July 26, 2015

Q&A with Nico Berardi: Connecting startups with investors

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

56 BM Q&A Nico Berardi 0624Accelerated Growth Partners, a Miami-based angel investment group, relaunched a little over a year ago with a couple of key goals: to expand its network of active angel investors to help bridge the funding gap in South Florida and launch investor-education workshops aimed at broadening the pool of investors interested in early-stage ventures.

With funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the organization began meeting and Nico Berardi was chosen to lead the effort, acting as the connector between entrepreneurs and prospective investors. Berardi, AGP’s managing director, is the former U.S. CEO for TECHO, a nonprofit that mobilizes youth volunteers to fight extreme poverty in Latin America. Under his watch, the organization expanded and fund-raising doubled.

In a short time, Berardi’s track record at AGP has been impressive, too.

AGP Miami (agpmiami.com) was not a new organization when Berardi took over, but it had slowed down considerably. The group invites entrepreneurs seeking funding to pitch their businesses, and members can decide individually whether to fund them. Since Berardi took over, membership has quadrupled to more than 80, and more significantly, members have invested in nine South Florida startups. It’s now the largest local angel group.

“We sent out a survey to all our members, and what came across the strongest was the co-investor intellectual horsepower. The group represents so many industries, there is likely someone in the group that knows the particular space. We have seen really good deal flow, and our members are engaged. At each of our pitch meetings, we have had 50-plus of our members show up,” said Berardi.

Berardi meets with roughly 450 startups a year and sends the most qualified startups through the AGP screening process. The screening committee will then decide whether they will present to the AGP membership, typically with one member championing the investment. One startup company, ClassWallet, has been funded twice. The other companies receiving funding in year one of the relaunch were: Everypost, Weebee, Videoo, Blackdove, Stadson, Hair Construction, Waleteros and Nearpod.

“Because we are an up-and-coming ecosystem, a lot of our entrepreneurs don’t understand how to work with investors, and a lot of investors don’t know how to work with entrepreneurs. That is something we can work on,” Berardi said. “The entrepreneurial team brings an entire skillset, and we bring capital and experience. Most of the time, you need both.”

To be sure, startup funding is often cited as a key missing ingredient as Miami works to build up its entrepreneurial ecosystem. While there is plenty of wealth here and family offices proliferate, the money is typically not going into technology plays and local startups.

To help begin to fill that ecosystem need and make sure AGP has a growing roster of active investors to fund more companies, as well as double down on existing investments, Berardi and the Knight Foundation, together with partners such as Northwestern’s "Kellogg School and Greenberg Traurig, launched a series of workshops this year to train potential investors.

“This was an experiment. We said, ‘Let’s start shooting information,’" space="1"” said Berardi. Each of the six educational sessions were themed and led by experts in those areas. The result: standing-room-only workshops. “People were thrilled to get the content. Now we are talking about the second cycle. Is this going to move the needle, and are we going to have 100 new investors? We don’t know yet.”

This summer, Berardi was chosen to join Class 20 of the Kauffman Fellowship, 40 emerging leaders of venture capital and angel investing organizations from around the world that will meet regularly to learn about investing and leading capital ecosystems. The Fellowship’s goal is to develop a worldwide network of innovation investors who provide smart, connected capital to fuel entrepreneurial change, and Berardi is excited about bringing back what he learns to Miami. “The better investors we can be, the better we think we can help our companies,” Berardi said.

The Miami Herald spoke with Berardi recently about AGP’s first year and what is ahead.

Q. AGP relaunched just over a year ago. What were some of the highlights of the year?

A. The highlight was to realize how much a friendly platform to connect entrepreneurs to investors in an efficient way was needed. We made 10 investments into nine companies totaling $1.8 million. Membership stands at over 80 investors.

Q. What will be your metrics for success in year two?

A. Deal flow is king. As long as we keep on finding really interesting companies being built from or moving to Miami, we will continue to be active. We aim to make 8 to 10 investments per year.

Q. Do you think the quality of deal flow will continue?

A. We’re very optimistic because of all the new things coming to town. Existing institutions like the Venture Hive and Endeavor in town continue to do good work, while many others are drawing up plans to open shop. Large conferences like eMerge Americas and SIME bring a lot of attention, which then attracts entrepreneurs and organizations. The large tech firms are also paying attention; Twitter opening its new Brickell office is a key example. Infrastructure is becoming more robust, too — service providers are tailoring their offerings, coding schools are growing, and co-working spaces have proliferated. It is the combination of all these things that make us very optimistic.

Q. What kind of companies do you look for to potentially take to the members, if they make it past the screening process?

A. We have a strong preference to invest in South Florida-based companies. In fact, all nine companies we have invested in have key strategic operations here. From a stage perspective, we look for companies raising between $250,000 and $1.5 million that are in the market already. We usually steer away from beta, prototype, pre-launch companies. In a way, we come in after friends and family and accelerators but before an institutional Series A. Once a company fits within that sweet spot, we look for a combination of really big markets or attractive vertical niches and outstanding management teams.

Q. Tell me about a couple of the companies that got funding?

A. ClassWallet is an exciting company at the intersection of fintech and edtech. Today, in the U.S. alone, there are $23 billion worth of cash transactions that occur in K-12 classrooms every year! With cash, there is no accountability, no transparency and is very time-consuming from an administrative standpoint.

NearPod is also in education. They identified that smart devices took the classroom by storm, and today they represent a learning barrier for teachers to overcome. Their technology empowers teachers to create and deliver content that leverages those same incredible devices. Their platform is bringing the learning experience to the 21st century.

Q. What advice do you have for entrepreneurs seeking investment from AGP?

A. Don’t think about building a fundable company. Focus on one thing and one thing only: building an amazing product that your customers will love. That is what will draw our attention.

Q. Why did AGP launch an angel educational program?

A. The local community of investors has not been exposed to early-stage tech investments enough. Historically, it has been mostly real estate, public securities and a bit of private equity. While we have some of the smartest investors in the world in those areas, they are very different from investors in tech. Our hypothesis was that not many people were investing in tech because they lacked the know-how to do so. The premise then was that by educating the community more, people would get involved by understanding that tech is a great way to diversify your portfolio. We wanted to solve that problem by educating the community to leverage their intellectual horsepower with the financial capabilities.

Q. And how did your first education series go?

A. We honestly did not know what to expect but had two amazing partners that believed in our premise. Having had Kellogg and Greenberg Traurig co-organize the series really helped in having people step off the sidelines. All the speakers were volunteers we got from the community, and most of the success is due to their involvement, so a big shout-out to our speakers.

Q. Do you plan to continue the series or have other plans in the education area?

A. Absolutely. Having heard the feedback from the attendees, we are back at the drawing board for a second cycle starting in the fall. Stay tuned.

Q. What do you hope to bring back from your Kauffman Fellowship experience that is just getting under way?

A. Two things, mainly. The first is technical training. As I mentioned before, tech is very new to our investment community, so having more sophisticated investors will strengthen the ecosystem. The second is being able to plug in the Miami ecosystem to the global VC world.

Funding risk is perhaps the biggest risk Miami-based startups face. It’s a win-win situation if AGP can co-invest with the best VCs at a global level. More entrepreneurs will want to work with AGP because that will increase their chances of success.

Q. From your perspective meeting with so many entrepreneurs every month, how do you think our ecosystem is progressing?

A. There’s a natural hype that comes with a growing, improving ecosystem. That means more companies in quantity but not necessarily in quality. There starts to be a lot of noise coming from “want-a-preneurs.” I take it as a great sign, and we just have to be efficient at cutting to the next cycle.

Q. And, more specifically, the capital ecosystem?

A. Definitely a lot of activity. Some funds have taken the plunge and opened offices locally, while others are peeking in, ever more "aggressively. It’s not uncommon to grab coffee with a visiting VC every other week.

Q. What role do family offices play in all this?

A. Family offices understand there’s something going on that they want to be a part of. Most are not trained in VC and haven’t yet developed a strategy that fits within their broader portfolio. From what we’ve seen, the traditional VC model has not proven very successful when it comes to engaging them. A hybrid model is needed, and it’ll be interesting to see how the story unfolds.

Q. If you could wave a magic wand and add one ingredient to the ecosystem right now, what would it be?

A. I’ll cheat and mention two. One is more accelerators. If you look at developed ecosystems, the main accelerator alone will be working with 150+ companies a year. While the Venture Hive is amazing, we need more companies to go through programs like that. The second ingredient is investors across the board. More angel investors, more seed funds and definitely more VC funds.

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

Nico Berardi

Titles: Managing Director, AGP Miami. Kauffman Fellow.

Age: 26.

Experience: Former U.S. CEO for TECHO, a nonprofit that mobilizes youth volunteers to fight extreme poverty in Latin America, for two years, and before that was TECHO’s director of development for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Honors: Speaker at the Global Economic Symposium, TEDx Miami and the Center for Hemispheric Policy and the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. Participant in the Kellogg Innovation Network, Clinton Global Initiative and the PODER Business Awards. Selected as a Young American Leader by Harvard Business School, Top 100 Innovators of Argentina by BGH, GameChanger by the Miami Chamber of Commerce and showcased at Yahoo! The Innovators series.

Education: Bachelor’s in economics, Universidad Torcuato di Tella, Argentina.

Favorite book: ‘Outliers’ by Malcolm Gladwell.

Best advice received: There are over a thousand variables determining your success. How much effort you put in is the only one you can do anything about.

July 17, 2015

MDLIVE leads state in venture funding in 2nd quarter

South Florida companies attracted most of the state's venture capital funding, according to the MoneyTree Report. Nationally, AirBnB was the top deal -- $1.5 billion.

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

MoneybagMDLIVE, with more than 200 employees, provides access to virtual doctor visits utilizing partnerships with established industry leaders, including Walgreens, Microsoft and major health systems across the country. The company raised $50 million from Bedford Funding Capital Management, a private equity firm based in White Plains, N.Y. “We view this as an important first investment in a growing partnership with MDLIVE to fundamentally change healthcare in the United States,” said Charles Jones, managing partner of Bedford.

In total, South Florida companies raised more than $86 million in the second quarter, and all of that money flowed into health-tech or biotech companies. That’s up from $70.9 million last quarter, according to the report from PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association, based on data provided by Thomson Reuters.

More than half the state’s funding flowed to South Florida. The other funded companies were: CareCloud of Miami ($15.3 million), TissueTech of Doral ($15 million), Altor BioScience of Miramar ($10.7 million) and Watermark Medical of West Palm Beach ($5 million). In addition, Carson Life and Meetoou, both of Miami, raised undisclosed seed rounds.

Florida companies in total raised $153.7 million in 17 deals, up sharply from $85.6 million in the first quarter and $117.4 million in 13 deals a year ago.

Still, for the country’s third-largest state, that is less than 1 percent of the national venture capital pie.

Nationally, venture capitalists invested $17.5 billion in 1,189 deals in the second quarter, the MoneyTree Report showed. Quarterly venture capital investment increased 30 percent in terms of dollars and 13 percent in the number of deals, compared with the first quarter when $13.5 billion was invested in 1,048 deals.

The second quarter is the sixth consecutive quarter of more than $10 billion of venture capital invested in a single quarter.

“There is no reason for this to slow down. We are seeing faster growth rates in software companies than we have ever seen … and there is still a lot of room to innovate,” said Tomasz  Tunguz, partner at Redpoint Ventures in Menlo Park.

Indeed, the software industry continued to receive the highest level of funding of all industries, increasing 30 percent from the prior quarter to $7.3 billion, the largest quarterly investment total going into software companies since the inception of the MoneyTree Report in 1995.

Tunguz sees continued opportunity in enterprise software. It’s one of the fastest-growing categories in tech, yet funding is still only at half the level of 2000, he said. “There is $1.2 trillion in market cap committed to enterprise and only 2 percent of that has moved to the cloud. There is a lot of money still to change hands.”

Other categories doing well nationally were media/entertainment, with $2.7 billion going into 118 deals, and biotechnology, with $2.3 billion going into 126 deals.

The top five deals, according to MoneyTree, were AirBnB ($1.5 billion); Snapchat ($538 million), Zenefits ($500 million), WeWork ($400 million) and Docusign ($278 million).

“We saw 26 megadeals [of $100 million or greater] in Q2, including yet another billion-dollar investment. After seeing the very first billion-dollar VC investment in Q1 of last year, we now count four of the last five quarters with companies receiving billion-dollar investments, adding to the ever-growing herd of unicorns, which is approaching triple digits,” said Tom Ciccolella, U.S. Venture Capital Leader at PwC. He believes 2015 VC is on track to exceed the $50 billion invested in 2014.

Investment in Florida companies in 2015 will have a tough climb to exceed 2014, as much of last year’s $865 million total was raised by one company — Dania Beach-based Magic Leap, which raised $592 million in two rounds. But so far, South Florida healthcare-related companies are leading the charge this year. OrthoSensor, Pure Life Renal, Brickell Biotech, Vigilant BioSciences and USARAD all attracted funding in the first quarter.

MoneyTree Report results are available at nvca.org.

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.


July 15, 2015

Rokk3r Labs raises $5 million in funding

Miami Beach-based Rokk3r Labs said this week it has closed on $5 million in funding from data scientist and TED Fellow Jon Gosier and New York City-based venture capital firm Scout Ventures, among others.

CharaniaRokk3r Labs partners with entrepreneurs to cobuild companies and has already helped develop high-growth companies such as AdMobilize, HYP3R, Juana La Iguana and others into multi-million dollar ventures. With its latest $5 million investment round, Rokk3r Labs said it plans to cobuild 100 companies over the next five year as well as start building its own companies. Rokk3r Labs CEO Nabyl Charania (pictured here) said the company will also expand its investment fund to fund Rokk3r Labs’ own companies as well as co-invest in portfolio companies.

With offices  in Miami Beach, New York, London, Toronto and Bogota, Rokk3r Labs said it now intends to scale its cobuilding approach to new target locations including Africa and South America. “It’s a huge honor not only to be an investor but to join the Rokk3r Labs team to help establish a venture fund focused on opportunities in the U.S. as well as spearheading Rokk3r Labs’ entry into Africa,” said Gosier, who was a speaker during the inaugural Black Tech Week in Miami  in February.

Currently, Rokk3r Labs has a portfolio of 25 companies.

 “Rokk3r Labs is one of the first company builders to put to execution the principles in my Exponential Organizations book. And based upon their track record, I’m excited to see how they leverage ExO principles to cobuild companies that change the world,” said Salim Ismail,  author and founding executive director of Singularity University. “Rokk3r sponsored two full-day workshops with Ismail earlier this year.

 Scout Ventures managing partner Bradley C. Harrison first  announced the investment into Rokk3r Labs in February, and said he was impressed with Rokk3r's unique cobuilding methodology and desirable track record of swiftly bringing companies to launch. Scout has an office in Miami.


July 13, 2015

ClassWallet raises $1.9 million in seed financing

ClassWallet, a platform for school systems to disburse and track funds, has closed a $1.9 million round of seed financing, the company said Monday.

Total funding raised to date by ClassWallet is $2.53 million.
The Miami-based company said the latest round was oversubscribed by 30 percent. Investors include NewSchools Venture Seed Fund, Kaplan Ventures, William Guttman, as well as several edtech and fintech angel investors. Accelerated Growth Partners and other leading Miami-based angel investors, including MaverixLab, founded by former Noodle CEO Joe Morgan, continued their support by contributing to the round. ClassWallet is a graduate of the Kaplan EdTech Accelerator, powered by Techstars.
RosenbergThe company will use the funding for sales and product development. The team plans to release the next version of its platform this summer, which will include a reloadable ClassWallet debit card and a Pay by ClassWallet API for vendors to integrate, said Jamie Rosenberg, ClassWallet’s founder and CEO (pictured here).
“As school budgets shrink, an increasingly larger portion of procurement is being funded by corporations, foundations, parents and teachers to meet student needs,” said Rosenberg. “The size of this market, up to $23 billion annually, and the amount of inefficiency and lack of transparency is staggering."
Organizations and school districts using ClassWallet include Harrington Park School District, Albuquerque Public Schools Education Foundation, Reading is Fundamental, Broward Education Foundation, as well as many others.
Companies including Amazon, Office Depot, Best Buy, School Specialty, Scholastic and 40 more accept ClassWallet as a form of payment. Each provides ClassWallet with SKU level purchasing data, which makes tracking and reconciling of purchases seamless. Most recently, Marqeta, the program manager behind Facebook and eBay’s card platforms, joined forces with ClassWallet to power the ClassWallet debit card for offline purchases such as professional development, field trips and more.

Rosenberg launched AdoptAClassroom.org in 1998, one of the first crowd-funding sites and national education philanthropy platforms on the Internet.

June 24, 2015

MDLIVE closes on $50 million of private equity funding

MDLIVE, a provider of virtual health services based in Sunrise, announced Wednesday that it has recently closed on a $50 million investment from private equity firm Bedford Funding, which specializes in the software industry. 

Bedford Funding joins previous investors Sentara Healthcare, Sutter Health, Heritage Group and Kayne Anderson Capital Advisors. According to the MoneyTree Report on venture capital, MDLIVE attracted $23.6 million of funding in 2014.

Funding will help MDLIVE expand its acquisition strategy and consumer reach to further its vision of building a fully integrated, end-to-end virtual health system, said Randy Parker, CEO. "By providing convenient, high-quality, cost-effective care that seamlessly transitions from the virtual to the in-person setting, we are reinventing healthcare delivery and setting a new standard for health care services in this country," Parker said.

MDLIVE, with more than 200 employees, provides millions of Americans with access to virtual doctor visits utilizing partnerships with established industry leaders, including Walgreens, Microsoft, and major health systems across the country. By providing convenient access to healthcare through a HIPAA-compliant cloud-based platform, patients, healthcare providers and the healthcare system benefit through improved outcomes and cost savings, the company said.

John Sculley, vice chairman of the board of MDLIVE and past CEO of Apple and Pepsi, said few industries are in need of transformative change as healthcare in the U.S. In an interview earlier this year, he said a typical virtual office visit can cost a third of a live one: “We have experienced incredible customer satisfaction. We are growing like crazy -- it’s a South Florida company that is at the sweet spot of a fundamental change in healthcare. And it's completely supportive of customers making choices for better services.”


June 22, 2015

Funding news: TissueTech raises $15 million

Miami-based TissueTech, a biotech company that focuses on regenerative medicine, raised $15 million in additional venture funding.

Ballast Point Ventures of St. Petersburg and River Cities Capital Funds in Raleigh led a Series B equity raise for TissueTech, a regenerative medicine company in Miami.

TissueTech develops regenerative amniotic tissue-based products for the ophthalmology, optometry, musculoskeletal and wound care markets. The biotech company will use the new funding to expand R&D and sales and marketing.

It’s the second time Ballast Point and River Cities have invested in TissueTech, which now has more than 100 employees, according to the Tampa Bay Business Journal. The firms invested $10 million in 2013 and have been very pleased with the company’s performance since then, Matt Rive, partner at Ballast Point, told the publication.


June 09, 2015

New Intel Capital Diversity Fund invests in CareCloud

Miami-based health-tech company CareCloud was one of the first four companies funded by a new Intel Capital initiative to back startups run by women or minorities, the Silicon Valley Business Journal reported Tuesday.

The new $125 million Intel Capital Diversity Fund will invest in companies in which the CEO or founder, or at least three executives that report to the CEO, are women, black, Hispanic or Native American.

Along with CareCloud, an electronics health records and physician management platform founded by Albert Santalo, the others are San Francisco-based Brit + Co and Mark One Lifestyle and Venafi of Salt Lake City. Amounts of the funding were not disclosed. CareCloud recently announced a $15 million investment by existing investors.

Intel pledged to spend $300 million over the next five years to get "full representation" in the company's workforce by women and minorities by 2020, the Silicon Valley Business Journal said. A BabsonCollege study said that just 3 percent of venture dollars went to startups led by a female CEO.

June 05, 2015

FundingPost event to offer investor views, networking

What does it take to win over an investor? FundingPost's Angel and VC Conference, which is returning to Miami on Wednesday, June 17,  at Venture Hive, may offer some insights. 

At the event, a panel of NYC, Silicon Valley and Florida angels will focus on pitching to early-stage investors, and what it really takes to get them to write you a check. The investors will be discussing the things that are most important to them when they are considering an investment, the best and worst things an entrepreneur can do to get their attention during a pitch, and, of course, the best ways to reach these and other Investors. There will be plenty of time for networking with the investor panelists during the breaks and networking party. 

Register Here 

Investor Speakers so far:
Zalmi Duchman, Angel & CEO of The Fresh Diet (FL)
David Koehn, Sand Hill Angels (CA)
David B. Schottenstein, Angel Investor (FL)
Shridar Chityala, Vedas Group (NYC)
Christopher Gimbertn Star Mountain Capital (NYC)
Welcome Address: Spencer Lyon, FundingPost
Additional Investors TBA 

 Wednesday, June 17, 2015, 5:30pm - 8:30pm
COST: $55 
WHERE: Venture Hive, 1010 NE 2nd Ave Miami, FL 33132

-Information submitted by FundingPost

June 03, 2015

Drone Aviation Holding closes $1 million offering

Drone Aviation Holding Corp., a developer of specialized tethered drones, on Wednesday announced that it has closed a $1 million offering of its Series G Convertible Preferred Stock. Frost Gamma Investments Trust, controlled by healthcare serial entrepreneur Dr. Phillip Frost, has invested $250,000 in the offering.

The publicly traded company, based in Jacksonville with offices in Aventura, intends to use the capital to accelerate the commercialization of its new WATT line of electronic tethered drones, said Felicia Hess, Drone Aviation’s CEO. Launched earlier this year, the WATT-200 electric tethered drone was created to gather real-time, broadcast quality video footage for a wide range of commercial applications including newsgathering, emergency first responder/search and rescue, military and border protection.

Drone Aviation develops and manufactures cost-effective, compact and rapidly deployable aerial platforms and electric-powered drones aimed at providing government and commercial customers with enhanced surveillance and communication capabilities for longer durations in military, law enforcement and commercial and industrial applications.

“Dr. Frost's ongoing support and involvement is a key element in our efforts to build this company into a leading manufacturer of tethered drones serving commercial and military customers around the world,” said Hess. Frost is chairman of Drone Aviation’s strategic advisory board.

May 26, 2015

The Florida Microfinance Act: How can it help my small business?


The Florida Microfinance Act (Florida Statutes Sections 288.993 to 288.9937) was enacted in 2014 to help provide access to certain financing options for small businesses and entrepreneurs. Small businesses and entrepreneurs have historically had significant problems raising capital, and the act was intended to address these problems.

Effective April 2, the state authorized designated loan administrators to begin accepting applications for participation in the program. The program has two components: a loan program where qualifying small businesses and entrepreneurs can get loans of up to $50,000, and a loan guarantee program (administered by Enterprise Florida) under which qualifying participants can obtain a loan guarantee in connection with loans from $50,000 to $250,000. The program is administered by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

This program is available to small businesses or entrepreneurs in Florida that have no more than 25 employees and annual revenues of up to $1.5 million. Borrowers who seek loans must participate in business training and technical assistance provided by the Florida Small Business Development Network. Proceeds from a loan under the program must be used for startup costs, working capital and to purchase materials, supplies, furniture, fixtures and equipment. The repayment of loans must be personally guaranteed, and borrowers must provide information about job creation and other financial data to the loan administrator. A borrower can receive a maximum of $75,000 in loans each year and a maximum of two loans a year and five loans over a three-year period. The program is also designed to help small businesses and entrepreneurs get subsequent private financing.

How can this help your small business? It may provide relatively quick access to capital for qualifying small businesses and entrepreneurs. This can be very valuable because it provides a much-needed potential source of capital at a critical stage in development. Additionally, these companies and entrepreneurs often have difficulty raising initial capital. Personal resources and friend and family funds are usually limited, and most of these companies and entrepreneurs will not yet have realistic access to traditional bank financing or equity financing through venture capital, private equity or angel investors. This program may provide the initial jump start that a small company or entrepreneur needs to get the business going and to progress to the next step.

This program may be especially helpful in industries where technology has substantially reduced the amount of capital required for a business. In many industries the use of cloud-based technology, for example, has significantly reduced the costs of starting and operating the business. Even though the amounts available in the program are relatively small, they should be sufficient to allow many businesses to successfully navigate their early stage financial challenges and move to the next level.

Find information about the program and the requirements for participation at http://www.floridajobs.org/microfinanceprograms.

Bob White is a shareholder with Gunster law firm.