March 21, 2015

Startup Spotlight: Caribbean Journal

Caribbean journal

Guy Britton, executive vice president, and Alexander Britell, editor-in-chief/founder, of Caribbean Journal in the offices of Pipeline Brickell on March 16, 2015. WALTER MICHOT MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Caribbean Journal

Concept: Caribbean Journal is a daily digital magazine covering news and travel in what the publication likes to call the “Greater Caribbean.”

Story: Alexander Britell graduated from Harvard College cum laude and received a scholarship to attend the University of Miami School of Law, where he soon began studying Caribbean law. He had been a journalist since high school, and one night before graduating from law school, had the idea to launch a regional Caribbean news source. In 2013, Britell joined forces with longtime media executive and former Caribbean and Travel and Life Publisher Guy Britton and expanded the site with more robust travel and tourism content.

“The Caribbean is unique in the world in that it is a place that everyone wants to know about and visit, but for which there has long been a significant information deficit, even more so for people who live within the region,” said Britell, editor of Caribbean Journal. CJ aims to bridge that gap by focusing on two major areas: news (politics, economics, energy and the environment) coupled with travel and tourism, the region’s single largest economic driver. “The goal is to unite two often disparate worlds: the people who live in the Caribbean, and the people who travel and invest in the Caribbean, and to inform them about what’s happening in the region and why it matters to everyone,” Britell said.

Today, the magazine has grown to become the world’s largest website covering the Caribbean and the leading resource for news and travel information on the Caribbean, Britell said. It is read in more than 200 countries and territories, with the largest concentration (about 65 percent) in the United States.

CJ has its office at Pipeline Brickell, which has proven to a valuable collaborative resource for the company’s growth. CJ even hosts regular Rum Tasting at the space as part of its Rum Journal section.

Founded: 2011

Management team: Alexander Britell, editor-in-chief/founder; Guy Britton, executive vice president.

Number of employees: Five.

Website: www.caribjournal.com

Financing: $500,000 in angel equity financing

Recent milestones reached: 460,000 visits in one month in January, just topped 44,000 subscribers (email newsletter goes out every day of the week) and 88,000 Facebook likes, 268 percent year-over-year audience growth. Won two Caribbean Tourism Organization media awards. Hired Caribbean travel expert Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon as travel editor at the end of 2014. “Among our staff, we’ve now visited every country in the Caribbean,” Britell said.

Biggest startup challenge: Building an Internet audience from scratch. In the very early days, CJ was getting 50 people a day. Now it’s 15,000, Britell said. 

Next step: Hosting conferences and small events in Miami and expanding audience development. “We believe that there’s nothing stopping us from reaching 5 million visits a month or more. But what’s important is that we stay lean and efficient and maintain our editorial vision,” Britell said.

Partner’s view: “I knew the minute I saw Caribbean Journal what a great opportunity there was to grow the audience and make it valuable for advertisers,” said Britton, who has more than 20 years of digital publishing experience and knowledge of the Caribbean. “We will continue to produce new, useful and entertaining content that attracts the right readership. Events are a great way to grow. We will continue to host rum tastings, small press conferences and accept speaking engagements.”

Nancy Dahlberg @ndahlberg

March 17, 2015

Shyp makes tracks in Miami, adds feature to make the dreaded return easier

Shyp images

If online shopping is all about the convenience, why are returns such a hassle?

Shyp, the on-demand shipping service that launched in Miami just before Art Basel, introduced a service this month that expedites the return of unwanted items. No more printing out the return label, repackaging the box and killing your lunch hour at the post office, the company says.

With the startup’s Shyp Returns feature, you simply launch the Shyp app (iOS or Android), select the retailer you’re returning to -- there are 13 popular ones right now such as Amazon, Target and J.Crew -- enter your order number, take a picture of what you’re returning, and you’re done. A Shyp courier will arrive within 20 minutes to  pick up your item and take care of the rest, including packaging, for $5, the company says. “We know where it needs to go in a couple of taps," said CEO, Kevin Gibbon, founder and CEO of the company in an interview last week. With less hassle to return, “consumers actually buy more," he said. “It’s beneficial for Shyp, it’s better for the retailers and better for the consumer.”

The return feature is new but Shyp, which simplifies the process of shipping packages using a mobile platform and a fleet of Shyp couriers, has already been making tracks in South Florida. Since launching in late November, its third expansion after San Francisco and New York (L.A. is next), Shyp has been experiencing 20 percent month-over-month growth, said Gibbon, who thinks easing online returns – now 15 percent of its business -- will increase that. Shyp has also raised $12.2 million in venture funding.

Shyp, now a team of six in Miami and hiring, is one of a growing army of startups targeting the entrenched logistics industry. Want to send a gift or do you have a large small-business order to get out? Shyp charges a $5 pickup fee no matter the number of items and does the packing for you at its warehouse; the consumer also pays the retail cost of shipping. The company makes money because it negotiates large volume discounts on shipping, says Gibbon, who was a eBay power seller in college who  experienced the hassle of shipping first-hand.

Shyp strategically launched in Miami just before Art Basel, Gibbon said. Along with small businesses, Gibbon said, “we are seeing traction with hotel concierges, who are using  it as an on-demand service for their guests. Property managers  have been promoting Shyp to their tenants, so we are seeing a lot of shipments from highrises. And of course shopping -- it becoming clear to us what people already know, Miami loves to shop.”

Miami is also skewing higher for international shipments, he said. "You don’t have to go to the post office for the custom declaration forms anymore. We do it all through the app.” And that includes art, lots of art. Shyp provides $1,000 of insurance for free; but customers can purchase more through Shyp.

 

March 16, 2015

Startup Spotlight: Wyncode

Wyncode2

Johanna and Juha Mikkola are the founders of Wyncode, which runs nine-week-long coding boot camps at its school at The LAB Miami. AL DIAZ MIAMI HERALD STAFF

 

Wyncode

Headquarters: The LAB Miami in Wynwood.

Concept: Wyncode is a nine-week development boot camp immersing ambitious individuals in a demanding and inspiring learning environment engineered to develop successful coders with business acumen. “We believe in promoting programming literacy using a disruptive education model and feel that a boot camp environment is the best way to learn practical and relevant coding skills quickly,” said Juha Mikkola, who co-founded Wyncode with his wife, Johanna (pictured above).

Story: WyncodeAcademy aims to address the need in Miami’s tech ecosystem for developer talent, which parallels what’s seen elsewhere in the country: recent estimates show that there will be a million more computer programming jobs in 2020 than candidates to fill them. The rapidly growing demand for developers provides an opportunity for a career accelerator for those determined to change their path and make an impact in the startup technology scene.

Wyncode got started after Juha Mikkola attended a development boot camp in Toronto, Canada, where he saw firsthand the power and effectiveness of the accelerated learning model. Improving upon that experience with better hiring partner relationships and a “Made for Miami” curriculum, Wyncode hit the ground running with a 14-person inaugural class in May 2014. Wyncode graduated its fourth cohort last week.

Wyncode has held four Pitch Days with each drawing an audience of about 250 people to see the app creations of Wyncode students. Last week’s Pitch Day drew 267 people and six of the students received full-time job offers even before the event.

Launched: Website went live in February 2014; first classes started in May.

Management team: Co-founders Juha and Johanna Mikkola.

Website: www.wyncode.co.

Number of employees: Five full-time employees, five part-time employees, in addition to the co-founders. Wyncode’s lead instructor, Edward Toro, is an MIT graduate, veteran of six startups, and a Miami tech scene pioneer.

Financing: Self-financed. Currently raising $500,000.

Recent milestones: Nearly 70 students have graduated from the program while Wyncode has maintained a 92 percent placement rate within three months of graduation; first Code School/Development Bootcamp in Florida to receive Florida Department of Education licensing; won Tech Cocktail’s Best Company Culture Award; invited to the White House to participate in its Accelerated Learning Program panels and meet the US CTO Megan Smith, and then invited back; Wyncode and nine other coding schools nationwide recently formed a new trade organization called the New Economy Skills Training Association (NESTA) to establish best practices, standards and increase accountability in the industry.

Biggest startup challenge: Finding out that accelerated learning programs required Florida Department of Education licensing, after students joining the first cohort had already quit their jobs to attend Wyncode. “We’re fortunate that the state saw the great impact we are having and worked with us as we fulfilled the requirements, but it made for a lot of sleepless nights,” Juha Mikkola said. “Even through the difficult times all of our students stuck by us!”

Next steps: Expanding programming at flagship location in Wynwood. “We introduced our first part-time course in February, which is for iOS App Development. Next we plan to expand to our second location in Fort Lauderdale in April, pending state approval, and add more part-time courses,” Johanna Mikkola said.

Strategy for next step: “Our strategy is laser-focused on maintaining our quality no matter what we do. We will continue working closely with our hiring partners to make sure that we are teaching relevant tech skills that allow our graduates to jump straight into the workplace and contribute from day one, or build a minimum viable product and start their own tech company,” Juha Mikkola said.

Nancy Dahlberg @ndahlberg

2 wyncode021315 ADD

The Wyncode team, left to right, Walter Latimer, Damon Davison, Bryce Kerley, Frank Ortiz, Juha Mikkola, Diego Lugo, Edward Toro and Johanna Mikkola, above. Below, Alexander Moraleza and other students participate in a class at Wyncode at The LAB Miami. AL DIAZ MIAMI HERALD STAFF

  1wyncode021315ADD

March 12, 2015

AquaVault on Shark Tank: Will they bite Friday night? Find out now ...

Aquavault

The entrepreneurs behind AquaVault, a portable beach safe, will take the plunge on ABC’s Shark Tank on Friday.

During the show, entrepreneurs pitch their companies for potential funding to the celebrity investors: Mark Cuban, Barbara Corcoran, Lori Greiner, Robert Herjavec, Daymond John and Kevin O'Leary. Will the Sharks tear apart the beach product or will they taste opportunity? The Shark Tank episode, which airs at 9 p.m., was taped months ago and the team is sworn to secrecy.

“The inception of this idea occurred while we were staying at one of the finest resorts in South Beach and had all of our valuables stolen from our lounge chairs while swimming in the pool,” said Avin Samtani, who developed the product with Jonathan Kinas and Robert Peck. The three left careers in finance and construction and have been selling the product they created since last spring. The small, hard locakable case can hold a wallet, keys, smartphone and other valuables and also can be locked onto the back of a beach chair, a bike or other places.

Samtani said the Aventura company has sold “thousands” of the safes to hotels and online, without giving specific sales numbers. Hotels such as Fontainbleau, Loews, Delano Miami, SNS, The James, Eden Roc and Ritz Carlton provide them free or rent them to guests. Online on theaquavault.com, the safes retail for $39.99 for consumers, but the founders believe the larger market opportunity is in sales to hotels.

UPDATE FROM SHARK TANK: AquaVault was asking for $75,000 for a 12 percent stake, but made a deal with Daymond John: $75,000 for 25 percent of the company. And, oh yes, AquaVault's website crashed briefly right after the appearance, according to members of the Twitterverse who were trying to take advantage of the Shark Tank special of 20 percent off.

  Aqua

March 06, 2015

Fenero a year later: 350 global customers and growing

Marlon

After more than a year of intense testing, iterating, adding and refining features, and acquiring 350 customers around the world, Miami-based Fenero says its Contact Center cloud platform is officially out of beta. Marlon Williams, CEO of the Miami-based company, says Fenero aims to change the way global businesses approach their contact center solutions.

We profiled Fenero in a Startup Spotlight in late 2013, and a lot has happened. To review: Fenero Contact Center platform allows businesses to deal with their contact logistics  through a web-browser solution that can be managed within Fenero’s public cloud contact center or operated in a private, managed cloud contact center.

It offers users a suite of applications, some of them new, including automated call distribution, manual, preview and predictive outbound dialing, as well as interactive voice response, live customer chat and email routing. In addition to being  free of licensing fees, the Fenero Contact Center solution also supports quality assurance features, call recordings, browser-based screen recording, integrated with quality auditing and agent performance reporting. Users of the service will pay $0.02 cents per minute for calls, $0.02 cents per chat/email, and $0.10/GB for the storage of screen recordings.

Fenero.com is now offering its service to more than 350  businesses, from 2-seat to 400-seat operations, around the world including the U.S., Australia, Colombia, Belize, India and Canada, and the service is already generating six-figure revenues, the company says. 

Williams (pictured above), who previously managed the contact center technology operations for a large outsourcing company for 10 years, says the benefits of having a cloud-based solution versus an on-premise one are the low up-front costs, virtual elimination of ongoing systems maintenance by a business’ staff, and the flexibility to scale the service down or up depending on a company’s needs. Fenero is currently a team of seven in downtown Miami.

See previous Startup Spotlight here.

 

March 05, 2015

Kabaccha of Miami kicks up crowd-funding record with colorful men's shoes

Kabeer

Kabeer Arora is the designer and owner of Kabaccha Shoes in Miami. He holds an Italian-made grey and red loafer, one of the styles currently offered on his highly successful Kickstarter campaign. PETER ANDREW BOSCH MIAMI HERALD STAFF

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Tired of men’s shoes in boring brown, Kabeer Arora set out to create soles with soul.

Arora’s father and grandfather were shoemakers, and he grew up in their factories in India. To carry on the family tradition — but with a modern twist — he designed and created a line of men’s dress shoes that go well beyond the basic brown and black. His Kabaccha Italian leather wingtips and loafers come in colors like light gray, blue and green. Even the more classic brown and black styles carry a Kabaccha signature throughout the line: colorful soles, including red, light blue and purple.

After his training in the trenches, Arora, 27, studied footwear design in London and Milan. In 2007, he moved to Miami and about a year ago began creating his line. Fast forward to now, and his small Miami office (and makeshift photo studio) is awash in Italian-made sample shoes of various color combinations — styles he hopes will retail for $200 to $250 a pair. “Why don’t men have colorful shoes?” he asked, holding up a royal blue pair of loafers. “These complete the look.”

Ready, set, go to market? Like thousands of entrepreneurs with products, Arora turned to Kickstarter, the most-popular crowd-funding platform hosting donation campaigns, to fund his first production run. But Arora has done what 61 percent of Kickstarter crowdfunding campaigns do not: Reach goal. And he did it in one day.

Arora originally set out to raise $25,000, the minimum amount he says he needed to reserve a manufacturer. With Kickstarter.com campaigns, the projects need to make their goals in order to obtain funds. No problem there. He's already attracted more than 10 times that. His campaign’s total late Thursday afternoon: about $270,000 from more than 1,000 backers -- with  a week still to go. That’s a Kickstarter record for shoes.

Donations at various price levels entitle backers to shoes of their choice. For early birds, $150 got them a pair of their choice, now it is $180. He’s got eight backers at $1,350 or more, entitling them to nine pairs of shoes.

Arora’s secret to crowd-funding success: “Start with a disruptive product, something very different than what is out there.” It also helps that his product is very visual, and judging by the 200+ comments on the campaign page, people are very passionate about their footwear.

ShoesAnother tip: Do lots of pre-campaign research. Before launching the campaign, Arora reached out to founders of other Kickstarter success stories for advice and read academic research on crowd-funding strategies. In choosing the 18 original shoes he wanted to feature on Kickstarter (he has since added a few more), he tested his prototype shoes out on Instagram, posting one pair at a time, and seeing what got the most “likes” (the gray suede wingtip with the red sole is a crowd favorite).

Once the Kabaccha campaign kicked off Feb. 2, Arora was responding to questions and comments from his funders and fans 24/7, taking cat naps on the couch in his studio. It helped, too, that his campaign was deemed a “Kickstarter Staff Pick” early on.

But would people wonder if the shoes are as nice in real life as they look in the photos and video? And are the lightweight shoes really comfortable? Early on in the campaign, Arora asked some of his local backers to come in and try on the shoes, and their testimonials are now featured on the campaign page. Arora also has been keeping it fresh with new offers. At certain funding levels, new styles or color combinations were “unlocked” and this week he says he will give each backer a pair of colorful laces, their choice of color.

As soon as the campaign ends March 14th, Arora says he will be on the first plane to Italy, where he will be overseeing production, 1,500 pairs of shoes and counting. While he won’t make money on the Kickstarter production run, he says it’s worth it.

“This gives me an initial base of passionate customers — they will be the ones cheering for me,” Arora says. “My strategy is to make my first wave of customers so happy that that will resonate and in the next wave, that’s when I will see results.”

See the Kickstarter campaign here.

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

 

February 26, 2015

Women's specialty shoewear startup receives seed funding

Sensational Soles,  a Boca Raton startup online retailer of specialty women’s footwear,  closed on an early-stage financing round of  debt and equity totaling $635,000. The funding will be used to increase inventory and designs and enter new markets.

Sensational Soles was founded last June to meet the needs and growing demand for affordable, quality, women’s footwear in sizes 11 – 14, incorporating styles and construction methods designed to minimize the appearance of a larger foot while providing extraordinary support and comfort, said Sensational Soles CEO Lisa Taylor in a news release. The company has developed and created a proprietary line of custom footwear after spending the past year developing its designs and supply chain.  The company recently began offering its collection via its retail website at www.sensationalsoles.com.

Michael Stango, Regional Marketing Director with Lincoln Financial Group, will join the company’s Board of Managers, and Brian Wornow, formerly a Managing Director at Morgan Stanley, will become an advisor to the company in conjunction with this financing. “With this new round of funding, Sensational Soles will be able to accelerate its rapid growth and have the capital needed to meet the company’s projected demand,” said Stango.

 

February 25, 2015

Miami life science startup attracts $5.5 million in funding for oral cancer system

Vitgilant

Matthew H.J. Kim, who founded Vigilant Biosciences, and serves as the company’s chairman and CEO, is shown with Dr. Elizabeth Franzmann, who is looking at a OncAlert point-of-care test prototype. Vigilant is working on an early detection system for risk of oral cancer. PATRICK FARRELL MIAMI HERALD STAFF

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Matthew H.J. Kim, a patent attorney by training, was heart-broken seeing the the suffering and aggressive treatment his mother went through with oral cancer. He also saw first-hand the results of what he calls an inadequate standard of care resulting in most cancers of the mouth not being detected until stage three or four. A mortality rate as high as 50 percent could be cut way back with early detection, he believed.

“I felt helpless and wanted to do more. ... You are fighting great odds by the time you get to that stage,” said Kim, explaining his mother had to lose a portion of her jawbone as part of her treatment.

More than four years ago, Kim began researching technologies in development and found one at the University of Miami. After more research and talking to the scientists there, he began negotiating the license. “In homage to my mother, I executed the license on Mother’s Day of 2011,” he said, and Miami-based Vigilant Biosciences was born.

Since then Vigilant’s products — a point-of-care oral rinse test and a more quantitative lab test that can aid in early detection of risk for oral cancer — have been in development and have passed one of the key regulatory hurdles toward commercialization in Europe. On Tuesday, the company announced it has completed its Series B round of funding, which will pay for commercialization in Europe and the start of the regulatory process in the U.S. this year.

The company’s $5.5 million investment round brings the total amount raised to date to $7.8 million. The financing includes investments by White Owl Capital Partners, venVelo, the Florida Institute for the Commercialization of Public Research and several existing investors, as well as a group of private and angel investors committed to the life sciences.

Specifically, Vigilant will use the funds to drive toward CE Mark approval in Europe and U.S. regulatory approval for its OncAlert Oral Cancer Risk Assessment System. The funds raised will support the international product launch and commercialization of the OncAlert System as well as other products in Vigilant’s pipeline.

“As hundreds of thousands continue to be diagnosed with oral cancer every year, we are committed to providing an accurate, effective and affordable way to aid in the early detection of risk for the disease. This funding will enable us to address this critical market need that has gone unmet for far too long,” said Kim, who founded two other companies and developed a number of medical screening and monitoring systems.

Vigilant’s OncAlert Oral Cancer Risk Assessment System is based on patented technology that detects specific protein markers known to indicate an elevated risk for oral cancer, even prior to the observation of visual or physical symptoms. The simple, oral rinse procedure is easy to administer during a dental checkup and non-invasive for the patient, the company said. Both the rapid point-of-care test and the more extensive lab assay that comprise the OncAlert Oral Cancer Risk Assessment System could be on the market in Europe by mid-year. 

“Together, it will be a very effective early detection system for the risk of oral cancer. Our test is a very simple and elegant solution that can be easily integrated into the standard of care,” said Kim. While his mother is now five years cancer free, others aren’t so lucky. “We are now focused on oral cancer but we believe the technology has promise for other cancers,” said Kim.

According to the World Health Organization, there are more than 600,000 new cases of head and neck cancer and 300,000 deaths each year worldwide. Currently, the vast majority of patients are detected through a visual exam and/or are symptomatic, at which point they are likely late stage. As a result, oral cancer often goes undetected to the point of metastasizing. Early diagnosis of oral cancer results in a cure rate of up to 90 percent, the company said.

Dr. Elizabeth Franzmann, an associate professor of otolaryngology at the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, is scientific founder and chief scientific officer of Vigilant. Her clinical research on selective salivary biomarkers for head and neck squamous cell carcinoma serves as the foundation for the company’s initial product. The company last week added a vice president of global sales and marketing to the team.

Vigilant, now a team of 10, received support and mentorship from the U Innovation team, led by Norma Kenyon, chief innovation officer at the UM Miller School of Medicine. U Innovation also connected Vigilant with the Florida Institute for the Commercialization of Public Research, which provided the company’s initial seed funding of $300,000 that served as a catalyst to attract more seed capital.

The Institute invested another $200,000 in the Series B round, and like U Innovation, it helped with introductions and access to resources, Kim said.

“Matthew started the company to address the lack of good diagnostics for oral cancer, a disease that both of his parents suffered from,” said Jane Teague, chief operating officer of the Institute. “Vigilant exemplifies what programs like ours are all about, providing seed funding to early-stage companies to bridge the gap until they qualify for and can attract later-stage financing.”

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/article11095052.html#storylink=cpy

February 24, 2015

Magic Leap's Rony Abovitz on starting a company: Don't do it if it's not rocking, if it's not awesome

  Rony2

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com 

Rony Abovitz, CEO of the mysterious Magic Leap startup, returned to his alma mater, the University of Miami, to share some secrets of entrepreneurial  success -- and just a very few snippets about the company he is currently building.

"There's a whole mystery to what Magic Leap does and I hope half the room isn't here to find that out because I am not really going to unveil it," he told the group of about 250 gathered at the UM Newman Alumni Center for the College of Engineering's Entrepreneurship Forum, part of its Engineering Week events. Instead he talked about pivotal moments in his career of starting companies, including a couple that will no doubt become part of Magic Leap lore, and what he has learned about being a leader.

Magic Leap, founded in 2011 and  based in Dania Beach, is developing "Cinematic Reality" backed with an eye-popping $542 million  from Google and venture capitalists, the third largest fund-raising round of the year last year. "I still go holy crap, I still can't really believe it," he said of the round. The company is now valued at about $2 billion. 

One of the first articles that have begun to explain the technology was published this month in the MIT Technology Review. Said the writer, Rachel Metz, who tried an early prototype of the technology: "It’s safe to say Magic Leap has a tiny projector that shines light onto a transparent lens, which deflects the light onto the retina. That pattern of light blends in so well with the light you’re receiving from the real world that to your visual cortex, artificial objects are nearly indistinguishable from actual objects."

Metz said the company is aiming to fit its technology into a "glasses-like wearable device" and that, according to Abovitz, the technology  "is not far away." He may share a few more details with the world today: Abovitz is hosting a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) at 2 p.m. EST.   (Update: read it here)

The fast-growing Magic Leap is approaching "a few hundred" employees spread between Dania and Mountain View, Calif., as well as New Zealand and London, Abovitz said in a short interview before the UM talk. Abovitz said he would like to base 80 percent of the company in South Florida.

He also said in the interview he wants to help South Florida grow a technology community and would like to see UM become a Stanford of the South. Abovitz earned his engineering bachelor's and master's degrees at UM in the mid-90s and was in one of the university's first biomedical engineering programs, which he credits with stirring his interest in developing technology for the human body. Before starting Magic Leap, Abovitz was co-founder of Mako Surgical, the South Florida medical robotics company that sold for $1.65 billion to Stryker in 2013.

Abovitz believes in the next five years augmented reality technology will become widely adopted. But what sets  Magic Leap apart from its competitors is how it works with the body rather than against it, he said before the talk. "No one else is doing that.... Put the body first and engineer around it... All computing will be biomedical going forward."

 In the talk at UM, Abovitz shared some of the defining moments of his career. For instance, one day after receiving good news about funding for the robotics company, Sept. 11, 2001 happened. Another one: Going public in 2008.

During both times, the world was ending but the team kept going. In 2001, after his investors pulled out, that meant taking a van around the country, prototype robot in the back, and not coming back until the company secured funding. In 2008, Mako was known as that crazy team trying to go public during the Great Recession.  These are the times you learn what you are made of, he said.

But these defining moments also included the first time a Mako robot was used in a surgery on a human.  "That was one of the greatest moments of my life," he said of the successful surgery in a Fort Lauderdale hospital in 2006.

There have already been a few pivotal moments in the Magic Leap story, too. Abovitz said a trip with music industry mogul Chris Blackwell to Blackwell’s GoldenEye resort in Jamaica in 2011 helped to ferment Abovitz’s idea for Magic Leap. He loved being out in the environment, not staring into the phone, and realized computing had to change. “That’s where the world becomes your new desktop. … We shouldn’t bend to technology, technology should bend to us.”

 Four days after Magic Leap received the "serious capital" from Google and other investors,  Google executive Alan Eustace parachuted a record-setting 135,000+ feet from a balloon near the top of the stratosphere. Eustace had spent time in Magic Leap in May, and was one of the engineers who pushed for the funding. That was a message too: "For cool things to happen, you have to get out of your comfort zone," said Abovitz, who  took up his own challenge of becoming a javelin thrower on the UM team during his college years.

"When you are doing something neat and you’re doing it with neat people and there is that convergence, something amazing will happen," he said. "If you really want to change the world, you have to have that attitude."

On leadership, he told the engineering students and alumni, you have to be bold. "It's little like jumping off a cliff with your backpack, a bag of parts and you are building the plane wings and engine  on your way down.... You also have to be insanely tough, you'll get pummeled over and over again and you have to keep getting back up. ... And you have to attract a team that is freaking smart."

Creativity and finding a counter-balance play a big role too -- it's why he was a cartoonist for the school newspaper during his UM years and now plays in a band, Sparkydog & Friends. But he told the students the most important thing to learn is teamwork. "Starting a company is like doing 100 Iron Mans [competitions] in a row," he said. And while it requires endurance and mental toughness, have fun. "Don't do it if it is not rocking, if it's not awesome."

And don't take yourself too seriously, said Abovitz, who once gave a TED talk dressed as an astronaut.

Posted Feb. 24, 2015 

February 19, 2015

Samsung to buy LoopPay, a technology developed by Miami Beach entrepreneur

George WallnerAnother shot in the mobile wallet wars: Samsung Electronics Co. will be buying LoopPay, which turns existing magnetic stripe readers into secure, contactless receivers. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

LoopPay’s proprietary technology works with about 90 percent of existing point-of-sale terminals, with no investment in new infrastructure required by merchants, and it was developed in the Miami Beach home lab of co-founder George Wallner. Its products include an an affordable protective sleeve that fits around your smartphone, turning it into a mobile wallet. Wallner (pictured here speaking at last year's Fintech LatAm conference), is a veteran in the mobile payment industry. He is credited with developing the first credit card swipe machine as founder and CEO of Hypercom, taking that company from zero to IPO. 

As part of the acquisition, LoopPay founders Will Graylin and Wallner will work closely with Samsung’s Mobile Division. The companies believe LoopPay’s talent and technology, paired with Samsung’s world leading mobile technology, global presence and distribution capabilities, will help drive the next wave of innovation in the digital smart wallet.

“This acquisition accelerates our vision to drive and lead innovation in the world of mobile commerce. Our goal has always been to build the smartest, most secure, user-friendly mobile wallet experience, and we are delighted to welcome LoopPay to take us closer to this goal,” said JK Shin, President and Head of IT and Mobile Division at Samsung Electronics, in a news release.

Samsung had already been working with LoopPay, which is headquartered in Boston, as it was a strategic investor along with Visa and Synchrony Financial. The investment, which was facilitated by Samsung’s Global Innovation Center, helped fuel LoopPay’s MST technology development.

Posted Feb. 19, 2015