By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@MiamiHerald.com / @ndahlberg
When the new Miami Beach mayor made controversial remarks that his city wasn’t the place for a tech hub, he may not have been aware that right off Lincoln Road is a technology portfolio company that works with entrepreneurs to launch their products to market. Mayor Philip Levine, meet Rokk3r Labs.
Launched in March 2012, Rokk3r Labs has about 45 employees in its Miami Beach and Bogotá offices who build mobile applications and other types of software products for 30 portfolio companies, including Good World Games, AdMobilize and Fitting Room Social. Rokk3r owns 3 percent to 45 percent of most companies in its portfolio and 100 percent of some.
“Growing Rokk3r Labs has been one of our primary focuses over the last 12 months,” said Germán Montoya, co-founder and managing director of Rokk3r. To find and retain talent, the company has cultivated relationships with universities locally and internationally, including Harvard, MIT and the University of Waterloo in Canada, and is known for its culture that includes spirited soccer games and yoga sessions. “We have tapped into a vein of creative and technical resources that want to be a part of building a product and a company here in Miami as opposed to going to work for a large company out west [and] working on a feature of a product that may never see the light of day.”
In addition to Montoya, the other founding partners are Nabyl Charania, CEO and co-managing director, Juan Montoya, general manager, Brian Sanchez, chief engineer, and Charles Irizarry, chief product architect.
In the past few months, the company has focused on growing its offices in Bogotá, which houses about 25 of the the 45 employees. Right now the team in Bogotá is the development arm for Rokk3r’s portfolio companies. At some point soon, Rokk3r hopes to begin accepting portfolio companies from Colombia as well.
Rokk3r is eyeing expansion to other areas of South America, Europe and Africa. “We want to replicate our model. Good ideas are everywhere, if the model works here, it should work in other places,” said Montoya, an economist with an entrepreneurial and advertising background. “Like Miami, we are looking for cities that are at the right moment for us to come in.”
By that he means the right moment in ecosystem development. The Rokk3r model would not have worked five or 10 years ago, he said.
Montoya also said the 2-year-old company — a startup itself — has been looking inward, tweaking its business mode. “Our customer is the entrepreneur,” said Montoya, “As we continue to understand what our customrer needs, we continue to cater to those needs.”
The Miami Herald met with Rokk3r’s management team last fall and followed up with emailed questions to Montoya about Rokk3r’s business model, its portfolio companies and the technology ecosystem.
Q. You invited Miami Beach Mayor Levine to visit Rokk3r Labs. What do you hope he learns from the visit?
A. Like every startup, we are constantly evangelizing our company and telling our story. We want everyone to know that we are growing at record pace and helping to shape a new economy in South Florida. Our hope is to be able to share our growth, our passion and our desire to grow in Miami with the mayor.
Q. Do you agree or disagree with the mayor’s comments, and why?
A. Rokk3r is full of builders, not politicians. Meaning, we don’t scrutinize based on public comments. We really hope to have a valuable conversation with the mayor and a strong working relationship to make Miami stronger than it is today.