Deadline extended until May 2: Enter American Entrepreneurship Award contest now

The American Entrepreneurship Award business plan competition offers aspiring and early stage entrepreneurs the opportunity to win a share of $125,000 as well as free mentorship and business support services. The competition is available to entrepreneurs currently living in, currently operating in, or who plan to open or expand their businesses to the areas of The Bronx, New York and Miami-Dade County, Florida.

To enter this competition, please visit: http://www.AmericanAward.com/ and click the “Register Here” on the page. Follow the instructions to create a profile and you will be taken to the online application. Once you complete the online application, you will be entered into the contest.

The deadline to complete your application is  now 11:59 p.m. May 2 so start your application today!

For any questions about the application or the award please contact: info@americanaward.com

April 25, 2017

CarHopper raises $1.5 million, plans expansion

Bora Hamamcioglu  Founder of CarHopper

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

CarHopper, an app-enabled booking platform for luxury car rentals, announced Tuesday its plans to expand operations to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale.

The South Florida startup also announced it has raised $1.5 million in seed funding, raised from a syndicate of angel investors, which will help the company expand product development and sales and marketing efforts.

CarHopper recently honed its focus to a more curated inventory, sourced from boutique luxury car rental purveyors. “Latest trends demonstrate that people prefer buying experiences rather than assets,” said founder and CEO Bora Hamamcioglu, a Turkish entrepreneur who founded the company in Miami in 2016 (pictured above). In addition to private jet services and luxury homes with other services, sophisticated shoppers now have easy and streamlined access to luxury cars with CarHopper, he said.

 

April 20, 2017

Miami real estate-tech startup Gridics raises $1.1 million from developer Avra Jain and others

Gridex

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Efficient isn't a word most people would use to describe a planning and zoning process, but a Miami-based real estate technology startup wants to change that.

Gridics announced Thursday that it has raised a $1.1 million round of seed funding. The round was led by Dune Road Capital and included John Dyett, managing director of Salem Partners, Robert Kall, CEO and co-founder of Cien.ai, and Miami real estate developer Avra Jain. 

Gridics, short for Grid Analytics, is a real estate dataa and software development company founded in 2015. From applications on its platform,  users can visualize real estate data in order to make smarter investment and development decisions while streamlining inefficient processes in the real estate world, the company said.  For example, the Zonar.City application helps bridge the gap between the private sector development community of architects, developers and attorneys by automating development feasibility analysis and streamlining the development plan approval process. 

"By creating a solution that can digitize and automate any zoning code, the Gridics team has created a way to streamline an antiqued process," said Peter Richards, managing partner of Dune Road Capital.

The company, which has raised over $2 million  to date, is focused on further strengthening its product and driving adoption of its Zonar.City application. 

"Our new automated compliance module allows cities and developers to quickly check development plans against site-specific zoning requirements.  Cities that integrate their code with Zonar.city will streamline their zoning approval processes resulting in faster approvals, improved transparency and significant reductions to backlogs," said Gridics CEO Jason Doyle, in announcing the funding.

Gridics is also developing a Market Intelligence application, which allows real estate professionals to conduct hyper-local market analysis.  More than 1,000 members of the Miami Association of Realtors have joined Gridics since February, the company said.

 

Gridics2

 

April 18, 2017

PetSmart to buy Chewy.com, and the price fetched may be eye-popping

Chewy1%20ceo%20biz%20cmg

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

The biggest e-commerce acquisition deal in history could be going to the dogs.

PetSmart, the nation’s largest pet-supplies retailer, has agreed to acquire Dania Beach-based Chewy.com, the market’s No. 1 online retailer.

The combination of Phoenix-based PetSmart, with 1,500 stores nationwide, and Chewy will enhance both companies’ reach, the companies said Tuesday. The acquisition, which is subject to customary regulatory approvals, is expected to close by the end of PetSmart’s second fiscal quarter.

Terms of the transaction were not disclosed. However, tech media site Recode is reporting that the deal in place is valued at $3.35 billion, according to its sources. That would make the sale of Chewy the biggest e-commerce acquisition to date, even larger than Wal-Mart’s $3.3 billion deal for jet.com last year.

“We are focused on improving our customers’ experience in-store and online as we continue to execute against our long-term strategic initiatives. Chewy’s high-touch customer e-commerce service model and culture centered around a love of pets is the ideal complement to PetSmart’s store footprint and diverse offerings,” said Michael Massey, PetSmart president and chief executive officer, in the announcement.

Chewy, which had been rumored to be a candidate for going public, has seen explosive growth since it was founded by Ryan Cohen (pictured above) and Michael “Blake” Day in 2011. The privately held company registered $26 million in sales during its first full year in business and logged more than $900 million in sales in 2016, the company said.

Although it was not yet profitable, Cohen said in February Chewy was projected to increase revenues to nearly $2 billion this year — nearly a 7,600 percent growth spurt in just six years. Today it has about 5,000 employees nationwide.

[READ MORE: Chewy has seen fantastic growth, but can it keep up the pace?]

The company built its following — more than 2 million customers nationwide — on customer service. Among its many campaigns, it sends hand-painted pet portraits as thank you gifts to 700 randomly selected customers every week.

“Since we started Chewy, we have been dedicated to understanding and satisfying the evolving needs of our customers to deliver the highest quality pet products and customer service,” said Cohen, Chewy’s CEO. “Combining our strong e-commerce expertise with PetSmart’s best-in-class infrastructure, footprint and breadth of offerings including services will help us wow our customers even more.”

Chewy will operate as an independent subsidiary of PetSmart run by Cohen and will remain focused on its current business strategy, while PetSmart will continue to execute its strategic initiatives across the combined company, PetSmart said.

Chewy tried to reassured customers on social media Tuesday that Chewy wasn’t going anywhere and the level of service would not change after the acquisition.

According to 1010Data, Chewy.com holds 51 percent of the online pet food market, including 40.5 percent in direct sales and 10.2 percent in subscription sales. But Chewy always had bigger aspirations.

“If you look at where we are today in the business, we’re still scratching the surface in terms of the total addressable market. We want to be No. 1. We’re No. 1 online. We want to be the largest pet retailer in the world,” Cohen said in a Miami Herald cover story in February.

Chewy had raised several rounds of capital — about $236 million in total — to support its growth. On Feb. 1, Wells Fargo Capital Finance had become the latest investor, announcing an agreement to lend $90 million over the next five years to Chewy.

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

Chewy2%20reception%20biz%20cmg

 

April 17, 2017

You be the judge: Vote in the Business Plan Challenge People's Pick

Challenge illustration

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

A way to combat restaurant food waste, an online platform for dental prosthetics, or a line of toys for boys of color? Or maybe it’s the sharing economy for trucking, the sharing economy for home-care services, or a grow-light for cannabis?

Or how about or a tool to negotiate consumer debt, a guest management platform for the hospitality industry, or a new clinic for mental health therapy? In the education space, an app that helps kids on the autism spectrum communicate with their parents, a solution for schools to combat bullying and a tool to bring families together at storytime complete the offerings.

Who is building the best new business? You tell us!

Today, we unveil the top six finishers in the Community and FIU Tracks of the 19th annual Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge, and we are asking you to support your favorite competitors. The People’s Pick is open for voting.

With just a couple of days’ notice, the contenders, all with emerging South Florida companies, presented elevator pitches under the hot lights of the Miami Herald and FIU studios.

To vote for your favorite startups, here’s what to do:

Find the voting page here or at hrld.us/BizPlan2017. View the short videos of the finalists’ elevator pitches. The six selections in the FIU Track follow the Community Track. Then scroll to the bottom of the voting page to cast your ballot, voting for one video in each track. You may vote once per day.

Lastly, get out the vote! Give your favorite entrepreneurial team more support by asking your social networks to vote. . Use hashtag #2017BizPlanMiami to follow along.

Voting closes at 11:59 p.m. April 24. The top voted team from each track track will be awarded the People’s Pick and honored in the May 8 Business Monday section along with the judges’ selections.

The contenders are:

COMMUNITY TRACK

Apollonix, pitched by Jessica Shin and Terri-Ann Brown, is the first online marketplace for ordering oral prosthetics and provides a win-win solution for both dentists and labs in this $10.9 billion industry.

Cargo42, pitched by Murilo Amaral and Alfredo Keri, is a B2B marketplace for local trucking. It helps shippers find lower rates, access quality service and have their goods delivered on time by matching them with pre-verified trucks with empty space in them.

Caribu, pitched by Maxeme Tuchman, marries video-calling and e-books to provide an interactive experience when family members are far apart. You simply make a call, choose a book together, and read or draw in real time as if you were in the same room.

Melanites, pitched by Jennifer Pierre, designs and creates diverse toys, storybooks and games that celebrate brown boyhood. Its mission is to inspire children of color to dream big, stand tall and live out their childhood.

Modulux Lighting, pitched by Bill Cummings, has created an LED-based grow-light product called GroMax focused on the massive cannabis market. GroMax lights are modular, programmable and scalable and can be assembled like Lego Blocks to create an efficient lighting solution for any size grower.

School Climate Solutions, pitched by Maribel Gonzalez, delivers customized on-demand content for educators, parents and students that helps improve school environments and creates pathways that lead to academic and social success.

FIU TRACK

DoUCare, pitched by Maurice Pinto, is a cloud-based platform that connects freelance caregivers to families seeking nonmedical home-care services for elderly loved ones. Careseekers get immediate or future-scheduled care services through a phone or web app. Caregivers get access to an online marketplace that gets them hired at the rate of their choice.

Ketamine Health Centers, pitched by Dennis Diaz and May Nunez, will own, develop and operate multiple outpatient clinics to provide ketamine infusions, a new treatment modality for patients suffering from mental-health disorders. The clinic provides an innovative use of the FDA-approved anesthetic ketamine, gaining recognition in the medical community.

MunchSquad, pitched by Tara Demren and Eliana Alba, is a mobile app providing a real-time marketplace that allows restaurants, bakeries and supermarkets to reduce surplus food being thrown out at the end of the day by having it sold at a discount to students. MunchSquad also facilitates partnerships with homeless shelters for the distribution of remaining food.

Nuvola, pitched by Juan Carlos Abello, provides guest management software that helps hotels monitor and respond to hotel and guest needs and activities. Nuvola, staffed entirely by professionals with hospitality industry experience, has created a customer-service platform with mobile applications designed to be used by the hotel staff and by hotel guests.

SettleiTsoft, pitched by Rich Rudner, provides a web-based and mobile accessible platform that offers 24/7 assistance to debtors and creditors as a bridge to facilitate and streamline the debt-negotiation process. It is designed to replace the traditional methods of debt resolution with an intuitive, interactive, transparent and secure online debt settlement process.

Use Your Words, pitched by Yanesa Montenegro, will develop an app used by parents to teach language and communication to their pre-verbal and nonverbal children on the autism spectrum. At its core, the app will be an interface of buttons with symbols representing words the child will press to communicate with parents, and will offer video tutorials and a progress recording feature.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

READ MORE: Find the complete list of semifinalists, including the High School Track, here.

April 16, 2017

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

Bt

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nancy Dahlberg; @ndahlberg 

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

Btw

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

Photos by Blacktech Week. 

 

April 14, 2017

Susan Perry of SpeechMED honored by AARP for innovation helping older Americans

SusanperrySusan Perry, founder and CEO of Miami-based SpeechMED, is one of AARP’s  50+ Innovation Leaders, an AARP initiative administered by MedCity News to recognize entrepreneurs, companies and ideas behind innovative new products and services for Americans aged 50 and older.

“We are thrilled to be recognized by AARP as an innovator of audio, multi-lingual, patient engagement technology that enables seniors and their caregivers to hear their medical directions via human voice instead of in written form, which gives them a far greater chance of processing those critical directions, and always in the language that they know best” said  Perry, in a news release.

The winners of the inaugural 50+ Innovation Leaders program were revealed today during the AARP Innovation@50+ Live Pitch event by representatives of MedCity News and AARP. The full list of winners can be seen at medcitynews.com/50-plus-innovation-leaders/.

“AARP works to empower people to choose how they live as they age,” said Jeffrey Makowka, AARP’s director of market innovation. “We are pleased to join MedCity News in showcasing entrepreneurs who are driving change and improvements in the healthcare industry for the more than 100 million Americans aged 50 and older."

SpeechMED is a simple to use platform to empower patients, caregivers and their healthcare providers by removing obstacles to clear communication. "Our mission of inclusion is to make patient’s medical information understandable to them regardless of their age, vision, language preference or literacy level," Perry said. Visit speechmed.com for more information.

READ MORE: A Startup Spotlight on SpeechMED 

 

April 12, 2017

Cheers! Delivery.com buys Boca Raton-based alcohol delivery startup Klink

KlinkTeam

Klink team, from left: Jeffrey Nadel, CEO; Nicholas Bowers, CTO; Craig Bolz, COO; and Geoff Castillo, chief creative officer. Photo provided by Klink


Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/article144161594.html#storylink=cpy

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

KlinkappRaise a glass for Klink: The South Florida-based alcohol-delivery startup has been acquired.

Klink, founded in 2013, was one of the first companies to legally provide on-demand, technology-powered alcohol delivery, said the startup’s CEO Jeffrey Nadel. On Wednesday, New York-based delivery.com, a company that also delivers food, groceries, laundry and other products and services, announced that it had acquired Klink. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

Klink’s first location was the University of Central Florida because two team members were students there. But the startup quickly pivoted from the college campus model and built a loyal customer base in Miami, Dallas and Washington, DC, markets that delivery.com has targeted for expansion. delivery.com has been offering food and laundry pickup and delivery in the Miami area for some time, but has never offered alcohol delivery in the area, said Nadel.

Significant recent milestones for Klink include its partnership with Total Wine & More, which included a campaign emphasizing the stories behind the products, and its campaign with Corona, in which customers could have Corona delivered by boat or jetski. For the co-founders born and raised in South Florida, the sale as a validation point for the growing South Florida tech scene is significant, too.

Klink, most recently based in Boca Raton, was part of a wave of South Florida startup companies creating concepts in just about every aspect of the spirits industry, including brewing and distilling, packaging, selling, dispensing – and delivering. Klink’s app, available on iOS and Android, brought the party to the customer, who could order beer, wine and spirits for delivery in under an hour.

But Klink was far from alone in the booze delivery game. In addition to delivery.com, Klink competed in various markets with a number of competitors, including Drizly, Velocity, Thirstie and Minibar, and recently national delivery apps Instacart and Shipt more known for delivering groceries have launched alcohol delivery in South Florida. The sale marks one of the first consolidation moves in the alcohol-delivery space.

READ MORE: South Florida’s spirited startups serve up innovation

Nadel wouldn’t disclose personnel transition plans for the Klink team of 10. “The immediate focus of the entire Klink team is working hand-in-hand with the delivery.com team to ensure the smoothest possible transition for our customers and retail partners. We are confident this will be a huge value-add for both our customers – who will be able to order food along with their beer, wine and spirits purchases – and our retail partners, who will have access to a wealth of new customers,” said Nadel, adding that Klink customers have been clamoring for an offering that combines booze and food almost since Klink’s launch.

The companies said a transition of Klink customers and merchants to delivery.com will be completed in coming weeks. delivery.com, founded in 2004, has made at least three other acquisitions over the years, the most recent being BrewDrop of Austin, Texas, last year.

READ MORE: Delivery on-demand – apps at your service

 

April 01, 2017

Startup Spotlight: Emerge.me reinvents shopping for emergency insurance

Emerge

Wes Thompson, far left and pictured below, founder and CEO of Emerge.me, a tech startup simplifying shopping and buying insurance for medical emergencies. He has assembled a management team, from left, consisting of Whitney Romanchuk, head of user experience; Mike Rolfe, head of product; and Marc Howard, head of growth marketing and analytics. They are seen in their Wynwood office, inside of Rokk3r Labs, on March 8. Carl Juste cjuste@miamiherald.com


Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/biz-monday/article142123609.html#storylink=cpy


By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

 

Startup Spotlight: Emerge.me, a Miami startup, has reinvented the customer experience of shopping for and purchasing an emergency insurance policy. Traditionally, buying a gap policy would require you to spend days corresponding back and forth with an agent or broker about your coverage needs, the available policies and the application process. That’s all changing.

Company name: Emerge.me

Headquarters: Rokk3r Labs in Miami

Concept: Emerge.me makes insurance for medical emergencies accessible, simple and easy to purchase.

Emergewes Story: Wes Thompson was inspired to create Emerge after hearing the story of a former employee who was struggling to pay medical bills for his wife’s illness. Even though they had health insurance, they could not afford the out-of-pocket costs of deductibles, special treatments, travel costs for care and lost wages. The burden of paying these costs ended up putting the family into serious medical debt.

“This isn’t just an isolated story — in fact millions of Americans are not equipped to deal with the financial reality of these emergencies even if they have health insurance,” Thompson said.

Thompson should know: He has 30 years experience in the insurance industry and most recently was president of Sun Life Financial U.S. What’s more, as an intrapreneur, he helped pave the way for a restructure of a major Philadelphia-based insurance company in the early 2000s that resulted in a new business model. This is Thompson’s first startup.

Emergency insurance solutions — supplemental or gap policies — exist to protect individuals from the risk of unexpected medical emergencies not covered by health insurance. Emergency insurance is designed to complement health insurance by providing a cash benefit that can be used for any out-of-pocket costs related to a covered illness or accident.

But here’s the problem, according to Emerge: They are neither straightforward nor easily accessible to most consumers. These products are sold essentially as an afterthought or add-on to health insurance exclusively through brokers and agents, there is no digital marketplace for customers to compare pricing for policies, get educated, get advice and apply online.

The big picture: Rising healthcare premiums are causing consumers to take on more and more risk, and medical costs are now the leading form of consumer debt in the U.S. today.

Emerge.me has reinvented the customer experience of shopping for and purchasing a policy. Traditionally, buying an emergency insurance policy would require you to spend anywhere from two days to a few weeks corresponding back and forth with a broker or agent about your coverage needs, the available policies and the application process.

That’s all changing. Before launching Emerge late last year, the company spent a year building an in-house algorithm. Now, a customer can come to emerge.me, and engage with tools, get coverage advice, compare personalized quotes, and apply online — all within 15 minutes or less, the company said. Emerge primarily markets to the consumer but sees significant opportunities in the B2B arena.

Emerge has launched with two products, critical illness insurance for financial protection against cancer, heart attack, stroke and more and physical injury insurance, which provides benefits for falls, injuries, broken bones, etc. Emerge is already planning to add other supplemental insurance products in the near future such as hospital indemnity and short-term disability.

“We have a great team and great partners,” Thompson said. “The space is ripe for disruption.”

Launched: December 2016

Website and social: emerge.me, blog.emerge.me, www.facebook.com/tryemerge/

Management team: Wes Thompson, founder and CEO; Mike Rolfe, head of strategy and product development; Whitney Romanchuk, head of product design and UX; Marc Howard, head of growth and data analytics; Cheryl Egazarian, project manager.

No. of employees: 13

Financing: Raised $1.8 million in seed funding via Thompson’s self-funding and private investors; seeking an additional $400,000 via convertible notes prior to Series A funding targeted for June.

Recent milestones reached: Emerge is now licensed in all 50 US states as an insurance broker. Digital insurance carrier partners include trusted companies such as United Health One/Golden Rule, Mutual of Omaha, Assurity, Manhattan Life and SureBridge. Secured $1.8 million in seed funding. Won second place in TechCrunch Miami Pitchoff event. Recognized by Plug&Play as a finalist for its InsurTech accelerator program.

Biggest startup challenge and why: Convincing insurance companies to innovate and participate on emerge.me, as emergency insurance products have traditionally been distributed exclusively through traditional agents and brokers.

Next steps: Seeking Series A funding in order to expand the product offerings, continue to improve the user experience and invest in customer acquisition and talent acquisition.

Follow @ndahlbergon Twitter.

Read more Startup Spotlights

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Want the yachting life - even for a day? Miami startup will hook you up

Want a fast, safe way to sell your gadgets? These entrepreneurs created one

Miami startup offers car washes on demand that save water too

Sociallybuzz refocuses to help other small businesses grow

Never miss storytime: App bridges the miles to connect families for reading, learning
 

March 30, 2017

NewME accelerator program now in Miami gets Knight funding  

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

AngelabentonThe NewME technology accelerator has already relocated its headquarters from Silicon Valley to Miami, and $191,000 in new funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation will help it expand programming.

NewME was founded in San Francisco in 2011, and was the first accelerator focused on helping entrepreneurs of color. It offered traditional 12-week full-time accelerator programs; Brian Brackeen of Kairos went through the program. Two years ago, while still in San Francisco, the accelerator began offering one-week bootcamps instead, because as NewME founder Anglela Benton (pictured here) said, “many minority entrepreneurs just aren’t able take 12 weeks out of life.”

Last year, NewME offered its more accessible boot camps in Miami and they were well received, Benton said, proving a Silicon Valley address wasn’t necessary to help entrepreneurs of color. She said Miami was a natural choice for NewME’s base given its diverse makeup.

“The old [accelerator] model works for a particular type of entrepreneur. Our model is more about the entrepreneur and what they want to accomplish,” she said, adding that many NewME startups bootstrap their businesses. “The times are changing.”

Over the years, NewME has accelerated hundreds of entrepreneurs through its online platform, residential boot camps and equity portfolio, helping its companies raise over $25 million in funding. By expanding its programming, NewME aims to improve the success of black-led startups through mentorship, coaching and weekly and monthly events.

As it already has been doing, the accelerator will host quarterly one-week residential boot camps in Miami, with the next one beginning June 5. Benton said cohorts are small and personal – about eight people – and four slots will be reserved for Miami-area entrepreneurs. At the boot camps, industry experts will work with the entrepreneurs to help accelerate their businesses. With the funding, NewME also will hire a Miami-based program manager.

“NewME will provide important opportunities for black entrepreneurs to grow and thrive in Miami,” said Matt Haggman, Miami program director for Knight Foundation, in a news release. “NewMe’s move to Miami highlights our city’s strength as a place for inclusive growth, entrepreneurship and innovation.”

In the past four years, Knight has made more than 200 investments totalling more than $25 million in entrepreneurship in South Florida.

 

March 26, 2017

Q&A with JetSmarter's Sergey Petrossov: What it's like to run a billion-dollar startup -- at age 28

Sergey

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Sergey Petrossov, the 28-year-old founder of JetSmarter, says when you go all-in as an entrepreneur, you don’t look back.

That may be, but 2016 must have provided quite a tailwind.

In December, the Fort Lauderdale-based private jet marketplace announced that it raised $105 million from new and existing investors, including the Saudi royal family and celebrity rapper Shawn “Jay Z” Carter. Investors value JetSmarter at $1.5 billion, which in venture-capital speak makes it a “unicorn,” a private company valued over $1 billion.

[READ MORE: JetSmarter attracts $105 million to bring jet-set lifestyle to the merely wealthy]

“In 2015 we had no more than 50 employees. The majority of all our cities were launched in 2016,” Petrossov said. “We have done massive hiring spread all over.”

Today the company has more than 260 employees, Petrossov said. JetSmarter already flies into cities in the United States, Europe and the Middle East, and plans to soon expand into India, China and South America. In addition to its corporate headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, it has offices in London, Dubai, Zurich, Moscow and Saudi Arabia.

JetSmarter offers a mobile app that lets its members charter an entire jet, travel on a private jet shuttle or create their own shared charter. It doesn’t own jets but works with a network of charter companies. Annual membership fees are $14,000. JetSmarter reportedly has about 8,000 members.

The company offers four flight services, both scheduled routes and on-demand, where members create their own flights on their own schedule. Most innovative is its shared services for both customized, on-demand flights and its scheduled JetShuttle services on more than 50 routes on three continents. The company also offers JetDeals, last-minute flash sales that pop up on “empty legs.”

“We’ve been able to surround the globe. Last year we had close to 45,000 unique passengers,” Petrossov said.

But that’s just one pillar of the brand, Petrossov said. It’s also a social community between members and a service that extends to on-the-ground services that a customer will not even have to ask for. “Our vision is to create this travel and lifestyle community and to deliver an end-to-end experience for how you get there, who you meet and where you go,” Petrossov said.

The Miami Herald sat down with Petrossov in his office in Fort Lauderdale earlier this year to talk about his vision, what’s ahead and the entrepreneurial ride so far. Over the past few weeks, however, that ride has been rocky.

Since the Miami Herald’s interview, JetSmarter has run into turbulence in its executive ranks: One of JetSmarter’s former executives, Edward Gennady Barsky, was arrested on grand theft charges in a California case unrelated to JetSmarter and has resigned. Barsky was JetSmarter’s president, vice chairman and one of its first investors. JetSmarter’s statement: “Gennady Barsky has resigned from JetSmarter for personal reasons. The charges he faces are wholly unrelated to JetSmarter, and pre-date the founding of JetSmarter,” said spokesperson Ronn Torossian. There’s been public relations turbulence too, with tech media site The Verge reporting that JetSmarter required a positive article if it let a reporter take a free roundtrip flight to try out the service.

Here are excerpts of the Miami Herald’s earlier conversation with Petrossov.

Q. How did you end up in South Florida?

A. I was born in Moscow, I moved to the U.S. when I was 4, and I’ve lived between California and Colorado and South Florida. I moved to South Florida when I was 11 or 12.

Q. How did you get involved in technology?

A. I went to the University of Florida [studied finance], and I always had a math and analytical bent. When I was 18, I wasn’t really into college that much — I was more interested in getting out of college — and I got involved with my first startup. It supported chat for audio and video for website customer service. I wasn’t the founder but since I got involved early they called me a co-founder. That was my first experience working with engineers and I learned with technology how much value you can bring in a short amount of time. I knew then that I wanted to start companies and tech was the field I wanted to be involved in.

Q. What was the first company you founded?

A. In ’09, I graduated and I went off to co-found my own company, in education technology. We built a team of engineers in South Florida and we were building cloud-based software for schools and universities that wanted to teach people online and remotely. We targeted Russia and Eastern Europe, meaning the universities and schools that didn’t have big budgets that needed a cheap software solution. The name of the company is the Federal System of Distance Education and it is still operating today.

Q. How did you make the leap from ed-tech to private jet aviation?

A. In ’09 an acquaintance had introduced me to a private jet company (in South Florida) and the operator invited me to take a flight. The topic of that was how they needed some help potentially expanding into Eastern Europe and Russia, but to me it was like, what do I know about private jets?

I was just having fun with it. I didn’t think I could be helpful to them and I was just going for the experience. But in going through this I quickly found out the only way to reserve this on your own was to call and talk to somebody and a couple hours later they would send you an invoice. The bottom of the invoice said sign it, scan it or fax it back ... and I was thinking what the heck is going on here, this is ’09 and this is like the ’80s. The airline and hotel industry had been revamped with the concept of dynamic pricing yield management and a digital interface. Nothing like that existed if you looked on the back end of this company. It was a mom-and-pop operation and everyone was operating like this, like one big mom-and-pop industry.

I then found out there are 21,000 private flights a day in the U.S.; there are only 23,000 commercial. There are 17,000 private jets around the world; 12 to 13,000 are in the U.S. The average airplane is only flying 200 hours a year, and optimally they could be flying 1,500 hours. And out of those 200 hours they were flying, one-third were empty. They were repositioning. Out of the ones that were occupied, the percentage of seats filled was only 25 to 30 percent. This was like a plague of inefficiency.

I was intrigued. I started doing some consulting work with them, thinking some day I might want to get back in it, while continuing to work with the ed-tech startup.

Then in 2012, I started a side project. I had the relationships; I had already learned a lot about how data interacts in this space and I wanted to build a real-time pricing engine. From January through August of 2012, I built a little team. We built a beta, a prototype, and we gave it out to friends and family and people I knew that flew now and then. Literally in 30 seconds, real-time prices and you could see this was something that could really get traction. People wanted me to drop everything and I had some initial investors. By March 2013, we went all-in and launched the company.

Since then it has been one long hectic ride.

Q. You say JetSmarter is more than a private jet service. Can you explain your vision?

A. What we realized is that in this process of sharing in the sharing community, what we are building is a community. The people who are sharing rides together are like-minded and are similar, and the value as the community has a lot to do with that social effect. People will join just to meet other people in the community, not for the flying.

That transcends this concept of commodity and price. Today people are thinking about travel by how much it costs — do you think of your health like that, do you think of the food you eat like that? It is not a price discussion, and when you add a community effect to it, there’s relevance to you and your life and who you are sharing it with.

I believe the future of travel is going to transcend the language of commodity. It is going to have association, it is going to have a community effect. So what JetSmarter really stands to be is what we call the world’s greatest travel and lifestyle community. It’s built on three pillars. It’s built on air travel; we deliver air travel on private jets so we’ve solved the first problem of how to get there and we’ve made flying fun again. In the process you are meeting great people, and when you land, we want to navigate where you go.

Q. How will you solve that last piece?

A. That’s built on something we call predictive hospitality. We have enough data on our consumers that we understand the behavioral patterns so much we can help them have a unique experience when they land. That end-to-end experience of how you get there, who you meet and where you go is the JetSmarter experience. You can go to your same favorite locations and you might have a unique JetSmarter experience there and you will use us to transact there. It’s like coming into your house, that’s why we call it a house account." You’ll go to your favorite restaurant and say put it on my JetSmarter account and you won’t even have to ask for the bill, and it’s all based on GPS technology.

All of this is part of our vision to create this travel and lifestyle community and to deliver an end-to-end experience for how you get there, who you meet and where you go. This is what we are capable of delivering now and we are working on the technology and digital interfaces to help bring it to life in a digital software form. It’s more proactive than reactive. It’s not you asking, ‘can you get me something.’ It knows what you want when you go somewhere. That’s where the future of lifestyle is, it’s just going to be simpler, easy. When you go to a city or when you want something we generally know how to guide you. This is really what we are about: delivering the end to end experience."

Q. Can you give me some examples?

A. We are about to launch access for our members to 8,000 or so luxury residences through a company called ThirdHome. These residences you can’t just request, you have to be part of a club. Our members will have access to it. We’re creating a JetSmarter experience on top of it. This is one big relationship that is key and important to us.

We are also working with a few restaurant groups that will allow us to create a unique experience in 100 to 110 restaurants. We are going to start in four cities — New York, London, Los Angeles and the Miami area — and our members will have a unique experience there, unique menus custom-curated for them and they won’t have to ask for a bill when they leave, like a country club. That’s around the corner.

We are working with a few luxury hotel brands, big ones, for unique partnerships and benefits for members at those locations. We are working with a very large luxury retailer; we believe we can create a unique retail experience for our members when they go shopping. There will be a loyalty system built in to that; as our members transact business they earn flight credit they can use on JetSmarter — it’s a virtuous loop.

Q. What do you think most attributed to JetSmarter’s progress so far?

A. When we launched sharing deals — we call it JetDeals — in mid-2014, that is when we started aggregating supply, offering last-minute flash deals. We lowered prices significantly, and that is when we saw a new consumer set come into the market very fast. That is when we discovered this was really big and that people wanted to have another experience that wasn’t waiting in a commercial airport. That’s when we realized those products had a lot of power. Then we launched JetShuttles in early 2015. We had to raise capital to do that, and that allowed us to offer a unique product to consumers.

Q. What are your goals for this year?

A. From a brand perspective, we want to be seen as an overarching brand and lifestyle community so we want to make sure the other two pillars of our business are presented in the forefront as much as the aviation piece — the social network and the predictive hospitality piece.

Q. What has been most challenging in all of this?

A. Getting someone to try something that is completely new. It’s why our marketing is word of mouth, because you can trust your friend. But it is very hard to get someone to take that initial leap of faith.

Q. Your team is 260 people?

A. Yes, a little more. About 120 are here. We have every function of the business here and the executive team. We also have a sales and biz dev team in London, operations in Zurich, engineering in Moscow, sales and operations in Dubai and Riyadh. And for each of our cities [that JetSmarter flies to], we have employees that will meet and greet you when you land.

Q. How many do you have on your top management team?

A. Probably 12 to 15 people. We are fairly decoupled, we’re circular, people operating on independent teams. We’re not a traditional vertical corporate structure.

Q. Why did you base your business in South Florida?

A. I grew up in South Florida and I got exposed to aviation here. I had a lot of relationships for aviation here, and this is one of the capitals for private aviation. A lot of people take residency here and park their airplanes here for tax reasons.

The only bad part about South Florida is there are not that many high quality engineers here. We took that handicap on and we built an engineering team in Moscow, where we have 25 to 30 engineers today. We import some, and moved people here, and we have still hired people here but it is much harder.

Q. Where did you get your tech know-how?

A. I’m not an engineer by trade but I can understand complex problems, and that is a lot of what we do. We solve an optimization and yield management problem by building out predictive algorithms on demand and supply [that] you can dynamically price and make sure you operate at optimal efficiency — meaning you reduce the amount of dead-head flying, you increase the load factor on flights that are occupied. We pride ourselves on our flights between New York and South Florida — we fly as many as 30 times a week round trip, as many or more than many commercial carriers — and we have a load factor of 96 percent. It’s a very efficient operation.

Q. Do you think entrepreneurs are born or made?

A. There’s an age-old saying, managers are taught, entrepreneurs are born. I’ve always had a bent for it since I was 10 or 11, I always wanted to do something. When I was little, I’d have a lemonade stand and a car wash and I organized garage sales.

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg