February 03, 2016

6 takeaways from Startup Grind talk by GasNinjas co-founder


By Peter Kovach

Brandon Timinsky is CEO and co-founder at GasNinjas, a service that brings gas to your car, all at the ease of pressing a button on your phone. Brandon’s first business was a third party Twitter app that helped twitter users gain more followers. He is a lifelong problem solver and entrepreneur. Last month Jason Ibarra, of Startup Grind, sat down with Brandon for a fireside chat at WeWork @ Lincoln Rd. They discussed Brandon’s young and successful entrepreneurial career and how his past experiences can help guide other entrepreneurs. Here are six takeaways from their conversation.

* Put your idea out there.  You have a great idea, but you're scared someone will steal it, so you never tell anyone. As a result, your idea never materializes into a booming business, instead it joins the countless of other what-if-ideas. Even worse, you build a company before getting feedback from your target customers, the product launches, it’s off target and you fail. You are more likely to find a supporter, partner or an investor than a competitor from just talking about your idea. In fact, it can help you gauge the interest in the product, find out which demographics are more likely to use your service and help form a better business from the feedback. Finally, putting your idea out there is a necessary step in proving to yourself that you are serious about this business.

* Micro Marketing - Marketing is key, the more you can expose your product to potential clients the better. Many companies struggle with social media marketing. An active presence is essential to successes. It allows you to interact directly with users. However, many people may see a post from your account and overlook it because there is no personal connection. Instead, incentive your customers to post about their positive experiences with your service. People are more likely to read content from a familiar and trusting face, and as a result it creates better exposure to new clientele.

* Follow other entrepreneurs -  Go on LinkedIn, TED Talks or just explore the web for people who inspire you. Find their blogs and read what they have to say about life, success and most importantly, failure.  In today’s age, there are an unbelievable number of ways to connect and learn from others. It is important to leverage these tools to find motivation from someone who has been there before and can relate to challenges you need to overcome. In place of watching TV every night, watch educational content.

* Hiring a freelance programmer - If you are unable to code your project and don’t want to want to give up equity to bring on a CTO, you can always a higher a freelance programmer. Hiring a freelancer is not as easy as it seems. Brandon on multiple occasions hired people who were not as qualified as they promoted. As a result, Brandon paid these programmers for a job not well done. He learned that in order to protect himself he needed to change the way he worked with freelancers. He decided to do milestone payments. Instead of paying the developer in full upfront he would pay him after a certain milestone was completed. This protected him financially and ensured he was coming away with a product.

* Know your business - It's essential to understand your business in and out and in again. Do your research on what demographics find your product most useful; this will help you focus your attention on the right clientele to grow. Become familiar with your key performance indicators (KPI’s) or the aspects of your business that are essential for growth. Knowing and watching your KPI’s will help you make calculated and logical decisions. You should be able to recite your stats in your sleep.

* Great client service - Ensuring your clients have a great experience is essential to growth. If your clients are left with a bad taste in their mouths, they are less likely to reuse the service. Yes, your company is young and there are opportunities to improve the product, but it is key to be responsive to your customer. A client may report a problem with your product and if you respond quickly, you demonstrate that you care about the person, and are dedicated to improving your business, that person will be more likely to come back.

Peter Kovach is a recent graduate from Loyola University of New Orleans. He moved to Miami to be a part of the rising tech scene and is currently an associate at building.co.

NEXT UP: Christian Seale of Startupbootcamp will be speaking at Startup Grind in Miami on Feb. 9. More info: startupgrind.com/miami

January 24, 2016

Despite the naysayers, Miami continues to rise

BRACKEENBy Brian Brackeen

I have read a few negative articles lately, and I detect a simmering vibe from the naysayers that our collective work here in Miami is not where it should be. I wholeheartedly reject the idea that Miami’s innovation economy is anything but excellent. World-Class even, and I don’t apologize for it. 

I think there are a few trends that make Miami special:

Culture, homegrown talent and “brain-gain” are in abundance. 

There was an article recently released that said Miami is not a great innovation economy. It mentioned a few criteria, principal of which was the lack of “major, world-ranked institutions that have played a big role in terms of churning out some very, very well-qualified, bright people.” 

Don’t fall for that slight, Miami. It’s elitist and disgusting. The idea that “bright people” only can be found at Harvard, MIT and Stanford is thinking of the past. Two factors work in Miami’s favor here. 

  1. Boston, Philadelphia and other Ivy League cities are seeing an immense amount of brain drain to places like San Francisco, Houston, Dallas and Miami. These older cities are where a few bright people go to learn, however, they tend not to stay. Like LeBron once did, they bring their talents to South Beach. This brain gain to Sunbelt cities will only continue to strengthen our bench of amazing talent. 
  2. There are cultural reasons that some of our most brilliant minds in Miami don’t apply to Harvard, Stanford, Penn, etc… Here, many young people are working and pay bills in the home and help the family AND go to school. I’ve met so many brilliant students at FIU, UM and MDC who could go to school anywhere, but choose to be close to home. That cultural phenomenon does not exist as commonly in other parts of the US, and as such, you can’t judge Miami in the same way you would judge Cincinnati. 

I once spoke to a young brilliant girl who really loved Kairos and wanted to intern for us, however our internships are unpaid. She said, tearfully, “Brian, in my house, we all pay the bills, the electric bill for the family is my responsibility, other family members have other responsibilities.” That young lady, with her Harvard, pedigree, attends school locally, and after her matriculation will probably stay in Miami. I hope to hire her full-time one day. Her story is not uncommon, and the folks who write these articles who rank cities will never understand her, or us. 

Latin America is a source of funding, talent and trade.

One of the keys to San Francisco’s success is its proximity to Asia, its trading partners in Asia, and its immigrants from there. Sound familiar? Like San Francisco, we have all of Central and Latin America moving here, investing here, buying goods and services here, and are great trade partners. That outside influence is one that cities have. Because of our status as the “Capital of Latin America,” Miami companies think bigger, our staffs are more commonly multi-cultural and multi-lingual, and we have networks and partners who are based here that we can leverage to move into new markets abroad. Add to that, folks like Juha and Johanna Mikkola, who emigrated here from Canada. They started Wyncode at the LAB Miami, and now have three sites, employ a number of Miamians, and are churning out coders for our companies left and right. About 7,000 Juhas and Johannas move to Miami a week. Think about that, how can we not win? 

People have forgotten what made Silicon Valley great. 

Stanford University was not a bastion of entrepreneurship and technical excellence when Robert Noyce (founder of Intel) and team left New York to start Fairchild Semi-conductor in the Valley, New York met the very criteria that the naysayers suggest is necessary for tech growth, The New York area has a league of excellent universities, and had anchor organizations like IBM in 1957. San Jose at the time was mostly fruit farms. 

It was the innovative thinking, and some early angel and venture capital investments, that lead Robert and others to found one of the great achievements  of our time. They INVENTED a semi-conductor market and they INVENTED Silicon Valley as we know it. We don’t need anyone’s help, model, or permission. Miami is already seizing the day on our own terms. We are inventing the next generation of great companies and industries right here, in Miami, in our own way and on our own terms. Just like Bob Noyce and crew. The same naysayers are at it again with Miami, and again, they will be proven wrong. 

Let’s not forget the tenants of disruption and exponential growth.

Our growth curve started low, and accelerated in such a way that it seemed impossible. In fact, Salim Ismail of Singularity University (a recent addition to the Miami scene) has taught us about disruption and how the curve is sharp. It’s hard for humans to understand exponential growth. I’d offer that we are seeing exponential growth first-hand. When I first met Wifi and Danny, at the original LAB Miami, it was an 800 square foot space, with a few dreamers like WIllie Avendano working there at handmade pallet desks. Fast forward a few years later, and I’ve lost count of the co-working spaces and LAB is now 10,000 square feet. WeWork is opening five locations in Miami; their 2nd one is 95,000+ square feet and can hold up to 500 companies. From one to 20+ in 3 years is not logical, it’s not rational, it’s disruptive growth. On average, 7,000 people move to Miami a week, as mentioned, and the majority of them have post-secondary degrees. That’s exponential growth. I welcome each one of them. They are part of the story that writers outside of Miami can’t understand, because they are not exponential thinkers. We are. 

Pattern matching does not work, not with people, and not with ecosystems. 

What we have learned as part of this diversity in tech discussion is that we don’t all have to be Mark Zuckerberg to be successful. Same is true for the innovation economy in Miami. We don’t have to look like Silicon Valley and the cities of the past to be bigger and better than them in the future. Miami is certainly in the top 25 innovation cities in the world. I personally believe it’s in the top 5. Let’s embrace that, and scream it from the rooftops. We are not trying to become a great hub of innovation, we are a great hub of innovation, and now we are growing into being #1. No apologies. 

Brian Brackeen is the founder and CEO of Kairos.com, a San Francisco born, but locally raised Human Analytics company. Kairos uses facial recognition and emotion analysis to help its customers better understand humanity. In 2015 Kairos became an Endeavor company and is proudly based in Miami, Florida. 

January 12, 2016

2016, Miami calling: Why I'm leaving the Middle East for Miami

AliaBy Alia Mahmoud

Almost 5 years ago, I left home in New York City to move to Tunisia and everyone’s reactions sounded a little something like, "Really? Are you sure you want to do that?!" Now I'm leaving my adopted home in Tunis to settle in Miami and I find myself hearing a similar refrain: "You mean you're not going back to New York? Miami...are you sure?" Yes, Miami. When it comes to the startup scene, these two cities are more similar than one might think.

I moved to Tunisia in 2011 shortly after the uprisings that sparked the Arab Spring across the region. As a Tunisian-American, I was motivated to make a difference and contribute to the growth of a nascent entrepreneurial ecosystem. One that was only just being carved out of a heritage of dictatorship and state controlled business to create a space for new ideas to thrive. I had the incredible opportunity to speak about Tunisia’s “entrepreneurial revolution” in my TedTalk in in 2012.

For as long as I can remember I've been inspired by entrepreneurship, in awe of the innovation startups produce and in admiration of the hope their founders bring to society. Throughout my studies and now in my career, I have been working at the intersection of business and social good – a linkage that I no longer see as a luxury, but an imperative of the times we live in.

Most recently, as the Regional Manager for Microsoft's Corporate Citizenship Programs in the Middle East and North Africa, I witnessed first-hand the impact entrepreneurs can have when we commit to creating an environment in which they can thrive. Take Saphon Energy, a revolutionary clean-tech company who has reinvented the way we harness wind energy through a patented, bladeless wind technology or Grant Fit, a mobile application developed by students that aims at reversing the strategy to deal with type 1 diabetes by adapting insulin injections according to meals. When we collaborate across boundaries to build a community around local innovation, and then connect it to a global support system, we begin to see success stories emerge.

The Tunisians spearheading these successes are breaking from a culture of passivity and crony capitalism and setting an example as initiators, risk-takers and innovators. I highlight some of these stories and their incredible role in reclaiming our legacy of innovation in my 2015 TedxRome talk “The New Carthage.”

Tunisia still has a long way to go to fulfill that potential, but we have made great strides. No one would have ever imagined seeing Tunis on the Forbes top 10 cities to launch a startup nor ever dreamed of winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015. But here we are at a crossroads and it only inspires us to work harder and dream bigger in 2016.

So why Miami?

Because like Tunis, Miami is in the midst of an entrepreneurial awakening; and while the context and challenges are vastly different, the opportunity to make an impact on an emerging ecosystem is unique and timely. My conviction that the link between entrepreneurship and new technology is vital to building a robust ecosystem is only stronger now. I want to take all that I’ve learned and apply it somewhere where I can make my mark, continue to learn and, hopefully, bring value. After all, “Miami’s tech scene is heating up” so where better to land in this New Year than in the sunshine state to build a brighter future together.

So here’s to 2016! Thank you, Miami, for welcoming me with open arms. I can’t wait to see what this year will bring.

Contact Alia Mahmoud at @aleyesopen or https://tn.linkedin.com/in/aliamahmoud. 

January 11, 2016

Startups can now benefit from the R&D tax credit

Guay.Louis-Oliver_2014By Louis Guay

Startups, welcome to the R&D tax credit party.

The days of the R&D tax credit’s temporary and retroactive extensions are finally over. Thirty-five years after its original introduction as a temporary provision of the tax code, the federal R&D tax credit was made permanent by The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (“PATH” Act) last month.

In addition, the PATH Act includes two new provisions that will make it easier for startups as well as small and medium-sized businesses to immediately benefit from the lucrative R&D tax credit. These two modifications to the credit are effective for taxable years beginning after December 31, 2015.

Immediate value for startups

The first significant R&D tax provision introduced by the PATH Act will have a major impact on emerging and early-stage startups.

Historically, these startups that have yet to generate enough income to have a federal income tax liability could not get any immediate value from the R&D credit. They had to carry forward the credit in hope of applying it against a future income tax liability.

Starting in 2016, eligible startups with less than $5 million in gross receipts will now be able to use their R&D tax credit (capped at up to $250,000) to offset payroll taxes, generating immediate value.

AMT turnoff

The second key provision removes one of the biggest limitations that had prevented certain small and medium-sized businesses from capturing the credit in the past.

The PATH Act will allow eligible businesses with $50 million and less in gross receipts (based on a three-year average) to apply the R&D tax credit against the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT). This is huge news for shareholders of qualifying pass-through entities (e.g., S corporations and partnerships) who have an AMT liability.

Act now

A common misconception about the R&D credit is that only large companies are eligible and that it’s too complicated to qualify. However, with the two major barriers discussed above mitigated or eliminated entirely, startups as well as small and medium-sized companies have an unprecedented opportunity to benefit from this valuable credit – and they need to start planning now.

Even with the changes, this credit remains one of the most challenging provisions of the tax code; therefore it’s critical for businesses to establish appropriate tracking mechanisms and documentation strategies for their research and development activities. A tax professional with R&D tax credit expertise can assist businesses with qualifying for and claiming the credit. Act now to take advantage of this new opportunity.

Louis Guay is a tax manager in Kaufman Rossin’s Boca Raton, Florida, office, where he specializes in assisting taxpayers with R&D tax incentives. Kaufman Rossin is one of the Top 100 CPA firms in the U.S. Louis can be reached at lguay@kaufmanrossin.com.

January 04, 2016

Mark Kingdon’s view from examining 1,500+ startup investments a year

Startup grind

By Peter Kovach

Mark Kingdon is a three-time digital CEO, company founder, board member and tech startup investor. Throughout his career, he's transformed Fortune 500 companies and startups through digital marketing, customer acquisitions and e-commerce, which accelerated their growth and increased their profitability. Last montn Jason Ibarra, of Startup Grind, sat down with Mark (pictured above) for a fireside chat at WeWork @ Lincoln Rd. They discussed Mark’s transformative career, starting with his creative beginnings at UCLA to his current work as a tech investor. Mark gave great lessons to the packed house on his experiences as a CEO and from his experience as an Investor.

* The Complete Package - Especially in early-stage investments,  you are not just investing in an idea, you are also investing in the founder. So which one is more important? Both! Mark mentioned that a good idea is only as good as its founder. If the founder is not reliable, unwilling to listen to critique, has poor leadership skills or other character flaws, he may be discouraged investing in the company because there are serious concerns about who is running the company. Likewise, if a founder is a great person, extremely reliable, but their business has no merit then there will be no investment. For an investor, it is essential to believe both in the idea and the person who will materialize the idea.

* Communication Is Key - Besides making a return on his investment, Mark believes the best quality a founder can have for an investor is communication. Mark has dealt with various personalities and finds that he has the best relationships with the ones who communicate clearly and consistently. Mark has dealt with founders who struggle to present updates at board meetings and it has caused a large amount of frustration. On the contrary, Mark has invested in companies where the CEO after each month sends out a report on the current status of the company. This is a great trait, because it shows the founder is reflective and wants to make the best decisions.

* Priority Over Urgency - Founders face countless problems in any given day. The key is prioritizing problems by importance over urgency. For startups, everything is urgent  but not everything is important. Mark believes that Product Vision, User Experience, Customer Traction and Investor Relations should be the key focuses for every startup in that order. If there are any problems with any of those areas, they supersede any other issues that exist and should be addressed immediately.

* Do Your Research - When contacting an investor, your product should speak for itself. It should be able to easily address the problem it's solving. More importantly, understand why you are contacting any specific investor. Find something other than money as the reason for reaching out. Make sure the investor can be an asset to the growth of the company and offer some sort of guidance. Finally, if you get a chance to present, ask the investor for their honest opinion on your venture. They can be a resource regardless if you get a yes or no.

* Honest Self-Valuations - When it's time to value your company, be REALISTIC. Many companies, even pre-product and pre-revenue, tend to drink a little bit too much of their own Kool-Aid. Not every company is Facebook. It's mandatory to have realistic expectations, based on your market and the economic trends. It's okay if you reach in your valuations, but you shouldn’t go to moon and back unless you want to get laughed at.

* Pivots Aren’t Cheap - Starting a business is risky. It requires large amounts of money and even larger amounts of time. More often than not, businesses will fail. However, if you are able to read into the trends, have a committed team, loyal customer base and a strong set of investors, you can pivot to success. Pivoting is expensive and there no guarantee it will work, but if you believe you can be successful and take the company in a new and successful direction, then pivot. Mark recalls how Fab.com, a company he invested in, pivoted from a gay social network to an exciting e-commerce site. The move helped Fab grow at an unbelievable rate.

Mark is currently an angel investor and his fund is Quixotic Ventures, which means "exceedingly idealistic; unrealistic and impractical" --  appropriate for early stage investing. Mark, who works out of Building.co, examines over 1,500 companies a year. Some of his early-stage investments include: Twitter, OfferUp, Sellbrite, Fab.com, Refinery29,  Everypost, Sktchy and HYP3R (the last three from South Florida).

Next up for Startup Grind Miami: Brandon Timinsky of GasNinjas on Jan. 12 at WeWork Miami Beach. More info here.

Peter Kovach is a recent graduate from Loyola University of New Orleans. He moved to Miami to be a part of the rising tech scene and is currently an associate at building.co.

December 22, 2015

Urban.Us public benefit update: Portfolio startups are reimagining cities, making them better

Urbanus new

Stonly Baptiste, right, with Shaun Abrahamson. Together they founded Urban.Us. Photo by Carl Juste 

By Stonly Baptiste

Cities today create 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and urban populations are set to double by 2050, making climate change a city problem. At the same time, policy, technology, and business interests have aligned uniquely to enable a new generation of entrepreneurs to reimagine cities.

In late 2013, we created Urban.Us to find, fund, and de-risk early-stage startups that make city life (and cities) better.

We are launching the next stage of our efforts in 2016 and now count nineteen companies in the portfolio, with a few more companies to be announced in the coming months.

Looking at our investments so far, they include some of the most promising startups in areas ranging from water and energy conservation to construction automation and law enforcement. We’re usually one of the first investors to work with a founding team and have developed a unique approach to find and support our companies.

We work with a community of investors, experts, governments, and corporations (now more than 850 people) to improve their chances of moving from concept to growth-stage funding (series A). We’ve been fortunate to enjoy support from organizations like the Knight Foundation, the Miami Foundation, and Direct Energy, which helped us organize a summit and showcase in Miami in 2015.

In fact, Miami-Dade County is already seeing some of the benefits from our portfolio companies.

Rachio makes a smart irrigation controller that dramatically reduces water usage (as much as fifty percent of water used outdoors right now is being wasted). In addition to saving money, the aggregate water savings of Rachio customers represent a significant shift in the demand on municipal water supplies. To date, 440,225,274 gallons of water have been saved thanks to Rachio, which is now at the top of Amazon and Home Depot product rankings in its category.

Miami-Dade's Urban Conservation Unit recently announced that Coral Gables is upgrading its potable system to Rachio Iro units.

Skycatch is leading the way in autonomous commercial data acquisition using drones. Skycatch has increased its focus on construction thanks to customers like Komatsu and partners like Autodesk, but it also has customers in areas like disaster response and mining. It has also worked with the FAA and NASA to shape commercial-drone policy and regulations.

In May, the Miami Herald interviewed Trevor Duke, a South Florida-based drone pilot for SkyCatch, about his work using drones to automate processes at construction sites. Bouygues, the French construction and energy conglomerate, has been testing Skycatch’s autonomous system at building sites in Miami since 2014.

Beyond Miami, our portfolio is creating public benefits nationally and even internationally.

HandUp is a platform that allows you to donate directly to a homeless neighbor in need.

They have helped match almost $1 million to over 3,000 specific needs through the platform. The team has begun expanding beyond San Francisco by partnering with community organizations in cities like Denver and Miami.

Dash creates software that help make driving smarter, safer, greener, and more affordable. Downloads of the dash mobile app have topped 250,000 users in 100+ countries—more than all the players in the emerging Connected Car space. It also recently launched a program with Allstate Insurance and the NY Department of Transportation to promote better driving through rewards and incentives.

BlocPower is automating sourcing, energy auditing, retrofit engineering, procurement, and financing processes to bring the best existing tech to low-income neighborhoods, where significant energy savings result in reduced CO2 footprints as well as less stress on community budgets. The team is now serving more than 300 small and medium-sized buildings in Metro New York City and are contracted to retrofit 1,000 to 2,000 buildings over the next three years, a $200 million project financing opportunity.

A few companies we work with are still too early in their development to be reporting public benefits but are showing great progress and promise.

OneConcern is a disaster-solutions company that provides rapid damage estimates across all natural disasters using artificial intelligence on natural phenomena sciences. We’re hoping to count the number of lives saved thanks to OneConcern’s focus on being at the forefront of every emergency.

Mark43 is a cloud-based records management system (RMS) and analysis tool built for and in collaboration with police. The early reports from its first deployment in Washington, DC have been encouraging, and we hope to share data about police hours saved and more as the company deploys to cities around the country.

RadiatorLabs converts old cast-iron radiators into precision heating machines. Its first product, “The Cozy,” is expected to save building owners up to forty percent annually in heating costs. Early deployments will soon be able to share data regarding the operational efficiency and safety the device has produced.

Flair is working on a complete lineup of next-generation heating and cooling products. Its first product is expected to produce huge energy and cost savings for people who want to stay comfortable in their homes and offices.

Our primary focus for our portfolio companies is that they make it through the “valley of death” where they are discovering their product offering, business model and customers. At this point we don’t worry much about impact, only potential impact. As they enter the growth stage, typically around series A funding, the impact begins to scale, too. Our portfolio of investments are on average less than two years old, so we hope to report even more progress next December.

Stonly Baptiste co-founded  Urban.Us with Shaun Abrahamson to fund early-stage companies that make cities better in 2013. He has co-founded or helped run a number of tech companies.


A panel of experts discusses urban mobility at the Smart City Startups conference in Miami in April, produced and hosted by Urban.Us.

See Miami Herald cover story about Urban.Us published in 2014.


December 19, 2015

Geeks on a Plane - Middle East: A mind-opening, inspiring journey for this FIU Panther-turned-Geek

By Tara Demren

I am just returning to Miami after spending the last 10 days with serial entrepreneurs and investors on the Geeks on a Plane Middle East and North Africa tour, which included stops in Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Egypt.  GOAP was created by 500 Startups Founding Partner Dave McClure as a way to learn about high-growth technology markets worldwide. 

As a student who began immersing herself in the startup world only seven months ago at Startup Weekend, and then being mentored and hired by LiveAnswer founder and Miami startup scene serial entrepreneur Adam Boalt, I would have never guessed I would have had the opportunity to be invited on this trip to the Mideast.  Working at a startup myself, I resonated with several of the entrepreneurs I had the chance to meet, all of which have an incredible drive for global reach and impact.

Upon arrival in Manama, Bahrain, we met our fellow geeks who all were taken aback when we informed them we were from Miami, not Silicon Valley or New York City. Arriving just in time for the 500 Startups PreMoney Conference, I learned about the regional breakdown of the emerging tech and startup markets that we would encounter the rest of the trip. From talent to funding to the infrastructure supporting this emergence, it was an incredible insight to a region that I would have otherwise overlooked.


We left for the UAE the following day. In Abu Dhabi, we visited the New York University campus and had the chance to hear various business plans pitched by local students. I found it very refreshing to see that a majority of them had a focus on social entrepreneurship and genuinely wanted to make the world a better place as also witnessed with my Miami startup peers. Dubai, a short drive away, amazed me of how a city can be created out of nothing and I was even able to go indoor skiing...in the desert!


Each day beginning to feel like a week, our time in Jordan pleasantly surprised me. In Amman, we learned the basis of what a business needs in order to be successful. According to McClure, the four key components are: ideation, first customer, defining successful unit economics and then scaling.

I was fortunate to mentor startups from Gaza who received special permission just to meet us and pitch us their ideas. This was a mind-opening experience as most of their companies addressed issues that are prominent in Gaza, but taken for granted by us, such as their electricity restriction of 6 hours a day. The determination and drive to succeed we saw in Gaza was probably the most intense and humbling experience of the trip. After a full day of mentoring and attending panel sessions, the following day provided us with a much needed break by relaxing in a resort at the Dead Sea where we all woke up early for a swim (more like float).


Our last destination was Egypt and admittedly I was not too sure what to expect. Outside of our cultural excursions to the pyramids, we spent a lot of time with local geeks.  500 Startups did an amazing job planning our trip around Rise Up Summit - the largest tech and startup conference of the region with over 200 speakers composed of industry leaders. Our time in Egypt gave all of us the in-depth knowledge of what the movers and shakers of the MENA region are working towards and the challenges entrepreneurship ecosystems face in emerging markets.


As I write this on the plane ride back to Miami, I am left with the realization that at the core of it all, everyone wants to make a positive impact. Whether a brighter future or a sense of purpose, the people I had the opportunity to be surrounded by all had a drive to create, grow or support something that started out as a sole idea. Even though the last 10 days have left me physically and mentally exhausted, I am filled to the brim with newfound knowledge and motivation that I can only wish upon others.

On a personal level, GOAP was enlightening as spending each waking hour with influential geeks gave me a bevy of global connections, a new outlook on opportunities and a bond of geeks I will cherish forever. Professionally, this experience brought tremendous value for the startup I work with by providing a different strategic approach to developing product roadmaps, new strategic investment opportunities and an outlook on opening new customer segments we previously had not considered.

Both Adam and I were invited to attend GOAP East Asia tour and with some luck, hopefully we’ll be fortunate enough to participate again in this amazing learning experience and also spread the startup knowledge we’ve gained in South Florida to distant corners of the world.

Tara Demren is a FIU Honors student with a major in International Business and currently the Strategy Manager at LiveAnswer, which was recently voted Tech.Co’s #1 startup in Miami. Tara was born in France, raised in Miami and is of Turkish descent.


December 18, 2015

Ironhack's Hackshow: Students shed their pasts for a future in tech

IRONHACK_Hackshow Dec 2015


By Ariel Quiñones

Ariel Quinones_HeadshotIn the past, computer science and coding were seen as uncreative and uninspiring; a niche area best left to the experts (and the geeks) but in the 21st century, this is no longer the case. Nothing demonstrated this better than Ironhack's recent Hackshow that graduated nearly 20 students from diverse backgrounds as Jr. Web Developers into Miami's tech community.  Ironhack is a leading international coding bootcamp with campuses in Miami, Madrid and Barcelona.  

More than 160 people including Ironhack’s hiring partners, leaders in the Miami tech community and the curious gathered on Thursday night at Building.co in Brickell to be wowed by the ideas from students who participated in Ironhack’s 23rd global cohort. 

Once again, we saw firsthand how people across a spectrum of jobs - lawyers, professional athletes, artists - are shedding their past for a future in the booming tech industry. Ironhack students dedicated eight weeks completely immersed in learning how to code in Ruby on Rails, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.  All of the hours and hard work pays off at the Hackshow, where they present their final project web applications to a panel of judges who selected a winner.  

The student projects were built from scratch and included apps designed to solve real-life problems in various industries. These projects included - "Litigrade," "DocDoc Who's There," "Orthodox Chic," "MyFunTrip" and "STRIPPRS." The panel of judges was comprised of some of the leading CTOs in South Florida - Tobias Franoszek, CTO and Co-Founder of KIPU Systems, Brett Paden, CTO and Co-Founder of Glip, and Rich Kroll, Director of Engineering at Modernizing Medicine.  

The evening also marked Ironhack’s one-year anniversary in Miami. 

The Winner

After much deliberation from the judges, the winner was David James Knight, a licensed attorney and a member of the U.S. Military, who created an application called "Litigrade" that uses public court data to rate trial attorneys based on their wins and losses—not on peer reviews or other subjective criteria. “Before Ironhack, I was an attorney with a liberal arts background. I dabbled in front-end design (HTML, CSS, WordPress), but always thought that anything more technical than that was for Computer Science majors," says Knight. "Ironhack proved me wrong. In eight very intense weeks, I went from being an unhappy attorney to a legitimate developer and tech entrepreneur."

Code or Go Home

Coding skills and tech literacy in general aren't just useful in technology. They can be applied to all industries. What business today doesn't have a computer component? Learning to speak to computers through code forces people to think in different ways. Students learn to decompose problems in the systematic way that computers want them to. What's most interesting is that it turns out computers aren't all that smart - they only appear to be smart with a good set of instructions and some solid logic. Applying that way of thinking to other disciplines can have surprising results. Coding is truly one of the most exciting education opportunities of the twenty-first century, and Ironhack hopes to bring that to new groups of people.

Ironhack is accepting final applications for its next cohort beginning January 11, 2016. More information: Ironhack.com

Ariel Quiñones is Co-Founder of Ironhack.


December 14, 2015

"Miami is ripe for Consciousness Hacking - join us"

UnnamedKAJWNMVGBy Patrick Hilsbos

Miami’s getting hacked – consciously.

Consciousness Hacking serves as a hub for knowledge, ideas and talent. By cross-pollinating the technology and consciousness communities, we explore ways to produce a positive change in well-being. We facilitate connection between interested groups and individuals, provide space for sharing ideas and projects, while offering visibility and support within the community.

We want to increase well-being and awareness, and use technology to get there. The Consciousness Hacking community serves as a support system to explore and present your ideas with a focus on bringing them to reality. The world is waking up.

Miami is an awesome place, full of art, entertainment, and sunshine. It’s a worldly melting pot of cultures. The beaches are beautiful, and so are the people. The Magic City is a merciless enabler of living life to its fullest extent. It’s a place where yogis stride pleasantly down Lincoln Road on their way to get the day’s fresh, cold-pressed juice, often to sweat and flood out the aftermath of last night’s party. This isn’t everyone, but here the type flourishes. With such a stunning location to call our backyard, the talk is often of the next beach yoga event, DecoBike ride, or latest fitness class.  There’s an emphasis on health and well-being in our community.

We want to bring more focus on awareness, consciousness and self-exploration. The benefits derived from living consciously can be equally as enticing. Just like the body, the mind can be trained, and consciousness expanded, with the support of technology. Miami is waking up, becoming aware and Consciousness Hacking is the platform for the visionary and creative people who transform our community.

And then there’s the emerging Miami tech scene. We are not Silicon Valley, and we don’t want to be. The technology and science scene in Miami is incipient. Research, start-ups, and technology incubators are finding their foothold in Miami. We believe creation comes from connection, and Consciousness Hacking brings people and ideas together to co-create Miami’s future. 

The diversity of cultures in Miami also plays to our benefit. Here, chances are likely that at any point throughout the day, the people surrounding you grew up in all different parts of the world. When you share an idea in Miami, the audience, even just by one degree of separation, is far greater. Technology is location agnostic. By developing an idea for Miami you are implicitly designing it for, and introducing it to, the world.

Miami is ripe for Consciousness Hacking. Here we have a world-wide, health-focused, and technologically curious community, eager to ever improve our well-being. Miami, join us Consciousness Hackers in developing the harmonious relationship between health and technology.


First Meetup

Consciousness Hacking, Networking, and Sharing: Our first event dedicated to hearing from our amazing Miami community members.  Everyone in the group will have a chance to introduce themselves, then pitch their project, passion, or personal story in an extended lightning round.  Then we'll have structured group discussion to find and deepen connections, collaborators, and ideas.

Date/time: Dec. 16, 6:30 p.m.

Location: WeWork, 350 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach 

Meetup link:  http://www.meetup.com/Consciousness-Hacking-Miami/

Patrick Hilsbos, a serial entrepreneur, is the chief executive officer and co-founder of Miami-based neuromore. He and Mike Dannheim are bringing Consciousness Hacking to Miami, which has chapters in NYC, SF, LA, Berlin and Bangalore.

December 11, 2015

Crowdfunding for startups: When to start?

By Michael Karavolos

TridentWith over $16 billion raised globally in the crowdfunding industry last year, it’s easy to understand why entrepreneurs and startups are increasingly turning to this practice as an attractive alternative to conventional mediums for financing the launch of new products and ventures. The barriers to entry are relatively low since you don’t have to be a well-connected entrepreneur in Silicon Valley to convince an angel investor to hand you a large sum of money. Instead, you’re putting your marketing skills to work by asking a larger pool of people to support your product.

It’s no secret that the crowdfunding industry is booming. It seems like every day you hear about an exciting new startup crushing their campaign goals and launching their company via Kickstarter or Indiegogo. Still, crowdfunding isn’t for everyone and not every successful product needs crowdfunding. It requires significant financial investment, time, and energy.  As such, here are four things every startup must do before launching a crowdfunding campaign.

1. Prove your product’s market fit. When we create a product it’s like falling in love. No one can tell you it’s not the best thing in the world—well, no one but the market. That’s why you have to have that conversation, early, and often. I always advise startups to build a qualified list of their first 1,000 leads. If you can’t do this, or if it proves to be really hard,it’s a warning that there is rough road ahead. Learn, pivot, and improve. Give them what they want (not what you want) and they will give you what you want.

2. Determine if it possible to make (and for how much). Before launching a crowdfunding campaign, you need to know whether what you intend on building is even possible in the first place. Before seeking crowdfunding, I recommend that you do some research to determine if making your product is even possible, and if it is, how much will it cost? It’s not going to be pretty if you raise $100K but need $200K to make the product into a reality because now you have a commitment to your backers. They want their product and people can quickly become irate if they don’t get it.

3. Set a realistic time line. Many clients come to me with the idea that we can launch a crowdfunding campaign and get some quick money in two weeks. Getting people to give you money is not magic and it isn’t easy, no matter who or how. It takes time, effort, dedication, resources, and a strong plan. Expect to spend 12-16 weeks on the campaign from the launch meeting to the day the campaign ends. That’s not nights and weekends; it’s full-time weeks.

4. Assemble your A-team. A great man once said “a small group of determined and like–minded people can change the course of history.” Well, the same goes for the course of a crowdfunding campaign. These days, no campaign is conceived, created, and managed by one person. There is a lot of competition, and campaigns are getting bigger and better. You need an A-team: PPC, Design, Copy Writing, Email, Social Media, Video, PR, and Customer Service. Assemble the right team and you’re 80% of the way there.

Michael Karavolos is the VP of Digital Marketing and leads the Miami office of Trident Design, LLC., a full-service invention incubator that works with inventors, startups, and corporations to develop and market products ranging from housewares to consumer electronics to medical devices. If you have any questions or feedback, drop Michael a line on Twitter at @socialevolution or email at mkaravolos@trident-design.com