December 06, 2016

Argentina to Miami, a bridge worth building (Part 6)

Argentina6

By Natalia Martinez-Kalinina

Miami has a ways to go before we can truly claim the title of regional epicenter, but Argentina has long been recognized as one of the primary entrepreneurial - albeit not particularly stable - ecosystems in Latin America. Figuring out how to support Argentina’s wave of growth and appetite for engagement represents a unique opportunity to add value to the region and truly deliver on our vision as a gateway.

As a first step to test these waters, a group of us came together to co-author a full day of programming within StartupWeekBuenosAires - the largest event of its kind in Latin America-  specifically focused on how to engage with the U.S. ecosystem and market by way of Miami. Ahead of the full agenda being announced shortly, if you are interested in participating or learning more, please fill out this form.

Leading up to the event in December, we will be featuring interviews with a varied range of Argentine entrepreneurs and companies making their way to Miami. The first installments of this series have featured interviews with Balloon Group, Wolox, La Comunidad, and Oasis, Juana de Arco. For the fifth feature, we spoke with Martin Enriquez (pictured above), CEO and Co-Founder of Socialmetrix, an Endeavor company founded in Argentina but whose US expansion has been based in Miami since 2014.  

Tell us about Socialmetrix - how the company emerged, how has it changed over the years?

The idea of creating a company focused on listening to what people were saying online was something that started back in 2006. At the time, I had the chance to work with a very well-known computers brand, who had a major incident with one of their notebooks, and they were very worried about their online reputation and the impact of this episode on this notebook model sales.

After several iterations on the idea, we started up with Socialmetrix in late 2007 (formally in early 2008) in Argentina. Back then, Social Media in Latam was essentially Blogs, Forums and Message Boards. MySpace was kind of the “new thing” but wasn’t mainstream, just a few in Latam used it, and was very tied to the music community.

With a lot of effort, and our own savings invested in the company, by early 2009 we had a first product, and started our sales efforts in the region. We managed to bring a few nice brands as clients in different countries like Mexico, Chile, Argentina and Brazil. At that point the company was a startup completely, we had very little processes, we were learning which kind of professionals we needed to build our vision, and we were a bit ahead of the curve, which sometimes resulted in prospects looking at us as Martians.

All of that was progressively changing, sometimes easy but most of the time we experienced some type of growth pain, which somehow helped us to maintain our focus.

In mid 2009 we participated in La Red Innova, in Madrid, where we received a special mention as one of the most innovative companies in Iberoamerica. Later, in 2010 we were selected Endeavor Entrepreneurs by the Endeavor Foundation in Pebble Beach, CA, a very meaningful milestone for Gustavo Arjones, my co-founder, and myself. In 2011 we decided that we needed to raise capital to grow, and after having conversation with several VCs we partnered with DMGT, and since then have them as partners in the company.

Where do you see the growth and future of the company in the next years?

There is no doubt that Social Media reshaped the way we communicate with others and with brands or companies. This transformation is still happening, and there is an enormous opportunity to extract value from these conversations, helping companies to listen to their audiences and helping everybody else to get better products, better services and better overall experiences. I see Socialmetrix right in the center of this transformation, developing technology and actionable knowledge.

When did Socialmetrix come to Miami, and why?

We came in the second half of 2014, pursuing regional and multicultural accounts that were managed or lead from here, or other cities nearby.

What opportunities are you looking to find here?

A significant portion of Global Corporations have their Latin American and Multicultural Headquarters based in Miami or nearby. Being here enable us to create a conversation with these brands, understand their needs for these markets and provide a tailored set of solutions, leveraging our unique knowledge and experience in the US Hispanic market and Latin America.

What risks may you come across?

I think the biggest risk is to be too naïve. To get to Miami with the idea that the US market is open for business just because you are here, is a misinterpretation and an exaggeration of the opportunity. There is no doubt that there is an opportunity and an advantage being here, but materialize the advantage and the opportunity in form of new revenue for your company takes a lot of effort and money. The US market isn’t inexpensive, especially if you must hire top execs to execute your business development plans. Good professionals are expensive (compared to our countries in Latam) and they also require time to produce results.

So, coming to the US without having a clear understanding of costs and timing may become a very bad idea for the company.

What is the evaluation and product release/sales process in the United States?

I can only speak from my experience in my own vertical (SaaS for Social Media Listening and Analytics), having said that, although the US market is more competitive in terms of quantity of players offering solutions, and that the clients tend to be a bit more “experienced” than in Latam; the product evaluation process itself, in the US, is not that different from Latam.

Maybe this is what we experienced in Socialmetrix because in either region we engage with large corporations, who tend to have similar procurement processes no matter the country.

And so, selling to the BtoB segment in Latam is similar to selling to the BtoB segment in the US (process wise), there are other nuances to have in mind when selling in the US; like the quality of your collateral materials, the client’s toleration to errors, and the client’s expectation for the quality of a presentation/presenter.

Any lessons or advice for companies exploring similar moves?

I would suggest a few things that are obvious but in the heat and rush of your day to day may get forgotten:

*Make sure you have a clear business case to come to Miami, with a meaningful potential for your company.

*Spend as little as possible during your first months here while you research the market, get to know people and start building your network.

*Since day 1 dedicate yourself to business development. This single activity will give you a clear understanding of the market and your real opportunity here.

*Get your marketing materials revised by a native English speaker with experience in your industry. Miami might be considered “the capital of Latin America” but in business everybody speaks English and expect to have materials and documentation in this language.

*If you can afford it, and after validating yourself that there is an actual business opportunity, hire a native Business Development professional with experience in your industry and an existing client base.

*Make sure you run your numbers and that you have enough financial resources to sustain this new venture for at least 18 months (ideally 24 mo).Plan beforehand, what will you do and how will you do it if sales don’t take off and the opportunity don’t materialize as new revenue.

From the perspective of the Latin American entrepreneur, what do you expect as a contribution from Miami?

Although there are a few initiatives putting together professionals from Global Corporations who are based in Miami, I still feel the lack of a more connected entrepreneur community with corporations, and some sort of incentive for these corporations to create links with local entrepreneurs.

From this same perspective, what do you think Miami can do better to become a true value-adding "hub" in the region and support entrepreneurs who come here?

I think Miami could “teach” Latin American Entrepreneurs how to do business in the US. The city itself is a crossover of cultures, that, well managed, could add great value for those entrepreneurs who don’t have the experience or the knowledge about the US business culture.

Organizations like Endeavor have talked a lot about the Argentine model (not just the shortcomings, but the great achievements and opportunities). What do you think Miami can learn from Argentina’s case?

I think that Argentina, with its own shortcomings, has done a good job at creating a small but true entrepreneurial ecosystem around Tech, where successful entrepreneurs are now investors and advisors, and are also helping new entrepreneurs build their companies.

Miami probably still needs to figure out which industry / vertical will have as a main focus, and then help entrepreneurs build a few success stories around that. There’s probably no magic recipe, it takes time and a lot of people involved, pushing for (more or less) the same outcome.

Do you see potential for collaboration and bridge-building between the entrepreneurial ecosystem and the creative economies in Buenos Aires and Miami? Why or why not?

If Miami can effectively become a meaningful stage for Latin American entrepreneurs, where they can showcase their companies to the rest of the US, and maybe other developed countries, I believe there is a great opportunity for collaboration.

Natalia Martinez-Kalinina is the General Manager of CIC Miami and the Founder of Awesome Foundation MIAMI. If you are an Argentine company looking to expand to Miami or a Miami-based entrepreneur/investor looking to connect with the argentine ecosystem, please reach out to Natalia at martinez@cic.us

Argentina6b

December 02, 2016

Argentina to Miami, a bridge worth building (Part 5)

14715685_1015jaunofashion

 

JuancoceoIMG_6347By Natalia Martinez-Kalinina

Miami has a ways to go before we can truly claim the title of regional epicenter, but Argentina has long been recognized as one of the primary entrepreneurial - albeit not particularly stable - ecosystems in Latin America. Figuring out how to support Argentina’s wave of growth and appetite for engagement represents a unique opportunity to add value to the region and truly deliver on our vision as a gateway.

As a first step to test these waters, a group of us came together to co-author a full day of programming within StartupWeekBuenosAires - the largest event of its kind in Latin America-  specifically focused on how to engage with the U.S. ecosystem and market by way of Miami. Ahead of the full agenda being announced shortly, if you are interested in participating or learning more, please fill out this form.

Leading up to the event in December, we will be featuring interviews with a varied range of Argentine entrepreneurs and companies making their way to Miami. The first installments of this series have featured interviews with Balloon Group, Wolox, La Comunidad, and Oasis. For the fifth feature, we spoke with Juan Lanusse (CEO), pictured at left, and Maral Arslanian (US Representative & Distributor), pictured below, of clothing brand Juana de Arco, which recently began its expansion into the US market through Miami two years ago.

Tell us about Juana de Arco. What’s the genesis story? What has been the trajectory?

Juana de Arco was born in 1998 in the iconic Palermo Viejo neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina by the hands of designer and artist Mariana Cortes. Mariana was born in the small town of Arribeños, humble and interesting, she gives the brand this essence. Inspired by nature, art and the recuperation of Latin-American techniques, Mariana draws out the textiles and prints that are then hand silk screen printed in an infinite variety of color that make each piece one-of-a-kind and unique.

JuancoThe brand started off as a bikini line that Mariana sold out of a backpack on the beaches of Argentina. Today, Juana de Arco has two flagship stores in Buenos Aires and two in Japan; our products are now being distributed to specialty boutiques throughout the US and Europe.

What’s next - how do you see the company’s future growth and development?

We have always enjoyed a step by step process. Never moving too fast and we think that is what keeps us going, the steady upward slope. We take strategic first steps and then let the market decide what we need to do next.

Working with Japan came about by letting life take its course. In 2004 a Japanese businessman walked in to our very first boutique in Buenos Aires and decided to purchase all of our inventory on the spot. Our relationship with Japan began in that moment and we came to find that Japanese women appreciate and value Juana.

In regards to the US, we are steadily wholesaling our product - getting a sense of what the market likes and needs and adjusting the line to this entirely new crowd.

When did Juana de Arco come to Miami? Why?

We have been exporting to Japan for 12 years. In 2014 after analyzing a variety of markets to continue our international growth, we decided the American market was our best match. It values many core aspects of our products: design, uniqueness, and the environmental scope in our production process.

To dive into the US market, our options - logistically speaking, were going through Miami, New York or Los Angeles. As an Argentinian based brand Miami had several benefits: language, time differences, geographic location, and a city focusing in developing two industries where Juana de Arco clearly fits, fashion and art.

What kinds of opportunities were you looking for here? What aspects or risks worried you? How have those played out over your years here? How have you found your industry reflected here?

The US market is known to be one for opportunities, where if you work hard you will be successful. In our case, we are looking to grow the brand on a healthy path. That is, getting the right partners to deliver our brand to the clients that value what Juana de Arco stands for, a joyful and colorful lifestyle.

As we found in Japan, we are looking for those distribution channels and end clients that see something special in Juana.

As in any new market, risks come with the lack of knowledge. The learning process we have had in Argentina since 1998 had to be adjusted from scratch for the US fashion industry, which is immense and comes with its complexities. Making decisions on what, when, and how, saying no to certain options to focus on others has been one of the biggest difficulties we've faced.

From the perspective of a Latin American entrepreneur/founder but a long-time Miami transplant, how do see Miami today? What works, what surprises you, what frustrates you?

Miami is at an incredible moment. I can truly say that not much has frustrated me, I see great things happening and more on their way. From the public and private sectors, the support in the fashion industry is there. From an entrepreneurs perspective, I think Miami will have a very interesting and prolific next year.

In light of this perspective, what can Miami do better to become a truly value-adding “hub” for the region? (in your industry and in general)

Although, I do see this happening in many industries, especially technology, Miami could create more partnership. Places like The Lab, MADE, and CIC Miami are already on their way in focusing on specific fields and facilitating intermingling. Miami has to continue developing and reinforcing this co-working approach. It is the way to create a positive community in which we will inevitably learn from each other, pick each up, and watch each other succeed.

How has it worked to have your company straddling Miami and Buenos Aires? Any lessons or advice for companies exploring similar moves?

Both cities are in relatively close proximity, and like I stated before, we share aspects and values. It is a move that takes time. Starting a company in another country simply takes time. As entrepreneurs sometimes we wish things moved in a faster manner. So my best advice would be - patience.

Organizations like Endeavor have talked at length about the “Argentine Model,” but Argentina is also a country that has lived through rocky political and economic cycles. Is there something Miami can learn from the Argentine case study?

Our rocky political and economic cycles have had negative consequences on Argentina. On a brighter note, a positive consequence, the proliferation of entrepreneurs. When when we had the crisis of 2000, many people started to think, hey I studied, worked hard and still lost my job! The lack of opportunities led them to have to lose that fear of insecurity and become an entrepreneur. This crisis gave birth to the fashion designers that are standing strong in Argentina today.

Miami should appreciate the lack of crisis and be fearless regardless.

Do you see potential for collaboration and bridge-building between the entrepreneurial ecosystem and the creative economies in Buenos Aires and Miami? Why or why not?

Yes, I see a lot of potential. I see many aspects in which we are similar, things that bring us together. I also notice many complementary aspects. These are the spaces where working together creates value for both sides, bettering each part.  

Natalia Martinez-Kalinina is the General Manager of CIC Miami and the Founder of Awesome Foundation MIAMI. If you are an Argentine company looking to expand to Miami or a Miami-based entrepreneur/investor looking to connect with the Argentine ecosystem, please reach out to Natalia at martinez@cic.us

[This is part 3 of a series. Read part 1 here - Honey vs. Vinegar: How are we luring and keeping the companies we want in Miami?, part 2 here, part 3 here and part 4 here]

 

November 29, 2016

Argentina to Miami, a bridge worth building (Part 4)

  Rio - Villa

Oasis' hotel 2.0 concept features properties like this one in Rio.

 

By Natalia Martinez-Kalinina

Miami has a ways to go before we can truly claim the title of regional epicenter, but Argentina has long been recognized as one of the primary entrepreneurial - albeit not particularly stable - ecosystems in Latin America. Figuring out how to support Argentina’s wave of growth and appetite for engagement represents a unique opportunity to add value to the region and truly deliver on our vision as a gateway.

As a first step to test these waters, a group of us came together to co-author a full day of programming within StartupWeekBuenosAires - the largest event of its kind in Latin America-  specifically focused on how to engage with the U.S. ecosystem and market by way of Miami. Ahead of the full agenda being announced shortly, if you are interested in participating or learning more, please fill out this form.

ParkerLeading up to the event in December, we will be featuring interviews with a varied range of Argentine entrepreneurs and companies making their way to Miami. The first installments of this series have featured interviews with Balloon Group, Wolox, and La Comunidad. For the fourth feature, we spoke with Parker Stanberry (pictured here), Co-Founder and CEO of Oasis, a disruptive hospitality group that relocated its headquarters to Miami two years ago.

Tell us about Oasis. How was the company started? What has been the trajectory? How do you see its future growth and development?

I hatched the idea in 2007 based on my own experiences as an international traveller and then expat in Buenos Aires. I just felt there was a need for a better and more immersive traveller experience than hotels could provide.

In 2008 I partnered with two other Americans who knew Buenos Aires well, put together about $20K of start-up capital, and launched in early 2009. So it was a true startup in the early days. We had some success in BA and raised $100K, then opened Sao Paulo and Punta del Este, which proved the concept enough to raise $600K. Then in 2013 that we raised a Series A and were able to really hit the gas in terms of expansion.

Now we’re in 22 cities in 12 countries, and earlier this year did a Series B with AccorHotels. With additional capital and the institutional support of a partner like Accor, the goal is to really ramp up and reach 100 markets. Our goal is to build the first global brand around this “hotel 2.0” concept.

When did you/Oasis come to Miami and why?

We decided to move the HQ here in 2014, as a natural base from which to pursue a global strategy. It’s geographically ideal, lower cost than a NYC (which would have been our other option), and obviously very international. I myself moved up here last year.

What kinds of opportunities are you looking for here? What aspects or risks worry you?

I think more than a specific opportunity, it’s the factors that I mentioned above. It just checks some key boxes for us at this stage of the company’s trajectory.

The 2 worrying aspects to me are, first, access to later-stage capital. It seems that the seed and angel stage ecosystem is developing quite well, but there aren’t any funds doing B/C/D stage rounds. That’s less a worry for us now with Accor on board and good relationships with some NY-based funds.

The other is scarcity of talent. There are certainly some great people around, but nowhere near the density of young professional talent as you’d find in a major US or European city. Now the flipside of that is that there are also fewer opportunities, so when you do find the right person, there is less competition for them and more loyalty. But I think the depth of the talent pool is something that the folks involved in trying to build this ecosystem have to put some serious thought into.

From the perspective of a Latin American entrepreneur/founder, what advantages does Miami have?

Well, I’m kind of a pseudo-Latin American entrepreneur, since I’m from the US, but sure, for the purposes of this question, I can play up the LatAm angle. Advantages are a) proximity to the region, b) tremendous amount of back and forth of people between Miami and the region, c) ability to ease in culturally, d) fact that many LatAm HQs are here, so it’s actually easier to reach regional decision makers in Miami than in BA or Mexico City or Sao Paulo.

In light of this perspective, what can Miami do better to become a true value-adding “hub” for the region?  

The city needs to find a way to get some larger funds active here. And I think that organizations doing some more explicitly cross-border focused programs, talks, workshops would be great, such as the LAB did a few weeks back with an Argentina focus.

Organizations like Endeavor have talked at length about the “Argentine Model,” but Argentina is also a country that has lived through rocky political and economic cycles. What do you think Miami can learn from the Argentine case?

I’m not an expert on this so don’t have too strong of an opinion. But when looking at the Argentine model, I do feel that the original impetus for the movement has a good bit to do with luck - a few incredible entrepreneurs happened to build great companies in the late 90s, and that lead to the network effect that Endeavor points to. The great thing was that Endeavor was there in Argentina at that time, and really able to seize the moment and amplify the effect and influence of those 3 big success stories. So while maybe you can’t will those first success stories to happen, you, as a city or group of organizations in a city, can certainly be proactive in recognizing them and capitalizing on them.

That being said, you’re right - at a macro level it’s not like Argentina has been a model, and there haven’t been any majorly impactful start-ups, on a global scale I mean, since Globant. Meanwhile Sweden, a country 1/5th the size of Argentina, has created 4-5 [need to check that] unicorns in the past 8 or so years. So obviously the macro context is important, and is certainly an advantage that Miami has over Buenos Aires.   

Do you see potential for collaboration and bridge-building between the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Buenos Aires and the one in Miami? Why or why not?

Sure, there is no reason not to. There is a lot of commonality of language, a natural affinity between the two, and certain industries that are quite important in both cities (tech, real estate, hospitality come to mind). But again, that being said, the macro context in Argentina is so challenging, which begs the question of whether there are other US cities that have thrived in the recent years (Austin for example) that would make sense to study and forge connections to.

Natalia Martinez-Kalinina is the General Manager of CIC Miami and the Founder of Awesome Foundation MIAMI. If you are an Argentine company looking to expand to Miami or a Miami-based entrepreneur/investor looking to connect with the Argentine ecosystem, please reach out to Natalia at martinez@cic.us

[This is part 3 of a series. Read part 1 here - Honey vs. Vinegar: How are we luring and keeping the companies we want in Miami?, part 2 here and part 3 here]

 

November 25, 2016

Argentina to Miami, a bridge worth building (Part 3)  

 By Natalia Martinez-Kalinina

  LacomunidadIMG_1546Miami has a ways to go before we can truly claim th e title of regional epicenter, but Argentina has long been recognized as one of the primary entrepreneurial - albeit not particularly stable - ecosystems in Latin America. Figuring out how to support Argentina’s wave of growth and appetite for engagement represents a unique opportunity to add value to the region and truly deliver on our vision as a gateway.

 As a first step to test these waters, a group of us came together to co-author a full day of programming within StartupWeekBuenosAires - the largest event of its kind in Latin America-  specifically focused on how to engage with the U.S. ecosystem and market by way of Miami. Ahead of the full agenda being announced shortly, if you are interested in participating or learning more, please fill out this form.

 Leading up to the event in December, we will be featuring interviews with a varied range of Argentine entrepreneurs and companies making their way to Miami. The first installments of this series have featured interviews with Balloon Group and Wolox. For the third feature, we spoke with Joaquin Molla, Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer of the community - a multiple award winning and globally recognized creative agency, designated as the 2016 multicultural agency of the year by AdAge.

 Tell us about the community/la comunidad. What’s the genesis story? What has been the trajectory?

We wanted to create a company where people can create and produce great work for great brands. The community was born around the idea of collaboration—how people from different cultures can influence each other and do amazing things when they work together. We deeply believe in the power of culturally-driven ideas.

What’s next? How do you see the company’s future growth and development?

At the community we think about growth differently. Most agencies approach the question of growth in the traditional way—the growth of their business; but we think growth is the product of something bigger: following a vision. Our vision remains the same: we believe in the power of culturally-driven ideas and technology. It’s all about our cultural sensibility, and we believe this is a global concept. So where that vision takes us, we will follow…

When did the community/la comunidad come to Miami? Why?

There were a few reasons. One of the most important ones was the idea of being able to do amazing things when you work and being able to have an amazing life when you get out of the office. We thought Miami could help us achieve a better balance between work and life. Some cities tend to give better work options, but with a harder side of life. We opened in Miami in 2001 with the idea of having a company with very high standards on both sides of life. We love the ocean! And it’s very rare to have both the opportunity to work in advertising and the ocean so close. It’s a luxury we celebrate every day. Also it is a very strategic place to be. You can be in New York and Chicago in three hours, in Buenos Aires overnight. You can cover all the Americas fast, and also be in London in six hours. It is in the middle of everywhere.

What kinds of opportunities were you looking for here? What aspects or risks worried you? How have those played out over your years here?

 Again, the idea of a better work-life balance. At the beginning, we were worried about the standards on creativity. Buenos Aires is a very intense city where you are surrounded by culture, and it pushes you beyond your limits all the time… in a very interesting way. So our concern was that Miami could have the opposite influence on the company and on us, but that didn’t happen.

Besides, Miami has changed a lot in the last 16 years in a fascinating direction. I feel like we are also part of that change, and I always felt the city received us and supported us a lot during all those years because we made that bet at that time—and we took it very seriously. Now I feel like Miami is the right place at the right time. I feel honored to be here surrounded by so many talented people who want to find a balance but also want to keep pushing the limits of what’s possible. I feel very lucky to be here.

From the perspective of a Latin American entrepreneur/founder but a long-time Miami transplant, how do see Miami today? What works, what surprises you, what frustrates you?

 I am very happy with the evolution Miami is going through. I like that it is becoming a more interesting place on the culture side. But the sense of “belonging” is something Miami has to work on. Somehow, it is hard to have strong roots in the city – everyone is moving around, and it feels like you are somehow another tourist in town. Whatever Miami can do to make people feel like a “local” and celebrate that you chose this city to raise your family and build your company would be great. More and more interesting people are choosing Miami to live, but how do we give them the sense of belonging and that extra “local” feeling that makes them stay?

In light of this perspective, what can Miami do better to become a truly value-adding “hub” for the region? (in your industry and in general)

I think any effort on culture is very well received. We were always perceived as a shallow city, but now the amount of thinkers living here is amazing. What do we do with all of them to bring that truth to the surface?

How has it worked to have your company straddling Miami and Buenos Aires? Any lessons or advice for companies exploring similar moves?

We have a lot to learn on both sides. We should mix process and intuition more. Both extremes are bad. In the U.S., things become too process driven, and sometimes you lose a bit of the magic; and the opposite is also true in Argentina, so that mix has helped our company ha lot.

Organizations like Endeavor have talked at length about the “Argentine Model,” but Argentina is also a country that has lived through rocky political and economic cycles. Is there something Miami can learn from the Argentine case study?

Well, you can always learn from anything. I think the biggest thing would be the ability to adapt fast to anything. You become tougher, and you can adapt easily to change. I think that is key these days. That is the only thing we can be sure about: Everything is changing all the time. So being raised in a country like Argentina prepares you for anything. You also learn how to react quicker, because you know timing is key. These days with technology, that speed drives everything we do. The “speed of culture” is dictating a faster way to communicate all the time.

Do you see potential for collaboration and bridge-building between the entrepreneurial ecosystem and the creative economies in Buenos Aires and Miami? Why or why not?

I think Miami should build a bridge between all the big cities of Latin America, not only Buenos Aires. We should be able to see the best artists' work, the best plays, movies, books and more. There should be a connection between Miami and the best of each of those cities that is more direct, fluent and consistent. This happens sometimes: you see something amazing from one of these cities. For me, however, this should be a serious long-term program curated by interesting people to make sure we have a pulse in each of those cultures to see not only the best but also what’s coming, what’s under the radar. In Miami we are at the center of it all. We can connect the south and the north, and we can do amazing things with that amazing mix.

[This is part 3 of a series. Read part 1 here - Honey vs. Vinegar: How are we luring and keeping the companies we want in Miami? and part 2 here]

Natalia Martinez-Kalinina is the General Manager of CIC Miami and the Founder of Awesome Foundation MIAMI. If you are an Argentine company looking to expand to Miami or a Miami-based entrepreneur/investor looking to connect with the Argentine ecosystem, please reach out to Natalia at martinez@cic.us

November 10, 2016

Argentina to Miami, a bridge worth building

Wolox

By Natalia Martinez-Kalinina

As we often hear, Miami is a city uniquely poised to be a hemispheric hub. But despite being the transit isthmus that connects our hemisphere and representing a natural landing pad for companies growing from Latin America, we have historically fallen short of creating a sustained bridge for tangible and bidirectional engagement.  Entrepreneurs from Latin America come half blindly and arrive without a fully nuanced understanding of our infrastructure, differences, logistical shortcuts, critical stakeholders. As such, the learning curve is often steeper and the adjustment period longer than it should be - and that is in part our fault.

Argentina has long been recognized as one of the primary entrepreneurial ecosystems in Latin America with regards to high potential entrepreneurs. In equal measure, however, it has also been plagued by political malaise, economic instability, unreliable institutional resources, and its own absence from global capital markets. Now, although the country is very much in a transitional period after the 2015 election and the myriad economic and legal changes underway, Argentine entrepreneurs can - for the first time in several decades - see a horizon in which the country’s public sector, institutions, markets, and workforce can truly dovetail to generate growth, investment, and innovation.

Miami has a ways to go before we can truly claim the title of regional epicenter, but figuring out how to support Argentina’s wave of growth and appetite for engagement represents a unique opportunity to add value to the region and truly deliver on our vision as a gateway.

As a first step to test these waters, a group of us came together to co-author a full day of programming within StartupWeekBuenosAires - the largest event of its kind in Latin America-  specifically focused on how to engage with the U.S. ecosystem and market by way of Miami. Ahead of the full agenda being announced shortly, if you are interested in participating or learning more, please fill out this form.

Leading up to the event in December, we will be featuring interviews with a varied range of Argentine entrepreneurs and companies making their way to Miami. The first installment and inspiration for this series was an interview with Balloon Group. Below, we take a closer look at Wolox (pictured above), a growing software development company currently exploring its potential for expansion to the US from Buenos Aires, starting with a footprint in Miami. We spoke with Luciana Reznik, Wolox’s CEO (pictured here).


WoloxlucianaTell us about Wolox - how the company emerged, how has it changed over the years?

In 2011, Wolox was founded to innovate and help startups with all their product strategy and technological needs. With the lack of cutting edge tech solutions in Buenos Aires at the time, our goal was to bring high impact technology to the entrepreneurial ecosystem of South America. Concurrently, Buenos Aires was beginning to position itself as a major entrepreneurial city making for an ideal target market. After the great successes of the 90’s such as MercadoLibre, Despegar, and the first accelerators opening their doors, many new success stories continued to emerge. Like so, being an entrepreneur became an attractive career for many.

At this time, we were (all) finishing our degrees in computer engineering at The Buenos Aires Institute of Technology, a prestigious engineering university in Argentina. With other entrepreneurial experiences under our belt, an opportunity became clear to us: from a business standpoint, there were a larger number of individuals with good ideas and execution capabilities, than those with tech talent who could successfully carry out these ideas. This was our “aha” moment if every one of these individuals could be the CTO of a business venture, why not join together and become the CTOs of many business ventures?

Through the years, not only did we become experts in software development, but in all disciplines that influence the creation of top quality products as well as best practices when developing a startup. From the stage of conception to execution, researching the product market fit and implementing strategies to scale the business, Wolox is the team startups choose to partner with. Today, having worked with more than 80 startups has given us the know-how and key experiences to stand out within the industry which is invaluable to our clients.

Where do you see the growth and future of the company in the next years?

Today, we have around 100 employees and 100 products developed, with continual growth every day. We have managed to penetrate new markets in the USA and other countries in Latin America. Additionally, Wolox has established a team of exceptional individuals who discover innovative solutions to the challenges we are presented with while working ethically and professionally. Thanks to our ongoing positive recognition, larger companies have begun to use our services of design thinking to find solutions to their problems and/or establish innovation within their brands.

At Wolox, we have also been able to create a unique organizational culture that defines who we are and allows us to establish a challenging, flexible, innovative and respectful environment where our employees come to work motivated and happy. That is perhaps one of the biggest achievements and where we focus our energy every day to continue improving and not conform with what we have already achieved. Wolox is a company created by and for Millennials. A place which seeks to break with tradition, rife with challenge, and where rules are created to be broken in order for continual success.

In the coming years, we plan to continue the immense and rapid growth we have been experiencing up until now- opening new operating centers throughout the country as well as sales offices in various cities around the world. We will continue to train experts in the diverse cutting-edge technologies that emerge such as AR, VR, Internet of Things, among others, to be able to provide the best technological solutions to the problems we encounter within the market industry. In addition, we hope to become key leaders and influencers for the working culture we possess. We believe that we can transform problems into solutions and ideas into quality products, from Argentina to the rest of the world, managing to be positive and happy throughout the journey.

When did Wolox come to Miami, and why? What opportunities are you looking to find here? What risks may you come across? What is the evaluation and product release process in the United States?

As the next logical step in terms of company expansion, Wolox began its operations in Miami in January

of 2016. Our percentage of US clients is constantly growing and we want to continue this growth in the coming years, therefore, we believe opening offices in the United States is the rational next step for the company.

In Miami (and South Florida in general) we saw an interesting opportunity: an expanding entrepreneurial ecosystem, with tremendous support from various institutions and government funding to put Miami on the map of the entrepreneurial world. With the large Latino community many of the bigger enterprises or brands targeting the Latin American market have offices in Miami.

Our biggest challenge now is to manage a high volume of deal flow to maintain our operations during the period of growth of this entrepreneurial community, until it has fully consolidated. We do have to keep in mind we are in a new community and network, with a blank slate, where people still do not know us. We'll have to work hard to achieve a strong reputation and to position ourselves just as we have in Argentina.

Success stories like Magic Leap, Open English, Kairos, among many others have helped encourage and push the creation of tech startups. New co- working spaces are constantly opening their doors, making Miami an attractive spot for companies to set up shop. Miami is a city with immense multicultural and creative talent and a low cost of living. It really has all the key ingredients to make for the ideal entrepreneurial hub. Our goal now is to start generating and executing new startups and to bring capital to risky investments. Wolox arrived in Miami to help entrepreneurs pursue their ideas and build the entrepreneurial ecosystem just like we did in Buenos Aires 5 years ago.

From the perspective of the Latin American entrepreneur, what do you expect as a contribution from Miami?

Miami has access to a far greater pool of investors than we do in Latin America. A seed capital in Miami is at least us$ 500,000 whereas Latin Amércia it rarely exceeds us$ 50,000. On the other hand, it's very strategically located between Latin America and many other entrepreneurial hubs like New York, San Francisco, Boston, Austin, and Los Angeles, where many of our customers reside. Being closer provides an added value to our clients. Miami has many investment funds that focus on this type of enterprise and entrepreneurs of each country in Latin America that can help in this expansion.

As a Latin American entrepreneur, from day one we are constantly thinking globally as our native country itself is usually not a big enough market. Often times the market for our product is in the United States, making it very hard to measure the startup’s early stages from a distance. Even if the market we are appointing to is Latin Amércia as a whole (and not just a particular country) it is a lot easier to access those countries from the USA than from Argentina for example.

From this same perspective, what do you think Miami can do better to become a true "hub" in the region and support entrepreneurs who come here?

Often times, legal and accounting issues end up being a major roadblock when trying to focus one's energy on business. Visa issues/procedure, difficulty in the opening of bank accounts or being unable to access credit are just some of the disadvantages foreign entrepreneurs encounter. To overcome these difficulties, we must be in a privileged position within our country of origin to be able to access the necessary resources. This is something we consider a limitation in attracting top talent.

On the other hand, we must continue to focus on the education and the transmission of entrepreneurial culture. Some of the best practices when carrying out a startup such as energy and entrepreneurial execution speed (which are found in the most important hubs in the region), are  built through education and example. Therefore, it is necessary for the successful entrepreneurs of Miami to stay in order to transmit their learnings and knowledge and channel their entrepreneurial spirit to help and motivate those who are just getting started. Of course, the active participation of organizations - both public and private -that help entrepreneurs to perform this work is a key factor to achieve development.

What is your view on the political and economic situation in Argentina at the moment? What perspective does this experience give you on the growth of Miami?

Argentina is in the process of rebuilding political and economic relations with the United States. They are putting a lot of effort in generating public policies which support entrepreneurs and are strengthening programs and incentives of exchange between the two countries.

For example, only for the year 2016 will the budget allocated to the co- state investment in enterprises by local accelerators, triple. Undoubtedly, this will have a huge impact on the amount of Argentine entrepreneurs who choose Miami as the next step in its expansion process.

It is also expected for there to be at least two new public-private angel investment funds formed, whom will seek to have an active participation from foreign funds. This presents itself as a very interesting opportunity for foreigners: entering the entrepreneurial ecosystem of Argentina with limited risks.

Finally, the Argentine peso is at an exceptionally competitive value for the US market. Making for a very appealing strategy to realize the commercial development of Argentine companies in the USA.

Organizations like Endeavor have talked a lot about the Argentine model (not just the shortcomings, but the great achievements and opportunities). What do you think Miami can learn from Argentina’s case?

I believe Argentines are very entrepreneurial in nature. Things in our country are never simple, predictable or easy. We have overcome several crises throughout our history and from day one we have to address the daily challenges we face in an innovative way. From this, one learns to find solutions to the problem effectively, efficiently, and while working collaboratively.

As entrepreneurs, we have the need to create enterprises with sustainable business models from the get-go, since the ability to raise capital is quite small. I see this as a major difference between the Argentine entrepreneur and the US entrepreneur. Here entrepreneurs sometimes do things thinking only of the next round of investment or how to improve the KPIs the investors are going to ask for, instead of focusing on making a profitable business. Perhaps in the coming years, this paradigm will begin to change if the access to capital becomes more difficult. Which we are beginning to see in some parts of the USA.

In Argentina, there is a very strong sense of community. Entrepreneurs share their experiences, they teach, and invest in and mentor those just getting started. This ‘multiplier effect” is essential for the growth of the entrepreneurial community anywhere around the world and is one of the values ​​promoted strongly by Endeavor in Argentina. I believe this is something interesting and important to try and replicate in Miami. First, identify these stories of success and then take advantage of their transmission of knowledge that can render for following generations.

[This is part 2 of a series. Read part 1 here - Honey vs. Vinegar: How are we luring and keeping the companies we want in Miami?]

Natalia Martinez-Kalinina is the General Manager of CIC Miami and the Founder of Awesome Foundation MIAMI. If you are an Argentine company looking to expand to Miami or a Miami-based entrepreneur/investor looking to connect with the argentine ecosystem, please reach out to Natalia at martinez@cic.us

August 26, 2016

Finova Financial raises $52.5 million for lending platform

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Finova Financial co-founders Greg Keough and Derek Acree launched the cloud-based company to give consumers in need of emergency cash a loan  alternative to the triple-digit, punitive offerings in the traditional “payday” lending marketplace. The West Palm Beach-based fintech company focused on the auto-title lending industry recently announced it has raised $52.5 million in a combination of equity and debt.

The funding round was led by Silicon Valley and international venture capital firms including MHS CapitalRefactor CapitalMetamorphic Venture and 500 StartUps, as well as leading fintech entrepreneurs such as Sam Hodges, co-founder and managing director of Funding Circle, Jake Gibson, co-founder of NerdWallet and Al Hamra Group, a private company owned by the ruling family of Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates. CoVenture provided the credit facility to support the enterprises’ growth. “Finova has earned great traction, and we look forward to working closely with them as they scale rapidly, giving consumers the opportunity to get back on track financially.” said David Lee, co-founder and managing partner of Refactor Capital, in a statement.

Finova Financial_Greg Keough (2)The funding will be used by Finova to grow the all-digital lending platform serving the auto title loan marketplace while delivering up to 70 percent lower cost to consumers.  Finova Financial’s  online Car Equity Line of Credit (C-LOC) product and lending platform offers consumers a significantly less expensive auto title loan alternative, with 12 months to repay, an opportunity to repair their credit score, and a chance to earn performance points that can be used for grace periods in the repayment process, the company said.  This is in stark contrast to traditional lending models and it's the first in a series of products planned to address the needs of the hundreds of million of unbanked and underbanked consumers globally. The company successfully piloted its product in Florida.  

“Finova Financial was launched to help consumers get critically-needed cash without the traditional barriers of high interest rates, inconvenient application processes and restrictive payment terms of the auto title lending industry,” said Keough (pictured above), Finova’s CEO who has led a number of fintech ventures including MFS and RegaloCard. “As a company committed to social impact, we see Finova Financial as being an advocate for consumer financial well-being through improved access to credit, better repayment terms and lower costs.”

 

 

August 08, 2016

Startup Spotlight: Octopi making waves in maritime industry

Cetus Labs 01 EKM

Company: Octopi (formerly Cetus Labs)

Headquarters: Venture Hive, 1010 NE Second Ave., Miami

Concept: Octopi builds and sells a modern and smart Terminal Operating System (TOS) that helps seaport terminal operators manage operations, track cargo, and communicate electronically in real-time with their commercial partners.

Story: Ninety percent of everything around you was carried over on a shipping container before it reached you. It’s the industry that puts food in your plate, clothes on your back and enables the success of e-commerce globally. Yet, very few companies are trying to solve the hard problems facing this industry, says Octopi co-founder Luc Castera.

“Our company was built with the mission to help the key players in this industry operate more efficiently using modern software. We are a team of software developers with lots of experience in developing modern software tools,” Castera said.

According to the International Chamber of Shipping, about 90 percent of world trade is carried by the international shipping industry, and the United Nations estimates that the maritime industry contributes about $380 billion to the global economy. It’s also one of Miami’s dominant industries.

“When we started learning about the shipping and maritime industry, we saw that there was a big opportunity to help companies in that space be more efficient using technology,” said co-founder Guille Carlos. “Everybody is impacted by the shipping industry so we feel like we can have a meaningful impact in the world by helping the players in this industry be more effective.”

Launched: Octopi went live with its first customer in October 2015.

Management team: Luc Castera and Guille Carlos [pictured above], who have more than 20 years of combined experience developing software. Previously, Castera was CTO of Intellum and Carlos was the first tech hire of FiveStreet, which was acquired by move.com in 2013.

Website: octopi.co

Financing: Bootstrapped. The co-founders said they are not in need of funding now but have had conversations with local investors and are building relationships with them in case they decide to raise funds in the future.

Recent milestones reached: In October 2015, Octopi went live with its first customer. In May 2016, the company signed a contract with Caribbean Port Services (CPS), which manages all the terminals at the port of Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. With that contract, about 85 percent of all containerized cargo going to Haiti now goes through Octopi. In June 2016, Octopi completed its billing module, which allows the software product to interface with accounting software such as Quickbooks Online or Microsoft Dynamics GP.

Octopi (then called Cetus Labs) was also the winner of the 2016 early-stage Startup Showcase competition at eMerge Americas in April, winning $50,000, and it participated in the 2016 Venture Hive class.

Biggest startup challenge: Focus. Carlos says: “We see so many problems we could solve in the shipping and maritime industry but we must remain focused on the problem we are currently solving for terminal operators, and not get distracted by other product ideas.”

Next steps: To continue improving the product. “We love to work closely with new customers and involve them early as possible as we develop our product. This ensures that we are solving their problem and we are not developing software in a vacuum. As such, we are always looking for container terminals that have a forward-thinking executive team and that are willing to build a strong alliance with their software vendor. It’s a win-win situation: They help us build a great product, and they get a better software at a better price,” Castera said.

Mentor’s view: “This is exactly the type of startup we need more of in Miami,” said Mike Lingle, who mentors the team at Venture Hive. “My favorite thing about Luc and Guille is that they've built a sustainable business with real revenue and customers, and they don't need to raise money. They both write code, but they also take the time to learn how to run the business, drive sales and marketing, etc. ... The next step is to focus on sales and build a predictable revenue stream. B2B sales cycles are often long and involve multiple stakeholders, so it's important to focus on this sooner rather than later.”

Read more: Mediconecta brings telehealth to emerging markets.

Read more: Why Hope Solo is partnering with this startup.

Read more: Need a ride? Freebee revs up to expand

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

August 01, 2016

Startupbootcamp Digital Health announces inaugural Miami cohort

Selection days

Startupbootcamp, Europe’s largest family of innovation programs, on Monday announced the 10 teams that will join its Miami-based digital health accelerator. A diverse range of solutions – from pre-natal remote monitoring to Latin America’s largest telehealth provider – were selected.

“We are proud that our inaugural class includes a diversity of founders, product category, stage and geography. We focused our selection on later stage companies with real revenue and traction poised to scale across our network of healthcare customers. We are hopeful that Miami will soon become recognized as a global hub for healthcare innovation," said Christian Seale, founder and managing director of Startupbootcamp in Miami.

After reviewing close to 300 applications from over 40 countries, Startupbootcamp invited 15 digital health companies  to attend Startupbootcamp’s Selection Days this past weekend. Over two days, the companies were evaluated by executives from the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, University of Miami Health System, Jackson Health System, Memorial Healthcare System, Aetna, Abbvie, Univision, Microsoft, GE Healthcare and top-tier healthcare investors.

After the two-day selection process, the following program finalists were invited to form part of the 2016 cohort.

Post-seed:

Babyscripts (US) - The first mobile, clinical solution to seamlessly provide remote monitoring of an OB’s patient population in-between visits.

CareAngel (US) - Care Angel has developed ANGEL, the world's first Artificially Intelligent Caregiver providing device-free care management and telemonitoring via telephone.

Mediconecta (Venezuela/Miami) - The largest telehealth provider in Latin America. Currently operating in Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Chile and expanding to the US. [Read more here.]

QoC Health (Canada) - QoC Health helps health organizations take their digital health ideas to scale / commercialization with its patient-centered technology platform.

TruClinic (US) - A modular cloud-based  telemedicine platform that combines video collaboration with clinical workflow management solutions to help healthcare providers better serve their patients.

VoiceITT (Israel) - A voice-translation technology platform for people with speech disability;  compiling a propriertary sound bank of unintelligible speech for research purposes.

Pre-seed:

Aces Health (US) - The first end-to-end clinical trial management app for patients and researchers.

Overl.ai (US) - A healthcare automation intelligence company that makes it easy for providers to control the apps and web services they use to deliver care and communicate with patients.

Keep Livin (US) - A patient engagement platform with a mission to eradicate health disparities that adversely impact racial/ethnic communities.

LineHealth (Portugal) - A hardware company helping you to take the right pill at the right time, leading to a longer and healthier life.

The 10 companies have raised $13.85 million and are valued at over $48 million collectively.

Startupbootcamp is also welcoming two Entrepreneurs-in-Residence: Carevoyance of Miami, a data analytics platform that helps medical device companies expand their market, and Personomics, a healthcare company founded by Jordan Kavana to revolutionize consumer-driven wellness by providing health, diet, beauty and lifestyle solutions based on your DNA.

The selected companies are provided with seed funding, matched with an international network of healthcare customers to accelerate sales and given access to a network of top-tier venture investors to raise seed-Series A financing to scale their business. The accelerator program will begin Sept. 6 and culminate with a Demo Day on Dec. 1.

Startupbootcamp launched in Miami late 2015 with $2 million in Knight Foundation support  and a diverse group of founding partners including Microsoft’s BizSpark Program; Miro Ventures LLC; Nicklaus Children’s Hospital; Univision;  Maurice R. Ferré, executive chairman of Insightec and co-founder of MAKO Surgical; Jaret Davis, co-managing shareholder of Greenberg Traurig; and Michael Simkins, president and CEO of Innovate Development Group leading the Miami Innovation District project. 

“By focusing on health, [Startupbootcamp] is really building out the ecosystem for innovation," said Dr. Narendra Kini, CEO at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital. "We hope to see the next major healthcare players originate in Miami.” 

The program offers startups access a mentor and alumni network from across the globe and partnerships with leading hospital systems, insurers and investors  to accelerate and scale their businesses. The program also aims to focus its companies on the eradication of healthcare disparities.

"We look forward to seeing how the program’s model, previously successful in Europe, will bring new energy and talent to Miami’s innovation ecosystem and provide a fresh avenue for startups to grow and thrive in our city,” said Matt Haggman, program director for Miami at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Startupbootcamp programs are currently active in 13 other cities across the US, Europe and Asia, with other cities and vertical programs to soon be announced.

 

 

Read more on Startupbootcamp here.

Read "Prescription for economy: Healthcare startup energy" here.

Selection days2

Photos were taken during Startupbootcamp's  Selection Days in Miami July 30 and 31 at Building.co. At top, Christian Seale addresses crowd; above, one of the teams meets with selection panelists.

 

June 10, 2016

FIU faculty leads program for Cuban entrepreneurs

Fiu image

By Cynthia Corzo / FIU

A group of 15 small business owners from Cuba this week became the first cohort of InCubando@FIU, FIU’s first-ever customized program designed to sharpen the managerial skills and business savvy of young entrepreneurs from the island.

During the six-week program, College of Business faculty will deliver courses in Spanish covering small business management, accounting and finance, access to capital, sales and marketing, corporate social responsibility, and business plan writing. Participants will also receive intensive English courses offered by the FIU English Language Institute.

“The goal is to promote grassroots entrepreneurship and empower a new generation of business owners in Cuba,” said Carlos Parra, marketing and Information Systems and Business Analytics professor at FIU. He will discuss proactive stakeholder engagement and strategic alliances in the InCubando@FIU curriculum.

Marta Deus, owner of an accounting and financial consulting venture in La Habana, welcomed the exchange of business practices and networking that InCubando@FIU offers.

“The business landscape in Cuba has many unique features that business-owners here might find interesting,” said Deus. “I want to benefit from the hands-on experience and new opportunities we’ll receive so I can apply them to my business and watch it grow.”

InCubando’s participants are all under the age of 40, have a self-employed (cuentapropista) license issued by the Cuban government and have been operating a business on the island for at least one year.

Yorgis Morejon explained he’s anxious to learn about business management and the U.S. consumer market to help expand his Matanzas-based fly-fishing business. His dream: “to become the Bass Pro Shops Cubano.”

As part of the program, participants will also meet with local entrepreneurs who will serve as mentors and make field visits to high-profile businesses including Western Union and a Carnival Cruise Lines ship at the Port of Miami.

“Cubans have an amazing intuition for business and they seem to be eager to learn about different approaches to business decision-making,” said Parra.

InCubando@FIU is a partnership between StartUp Cuba, part of the Roots of Hope organization, and FIU’s Cuban Research Institute, College of Business, and English Language Institute.

February 22, 2016

Atlantico: A premium rum company grabs its ‘moment’

 

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

What does a feisty young Miami spirits company do to get the attention of a huge celebrity?

If you are Atlantico Rum, well, you send rum. But not just to any celeb: You send it to one you know really likes fine rum.

Atlantico2That would be Enrique Iglesias, the recording artist and record producer — the Gulliver Prep grad who became the King of Latin Pop. He now includes the rum in nearly all his performances.

Atlantico co-founder Aleco Azqueta reached out to the star after finding out, from a mutual friend, that Iglesias is a rum aficionado. Atlantico didn’t hear from Iglesias right away. But on YouTube a short while later, the team was surprised to see the star hoisting an Atlantico Private Cask bottle as he toasted an audience member he invited on stage to sing with him during a Madison Square Garden concert. That was four years ago.

“It was a surprise to us,” Azqueta said. “We were hoping he would have it backstage; we had no idea he would use it on stage. It was a very organic moment, very natural.”

Within a few months, Azqueta and his co-founder Brandon Lieb met with the performer and asked him if he would like to be involved with Atlantico. Iglesias told them he doesn’t do many brand sponsorships but he likes the brand a lot, it fits with his lifestyle and he wanted to be involved on an owner level, Azqueta said.

Since then, Iglesias has continually used the onstage toast — and the Atlantico brand — in his shows. And these “Atlantico Moments,” as they’re now called, have gone viral on social media.

That kind of authentic product placement is priceless.

Iglesias is an investor and full partner in the company. The star has certainly helped get more people to learn about the brand. “His follower base is slightly larger than ours,” Azqueta quipped during an interview at Sweet Liberty, a craft spirits bar in Miami Beach. “He is the No.1 Latin artist of all time, he has sold over 100 million albums, he has over 50 million Facebook fans.”

Indeed, Atlantico saw growth of about 40 percent in the year after the Atlantico Moments began, Azqueta said, and it has been a gift that keeps on giving. Iglesias has taken to wearing Atlantico caps everywhere — in his concerts, in interviews for Extra, in his videos. He also placed Atlantico in a lot of his music videos, including Bailando, which has garnered more than 1.3 billion hits on YouTube.

The brand also was beginning to expand internationally at that time, but the ride wasn’t always so smooth. Azqueta and Lieb launched Atlantico in 2009, during the recession. Both friends had attended Georgetown University together [Azqueta also earned an MBA from the University of Miami] and worked at Bacardi in marketing and brand management positions before taking the entrepreneurial plunge. Lieb now is based in Los Angeles; Azqueta, in Miami.

Starting a spirits business during a recession may not seem wise — let’s face it, rum is not really a necessity. “Everyone always says alcohol is recession-proof,” Azqueta (pictured below) said. “While that might be true, they don’t always drink the best quality stuff.” Still, he said, it wasn’t a bad time to launch as competitors were scaling back on marketing and expansion at that time.

Atlantico1

More important, the co-founders saw the craft beer boom gaining steam, and they believed craft spirits would not be far behind. Indeed, craft spirits bars, where bartenders focus on the craft of fine cocktail-making, were beginning to pop up in San Francisco, New York and elsewhere.

“We felt like there was an opportunity to develop a craft rum and participate in this craft cocktail movement,” Azqueta said. “The premium-ization of rum hasn’t caught up with the other categories.”

They looked at distilleries throughout the Caribbean and Venezuela and ended up in Dominican Republic. There they created Atlantico Private Cask with a third-generation Cuban master blender and started entering the premium sipping rum in spirits competitions. In the first two years, Atlantico won best-in-show at the London Rum Festival, the world’s largest rum competition. It also picked up best-of-show at the Berlin Rum Festival, and “Best Overall Brown Spirit” at the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America show. Azqueta and Lieb knew they had a good product but had to figure out how such as small company could break through.

From the start, Atlantico was never going to compete with the volume players like Bacardi but rather as a boutique brand; its batches are small and its bottles are hand numbered. Once Atlantico began producing commercially — it now has three styles, Private Cask, which retails for about $32, Reserva (about $27) and Platino (about $22) — it focused its distribution regionally, beginning with Miami, Los Angeles and New York.

Atlantico began hiring brand ambassadors in these markets, often bartenders in the cities’ craft spirits bars, to tell the story of the brand and bring awareness, teach cocktail-making, work at events, and work with its distributor, Miami-based Southern Wine & Spirits. Atlantico focuses its marketing by featuring it at community events, tastings and on menus. The company will be at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival that starts this week.

The past few years, Atlantico has been in an expansion mode. Atlantico is now in 16 countries, including Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy, Mexico and Australia. It has been picked up by some national accounts, such as the W, Seasons 52, Cosmopolitan Hotel, NOBU, MGM Properties, Caesars Entertainment Group and Norwegian Cruise Line.

But the independent “influencer” craft spirits bars — such as Broken Shaker, Sweet Liberty and Finka in the Miami area, Employees Only in New York, and Trick Dog in Los Angeles — are still a mainstay of Atlantico’s strategy. “Our strategy has not changed. It is to continue to focus on the influencers in the spirits community,” Azqueta said.

Broken Shaker in Miami Beach was one of Atlantico’s first accounts. Gabriel Orta, Broken Shaker’s co-founder, has been featuring Atlantico since the bar opened, for more than five years.

“I like that it is a boutique company, a hand-crafted company. I like the whole process how they make the rum, the master distiller used to work with Havana Club — they took the extra steps, and we love the packaging,” Orta said. “It’s a great rum and we love supporting it.”

Atlantico’s Caribbean-style rums “are sweet and approachable, and something that the locals favor,” said Alex Portela, beverage manager of Finka Table & Tap in West Kendall. Hand-shaken daiquiris or classic mojitos with Atlantico are fan favorites. So is the Old Cuban, similar to a mojito but topped with champagne, he said.

This craft spirits resurgence comes as the rum market as a whole has been flat. According to 2015 Nielsen research, the rum category was down nearly 1 percent; however, the ultra premium category where Atlantico competes was up 6.4 percent. Atlantico’s growth has been faster. The company said sales volume has grown by 50 percent over the past three years as Atlantico increased its distribution from being an East Coast brand to national and international distribution. It has grown to more than 2,500 accounts, its co-founders said, but they wouldn’t disclose revenues.

As Curt Carrillo, a bartender at Sweet Liberty on South Beach and an Atlantico brand ambassador, prepared a classic daiquiri, Aleco explains that he and other premium rum makers are trying to change the perception that rum, the second-largest spirits category behind vodka, is all about spring breaks and rum-and-cokes. Two of Atlantico’s brands — Reserva and Platina — are favored by cocktail makers. Some are using fine aged rum in place of whiskey in traditional whiskey classics such as the old-fashioned. “Rum is still a great value proposition compared to Scotch and whiskeys and tequilas,” Azqueta said.

Florida International University students have tried their hand at their own crafted creations using Atlantico rum, with a unique twist. Azqueta had lectured on rum production and came armed with samples, but Professor Barry Gump had another idea for those samples. In the beer making lab, the students created a blond beer with Atlantico Platino and a sweet stout with Atlantico Reserva. “They were marvelous, everyone enjoyed it,” Gump said, and he had some of it bottled.

“What our brand is trying to do is teach people how to drink better rum and lead the education that rum is a very complex spirit and just as high quality as a bourbon or scotch or cognac,” Azqueta said. “We are starting to see a renaissance of rum.”

Nancy Dahlberg; 305-376-3595; @ndahlberg.