March 18, 2015

SBA accepting applications this week for next Emerging Leaders program

Seventeen Miami-Dade small business owners and principals ready to grow their businesses will be chosen for the Small Business Administration’s free Emerging Leaders Program. Applications are now being accepted for the next class that will give selected small businesses a tailored three-year strategic growth plan to help bring their business to the next level.

Owners 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 has at least one employee other than the owner. The participant must be dedicated to attend 13 evening training sessions and complete required homework.

The curriculum called the StreetWise Steps to Small Business Growth, is comprised of five modules: Business and Strategy Assessment; Financials; Marketing and Sales; Resources (People, Accessing Capital and Government Contracting); and Strategic Growth Plan Presentations.

The deadline to apply for the next class is March 20. Register here: www.interise.org/sbaemergingleaders.

March 16, 2015

Startup Spotlight: Wyncode

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Johanna and Juha Mikkola are the founders of Wyncode, which runs nine-week-long coding boot camps at its school at The LAB Miami. AL DIAZ MIAMI HERALD STAFF

 

Wyncode

Headquarters: The LAB Miami in Wynwood.

Concept: Wyncode is a nine-week development boot camp immersing ambitious individuals in a demanding and inspiring learning environment engineered to develop successful coders with business acumen. “We believe in promoting programming literacy using a disruptive education model and feel that a boot camp environment is the best way to learn practical and relevant coding skills quickly,” said Juha Mikkola, who co-founded Wyncode with his wife, Johanna (pictured above).

Story: WyncodeAcademy aims to address the need in Miami’s tech ecosystem for developer talent, which parallels what’s seen elsewhere in the country: recent estimates show that there will be a million more computer programming jobs in 2020 than candidates to fill them. The rapidly growing demand for developers provides an opportunity for a career accelerator for those determined to change their path and make an impact in the startup technology scene.

Wyncode got started after Juha Mikkola attended a development boot camp in Toronto, Canada, where he saw firsthand the power and effectiveness of the accelerated learning model. Improving upon that experience with better hiring partner relationships and a “Made for Miami” curriculum, Wyncode hit the ground running with a 14-person inaugural class in May 2014. Wyncode graduated its fourth cohort last week.

Wyncode has held four Pitch Days with each drawing an audience of about 250 people to see the app creations of Wyncode students. Last week’s Pitch Day drew 267 people and six of the students received full-time job offers even before the event.

Launched: Website went live in February 2014; first classes started in May.

Management team: Co-founders Juha and Johanna Mikkola.

Website: www.wyncode.co.

Number of employees: Five full-time employees, five part-time employees, in addition to the co-founders. Wyncode’s lead instructor, Edward Toro, is an MIT graduate, veteran of six startups, and a Miami tech scene pioneer.

Financing: Self-financed. Currently raising $500,000.

Recent milestones: Nearly 70 students have graduated from the program while Wyncode has maintained a 92 percent placement rate within three months of graduation; first Code School/Development Bootcamp in Florida to receive Florida Department of Education licensing; won Tech Cocktail’s Best Company Culture Award; invited to the White House to participate in its Accelerated Learning Program panels and meet the US CTO Megan Smith, and then invited back; Wyncode and nine other coding schools nationwide recently formed a new trade organization called the New Economy Skills Training Association (NESTA) to establish best practices, standards and increase accountability in the industry.

Biggest startup challenge: Finding out that accelerated learning programs required Florida Department of Education licensing, after students joining the first cohort had already quit their jobs to attend Wyncode. “We’re fortunate that the state saw the great impact we are having and worked with us as we fulfilled the requirements, but it made for a lot of sleepless nights,” Juha Mikkola said. “Even through the difficult times all of our students stuck by us!”

Next steps: Expanding programming at flagship location in Wynwood. “We introduced our first part-time course in February, which is for iOS App Development. Next we plan to expand to our second location in Fort Lauderdale in April, pending state approval, and add more part-time courses,” Johanna Mikkola said.

Strategy for next step: “Our strategy is laser-focused on maintaining our quality no matter what we do. We will continue working closely with our hiring partners to make sure that we are teaching relevant tech skills that allow our graduates to jump straight into the workplace and contribute from day one, or build a minimum viable product and start their own tech company,” Juha Mikkola said.

Nancy Dahlberg @ndahlberg

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The Wyncode team, left to right, Walter Latimer, Damon Davison, Bryce Kerley, Frank Ortiz, Juha Mikkola, Diego Lugo, Edward Toro and Johanna Mikkola, above. Below, Alexander Moraleza and other students participate in a class at Wyncode at The LAB Miami. AL DIAZ MIAMI HERALD STAFF

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March 13, 2015

Packed house for Wyncode’s Pitch Day IV

Wyncode

By Juha Mikkola

Wyncode’s Pitch Day IV attracted over 250 people to The LAB Miami, including many of Wyncode’s hiring partners, leaders in the Miami Tech scene and angel investors.

Wyncode’s fourth cohort was made up of 19 hand picked students that spent nine weeks in a full-time immersive bootcamp environment. The students’ passionate effort culminated in Pitch Day, where they presented their full stack applications which they created in the final two weeks at Wyncode. The students' learning of coding skills was complemented by a strong focus on business acumen, including communication and presentation skills as well as an understanding of lean startup and agile methodologies.

Even before the students’ official graduation at Pitch Day IV, 33% of the Wyncoders had already received job offers, a new milestone for Wyncode, which has a 92% placement rate amongst its graduates.

The student projects were built from scratch and included apps designed to solve real-life problems in various different industries. These projects include - My Style Blox, Scan-Cierge, Med+, Music Scholar, 40K, I See a Meter Maid, in memoriam, and Ruby Quest. The students presented to a team of judges from Miami’s tech community - Benoit Wirz, DIR/Venture Investments of Knight Foundation, Greg Miller, Dir. Engineering Talent of Ultimate Software, Rebekah Monson, Founder of WhereBy.Us and Mark Nix, Chief Executive Officer of Cloud Logistics. Fermin Carranza, Mario Gatchair and Travis Gordon of Team Ruby Quest won the Pitch Day challenge and received $1,000 cash. They are pictured below with Pitch Day Tres winners Ray Braaf and Todd Metheney, who are working as Junior Web Developers for MDLIVE and Kipu Systems, respectively. 

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Wyncode’s next cohorts start on April 6th and June 4th in Miami and April 20th in Ft.Lauderdale. Find out more at http://www.wyncode.co

 

Artist as an Entrepreneur Institute returns; registration is now open

Art entrepreneurs – here’s a course for you. I covered this workshop series several years ago and have kept up with some of the past participants, all artists who learned the basics on running their own businesses in the workshops. They all said it was well worth their time and they have continued to collaborate together. This is open to artists in all three counties.Space is limited so register soon.

Here is the information directly from the Institute.

 Broward Cultural Division, The Community Partnership for Arts and Culture (CPAC) and ArtServe announce the return of their Artist as an Entrepreneur Institute (AEI). The program, to be presented on four Saturdays in June, will be held at ArtServe,1350 E. Sunrise Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale. Artists of all disciplines are encouraged to attend, including but not limited to sculptors, illustrators, metalworkers, writers, dancers, jewelers, musicians, performance artists, media/filmmakers, photographers, designers and all interdisciplinary artists. Artists residing in any county are invited and welcome to attend.

AEI is a course of study designed to assist individual artists by cultivating and advancing their business skills, and helping them to strengthen their operating infrastructure and expand their business. To date, more than 500 South Florida artists have graduated from the Institute, and many with exceptional success stories that follow. AEI will be offered as 20 full-day classes, 9AM - 6PM, on June 6th, 13th & 20th and a Business Plan Clinic and Workshop on June 27th, 9AM - 2PM. 

Registrants will receive an AEI course book; an indispensable resource for artists. Developed by CPAC, the course book features exercises and readings to prepare for each session, and is tailored to the specific needs of artist entrepreneurs.

Designed to help artists operate in the marketplace more successfully, the AEI course curriculum covers all aspects of developing an artistic business. It helps identify and develop a personal brand, develop strategies for communicating with target markets, raise capital and identify a variety of tools for protecting one's work legally. The curriculum offers critical support, enabling artists to contribute to strengthening the vitality of the larger urban arts and culture sector. Sessions include a mix of lectures, panels, group discussions and practical exercises. 

The Business Plan Clinic's topics, Working Effectively with Lenders and Developing a Brand, will guide participants through preparation of a simple business plan, an essential tool for any artist. In addition, participants will learn how to work effectively with lenders to obtain financial support.

Participation costs is $100 and includes light refreshments and free parking. For members of ArtServe, registration is $75. RSVP Online. For more information contact Adriane Clarke, at 954-357-7530.

View the Artist as an Entrepreneur webpage for more information about the course and its history, and read news coverage from past years. 

March 10, 2015

Wyncode joins national effort to establish standards, best practices among coding schools

 In support of the White House and President Obama's TechHire initiative, Wyncode and nine other coding schools announced the formation of a new trade organization called the New Economy Skills Training Association (NESTA). Joining Wyncode in the endeavor are: App Academy, Dev Bootcamp, Flatiron School, General Assembly, Galvanize, Hackbright Academy, Hack Reactor, MakerSquare and Turing School.

NESTA's mission is to establish best practices, standards, and increase accountability for outcome-based NESTA organizations.  Their first initiative is to develop and agree on a standardized outcomes reporting methodology.

As part of their commitment, NESTA wrote a letter to President Obama outlining its commitment to publish outcomes on an annual basis and have them verified by third-party CPAs.

 

March 07, 2015

For South Florida firms, finding top tech talent still a challenge

Ebuilder

e-Builder President and CEO Ron Antevy, left, and recently hired employee Lisa Ruggieri, right, play foosball in the game room of the company office in Plantation. NICK SWYTER MIAMI HERALD STAFF

With the economy growing again, local demand for senior developers and other technology experts is heating up. Some employees say salaries need to rise to keep them in South Florida.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/#storylink=cpy

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Ron Antevy knows a little something about the war for tech talent in South Florida. He’s on the front lines.

Antevy is the CEO of e-Builder, a provider of program management software for the construction industry that has been growing 30 to 40 percent a year in revenues, he said. He has hired seven people in the tech industry since January and plans to hire at least 40 more employees before year’s end.

“I feel like I am always behind,” he said. “Those really awesome software developers are the toughest to find.”

The market for tech talent is white hot nationally and locally, thanks to a recovering economy and growing entrepreneurial activity. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. unemployment rate among software developers and engineers in the United States was just 2.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014, compared with an overall rate of 5.7 percent.

  Funkhouser“It’s starting to feel like 1999 again,” said Alex Funkhouser, CEO of Miami Beach-based SherlockTalent, a staffing company that specializes in the tech industry. He says he has been seeing multiple-offer situations for the somewhat small pool of senior-level developers and systems engineers. Companies have to act faster than they are accustomed to, he said, and often have to go outside “their comfort zone” on salaries and benefits. Signing bonuses are back, too.

The competition is only going to become more acute: The Department of Labor forecasts that the United States will have 1 million more tech jobs than candidates to fill them by 2020 if trends continue.

Continue reading "For South Florida firms, finding top tech talent still a challenge " »

March 06, 2015

MIAMade wins Miami Foundation grant to fund Liberty City makerspace

MIAMade, based at The LAB Miami, an innovation campus in Wynwood, received a $10,000 accelerator grant from The Miami Foundation to fund the development of Liberty To Make, a makerspace for  Liberty City.

MIAMade is a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering the growth of the maker movement in the Greater Miami area; it produces the annual and highly popular Miami Mini Maker Faire as well as the Wynwood Maker Camp and many other projects. The Miami Foundation Accelerator Grant will be used to kick-start the creation of a makerspace in Liberty City that will engage locals of all ages by fostering their entrepreneurial and creative talents while bringing the community together through STEAM (science, math, engineering, arts, and math) principles.

 “Thanks to The Miami Foundation, MIAMade is excited to take its first step in bringing the people of Liberty City, a space to come together and build together, in turn gaining economic and educational opportunities in a changing Miami.” said Willie Avendano, MIAMade programs manager and co-founder of the Wynwood Maker Camp.

The Miami Foundation's Accelerator Grants program makes $10,000 award related to each of the eight Our Miami Report issue areas. The foundation particularly looks at entities that already have traction, are making positive headway and could turn modest funding into expanded social impact.

MIAMade is accepting donations to fund future programming at The LAB Miami and Liberty To Make. For more information on MIAMade or how you can support its community efforts, please visit www.miamade.org or call Jennifer Mendez Alba at (786) 337-1119.

See a report and video on the last Miami Mini Maker Faire here.

 

March 04, 2015

LaunchCode signs up 102 companies, now accepting apprenticeship applicants

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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.org/apply.

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.

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 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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Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/technology/#storylink=cpy
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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.

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

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.

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Presenters at a Black Tech Week Pitch Competition at The LAB Miami on Tuesday wait for results. The winner was music startup GoldPlay (getgoldplay.com, 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 (earthwareinc.com) won $1,000 from the Awesome Foundation for his pitch for his sustainable cups cutlery and containers company. Photo by Nancy Dahlberg / Miami Herald. 

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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

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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.

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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 Urban.us and Faquiry Diaz Cala of Tres Mares Group, among others.

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 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

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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

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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: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/technology/article11369336.html#storylink=cpy

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.”

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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: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/technology/article11369336.html#storylink=cpy

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 blacktechweek.com 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 / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

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 (refreshmiami.com), the largest meetup group for early stage entrepreneurs; The LAB Miami (thelabmiami.com), a co-working space in Wynwood with many events; and AGP (AGPMiami.com), an active angel network. For companies much further along, there’s Endeavor Miami (endeavormiami.org) providing mentorship and support. Take advantage of local resources and follow the Starting Gate blog (on MiamiHerald.com/business).

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 (http://avc.com/) and Mark Suster (http://www.bothsidesofthetable.com/); and Eric Reis’ The Lean Startup, particularty if you are a tech company. Pitchenvy.com is an enviable collection of investor decks, and there’s "How to get an investor to say yes," by Adeo Ressi (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tzef-oKee0).

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

Listen to podcasts. Smith suggests Jason Calacanis’ "This Week in Startups" podcast (http://thisweekinstartups.com), which includes a new series for his Launch incubator with great speakers. Another is "Startup," a series by Gimletmedia (http://gimletmedia.com/show/startup/)

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, theideacenter.co, 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."

 

 

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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.

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

Posted Feb. 21, 2015