April 30, 2016

Zumba: What the global fitness brand can teach Miami tech

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

It doesn’t get more Miami than the story of Zumba.

Perlman mug (1)Alberto Perlman, who appeared at The LAB Miami for the monthly  "Brainfood" series, is co-founder and CEO of Zumba Fitness, the largest branded fitness program in the world. He shared war stories and lessons learned.

Zumba dance fitness classes attract more than 15 million weekly participants in 200,000 locations in more than 180 countries. The brand also includes music, clothing, DVDs, video games, a charity platform and most recently its first food product.

Perlman oversees day-to-day operations, manages brand and product development, and negotiates partnerships with fitness clubs and organizations around the world. The Hallandale Beach-based company has about 220 employees and a development team of about 30. He co-founded the company with two other Albertos from Colombia, Alberto Aghion and Alberto “Beto” Pérez.

But Zumba used none of the traditional methods to grow. It hasn’t acquired any companies. Except for accepting one private equity investment, it hasn’t raised financing. Instead it was at the right place at the right time with the right idea, amid a confluence of healthy living trends, a resurgence of interest in all things Latin, and a fresh business model that relied on harnessing the passion of Zumba instructors to build the business. Today, they lead more than half a million classes every week. What’s the secret to building a worldwide movement? “You start with heart,” Perlman said at the discussion led by entrepreneur Marco Giberti on Thursday night.

Perlman said Zumba has been testing live streaming and virtual reality, and looks forward to testing augmented reality, but he told the tech audience that the live experience will always be the center of all Zumba does.

“The live experience is never going to be replaced. Face-to-face is never going away. Everything we do is to drive people to the classes.”

Not that there weren’t low points. One of them was in the downturn of 2008, when the team was running low on money and bracing for the worst. But 2008 was also an inflection point for the company because they realized that despite the recession, people were flocking to the classes to de-stress and have fun. The instructor ranks swelled also, as a means of employment in tough times. “We were there and the people found us.”

Since then, apparel has become a very big business for Zumba, which like all its products are co-created with the instructor network. Last year Zumba sold 4 million units, 90 percent of which are sold through the website, he said.

Zumba possibly would consider developing another fitness brand if it was the right fit (he said he didn’t see CrossFit coming), but it’s not a priority, Perlman said. “The Zumba brand keeps us very busy,” he said, and there is still innovation to do. For instance, in the last few years its charity platform, Zumbathon, has taken off, raising about $5.7 million. Its Zumba Stories website is packed with personal, life-changing stories. And the company this year introduced its first food product, Zumba Shake Shake Shake, a super healthy plant-based protein drink.

He said finding talent has been difficult in Miami, but he also believes that if he had started Zumba in New York or Los Angeles, it may not have gotten off the ground. Being under the radar and not having intense local competition has its advantages when you are building a company.

Perlman’s advice to entrepreneurs: “Focus on your product and customers — don’t spend all your time raising money. Customer-centric companies win.”

And perhaps he should have also added: “Listen to your mother.” She had a very instrumental part in the Zumba story, encouraging him to meet with her dance-fitness instructor, “Beto,” the accidental entrepreneur who invented the Zumba dance concept and became his co-founder. "Maybe you can start a gym together," she said then.

Nancy Dahlberg; 305-376-3595; @ndahlberg

 

 

March 29, 2016

Meet Nelly Farra, new leader of WIN Lab set to launch in Miami

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Wanted: South Florida women “with the fire to make it happen.”

Nelly farraThat’s Nelly Farra’s message. She’s the new director of the WIN Lab, a Miami accelerator for women entrepreneurs launching on Thursday. With the launch, the program plans to begin taking applications for its first cohort of 20 selected female founders that will start this fall.

The eight-month entrepreneurship program was the brainchild of Babson College, consistently ranked tops in the nation for entrepreneurship education, and its Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership. Its Miami expansion, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, will be modeled after Babson’s successful program in Boston.

The WIN (Women Innovating Now) Lab is looking for outstanding early-stage founders — so-called WINners — from South Florida.

 “We are industry-agnostic and age-agnostic. We are looking for women who might have come out of wonderful corporate jobs and now are starting their own businesses as well as individuals earlier on in their careers who have that idea and are going for it,” Farra said.

Farra, born and raised in South Florida, most recently led business development for the Morrison, Brown, Argiz & Farra (MBAF) accounting firm, where she expanded the firm’s reach into the entrepreneurial ecosystem through its work with Endeavor. Before joining MBAF, Farra partnered on the launch of a green-gym concept in the Los Angeles area and also pioneered wellness professional talent management in South Florida. Farra is a graduate of the University of Miami and received her MBA from Babson College in 2010, where she was also co-chair of the Babson Entrepreneurship Forum.

“Our secret sauce is a developing community of women eager to build the next big idea,” said Farra, noting that just 15 percent of venture accelerator participants are women. That low level of diversity also pervades venture capital, the tech industry, CEO ranks and boards. To help build a stronger pipeline, Farra said: “We use near-peer role modeling so we have women who have been there and done that. We’ll have 20 female mentors matched up with the founders. We will also have entrepreneurs, executives and investors in residence.” Johanna Mikkola, co-founder of Wyncode Academy, will be an entrepreneur-in-residence, and others will be announced soon. The program will be free, and WINners will also get co-working space.

The program will meet one evening a week. It will begin with a two-day retreat for self exploration, idea investigation, inspiration and community building, Farra said. Then the WINners will get help in every step of launching and growing a business, including building a team, customer acquisition, capital raising and scaling.

The program is more spread out than a traditional three-month accelerator, so women may find it easier to work into their lives while their build their startups. They could also be students.

In Boston the WIN Lab has attracted founders such as Emily Levy and Maria Del Mar Gomes of PICCPerfect, maker of functional and fashionable medical dressings for chronic illness patients treated with PICC lines. Francine Gervazio of Cargo 42 created a platform where customers can post their shipping needs and shippers can make an offer to carry their cargo. Bernette Dawson launched Made Organics, a line of handcrafted personal-care products.

“We will expect a lot from our founders — an eight-month commitment — but we provide a lot in return,” Farra said.

The program embodies entrepreneurial thought and action — part of Babson’s methodology — to balance action, experimentation and creativity to create economic and social value. “That is what we are all about,” Farra said. “The concept is to take iterative steps to prove your model. That’s how I embody it: Everything I do is to go out and get it done.”

The deadline for applications will be May 2. For more information about the WIN Lab, go to www.babson.edu/WINLab and learn more about the program at the launch event on Thursday. (See accompanying box).

WIN Lab Miami Launch

When: 6-8 p.m. Thursday

Where: The Light Box, 404 NW 26th St., Miami

Speakers: Mary Biggins of ClassPass and MealPass; Julia Ford-Carther of Bammies; Jessica Do of PalmPress; Isabella Acker of Culture; Johanna Mikkola of Wyncode Academy

Cost: Free, but registration is required on Eventbrite.

For more information about WIN Lab: www.babson.edu/WINLab

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

Read more: Babson's Women Innovating Now Lab to launch in Miami

Read more: Numbers don't lie: Silicon Valley still has a diversity problem

 

March 01, 2016

Got a great idea for transit & mobility? We need it! Here's your chance

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Traffic: It has to be one of Miami's top challenges, and an economic one too. I know that I spent almost an hour more of my workday than I needed to getting to and from an assignment yesterday in the middle of the day and my 12-mile commute home took 45 minutes. So here's an opportunity to have your ideas heard.
 
All are invited to contribute ideas to improve transit and mobility in Miami as part of a weeklong 100 Great Ideas campaign. It's easy to join in on Facebook here, or on Twitter with the hashtag #100greatideas. The ideas will be synthesized into a report and shared with public officials and community leaders.  Ten idea-sharers will be invited to a conversation with local decision makers.
 
Previous social media campaigns started by Rebecca Fishman-Lipsey of Radical Partners, a social innovation accelerator, looked for ideas to improve libraries and the airport and netted hundreds of ideas. In just a couple of days, this one has already gained considerable steam out of the gate and already looks like it will be the most fruitful one yet. Ideas include ways to improve the city's walkability and accessibility, incentivizing the use of public transit with perks from your workplace and prevalent wifi en-route and improving GPS tracking of buses and trolleys through apps.    
 
The New Tropic rounded up some of its favorites thus far: See them here.

February 29, 2016

Miami Tech prepares to Hack for Good this weekend to solve some of city’s toughest challenges (and you’re invited!)

Submitted By Refresh Miami

HackforgoodThree of Miami’s most prominent tech organizations are setting out to make an impact on their community. Tech and entrepreneurship organization Refresh Miami, Florida’s top code school Wyncode Academy, and Code for America brigade Code for Miami have joined forces to organize the first annual Hack-For-Good hackathon, taking place March 4th to 6th at The LAB Miami in Wynwood. The purpose of the event is to pair local nonprofits and charities with the city’s top “hackers” (programmers, designers, creators and business leaders) to build solutions to their toughest challenges through the use of technology.

Over forty Miami charities submitted applications, which were narrowed down to just five finalists.

The selected nonprofits include:

  • Make the Homeless Smile Miami, which aims to heal disenfranchised communities by treating them with dignity, empowering them with knowledge and providing them with access.
  • Apretaste, whose mission is to connect underdeveloped countries to the web free of charge and open them up to a whole world of opportunities.
  • Miami Dade Animal Services, which saves the lives of abandoned animals and helps reunite lost pets with their owners.
  • Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, a group dedicated to tropical plant diversity and inspiring a greater knowledge and love for plants and gardening.
  • Switchboard, an organization that counsels, connects and empowers people in need through their more than 15 specialty phone lines, which include free and confidential telephone counseling, crisis intervention, suicide intervention, and more.

The hackathon offers exciting cash and prizes for the top three projects created over the weekend that best solve the issues presented by the charities. The event’s headline sponsor is the Knight Foundation with space donated by The LAB Miami. Local companies LiveNinja, OpenEnglish, MadChiller, Lemon City Tea and Concrete Beach will also be onsite providing hackers with some much need fuel and support to keep them going throughout the three-day event.

With Miami’s 2011 distinction as the least civically engaged city in the country by The National Conference on Citizenship still fresh in their minds, the organizers hope this initiative will remove some of this stigma associated with the Magic City. “This event is all about building real tools that help local nonprofits make an even bigger impact on the lives of Miami residents”, said Maria Derchi Russo, Director of Operations for Refresh Miami. “We also hope it will inspire residents to get more actively involved in their community and help make a difference”.

“For Wyncode Academy, we couldn't be more excited about helping Miami’s charities solve their problems using technology and are expecting a huge number of our students, alumni and hiring partners to take part” Juha Mikkola, Wyncode’s co-founder, said. “Miami has incredible developers who can build the tools that will make a real impact to these organizations right away, and we hope that this hackathon will also promote more people to take the leap and learn to code when they see what’s possible”.

Danielle Ungermann, community and events coordinator for Code for Miami, adds “We’re pleased to see how far South Florida has come in pushing forward and supporting civic initiatives like the Miami-Dade open data portal, which launched during last year’s CodeAcross event. We only hope that this weekend’s community-wide collaboration will continue to grow and extend outside of this event to show just how much can be achieved through the cross pollination of different communities and industries.”

Participation in the event is free and those interested can register here.

Wyncode Academy is Florida’s top code school, with campuses in Wynwood, FATvillage in Ft. Lauderdale and Miami Beach, teaching coding in a full time and intensive boot camp environment. With 186 graduates, 65 companies that have hired a Wyncoder and a 90% placement rate within 3 months of graduation, Wyncode believes they can teach anyone to code, provided they have the desire to do so.

Refresh Miami is Florida’s largest technology and entrepreneurship organization with over 9,000 members. Their mission is to foster innovation and growth of the tech community through a steady stream of educational content and networking opportunities. Their monthly events draw between 300-400 attendees and cover various topics on emerging trends and how to successfully run and grow a startup.

Code For Miami, a Code for America Brigade, is a group of civic hackers (designers, developers, data scientists, urbanists and community organizers) who contribute their talents toward improving the way the community interacts with local government by advocating for open data and using it to create apps and shared resources. In support of Open Data Day, a gathering of citizens in cities around the world to write applications, liberate data, create visualizations and publish analyses using open public data to show support for the adoption of open data policies by the world's local governments, this event is a Code for America CodeAcross event.

 

February 26, 2016

FIU selected as Ashoka U Changemaker campus

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Miami became the first city to be home to two Ashoka U Changemaker campuses of higher learning on Thursday. Ashoka is the world’s largest network of social entrepreneurs, and changemaker campuses are recognized as leaders in fostering social entrepreneurial opportunities for its students and community.

Florida International joined the prestigious Ashoka University Changemaker Campus consortium at an Ashoka conference this week in New Orleans. Miami Dade College was selected last August. Other universities and colleges in the 35-member consortium include Arizona State University, Boston College, Brown, Duke, Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland

“We’ve long seen our FIU as a solutions center for our community and the world,” said FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg. “We are excited to be in such great company, contributing to an environment where our students can collaborate with the brightest minds to address the most pressing issues of our time.”

Both South Florida universities went through a rigorous multi-year review process before being designated Changemaker campuses. FIU was lauded for its graduate school requirement that students engage the community while conducting research projects, its student-focused Center for Leadership and Service, and its commitment to innovation and entrepreneurship exemplified by its Small Business Development Center and plans for a new incubator, FIU said.

Being a Changemaker campus will bring students and their schools additional resources and global connections for furthering mission-driven projects and ventures.

February 10, 2016

Help solve 'one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century'

Join MIT Hacking Medicine Feb. 20-21 at the Idea Center at Miami Dade College 

 

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By Christian Seale

Startupbootcamp Miami and the Idea Center at Miami Dade College are excited to bring MIT Hacking Medicine to Miami for a two-day hackathon* aimed at developing innovative solutions to stem the tide of childhood obesity.

This event represents MIT Hacking Medicine’s first time in Miami. We welcome all innovators, entrepreneurs, technologists, healthcare and educational professionals, food and beverage purveyors and other public and private sector community members to join us on February 20-21 to help us build healthier communities and improve the future health for all our children. Apply here by Feb. 15 to participate!

MIT Hacking Medicine has a storied history. Having facilitated nearly 50 hackathons across a dozen countries and multiple US states, it has worked in conjunction with organizations such as the Kauffman Foundation, Massachusetts General Hospital, Microsoft, Samsung, GE, Merck and AthenaHealth among many others.  Teams coming out of these events have raised over $70 million in investment funding and partnered with national and international healthcare institutions to pilot their solutions. Venture-backed darling Pill Pack, a full-service pharmacy that delivers a better, simpler experience for people managing multiple medications came out of one of the first MIT Hacking Medicine hackathons.

This video of last year’s GrandHack gives an idea of what to expect.

 

We’ll kick off 9am on February 20th with opening words from Dr. Narendra Kini, the CEO of Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, Karen Weller from the Miami-Dade County Health Department and a few special guests soon to be announced.

Participants will have the opportunity to pitch a problem/solution to all in attendance. Thereafter, most teams will form organically while others will have already come together before the hackathon. We’ll provide plenty of nourishment and guidance along the way. Mentors from Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, Ascension, the University of Miami, CVS Health, Rokk3r Labs, Health Semantics, The LAB Miami and many others will be on hand to assist teams as they develop their solutions. Univision will cover the event.

The hackathon will culminate February 21st in the afternoon with final pitches to win $5,000 in cash prizes and Amazon Web Service credits. Teams will present to a panel of five judges: Eric Wenke, Head of Corporate Transformation at Baptist Health, Dr. Norma Sue Kenyon, Vice Provost of Innovation at the University of Miami, Gabriela Perez, Partner at PiVisions LLC, Mark Everett, President of Miami Dade College Medical Campus, and Abhinav Gautam, Co-Founder of Carevoyance and Entrepreneur in Residence at Startupbootcamp Miami. 

With the rate of childhood obesity in the U.S. quadrupling in the past 30 years we encourage you to join us to solve what the World Health Organization has recently named “one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century.”

We look forward to seeing you there!

________________

For more information visit Gohackhealth.com or reach out at contactus@gohackhealth.com

See our Facebook page here.

Christian Seale is Founder and Managing Director of Startupbootcamp Miami.

 

January 22, 2016

AT&T Aspire opens applications for ed-tech accelerator

For-profit and non-profit organizations focused on social impact can apply; relocation not required.

AT&T is looking for local companies working on a product or service that uses technology to support students’ educational and career success.

The company announced it has opened the application process for its AT&T Aspire Accelerator program. The program works with organizations that use technology to help students succeed, strengthen schools and communities, or prepare learners for employment.

Potential areas of focus include mobile applications that drive education outcomes; platforms for teachers, students and/or parents; learning and curriculum management tools; assessment and outcome tracking platforms; and increased access for existing best practices.

Solutions for students at-risk of dropping out of school will receive special consideration.

Aspire Accelerator is part of AT&T’s $350 million commitment to empower students to reach their full potential.

The customized 6-month program includes:

* Aspire Investment – $100,000 AT&T investment and an additional $25,000 for each venture to cover costs of the program. For non-profit companies, the investment will be a general contribution. They receive this in exchange for participating in the Aspire Accelerator and meeting certain requirements, including submitting impact measurements.

* Mentorship – Access to AT&T and external mentors from education and technology.

* National Platform – Inclusion in the broader AT&T Aspire initiative, which is committed to driving innovation in education.

* Flexible Location – Organizations can participate from where they are, without relocating.

Both non-profits and for-profit companies of any size are eligible to apply at aspireaccelerator.fluidreview.com.

Applications will be accepted through February 5. The Aspire Accelerator program will begin in May.

-submitted by AT&T

January 12, 2016

16 concepts from South Florida advance to Knight Cities Challenge finals

An app that allows Miami residents to discuss and vote on actions taken by local government, a culinary incubator in Opa-Locka, a reimagined "Domino Park" and a kayak-sharing program were among 12 concepts chosen as finalists from Miami in the second annual Knight Cities Challenge. Four finalists were also selected from Palm Beach County.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation on Tuesday announced 158 finalists on Tuesday as part of its national call for ideas to make the 26 communities where Knight invests more vibrant places to live and work. More than 4.500 applicants from across the country entered.

"The finalists reflect what the Knight Cities Challenge is about: uncovering new civic innovators and motivating people to realize ideas big and small that can contribute to the success of their cities," said Carol Coletta, Knight Foundation vice president for community and national initiatives, in announcing the finalists.

Winners, who will receive a share of $5 million to fund their projects, will be announced in the spring. The Miami Science Barge, a floating education center for learning about sustainability and marine life now under construction and aiming to open this year, was one of the 32 winners in the inaugural challenge.

The finalists from Miami, which include one with a concept for multiple cities, are:

Thrive Kitchen by Opa-locka Community Development Corp. (submitted by Aileen Alon): Creating a shared commercial kitchen and business incubator to stimulate Miami's food entrepreneurs in South Florida's underserved communities.

First Taste: Little River by First Taste (submitted by Amy Rosenberg): Enabling food entrepreneurs at a regular food flea market in Little River to showcase their products to the public and grow their businesses.

Orange Blossom Parkway Bicycle and Pedestrian Trail for Proposed Hialeah MarketDistrict by city of Hialeah (submitted by Annette Quintana): Creating an urban linear park connecting Hialeah Market Station and Hialeah Drive to provide residents with a space to walk, bike, play and connect.

Community Asset Platform by Center for Applied Transect Studies (submitted by Hank Dittmar): Creating an online platform that will map neighborhood assets and underused public areas (vacant lots, empty storefronts) and engage residents in redevelopment efforts.

DomiNest by IoCI (submitted by Malik Benjamin): Transforming Miami's iconic “Domino Park” to bring people from diverse backgrounds and ages together for a game of dominos.

Living with Water: Miami Beach Blueways Connector by city of Miami Beach (submitted by Judy Hoanshelt): Creating a kayak-sharing program that will build on Miami's transportation network and introduce people to the city's waterways and unique aquatic ecosystems.

The Underline: Brickell Backyard Outdoor Gym/Sports Field by Friends of The Underline (submitted by Meg Daly): Creating a sports field and gym as part of The Underline, a proposed 10-mile linear park underneath the Miami-Dade Metrorail, to provide quality of life incentives to talented young adults.

BlockWork Miami (submitted by Nassar Farid Mufdi Ruiz): Providing an annual incentive for residents to transform their neighborhoods; residents would nominate a block for revitalization and would restore it if it's chosen to receive funding.

Open Source Democracy by Engage Miami (submitted by Gabriel Pendas): Creating an app that provides information on issues that the Miami-Dade County Commission and other municipalities are voting on, and allows residents to discuss and cast their own vote on how they feel.

Miami Civic User Testing Group by Code for Miami (submitted by Rebekah Monson): Ensuring that people building local government technology use real-world feedback throughout the development process by creating a user testing group that will identify user experience issues more quickly, while making websites and apps more accessible.

Biscayne Green: Pop-Up Park by Miami Downtown Development Authority (submitted by Fabian de la Espriella): Creating a pop-up park and urban forest along Biscayne Boulevard to drive momentum for Biscayne Green, a proposal to redesign Biscayne Boulevard to include a pedestrian promenade.

This Is Home (finalist in category for Multiple Cities) by Global Ties Miami (submitted by Annette G. Alvarez): Welcoming refugee and immigrant families and connecting them with their neighbors and neighborhoods through shared community dinners and cultural experiences.

In Palm Beach County, the finalists are:

Friends of the Quadrille Linear Park (submitted by Aaron Wormus): Taking advantage of the construction around the All Aboard Florida rail service to create a friends' group to work towards a new linear park for downtown West Palm Beach.

Art Avenida by Lake Worth Community Redevelopment Agency (submitted by Joan Olliva): Improving public space in Lake Worth by transforming four downtown intersections with art, light, plantings and structures that celebrate diverse cultures.

A People First Design Criteria for Streets in the City of West Palm Beach by city of West Palm Beach (submitted by Chris Roog): Improving streets and public rights of way by developing design standards that prioritize people over cars.

The Sunset Rises Again! by the City of West Palm Beach (submitted by Jon Ward): Creating a new cultural hub in the Northwest Historic District on the site of a former jazz club and surrounding land.

Find the full list of finalists here.

December 22, 2015

Urban.Us public benefit update: Portfolio startups are reimagining cities, making them better

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Stonly Baptiste, right, with Shaun Abrahamson. Together they founded Urban.Us. Photo by Carl Juste 

By Stonly Baptiste

Cities today create 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and urban populations are set to double by 2050, making climate change a city problem. At the same time, policy, technology, and business interests have aligned uniquely to enable a new generation of entrepreneurs to reimagine cities.

In late 2013, we created Urban.Us to find, fund, and de-risk early-stage startups that make city life (and cities) better.

We are launching the next stage of our efforts in 2016 and now count nineteen companies in the portfolio, with a few more companies to be announced in the coming months.

Looking at our investments so far, they include some of the most promising startups in areas ranging from water and energy conservation to construction automation and law enforcement. We’re usually one of the first investors to work with a founding team and have developed a unique approach to find and support our companies.

We work with a community of investors, experts, governments, and corporations (now more than 850 people) to improve their chances of moving from concept to growth-stage funding (series A). We’ve been fortunate to enjoy support from organizations like the Knight Foundation, the Miami Foundation, and Direct Energy, which helped us organize a summit and showcase in Miami in 2015.

In fact, Miami-Dade County is already seeing some of the benefits from our portfolio companies.

Rachio makes a smart irrigation controller that dramatically reduces water usage (as much as fifty percent of water used outdoors right now is being wasted). In addition to saving money, the aggregate water savings of Rachio customers represent a significant shift in the demand on municipal water supplies. To date, 440,225,274 gallons of water have been saved thanks to Rachio, which is now at the top of Amazon and Home Depot product rankings in its category.

Miami-Dade's Urban Conservation Unit recently announced that Coral Gables is upgrading its potable system to Rachio Iro units.

Skycatch is leading the way in autonomous commercial data acquisition using drones. Skycatch has increased its focus on construction thanks to customers like Komatsu and partners like Autodesk, but it also has customers in areas like disaster response and mining. It has also worked with the FAA and NASA to shape commercial-drone policy and regulations.

In May, the Miami Herald interviewed Trevor Duke, a South Florida-based drone pilot for SkyCatch, about his work using drones to automate processes at construction sites. Bouygues, the French construction and energy conglomerate, has been testing Skycatch’s autonomous system at building sites in Miami since 2014.

Beyond Miami, our portfolio is creating public benefits nationally and even internationally.

HandUp is a platform that allows you to donate directly to a homeless neighbor in need.

They have helped match almost $1 million to over 3,000 specific needs through the platform. The team has begun expanding beyond San Francisco by partnering with community organizations in cities like Denver and Miami.

Dash creates software that help make driving smarter, safer, greener, and more affordable. Downloads of the dash mobile app have topped 250,000 users in 100+ countries—more than all the players in the emerging Connected Car space. It also recently launched a program with Allstate Insurance and the NY Department of Transportation to promote better driving through rewards and incentives.

BlocPower is automating sourcing, energy auditing, retrofit engineering, procurement, and financing processes to bring the best existing tech to low-income neighborhoods, where significant energy savings result in reduced CO2 footprints as well as less stress on community budgets. The team is now serving more than 300 small and medium-sized buildings in Metro New York City and are contracted to retrofit 1,000 to 2,000 buildings over the next three years, a $200 million project financing opportunity.

A few companies we work with are still too early in their development to be reporting public benefits but are showing great progress and promise.

OneConcern is a disaster-solutions company that provides rapid damage estimates across all natural disasters using artificial intelligence on natural phenomena sciences. We’re hoping to count the number of lives saved thanks to OneConcern’s focus on being at the forefront of every emergency.

Mark43 is a cloud-based records management system (RMS) and analysis tool built for and in collaboration with police. The early reports from its first deployment in Washington, DC have been encouraging, and we hope to share data about police hours saved and more as the company deploys to cities around the country.

RadiatorLabs converts old cast-iron radiators into precision heating machines. Its first product, “The Cozy,” is expected to save building owners up to forty percent annually in heating costs. Early deployments will soon be able to share data regarding the operational efficiency and safety the device has produced.

Flair is working on a complete lineup of next-generation heating and cooling products. Its first product is expected to produce huge energy and cost savings for people who want to stay comfortable in their homes and offices.

Our primary focus for our portfolio companies is that they make it through the “valley of death” where they are discovering their product offering, business model and customers. At this point we don’t worry much about impact, only potential impact. As they enter the growth stage, typically around series A funding, the impact begins to scale, too. Our portfolio of investments are on average less than two years old, so we hope to report even more progress next December.

Stonly Baptiste co-founded  Urban.Us with Shaun Abrahamson to fund early-stage companies that make cities better in 2013. He has co-founded or helped run a number of tech companies.

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A panel of experts discusses urban mobility at the Smart City Startups conference in Miami in April, produced and hosted by Urban.Us.

See Miami Herald cover story about Urban.Us published in 2014.

 

August 25, 2015

Green product businesses get help at EcoTech Visions

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BY NANCY DAHLBERG / ndahlberg@MiamiHerald.com

Everything was humming along for Barbara Jacques (pictured above), who followed her passion and started Jacq’s Organics at her kitchen table. She was selling her all-natural skin, bath and body care products online, at farmers’ markets and charity events, and received favorable reviews and press. Then:

“Six months after I quit my day job and was all in, I got calls from huge companies and we couldn’t fulfill the orders.”

Pandwe Gibson, founder of the incubator EcoTech Visions, doesn’t want cash flow to be an insurmountable hurdle for Jacques or other entrepreneurs. That’s why a big focus of her new program is helping early-stage companies with raising capital and managing manfacturing processes.

Seeing local manufacturing as a job generator and believing local product entrepreneurs were underserved, Gibson opened EcoTech in west MiamiShores to serve green businesses. The current 20 member businesses include Aeolus, an electric motorcycle company; Earthware, a sustainable cutlery maker; Culito de Rana, creator of all-natural topical applications to soothe sunburns and prevent mosquito bites; Precision Barber Club, which makes skin-care products; and Fruit of Life Organics, builder of aquaponic systems.

EcoTech offers coworking space, workshops and mentorship and helps raise capital. Gibson is raising funds herself to add a manufacturing area so that incubator companies can make products onsite. She’s already been granted $450,000 from Miami-DadeCounty; much of that money she makes available to the member companies in the form of $25,000 loans. EcoTech also helped seven of its companies win $10,000 CRA grants to help fund their prototypes.

Gibson is helping three South Florida companies — Earthware, D Squared Engineering and Konie Cups — to pursue a joint school board contract. Developers do that all the time, so why not other companies? she thought. Earthware offers sustainable cutlery, Coney offers cups, and D Squared offers containers.

“Who wouldn’t want a sustainable fork if it costs the same as a plastic fork?” asked Gibson. But a big challenge for these companies is securing large enough contracts to get the manufacturing costs down.

EcoTech also helps entrepreneurs with their investor presentations and encourages them to join pitch competitions. Seven of them will be pitching at the upcoming Thrive Seminar with Daymond John on Thursday.

The incubator also is helping Jacq’s Organics with a business plan, pitch deck, human resources needs, and connections, Jacques said.

Jacq’s Organics curently works out of a 600-square-foot studio in DaniaBeach certified for light manufacturing. Raising capital investment and applying for grants has been a big challenge; investors and granting organizations don’t work on a startup schedule and “you jump through a lot of hoops just to be told no,” she said.

Jacques is now working with a couple of large companies to break up the big orders into more manageable shipments. In one case, she’s filling an order for 200,000 pieces in 60,000 increments, while continuing to service smaller orders from boutique businesses, a never-ending challenge for a small business, she said. “I’m looking at 600 bars of soap right now that I need to get out tonight.” But there are worse problems to have.

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Michael Caballero, CEO of Earthware, left, and Pandwe A. Gibson, CEO/executive director at EcoTech Visions are photographed at the incubator helping 25 green product companies in the Miami-Dade area. Earthware makes sustainable cutlery. Carl Juste MIAMI HERALD STAFF