June 13, 2017

Rony Abovitz on Magic Leap: ‘Launch is not far away’


By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

On the eMerge Americas stage, Rony Abovitz shared his thoughts on the future of technology, his vision for more natural computing that will bring science fiction to life and the tech ecosystem in South Florida. But as to details about the billion-dollar startup’s first product, well, the world will have to wait.

To experience the world more naturally, “we’re trying to build a computer that acts like people, so you don’t have to look at your phone all the time,” said Abovitz, in a discussion on stage with the Knight Foundation’s Miami program director, Matt Haggman, and Jean-Pierre Bardet, dean of University of Miami’s College of Engineering.

While Magic Leap coined the “mixed reality” description – something like augmented reality, but different – Abovitz said he prefers a different description for Magic Leap’s technology now: “Spatial computing powered by a digital lightfield.” It will allow you to experience the world more naturally. Goodbye tech neck.

But people who came to the talk wanting to know when they can get their hands on the tech, Magic Leap remained vague, as usual.

When will the first product launch? “Launch is not far away.” ... “If we were at NASA … you would see a rocket sitting on the launch pad.”

What will it cost? “It’s being priced for affordability in the mass premium category. .. It’s not a Kindle kind of pricing but it’s not unattainable.”

READ MORE: Tech talk at eMerge: On the ‘rollercoaster’ of startup life, Waze, cybersecurity and Elon Musk

Is Magic Leap raising another big round of venture capital that will value the company at $6 billion to $8 billion, as has been rumored? “You never stop being in the mode of talking to investors. It never stops. It’s like breathing.”

He encouraged students and universities to be drilling in on artificial intelligence – but with an “inward ethical path.”

“You can be replaced by AI computing or you can be amplified by it. ... We are people-first. Everything is about amplifying you, not replacing you.”

Abovitz said Magic Leap has more than 1,000 employees, with about 800 in South Florida. “We are bringing in people from all over the world. This brain trust will at some point spin out their own startups.” The Magic Leap platform also will empower hundreds of thousands of creators, maybe the next Facebook or Snapchat, he said.

“We’re trying to make science fiction real.”

He said basing his company in Plantation allows him to get away from “the noise and group think” of the West Coast and think clearly. He believes South Florida could become a hemispheric tech hub, something he didn’t feel when he was co-founding and growing Mako Surgical, he said. “There is something going on – I feel it.”

Update: Here's the talk:


Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

The ‘rollercoaster’ of startup life, Waze, cybersecurity and Elon Musk

Waze2 (1)

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Chances are you will use Waze today.

“Everything on the app was created by the driver,” said Uri Levine, co-founder of Wave, to a full house at eMerge Americas on Tuesday. “It’s a social network for driving. We the drivers help other drivers avoid the traffic jams we are in. This is the magic of Waze.”

Levine kicked off Day 2 of eMerge Americas, the homegrown technology conference at the Miami Beach Convention Center. His keynote talk about the Waze journey and the startups he is building now was full of advice for the rollercoaster ride that is startup life.

Waze1 (1)

The entrepreneur he admires most? “Elon Musk is the most amazing person on the planet.”

Launching a startup is like falling in love, he said, but “fall in love with the problem you are solving, not your solution.” Focus is key too; if you lose focus of the central problem you are solving, you won’t be building the right thing. Timing helps: Waze started on a PDA – remember those – but the smartphone enabled scale.

Waze 3

On startups that fail, he often hears “the team was not right.” But digging deeper, he finds that the team was not right from the first month and the CEO did not make the tough decisions.

Still, startup life is learning from failures, large and small, and second-time entrepreneurs are five times more likely to succeed than first-timers, he said. And “if startups are a rollercoaster, fund-raising is a rollercoaster in the dark – you never know what’s coming.”

He also said while he admires Snapchat and its brethren and the businesses they have built, if he had been presented with the opportunity early on, he would have missed it. “There was no problem. There is enough for me to do to solve problems.”

Startups he is involved in now include Moovit, like Waze but for public transit and it is growing faster than Waze did, he said; Engine, technology that runs ongoing diagnostics on your car and gets the quotes for you, and Solomoto, an all-in-one platform for small businesses that is expanding in the U.S. from Miami.

Waze 4

Among his startups that failed was a group-buying platform. “The underlying assumption that people know what they want [to buy] was wrong.”

What was his best startup? “The next one.” His advice for what Miami entrepreneurs should try to solve? Why does healthcare cost five times as much in the U.S.? Solve that, Levine told the crowd.

Talk about big problems that need to solved and cybersecurity has to be near the top. Wannacry was a wakeup call, and cybersecurity was a hot theme of morning and afternoon talks and Manny Medina’s keynote address on Tuesday. He introduced Cyxtera Technologies, his latest venture. Cyxtera, “a giant startup,” combines 57 data centers and four cybersecurity and data analytics companies out of the gate. Medina said it already serves 3,500 customers and has 1,100 employees, including about 500 cybersecurity and data experts.

“We believe the next revolution is the era of cybersecurity. We believe security has to be adaptive and intelligent ... but also made for the cloud,” said Medina. “This is a giant opportunity and we are in the forefront and it will be based in Miami.”

READ MORE: Done deal: Medina Capital, BC Partners form Cyxtera Technologies in $2.8 billion transaction

eMerge Americas continues Tuesday with a startup competition with $175,000 in prizes, the WIT (Women, Innovation & Technology) Summit, and keynotes by Magic Leap’s Rony Abovitz and a closing talk with baseball legend and businessman Alex Rodriguez.

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

June 12, 2017

Politics and tech do mix, when it’s eMerge Americas



By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Politics may not have quite trumped tech, but it was certainly a topic on many lips Monday as Miami’s homegrown technology conference opened its fourth edition.

Former Florida governor and president candidate Jeb Bush weighed in on President Trump’s tweets. Former Obama advisor Ben Rhodes suggested completely reversing the relaxed Cuba policy would be unlikely. Media mogul Gustavo Cisneros proclaimed the president good for entrepreneurs. And human rights activist Jorge Castañeda Gutman called the Trump Administration’s deportation policy a human rights abuse because it separates families.

Still, the intentionally unconventional conference and expo really is about technology. A record crowd of more than 13,000 registered for this year’s showcase of trends, impacts and innovation at the Miami Beach Convention Center. The conference continues Tuesday.

Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, kicked off the conference with tales of Apple’s beginnings and the revolution he and Steve Jobs seemed to see coming. The world was very different then; computers were limited to mainframes, and the cost of memory to hold a single song was $1 million. “We needed to find a way to make computing affordable for the people – that was my role and the result was Apple 1 and Apple 2,” he told the packed room.

READ MORE: The Woz and Marcelo Claure talk tech – and a little soccer – to open eMerge Americas

The biggest innovation of the Apple 2 was turning arcade games from hardware to software, so that a 9-year-old could make things move on a screen for the first time. Some of those kids who got their hands on Apple 2’s are now CEOs of companies today, he said. “Young people being inspired to be entrepreneurs is the most important thing in the world, in my mind.”

The folksy, sometimes-rambling but often funny “Woz,” as he is commonly known, also offered his views of the present and future of innovation, admitting that he didn’t see ride-sharing coming. “When Uber came along, I thought it wouldn’t succeed – we already had taxis.” As to whether tech will eventually eliminate too many jobs, he scoffed, “I don’t think we will ever be the secondary species to machines. ... it will replace jobs ... but as one job category disappears, another comes along.”

Apple, Google (for its artificial intelligence) and Tesla are currently among the world’s most disruptive companies, he said.

Woz (1)

In another keynote address, Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure reminded the audience that a customer-first strategy is key for any stage company. Claure, a hometown entrepreneurial hero who founded telecom giant Brightstar and is a partner in the David Beckham soccer team, took over Sprint after SoftBank purchased Brightstar in 2014. At the time, Sprint was a troubled company with 60,000 employees who had “a legacy culture of being not used to winning.” His first move: turn the behemoth back into a startup, he said.

And part of the startup culture is talking to customers. On an early listening tour, Claure asked a woman what she thought of Sprint. “Does it still exist?” she said. That comment helped drive him to find the actor who starred in Verizon’s “Can You Hear Me Now?” ads. The result: an award-winning campaign that featured that actor switching to Sprint. “That was an iconic moment for Sprint.”

Regarding a potential merger of Sprint and T-Mobile, Claure said that possibility is still in discussions. But now that Sprint’s turnaround is well underway, many more partnership options exist, including with a cable company.

When he isn’t involved in running Sprint, Claure said he will help choose tech companies that will be funded by [Sprint parent] SoftBank’s recently announced $100 billion fund. “Our job is to find tech companies that will change the world.”

Regarding his effort with superstar David Beckham to bring major league soccer to Miami, he said, “We are this close. My only ask is for the politicians in Miami to work together on this last piece,” he said, referred to required zoning approvals for a stadium in Overtown. “We’re 90 percent there. If everything works out we will have soccer by 2020, which is our goal.”

References to politics became even more pointed in other Monday sessions.

Former Obama advisor Ben Rhodes told attendees at a session on engagement with Cuba that it was unlikely President Trump would “completely” reverse the Obama era relaxation with Cuba because of its popularity. “Nothing that I have seen seems to indicate that it will change completely,” reported the Spanish-language site martinoticias.com. But he said he was concerned that the Trump Administration would tighten travel policies and restrict business relations that, he said, would adversely affect Cuban entrepreneurs.

Speaking to an invitation-only group during a private lunch, Bush said declined to speculate on changes Trump might announce Friday during a visit to Miami.

According to CNBC, which moderated the event, Bush criticized Trump’s tweeting habit. He also said he did not think last week’s testimony by former FBI Director James Comey provided evidence of obstruction of justice by the president but also said Trump’s actions hurt the country.

In a session on human rights in Latin America, Castañeda, Mexico’s Former Secretary of Foreign Affairs, decried efforts to deport Mexicans who have lived in the U.S. for many years, saying “It is a fundamental right to preserve the unity of the family.” Panelist José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch, called Venezuela’s human rights scenario “difficult and dangerous” as he talked about ways technology can help combat human rights abuses.

In eMerge’s typically unconventional style, Day One ended with the unlikely duo of financial guru Suze Orman, known for her directness, and Mr. 305 himself, Pitbull. And though there was little singing, the pair put on quite a show, with plenty of one-liners and Pitbull’s signature moves.

“What do we have in common? We had a dream; we had desire; we had poverty. We didn’t have a great educations, but we followed our dreams. If it happened to us, it can happen to you,” said Orman.

“We never took no for an answer until ‘no’ became ‘yes,’ ” added Armando Christian Perez, aka Pitbull. “I stopped the paper chase and started creating things. The best advice I can give you, is you got to have fun because you don’t want a billion-dollar business with a trillion-dollar headache.”

Pitbull, whose worldwide brand spans entertainment, fragrances, restaurants and voda, made his fourth appearance at eMerge, mixing music and business bits. “He is the bridge that attracts the world to Miami and Miami to the world,” said Melissa Medina, executive vice president of eMerge.

READ MORE: Hatching a tech future: South Florida startups are gaining strength

True to form, Orman delivered straight talk, telling the crowd: “You will never be powerful until you are powerful over your own money. While you are busy building the next Facebook, you are not paying attention to your own money. Debt is bondage, people.”

Said Perez, “I grew up all around entrepreneurship, it was called cocaine dealers, and all the people starting companies to try to get out of that life that was all around them. One thing I think I need we need to teach these kids today is how to manage all this information around them. The phone is the new dope. We have to teach these kids that they have to run the phone, not let it run them.”

But for many of the attendees, the conference won’t be judged on speakers or gee-whiz tech demos at the exhibits, it will be judged by meaningful connections.

“I’ve made a few,” said John Hall, executive director of 10,000 Small Businesses at Miami Dade College. He said he ran into some executives he has been meaning to connect with, and met a number of interesting startups.

Entrepreneur Antonio Otalvaro, CEO of RawShorts, a how-to video platform, said he was able to connect with some of his investors. Sure, they get regular reports from him, but face time is valuable – in two days he can see them all at one time. At Citizen, which eases the process for student aid, co-founder and CEO Guillaume Lellouche said the startup brought 10 team members to eMerge. “We have made some university connections and also talked to some potential investors.”

Xavier Gonzalez, CEO of eMerge, said about three dozen startups stopped him to remark about the connections they made. “Overall, the conference so far has exceeded our expectations once again,” said Gonzalez. “eMerge’s mission from the beginning was to be a platform to connect the Americas and we are doing that,” referring to the busy expo floor Monday afternoon.

eMerge continues Tuesday with keynote talks by Waze’s Uri Levine and Magic Leap’s Rony Abovitz and a startup competition.

READ MORE: Why international startups are making Miami their home base

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg


The Woz and Marcelo Claure talk tech – and a little soccer – to open eMerge Americas


  Woz (2)
By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

A little rain and traffic tangles from convention center construction didn’t keep hundreds of conference goers to file into eMerge Americas, the homegrown technology conference that opened Monday and continues through Tuesday.

Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, shared tales of Apple’s beginnings and the revolution he and Steve Jobs seemed to see coming. The world was very different then; computers were limited to mainframes, and the cost of memory to hold a single song was $1 million. “We needed to find a way to make computing affordable for the people – that was my role and the result was Apple 1 and Apple2,” he told the packed room.

The biggest innovation of the Apple 2 was turning arcade games from hardware to software, so that a 9-year-old could make things move on a screen for the first time. Some of those kids who got their hands on Apple 2’s are now CEOs of companies today, he said. “Young people being inspired to be entrepreneurs is the most important thing in the world, in my mind.”

The folksy, often funny “Woz,” as he is commonly known, also offered his views of the present and future of innovation, admitting that he didn’t see ride-sharing coming. “When Uber came along, I thought it wouldn’t suceed – we already had taxis.”

As to whether tech will eventually eliminate too many jobs, he scoffed, “I don’t think we will ever be the secondary species to machines. ... it will replace jobs ... but as one job category disappears, another comes along.”

Apple, Google (for its artificial intelligence) and Tesla are currently among the world’s most disruptive companies, he said.

For Woz, privacy is a key concern; he canceled a talk in Turkey because he would have to check in his laptop on the plane. “Anything you’ve got the government can peek into it. I don’t like that and I think it is unconstitutional.”

Marcelo Claure, a hometown entrepreneurial hero who built Miami-based telecom Brightstar, reminded entrepreneurs and business people in the audience that a customer-first strategy is key, for any stage company (and he talked a little soccer). After Sprint shareholder SoftBank purchased Brightstar in 2014, Claure was tapped to take over CEO of the then-troubled Sprint. At the time, Sprint’s 60,000 employees had “a legacy culture of being not used to winning.” His first move: turn the behemoth back into a startup, he said.

And part of the startup culture is talking to customers. On an early listening tour, Claure asked a woman what she thought of Sprint. “Does it still exist?” she said. That comment helped drive him to find the actor who starred in Verizon’s “Can You Hear Me Now?” ads. The result: an award-winning campaign that featured that actor switching to Sprint. “That was an iconic moment for Sprint.”

Regarding a potential merger of Sprint and T-Mobile, Claure said that possibility is still in discussions. But now that Sprint’s turnaround is well underway, many more partnership options exist, including with a cable company.

At Sprint and elsewhere in the industry, the focus is now on widespread rollout of 5G service, an investment requiring $275 billion industrywide.

When he isn’t involved in running Sprint, Claure said he will be engaged in helping choose tech companies that will be funded by [Sprint parent] SoftBank’s recently announced $100 billion fund. “Our job is to find tech companies that will change the world.”

Switching to soccer, he said of his effort with superstar David Beckham to bring major league soccer to Miami: “We are this close. My only ask is for the politicians in Miami to work together on this last piece,” he said, referred to required zoning approvals for a stadium in Overtown. “We’re 90 percent there. If everything works out we will have soccer by 2020, which is our goal.

But, he said, the soccer group knows Miami doesn’t show up for losing teams. “So we are determined to bring in a top soccer team.”

eMerge Americas continues Monday afternoon and Tuesday with exhibits, talks, startup competitions and networking. As to the unusual logistics caused by the convention center renovation, eMerge Americas founder Manny Medina quipped, “if you had seen this place 48 hours ago we were sweating bullets.”

Facebook alum pulls back curtain on TheVentureCity, to be based in Miami


By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Former executives of Facebook, Google, eBay and other hyper-growth companies have come together to form a global “city” with everything a startup needs to scale internationally.

Laura headshotCo-founding the unique venture, called TheVentureCity, is Laura González-Estéfani (pictured here), former director of international business development and mobile partnerships for Facebook, and Clara Bullrich, a 20-year private banking and asset management veteran. They call it an accelerator for the global tech ecosystem.

With an “international-first” approach, the accelerator will create cross-functional bridges between key regions to scale startups on a global level, González-Estéfani said. The headquarters of TheVentureCity will be in Miami Beach, currently in the 1111 building off Lincoln Road, with a second campus in Madrid and a presence in San Francisco, with plans to expand into a number of cities worldwide by 2020, González-Estéfani she said.

“All my team has worked all over the world, they have all spent years working outside their countries of origin,” González-Estéfani said, in an interview last week. “When we see a startup that has all the right bones, we will advise where to scale first and how the product needs to be tailored for those companies.”

In addition to the international focus, the all-in-one approach for startup needs and consistent support is what will set TheVentureCity apart, said González-Estéfani, who is a native of Spain. “While others provide entrepreneurs with the initial tools to get them started, TheVentureCity is our response to the need for a solution that offers startups everything from engineering and product optimization to data analysis, guiding them throughout the entire process.”

To be considered for either theVentureCity’s 36-month incubator or 18-month accelerator program, startups that can be in any place in the world must demonstrate at least a six-month track record and solid numbers on growth and engagement metrics, not necessarily revenue. Using a data-driven approach, TheVentureCity builds on that foundation of solid data to help them make the best business decisions to achieve long-term growth. “We aren’t afraid of working with international-first companies all over the world, we just have to fall in love with the founders,” she said.

About 25 startups a year from all over the world will be selected to enter the “factory” each year. Other parts of the “city” include the “data library,” the heart of the city, the airport for internationalization, the laboratory for the product engineering and the bank for venture capital. TheVentureCity will help startups with their funding strategy and tapping into funding resources, she said.

TheVentureCity will be paid in startup equity as the partnership progresses, González-Estéfani said.

Directing the Miami campus will be Elisa Rodriguez-Vila, who formerly worked at Fusión and was part of the co-founding team at The LAB Miami. TheVentureCity is already working with 15 startups, including Boatsetter, Playground, The Fastmind and RecargaPay from South Florida.

TheVentureCity has forged partnerships with a number of entitities including Beacon Council, Startupbootcamp, Venture Café and Facebook on the local level. She said TheVentureCity has been working with Miami Dade College on a two-year degree in entrepreneurship and innovation, for instance. “We make things happen, we are not afraid of taking risks,” González-Estéfani said. “That is the mindset we want to bring here and we are learning everyday from the pioneers and we want to partner with them.”

González-Estéfani came to Miami 2 1/2 years ago with Facebook; she also worked in Facebook’s operations in Silicon Valley and Europe from 2008 to 2014. Before that she worked at eBay, Siemans and Ogilvy.

Upon arrival from Silicon Valley she noticed something quickly: a welcoming community.

“The Medinas [Manny Medina, founder of eMerger Americas] opened the door to their home to us. That is something I have never seen before in Business. "They introduced me to to everything that was happening here. That soul, that spirit, is something that I have never seen anywhere else. Everyone they introduced me to, the Knight Foundation, the Endeavor family, everyone was the same way,” González-Estéfani said.

“There must be something in the water in Miami that makes everyone so welcoming and so enthusiastic about the unknown. I found that willingness to take a risk. Hopefully I can contribute with my team to help make this one of the most exciting and vibrant ecosystems in tech around the world.”
González-Estéfani will be giving a talk about TheVentureCity at eMerge Americas at Miami Beach Convention Center on Tuesday.

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg.

Projects to improve Miami may come to life, thanks to Knight grants

Science Barge 2

The Miami Science Barge is moored in a notch in the seawall at Museum Park downtown, adjacent to the site of the new Frost Museum of Science. The concept for the barge won a grant in the Knight Cities Challenge in 2015. Frost Museum of Science

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Four organizations in South Florida won grants to bring to life their ideas to make their cities more successful. They were national winners of the Knight Cities Challenge, the same contest that gave the Miami Science Barge its kickstart.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation on Monday announced that 33 projects nationwide will share $5 million to pursue their ideas, which center on expanding economic opportunities and promoting civic engagement. Altogether," The challenge attracted more than 4,500 ideas.

The 33 winners proposed ideas such as providing a space for Philadelphians to develop city service solutions through a traveling city design lab; replacing an inoperative freeway in Akron with a public space; and turning Columbia, South Carolina’s State House into a front porch for all.

“The winners of the Knight Cities Challenge will help create new avenues for people to contribute to their community. They aim to bring together diverse residents, ensure talent thrives and connect people to place — giving them a stake in city-building,” said George Abbott, Knight Foundation director for community and national initiatives.

The three winners from Miami are:

Civic Incite: Citizens Setting the Agenda, submitted by Jorge Damian de la Paz: An online platform that tracks public meetings and legislation across cities to promote in-person civic engagement with local governments. Granted $105,595.

Miami-Dade Quickbuild Program, submitted by Anthony Garcia for Street Plans Collaborative: A program within Miami-Dade County in partnership with local transportation nonprofit Green Mobility Network that advances low-cost, quick-build transportation and open space projects. Granted $150,000.

Rep(resentative) Miami, submitted by Rob Biskupic for Engage Miami: Putting clear, actionable information about local elected officials into citizens’ hands by breaking down barriers to civic participation. Granted $119,800.

In Palm Beach County:

12 for 12: Popup to Rent, submitted by Christopher Roog for the City of West Palm Beach: Invite local artists to activate 12 empty storefront spaces as an economic catalyst for West Palm Beach. Granted $180,000.

Last year, local projects to help create a gym under The Underline, a pop-up park along Biscayne Boulevard and a user testing group for local government technology all received funding as part of the Knight Cities Challenge. Two years ago, the Miami Science Barge was a winner; last year the barge opened behind the Frost Museum of Science and this year it became an official part of the museum via donation.

See the list of winners at www.knightcities.org.

Rokk3r Labs spins out 10xU, a global education platform

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Rokk3r Labs, a venture builder that has worked with more than 40 portfolio companies, moved into new headquarters in Wynwood last fall. This spring it launched an investment fund. Now Rokk3r is announcing that it’s adding an engine for education called 10xU.

DeleoThe global platform and will be tailored to both tech entrepreneurs and corporations who need the tools and the mindset to compete in the age of innovation moving at warp speed, said Lorenzo de Leo, CEO and co-founder of 10xU, which is a separate Rokk3r Labs portfolio company. 10xU will have a booth at eMerge Americas this week.

De Leo (pictured at right) has been involved with Rokk3r for three years as an investor and most recently ran its cobuilding unit, which exposed him not only to the Rokk3r’s methodology but also to the startups’ dreams and opportunities and 10xU was a natural evolution “10xU aims to teach individuals how to act as entrepreneurs no matter where they sit in their professional career.”

10xU will have courses geared to entrepreneurs at all stages – whether they are looking to harness their industry expertise into a fast-growth startup, evaluating the world-changing potential of an idea they have or already have a company. The programming will cover the principles of company building – from developing a vision, to building a team, to raising capital and scaling – but will be focused on moving people to action rather than theory, incorporating mentorship, pitch opportunities and measurable goals, de Leo said. “10xU is about empowering people to understand the world in which we live, and to take advantage of that to grow individually and as a community.”

Courses will also be tailored to corporations that will all likely face the Uber of their industries. 10xU has developed educational programs and conducted personalized assessments for companies that need a startup mindset or might be considering developing a spinout company. 10xU is also working with educational institutions; for instance, it participated in the DronesUp program at Miami Dade College in a module exploring how to transform deep expertise into a company, de Leo said.

NabylJoining de Leo, former managing partner of Rokk3r Labs, will be Mike Lingle, an experienced entrepreneur and coach who will serve as managing partner of 10xU. For individuals, 10xU will cost $700 to $2,500, depending on the level of services sought. “We believe this is a piece of the ecosystem that’s been missing,” said Nabyl Charania, CEO of Rokk3r Labs (pictured at left).

As 10xU develops, the platform and programs will be available globally, connecting people and resources. Said de Leo: “We believe in the great potential of Miami, and we think a good way to help Miami is to connect Miami to other tech hubs around the world.”

Why international tech startups are making Miami their U.S. base

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

As the eMerge Americas technology conference opens on Monday, a number of international tech startups will likely be sniffing around, considering Miami for a possible launch point for their U.S. or Latin American operations.

They might want to talk to some of the recent arrivals.

Meet Solomoto, a Tel Aviv-based startup that offers a digital marketing dashboard to help small businesses take control of their online presence.

“We are an operating system for small business. Anything that you can do digitally for your small business, you should be able to do it in 30 minutes a day in one place,” said Solomoto co-founder Guy Israeli.

Solomoto checked out Miami last year and recently made the decision to base its U.S. expansion in Miami. The U.S. operations are led by Leandro Finol, former executive director of Miami Dade College’s Idea Center.

Miami, rich with small businesses, combined with its position as a gateway to Latin America, made the region a natural U.S. base, Israeli said. Plans are to soon have 10 employees, or 20 percent of Solomoto’s workforce, based here.

Solomoto, launched in 2015, recently announced a partnership with WeWork, which gives WeWork’s 30,000 members access to Solomoto’s services through WeWork’s Service Store. WeWork, a global co-working company that attracts numerous small businesses, will also be one click away for Solomoto’s customers. Solomoto also partnered with BlueVine, an online provider of credit lines for small businesses. “Both sync perfectly with our vision to help small businesses grow,” said Israeli, who said more partnerships will be announced. “Solomoto is a connection to the ecosystem of small businesses.”

About 5,000 small businesses in the U.S. are on the platform so far, but Solomoto’s real growth has been international. More than 150,000 companies from 24 countries are using the platform. “Small business owners have the same challenges no matter which market they are based in,” said Israeli, who co-founded the company with Pasha Romanovski, Solomoto’s CEO. Both have founded and run other international ventures.


[READ MORE: Why we chose Miami as the U.S. headquarters for Solomoto]

Solomoto board member Uri Levine, co-founder of Waze, will speak at eMerge; Israeli will speak at a growth hacking summit at The LAB Miami on Wednesday.

For its U.S. entry, French augmented reality startup Magic Xperience partnered with StartHub, a Miami-based co-working and accelerator company that specializes in helping international companies launch operations in the United States. Finaben, parent company of StartHub, is also an investor in Magic Xperience, part of a larger French firm called ARTech.

StartHub is helping Magic Xperience develop and sell consumer-focused augmented reality products through Walmart and 1,200 other retailers worldwide, said David Bensoussan, founder and managing director of StartHub Miami.

“We leverage local resources to fulfill the needs of our member companies launching in the U.S. market and deliver measurable growth … through our three-pillar approach: co-working, growth and acceleration,” Bensoussan said. “We have evolved and designed solutions that are adapted to the market we are in … and we offer resources and services for a company at any stage.”

StartHub has worked with about 15 consumer-centric companies, most of them international. Those include Amsellem, a Canadian company that makes dried beef snacks and KF Beauty, a United Kingdom cosmetic company with a fast-growing brand called WunderBrow, Bensoussan said. “We focus on digital strategies for revenue generation. This is how we roll.”

RELATED STORIES: Hatching a tech future: South Florida startups gain strength and Tech by the numbers

Last month, Pérez Art Museum Miami announced that Magic Xperience and StartHub will be developing an augmented reality experience for its visitors, funded with a $150,000 grant from the Knight Foundation.

The Miami-Dade Beacon Council, the county’s economic development organization, has worked with a number of international tech companies who located or relocated their U.S. operations to Miami in the past year, said Susan Greene, chief marketing officer for the council. These include Technocom from Spain, which offers IT, shipping and printing solutions; Clearsale from Brazil, a fraud prevention company; Woosh from Israel, whose patented smart water stations provide drinking water on the go in the Miami area; ThinkSmart from Spain, which develops sales-performance technology; and virtual reality company Dream VR from Spain.

In the last year, nearly half of the tech companies checking out Miami have been international, and the council has seen increasing interest from Europe, particularly from Spain and France. A trade mission to Spain in February that included visits to technology companies and accelerators in Madrid and Barcelona, for instance, yielded keen interest from more than a half dozen tech companies, said Mario Sacasa, senior vice president for international economic development for the Beacon Council, noting that four out of five companies he is working with right now are international. In addition to the cultural and global appeal of Miami, daily flights to Europe have been increasing and some countries incentivize their companies to expand beyond their borders.

This week’s Merge Americas will provide an international show of force; the conference was founded with the mission of developing a tech hub for the Americas in South Florida. The European Union and countries such as Colombia, Costa Rica and Belarus will have booths on the expo floor, and roughly 10 percent of the startups exhibiting and competing in the Startup Showcase are international, including Woosh. Keynotes include Israel-based Waze’s co-founder Uri Levine; Blanca Treviño, CEO of Mexico’s Softek; and Dave McClure, founding partner of 500 Startups who will talk about opportunities in Latin America, and there are panel discussions on Colombia, Cuba and innovation and media disruption in Latin America.

Lesley Ross Headshot (2)Kichink, a fast-growing e-commerce solutions platform in Mexico, will be there with a booth. The startup is setting up a Miami office and team to launch its U.S. operations, its first expansion outside its home country, said Kichink COO Lesley Ross. She also will be speaking at eMerge Americas on “the imminent e-commerce explosion.”

[READ MORE: As eMerge Americas evolves, what’s in store for 2017?]

Kichink provides an end-to-end e-commerce solution for small- and medium-sized enterprises, as well as corporations in web hosting, digital marketing, customer service, payment processing and pick-ups and deliveries, said co-founder Claudia de Heredia from Mexico City. She will be participating in an eMerge Americas panel on scaling across markets with fellow Endeavor companies.

Kichink launched its platform in Mexico with 60 stores in 2013; it is now used by 83,000 companies, from mom-and-pop stores to big brands including Unilever, L’Oréal, Olay and AVON.

“We already have a presence both in Miami and Silicon Valley, but we are establishing the global headquarters in Miami,” Ross said. “We have team members on board or about to be announced … Miami also strategically places us in a nice position if we expand to Europe soon after.”

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

What’s the average tech salary? How many startups are sprouting? A by the numbers look

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

As South Florida strives to develop a technology hub, here is a look at some measures of entrepreneurial and tech sector strength for the Miami area and Florida markets:

TecheggNumber of tech startups in South Florida: Hard to quantify because of the pivoting nature of startups and high failure rate, but by one measure, AngelList registrations, there are 2,761 startups and early stage companies registered on the platform, and some actively raising money, in the tri-county area. While not scientific because some of the startups are no longer active, that is up 63 percent since October 2015, when the number was 1,682, and 139 percent since 2014.

Job growth: 27.6 percent from 2012 through 2016, the top performing of the Miami-Dade Beacon Council’s seven targeted industries, according to the public-private economic development agency. By number of jobs, 10,413, technology is also the smallest of the seven targeted industries. In Broward, the tech industry employs 44,431, up 19.2 percent since 2012, according to the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance.

Average salary: Software developer for applications: $78,603 (Miami-Dade); $89,148 (Broward), according to federal labor data. The Miami-Dade Beacon Council said the average tech sector salary in 2016 was $95,087, compared to $81,406 in 2012. The Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance said the average tech sector salary in Broward County is $94,273.

Venture capital: Florida ranked seventh in the nation based on venture capital flows into Florida companies in the first quarter of the year, taking in $244.19 million, or 0.8 percent of the U.S. total, according to Pitchbook/NVCA’s quarterly venture capital report. Two-thirds of those dollars, $151.9 million, went to South Florida companies, ranking 14th among metro areas in the first quarter.

Patents per capita: Florida ranked 32nd for patents per capita in 2016, according to the Bloomberg Innovation Index. Miami nor any Florida city cracked the top 100 U.S. cities for patent activity, according to a 2017 Time magazine report.

Pipeline: South Florida ranks seventh in the nation for college students per capita. According to the 2015 edition of American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Profiles of Engineering & Engineering Technology Colleges, FIU placed fourth in the country for computer science degrees in the United States. It has ranked in the top 10 in the nation for the past five years.

RELATED STORY: Hatching a tech future: South Florida startups gain strength

Entrepreneurial activity and growth: The Miami metropolitan area ranked first among 40 big markets studied in new entrepreneurial activity in 2016, according to a study by the Kauffman Foundation published in May. But for growth, the Miami area ranked 39th out of 40th in another Kauffman study published in 2016. In 2016, 125 South Florida companies made the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies, down from 139 in 2015. For the state, Bloomberg’s 2016 U.S. State Innovation Index ranked Florida 34th, while the Milken Institute’s State Technology and Science Index for 2016 puts Florida in 41st place, falling four places since 2014.

Immigrant tech entrepreneurs: The Miami metropolitan area is No. 2 in the nation, behind San Jose, for the number of immigrant business owners with employees, according to a 2016 Kauffman Foundation study. Florida is third.

READ MORE: Miami area’s high-skilled workforce is fueled largely by immigrants

Hatching a tech future: South Florida startups are gaining strength


By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Nearpod, an education-technology startup, keeps outgrowing its Aventura offices.

“We have been doubling the company every year — in people, revenue, users, all the key metrics,” said Felipe Sommer. He co-founded the company with Guido Kovalskys and Emiliano Abramzon, three Argentine friends who have worked on ventures together for more than a decade (pictured below). Nearpod now employs 70 people and expects to be 100-strong by the end of the year.

“As you can see,” he said, motioning toward the dozens of workers in the spacious, open office, “we like to double.”


Now the company, which develops online lessons for students and teachers, will be doubling down on South Florida. Until now, Nearpod has kept some of its top management in Silicon Valley to tap talent and stay close to its Bay Area investors. Those employees, including CEO Kovalskys, the vice president of marketing and directors of content and product, will be relocating to Miami.

Nearpod and other South Florida fast-growing startups will be celebrated as the fourth annual eMerge Americas technology conference opens Monday at the Miami Beach Convention Center. At least 13,000 people are expected to attend the two-day conference, headlined by Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple; Uri Levine, co-founder of Waze; Gustavo Cisneros, founder of Grupo Cisneros; and Marcelo Claure, founder of South Florida’s Brightstar and now CEO of Sprint. eMerge will also be a show of force for the startup community: More than 125 startups will be exhibiting, while scores more will be attending.

The backdrop for the conference: a number of recent success stories in South Florida’s tech community.

In a transaction that closed last month, Dania Beach-based Chewy.com was acquired by PetSmart for about $3 billion, the largest e-commerce deal ever. Chewy CEO Ryan Cohen said the 5,000-employee unit that booked $900 million in revenue in 2016 will operate as an independent subsidiary and continue to grow in South Florida.

Modernizing Medicine, the Boca Raton health-tech company founded in 2010, raised $231 million to fund its growth. Modernizing Medicine employs more than 550 people and is booking $100 million in annual revenue.

And there’s the near-instant global technology player in cybersecurity company Cyxtera Technologies, headed by Manny Medina, who also founded Terremark Worldwide, Medina Capital and eMerge Americas. The result of a $2.8 billion transaction that closed last month, Cyxtera combines 57 data centers and four cybersecurity and data analytics companies from Medina Capital’s portfolio, and employs 1,000 people worldwide — about 100 in South Florida.

[READ MORE: Done Deal: Medina Capital, BC Partners form Cyxtera Technologies in $2.8 billion transaction]

[READ MORE: Q&A with eMerge Americas CEO Xavier Gonzalez]

“With the major successes we’re seeing like Modernizing Medicine, Chewy.com and Cyxtera — not to mention the massive potential impact of [augmented-reality technology company] Magic Leap — we are poised to have a number of very large, global technology companies based in this ecosystem,” said Xavier Gonzalez, CEO of eMerge Americas. “These companies and many others will continue to grow, innovate and attract talent from all over the world. That talent will develop new companies and bring even more interest from investors.”

The cycle, he said, points to increasing maturation of Miami’s technology sector.

Matt Haggman agrees. He is the Miami program director of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which leads the local movement to develop South Florida into a hub for technology and innovation. “Increasingly, what we are seeing is an evolution from what could be to what is now, and that is super exciting,” he said. “If you go online right now for jobs in tech, there are hundreds of jobs.”

The Knight Foundation has funded organizations and projects to develop an ecosystem since 2012, including Endeavor Miami, Miami Dade College’s Idea Center, Startupbootcamp, The LAB Miami and LaunchCode. It has committed more than $25 million in more than 200 projects in the Miami area, including recently $1.2 million to the Miami Urban Future Initiative, a joint project of Florida International University and the Creative Class Group for economic research on entrepreneurship and technology in South Florida. It also recently announced $1.2 million in new support for Code Fever’s signature event Blacktech Week, planned for September, and related programs that aim to expand opportunities for entrepreneurs of color.

RELATED STORIES: Why international tech startups are making Miami their U.S. base and Tech by the numbers

The foundation plans to continue investing in infrastructure projects and organizations that help support and accelerate the growth of an entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“We’re just getting started,” Haggman said. “If this is a nine-inning game, we are at the bottom of the first or the top of the second. The important thing to understand is that it can happen.”

Recent studies shed light on the challenges of that long game ahead. South Florida is a startup and small-business factory, sprouting more new businesses every year than any other large U.S. metro area. But growing large companies has always been a challenge for the Miami area as well as for the state.

Last year, the Miami metro area ranked 39th among the 40 largest metro areas for growth entrepreneurship. Bloomberg’s 2016 U.S. State Innovation Index ranked Florida 34th. The Milken Institute’s State Technology and Science Index for 2016 put Florida in 41st place — four places lower than in 2014. Among the components of the Milken index, the state ranked the lowest, 46th, for science and technology workforce. Other indicators show the state and South Florida lagging in patent activity and venture capital. (See related data on tech and startups here.)

“If you look at startup activity in Miami — its new venture creation — it is incredibly high. When we look at growth entrepreneurship, it’s pretty low,” said Arnobio Morelix, senior research analyst at the Kauffman Foundation and one of the authors of recent reports on startup activity and growth entrepreneurship.

Another key challenge: Miami-Dade’s technology sector is dwarfed by the service economy and its low-paying jobs. Still, by number of employees, tech is growing faster than aviation, banking/finance, creative design, tourism, healthcare and trade/logistics — all industries targeted for growth by the Miami-Dade Beacon Council, the county’s public-private economic development agency.

“The tech sector is growing faster than the overall economy,” said Jaap Donath, the Beacon Council’s senior vice president of research and strategic planning. “What we are starting to see is growth subsets linked to existing sectors, such as fintech, health IT, trade/logistics and tourism.”

By number of employees, the technology sector has grown 27.6 percent from 2012 through 2016 to 10,413 employees in Miami-Dade, according to Beacon Council data. The number of tech companies, 1,654, is up 10.9 percent, and the average salary is $95,087, up 16.8 percent — the second-highest after banking/finance.

[READ MORE: Taking telehealth to the masses is his Uber-like mission]

In Broward County, where technology is a much larger sector with the likes of Magic Leap, MDLIVE, Chewy and JetSmarter, 3,742 technology companies employ 44,431, and the average salary is $94,273. That’s up 19.2 percent from 2012, when the industry employed 37,266, according to the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance.

[READ MORE: What it’s like to run a billion-dollar startup — at age 28]

“The last five years have seen an enhancement of our tech ecosystem. For us, it is very exciting to see that growth, especially looking at potential scalability,” Donath said. “We’ve seen that with CareCloud — that was a local startup, and now [the health-tech company] is a mainstay of the Miami economy with hundreds of employees. Albert [Santalo, founder of CareCloud,] made a conscious choice to build and grow the company in Miami.”

This goes for companies focused on the Latin American market, too. “We’re seeing companies that come out of Latin America but find what they need in Miami to sell their products back into Latin America — a good example being YellowPepper, the fintech company,” said Donath. Based in Wynwood with a team of 61, YellowPepper is a pioneer and leading player in mobile payments and banking solutions in Latin America and has been recently valued by the Inter-American Development Bank at more than $100 million.

[READ MORE: Why mobile payment technology is leap-frogging in Latin America]

Community leaders point to progress on other fronts as well.

In the past year, new incubators and accelerators such as Startup FIU, Startupbootcamp and Babson WIN Lab have graduated their first cohorts, joining pioneer Venture Hive. Global fund 500 Startups has run a growth accelerator, conference and other events here; it is now planning to establish a permanent presence in Miami. Organizations such as LaunchCode and coding bootcamps train tech developers and designers and help match them with job openings.

What’s more, an international venture-builder called TheVentureCity, with Silicon Valley veterans at the helm, will be launched in Miami and was announced during eMerge Americas.

“When I came to Miami 2 1/2 years ago, the community here was very welcoming, everyone wants to meet you, every startup is welcome,” said Laura González-Estéfani, a former executive of Facebook in Miami, Silicon Valley and Europe who is now launching TheVentureCity. “It’s a tech community where you can build trust and relationships with people very, very fast. There is something definitely happening here.”

[READ MORE: How South Florida universities are revving up to be engines of innovation]

While funding is still a challenge and the region still lags badly in venture capital investment, several new funds have been announced in the past year, including Rokk3r Fuel and Las Olas Venture Capital. Local companies are attracting investment from beyond the region. They include JetSmarter, which raised $105 million in December, and Modernizing Medicine, which last month announced an investment of $231 million. Other firms — including Boatsetter, MealPal, Nearpod, Nymbus, Altor Bioscience and F1 Oncology — have each raised well north of $10 million in the last six months.

Wynwood’s Rokk3r Labs is announcing Monday the launch of 10xU, a global educational platform focused on teaching entrepreneurs to identify and assess opportunities for fast-growing, world-changing companies, as well as the nuts and bolts of team building, raising capital, scaling and exiting. Its content and programming will also be targeted at corporations whose models will likely face disruption.

10xU will become a portfolio company of Rokk3r Labs, a company builder that has worked with more than 40 startups. In March, Rokk3r announced that it launched an investment fund, Rokk3r Fuel. It aims to raise a $150 million fund — it’s not there yet — and already has invested in startups AdMobilize, Hyp3r, Taxfyle and Emerge.me. Over the next few weeks, the fund plans to announce more capital deployments, locally and globally. A second set of investments is planned in the fourth quarter, said Nabyl Charania, CEO of Rokk3r Labs.

“The growth of an ecosystem is not an overnight thing. If we wait for someone else to come in and do things for us, we will just continue to wait,” he said. “That’s why we proceeded with Rokk3r Fuel and 10xU and will continue to co-build companies, because we believe that is the best way to help an ecosystem — providing all the right tools to build world-changing companies.”

Some local serial entrepreneurs are already beginning to sprout new ventures and invest in others. After the $2 billion sale of Terremark, Medina started eMerge, Medina Capital and now Cyxtera. The $1.65 billion sale of Mako Surgical made way for co-founder Rony Abovitz to start Magic Leap, while former Mako CEO Maurice Ferré is involved with several health-tech ventures, including running the Israel-based Insightec from Miami.

Adam Boalt sold his first company, RushMyPassport.com, in 2013. Last September, Boalt sold his second tech company, LiveAnswer.com, to Stericycle, a publicly traded Fortune 1000 company. Now he is building again.

“govWorks will be launching in January 2018 and will change the way the public interfaces with the government,” Boalt said. The platform is aimed at greatly simplifying the processes for travel visas, passports, fishing licenses and other documents by storing customer information securely. An earlier company, the original govWorks, collapsed after raising $60 million. Boalt acquired the domain name: “They had a good idea that was ahead of their time, and they had challenges executing. I know the time is right now, and we have the team that can pull it off.”


Photo by Pedro Portal / Miami Herald 

govWorks (pictured above) has a team of 32 in Miami, 80 percent of them engineers. Boalt expects to add 20 more software engineers and product designers later this year.

“I’ve had opportunities to be in New York and the West Coast, but this is my home,” Boalt said. “I feel like people have doubts about Miami. I hate that. I feel like I can make a difference here.”

Other entrepreneurs have been urged to move elsewhere — sometimes by their own investors. Abovitz may be the most famous of these South Florida bulls, choosing Plantation as the base for his cutting-edge, mixed-reality technology startup, valued at an eye-popping $4.5 billion with a who’s who list of Silicon Valley and global investors, even though its initial product has yet to be released. Now Magic Leap is rumored to be raising another round of funding at a $6 billion to $8 billion valuation.

In Aventura, meanwhile, above a Bank of America office, Nearpod’s bright and open offices hum with employees at work on laptops or on the phone with customers. Two years ago, the company moved into 3,000 square feet; now Nearpod has filled 9,000 square feet, and it could already use more space.

As the co-founders demo the company’s virtual reality lessons, Abramzon explains that students virtually visit sites of history or culture like the Eiffel Tower, the Egyptian Pyramids and Checkpoint Charlie to learn about the Cold War or even concentration camps. The visits are accompanied by in-app videos, quizzes and opportunities for questions and interaction with teachers. Altogether, the VR lessons, which Nearpod began offering last year, have drawn more than 6 million views.


Photo of Emiliano Abramzon and Felipe Sommer by roberto Koltun/Miami Herald

Nearpod has users in one of every 10 schools nationwide, including more than 40 schools in the Miami-Dade and Broward County public school districts, Gulliver Prep, LaSalle, American Heritage and Pine Crest. About 4 million students worldwide view the content monthly. Nearpod also recently launched Nearpod for ELL at Miami-Dade public schools, which includes 500 ready-to-teach lessons designed specifically for non-native English speakers.

In March, Nearpod announced it had raised $21 million to fund its growth. “We are hiring for VPs of customer success and finance and a head of content,” said Abramzon. All will be based in South Florida because of its lifestyle, cost of living, diversity, growing entrepreneurial environment, strong partnerships with local schools, and support from local investors Krillion Ventures, Knight Enterprise Fund and the AGP network.

“Miami is in our DNA,” added Sommer. “We want everyone under the same roof, and that roof is going to be in Miami.”

But for all its growth, Rokk3r’s Charania believes South Florida’s startup ecosystem needs to develop more quickly: “What we need is more people from the community supporting the ecosystem. We need corporations to step into the game. We need the government and educational institutions … with a lot more impact. We’re not there yet but people are starting to pull together.”

Knight’s Haggman said it’s important to get the word out about the opportunities here: “There is still some disconnect, whether it is job opportunities, resources or funding, because there are still fixed ideas about this place, and we are changing. We are a much different place than we were, say, five years ago.”

Haggman also believes the ecosystem should connect the entire community, west of Miami’s urban corridor and well north of the Broward County line, and this isn’t the time to rest: “This is a work in progress. This is a long game.”

Nancy Dahlberg: 305-376-3595, @ndahlberg. This article was updated Monday morning.