June 23, 2016

Cooking up a combo: Hispanicize Media Group buys majority stake in Hispanic Kitchen

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HispkitchenBy Nancy Dahlberg/ ndahlberg@miamiherald.com


Hispanic Kitchen
, a Miami-based food website with a large social media following, looked mighty tasty to Hispanicize Media Group, which was looking to expand its digital media reach with brands.

“Hispanic Kitchen is a remarkable digital and social media platform for brands that want to engage audiences that are inspired by Latino culture and its passion for food, recipes and cooking in general,” said Manny Ruiz, founder and CEO of Hispanicize Media Group, the holding company for the annual Hispanicize event and DiMe Media.

Ruiz’s company recently announced it has acquired a majority stake in the Latino food media company. As part of the transaction, both Miami-based online advertising network Salvo Group and Hispanic Kitchen founder Jorge Bravo will own minority interests. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

This transaction is the first in a series of acquisitions that Hispanicize Media Group plans to enhance its expansion into digital media. “Combining the synergies of Hispanic Kitchen with our DiMe Media influencer network means we can now serve brands an incomparable 360-degree online solution that incorporates premium advertising, programmatic advertising, video integrations, social media engagement and influencer network marketing,” said Ruiz in the press release.

Founded in 2009 by veteran journalist Bravo, HispanicKitchen.com and its social media channels reach a combined 1.6 million monthly users. The newly re-launched website features a database of thousands of Latino recipes with 85 percent of its traffic coming from mobile devices and 90 percent driven by all major social platforms, especially Facebook, with nearly 1.2 million engaged fans.

“It's been a venture and an adventure,” Bravo said on his Facebook page. “I guess this is where I look back at what began as just an idea bouncing around in my head to where it is now, a growing, and much-loved food platform. We've had bumps along the way, but our fans have stuck with us. I value their loyalty and good wishes. I'm excited to begin this new chapter.”

Bravo, who like Ruiz formerly worked in the Miami Herald newsroom, said Hispanicize Media Group bought a minority stake in the company last year and they began working together, allowing the companies time to explore a larger partnership. “What we are trying to do is make HK the top destination for people looking for Latin flavors. This acquisition and the resources it provides ... brings the pieces together to help us get there. It’s been a seamless collaboration. ... We fully expect to be a major player in the space.”

Hispanic Kitchen will be led by Hispanicize Media Group’s Chief Operations Officer Piera Jolly. Bravo will continue as editorial director, overseeing the company’s team of writers and video producers. 

“When you start something like this you never know where it is going to go, but I knew there was a need because our fans told us so,” said Bravo. “We’re continuing to work on the product to meet that need and feed that hunger.”

June 22, 2016

SPC Cyber Security launches with multi-year investment from South Florida company

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

With funding from a large, established South Florida security services company, a team of cyber solution consultants have formed SPC Cyber Security to assist companies of all sizes with the growing threat of cyberattacks, offering services aimed at detecting a threat, and educating companies, before a potential attack occurs.

Kent Services made a multi-year investment in SPC Cyber Security, beginning with $225,000 for year one. Kent Services oversees several brands – Kent Technologies, Kent Facial Recognition and Kent Remote Monitoring, with full-service offices in New York City, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Minneapolis, Portland and Seattle.

A recent survey by Gartner estimates that $77 billion in IT security was spent in 2015 with $101 billion predicted to be spent annually by 2018.  “Cyber crime is occurring online at an alarming rate especially to small and medium sized companies, with and without their knowledge,” said Regan Marock, CEO of SPC Cyber Security, adding that the SPC team is comprised of former U.S. and Israeli government agents. “The keys to detecting and avoiding these data breaches and cyber threats are to proactively assess systems and areas of vulnerability, educate employees and constantly monitor network data.”

Miami startup Bvddy, a sports players' matchmaking app, closes $1.5 million in funding


BvddyuppngThe Bvddy iOS app matches up sports buddies; funding will help fuel national expansion.

By Nancy Dahlberg / @ndahlberg


Bvddy
, an iOS app that enables sports players to connect with sports partners, announced that it has closed $1.5 million in seed capital to expand into new cities. The funding is led by Latin American IDC Group and former BlueKite CEO and current PayPal executive Bobby Aitkenhead, Bvddy said.

Bvddy (formerly called SportsBuddy, which launched in January 2015) features proprietary Smart Matching algorithms that learn about players over time, including how often they play, location, actual skill level, punctuality, and competitive spirit, to  provide the most accurate matches. Prior to closing its seed round, the company said it raised $715,000 in angel financing to develop its technology and test the concept within the sports community.

“It’s a significant challenge for adult sports players to find other people to play the sports they love with, and it can be particularly hard to find others at the same level of skill and experience,” said Bvddy founder and CEO Pedro Ast, an avid tennis player, in the press release. “Bvddy was created to solve this problem.”

How Bvddy works: Once users have downloaded the app and created a profile, they can then search for other people to play specific sports with based on location, skill level, and other criteria. Users can communicate with other players, schedule times and locations to play, review skills, as well as find local venues. They also can discover activities, create public or private sporting events, and rate opponents.

Expansion plans include Bvddy’s launch on Android, as well as in San Francisco, Los Angeles and other major U.S. cities in 2016, Ast said.

June 19, 2016

Startup Spotlight: Need a ride? Freebee revs up to expand

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@MiamiHerald.com

The free short-haul ride service in downtown Miami and Miami Beach has added an app, vehicles and territory. Working with the Small Business Development Center, Freebee has a multi-city expansion plan.


Company name: Freebee

Headquarters: Wynwood

Concept: Freebee is changing the way people experience Miami, moving customers short distances with free electric transportation. Each Freebee car hosts its own marketing campaign for national brands and local businesses.

Story: After graduating from the University of Miami with business management degrees and working a few sales jobs to keep financially afloat, Jason Spiegel and Kris Kimball (pictured above) quit their 9-5s and took the entrepreneurial plunge. “The mix of creativity, fun and the overhanging theme of a better, greener tomorrow were the elements that drove us to pull the trigger on Freebee,” said Spiegel. “We always had it in our minds that we would create something special.”

The co-founders purchased six open-air vehicles — think oversize golf carts — and they were off. The idea was that each vehicle would be branded for one of Freebee’s clients — some of which now include Pepsi, Anheuser-Busch, Jack Daniels, "T-Mobile, Vita Coco, Goya and Related Group. Along with advertising on the inside and outside of the vehicles — indeed, Vita Coco’s Freebees carry a custom built coconut rack on the roof — the drivers become brand ambassadors, providing riders with brand information and coupons and surveying users for feedback.

Service began in South Beach, and by the end of 2014 Freebee launched in Brickell. It now serves South Beach and Mid-Beach as well as Brickell to the Design District with 28 vehicles. Riders can hail a ride through the free “Ride Freebee” mobile app as well as flag a vehicle down.

“The app also gives tourists and locals insight into deals, discounts and “Places To Bee” in the greater Miami area,” Spiegel said. “We promote a greener tomorrow, while also spreading the word about great local establishments and national brands.”

Now the company is revving up with a big expansion strategy.

Launched: September 2012

Management team: Managing Partners Jason Spiegel and Kris Kimball; Matt Friedmann, Business Development; Operations and Logistics Managers Marcellus Johnson, Bryan Jobe and Chris Walker; Directors of Fleet Maintenance Josh Del Sol and Carlos Hernandez.

No. of employees: 43, including in-house designers who create vehicle campaigns and experiences.

Website: www.ridefreebee.com

Financing: Self-funded plus a $450,000 working capital loan from C1 Bank and a $175,000 economic development grant from Miami-Dade County.


Startup2Recent milestones reached:
Launched the Ride Freebee mobile app in October, already generating more than 15,000 downloads. About 60 percent of Freebee’s rides are now requested through the app. Added vehicles in current territories.

Biggest startup challenge: Building a team. Freebee turned to mentors from the Small Business Development Center at Florida International University for guidance on team-building and growth strategy.

Next steps: The mobile app technology has opened the door to more revenue streams, including in-app promotions and data collection, as well as the ability to scale the business to other major cities. But first Freebee’s plans are to expand further in Miami-Dade County.

Strategy for next steps: “Innovation and execution are the key,” Spiegel said. “By partnering and combining key components, we believe that we can scale this business to 50-plus cars in any market, further expanding the known marketing real estate in a given territory, as well as increasing engagement and usage activity levels.”

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg. Read another Startup Spotlight here and see more small business coverage here.

June 14, 2016

Miami startup NightPro acquired by Tablelist

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Tablelist, a platform for real-time online reservations for nightclubs, lounges and bars, has acquired Miami startup NightPro.

Juan Bermudez and Francisco Quintero (pictured above) started NightPro about four years ago in a Midtown coffee shop. In fact, Bermudez pitched a very early concept of the venue management company at a HackDay Miami event in 2012. NightPro was also part of the inaugural class of Venture Hive in 2013.

 Over the years, NightPro made several iterations, but it grew into a venue/guest management platform for more than 100 venue partners worldwide, through which it has helped to manage over $250 million in reservations and 500,000 guests, Bermudez said. As revenue began spiking, so did interest from acquirers; NightPro received offers from two suitors.

But Bermudez said the company began partnering with Tablelist, based in Boston, by integrating Tablelist’s consumer sales technology into the NightPro platform, and they quickly released that their visions aligned and began talking.

 “Everything we were doing, we were heading in the same direction. It just made sense to join forces,” said Bermudez on Tuesday.

 “By merging our two platforms, we would be able to provide our partners with a one of a kind, all in one venue/guest management system that would not only streamline business operations, but also drive more business.”

NightPro’s management platform now complements Tablelist’s front-end booking application for tables at high-end clubs. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Venture-backed Tablelist launched its service in Miami last fall, joining a number of locations, including New York, San Francisco, Boston, Washington, DC, and Las Vegas.  Bermudez said the NightPro team will be continuing to work with Tablelist to distribute the joint platform and aggressively expand.

“Together we are the leading platform for real time online reservations and venue/guest management solutions for nightclubs, lounges and bars. This is an absolute game changer for the entire industry,” Bermudez said in a blog post to NightPro customers.

June 06, 2016

Multi-campus StartUP FIU gets ready for takeoff

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Emily Gresham and Robert Hacker, shown at Florida International University’s Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, are spearheading the StartUP FIU program. It will include three hubs, with programs for food businesses, tech and social entrepreneurship, and will be open to the community as well as to students. Alexia Fodere For The Miami Herald

Below: One of the events held for students as part of StartUP FIU. Photo by Daniela Ferrato.

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Cheng photoIn the culinary kitchens of Florida International University’s Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, Michael Cheng smelled opportunity. The commercial facilities were only being used about half time; as the director of the food-and-beverage program, Cheng thought FIU should offer the excess capacity to companies for a fee.

But after a discussion with Emily Gresham, who is spearheading a university-wide StartUP FIU program, and its student leader Valeria Siegrist, Cheng’s mindset changed. “They opened my eyes... They told me ‘there is an entire community of food entrepreneurs out there who would die to have this space but they can’t afford it.’ and I said ‘Well, let’s open that up to them.’ That’s how Food FIU got started.”

Beginning this fall, the Food FIU program will help entrepreneurs from low- and moderate-income communities in three stages of development – those at the idea stage, entrepreneurs selling in farmers’ markets but are ready to move to the next level, and later stage companies that want to scale. Cheng (pictured at right), who is also an associate processor, said StartUP FIU will start working with firms from North Miami, where the Biscayne Bay Campus is located, with a potential Homestead outpost at a later time. The program is free, and the entrepreneurs do not have to be affiliated with FIU in any way.

The Food innovation hub, supported in part by a $500,000 grant from Citi Foundation, will be one leg of a larger effort called StartUP FIU launching this fall. The interdisciplinary multi-campus resource for students, faculty, staff, alumni and entrepreneurs in the community will include physical spaces, programs and events for entrepreneurs and entrepreneur-wannabes to meet, collaborate, be mentored and take training. An accelerator will work with teams on commercializing concepts.

“Our economy increasingly offers opportunities to people who are able to make good jobs rather than take good jobs. We see this transformation as emblematic of what we have to do at FIU,” said FIU President Mark Rosenberg. “FIU is a huge cluster of talent ... What we are trying to do is provide platforms for that talent to come together around the capabilities that we have. ... We want to provide a safe haven for that talent to come together, with some supervision, to develop products, ideas and opportunities.”

Initially, StartUP FIU, will take root in three locations: the Modesto Maidique campus in Sweetwater, the Hospitality School at the Biscayne Bay campus, and a facility near Tamiami airport serving the growing cadre of technology and medical businesses there. The program has been appropriated $1.25 million from the state in addition to the Citi Foundation funding. It is run by Gresham, FIU’s assistant vice president for Research – Innovation and Economic Development, and Robert Hacker, StartUP FIU’s director.

The program joins existing FIU entrepreneurship resources including the Small Business Development Center, a new Tech Station, the Miami Fintech Forum and the Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center, most located on the Maidique campus on Tamiami Trail. FIU is also a designated “changemaker campus” for Ashoka, the global network for social entrepreneurship.

Despite those existing resources, students had no one-stop-shop for connecting with resources, concluded StartUP FIU’s team after conducting more than 100 interviews with students, faculty and community leaders. Often, students didn’t know where to go, nor were they connecting with the larger community.

“Our students are our energy, our talent, and the diversity of our students, faculty, alumni and the community improves collaboration,” said Gresham. “We’ve decided to have a more inclusive StartUP FIU, which means everyone’s welcome.”

Regionwide, students have more resources than just a few years ago. The Idea Center at MDC opened 18 months ago with an accelerator for MDC students, startup contests, events and a coding school. The University of Miami has been expanding its commercialization efforts, particularly in the healthcare area, working closely with dozens of startups. Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton opened Tech Runway, an accelerator that also offers funding and mentorship for student and community teams. Broward College opened its incubator last month.

These join a region-wide effort, fueled by the Knight Foundation, to accelerate entrepreneurship by expanding resources for mentorship, talent-building and funding. Entrepreneurial co-working spaces, incubators and accelerators have been proliferating, but most are in Miami’s urban core.

That’s the void in the ecosystem StartUP FIU hopes to help fill by focusing on Miami-Dade’s lower income communities and far west suburbs. “There’s a lot of activity, but we are still looking for depth, right?,” said Gresham. “We think we have something to offer in terms of depth building.”

Social entrepreneurship will be a key facet of the program, said Hacker. He expects ongoing themes to include sustainable cities, sea level rise, food supply, medical technology and education technology. An international businessman, Hacker has been teaching entrepreneurship and socially concsious business for more than a decade at FIU’s Honors College and Engineering School and MIT’s Sloan School.

“Miami enjoys the distinction of being the only city in the world that has two Ashoka Changemaker campuses – FIU and MDC. I think that both universities are fomenting all kinds of social entrepreneurs looking for support. We are interested and committed to putting incubators in communities that have not been served by incubators, and I think that will also naturally produce social entrepreneurs,” said Hacker.

As a startup itself, StartUP FIU has been developing over the past year, gaining grassroots support. StartUP FIU student directors Siegrist and Alessia Tacchella took Hacker’s course on Entrepreneurship and Design Thinking. That got the entrepreneurial juices flowing. But instead of working on their own startups, they jumped on the opportunity to help develop StartUP FIU. Tacchella, a finance/economics major who recently graduated, took the lead.

They gathered a diverse group of students with marketing, finance and technical expertise and began meeting weekly to plan the launch and test concepts, she said. About 80 to 100 students have been turning out for events. “When you tell them you want to help them to make their idea become a company, they are thrilled about it. They can’t believe all the resources we are bringing in on campus,” said Siegrist, a communications student.

Wifredo Fernandez, who co-founded The LAB Miami and was one of the founders of MDC’s’ Idea Center, offered insights on best practices and valuable connections, said Gresham. He now works with Gresham in the Innovation and Economic Development department and is StartUP FIU’s associate director.

Applications are being accepted at startup.fiu.edu for the accelerator’s first class. The free 13-week program will begin Sept. 6, will include weekly programs, mentorship and regular milestones for teams to meet, and end with a traditional demo day in which teams pitch to investors. The new StartUP FIU hub at the Maidique campus, a-10,000-square-foot space in the Marc building, should be ready by January; the program will operate in temporary space until then. Programs at the Biscayne Bay campus and near the Tamiami Airport will also get underway in the fall. The services are free.

“It’s an idea whose time has come,” said Rosenberg. “We’re pumped, we’re ready to go.”

Nancy Dahlberg; 305-376-3595; @ndahlberg

 

 

 

 

Startup Spotlight: Modern ŌM, created mindfully

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Company: Modern ŌM

Headquarters: Miami and Asheville, N.C.

Concept: Modern ŌM is a lifestyle brand that uses color to infuse the seven chakra-based intentions into its products. “We bring mindfulness into people’s everyday lives through design,” said Myk Likhov, founder and CEO.

Story: Modern ŌM is a family business built on a shared passion for mindfulness. It’s not the founder’s first business. In 2007, after earning an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Likhov founded the successful Green Monkey yoga brand at age 26. After exiting Green Monkey, he worked in consumer tech in New York City, then returned to Miami in 2014 and began working on Modern ŌM". His parents joined him in this venture with their collective 50-year background in international manufacturing and distribution.

The idea behind Modern ŌM" was to build a lifestyle product brand for people who are mindful, or spiritual in intent. “We’re creating everyday objects that people can use as reminders of how they want to live,” Likhov said. “No one is doing anything like that — and the opportunity is significant.”

Based on the color heritage of the more than 3,000-year-old chakras, Modern ŌM’s affordably priced products are infused with the meaning of seven chakra-based intentions. These ever-present cues of mindfulness are woven through Modern ŌM’s products, which include: accessories such as malas, men’s and women’s apparel, iPhone cases and sustainable beverage totes, candles and stationary. Modernom.co allows you to shop by intention — for example, Vitality, red, the energy that springs from living in balance, or Connection, violet, the joy of being present in the now — making it easy to find items containing the energy you seek.

Modern ŌM products are also carried locally at Exhale Spa South Beach and Cowshed at Soho Beach House and through the Spring app.

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Website: www.modernom.co

Launched: Jan. 1, 2016; soft launched in October 2015.

Management team: Co-founders Myk Likhov, CEO; Marina Likhov, Chief of Product; Steven Wenig, COO.


Modernom3Financing:
$250,000 self-funding invested to date with an angel round opened this May. Seeking to raise $500,000.

Recent milestones reached: Produced the company’s first apparel line from concept to sales in high-end Italian factories. YogaWorks and Exhale, two of the largest national wellness studio brands, now retail Modern ŌM. In April, the company launched The 7, an underground meditation studio in Miami, and taught 150 students in the first month of operations.

Biggest startup challenge: “We are building a company that embodies a lifestyle, which is a much grander vision than simply making products. The biggest challenge is consumer education. Once people understand how meaning is infused into our design principles, and how having reminders of their intentions can improve the quality of their lives, they love it,” said Likhov.

Next step: To create a direct relationship with 10,000 customers. “Building awareness is a challenge for a new company. It requires creativity, passion and pursuit of a larger purpose,” Likhov said. “That’s why our strategy is all about delivering tremendous value in alignment with our mission.”

Strategies for next steps: Build The 7, an underground meditation studio, into a recognizable mindfulness resource for the Miami community by providing an immersive meditation experience, where people can recognize the value that" this lifestyle delivers to them and become evangelists/customers.

Last week, the company launched a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo to bring meditation into the prison system. The goal of this project, which continues through June 30, is to fund meditation lessons for 1,000 inmates. To accomplish this, it has created a limited edition mala (bracelet) for $29. For every one mala sold, Modern ŌM commits to funding for one inmate to learn how to meditate. “Through impact, we also build relationships with meaning-driven consumers,” said Likhov.

Oct. 22-23, the company will hold Miami’s first mindfulness festival — 7 Life — at Sacred Space, with activities, speakers, meditation classes and a party.

- Nancy Dahlberg

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter. Photos of Likhov are by Jose Iglesias/Miami Herald 

Read more Startup Spotlights under the Startup Spotlight category of this blog.

June 05, 2016

Q&A with EcoTech Visions’ Pandwe Gibson: Going green from ground up

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EcoTech Visions team, from left: Tamara Wendt, director of sales and manufacturing, Pandwe Gibson, CEO, executive director and Justin Knight, director of marketing, at their new facility, 670 NW 113th St. in Miami, for green manufacturing companies that is still under construction. PEDRO PORTAL 

 

When Pandwe Gibson set out to build EcoTech Visions, an incubator for green manufacturing businesses, she had no team, no funding and no space. Three years ago it was only a big vision that lived on her iPad, which she shared with anyone she could get to listen.

What was the vision? EcoTech would help “ecopreneurs” in its incubator launch and grow, including connecting them with grants and other resources. EcoTech would also hold programming such as coding courses, green internship programs and fellowships to help prepare the workforce in underserved communities to transition from blue collar to “green collar” jobs.

Gibson wasted no time bringing her big idea to life.

By the end of 2014, and after knocking on many doors and winning initial Miami-Dade County and Community Redevelopment Agency funding, Gibson moved EcoTech into its first location, a small space west of Interstate 95 with communal office space and a community garden, and with a handful of incubator companies she had already begun working with. Although the building had no space for manufacturing, a key goal of Gibson’s, it served as a minimal viable product. A few months later, EcoTech secured some additional office and classroom space in another Liberty City building, which allowed the company to expand its programming. The EcoTech team began forming, and EcoTech began attracting more green companies.

Last month, EcoTech Visions began partially moving into its new Miami headquarters space it leased to own at 670 NW 113th St., in the newly designated “green corridor.” Upon buildout, plans call for the building to provide 24,000 to 25,000 square feet of multilevel co-working space, offices, event space, maker space and manufacturing facilities. EcoTech will also use its Liberty City space during buildout.

Today, 26 companies are members of EcoTech (ecotechvisions.com), and the EcoTech team now numbers seven.

EcoTech Visions recently announced the launch of Digital Citizen, a technology boot camp that aims to provide real-world technology programs and entrepreneurship training to local underserved communities, funded by $200,000 from the Knight Foundation. The first cohort will begin June 20 and will run for eight weeks in the evenings at D.A. Dorsey Technical College in Liberty City. Applications for the boot camp are being accepted at etvfoundation.org/digitalcitizen.

“This program is desperately needed not only to fill the tech staffing gap but also to combat the economic hardships and growing income gap in inner-city Miami,” Gibson, CEO "of EcoTech, said in announcing the launch and funding. “We all succeed when the best and most diverse solutions are brought to the table.”

Since its founding, EcoTech has created 15 new jobs and more than 300 students graduated from EcoTech Visions workshops and certification programs, Gibson said. It has secured $10,000 start"up prototyping grants for nine incubator companies and assisted in securing seed loans for three of its ecopreneurs, Gibson said. It was named 2016 Entrepreneur of the Year by the Beacon Council, among other honors.

By the end of the year, Gibson hopes to see buildout of its headquarters get under way and be completed in one year. Plans include an urban vertical garden across the entire front of the warehouse-style building, space for creating prototypes and light manufacturing as well as co-working and a rooftop cafe.

Appropriately, the building is planned to be entirely powered by solar energy.

“Our goal is to have a net-zero-energy building,” said Tamara Wendt, EcoTech’s director of sales and manufacturing, explaining that there is currently only one other much smaller net-zero building in Miami. “Presently, we have on-site office space and will be holding events here. We expect to have our injection-molding equipment installed by early July and will move into production, warehousing and fulfillment.”

The Miami Herald toured the new EcoTech location last month and sat down with Pandwe Gibson to discuss EcoTech Visions and what’s ahead for the company.

Q: What’s your mission for EcoTech?

A: Our mission is to create opportunities for businesses to grow and to bring green manufacturing jobs to Miami.

Q: What does success look like to you?

A: In the next two years, to have at least five breakout companies. That sounds very ambitious, doesn’t it? But we already have some companies pursuing multimillion-dollar contracts, and when we start seeing the production actually occurring from here, that is very exciting.

The first year [in this building], we will be in massive construction, but we are starting with injection molding and I think we can make a lot of progress in the beginning with that one vertical. We provide the equipment, and there are a lot of businesses that have different molds and prototypes we can help. We plan to have two different machines.

Q: How are you funding all this?

A: We have private funding and public funding. We just completed a seed round of half a million dollars. We have public funding from Miami-Dade County and the CRA totaling about half a million and are pursuing more grants from the county. We recently found out we received a grant from the Knight Foundation. It’s a combination.

Q: Is EcoTech a for-profit or a nonprofit?

A: We have two arms. The for-profit is the maker space, the physical space that you are in, and the services associated with the production equipment. … The nonprofit really focuses on helping to facilitate training, the programs we administer.

Some of those programs are coding education boot camps and a green manufacturing internship program. These programs help prepare the community and workforce for careers in green manufacturing.

Q: Tell me about a few of your incubator companies.

A: Geeks Global is an internet services provider and sustainability-focused technology consultant. Darrell Russell and his team help greenify businesses by using technology like LED lighting, windmill-powered Wi-Fi towers and other innovations. Make The Homeless Smile Miami is an organization started and led by powerhouse community activist Valencia Gunder. They transition homeless Miami residents off the streets and into self-sustained lives. HBCNS LLC, run by Dawn Davis, is a distributor of water-based, biodegradable, protective coatings including the nation’s only non-slip coating. It’s main product is called Strong Seal. (All three entrepreneurs are pictured below with Gibson)

Earthware, led by Michael Caballero, is a producer of compostable cutlery, cups and containers for a better world. The company is committed to the restoration and preservation of our planet by replacing landfill-destined products with 100 percent compostable, tree-free products.

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Q: What do you do for member companies?

A: You can do prototyping here, you can have office space here, you can hold events here, you can run your company here, prototyping and distribution — it’s a one-stop shop and it is sorely needed in Miami.

Q: Explain what the “green corridor” designation is and what it can do for the neighborhood where EcoTech is?

A: The Green Corridor was created by proclamation by the Miami-Dade County Commission and stretches along Northwest Seventh Avenue from 79th Street to 119th Street. It is the first green corridor of its kind in the United States created with the purpose of establishing a citywide, countywide, statewide and regional hub of sustainable and environmentally friendly businesses. The Green Corridor and EcoTech Visions promote economic opportunity for the community where they sit and far beyond.

Q: Where do you see EcoTech in five years?

A: In five years, we want to start multiplying. We want to be in other communities, such as Los Angeles. When you look at the two markets, Miami and L.A., there are a lot of similarities. We are already forging relationships there. California is probably the largest green-tech community in the country. Connecting the two will help infuse vitality and innovation into Miami and help move us as a country into a really great space in green technology.

Q: What is your vision for the vertical garden covering the front of the building?

A: Ted Caplow, of CappSci and Miami Science Barge, is designing a game-changing vertical farm based on work by his company, BrightFarms Inc., which creates hydroponic farms for Whole Foods amongst other clients. The vertical farm will be a hydroponic system to grow organic produce inside a glass and screened-in enclosure on the façade of EcoTech Visions’ new building located at 670 NW 113th St. Installation and ongoing maintenance and production will be managed by Urban Green Works working with marginalized resources including women recently exiting incarceration. In addition, an aquaponics system will be incorporated by Fruit of Life Organics, one of our incubator companies, to grow organic fish and produce in one system that recreates the natural water cycle.

Q: There are even plans for a rooftop café?

A: Yes, and we will serve food from our vertical garden.

Q: What’s next for EcoTech?

A: We’re taking applications to fill out our pipeline of companies, educating people on the opportunities in green technology, and educating entrepreneurs on what is available in terms of funding so they can succeed by being clean and green.

Nancy Dahlberg; 305-376-3595; @ndahlberg

Read more entrepreneurship Q&As on this blog by going to the Q&A category.

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from left, EcoTech Visions'  staff Carlos Vazquez, Kenyona Pierre, Marisabel Lavastida, CEO Pandwe Gibson, Tamara Wendt and Justin Knight, at their new facility, 670 NW 113th St. in Miami, under construction. PEDRO PORTAL pportal@miamiherald.com



 

June 01, 2016

Endeavor taps Citizen co-founders for global network

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com / @ndahlberg

Citizen is an early-stage Miami tech company that helps customers fill out and submit electronic government forms, including the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or the FAFSA. Citizen co-founders Guillaume Lellouche and Katie D’Amore were selected as Endeavor Entrepreneurs last week. 

With the appointment of Lellouche, Citizen’s French-born CEO, and D’Amore, 22 entrepreneurs from 14 companies from Miami have been selected for the global entrepreneurship network. Citizen was chosen by panelists at Endeavor Global’s 64th International Selection Panel held in Madrid. Endeavor Entrepreneurs receive mentorship and other services as well as access to capital, global markets and talent. 

“Citizen is a promising addition to the rising number of Miami entrepreneurs selected by Endeavor. The growth of this group corresponds with the success we’ve seen in our larger innovation ecosystem, which Endeavor continues to play a key role in helping to drive,” said Matt Haggman, Knight Foundation program director for Miami.

Endeavor’s ISP is the culmination of a rigorous selection process, where panels composed of six top global business leaders, entrepreneurs and investors, interview candidates about their businesses, high-impact leadership potential, and timing. To be selected, entrepreneurs must receive a unanimous vote. Endeavor Global now supports more than 1,200 high-impact entrepreneurs from over 780 companies across 25 countries. 

“We have already met a great group of mentors through Endeavor and look forward to meeting with more to help accelerate our growth,” said D’Amore, Citizen’s CAO.

Endeavor Miami launched operations in September 2013 with the support of the Knight Foundation and a local board of business leaders. 

May 26, 2016

It’s all about efficiency: A conversation with SpeedETab’s cofounders

By Rhiya Mittal / RhiyaMittal@gmail.com

PicturePicture this. It’s already 6:50 pm and you just arrived to the Wynwood Art District to attend Startup Grind Miami’s monthly Fireside Chat. Only 10 minutes remain until the chat begins but you need to get your medium latte from Panther Coffee after your grueling day at work. For the average person, this may seem like quite the dilemma. But not for you! You’ve already ordered and paid for your coffee ahead of time through your SpeedETab app on your smartphone. You quickly run into Panther Coffee, snigger at the long line of eager coffee drinkers, spot an inviting to-go cup with your name on it on SpeedETab’s signature black and green mat, scoop it up, and leave the store- all in a span of two minutes. You then head on over to LAB Miami, Wynwood’s hub for entrepreneurs and innovators (and the venue for the night’s Startup Grind event), and make it just in time for the Fireside Chat, caffeinated and ready to go! You whip out your laptop and get ready to take notes on tonight’s conversation with SpeedETab cofounders, Adam Garfield and Ed Gilmore, to see how they made the magic happen.

(Side note- the above anecdote is a true story based on my personal experience/)

So, what is SpeedETab? After working long hours at a corporate finance firm in Boston, Adam Garfield would often go out with his friends to grab a beer at a local bar. It was then that he noticed a recurring problem that did not yet seem to have a solution: he would often be standing at the bar after ordering his drink, with his cash in hand, for upwards of 10 minutes, waiting for a bartender to process his order and deliver his beverage. Something had to be done. Adam and cofounder Ed Gilmore decided to take matters into their own hands and create SpeedETab, a mobile ordering app that allows users to discover nearby restaurants, order food and drinks, and pay for their order- all in one go. To retrieve their orders, users simply skip the line at their favorite venues, walk up to the SpeedETab mat by the cashiers, and pick up their items. It’s that easy! Launched in March 2015, SpeedETab has taken the South Florida region by storm and is used at over 100 venues, with plans to expand to New York soon.

NewstartupgrindProduct is king. Focus is key. In the tech environment, there are countless ways to improve a product and add new, shiny features that may seem revolutionary. However, constant feature upgrades and additions may prove to actually detract from the product itself and could be economically impractical. So how does one choose which features stay and which ones go? Adam and Ed believe that in order to be successful, a team’s main focus must be guaranteeing that its main product works efficiently and successfully while consistently delivering and achieving its ultimate goal. SpeedETab’s team focuses primarily on the ultimate user experience, for both its merchants and its clients. Before updating the app in any way, Adam and Ed ensure that the user experience will remain streamlined and reliable, as their goal is to create a frictionless connection between technology and hospitality. To do this, both cofounders constantly keep each other balanced and evaluate each change they make to make sure that the modifications will benefit the company both technologically and economically. Product success will also help in other ways. While advertising, marketing, and sales promotions do build hype around a product, the best PR comes from letting the product speak for itself. Allowing customers to share their own experiences with a product and tell their friends and families about the reasons why they love it is invaluable and extremely effective. The easiest way to make sure this happens is to have a team that focuses on the product itself, not the revenue it generates.

Healthy competition. When direct competitors are out there in the market, do not hide from them, embrace them! Your competitors will have products that serve a purpose similar to yours and may even utilize a similar platform as yours- this is extremely beneficial as it familiarizes the consumer population with your product type. For example, SpeedETab’s major competitors include other mobile ordering platforms such as the Starbucks app, Chipotle app, etc. Users who have been using these apps to order their favorite items from various venues are already educated about the benefits of mobile ordering. This reduces the efforts SpeedETab has to make to inform the public about the uses of mobile ordering, thus cutting down on promotional costs the company would have to incur. Furthermore, SpeedETab can use the fact that it has so many competitors to capitalize on the way that it streamlines mobile ordering from many venues into just one simple app. This way, instead of users having pages of mobile ordering applications on their phones, they can maximize their efficiency by just having one, SpeedETab. So remember, use your competitors’ similarities to further highlight your unique factors.

Team dynamics. To be successful in any venture, it is essential to have a diverse yet coherent team. At the inception of many startups, entrepreneurs often find themselves wearing many hats: that of a brand ambassador, marketing executive, operations director, financier, product developer, etc. While it may seem invigorating at first, this causes many entrepreneurs to burn out quickly, thus making their startup suffer. In a tech-centered business, it is often beneficial to have one cofounder who handles the business aspect and one who focuses on product development and technology. After acquiring the necessary funds, however, cofounders must recruit a structured team of specialists and delegate tasks to ensure that the company’s goals are met in an efficient manner. Communication amongst team members is necessary to make sure all team members are connected and aware of the company’s overall progress and direction. Good leaders should also focus on seeing that relationships between colleagues are both professional and amicable.

Want to gain more advice from leading entrepreneurs? Come to Startup Grind Miami’s next event on June 13. More information will be on StartupGrind.com/miami.

Rhiya Mittal is a student at the University of Miami, currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Neuroscience along with minors in Chemistry, Health Sector Management & Policy, and Marketing. She hopes to work on further merging the fields of healthcare and marketing and attend medical school in the future. Reach her at RhiyaMittal@gmail.com