March 29, 2015

Israel's tech-startup success: What can we learn?


MIAMI DELEGATION IN JERUSALEM: From left: Leandro Finol, Brian Siegal, Benoit Wirz, Felecia Hatcher, Nico Berardi, Laura Maydon, Matt Haggman, Susan Amat, Stonly Baptiste, Jaret Davis. Photo courtesy of AJC's Project Interchange.

By Nancy Dahlberg /

The ecosystem supporting Israel’s globally recognized tech and innovation sector, dubbed “Startup Nation,” helps fuel and sustain rapid economic growth in the country. Are there takeaways for Miami as it tries to build an ecosystem? If so, 2015 is shaping up to be the year to learn.

A delegation of leaders in the Miami tech-startup community spent the past week in Israel with Project Interchange, an educational institute of the American Jewish Committee, to learn from the country’s thriving tech and innovation sector while sharing best practices and making connections. The knowledge exchange was supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The group was based in Tel Aviv, the hub of Israel’s tech corridor, but the delegation also visited technology and innovation centers throughout Israel, including Haifa, Jerusalem and Beersheba. Delegates visited the world-famous Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, as well as incubators and community programs, and met with entrepreneurs, academics and investors to learn about policies that foster and encourage innovation and practices that can be replicated in Miami. Although Project Interchange has led delegations for 30 years, this is the first focused on entrepreneurship.

“Israeli’s world-class research and innovation, its unique academia-to-technology transfer programs, and its emphasis on integrating immigrants into the country’s society, are key areas for collaboration and sharing of best practices that can truly benefit the greater Miami community and beyond,” said Robin Levenston, Project Interchange’s executive director.

But that’s not all: The Israeli Consulate and eMerge Americas have been working together to showcase Israeli innovation and bring about 10 Israeli startups to Miami to participate in the homegrown tech conference in May. A speaker series featuring Israeli entrepreneurs is also in the plans, and other projects are in the works to promote collaboration between the regions.

There is certainly a lot to learn from Israel.

Today you will find almost every big-name tech company in Israel — including Google, Apple, H-P and Intel (one of the largest tech employers in Israel) — as well as a number of world-ranked research institutions, hundreds of promising startups and a thriving ecosystem to support them. The technology industry is one of Israel’s biggest economic drivers; more than half of Israel’s exports are high tech.

Although it seems like overnight, Israel’s high-tech ecosystem has been building over the past several decades.

“If you ask anyone where the high-tech sector in Israel started, everyone would say ’69 in the Technion,” said Peretz Lavie, president of the Technion. “This is where they started to teach microelectronics, this is where semiconductors were produced, this is where it all started. … In ’69, the Technion also decided to open a faculty of medicine. It was again prophetic -- the decision was made because in the future medicine and technology would work hand in hand. This is why Israel now is an empire of medical devices.”

So what are the ingredients of success in the Startup Nation? “Everyone wants to know what is the secret,” Lavie said in an interview with the Miami Herald when he was in town for an American Technion Society board meeting. (See Q&A with Peretz Lavie here.)

Lavie said two of the major ingredients are characteristics of Israelis. First, it’s their risk-taking behavior — “the Army service teaches you how to take risks,” he said. And second, acceptance of failure: “There are many countries where failure is not an option. Here, failure is part of the learning curve.”

Another key ingredient, Lavie said, is the emphasis on education, a Jewish tradition. “We don’t teach the materials, we teach them how to learn; it is a lifelong experience. I hear this a lot from our alumni, ‘we are taught how to learn … There is not a situation where we cannot cope.’<TH>”

Lastly he said, the government in the 1960s had the right policy when it started to support research in companies: “These ingredients are what created the ecosystem.”

Lavie recently completed a study of companies established in the last 20 years by Technion graduates.  In the past 20 years, alumni and professors have founded 2,000 companies; all but 169 of them are in Israel. “The number of jobs was 100,000, merger and acquisitions [activity generated] was $28 billion, the total money raised was $6 billion,” he said. “And if you ask them why they are doing it, they want to change the world; it’s not the money.”

Universities need great students and faculty, but they also need a mission, Lavie said. “We serve the country, we serve mankind,” he said of Technion, which is partnering with Cornell University to bring a tech-focused campus to New York City. That mission-driven approach was not lost on the Project Interchange startup delegation during its visit to Technion. “One participant said that even more amazing than the technological innovation at the Technion is the support for entrepreneurs and the efficiency with which they have partnered with the commercial world to get products to the market,” said Brian Siegal, AJC Miami director, who accompanied participants on the trip and blogged about the experiences daily.

Members of the startup delegation included Matt Haggman, Miami program director of Knight Foundation; Susan Amat, founder of Venture Hive; Laura Maydón, managing director of Endeavor Miami; Jaret Davis, co-managing shareholder of Greenberg Traurig; Stonly Baptiste, co-founder of Urban.Us; Nico Berardi, managing director of the AGP angel network; Benoit Wirz, director of venture investments for Knight Foundation; Leandro Finol, executive director of Miami Dade College’s Idea Center; and Felecia Hatcher, co-founder of Code Fever.

Amat said learning in the field — quite literally — plays a big role in Israel’s rapid pace of development. The role of the military and military service is at the core, she said. Israeli technologists learn to test and iterate on innovations on the ground for a couple of intense years before going to college, giving them a confidence and “learning by doing” not seen elsewhere.

“It’s now a country full of trained leaders with crisis management skills who know how to problem-solve and work on a team. This experience has made me even more focused on immersive experiences for middle and high school students — everything hands-on and empowering them to lead, work in teams, and focus on excellence,” said Amat, whose nonprofit Venture Hive runs tech-entrepreneurship programs for K-12 students as well as adults.

Haggman shared this: “For me, the biggest takeaway is the belief and sense of possibility that we've come across. In conversation after conversation with entrepreneurs, there is such a focus on solving problems and thinking ahead to what’s next.… ‘We're a startup nation,’ said Enon Landenberg, an entrepreneur behind an incubator called Small Factory Big Ideas outside Tel Aviv, when I asked him what drives the startup community here. ‘From the beginning we've been focused on solving problems. ... That's what drives things.’

Haggman said that another takeaway is the huge focus on the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Maydón, who is building the Miami Endeavor network for high-impact entrepreneurs, agrees. “As one speaker said, ‘you need an ecosystem that continuously answers questions for entrepreneurs’ and it’s just not based on bursts,” she said. “I believe that’s what we’re all trying to accomplish in Miami.”

The collaborations will no doubt continue. At eMerge Americas, Israel will have a large booth showcasing Israeli innovation. Israel is aiming to to include about 10 companies in a variety of areas such as communications, technology and biomed, said Revital Malca, deputy consul general of Israel. Among the companies: “We are working very hard to bring Mobileye.”

Tel Aviv’s deputy mayor will participate in the eGov summit with other world dignitaries as part of eMerge America. Malca also said the consulate has been working with the Office of Enterprise Florida in Tel Aviv to recruit companies.

Meital Stavinsky, an attorney and shareholder with Greenberg Traurig, co-chairs the region’s Tel Aviv University alumni chapter; the firm also has a Tel Aviv office. In a recent study, Tel Aviv University ranked ninth in the world for VC-backed entrepreneurship, she said. “What we are looking to launch as part of eMerge Americas week is a series named Entrepreneurship On Tap, an informal networking opportunity that will be social, fun and in a cool venue, where successful entrepreneurs from Israel will come to speak and share their journeys.”

It’s a program that has been done in Israel for a number of years successfully and then spread to other cities; the alumni chapter wants to host at least three a year. “It’s a great way to showcase Israeli innovation and spirit,” said Stavinsky, who as a focus of her practice, advises innovative Israeli technology companies, particularly in cleantech and agtech, on government law and policy matters.

Other efforts are underway to continue to build connections with Israel’s ecosystem. Israeli innovation will be represented at Baptiste's Smart City Startups conference in Miami next month. Before the end of the year, Amat plans to host a group of Israeli entrepreneurs at Venture Hive, an entrepreneurship education company that includes an accelerator and incubator.

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.


 Miami startup delegation visiting Israel meets with the mayor of Bedouin Town of Hura, creating change and empowerment through education and technology. Photo courtesy AJC's Project Interchange. 

Q&A: Technion's role in Israel's Startup Nation immense

By Nancy Dahlberg /

TPeretz Laviehe Technion developed into a world-class research university out of necessity.

As President Peretz Lavie explains it, although the Israeli university’s roots date back to 1912 as an engineering school, it wasn’t until 1948 that Technion began its transformation into a leading research institution. Simply put, then-Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion believed the new state of Israel needed aeronautical expertise to power its Air force to defend the country; now aeronautics is one of the largest industrial complexes in Israel, he said.

 And that was just the beginning, Prof. Lavie said. “We have become a world class university, with 3 ½ Nobel laureates and a global presence, and we are the cornerstone of Startup Nation.”

The Technion – Israel Institute of Technology is a public research university in Haifa, Israel that offers  degrees in science and engineering, architecture, medicine, industrial management and education. With 18 academic departments and some 50 research centers, it is often grouped with  Stanford and MIT, universities that have played outsized roles in building their entrepreneurial ecosystems. Israel's movement, powered by Technion, is dubbed Startup Nation. The USB flash drive, drip irrigation, a Parkinson’s drug, the Iron Dome air defense system, the data compression algorithm used in pdfs, and instant messaging are some of the inventions developed at Technion or by alumni.

Prof. Lavie, who grew up in Israel but earned his PhD in physio-psychology (a precursor to neuroscience) at the University of Florida, joined Technion in 1975 to set up a sleep research lab. He worked his way up and became president in 2009. He’s also started two medical device companies and two medical service providers.

In 2011, a bid by a consortium of Cornell University and Technion won a competition to establish a new high-tier applied science and engineering institution in New York City. A state-of-the-art tech campus, the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech, is being built on Roosevelt Island, while the campus is currently housed in Google’s mammoth New York offices.

Technion is also establishing a technological institute in Guangdong Province, China. As part of the agreement, the Li Ka Shing Foundation will donate $130 million to Technion – the largest donation in the university’s history.

Lavie talked with the Miami Herald when he was in town earlier this month for an American Technion Society board meeting. Here are excerpts of the conversation.

Q. How did Technion become a powerhouse for high-tech?

A. In 1969, the Technion established a micro-electronics institute, when no one had heard of it. After the ‘67 war, we needed night vision devices and infrared sensors, there was no knowledge in Israel but Technion established the institute to produce the first semiconductors.  ... If you ask anyone where the high-tech sector in Israel started, everyone would say ’69 in the Technion. This is where they started to teach microelectronics, this is where semiconductors were produced, this is where it all started. …

The same year the faculty split into electrical engineering and computer science, these two are the backbone of the Israeli high tech 69 The Technion also decided to open a faculty of medicine. It was again prophetic -- the decision was made because in the future, medicine and technology would work hand in hand. This is why Israel now is an empire of medical devices.

Today, a 10 minutes’ drive from the Technion you will find Yahoo and Google and Intel and H-P and Philips and GE and now Apple, relying on Technion students and Technion graduates.

I just completed a study on companies established in the last 20 years by Technion graduates.  Of the 2,000 companies [founded and led by Technion alumni or professors], 169 were established outside Israel, mostly in the U.S., the rest, more than 1,800 were in Israel. The number of jobs was 100,000, the mergers and acquisitions [activity] was $28 billion, the total money raised was $6 billion. ... And if you ask them why they are doing it, they want to change the world; it’s not the money.

Q. Sounds like you don’t have a problem with brain drain.

A. Brain drain is not an issue and I’ll tell you why. Intel is largest tech employer with 8,000 or 9,000 jobs. Intel in Israel was started by a Technion [graduate who moved back from the U.S.]. Same with Applied Materials, same with Apple, and others.

When we established a branch in New York together with Cornell, everyone said ‘oh, you will cause brain drain of Israelis to New York.’ I said ‘no, what we will do is attract second generation Israelis in the U.S., including as faculty members.

I don’t think all immigrant groups have a deep sense of responsibility. A large number of Israelis feel a lot of responsibility for Israel. Israel is a startup experience on its own; there is a shared sense of responsibility.

Q. What has Technion’s role been in the tech boom of Israel?

A. MIT did a study on universities that turned their areas into ecosystems of innovation and entrepreneurship. … MIT and Stanford were No.1 and 2, and Technion was no. 6 -- it changed the ecosystem of its country. When they asked the experts to rerate only the ones in challenging environments, Technion was no. 1.

Great universities need to attract top students, to attract top faculty, and the third is a mission. A university must have a mission. The mission is part of the Technion DNA -- To serve the country, to serve mankind. During the Russian immigration wave of the ‘90s, a wave of a million people within a span of five years, Technion stood up to the challenge. We increased the number of students by almost 30 percent in one year. We have a pre-academic center for minorities, every year we have 700 of them, and students are accepted without affirmative action; 67 percent are making it [into Technion].

Arab Israelis 10 years ago were 7 percent of the Technion students. The dropout rate was 40 percent. We started bringing the top kids from all the villages into the program, appointed them a big brother or sister, and held regular discussion groups. Fast forward 10 years, 20 percent of our students are Arab and the dropout rate is 13 percent, about the same as the Israel population. 48 percent of those students are Arab women in all the faculties.’

Q. What about overall?

A. 37 percent women. But electrical engineering is still 15-20 percent. We are trying to move that. We started programs in the high schools, k-12, and to attract girls into science, math, physics.

Q. What other factors led to Startup Nation?

A. Two major characteristics I found are characteristics of Israelis. First, risk-taking behavior. ... The army service teaches you how to take risks. ... The second one is acceptance of failure. There are many countries where failure is not an option. In Israel, failure is part of the learning curve.

Then there is the emphasis on education, a Jewish tradition. But we don’t teach the materials, we are taught how to learn; it is a lifelong experience. I hear this  from our alumni, ‘we are taught how to learn … There is not a situation where we cannot cope.’

The fourth is the government during the ‘60s had the right policy when they started to support research, in companies.

Q. How is your global expansion progressing?

A. Mayor Bloomberg, I admire him for his vision. When I met with him, I said why Technion? He said I am envious of Silicon Valley and Route 128 [in Boston] and I want New York to be the capital of technology.

We are now temporarily at Google headquarters in Chelsea, I asked Eric Schmidt why, and he said we want to be close to you. You need the nucleus of academic excellence that will attract faculty, students and customers. This is a unique to have a degree in applied science and engineering. No excuses. Its tailor made for the industries of New York. We started with The Connective Media, including a major publication. Next year we have are going to open The Healthier Life. The third one is The Built Environment, to open in 2017.

We would like to be close to you. This is the key.

.... [In China,] hopefully we will get the greenlight and start in 2017; we have appointed a leader already. Cornell and China were our first expansions, and we won’t do anymore. With 14,000 students and 600 faculty, we can’t spread ourselves too thin. But I must say we became the most courted boy on the block. We have strategic agreements with the University of Michigan, Toronto, MIT, Cornell and several leading European universities. It’s exciting."

Q. What brought you to  Miami this month?

A. I was here for a board meeting of the American Technion Society. The backbone of our support has come from the American Technion society established in 1940. Without their support we would just be another college in the Middle East. We don’t get research and development funding form the Israeli government … I travel here and crisscross the country twice a year to meet our supporters. This is amazing, the dedication, the love for our institute -- now we have third and fourth generation families that support Technion.

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg. 

See related story on Miami startup delegation's knowledge exchange in Israel as part of AJC's Project Interchange.

January 23, 2015

Chile creating a nationwide lab for ecosystem development

By Susan Amat

SusanamatAcross the globe, both city and national initiatives are regularly announced, each focused on developing their own entrepreneurial ecosystems to provide funding and support to their entrepreneurs. The “Startup (Insert City or Country name here)” programs tend to have many things in common, including shocking budgets, but often fail to address the long-term cultural shift that must occur for the newly enlightened entrepreneurs to want to stay in the region. The excitement surrounding the announcement is rarely followed up with the metrics and ROI of the project. Many of those programs are designed after visits to Startup Chile, which has been successful in creating a mindset shift among Chileans and developing thousands of entrepreneurial ambassadors all over the world who will recount their six-months in Chile, having fallen in love with her people and the country itself. The agency that oversees Chile’s economic development, growth, and promotes investment and competitiveness, Corporacion De Fomento De La Produccion (CORFO), could have easily sat back and continued to be the reference point for scores of policy leaders in creating their own programs, but leaders rarely rest.

The 2013 Presidential election resulted in a shifting of power. The new administration, under President Michelle Bachelet, reflected on the results of their much lauded programs and has been diligently crafting new initiatives to build their talent, expand entrepreneurship support beyond the main cities to create multiple poles, reduce rural migration, diversify the economy, and enable the establishment of equity-based funds with generous matching parameters. This marks another meaningful experiment in Chile and the early results are promising.

The key pivot is the creation of full support across the spectrum that may last throughout the lifetime of the business rather than a six-month stint. Chilean entrepreneurs, and those who will make substantial long-term investments in Chile, will also benefit from the tens of millions CORFO is deploying to ensure there is early stage capital for both tech and non-tech businesses. The investment, coupled with the support, may act to democratize the promise of economic freedom that entrepreneurship can offer.

Chile is ripe for this innovation. During our visit to Chile last week, we met with dozens of entrepreneurs, visited several incubators and co-working spaces, and did multiple trainings for mentors and entrepreneurs. The talent is evident and plentiful – great developers who are committed to starting and growing their businesses in Chile. CORFO has made equally healthy commitments to create an incubator network, though each location is still validating their impact and success metrics. The next phase has the potential to create thousands of high-wage jobs and position Chile as a leader in Latin America, and be the reason for other policy makers to send a second delegation to learn from them. The biggest challenges lie in ensuring entrepreneurs stay in the regions where they began and not feel the need to relocate to Santiago. Currently, although prestigious universities can be found in every region of the country, the hub of activity remains in Santiago. Creating high-quality programming and services so businesses can stay in Arica or Valdivia will go a long way toward inspiring the next generation to do the same. We visited Temuco to see Incubatec, one of the top Chilean incubators with success that exceeds most incubators in and out of LATAM. Their entrepreneurs are exporting beautifully packaged high-end water from the Andes to Asia, growing and exporting tulips all over the hemisphere, and even offering technical solutions to Fortune 100 clients. The leadership at Incubatec is passionate about helping the entrepreneurs scale and be Chilean success stories, and their energy is contagious. Bottling that would be a billion dollar business.

I am very excited to watch Chile’s progression and the next data points on these new initiatives. With the new vision, CORFO itself is offering the role modeling behavior that both entrepreneurs and policy makers should follow – at least on Twitter.

Dr. Susan Amat is the founder and CEO of Venture Hive, a company dedicated to economic development through entrepreneurship education. You can follow her on Twitter at @SusanAmat

January 15, 2015

Miami Bitcoin Hackathon: And the winners were...

Doug Carrillo, Andrew Barnard, Peter Nova and the other organizers behind the  first Miami Bitcoin Hackathon said they didn't know quite what kind of turnout to expect  last weekend at The LAB Miami. But the turnout --  100 programmers and another 70  observers -- showed there is a lot of pent-up curiosity for the emerging digital currency.

"It's a great enabler that anyone can build on," Carrillo said of the bitcoin technology. "We haven't seen the mainstream use cases for the bitcoin yet, we're seeing the early adapters, but it's still early.... We need to stop thinking of it as a get-rich quick scheme. In Latin America particularly, it offers a great opportunity ... an alternative."  

The hackers were challenged with coming up with solutions --  in just 28 hours -- that could help propel acceptance of the bitcoin. After short pitches either live or via video on Saturday morning, about 20 teams formed. Some of the hacks produced last weekend included bitcoin marketplaces, music-related platforms, solutions for smart contracts, gaming, even one for making sure your bitcoin lives on according to your wishes after you die.

The top three winners received $10,000, $3,500 and $1,000, respectively, in bitcoin of course, as well as other sponsor prizes. Read more about the hackathon here:

And the winners were ...

 (winners list provided by Peter Nova)

First place fisheye
First Place
Team "Party People"
Project: OPIDoki

By Chris DeRose & Arian Amador

OPIDoki is an "oracle programming interface" that can be used to broadcast the results of something (such as who won a football game) and feed it into the Bitcoin blockchain for use in resolving bets and contracts.
Second place flat
Second Place
Team "Frostwire"
Project: Seller.Trade
By Angel Leon & Alden
Seller.Trade is a consumer friendly, decentralized shopping marketplace.
Third place flat
Third Place
Team "AudioBits"
Project: BitJuke
By Xavier Banegas, Alina Lebron, Nelson Milian, Willie Avendano & Derek Miller
"BitJuke" is a bitcoin-enabled jukebox through which people can find songs, purchase them through their preferred Bitcoin wallet and donate to a charity which the business can selects nightly.
Congratulations to all the winners!
Hackathon enthusiasts meet this weekend for the North American Bitcoin Conference on Miami Beach. More information here:
Posted Jan. 15, 2014

December 10, 2014

Endeavor selects Kairos, NovoPayment as Endeavor Entrepreneurs at Miami ISP

By Nancy Dahlberg

On their home turf, the founders of two South Florida tech companies — a payments and cash management venture and a facial recognition software developer — were chosen as Endeavor Entrepreneurs on Wednesday.

The companies were selected during Endeavor’s 56th International Selection Panel, which took place in Coral Gables and Coconut Grove on Monday through Wednesday and attracted more than 200 people, including the entrepreneurs being considered for selection, as well as business executives and serial entrepreneurs who are Endeavor mentors, advisors and board members around the world.

Endeavor, founded in 1997, is a global nonprofit that selects, mentors and accelerates high-impact entrepreneurs who are entering the critical growth stages with their companies and have the potential to create large global businesses. The organization aims to select entrepreneurs who will go on to be role models and give back to their communities as mentors and investors in the next generation of innovators. Endeavor, which has affiliate offices around the world, established its first U.S office in Miami last year.

“Endeavor now has supported 1,000 entrepreneurs in 22 countries. We have helped those entrepreneurs generate over 400,000 new jobs and they now generate $7 billion annually,” said Linda Rottenberg, co-founder and CEO of Endeavor Global. “We don’t focus on the start-up — we focus on the scale-up.”

BrianaEarlier this year, entrepreneurs from South Florida companies KidoZen, My Ceviche, Leapfactor, LearnerNation, Ginnybakes and DeliverLean were selected and have been getting help with strategy, growth and partnerships. The two entrepreneurs tapped Wednesday were Brian Brackeen of Kairos and Anabel Perez of NovoPayment.

Brackeen, founder and CEO, said that Kairos’ facial recognition technology captures the depths and contours of a 2D facial image through 85 points of interest and renders the image as a 3D model to ensure 99 percent identification accuracy. The identification technology can be used in many different industries, from hospital groups to schools to cruise lines, and Brackeen, who worked at IBM and Apple before launching Kairos, already has contracts with key enterprise clients. “With Endeavor’s support, I will be working on sales talent and sales strategy, setting up reselling relationships and working on our $10 million capital raise,” Brackeen said, praising the feedback he’s received from Endeavor Miami over the last year and at the ISP this week.

FullSizeRender (20)Perez, NovoPayment’s co-founder and CEO who is originally from Venezuela, launched NovoPayment in 2004 and has built it into a sizable venture that provides a proprietary technology platform for cash-management software solutions for corporations in Latin America. NovoPayment, with 260 employees throughout the region, works in five countries now with plans for rapid expansion. “We made a lot of important connections, and I think Endeavor will help me accelerate my growth and business. I am excited about the next steps,” said Perez, who will get advice on making key high-level hires and help with her expansion strategy.

The Miami entrepreneurs were part of a group of 40 entrepreneurs from 22 companies in 13 countries, including Argentina, Egypt, Jordan, Mexico and Turkey. chosen to join the network on Wednesday. Each entrepreneur or entrepreneur team went through three intense one-hour interviews involving six Endeavor panelists, often board members or mentors. The 36 panelists included Endeavor Miami board members Alberto Beeck, Maurice Ferre, Sean Wolfington, Andres Moreno and Ernest Bachrach.

After a full day of interviews with entrepreneurs from 32 companies on Tuesday, the panelists took most of Wednesday to decide their fates in passionate and sometimes heated discussions. To be chosen an Endeavor Entrepreneur, each entrepreneur or team had to receive a unanimous vote of all six panelists. All received feedback and suggestions; some were told they can work to meet certain milestones and try again at a future ISP.

At least one new Endeavor Entrepreneur might be soon joining the Miami ecosystem, said Wolfington, a South Florida entrepreneur who owns businesses in the auto, technology, real estate, marketing and film industries. Rafael Atijas of Uruguay rocked his presentation so well that all the panelists that interviewed him, including Wolfington, are planning to invest in his company, which is unusual at an ISP, Wolfington said after the ISP concluded. Atijas’ company, Loog Guitars, makes three-string small-scale pink guitars that make it easy and fun for kids to learn on and becomes an art piece when not in use. The guitar is even delivered in pieces so it becomes a family project to assemble it. Loog Guitars already has operations in New York, and 60 percent of its business is in the U.S., so a base in Miami, the gateway to Latin America, makes strategic business sense, Wolfington said.

FullSizeRender (19)

The South Florida entrepreneurs and all the companies selected will be getting an Endeavor advisory board based on the needs of the entrepreneur — whether that is specialists in rapid hiring, pricing models, growth strategy or capital-raising, for instance.

The fact that Endeavor Miami has had much success presenting companies at ISPs this year — there have been five held around the world and Miami entrepreneurs were chosen at every one — is a testament to the strength of Miami’s growing ecosystem and its new office, led by Managing Director Laura Maydón, and a very committed board, said Matt Haggman, Miami program director of the Knight Foundation, which provided the first $2 million in funding to launch Endeavor Miami.

To be sure, persuading Endeavor to make a bet on Miami in 2013 for its first U.S. office was not the easiest sell. Endeavor started out in Latin America and then moved into emerging markets throughout the world, including Africa, Asia and the Middle East, and more recently began moving into Europe, including Greece and Spain.

“When we started out [considering Miami], people were skeptical as to whether we could find entrepreneurs of the same quality … so I ended up having two goals,” said Rottenberg, who co-founded Endeavor with Peter Kellner. “In addition to Endeavor’s work to have role model successes, I said I want to create through Endeavor Miami an environment where the next Jeff Bezos and the next Sheryl Sandberg, who were both from Miami, would stay. And can we show that we will have breakout success stories where people keep the talent here? I think that is already happening,” she said at a book signing Tuesday night at The LAB Miami for her new book, Crazy is a Compliment, which was one of the ancillary events planned during the ISP.

With Miami’s office working out well, Endeavor has now launched a national expansion. It will be opening its second U.S. office in Detroit early next year, said Rottenberg. Louisville is also in the plans, she said, and other cities have been lobbying because they have heard about Miami’s success, she said.

As for Miami, the office will continue to add qualifying entrepreneurs in 2015 and beyond, Maydón said.

“We are always open and looking for those great entrepreneurs who are out there,” Maydón said. “We are looking for entrepreneurs with the leadership potential to scale their companies but who also are willing to give back and are interested in growing an entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

Posted Dec. 10, 2014


December 02, 2014

Venture Hive partners with Microsoft to power Pre-Accelerators in four countries

Susan Amat Venture 11

Venture Hive, an entrepreneurial education company in Miami, is partnering with Microsoft to power a new chain of  Pre-Accelerators at Microsoft Innovations Centers around the globe.

The initial group of Microsoft Innovation Centers  in Chile, Pakistan, Nepal and Armenia will be linked by Venture Hive's training program, connecting entrepreneurs to resources and support they need in validating and building their ideas into solutions. Venture Hive also houses the first MIC in the U.S.

"We partnered with Microsoft to open the Miami MIC solely focused on supporting the South Florida community through technology education and  support," said Susan Amat, founder of Venture Hive. "We are thrilled to support these four MICs and their entrepreneurs in building great startups to strengthen their ecosystems."

Over the 12-week intensive program, the selected teams will go through specialized training and have access and support from the international community. The program will culminate in the MIC DEMO WEEK in April, where a global audience will witness the product demonstrations and startups will receive feedback from experts in each of the partner countries.

"It is part of our mission to level the playing field for all of the aspiring entrepreneurs around the world who want to build something, who want to be their own bosses, who want to make the world a better place," Microsoft said in a blog post Tuesday about the new Pre-Accelerators.  "Initially in four locations around the world, we look forward to bringing the program to the more than 100 global MIC facilities."

Venture Hive was chosen this summer as the location of the first Microsoft Innovation Center in the United States. Developed and operated in partnership with Miami-Dade County, the City of Miami and Venture Hive, the Miami center hosts technology training and workshops, providing entrepreneurs, technologists and governments access to networking opportunities and potential talent for future job opportunities. Amat said Tuesday she is considering opening a Pre-Accelerator program at the Miami location. 

Venture Hive, which also houses an accelerator and incubator and is supported by Miami-Dade County and the Miami DDA, recently received a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration,  partnered with Disruption Corporation in Washington DC on investor education  and announced a partnership with DLA Piper for startup legal services. Vanture Hive is currently running a tech-entrepreneurship program with Miami-Dade high school students.  

Posted Dec. 2, 2014


November 23, 2014

Digital marketing firm Nobox flexes ‘social muscle,’ goes all-in on Latin America



By Nancy Dahlberg / / Photos by Charles Trainor Jr.

NOBOX1100FOUNDERS CTJ (2)In the rapidly changing world of social media marketing, simply collecting “likes” on a company Facebook page is so yesterday.

Today social marketing is about combining social science, technology and media in creative ways to create messaging on multiple platforms that resonates with consumers so deeply they are moved to share.

Nobox, a Miami-based technology company and digital marketing agency, calls it “social muscle,” a strategy the company embraced about three years when Nobox pivoted its entire focus to human-to-human marketing through social media.

“It was a big move because back then social marketing was in its infancy, but we knew the future of marketing was in social,” said Jayson Fittipaldi, president and chief creative officer of Nobox, who co-founded the company with Carlos García. “Social is the center is of everything we do.”

Nobox was founded nearly 14 years ago in Puerto Rico and moved to Miami in 2004. Since its transformation into a social-media-focused marketing company by early 2012, Nobox has grown to 37 employees, has operations in Sao Paulo, San Francisco and New York as well as its Miami Midtown base and has grown its annual revenue fivefold to about $10 million. With a focus on consumer technology, travel and Latin America, Nobox has attracted marquee clients such as Sony PlayStation, Netflix, Samsung and Marriott.

“The way we have been able to fivefold revenue is we have focused on what we know best,” said Carlos García, Nobox’s CEO. “We consider ourselves to be marketing hackers. Our client base is looking to execute their marketing in Latin America. “

Continue reading "Digital marketing firm Nobox flexes ‘social muscle,’ goes all-in on Latin America" »

November 12, 2014

View: Why you can’t afford to ignore LATAM’s mobile games market

By Ana María Yumiseva

Ana Maria Yumiserva (1)Last month Benedict Evans, Partner at Andreessen Horowitz took the stage at the WSJ.D conference with a presentation entitled, Mobile is Eating the World and he couldn’t be more right. Mobile is transforming the world, as we know it industry by industry at a pace never before witnessed. Let me explain, there are currently 2 billion people using smartphones today.

Just to give you an idea, the time spent on mobile apps is now greater than all the time spent on the web in the U.S. today and by 2020, 4 billion people or 80% of adults will own a smartphone. Those are impressive statistics. Even more impressive is mobile phone and tablet sales now make up almost half of the global consumer electronics industry by revenue. But what does this mean for Latin America? Well, according to Pyramid Research, by 2017 there will be 145 million smartphones sold in Latin America. This presents a huge opportunity for the mobile gaming industry.

During the last years many regional companies have emerged as a successful business models in cross-platform game developing in Latin America. Argentina’s Etermax is a good example. In 2013 its game Trivia Crack was released and quickly became a the most downloaded application in Latin America and a worldwide hit, with 60 million downloads to date and more than 60% of Argentines using the game regularly. Today, Trivia Crack has become a TV show on broadcast television winning important awards, becoming a brand and establishing huge opportunities for advertisers to brand themselves in the mobile games space.

Let’s explore a few reasons why the mobile gaming industry can no longer ignore Latin America’s booming mobile potential.

Growth Potential

According to Newzoo, a global market research firm focused purely on the games market, the fastest growing segment towards 2017 is mobile gaming with a Cumulated Annual Grow Rate (CAGR) of 19%. Mobile gaming will secure over a quarter (27%) of the global games market by the end of 2014, yielding revenues in excess of $21Bn. In the course of 2015, monthly mobile game revenues will surpass those generated by TV and handheld consoles combined.

This growth is spilling over to Latin America and no other region comes close to in terms of growth potential. Between 2013 to 2014 Latin America takes the lead with a year-on-year growth rate of 60% and is projected to grow the fastest with a CAGR of 50% over the next three years alone.

Low Cost User Acquisition

The Cost Per Install (CPI) has increased 288% on mobile gaming in the U.S. over the past two years, according to SuperData Research, from $1.30 in January 2012 to $4.36. LATAM’s projected mobile gaming growth coupled with the region’s low cost of acquisition per player is ideal, with an average (CPI) of $1.51 / $0.76 for Brazil and Mexico, and $1.17 / $0.45 for the other countries, on iOS and Android respectively.

This means that although the monetization projections may be lower than the U.S. the ability to test and market the app is much lower and can yield valuable insights and fixes for the app before moving into more costly markets. In short, mistakes in app development and marketing hurt your bottom line much less when tested in Latin America that in the U.S.

Low Risk Testing Market

A clear advantage to penetrating in the LATAM mobile gaming market is that Latin America, culturally, is not so different from North America or Europe as opposed to say China.  In fact, the highest grossing gaming apps that dominate the iOS charts in Brazil and Mexico mirror the U.S. gaming app market, like: Clash of Clans, Candy Crush Saga, Game of War-Fire Age, Farm Heroes Saga, Hay Day and Pet Rescue Saga.

This suggests if a gaming app is easy adopted and scales quickly through LATAM, where development and user acquisition costs are a fraction of the price of the U.S., it has a high chance of similar adoption in the U.S.

For example, in Argentina, the game sector represents $85M in revenues, with 70 companies actively working in the country (ADVA) and 95% of such developments are exported to USA, Europe and Asia.

The Perfect Storm

M2games-latam-logo-biz-r225x (1)
The culmination of all of these factors is forcing big industry players to answer the question: How do we tap into this booming LATAM mobile games market? This is the question that is at the forefront of mobile gaming and the key to unlocking a highly profitable region of growth for years to come. And that, my friends, is the big game changer!

Ana María Yumiseva is Publisher and CEO of 
Frecuencia Latinoamérica, the Region’s leading mobile market intelligence portal and organizer of M2Games LATAM and M2Content & Apps LATAM taking place in Miami, Dec. 2th-4th, 2014 at The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse.

Posted Nov. 12, 2014


View: Florida’s science/tech ecosystem -- the next frontier is here

By Jerry Haar

HAARLate in September, Bioheart, a South Florida-based biotech company, opened a new facility overseas, the South African Stem Cell Institute and immediately began treating patients with their stem cell therapies for spinal cord injury, diabetes, arthritis, autoimmune disease and more.

As our state and our community very much need to grow knowledge-based industries, the Bioheart news is especially welcome.

Precisely what is the status of life sciences and advanced technology (the non-start-up arena) in the state? What are the challenges and opportunities it faces? What policies and actions are needed to enhance this sector?

The installed base of science and technology institutions in the state is good and dispersed both geographically and by industry sector. Florida is home to world-class biomedical research institutes and more than 1,000 biotech, pharmaceutical, and medical device companies employing over 25,000 professionals. This includes Scripps, Sanford-Burnham, Max Planck Institute, Torrey Pines, VGTI Florida, Draper Laboratory and UM’s Hussman Institute for Human Genomics. Florida ranks third nationwide for pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing, and Florida universities invest over $1.2 billion annually in R&D in the life sciences. That includes all of the research-oriented state universities as well as the University of Miami.

One must mention also the Florida Institute for the Commercialization of Research, which pairs commercially viable discoveries with management and capital. They promote economic development through commercialization and have helped firms such as U.S. Bioplastics, Accelogic, and Garmor.

The principal challenges facing Florida in the life sciences and advanced technology fields are human capital and wage rates. STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) are the future of the state’s economy, with 1-in-5 job postings in those fields; moreover, the top jobs typically pay double Florida’s average wage. Nearly 80 percent of the fastest growing careers are in STEM fields; and half of these jobs do not require a four-year college degree. Unfortunately, continuing poor performance by Florida students on the FCAT, especially in science and math, sends up a red flag to life sciences and tech companies thinking of expanding in the state or coming to the state. Many firms also complain about the preparedness of college graduates they seek to recruit.

The other challenge is wages. Examining comparative costs of life sciences companies vis-à-vis other states, Florida boasts a zero state income tax in the belief that is a game-changer. It is not. Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania all have state income taxes under 6 percent; yet the average wage rate, in biotechnology for example, is in many instances more than double Florida’s.

To strengthen Florida’s science and technology ecosystem, consideration should be given to:

l. Upgrading standards in secondary school and higher education, not watering down the FCAT and not lowering college admission and grading standards.

2. Instituting apprenticeship programs in life sciences and advanced technology, modeled after the Knight Foundation-funded Venture for America and Enstitute.

3. Advocating continuing professional education at all levels.

4. Pursuing cross-county coordination and cooperation to recruit companies.

5. Targeting those life sciences and advanced the fields that can provide the greatest impact to economic development and employment generation.

6. Promoting more vigorous commercialization of university research with strong IP and financial incentives for inventors.

7. Creating a public-private investment capital fund, like Philadelphia.

8. Considering an eMerge Americas in the life sciences, showcasing talent and companies in the state and inviting investors poised to fund them.

Miami-Dade County’s “One Community One Goal” initiative provides a sound road map from which the rest of the state could benefit as well.

The race is on to advance life sciences and technology, and the competition with other states for talent and investment dollars is intensifying. Florida must do much more to remain a contender.

Jerry Haar is a visiting scholar at Harvard and Georgetown universities and a business professor at Florida International University.

Posted: Nov. 12, 2014


November 10, 2014

CorQuest Medical, a stealth medical device company in Miami, is sold to Cardio3 BioSciences in Belgium

A South Florida entrepreneur and a former University of Miami heart surgeon teamed up two and half years ago to create a medical device company for cardiac surgery. Now CorQuest Medical has been sold to a publicly traded Belgian company that aims to  take its technology to market.

CorQuest Medical of Miami, which specializes in developing medical equipment and technologies that facilitate minimally invasive cardiac surgical procedures, was purchased by Cardio3 BioSciences, a biotechnology company focused on the discovery and development of regenerative and protective therapies for the treatment of cardiac diseases. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

Serge Elkiner Bio PicCorQuest was co-founded by a pair of Belgians: Dr. Didier De Cannière, a professor of surgery in Brussels and formerly director of Minimally Invasive and Robotic Cardiothoracic Surgery at UM, and Serge Elkiner, an entrepreneur and CEO of Miami-based YellowPepper, a fast-growing provider of mobile-banking and payment solutions in Latin America.

“He came to me and said 'look, I have this patent and I think it is a pretty good idea but I just don’t know how to build a company,' ” said Elkiner (pictured here). “When he showed me the idea, which is completely different than what existed today, and the benefits it would bring the patients, I told him I would help him.”

The company raised angel money, built a prototype of the device, did animal testing and has been quietly developing its technology with a team of three in Miami and board member Dr. Pedro Martinez-Clark, an interventional cardiologist in South Florida, plus a team of engineers in Belgium and France. CorQuest was part of an emerging but fast growing medical device industry in South Florida; there are nearly 150 device companies in Miami-Dade and Broward.

"Since Serge showed me the technology, I knew CorQuest was onto something important in the medical device space.  This shows another example that healthcare companies like Mako Surgical, CorQuest and others, can have a bright future in South Florida," said Dr. Stewart B. Davis, CEO of Bioceptive and a South Florida medical device serial entrepreneur and angel investor.

The companies said CorQuest's technology, currently in the advanced pre-clinical development phase, enables cardiologists to take a unique access route directly to the patient's left atrium and therefore has the potential to become a breakthrough innovation for therapeutic indications such as mitral valve disorders and structural heart disease, conditions often linked to heart failure.

Cardio3 BioSciences, which first learned of CorQuest at a conference, aims to obtain European approval by the end of 2016, which would allow commercialization of the device in Europe. The first indication to be targeted with the CorQuest technology is expected to be the repair or replacement of the mitral valve.

The companies believe the market potential is huge, as the global market of cardiac medical devices is expected to total $65.6 billion in 2015, with an annual growth rate of 9.8 percent.

"With their track record in device and therapeutic development, I am confident that Cardio3 BioSciences will successfully bring CorQuest's technology to physicians and, ultimately to patients," said De Cannière, who will remain involved in the company.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

Posted Nov. 10, 2014