January 12, 2016

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

AliaBy Alia Mahmoud

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

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

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

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

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

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

So why Miami?

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

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

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

October 07, 2015

Endeavor taps EveryMundo, Yandiki to join global network

EveryMundo is a marketing technology company serving the travel and hospitality industry. Yandiki leverages the cloud to connect enterprises with on-demand talent. The founders of these two young Miami companies were selected Wednesday as Endeavor Entrepreneurs at the global nonprofit’s 61st International Selection Panel in Morocco.

SethAntonAnton Diego (left) and Seth Cassel (right), co-founders of EveryMundo, and Silvina Moschini, CEO and co-founder of Yandiki, join Endeavor Miami’s growing portfolio of high-impact entrepreneurs, which now includes 11 companies in its portfolio. The three join a total of 22 high-impact entrepreneurs representing 18 companies from nine countries selected at the panel. Endeavor Entrepreneurs receive targeted services including mentorship and access to capital, markets and talent.

“Endeavor has been incredibly influential for us in the preparation for entry into the organization. Our advisors have shaped our strategy, personnel and growth tactics over the past year,” said Cassel, from Morocco. “We are excited for what's to come.”

EveryMundo works with numerous airlines worldwide to increase their direct customer acquisition and therefore own their customer relationships. The company offers software products and services to increase online and mobile traffic acquisition and transaction conversion, in any language and country worldwide, said Cassel, adding that the team is comprised natives of 11 countries speaking 10 languages.

SilvinaYandiki’s core product, WaaS, functions as a marketplace with filtering features (skills, rating, cost, and productivity) for talent, verified through a series of customizable online tests, video interviews, and user generated feedback and certifications. The product allows for workforce monitoring including project and task management, real-time business analytics and billing, and clients include Twitter, MasterCard, Criteo, Tinder and Google, said Moschini, an international expert on Internet marketing.

"I experienced Endeavor while I was part of the leadership team at Patagon.com (the internet bank that was later sold to Banco Santander Central Hispano for $785 million and was one of Endeavor's first companies) and I cannot be happier that now I am joining their network," said Moschini. "I am super confident that they will bring me on step closer to make my dream of changing the world of work a mainstream reality."

Matt Haggman, Miami program director for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and an Endeavor Miami board member, said: “The expanding group of Miami Endeavor entrepreneurs aligns with the consistent growth we’ve seen in the city’s innovation and startup ecosystem over the last few years. These new additions also highlight both the creativity and variety of ideas that are fueling Miami’s evolution.”

Endeavor’s International Selection Panel is a three-day process, where panels composed of six top global business leaders interview candidates about their businesses, high-impact leadership potential, and timing. To be selected, an entrepreneur must receive a unanimous vote.

Endeavor Miami launched its operations in September 2013 with the support of Knight Foundation and an active local board of business leaders. For more information on Endeavor Miami or to nominate entrepreneurs, visit www.endeavormiami.org.


August 21, 2015

Idea Center @MDC, Tel Aviv University's entrepreneurship center form partnership

Innovation Nation_Oren Simanian

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

“Entrepreneurship is an experiment — if you know the results, it’s not entrepreneurship,” said Oren Simanian, who heads TelAvivUniversity’s esteemed entrepreneurship center StarTau.

Entrepreneurship is ingrained in Israeli culture because people had to create — to establish the country and to defend it. But today, residents have other options, such as working for Apple or Google or another multinationals with facilities in Israel, Simanian (pictured above) said recently at MiamiDadeCollege’s IdeaCenter. The occasion was an event announcing a knowledge-sharing partnership between the two entrepreneurship centers.

But the thriving Israeli ecosystem continues to accelerate and is driven by niche needs such as cybersecurity. “Today, we are a brand. Ten years ago we weren’t there. It takes time.”

What’s special in Israel is that academia, the private sector and government have been working together to build the ecosystem, said Simanian.

Israel, about the size of New Jersey, produced six Nobel Prize winners and 800 exits in the last 10 years. That included deals valued at $15 billion in 2014 alone. Israel also is the globe’s No. 1 nation in research-and-development per capita spending, thanks in large part to its top-ranked science and technology universities. It’s consistently ranked as one of the top five entrepreneurship hubs in the world.

So what can Miami learn? We’re about to find out.

The knowledge-sharing agreement between StarTau and The Idea Center @ MDC links Israel’s high-tech and startup communities to resources and people in Miami.

As part of the arrangement, members of Israel’s high-tech community will travel to Miami for an Innovation Nation conference designed to connect innovators and leaders from the two high-tech communities. Israeli startups also will meet Miami investors, designers and digital marketing firms through a series of programs arranged by The Idea Center, and TelAvivUniversity faculty will serve as visiting professors at MDC.

These initiatives grew out of a recent Knight Foundation-supported knowledge exchange trip to Israel as part of Project Interchange, an educational institute of the American Jewish Committee. A delegation of 12 Miami entrepreneurs and leaders in the tech community, including MDC’s IdeaCenter executive director, Leandro Finol, traveled to Israel in March to learn from the country’s thriving tech and innovation sector and make connections.

Finol and the Miami delegation met Simanian at a gathering he hosted during that trip. “After 45 minutes, we knew we wanted to do something together. We’re honored to have a partnership with one of the top entrepreneurship centers in the world,” Finol said.

The partnership fits squarely with the John S. and James L Knight Foundation’s Miami objectives, said Matt Haggman, the foundation’s Miami program director. “This collaboration is testament to the type of synergy we want to see in Miami. By making more of these connections, we can create new opportunities and foster the type of knowledge sharing that is essential to building a strong innovation ecosystem in our city.”

Simanian shared what he saw as South Florida’s value proposition. Top of the list, in his view, is Miami’s position as the gateway to Latin America. He also listed tourism, international banking/fintech, health and media. Many of the joint initiatives will be around these areas.

Simanian said StarTau will create a special course from its BEE (Business Entrepreneurial Experience) program for the Idea Center and South Florida startups will travel to Israel. The partnership also hopes to create a fund designed to incentivize Israeli startups to launch their U.S. and Latin America operations from Miami.

“There is possibility and I see it here, because mentors exist, money exists, balance between work-hard and play-hard exists. So you need to give the deal flow here the ability to invest,” said Simanian.

At the event, a panel of participants from the Project Interchange trip discussed their experience. It included Greenberg Traurig shareholder Jaret Davis, Ben Wirz of the Knight Foundation Enterprise Fund, Felecia Hatcher of Code Fever, Finol and Haggman.

“We need to do a better job of encouraging our kids to go into these research areas. We need more STEM charter schools and academies at the K-12 level to encourage this,” said Davis. Hatcher added that extracurricular particular programs, like Code Fever and others, are also needed “to help develop a true pipeline into our universities, startups and corporations.”

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

  Innovation Nation_Matt & Panel 1

From left, Matt Haggman of the Knight Foundation, Jaret Davis of Greenberg Traurig, Ben Wirz of Knight Foundation, Felecia Hatcher of Code Fever and Leandro Finol of Miami Dade College’s Idea Center discuss ecosystem building with the audience and Oren Simanian (seated), head of Tel Aviv University’s entrepreneurship center. Simanian gave a talk about Israel’s tech ecosystem, and the two entrepreneurship formed a knowledge-sharing partnership. Photos here and atop are by Cristian Lazzari, MDC Wolfson.

August 03, 2015

YellowPepper brings on payments pioneer as chairman

Yellowpepper logo newYellowPepper, a Miami-based mobile payment and mobile banking company focused on the Latin America market, on Monday said payments industry pioneer Mohammad Khan has been named chairman of the board of YellowPepper.

Khan is former president and founder of ViVOtech, a pioneering NFC software and hardware company that paved the way for mobile payments.

“We have recently launched our mobile payment solution in Mexico, Colombia and Ecuador, and his extensive expertise within payments and commerce will be invaluable to further increase the success of those implementations,” said Alexander Sjögren, CTO of YellowPepper, which now has 74 employees in the region. “NFC is currently getting established as the standard for mobile payments with Visa, MasterCard, Apple Pay and Android Pay all adopting some version of it. Having Mohammed onboard, who is considered to be the forefather of NFC’s role in payments, will give us a unique expertise in the area.”

In his 12 years at ViVOtech, Khan led the deployment of NFC readers and field-testing a number of mobile payment trials globally. His efforts in driving mobile payments successfully set the stage for widely accepted NFC mobile payments such as Apple Pay and Android Pay. Prior to founding ViVOtech in 2001, Khan held leadership positions at Verifone, which he joined in 1983. Khan helped the company develop its point-of-sale systems and later helped market them in 96 countries. Khan was also a co-founder of the Internet Commerce business for Verifone.

“In Latin America, YellowPepper has done an excellent job over the last 10 years to establish an infrastructure, widening financial services like mobile banking to 5 million users and that number is growing, and now they are working hard in mobile payments,” said Khan on Monday. “I see this effort as very important for the payment industry as well as consumers and I want to see how I can help in the coming years.”

In June, YellowPepper partnered with Carta Worldwide to bring Host Card Emulation (HCE) NFC mobile payments to Latin America. Carta Worldwide will provide its HCE technology to YellowPepper that will, in turn, leverage its regional footprint with more than 50 financial institutions and retailers to introduce the new technology to them and future clients.



July 19, 2015

More Magic Leap news: Report says company is opening Israeli offices

 Magic Leap is adding offices in Israel, according to Globes, an Israeli business publication. Magic Leap has offices on Abba Hillel St. in Ramat Gan, according to Israel's Registrar of Companies. It is apparently planning to recruit local developers in order to accelerate development of its technology although the extent of its planned research and development efforts in Israel is not yet clear, the Globes report said. Read more here.

An R&D presence in Israel, known as Startup Nation and considered by many to be No. 2 behind Silicon Valley for tech prowess, would not be surprising for the secretive company said to be developing a new generation of augmented reality technology. Magic Leap, which  raised more than half a billion from Google and other investors late last year, already has offices Silicon Valley, as well as its headquarters in Dania Beach (and moving to Plantation),  Santa Cruz, Los Angeles, Seattle, Austin, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

April 17, 2015

Open English, already all over LatAm, launches online school in U.S. market


Andres Moreno, founder and executive chairman of Open English, an online English-language school that has taught 300,000 students across Latin America, discusses the upcoming U.S. launch, which will start in Miami. He was at a launch event at Open English's Coconut Grove headquarters Thursday night. Photo courtesy of Pinta.

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

About 300,000 students across the Americas have taken classes from Open English, an online English-language school based in Miami. In the last eight years, the venture-backed company has conquered Latin America, and now it is officially entering a market very close to home: The U.S. Hispanic market.

This week, Open English announced  its official expansion to the United States, bringing its affordable teacher-led instructional model to the nation's fastest-growing population. The launch, which will start in Miami immediately and then roll out to other cities, will be fueled by a national advertising and marketing campaign.

MorenoThanks to word of mouth from family and friends, “we have had this organic growth already happening here so it was very easy for us to say this is the next big market for Open English. We also realized that the core need to learn English and be successful as a result – and English is a tool for success – is very similar if you live in Colombia, Brazil, Argentina or if you live in a city like Miami or LA,” said Andres Moreno, founder and executive chairman of Open English. “This is a moment we have been waiting for for a long time.”

He said the numbers were also convincing: According to Brookings Institution, nearly one in 10 working-age  U.S. adults — 19.2 million persons aged 16 to 64 — is considered to have limited English proficiency, and most of this group speaks Spanish. And according to the Pew Hispanic Center, 68 percent of Hispanic immigrant adults say they do not speak English at all or don’t speak English very well.

Open English’s approach to learning English includes unlimited live classes with native English speakers and over 2,000 hours of multi-media content. It is now offered in 20 countries, and the company has raised $120 million in venture capital financing to fuel its growth.

Open English commercials in Latin America have been known for their wit and go viral over social media. The commercials will be taking a new approach in the U.S., however. The commercials will be more focused on explaining the product and how it can propel the student's career success, Moreno said. Expect to see billboard and bus bench advertising too, as well as online and radio advertising. New U.S. students will get a free month on Open English as part of the promotion.

“We are starting in Miami, where the brand is already well received. As we learn more about the U.S. Hispanic as a whole, then we will launch into a national expansion,” said Moreno.

Moreno said launching in the U.S. market is also personally satisfying because the country has been so welcoming.

Originally from Venezuela, Moreno started Open English there in 2006 with his co-founders but it soon became clear that he needed to raise money in the U.S. He moved to Silicon Valley with $700 in his pocket, slept on a friend’s couch for months and went door to door seeking meetings with venture capitalists and angels.

After raising initial funding, he moved the company to Miami and has been able to raise about $100 million of the $120 million  while the company has been based in Miami, a fund-raising success story in a region that has historically been venture-challenged. The global company now employs about 1,500 people, including contractors, and about 60 work out of its Coconut Grove headquarters and Fort Lauderdale satellite office.

Moreno, active in the local entrepreneurship community,  is also on the founding board of Endeavor Miami, the first U.S. office of the global nonprofit that mentors and supports high-impact entrepreneurs.

 Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg

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 / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

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 / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

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 sector.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.

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, ... 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: www.miamibitcoinhackathon.com

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: btcmiami.com
Posted Jan. 15, 2014