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

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 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.” 

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

September 28, 2017

Employing adults with autism, Rising Tide Car Wash opens second South Florida location

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An employee details a car at Rising Tide Car Wash in Parkland in 2013. Miami Herald File Photo

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Rising Tide Car Wash, a unique social venture with a mission to employ adults with autism, opened its second South Florida location on Thursday.

Rising Tide has operated in Parkland since 2013. The new Margate location, located at 2970 N. State Road 7, is estimated to create about 50 new jobs in the community.

“By opening the Margate location, we are not only giving more young adults with autism opportunities to realize their capabilities, gain confidence, make friends, gain financial independence, and have a place to call their own, but we are also providing South Floridians with another top-notch car wash experience,” said John D’Eri, CEO of Rising Tide.

When John and his son Tom D’Eri learned that 80 percent to 90 percent of adults with autism are unemployed, they set out to change that statistic. The D’Eris researched options and determined a car wash would be the ideal business for creating jobs for people with autism, like Tom’s brother Andrew, who likes structure and performing repetitive tasks and follows safety guidelines to the letter.

Rising Tide’s innovative, scalable model breaks the car-washing process into 46 distinct steps. Employees work in a mirror image of each other, and are able to thrive off the repetitive structure to produce extraordinary results, John D’Eri said.

Rising Tide is also one of the largest employers of people with autism in the U.S. Since its inception, Rising Tide has created 85 jobs in the South Florida area.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

September 27, 2017

11 South Florida leaders selected for cohort 4 of Social Entrepreneurship Bootcamp

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Rebecca Fishman Lipsey, center, is founder and CEO of Radical Partners, a social impact accelerator.

 

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

What are some of the most pressing issues facing our region, and how can we solve them?

Ask the alumni and new cohort of Social Entrepreneurship Bootcamp, an accelerator program for social-impact ventures based in South Florida.

The program, led by Radical Partners, announced its fourth cohort on Wednesday, selecting 11 leaders at the helm of some of the most innovative organizations seeking to improve our region. From expanding opportunities for diverse food entrepreneurs to providing a support network for transgender locals, the cohort of both for-profit and non-profit companies is committed to strengthening communities, increasing equity, and improving the quality of life for those in our city.

Each participant is offered a full scholarship to enable participation in the 12-week accelerator program focused on scaling the impact of their ventures. Upon completion of the program, participants are welcomed into an active alumni network, where they will continue to focus on strengthening Miami alongside some of the most celebrated social innovators in the region.

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In an effort to diversify the investor base in the social innovation sector, Radical Partners sought to fund the entire program through support from female investors and philanthropists. All scholarships for this fourth cohort were made possible by female investors who are committed to the future of Miami, including Tere Blanca of Blanca Commercial Real Estate, Leslie Miller Saiontz of Achieve Miami and Teach For America, CL Conroy of The Conroy Martinez Group, Ruth Admire of The William J. and Isobel G. Clarke Foundation, Dr. Elizabeth Leight, Stephanie Ansin, and Michelle Huttenhoff, among others.

The cohort will also benefit from expert advice from financial advisors, branding experts, and lawyers through partnerships with Desnoyers CPA, Fiscal Management Associates, and Milkcase Creative. Participants will also receive legal health checks from Akerman and have access to the AkermanX/Radical Partners innovation space housed at the Cambridge Innovation Center for all 12 weeks of the program.

Here are the 2017 Social Entrepreneurship Bootcamp cohort members (list provided by Radical Partners):

Communities In Schools of Miami

Elyssa Linares, President and CEO

Nonprofit providing wraparound resources to help students succeed, whether that’s clean clothes, help with school work, or emotional support to cope with or recover from a traumatic event.

Melanites

Jennifer Pierre, Founder and CEO

Toy company that creates diverse toys, storybooks, and games that celebrate brown boyhood and inspire children of color to dream big.

Mind&Melody

Cristina Rodriguez, President and Co-Founder

Nonprofit that creates novel music programs at healthcare facilities to improve the quality of life for individuals with neurological impairments like dementia.

Moonlighter

Tom Pupo, Co-Founder

S.T.E.A.M. Learning Center, Fabrication Lab, and Co-Working Space that encourages creative collaboration among artists, designers, engineers, students, educators, and innovators in order to catalyze meaningful solutions through education, technology, and community.

O, Miami

Scott Cunningham, Founder and Director

Annual festival with the goal of every single person in Miami-Dade County encountering a poem.

Open Referral Initiative

Greg Bloom, Founder and Leader

Open-access platform that enables people in need (and related organizations) to get accurate information about the health, human, and social services available in our region.

The New Tropic

Ariel Zirulnick, Director

Local media startup that connects people to their cities through storytelling and events.

TransSOCIAL

Ashley Mayfaire, Co-Founder and Director of Operations

Trans-led nonprofit working to build LGBTQ+ unity and expand community resources and support.

Unconventional

Jordan Magid, Founder and CEO

Art production agency beautifying neighborhoods, strengthening relationships and inspiring citizenship.

The Wynwood Yard

Della Heiman, Founder and CEO

Culinary incubator and community hub designed to foster the development of innovative Miami-based food, culture, design and fitness entrepreneurs.

Young Musicians Unite

Sammy Gonzalez, Co-Founder, President and CEO

Nonprofit giving students a voice through music by providing underserved communities with free, comprehensive music programming.

 

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A scene from Radical Partners Social Entrepreneurship Bootcamp Cohort 2 workshop

 

September 19, 2017

Meet the next class of women selected for WIN Lab Miami

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

A straw that helps detect date rape, advances in breast pump technology, a dinner party in a box. These are products and services in development by just a few of the 17 companies selected by Babson College to participate in the 2017-2018 Women Innovating Now (WIN) Lab Miami.

WIN Lab Miami, an eight-month accelerator program entering its second year in the region, aims to catalyze the long-term success of female entrepreneurs by fostering creativity and collaboration, increasing visibility, providing mentorships, identifying branding and marketing tactics, and leveraging funding opportunities and competitions.

Around the world, female entrepreneurship is on the rise. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor's 2017 survey of 63 economies, Total Entrepreneurial Activity among women increased by 10 percent in the past two years, and the gender gap (ratio of women to men participating in entrepreneurship) narrowed by 5 percent. WIN Lab seeks to accelerate the trend by offering a supportive rather than a competitive environment of traditional accelerators. It's program is part-time over a longer period to better work with entrepreneurs at their own stages of growth. 

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 “We have selected a group of incredibly impressive women entrepreneurs to join WIN Lab Miami’s next cohort,” said Babson’s WIN Lab Miami Director Carolina Pina (pictured above). “One team won the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge, some have already made strides as participants of the Idea Center’s CREATE program at Miami Dade College; one has just recently won an American Entrepreneurship Award; and two have been selected to pitch their businesses at the upcoming Demand Solutions competition. We look forward to helping further develop and advance their businesses, and being witness to all of their accomplishments to come.”

WIN Lab's Advisory Board will be chaired by Carol Faber, Partner at Akerman LLP. Faber was recently named one of Real Estate Forum’s 50 Women of Influence in Real Estate, and is also the Chair of Akerman’s Women’s Initiative Network and Co-chair of its Distressed Property Practice Group.

WIN LAB has also named its Entrepreneurs-In-Residence and Investors-In-Residence for the second cohort.

Entrepreneurs-In-Residence are Johanna Mikkola, Co-Founder, Wyncode Academy; RJ Joshi, Co-Founder and COO, Bodhi Tree Asset Management; Silvina Moschini, Co-Founder and CEO, SheWorks!; and Ze’ev Feig MBA’03, CEO, Zensah.

 Its Investors-In-Residence are Adam Smith, investor; Blaire Martin, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Florida Angel Nexus; and Raul Moas, Managing Director, AGP.

WIN Lab Miami was founded with support from John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, FedEx, and Akerman LLP, and sponsor HSBC. The Miami program’s inaugural cohort of ‘WINners’ raised nearly $2 million in funding in the first year, WIN Lab said, and celebrated with a grand finale pitch competition in April 2017.

Here are the 2017-2018 Miami WINners (list provided by WIN Lab), which were to be announced Tuesday night at its  kickoff event at CIC Miami, where WIN Lab is based.

Caribu
Maxeme Tuchman, Co-Founder and CEO

Communication and collaboration platform that helps parents, extended family, and mentors read and draw with children when they are not in the same location. Caribu is one of two WINners selected by the Inter-American Development Bank to compete at Demand Solutions. It also won third place in the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge.

ETC

Karley Chynces, Founder and CEO

Mobile app that will allow students to buy and sell books and dorm supplies locally.

Ginger Straps
Leana Loh, Founder and CEO

Add-on ankle strap for high heels and flats to transform shoes from strapless to strappy.

Imalac, LLC
Noreen Gordon Sablotsky, Co-Founder and CEO; Rachael Sablotsky Kish, Co-Founder and COO

Healthcare technology company focused on increasing the efficiency and practicality of breast pumping.

Impetus Social
Sonia Hinestrosa, Founder

Education technology company providing critical skills in areas like digital literacy, STEM, leadership, and financial literacy.

Lean Orb
Anastasia Mikhalochkina, Founder

Plant-based, biodegradable catering supplies. Lean Orb has also been selected to compete at Demand Solutions this fall.

Luxe Fête Social
Nathalie Anne Cadet-James, Founder

Service company that provides a dinner party in a box.

MADSTUDIOS, Inc.
Jennifer Nicole Hardcastle, Co-Founder

Platform that provides resources and access to all creatives with the tools needed to be successful.

Major Marketplace
Leyanis Diaz, Co-Founder and CEO

Online marketplace for minority businesses and those who want to support them. Diaz also participated in Miami Dade College Idea Center’s 10-week go-to-market program called CREATE. She recently won an American Entrepreneurship Award.

PEX+
Jessica Coane, Founder and President

Travel search engine for using miles and points.

Prizm Art Fair, LLC
Mikhaile Solomon, Founder and Director

Cutting-edge art fair that expands the spectrum of exhibiting international artists from Africa, the global African Diaspora, and emerging markets.

Sayblee
Ashley Sebok, Founder and CEO

100 percent natural, organic, handmade hair care system formulated to repair damaged hair, and maintain healthy hair.

Smart Straws
Susana Cappello, Victoria Roca, Carolina Baigorri, Co-Founders

Straw that detects the most common date rape drugs, GHB and Ketamine, found in alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Cappello, Roca, and Baigorri won this year’s Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge High School Track.

SpeechMED Inc.
Susan Alanna Perry, Founder and CEO

Patient engagement platform that makes healthcare information accessible to all patients regardless of age, language, or literacy levels.

TeaRado Tech
Nicole Tirado, Founder

Tech-infused tea cup that allows users to consume tea hands-free.

Voyz.es, Inc.

Ana Maria Carrano, Co-Founder and CEO

Agile and collaborative transcription platform that allows users to transcribe audio and video content fast, with high accuracy and affordable rates, using machine learning and crowdsourcing.

Wedding QuickQuote
Madeline Daryadel, Founder and President

Extranet software program featured on venue sites that expedites the search and sales process providing users with an instant reply to an online inquiry.

Massachusetts-based Babson College has also recently announced an expansion of its graduate programs to Miami. The new effort builds on the ongoing success of WIN Lab Miami, as well as its Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program hosted at Miami Dade College, which empowers local small business owners to help their companies grow. The application period for the graduate programs is open and classes are set to begin in Fall 2018.

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A scene from an event, shown above, for WIN Lab Miami's first cohort, shown below.

Group Photo - Lobby 2

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter

 

August 24, 2017

Why you can't overlook a major source of funding: the government

By Keith Gibson

What do robot vacuum cleaners and personal DNA tests have in common?

Both Roomba and 23andMe received government funding to help build their businesses.

23andMe has received $4.1 million in investment from the Department of Health and Human Services over five years through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, which encourages US-based startups to explore their technological potential and provides incentives to profit from its commercialization.

iRobot has received $10.2 million in investment from the Department of Defense through SBIR, and recently sold its entire defense division for $45 million in order to focus on its Roomba line of robot vacuum cleaners.

So, it begs the question. If you’re raising money for your startup...have you thought about tapping the government?

Most entrepreneurs face one common problem during their entrepreneurial journey: how to raise funds. Although some know exactly where to turn—from angel investors to VCs—many ignore a great source of capital which may very well catapult their growth: the government.

To start getting entrepreneurs thinking about government funding, we created Pitch the Gov, designed to educate businesses on federal, state and local procurement initiatives, and provide them with ways to navigate this process and access these funds.

We recently visited 10xU, where we had the opportunity to share the 10 things every entrepreneur should know when it comes to pitching the government.

Here is what we discussed:

Check government sites often: Start with www.fbo.gov / www.sbir.gov , then check out www.americassbdc.org for opportunities relating to federal, state and local funding.

Network, network, and network again: Research and identify the decision makers in your market, and reach out to them for “informational interviews” to build rapport.

Build a clear understanding of what you do: Clearly define the problem and solution your company, product, or service tackles so you may better explain it to others. This will help you navigate the federal procurement landscape more smoothly. 

Have a vision: Government grants are designed to help your company get from where you are to where you want to be, so it's very important to have a clear view of where you are headed and what you need to get there.

Read up on how others have succeeded: Read success stories to learn how other companies have used government resources to grow and scale. These are also a great way to boost your spirits when you’re having a bad day.

Gain an understanding of what the government wants: What is the government looking for? What is the issue or problem they want to address? Figure out how your company can offer a solution so you can better explain it to them.

Figure out what the government may need: Startups are all about thinking outside the box. If you have a better solution to a problem or issue the government is tackling beyond what they are asking for, share it with them. You might be surprised at the results.

Follow directions: The government is very strict when it comes to the format and procedure for grant submissions, so make sure you follow directions to the tee. This is not the time to get creative.

Build your own support network: Government procurement is a tough process. At times it may become tedious and irrational, and it involves a lot of red tape. It’s important to build a support network that will help you navigate this process. Plus, it will also do wonders for your mental sanity.

Get to know your audience: You've come up with the next best thing. It's only natural you want to showcase your technical expertise by using industry jargon, but grant managers are not necessarily experts in your field. So explain your idea in a way that anyone can understand, and take it from there.

We've also developed this graphic you can always keep handy, summarizing these 10 tips.

Pitch-the-Gov-Infographic

 

Entrepreneurs don't always think to ask, but federal, state, and local governments all have programs to help.

Total federal spending for 2016 exceeded $3 trillion; contracts accounted for $474 billion and grants accounted for $667 billion. Federal grants can provide start-up capital, while federal contracts can provide steady cash flow with low default risk.

Which means, there's a lot of opportunity for budding startups.

Our goal is to guide entrepreneurs through this process and helping them think beyond traditional sources of capital when it comes to raising funds. This goes hand-in-hand with 10xU's overall mission -  connecting the entrepreneurial community with those that may help make their ideas into successful companies.

If you're interested in learning more: visit pitchthegov.com or you can always reach out to 10xU.com which will help you guide you in your entrepreneurial path.

Keith Gibson, CEO of SBC Solutions, an Air Force veteran and Goldman Sachs alum,  is passionate about hiring military veterans and developing the local economy, and today focuses his efforts on teaching companies how to access trillion dollar opportunities by pitching the government.

 

August 08, 2017

Traffic, transit - can we solve it? Fastrack Institute will marshall tech, talent and government

Traffic

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

When you think of Miami, images of traffic jams likely cloud the otherwise sunny picture. And don’t get us started on how mobility issues can weigh on the environment, personal livelihoods and the economy as a whole.

What if entrepreneurs, engineers, corporations, legal minds and governments came together to build mobility solutions that could help Miami and be used by other cities?

It’s an experiment that is already being tested in Colombia by a trio of South Florida’s most accomplished entrepreneurs: Rodrigo Arboleda, co-founder of the global nonprofit One Laptop Per Child; Dr. Maurice Ferré, co-founder of Mako Surgical who is now running the brain-health biotech firm Insightec; and Salim Ismail, founding executive director of Singularity University and a guru on the power of exponential technologies.

Their young Miami-based nonprofit foundation, Fastrack Institute, is now turning to Miami, where it will look at the mobility challenge with fresh eyes, seek ideas and “fastrack” some of them into prototypes that can be tested and developed further. Fastrack announced Tuesday that it will launch a 16-week program to help address Miami-Dade's transportation problems, with funding from the Knight Foundation, Miami-Dade Expressway Authority and local real estate developer and investor Armando Codina.

The Miami program will kick off Aug. 24 with a free daylong workshop open to the public.

The Miami announcement follows a year of experience in Medellín, Colombia, where Fastrack Institute has launched eight startups aimed at solving urban problems in fast, cost-effective ways using technology. These include not only potential solutions for mobility and air quality but also widening citizens’ access to banking and finance, healthcare and early education.

The Fastrack framework is based on ideas spearheaded by Singularity University and Ismail’s ExO Works, organizations that focus on the impact of “exponential” technologies — that is, technologies doubling in power or speed while their cost drops. The Institute runs 16-week programs, also called Fastracks, in which tech companies or nonprofits collaborate with government regulators, attorneys, sociologists and other experts to solve urban issues. The idea is that legal, regulatory and societal hurdles can be addressed while the concepts are being built and the technology is being being tested. Once deployed, the technologies can be used by other cities.

The three entrepreneurs came together serendipitously, each independently looking at ways to put technology to work on urban issues. Arboleda was looking for ways to engage more young people in Latin America in technology and the sciences after finishing his work with One Laptop Per Child, which provided laptops to more than 3 million children in emerging markets. Ferré was exploring how to accelerate and support advanced healthcare innovation locally as well as globally. Ismail had recently moved to Miami from Silicon Valley, and was helping corporations learn how to develop an innovative mindset.

“In Fastrack, what we have uncovered is a mechanism so that as you are investigating these technologies like solar or autonomous cars, you can ramp up the regulatory, legal and safety changes that need to be made as you are looking at the technology,” said Ismail, in an interview last month.

“We found with Fastrack we can solve a problem facing a city at about one-tenth the current cost, which makes it economically very compelling,” he said. Twenty other global cities, about half in Latin America, have expressed interest in Fastrack programs, according to Ismail.

Arboleda, the Institute’s CEO, Ferré and Ismail launched the first Fastrack programs in Medellín, about a year ago, and found the city to be an ideal partner for its pilot programs. The city has “earned its wings” because it which has risen from the brink of economic collapse by smartly employing the power of innovation, said Arboleda. Fastrack partnered with Colombian entrepreneurial organization Ruta N, which was founded by the city of Medellín and links academia and the private and public sectors, according to Arboleda.

“Cities should embrace and accelerate the adoptions of these technologies but try to minimize the collateral damage to those portions of societies these types of exponential, viral and disruptive technologies will be affecting. We need to complete the circle. Technology alone cannot make it,” Arboleda said in an interview earlier this summer. “That is the genesis of Fastrack Institute.”

Fastrack’s first foray spawned two startups to tackle access financial access and two more focused on transportation, including autonomous vehicles. Programs on air quality and healthcare have followed; one on education is in the works. Large corporations from various industries are providing most of the funding in Colombia, Arboleda said.

Take healthcare, for example. A town two hours from Medellín has the highest rate of Alzheimer’s in the world; it was profiled on CBS’ 60 Minutes and has been drawing the interest of scientists and doctors globally, including Ferré.

“There is a tremendous opportunity [in Colombia] to set up a living laboratory with gigantic potential for mankind,” Arboleda said. “One of the most difficult health challenges will be the aging populations and in that age bracket Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s will become the most damaging elements we have ever seen in humanity for older people and the younger people taking care of them.”

[READ MORE: How a Silicon Valley big thinker is helping to bring world-changing ideas to life – in Miami]

Closer to home, where expanding mass transit it a hot topic, Miami-Dade County and the Miami-Dade Expressway Authoring have asked Fastrack Institute to explore the transportation solutions of the future.

“Traffic — think about it. If we can solve it in Miami, then that becomes an export industry that applies to every city in the world,” Ismail said.

To launch the Miami-Dade Fastrack, the institute received $500,000 from the Knight Foundation, Miami-Dade Expressway Authority and local real estate developer and investor Armando Codina, representing the Codina Family.

“This initiative is a prime example of how public/private partnerships are beneficial to the community,” said Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez, in a statement.

Gimenez will accompany a delegation from Miami attending a Singularity University program next week, Arboleda said. The University of Miami’s Center for Computational Sciences and Rokk3r Labs are among the organizations already involved in Fastrack programs in Latin America.

In Miami-Dade, Fastrack will kick off Aug. 24 with a daylong public workshop in the Board of County Commission Chambers of the Stephen P. Clark Government Center. Register here to attend.

The workshop will begin with a presentation and discussion about Miami-Dade's transit issues and the institute will launch an open call for mobility solutions. Two teams will be selected from the pool of applicants to participate in the 16-week Fastrack. The teams will include global experts, local participants, organizations, educational institutions and public offices. The Fastrack will be directed and supported by a full-time Miami-based team and a local advisory board.

Climate change, accessible healthcare and affordable housing all could be issues for future Miami Fastracks.

“What we want to do is make Miami the capital for this kind of thinking,” Ismail said. “Absolutely the biggest success factor for any city is diversity, and the richness that comes from it. All great ideas come when you cross disparate domains together.” 

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg   

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

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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. 

 

March 09, 2017

To help social entrepreneurial ventures grow, Social Venture Partners launches in Miami

 

Launch

Lauren Harper (center), founder of Social Venture Partners Miami, introduces the organization’s founding partners at the launch event Thursday at New World Center. SVP Miami will support selected social impact ventures with capital, mentoring and connections. Nancy Dahlberg ndahlberg@miamiherald

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

A new group of venture philanthropy funders will be taking young social impact ventures under its wing, offering mentoring, strategy advice and connections, as well as capital.

Social Venture Partners Miami (www.svpmiami.org) launched on Thursday and it is part of a global network of 3,500 venture philanthropists now in 43 cities in nine countries who have collectively invested more than $63 million in about 840 social ventures since 1997.

SVP partners are professionals, executives, entrepreneurs and community leaders; together they select social ventures in the community to back, and they contribute their time, talent, capital and connections to help the ventures grow, using a venture capitalist model to reap social returns.

At the launch of SVP Miami at the New World Center, Paul Shoemaker, the Seattle-based founder of the global Social Venture Partners and author of "Can’t Not Do," said every SVP chapter needs an energizer bunny and Lauren Harper, the founder of Miami’s chapter is that. “Join the movement, write your check, be a part of this network that is going to make Miami a better place,” said Shoemaker, who also spoke at the Philanthropy Miami event earlier in the day.

The idea is that SVP will be an on-ramp, helping promising concepts that already have traction to grow and become “venture ready” for social impact funders, said Harper. Over time, SVP Miami will mentor and fund a number of ventures. A big differentiator with other programs, she said, is that SVP plans to partner with the ventures they back for three to five years.

Harper also co-founded the Center for Social Change, a Miami co-working and education center for nonprofit and for-profit social ventures.

“The center does an incredible job bringing people together ... but more is needed,” said Harper, noting that Miami is a city of startups but not scaleups. “The SVP model provides the right combination of resources and capital to support social ventures that can scale. And this is the right time to do this in Miami.”

At the launch, attended by a couple hundred people, Harper introduced the founding partners – 11 so far.

“The big vision is we need to transform the way we give and the way we invest, the way we do business and the way we do nonprofit work,” Harper said. “Globally, there is a whole new movement and a whole new industry, a trillion dollar industry, called social impact investing that allows for financial returns social and environmental returns.

“I think Social Venture Partners will this be an amazing bridge that will bring the non-profit and for-profit world together to drive change.”

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg

READ MORE: The do-good Sharks pick a winner: pop-up barbershops

Lauren

Paul Shoemaker, founder of the global Social Venture Partners and author of “Can’t Not Do,” makes remarks at the SVP Miami launch event at the New World Center with Lauren Harper, founder of the Miami chapter. Nancy Dahlberg ndahlberg@miamiherald.com