August 24, 2016

The South Florida Accelerator, Greenspoon Marder law firm team up to foster Florida innovation

By Marcia Heroux Pounds / Sun Sentinel

The law firm of Greenspoon Marder has partnered with The South Florida Accelerator to create Innovation Florida, an advocacy organization for the advancement of technological innovation in the state.

Gerry Greenspoon, co-managing director of Greenspoon Marder, said the law firm will work to leverage strategic relationships and advocate for Florida's innovative entrepreneurs and technological pioneers. Greenspoon Marder has offices in Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Miami Beach.

Innovation Florida said founding sponsors also include technology companies Levatas in Palm Beach Gardens; Citrix Systems and AAJ Technologies, both in Fort Lauderdale; and Brightstar Corp. in Miami.

The South Florida Accelerator was founded earlier this year by Christopher Malter and Thomas Buchar in Fort Lauderdale.

Read more about the accelerator here.

August 21, 2016

Startup Spotlight: Banana Wave hits Whole Foods, now expanding nationally

Banana milk 2

Company name: Fresh Start Beverage Co. (Banana Wave)

Headquarters: Palm Beach Gardens

Concept: Fresh Start Beverage Co. is creating a new category in the milk-alternative industry. “We are the first company to actually make milk from a universally loved fruit — bananas. We call it Banana Wave,” said H.E. Neter Kush Ben Alkebulan (pictured above), co-founder and chief beverage officer.

Story: Entrepreneurial passion can take you to places you never thought you’d go. For these co-founders, getting their business off the ground meant living in a car for a while — and success still means donning a banana suit.

Banana wave 3Fresh Start Beverage Co.’s mission is to make humanity healthy, happy and strong one refrigerator at a time, said Neter, who founded the Palm Beach County startup along with his fiancée Trendolyn Hopkins and his mother Claudette Patron. Their first product is a nondairy beverage called Banana Wave banana milk. Neter says the delicious superfood originated in Africa’s Nile Valley around 3000 B.C., and has been his family’s specialty for generations.

While attending Florida Memorial University and working three jobs in 2012, he and Hopkins went to the Nova Southeastern University library every night to learn everything they could about business plans and running a company. Saving money by living in a car for six months, they went all-in working on their business full time in 2014; their first break came that year, when they won the People’s Choice award in Florida Atlantic University’s business plan competition and a couple of others.

The winnings, plus about $727,300 raised from family, friends and angel investors after the contests, allowed them to spend most of 2014 and 2015 testing out the product in farmers markets across South Florida, including ones run by Whole Foods, gathering feedback and making tweaks, testing price points and making sales. By January of this year they had the product made commercially and began selling it.

In May, their big break came: Banana Wave is now in Whole Foods throughout the state. The couple have done demonstrations (Neter wears a banana suit) at stores throughout the summer. The banana milk is a first for Whole Foods, Neter said. “They sell a lot of products but they have never seen anything like Banana Wave.”

He has had meetings with Wal-Mart and Kroger over the summer. Wal-Mart has already said yes, Neter said, and they are discussing 2017 launch plans. “I really want to get into Publix; Publix is on my radar.”

Launched: March 19, 2013

Banan2Management team: Co-founders H.E. Neter Kush Ben Alkebulan, chief beverage officer; Trendolyn Hopkins (pictured here), chief brand officer; Claudette Patron, chairman of the board (pictured here).

No. of employees: 9

Website: bananawave.com, www.facebook.com/drinkbananawave

Financing: $727,300 raised from family, friends and angel investors.

Recent milestones reached: Expanded distribution into the Northeast, through Market Basket, into the Southwest, through HEB, and into the West Coast, through Unified Grocers. Won the Category Pioneer Award in Beverage World Magazine in July. Currently working on a chocolate version of Banana Wave.

Biggest startup challenge and why: “Our biggest startup challenge was obtaining distribution for Banana Wave. We created the new category so food & beverage distributors had no historical data to rely on to determine sales volume,” Neter said.

Next steps: Obtain a national presence within Whole Foods Market. Give back to the community by sponsoring sporting events and local festivals. Provide impeccable service to distributors and retailers, while creating healthy beverage products that add value to consumers’ lives.

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

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August 18, 2016

Ride2MD, Lyft team up to fuel patient transport

Miami-based startup Ride2MD rolled out its service in Miami-Dade and Broward, and announced a partnership with Lyft for on-demand medical transportation. 

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Ride2MDMiami startup Ride2MD hit the streets this summer with its new medical transport service. This week it picked up a well-known partner in the on-demand transportation world: Lyft.

Ride2MD provides efficient, technology-enabled patient transportation to doctors’ offices, outpatient facilities and hospitals. George Fernandez, Ride2MD’s CEO, believes Lyft could provide 25 percent to 40 percent of Ride2MD’s transportation needs, primarily for Ride2MD clients who do not require ambulatory or wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

“Transportation no longer needs to be an inconvenience or barrier to those who need it most,” Fernandez said. “This is another conduit to providing good service to our clients. .. It’s cheaper than sending a taxi, it’s usually faster than sending a taxi, and it is something that people are getting more and more used to as a service level.” And as to Lyft team, Fernandez added: “They get healthcare.”

Fernandez, an executive in the healthcare insurance business before launching Ride2MD, said Thursday he was impressed with Lyft’s tool called Concierge that allows third parties to book rides on patients' behalves, and its commitment to the sector, including bringing on Gyre Renwick, who used to help run Google’s industry sector for healthcare.

“Every year, around 3.6 million Americans miss or delay medical care because they lack appropriate transportation to their appointments. We want to fix that. Getting a patient to their doctor appointment can lower the cost of care and increase the quality of care,” said Renwick, head of enterprise healthcare partnerships at Lyft. “Ride2MD has a similar viewpoint so our partnership is well-aligned.”

For patients that do need wheelchair-equipped or ambulatory vehicles, Ride2MD partners with medical transport companies. 

A few weeks ago, Ride2MD began its service in Miami-Dade and Broward, and plans to move into Palm Beach and Monroe as well as Central Florida in coming months.

Ride2MD, which won second place overall in the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge this year and also was the Challenge’s People’s Pick winner, is forecasting an aggressive growth trajectory, expecting to manage over half a million members within the next 24 months and upwards of 3 million within five years.

For now the service is for private-paying customers, but Fernandez said Ride2MD has reached agreement with two major health plans and those details will be rolled out soon. The company is also establishing contracts with assisted living facilities, nursing homes and healthcare providers.

Most of the trips so far have been to doctor’s offices but Fernandez said Ride2MD has also served patients with rides to family events. “It’s kind of evolved into patients with special needs that need a helping hand getting around,” said Fernandez. “And that’s great, that’s what I want to see.”

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

Read more: Ride2MD: Driving a plan to vastly improve medical transport

 

LaunchCode partners with City of Miami to place tech apprentices

LaunchCode, a nonprofit founded by Square co-founder Jim McKelvey, announced this week that it will partner with the City of Miami to place technology apprentices across a number of departments.

 LaunchCode opened its South Florida office in 2015 and has partnered with more than 100 local companies to place more than 80 technologists in jobs and apprenticeships in tech. In addition to placing qualified candidates into jobs, the nonprofit also hosts computer programming classes and bootcamps with Miami Dade College. LaunchCode is supported by national and local organizations, including the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

 “This partnership between LaunchCode and the City of Miami creates a new pathway for emerging technologists from diverse backgrounds to help solve our community’s most pressing problems. It’s an important step as we commit to strengthen collaboration between City government and Miami’s growing tech scene,” said Mike Sarasti, Chief Innovation Officer at the City of Miami.

Learn more at www.launchcode.org.

Florida Venture Tech Showcase offers opportunity to pitch, win $100K

The Florida Venture Forum and Space Florida, in partnership with Hillsborough County, will co-host the inaugural 2016 Florida Venture Tech Showcase on November 1, 2016 at CAMLS  in downtown Tampa.

The half-day afternoon Showcase is a capital acceleration competition and business-networking event featuring presentations by some of Florida’s most promising growth-stage companies who are cash positive and established in business. Troy Knauss, instructor with the Angel Resource Institute will be the special guest speaker.  Selected presenting companies will compete for the Space Florida Accelerating Innovation (AI) Award totaling $150,000: $100,000 for the Winner and $50,000 for the First Runner-Up.

Event details, company criteria and presenter’s application are available on the Florida Venture Forum’s website at www.flventure.org. The final application deadline for presenters is Friday, Oct. 14.

 

August 17, 2016

Pipeline Workspaces opens Fort Lauderdale co-working location

Pipeline

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

 Pipeline Workspaces is on the move again.

Thea national shared workspace company that started in Miami opened its fifth U.S. location this month in downtown Fort Lauderdale.

Pipeline occupies a floor at One Financial Plaza at 100 SE Third Ave., marking its entry into the Broward market and expanding Pipeline’s presence in South Florida. The 28-story office tower is one block off of Las Olas Boulevard and home to the popular dining spot Tower Club.

Pipeline Lauderdale is the company’s fourth location in South Florida; it previously opened in the Miami's Brickell neighborhood, Coral Gables and Doral. Part of a wave of co-working spaces opening around the Miami area, all the spaces offer sleek open co-working space, tech-enhanced conference rooms, phone booths, dedicated desks and private offices designed to foster productivity and collaboration.  Each space has a different theme or feel fitting with the neighborhood; Pipeline Lauderdale has a nautical theme, and it was designed by architecture firm Gensler and built by high-end interior specialists Amicon Construction. 

 “The opening of our Fort Lauderdale workspace is a natural next step in our growth strategy given the established and growing high-tech, legal and international business community in Downtown Fort Lauderdale,” said Todd Oretsky, who co-founded the company with Philippe Houdard, in a news release.  “Our goal is to create a business and social network that makes it possible for individuals in different stages of the business cycle to have access to each other’s talents and resources to build meaningful connections that will help them prosper.”

Pipeline also runs a Pipeline location in Philadelphia.

 

Fintech company Nymbus closes $12 million financing round

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com 

On the heels of a summer acquisition spree, Nymbus, a Miami-based financial technology company, announced this week that the company has completed a $12 million financing round led by major shareholders of Vensure Enterprises.

Nymbus, founded in 2015 and now with about 150 employees, provides mission-critical core technology for financial institutions that not only drives day-to-day operations, but also serves as the institution’s backbone for new capabilities and growth. 

With the funding, Nymbus will accelerate product deployment and infrastructure teams to support the company’s SmartCore platform, as financial institutions of all sizes attempt to transform their technology for the new digital economy.

"Nymbus is here to help the 12,500 financial institutions encumbered by some of the oldest enterprise technology still in use, many developed as long as 30 to 40 years ago,” said Scott Killoh, Nymbus’ executive chairman. “This additional funding will help us rapidly convert the already high demand for our SmartCore platform." 

This summer, the company announced a trio of acquisitions: KMR, a provider of software services and products to credit unions; R.C. Olmstead, which serviced credit unions in the Midwest; and Sharp BancSsystems, a Texas-based financial software provider. With the Sharp acquisition, the company acquired $200 million of intellectual property, running software that has been tried and tested in publicly-traded financial institutions, Nymbus said.

At least two executives on the Nymbus team, Killoh and Harry Flood, were recently listed as directors in Miami Beach-based Vensure Enterprises.

 

August 08, 2016

Transition at the top as AGP angel network enters 3rd year

By Nancy Dahlberg, ndahlberg@MiamiHerald.com

AGP, the homegrown Miami-based angel network, is headed into its third year with a surge in investment activity and new leadership at the top.

Raul Moas (c) (1) croppedNico Berardi, who has led the relaunch of AGP (Accelerated Growth Partners) since 2014, is headed to Harvard Business School this month. Taking his place at the helm will be Raul Moas (pictured here), who for the last four years was executive director of the nonprofit Roots of Hope, an international network focused on youth empowerment in Cuba.

To ensure a smooth transition, Berardi and Moas have been working together for about five weeks. Berardi will also be visiting frequently and continue his involvement in AGP as a member of its board.

Moas said he wants to continue to help make AGP "the go-to angel network in South Florida" for the most promising startups in his hometown. Before Roots of Hope, Moas worked at Ernst & Young as a CPA in its international tax practice.

Berardi, who also came from the nonprofit world as a leader in Techo, said about 50 candidates applied for the leadership job at AGP. Autonomy  and the ability and desire to learn were traits AGP looked for in a leader, Berardi said.

It has been two years since its 2014 relaunch [AGP existed as a much smaller and less active angel group for a few years], which was supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Since then, the angel network has made 21 investments in 17 South Florida companies, totaling about $4.6 million.

Recent AGP investments have included media company Whereby.us, publisher of The New Tropic, Papatel, a fintech company focused on alternatives to remittances, and a follow-on investment for Nearpod, an education technology company.

NicoCurrently, AGP has about 80 active investors. "We got off to a very quick start. In the first two years we proved out AGP as an MVP [minimal viable product], and now with the transition we want to focus on building the 2.0," said Berardi (pictured here).

Going forward, Moas and Berardi said AGP will be focused on leveraging the AGP network to help the companies post-investment and on more community engagement, with resources like angel office hours.

"We’ve proved there is a critical mass of really good companies and a critical mass of value-add angels and that we can have a process that is efficient and entrepreneur-friendly. That is what sets us apart – we’re quick efficient and we give out good term sheets. ... The goal is to keep on onboarding investors that will write more checks and larger checks," said Berardi, noting the average check size right now is about $250,000. Angel education efforts, such as AGP's seminars it has been producing with Kellogg School of Management and other partners, are helping.  

While growing the base of angels and securing follow-on investments are challenges, Berardi said AGP is seeing more quality deals. He said the arrival of programs like startupbootcamp and 500 Startups' Growth Marketing program and new funds such as Las Olas Ventures are good signs of a maturing ecosystem. "But it's a long game. ... Slowly but surely we are getting there; the right things are happening," Berardi said.

Moas added, "I would love to see AGP continue to be a thought leader in the space. We want to be the go-to angel group in South Florida for the most promising startups in the area. We want to make sure we are accessible, that our members are reachable, and to be more engaged in the community. We’ve proven the concept, we know we are onto something and now it is about fine-tuning and growing."

South Florida startups can contact AGP at agpmiami.com.

Read more: Q&A with Nico Berardi

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg

 

Startup Spotlight: Octopi making waves in maritime industry

Cetus Labs 01 EKM

Company: Octopi (formerly Cetus Labs)

Headquarters: Venture Hive, 1010 NE Second Ave., Miami

Concept: Octopi builds and sells a modern and smart Terminal Operating System (TOS) that helps seaport terminal operators manage operations, track cargo, and communicate electronically in real-time with their commercial partners.

Story: Ninety percent of everything around you was carried over on a shipping container before it reached you. It’s the industry that puts food in your plate, clothes on your back and enables the success of e-commerce globally. Yet, very few companies are trying to solve the hard problems facing this industry, says Octopi co-founder Luc Castera.

“Our company was built with the mission to help the key players in this industry operate more efficiently using modern software. We are a team of software developers with lots of experience in developing modern software tools,” Castera said.

According to the International Chamber of Shipping, about 90 percent of world trade is carried by the international shipping industry, and the United Nations estimates that the maritime industry contributes about $380 billion to the global economy. It’s also one of Miami’s dominant industries.

“When we started learning about the shipping and maritime industry, we saw that there was a big opportunity to help companies in that space be more efficient using technology,” said co-founder Guille Carlos. “Everybody is impacted by the shipping industry so we feel like we can have a meaningful impact in the world by helping the players in this industry be more effective.”

Launched: Octopi went live with its first customer in October 2015.

Management team: Luc Castera and Guille Carlos [pictured above], who have more than 20 years of combined experience developing software. Previously, Castera was CTO of Intellum and Carlos was the first tech hire of FiveStreet, which was acquired by move.com in 2013.

Website: octopi.co

Financing: Bootstrapped. The co-founders said they are not in need of funding now but have had conversations with local investors and are building relationships with them in case they decide to raise funds in the future.

Recent milestones reached: In October 2015, Octopi went live with its first customer. In May 2016, the company signed a contract with Caribbean Port Services (CPS), which manages all the terminals at the port of Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. With that contract, about 85 percent of all containerized cargo going to Haiti now goes through Octopi. In June 2016, Octopi completed its billing module, which allows the software product to interface with accounting software such as Quickbooks Online or Microsoft Dynamics GP.

Octopi (then called Cetus Labs) was also the winner of the 2016 early-stage Startup Showcase competition at eMerge Americas in April, winning $50,000, and it participated in the 2016 Venture Hive class.

Biggest startup challenge: Focus. Carlos says: “We see so many problems we could solve in the shipping and maritime industry but we must remain focused on the problem we are currently solving for terminal operators, and not get distracted by other product ideas.”

Next steps: To continue improving the product. “We love to work closely with new customers and involve them early as possible as we develop our product. This ensures that we are solving their problem and we are not developing software in a vacuum. As such, we are always looking for container terminals that have a forward-thinking executive team and that are willing to build a strong alliance with their software vendor. It’s a win-win situation: They help us build a great product, and they get a better software at a better price,” Castera said.

Mentor’s view: “This is exactly the type of startup we need more of in Miami,” said Mike Lingle, who mentors the team at Venture Hive. “My favorite thing about Luc and Guille is that they've built a sustainable business with real revenue and customers, and they don't need to raise money. They both write code, but they also take the time to learn how to run the business, drive sales and marketing, etc. ... The next step is to focus on sales and build a predictable revenue stream. B2B sales cycles are often long and involve multiple stakeholders, so it's important to focus on this sooner rather than later.”

Read more: Mediconecta brings telehealth to emerging markets.

Read more: Why Hope Solo is partnering with this startup.

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Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

August 06, 2016

Fourth Estate launches journalism startup hosting program

The Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corporation  announced a program aimed to provide news and journalism startups with no-cost media hardened web hosting.

The JournSpark™ program was started as an an unofficial internal initiative where the Fourth Estate provides free web hosting for selected at-risk public interest news sites and several university faculty for their classroom journalism projects.  The program has now grown into a official journalism incubation program offered by the Fourth Estate in support of its public benefit mission.

“It is imperative that entrepreneurs that are involved in startups that are committing public service journalism be given the runway that they need to gain a market foothold,”  Jeff Brown, founder and CEO said. “JournSpark is a no-brainer for a entrepreneurs in the media and journalism space that are just getting started and don’t have a traction yet. It [the program] provides full featured, enterprise class hosting that is journalism hardened, all at no cost to the startup.” 

The JournSpark™ program was developed with the company’s web hosting division, Scoop.Host, to provide premium hosting services and technology at no cost for one year to qualified journalism startups. TheJournSpark™ Startup Program allows journalists and media entrepreneurs a full suite of services, at no cost during their initial startup phases..

How to Apply:

To apply for the program please visit www.JournSpark.com

The program Includes:

  • No cost for qualifying journalism startups.
  • An complete enterprise-ready web hosting solution including 150 GB of data storage and unlimited data transfer.
  • World-class web hosting technical support from Scoop.Host.
  • DDoS attack protection using CloudFlare’s Project Galileo.

Qualifying Startups:

To qualify for the program a participant must be a legally registered business, engage in original news gathering, act in the public interest (broadly defined), be a small commercial entity or a not-for-profit organization or official college/university program, be less than 3 years old, privately held, and earn less than $1M annually.

Getting Started:

  • Go to JournSpark.com
  • Complete the online applications to apply to the program.