January 10, 2017

Six South Florida companies to present at Florida Venture Capital Conference

The Florida Venture Forum, Florida’s largest statewide support organization for investors and entrepreneurs, announced  its lineup of 20 high quality companies that will present and exhibit at the 2017 Florida Venture Capital Conference, to be held Feb. 2-3 at the Waldorf Astoria in Orlando.

Six South Florida companies are among the presenters. They are:

Breezer Holdings, LLC, (www.powerbreezer.com), Deerfield Beach, their products combine custom fan technology with a highly efficient water atomizing system that delivers the cooling effect of misting (at distances up to 100 feet) without getting people or machinery wet.

Citizen, (www.citizen.co), Miami, provides its customers with a frictionless, convenient experience in filling-out and submitting U.S. government forms.

Everyware, (www.everyware.com), Boca Raton, is a consumer relationship platform targeted to businesses who are underserved by technology. Ease of adoption, low cost and a virtual marketing assistant give the business owners capabilities in marketing, CRM and mobile engagement.

iraLogix, (www.iralogix.com), Miami, provides the only institutionally priced, fully managed, paperless IRA technology platform, including advice and education.

MyTaskit, (www.mytaskit.com), Hobe Sound, is a comprehensive software solution for coordinating and managing tasks within companies and between multiple businesses and their customers.

VortexLegal, (www.vortexlegal.com), Ft. Lauderdale, disrupts the “agency” business model and connects law firms and corporate legal departments with all legal vendors resulting in savings of 10-20% on all services by using our technology platform to “go direct” to each vendor.

 "Our investor-only selection committee has done an outstanding job of selecting 20 companies that will make the Conference one of the best in the event’s 26-year history,” said Travis Milks, Chairman of the Selection Committee of the 2017 Florida Venture Capital Conference and a partner with Stonehenge Growth Equity Partners in Tampa.

The diverse group of presenters includes companies focused on multiple industries and technologies selected from over 100 applicants by a committee of active equity investors. The other presenters are:

 Captozyme Inc., (www.captozyme.com), Gainesville, develops and manufactures highly effective enzymes in superior manufacturing processes allowing for consumer food products and therapeutics with exceedingly high margin.

Fattmerchant, (www.fattmerchant.com), Orlando, is a subscription-based merchant services provider and payment technology company revolutionizing the industry by providing a transparent, wholesale model where merchants pay direct cost of credit card processing with no markups, no ancillary fees, and no contract, for a flat monthly membership.

Fortress Information Security, (www.fortressis.com), Orlando, is the leading third party risk management (TPRM) security technology and services provider for organizations that have large, complex vendor and supply chain networks.

ProAct Health Solutions, (www.proacthealthsolutions.com), Celebration, is a Florida based provider of a nationally scalable, technology enabled, turnkey solution for obstructive sleep apnea.

Vestagen Protective Technologies, (www.vestagen.com), Orlando, develops and markets advanced performance textile products and technologies.

Catalyst OrthoScience LLC, (www.catalystortho.com), Naples, is a medical device company that is commercializing a novel design for a total shoulder replacement system known as the Catalyst Shoulder Replacement System (the “CSR”).

Happy Grasshopper, (www.happygrasshopper.com ), Safety Harbor, their service combines the strengths of marketing automation and professional copywriting to help salespeople acquire more opportunity and close more business.

Mize, (www.m-ize.com), Tampa, enables durable goods manufacturers to maximize customer lifetime value by helping them to retain the customers and grow the revenues and profits from the loyal customer base.

PikMyKid, (www.pikymykid.com), Tampa, is the first and only communication portal to simplify student dismissal process in K-12 schools, increasing teacher efficiency & student security while reducing traffic around schools. PikMyKid was the winner of the 2016 Florida Early Stage Capital Conference.

That’s Us Technologies, (www.lotvantage.com), Tampa, is a digital marketing company for dealerships. The company is acquiring a tablet-based, end-to-end sales process for dealerships and eventually, technology to complete the online purchase process for the dealer and to remove the hassle for the consumer.

NanoLumens, (www.nanolumens.com), Norcross, Georgia, designs, builds and sells display solutions to hundreds of the world’s largest retailers, airports, corporations, transit stations, hospitals, casinos, universities and sports teams.  With a large intellectual property portfolio and a proprietary building block called a "Nixel", NanoLumens is proud to include hundreds of the largest and best brands as their clients. 

 RSVP Loans, LLC, (www.rsvploans.com), Hurst, Texas, is an online provider of personal loans to nonprime consumers. Their proprietary technology platform automates the entire loan process from marketing offer through loan origination and servicing, resulting in superior cost position and scalability.

Exhibiting Companies:

BioTools, Inc. (www.btools.com), Jupiter, is a Life Sciences tools company. It is recognized worldwide as the innovator that commercialized two of the most advanced techniques for critical structure characterization of molecules. They specialize in two types of pharmaceuticals – chiral and biologics - both kinds comprising blockbuster examples which include drugs such as Plavix, Lipitor and Humira.

Society Plus, (www.societyplus.com), Melbourne, is a vertically-integrated brand selling plus size clothing directly to millennial women through its website (B2C) and to wholesale customers (B2B)

For more information about the Florida Venture Forum or the upcoming Florida Venture Capital Conference. www.flventure.org.

 

 

January 09, 2017

Join CIC Miami and The New Tropic for MiamiLand Jan. 21

CIC Presents MiamiLand, Saturday, January 21, 2017, 6pm-9pm.
 
Join  CIC Miami for its launch party at MiamiLand.
 
MiamiLand, The New Tropic’s annual get down and ode to the 305, is officially back. Last year Miamiland explored the history and culture behind Miami’s diverse and colorful neighborhoods. This year we’re celebrating the launch of CIC Miami and the future of innovation.
 
Since opening its door this fall, CIC Miami at 1951 NW 7th Ave. has been serving as an innovator space and connecting Miami’s entrepreneurial local leaders to catalyze new startup and investment activity right at home.
 
Join us for an interactive shindig, where you’ll get to explore our home at the Converge Miami building for live performances, local food trucks, complimentary cocktails and some surprises we’ve got under our belt.
 
 
- Submitted by CIC Miami

Startup Spotlight: Sociallybuzz

Andre

Company name: Sociallybuzz

Headquarters: Weston

Concept: Sociallybuzz helps businesses grow using social media and data.

Story: Andre Kay bootstrapped Sociallybuzz from a small social media “do it for you” company to a nationally recognized social media agency and software company. But Sociallybuzz today is not anything like what it was conceived to be seven years ago. “It was supposed to be a social media influencer platform. The idea was to connect businesses with celebrities. I hired an outside engineer to assist me with building out the platform. After three months, he disappeared with my money and my codes. I was down thousands of dollars and nothing to show for it,” Kay said. “I was stuck at a two-way street deciding to quit or keep going.”

He kept going but changed the course of Sociallybuzz into a human-powered social media and tech agency. “That essentially became my greatest decision,” said Kay, who had co-founded and helped run Go Media Marketing, an outdoor marketing company, and was in bank management prior to launching Sociallybuzz. “I eventually grew the company from $0 to over $5 million with no outside investments. My ‘why’ for running this company is knowing that something that we’re doing at Sociallybuzz is helping other businesses grow. When they grow, the owners can support their families, hire more people, and those people can also support their families. That is what drives us to do what we do.”

There are many aspects to running a business that are never taught in school. So Kay applied for and was selected to be part of the three-month Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses at Miami Dade College in 2014 to get a better grounding in all aspects of running a small business – particularly the human resources side of the company. “I knew hiring the right people would be essential to growing the company,” said Kay, who is 34 and a proud graduate of the program. In 2015, Kay, who has won several entrepreneurship awards, launched the Sociallybuzz giveback program, which included pledging 1 percent of time, talent and treasures to the community. That pledge included donating over 200 turkeys and toys to families in need.

Growth often springs from more focus on the core business. In early 2016, Kay made the difficult decision of closing down the app side of his business, because it wasn’t gaining the traction the company needed to self-fund it, and went back to investing time and resources in growing Sociallybuzz’s core business model. Because of that change, company revenues grew 100 percent in 2016, said Kay, who was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and moved to South Florida when he was 16

“We’re now executing on our biggest change at the company. We’re adding content development, creative and paid media as core services, to complement our social media managed services and will be accepting up to 50 carefully selected new clients per year,” Kay said. “We want to continue to do amazing work to help our clients grow, but we can only do that if the businesses we’re working with also appreciate and understand the true value of social media. We’ll be launching the new website this month.”

Launched: 2009

Website: www.Sociallybuzz.com / Social: @Sociallybuzz

Management team: Andre Kay, founder and CEO; Thuy Nguyen, founding partner and account executive; Sharon Walters, human resources director.

No. of employees: 10

Financing: Self-financed

Recent milestones reached: Increased revenues by 100 percent in 2016; recently hit $5 million in revenue; launched new business model at start of 2017; added three core services: content development, creative and paid media.

Biggest startup challenge: Not understanding early on the true value of having the right people to help you run the company, whether they are at the executive level or at the day-to-day, getting your hands dirty level.

Next steps: To grow the company to $10 million.

Strategy for next steps: To continue to adapt to the constant change in social and digital media while expanding the knowledge of Sociallybuzz’s core team and hiring more talent.

Mentor’s view: “Many entrepreneurs do not have the discipline or the flexibility to put sales and marketing on hold for several months while prioritizing putting the right staff and back office operations in place. Andre had that discipline, and once he made corrections to the fundamentals that were not working smoothly, revenues and profits began to scale,” said John Hall, executive director of the local 10,000 Small Businesses program. Going forward, Hall’s advice for Kay is “to continue to push revenues in his current growing niches while pursuing ‘innovative differentiation’ in services and product lines that are not easily replicable, possibly with a tech component.”

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg

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January 06, 2017

The LAB Miami to kick off 2017 with 3 events, including new Product Council and GrowthHacking series

Brainfood
 A Brainfood with Martin Varsavky in 2016 attracts a big crowd at The LAB Miami.  

The LAB Miami is kicking off 2017 with three events ‑ Brainfood and two new event series, Product Council and GrowthHacking ‑ with the aim to bridge the gap between the corporate and startup communities, spark meaningful conversations around new relevant content, and bring the Miami ecosystem together. 

Jan 18: Brainfood with Mary Biggins Link 

Brainfood with Endeavor @ The LAB is a monthly, hands-on discussion with successful entrepreneurs, investors, and CEOs from around the world. 

Jan 24: Product Council Link  

Product Council provides startups and existing companies a fresh new outlet for critical feedback, ideation, and improvement of their products. Join product makers, (designers, developers, etc.) and founders to learn valuable lessons and insights from experienced product owners as they dive deep into the challenge, success and failure of product design. This month we will hear from DermaSensor and CareCloud

Jan 31: GrowthHacking with Grant Lingel, Head of Growth in Latin America for Neil Patel Link 

Many businesses struggle with brand awareness and getting their products/services seen by potential customers. Because content marketing takes a lot of time and persistence, many people seek shortcuts in order to get the word out. That's where growth hacking comes in handy. There are many simple yet extremely effective growth hacks that can be implemented that will help get the word out about your business and not break the bank doing so. This talk will discuss some of the best ones.

With $1.1 million in new funding from the Knight Foundation and under a new CEO, Thomas “Tigre” Wenrich, The LAB announced in October it was planning to launch LAB.ID, which will use educational, community programming to encourage greater collaboration between startups and established businesses. These programs are part of that new effort. At the same time, The LAB announced it would will launch a venture builder called LAB.Ventures, which will work with entrepreneurs, engineers and designers to test and build promising business ideas. The program aims to incubate several technology startups by 2019, the majority of which will be run by women and minorities.

READ MORE: Knight invests in LAB's next chapter; new CEO named

 

 

Tesser Health raises $470K in funding to lower prescription drug costs

Tesserhealth

Part of the Tesser Health team at eMerge Americas: From left: Riyaad Seecharan, Ali Khoshnevis, Gregory Johnson (former intern), Patrick Helmus and Humberto Lee.
 

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Tesser Health, a pharmaceutical savings startup based in Miami, has raised $470,000 in seed funding from a Cofounders Capital syndicate.

The company explained its mission and technology this way: Tesser Health's cross-platform application has helped hundreds of thousands of Americans save money on prescription medications by using behavioral science to drive optimal health decisions. The company analyzes claims and can find inefficiencies in consumer purchasing habits typically accounting for over 24 percent in excessive spending. Employers can layer the Tesser platform to their existing Pharmacy Benefit Manager systems, and the company currently works with health systems including Advanced Plan for Health, Wellnext, SpendWell Health and Save On Medical. The startup  provides users insight on exactly how much drugs cost, and then in real-time displays up to eight different ways to save on their medications.

“This is about helping everyday folks manage the rising cost of prescription drugs,” said Dr. Ali Khoshnevis, co-founder and managing director of business development at Tesser Health, in a statement. “What sets our solution apart is the ability to show users how to save on their medications and to communicate these opportunities to their prescribing physicians. This makes Tesser Health the only end-to-end platform to reduce prescription drug spending.”  

The eye doctor said he co-founded the company after he discovered a patient not taking his prescribed medications because of the costs. With some research, Khoshnevis discovered that the price for the same drug ranged from $11 to $150, and a variety of evidence-based alternatives existed. 

Tesser Health, founded in 2014, currently has nine people on its team and plans to use the funding for expanding its sales team, said Riyaad Seecharan, co-founder and managing director in charge of operations. Tesser Health is based at CIC Miami. "Their work sits at the intersection of where the Miami ecosystem should be delivering more - the cross between healthcare, technology, and responsible community benefits - and we hold them up as an example for what can happen when life sciences dovetails with entrepreneurial and human-centered solution design," said Natalia Martinez-Kalinina, CIC Miami's general manager. 
 
“We evaluated a number of companies with claims engines used to find employee drug cost savings, but none were as comprehensive or as actionable as the Tesser solution,” said  David Gardner, general partner at Cofounders Capital, in a statement. “We feel confident that this technology paired with this healthcare-experienced management team will be the best value available today for self-insured employers wanting to reduce the cost of their employee benefits”.

 

January 04, 2017

Combining two chapters, the South Florida Founder Institute launches; first two info sessions planned

The Founder Institute, a global idea-stage accelerator and startup launch program, announced that South Miami Founder Institute and Fort Lauderdale- Boca Raton Founder Institute chapters will merge to form the new South Florida Founder Institute.

The first South Florida Founder Institute program will begin in April of 2017, and applications are open now to anyone interested in launching a technology company at http://fi.co/apply/south_florida.

“We have seen great results from running South Miami and Fort Lauderdale independently, because the greater Miami region is one of the fastest growing startup hubs in the U.S.,” says Adeo Ressi, founder & CEO of the Founder Institute. “However, combining the amazing talent and mentor pools from across these two chapters gives us an opportunity to really push things forward and help build a wide range of new companies under one program umbrella.”

The South Florida Founder Institute will host a series of free startup events for the general public starting in January 2017 with:

*Tuesday, Jan, 12 “How to Start a Startup in South Florida” @ Venture Cafe Miami

*Thursday,  Jan. 24 “Founder Institute Graduate Showcase” @ BUILDING Miami

In the new South Florida chapter, program participants will be able to leverage the experience and mentorship of over 70 of the region’s top entrepreneurs, including;

*Randy Wood, co-founder of Citrix, one of the largest technology companies that has originated in South Florida. Randy is also an active angel investor through New World Angels.

*Sergey Petrossov, founder and CEO at JetSmarter, an organization that is reshaping history by changing the way people fly by making the private air travel industry accessible to the entire World.

*Felipe Sommer, co-founder and CEO at NearPod, a mobile platform that empowers educators to create learning experiences that engage and inspire millions of students around the world.

*Juan Pablo Cappello, co-founder at Private Advising Group and Board member at AGP Miami, one of the most significant Angel Investing organizations in the region.

*Michael O’Donnell, CEO at StartupBiz.com. Michael is a highly experienced venture-backed entrepreneur, angel/VC investor, business buyer and business seller, who advises entrepreneurs and investors on starting, buying or selling a business.

*Leonel Azuela, founder and managing partner at Quaxar, a premier provider of Community & Loyalty solutions.

*Marshall Swatt, founder and advisor at ATS Inc, a proprietary algorithmic trading system focused on trading strategies in exotic financial instruments (including digital currencies) currently licensed exclusively to a private fund.

And many more (http://fi.co/mentors/south_florida)

Leading the Founder Institute’s efforts in South Florida are Mark Volchek, a successful entrepreneur that built a project from three founders on a college campus into a public company listed on NYSE; Rodolfo Novarini, a seasoned entrepreneur and intrapreneur with over 15 years of experience creating and growing billion-dollar businesses; and Michel Triana, a tech entrepreneur, investor and founder of Ninut, Cine en Casa and Intelerit.

The Founder Institute is a part-time startup launch program that provides aspiring and early-stage founders with the challenging step-by-step curriculum, mentor support, and global network of entrepreneurs needed to start an enduring company. Over 2000 companies have graduated from the program (http://fi.co/companies), and promising startups that have already graduated from the Miami and Fort Lauderdale programs include:

*Carlos Romero and Juan Romero, founders of Livi (http://liviapp.co). Livi is a fast-growing “Live Stream by Request” mobile app.

*Susan Perry, founder of SpeechMED (http://www.speechmed.com/). SpeechMED is growing really fast and delivering on its focus on creating technology that battles a lack of health literacy by allowing patients to hear their information in the language that they understand.

*Matt Hall, founder of Dronelancer (http://dronelancer.io). Dronelancer is a marketplace to connect licensed drone owners with businesses looking for aerial photos and videos.

*Scott Greenhouse, founder of GameFace ( http://www.getnasty.com/). GameFace has just launched its product line of Natural ingredient based, multi-functional body care designed for athletes, which is delivered to your door every two months.

*Melanie Berguero, founder of Oneness (http://www.onenesscleanup.co/). Oneness is a solution for cities and marinas to meet their sustainability goals for water clean-up, has recently demonstrated its proprietary green boats at the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show with tremendous success.

*Michelle Bazargan and Stefanie Gross, founders of VIA HALO (http://viahalo.com). VIA HALO  brings  today's  health  and  wellness  consumers  together  with  a  trusted,  accredited  network  of  proactive  providers. 

*David Karim, founder of ResolveBid (http://resolvebid.com). ResolveBid is a marketplace that allows companies and community associations to find service professionals and submit bids.

*Timothy Hamilton, founder of Rentlit (http://rentlit.com). Rentlit is a retail property management software that helps investors self-manage their residential rental properties.

*Carlos Ferra, founder of ThankStation (http://thankstation.com). ThankStation offers customer appreciation solutions to let small businesses better engage with their customers and increase happiness and retention in a cost-effective way.

*Camilo Silva and Jose Aliaga, founders of Voice Your Voice (http://voiceyourvoice.co). Voice Your Voice aims to encourage the public to actively engage in politics and democracy by addressing issues that impact them through a mobile platform.

Learn more about the Founder Institute at http://fi.co.

Ftl

Graduating class of Fort Lauderdale chapter in November, 2016.

-Submitted by Founder Institute

 

 

Net2Phone acquires LiveNinja, but the team -- and #WaffleWednesday -- will live on in Miami

LiveNinjaFounders (1)

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Net2Phone, a subsidiary of IDT Corporation, acquired LiveNinja, a Miami-based messaging and live chat technology startup, the companies announced Wednesday.

Net2Phone, based in New Jersey, will be integrating LiveNinja’s messaging technology into its new product now in development, called PicuP, a self-service communications platform that gives small and medium sized businesses tools to professionally answer, route and manage their inbound calls at an affordable price. LiveNinja, a team of 14, will stay in Wynwood, and will immediately add employees to enhance and support PicuP. Terms of the transaction weren’t disclosed.

“This is a big deal for us because we are joining a company that is just as bullish about the future of our product as we are,” said LiveNinja CEO Will Weinraub, who founded the company with Emilio Cueto and Alfonso Martinez (pictured above). “It just became clear that if we were going to scale this thing and reach the audience we were trying to reach, we needed additional resources and someone who believed in it to take it further. The two platforms complement each other well, and we can get the product out to market faster and reach a bigger audience.”

Was it the team or was it the tech? Net2Phone, founded in 1990 to pioneer VoIP communications, was attracted by both, said Zali Ritholtz, Net2Phone’s chief operating officer, who met Weinraub through a mutual acquaintance. Net2Phone had already built the extensive telecom components to its PicuP product and was planning to add live text messaging, but changed course after seeing what LiveNinja had built and what hundreds of LiveNinja’s business customers were already using.

“I took a look at [LiveNinja’s technology] and in my head said wow, this is the missing piece we were about to build for PicuP and these guys have done a phenomenal job and are such an energetic and amazing team,” Ritholtz said. With LiveNinja, PicuP will become a multi-channel platform that spans phone, messaging, SMS and live chat, he added. “Now we will have a super powerful tool to provide to small and medium-sized businesses so they can communicate with their customers however they like.”

LiveNinja, founded in 2012 as a video-chat platform, changed its own course and last year unveiled its messaging application that lets companies and their customers have seamless conversations across multiple messaging and chat channels, including live chat, SMS and Facebook Messenger – the messaging channels that businesses most often use to meet, convert and serve their customers. Over the years, LiveNinja raised more than $3 million in venture funding and is also well known for serving up innovative waffles at the lively community networkers the company hosts every week in its Wynwood office.

For LiveNinja, the new owner brings resources it needed to market and scale its technology. Weinraub said he will be posting eight software engineer jobs right away, doubling the engineering team in Miami. “Everybody’s staying, we’ll still be based in Miami,” he said. “[Net2Phone] came down and saw the space, saw the energy and felt the vibe of the community and wanted to be part of the community. There will still be #WaffleWednesdays with LiveNinja. It’s a big win all around for us.”

PicuP will be launched shortly and LiveNinja will continue to offer its messaging platform as a standalone product until the full integration of the two companies’ services has been completed later this year, Ritholtz said. At that point LiveNinja’s customers will be transitioned to PicuP.

In A Facebook posting Wednesday morning, Weintraub said: "We're absolutely thrilled to be joining forces with IDT and Net2Phone to not only scale our team, but to create a one-of-a-kind product that we truly believe in. We couldn't be more excited about this next chapter. It’s been a long ride, but it feels like we’re just getting started."

Is it the team or is it the waffles -- we can't be 100 percent sure -- but congratulatory messages flowed in by the dozens on Twitter and Facebook.

  

Liveninja3

 

  WaffleWednesday1

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

December 30, 2016

SBA's 3rd InnovateHER competition launches: Will a South Florida company win again?

Will South Florida produce another winner in the national InnovateHER competition?

The U.S. Small Business Administration today announced the launch of the 2017 InnovateHER: Innovating for Women Business Challenge, a nationwide business competition to drive attention and resources to innovative products and services that make our lives easier and longer.  Competitors vie for $70,000 in prize money provided to SBA for the InnovateHER competition through a gift from the Sara Blakely Foundation.

“The return of SBA’s InnovateHER Business Challenge presents an exciting opportunity for some of our nation’s foremost entrepreneurs and innovators,” said SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet.  “Women represent half of the U.S. workforce and control 80 percent of the nation’s purchasing power, but still make up less than five percent of venture capitalists. I decided to launch this annual competition two years ago so that we could begin to address that opportunity gap, because when women have an equal role in the marketplace and are able to chart their own paths, our nation as a whole is stronger and more globally competitive.”

The South Florida District is home to the 2nd place winners of the agency’s 2015 and 2016 InnovateHER Business Challenges.

“In 2016, Miami Beach-based “Flat out of Heels” owner Dawn Dickson took a need to provide a comfortable, yet fashionable alternative for women who wear high heels on a daily basis, and produced rollable ballet flats as a stylish alternative,” said SBA South Florida District Director Francisco “Pancho” Marrero. “Lisa Crites, inventor of the only water-resistant mastectomy garment on the U.S. market and owner of the Shower Shirt Company in Cocoa Beach was 2nd place winner in 2015.  Women and families across the country will benefit from these inventions."

The number of women venture capital partners has dropped from 10 percent in 1999 to just six percent in 2014, a trend directly correlated to women’s access to capital; only about seven percent of venture capital funding in the United States currently goes to women-owned ventures. Gender bias is well documented in this area: a Harvard Business School study asked potential investors to rate a series of pitches, some of which were narrated by women and some by men. Even when the scripts were exactly the same, only 32 percent of people said they would fund the woman, compared to 68 percent who said they would fund the man.

InnovateHER: Innovating for Women Business Challenge officially kicks off in winter of 2017 with local competitions to be hosted by universities, accelerators, clusters, scale-up communities, SBA resource partners, and other economic development organizations.  Through the competition, SBA is seeking to amplify products or services that fill a need in the marketplace and have the potential for commercialization.  SBA continues in its efforts to expand the InnovateHER Challenge, focusing on empowering more women in the investment and innovation space.  Additional details on the InnovateHER can be found on the online competition platform www.challenge.gov

Entrepreneurs selected as winners in local competitions will advance to the semi-final round.  From the pool of semi-finalists, SBA will select up to 10 finalists who will be invited to the National InnovateHER: Innovating for Women Business Challenge to be held in mid-2017.  The finalists will pitch their products and ideas to a panel of expert judges and compete for the top three awards along with $70,000 in prizes.

Over the past two decades, women entrepreneurs have been critical to growing businesses and creating jobs in cutting-edge fields such as precision medicine or cybersecurity, as well as through advances in agriculture and manufacturing.  Women across the nation will benefit from investing in research and inventions that impact their experiences.  A lack of inclusion in the innovation space leads to missed opportunities, especially when women make the majority of the buying decisions.  The SBA is encouraging organizations across the country to participate in this important business challenge.

For more information including competition rules, go to www.sba.gov/innovateHER

- Submitted by the SBA

Why mobile payment tech is leap-frogging in Latin America

YELLOW PEPPER SPOTLIGHT b e

YellowPepper, a Miami-based tech company, is undergoing a growth spurt, recently deploying its mobile payments technology in Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico and looking to expand to other Latin American countries. To further power that growth, Volta Global, run by emerging markets specialist Marko Dimitrijević (pictured above at right), recently became an investor in YellowPepper, run by Serge Elkiner (pictured above, left).

 

BY NANCY DAHLBERG / ndahlberg@maimiherald.com

The world of mobile payments is one of the hottest segments of the financial technology industry. Based in Miami, YellowPepper has been a pioneer of mobile payment technology in Latin America, where an immense market need and a millennial-rich population of early adopters converge.

YellowPepper has done this before. Years ago, the YellowPepper team targeted the untapped Latin American mobile banking market and developed a state-of-the-art platform to enhance the overall consumer experience. While continuing to grow the mobile banking side of the business, YellowPepper is now focused on another untapped opportunity: mobile payment solutions for consumers in the region. The company, founded in 2004 in Boston, provides financial institutions with the latest technology that alters the way in which consumers and retailers transact.

YellowPepper is undergoing a growth spurt, recently deploying its mobile payments technology in Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico and looking to expand to other Latin American countries. To further power that growth, Volta Global, run by emerging markets specialist Marko Dimitrijević, recently became an investor in YellowPepper. The terms of the investment weren’t disclosed, but Miami-based YellowPepper has raised more than $40 million in venture capital to date, making it one of the highest funded early-stage fintech companies in Miami.

With such a large market opportunity, mobile payments continues to attract attention in the venture capital community. The global mobile wallet market is expected to reach $635 billion by 2020 from $113.5 billion in 2015, increasing 41 percent annually between 2015 and 2020, according to Research and Markets. The turning point, many experts cite, is the growing availability and use of mobile phones. With the mobile and financial expertise of CEO and co-founder Serge Elkiner coupled with the emerging markets and investment experience of Volta, YellowPepper is poised to exceed its expansion goals in the coming months, the company said.

On the heels of YellowPepper’s success in the Latin American mobile banking space, the Belgian-born Elkiner moved the headquarters to Miami, where offices of U.S. and Latin American financial institutions are based and a growing number of fintech companies have set up operations. YellowPepper, now with a team of 68, currently partners with top financial groups and institutions, including FIS and MasterCard, in the region and is poised to launch in Peru and the Dominican Republic shortly. After years of heavily investing in research and development, YellowPepper turned profitable last year.

The tech company is hiring, too. It is looking to add up to a dozen engineers to its Miami headquarters, located in art-adorned offices in Wynwood. YellowPepper now has about 16 employees in Miami.

Dimitrijević, who has been investing in emerging markets for more than 25 years, has recently focused on frontier markets, or smaller emerging markets beginning to take off, and recently authored a book, “FRONTIER INVESTOR: How to Prosper in the Next Emerging Markets.” Prior to founding Volta, the Stanford MBA graduate ran hedge fund company Everest Capital, which managed more than $3 billion in assets at its height, but a single bad bet in January 2015 wiped out one of its funds after the Swiss National Bank unexpectedly removed the franc’s exchange-rate cap against the euro, sending the currency surging, media reports said. He returned investors’ capital, later started Volta and now invests with his own funds, making strategic investments. I set up Volta Global as a private investment group and we do both public and private investments, and that’s how we got to meet YellowPepper,” Dimitrijević said.

To get the view from both sides of the table, the Miami Herald met with Elkiner and Dimitrijević before the holidays and asked about YellowPepper’s growth, recent developments and the future, as well as about frontier investing and why YellowPepper falls into Dimitrijević’s investment wheelhouse. Here are excerpts from that conversation.

Q. I know you are actively hiring in Miami. How will you use the new funding, Serge?

A. To support our growth. We’ve been able to grow internally in markets where we were growing very fast, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico, and we are launching our mobile payments in the Dominican Republic and Peru. We already had a strong presence in Peru in mobile banking for the past 10 years. We are also in Bolivia with mobile banking.

Yepex is our mobile payments platform and we develop separate white label products with financial institutions from the platform.

For our mobile payments solution, we have more than 100,000 users in Colombia and it is growing every day, Today it is our biggest market.

In Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico, 220,000 merchants are currently enabled with our mobile payments technology. In the next four to six months, there will be 365,000 merchants coming on board.

Q. Marko, you have a new book on investing in frontier markets and mobile payments is one of the themes of investments that is growing in Latin America. Why do you believe in mobile payments?

A. We’ve seen the story before. We have been early investors before in several frontier markets and we saw a leap-frogging in some of those countries. For example, in some countries only a fortunate few had a fixed-line phone and basically [the countries] skipped directly to mobile and everyone has a mobile five years later. We see that in payments in countries like Kenya, where very few people had a bank account but went directly to apps and mobile and we think the same story is happening in Latin America, particularly in Ecuador and Colombia, which are frontier countries. And we believe YellowPepper is really at the forefront in Central and Latin America and that is really exciting.

Q. What is a frontier market?

A. Frontier markets are smaller emerging markets. Think emerging markets of the future. Twenty years ago few people focused on India, few people focused on Russia and even fewer focused on China — they were all novelties. Few people today focus on Ecuador or Colombia or the DR or Vietnam or Bangladesh, but those will be the markets of the future. You catch them at their inflection points, right before the hockey stick starts to turn up. That is what is so exciting about those markets.

In Latin America, that is everything but Brazil, Mexico and Chile — it’s a very, very large market.

The frontier markets — that’s where the growth is in the world. In the large emerging markets, Russia, Brazil, China, all are slowing or have slowed over the past five to 10 years. If you look at the top 75 fastest-growing economies in the world, 71 are in the frontier markets. They are starting at a much lower base and are going to be growing much faster over the next 10 to 20 years.

Q. Marko, what attracted you to YellowPepper?

A. The people, and obviously they have been at it for a number of years. They have built a cohesive and attractive team and created something we think is a very powerful mousetrap and building it in our backyard. It’s exciting for Miami to have a company of this caliber here.

The potential growth for YellowPepper is much higher than a company doing a similar thing in the U.S. or a more developed emerging market.

Most people don’t realize how attractive the frontier markets are because they are all individually small. But when you take them all together as a group they are larger than the U.S. or China. That’s why it is remarkable when companies like YellowPepper get on our radar screen because they have taken advantage of this very powerful force and the fact that the demographics go in favor of those markets. YellowPepper focuses on the most attractive segment, 15- to 34-year-olds, the early adopters, and those are massively located in frontier markets.

Q. What’s next for YellowPepper, Serge?

A. One thing is consolidating the markets where we are right now. By the end of the second quarter [2017] in Colombia you will be able to make mobile payments in 100 percent of the shops that take credit card or debit cards. That’s 250,000 merchants, and 100 percent of that is based on our technology.

And expansion. In the last 18 months, we have built the second generation of our platform. It’s an inhouse platform that connects to international platforms, like Mastercard, Visa, American Express and other institutions in those countries. We are also integrating with Facebook messenger for our clients. Given that we are connected to these global platforms, the technology we built is fully deployable globally. This changes the story for us.

Right now we can pitch a bank in Vietnam, for instance. … What we learned and have done in Latin America is totally applicable to other markets that are similar, such as Southeast Asia. We could in the future do a distribution deal to push our technology outside of Latin America and this was not possible 18 months ago. Now it’s completely viable.

And we are one of the very few players in emerging markets with a very deep understanding of emerging market dynamics.

The potential is huge. But Latin America is still virgin territory for us. … We’ve built the highway and any cars that want to use it are welcome to come and pay the toll and use it. It cost us a fortune to build it, but now the value is there.

Q. And what is your biggest challenge?

A. People still don’t understand that it is more secure to do things with your mobile phones. There is a lot of work still ahead of us in the markets we have been strong.

Tokenization of the transaction means the credit card or account number of the debit card is no longer part of the transaction. What goes through is a one-time generated number used for that transaction. If someone steals your token, they can’t do anything with it. There is a lot of security around that and so far we have had no problems.  

Q. Who are your users?

A. In Colombia, I can tell you there are almost twice as many millennials using our product … than the traditional credit card and debit card. … We have 63 percent in the 18-35 segment. Another statistic that is very interesting: 65 percent of our users have used [our product] twice already meaning they are becoming repeat users. The challenge is breaking that barrier with the consumer so they use it the first time, but the first time they use it, they are likely repeat users.

SERGE ELKINER

Title: CEO and co-founder of YellowPepper, a Miami-based company that provides mobile banking and payment solutions across Latin America.

Previous: Vice president of business development at HelloTech Technologies, an Israeli firm providing remote monitoring and mobile payment solutions for vending machines.

Education: Bachelor of science in accounting from Boston University.

MARKO DIMITRIJEVIĆ

Title: Founder and chairman of Volta Global, a private investment group. Author of “FRONTIER INVESTOR: How to Prosper in the Next Emerging Markets” (Columbia University Press, 2016).

Previous: Investor for more than three decades, mostly in emerging markets, and ran hedge funds.

Education: MBA, Stanford University; bachelor’s in economics, finance and management science, University of Lausanne.

 

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

 

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December 28, 2016

Magic Leap commits to creating 725 high-paying jobs in Broward

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Magic Leap officially announced on Wednesday that is will expand its operations in Broward County, creating 725 high-wage positions and making a capital investment of $150 million.

The South Florida technology company said it selected Broward County for its R&D Center of Excellence over locations in Texas and California. Magic Leap received $9 million in government incentives, in an effort by the state of Florida, the city of Plantation, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance and Broward County. “Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County is proud to be the home of Magic Leap and its transformational technology,” said Bob Swindell, president and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance.

With locations in Plantation and Dania Beach as well as offices around the world, Magic Leap is developing a mixed-reality platform to enable people to seamlessly experience the real and virtual environments together. The company’s virtual retinal display technology superimposes 3D computer-generated imagery over real world objects. Magic Leap was founded by Rony Abovitz, who also co-founded Mako Surgical in Davie and is a University of Miami alumnus.

The incentives package has been in the works for about a year, and the $150 million capital investment will be for its Plantation facility. Magic Leap broke ground on its 260,000-square-foot campus in Plantation last fall and has begun moving in. The new headquarters and manufacturing facility is in the former Motorola campus. Magic Leap employs about 800 globally and between 200 and 300 in South Florida. The company currently lists about 175 openings in Plantation and Dania Beach.

“Our new location in Plantation will create many new jobs in the area, and we hope to continue to grow and expand our efforts over the coming years. We see Florida as an emerging hub for both technology and creativity, and we at Magic Leap are inspired by events such as the first launch to the moon, which happened right here in Florida just a few decades ago. Florida is a place where people can dream, and where amazing things can happen,” said Abovitz, in a statement on Wednesday.

To fund its innovation, Magic Leap raised $1.4 billion from investors including Google, Alibaba and others, a record in Florida. “Now it’s heads-down for us and we will be accelerating everything. We are super-focused on our getting first product out and getting it right, and letting it speak for the company. We know we have to deliver against high expectations,” Abovitz said earlier this year.

The secretive company, which hasn’t released timelines or launch dates on its product development, hit media turbulence earlier this month: Tech publication The Information reported that some former employees say its development is behind schedule and that some technology the company invented couldn’t be applied to its consumer product, thought to be spectacles. Management changes followed. New Chief Marketing Officer Brenda Freeman, formerly of National Geographic, recently responded in Recode that Magic Leap “is absolutely on track” and “racing toward launch.”

To be sure, Magic Leap’s commitment to creating 725 jobs in Broward paying an average of $92,066 — twice Broward County’s average annual wage — over a five-year period would make a large bump in South Florida tech employment. Florida is home to more than 26,000 IT companies employing nearly 250,000 professionals; nearly 80,000 people work in information and communications technologies in South Florida. Still, in a Bloomberg study released last week, Florida ranked 34th out of 50 for innovation measures including R&D, patent activity and science and engineering degree holders. 

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg