July 21, 2017

Babson College plans to launch Miami campus for graduate programs

Kerry

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Babson College plans to announce Monday that it is expanding to Miami, where it will begin offering some of its top-ranked graduate programs in the fall of 2018.

Babson’s newest hub, which will be located at the Cambridge Innovation Center at 1951 NW 7th Ave., will build on its base of 1,300 area alumni, the institution’s fourth largest alumni group, and a growing relationship in Miami’s entrepreneurship community. Miami will be Babson’s third location outside its main campus in Wellesley, Mass. It also has campuses in Boston and San Francisco.

The Miami expansion is part of Babson President Kerry Healey’s global growth strategy.

“We think Miami is a wonderful place geographically for us to be. It helps us cover the country in an important way but also it allows us to be where the entrepreneurs are,” said Healey (pictured above), noting that Miami ranked No. 1 for startup activity in the 2017 Kauffman Index report.

The graduate programs have been approved by the State of Florida and will include one of Babson’s premier degrees, its Blended Learning MBA, which combines online and face-to-face instruction, Healey said. That graduate program is ranked No. 5 in the nation and No. 1 for average alumni earnings by the Financial Times.

In the hot field of big data, a Master of Science in Business Analytics will be offered, she said. Other planned courses include a self-paced certificate program in advanced management, whose credits can be applied to a future Babson degree.

Miami offers a rich diversity of public and private graduate business programs, including those at the University of Miami, Florida International University, Nova Southeastern University, Barry University and Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, which opened a Coral Gables campus about a decade ago.

Babson, which has been ranked No. 1 for entrepreneurship education by the Princeton Review and U.S. News and World Report for more than 20 years, is no stranger to Miami. Babson created the curriculum for the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program, which opened a program at Miami Dade College in 2014. That local program, which helps entrepreneurs grow their businesses, has graduated more than 300 entrepreneurs.

Babson’s WIN Lab, an accelerator for women-led startups, opened a chapter in Miami in 2016. The program’s second cohort will be starting in the fall.

“When we had the opportunity through the Knight Foundation to bring WIN Lab to Miami in 2016, we did it with the view of seeing if this was the right place to bring our graduate programs as well,” Healey said. “Our experience has been extraordinary.”

Miami is also a hub for family businesses, and the 98-year-old Babson’s emphasis on family business is a differentiator, Healey said. “One of the founding interests of Babson College was as support for family businesses and today nearly half of our students come from business families still,” she said. “Every generation of a family business needs an entrepreneur. Family businesses are founded by entrepreneurs but they are also kept alive by entrepreneurs.”

Babson will rent classroom space at Cambridge Innovation Center Miami, an entrepreneurial co-working center that opened in the University of Miami Life Science and Technology Park building last year. Students will also have access to CIC’s conference rooms, cafe and events. Babson will announce the new programs at CIC Miami at 10 a.m. Monday.

“We from the CIC side have had a tremendous experience hosting the WIN Lab and we all know that Miami is starting to get on the radar of interesting institutions and stakeholders,” said Natalia Martinez-Kalinina, general manager of CIC Miami. “We are working with Babson to facilitate how best to support their mission and vision.”

Martinez-Kalinina said CIC Miami has a number of collaborations with the University of Miami and will soon be opening up shared wet labs spaces to researchers and startups at UM and later other universities. CIC also hosts a series about the future of various industries with university experts and has been including local universities in its “soft landing” program for newly arrived international entrepreneurs, she said.

Babson is accepting applications for the Miami programs. More information is available on www.babson.edu/miami.

Nancy Dahlberg: 305-376-3595, @ndahlberg

July 11, 2017

Florida startups have one less funding source to tap, thanks to state budget cuts

Venture

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

The impact of Gov. Rick Scott’s veto of a line-item in the state budget last month is already rippling through the South Florida tech community.

The Florida Institute for the Commercialization of Public Research was slated to receive $5.5 million to provide seed funding to startups. That was one of the $409 million in local items vetoed last month. The move came as a surprise: the program had been funded at the $5.5 million level since 2013, when the seed fund was incorporated into the Institute’s program.

The Florida Institute bridges early funding gaps for companies spinning out of Florida-based universities and research institutions by matching investments up to $300,000. South Florida startups Kairos, Candidate.Guru, Vigilant Bioscienes, Biscayne Pharmaceuticals, DealCoachPro, BlinkBio, EyeLife (now Biim Ultrasound) and Ovation Diagnostics are among the 71 companies that have been funded, most in the last few years. The result has been more than 4,000 jobs paying an average salary of $76,000, said Jackson Streeter, CEO of the Institute. The idea is to build tech companies that stay in Florida and create high-paying jobs. 

"We have seen tremendous value from Jane Teague [the Institute's COO] and and the team," said Chris Daniels, CEO of Candidate.Guru. "Candidate.Guru hopes this program is revived." 

The Institute was not the only tech casualty of the line-item vetoes. Startup FIU was slated to receive $1 million to help fund its new campus-wide entrepreneurship program that includes several accelerators, including one focused on technology being developed. Florida Atlantic University’s Tech Runway, also a campus-wide and community accelerator, was slated to receive $1.2 million to help fuel its young program.

Other university programs, including several incubators and maker spaces in Orlando, the Tampa Bay area and Gainesville, were also not funded.

Read more: Here’s the entire list of vetoes

Currently, Florida startups consistently attract only a small sliver of venture capital. The funding cutoff comes at a time when other states are dangling startup funds and other incentives to spur economic development and attract top tech talent.

Even before the Institute’s defunding, “the amount of funding the state was already putting into this was extremely low compared to other states,” Streeter said. According to the Institute, nearly 40 states have seed and early-stage funds ranging from $20 million to $500 million.

“Florida talks a technology game but refuses to fund it,” said Bob Williamson, co-founder and chairman of Aegle Therapeutics Corp., a Miami-based biotech company developing regenerative medicine therapeutics. Aegle, which licensed University of Miami technology, was one of the companies in the pipeline to receive Institute funding. “FICPR has helped fund more than 70 startups and been an integral part of technology in the state,” added Williamson, who is also a member of the New World Angels funding network.

“What is ironic is that FICPR funds are an investment, not a grant,” Williamson said. “The company must raise matching money from outsider investors. The state receives a return and grows businesses.”

Jane Teague, COO of the Institute, confirmed that Aegle was in the last stages of the pipeline for funding, along with a half-dozen other companies. Behind those companies were about 20 startups the Institute has been working with to get them ready for funding.

“Companies don’t have a lot of places to go for capital when they are that young,” said Teague, who has been part of the Institute since its founding in 2007. “We’ve put to work $23 or $24 million but our companies have gone on to raise $150 million. They match [Institute funding] one-to-one but then they go on to raise way more. And of course they are working on things like curing cancer and diagnosing diseases early.”

In addition to leaving companies in its pipeline unfunded, the Institute has laid off staff, and Streeter said he took a pay cut. The idea is to keep the organization going with a skeleton staff and regroup for the next Legislative session.

“Hopefully we will soon be back in the business of Florida innovation and getting companies formed with Florida technology and keeping them in the state,” Streeter said.

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

June 15, 2017

Wanted: 'Fearless, ambitious and extraordinary entrepreneurs' for startupbootcamp Miami

 

By Christian Seale

Today, we are excited to announce the launch of applications for the second cohort of our digital health innovation program, startupbootcamp Miami.

If you share our passion and vision to transform healthcare, we want to meet you. Apply here!

We are a year older and have assembled an even deeper bench of local and national healthcare providers, insurers, pharma companies, industry leaders and top-tier healthcare investors committed to helping you refine and scale your companies.

Boot1Last year our program resulted in multiple implementations, customer contracts and financings for our portfolio companies from the likes of Miami Children’s Health System, University of Miami, Florida Blue, Jackson Health System, Univision and many others (read more here). Local entrepreneur Wolf Shlagman, CEO of CareAngel and founder of Consult-a-Doc (sold to Teladoc and Kleiner Perkins) highlighted: "the program surpassed our expectations and resulted in multiple customer contracts and venture financing. I highly recommend this program to any serious entrepreneur looking to take their healthcare business to the next level."  (pictured here: Rene Lerer, President Florida Blue, discusses healthcare reform with Startupbootcamp entrepreneurs.)

We encourage you to apply and accelerate your business. We are looking for fearless, ambitious and extraordinary entrepreneurs working at the intersection of healthcare and technology with proven and tested models and committed to making our system more equitable, efficient and accessible for all. If chosen to participate, you will receive funding, implementation and contract opportunities, mentorship from our dedicated expert network, office space and a comprehensive suite of portfolio and in-kind services.

We are proud to be part of Miami’s growing entrepreneurial ecosystem recently named the top city in startup activity by the Kauffman Foundation and grateful to be recognized by Inc. for our work to build the city into a globally recognized hub for healthcare innovation.

We invite you to join us and our partners at the Knight Foundation, Miami Children’s Hospital and many others as we build Miami into a globally recognized hub for innovation and together transform the future of healthcare. If you are a healthcare entrepreneur, please reach out and set up a time for virtual office hours.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Christian Seale is founder and managing director of startupbootcamp Miami. Follow on Twitter @sbchealth. For more information, email digitalhealth@startupbootcamp.com.

 

Boot3

Shane Battier, NBA and NCAA Champion, shared leadership lessons with Startupbootcamp entrepreneurs.

Boot2

Dr. Maurice Ferre Jr., Co-Founder of Mako Surgical and CEO of Insightec, shares lessons on building and selling a company with Startupbootcamp entrepreneurs.

Boot4

A panel discusses the future of digital health in South Florida at Startupbootcamp’s Demo Day. From left: Christian Seale of Startupbootcamp, Jaret Davis of Greenberg Traurig, Elizabeth Lopez of Miami Children’s Health System and Juan Ortiz of Sonas Home Health Care.

Photos provided by startupbootcamp Miami

 

June 12, 2017

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

Newcity

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg.

Rokk3r Labs spins out 10xU, a global education platform

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 28, 2017

How to be selected for cohort 3 at StartUP FIU

Startupfiu

Pitch Day for StartUP FIU's Cohort 2

By Robert Hacker

StartUP FIU has just opened applications for the third cohort of its Empower Accelerator. The first two cohorts each received over 150 applications and we expect the same number by the June 11 deadline. The new cohort will begin the formal 14-week accelerator program in September and there is no cost or equity position given to participate. The program is open to both social and traditional entrepreneurs and their early stage companies.

The question we are most frequently asked is how can I improve the chances of being selected for the StartUP FIU accelerator.

 Coachability

We have interviewed over 90 applicants, worked with another 60 entrepreneurs that did not necessarily apply and advised the 39 teams comprising Cohorts I and II. The first thing all our staff are trained to look for is coachability--can the entrepreneur listen to critical feedback, thoughtfully consider it and make a reasoned adjustment. Every team in the program is assigned at least one mentor and these seasoned entrepreneurs are a critical success factor in incubators and accelerators worldwide. If the entrepreneur is not able to demonstrate they can take critical feedback from mentors and staff, their likelihood of commercial success and acceptance to the program is much lower.

 Problem Validation

Everyone who applies to Empower has a concept for a new business. Many applicants have a prototype or a beta, particularly the engineers. Surprisingly few have talked to potential customers about their problem, pain or need. After coachability, the next characteristic we look for is a demonstration of customer knowledge gained in the market. Of course, the best demonstration of customer knowledge may be revenue.

 Uniqueness

Competitive advantage, barriers to entry, what Warren Buffet calls moats--these are all descriptions of the same factors that can create value for customers and particularly shareholders. Perhaps the simplest way to demonstrate uniqueness is to describe the founder’s insight about the customer or problem that the company is addressing. Another effective technique is to describe the technology and simply describe how it is proprietary.

 Team

Entrepreneurship is the epitome of a team endeavor, hopefully beginning with co-founders and then building out the minimally necessary technical and management team. In our experience, companies with a team already established get more benefit out of the program and make more progress.

As we progress with the Empower Accelerator, we encounter an insatiable demand for all aspects of the entrepreneurship experience.  We are excited to be a part of Miami’s entrepreneurial support network and will continue to iterate to be able to offer different services for the multiple needs of the community and FIU.

Robert Hacker is the Director of StartUP FIU and teaches social entrepreneurship at FIU, MIT and UM. He is the former CFO of One Laptop per Child and prior to that built a publicly traded billion-dollar company in seven years in Indonesia. His books on entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship are available on Amazon.

 

May 27, 2017

Calling all Miami area creators: WeWork holding regional contest awarding $1.5M+ in grants open to all

Wework%20lincoln%20road

The way we work is changing and WeWork believes that the way we recognize and reward work must change too. Miami entrepreneurs, SMBs, non-profits, artists or anyone with a great idea are eligible to compete for a grant from the $1.5 million-plus prize pool available at the Creator Awards South Regional Finals in Austin over June 27. But hurry, the application deadline is June 12.

What's exciting about the opportunity is that it's open to everyone (WeWork members, non-members, all industries, all stages, even folks who may just have a good idea) and that beyond the financial awards there will be a full day of public programming in Austin. This is the first year of what will become an annual program. 

Grants from $18,000 to $360,000 will be awarded in three categories: Incubate (ideas or projects); Launch (startups and nonprofits that have launched but still learning); and Scale (a record of success, ready for next level).  

Winners have ranged from a nonprofit teaching tech skills to low income individuals, to a new coalition of journalists who improve care for Alzheimers patients by writing their life stories, to a new trading platform for sustainable agriculture. (See photo from Washington DC regional event below)

"WeWork wants to honor all types of creators from entrepreneurs to artists to nonprofits. There are incredible things happening and big ideas being born in Miami every day,” said Adam Wacenski, WeWork’s General Manager for the South. “The Creator Awards is a new opportunity to share their ideas, connect with other creators and hopefully win a grant that can make a real difference in their work and in their life."

Here are the details:

WHAT: Entries are now open for the Creator Awards, a new global initiative from WeWork that will award $20 million-plus to entrepreneurs who are thinking in new ways, building fresh projects and achieving real change across all industries.

Miami applicants are eligible to compete for $1.5 million-plus at the Austin Regional Finals on June 26 and 27 and have the opportunity to advance to the Creator Awards Global Finals in New York in November where additional prizes will be awarded.

WHO: WeWork, a global platform for creators with 140+ locations including Miami, Miami Beach, Dallas, Austin, Atlanta and coming soon to Houston, Nashville and Kansas City

WHERE: Residents of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia

WHEN: Application Deadline: June 12

Creator Awards South Regional Finals: June 27

In addition to financial awards, the South Regional Finals brings together everything it takes to make a life, not just a living. The public event will include a pop-up market with local sellers, a series of master classes and workshops, a job fair as well as live pitches and an awards ceremony and celebration.

HOW: To apply or to nominate others: https://creatorawards.wework.com/

Wework Creator Awards DC-366_Credit WeWork

Photo taken at a WeWork Creator Awards regional finals event in Washington DC. Photo provided by WeWork. 

 

May 23, 2017

FAU Tech Runway selects 5th accelerator class

Fau

Florida Atlantic University’s Tech Runway has selected its fifth and largest Venture class of startup and early-stage companies to participate in its business accelerator program.

This year, four companies will receive a $25,000 non-equity grant, participate in a 16-week intensive boot camp, engage in a rigorous year-long mentoring program with a team of five accomplished business mentors, and will be provided a workspace for one year. The four companies are:

·    Videopura LLC is a video services company with patent-pending technologies to reduce the bandwidth necessary for video services.

·      Tap2Open LLC is a secure, convenient, and easy way for residents and guests to gain access to gated communities via smart devices. Tap2Open allows residents and invited guests enter a gated community or secured door at the push of a button on their smart phone or device.

·  Ridgeback Network Defense Inc. delivers enterprise network security by turning the tables on hackers, dynamically counter-engaging the adversary, causing them to absorb the expense of attack and eliminating them as a threat.

·      Hubspring Health is an innovative software company founded by physicians focused on solving several of the chronic problems plaguing our industry. Hubspring provides a cure for these chronic conditions and enables healthcare organizations to embrace the future with its innovative and powerfully flexible platform, The Hub.

In addition, 16 more companies were awarded based on various tracks including, community, student and faculty. This will give them many of the same benefits as the prior four companies, minus the $25,000 grant. Six companies are still in the process of being selected and confirmed, however, the 11 companies already identified are: Two Degrees Inc.; ScaleWize; Land of Zorth; WAHspace; Bacon Boxes; SlideMap; PAPER; STAX; Gaming Frog; MMP Biopharma Inc.; and PQSecure Technologies LLC.

“A record number of companies entered the 2017 FAU Tech Runway Launch Competition. They significantly raised the bar, in terms of their quality and breadth represented,” said Rhys L. Williams, associate vice president for research and the managing director for FAU Tech Runway. “Consequently, this year’s winning Venture Class will be expanded by 50 percent to 21 companies.  After they complete our year-long program, many of these companies will no doubt make a profound impact upon the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

Under the purview of the FAU Division of Research, Tech Runway is a public-private partnership formed to foster technology start-ups and early-stage companies. Since its inception in late 2014, 205 jobs and 76 internships have been created; 39 FAU students have been employed; 136 corporate partnerships have been created; more than $8 million in revenue has been earned; and more than $19 million investment capital has been raised.

“FAU Tech Runway serves as a core entrepreneurship hub for Florida Atlantic University and as a key resource for the regional technology eco-system,” said Daniel C. Flynn, FAU’s vice president for research. “As the program matures, it will continue to launch thriving, innovative companies that are ready for their next stage of growth, contributing to the university and the state’s economic vitality.”

For more information on FAU Tech Runway, visit techrunway.fau.edu.

- Submitted by FAU Tech Runway

 

May 12, 2017

Deadline approaching to apply for free Smart & Sustainable Neighborhood Development Executive Training Program

Here is an opportunity for small businesses: The first Smart & Sustainable Neighborhood Development Executive Training Program taking place at FIU Urban Studios June 9-23. The cost is free for the 25 small business professionals selected. 
 
You can access the 5 minute application here: 
 
Once the course with exam is completed successfully, you will be accredited in the following top accreditations that give you a competitive edge for over $15B worth of local infrastructure, construction, urban planning, resiliency and land use projects locally: 
  • EcoDistricts AP 
  • LEED Green Associates (GA) 
  • LEED Neighborhood Development (ND) 
The program will be taught by LEED Fellows Jonathan Burgess and Rob Hink of Spinnaker Group and Eric Corey Freed of EcoDistricts.  
 
The deadline to apply is Monday, May 15th. 

April 16, 2017

What would a venture capitalist say about that? Startups get chance to find out

Bt

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Access to capital is lacking — that’s a common refrain among Miami area entrepreneurs, and particularly in minority communities. So Derick Pearson and Felecia Hatcher, founders of Code Fever and Blacktech Week, thought let’s bring the venture capitalists here. 

At a recent conference Pearson talked Marlon Nichols, co-founder and managing partner at Cross Culture Ventures and former investment director at Intel Capital, into agreeing to be Code Fever and Blacktech Week’s first VC in Residence. As part of the program, thought to be one of the first of its kind, top venture capitalists will spend a month in Miami advising and guiding black, Latinx and Caribbean entrepreneurs. Nichols, who generally splits his time between offices in L.A. and Silicon Valley, took up residence at WeWork earlier this month and has been holding office hours, fireside chats and lunch and learns that will continue throughout the month to help sharp founders think through the businesses that they are building. 

It wasn’t a hard sell and the arrangement is benefiting both sides of the table. 

“You can’t beat coming to Miami in April, but more importantly, Miami is rich in culture and our investment thesis is about understanding global culture to try to predict where consumers are going to spend their dollars,” said the Jamaican-born Nichols, who leads one of the relative few black-led venture capital funds in the U.S. “Black and Latinx cultures have been known for early adopters, so for understanding what is going on in those communities as well as the Caribbean community, Miami is a melting pot. For me it is a lot of learning.”

The new VC in Residence program is one of a number of Code Fever initiatives, which include producing Blacktech Week and Weekend, and it recently received $1.2 million in Knight funding. Entrepreneur-in-residence programs are commonly hosted at universities and accelerators to support entrepreneurs, solve problems and help innovate. Code Fever believes that borrowing from this model and inviting VCs to spend a month in residence in communities where there’s little access to funding can help reshape the way black communities are valued in the innovation sector. 

It’s a big challenge. Only about 1 percent venture capital funding goes to black founders, and only 13 black women founders in the entire nation have raised a million dollars or more in venture capital. 

In the half-hour office hour visits so far, Nichols has met with tech startups developing products or services for student debt, media content, cloud-based secure storage, educating inmates, dentistry and others. Most of the entrepreneurs are not yet at the stage for venture capital or do not have appropriate businesses for that kind of funding, but the door is still open. 

Some were interested in advice for preparing themselves for investment, others wanted mentorship on starting up or just wanted to talk strategy. And it hasn’t been all tech — Nichols met with a cupcake entrepreneur who wanted to talk about the best way to grow her business. 

And when companies are ready for investment, he wants to know about them. “I think gone are the days when all investments happen in Silicon Valley. ... Amazing companies can be created any where in the world and I want to keep my finger on the pulse of that. ... The biggest thing I will get out of this is developing a network here – with entrepreneurs I will keep in touch with, with angels here and organizations. They will help be eyes and ears for great investment opportunities here.”

Nichols is also holding frequent fireside chats, bringing in entrepreneurs who have experience starting and growing companies. “The best resource for new entrepreneurs is successful entrepreneurs as well as unsuccessful entrepreneurs,” he said. “There is just a wealth of knowledge that can be learned from both.” 

Last week, Nichols hosted entrepreneurs Brian Brackeen of Miami-based Kairos and Chris Bennett of Wonderschool and Soldsie.com for a fireside chat, dinner and networking. Bennett grew up in Miami but moved to San Francisco in 2009. While both entrepreneurs have raised millions in venture capital and angel funding and gave advice on that, they also dished on the realities of startup life — including 180-degree pivots, botched pitches with important VCs, building and overbuilding without reaching product-market fit and somehow keeping a team focused through the toughest months. We also learned that Brackeen wakes himself up at 3 a.m. because he does his best work then, but don’t bother him at 3 p.m. — that’s nap time.

Bennett is a big proponent of accelerators – he participated in NewME and 500 Startups — and he said he would do another one today. He also said the benefit to Silicon Valley is there are so many entrepreneurs, engineers and investors to learn from. “Talk to as many VCs as you can, because you learn what they care about. ... The best way to get ready for talking to VCs is to join an accelerator. The next best way is to surround yourself with entrepreneurs who have been successful and learn from them,” he said. 

Brackeen is bullish on the 305, including on the number of angels in South Florida and the growing infrastructure such as co-working spaces and accelerators — and maybe soon, innovation districts. “You can have the same success as a San Francisco company if you find the right people, find the right lawyer, find the right investors. There is not one model for the result,” he said. 

Coming up on Tuesday is a lunch and learn with Silicon Valley startup attorney Brian Patterson and a fireside chat with Diishan Imira, CEO and co-founder of Mayvenn. Pearson and Hatcher plan to bring more VCs down. Find more information about the VC in Residence program at blacktechweek.com/funding.

For his part, Nichols said he has been impressed so far with the potential of Miami.

“Successful ecosystems have universities spinning out technologies and talent, investors and angel groups, accelerators and co-working spaces — and challenges unique to those communities, that is the biggest thing. I don’t want to invest in the next Uber or the next Lyft. I want new market creators. What are big pain points for people in Miami that haven’t been met? Let’s figure out what those are and go solve them.”

Nancy Dahlberg; @ndahlberg 

READ MORE: Blacktech Week receives $1.2 million in Knight funding to expand entrepreneur programs

Btw

Marlon Nichols, co-founder of Cross Culture Ventures, Chris Bennett, founder of Soldsie.com and Wonderschool, and Brian Brackeen, founder of Miami-based startup Kairos, talk about startup life at a VC in Residence fireside chat at WeWork in this photo and above.

Photos by Blacktech Week.