April 29, 2016

EY announces 14 South Florida finalists for Entrepreneur of the Year

Today EY announced the finalists for the Entrepreneur Of The Year 2016 Florida Program, including 14 South Florida entrepreneurs. The prestigious awards program recognizes entrepreneurs who demonstrate excellence and extraordinary success in such areas as innovation, financial performance and personal commitment to their businesses and communities. The business leaders were selected by a panel of independent judges. The 14 finalists from South Florida by category are:

Distribution and Manufacturing

Angel Alvarez – ABB Optical, Coral Springs, FL

Financial Services

Jorge Gonsalez – City National Bank of Florida, Miami, FL

Kent Ellert – Florida Community Bank, Weston, FL

Healthcare & Life Sciences

Nestor Plana – Independent Living Systems, Miami, FL

Armando Bardisa – SMP Pharmacy Solutions, Miami, FL

Amy Tseng – TissueTech, Inc., Doral, FL

Hospitality & Leisure

Michelle Fee – Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel Representative, Coral Springs, FL

Sergey Petrossov – JetSmarter, Fort Lauderdale, FL

Rodger Bloss – Vantage Hospitality Group, Coral Springs, FL

Media, Entertainment & Communications

Jayson Dublin – Playwire, Deerfield Beach, FL

Real Estate & Construction

Vincent Signorello – Florida East Coast Industries, Coral Gables, FL

Dagan Kasavana – Phoenix Tower International, Boca Raton, FL

Retail and Consumer Products

Mario Murgado – Brickell Motors, Miami, FL


Ellen Latham – Orangetheory Fitness, Ft Lauderdale, FL

Award recipients will be announced at a black-tie awards gala onJune 9, 2016, at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, Florida.

April 26, 2016

EcoTech to host second #LOCALIS Digital Conference on Thursday

Submitted by EcoTech Visions

 EcoTech Visions will host the second annual #LOCALIS Digital Conference on Thursday, April 28 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST.

#LOCALIS is a fun digital conference that focuses on the meaning and impact of living locally and supporting local green businesses. The goal of the event is to build awareness and engagement around eco-sustainability topics through noted virtual presenters and institutions who are creatively impacting the ways people interact with the environment and eco-business development. The conference takes place on various social media channels including: Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

“We’re very excited for this year’s #LOCALIS Digital Conference and expect national and global participation,” says Justin Knight, director of marketing and programming at EcoTech Foundations. “Participants will engage in meaningful conversations around what ‘local is’ and ways people can encourage and further develop sustainability in their local communities.”

This year’s schedule includes a scavenger hunt with clues revealed online, plus an in-person lunch event hosted at EcoTech Visions.

Topics on this year’s agenda include:

8am-9am: Solar Power

9am-10am: Renewable Energy Technology

10am-11am: How the not-for-profit sector is advancing local change

11am-noon: Blue Collar to Green Collar

Noon-2pm: Scavenger Hunt

2pm-3pm: Benefits of Supporting Small Businesses/ How to Buy Locally

3pm-4pm: Solving for Sea Level Rise

4pm-5pm: How to make an impact with Water Conservation

5pm-6pm: A Healthier You: What is the impact of eco-sustainability on health

7pm-8pm: Tips for "Glean" Living (Green-Clean Living)

The majority of the conversation occurs on the Twitter platform using hashtag: #LOCALIS. Real-time conversations around “what #LOCALIS means to you.”

A partial listing of presenters for this year's event includes:

  • Andrew West, National Black Information Technology Leadership Organization
  • James Jiler, Urban Greenworks
  • Jen Boynton, Triple Pundit
  • Kamalah Fletcher, American Red Cross
  • Dr. Pandwe Gibson, PhD, EcoTech Visions
  • Valencia Gunder, Make the Homeless Smile
  • Victoria Fear, The Miami Foundation
  • …and more

“LOCALIS represents a unique opportunity for my business to promote the local manufacturing of environmentally friendly and sustainable products," says Michael Caballero, chief executive officer of Earthware Inc. "The benefits of my business model - economically, environmentally and to one's health - are an important message that everyone needs to hear.”

Interested participants can get in on the conversation between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 28 by using hashtag #LOCALIS.

To view the full schedule and list of digital presenters, visit: localisconference.com, and for more information about EcoTech Visions, please visit: EcoTechVisions.com.

EcoTech Visions is a green technology business incubator and accelerator that is turning blue collar jobs to green collar.


Code Art Miami funds MDC scholarship to encourage women to get into animation, gaming

Members of Code Art Miami’s event committee present MDC with a check to fund a new scholarship for Animation and Gaming students at MAGIC. From left to right: Diana Bien Aime (MDC Wolfson Dean of Academic Affairs), Josie Goytisolo, Sofia Garcia, Mauricio Ferrazza (MAGIC Chairperson), Amy Austin Renshaw, Lander Basterra, Maria Mejia, Lisa Hauser and Allison Cammack.

By Amy Austin Renshaw

For the past two years I have had the privilege to be an instructor with the Girls Who Code Club at iPrep Academy. The club was founded last school year by then junior, Maria Mejia, who was inspired to get more girls into coding after completing the Girls Who Code summer immersion program. This year Maria wanted to do even more to inspire girls to learn to code, and from that was born the idea for Code Art Miami, an event aimed at encouraging more girls to learn to code by highlighting the creative side of computer science through a student digital art exhibition and speaker symposium. 

Volunteers from three local Girls Who Code Clubs (iPrep Academy, The Idea Center @ MDC, and Pinecrest Library) and CODeLLA, a local organization that teaches coding and tech skills to Latina girls, came together to plan the event, which was hosted in early February at the Miami Animation & Gaming International Complex (MAGIC) at MDC Wolfson Campus. The event was a great success with over 300 attendees and over 150 student submissions of art-generating programs that ran on digital flat screens throughout the event venue.

In addition to the event, Maria worked to establish the Code Art Miami Scholarship fund at MDC to give back to our host and to make a positive impact on more lives. "A disadvantaged student should not be limited by finances in order to pursue an education, especially when the odds are already against her. Just as I have been fortunate enough to have an entire network of supportive friends and mentors, the Code Art Miami scholarship is my way of providing those same resources to someone else,” said Maria. 

"In setting up the scholarship, we were amazed to learn that just $7,000 would cover tuition costs for one student for both years in the two-year MAGIC program,” said iPrep math teacher and Girls Who Code Club advisor Lisa Hauser. Funds for the scholarship were raised at the event through a silent auction, which included donations from Miami Heat player Chris Bosh and artist Ahol, and through continued post-event sales of a limited-edition print donated by London-based artist Ryca. By early April, we reached our fundraising goal, and on April 20th, Maria and the rest of the Code Art Miami planning committee presented MDC with a check for $7,000 to establish a scholarship fund for women or other underrepresented minorities enrolled in one of MAGIC’s two-year programs. “Currently only about one-fifth of gaming developers are women. This new scholarship will help encourage more women to enter this field,” said Mauricio Ferrazza, MAGIC Chairperson. 

Volunteers who helped Maria make the event and the scholarship fund a reality include my event co-chairJosie Goytisolo and executive planning committee members Lander Basterra, Allison Cammack, Marina Ganopolsky, Sophia Garcia and Lisa Hauser, all of whom share a passion for education — particularly computer science eduction — and a belief in its ability to change lives. Speaking for the group, Allison said, "Coding teaches problem-solving, teamwork, and tenacity. Whatever you can dream, coding gives you the tools to build. And with imagination and determination, you can change the world.” 

Work is already underway for next year’s event. We are reaching out now to area schools to schedule information sessions and workshops in the fall for both teachers and students in the hopes of involving more girls next year. In addition to including more students, we plan to add age brackets and categories for next year’s competition. “It was incredibly difficult to choose just three winners from this year’s submissions, which came from girls in grades 4-12 and included still images, 3D-printed art, animations, and interactive art programs,” said Head Judge Marina Ganopolsky. To learn more about Code Art Miami or schedule an information session at your school or club, email amy@codeart.miami.

April 25, 2016

MentorDay: How Miami leaders are paving the way for entrepreneurs

By Juan Lopez Salaberry

Wow! Thirty less headaches for Miami entrepreneurs, and a $50,000 prize. Twenty-two industry experts helped 30 entrepreneurs solve their business problems  in 45 minute sessions for high impact mentorship across 4 venues in Miami.

MentorDay, a new made-in-Miami platform, was launched this moth to give industry leaders and experts a chance to pay it forward to the community, helping up and coming entrepreneurs solve specific obstacles in their ventures. Mentor Day allows entrepreneurs and startups to receive high impact mentorship in free one-on-one mentorship sessions with industry experts on topics ranging from marketing, venture capital, growth hacking, accounting, legal and beyond.

I have witnessed first hand how mentorship has a deep impact in one's company and also how countless opportunities to work with impressive mentors are lost because of a lack of a mentorship culture. On its first edition, MentorDay received 60 applications, gathered 30 entrepreneurs, 22 experts and solved 30 specific business hurdles.

And magic did happen! We are extremely proud and humbled to be even a (small) part of Cetus Labs’s story. This is an amazing startup from Venture Hive, who applied asking for help with their pitch deck as they had been selected to present at the early-stage competition at Emerge Americas. They won the competition and took $50,000 with them! “Thanks to Mentor Day, we had a great meeting with RJ Roshi where he helped us perfect our pitch before the eMerge Americas startup competition, which we ended up winning!,” Luc Castera, founder of Cetus Labs, told us on a written note.

We created MentorDay to provide a platform for both mentors and mentees to feel comfortable and protected (We even created rules for that purpose.) No deceitful approaches and no broad open questions. We want to educate mentees on how they need to formulate their asks and be clear about them,  while allowing experts in various areas to donate their time in an effective way. With clear expectations before coming, both will end the meeting with the satisfaction of solving one specific problem.

This also de-personalizes mentorship and takes a ‘problem focused’ approach. Instead of having a line to meet & greet with one our mentors, we can be flexible and allow anyone -from the mayor to a visitor to a local hustler, - to be able to share their expertise and pay it forward.

MentorDay started in Miami, and it will hopefully start happening in other cities soon. Silicon Valley has a mentorship culture, however the rest of the world does not look like Silicon Valley. Miami does not look like it. As most nascent and developing entrepreneurial ecosystems, we have our own strengths and areas of opportunity and we have an amazing chance ahead of us to do something about it. There is amazing talent right here and by facilitating the connections we have an amazing future ahead.

MentorDay wants to empower local communities, we want to see each other’s faces, 1-on-1 meetings, in person, for free, at least once a month and help someone else have a fair chance. We want to democratize the chances of success, regardless race, gender, or age. Whether or not entrepreneurs  are part of Endeavor,  received investment, work at a co-working space, or from home and are just starting. We can all use some help.


Photo by Al delcy

Magic happened

We had an amazing contribution from local and even guest mentors. The .CO crowd almost in full jumped in to help out, investors such as Christian Seale and RJ Joshi, entrepreneurs from Wyncode or Gasninja, among many others. Even my dear friend and former partner at 500 Startups, Cesar Salazar, who was visiting the city took one of the sessions and said: “I've been to a large number of mentorship events and this one has by far the best return on time invested.”


Photo by Al delcy

Our first go at MentorDay also received the immense support of four venues: Building.co, WeWork, The LAB Miami and Venture Hive, in which at anytime last Friday you would have found a room with 1 mentor, and 1 mentee.

Our sponsors also rocked. LateralView helped us put together our platform in record time, building.co housed us since the beginning and StartupVisa also helped with the initial funding to set this not-for-profit off the ground.

Next MentorDay

We honestly had no idea what was going to happen last Friday. We did our homework and put a lot of hard work, specially Pete Kovach who was instrumental to the success of the day. But we honestly had no idea what the response was going to be like. Now we want more.

Now that the format has been proven we want to test the frequency. Ideally we want to hold MentorDay once a month (3rd Friday of every month) but it is ultimately the market that will really dictate what will happen.

Our next MentorDay is scheduled for the 20th of May and we have already aligned some incredible mentors. Applications are now open and will close May 9th. We have also put together 5 tips to make sure mentees have higher chances at getting a session.

Get ready, Miami - we are only getting started!

Juan Lopez Salaberry is the founder of the new Miami nonprofit, MentorDay.co.

April 15, 2016

Women in #MiamiTech -- Breaking Boundaries


The women of Kairos pose for a picture with Girls Who Code students. Kairos mentors Girls Who Code. 

By Stefanie Genauer

I am an 80's baby. I grew up wearing scrunchies, I actually used encyclopedias (hard copy ones) from the library to write my research reports in elementary school, and Saved By The Bell was my bible on how to navigate adolescence.

Monochromatic spandex and teen idols aside, being born in the 80's also meant that I grew up in a time where girls were taught they had options-- lots of them in fact. I could cut the hair off all of my Barbie Dolls and join the community basketball league. I could run for student government ("You've got the power, vote Genauer" made for some exceptionally poignant campaign signs), and not only could I go to college, but I was actually the majority instead of the minority. I had parents who told me that I could be anything I wanted to be.

I believed them. I spent my life thinking that I could do anything I put my mind to (except being a doctor; I have an exceptionally strong aversion to blood and needles and do possess a degree of realism). Like many others, I went down a long windy road that took some interesting twists and turns, and somehow landed at my present- day gig, as the Chief Revenue Officer of a very cutting-edge facial biometrics and human analytics start-up based here in Miami. I credit my hard work in school, my previous dues-paying jobs in New York City, including my long stint at Apple, and my endless determination (which for some reason my dad mistakenly calls stubbornness) --but I also credit my forward thinking employer, Kairos.com, for believing that women in leadership roles at tech companies are a valuable asset.

It's amazing to me that to this day, it's still not an equal playing field. Growing up in a nurturing, progressively thinking household, apparently was more of a luxury than I realized. The real world still has presented roadblocks for women in the workplace. Things are wildly different than when my grandmother was my age, but nonetheless there are still examples of gender disparity.  

Just this week, I read an open letter posted on The Starting Gate blog in the Miami Herald about an unacceptable case of discrimination against a female developer at a local Hackathon. Hearing of such a disappointing instance of unwarranted behavior made me angry, and then it made me think. How are we not "there" yet?

I'm sure it's not the first instance, and it sadly won't be the last. It's sad because in my opinion, it all comes down to skill and passion. If you’re good at something you deserve to be there. You deserve to be hired. You deserve to be a part of the dialogue.  Confidence is a huge part of the equation here as well. We need to continue to teach women that they earned the right to be there. No more of this nonsense that "you don't belong". Just keep doing what you're doing -- be better-- be better than the naysayers who are trying to bring you down. It starts internally by believing in yourself -- and it's only amplified by the community around you supporting that notion.

Miami is a vibrant city, filled with diverse cultures. It's the reason why Miami is such a prime location to be next great tech hub in the US. There is money, great talent, wonderful resources and endless sunshine to inspire entrepreneurs. My hope for Miami is that it can continue to grow and promote greatness, wherever it can be found. And while this article is focused predominantly on women, it's true of all people. If you're passionate about what you do, don't second-guess yourself. 

I'm privileged because I get to work at a place that promotes diversity and equality (the company is even a member of the Kapor Capital Founders commitment for diversity and inclusion), and because I'm surrounded by other amazingly talented and fascinating women. Their presence alone makes our company better, and their stories have influenced me and I believe they can do the same for others.

Our newest team member Alia Mahmoud for example, a New York native and a brand new Miami transplant, spent half a decade in Tunisia after the revolution in 2011. She has family roots there and felt compelled to go back and help contribute to the creation of the entrepreneurial ecosystem that was blooming. She landed the job of Director at the Microsoft Innovation Center in Tunis. Visitors would come to the office and say "I need to speak with your boss" and when she would reply "yes, that's me, how may I help you" she says you could visibly see how taken aback they were to encounter a young woman as the Director.

"The lesson I learned quickly was to contribute to any conversation I found myself in, in order to demonstrate my knowledge and that I was not intimidated to interject in a lively discussion dominated by (usually) older men. The key here is not to speak just to be disruptive, but to really add value or ask a pertinent question."

She saw her tactics work. "I noticed that the more I did this, the more welcome I felt in future meetings - not as a woman, but as a person of valor at the table."

"If anyone doubts your capacity because of your age and your gender, you work to prove them wrong by the diligence of your work, the intelligence of your remarks, the courage of your actions and the sheer confidence of your stance", remarks Mahmoud.

Another colleague of mine, Rajnesah Belyeu, is an all-star software developer. She's one of a handful of exceptional talents here in Miami, regardless of gender. Rajnesah found tech, and specifically the field of software engineering, to be an inspiration after receiving her first computer. Her thirst for how things work followed her and in college, she decided to pursue it as an area of study.

Rajnesah found this path on her own, but notes that had educational programs around coding, like the 'Girls Who Code' club here in Miami existed when she was in high school it would have been incredibly helpful. Thankfully, Rajnesah had the forward thinking desire to go after her dreams despite the challenges of getting into the industry. She is incredibly reflective on how the experience has molded her.

"This job has taught me how to be confident in my abilities and myself. Being different from a majority of your peers can make you feel like you don't belong. I had to overcome that and be confident that I am just as good as my peers regardless of any differences. Then one day I realized that being different was more of a positive than a negative - and it changed my life. I realized that by being different I naturally had everyone's attention and it was up to me to own the moment."

Allison Cammack, one of our senior sales executives, didn't start out in tech.  A lawyer by trade, Allison spent years making her mark at some of Miami's most prestigious firms. After grieving the loss of her father and two of her uncles, she discovered that she needed to switch gears and follow a different calling. Life is short, as they say.

Her pursuits led to her enrolling for her very first coding class, and taking that all the way to landing what Allison now affectionately calls her "dream job", at Kairos.com.

"I had to find what I was passionate about doing, and let go of what others expected of me. I wrote out new goals and learned as much as I could about the Miami tech scene and the company I wanted to join. I even got involved with inspiring organizations like Girls Who Code, CodeArt Miami and Black Tech Week.”

“These experiences illustrate that there are opportunities in Miami that don’t exist in other markets. There is much work to be done. And we all need to be part of the solution - by speaking out against bias and leading by example in our hiring and our volunteerism."

It's never too late to follow your dreams. “When you show that you are genuinely passionate about an organization and have the grit to overcome any obstacles in your way, the right people will make a spot for you,” emphasizes Allison. And with a community around you that supports and cultivates these kinds of dreams, it makes it much easier to realize them.

Kiran Virdee-Chapman, the Chief People Officer at Kairos.com, traveled across the pond from London to be in Miami and join the tech revolution. Kiran worked at Apple for many years and has been immersed in the technology world long enough to observe certain trends.

Kiran believes "there are not enough female influences in technology." She said there is a misconception that it is a male-dominated industry. There are many talented females leading the way and even outshining their male counterparts. Virdee-Chapman thinks that if there were more women in the spotlight, it would help change some of the stereotypes about them in the field. They are already here. They are already making a difference. It's about changing the conversation and changing an outdated perspective.

The passion Kiran feels for the subject is evident, and she believes it goes even broader than what’s been mentioned thus far. “When thinking of inclusion, it should go beyond gender. It's about recognizing everyone and Miami has a unique opportunity to empower an eco-system that puts diversity ahead of stereotypes. Apple said to think different but I believe with diversity and inclusion it goes further than that. You need to embrace differences in individuals and be brave enough to act on them,”, Kiran reflects.

Kiran's thoughts got me thinking (as good thoughts should). Diversity and inclusion has turned into a "thing." It's something we get patted on the back for, but in reality, it's just how things should be. I have always tried to set a good example and excel in whatever I pursued, but that was just me, being me. It wasn't me, being a woman, doing all these things. The Herald blog article shed light on an important and apparently still present issue that deserves attention. I hope that the sum total of all the intelligent voices that have an opportunity to be heard, continue to overpower the ignorant ones and educate and expand people's minds. And that diversity and inclusion moves from being something you get a gold star for, to just the way things are.

I hope the Miami community continues to band together and show the rest of the country (and world for that matter) that women in Tech, and frankly any industry, deserve a seat at the proverbial table. And, one day, we'll all just be humans in leadership roles, changing the world and making things happen.

Stefanie Genauer is chief revenue officer at Miami-based Kairos. Reach her at @stef_genauer or stefanie@Kairos.com.

Read more: An Open Letter to the Miami Tech Community

Read more: An Open Challenge to Miami's 'tough guy' coders



April 13, 2016

Time to bury 'Silicon Beach' in the sand



By Juan Pablo Cappello

JpcOver the past five years, South Florida has slowly been recognized as a technology hub, gracing the pages of tech journals like “TechCrunch” and more mainstream publications like “The Atlantic”.  This buzz should not go to our heads.  Rather than fantasizing about creating a “Silicon Beach” here in the tropics, our politicians and our business leaders need to focus on creating quality jobs by helping our tech-enabled businesses to grow and scale.

Recently South Florida has been home to some spectacular successes for tech enabled companies.  We have seen billion dollar successes like Broward’s Mako Surgical, a medical robotics company that was sold for over $1.6 billion in 2013. Broward’s Magic Leap also joined the billionaires club with $1.4 billion of investment from Google Ventures and others to support its virtual reality technology. 

The outsize successes of Mako Surgical, Leap Magic and others have gotten the attention of local politicians and business leaders.  Talk of converting Miami into some sort of “Silicon Beach” has been around since at least the late 1990’s when Lincoln Road was the de facto capital of the whole Latin American tech scene. 

I suspect no one would suggest we are going to to create “Beach Street” in South Florida to compete with New York’s “Wall Street”.  Similarly, it is time to stop talking about building a “Silicon Beach”. 

Silicon Valley works because many of the the most innovative technologies in the world are developed in San Francisco and around Stanford University.  Silicon Valley is the mecca of disruptive innovation, like Hawaii is the center of surfing because it has amazing waves.   

Similar to Hawaii and its waves, South Florida will likely never compete with Silicon Valley (or New York or Boston) as a center of innovative technologies.  However, in South Florida we have unique strengths that almost no other region in the world has.

The “tech” revolution isn’t happening only at Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Uber and a few other household names in tech.  The rapid and unstoppable force of the innovations brought by technology is affecting every single business-big and small. For every Apple or Facebook there are a thousand or ten thousand small and medium-sized companies trying to leverage technology to compete better against larger, more established companies.

In South Florida today, we have more small and medium-sized business per capita than almost any major city in the nation.  The Miami area ranks 6th in the nation for small business activity.   And by some measure, almost 90 percent of South Florida’s economic activity comes from small businesses.  These small and medium-sized businesses are the key to South Florida finding its place in the tech world.

Far less sexy than talking about changing the world with THE next big thing, we and mainly our politicians and community leaders can focus on helping our existing army of smaller, more agile businesses make lots and lots of small innovations. Collectively these innovations can have an enormous impact and make South Florida a very unique tech hub.

In South Florida, nearly two-thirds of our small businesses have fewer than 5 employees.   This is a huge opportunity because there is tremendous room for these micro employers to hire more people. 

Many “pure” technology companies developed in Silicon Valley create very few jobs.  Instagram had only 13 employees when Facebook bought it for $1 billion and Snapchat had only 30 employees when Facebook offered $3 billion to acquire it.

Politicians and business-makers must help our local companies use technology more efficiently. They must support our businesses as they innovate these technologies. The result will be the creation of more jobs that are better paying, and businesses that will expand and employ more individuals throughout South Florida.

Silicon Valley is often criticized for not being very inclusive. There are very few minorities in leadership positions at tech companies in Silicon Valley and women are perennially underrepresented.   As our tech ecosystem grows we have an opportunity to attract female entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color who value the diversity and the community offered in South Florida.

In fifty years, the United States will only just be catching up to Miami with regards to the diversity of its population, a population that will be predominately non-white and immigrant. According to the to the Census Bureau, Miami is 66% Latino/Hispanic whereas the US is 65% White and almost 20% of our population is African American.  South Florida as a whole is also quite diverse -- much more diverse than most of the United States.

The more we can create the first truly inclusive tech hub in the United States, the more unique and powerful our local economy will become.

South Florida’s tech revolution will not be measured by how many millions our companies raise from outside investors or for how many billions our companies are sold for.  That is how Silicon Valley measures its success.  I wish them well with that.  In South Florida we are different, and we can have different values and different goals than those of Silicon Valley. 

The measure of the success of South Florida’s tech ecosystem should be how many quality, high paying, high skilled jobs we create in every segment of our diverse community.  

South Florida already has some of the most entrepreneurial, diverse small businesses in the world.  We do not need to try to replicate Silicon Valley here in the sunshine.  

Juan Pablo Cappello is the co founder of The Lab Miami (a co-working, shared office space in Wynwood) and AGP Miami (a local start-up investing group), as well as an active investor in technology companies. Twitter: @CappelloJP

April 12, 2016

An Open Challenge to Miami’s “tough-guy" coders


By Tim Berthold

Yesterday I read this in the Starting Gate.  

To recap, a UM female student seeking to improve her programming skills showed up to a “hackathon” and experienced what she felt was degrading behavior from her male teammates.  According to the article, other female students have experienced similar behavior at other events. 

Some might call it mild sexism.  It might not be rampant, but it seems to show up enough to be an issue.

Either way, it ticked me off.  Here are three reasons why:

Reason #1: Miami is young.  We have an opportunity to create the kind of tech ecosystem that we want, one that differs from Silicon Valley where gender and racial biases permeate the startup culture.  Not convinced it’s real?  Listen to this episode of the Startup Podcast.    

Reason #2:  I come from the military.  A very male-dominated part of the military.  And I’m proud to see the military I left over ten years ago become the inclusive organization it is today.  It didn’t get that way by belittling women, minorities, or anyone else.  I want no part of an ecosystem that condones such behavior toward anyone.  Thankfully, these adolescent-minded coders don’t reflect the entire community.

Reason #3: The behavior described is indicative of a culture that values status over learning.  “I’m good at coding” instead of “How can I become a better coder?”  Those who have this attitude will fail.  If too many people in Miami have this attitude then Miami will fail.  Growth only comes through the willingness to put oneself out there, show up, and try to get 1% better everyday . . . regardless of the outcome and regardless of who’s watching (reference Carol Dweck’s oft-cited book Mindset).

On that note, let’s get real . . . real quick.  Knowing how to code doesn’t make you tough.  Doing what this girl did makes you tough. 

She heard about an event she knew would be male-dominated and was probably scared to put her skills on display in front of better coders.  But she showed up anyway.  

For the women out there reading, I hope you continue to “show up.”  It won’t be the last time this kind of behavior happens.  It's also one of the “tamer” stories out there that makes no mention of the elephant in the room - social and sexual inappropriateness (or awkwardness, given we’re talking about coders).

For the coding boys - I think you’re just being “boys” and probably did not intend to cause harm by your comments and behavior.  This girl seems tough enough to get past it, but what harm have you done to the Miami ecosystem that can benefit from the skills, perspective, and hustle of female coders? 

Beyond inclusion I think the biggest lesson is one you already know - that growth takes risk . . . the same risk you've already faced in your coding career. Was there ever a point when you were afraid to take up coding?  Afraid to show your work to someone, thinking it might not be any good?  If you call yourself a “coder,” then chances are you did - then you faced that resistance and pushed past it.

Maybe it’s time to revisit that moment.  Here are some ideas for doing so:

Challenge #1: Pitch your business idea or your coding skills in front of an audience of at least 20 people who you don’t know.  Then put it on YouTube.  Brave graduates of Wyncode and Iron Hack do it every few months - why can’t you?

Challenge #2: Announce to the world that you are finally going to do something about the “idea for a startup I have.”  Put it on display for everyone to see you possibly fail.  Then show up and make a little progress everyday.  Maybe you fail, maybe you don’t.  The only certainty is you’ll learn.

Challenge #3: Show up to a 6:00 am workout with my military friends and me.  We’ll videotape it.  Perhaps you’ll be humbled, perhaps you’ll impress.  What matters is that you were scared and showed up anyway.  

If you pick #3, I will reciprocate and gladly attend one of your next coding sessions where you can run Ruby circles around me while playing “one-two-three-four, I declare thumb war" with your coding buddies.

I know the behavior of these boys doesn’t speak for the whole of the Miami tech community.  And to that community I say keep doing what you’re doing: showing up, making a little progress every day, and helping others around you become better.  Let’s keep up the momentum you’ve worked so hard to build.

Tim Berthold is a Navy veteran, advisor to young & fun companies, and runs the Miami Hustle Series Podcast covering stories of Miami startups & entrepreneurs (Twitter: @miamihustleco)

April 11, 2016

An Open Letter to the Miami Tech Community

By Kim Grinfeder

I direct and teach in the Interactive Media Program at the University of Miami, a new program that I helped create with hopes it would someday contribute to Miami’s budding tech scene. It was always my hope that the program be integrated into Miami’s community, and so I have always encouraged my students to participate in local meet-ups and hackathons. In fact, until recently, it was a requirement for students to attend at least five local meet-ups or hackathons as part of their class grades.

Last week, a female student shared her experience at a local hackathon. She attended the hackathon for the normal reasons: she wanted to hone her programming skills, meet new people, and have a good time. Because she did not know anyone there, she joined a group who happened to be all-male. She told them that she could help with design or front-end coding since she was proficient in both. One of the guys asked if he should “dumb it down for her.” The night went on with macho jokes that made her feel uncomfortable and ended in “not-bad-for-a-girl” high fives. Unfortunately, it is not the first time that I hear such a story from a student who attended a local coding event. I am not saying this type of gender-based disparagement happens all the time, but I have heard similar tales enough times from my students to warrant calling it out.

That being said, she also mentioned that a few of her teammates worked cordially with her and that she learned quite a bit from them. In fact, these teammates seemed put off by the rest of the team’s behavior, even though they did not exactly step in to stop it. It is unfortunate that too often good behavior is overshadowed by some vexatious comportment.

If we seriously aspire to become a blossoming tech community intent on recruiting and keeping talent in Miami, we cannot tolerate such behavior. Next time that you are at a local hackathon, look at the male/female ratio and ask yourself why this is so. We need to strive to make these events safe and fun for everyone if we want them to succeed. Meet-ups should implement a code of conduct and adhere to it so that everyone can feel welcome. This recommendation has already been carried out at some of our largest local meet-ups and has helped them grow (see http://www.meetup.com/South-Florida-PHP-Users-Group/pages/Anti-Harassment/). I would like, with this letter, to see more local groups and events adopt this policy.

Again, the vast majority of tech events in Miami have been welcoming to everyone, and great things are happening here like the WIN Lab and Girls Who Code, which are designed to attract women and encourage them to enter the industry. But we should also ensure that our mixed gender events are welcoming and safe for everyone. We should not have to rely only on gender exclusive events. It is hard enough to get things going in Miami without excluding people. Our new tech community should be built on shedding the old-school male-dominated STEM paradigm for a model that strengthens and benefits from our local gender diversity.

Kim Grinfeder is Associate Professor in the Department of Cinema and Interactive Media at the University of Miami. Twitter: @kimgrinfeder

March 25, 2016

My experience at SXSW 2016: 'Hope, inspiration, family and support'

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Michael hallBy Michael Hall

Digital Grass Innovation & Technology's vision is to transform, develop and promote diversity inclusion by increasing the presence of diverse groups in entrepreneurial ventures, innovation and technology. Digital Grass provides symposiums, training curriculums and professional services to develop a more diverse community in South Florida (Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach) nested in a technological hub for entrepreneurs. While the mission started off in South Florida, we quickly realized working with other organizations throughout the nation is more of the legacy we would like to leave. We focus on building a place of comfort for excellence in innovation, technology and entrepreneurship.

Our team of 11 entrepreneurs came together with one goal: to offer the support to others that we didn't receive ourselves. Self motivation can easily lead to depression when you don't have a support system. The biases at play in the tech world may have just made the national platform in the last two years, but I grew up seeing this problem as a young black man from Brewton, Alabama while watching a majority of my family attend Tuskegee University to become engineers when there was a fight for diversity in engineering. I watched my father, Marcus Hall, take this fight into his own hands and build a program recognized by the Pentagon, where he recruited black engineers to work for the Department of Defense. I strive to continue his legacy. Diversity inclusion in technology is not a new problem, rather, it is an old problem in a new sector. In the legal realm, the National Bar Association has spearheaded the fight for inclusion and in the engineering sector, the National Society of Black Engineers champions the cause. No matter how much patience one can have, you must have a leader to take action, but that lies in comfort when you come to South by Southwest and you realize you are not the only one fighting.

As a business owner, innovator and advocate for diversity inclusion in innovation and technology, meeting peers, those you admire, from Brandon Andrews leading the diversity inclusion in Shark Tank to Leslie Miley, the last black engineer of Twitter, to Joey Womack with Goodie Hack’s Founders’ Therapy program, SXSW offers hope, inspiration, family and support. The price you pay for that golden ticket offers the support that drives you for the next nine months to make it through the year because you quickly realize you aren't fighting for popularity, fame or fortune, but a legacy to help others become successful and simply not give up. The moment you realize that someone is not just introducing you to someone because you are black, but simply because you are talented, is priceless. The sharing of resources and the free advice is monumental to helping someone keep their path or pivot to make the best decisions. While the speakers for keynotes and sessions are amazing, nothing beats the conversations in the JW Marriott with meetups by Black Tech Week to the "Capital of Talent' in the We DC House with young amazing talent floating around like Angel Rich of the Wealth Factory while relaxing in the Black Wall Street House with Talib Graves Mann and Jessica Averhart of American Underground.

I can't name the endless count of mentors, friends, leaders and inspiration that is convened at SXSW, but aside from my outlet to Sherell Dorsey, I am not sure who was there to envision this beautiful scenery beyond the techies themselves.

You continue to notice that there are many others doing great things, but what you never see is them getting coverage for just being great, but only because they are a visual representation of "diversity". The role of Digital Grass will remain true to the original name, Digital Grassroots, connecting our community and sharing resources to help us strive forward. And to think it’s only March, we have 9 months left!

Michael Hall is the founder of Digital Grass Innovation & Technology.

March 18, 2016

14 fintech companies faced off in Temenos Innovation Jam: And the winners were....

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From right to left: Joel Brown from DocuVital, author and futurist Brett King and Javier Mira from FacePhi

Submitted by CVOX Group

Last week, the Temenos Innovation Jam  at The Lightbox at Goldman Warehouse in Miami’s Wynwood Arts District featured fintech companies from South Florida and around the Americas. Each  had the opportunity to pitch products and solutions to renowned financial institutions. 

Fourteen companies were pre-selected to showcase their company: AppDome, BillBit, Billshark, Coinapult, Facephi, DocuVital, HID Global, iQuantifi, Lenddo, Mesfix, Quotanda, Strands, VU and Zave App Inc. 

Each company had even minutes to make a presentation and the audience of bankers and community supporters voted to choose two winners. And the winners were (drumroll please)...

The first prize went to Javier Mira from Facephi and second prize to Joel Brown of Miami-based DocuVital.

Facephi, headquartered in Spain, is a global leader in facial recognition technology.   Its product is rapidly becoming a service used by banks all over the world.  This innovative technology enhances the client experience effortlessly by simply using the camera on their mobile device to take a selfie; this then becomes their method of identification and interaction with the bank’s mobile application. 

DocuVital is the turbo tax for end of life planning.  Over 100 tasks need to be completed by the family after a loved one dies.  DocuVital, based at Miami's Venture Hive, solves this problem by organizing your vital information and documents, automating the process, storing it all using bank level security and encryption, and finally delivering it all seamlessly to your loved ones when you are gone.   Banks now want to provide services for the whole life cycle of their clients and Docuvital is a great tool for end-of-life issues and planning. 

The DocuVital platform is very simple to use, guiding the user through a simple step-by-step process of uploading all their vital information and documents. Using a set-up wizard, the platform quickly and easily instructs the user what information will be needed and then takes them to a dashboard page where they can seamlessly navigate through different sections, including personal, financial, legal, funeral and miscellaneous. (This was Brown's second fintech win)

“The Fintech Innovation Jams provide a unique opportunity for each for us to engage, identify and partner with the hottest fintech companies in the world. Through the Temenos MarketPlace, fintech companies get access to the more than 2,000 financial institutions running our software, who serve more than 500 million banking customers. Our clients in turn get access to cutting-edge innovation, making it a true win-win situation,” said Ben Robinson, CMO for Temenos.

He added that “Latin America is a region bubbling with technology innovation and we are excited to help propel fintech to the forefront as a sector with great opportunities for innovative entrepreneurs.”

Now the winner has the opportunity to travel to Barcelona in May 2016 and compete in the Temenos Community Forum (TCF) with finalists from Singapore, Dubai and London.