Miami Dade College's new Idea Center announces Knight funding, Babson partnership

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@MiamiHerald.com

To infuse principles of entrepreneurship throughout the largest and most diverse undergraduate student body in the country, Miami Dade College is opening the doors of its new innovation hub with the help of significant funding and a prestigious partnership.

The multifaceted Idea Center, officially opening Oct. 28, will include an accelerator, co-working space, an idea lab, mentorship, training programs, a contest and events. On Thursday morning, MDC President Eduardo J. Padrón, together with Matt Haggman, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Miami program director, and Idea Center Executive Director Leandro Finol, announced that the center will receive $2.18 million in Knight funding.

Padron (2)Some of the Knight funding will go to establishing a partnership with Babson College, which has had the top-ranked entrepreneurship program in the country since 1995, according to U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings. The Idea Center will also use the Knight support to enhance its training programs for faculty and staff and develop entrepreneur-focused events as well as for fund operations for the accelerator, co-working space and mentorship programs.

"Miami Dade College has a lot of important initiatives, but the one that I am most enthusiastic about is our entrepreneurship effort," said Padrón, in a phone interview last week (pictured at right). "I think it will be the most important component of the college in the years to come."

For the Knight Foundation, funding the Idea Center represents a key pillar in its strategy to build and accelerate an entrepreneurship hub in Miami, said Haggman. While the Knight Foundation has made more than 90 investments in entrepreneurship in the past two years, this grant, which is over three years, is Knight’s largest to date.

HaggmanThrough the Idea Center, MDC’s 165,000 students “will have the opportunity, the space and resources to learn, as well as the tools they need to connect, get inspired and build ideas of their choosing,” said Haggman (pictured at left).

Finol released new details about the Idea Center, which will be headquartered on the fifth floor in Building 8 at the Wolfson Campus in downtown Miami. But the center will be a resource for all eight MDC campuses.

"We believe innovation is everywhere. We are also industry agnostic ... we want students to think about innovation in traditional industries with a different angle,” said Finol, who has 15 years’ experience in startups and multinational companies. “And we are going to be hands-on. Everything we do is going to be experiential.”

There will be programs for every stage of the entrepreneurial journey, and through the three-year partnership Babson will do a comprehensive needs assessment and will be involved in advising on all the programs, said Finol, who met with Babson’s president, Kerry Healy, during a visit to the Idea Center earlier this month. Babson also provided the curriculum for the one-year-old Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program at MDC, which helps established revenue-generating businesses scale and has already graduated 52 South Florida companies.

Leandro Finol (1)One of the Idea Center’s programs, Phase 2 Ventures, will be modeled after the 10,000 Small Businesses program and will be designed to help students grow and innovate their families’ small businesses, which make up more than 90 percent of the Miami-Dade economy. Once significant growth and revenue targets are met, the businesses could be ready for the 10,000 Small Businesses program, Finol said (pictured at right).

And for students just getting started – maybe they have an idea and don’t know where to start – there will be an Idea Factory, where students can attend a workshop and then pitch an idea to a panel of experts who evaluate the idea and assess the likelihood of success.

Students further along can apply to the Idea Center’s CREATE Accelerator, which will be headed by Wifredo Fernandez, who co-founded the co-working center The LAB Miami in Wynwood. CREATE, which stands for Center for Research and Transformative Entrepreneurs, will help aspiring student entrepreneurs build companies and products. Methodologies used will include Stanford’s Lean LaunchPad, which involves testing products and talking to customers to either validate or refine assumptions. CREATE will open in January, Finol said.

Students can also enter the $5K Startup Challenge, a college-wide contest that will have a call for entries later this fall and offer a $5,000 award. In addition, co-working spaces will be established to encourage collaboration among its students. The Idea Center will also be involved in rethinking, revamping and expanding the entrepreneurship curriculum on all its campuses.

Community events will include a Pioneers@MDCspeakers’ series with “titans of business and social innovation who will inspire the students,” Finol said. The first one kicked off last month with Juan Diego Calle, co-founder of .CO Internet in Miami.

"One of the things students have told me is that they have great ideas but they do not have the resources to seek professional help in areas they don’t have expertise, and for them this will make all the difference in the world,” said Padrón. “This is a very practical approach for entrepreneurship and I think this will be a win-win for all."

For more than two years, Padrón has been personally involved in seeing through the Idea Center project, a collaboration between the Miami Dade College School of Business and School of Engineering and Technology.

The Idea Center is a component of a much bigger strategy to infuse entrepreneurship into curricula throughout the entire college, Padrón said. “Combined with some things we are doing in emerging technologies that will provide students with real training for the knowledge economy that is so much needed in Miami, I think this will help position the college to really help the community.”

A small group that included Padrón and Haggman visited the entrepreneurship centers of Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology in May of last year in an effort to study best practices and build ideas. Padrón also visited Cornell.

Jose Estabil, MIT’s director of entrepreneurship and innovation, is on the Idea Center’s advisory board (see below), which also includes 21 leaders from South Florida’s business community such as Ricky Arriola, CEO of Inktel Holdings, Nabyl Charania, managing director of Rokk3r Labs, Alberto Daire, president of Liberty Power, Jeb Bush Jr., managing director of Jeb Bush & Associates, and Manny Medina, chairman of Medina Capital. The Idea Center will also draw on MDC’s extensive alumni network for mentors.

For Knight, the Idea Center offers a way to further build out a network of entrepreneurship support, and it has already funded programs such as coding and entrepreneurship programs for middle and high school students, The LAB Miami for co-working and events, various programs that help startups build teams and find funding and Endeavor, a global network that selects and accelerates high-impact entrepreneurs. Together with the new MDC funding, the foundation has committed more than $10 million to entrepreneurship efforts throughout the community.

What particularly caught Knight’s interest, Haggman said, is Miami Dade College’s broad reach and ability to serve the county’s most under-served communities. About 67 percent of MDC's students are considered low income; more than half of its students are the first in their families to attend college.

“We are trying to create a bridge into Miami’s growing startup community, and by doing that we also create bridges among all the eight campuses. from Homestead to North Dade, to Liberty City to Kendall,” said Haggman. “Miami Dade College has this fantastic footprint that connects to the community in a way that no other organization does. Our aim will be to try to cross-pollinate and create connections between all the pieces of the network. We are really excited about it, there is a lot of possibility.”

Padrón agrees.

"Our students are some of the brightest and some of the most creative students you can find anywhere," said Padrón. "They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and many of these students are innovative by nature. We feel giving this population the opportunity to participate is something that will change the face of Miami."

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

Board of Advisors (1)
  Posted Oct. 16, 2014


The Countdown Institute introduces new Code in Space program

By  Alex de Carvalho and Richard Schuchts

Countdown LogoAs children, we each dreamed of becoming an astronaut. Who didn't? Space exploration and thoughts of "what is out there" helped spur our imagination and dreams. As kids, imagine how fun it would have been to interact with live satellites in space!

The Countdown Institute, a Miami-based startup, provides today’s kids an exclusive opportunity to do just that. Countdown launches its Code in Space program on Oct. 25 at The LAB Miami. Students take two in-class sessions on successive weekends and then continue the lessons online to learn coding and computer science by interacting with a live satellite orbiting the Earth. Register online at https://countdowninstitute.eventbrite.com

Code in Space is the first course of its kind and uses Arduino sensors and the Ardusat satellite platform. Organizations like NASA have programs to teach coding via space exploration, but now the same advantages are available for the first time in a classroom setting.

Coding teaches critical thinking to solve problems and overcome challenges. As we think about possible solutions, we exercise curiosity and creativity in how to best tackle the problem. The helps develop lateral thinking to deal with unexpected situations.

CountdownimageWe live in an increasingly connected world and soon, connected devices around us will be collecting and displaying all kinds of information. Soon enough, our world will be filled with sensors everywhere. If you can control sensors in space today, you will be able to control the sensors around you tomorrow.

But learning coding is not something we are all comfortable learning using current teaching methods.  Thus, Code in Space introduces coding in the context of space and a real satellite.  We learn best when solving problems in a way that feels like play.

More than critical thinking, practicality, and fun, learning to code provides marketable skills. In today's world, corporate jobs are no longer for life and people must increasingly control their own destiny. In his book "Outliers," Malcolm Gladwell demonstrated that people achieve mastery in any field after 10,000 hours of practice. The sooner we encourage our children to code, the better we will prepare them for their future. 

At the first of two in-person classes, students will break into teams and use space exploration to understand about satellites, Ardusat program, Arduino platform, computer science basics, and sensors on the satellite.  We then write some simple code to conduct Earth-based measurements on a wide variety of sensors found on the satellite. 

When we meet for the second in-person class, we will work on a specific experiment for the satellite.  We will discuss our goals and alternatives and select a collective project that we will watch be implemented and unfold over the coming days or weeks.

The course includes extensive online content as well.  Prior to the first class, students will have access to videos and other online learning materials.  Between the two in person classes, students use online materials to further explore each of these sensor based experiments and a variety of additional materials. 

After the classes, students and faculty communicate and collaborate via the online environment to resolve issues and debug the code.  This is space after all.  Space exploration is very focused, process-oriented, and logical.  But it always involves problem solving, adapting to harsh conditions, and the realities of working on something far above our heads in space.  The end result is a successful test of a sensor on the Ardusat satellite.

After our successful mission, the Mission Debrief stage will feature faculty evaluating the progress of students, answering questions, and sharing thoughts among the group.  After all, we are going on a mission together, it is certain there will be a lot to learn and share.

Many thanks to our partners at LAB Miami and Ardusat.  We are proud to have on our faculty some of Miami's best makers, coders, and entrepreneurs.  We are proud to be a part of this community. 

Coding really is rocket fuel for a kid's mind ... and imagination.  Don’t you wish you were a kid living in today?  Well, your kids and grandchildren are.  If you’d like share this experience with them, sign them up to participate in this unique experiential learning opportunity. 

Sure, they will be the ones to keep the T-shirt, handbook, and certificate.  But you just may find that you are the one who can’t stop talking about it with your friends. 

The exclusive launch weekends for Code in Space are October 25 and November 1 (students attend BOTH Saturdays).  For more information: www.countdowninstitute.com or info@countdowninstitute.com.  To register, https://countdowninstitute.eventbrite.com

 Alex de Carvalho, Richard Schuchts and Jessica Burns co-founded The Countdown Institute with Ajit Jaokar,  a data science expert and professor at Oxford University who was inspired to start The Countdown Institute by his 11-year-old son, Aditya.



Venture Hive accepting applications for 2015 accelerator class – deadline Nov. 24


By Susan Amat

Venture Hive is pleased to announce that applications are opening for our Winter 2015 Accelerator class! We are seeking startups with working tech solutions in tackling challenges in the following industries: Creative (art, music, film, design, fashion, etc.), Finance, Healthcare, Hospitality/Travel, and Trade/Logistics. The deadline for applications will be Monday, November 24th, 2014.

Copy of DSC_0020The 10 selected companies will receive a $25,000 non-equity grant, participate in our 13-week intensive mentor-driven accelerator program, and six months of free office space at Venture Hive in downtown Miami. This program is made possible by the generous support of Miami-Dade County, the Miami Downtown Development Authority, and Miami WorldCenter. Venture Hive has partnered with firms such as DLA Piper to ensure the best possible support for our startups.

Since January, 2013, Venture Hive has operated a founder-friendly environment, bringing together tech entrepreneurs from more than 18 countries together under one roof. We work with visionary teams, lead by founders who want to build world-class businesses, not just cool products. Past accelerator participants include Everypost, The Fan Machine, Raw Shorts, Kimetric, and GetMyRx.

Accelerator companies must commit to their executive team being full time in Miami from January 26th to April 24th, 2015. Companies applying may be pre-launch but cannot have raised more than $500K.

For full application guidelines or to apply, please visit: http://miami.venturehive.co/

Susan Amat is the founder and CEO of Venture Hive.


Above, Matias Koretzky of RealBridge, part of the  2014 accelerator class, pitches. At top, photos of Venture Hive's Living Room and programming.

Posted Oct. 13, 2014


Mission of FAU's new Tech Runway: Launch startups, grow jobs

Tech Runway is prepared for takeoff.

Florida Atlantic University’s new South Florida entrepreneurship program includes a 27,000-square-foot collaborative workspace designed for housing, educating, mentoring and funding startup companies from inception through venture funding. Tech Runway will be formally announced later this week.

Selected startups, who do not have to have FAU ties, will receive office space for a year, a 16-week accelerator boot camp based on Stanford University’s Lean Launch curriculum, a team of mentors and a seed grant of $25,000. Tech Runway is led by CEO Kimberly Gramm, director of the Adams Center for Entrepreneurship at FAU (pictured here).

“We have tremendous assets in our region — successful entrepreneurs who are sharing their significant wisdom with startups and giving back to the community and students,” Gramm said. “We are integrating the entrerpeneurial world with the university world … to help create not only successful startups but a knowledge-based workforce.”

The building adjacent to the university in Boca Raton contains work spaces for the companies, as well as space for support functions, events and offices for FAU Tech Runway partners. The converted warehouse, perhaps fittingly, overlooks the executive airport, with views of planes taking off. “We hope executives flying in and out will take a golf cart over to check out our startups,” Gramm said.

Tech Runway has a team of 30 screened mentors so far, and Gramm hopes to grow that number to 100. Mentors were trained in the MIT team mentoring approach, she said. FAU faculty will also offer instruction and expertise; for instance, this semester an MBA class is helping the startups with operations and strategy. 

The project is being funded with a $1 million grant from the state and $3 million from FAU, but Gramm said she will be making a case for more funds. “This is our proof of concept, just like a startup has to do. The first year we are going to do our best to prove the model and we are building it as a scalable model for satellite offices.”

IMG_3238Jan Bednar (pictured here) and his company, BedaBox, are part of the first class at Tech Runway. When Jan Bednar moved here six years ago from the Czech Republic, he was bombarded with emails from friends asking him to buy and ship them things because from the Czech Republic it was hard to find retailers that would ship or the costs would be prohibitive. He started BedaBox about two years ago to bridge the foreign buyer with the U.S. retailer. As of late, Bednar and BedaBox have been on a roll. In April, he won the school’s Business Plan Competition, with $38,000 in prizes, then he won the competition at Florida Venture Forum’s Early Stage Conference and he graduated from FAU in May.

Now BedaBox is part of the inaugural Tech Runway program. “It’s really cool to be in an environment where everyone is trying to help you,” said Bednar, 23, who has already been impressed with the mentorship and the goal-setting process at Tech Runway.

Five companies in total were recently selected for the first group and start immediately. Five more companies will be added in the spring semester and more companies will be admitted each semester after that. The hope is that Tech Runway will soon be helping 40 startups a year, Gramm said.

The companies will spend up to one year in the program. Admission is open to all, not just FAU students. While companies will likely be technology-driven, they do not have to be. “We look for the best best opportunities with the right people leading them,” Gramm said.

In addition to Bedabox, the other startups in Tech Runway are:

Interact TEAM – This company has licensed FAU technology to provide training for hospitals and nursing homes on navigating the Medicare processes for patient transfers.

Stand4 – a website that connects individuals, charities and corporations to enhance the charity donation process so everyone benefits.

Modulux Lighting – an LED commercial lighting company started by two lighting industry experts to exploit new patent-pending capabilities that save energy and improve effectiveness.

Design Comfort Shoes– a retail shoe company led by an experienced designer who combines patented technology for comfort with high fashion design.

There will be a community event to unveil Tech Runway from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Oct. 24 at the FAU Tech Runway facility, 901 NW 35th St., Boca Raton. Find information on Tech Runway later this week at www.tech-runway.com.

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

Posted Oct. 12, 2014



Entrepreneurship Datebook

STARTUP GRIND: This month’s featured speaker is Melissa Krinzman, founder of Venture Architects and managing partner of Krillion Ventures, 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 14, The LAB Miami, 400 NW 26th St. To register, go to startupgrind.com/miami

DIGITAL MARKETING: Score Miami-Dade presents “Email and Social Media Marketing Strategies for Success,” 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 16, 2000 Ponce Business Center, 2000 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables. $40 in advance. To register email events@scoremiami.org or call 786-425-9119.

FUNDRAISING 101: Carnegie Mellon University Speaker Series on "Sourcing Capital At All Stages" is 6:30 pm - 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 16, Venture Hive, 1010 NE 2nd Ave., Miami. Register here. 

PRODUCT HUNT: A Miami meetup will feature demos by Glip, Waleteros and Katana. The audience votes and the winner receives prizes from NewMe Accelerator. NewME’s Angela Benton will also hold a Q&A. 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 17, The LAB Miami. More info: producthuntmiami.splashthat.com

NEWME POPUP ACCELERATOR: This 1 1/2-day even will have a creative edge to it because NewME is partnering with the Revolt Music Conference. The event, Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 18-19,  at the Fontainebleau on Miami Beach, will include fireside chats, networking, a pitch competition and mentoring. More info: http://newme.in/popup-accelerator.


Keep up with startup news and community views on the Starting Gate blog on MiamiHerald.com/business.


Voices of the tech community – Part 5: And about the money…

Tech eggAs part of a look back -- and look ahead -- at community-wide efforts to build or accelerate a technology-entrepreneurial  ecosystem in South Florida, I asked a sampling of entrepreneurs, investors and service providers for their views with a variety of questions. We've put a sampling on this blog throughout the week. This is the last installment.

Find the main stories in the tech hub series here: fundraising and progress/challengesSee Part 1 herePart 2 here,  Part 3 here and Part 4. Find the entire series easily under the Tech Hub Series category of this blog. 

 What's your view? Add your comment on this post, email me at ndahlberg@miamiherald.com or tweet me @ndahlberg. Thank your for reading.

Today's questions:

As an investor, how would you describe the quality of deals you are seeing in South Florida?

"The deal are getting better in quality but we still need to see more companies. It's a numbers game and we need to increase the size of the funnel to increase the number of successful companies coming out of South Florida." - Ed Boland, Scout Ventures

"Improving with confidence and organization, such as the newly launched AGP, where I sense palpable excitement." - Peter Kellner, Richmond Global, Endeavor

 “Without doubt I am seeing a larger and better deals out flowing, driven by the emergence of the number of accelerators and incubators during the last 12-24 months.  The quality and preparation of the entrepreneur teams is also unequivocally superior.  However, I am still not seeing deals that seem to ‘jump the curve’ in uniqueness and potential.” - Ricardo Weisz, NorthVest, Miami Innovation Fund

Deal quality has been extremely high over the past two years.  We are seeing (1) technologies and products that address real and often novel market needs, (2) more complete management teams with deeper domain expertise, (3) realistic expectations from founders regarding their venture's intrinsic valuation and acceptance of the deal terms which investors require in order to make an attractive risk-adjusted return." - Rhys Williams, New World Angels

If you have raised funds, have the sources been local or elsewhere?

"SportsManias has been able to raise funds locally with ideal investors whom not only have provided the resources needed, but completely understand our vision. Jorge Mas of Mas Equity Partners is the ultimate sports fan that is precisely whom our app and website is designed for, therefore, he gives us important feedback as an end user, as well as, providing us the investment and network needed to continue to grow exponentially." - Aymara Del Aguila, SportsManias

"We were fortunate to have worked in our industry for over a decade before launching our business and initially raised funds from a friend who knew of our background. Eighteen months later, one of our new customers, which is based in Broward county, loved our solution so much they initiated a conversation that's leading to us closing a round of funding on Oct 1st. - Marlon Williams, Fenero

 How would you characterize the fund-raising environment here?

"Very poor. Investors do not pull the trigger fast enough and only a couple are truly doing early stage. B2B startups can have revenue early but B2C startups have a very hard time getting revenue until after a launch and sometimes months of customer acquisition, which is a prerequisite for most investors here." - Susan Amat

"Unhealthy for entrepreneurs. Slim pickings, low evaluations, and lacking in network reach critical for future fundraising needs." - Stonly Baptiste, Urban.Us

"The fund raising environment is slim to none in South Florida. It is dominated by a small handful of organizations which all seem to be part of each other. Makes it tough for entrepreneurs to get the best deal in their fund-raising activity. We raised a small pre-seed locally, but had to find sources outside of the market for my next round, which came from an angel in New York." - Darren Atinsky, WedWu
"On the seed level, it's thriving. There is a lot of new angel activity. However, it's still difficult for startups to make the jump from seed level rounds to a proper Series A or B round locally. Most entrepreneurs here are still going to have to go out West or to the Northeast to get those kind of deals done." - Will Weinraub, LiveNinja 

What will it take to develop a stronger investor network here?

"Money follows talent. We need to incubate companies at the earliest stages and allow talent, drive and opportunity to thrive," Jeff Brown, Palm Beach Angels

"Investors network with other investors constantly. For investors here or from out-of-state, we need draws to bring them together – things like eMerge and the Forum’s Capital Conferences, and other networking opportunities. There is a tremendous amount of money in Florida that doesn’t get deployed in early or venture-stage companies – often referred to as “money behind the palm trees” – but that is changing thanks to initiatives like the Forum’s that educate investors on becoming angels, and South Florida’s own EarlyShares that provides a platform for investors to find and invest in growing companies." - Kevin Burgoyne, Florida Venture Forum

 "Education, success cases of local entrepreneurs and investors from other cities coming to Miami are helping to develop a stronger investor network here. Talent attracts capital too. There are many local leaders that are supporting younger entrepreneurs which is critical for the ecosystem. In the same spirit, at Endeavor Miami we believe that a key to success is the example and commitment that a few local high-impact entrepreneurs dedicate to their local community - by supporting others as mentors and/or eventually as investors." – Laura Maydon, Endeavor Miami

We need leaders and role models in our investor community. We need more investors like Mark Kingdon, highly connected individuals who are experienced investors and tech entrepreneurs themselves.” – Carlos Garcia, Nobox

"Continued examples of success, greater connectivity and easier ways to plug in to the community we are continuing to build, and telling our story well. We've seen more and more opportunities for investors to learn more and connect around successful startups through initiatives like Endeavor, Accelerated Growth Partners, Florida Institute for Commercialization of Public Research angel investor seminars, and Enterprise Development Corporation. As a result, the momentum is growing." - Matt Haggman, Knight Foundation

If you could add one ingredient to the South Florida entrepreneurial ecosystem right now, what would it be? 

"Liquidity. The more exits that our market experiences, the more smart-money that'll be on the table. Excellent entrepreneurs tend to fund excellent entrepreneurs. The council of folks who have been through the journey and can relate empathetically is extremely valuable. A confluence of both will lead to a more robust ecosystem." Richard Lent, Thesis Ventures

Leadership, growth and mentorship are all vital to the tech scene in South Florida.  However, more important are the cutting-edge technologies that leverage Miami’s unique Latin American footprint.  We should focus on leveraging our strengths and seek to innovatively remedy issues that affect the Latin American market.  With the recent Apple Pay news, the mobile payments industry is on the forefront of technology growth. At YellowPepper, we’re harnessing similar mobile technology that has historically had its sights set on the U.S. market, and enabling its use for a growing middle class across the region. We want to see more of this taking place in our Miami backyard and are eager to help fuel future innovation.” -   Serge Elkiner, YellowPepper

"A BIG Google office!  A mega billion dollar exit!  Seriously, though, we could use more developer entrepreneurs." - Mark Kingdon, angel investor

In building an ecosystem, in what area has the most progress been made in the last year?

Exposure.  Thanks to the national and international efforts of eMerge Americas, the Knight Foundation and some far reaching programs such as Venture Hive, Miami is becoming known for its pioneering and entrepreneurial community.” – Mike Tomas, Bioheart

"South Florida’s technology community has grown beyond the plethora of great ideas; we have built a support system, providing entrepreneurs with the tools, resources, talent and funding that are needed to turn their ideas into viable products.  In parallel, top talent from the corporate world is joining the community. At Rokk3r Labs, we are gaining leaders and entrepreneurs from this pool, providing the tech hub with a wealth of knowledge and experience to help co-build amazing companies. Attracting more talent and investors to the community will be key for the upcoming year to help continue the development momentum." - Nabyl Charania, Rokk3r Labs 

"Organizations have been doing a great job of bringing in individuals and institutions that have brought technology to the forefront of Miami's political and business communities.  Many conferences have taken place, educational institutions have taken notice, and the local community has expressed interest in taking part in the tech movement.  Unfortunately, the low income communities are still being left behind and out of the conversation." - Derick Pearson, Code Fever

If it takes a village to raise a child I believe it takes a city to raise a startup. Diverse new players​ have come in the ecosystem in the last year (eMerge conference, Scout Ventures, MaverixLab, the "new" AGP, Wyncode, Thesis Ventures, Code for America, the Microsoft Innovation Center at the Venture Hive to name a few) creating ​a higher "density” of people who can be there at the right time and ​at the right place to connect startups with money, experience, knowledge and services.” - Ivan Rapin Smith, Idealy

 Posted Oct. 11, 2014


Miami Dade College unveils plans for new center for gaming development, animation

02_MDC_VFX_OpenLab HD (1)

A new Miami Dade College education and training center could help position Miami as a player in the fast-growing video game development and animation industries.

Miami Dade College on Friday unveiled plans for a Miami Animation & Gaming International Complex, or MAGIC, to be housed at the Wolfson Campus in downtown Miami. The project was announced during the MIA Animation Conference & Festival.

The 9,000-square-foot complex will be part of the college’s existing Emerging Technologies Center of the Americas, which will concurrently introduce new curriculum and programs in animation and game development that will complement MAGIC, said José A. Vicente, president of the Wolfson Campus. He said he hopes MAGIC will be open by the end of next year.

“With the ever-changing dynamics of technology and the way gaming has been evolving, it is becoming a major, major industry ... We know entertainment software companies are growing as a source of employment across the country and locally,” said Vicente, adding that computer and video game companies employ more than 120,000 people in 34 states, including Florida, with an average salary of $90,000 nationwide. “In developing this, we visited a number of studios ourselves,” said Vicente.

Vicente said MDC leaders went to Los Angeles earlier this year and toured leading gaming and animation studios including Disney Animation Studios, Cartoon Network, The Third Floor and Jim Henson Studios, to find out what game animators, designers and developers need.

“We received excellent advice and it was an eye-opener as to the opportunities that this presents for Miami,” said Vicente. “With MAGIC, we are creating a replica of what the students will encounter in the real world. Our objective is to make the transition from training into job placement as seamless as possible.”

For instance, MAGIC, which will be housed in Building 8, will include an open and interdisciplinary living lab featuring “The Brain,” which is a collaborative gamer environment “where the creators get their juices flowing,” Vicente said. (pictured in rendering above)

05_MDC_VFX_Incubator Room HDMAGIC will also house an interactive gallery for student projects, a “motion capture studio,” where objects take flight and life (pictured below), sound engineering and color correction suites, an incubator room (pictured here), where teams of students can seek personalized advice and support from faculty and industry experts, and a screening hall.

MDC now offers a few gaming development classes and an associate of arts in computer graphic animation, but “we will be realigning and enhancing our curriculum in those fields concurrently with developing MAGIC,” said Vicente.

South Florida has a small but growing video-gaming and animation industry, with companies such as Shiver Entertainment, Darkside Game Studios, Moon Spider Studio, HMC Films, New Art Miami, Final Cutz, Quack Studios and Stellar Hawk that could provide graduates with job opportunities. Although South Florida’s industry is dwarfed by Orlando’s, with more than 70 gaming companies and big players such as EA Tiburon, some local technology leaders believe the industry could be a bigger player in the future as part of a creative industries cluster. The gaming industry locally and in Latin America was one of the main tracks in the inaugural eMerge Americas conference in May.

John Schappert, co-founder and CEO of Shiver Entertainment, relocated his startup to South Florida from California earlier this year and recently began moving into custom offices in Sunset Place in South Miami. Although the video game development company already has 40 employees, Schappert has had a difficult time finding talent locally, even for entry level jobs.

“While we have been able to find a few great digital artists within the local area, we have only found one local software engineer who can meet our qualifications. We’ve had to recruit from other universities around the nation and import our talent, which is very time consuming, costly and difficult,” said Schappert, who co-founded Tiburon Entertainment in Orlando 20 years ago, the studio that develops the Madden NFL video game series.

MAGIC “could be a nice contributor to local talent for Shiver and other gaming startups,” said Schappert. “It’s great news.”

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter. Posted Oct. 10, 2014

03_MDC_VFX_Motion Capture Studio  HD


Voices of the tech community: Part 4

Tech eggAs part of a look back -- and look ahead -- at community-wide efforts to build or accelerate a technology-entrepreneurial  ecosystem in South Florida, I asked a sampling of entrepreneurs, investors and service providers for their views with a variety of questions. We'll put a sampling on this blog throughout the week.

Find the main stories here: fundraising and progress/challengesSee Part 1 herePart 2 here and Part 3 here.

 What's your view? Add your comment on this post or email me at ndahlberg@miamiherald.com. What's next: fund-raising. 

Today's questions:

Have you been able to find the talent you need locally?

Although Miami has not yet been recognized as a city that is tech-savvy, SportsManias has found amazing tech talent in our hometown. Our team includes a group of expert programmers that have built and maintained our website, as well as, our mobile app that is consistently rated 5-stars, validating the quality of content and functionality.” - Aymara Del Aguila, SportsManias

Finding talent is really no longer an issue.  Technology startups should be virtual, and hire the best talent wherever you can find it.  We are on 4 continents. “ Brian Garr, LinguaSys 

As we began recruiting our developer team we looked to tech hubs like Silicon Valley, New York and Boston thinking those individuals would be tough to find here. Fortunately (and to our surprise) we found incredibly skilled people right here in Miami. Our team is mostly local which brought with it the added value of having team members who have been working to build this ecosystem for some time and know the history but are also passionate about its future.” – Johanna Mikkola, Wyncode 

Absolutely! South Florida is a net-exporter of top talent – we keep sending our best and brightest off and need to do a better job of making sure that people – such as the leadership, professors and students at our area universities – know about the opportunities right here at home.” – Dan Cane, Modernizing Medicine

We have an amazing team and building this team was probably the biggest challenge we overcame.  I stuck with it and kept recruiting locally. I think people underestimate the talent in this area. But the truth is, you just have to keep looking and you'll find your perfect team." –Adam Boalt, LiveAnswer

Absolutely. Contrary to popular belief, there’s a huge and impressive talent pool here. My entire team – development, marketing, sales – was recruited from the local workforce and previously, as Managing Director of Silver Hill Financial, I grew a team to several hundred in South Florida. I’m proud of that, and I think the human capital in the region is only going to get better in years to come.” Joanna Schwartz, EarlyShares

We have had great success finding talent here as well as bringing talent here. We live in a truly global city that people want to move to from all over the world. Our Head of Design is moving here from London next month, a world class talent, and I'd dare to say that he feels blessed to have the opportunity to live and work in Miami.” – Brian Brackeen, Kairos  

 “So far, so good but I’ve been fortunate to work with Rokk3r Labs.  It’s definitely a challenge to convince US based development talent to move to Miami.” – Brad Liff, Fitting Room Social

Yes, but we had to import most of our top-engineering talent. In some cases we had to invest in getting them visas. If you are serious about building a tech company in South Florida you have to be willing to travel a lot and recruit talent outside of our community.” – Carlos Garcia, Nobox

"We are location agnostic for talent.  Since our raise, we now have 28 employees and have opened offices in London, Bogota, Tel Aviv, Washington.  Nowadays, collaboration tools make it possible to cross boundaries to achieve challenging milestones." - Rodolfo Saccoman, AdMobilize

In your view, what is the biggest challenge South Florida faces in developing a tech hub and what will it take to overcome that challenge?

"One of our greatest challenges is the disconnect between talent and opportunity. There is great talent here, but it is not as visible as it needs to be to fuel mobility. When talking to startups, tech talent doesn't seem to be a grave concern, but managerial talent that understands the dynamics of a startup is difficult to find. It isn't as simple as plucking a successful manager from a leading local corporation. As they say, startups are not smaller versions of corporations. Furthermore,  our graduates across institutions are facing a market that is not as clear in determining a long-term career path, hence why equipping them with an entrepreneurial skill set and mindset is key to their survival in a "gig economy." –Wifredo Fernandez, Idea Center @ MDC

"There is a tendency to continually assess Miami, to define its weak spots or seek validation from elsewhere. Don’t. Instead, just build. We’ve seen lots of success by entrepreneurs in Miami who identify an opportunity and pursue it. We’re seeing success comes from doing, not assessing or defining. We should stay focused on that." - Matt Haggman, Knight Foundation 

 "Early stage investor capital is by far the largest issue but a more subtle challenge (that is tough to fix in the short term) is our lack of a large tech job “safety net” for entrepreneurs to fall back on if their startup plans get derailed.  ...   While in SFL we have great universities graduating very strong business students, engineers and scientists, our corporate community – both small and large firms – is still relatively thin;   particularly compared to the other US regions where tech startups are flourishing in larger numbers.    And despite what I believe are some huge advantages for employers in South Florida, to fix this corporate density issue, we need to continue to focus on the core high level factors – quality of our public schools (so companies will more easily decide to relocate or add S FL branches), continued enhancements in transportation infrastructure, business tax incentives, labor training incentives, R&D tax credits, etc."  –Rob Strandberg, Enterprise Development Corp.  

"The biggest challenge is the misalignment, in fact disconnect, between what technology companies are seeking and what our universities are supplying. Tech firms complain our workforce is not up to par, while our graduates complain there are not enough tech companies here to employ them. The failure of the state of Florida to adequately fund university research and commercialization in STEM (compared to North Carolina, Texas. California, Massachusetts and New York) impedes tech hub development." –Jerry Haar, FIU College of Business

"A lot have been done in the ecosystem to develop a tech hub in Miami including top tech events such as SIME and eMerge, the opening of Endeavor office, WeXchange.com to promote women entrepreneurship and  amazing co-working and innovation centers such as  The Lab Miami and Venture Hive. 
Areas of opportunity: 
  • The VC and angel ecosystem can be  further developed and expanded. There is a lot of money in Miami, coming from Latam that it is not invested in tech startups mainly because they don't know how to do it .  
  • A more organized network of mentors can be greatly beneficial for entrepreneurs. 
  • It will also be nice to have more support and programas that foster and drive women entrepreneurship." - Silvina Moschini, Yandiki.com

I'd say that it's the false perceptions that many people have of the scene. I've heard lots of notable people in the industry discount South Florida for it's lack of success stories, but all that tells me is that they haven't been paying close enough attention. There have been a ton of success stories here." - Will Weinraub, LiveNinja 



"Outside of South Florida, changing the perception of Miami is still an ongoing challenge. Until we see serious exits, solid growth and long-term sustainability of the ecosystem, shedding the "South Beach image" could take some time." - Brett Hudson, Axis Space

 If you could add one ingredient to the entrepreneurial ecosystem, what would it be?

"Significant, organized involvement from experienced, well-known investors.  Boulder has Techstars and the Foundry Group, Vegas has Tony Hsieh's group, and San Francisco has countless Sand Hill types. South Florida needs an experienced group that mentors and cultivates founders and deploys strategic investment tactics.    -- Kubs Lalchandani, Lalchandani Simon PL

"I would like to increase visibility into the growth and talent of our community. One of the ways we could do this is by taking some of the best representatives of our local tech scene to present and showcase as a collective at events like SXSW, TechCrunch Disrupt, Collision Conf and demonstrating the level of talent and growth through our strength in numbers. We have startups doing really innovative things like LiveNinja and Kairos, budding funds like Urban.Us and educational organizations like Refresh Miami, The LAB Miami and Wyncode that deserve more attention and recognition. Many have no idea there is a growing community here in South Florida and it's time we made some noise. We may not be Silicon Alley, Silicon Beach, Boulder or Austin, but even those startup cities started somewhere. It's about creating awareness both home and away." - Pabla Ayala, pFunk Media

"A centralized, coordinated communications effort to get the message out to the local community and to the world that South Florida has strong technology that is getting better." - Bob Nagro, Next Horizon Communications
Formal small groups of entrepreneurs/CEOs/Founders willing to share their mistakes, lessons learned. “ Jose Li, 71 Lbs.
"More accelerators to come like 500Startups, NXTP Labs and others that can complete the rising ecosystem and attract more investors interested to invest in an excellent place to make business, pretty close to Latam and with great connections to all US." - Fernando Cuscuela, Everypost
"Harness more talent. We need a swell of brilliant people working on crazy ideas." –Stonly Baptiste, Urban.Us

 Posted Oct. 9, 2014


Voices of the tech community: Part 3

As part of a look back -- and look ahead -- at community-wide efforts to build or accelerate a technology-entrepreneurial  ecosystem in South Florida, I asked a sampling of entrepreneurs, investors and service providers for their views with a variety of questions. I’ll put a sampling on this blog throughout the week.

Find the main stories here: fundraising and progress/challengesSee Part 1 here  and Part 2 here.

 In coming days I will include comments on talent, fund-raising, progress, challenges and more. What's your view? Add your comment on this post or email me at ndahlberg@miamiherald.com. 

Today's questions:

Have you been able to find the talent you need locally?

Techegg"In most cases, the answer is yes.  In building and growing .CO, most of our talent was recruited by attending local tech events, tapping into entrepreneurship programs in South Florida colleges, and through referrals by friends and colleagues.  Whether looking to hire a developer or bring an intern on board for the summer, we’ve been able to attract some incredible local talent for sure.  In some cases, it has been a bit more challenging to find local talent.  The good news is that, when necessary, we have also been able to use the allure of life in Miami to inspire people to relocate to our sunny shores!” - Lori Anne Wardi, CO

“Absolutely, we have had success finding talent across South Florida. We have done this in large part due to our work with local universities as well as building a strong culture of innovation that attracts some of the best and brightest in the area. People are CareCloud’s number one asset.” – Albert Santalo, CareCloud

“I have held leadership roles in technology for the past decade and have built a solid network of talented technologists who are ready to work. The key to finding the tech talent needed for your business in South Florida is in growing your network - you'll rarely find talented resources willing to jump ship without having a previous relationship. We simply do not have enough nerds here to make this the norm.” – Marlon Williams, Fenero

 “Finding good talent has been very challenging.  The current talent pool is overloaded with people who have hospitality and real estate backgrounds.  It was very difficult for us to source top talent for what we were looking for.  However, we did find good quality people after making use of referral and personal networks.” – Umut Tekin, Park Jockey

“Finding great talent is only half the battle and talent is only as good as the time leadership commits to coaching. We've been fortunate enough to find talent both locally and in other states and it comes down to some basic principles: raw talent, commitment to learning quickly, and grit. That combination seems to be difficult to find anywhere.” – Frankie Coletto, PassTheNotes 

“For Shiver Entertainment, we are always on the look-out for great software engineers and digital artists to create amazing video games.  Finding them locally has been the most challenging issue for us.  While we have been able to find a few great digital artists within the local area (mostly Broward County), we have only found one local software engineer who can meet our qualifications.  We have some very large local colleges (FIU, Miami Dade, UM) that produce many computer science graduates who are ready for web and enterprise software development.  Unfortunately, they aren’t graduating with the skills necessary to jump into video game development or lower-level application development – even at an entry level.  As such, we’ve had to recruit from other universities around the nation and “import” our talent, which is very time consuming, costly and difficult.” – John Schappert, Shiver Entertainment

 In your view, what is a big challenge South Florida faces in developing a tech hub and what will it take to overcome that challenge?

"I believe the biggest challenge is reaching a nationally recognized “critical mass” of scalable,tech-oriented deal flow.   In the short term, we need to craft a better story about the plethora of existing benefits for attracting and retaining Miami-based tech start-ups (for instance, an active and growing angel network, less competition for the emerging tech spotlight, the eMerge Americas Conference, increasing college graduates in tech, an emerging entrepreneurship support system, a critical mass of LA headquarters of Fortune 500 companies, Miami International Airport, Port of Miami, a network of Free Trade Zones, economic strength in key real estate and tourism growth sectors, a fascinating and magnetic international culture, a banking and transshipment center, low taxes, a world class entertainment and arts mecca and great weather.) – John Hall, Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses

“South Florida is a significant tech hub – certainly for Latin America and the Caribbean, and increasingly for the rest of the US – and we need to start from that premise. All of the necessary pieces – pro-business culture and regulatory landscape, talent, capital, academic and research institutions, entrepreneurial culture, and start-up support infrastructure – are present, growing, and in some cases, thriving. Our challenge is to continue the momentum and maintain our focus on raising the tide, rather than any one boat.” - Kevin Burgoyne, Florida Venture Forum 

“Convincing the rest of the US that there is actually a vibrant tech scene here in Miami and they should invest in it, and participate in it.” – Mario Cruz, Choose Digital


"Developing a permanent and competitive technology hub requires many factors to develop over time. While we need increased funding for viable ventures, we also need to continue pushing on the course we have set to connect our schools and universities with our technology industry, so the students are learning what they need to know to contribute to and create new technology ventures locally, as well as to showcase the growing technology opportunities available for these students to stay in South Florida. As this initiative gains more and more traction, we will not develop more home-grown technology ventures, but we will also experience an increased relocation of technology ventures to our region, which in turn will attract more funding opportunities for South Florida technology ventures." – Kevin Levy, Gunster

"The demand for creative digital content (gaming, apps, wearable tech, user interface) is growing at a staggering pace. A new non-profit called Americas Council for the Creative Economy is emerging under the leadership of Diane Sanchez to make Miami the world's top city when it comes to attracting, training, and retaining young people to produce the artistic digital user experiences of the future. Miami is a city of the future, and to become "Silicon Beach" we aspire towards we must focus on melding: 1) Art Basel 2) Our burgeoning tech corridor 3) The Latin America connection and 4) Flexible 1099 freelance business models of the future." - Jessica Kizorek, Two Parrot Productions

“In order to achieve the hyper-growth expected by venture investors, entrepreneurs need to keep their hiring standards high. I believe that much of the talent is already here and the rest will be recruited or home-grown as Miami continues to brand itself as a start-up hub. What’s been missing is the visibility into the local talent. The creation and collaborative nature of the Talent Development Network is a good start.” – Melissa Krinzman, Krillion Ventures

If you could add one ingredient to the entrepreneurial ecosystem, what would it be?

“I would have the Beacon Council focus their efforts on bringing VC's here to open offices.” –Brian Brackeen, Kairos 

“Encouraging people to think local and test, test, test. Big ideas start small and develop through teamwork and feedback. I guess my one ingredient would be ‘curiosity.’ “ - Rob Davis, Code for Fort Lauderdale

Persistence and attention span. We have to keep people engaged for the long run. We are on a 10 year mission, not a 10 month one.” --Adriana Cisneros, Cisneros Group, Endeavor Miami

 “Silicon Valley investors.” –Brian Garr, LinguaSys

“More women! We still fall short in bridging the gap between women and the localtech/entrepreneurial ecosystem.” Fabiola Fleuranvil, Blueprint Creative, Beacon Council New Leaders Taskforce

Posted: Oct. 8, 2014 


NewME's Angela Benton: The best thing about the Miami tech community ...

By Angela Benton

ABenton14_squareFor the past three years, we’ve been lucky to bring our NewME PopUp accelerator to Miami. In fact, Miami was the first city we launched the concept in. Over the years, I’ve been excited and intrigued by all the excitement and energy in the Miami ecosystem.  Watching from afar in San Francisco, where NewME is based, always builds momentum within our team for returning.  Of all the cities we visit during our annual popup tour, what I love about Miami and the startup and tech ecosystem is simple:  You’re not afraid to invest in yourselves.

It’s a known fact that the most successful people invest in themselves even when no one else does. Every time we visit Miami, this is a consistent theme among each batch of startups we work with. We're excited not just because organizations like Knight Foundation that are headquartered in Miami (Disclosure: Knight has been a supporter and sponsor of NewME popups since we launched them)  make it their business to support the city around them through investments in events, organizations and startups. At NewME we’re just as excited to partner with you, the Miami community, in helping more startups and entrepreneurs to become successful.

In a few days we’re headed back to Miami.... with a twist!  We’ve partnered with REVOLT TV (Diddy’s new TV Network) for our Miami Popup on Oct. 18-19 and are hosting the Idea Lab at the Revolt Music Conference at the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach.  Registration is open for 100 lucky entrepreneurs only, regardless of whether  your idea is focused on music. The event includes working with registered entrepreneurs prior to the event via our platform and closing out the popup at RMC with two days of fireside chats, networking, a pitch event and parties in the Idea Lab. Though condensed, it’s so much more than just an hour of coaching and workshops like we did in previous years. Additional Idea Lab details can be found here: http://bit.ly/1DjXs3p

Needless to say, the team and I can’t wait to arrive and start working with you. If you decide to register, I look forward to seeing you there and please don’t hesitate to use the promo code ‘NEWME100’ for a SWEET discount off the normal $199 price.

Angela Benton is the founder of NewME Accelerator in San Francisco. 

 Posted Oct. 9