Want to know about Miami startups? A user's guide to this blog

Dear reader, Starting Gate has been providing and archiving South Florida startup and tech community news, views and resources since 2012. New to the Miami area? Thinking about relocating here? Just want to keep up with news, events and opportunities? We're there for you.

How to use Starting Gate: Besides scrolling the blog for the latest entries, you can access news and views by category. The "Funding" category will capture venture capital and angel funding news of individual startups as well as stories about funders. The startup categories chronicle news and my regular "Spotlights," and in Q&As you'll find interviews with CEOs and leaders in the entrepreneurship ecosystem. There are also categories for guest posts, views, accelerators/incubators, resources, events and more.

Thank you for your support through the years and please come back often. Follow me on Twitter @ndahlberg. - Sincerely, Nancy Dahlberg

November 16, 2017

Miami is fertile ground for world-class product design

By Gessica Tortolano

GessicaWith 20 yrs of experience building and leading User Experience (UX) teams from Boston to Silicon Valley on projects for Google, Facebook, Gap, Samsung and other exciting brands, I am bringing my expertise back to South Florida as head instructor of UX/UI Immersive, an intensive 8-week program at Miami’s Wyncode Academy.

UX is about solving real problems and addressing pain points, not just making something cool as a product or a feature. It is about storytelling, screen composition and clear paths to completion, while removing friction, not just rearranging elements on a screen. As a problem solving framework, UX puts the user at the heart of the process. It results in a better experience thereby producing better products.

With IOT, voice user interfaces, the blend of digital and physical experiences, and new devices entering the market daily, it is critical to realize a connected, holistic experience.

Miami is a beloved vacation destination, but I truly believe it is so much more. A creative and diverse culture like Miami’s is fertile ground for world-class design. This program will help nurture a new generation of product designers who will lead the charge in quality design in our ecosystem.

As a former resident of Miami, I worked with aspiring designers through community initiatives at University of Miami, IT Women, Honey Shine Inc., and Urgent Inc. I was overwhelmed and humbled by their interest in UX, it was palpable.

Since the beginning of my career I’ve worked with many of the world’s biggest brands, including Burger King, Instagram, IBM, the NBA, Chrysler, Coca-Cola, GM, Norwegian Cruise Lines and Carnival Cruise Lines.

It is after all these years, and diverse experiences that I am compelled to share and teach my expertise. I recall telling Johanna Mikkola, co-founder of Wyncode, it was time for me to foster a new generation of designers. Together with Wyncode that is what we will do.

It was clear, I had to partner with a school that was just as committed to quality in their programs as I was about design. I had to ensure the future UX designer would marry their skills with a methodology.

In the valley, large brands are anxious to blur the lines between physical and digital. They are running experiments and adopting Design Thinking, a human-centered methodology that reveals truths about how confident we are in a feature or product.

Product designers grasp the importance of being flexible, nimble, and are experts in team inertia and momentum. Most will hone their skills, but with a solid foundation, they can own end-to-end product development.

The Googles and Facebooks are looking for agility and iteration. Value over deliverables became my world and I am thrilled to help build an ecosystem rich with designers who practice true product development.

Curious to learn more? Join us at our UX/UI Design Workshop: Bridging The Physical & Digital World event December 7, 2018 7:00 - 9:00 PM. Classes start Jan. 22, 2018 Program details at wyncode.co or email weare@wyncode.co

Gessica Tortolano will be head instructor of  of UX/UI Immersive, an intensive 8-week program at Miami’s Wyncode Academy.

November 05, 2017

Small business spotlight: A spoonful of EasyPeasie makes the vegetables go down

 

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Small Business Spotlight: These sisters sought solutions to the age-old question: How do you get kids to eat their vegetables? Their solution: EasyPeasie Veggie Blends.

Company name: EasyPeasie

Headquarters: Hallandale Beach

Concept: EasyPeasie Veggie Blends is all-natural, mild-flavored, dried and ground vegetables that help picky eaters learn to love veggies.

Story: Like a lot of people, Dr. Jamelah Tucker, a pediatrician, and Dorielle Price, a mother of two and an engineer, have earnestly sought solutions to the age-old question: How do you get kids to eat their vegetables?

They are sisters who figured out how to warm kids up to vegetables by “veggie-hacking” every meal. Out of this necessity, EasyPeasie was born.

“In our family, we decided to give the kids exposures to veggie flavors as early and as often as possible, by drying and grinding lots of different vegetables and adding them to everything the kids were already eating,” Tucker said. “In doing this, we found an easy way to warm the palate and nose to lots of different vegetables. We call this vegetable palate priming.”

The veggie blends come in two blends: regular — carrots, peas and butternut squash, and green — carrots, peas, sweet potatoes, kale, spinach. EasyPeasie is adding a seasonal red blend featuring beets and other vegetables. The blends can be cooked into foods, shaken on top or used in shakes and smoothies.

The sisters — Tucker lives in South Florida; Price lives in the Orlando area — said their ultimate goal is to get kids to eat an adequate number and variety of whole vegetables, and EasyPeasie is a bridge to that goal. They have been hitting the farmer’s markets, which also provide a way to interact with customers, as well as selling the product online. They hope to continue ramping up sales and eventually get into more retail stores.

“It is easy to add to foods that the kids eat regularly and it doesn't change the taste of the food significantly. My 2- and 5-year-old never know when I add it,” said LeKecia Glover, a customer.

EasyPeasie currently can be found at the City of Parkland Farmer’s Market in South Florida, the Winter Garden Farmer’s Market in Central Florida, at the concierge pediatric practice Boca VIPediatrics in Boca Raton and at The Farmacy gourmet grocer in Central Florida. EasyPeasie Veggie Blends are also sold online at easypeasie.com and on Amazon.com.

Ashley Rudnick, president of VIPediatrics, said she discovered EasyPeasie at a farmer’s market and her 3-year-old daughter was the taste tester: “When she ate almost an entire serving of veggies hidden in some apple sauce, we were in awe. Then we learned that EasyPeasie was the handiwork of a fellow pediatrician, so it was a no-brainer to adopt this product for our office. There’s not a parent in the world who doesn’t want their child to eat more vegetables.”

Launched: January 2016

Website: www.easypeasie.com

Management team: Dr. Jamelah Tucker and Dorielle Price

Financing: EasyPeasie has been self-funded by investment from the owners, reinvestment of sales into the business, friends and family and crowdfunding.

Recent milestones: Chosen as one of 10 national finalists in the Small Business Association’s 2017 InnovateHER pitch competition. Began sales in Central Florida, through the gourmet grocery store The Farmacy, as well as being featured in the Launchpad program of Amazon.com. The small business is on track to increase sales by 250 percent over last year.

Biggest startup challenge: Getting exposure and reaching new customers.

Next step: “Our next step is updating our product packaging,” Tucker said. “We are seeking a marketing agency to focus-group test EasyPeasie to gather a larger amount of feedback on the product and packaging.”

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

November 04, 2017

Nuvola brings digital white-glove service to the hotel industry

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By Ana Acle-Menendez

Perhaps no other industry relies as heavily on customer service as the hotel industry.

So, imagine if there was a way for guests to communicate to staff directly and conveniently through the touch of a button on their mobile phone. And imagine if guests would be notified of happy hour specials while walking by the bar in real time, allowing hotels to gather behavioral data and provide better service.

Juan-Carlos-Abello-NUVOLA-2That communication platform was imagined and created. Now, it is offered by a guest service management software developed by Nuvola, a Miami-based company founded by Juan Carlos Abello, who worked as a manager at various hotels.

But while Abello developed a solution for hotels, he needed solutions of his own to grow his new startup business.

He heard about the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge, a contest for startup entrepreneurs, through Florida International University (FIU), his alma mater. While creating the video presentation for the contest, Abello then learned about the Florida SBDC at FIU — the small business development center at the College of Business, which provides no-cost consulting to entrepreneurs and small-business owners.

“My biggest obstacle was closing on my first customers,” said Abello, who earned an MBA from Emory University and a bachelor’s degree in international business from FIU. “In technology, if you don’t have references and you’re selling software that’s intangible, it’s a tough sales pitch. Closing on my first 20 to 30 customers was the biggest challenge.”

He specifically wanted guidance on finding an investor.  “In my particular case, I was looking to accelerate the growth of the company,” he said. “I was looking for funds and I was assigned to an advisor who had experience as an investor.”

For the next six months, he met with the expert consultant every two weeks on Saturdays, going over spreadsheets, sales pitches and the program to grow more capital.

It soon paid off.

“I was extremely satisfied because I was able to raise additional funds for the company,” Abello said. “I closed with two investors and now basically I’m living my dream.”

What started three years ago with business development and sales of $30,000 doubled every year. Now Nuvola is well over $1 million in sales this year, Abello said.

What’s more, his one-man team has now grown to 18 full-time employees.

“I would recommend the SBDC,” Abello said. “First, because they understand that you’re an entrepreneur — you don’t have a flexible schedule — and most of the time they were able to accommodate my needs.

“Second, I felt that every single member of the organization that I interacted with was professional, willing to assist and the advice they gave was definitely significant in terms of the objective that I had,” he continued.

“Lastly, it’s a free service,” Abello said. “They do understand that starting a business is not easy and you’re going to face a lot of obstacles. Most of the time they know what obstacles you’re going to face so you can anticipate them, which is great.”

Additionally, he said he made friends during the process and still keeps in touch with his advisor. He is also mentoring others so they can sell to their first 20 to 30 customers before going to investors.

By the way, in case you’re wondering, Abello and his team won first place in that Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge in the FIU Track category. That’s another feather in his cap that he can use for marketing purposes.

 

Ana Acle-Menendez wrote this article for Florida SBDC at FIU, which gave Starting Gate permission to post it.

 

READ MORE about Nuvola here. 

 

October 24, 2017

Need help? Me, too. A woman's view: 'It is time we support one another and speak up'

 

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By Pilar Guzman Zavala

I consider myself a strong woman. I am the owner and CEO of Half Moon Empanadas. I am also the CEO of my home, where I am helping raise two wonderful children along with my husband and business partner.

Recently I had an interview with a panel of community leaders. The idea of this panel was to understand if I could be really someone who can commit to making a difference in Miami, to leading the way, to helping bridge the gap between the poor and rich. We talked about my experience over these years and their questions took me back to some of the most painful moments of being an entrepreneur. Like the time we suddenly got a notice of eviction, both from the business and our apartment. I left the restaurant to go to my car, sat in there and screamed. Or the time when my first child was born, I remember being at the hospital after the c-section and learning that the checks were bouncing because we did not have enough money in the bank.  I remembered how stressed and scared I was; I vividly remember the pain I felt.  I talked about how in the past two years, we tried really hard to focus on streamlining the operation and created a structure that finally set us in the path of growth, and made us the 2016 Best Concession Overall for Miami Airport. And how proudly we did it.  This also took me back to the many dark places I had been, how much I have fought, how much I had sacrificed to be where I am today, to have what I have today, to be who I am today.

During the interview, they asked me where I thought I could use help personally. I went straight to my entrepreneurial side and spoke about my operational challenges, but the panel pressed on and asked again what help I needed. Nothing else came out. 

I left the interview thinking about all of the things I didn’t say, and should have.  But there was no time to pause or think. This day was like many in my life where the responsibilities of being a mom, wife, business owner, and daughter took over. I had to pick up my kids and take them to a play date that I had promised. I was grateful to have had 20 minutes to speak with my father, which I rarely do because of time, but which I cherish so much. Then there was my Facebook feed full of friends posting #MeToo and me sharing the same two words. It was all so overwhelming.

That day I kept thinking of the question, “How can we help?” I wish I could have said “Of course! Of course, I do need help, I need help in all fronts of my life. I still feel lonely; I still would like to have a woman that I can look up to. I still would like to have another woman entrepreneur to just talk to, and for that someone to understand how I feel. I feel stressed many times. I am afraid I am not doing the right things as a mother. Am I a good example of this “working mom”, or do they need more of me? All of these questions that sometimes, more often than not, cross your mind. I wanted to tell them how hard it is to be this woman, but I couldn’t.

I had a hard time sharing my story during the interview. I talked about the hard times. I almost cried, but I controlled myself. I said that I am a true believer that entrepreneurship is the best equalizer force, that despite all the ups and downs and the sacrifices, that I truly believed my business was helping me make a difference. 

"I want to say that it is possible to have it all, just not all at once. I have learned that the life I chose as working/wife/mom/entrepreneur is about trade-offs, and that perfection doesn’t exist."

This day reminded me how strong I am, and how far I have come. I, ME TOO, struggle, and continue to stand on my two feet, despite it all. I have shared my story and days like this with other women, and I realized how lonely we all feel, and how little help we ask for.  The overwhelming statistics of gender inequality say it all.  I wanted to share this story because I understand that our lives as women, business owners, and mothers is hard.  I want to say that it is possible to have it all, just not all at once. I have learned that the life I chose as working/wife/mom/entrepreneur is about trade-offs, and that perfection doesn’t exist.  I have learned the importance of creating a support system around oneself. I continue to learn to be kind to myself, and to understand that if I take care of myself first, I will be a better at all fronts. And that quality is 10 times better than quantity with my children.

I still have a way to go. I want to be the best kind of mother my kids can have. I continue to dream Half Moon Empanadas will become a national name. I even just started a new business, and I also want to be able to make a difference in my community. I want to continue to work hard, and dream higher. I want it all.

But most of all, I decided that I am OK with being this strong woman who sometimes doesn’t have it all together, and who sometimes needs to reach out for help. I think it is time we all support one another and speak up.

Pilar Guzman Zavala is the owner and CEO of Half Moon Empanadas, based in Miami.  She is a mentor for women entrepreneurs in Miami with the WIN Lab Miami from Babson College and the FIU Startup Food Lab and is a Ricardo Salinas Scholarship recipient for the Aspen Institute and a Young American Leaders Program fellow from Harvard School of Business.

READ MORE ABOUT HALF MOON EMPANADAS IN THE MIAMI HERALD: Passion, perseverance powered empanada maker through tough start 

 

 

October 21, 2017

Ouch, that late fee hurt. This Miami startup wants you to never worry about parking tickets again

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From left, Jona Araujo, Charlie Melendez and Auston Bunsen of JINXD. Photo by Beyond South Beach. 

 

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Who hasn't forgotten to pay a parking ticket and paid the very steep price?   

Yep, been there, done that too many times. It's a fact of urban life.

JINXD, a new Miami startup, has a solution for that.

JINXD is one of only two apps in the United States that allow you to auto-pay your citations. You can simply sign up with your license plate numbers and payment info and the next time you receive a parking citation, JINXD automatically pays it, charging a small service fee.

"As you may already know, Miami is notorious for parking tickets and when you receive one, you cannot pay for it immediately on the Miami Clerk of Courts website until it populates their servers three to five days after -- another inconvenience," said Auston Bunsen, one of the co-founders.

"We're trying to be a magical background technology that you only think of when we make your life better. Our users love it when they get a notification that we saved them from getting a tow or just saved them from a $25 late fee," added Bunsen, who oversees technology. 

JINXD works with commercial clients that have large fleets such as rental car companies and automobile dealers. Braman BMW, Infiniti of Coral Gables and Mercedes Benz of Cutler Bay are customers. "JINXD for our business clients is a no-brainer as it frees up their afternoons to focus on bigger tasks at hand," said CEO and co-founder Jona Araujo, who also oversees marketing.

The  number of active customers has grown 448 percent and revenue has grown 346 percent since the beginning of this year, Melendez said. JINXD is tracking more than 2,000 license plates in Miami-Dade County among consumers and  commercial clients.

Late fees can add up quick. After two months, an $18 parking ticket rises to $63 in Miami -- ouch. And if you have five unpaid tickets, your car could be towed.

"We've found and/or paid thousands of tickets for our customers, saved our customers over $22,000 in late fees, as well as prevented dozens of customers from getting their car towed or having their registration renewal blocked," said co-founder Charlie Melendez, who oversees finance.

The team created a heat map of the most ticketed areas in Miami-Dade.

Jinxd-heat-map

Expansion to other cities could begin next year, and JINXD's market is sizable. The team said there is more than $200 million in unpaid parking tickets at any one time just in nine major U.S. cities that include Miami.  

Said Araujo, "We're laser focused on getting product/market fit for our existing product and expanding to other cities as soon as possible. We believe this product is helping businesses, consumers and government alike."

You can sign up at https://JINXD.co or download the 5 star reviewed iPhone app on the App Store here.

JINXD will be one of six startups competiting at Refresh Miami's Demo Day Oct. 27. Sign up to attend here

 

October 19, 2017

The party bobs along with this Shark Tank contestant’s products

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Will the “Human Bobbers” sink or swim in the Shark Tank?

Justin Rietema of Oakland Park and Doug Schultz of Coconut Creek invented the Human Bobber line of multipurpose personal flotation devices. They will appear on ABC’s “Shark Tank’ show at 9 p.m. Sunday to pitch their Bottoms Up, a dual-purpose life vest that can also be worn like a pair of shorts, and the Scuttlebutt, a saddle-like float that’s also an in-water lounge chair or kayak seat.

“We are boaters at heart, and after watersports like tubing, water skiing and wakeboading, we would often anchor up our boat and float around in the water with some drinks,” Schultz said. “Most of the guys in our group would just put on a life vest upside down and use that as a saddle for floating, but as you can imagine, life vests are not designed for that. There was foam in all the wrong places.”

Rietema and Schultz have day jobs as landscape architects, but formed H3O Sports in 2011 as a side hustle.

After creating and testing several hand-made Human Bobber prototypes, they began manufacturing and selling the Bottoms Up and the Scuttlebutt on HumanBobber.com in 2012. Both products are patented, Rietema said.

Sales were slow at first, but in 2016, Bottoms Up received U.S. Coast Guard approval as a type III flotation aid suitable for rescues in calm waters. The process took two years but was worth it, Rietema said. Before 2016, sales totalled about $60,000 in total, but with last year’s sales and this year they will likely nearly double that. Another popular item is their Beverage Bobber, which runs $16 to $18.

Today, Rietema and Schultz still have their day jobs – but their hopes are high the Sharks will bite. The Sharks have taken a liking to other South Floridians’ products, including the AquaVault and Three Jerks Jerky. On Sunday, they will face Mark Cuban, Lori Greiner, Robert Herjavec, Daymond John and Kevin O’Leary.

Like all Shark Tank contestants, these two entrepreneurs have to be hush-hush about the outcome of their time in the tank, but whatever happens they are planning to toast the journey at a watch party Sunday night at 26 Degree Brewing Company in Pompano Beach. No Beverage Bobber needed. Bottoms up!

UPDATE AFTER THE SHOW: On Sunday night, O’Leary pledged to back the inventors with $120,000.   Cuban said he would provide accounting and other business expertise. Rietema and Schulz entered the Shark Tank seeking $120,000 in exchange for 15 percent of their business. They ended up awarding 33 percent to O’Leary and 10 percent to Cuban.

 

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

Miami is bursting with startups. Problem is they aren’t growing, Kauffman study shows

Miami

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Good news, bad news: Miami is exploding with startups, but they are not scaling up.

That was again the conclusion of an annual Kauffman Foundation study released Thursday that showed that the Miami-Fort Lauderdale metro area ranked near the bottom of the pack for the entrepreneurial growth of so-called scale-ups, or fast-growing companies.

Still, ranking 36th out of 40 metropolitan areas nationwide for entrepreneurial growth is an improvement over 2016, when the metro area ranked 39th.

News of the index ranking comes in the same year that Miami ranked No. 1 in the nation in Kauffman’s 2017 Index of Startup Activity, a separate measure of new business creation that was released in May. Some years it ranks No. 2 or 3, but South Florida has always been in the top five of this national ranking for a decade.

The 2017 Kauffman Index of Growth Entrepreneurship used 2016 data on employment and revenues to rank states and metro areas in three areas: the rate of startup growth in the first five years; the percentage share of scale-ups that have reached at least 50 employees by year 10; and high-growth company density, or the number of private businesses with at least $2 million in annual revenue and three consecutive years of 20 percent annual revenue growth.

Miami ranked at the bottom of the pack for share of scale-ups, and in the bottom quartile for the other two categories. In Florida, Tampa (No. 26) and Orlando (No. 29) ranked higher than Miami. Only Jacksonville ranked lower, coming in at No. 40.

The top 10, in order: Washington, DC; Austin; Columbus; Nashville; Atlanta; San Jose’ San Francisco; Boston; Minneapolis; and Indianapolis.

The sobering ranking reflects the reality that the Miami area has historically had far more micro-businesses — those under four employees — than most other metro areas, and it still does. But it comes amid Miami’s ongoing efforts to address this issue and develop a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem, a process that takes time. In the past five years, the Knight Foundation has committed more than $28 million to more than 200 entrepreneurship projects and organizations in the city. Several organizations focused on scaling up companies have expanded to Miami in the past few years, including Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses, Endeavor and the Babson WIN Lab for women-led companies and are already showing progress.

 

Endeavor Miami’s impact report, released last week, shows that its 16 Endeavor companies have generated 1,600 jobs and are booking $130 million in 2017 revenue. Other South Florida tech companies, too, that started in the past five to 10 years are now booking tens of millions in revenue and employing hundreds of employees, including Modernizing Medicine, CareCloud, MDLive, Chewy and Nearpod, to name a few, and a number of other startups are on their way. And it’s not only tech: Food and beverage startups have been particularly active, including Pincho Factory, already generating about $14 million in revenue.

On a national level, the Kauffman index showed, entrepreneurial growth continued to rebound from the Great Recession slump, across different industries and geographies.

“What this shows us is that, while Silicon Valley, Boston and New York City tend to grab national headlines, other areas of the country have been flying below the radar, quietly growing their ecosystems and nurturing entrepreneurial activity in their back yards,” Bobby Franklin, president and CEO of the National Venture Capital Association, wrote in the report.

The report also found that startups are growing more rapidly and reaching scale at higher rates than in the years following the Great Recession. Yet, fewer companies are growing to become medium-sized or larger in terms of employment when compared to the levels in the 1980s and 90s.

“These findings are cautiously promising. We are seeing a new model of economic development emerge — one that infuses entrepreneurship into the economy and removes barriers to starting and growing businesses,” said Victor Hwang, vice president of Entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation, in a news release. “Our research indicates that high-growth firms, particularly of young firms, are important to job, output and productivity growth. However, because businesses are creating fewer jobs, it’s more important than ever to empower people to control their own economic destinies.”

Among the 25 largest states, the five posting the highest entrepreneurial growth activity were Virginia, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts and Texas. Florida ranked 24th, the same ranking as in last year’s report.

Find the report at www.kauffmanindex.org.

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

October 08, 2017

StartUP FIU: Your chance to change the world

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By Kate Sackman

What do fair trade yoga pants, paying off student loans, and promoting minority businesses have in common? Yep, all of these opportunities, and more, are being addressed by the StartUP FIU Empower Accelerator companies.

An exciting array of startups are in the third cohort of companies now going through the fall 2017 Empower Accelerator on the main campus of Florida International University.  This 14-week intensive program guides early stage companies rapidly through the key analyses and decisions for building a strong company foundation and scaling. Of the eleven companies in Cohort 3, six are FIU-affiliated (students, alumni, and faculty) and five are from the Miami community.  All of the companies at least have a prototype in development and four of them are generating revenue. The industries represented include apparel, food service, finance, ecommerce, supply chain monitoring and digital marketing

Companies in Cohort 3 are working to provide fair incomes and humane treatment of garment workers in Sri Lanka, help people get out from under crushing debt, and reduce fraud at construction sites.  Cool technologies such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things, and predictive analytics are being applied by companies to improve consumer intelligence, make online marketing more fair and efficient, and yes, help you get fit.

Here are the companies in Cohort 3:

Alana Athletica: Alana designs and sells yoga pants made to employ and empower women in Sri Lanka who are abuse survivors.

Aromas del Peru: A successful Peruvian restaurant chain in Miami that plans to franchise nationally.

CoinStash: An automatic savings plan that helps users pay off student and credit card debt by automatically rounding up their purchases to the nearest dollar and applying the difference to their debt.

Ekkobar: A sophisticated application of machine learning, Ekkobar enables companies to analyze their digital media in real time and interact directly with their audience.

Lunchology: A healthy meal delivery service for schools using only fresh, local ingredients.

Major Marketplace: An online marketplace for minority businesses and those who want to support them.

Merkari: A digital marketing company that enables companies to run multi-channel campaigns across any device.

Mettosof: Mettosof makes InstanRate, a SaaS system that expedites customers’ review process and helps business operators analyze customer feedback   to improve their operations.

Origo: A blockchain-based web platform that allows businesses to validate the true identity and fair trade practices of traders in the Americas.

Smart Barrel: Provides rugged, solar-powered IoT products for construction jobsites that enable construction workers to punch in and out without an RFID tag or other device and enables project managers to oversee and plan construction sites more efficiently.

Sodima Solutions: A chatbot company that provides customer management and a lead generation fitness assistant for the Facebook business page of fitness professionals and gyms.

APPLICATIONS OPEN FOR NEXT COHORT

Applications are now open for Cohort 4! Aspiring entrepreneurs from throughout South Florida are invited to apply.  Companies that have a prototype in development and a good understanding of their customers and market are eligible. Preference is for companies with some revenue, but companies at any stage are welcome to apply. You can apply on the StartUP FIU website: http://startup.fiu.edu. Cohort 4 begins in January 2018.

On the website you can also find StartUP FIU workshops, speakers, and other programs for the public. Upcoming workshops by leading experts include A Beginner’s Guide to Crowdfunding (October 5), and Sea Level Rise Mitigation (October 12). 

Kate Sackman is the director of the StartUP FIU Empower Accelerator and a seasoned entrepreneur.  She has a background in finance, marketing, high-tech, and media. She is also a consultant and a professor of Global Social Entrepreneurship at FIU.

 

October 06, 2017

Hallandale Beach's EasyPeasie a finalist in national SBA InnovateHER contest

The U.S. Small Business Administration announced the 2017 finalists of the SBA’s InnovateHER Business Challenge, the nationwide competition highlighting innovative products, services or technology developed by visionary entrepreneurs that have a measurable impact on the lives of women and families, and in the marketplace.

Sisterly duo and Hallandale Beach natives, Dr. Jamelah Tucker and Dorielle T. Price, a pediatrician and electrical engineer, respectively, co-founded “EasyPeasie” Veggie Blends, a custom blend of all natural vegetable powders.  The company initially pitched their undetectable veggie products during an event sponsored by Miami’s Mindwarehouse before advancing to the final round of competition.

“We are extremely proud to have a South Florida company recognized amongst the finalists for the 2017 InnovateHER competition,” said South Florida District Director Francisco “Pancho” Marrero. “Over the last couple of years, our District has been home to the second place overall winners in both 2015 and 2016.

South Florida is a breeding ground for innovation, and creating an undetectable veggie product as a way to get children to eat their vegetables is a testament of just that,” he added. “I wish them the best of luck in the next round of judging and with all their future endeavors."

The 10 finalists were selected through a rigorous nationwide competition held by host organizations, including universities, accelerators, and SBA Resource Partners that ran local area competitions through June 3, 2017.  Next, an executive committee of SBA officials evaluated more than 120 semi-finalist nominations and chose 10 finalists to participate in the National Pitch Competition, whose products and services best meet the competition criteria and present the greatest potential for success. 

The InnovateHER Business Challenge finalists are invited to conduct a marketing pitch before a team of expert judges at the National Pitch Competition held on October 26, 2017, in Washington, D.C., as they compete for the top three awards totaling $70,000 in prize money, provided by the Sara Blakely Foundation.

For details on the competition and to read about the other finalists, visit www.sba.gov/innovateHER 

October 03, 2017

Grameen America will open micro-lending branch in Miami

Yunus

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

With Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus, the father of micro-financing and world-renowned champion of poverty alleviation and social entrepreneurship, by her side, the CEO of Grameen America announced Monday evening that the micro-lending organization for women would be bringing its services by the end of the year to Miami-Dade County, an area with one of the highest poverty rates in the nation.

Grameen America facilitates micro loans to women to help them start businesses, as well as providing training and support. Miami will be the 13th city location in the Grameen America network that started in 2008, and over the next several years, the organization will likely add several more branches in the area, said Andrea Jung, CEO of the network. New York City, for instance, has seven branches.

She said in a few years’ time, 4,000 to 5,000 women who have been shut off from traditional networks of financing can be helped. Grameen America also has a credit score program that has helped women who lack scores, or who have very low ones, achieve scores of 650 or higher in 26 weeks, she said. 

Andrea JungYunus and Jung took part in a discussion with an entrepreneurs’ group in Brickell before they headed to Books & Books in Coral Gables, where the 77-year-old social entrepreneur would be discussing his new book, “A World of Three Zeros: The New Economics of Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment, and Zero Net Carbon Emissions.” Yunus pioneered the micro-credit concept that uses small loans made at affordable interest rates to transform the lives of impoverished women. He is the founder of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, and Yunus and Grameen Bank were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.

“Poverty is not a problem of the people — it’s the system around them. Society never gave people the base for which to grow,” said Yunus, who also said that he hopes one day, the only place people will experience poverty is in a poverty museum. 

In calling for a world with zero poverty, unemployment and net carbon emissions, Yunus said the problem that needs to be solved is to reverse the greatly accelerated wealth concentration at the very top — what he called “an explosive time bomb ticking away” — while anger and unhappiness festers at the bottom, he told the entrepreneurial group gathered by attorney Juan Pablo Cappello at Novecento on Brickell. “We can not go on ignoring it.”

Yunus said the way to eliminate unemployment is through entrepreneurship: “The job is such an old-fashioned idea. Humans are not born to work for anyone. ... Be someone who has unleashed his power and make something happen.”

Grameen America opened its first branch in 2008 in the New York City area. Its first year, it helped 500 women with $1 million in capital. Now the organization has lent $1 billion to more than 100,000 women and their families in its 19 branches in 12 cities — loans that have helped women start food businesses, cleaning services, lawn services, dress shops and tire stores. First-time loans are typically $1,500, and subsequent loans can be larger as the women establish a track record. Grameen America has a 99 percent loan repayment rate.

“We do everything banks won’t do,” said Jung, former chairman and CEO of Avon. “It’s a brilliant social business model that people didn’t think would work in the U.S.”

JPMorgan Chase provided a 2016 grant to Grameen America of $500,000 to expand its network to Miami. Miami Foundation is also a funder, and other corporations are coming on board. “We truly believed in the Grameen model and saw its potential to benefit Miami’s underserved women entrepreneurs,” said Maria Escorcia, VP of global philanthropy for the bank.

The needs in Miami-Dade are great. According to a United Way report released in February, six out of every 10 Miami-Dade County residents struggle to pay for the basic necessities of food, housing, transportation, healthcare and childcare, and 21 percent of local families live below the poverty line. 

Grameen America would be joining Accion and Partners for Self Employment, which have already been providing micro-loans and training in South Florida. 

“We will be here for the long term in this city,” Jung said. “Our goal is to have a movement that offers a hand up, not a handout, and the only way to do that is through financial inclusion.” 

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