April 13, 2015

John Sculley: On South Florida, customer-centric strategy and moonshots

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

John sculleyWhere can South Florida make its mark in technology?  John Sculley, now an investor and mentor to entrepreneurs, shared a few ideas.

"There has never been a better time to build a transformative multi-billion dollar company," said Sculley, the former Apple and Pepsi CEO who lives in  Palm Beach. His new book  Moonshot! Game Changing Strategies on How to Build a Billion Dollar Business and video series offer advice for entrepreneurs, real-world examples as well as plenty of war stories from his Apple days.

In his book, he writes about how the exponential growth of mobility, cloud computing and Big Data analytics has a caused a power shift from producers to customers being in control and how entrepreneurs can take advantage of the shift, presenting a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs. "Customers now pay more attention to the opinions of other customers than they do to large incumbent companies... I’ve never seen anything on the scale of what is happening now."

Sculley may be best known for firing Steve Jobs during his Apple tenure -- and he told CNN in an interview recently he wished he had invited him back --  but his corporate career actually began in 1967 when as a  Wharton MBA grad he was hired by Pepsi-Cola Co. as a trainee.  Three years later, he became the company’s youngest vice president for marketing, applying his ideas about “experience-based marketing” to the Pepsi Generation campaign, including the Pepsi Challenge taste tests. By 1977, Sculley was Pepsi-Cola’s youngest CEO.

Since being forced out of Apple in 1993, Sculley has founded several companies and today is a mentor to about 15 startups in a diverse array of industries including  telecommunications, financial services, healthcare,  Internet services, consumer marketing and outsourcing services.

He invests in several companies in South Florida too, including 3Cinteractive, MDLIVE,  OpenPeak and PDQ Restaurants. Sculley talked with the Miami Herald about his investments, where he sees opportunities and how he sees South Florida's tech ecosystem evolving.

Q. Where do you see the best opportunities?

A. One of them is right here in Florida and that is healthcare. Healthcare is a $3 trillion annual spend, it’s incredibly inefficient, its rules are fought by special interest groups and there is a legacy of incumbent large customers and government institutions that don’t change quickly.

We’re moving into an era of healthcare where customers are taking a much bigger role in their own health and wellness. The reality is setting in ... not only is health insurance more expensive, the result is that customers are discovering that there is not more transparency in what things cost -- for instance, if you wanted to check prices on a hip replacement… if you want to schedule an annual physical, or have the flu, just to see a doctor takes an average of 20 days, and it will likely go up.

I am involved in MDLIVE; we think we are in one of the hottest industries of all, which is telehealth, where we do virtual doctor visits. We have experienced incredible customer satisfaction. We  are growing like crazy -- it’s a South Florida company that is at the sweet spot of a fundamental change in healthcare. And it's completely supportive of customers making choices for better services.

For a face to face doctor visit, $150 is typical. For a virtual visit, the typical price is less than $50.

Walgreens and MDLIVE made a big announcement on how they are working with MDLIVE in their pharmacies to create virtual visits with certified doctors who could write prescriptions ... and that can all be done on a smartphone. We are moving into an area where technology is revolutioning the way customers can have customer-centric services.

Q. What are some of the other South Florida companies you are involved with as an investor or mentor?

A. OpenPeak of Boca Raton -- we are doing all kinds of mobile data services. We run AT&T's wireless data platform and we do it for other carriers as well. I am chairman of 3C Interactive in Boca; we are a mobile marketing cloud company doing really well.

I’m also chairman of PDQ Restaurants, a South Florida franchise for fast-casual dining. We’ve built out six restaurants so far and and we will continue to rapidly expand in South Florida.

Another one is 800razors.com -- we are building a company for the ultimate shave. We can sell a five blade razor of similar quality to the market leader for half price and around it we sell a whole range of personal care products, for pre-shave, after shave, shaving crèmes, beauty crèmes, all designed to give men and women the ultimate shave experience. It’s not in South Florida but a number of its investor are in South Florida.

Q. How do you see South Florida evolving as a tech center?

A. I think South Florida is a particularly good place to build healthcare companies because first of all we have a large market. The most expensive part of the healthcare system is chronic care patients and a lot of them live right here in Florida – and it is a place where technology can make a huge difference. For example, the average chronic care patient is something like 5 percent of the population but the healthcare costs are  80 percent. One of the big costs is when these chronic care patients are discharged from the hospital; if they are readmitted within 30 days, then the hospital has to pay the cost of those patients, and that is an incredible risk overhead for the hospitals.

These are big problems that need solutions and there is a lot of talent in South Florida that could deal with everything from assisted living and nursing services to all kinds of specialties like dermatology to doing virtual therapy; MDLIVE just bought a company in that space. It is incredible all the new solutions coming that are enabled by digital health.

Q. Where do you see challenges in South Florida?

A. In Silicon Valley,  there are so many role models to look to and so much experienced talent around. In South Florida we have smart people too but we tend to be more narrowly focused in terms of the industries the experience comes from. Look at healthcare or travel or real estate. Rather than create a new industry, it is logical to build strength around the industries we already have -- but recognize that the incumbents may not be the role models.

The role models will come from other places and other industries. Look at Uber: It’s worth $40 billion, there are a lot of lessons to learn from Uber that can be applied to healthcare, travel and other industries. And one of the lessons is is it is not about investing in technology, it's about a different way to solve a customer problem. … before Uber, the taxis were doing $140 million in San Francisco, now Uber is a $400 million industry there and the incumbent taxis post-Uber are still $140 million. Uber redefined the industry in a transformative way and came up with a better service … that dramatically changed and expanded the market.

  Book CoverQ. What are three takeaways from your book, Moonshot!?

A. There has never been a better time to build a transformative multi-billion dollar company. Moonshot! will not only tell you why but will tell you how. The book is filled with stories of successful entrepreneurs, about the things they’ve learned building their companies.

The power of the marketplace is shifting to customers in control and if you want to build a really successful company you have got to have a customer plan, and I explain what a customer plan is, how to build a customer plan and how it can make the difference between being largely successful and moderately successful.

The third thing is about the importance of finding a mentor. Entrepreneurs don’t always go to business schools, and business schools are oriented to helping their students learn how to become executives in large established organizations and you get case histories about decisions that senior executives make. But that isn’t what entrepreneurs are interested in. They want to know how do you raise capital, how do you recruit talent to a team, when your back is against the wall after you have made a serious mistake how do you pivot from that and come out of it alive, how do you turn failure into an asset?

We learn from our mistakes, not from our successes. If anything, people become a victim of their successes. It is only when you make a mistake that you learn. Moonshot! is all about having an insatiable curiosity. If you aren’t curious about the world around you, you are probably not cut out to be an entrepreneur.

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg 

March 30, 2015

Q&A with Mary Spio: Down-to-earth advice from a rocket scientist

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

SpioWhen Spio was 16, her parents spent everything they had to send her to the United States for a better life.

Her first job was at a McDonald’s, but after a while she found her way into the Air Force. “It was when I was in the Air Force that an engineer pulled me aside and told me I was really great at fixing electronics; and that I should look into becoming an engineer. I did and it was the best thing I’ve ever done.”

After six years with the Air Force, she went to Syracuse and the Georgia Tech for engineering degrees, and she was soon working at satellite communications firms, some while in college, where she designed and launched satellites into deep space on a NASA project, headed up a satellite communications team for Boeing, and pioneered digital cinema technology for LucasFilms that redefined the distribution method for major motion pictures.

With a continued interest in media, Spio turned to entrepreneurship about a decade ago and has never looked back — even though at one point she was voted out of her own company because her investor wanted a white male at the helm.

Now Spio heads her own company once again, Miami Beach-based Next Galaxy, a developer of innovative content and tools for virtual reality. Its flagship application is CEEK, a social VR hub for accessing entertainment, education and branded experiences. One of her newest products, CEEKARS 4-D headphones, is out this month and Spio is currently running an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign for the product. In January, Spio brought the B.I.G. Summit to the New World Center on Miami Beach, and her conference explored ways to use virtual reality across a broad spectrum of industries.

She also has a new book out. In It’s Not Rocket Science: 7 Game-Changing Traits for Achieving Uncommon Success,sheoffers advice and insights by exploring the distinct actions and attributes that successful leaders across many fields share as they challenge old precepts and create worldwide impact.

The Miami Herald met with Spio recently in her Miami Beach office. Here are excerpts of that conversation:

Q. Why did you decide to write the book?

A. After working with the U.S. Department of State visiting and speaking at all these different countries like Pakistan, South Africa, Ukraine and Russia, I kept getting a lot of the same questions. I said I need to put something together that shares what I have learned along the way. To do that, I had to go back to my foundation. I had been studying game-changers for a long time and never realized it.

When I was young and living on my own in New York … I was working in McDonald’s, back then my idea of success was going from fries to cashier. But I started reading. My first book was Sumner Redstone’s A Passion to Win — I read it over and over and over and over, I could connect to something in there — overcoming challenges. I also read about Bill Gates. As I read about these people who I admired, I thought there was more that I could do. It gave me the courage to try new things.

As I traveled later on, I got to meet all these game-changers, more than 100 over time. As a scientist I said, how do I codify this?

A lot of times when I speak, some people say it is easy for you to say because you are a rocket scientist. But I was like those people, thinking technology is for those other people. Even when I went into the Air Force, I really didn’t know technology. The more I learned about it, it’s really not rocket science. For anyone who thinks technology is for those other people, this is the book for them and it has steps you can take to leverage tech for what you want to do. It’s a combination of my observations and discoveries; this is my personal playbook, these are the people I go to over and over again when I am having a hard time and it keeps me going.

Q. Is there one particular trait among all these game-changers?

A. I think it’s courage. Most of these people are almost crazy. When you do anything new, there is opposition and shaming that comes with it, and these people didn’t care about that. It’s not fearlessness; they have the fear but they act in spite of the fear. It’s also the scientific mindset. As an engineer, I know failure is not failure, it is just an experiment. In entrepreneurship too, I realize these founders have the scientific approach to success. It’s OK to fail. It’s not failure, it’s feedback.

Q. How did you fall into technology — and stay?

A. I was the kid that always tore the radio apart, I wanted to know how it worked, how, how, how, how — I drove my parents crazy. In the Air Force testing, I scored very high in electronics.

In the Air Force, I was usually the only woman, but it felt like home. I enjoyed what I was doing.

And when I was working on Gen2Media, my last company, I felt like I had died and gone to heaven. There is more to the movie industry than what happens on the big screen, there is so much excitement that happens behind the scenes.

A big part of why women and girls don’t go into technology is they don’t want to be in the lab all day. But there are so many opportunities, there are so many other options.

Q. Is that also why you also created the B.I.G. Summit?

A. Yes, I go to a lot of virtual reality conferences. Ninety-nine percent of everything I was seeing is games, shoot-’em-up games. I think enough is enough — what about healthcare and education and all these other things?

That was the idea of the B.I.G. Summit. We are looking at healthcare, we are looking at education.

Q. What were some of your biggest challenges along the way?

A. I felt like a kid in the candy store coming into tech because I was pulled in so many ways; it surprised me to see how much my perspective was needed. When everyone is the same, everyone thinks the same way and you miss a lot. But not all of what I have experienced was positive.

At one company, for example, I had a boss who was racist and sexist, the work environment was not ideal. … Fortunately I was recruited by Boeing where my experiences were all wonderful. Culture starts at the top. I worked at Aerospace Corp. under a woman CEO, and my experience there was phenomenal. While at Georgia Tech they let me work remotely from my dorm room. From Boeing on I never felt any type of discrimination [as an employee], I felt right at home.

But as an entrepreneur raising capital, I ran into challenges. When I launched Gen2Media, we were doing a million before beta. We had an investor come in to help us raise capital — and he said he was having a hard time because no one was writing checks to black women and he needed a white male at the helm. Then he got my other partners (they were all equal partners) on his side — I was forced out of my own company.

This was a company I built with every dime I had. … We had 26 employees. That was toughest thing I have gone through, and it happened not because of something I did but because of who I am. I am a black woman and that is not going to change.

I was pregnant at the time. I took some time off [about two years, 2010-2012], moved in with my family for awhile, started writing the book, did some consulting but mostly spent time with my son and family in London.

Q. And then?

A. When I was ready to go back to work, I put my resume out there, and heard from Amazon and NBCUniversal and others, but I decided I really wanted to build my own company again. I participated in a Google for Entrepreneurs program and we visited Facebook and I saw the Oculus [the virtual reality headset maker that Facebook later purchased]. I always loved 3D movies. I tried it on and I said “oh my god this is exactly what I want to do for ever and ever.” Everything was leading up to this point. It was religious for me. I said I would love to watch a movie this way, I would love to deliver education this way, healthcare this way. I said I gotta build something that I can enjoy this thing with.

Then I went to a Samsung conference, saw the Gear VR [headset] and said this is the way to change the market but content is going to drive it. We dove headfirst into developing content, not just as an entertainment means but as a way to do medical training. We partnered with Miami Children’s Hospital to develop these models for CPR and also anti-choking. As a mom I think this is super important. With the Google Cardboard [a very low cost VR headset], you can have a headset and you can experience it affordably. We are also working with the schools.

I want to make a different kind of impact. All these companies are spending billions to to teach kids to kill; no one wants to hear that but it is true. I think we can be more intentional about what we program for kids. Whether we are putting them on the moon, or they are flying through the sky, why can’t it be a learning voyage? It can be a lot more than just killing. That is the impact I am trying to make with Next Galaxy.

Q. Who are your heroes?

A. Oprah definitely. Bill Gates, Larry Page and Elon Musk because of their moonshots; they set out to do something extraordinary for humanity.

Also Mark Cuban, Mark Zuckerberg and Laurie Clark. Laurie was the first female mentor I ever had, she was one of the first SVP at Staples, she was also on the board of Suncoast Motion Pictures, GamePlay, etc. and not only gave me advice but walked me into decision makers there and at Sony. My very first mentor in business was Yoav Cohen; he was instrumental in the growth of JDATE, also co-founder of Genesis Media. He made a huge difference in my career with advice, opportunities and introductions, including to Laurie Clark. Also, Leslie Hielema, the first female president of the Orlando Chamber and a dear friend and mentor.

I believe mentorship is super, super important as it provides not just guidance but access. Once you get in the door, what you do is up to you.

Q. What is the best advice you have ever received?

A. Don’t clip your wings to fit in someone else’s box. It came with a story from my father. … Your value comes from your difference, not your similarity.

Q. When do you think we will see mainstream adaption of virtual reality technology?

A. I think mainstream adaption will come from mobile phones, and I think it will happen very quickly. I think we have about 15 months to go.

Mainstream adaption is going to be based on content outside of gaming. Everybody currently is looking at gaming because that is what they know, but movies, concerts, sports healthcare, medical training, all of that is going to eclipse gaming and it is going to be from smartphones. Last year there were over a billion smartphones that were shipped out, everyone has a smartphone in their hand whether they are in India, Ghana or Miami. They are looking for what to do with their phones, they want a different kind of experience ... Imagine I can deliver Intersteller to you and you can be in the experience and all you have to do is flip your phone, download CEEK and watch it that way. … Our goal is to make VR as simple as turning on the TV. That’s when mainstream adoption will happen.

Thanks to the Samsung Gear VR, I think we will get there much faster than anyone predicted. I am curious about what Apple has, you have Microsoft with Hololens. It is going to happen on the mobile phone, not on the Oculus Rift.

Q. You moved here last year. How are you finding South Florida?

A. I love it! I came here for the beaches, but the community is why i am staying. The support is here. There are so many people who are very serious about turning South Florida into a tech hub. There is a big opportunity with the third wave of the Internet for us to do exactly that.

Opportunities abound here, and it is fantastic to be a part of building this ecosystem. There are great people here: Manny Medina, Rokk3r Labs, and Felecia Hatcher and Michael Hall of Digital Grass. It is a great time to be here, like the early days of the Internet. The one thing missing is seed capital. That needs to change. Here you have lot of opportunities but the money is not here. We raised our money in New York, and had to fight tooth and nail to be here.

Q. What is the biggest takeaway you’d like readers to take from your book?

A. Their voices are needed today, not tomorrow. We are all techies and you can make an impact leveraging technology and you don’t have to a rocket scientist to do that. The book offers practical advice on ways to get started, testing your model and making your mark on our world.

This is all stuff I have been through and I have used whether it was going from McDonald’s to Boeing, or when I lost everything and had to come back again. A lot of my mistakes are what I draw from — this is my playbook and I am opening it up and sharing it with others.

Q. What advice do you have for students interested in tech?

A. I think it is a great time to be in tech, stay up to date with the industry. It'a not just what you learn in the classroom, read the trades, the daily newspaper, you need to know the industry.

Also, find someone in your industry you admire and try to connect with them — with all the social networks around this is very possible today. You might have go reach out to hundreds, before you find one person, remember they get thousands of emails so don't give up or get discouraged just because you contact one person and don't hear back. Keep searching.


Mary Spio

Current position: CEO of Next Galaxy Media

Career highlights: Patent-holding deep-space scientist at Boeing and other companies. Serial entrepreneur and consultant. She has worked with and/or provided content development, marketing and technical expertise to over 200 leading retailers, corporations and entertainers including Microsoft xBox, Tribune News Company, Coca Cola, Toyota, Mary J. Blige and Lebron James. Spio is on the USA Today panel of CEOs, presidents, founders and chairmen where she advises on leadership trends annually and is a speaker for the U.S. State Department on innovation and entrepreneurship.

New book: “It’s Not Rocket Science: 7 Game-Changing Traits for Uncommon Success.”

Age: 42

Lives in: Miami Beach

Education: Majored in engineering at Syracuse University and earned her graduate degree in electrical engineering and computer science, with an emphasis on deep-space communications, from Georgia Tech.

Favorite movies: “Avatar,” “Unforgiven” and “The Butler.”


Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

March 29, 2015

Q&A: Technion's role in Israel's Startup Nation immense

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

TPeretz Laviehe Technion developed into a world-class research university out of necessity.

As President Peretz Lavie explains it, although the Israeli university’s roots date back to 1912 as an engineering school, it wasn’t until 1948 that Technion began its transformation into a leading research institution. Simply put, then-Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion believed the new state of Israel needed aeronautical expertise to power its Air force to defend the country; now aeronautics is one of the largest industrial complexes in Israel, he said.

 And that was just the beginning, Prof. Lavie said. “We have become a world class university, with 3 ½ Nobel laureates and a global presence, and we are the cornerstone of Startup Nation.”

The Technion – Israel Institute of Technology is a public research university in Haifa, Israel that offers  degrees in science and engineering, architecture, medicine, industrial management and education. With 18 academic departments and some 50 research centers, it is often grouped with  Stanford and MIT, universities that have played outsized roles in building their entrepreneurial ecosystems. Israel's movement, powered by Technion, is dubbed Startup Nation. The USB flash drive, drip irrigation, a Parkinson’s drug, the Iron Dome air defense system, the data compression algorithm used in pdfs, and instant messaging are some of the inventions developed at Technion or by alumni.

Prof. Lavie, who grew up in Israel but earned his PhD in physio-psychology (a precursor to neuroscience) at the University of Florida, joined Technion in 1975 to set up a sleep research lab. He worked his way up and became president in 2009. He’s also started two medical device companies and two medical service providers.

In 2011, a bid by a consortium of Cornell University and Technion won a competition to establish a new high-tier applied science and engineering institution in New York City. A state-of-the-art tech campus, the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech, is being built on Roosevelt Island, while the campus is currently housed in Google’s mammoth New York offices.

Technion is also establishing a technological institute in Guangdong Province, China. As part of the agreement, the Li Ka Shing Foundation will donate $130 million to Technion – the largest donation in the university’s history.

Lavie talked with the Miami Herald when he was in town earlier this month for an American Technion Society board meeting. Here are excerpts of the conversation.

Q. How did Technion become a powerhouse for high-tech?

A. In 1969, the Technion established a micro-electronics institute, when no one had heard of it. After the ‘67 war, we needed night vision devices and infrared sensors, there was no knowledge in Israel but Technion established the institute to produce the first semiconductors.  ... If you ask anyone where the high-tech sector in Israel started, everyone would say ’69 in the Technion. This is where they started to teach microelectronics, this is where semiconductors were produced, this is where it all started. …

The same year the faculty split into electrical engineering and computer science, these two are the backbone of the Israeli high tech sector.in 69 The Technion also decided to open a faculty of medicine. It was again prophetic -- the decision was made because in the future, medicine and technology would work hand in hand. This is why Israel now is an empire of medical devices.

Today, a 10 minutes’ drive from the Technion you will find Yahoo and Google and Intel and H-P and Philips and GE and now Apple, relying on Technion students and Technion graduates.

I just completed a study on companies established in the last 20 years by Technion graduates.  Of the 2,000 companies, ... 169 were established outside Israel, mostly in the U.S., the rest, more than 1,800 were in Israel. The number of jobs was 100,000, the mergers and acquisitions [activity] was $28 billion, the total money raised was $6 billion. ... And if you ask them why they are doing it, they want to change the world; it’s not the money.

Q. Sounds like you don’t have a problem with brain drain.

A. Brain drain is not an issue and I’ll tell you why. Intel is largest tech employer with 8,000 or 9,000 jobs. Intel in Israel was started by a Technion [graduate who moved back from the U.S.]. Same with Applied Materials, same with Apple, and others.

When we established a branch in New York together with Cornell, everyone said ‘oh, you will cause brain drain of Israelis to New York.’ I said ‘no, what we will do is attract second generation Israelis in the U.S., including as faculty members.

I don’t think all immigrant groups have a deep sense of responsibility. A large number of Israelis feel a lot of responsibility for Israel. Israel is a startup experience on its own; there is a shared sense of responsibility.

Q. What has Technion’s role been in the tech boom of Israel?

A. MIT did a study on universities that turned their areas into ecosystems of innovation and entrepreneurship. … MIT and Stanford were No.1 and 2, and Technion was no. 6 -- it changed the ecosystem of its country. When they asked the experts to rerate only the ones in challenging environments, Technion was no. 1.

Great universities need to attract top students, to attract top faculty, and the third is a mission. A university must have a mission. The mission is part of the Technion DNA -- To serve the country, to serve mankind. During the Russian immigration wave of the ‘90s, a wave of a million people within a span of five years, Technion stood up to the challenge. We increased the number of students by almost 30 percent in one year. We have a pre-academic center for minorities, every year we have 700 of them, and students are accepted without affirmative action; 67 percent are making it [into Technion].

Arab Israelis 10 years ago were 7 percent of the Technion students. The dropout rate was 40 percent. We started bringing the top kids from all the villages into the program, appointed them a big brother or sister, and held regular discussion groups. Fast forward 10 years, 20 percent of our students are Arab and the dropout rate is 13 percent, about the same as the Israel population. 48 percent of those students are Arab women in all the faculties.’

Q. What about overall?

A. 37 percent women. But electrical engineering is still 15-20 percent. We are trying to move that. We started programs in the high schools, k-12, and to attract girls into science, math, physics.

Q. What other factors led to Startup Nation?

A. Two major characteristics I found are characteristics of Israelis. First, risk-taking behavior. ... The army service teaches you how to take risks. ... The second one is acceptance of failure. There are many countries where failure is not an option. In Israel, failure is part of the learning curve.

Then there is the emphasis on education, a Jewish tradition. But we don’t teach the materials, we are taught how to learn; it is a lifelong experience. I hear this  from our alumni, ‘we are taught how to learn … There is not a situation where we cannot cope.’

The fourth is the government during the ‘60s had the right policy when they started to support research, in companies.

Q. How is your global expansion progressing?

A. Mayor Bloomberg, I admire him for his vision. When I met with him, I said why Technion? He said I am envious of Silicon Valley and Route 128 [in Boston] and I want New York to be the capital of technology.

We are now temporarily at Google headquarters in Chelsea, I asked Eric Schmidt why, and he said we want to be close to you. You need the nucleus of academic excellence that will attract faculty, students and customers. This is a unique to have a degree in applied science and engineering. No excuses. Its tailor made for the industries of New York. We started with The Connective Media, including a major publication. Next year we have are going to open The Healthier Life. The third one is The Built Environment, to open in 2017.

We would like to be close to you. This is the key.

.... [In China,] hopefully we will get the greenlight and start in 2017; we have appointed a leader already. Cornell and China were our first expansions, and we won’t do anymore. With 14,000 students and 600 faculty, we can’t spread ourselves too thin. But I must say we became the most courted boy on the block. We have strategic agreements with the University of Michigan, Toronto, MIT, Cornell and several leading European universities. It’s exciting."

Q. What brought you to  Miami this month?

A. I was here for a board meeting of the American Technion Society. The backbone of our support has come from the American Technion society established in 1940. Without their support we would just be another college in the Middle East. We don’t get research and development funding form the Israeli government … I travel here and crisscross the country twice a year to meet our supporters. This is amazing, the dedication, the love for our institute -- now we have third and fourth generation families that support Technion.

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg. 

See related story on Miami startup delegation's knowledge exchange in Israel as part of AJC's Project Interchange.

March 14, 2015

Q&A with Manny Ruiz, the man behind Hispanicize

Manny Ruiz founded Hispanicize in 2010, and has grown it into the largest gathering for U.S. Hispanics of its kind. The weeklong conference opens Monday in downtown Miami.

HispanicizeBy Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

As Hispanicize opens Monday for its sixth annual weeklong event packed with workshops, speakers, awards and concerts all featuring U.S. Latinos, a lot of people may not know the unusual entrepreneurial journey of the man behind it all.

Hispanicize is the largest U.S. Hispanic social media and entertainment event of its kind, specializing in marketing, media, film and music, said its founder, Manny Ruiz. “What people really love about Hispanicize is that we are the one event that is laser-focused on the aspirations, opportunities and challenges of the U.S. Hispanic.”

Ruiz’s father was an early Cuban exile and his mother is a second-generation Cuban American: “I was born and raised in Little Havana and Hialeah, as blue collar as you can get. … My family didn’t have much in Cuba and they didn’t have anything in Miami either, [but] their work ethic has stayed with me … and kept me grounded.”

Today, Ruiz, 45, is the chairman and founder of the Hispanicize brand of platforms that include the annual Hispanicize event, the Latina Mom Bloggers network, Being Latino, Hispanicize Wire and the Hispanic PR Blog.

Before building his current grouping of media properties, Ruiz founded, led and sold Hispanic PR Wire for $5.5 million in 2008. In thinking about what his next project would be, he was inspired by South by Southwest, the big annual music, film and entrepreneurship event in Austin, Texas. The first Hispanicize was in 2010.

But here are some things you may not know about Ruiz. He almost flunked his senior year at Miami Southwest Senior High — twice.

“The shocking part of my second senior year was that despite a horrible academic record — I was 10 spots away from graduating last of my second senior year class — my high school principal believed in my investigative journalism work on the school newspaper so much she nominated me to be our high school’s [Miami Herald] Silver Knight representative for journalism,” Ruiz said.

Ruiz said he was moved to pursue journalism — he was affectionately known as “Geraldo“ in high school — after his middle school experience attending a corrupt and drug-ridden private school, Miami Aerospace Academy. It was ultimately the power of the press that got the place shut down, he said.

He then stoked that journalistic passion at Miami Southwest and later at Miami Dade College, which will install him next month in the MDC Alumni Hall of Fame, and at the Miami Herald before transitioning into marketing, online media and entrepreneurship.

The Miami Herald talked with Ruiz about his unusual entrepreneurial journey and plans for the 2015 Hispanicize, which opens Monday at the InterContinental Miami with an expected record attendance of more than 2,000. Here are excerpts of the conversation:

Continue reading "Q&A with Manny Ruiz, the man behind Hispanicize" »

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.

Continue reading "Q&A with Cindy Provin: On the frontlines of cyber-security" »

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.


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


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.

Continue reading "Q&A with Maria Escorcia of Ashoka: Boosting entrepreneurship for social change " »

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.


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!”


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?


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