,  casting manager, Michael Kramer, senior producer, and Shawn Aly, casting associate. "Our goal is to connect people with extra space in their homes with seniors who need some support." The team is seeking $100,000 from the show's five "Sharks" to launch and promote its innovative residential concept.

In his pitch, Lichtenstaedter asked for $200,000 to roll out his location-based messaging app Yapper, recently launched at eight universities. "This allows you to have conversations with everyone in your area in real time," he said. "It's ideal if you're going to a sporting event or a business conference or just watching 'Shark Tank' at home on a Friday night."

When Kramer asked him how Yapper will make money, Lichtenstaedter said the company's revenue model is based on geotargeted advertising, based on users' demonstrated interests, such as sports teams or happy hour lounges.

Three of the teams focused on upscale food products, including Barrocas' "Three Jerks Jerky," a company whose products are now in 75 independent grocery stores. "We are already profitable, but need funding to expand to the national chains," he said.

Alumnus Nekishia Lester hopes her sweet potato products will capture America's taste buds. "We make pies, parfaits and smoothies with this superfood, and we're looking for investment to expand our family business," she said.

For alumnus Kristine Graulich and her husband Jose Cuellar, funding from a "Shark Tank" investor would allow them to expand Buttercream Cupcakes, their seven-year-old business, whose customers include singer Celine Dion and Miami Heat star Chris Bosh. "We sell more than 150,000 cupcakes a year, but we have reached capacity," Graulich said. "We want to open a flagship store, expand our menu and keep growing our market."

After sampling a mini-cupcake, Zemrak had high praise, saying it was "the best frosting" she had ever tasted. Graulich responded with a big smile and a heartfelt plea, "Buttercream has been our baby for the past seven years," she said. "I want to be on 'Shark Tank' more than I want to breathe air."

Posted Jan. 16, 2015 


iTech, Shenandoah school teams advance in Verizon Innovative App Challenge



Students from Shenandoah Middle School in Miami and the iTECH Academy at Miami Springs Senior High have moved a little closer to a national award, earning “Best In Region” honors in the Verizon Innovative App Challenge.  The schools have earned $5,000 cash grants to further develop or support STEM programs.

Both schools are now in the running to be one of eight Best in Nation winners where students will win tablets and learn directly from MIT Media Lab on how to code and bring their app to life.  Best in Nation winners will also receive an additional $15,000 grant to advance STEM programs.

In its third year, the national competition developed by Verizon and the Technology Student Association encourages STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) learning, and challenges students to design mobile applications that address a need or problem in their schools or communities.

iTECH Miami Springs students developed “Quick Scholar.”  The app helps students, parents, and advisers create a personalized student profile to quickly sift through scholarships on the Web.  The app then identifies the best scholarships and grants that match that student’s unique metadata.

 The Shenandoah students developed a concept for the “My School Bus Tracker” application.  With Miami’s especially unpredictable weather and traffic, the app will help students and/or parents use their wireless phones track the location of their specific school bus and provide an accurate estimated time of arrival to the bus stop in the mornings and afternoons.

“Best In Nation” winners will earn an additional $15,000 cash grant.  Each winning team member also will receive a wireless tablet from Samsung.  In addition, MIT App Inventor Master Trainers from the Center for Mobile Learning at the MIT Media Lab will train the top teams on coding and app development.  Students also will be invited to present their app ideas in person at the National TSA Conference in Dallas, courtesy of Verizon.

Verizon and MIT also will help the winning students code their app concepts, making them ready for sharing and distribution. Apps developed during the first two years of the competition have been downloaded more than 26,000 times from the Google Play store.

Last week we featured the Shenandoah team’s video – watch it here.

This week, we feature iTech’s team video above. The iTech team is pictured below.

ITECH Students

Posted Jan., 16, 2015


January 15, 2015

Innovation Hub at Broward College opens

A new resource: Broward College’s new Innovation Hub.

The 5,400 square-foot facility, which is open to the public, is designed to be a mixed-use business incubator, focused on housing a dynamic community of startups, mentors, advisors and investors, and serving as a one-stop resource for business owners and innovators pursuing their entrepreneurial ambitions. It will offer access to mentors – through Broward College’s collaborative partnerships with Broward SCORE, the Small Business Development Center and the Enterprise Development Corporation – as well as angel investors, including New World Angels. There will be seminars and workshops on various business topics focused on specific skills helpful to startup companies that will also be open to the public.

At an open house on its Cypress Creek location on Thursday, Broward College celebrated its partnership with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, which is  seeking innovative solutions in sports business. Brazilian soccer legend Ronaldo, who is a part-owner of the Strikers, joined Broward College officials, along with Director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Jesse Panuccio and other local business leaders for a tour of the business incubator and discussion on possible opportunities.

The Innovation Hub offers several private individual offices, a shared co-working space, two small conference or mentoring rooms, as well as a fully equipped audio and video training or seminar room, which converts into two large board rooms with separate A/V capabilities. It also features 100Mps fiber broadband access hardwired Wi-Fi throughout the facility. The business incubator will provide opportunities for close collaborations with Broward College faculty, staff and students. Professors will work with their students and incubated companies on market research, branding, operations, financial planning and other business needs.

A portion of the Innovation Hub will be dedicated to sports-related startups as part of a collaboration with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. These startups will receive mentorship from Strikers staff and have the opportunity to pilot their ideas on the Strikers’ stadium, fans and athletes.

For more information on the Broward College Innovation Hub, visit or contact Angela Nicoletti at 954-201-7939 or