March 03, 2015

Medina Capital leads $35 million round in New York company Booker

Medina Capital, the Miami private equity firm that invests in high-growth companies, led a $35 million Series C investment round in Booker, a full-service digital platform for service commerce, the companies announced Tuesday. The round of funding also includes a strategic investment by First Data and investment firms Jump Capital and Signal Peak Ventures, as well as early investors including Bain Capital Ventures, Revolution Ventures, TDF Ventures and Grotech Ventures.

"We firmly believe that the migration of offline service businesses to online service commerce platforms represents a huge market opportunity," said Adam Smith, partner at Medina Capital, who will join Booker’s board. "Booker is leading the way with an easy-to-use software-as-a-service solution that replaces legacy or offline systems."

Booker, based in New York, plans to use this funding to enhance its product offering to further drive revenue for its merchants and expand to more businesses.

Medina Capital, founded by tech entrepreneur and investor Manny Medina, invests in IT infrastructure companies in areas such as cloud computing, cybersecurity, big data, software-defined security and software-defined networking. Investments have included Hollywood-based cybersecurity firm Prolexic, which sold last year to Akamai, and Miami-based cybersecurity company Easy Solutions. Investments have included Hollywood-based cybersecurity firm Prolexic, which sold last year to Akamai, and Miami-based cybersecurity company Easy Solutions.


February 26, 2015

Women's specialty shoewear startup receives seed funding

Sensational Soles,  a Boca Raton startup online retailer of specialty women’s footwear,  closed on an early-stage financing round of  debt and equity totaling $635,000. The funding will be used to increase inventory and designs and enter new markets.

Sensational Soles was founded last June to meet the needs and growing demand for affordable, quality, women’s footwear in sizes 11 – 14, incorporating styles and construction methods designed to minimize the appearance of a larger foot while providing extraordinary support and comfort, said Sensational Soles CEO Lisa Taylor in a news release. The company has developed and created a proprietary line of custom footwear after spending the past year developing its designs and supply chain.  The company recently began offering its collection via its retail website at

Michael Stango, Regional Marketing Director with Lincoln Financial Group, will join the company’s Board of Managers, and Brian Wornow, formerly a Managing Director at Morgan Stanley, will become an advisor to the company in conjunction with this financing. “With this new round of funding, Sensational Soles will be able to accelerate its rapid growth and have the capital needed to meet the company’s projected demand,” said Stango.


February 25, 2015

Miami life science startup attracts $5.5 million in funding for oral cancer system


Matthew H.J. Kim, who founded Vigilant Biosciences, and serves as the company’s chairman and CEO, is shown with Dr. Elizabeth Franzmann, who is looking at a OncAlert point-of-care test prototype. Vigilant is working on an early detection system for risk of oral cancer. PATRICK FARRELL MIAMI HERALD STAFF

By Nancy Dahlberg /

Matthew H.J. Kim, a patent attorney by training, was heart-broken seeing the the suffering and aggressive treatment his mother went through with oral cancer. He also saw first-hand the results of what he calls an inadequate standard of care resulting in most cancers of the mouth not being detected until stage three or four. A mortality rate as high as 50 percent could be cut way back with early detection, he believed.

“I felt helpless and wanted to do more. ... You are fighting great odds by the time you get to that stage,” said Kim, explaining his mother had to lose a portion of her jawbone as part of her treatment.

More than four years ago, Kim began researching technologies in development and found one at the University of Miami. After more research and talking to the scientists there, he began negotiating the license. “In homage to my mother, I executed the license on Mother’s Day of 2011,” he said, and Miami-based Vigilant Biosciences was born.

Since then Vigilant’s products — a point-of-care oral rinse test and a more quantitative lab test that can aid in early detection of risk for oral cancer — have been in development and have passed one of the key regulatory hurdles toward commercialization in Europe. On Tuesday, the company announced it has completed its Series B round of funding, which will pay for commercialization in Europe and the start of the regulatory process in the U.S. this year.

The company’s $5.5 million investment round brings the total amount raised to date to $7.8 million. The financing includes investments by White Owl Capital Partners, venVelo, the Florida Institute for the Commercialization of Public Research and several existing investors, as well as a group of private and angel investors committed to the life sciences.

Specifically, Vigilant will use the funds to drive toward CE Mark approval in Europe and U.S. regulatory approval for its OncAlert Oral Cancer Risk Assessment System. The funds raised will support the international product launch and commercialization of the OncAlert System as well as other products in Vigilant’s pipeline.

“As hundreds of thousands continue to be diagnosed with oral cancer every year, we are committed to providing an accurate, effective and affordable way to aid in the early detection of risk for the disease. This funding will enable us to address this critical market need that has gone unmet for far too long,” said Kim, who founded two other companies and developed a number of medical screening and monitoring systems.

Vigilant’s OncAlert Oral Cancer Risk Assessment System is based on patented technology that detects specific protein markers known to indicate an elevated risk for oral cancer, even prior to the observation of visual or physical symptoms. The simple, oral rinse procedure is easy to administer during a dental checkup and non-invasive for the patient, the company said. Both the rapid point-of-care test and the more extensive lab assay that comprise the OncAlert Oral Cancer Risk Assessment System could be on the market in Europe by mid-year. 

“Together, it will be a very effective early detection system for the risk of oral cancer. Our test is a very simple and elegant solution that can be easily integrated into the standard of care,” said Kim. While his mother is now five years cancer free, others aren’t so lucky. “We are now focused on oral cancer but we believe the technology has promise for other cancers,” said Kim.

According to the World Health Organization, there are more than 600,000 new cases of head and neck cancer and 300,000 deaths each year worldwide. Currently, the vast majority of patients are detected through a visual exam and/or are symptomatic, at which point they are likely late stage. As a result, oral cancer often goes undetected to the point of metastasizing. Early diagnosis of oral cancer results in a cure rate of up to 90 percent, the company said.

Dr. Elizabeth Franzmann, an associate professor of otolaryngology at the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, is scientific founder and chief scientific officer of Vigilant. Her clinical research on selective salivary biomarkers for head and neck squamous cell carcinoma serves as the foundation for the company’s initial product. The company last week added a vice president of global sales and marketing to the team.

Vigilant, now a team of 10, received support and mentorship from the U Innovation team, led by Norma Kenyon, chief innovation officer at the UM Miller School of Medicine. U Innovation also connected Vigilant with the Florida Institute for the Commercialization of Public Research, which provided the company’s initial seed funding of $300,000 that served as a catalyst to attract more seed capital.

The Institute invested another $200,000 in the Series B round, and like U Innovation, it helped with introductions and access to resources, Kim said.

“Matthew started the company to address the lack of good diagnostics for oral cancer, a disease that both of his parents suffered from,” said Jane Teague, chief operating officer of the Institute. “Vigilant exemplifies what programs like ours are all about, providing seed funding to early-stage companies to bridge the gap until they qualify for and can attract later-stage financing.”

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

Read more here:

February 17, 2015

Hialeah-based Entopsis raises $800K seed round led by Krillion Ventures



By Nancy Dahlberg /

Working out of a Starbucks in 2012, Obdulio Piloto saw an article about the Peter Thiel Foundation’s Breakout Labs seeking revolutionary ideas in technology to fund.

He and Ian Cheong, a friend he met while they were both obtaining their doctorates at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, thought they had one: a universal platform that would allow diagnosis for multiple diseases easily, cheaply and quickly. Many people in developing countries lack access to life-saving diagnostic tests because of their high cost and the countries’ lack of advanced medical infrastructure.

Piloto sent in that idea for a company called Entopsis.

About a month later, the Peter Thiel Foundation, set up by the founder of PayPal, called and said Breakout Labs believed the idea could be world changing and chose Entopsis for a $160,000 grant. Entopsis was one of only 16 startups around the country selected so far and the only one based in Florida.

“I said ‘you understand I work [out of] Starbucks. I don’t have a lab or a team,’ ” Piloto (pictured above) recalled telling Breakout Labs. “But they understood the science, the implications and where this could go. They said this is a grant to test out your crazy idea.”

Fast forward to today and Entopsis has a small team of PhD-level scientists working in a lab at the Hialeah Technology Center. The company has prototypes and it has begun testing its platform with partners in the areas of cancer and infectious diseases, said Piloto, Entopsis’s CEO,  who majored in microbiology at Cornell University, received his doctorate from Johns Hopkins, where he did his graduate thesis research on cancer immunotherapy, and did post-graduate work at Stanford.

To fund further development, Piloto closed an $800,000 seed round last week led by Miami-based Krillion Ventures. The round includes local investor group G3 Capital Partners, another Miami investor and a number of Hong Kong-based investors.

This is the third Miami-based investment for Krillion Ventures, launched last fall. The $50 million venture fund for early-stage tech companies has also funded Everypost and Videoo. Krillion also funded Cohealo, a health-tech startup that launched in South Florida but moved to Boston early last year.

“We are interested in investing in groundbreaking ways to reduce costs and increase efficiency for hospitals and healthcare professionals. Entopsis has the potential to do both. By employing nanoengineering to develop a universal diagnostic platform that can be used in a clinical setting, Entopsis can simultaneously evaluate small molecules, proteins and cells from any sample at a significantly lower cost and in less than an hour,” said Melissa Krinzman, co-founder of Krillion Ventures.

“It was a chance to participate at an early stage in a company with a technology that could really benefit all of us. If they’re right, we will have a good investment – but the company will have done something good for the health of people all over the world,” added Darius Nevin, partner with G3. “And Obdulio is the kind of leader you want to help succeed any way you can.”

Entopsis is developing an innovative molecular profiling platform that will allow easy and inexpensive diagnosis using NuTEC, a single device diagnosing many diseases rather than many individual tests in the hospital each diagnosing a single disease. This testing technology could be applied to almost any substance and across a range of industries such as food science, with food contamination and agriculture, with disease detection in livestock and for people to be tested for various diseases, Piloto believes.

“Breakout Labs looks for novel cutting-edge science with broad application. Entopsis is based on an entirely new way to analyze biomolecules that, if successful, could become the new paradigm for rapid molecular identification in contexts ranging from food safety to medicine,” said Lindy Fishburne, executive director of Breakout Labs, in an interview in November. In addition to the funding, Breakout Labs has provided valuable mentorship and connections, said Piloto. “It’s opened a lot of doors,” he said.

Entopsis, in the research and development phase, is working with local hospitals that are collecting samples for Entopsis to beta test on its platform. It’s also partnering with a global diagnostics leader it can’t name yet and is in the process of forging a partnership with FIU’s engineering school. It’s testing with urine samples now, but in the future it plans to add blood and saliva and could perhaps test breath for a number of diseases. “We are keeping our options open,” Piloto said

“This is also a true Miami story that we believe will be replicated in the months and years to come,” said Krinzman. “Obdulio grew up in Hialeah, left to attend the best medical schools in the country and then returned to Hialeah to launch his company. We are excited to support him and his remarkable team.”

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

Posted Feb. 17, 2015


February 04, 2015

Scout Ventures invests in Rokk3r Labs

IMG_0349 (1)
Bradley Harrison, founder and managing partner of Scout Ventures, a New York-based venture capital firm that focuses on early-stage investments, announced that the fund is investing in Rokk3r Labs, a platform for entrepreneurs to cobuild and launch companies. The announcement was made during a panel discussion at a Miami Finance Forum event called "Mapping Miami's Future" on Wednesday morning.

Through Rokk3r Labs, based in Miami Beach,  entrepreneurs partner with Rokk3r Labs strategists, creatives and engineers to cobuild and launch exponential companies. As a Venture Partner, Scout Ventures will serve as a strategic adviser to Rokk3r Labs focused on strategic business development, fundraising and product innovation across the Rokk3r Labs portfolio, the companies said. "Good ideas can come from everywhere... that is where we are building our niche," said Nabyl Charania, CEO of Rokk3r Labs.

 The fast-growing Rokk3r Labs, launched in 2012, has 85 team members in three offices – Miami, Bogota and Toronto. It plans to open New York City and London offices this year. It’s 21 portfolio include startups such as AdMobilize, Boatyard, Fitting Room Social, LocalMaven, Voike and Public Reputation.

In September 2014, Scout Ventures opened a satellite office in Miami in order to tap into the city’s burgeoning startup ecosystem. Rokk3r Labs is Scout’s second South Florida investment, following the fund’s recent investment in LiveNinja, a Rokk3r Labs portfolio company that provides an enterprise level, web-based, real-time video chat solution for businesses.

 The size of the Rokk3r investment was not disclosed. Scout typically invests $50,000 to $500,000 in early-stage tech companies. Said  Harrison: “For us, we think the growth of tech talent and coders is really going to be the key to Miami's future. We are very excited to begin working directly with Nabyl, German and the entire Rokk3r community.”


February 03, 2015

YellowPepper closes on another $19 million in funding

Mobile payments company YellowPepper, focused on the Latin American market, said it closed $19 million in a Series C funding round.  According to TechCrunch, the round was led by LIV Capital, a Mexican venture capital firm, and included Mexico Ventures (a program managed by Sun Mountain Capital), Fondo de Fondos, International Finance Corporation/World Bank Group and an existing group of investors.

Yepex2YellowPepper's total funding to date is $34 million.

The Miami-based company recently launched Yepex, its mobile wallet solution, and the funding will fuel the product's commercialization. Banamex, the 2nd largest bank in Mexico, will launch a beta with users and merchants in Mexico, TechCrunch reported.

Yepex, an Android and iOS-based virtual mobile wallet that stores debit and credit cards, is aimed at making online payments faster easier and safer, it easily integrates with loyalty and rewards programs, and gives users access to promotions.

  Yepex1But it differentiates itself from similar services through tokenization, a unique code the platform emits for each transaction. This way no sensitive information is given out, and the token system does not require merchants or customers to have portals with NFC technology on their  devices to adopt mobile payments, making for much wider adoption, the company believes. Customers can still reap all the benefits and safety of mobile payments through the use of this service, and CEO and co-founder Serge Elkiner says the tokenization system also dramatically reduces fraud, a big problem in Latin America and elsewhere.

With an aim of revolutionizing payments in Latin America, YellowPepper says it currently enables over five million customers to execute over 30 million transactions per month. Founded in 2004 as a mobile banking company in Latin America, YellowPepper later identified a gap in mobile payment solutions.

The company has been growing rapidly, with  68 employees in the region, and 12 of them at YellowPepper's headquarters in Miami's Wynwood neighborhood. The company is looking to hire more iOS and Android developers in South Florida, Elkiner said.

Posted Feb. 3, 2015

January 30, 2015

VCs at Florida Venture Capital Conference: Industry outlook bright for 2015


By Nancy Dahlberg /

Consider this: Last quarter's single $1.2 billion venture round in San Francisco-based ride-sharing company Uber is larger than most venture funds and is bigger than some initial public offerings. And in 2014, Uber attracted two of those.

“It’s staggering money,” said John S. Taylor, head of research for the National Venture Capital Association, speaking at the Florida Venture Capital Conference in Hollywood on Friday. “But when you strip back some of the hype and look at what is going on in the rest of the country and even what’s going on in some of the concentration areas, it’s really for the most part business as usual. There are trends out there but also good opportunities in the marketplace.”

Venture capitalists from Ballast Point Ventures, Harbert Venture Partners, Fulcrum Equity Partners, Edison Ventures, River Cities Capital Funds and Stonehenge Growth Equity Partners – all firms that have funded Florida companies – joined Taylor in a panel discussion on the state of the industry (pictured above). The session capped off the 24th annual conference, presented by Florida Venture Forum, that attracted about 500 investors, entrepreneurs, lawyers and advisers to the  Diplomat Resort & Spa Thursday and Friday.

Beyond the mega-deals, the number of first-time financings and the total number of deals changed little between 2013 and 2014, Taylor said. What's changed? He said because of the proliferation of accelerators, incubators and other programs, companies are now often further along in their development, receiving bigger checks. And there is another reason for the bigger deals:  “We are seeing new sources of money: Mutual funds are coming in big, more hedge fund activity, a lot of private equity players that aren’t traditionally in venture rounds,” Taylor said.

In Florida, venture capital dollars doubled over 2013, thanks in large part to a $542 million mega-deal in Dania Beach-based Magic Leap, a secretive company developing augmented reality technology. Coming off such a phenomenal year, is the market overheated?

Consensus of the panel: frothy at the least. “Not every SaaS (software as a service) company is worth 10 times revenue. There are valuations out there that are outragous at times,” said Ed McCarthy, managing director of River Cities Capital Fund.

Still, all of the panelists were optimistic about opportunities in 2015. “All the trends are pointing in the right direction for the entrepreneur raising money,” said Lenard Marcus, partner in Edison Ventures. Marcus’s advice for the entrepreneurs in the audience hoping to entice a VC: Choose wisely. “It’s much easier to divorce your spouse than a VC.”

Fresh meal plan

In addition to keynote speakers and panel discussions, 23 early-stage or later-stage Florida-based companies, were selected to present at the conference; 12 were from South Florida. The CEOs, who gave six-minute presentations on stage and urged the suits in the crowd to visit their booths, represented companies including Fresh Meal Plan of Boca Raton (pictured above), ALTPay of Hollywood, ParkJockey of Miami, PowerPHASE of Jupiter, Senzari of Miami and Skypatrol of Doral.

Steve Calle, CEO of Snow Lizard of Miami, which offers products to optimize and outdoor-proof your devices, invited investors to his booth to give his products a try. Few were willing to drop their own smartphones in the tank, preferring to take his word that the Snow Lizard cases are waterproof.

 Follow me on Twitter @ndahlberg  


January 29, 2015

Florida Venture Capital Conference a chance to put spotlight on South Florida


By Nancy Dahlberg /

The 500 investors, advisors, attorneys and entrepreneurs gathered in Hollywood for the Florida Venture Capital Conference were treated to entrepreneurship Miami style.

And it doesn’t get much more Miami than the story of Zumba, co-founded by three Albertos from Colombia and now a worldwide sensation with 14 million people taking classes in 186 markets around the world. CEO Alberto Perlman shared the Zumba story  during the conference dinner Thursday at the  Diplomat Resort & Spa (pictured above).

Of course, the journey  wasn’t easy. For  Perlman, Zumba was actually his 18th or 19th company – by age 24. The team nearly ran out of money at one point, and Perlman acknowledged he made some poor hires early on. There were plenty of iterations as the company experimented with several business models.

Zumba was on the way to becoming an infomercial company, Perlman said, when the co-founders started getting calls from Zumba fans who wanted to become instructors. That’s when it hit them: Turn instructors into entrepreneurs. As they grow their own Zumba businesses, the instructor network would deliver the holy grail of business models: recurring revenue and scale, Perlman said. In each new market, master trainers are empowered to scale the business; that is how Zumba can be in 186 markets with just 200 employees.

 “The biggest lesson I have learned in life is to never lose the pulse of my customers,” said Perlman.

Now Zumba is a fitness, music, apparel and gaming company – and it is also a tech company, with about 30 developers. “We are all technology companies,” he told the crowd. "To compete, Florida needs to invest a lot more in technology education -- we need to lead.”

The conference attendees also heard from Dr. Maurice Ferre, co-founder of Mako Surgical, another South Florida success story. The surgical robotics company based in Davie was sold in 2013 to Stryker Corp. for $1.65 billion. (See earlier Q&A with Ferre here)

Just as Silicon Valley has the PayPal Mafia because so many  companies have spawned from that venture, there may be a Mako Mafia in the works.

For instance, Ferre  is involved in several startups doing cutting-edge healthcare technology and robotics.  Mako co-founder Rony Abovitz is developing Dania Beach-based Magic Leap, which attracted $542 million in financing from Google and other investors in November. And some former Mako employees and Mako funding went into OrthoSensor, a venture-backed Broward company that makes "smart" orthopedic devices.

"I'm really excited about the ecosystem down here in Florida, and especially South Florida," said Ferre,  who is also on the board of Endeavor Miami, which is helping to accelerate high-impact entrepreneurs. ‘We are seeing more people come up with novel innovations.” (Ferre pictured below with Knight Foundation's Matt Haggman)


As a way to spark more innovation, Andrew Rosen, chairman of Fort Lauderdale-based Kaplan, said at the conference Thursday that  the global education company “is committed” to opening an ed-tech accelerator in Fort Lauderdale. Jon Hage, CEO of Charter Schools USA, said his company is partnering with Kaplan on the endeavor, which would help promising tech startups with solutions for the education industry, including social entrepreneurial ones. The innovative and experimental nature of charter schools make them ideal laboratories for ed-tech startups to test their solutions, Hage said. “I think we can build something special together,” added Rosen. Stay tuned for more details.

In addition to keynote speakers and panel discussions, conference attendees heard presentations from some of the 23 selected early-stage or later-stage companies in Florida seeking venture funding -- 12 from South Florida. (See list of companies and descriptions here.)

On Thursday, companies giving  six-minute presentations included  EZDoctor of Fort Lauderdale, ParkJockey of Miami, PowerPHASE of Jupiter, Senzari of Miami and Skypatrol of Doral. In its pitch, Carlos Diaz of Pembroke Pines-based Entic, which describes itself as Nest for commercial buildings, included a testimonial from one of its many customers -- the Diplomat. Nice touch.


The annual conference, a signature event put on by the Florida Venture Forum, continues Friday with more company presentations.

Follow me on Twitter @ndahlberg

Posted Jan. 29, 2015

23 Florida early-stage and later-stage companies to present at Florida Venture Capital Conference

The Florida Venture Forum, a statewide support organization for venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, opened its 2015 Florida Venture Capital Conference on Thursday. More than 500 people are registered to attend the two-day conference at the Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood.

The following early-stage and later-stage Florida companies -- including 12 from South Florida -- have been selected to present at the conference:

ALTPAY – Hollywood connects merchants to inform and influence their customers, before and at the point of sale by offering savings based on loyalty to the merchant.

Banyan Biomarkers,  Alachua is a medical device/diagnostics company creating the first objective test to diagnose brain injury in less than 30 minutes by a simple blood test. 

BoxyCharm - Hialeah is an online beauty box subscription service that provides subscribers full-size beauty products and helps connect cosmetic brands with qualified, engaged customers.

Continue reading "23 Florida early-stage and later-stage companies to present at Florida Venture Capital Conference " »

January 28, 2015

New World Angels invests in Gainesville-based 3-D software company

New World Angels  announced Wednesday its sixth and final investment in 2014, a record year for the structured angel group founded in 2003.

NWA, based in Boca Raton, invested more than $3.5 million in the six companies last year.  NWA’s 6th investment of $507,500 was part of a $3.3 million round of seed funding in Paracosm, a cloud-based software company based in Gainesville with a mission to “3D-ify the world,” the angel group said. Other investors in the round included  Atlas Venture, iRobot, Osage University Partners, BOLDstart Ventures and Deep Fork Capital.

Paracosm’s advanced three-dimensional reconstruction technologies create digital models of physical spaces. When shared with machines, these models serve as blueprints which provide robots and applications a greater sense of awareness and understanding of the physical world. Such technologies are valuable for robotics, video game development, special effects, indoor navigation applications, and for the improvement of both virtual and augmented reality experiences, the company said.

  “Paracosm wants to take the digital world beyond screens and enable machines to understand the world as we do,” said Amir Rubin, founder and CEO of Paracosm, in a news release.

Other 2014 NWA investments included:

  • * Kairos, an innovator in providing facial recognition functionality and capabilities to large enterprises;
  • * OB Medical, a developer of a wireless, technologically superior fetal monitoring device which improves physician oversight and patient care during pregnancy and labor;
  • * Clarke Industrial Engineering, creator of the ShutterValve, the first significant innovation in industrial valves in over 50 years; 

as well as follow-on financing rounds in:

  • * Bioceptive, a revolutionary contraceptive device which focuses on enhancing IUD safety, comfort, and ease of use; and
  • * Aplicor, a cloud-based enterprise resource planning software provider for rapidly growing small & mid-sized businesses.

Noting NWA's record year for investments, Rhys L. Williams, the organization’s president and co-founder, said NWA now has more than 50 active members. NWA, which also has a chapter in the Tampa Bay area, typically makes investments ranging between $500,000 and $3 million. “In 2015, we look forward to continuing to support early-stage Florida companies in becoming the dominant leaders in their respective markets,” Williams said.

Posted Jan. 28, 2015