BLACK TECH WEEK: A weeklong series of events celebrating innovators of color and tech innovation, with speakers from around the globe, Monday through Saturday, Feb. 23-28, Miami Dade College North Campus. A two-day summit, pitch contests, Hours of Code at local schools, mentor meetups and a hackathon are planned. The week's activities open at 5 p.m. Monday with a Pitch Competition at EcoTech Visions; the winner will receive a $1,000 grant. Full schedule and tickets at blacktechweek.com
GCVCA EXPO 2015: The Gold Coast Venture Capital Association’s annual Expo will feature 30 Florida startups as well as two panel discussions, 4-9 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 24, Embassy Suites Boca Raton. More info: gcvca.org
BRAINFOOD: The Brainfood series presents Jim McKelvey, co-founder of Square and his nonprofit LaunchCode, 6:30- 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 26, The LAB Miami, 400 NW 26th St. More info: thelabmiami.com
Focus on customer experience first. Share your idea widely to gain valuable feedback. Start building your network and never stop learning.
A panel of serial entrepreneurs and investors — most were both — shared that advice and more with 325 attendees at the Miami Herald’s Business Plan Bootcamp Wednesday night at Miami Dade College. The bootcamp was held in conjunction with the
Panelists included Melissa Krinzman, co-founder of Krillion Ventures; Steven McKean, serial tech entrepreneur and startup advisor; Benoit Wirz, director of venture investments for the Knight Foundation; Leandro Finol, executive director of Miami Dade College’s Idea Center; and Adam Smith, partner at Medina Capital.
What do they look for when they are reviewing business plans?
"What’s the problem you are trying to solve but also how do you know it is a real problem, what’s the evidence?" Wirz said. "What is it about you, specifically the team, that makes me believe you can solve that problem? As a general rule, the more competitive the space, the more important it is you have a very specific background that gives you an unfair advantage."
Wirz also looks for a plan for how customers find out about your product. "If you have some secret hook, an advantage you can leverage, that’s great," Wirz said. Be sure to show evidence of product-market fit, added McKean.
Krinzman and McKean, veteran Business Plan Challenge judges, also advised paying attention to the storytelling. Said Krinzman: "You have to remember that there is a person reading the plan, and we need to be interested. ... Work hard on your first paragraph and define the problem you are solving: why should we care, why should we keep reading, and do we understand what you are talking about. Share at least your first couple of paragraphs with someone who doesn’t know your business and see if they understand it."
Include financials in your plan, but be realistic and include assumptions. A photo or rendering is good to include, particularly if you are a product company. In live pitches, product demos are effective, Smith said. If you get to the finalist stage of the Challenge, you will be presenting your elevator pitch on video.
Advice on starting a business came pouring out. "If you are small and don’t have a lot of capital, go after a small but growing market and think about world domination later," Finol sad. In selecting your idea, follow your passion and do it because you love it, he said. "Branding is important but focus on user experience first," Finol added. Focus on the why — why should customers tell others to use your products. The branding will evolve."
Wirz said in most cases entrepreneurs shouldn’t be so secretive: "Tell everyone about your idea, and get feedback. The more feedback the stronger your idea will become and the more ready you are to build your business."
If you are a first-time entrepreneur, you can establish some credibility through social proof, said Krinzman. One way to do this: Create a board of advisors of people who believe in you and have credibility in your category or can add value.
When capital raising, do your homework and target investors in your industry or sector, Smith said. It sounds obvious, but the investors said the great majority of emails they receive are not fits. If you do get in the door, "don’t be defensive, you are going to be challenged, and you can’t have all the answers so don’t worry about that," said Smith. "Be engaging and conversational and you will get through it."
Get introduced the right way. Get active on LinkedIn and build your networks, McKean said. It’s a relationships game.
The good news on that front: Thanks to the Knight Foundation and others, South Florida’s entrepreneurial ecosystem has evolved. "It’s an ecosystem that is very open and if you are part of it, opportunities will come to you as well. More doors will open," Finol said.
A not to be missed event, particularly if you are in tech, is the eMerge Americas conference coming up in May. A sampling of other resources mentioned by the panelists (get on their mailing lists): Refresh Miami (refreshmiami.com), the largest meetup group for early stage entrepreneurs; The LAB Miami (thelabmiami.com), a co-working space in Wynwood with many events; and AGP (AGPMiami.com), an active angel network. For companies much further along, there’s Endeavor Miami (endeavormiami.org) providing mentorship and support. Take advantage of local resources and follow the Starting Gate blog (on MiamiHerald.com/business).
Some recommendations on other blogs, books and websites from the panel: The Hard Thing about Hard Things, by Ben Horowitz, Brad Feld’s books on capital raising, blogs by well-known investors such as Fred Wilson (http://avc.com/) and Mark Suster (http://www.bothsidesofthetable.com/); and Eric Reis’ The Lean Startup, particularty if you are a tech company. Pitchenvy.com is an enviable collection of investor decks, and there’s "How to get an investor to say yes," by Adeo Ressi (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tzef-oKee0).
"Over the winter break I went through "How to Start a Startup" by YCombinator’s Sam Altman (http://startupclass.samaltman.com/). It is free and it is unbelievable," said Finol.
At eMerge Americas last year, Manny Medina interviewed Pitbull; an amazing and enlightening interview worth watching, the panelists said (watch it here).
Just getting started? Finol said the Idea Center, theideacenter.co, offers a workshop on design thinking every month that will help you create, refine, validate and test innovative ideas. After the Bootcamp, he suggested this template may also help -- start with the pains and gains sections.
"Find mentors who have been there before to help get you there faster," McKean said. "Your ability to grow a company will be dependent on of how fast you are able to learn. The fastest learning will come from who you surround yourself with."
Panelists were Melissa Krinzman, co-founder of Krillion Ventures; Steven McKean, serial tech entrepreneur and startup advisor; Benoit Wirz, director of venture investments for the Knight Foundation; Leandro Finol, executive director of Miami Dade College’s Idea Center; and Adam Smith, partner at Medina Capital.
Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg and find rules, tips, a Q&A and other resources for the Business Plan Challenge at MiamiHerald.com/challenge.
South Florida entrepreneurs, investors and industry experts will gather for the Gold Coast Venture Capital Expo from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Feb. 24 at the Embassy Suites in Boca Raton.
More than 30 start-up companies seeking venture capital or angel investments will have booths at the expo with representatives available to talk about their products or services. Six hundred to 1,000 attendees are expected, Gold Coast Venture Capital Association said.
"We have 32 startups; we had 25 last year," said Bob Fitts, president of the association. "Everything's bigger. We've expanded the length of the event and have two panels."
Fitts said the expo's goal is to help startups and investors in the Eastern United States.
The event also will be educational for entrepreneurs, he said, with panelists from some of the latest incubator and accelerator companies and programs in South Florida.
Speakers include Nabyl Charania, co-founder and chief executive of Rokk3r Labs, a platform for entrepreneurs to co-build and launch companies based in Miami Beach, and Brad Harrison, founder and partner of New York venture fund Scout Ventures; Jack Karabees, serial entrepreneur and co-founder of the Miami Innovation Fund; Richard Swerdlow, founder and CEO, Real Estate Holdings - Condo.com, Houses.com and Property.com; and Robert Kelly, chairman of The Sales Management Association.
"I've seen a great amount of progress during the past three (expos)," said Fitts, who became the association's president in 2013. "I see a lot more cooperation in the ecosystem."
The event costs $25 for association members, $30 for attendees from partner organizations, and $35 for members of the public. For more information, go to http://www.gcvcaexpo.org.
Launched by Code for America, CodeAcross is a national event set to inspire residents to become actively involved in their community. Coinciding with International Open Data Day, Miami-Dade County will be opening its Open311 data to developers for the first time, providing new opportunities to create citizen-focused applications in a creative, collaborative environment. Developers, writers and designers can help with various projects already listed on the website, including Miami Answers, a platform for finding answers to citizens’ most frequently asked questions.
Code for America’s Miami fellowship program will officially launch at the event. “This is one more sign of Miami-Dade County’s emergence as a hub for technology and innovation,” said Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez. “As part of our continued efforts at implementing open data policies, the Code for America Fellows will work with us to provide greater transparency in government, using technology to make us more efficient and bring us closer to our residents.”
On Saturday and Sunday, college and high school students across South Florida are invited to compete in UHack at the University of Miami Student Activities Center in Coral Gables. To register: http://coe.miami.edu/uhack2015/
For the third year, UM is hosting this 24-hour technology competition and expecting about 150 participants. Participants will be tasked to create apps along the theme of “Hack for a Better U”, a broad topic that allows hackers freedom of expression when creating their app. Attendees can utilize any platform, framework, language, or hardware device. UHack is part of Major League Hacking, which helps put on over 100 student hackathons across North America and the Europe annually. More than $3,000 in prizes are up for grabs.
Starting Gate and other Miami Herald blogs receieved redesigns to better incorporate them into the Herald's new website design, but the Starting Gate content is the same. To find the categories, use the pulldown menu near the bottom of the page. You can still find all past content such as Q&As, Startup Spotlights, the Tech Hub series, Entrepreneurship Datebook and Guest Posts under the various categories. Let me know if anything seems amiss.
As always, thank you for reading Starting Gate! I am always interested in your suggestions and welcome guest post ideas!
Joining a wave of new coding-school options for South Florida high school students, Palmer Trinity School of Palmetto Bay is teaming up with The Flatiron School, a New York City school well-known for web and mobile development, to offer immersive coding courses to local high school students this summer.
"The goal of Flatiron Pre-College Academy at Palmer Trinity is to give students a comprehensive understanding of the technologies used to build some of the world’s most popular websites and applications, and to broaden their horizon of what’s available in this sector," said Patrick Roberts, Head of School.
There are five courses offered – beginner and advanced software engineering, beginning and advanced web design and entrepreneurship – in three full-time two-week sessions starting in June. The two-week course is $2,000, and scholarships will be available for students who are already active in the technology community or who have demonstrated financial need. For more information: https://precollege.flatironschool.com/summer-2015/miami.
Another shot in the mobile wallet wars: Samsung Electronics Co. will be buying LoopPay, which turns existing magnetic stripe readers into secure, contactless receivers. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
LoopPay’s proprietary technology works with about 90 percent of existing point-of-sale terminals, with no investment in new infrastructure required by merchants, and it was developed in the Miami Beach home lab of co-founder George Wallner. Its products include an an affordable protective sleeve that fits around your smartphone, turning it into a mobile wallet. Wallner (pictured here speaking at last year's Fintech LatAm conference), is a veteran in the mobile payment industry. He is credited with developing the first credit card swipe machine as founder and CEO of Hypercom, taking that company from zero to IPO.
As part of the acquisition, LoopPay founders Will Graylin and Wallner will work closely with Samsung’s Mobile Division. The companies believe LoopPay’s talent and technology, paired with Samsung’s world leading mobile technology, global presence and distribution capabilities, will help drive the next wave of innovation in the digital smart wallet.
“This acquisition accelerates our vision to drive and lead innovation in the world of mobile commerce. Our goal has always been to build the smartest, most secure, user-friendly mobile wallet experience, and we are delighted to welcome LoopPay to take us closer to this goal,” said JK Shin, President and Head of IT and Mobile Division at Samsung Electronics, in a news release.
Samsung had already been working with LoopPay, which is headquartered in Boston, as it was a strategic investor along with Visa and Synchrony Financial. The investment, which was facilitated by Samsung’s Global Innovation Center, helped fuel LoopPay’s MST technology development.
Imagine being able to watch and perhaps even contribute to the process of innovation in real time for a year. The Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science and the science nonprofit CappSci plan to launch a worldwide contest and bring the winners to the museum to build their concepts for all to experience.
Through a $1 million gift from Ted and Pascale van Kipnis Caplow, CappSci and the museum Thursday plan to announce a five-year series of annual prize contests and inventors-in-residence programs to develop solutions in the health and environmental sectors. The announcements are planned as part of the museum’s Innovation & Engineering Weekend, which extends through Sunday, at its current Coconut Grove location.
Prizes to be offered in 2015: one for the best invention to restore coral reefs, and another to help people detect and reduce their exposure to carcinogens, the museum said.
Building on CappSci’s experience with global competitions, the CappSci Inventors program will solicit submissions of prototype inventions with local relevance and global significance from around the world beginning Thursday. Two winners will be awarded 12- to 18-month residencies at the $300 million science museum under construction in downtown Miami’s Museum Park. Entry forms and more details on the prizes are available at www.cappsci.org.
In 2013, CappSci established the $1 million Caplow Children’s Prize, the world’s largest prize dedicated to saving the lives of children under the age of 5. But CappSci Inventors is the first contest CappSci has run with a residence program. The $1 million gift will support the program for five years.
My goal is to find solutions to big problems, but I am also very excited about bringing the practice of science inside the four walls of the science museum,” said Ted Caplow, CEO of CappSci, an applied science company, and an engineer, social entrepreneur and philanthropist who lives in Miami.
Out-of-the-box thinking in both prize categories is needed now, Caplow said. “In the course of my lifetime, and I am 45, I have seen a complete change in the state of Caribbean corals. If you extrapolate that over another 30 or 40 years, scientists are saying that on this side of the world the reefs could be gone.”
While disappearing coral is a massive environmental problem, the healthcare prize tackles cancer. The challenge is to develop an innovative, affordable and portable technology to empower people to detect and/or avoid carcinogens, he said.
The winners of CappSci Inventors will get a $100,000 budget to support their research and be provided lab space at the museum, Caplow said. During their residencies, inventors build out and test their technologies while seeking feedback from the public. Museum visitors can watch the inventors work, read interactive daily project logs, and discuss details of the project with an intern who will serve as a knowledge liaison between the inventor and the public, Caplow said.
The inventors will give periodic talks at the museum, and CappSci and the museum will also provide mentorship. The CappSci Inventors program will end with a demo day, when the innovators can present their work to investors who may help fund commercialization, said Caplow, who is on the museum’s board.
“There’s an emerging science and technology scene here in South Florida and the museum has a vital role to play in making it visible,” said Gillian Thomas, president and CEO of Frost Science. “What I love about this is that anyone around the world can apply but you will see the whole process develop here. Whatever great inventions come out of it will be relevant here but could also work around the world.”
In addition to this gift, the Caplows have previously donated $1 million to the new museum’s five-floor Innovation Center, which will provide classes, maker’s activities, public demonstrations and workshops celebrating innovation and entrepreneurship while also exhibiting the latest global developments. Separately, Caplow’s team and the museum also want to develop a Science Barge, a floating, urban sustainable farm and environmental education center similar to one he founded in New York, but also with marine-related exhibits and programming.
The announcement on Thursday will be followed by a panel discussion on the importance of competitions, featuring local leaders in science, medicine and business. The panel will be moderated by Florida Board of Education member and nonprofit leader Rebecca Fishman Lipsey, and include marine biologist Dr. Andrew Baker from University of Miami, medical entrepreneur Dr. Maurice Ferré, and oncologist Dr. Nicholas C. Lambrou. For more information on Innovation & Engineering Weekend, visit www.miamisci.org/iefrost.
Wevorce, a startup that offers a technology platform and five-step process to make divorce “amicable,” is the latest Silicon Valley company expanding services in Miami with a new office.
Wevorce's trained mediators, financial professionals and counselors focus on the emotional, financial and legal implications that are inevitable in every divorce. With a step-by-step approach, Wevorce says it helps couples divorce amicably -- and keep them out of court -- using web-based technology to automate the paperwork, along with attorney mediators to help untangle the complex issues, at less cost than a traditional divorce.
Michelle Crosby, CEO and co-founder of Wevorce, said the company saved its clients over $2 million in legal fees in 2014. Through the divorce analytics it has developed, Wevorce predicts the costs and steps families need to take to settle their divorce, and it costs one-third of a typical divorce (the national avg. is $27,000), she said. More than 300 families have been through the Wevorce process to date, and in 2014, Wevorce kept 100 percent of its families out of court. “We are excited to bring our services to Miami and help families avoid adversarial and costly divorces that have been unnecessarily played out in a courtroom," she said in a news release.
Joining the Miami team as a Certified Wevorce Architect is Jessica Geller and more will be added, the company said. Based in the Bay Area, Wevorce is venture backed by Y Combinator, Foundation Capital and others.
Working out of a Starbucks in 2012, Obdulio Piloto saw an article about the Peter Thiel Foundation’s Breakout Labs seeking revolutionary ideas in technology to fund.
He and Ian Cheong, a friend he met while they were both obtaining their doctorates at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, thought they had one: a universal platform that would allow diagnosis for multiple diseases easily, cheaply and quickly. Many people in developing countries lack access to life-saving diagnostic tests because of their high cost and the countries’ lack of advanced medical infrastructure.
Piloto sent in that idea for a company called Entopsis.
About a month later, the Peter Thiel Foundation, set up by the founder of PayPal, called and said Breakout Labs believed the idea could be world changing and chose Entopsis for a $160,000 grant. Entopsis was one of only 16 startups around the country selected so far and the only one based in Florida.
“I said ‘you understand I work [out of] Starbucks. I don’t have a lab or a team,’ ” Piloto (pictured above) recalled telling Breakout Labs. “But they understood the science, the implications and where this could go. They said this is a grant to test out your crazy idea.”
Fast forward to today and Entopsis has a small team of PhD-level scientists working in a lab at the Hialeah Technology Center. The company has prototypes and it has begun testing its platform with partners in the areas of cancer and infectious diseases, said Piloto, Entopsis’s CEO, who majored in microbiology at Cornell University, received his doctorate from Johns Hopkins, where he did his graduate thesis research on cancer immunotherapy, and did post-graduate work at Stanford.
To fund further development, Piloto closed an $800,000 seed round last week led by Miami-based Krillion Ventures. The round includes local investor group G3 Capital Partners, another Miami investor and a number of Hong Kong-based investors.
This is the third Miami-based investment for Krillion Ventures, launched last fall. The $50 million venture fund for early-stage tech companies has also funded Everypost and Videoo. Krillion also funded Cohealo, a health-tech startup that launched in South Florida but moved to Boston early last year.
“We are interested in investing in groundbreaking ways to reduce costs and increase efficiency for hospitals and healthcare professionals. Entopsis has the potential to do both. By employing nanoengineering to develop a universal diagnostic platform that can be used in a clinical setting, Entopsis can simultaneously evaluate small molecules, proteins and cells from any sample at a significantly lower cost and in less than an hour,” said Melissa Krinzman, co-founder of Krillion Ventures.
“It was a chance to participate at an early stage in a company with a technology that could really benefit all of us. If they’re right, we will have a good investment – but the company will have done something good for the health of people all over the world,” added Darius Nevin, partner with G3. “And Obdulio is the kind of leader you want to help succeed any way you can.”
Entopsis is developing an innovative molecular profiling platform that will allow easy and inexpensive diagnosis using NuTEC, a single device diagnosing many diseases rather than many individual tests in the hospital each diagnosing a single disease. This testing technology could be applied to almost any substance and across a range of industries such as food science, with food contamination and agriculture, with disease detection in livestock and for people to be tested for various diseases, Piloto believes.
“Breakout Labs looks for novel cutting-edge science with broad application. Entopsis is based on an entirely new way to analyze biomolecules that, if successful, could become the new paradigm for rapid molecular identification in contexts ranging from food safety to medicine,” said Lindy Fishburne, executive director of Breakout Labs, in an interview in November. In addition to the funding, Breakout Labs has provided valuable mentorship and connections, said Piloto. “It’s opened a lot of doors,” he said.
Entopsis, in the research and development phase, is working with local hospitals that are collecting samples for Entopsis to beta test on its platform. It’s also partnering with a global diagnostics leader it can’t name yet and is in the process of forging a partnership with FIU’s engineering school. It’s testing with urine samples now, but in the future it plans to add blood and saliva and could perhaps test breath for a number of diseases. “We are keeping our options open,” Piloto said
“This is also a true Miami story that we believe will be replicated in the months and years to come,” said Krinzman. “Obdulio grew up in Hialeah, left to attend the best medical schools in the country and then returned to Hialeah to launch his company. We are excited to support him and his remarkable team.”