February 02, 2015

Q&A with Cindy Provin: On the frontlines of cyber-security

Cindy Provin
From her perch at the helm of Thales e-Security since 1999, Cynthia Provin has been a key player in the growth of a new industry: data security.

As president of Thales e-Security, she oversees the company’s operations in the United States, Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean. She is also vice president of sales and marketing, overseeing strategy worldwide. Thales e-Security is part of Thales Group, a French multinational company that supports aerospace, defense, transportation and security with 65,000 employees in 60 countries. Thales e-Security, with about 400 employees, including 70 in Plantation, provides solutions to protect data.

“The attacks are becoming much more advanced, and firewalls and passwords are not enough. We promote encryption,” which renders the data unreadable, Provin said from her offices in Plantation.

Before joining Thales e-Security, Provin was vice president of the Product Division for Racal Data Group, managing the Racal Data Group product operations in the Americas. In the fall of 1998, she was instrumental in the sale of Racal Data Group and the formation of Racal Security and Payments, now known as Thales e-Security.

Born in Baltimore but raised in South Florida since she was 10, Provin attended CooperCityHigh School and earned a bachelor’s of business administration from the University of Miami. She met with the Miami Herald recently to talk about her work at Thales e-Security and trends in cyber-security.

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January 19, 2015

Q&A: Healthcare ventures ‘a work of love with a mission to cure’

Carmen I. Bigles, who studied architecture, has been busy building healthcare companies, including Coquí Radiopharmaceuticals. She says she couldn’t do it without ‘Team Bigles-Serrano.’

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

BMQACarmen0100 Bigles MSHWith her two daughters playing and singing together at a desk off to the side, Carmen I. Bigles explains what motivates her to juggle two large healthcare ventures at the same time.

“The reason I do it is right over there — those two little girls,” Bigles said in her makeshift office in a construction trailer as workers were building the Caribbean Radiation Oncology Center in Doral.

She has co-founded the center for advanced oncological radiation technology with her husband and “best friend,” Dr. Pedro A. Serrano-Ojeda, a radiation oncologist. The state-of-the-art Doral center, set to open in the second quarter of this year, is the second center; the first site opened in Bayamón, Puerto Rico in 2007. “It’s a work of love with a mission to cure,” she said.

With a growing company to run, her husband practicing medicine half the week at their clinic in Puerto Rico, and an 8- and 10-year-old to raise, Bigles doesn’t need another challenge. But in 2009, a big one came onto her radar.

Mo-99 is the parent isotope of Technetium-99, which is used in 80 percent of nuclear medicine procedures worldwide. Globally, only a small number of facilities have the capacity for the commercial production of radioisotopes. Yet the U.S., the largest market for medical radioisotopes, has no domestic supply and in turn relies on imports from Europe and elsewhere.

Essential to nuclear medicine, radioisotopes are applied in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the brain, heart, lung, liver, among many others. Having a half-life of only 66 hours after production, Mo-99 cannot be stockpiled and presents unique distribution challenges when imported into the U.S. In recent years, Mo-99 shortages deprived patients of lifesaving diagnostics and treatment. And time is of the essence: Many reactors around the world are aging and set to go offline by 2016.

Still, there are only 24 hours in a day — Bigles wasn’t convinced she was the one to take this on until team and family members urged her on.

“We went to our daughter’s school, and my husband grabs me by my hands, and says ‘you know, uranium. That’s what people are fighting over getting to make weapons. A superhero would be really good right now to save this. If you brought this to the States, you would be creating manufacturing jobs in the U.S and you would help stop the proliferation of weapons-grade uranium and the future of those two little girls would be saved.’ I cried, dried my tears went inside and said ‘let me think about it.’ Then I said, ‘let’s do it.’ ” Bigles recalled.

So Bigles started Coquí Radiopharmaceuticals, with the mission of establishing a domestic source of Mo-99 by 2020 or sooner. The regulatory hurdles are high, as are the financing requirements — the overall cost of the project is in the $330 million range and Coquí is financing it in stages, she said.

Coquí just signed a contract with INVAP [an Argentinian nuclear engineering firm] to design Coqui’s Medical Isotope Production Facility in Alachua on land gifted by the University of Florida Foundation. Coquí is beginning the licensing application for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the construction plans for local regulators. At any given time there are about 200 people involved in Coquí, she said.

In that trailer she shared the triumphs and struggles of her entrepreneurial journey, which she said would only be possible because she is part of “Team Bigles-Serrano.” The Miami Herald followed up with additional questions by email.

Q. What was you and your husband’s biggest challenge developing the first Caribbean Radiation Oncology Center and what did you learn for your second center now under construction?

A. There were many challenges and we risked everything financially. The bank basically had everything we owned for collateral. In that situation, you either sink or swim. I am happy to say we became gold medalist swimmers.

Q. How did co-founding Caribbean Radiation Oncology Center in Puerto Rico prepare you for your current endeavor with Coquí?

A. The principles employed for the Caribbean Radiation Oncology Center — perseverance, organization, sacrifice, faith and empathy for patients and their families — all apply for Coquí as well. The success of the oncology center gave me the heart to continue to seek endeavors to assist people that are in the battle for their lives. It also gave us an understanding as to the importance of nuclear medicine. Patients need the precious, scarce medical isotope (Technetium-99m, the daughter of Molybdenum-99) for diagnostics as do scientists and doctors who are arduously working on treating and finding cures to Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and cardiac diseases, among others.

Q. What is Molybdenum-99?

A. Mo-99 is the parent isotope of Technetium-99m, which is used in 80 percent of nuclear medicine procedures worldwide. Technetium-99m is used in approximately 50,000 medical diagnostic procedures each day in the U.S. However, the U.S. has no production source for Mo-99. International production facilities are old and frequently unreliable and this delays delivery.

Q. What would happen if the U.S. is not in control of its own supply of radioisotopes?

A. In 2012, Congress passed legislation making it a national priority to produce Mo-99. When the Canadian reactor goes offline (expected 2016) there will be no major reactor this side of the hemisphere that can supply substantial amounts of Mo-99. The scenario is gearing up for supply shortages and the price is more than likely going to increase significantly due to the fact that current suppliers may need to rent more time in existing reactors for the fission production of the isotope.

Q. Why did you name your company Coquí?

A. Coquí is the common name for a small frog endemic to Puerto Rico. They are onomatopoeically named for the very loud mating call the males make at night. I believe they are the loudest amphibian. I am Puerto Rican and just like the Coquí, our company started small but we look to be very loud in our industry.

Q. There is certainly a long regulatory and licensing process, not to mention a capital intensive one, involved with developing Coquí. Was there ever a time you thought about giving up?

A. I have to confess, yes, but I persevere. I believe that when Coquí is operative what we produce will save lives, so that certainly keeps me going. We have a spectacular team of individuals helping us through this process — INVAP, MPR Associates, Gresham, Smith & Partners, Hogan Lovells, ENERCON, CHW and the University of Florida, among others — and to that end I am truly inspired to see this through.

Q. I am sure you have faced a number of naysayers. What keeps you going?

A. I have unshakable faith in Coquí. I know from the bottom of my heart that I will leave this legacy for future generations. We are making history and those naysayers have only encouraged me to go further, to be louder, and to say that with my team we will make Coquí thrive. We work so hard because the U.S. patients need this product and the world needs non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Q. How do you balance raising two young girls, helping to run the construction of the second Caribbean Radiation Oncology Center underway in Doral and running Coquí all at the same time?

A. I belong to another team, the Serrano-Bigles team. This team is comprised of my husband and best friend, Dr. Pedro A. Serrano, my two daughters Carmen Irene and Caterina Isabel and yours truly. The girls travel with me to meetings around the world and they are humble, very well behaved, have empathy and are of pure heart. I am very organized, I listen well, I ask questions, I do not do well with drama and I do not like to waste time.

Q. What stage are you at with Coquí?

A. We recently signed the official land transfer declaration with the University of Florida Foundation for the 25-acre parcel in Alachua County which Coquí will call home. We are currently in the licensing process and the environmental report is 85 percent complete. Much time and work goes into the environmental report and licensing. For example, the migrations of birds on the site had to be evaluated for 12 months. The licensing application is about 40 percent complete and we are on schedule to submit our application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by the last quarter of this year.

Q. Tell me a little about your board of directors.

A. Luis Reyes sits on the board and has more than 35 years of nuclear experience and has served in various Nuclear Regulatory Commission senior management positions. Most recently appointed to the board is Ian Turner, the former head of the radiopharmaceuticals business for the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization (ANSTO). Michael Matte has served as the chief financial officer, executive vice president and secretary of QuePasa Corp. since 2007 and is a director of Iris International and GelTech Solutions.

And we have two prestigious radiation oncologists on our board, Dr. James Welsh and my husband, Dr. Pedro Serrano-Ojeda. Welsh is a board certified radiation oncologist and neuro-oncologist, president of ACRO (American College of Radiation Oncology) and has been a member of the Advisory Committee on the Medical Uses of Isotopes, which advises the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission on medical issues, from 2007-2014. Serrano-Ojeda is a certified radiation oncologist who founded Caribbean Radiation Oncology Center Puerto Rico with me in 2007 and has a patent pending medication that will hopefully cure cancer.

Q. I know Louisiana and the world of gumbo was trying hard to lure Coquí as well as other states. Why did you decide to build in Florida on land given by the University of Florida Foundation?

A. There is a long history of the site selection process and many individuals worked to bring Coquí to Florida, including Governor Rick Scott. The research and synergy with the University of Florida, their Nuclear Engineering Department and all the local hospitals and medical research that is conducted at the university is very impressive. I am truly grateful to the University of Florida Foundation. It is as if our relationship was always meant to be.

Q. What does your architecture and urban planning — plus mathematics — background bring to the table?

A. It has been a great confluence for me. I’m able to look at all aspects of this project from the micro to the macro. It’s like viewing a movie with 3-D glasses, you have a better perspective.

Q. I imagine the world of nuclear medicine is rather male dominated. If that’s so, what’s that like for you? Do you have other women on your team?

A. Yes, it is dominated by men. I also work very closely with the government and that is also predominantly male dominated. I am not intimidated and I believe most recognize that, so for the most part, I believe it gets us past any gender issues. I do have many brilliant women in my team, but mainly as of coincidence. I also have many brilliant men that are part of the team as well.

Q. What’s the best advice you have ever received and from who?

A. It was from a man who passed away some time ago, he was a father figure for me. He said, “Always get to yes and leave your emotions on the side.” In other words, make intelligent decisions and leave your ego on the sideline.

AT A GLANCE: CARMEN I. BIGLES

Ventures: President and CEO of Coquí Radiopharmaceuticals, which she founded in 2009 with the goal of establishing a medical radioisotope production facility in the United States; Co-founder and former chief financial officer of Caribbean Radiation Oncology Center.

Age: 42

Family: Born in Puerto Rico, Bigles lives in Coral Gables with her husband, Dr. Pedro A. Serrano-Ojeda, and their two daughters, Carmen Irene Serrano-Bigles and Caterina Isabel Serrano-Bigles.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Interamerican University in San Juan; master’s degrees in architecture and suburban and town planning from the University of Miami.

 

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

 

December 15, 2014

Q&A with Maria Escorcia of Ashoka: Boosting entrepreneurship for social change

Maria

Photos by John Durr / Miami Herald Staff

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Changemakers can come from anywhere, including the corporate world. Just look at Maria Escorcia, director of the South Florida chapter of Ashoka, a nonprofit that supports a network of 3,000 social entrepreneurs around the world.

Escorcia spent six years managing a corporate social responsibility program for a large Colombian multinational corporation. During her first three years, she was based in Bogotá and was responsible for the company’s community relations and implementing social impact projects where the company operated. She designed and led a project that aimed to eradicate child labor in rural mining areas, for instance. As a result, she was invited to participate as one of the first private sector representatives in the government-led Colombian Forum of Child Labor Eradication.

During the company’s expansion in Latin America, she was offered the opportunity to create a corporate foundation in the newly acquired plant in Cabaret, Haiti. “I arrived to the island in January 2009 and stayed until late 2011, which gave me a glimpse of the country before, during and after the 2010 earthquake. The foundation I established in early 2009 played an active role in the relief and reconstruction efforts after the earthquake,” she said.

After that, Escorcia learned about Ashoka while working on her master’s degree in international development at the University of Pittsburgh. Ashoka’s founder and CEO, Bill Drayton, was receiving an award and gave a keynote speech.

“Up to that point, most of my professional experience had been managing corporate social responsibility programs for large private companies, and Ashoka’s model of supporting social entrepreneurs seemed like a great next step for advancing my efforts of creating social change,” Escorcia said. “I felt inspired when I learned about an organization whose mission is to build a world where we all have the freedom, confidence and support to solve problems and make a contribution to the common good.”

She joined the organization in 2013 working for the Miami office, and took over as director in June when the chapter’s founding leader, Lorena Garcia Duran,moved on to an Ashoka leadership position in Los Angeles. The South Florida office is relatively new, established in early 2012, but actively seeks to broaden its network of entrepreneurs and mentors, produces programs for youth and is works with local universities to establish “Changemaker Campuses,” among other projects.

Escorcia recently discussed Ashoka South Florida’s programs with the Miami Herald for this Q&A.

Q. You have an interesting background working for corporations and spending a large chunk of time in Haiti. What does that experience bring to the table in your role heading Ashoka South Florida?

A. I learned valuable lessons of what works best when managing organizations that create social change. I left the private sector reassured to see that a number of corporations understand their responsibility extends beyond their shareholders to the community at large. My corporate experience afforded me the opportunity to create change in the board room and on the ground working hand in hand with disadvantaged communities.

Q. How are Ashoka fellows chosen?

A. Ashoka fellows are leading social entrepreneurs who Ashoka recognizes have innovative approaches to social problems and the potential to change the pattern in their field. They possess the vision, creativity and extraordinary determination of the business entrepreneur but devote these qualities to introducing new solutions to social problems.

All Ashoka fellows must undergo a rigorous search and selection process that has been refined over 30 years. Each candidate is evaluated against five criteria, which aim to select only the most qualified candidates who exemplify innovation, creativity, an entrepreneurial quality, a drive for social impact and a high ethical fiber.

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October 27, 2014

Q&A with Norma Kenyon: Powering UM innovation

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

NormakenyonNorma Kenyon and her team are on a mission.

“When I became vice provost of innovation in 2012, the University of Miami did not have a robust history of commercialization,” said Kenyon, who is also chief innovation officer at the UM Miller School of Medicine, a veteran faculty member and a longtime diabetes researcher. “We had patents and technologies, but we did not have a focus on getting them to market. … We now have a renewed emphasis on commercialization and entrepreneurship, and while most of our technology is driven by the medical school, we are increasing our outreach to our other colleges.”

To that end, Kenyon leads U Innovation, which aims to nurture and commercialize University of Miami technologies to result in more patents, more licenses and, ultimately, more successful companies.

U Innovation consists of the Wallace H. Coulter Center for Translational Research (WHCC), focused on funding and support toward commercialization of promising biomedical research, as well as the university-wide Office of Technology Transfer, responsible for negotiating and executing agreements for commercialization of all UM intellectual property. U Innovation has an office at the UM Life Science and Technology Park.

To rejuvenate and run the Tech Transfer office, Kenyon hired Jim O’Connell away from the University of Michigan in June of 2013 because of his expertise with business development, technology transfer and startups.

So far, the strategy is working: In the past two years, there has been a dramatic spike in the numbers of companies started as well as patents and licenses issued. Some of these companies are working on treatments for cancer, spinal cord injuries, kidney disease and asthma as well as early detection of head and neck cancer and heart disease.

The Miami Herald talked with Kenyon recently about U Innovation, trends she is seeing in the life science industry, and UM’s role in the South Florida entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Q. Tell us more about your mission in your role as vice provost of innovation.

A. In this role, my mission is to support our innovative faculty in the development of their ideas, discoveries and technologies toward commercialization, building the interactions, resources and entrepreneurial energy to capitalize on UM’s creative talent across our schools and colleges.

Q. What are your metrics for success?

A. Standard metrics include the annual number of invention disclosures, patents submitted and awarded, copyrights and trademarks, license agreements, startup companies. At the suggestion of Mike Davis, one of our licensing associates, we are setting up an "ideas portal," which would allow faculty to submit their ideas for discussion with the U Innovation team. Non-standard metrics would include the number of ideas submitted/year and identification and nurturing of those ideas that have commercial potential. As we grow the innovation ecosystem at UM, another metric will be an increased number of ideas and disclosures from across the university, as the majority of our IP [Intellectual Property] is currently biomedical.

Q. What progress has been made so far?

A. Over the last two years, the number of license agreements has increased, with 19 in FY 2013 and 26 in FY ’14. We have been covering our patent expenses and intellectual property revenues have grown. We have significantly more startups as well, in various stages of development, ranging from virtual to one that had a successful IPO in July of 2013.

I attribute our success to 1) bringing in individuals with the background to look at development of IP from a business perspective, 2) refocusing the Office of Technology Transfer (OTT) on commercialization of technologies, following IP from invention disclosure through the various stages of patenting and making the difficult decisions not to pursue patents when commercial partners cannot be identified, 3) working with commercial partners to facilitate and streamline the process of licensing, 4) strengthening of the interaction between the WHCC and OTT to more fully support commercialization of our biomedical research, 5) the “Coulter process,” which provides a road map for development of technology toward commercialization, 6) a focus on customer service — we are here to support our innovators and 7) engagement of leadership and all of UM’s schools and colleges to identify next steps in the development of our innovation ecosystem, as well as involvement of business, law, communications and other students in U Innovation commercialization activities.

Q. What’s next? Are there any interesting projects on the horizon that you can talk about?

A. We need to significantly expand our outreach and role, at UM, in the local (South Florida) ecosystem and beyond. There is an interesting project on the horizon that could bring together some of our larger institutions in development of research towards commercialization. If successful, such a project would position us as a region to be considered for funding from the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health and other federal funding that requires “clusters” of innovation.

Q. How does the UM Life Science and Technology Park fit in to your mission and strategy?

A. The LSTP is the nexus for the commercialization of our technologies, providing an interface with the greater entrepreneurial community in Miami, the region, the U.S. and around the world. Wexford Science and Technology, our partner at LSTP, has connected UM to other Wexford parks around the country, joining forces to create an innovation ecosystem and providing information on entrepreneurial programs that have worked well. Both startups and mature companies are located at the park, thereby providing opportunities for educational and research collaborations.

Q. How many startups are you currently working with and can you tell me a little about a couple of them?

A. We are currently working with over 20 UM startups, ranging from very early stage to public. InflamaCORE is a company founded by scientists from the Departments of Physiology and Neurosurgery and the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis — Drs. Robert Keane, Dalton Dietrich, Helen Bramlett and Juan Pablo De Rivero Vaccari — and focused on diagnosis of and novel treatment for different types of CNS injury, including stroke, brain trauma and spinal cord injury; this company was awarded an NIH small business award (an STTR) and is also funded by WHCC.

Vigilant Biosciences is based on the work of a UM head and neck surgeon, Dr. Elizabeth Franzmann, and is developing a low-cost kit for assessing a person’s risk of oral cancer before any lesions appear in the mouth; Vigilant has completed a $2million Series A round and also received a loan from the Florida Institute for Commercialization of Public Research. Even further along the spectrum is Heat Biologics, based on the pioneering lung cancer vaccine work of Dr. Eckhard Podack; Heat had a successful IPO in July of 2013.

Q. How have you approached finding “CEOs” for your new startup companies?

A. We have established a mechanism to on-board “Entrepreneurs in Residence” who work with our founding scientists to develop a business plan, consider next steps and move technology out of the U. These individuals are experienced business people and entrepreneurs who are interested in working with us and willing to donate their time. If the startup succeeds, they will benefit. If not, they still will have donated valuable time and energy to UM’s innovation efforts.

Q. What are some of the trends you are seeing in the projects and companies?

A. Trends include more activities around IT in the healthcare space, including programs for assessment of wellness, tools for patient education and mobile technologies for use by healthcare providers. More programs are arising that involve multiple institutions innovating together, providing funds for projects that include members from more than one university.

Q. How do you partner with the Florida Institute for Commercialization of Public Research to help these startups get funding?

A. The Florida Institute for the Commercialization of Public Research has been an excellent partner for UM. We engage with our EIR [Entrepreneur in Residence], Alison Tanner, to discuss newly emerging companies that are based on UM IP and explore the possibility of FICPR funding. Alison talks with the founders and assists them with business advice and guidance through the steps required to be approved for a loan. To date, five of our UM startups have received dollars from the institute: Vigilant Biosciences, Biscayne Pharmaceuticals, Heart Genomics, Integene International Holdings and RxMP Therapeutics.

Q. Has UM thought about starting a fund or an incubator for these companies?

A. Yes, we are in active discussions with university leadership regarding a fund for our emerging companies. There are incubators and funding programs for tech-based startups in Miami now, but we lack a subsidized incubator/co-working laboratory space for early-stage biomedical startups in which the company can rent a bench or part of a bench and have access to shared resources — this is something that I am currently exploring. Companies that are a little more advanced in their funding have access to space in LSTP in the Innovation Center. We are proud to have a few UM spinouts and startups in the center, along with 35 other companies, ranging from early stage to mature.

Q. Finish this sentence: South Florida’s life sciences industry really needs…

A. … fundable management, i.e., experienced business people who are able to manage and attract funding, as well as capital.

Q. Do you collaborate with other South Florida or Florida universities to help propel the life sciences industry? If so, in what way, or what would you like to see?

A. Through the efforts of FIU, the Life Sciences South Florida initiative encompasses several universities and colleges, including UM, and engages in discussions and activities around education, economic development and other issues pertinent to the life sciences. Through our Clinical Translational Science Institute, we hold a research day called “CaneSearch” meant to bring together researchers from across the university; we also invite local institutions to participate. The theme for the 2015 event will be Translational Research, and speakers will include the director of the Division of Clinical Innovation in the NIH National Center for the Advancement of Translational Sciences, two industry speakers and one of our most successful entrepreneurs. Our UM Biomedical Nanotechnology Institute and FIU have started a joint funding program. More is needed and we will all benefit from collaboration.

I’d like to see more opportunities for funds at both the seed stage (e.g., to produce a device prototype) and further along the spectrum toward commercialization, similar to WHCC projects. With $2.9million for 34 funded projects, over $60million of follow-on dollars (business grants, angel investors, VC) has resulted from WHCC supported projects. Many of our UM startups have received WHCC funding and support. While UM has focused on biomedical projects, the Coulter process could be effectively applied to many types of technologies.

Q. Do you see South Florida becoming a healthcare innovation hub?

A. With over 3,300 hospital beds, more than 1.5million outpatient visits a year and several institutes that are thought leaders, the Miami Health District is a healthcare innovation hub. The infrastructure and talent are here but we need to market and leverage our institutions and capabilities to attract the right companies and investors.

We are seeing great movement in the tech sector and there is a buzz in South Florida, with eMerge Americas, tech incubators and companies founded here actually staying here. This same focused drive to create the environment for a tech hub needs to occur for the life sciences.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

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At a Glance: Norma Kenyon

Title: Vice provost of innovation, University of Miami; chief innovation officer, UM Miller School of Medicine; research scientist for Type 1 Diabetes.

Oversees: U Innovation, the home of technology advancement at the University of Miami that serves to bridge in-house laboratory research and companies, entrepreneurs and investors. The office is comprised of the Office of Technology Transfer and the Wallace H. Coulter Center for Translational Research.

Board appointments: NIH Council of Councils, BioFlorida, Life Sciences South Florida, Enterprise Development Corporation.

Education: Ph.D. in immunology, Medical College of Virginia; bachelor of science in zoology, Duke University.

Best advice received: From my father, “never give up, never give up, never give up!”

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Posted Oct. 27, 2014; Photo of Norma Kenyon by Carl Juste of the Miami Herald.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/biz-monday/article3365794.html#storylink=cpy

August 24, 2014

Q&A with Maurice R. Ferré: What's next after MAKO?

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Photo by Carl Juste / Miami Herald

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@MiamiHerald.com

“Today marks a milestone, a watershed moment,” Maurice R. Ferré told his employees last December, on the day of the sale of MAKO Surgical. “It is the end of a nine-year startup company that grew up, a company that went against all odds and succeeded in starting the orthopedic robotic revolution. ... Remember that this journey is far from over, rather it is being catapulted to new levels and opportunities.”

And, he added, “there is so much more to do” — words he has personally taken to heart.

You could have forgiven Ferré, the chairman and CEO, for taking time off after selling the robotics company he co-founded in Davie for $1.65 billion in December. After all, that was an intense ride, as he and his top team grew the company to 500 employees and more than $100 million in annual revenue.

While Ferré says he did take “a pause” to figure out his post-MAKO life, it was a short pause. Ferré revealed that his post-MAKO plan includes building another company, investing and advising in others, and giving back through mentorship and board involvement.

Ferré is also building a robotics education program for school age children. As part of that, 20 fifth- and sixth-graders participated in a four-week summer camp last month at Phillis Wheatley Elementary School in Overtown. The students built robots, got a virtual tour of the world-renowned robotics lab at Stanford University, saw how they were designed and assembled at Styrker-MAKO and saw them at work in a Larkin Hospital operating room. This was the pilot program for a bigger, scalable initiative he is working on with Nola Garcia of StarBot to take the program into schools.

Then there’s the next big thing Ferré is involved with, which he will only say will be transformational robotic technology for the brain, and he has taken on advisory roles with companies in South Florida and around the world doing cutting-edge work in the field.

Leadership and entrepreneurship run deep in Ferré’s family. His grandparents came from Venezuela and Puerto Rico to call Miami home. Ferré said his grandfather, Joe Ferré, was an industrialist who took control of Maule Industries, one of the world’s largest cement companies, in 1955. His father, Maurice A. Ferré, was a six-term mayor of Miami. “His dedication and commitment has made Miami the great city that we see today,” Ferré said of his father.

The Miami Herald visited Ferré in his Key Biscayne office to ask him more about his post-MAKO life and to reflect on his MAKO years. Here are excerpts from that conversation:

Continue reading "Q&A with Maurice R. Ferré: What's next after MAKO?" »

July 21, 2014

Q&A with EarlyShares CEO on future of crowdfunding

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

JoannaJoanna Schwartz is in typical startup mode, her days (and many nights) filled with calls and meetings with investors and entrepreneurs and strategy sessions with her team of 12 as they prepare fund-raising campaigns for growth companies and real estate ventures. She is the CEO of EarlyShares, a portal for equity “crowdfunding” with more than a dozen active campaigns in progress and more in the pipeline.

“There is so much going on, our heads are spinning every day, but it is all in such a good way,” said Schwartz, who has founded and/or led companies in a variety of industries.

First, a bit of history: Incorporated in 2011 in Miami, EarlyShares was built to be a crowdfunding company. In April of 2012, the JOBS Act was signed that legalized the concept of crowdfunding although the regulations would still need to be put in place. The company went full force into education, brand-building and putting the building blocks in place for what the company was to be.

Schwartz joined the company in early 2013. At that point, the Securities and Exchange Commission still had not released the final regulations, known as Title III, that would allow companies to offer equity stakes in their companies to lots of ordinary investors. But in September of 2013, the SEC released a set of regulations, referred to as Title II, that allowed the advertising of deals, opening the door to crowdfunding for sophisticated, so-called “accredited” investors.

By year’s end, EarlyShares opened its platform to accredited investors and began offering them direct access to private opportunities.

Here’s how it works: EarlyShares first puts the company raising money through due diligence. Once vetted, EarlyShares helps the company set up the campaign and handles the administration and documentation, and assists with marketing. Companies get a dashboard to monitor and manage the campaign, saving time and eliminating back-and-forth emails with potential investors.

Visitors to EarlyShares.com see minimal information about the deals, such as how much the company wants to raise, minimum investment and some basic facts about the company and management team. Accredited investors interested in a deal must request an invitation to see the full deal details, including the business plan and financials. Investors also are vetted, and the companies seeking funding decide whether to grant access; they can also turn down an accredited investor at any point in the process.

As for the status of equity crowdfunding for non-accredited investors, the proposed Title III rules were published and the comment period ended earlier this year. Many entrepreneurs and startup companies said the restrictions, as written, would actually deter smaller companies from crowdfunding. The New York Times called the new rules “a joke.” EarlyShares, for its part, submitted a seven-page response to the SEC. These came as regulators tried to make it easier for small, privately held firms to raise capital from the public while ensuring investors are protected against fraud and other risks.

Crowdfunding analysts and market watchers have speculated that regulators could release the rules by the end of this year. In the meantime, more than a dozen states have passed laws allowing equity intrastate crowdfunding, where both the project and the investors are in the same state. A proposed bill was floated in Florida this past session, but it did not advance.

Schwartz said the platform is fully ready for Title III deals but if EarlyShares is not happy with the final rules when issued, the company will remain a platform for accredited investors.

“We’re good. We like to say we are Title III agnostic. This is too good of an opportunity we are sitting on, we are really early in the growth cycle of this,” Schwartz said. “We’re in the first hit of the first inning of the first game of the season. If you think about it, 80 years of regulation has been undone only two quarters ago. Granted we are in an age of super fast adoption, but private capital raising is a $2 trillion industry.”

The first seven months as a fully functioning platform have been a learning experience for the young company. Said Schwartz: “We’re changing the old ways of doing things, and taking root and growing is going to take a little while.”

The Miami Herald talked to Schwartz recently at EarlyShares’ Brickell offices about the company, crowdfunding and the status of the regulations.

Q. You've had a diverse career, with leadership roles in companies ranging from commercial mortgage firms to steel products. What attracted you to EarlyShares?

A. When EarlyShares Chairman Steve Temes approached me in early 2013, I was at the perfect place in my career to lead and grow a company that I was passionate about. I had already learned about the JOBS Act and knew it would fundamentally change the way private companies raise money. I was compelled by EarlyShares’ mission to help entrepreneurs and investors to capitalize on the changing regulations and I felt that my experiences, particularly at Silver Hill, were well suited to take on the challenge. I’m excited every day about growing this company to make a positive impact on the business community and our economy.

Q. What stage is EarlyShares in now?

A. We are all about scaling and growing the business because all the building blocks are in place. ... Our vision is to be a one stop shop for private opportunities of very high quality that are vetted and supported by project sponsors of the highest caliber. We are committed to this market and we are here to stay.

Q. You’ve recently started to post real estate deals on EarlyShares? Why real estate?

A. There are almost 9 million accredited investors in the United States. Up until recently, less than 3 percent had ever invested in a private investment opportunity. It’s not that they didn’t want to, they didn’t have access to them unless they knew someone, and this is especially true in real estate. It really is about giving direct access to investors in ways they never have before. What were your options before? You could buy shares in a REIT. While that is interesting intellectually, it’s not that fun. This is much more fun and more direct. ... Where else can investors go with a few clicks and get a potentially 7 or 9 percent return on a project that they understand? We’re not saying it’s riskless, nothing is riskless, but they get it because real estate is intuitively understood in a much different way than startup companies are. Investors are chasing yield.

Q. What do you look for in a potential campaign for EarlyShares?

A. EarlyShares is focused on two verticals right now: growth-stage companies and real estate. The selection criteria for an offering differ depending on the vertical, but we apply stringent vetting and review standards to both types of offerings. Ultimately we’re seeking quality opportunities with clear potential for returns, so we look for deals with traction, existing investors, experienced founders and evidence of past successes.

Q. Tell me about a couple of your campaigns in progress.

A. To name just a few, Steel Wool Entertainment, a talent management and production firm, already has Grammy Award-winning musicians and breakout YouTube artists under management. CEO Kevin Morrow was formerly a senior leader at House of Blues/Live Nation.

PsychSignal, a financial market data provider, counts several prolific hedge funds among its clients. CEO James Crane-Baker is a former Wall Street trader and serial entrepreneur with a major acquisition under his belt.

Kleo is the Miami-based parent company of ClassWallet.com, an e-wallet solution for schools and classrooms. CEO James Rosenberg is the founder of AdoptAClassroom.org, which has raised $25 million for classrooms across the U.S.

And the Beacon Hill real estate project is sponsored by Rivergate Partners, a Miami-based firm with 30 years of executive leadership in the multi-family market.

Q. Crowdfunding has certainly attracted a crowd of competitors. What’s it like working in such a competitive space?

A. There are group of competitors that are really solid that I love because they are helping to build the industry. It’s fantastic. Beyond them, there are a lot that are not doing it to the level that it needs to be done. There will be consolidation in the industry, no question. That’s not our path.

Q. I’m giving you the crystal ball. What do you think is going to happen with the final crowdfunding rules and how will it potentially impact EarlyShares, or not?

A. That’s hard to say right now. I came to EarlyShares with a lot of enthusiasm for Title III, but we’ve shifted our focus entirely to Title II. Title II (which allows general solicitation) not only gives entrepreneurs a valuable new way to raise capital, it poses huge opportunities for accredited investors. Individual investors were largely barred from participating in the private finance market for 80 years under U.S. securities laws. The ability for them to now find and fund private deals is unprecedented and is opening up exciting new avenues for high-potential investments.

Title III could be completely transformative if it’s implemented the right way by the SEC — and EarlyShares would welcome the opportunity to bring more individuals into the private investing community — but the initial rules have too many challenges as proposed. I don’t foresee the SEC implementing Title III within the next few months, but EarlyShares will only offer Title III opportunities if the rules are modified to be more advantageous for investors and issuers.

Q. On the rules that have been published for comments, what was one aspect you liked and one aspect you didn’t?

A. There were several things we liked, including that the rules permitted issuers and platforms like EarlyShares to rely on individual investors’ own representations of their income or net worth, rather than require a costly verification process. Among the things we didn’t like are the proposed financial disclosure and reporting requirements imposed on issuers. Without getting too technical, the requirements would place such staggeringly high costs on issuers that we believe they’d deter the vast majority of issuers from utilizing the Title III exemption at all.

Q. What have you learned so far with EarlyShares?

A. Recognizing that this is an investor-driven business, and that success is driven by finding, sourcing, selecting and vetting the deals investors are looking for. Finding deals is the easier part of the puzzle; we spend a lot of time educating investors and entrepreneurs. We take on that role of guidance. We are not an investment bank, we are not their lawyer, their accountant. We are a platform. We can provide them to the connections if they need them.

Q. What's next for EarlyShares?

A. EarlyShares’ recent expansion into real estate has proven extremely popular with our investors because these deals offer them cash flow, returns and appealing investment horizons. We look forward to growing our roster of active, quality commercial real estate deals and announcing some strong new partnerships in that vertical.

Q. I understand you are also an angel investor. What kinds of companies do you invest in and what do you look for in potential investments?

A. I look for the kinds of early-stage investment opportunities that would meet EarlyShares’ eligibility criteria: companies with strong leadership, unique value propositions, large markets for their products and services, existing contracts, realistic financial projections, and exit strategies. In many cases, the most challenging aspect of angel investing is learning about quality deals and then evaluating them properly — which is why I’m so committed to making EarlyShares a source that simplifies the process for identifying unique and vetted investment opportunities.

Q. What are your thoughts on the emerging local startup ecosystem?

A. Our tech-entrepreneurship community is at such an exciting place in its evolution because we’re all rooting for one another’s success. Every early-stage company that receives investor funding drives more and stronger investor interest in other ventures in the region. As a portal for private investing into early-stage companies, we at EarlyShares are doing our best to play a central role in helping grow and strengthen this community.

At a Glance: Joanna Schwartz

Age: 42

Title: CEO of EarlyShares, a platform that gives accredited investors direct access to private opportunities.

Experience: Has founded, led or held senior positions in companies in the commercial mortgage, ecommerce, telecom and steel industries. Positions included EVP, North America for Corpac Steel Products Corp.; Founder, SOBO Concepts; Managing Director of Silver Hill Financial; VP of Bayview Financial; Associate Director, Digitas; CFO for Latinet Holding Corp. Chaired Miami’s Young President's Organization chapter for two years.

Education: MBA, Harvard Business School; bachelor’s degree, political science, (minor in psychology), University of Vermont

Personal: Born and raised in Locust Valley, New York. Has lived on Miami Beach for 15 years. Husband: Dean; daughters: Jessie, 12, and Lily, 8.

Favorite book: “The Hard Thing about Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz, which discusses the highs and lows of being an entrepreneur.

Favorite pastime: Spending time with family, especially on the ski slopes.

Read past story about real estate crowdfunding here. 

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg

 

July 17, 2014

Q&A: Venture Law Project helps more than 100 entrepreneurs in first 6 months

A common challenge for startups is determining when and where to obtain legal services -- as well as coming up with the bucks for the fees. But the consequences of not using one could be huge.

VLP LOGO TMThe Venture Law Project, new this year, advises startups on business formation, filing requirements, drafting legal contracts, negotiating lease agreements, copyrights and trademarks, tax planning and related matters. Qualifying entrepreneurs have free access to training and legal materials, as well as workshops at partner law firms and local incubators.

Ashley Juchawski serves as the Venture Law Project’s staff attorney, providing legal advice and recruiting experts to provide specialized guidance on the many steps that go into starting and sustaining a business.

Juchawski earned her Juris Doctor from St. Thomas University School of Law in Miami Gardens in 2012. She earned an honors Bachelor of Arts from the University of Toronto in 2008. From 2008 to 2009 Juchawski worked in Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing. While in law school, Juchawski studied international law in San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Spain, and clerked at a commercial and business litigation law firm in Toronto in 2011. She also clerked for Broward County 17th Judicial Circuit Criminal Court Judge Michael A. Usan. Most recently, Juchawski, licensed as an attorney in both Florida and New York, worked at a boutique civil litigation law firm.

Ashley Profilehas been six months since the project began and I wondered how it was going. I caught up with Juchawski and asked her these questions:

Q. What was the driving force behind creating this new program?

A. Failed startup businesses were seen all too often coming to Dade Legal Aid facing bankruptcy, foreclosure, family issues and debt crisis. We were inspired by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s commitment to entrepreneurs and engaged communities, and with the foundation’s support we launched the Venture Law Project as a free legal resource to local startups. Taking a proactive approach, our goal is to help early-stage entrepreneurs get protection under the law and develop on a solid legal footing.

Q. What does your program offer a startup?

A. Startups meet with me to identify areas needing legal assistance. We advise on selecting which type of corporate entity is best suited for the particular business, tax planning, protecting intellectual property rights, aid in filing and preparing the appropriate incorporation documents including legal contracts, nondisclosure agreements, and terms of service privacy policies to name a few.

Q. Approximately how many startups have you helped so far and how many do you hope to help in the first year of the program? 

A. Since January, the Venture Law Project has already provided legal counsel and advice for over 100 different entrepreneurs and startups. As the program continues to grow, we aim to continue providing legal services to as many local startups as possible. The positive response from the startup community has been a clear indicator that this program needs to become a permanent resource.  

Q. Approximately how many attorneys or firms are involved? And how are you planning to grow that number?

A. Legal Aid has an extensive network of attorneys willing and able to take pro bono cases. The Venture Law Project has recruited dozens of private attorneys specializing in key areas of corporate law that want to take a startup case. We recruit attorneys to take pro bono cases, speak on legal panels, become a mentor, or host interactive workshops for the Venture Law Project. We actively attend attorney meetings from sections of the Florida Bar, Dade County Bar Association, Young Lawyers, and many others, to increase awareness about the Venture Law Project and encourage new attorneys to get involved. This network is growing every day.

Q. What problems do you see South Florida startups having that could benefit from some legal guidance?

A. From the outset, we want to protect individuals from personal liability­--an easy but often overlooked step. We first encourage incorporation with the state of Florida to register as a separate legal entity. We advise on which type of entity (LLC, corporation, nonprofit, partnership, etc.) is best suited for their business and provide guidance on keeping funds separate. We commonly see startups mixing bank accounts, accepting business checks in their own name, signing documents personally and not on behalf of the company, and other co-mingling of funds that can get them into a lot of trouble. We also help startups protect their company name, logo, slogan, images, and coding algorithms by using nondisclosure agreements, trademarks, copyright and patents.   

Q. Can you share a horror story or two? What can happen if a startup doesn't set things up right on the legal end?

A. We have actually had entrepreneurs in our office say, “we do not need to worry about talking to an attorney until we get sued!” There are a lot that attorneys can do proactively, and should not be considered just a defensive tool once there is trouble.  

The biggest problem we see are startups downloading legal forms or documents off the internet, or copying one from a competitor’s site. What works for one business might not work for another. For example, we have seen provisions naming New York, Arizona, or Delaware law to apply without an understanding of how that law will be applied to your case, often resulting in an unintended outcome.

Q. How do startups find out if they qualify for assistance through the program?

A. Each new client fills out an intake application that is reviewed by our board. Reviews are on a case-by-case basis using a variety of criteria given each startup has different operating and overhead costs. An applicant must show financial documentation demonstrating they are not in a position to hire a private attorney for legal services.

Q. Is your service really free? What fees/costs are the startups responsible for paying? 

A. Yes, our services are free to qualifying startups! Clients are responsible for paying any hard costs or filing fees to the state or federal government, but receive the attorney’s pro bono hours dedicated to their case, at no charge.

Q. What's next for the program? Any interesting events coming up or new initiatives?

A. Coming up July 30 will be a workshop on Corporate Entity Formation at the Miami Entrepreneurship Center, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Then on Aug. 12, we have an expert panel attorney discussion on Protecting Your Intellectual Property – an Overview of Trademarks, Copyright and Patents, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Join us Aug. 13 for a Pro Bono Legal Arts Clinic at the MCAD, where attorneys will be providing local artists, designers, and creative groups with one-on-one consultations from 5:30 to -8 p.m. Stay tuned, as there are many more free events in the works! Suggestions welcome!

Q. Anything else you would like to add? 

A. Anyone interested in learning more about the Venture Law Project may contact me at ajuchawski@dadelegalaid.org or 305-579-5733 ext. 2247. You can follow Venture Law Project on Twitter @miamiventurelaw. Our website is www.dadelegalaid.org/venture-law-project.

 

June 08, 2014

Q&A: Peter Kellner, entrepreneur, VC investor, even film-maker

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Peter Kellner has always been a builder.

KellnerIn high school he created the National Forum, a large program involving U.S. high schools pressing President Ronald Reagan and other leaders to discuss nuclear weapons on TV. After graduating from Princeton, he went to Hungary on a Fulbright scholarship and built the Environmental Management and Law Association, a still-active and respected environmental NGO in his family’s homeland. Then he was off to Russia to create a company that would clean up oil wells.

While at Princeton, Kellner met Bill Drayton, who founded and heads Ashoka, the global nonprofit network for social entrepreneurs. “I remember emerging from my first meeting with him and thinking, ‘I am going to attach myself to this guy for the rest of my life,’ ” said Kellner, who calls him his “hero, mentor and close friend.” Drayton, the Johnny Appleseed of the modern social entrepreneurship sector, and Ashoka also had a leading role in what would come next for Kellner.

After taking a leave from Harvard Business School and jumping to Yale Law School (he actually took several leaves from both universities but eventually finished both degrees), Kellner traveled with Drayton in Latin America and observed the Ashoka selection panels, where the organization selected the social entrepreneurs it would support.

There he met Linda Rottenberg, who worked with Ashoka then. They got to talking. “We had all these theories of entrepreneurship and said, ‘Let’s see if we can find the Steve Jobs of the emerging world,’ ” Kellner said.

That effort would become Endeavor, a global nonprofit that identifies and supports high-impact entrepreneurs who stimulate their economies with job growth and, in turn, give back to their communities. Borrowing heavily from the Ashoka model that Kellner had so admired, he and Rottenberg hatched their Endeavor business plan in 1996.

Continue reading "Q&A: Peter Kellner, entrepreneur, VC investor, even film-maker " »

April 27, 2014

Q&A with Brian Breslin: Building a tech community

ZoHzb.Em.56Brian Breslin started Refresh Miami, the largest tech entrepreneur organization in South Florida, with just five people meeting at a Starbucks in 2006. Today, Refresh’s membership has sported a hockey stick growth curve that any startup would envy. The group has grown to 8,500 members and routinely attracts 300 to 500 people to every monthly event, giving countless entrepreneurs a platform to connect with others and learn about the community.

Breslin and Peter Martinez, co-directors of Refresh Miami, received Knight Foundation funding last year to help continue high-quality programming, such as the ability to fly in a speaker from Silicon Valley, and add features like a job board and revamped events calendar.

The group has steadily grown and produced about 100 monthly events. Recent events have included themes like lean management, Bitcoin basics, founder matchmaking and fashion tech. Indeed, one of the recent challenges has been to find venues big enough to host Refresh Miami.

Breslin, 31, may be best known in the tech and entrepreneurship community for his leadership of Refresh Miami — and for being a Miami evangelist and one of a few go-to people for help navigating the growing community. Breslin has been one of the pioneers of the community’s latest efforts to build a tech hub; indeed, he was honored as a Miami Herald 20 Under 40 in 2010. We talked to Breslin about his entrepreneurial roots, his businesses and his views on the community’s development.

Q. What was the first business you ever started?

A. When I was 9 years old I started selling candy at school that my parents would buy for me from Costco. This business funded my early comic book habit.

Q. How and when did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

A. I think I knew in high school that I was always going to be an entrepreneur. I ran a network of blogs with writers around the world and sold advertising on them. At that point is when I knew that I probably couldn’t work a conventional job.

Continue reading "Q&A with Brian Breslin: Building a tech community" »

March 26, 2014

Q&A with Richard Florida on Miami's tech hub movement, upcoming Start-Up City: Miami (Version 2.0)

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Richard Florida at last year's Start-Up City: Miami event.

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@MiamiHerald.com / @ndahlberg

Back for a second year, Start-Up City: Miami, presented by The Atlantic and The Atlantic Cities, will explore the national urban tech revolution and its impact on South Florida. 

Held in partnership with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, this year's event on Monday, March 31 at the New World Symphony Center will gather leading entrepreneurs and thinkers for a series of conversations on what makes a successful startup—from the importance of scaling and funding, to the best places to incubate talent, to Miami as a hub for the Latin American startup ecosystem. More information and tickets, which cost $75, are available here.

Start-Up City: Miami's speaker lineup includes local entrepreneurs, investors and ecosystem supporters as well as big names from  national start-up scene, spanning the foodie revolution, education and e-learning, music, design, and technology. Some of the speakers include Sam Altman, president of Y Combinator; Laura Maydón, managing director of Endeavor Miami; Ilan Zechory, founder of Rap Genius; Michael Jones, chief technology advocate and co-founder of Google Earth; Paul Singh, co-founder of 500 Startups; David Porter, founder and CEO of 8tracks; Joanna Schwartz, CEO of EarlyShares, and others.

Start-Up City will provide a marker on how things have gone since the last one, and the changes have been dramatic, said Knight’s Miami Program Director Matt Haggman, mentioning Endeavor’s launch, co-working spaces and incubators flourishing, and some remarkable exits, like Mako Surgical’s $1.65 billion exit last year and just last week .CO Internet’s $109 million exit. “This gathering will give us a chance to take stock and assess – and then look forward,” he said.

Looking forward, two areas of focus: funding and talent. “As we are all involved in trying to build this emerging ecosystem, for it to all ultimately work, it all hinges on entrepreneurs finding the funding and talent they need to execute,” Haggman said. There will be a panel discussions on funding and scaling, as well as entrepreneurs like Maurice Ferré of Mako sharing his story.

Like last year’s event, urban studies expert Richard Florida (pictured above), co-founder and editor at large of The Atlantic Cities and senior editor of The Atlantic, will lead the day's discussions. On the day of the event, Florida and the Martin Prosperity Institute at The University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management will release the comprehensive report "Startup City: The Urban Shift in Venture Capital and High Technology" that shows the high-tech startup sector is shifting back to both the urban center and mixed-use, transit-friendly suburbs.

Last year we spoke with Florida, author of Rise of the Creative Class who lives part-time in South Florida, about his views on building a tech hub here, and we decided to find out how he thinks Miami is doing. We also wanted to get the lowdown on Start-Up City (Version 2.0):

Q.  What do you hope to achieve with year 2 of Start-up City: Miami? What are your goals for the conference?

A.     We have two goals. First, we want to help change the narrative for both Miami and Miami Beach. Both have long been seen as places for sun and fun, restaurants and clubbing.  That’s great, and a huge advantage. But the past decade or so has seen the region become a fantastic destination for arts and culture. The whole area is beginning to attract a new generation of talented people in their 30s and 40s, who are far less tethered to their jobs. Digital technology enables them to work from anywhere and they are choosing Miami.  These people don’t just work in tech per se, they work in and are creating a wide range of businesses, many in the health and lifestyle sectors. Miami is really beginning to achieve in the lifestyle space.  We want to help build connective fiber and networks between these people. We also want to help them learn from what’s happening in other places, identify what may be obstacles to the further development of our own start-up community, and focus in on the really great things we can do to move forward. Miami needs to invest in developing and keeping the talent that’s already here, and attracting new talent. It needs to better leverage its ties with Latin America. It needs to become a place where new businesses can scale.

The second thing we want to do is make Miami a place where the best people from around the country and the world can come together to dialogue. Miami is on the arts and culture map but it is far off the ideas map. A great city needs to be an idea capital. That’s why we are working with The Atlantic and Atlantic Live, which run the Aspen Ideas Festival, the Washington and New York Ideas Festivals and City Lab, the major conference for mayors and city builders supported by Michael Bloomberg and the Bloomberg Philanthropies. Personally, I believe Miami’s biggest challenge and opportunity is to become a hub in the development and circulation of ideas. What better place is there for the idea and thought leadership community to come together than Miami and Miami Beach? I find it a great place to develop and work on my own ideas.

 Q.    Given what you said last year, where do you see Miami’s urban transformation and startup ecosystem development now?

 A.     It’s sort of amazing.  I think it was you who wrote in the Herald, Nancy, about how Miami and South Florida has really upped its game in venture capital. We’ve prepared a little backgrounder on this for the conference, using the same detailed data from Thomson Reuters.  Miami raked in about $300 million in venture capital in 2013.  That’s a huge jump from previous years; it puts Miami 16th among all US metros. No, it’s not yet Silicon Valley. But when we added up all the areas that comprise what I like to call the So-Flo (Southern Florida) Mega-Region, the Miami region plus Greater Orlando and Tampa, the figure shot up to $600 million. That’s about as much as Chicago, and not too far off from a place like Seattle.  Now we’re talking some serious numbers.

What we’re seeing today is venture capital shifting away from the old traditional suburban nerdistans – the office or industrial parks on the side of the highway, whether they’re in Silicon Valley, California or along Route 128 outside of Boston, or suburban Seattle where Microsoft is, or suburban Austin. Now startups are surging back in the urban cores of big cities, in downtown San Francisco and Manhattan, and to a lesser but growing degree, in urban Miami as well. 

I’m releasing a report at Start-Up City: Miami 2 called Startup City. My colleagues at the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and I have been at this for more than a year, parsing very detailed, micro-level data on the locations of venture capital investment and startup activity across the country.

The urban tilt is very real: Venture capital and startup activity is shifting from the suburbs into urban core areas and walkable, mixed used suburbs. The areas in and around downtown San Francisco have emerged as the leading location of venture capital and startup activity in the US, topping Silicon Valley. Lower Manhattan from Chelsea to Tribeca is raking in $2.5 to $3 billion a year. And great walkable suburbs like Palo Alto, California and Cambridge, Massachusetts have really come on strong (both are attracting more than $1 billion).  Suburban locations like Boca Raton still pull in the most venture capital in Greater Miami, but Coconut Grove is a leading area, and places in and around downtown and Brickell are upping their game. Miami Beach has significant venture investment as well.

Why is this happening? Greater Miami has all the urban attributes that are attractive to the creative class, tech investors, and techies themselves: old industrial buildings, dense, walkable neighborhoods, quality of life amenities like beaches, culture, food, music, and especially diversity.  Miami has this in spades especially in and around Wywood, Midtown and the Design Districts where art galleries and the big art collection spaces are.  Already, we are seeing a bunch of startups in and around there and the Knight Foundation has made signature investments in incubator/ accelerator spaces like The LAB Miami and Endeavor Global, the global entrepreneurial assistance organization that has opened its first US branch in Miami.

In other cities, like San Francisco and New York the urban tech explosion has happened in a dramatic and unplanned way, putting tremendous pressure on real estate markets. It’s also produced a significant backlash as housing prices have shot up, changing the character of neighborhoods and squeezing long-time renters. As new as Miami’s tech scene is, we have a rare opportunity to plan for it and optimize it.  I am hopeful we can create a new model of less divisive and more inclusive growth.

Q.    What are some highlights of the upcoming conference? 

A.     I’ll be in conversation with Mayor Phil Levine, who is committed to making Miami Beach into a world class city attractive to the creative class and entrepreneurs.  Let me tell you a funny story about Mayor Levine. I read in a blog at The Washington Post how he took to the rostrum and said that turning Miami Beach into a tech hub was "the dumbest idea in the world,” adding that “as much as it sounds great, it’s sexy, that’s not who we are.” I called up Matt Haggman at Knight and I said, let’s go see the mayor. So we did, and we had an amazing two or three hour meeting. I was totally blown away by him. He “gets it.” His point was that Miami Beach is a place built more for lifestyle entrepreneurship while Miami and especially a place like Wynwood, are better suited for tech and related kinds of entrepreneurship. Plus he has so many great ideas to improve Miami Beach’s quality of place, from bike lanes and transit to denser development and parks. We all thought to ourselves, let’s take this conversation out to the public at Startup Miami.   

In addition to a panel conversation with tech entrepreneurs, we will also feature Roger Duarte, Co-founder of My Ceviche, and Joel Pollock and Leticia Pollock, Co-founders of Panther Coffee, who will join me for a dialogue about how Miami is attracting and supporting entrepreneurs outside the tech sector and especially within life style and consumer goods sectors. 

The day’s activities will also highlight Miami’s connection to the greater Latin America entrepreneurial ecosystem.  Camila Souza of Tech Cocktail, will interview an array of entrepreneurs who have operations both in Miami as well other Latin America locations.  We believe Miami is a top destination for Lain American talent, which provides the city with unique opportunities for economic development that we want to uncover further.

Finally, we’ve also got a list of headlining entrepreneurs who will share their experiences. Michael Jones, Creator of Google Earth and Chief Technology Advocate for Google, will open the conference. It will close with David Porter, founder of 8tracks, discussing the development, launch and scaling of his app.

RELATED: Matt Haggman looks back at progress so far on building an entrepreneurial ecosystem and ahead, reflecting on the outcomes the Knight Foundation hopes to achieve.