February 15, 2017

One year later: Miami-based MealPal raises $15M, expands internationally

Katie and Mary

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

5.5-inch (iPhone 6+) - Screenshot 1One year ago, Mary Biggins launched MealPal, a subscription restaurant lunch service, in the Brickell area of Miami, and quickly expanded to Boston, New York and four other U.S. cities. On Wednesday, Biggins announced the startup is jumping across the pond to London, its first international expansion, and it has raised $15 million in venture capital to fund its growth.

The Series A financing round was led by Comcast Ventures, the venture capital affiliate of Comcast Corp., with participation from Bessemer Venture Partners, Haystack Partners, NextView Ventures and Miami-based Krillion Ventures, said Biggins, who co-founded the Miami-based company with Katie Ghelli (both are pictured above).

“MealPal has built an exciting business in the huge, but overlooked meal takeout space, using technology to create a win-win for consumers and restaurants,” said Daniel Gulati of Comcast Ventures, in a statement. “Their early traction has been outstanding.”

In the markets it serves, Miami-based MealPal offers hundreds of affordable and curated local restaurant lunch options to its members near where they work or live for a flat, monthly fee. Every weekday, members can browse the curated list of offerings on MealPal’s website or app and pre-order the night before or in the morning and then skip the takeout line. For restaurants, it can increase revenue and exposure. In London, it launched with 125 restaurants.

With London, the tech-enabled subscription meal service is now in eight cities, including San Francisco, Washington DC, Chicago and Philadelphia. The service has facilitated more than 1 million reservations for lunch – doubling its total in the last four months – and has thousands of restaurants on the platform, said Biggins, who previously co-founded ClassPass, which offers fitness classes by subscription.

In September, the company rebranded from MealPass to MealPal and introduced “Pal,” a smart bot that uses artificial intelligence to make reserving lunch easier and more personalized. “Pal will know if you like big lunches or small lunches, if you like cheese, if you like meat or are a vegetarian, if you likes beets, etc, so it can make really good recommendations to you,” Biggins said then.

Now? “We’ve captured preference data for hundreds of thousands of meals at this point with Pal,” Biggins said on Wednesday.

MealPal has about 45 employees, most of them in its biggest market, New York. Although Biggins travels a great deal between all MealPal locations, she and her Miami team are based at Building.co. Krillion Ventures also participated in MealPal’s seed funding round.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

READ MORE:

MealPass rebrands as MealPal, unveils ‘Pal’ feature, launches in Chicago, Washington, DC

Tech Talk: From ClassPass to MealPass, the Big Apple to the Magic City

 

February 13, 2017

Meet the investor: Next round of EDC angel connections series on March 14 to feature Las Olas Venture Capital

Enterprise Development Corporation is hosting the third in a series of investor/startup events meant to provide entrepreneurs valuable funding insights.  The event on Tuesday, March 14, will feature Las Olas Venture Capital and Partner, Mark Volchek.  

Volchek will meet in the afternoon with four selected companies from a growing company database of over forty companies.   Each company will receive feedback on their presentation, an initial interest level and specific advice in applying for formal consideration by Las Olas Venture Capital.  For entrepreneurs wishing to be considered for the one-on-one, please submit an executive summary and investor slide deck to team@edc-tech.org by 2/27/17.

March 14th also hosts a public evening event, held at Mindwarehouse in downtown Miami from 5:30 – 8:00 p.m. where  Volchek will share with the audience general funding guidance for entrepreneurs as well as specific insights into Las Olas VC’s selection and funding process.  Register for the evening event at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/inside-the-investors-head-with-las-olas-venture-capital-partner-mark-volchek-tickets-31830714524

At the previous event, DealCoachPro was one of six selected for a one-on-one with featured investor Tamiami Angel Funds.  According to Founder Erik Mintz  “The investor series event was a real opportunity for my startup.  I was able to participate in the one-on-one with Tim Cartwright of Tamimai Angels which was a meaningful experience with great feedback as to our fit with the Fund.”

The series combines one-on-one investor/startup introductions with an evening event for a broader audience of entrepreneurs.    The objective of these “capital Introductions” is to both help startups acquaint themselves with active Florida and non-Florida early stage investors and help investors identify South Florida’s best emerging investor-ready companies. 

Future events in this series will be ongoing throughout 2017, so please check www.enterbusiness.org for updates. 

- Submitted by the EDC

February 09, 2017

Blacktech Week receives $1.2 million in Knight funding to expand entrepreneurship programs

Twitterguy

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

This month’s Blacktech Weekend will bring the CEO of Y-Combinator and other tech leaders to Miami, and it is just a slice of what’s to come.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation on Thursday announced $1.2 million in new support for Code Fever’s Blacktech Week and related programs that aim to expand opportunities for black entrepreneurs.

Based in Miami, Code Fever is a non-profit organization dedicated to connecting people of color to the startup and tech ecosystem in South Florida and is run by Felecia Hatcher and Derick Pearson. In 2015, with support from Knight Foundation, Code Fever launched Blacktech Week, a six-day conference that was also held last year.

New support from Knight, awarded over three years, will go toward expanding Blacktech Week programming year-round to include Blacktech Weekend and continued monthly office hours and meetups. Code Fever will also introduce VC in Residence, a new program that will invite venture capitalists to spend a month in Miami advising and guiding minority entrepreneurs.

Hatcher said these events will continue to bring together participants eager to connect, learn and explore ideas around how to grow black entrepreneurship and make sure people of color are represented in the tech industry. “The talent and the demand are there. With our new, expanded programming, we’ll be able to provide greater year-round access to networking, mentorship and funding,” she said.  

Matt Haggman, Knight’s Miami program director, believes the funding will help Code Fever expand and deepen the impact of Blacktech Week. In addition to the signature event, a regular calendar of events will ensure an ongoing presence throughout the year while helping to create “an inclusive and equitable entrepreneurial ecosystem in Miami,” he said. The lack of diversity in the Silicon Valley tech industry is a well-documented problem with little progress made.

“We are still in the early days of building a Miami innovation ecosystem, and we want to be very intentional that this ecosystem includes the whole community. We see Black Tech Week as a key part of this effort,” said Haggman, who has spearheaded Knight’s involvement in Miami ecosystem-building. “The more the whole community is involved, the more success we will have.”

The first Blacktech Weekend — a condensed version of Blacktech Week — will take place Feb. 23-25, with a focus on business development and raising capital. Speakers include the CEO of Y-Combinator Michael Siebel, Richard Kirby of Venrock Capital and Marlon Nichols of Cross Culture Ventures, and panels and presentations will be on topics ranging from pitching investors and asset framing to storytelling and building hubs for inclusive innovation.

This year, Blacktech Week will be Sept. 25-30. The event will feature speakers from around the globe, panels, an interactive tech career fair, workshops, networking opportunities, pitch competitions, and a new government-tech track. Code Fever will also expand its monthly Blacktech meetups and office hours to better connect Miami’s black entrepreneurs with advisors, mentors and investors throughout the year.

Past speakers and panelists at Blacktech Week have included NFL Champion and AsktheDoctor.com founder Israel Idonije and Magic Leap CEO Rony Abowitz (pictured below), Maker’s Row Founder Matthew Burnett, DreamIt Ventures Managing Director William Crowder, Priceline.com co-founder Jeff Hoffman and former Twitter Engineering Manager Lesley Miley (pictured above), among many others.

Additional details about Blacktech Weekend and Blacktech Week can be found at blacktechweek.com.

Over the past three years Knight has made more than 200 investments in entrepreneurship in South Florida.

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

 

READ MORE

Blacktech Week: Innovating, scaling, giving back

Why I quit Twitter (and turned down a seven-figure severance package)

Black Tech Week spotlights pioneers, rising stars

Numbers don’t lie: Silicon Valley still has a big diversity problem

 

Rony

February 08, 2017

Wyncode coding school raises $1 million to fund growth

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Juha and Johanna Mikkola, founders of coding education company Wyncode, announce that the startup has received $1 million in funding. The announcement was made during the opening party for Wynbase, their new Wyncode campus.Photo by Nancy Dahlberg.

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

As the Wyncode Academy team celebrated the opening of their new coding school campus Wednesday night with the Miami technology community, the founders announced they have raised $1 million from a leading Swedish consulting and education group to fund their growth. 

Wyncode, which offers in-person coding bootcamps teaching computer programming in 10 weeks, will receive the funding from Academic Work X Group, a sister company of Academic Work. Academic Work is one of the largest education, consulting and placement companies in Sweden with operations in six European countries.  This investment is the company’s first step into the the U.S. market.

Wyncode was co-founded by the husband-wife team of Juha and Johanna Mikkola in 2014; in 2015 they were selected as Endeavor Entrepreneurs, giving them a global network of mentorship and support. Last month Wyncode opened Wynbase, its new 3,100-square-foot dedicated code school campus in Wynwood. It has two classrooms, an open space for students to work in and conference rooms. “It definitely feels like we are growing up but it also feels like we are putting down stronger and stronger roots here,” Wyncode co-founder Johanna Mikkola told the crowd. “We’re all working together to build something great.”

Juha Mikkola said Wyncode has graduated 400 people, called Wyncoders, who gained the skills needed to get entry level coding jobs in tech. About 190 companies have hired Wyncoders with 49 companies hiring at least two, he said. CareCloud, Kipu Systems and Watsco have each hired six to eight graduates.

Although its bootcamps will always be at the core of what Wyncode does, Wyncode will also form a training and consulting arm of the business that will place more experienced coders into companies. “A comment we hear from Miami companies is they face an ongoing challenge finding vetted talent,” Johanna Mikkola said. “We are going to be working with companies to provide specific talent and specific training for needs at all levels of tech positions. That’s going to be a whole new phase and wave and we are here to provide that to this community.”

That’s where Academic Work’s expertise will come in, as that company is focused on connecting talented individuals with opportunities in the work force. “We fell in love with the entrepreneurs and we have a very similar model in Europe, so we know this business works and what potential it has,” Academic Work CEO Johan Skarborg told the crowd.

Wyncode’s next full-time coding bootcamp begins on Feb. 13 and $10,000 in scholarships are still available, the company said. Wyncode also launched its first part-time course on Feb. 6 and is accepting applications for its next cohort. Wyncode’s Wyntroduction, a one-day coding bootcamp, takes place Feb. 25 at the Lightbox in Wynwood.

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

READ MORE: Wyncode outgrows The LAB, will open its own campus Jan. 8

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The Mikkolas with their team, above, and the crowd, shown below, at the opening of Wynbase, Wyncode's new campus. Photos by Nancy Dahlberg

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Court Buddy racks up 500 Startups investment, enters accelerator

Courtbuddy
By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Court Buddy, a legal-tech startup founded in Miami, received seed funding from global venture capital fund 500 Startups and was selected for its Silicon Valley accelerator.

Court Buddy will be using the $150,000 investment from 500 Startups to hire key personnel and to ramp up sales and marketing efforts, said CEO and co-founder James Jones Jr., who is also an attorney. Court Buddy will also be receiving mentorship and support from 500 Startups, and is participating in one of 500 Startups’ current accelerator cohorts.

Founded in 2015, Court Buddy is a national legal technology platform that allows consumers and small businesses to choose the a-la-carte legal services at flat rates and then instantly matching them to top, pre-screened solo and small law firm attorneys nationally. Once matched, consumers and small businesses can instant message, video chat, and make secured payments to attorneys for the legal services that they need.

In two years, courtbuddy.com has matched about 10,000 consumers and small businesses with attorneys across the country, helping clients avoid paying high retainers and hourly fees that traditional law firms charge while also helping thousands of solo attorneys and small firms grow their practices.

“Our goals are to grow the company and to continue to provide maximum value to our customers. This partnership with 500 Startups allows us to tap into a global network to accomplish these goals,” said Court Buddy president and co-founder Kristina Jones.

Court Buddy was named the winner of the American Bar Association’s Brown Select Award for Legal Access in January, a winner of the inaugural American Entrepreneurship Award in 2016, and was named the 2015 Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge People’s Pick Winner.

Headquartered in Silicon Valley, 500 Startups has invested in 1,400 technology companies worldwide since 2010. It has $200 million in assets under management.

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

February 02, 2017

Miami-based Taxfyle raises $2 million in seed financing, launches version 2.0 of tax-filing app

TAXFYLE0400 PHONES CTJ

By Nancy Dahlberg/ ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Last month, Miami-based Taxfyle launched a more robust version of its app that makes it easier for consumers, freelancers and small businesses to file taxes. On Thursday, the technology startup announced it has raised seed financing to fund its growth through this tax season and beyond, including with the millions of consumers and businesses who have complex returns.

Taxfyle, a secure on-demand tax and accounting service, has closed a $2 million seed financing round from new investors Jeff Ransdell Group and Jonas Tempel of Beatport as well as existing investors.

“Taxfyle is solving a problem that directly impacts every person and small business here in the U.S. as well as expatriates abroad,” said Jeff Ransdell, investor and managing director of Rokk3r Fuel, a Miami-based venture capital firm, in a news release. “With a team led by smart executives from the world’s top financial institutions, the company’s model has already made a massive impact on how tax returns are being filed and will continue to impact the future of accounting.”

Taxfyle was co-founded by Richard Lavina, Michael Mouriz and Will Sahatdijan in August 2015. Today it is the top-ranked tax app in the App Store. It has grown its network to more than 700 Certified Public Accountants and Enrolled Agents. Taxfyle gives CPAs and EAs the opportunity to participate in the “gig economy” by building their own businesses or earning extra money by taking on accounting gigs on their own time.

How TaxFyle works: Clients can submit jobs, are matched with licensed tax professionals, and then can chat, exchange documents and sign for their tax return, all on their mobile device or web browser.

“We started Taxfyle because we saw an entire segment of the population that needed expert tax services, but didn’t have the resources or time to hire a top-notch CPA or accounting firm,” said Lavina, Taxfyle’s CEO, adding that Taxfyle’s certified tax professionals have on average 14 years of experience and charge about 40 percent less than conventional tax services.

The first version of the app was largely a consumer version. Version 2.0 of the app launched last month “provides more agility and mobility to users,” said Lavina, who is a CPA. It includes a full-service web platform and extensive mobile capabilities including Apple Pay, Touch ID integrated with top financial institutions, including Fidelity, Bank of America, E*Trade, TD Bank, Charles Schwab, Chase, Merrill Lynch and others. The free app is available for Apple, Android and web users.

“We’ve handled everyone from recent college grads to multi-millionaires, to small business owners and freelancers. We find our product solves the most problems for those people who need a slightly more complex tax solution because of the quality of tax expert you have at the other end and the efficiency gained via this communications channel Taxfyle provides,” Lavina said, in a phone interview with the Miami Herald. As for costs, he said many freelancers can have their taxes done through TaxFyle for under $100, while a small business may pay $300 for business and personal taxes through Taxfyle.

This new round of funding will help Taxfyle expand its platform, said Mouriz, COO. Its full-time team is 10 people and growing, and it is currently interviewing for another developer, Mouriz said. Taxfyle has moved its office to Coconut Grove. .

In January, Taxfyle partnered with TaxAct, a technology-enabled financial-solutions product for consumers, small businesses and tax professionals. Through the partnership, Taxfyle is able to service consumers with more complex returns. The company has also signed marketing agreements with Postmates and Albert in its efforts to bring simple, on-demand expert accounting services to people who provide sharing economy services like hosting, car sharing, home/office delivery and other freelance services.

“In the case of Postmates, for example, their entire fleet has about 40,000 couriers, and they are all 1099 contractors,” Lavina said. “This is the year of the 1099er. [The U.S. has] more 1099ers than ever before. We want to alleviate the burden and take this off their workforce’s shoulders.”

READ MORE: Need help saving money, filing taxes or managing affairs? Miami fintech startups can help

January 27, 2017

Biscayne Neurotherapeutics raises $3 million for developing anti-epileptic drugs

Miami-based Biscayne Pharmaceuticals has raised financing for its new spin-out, Biscayne Neurotherapeutics, which was recently established to develop BIS-001, a novel anti-epileptic drug slated to enter a Phase 1b clinical trial later this year.

BIS-001 is a synthetic form of huperzine A, an extract with a long history of safe use in central nervous system indications in traditional Chinese medicine, the company said. BIS-001 demonstrated exceptional efficacy in animal models of severe epilepsy and appeared safe and well tolerated in a Phase 1a trial.

The $3 million Series B financing round was led by Quark Venture and Chinese investment firm GF Securities, along with Mesa Verde Venture Partners. Existing Biscayne Pharmaceuticals investors and new private investors also participated in the financing round. As part of the financing agreement, the Global Health Sciences Fund will appoint one director and one observer to the Biscayne Neurotherapeutics Board of Directors, and Mesa Verde Venture Partners will also name a director.

Biscayne Neurotherapeutics is a clinical-stage biotechnology company developing drugs for serious central nervous system disorders such as refractory epilepsy. Biscayne’s technology is licensed from Harvard University, Yale University and the University of South Florida. 

 Epilepsy affects about 3 million people in the U.S. and over 50 million people worldwide. 

January 13, 2017

More fund-raising news: Aeropost, Kitchen22 close financing deals

It’s venture capital week in South Florida.

In addition to previously reported rounds raised by cross-border e-commerce startup iguama of Miami, human resources software startup Candidate.Guru of Boca Raton, Miami tech startup Tesser Health and ed-tech startup ClassWallet of Miami (scroll down to read about them), two more companies received funding, according to CB Insights’ daily report.

Aeropost International Services, a Miami-based company in the mail and package forwarding business, closed a $4 million financing round from North Bridge Venture Partners. Its Miami hub in conjunction with partners throughout Latin America and the Caribbean allows the company to provide end-to-end service for the members of its network to receive their packages, internet purchases, mail and logistics services, CB Insights’ report said.

Food business Kitchen22, founded by foodies and also of Miami, raised $800,000 from undisclosed investors. Kitchen22 wants to revitalize the consumer's experience by creating premium and innovative food products, while staying true to pure and simple ingredients.

READ MORE: U.S. venture capital dipped in 2017 but took a Magic Leap in Florida

Who's been funded? Find an archive of South Florida venture capital-related stories under the Funding category of Starting Gate.

January 12, 2017

Miami e-commerce startup iguama scores $5 million in funding

IguamaBy Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiheraldcom

Miami startup iguama plans to open up its online shopping mall for U.S. brands to more consumers across Latin America, with the help of a $5 million Series A financing round led by technology venture capital firms Kibo Ventures and PeopleFund.

The company provides consumers in Latin America access to U.S. retail brands typically not available in local malls. Founded in 2014, iguama is the first cross-border e-commerce shopping club where members receive competitive pricing and exclusive deals, promotions on purchases from merchants such as Nordstrom, BCBG, Target, Overstock, Juicy Couture and others. All local customs, taxes and shipping are handled by iguama, removing international barriers from customers and providing a seamless shopping experience.

“iguama’s cross-border e-commerce technology provides tremendous value to millions of Latin American shoppers looking to access the best U.S. merchants and get delivery of their purchases to their door,” said Aquilino Peña, co-founder and managing partner of Kibo Ventures, a venture capital firm in Spain that has made nearly 40 investments.

DiegofernandezWith the new funding, iguama plans to expand throughout Latin America – and beyond, said Diego Fernandez (pictured here0, co-founder and CEO of iguama, who had been owned a freight forwarding franchise before founding iguama. The company currently services Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Panama, with several more countries including Mexico on the runway. iguama’s 35 employees are split between Guatemala, New York, China and Miami, where its logistics partners are based. Next week, iguama will be releasing a new version of its mobile site with a shopping assistant.

“A lot of Latinos like to go to Miami to buy their clothes. But [through iguama], people who don’t have access to travel can have access to the U.S. products, in a convenient way,” said Fernandez, a native of Guatemala. “Our goal is to personalize the shopping experience so customers will have the brands that they like. We are committed to expand our cross-border e-commerce platform to the rest of Latin America and eventually Europe as well.”

Cross-border e-commerce in Latin America is still an underserved market, and iguama has assembled a unique and experienced team in technology, e-commerce and cross-border logistics to become an important player, said Matias de Tezanos, co-founder and CEO of the Miami-based PeopleFund, an early backer of iguama.

iguama recently announced that Weihua Yan, co-founder and former CTO of diapers.com, has joined the company as Chief Technology Officer. Last year, Michael DeSimone, former CEO of cross-border logistics company Borderfree, joined the board of directors.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

January 11, 2017

Candidate.Guru of Boca attracts $950K from Florida angels to support its growth

Candidate.Guru, a Boca Raton-based human resources software startup, has raised $950,000 in funding from Florida angel organizations to support its growth.

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

The company, winner of the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge in 2016, uses its proprietary technology platform to predicts whether a job candidate is a culture fit for an employer. Florida Funders, The FAN FundMiami Innovation Fund and individual angels participated in the fund-raising round.

“We are impressed by technology-focused companies that provide unique solutions to current problems,” said Marc Blumenthal, CEO of the Tampa-based Florida Funders, which features an online investing platform. “Candidate.Guru is a great example of this, and we’re excited to be a part of the company’s growth in Florida and beyond.”

The funds will allow the company to focus on its sales and demand pipeline, and address sales requests in a timely manner. The funding also will help integrate Candidate.Guru with programs that companies already use during the hiring process.

CEO Chris Daniels (pictured above, at left, with co-founder Steve Carter), a former executive recruiter, founded Candidate.Guru in 2014 with the goal to create an easy-to-use hiring solution, enable greater productivity for HR professionals and reduce time spent in the hiring process. The revenue-generating company, now with seven employees, previously raised $475,000 in angel funding.

In addition to winning the Business Plan Challenge last May, Candidate.Guru won first place and $100,000 in funding in the Florida Venture Forum Early Stage Capital Conference's startup business competition. Candidate.Guru was selected in 2015 for Florida Atlantic University's Tech Runway startup accelerator program in Boca Raton.

READ MORE: Candidate.Guru’s big-data solution solves HR quandary: Will the new hire fit in?