December 03, 2017

From Facebook to Miami, she’s investing in dreams, maybe even the next ‘iguanacorn’

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlbergbiz@gmail.com

When Laura González-Estéfani moved from Silicon Valley to Miami in 2015, the former Facebook executive said she was taken aback by the welcoming tech and entrepreneurship community.

“There must be something in the water in Miami that makes everyone so welcoming and so enthusiastic about the unknown. I found that willingness to take a risk,” she said in an interview this summer.

At eMerge Americas in June, González-Estéfani and business partner Clara Bullrich announced plans to start a venture-building company, called TheVentureCity, headquartered in Miami and Madrid, with an office in Silicon Valley, that would bring together a team from hyper-growth companies such as Facebook, Google and eBay. The venture builder would focus on accelerating high-potential tech startups with international growth aspirations. And that was just the beginning of a whirlwind six months for González-Estéfani and Bullrich.

Since then TheVentureCity team has begun offering free workshops and events for the community. The company has also partnered with Miami Dade College on an associate’s degree in entrepreneurship, and González-Estéfani and her team have assembled a group of instructors, including herself, who are CEOs or top executives of South Florida companies to teach the classes. The MDC program started this fall.

 “Those amazing young kids, their brains are so open,” said González-Estéfani, born in Spain and a mother of three. “What is your dream? That’s how I started my class. That was the first interview question I got at Facebook. When you can dream, things happen.”

And in September, TheVentureCity announced it has launched a $100 million venture capital fund, and kicked it off with 14 investments so far, including four investments in South Florida companies Boatsetter, RecargaPay, Above & Beyond and The FastMind.

Although her fund invests all over the world, González-Estéfani is a believer in Miami’s potential for tech. She even coined her own Miami term for so-called unicorns — companies valued at $1 billion or more. She calls them “Iguanacorns,” and Miami already has several.

To find the next iguanacorns, TheVentureCity is taking applications for its 36-month or 18-month accelerator-like program called The Garden Fellowships. Startups that can be in any place in the world must demonstrate at least a six-month track record and solid numbers on growth and engagement metrics. Using a data-driven approach, TheVentureCity builds on that foundation.

The Miami Herald interviewed González-Estéfani in her office in October about her time at Facebook and her new venture in Miami that includes a fund. These are excerpts of that conversation.

Q.  Why did you start TheVentureCity?

A. I worked for Facebook almost nine years, I’m 41, which is almost one-fourth of my life dedicated to that amazing company. I worked in Europe, Silicon Valley, Miami and Latin America. In 2000, I founded my own startup and we failed miserably. But I am surprised that after 20 years the problems in these emerging tech hubs are still the same.

A Silicon Valley startup founded by a Stanford guy is valued three times more than one founded by a Venezuelan guy based in Miami or a woman based in Spain. This is my passion — I want to fix that. I want to work with companies that are making a huge impact, not because of where the founders are.

A Silicon Valley startup founded by a Stanford guy is valued three times more than one founded by a Venezuelan guy based in Miami or a woman based in Spain. This is my passion — I want to fix that.

I believe the next billion-dollar companies won’t be coming from Silicon Valley only. There are so many huge problems to solve around the world. If you look at fin-tech, insure-tech, health-tech, feminine-tech, if you look at AR [augmented reality], those founders are so talented, so driven, but they don’t have the right people supporting them.

What moves our team is giving founders in those emerging tech hubs support to change the world in the best way they can. We have been busy executing.

Q. What do you look for in an investment?

A. We don’t invest in companies without at least a six-month track record with engagement and growth metrics. We need to understand the founders first, have chemistry with them, and then look at the product or their engineering, the core of what they are building.

If everything goes well, then we will look at the financial model and legal structure. Why? We are looking at the bones, what are the things we need to track to understand if the company is going somewhere. We are not looking at revenues from the very beginning, which is something that happens in Miami all the time [because] investors want to see early revenues. If I have a small company, I want everyone focused on growing the company. The Googles, Facebooks, eBays of the world, they didn’t start monetizing until the year three or five.

That’s the thinking. Even our term sheets are different. A lot of funds require a board seat. I don’t want that. I want the entrepreneur to feel at home and that they can call our team at any time. I don’t want to wait until the board meeting to hear what the problem is. It doesn’t make sense.

The transparency, the directness and information flow we request is very different, it is more like we are part of the same team. At the end of the day, the best deals are coming our way and our founders feel we can help them.

We need to bring more people here who want to support founders along the way. Not roadblocks; it’s already so difficult to be an entrepreneur.

Q. Tell me about The Garden Fellowships. How is it different from a startup accelerator?

A. Our program is not a fixed program; it is tailor-made for each of the startups. Our experience is giving to the talent.

We don’t require equity in advance; we invest as we go over 18 or 36 months. We have to keep earning it. If they want to leave at any point, they are free to leave at any point. We don’t want anyone to feel trapped. We are so sure of how much we can deliver, I am comfortably fine to demonstrate every day that we have earned it.

We are going to work with 25 companies. They can work wherever they want. Pushing the boundaries, that is what disruption is all about.

Every company should have a chief happiness officer. When I asked the kids at Miami Dade College what kind of company they want to work with, none of them said a corporation. They are mission-driven.

Q. What are some lessons you learned at Facebook and earlier?

A. Don’t pay attention to the noise, don’t pay attention to the drama, you can make it happen.

Figure out where you want to go and then deconstruct and move backward.

My first startup [a beach tourism portal in 2000] was a disaster. We didn’t plan in advance, of course 2000 the bubble burst, it was bad timing and we didn’t know what we were doing. I’m an angel investor who is on boards and my husband is building a company, and I’ve learned you have to think five years out and build backwards.

Five years in tech is a long time. I didn’t have that five-year vision when I was 20 years old. I needed to have an action plan with steps on how to get there. Now we are trying to embed that into everyone.

If you are a natural leader, people will follow you.

Have a suite of values that every member of the team speaks to. You need to do what you preach. Invest in the culture of the company, transparency, diversity, being fair to the founders, thinking of the founders first. Our list of mentors is pretty amazing and you need to connect them with the community. If you say you are going to do this, you have to do this. That’s something I learned at Facebook.

Every company should have a chief happiness officer. (At TheVentureCity that’s Miami campus director Elisa Rodríguez-Vila). When I asked the kids at Miami Dade College what kind of company they want to work with, none of them said a corporation. They are mission-driven. Millennials and those coming after are expecting to work with a purpose, not just for the money. Every company needs to invest in happiness officers guaranteeing that there will be an amazing culture.

I never hire people who want to work just because of the money. I’ve never done that. But we do pay people right. That is something Miami needs to understand — if you really want to attract the best talent, you should pay them in a fair way. You can’t expect them to work for $50,000, excuse me?

Q. How else can Miami’s entrepreneurial ecosystem be improved?

A. The showstoppers are there is a lot of money and a lot of awesome tech. Explore different ways to make an impact. We have to create those role models, the Jacqui’s [Baumgarten, CEO of Boatsetter] of the world, the guys from The FastMind, the founder of CareCloud, these are role models for the community. They need to mingle more and be more proactive. On the other side, to the founders, you can’t wait for things to happen for you. You need to put skin in the game. I’ve had founders who’ve wanted investment and they aren’t even working on their venture full time. I’m putting everything I have into this and I expect the same from you.

We need investors that really understand tech. We need traditional venture capitalists to understand that in tech it doesn’t work the same way, you can’t expect returns in a year. We need the talent to stay here because they are getting the right salary. You can’t be strangled by regulation, hello government.

We still have a long way with the government. I am not talking about handouts, I am talking about making it easier for them to thrive. Tech drives tons of high wage jobs.

Everyone contributes to what happens here.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.


Laura González-Estéfani

Position: Co-founder of TheVentureCity, a venture builder headquartered in Miami and Madrid.

Experience: González-Estéfani spent nearly nine years with Facebook in various roles supporting overall growth strategies, including as director of international business development and mobile partnerships for Latin America, spearheading the Internet.org and connectivity initiatives from Silicon Valley and later Miami. Before Facebook, she held management roles at eBay, Siemens and Ogilvy Group and co-founded Esplaya.com, the first international beach tourism digital platform.

Education: Universidad Europea de Madrid and Vlerick Business School in Belgium.

Personal: 41 years old, born in Spain, “citizen of the world.” Married, mother of three, lives in Miami.

Community involvement: Mentor for Endeavor Miami and Stanford Latina Entrepreneurship Program; coach for Babson College.

November 08, 2017

Powerful, a fast-growing Miami food & beverage startup, attracts $4 million in funding

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

CarlosPowerful, a Miami-based food and beverage startup offering all-natural, high-protein products for active lifestyles, has been on a growth tear the past year, doubling the number of U.S. stores the product is sold in. Now the company has raised $4 million in funding as it expands into additional product categories.

The Series B funding was led by River Hollow Partners, a lower mid-market private equity firm focused on consumer and retail brands in the natural products space. The company has also secured ABL financing through a partnership with Gerber Finance, a leading asset-based lending financial company with headquarters in New York City.

Carlos Ramirez launched Powerful (then called Powerful Yogurt) in March 2013 after years as a marketing and strategy consultant for global companies. He helped launch or expand other food products around the world, including Greek yogurt, and wondered why no one was branding the product for athletes. Although it has since expanded its focus, Powerful was the first company to market dairy products to the needs of active men, said Ramirez, a Venezuelan native who received his MBA from the University of California Berkeley.

 “The idea of a dairy product designed with active men in mind was a very controversial concept to many. It completely disrupted the dairy category and put us in the spotlight, but most importantly, it proved very successful,” said Ramirez.

 But women were big buyers too, more than half of sales, and now Powerful is a multi-category active lifestyles brand for both genders. Its  products are in 10,000 U.S. stores -- up from 5,000 less than a year ago -- and they include Walmart, Target, Kroger, Stop n’ Shop and Shoprite, as well as Amazon and the company’s website. On its own website, powerful.co, Powerful offers a subscription where customers can create a custom recurring product bundle at a discounted price.

Powerful Yogurt, Powerful Drinks and Powerful Oatmeal are part of the lineup now, all of which are high in protein and made with natural ingredients, and there's more to come, including new product lines and international expansion, Ramirez said.  “The capital provided gives us the additional resources we will use to reach our ambitious goals as we continue to expand the product offerings and increase our footprint in the U.S. and beyond.”

In early 2018, Powerful plans to add a smoothie to its lineup, in a convenient on-the-go pouch format. Each all-natural smoothie will serve up 22 grams of protein in flavors like banana, mixed berry and vanilla.  

River Hollow is Powerful’s first institutional investment partner. The new funding will further support product development, manufacturing, and sales and marketing.

“We partnered with Powerful because it is uniquely poised for success,” said Charlie Baynes-Reid of River Hollow Partners, noting Powerful's seasoned management team and clear brand vision and mission. “You typically see new companies come in and try to create their own niche specialty, but what Powerful has done really makes a significant impact through disruption in an already successful category, and that is something l saw as very compelling as a private equity partner.”

Last December, Powerful's Ramirez was the fifth Miami food and beverage entrepreneur selected to join the global network of Endeavor, a nonprofit that selects, mentors and accelerates high-impact entrepreneurs. In an Endeavor Miami study in 2015, Endeavor found that food and beverage is one of five areas that could sizzle for entrepreneurial activity in South Florida because the ingredients are already here: a foodie culture, expertise, a talent base and educational opportunities, as well as a strong healthy and green trend to ride upon.

READ MORE ABOUT POWERFUL HERE.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

 

Powerful

November 07, 2017

Real estate software startup Gridics raises $1.6 million

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Gridics, a Miami-based real estate software startup, announced it has raised $1.6 million in additional seed capital.  

The round was led by BH3, a real estate developer with projects in South Florida and New York City, and includes existing investor Dune Road Capital. It builds on the $1.1 million Gridics raised in April and brings its total funding to  $3.74 million.

The company will use this investment to accelerate development and sales of the Zonar.City platform to cities and real estate developers.

Gridics, short for grid analytics, was founded in 2015 to change the way cities and real estate developers interact with zoning codes.  By bringing 2D text to a visualized 3D interface, the company is streamlining an antiquated process. Miami developer Avra Jain is also an investor in the company. 

 From applications on its platform, users can visualize real estate data in order to make smarter investment and development decisions while streamlining inefficient processes in the real estate world, the company said. For example, the Zonar.City application, launched earlier this year, helps bridge the gap between the private sector development community of architects, developers and attorneys by automating development feasibility analysis and streamlining the development plan approval process.

 CEO Jason Doyle said Gridics is seeing strong early adoption of the application by city and county planning, zoning and economic development departments as well as developers, architects, commercial brokers and land use attorneys in the private sector.

 “In the coming months, we will be opening all five boroughs of New York City on the platform and expect to add several direct city contracts," Doyle said.

In April, Gridics announced a contract with the City of Miami to use Zonar to streamline the analysis and processing of development plan reviews.  

 "Using Zonar, we are able to identify new development opportunities, quickly run custom scenario analyses and view applicable variances and waivers.  That analysis used to take us days to complete and cost thousands of dollars but can now be handled in a few minutes with Zonar, " said BH3 Principal Daniel Lebensohn, in a news release.

 

November 01, 2017

Miami’s TheVentureCity launches $100M global fund for tech startups

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Clara Bullrich, left, and Laura González-Estéfani at their TheVentureCity office in Miami Beach. TheVentureCity is now launching a $100 million fund for startups. Alexia Fodere for The Miami Herald

 

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@Miamiherald.com

This summer, when former executives of Facebook, Google, eBay and other hyper-growth companies formed a global “city” based in Miami with everything a tech startup needs to scale internationally, they were missing one key element: the money.

But not anymore.

The founder and CEO of TheVentureCity, Laura González-Estéfani, former director of international business development and mobile partnerships for Facebook, and co-founder Clara Bullrich, a 20-year private banking and asset management veteran, have launched a $100 million fund for tech entrepreneurs. This will be a tool in its unique TheVentureCity, which offers a tailored fellowship program and consultancy for tech startups with global hypergrowth potential.

TheVentureCity Fund I has already has already put $20 million to work, investing in about 14 companies globally – four of them based in the Miami area.

The new fund has invested in Boatsetter, a boat-rental platform; gaming venture The FastMind; and financial-technology startups Above & Beyond and RecargaPay, all from South Florida. It has also funded three Silicon Valley companies; the remainder are from Latin America and Europe. One has roots in Angola. Another five companies are in the pipeline. TheVentureCity typically invests more than $1 million.

“We want to accelerate emerging tech hubs around the world with amazing entrepreneurs who want to make their dreams come true. The way to do that is to guarantee that the right, smart money is there,” said González-Estéfani, in an interview last week. “There’s a lot of money in Miami but many of the LPs [limited partners] don’t understand tech.”

TheVentureCity Fund I joins several new funds launched in South Florida in the past couple of years for early-stage investments, including Krillion VenturesRokk3r Fuel ExOLas Olas Venture Capital and AGP Miami, an active angel investing network. But the number of South Florida startups has risen 63 percent in the past two years, and the lack of local venture capital options has long been an issue in the area.

Some of South Florida’s most successful startups have gone elsewhere, including Silicon Valley, for their funding. Some don’t come back.

González-Estéfani said the fund is looking for companies that can show at least six months of strong growth and customer engagement. “We are not looking at revenues from the very beginning, which is something that happens in Miami all the time – investors want to see early revenues,” said González-Estéfani, a native of Spain who worked in Silicon Valley, Europe, Latin America and Miami at Facebook for nine years, and before that was with eBay, Siemans and Ogilvy.

“But if I have a small company, I want everyone focused on growing the company. The Googles, Facebooks, eBays of the world, they didn’t start monetizing until the year three or five.”

With an “international-first” approach, TheVentureCity aims to create cross-functional bridges between key regions to scale startups on a global level through its consultancy, its acceleration programs and in-house product and engineering expertise, González-Estéfani said.

The headquarters of TheVentureCity is in Miami Beach, but the team of 17 is looking for a 10,000-square-foot office in Miami. There is a second campus in Madrid and an office in San Francisco. It just added a presence in Sydney, Australia, and Singapore may be in the works, González-Estéfani said. Elisa Rodríguez-Vila, who co-founded The LAB Miami, runs the Miami campus.

TheVentureCity’s 36-month or 18-month tailored acceleration programs, which will be called The Garden Fellowships, will launch this month at WebSummit in Lisbon, Portugal. TheVentureCity will take equity in the startup as the partnership progresses, not upfront, González-Estéfani said.

This fall, Miami Dade College and TheVentureCity launched a two-year degree in entrepreneurship. TheVentureCity recently received a “key” from the Miami-Dade Beacon Council for locating and investing in Miami.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

October 21, 2017

Finova Financial secures $102 million in funding

 

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Finova Financial, provider of flexible, affordable alternatives for the 70 million Americans under-served by the traditional banking system, announced this week that has secured $102.5 million in equity and credit facility funding. 

The financing was led by CoVenture with participation from existing Silicon Valley investors who funded Finova’s $52.5 million seed round. The West Palm Beach-based financial-technology company was founded in 2011.

Gregfinova“Seventy million Americans spend $141 billion on alternative financial services a year because they don’t have or want a relationship with traditional banks or financial institutions. This rapidly growing group feels that traditional financial services companies can’t solve their core financial needs," said Gregory Keough, CEO (pictured here). "Finova is using advanced technologies and designing innovative new financial products to serve the needs of this large and growing population. Finova’s proprietary platform delivers an all-digital financial product and experience that fits the lifestyle of the 28 percent of Americans — and growing — outside the formal financial system.”

Finova’s digital products include its flagship Car Equity Line of Credit (CLOC), providing fast emergency loans based on car equity; and its industry-first Automobile-Secured Prepaid Card, which accepts either cash or car equity to fund the card.

Finova’s CLOC, currently available in Florida, California, Tennessee, New Mexico, South Carolina, Oregon and Arizona, has earned Consumer Affairs prestigious partner accreditation for delivering up to 50 percent lower cost than the national average on title loans to consumers, instant online pre-qualification, and payment-against-principal with every payment, the company said. Finova’s Automobile-Secured Prepaid Card helps consumers avoid check-cashing fees, get their paychecks faster, and better manage their finances, the company said. The new funding will be used to expand its digital financial services.

“We look at many fintech companies but Finova has built an incredible all-digital technology platform that consumers really like and has experienced amazing traction in a short period of time,” said CoVenture Managing Partner Ali Hamed. “Finova has created a customer-centric focus for Americans outside the formal financial system that is driving strong growth, rapid consumer adoption, and opportunities for rapid national expansion, which I think is what the future of banking will look like.” 

 

October 17, 2017

Magic Leap confirms it has raised $502 million in funding

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Magic Leap confirmed that it has raised another large funding round as it apparently readies its first product for launch.

The secretive South Florida tech startup announced on Tuesday that it has raised $502 million in a Series D round of funding led by Temasek Holdings, an investment fund owned by Singapore’s government. The round includes three other new investors, Grupo Globo of Brazil, EDBI of Singapore and Janus Henderson Investors, and existing investors Alibaba Group, Google, Fidelity Management, JP Morgan and T. Rowe Price.

“We’re excited to welcome Temasek and the other new investors in this round to the Magic Leap family,” said Rony Abovitz, founder and CEO of the Plantation-based Magic Leap, in a news release. “We also greatly appreciate the strong support and partnership from our existing shareholders.”

Magic Leap had already raised $1.4 billion, which brought a valuation of $4.5 billion at the time. The new funding brings the company’s total funding to nearly $1.9 billion, and significantly expands Magic Leap’s arsenal as it prepares to launch a long-awaited headset or pair of smart glasses with its proprietary “mixed reality” technology. Magic Leap has not yet revealed a product, and those who have seen the technology have signed a non-disclosure agreement.

Last week, a Delaware filing showed that Magic Leap authorized up to $1 billion in new shares. Last month, a Bloomberg report cited sources who said Magic Leap would be raising about $500 million from Temasek and others, and suggested that a limited launch of its product – bigger than a pair of glasses but smaller than VR headsets now on the market – may be within the next six months. The sources also said the device could be priced around $1,500 or higher, but Magic Leap has not said when it plans to release its product or released pricing details.

Magic Leap is believed to have more than 800 employees in South Florida and hundreds more in offices around the world, including Los Angeles, Sunnyvale, Seattle, Austin, Dallas, Zurich, New Zealand and Israel.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

October 12, 2017

Magic Leap could raise another $1 billion in new funding round

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A revamped Magic Leap website appears to be dropping hints of what's to come.

 

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Magic Leap could soon be flying high as a $7 billion company – without having yet launched a product.

Magic Leap, the secretive South Florida startup that has strongly hinted that its “mixed reality” technology may soon be revealed, is seeking to raise up to $1 billion in fresh funding from investors, according to reports of a new corporate filing on Thursday.

The company, based in Plantation, has authorized the sale of more than 37 million shares of Series D stock at $27 each to raise about $1 billion, according to the Oct. 11 filing with the State of Delaware obtained by venture data company CB Insights.

The filing does not mean that the company will raise that much, but it could, and it did not mention any investors. The filing also did not mention how much the company has raised so far. Magic Leap has declined to comment.

When asked if he was raising another large round, Magic Leap’s CEO Rony Abovitz said in June that the company is always in fund-raising mode. However, Bloomberg reported last month that the company has held talks with Temasek Holdings, an investment firm owned by the Singapore government, to join a $500 million investment.

The new financing round comes as Magic Leap readies a long-awaited debut product, believed to be a headset or pair of glasses that will integrate computer graphics onto the real world through its proprietary technology, making for a more natural experience for users, Abovitz, who founded the company in his garage, has said. Bloomberg’s sources said the new product could cost as much as $2,000 and product shipments may begin within six months. In the past couple of weeks, though, the company has unveiled a new logo, a website that proclaimed “we are taking you on this journey to launch” and a new promo video about Magic Leap’s beginnings.

Magic Leap has already raised $1.4 billion from investors such as Google, venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz and e-commerce company Alibaba, giving it a valuation last year of $4.5 billion. The new funding could raise the company’s valuation to about $7 billion, reports said.

The company, which has offices worldwide and at least 800 employees in its South Florida headquarters, has nearly 200 open jobs listed for its Plantation office alone.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

October 11, 2017

Florida venture capital surged in Q3 MoneyTree Report, but that's thanks to one mega-round

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Florida venture capital looked strong in the third-quarter, but it was mainly due to one company’s outsized funding round. And it wasn’t Magic Leap.

According to the MoneyTree Report from PricewaterhouseCoopers and CB Insights released Wednesday, the $1 billion funding round by Fanatics, a sports fan e-commerce company based in Jacksonville, pushed the state’s numbers to $1.08 billion across 15 deals. In August, Softbank’s Vision Fund led the round in Fanatics. Q3's total was up sharply from $299 million in Q2.

Other companies receiving investment in the third quarter included Neutral Connect Networks of West Palm, a late-stage telecom company, $30 million; Plum of Dania Beach, maker of a high-tech wine appliance, $9 million; internet company Intelligence of Boca Raton, $3.4 million; advertising-tech company Bidtellect of Delray Beach, $3.2 million; and Miami fintech company Dvendo, $1.5 million.

Nationally, quarterly dollar funding to VC-backed companies in the United States edged past Q2 2017’s tally for an eight-quarter high. In Q3, investors deployed $19 billion to VC-backed companies across 1,207 deals, nearly the same exact total as last quarter. Funding activity was driven by another strong quarter of mega-rounds of $100 million or more, as Q3 2017’s total reached 26. The deal total was just one short of the tally in Q2 2017, just above the 8-quarter low seen in Q4 2016. New York-based WeWork was the No. 1 mega-deal, followed by Fanatics.

MoneyTree Report results are available at www.pwcmoneytree.com.

“With 40 percent of value coming from mega-deals, Q3 2017 saw the largest quarter for deal value in two years,” said Tom Ciccolella, PwC’s US Venture Capital Leader. “Three of the quarter’s five largest occurred outside of California, further demonstrating the overall health of the venture capital ecosystem across the U.S.”

On Tuesday, Pitchbook and the National Venture Capital Association released their report. They use a different methodology that includes angel fundings, and doesn’t include private equity so the Fanatics mega-deal wasn’t included. The Pitchbook/NVCA report showed Florida pulled in $162 million across 38 deals, down sharply from $286 million in Q2. Download the Pitchbook/NVCA report here.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

October 05, 2017

Real estate-tech startup Home61 receives $4M in funding, will expand nationally

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

A Miami real estate startup is on the move, with plans to bring its tech-enabled brokerages to new cities next year. 

In buying his own condo several years ago, Home61 CEO Olivier Grinda found the experience stressful and unnecessarily complicated, and as a serial entrepreneur, he thought there had to be a better way. With Home61, which now operates in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, technology enables easy scheduling of viewings, anytime access to notes and analytics and a streamlined contractual process for buyers and renters, as well as sellers and agents. Agents unburdened by administrative work can better focus on service for clients with any budget, Grinda says.

Home61 announced Thursday it has raised an additional $4 million in venture capital to take its service nationwide, with plans to expand next to Chicago, Houston and Phoenix. The new round brings Home61’s total funding to $5.3 million.

“Miami is the heart of our company and a key city as it’s representative of the larger U.S. real estate market,” said Grinda, who was raised in France and ran startups in Brazil before moving to Miami in 2013. “The first thing we will do with this funding is continue to strengthen our presence in Miami before expanding to new cities. We currently have 55 agents in Miami and plan to nearly double that to 100 by the end of this year.”

According to Grinda, Home61 agents average $70,000 in earnings in their second year, far more than the industry average, because Home61’s platform provides them with a steady stream of leads, intensive training and automation tools.

In 2016, the company did $44 million in sales and has done close to 900 closings since its Miami launch in 2015, Grinda said Wednesday. In March, Home61 launched an agent accelerator program modeled after tech accelerators. Agents complete a training program of up to 120 days in which they are taught how to use Home61’s technology tools and best practices for communicating with clients.

But for this underdog upstart, taking on the traditional real estate model is no easy feat. The U.S. real estate market, with $2.17 trillion in residential sales in 2016, is an enormous opportunity, but tech companies have yet to make significant progress nationally — more than 90 percent of the market is still owned by conventional real estate firms. Yet, venture capital interest has been on the rise for tech-enabled businesses. In 2016, U.S. real estate-tech companies set a record, raising $2.6 billion, and this year the sector is on track to lure about $3.4 billion at the current pace, according to venture tracker CB Insights. In South Florida, real estate tech firms are adding up, too, including RealConnex and Gridics that have recently raised funding.

Investors in Home61’s new round include FF Angel, Founders Fund’s early stage investment vehicle that has also backed SpaceX, Facebook and Airbnb; global investor Fabrice Grinda of FJ Labs (also the CEO’s brother); and AGP Miami, an active angel network that has invested in 23 South Florida companies. 

“The Home61 team is exceptional. We love the way they are making the process of finding your next home easier and more transparent, and are really excited to see them grow into new markets in the coming months,” said Raul Moas, managing director of AGP Miami, whose members invested $400,000 into Home61’s financing round.

Home61 plans to enter its next city in 2018, setting up a a physical presence there and finding a local partner to ensure a level of service consistent with its Miami operation, and then will roll out to additional cities, Grinda said.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

October 04, 2017

Court Buddy co-founder becomes 14th African American woman ever to raise $1 million or more

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Only 14 African American women have raised $1 million or more in venture capital, and Kristina Jones of Miami-based Court Buddy is one of them.

Court Buddy is a legal tech startup founded by James and Kristina Jones that helps clients save money on legal fees by avoiding paying high retainers and hourly fees that traditional law firms charge while also helping thousands of attorneys grow their law firms. The company announced Wednesday that it has raised $1 million in seed funding.

When Court Buddy launched in 2015 in Miami, its web-based instant-matching platform allowed consumers to choose the a-la-carte legal services  at flat rates and then matched them to pre-screened solo and small law firm attorneys. Since then, Court Buddy has launched an app, CourtBuddy Chat, and a secured attorney-client payment exchange, CB Direct Pay. Now once matched, consumers can instant message, video chat and pay  attorneys for the legal services that they need, and solo attorneys can create and manage the legal tasks they perform for clients and collect legal fees.

The Court Buddy platform has grown to match over 11,000 consumers with attorneys across the country.

Earlier this year while participating in the 500 Startups seed program, Court Buddy soft-launched Instaclient for lawyers, which allows lawyers to pre-screen payment-verified clients who have pending court appearances or court-related matters before representing them. More than 5,000 lawyers signed up within 30 days of the launch. It also opened its San Francisco office.

LDR Ventures led the seed funding round, with participation from XFactor Ventures/Flybridge Capital, UpHonest Capital, GingerBread Capital/KKR, LSS Fund, Equipo Ventures, 500 Startups, L.A. Women Angels, and angel investors. Andrew Koven of LDR Ventures will join Court Buddy’s board of directors as part of the deal.

“With the new infusion of capital from our investors, not only can we continue building on our core products, but we can also hire more top talent to support the company’s rapid growth and expansion,” said CEO James Jones Jr., also a Florida attorney.

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