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

 

February 18, 2015

Amicable divorce? Wevorce says it’s possible and expands to Miami

 Wevorce, a startup that offers a technology platform and five-step process to make divorce “amicable,” is the latest Silicon Valley company expanding services in Miami with a new office.

Wevorce's trained mediators, financial professionals and counselors  focus on the emotional, financial and legal implications that are inevitable in every divorce. With a step-by-step approach, Wevorce says it helps couples divorce amicably -- and keep them out of court -- using web-based technology to automate the paperwork, along with attorney mediators to help untangle the complex issues, at less cost than a traditional divorce.

Michelle Crosby, CEO and co-founder of Wevorce, said the company saved its clients over $2 million in legal fees in 2014. Through the divorce analytics it has developed, Wevorce predicts the costs and steps families need to take to settle their divorce, and it costs one-third of a typical divorce (the national avg. is $27,000), she said. More than 300 families have been through the Wevorce process to date, and in 2014, Wevorce kept 100 percent of its families out of court. “We are excited to bring our services to Miami and help families avoid adversarial and costly divorces that have been unnecessarily played out in a courtroom," she said in a news release.

Joining the Miami team as a Certified Wevorce Architect is Jessica Geller and more will be added, the company said.  Based in the Bay Area, Wevorce is venture backed by Y Combinator, Foundation Capital and others.

Posted Feb. 18, 2015

February 17, 2015

Hialeah-based Entopsis raises $800K seed round led by Krillion Ventures

  Obdulio

 

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Working out of a Starbucks in 2012, Obdulio Piloto saw an article about the Peter Thiel Foundation’s Breakout Labs seeking revolutionary ideas in technology to fund.

He and Ian Cheong, a friend he met while they were both obtaining their doctorates at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, thought they had one: a universal platform that would allow diagnosis for multiple diseases easily, cheaply and quickly. Many people in developing countries lack access to life-saving diagnostic tests because of their high cost and the countries’ lack of advanced medical infrastructure.

Piloto sent in that idea for a company called Entopsis.

About a month later, the Peter Thiel Foundation, set up by the founder of PayPal, called and said Breakout Labs believed the idea could be world changing and chose Entopsis for a $160,000 grant. Entopsis was one of only 16 startups around the country selected so far and the only one based in Florida.

“I said ‘you understand I work [out of] Starbucks. I don’t have a lab or a team,’ ” Piloto (pictured above) recalled telling Breakout Labs. “But they understood the science, the implications and where this could go. They said this is a grant to test out your crazy idea.”

Fast forward to today and Entopsis has a small team of PhD-level scientists working in a lab at the Hialeah Technology Center. The company has prototypes and it has begun testing its platform with partners in the areas of cancer and infectious diseases, said Piloto, Entopsis’s CEO,  who majored in microbiology at Cornell University, received his doctorate from Johns Hopkins, where he did his graduate thesis research on cancer immunotherapy, and did post-graduate work at Stanford.

To fund further development, Piloto closed an $800,000 seed round last week led by Miami-based Krillion Ventures. The round includes local investor group G3 Capital Partners, another Miami investor and a number of Hong Kong-based investors.

This is the third Miami-based investment for Krillion Ventures, launched last fall. The $50 million venture fund for early-stage tech companies has also funded Everypost and Videoo. Krillion also funded Cohealo, a health-tech startup that launched in South Florida but moved to Boston early last year.

“We are interested in investing in groundbreaking ways to reduce costs and increase efficiency for hospitals and healthcare professionals. Entopsis has the potential to do both. By employing nanoengineering to develop a universal diagnostic platform that can be used in a clinical setting, Entopsis can simultaneously evaluate small molecules, proteins and cells from any sample at a significantly lower cost and in less than an hour,” said Melissa Krinzman, co-founder of Krillion Ventures.

“It was a chance to participate at an early stage in a company with a technology that could really benefit all of us. If they’re right, we will have a good investment – but the company will have done something good for the health of people all over the world,” added Darius Nevin, partner with G3. “And Obdulio is the kind of leader you want to help succeed any way you can.”

Entopsis is developing an innovative molecular profiling platform that will allow easy and inexpensive diagnosis using NuTEC, a single device diagnosing many diseases rather than many individual tests in the hospital each diagnosing a single disease. This testing technology could be applied to almost any substance and across a range of industries such as food science, with food contamination and agriculture, with disease detection in livestock and for people to be tested for various diseases, Piloto believes.

“Breakout Labs looks for novel cutting-edge science with broad application. Entopsis is based on an entirely new way to analyze biomolecules that, if successful, could become the new paradigm for rapid molecular identification in contexts ranging from food safety to medicine,” said Lindy Fishburne, executive director of Breakout Labs, in an interview in November. In addition to the funding, Breakout Labs has provided valuable mentorship and connections, said Piloto. “It’s opened a lot of doors,” he said.

Entopsis, in the research and development phase, is working with local hospitals that are collecting samples for Entopsis to beta test on its platform. It’s also partnering with a global diagnostics leader it can’t name yet and is in the process of forging a partnership with FIU’s engineering school. It’s testing with urine samples now, but in the future it plans to add blood and saliva and could perhaps test breath for a number of diseases. “We are keeping our options open,” Piloto said

“This is also a true Miami story that we believe will be replicated in the months and years to come,” said Krinzman. “Obdulio grew up in Hialeah, left to attend the best medical schools in the country and then returned to Hialeah to launch his company. We are excited to support him and his remarkable team.”

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

Posted Feb. 17, 2015

 

February 16, 2015

Startup Spotlight: Titan Paddles

Fl titan paddles dania21b

 

Headquarters: 236 N. Federal Hwy., Dania Beach.

Concept: Titan Paddles was created to fill a void for quality paddles in the stand-up paddleboard market. Handcrafted in America, Titan delivers a strong, durable, yet lightweight paddle for paddleboarding enthusiasts.

Story: In 2010, Toby Grimes and Carlos Menendez set out to build a stand-up paddleboard like no other in the market. They jointly developed and patented a radically new board, which they named “Recon.” Specifically, the Recon board offers features and functionalities never before offered, such as a built-in stereo system, all-around illumination at flotation line, three waterproof storage compartments, the ability to haul cargo and a detachable fishing rod holder among other features. However, Recon requires a reasonable investment, and this project is on hold pending financing, Menendez said.

Yet, a great board requires a great paddle, the inventors reasoned, so in 2011 Titan Paddles started operations with that purpose in mind. The handcrafted paddles, which sell for $195 to $295, are sold in the United States, Caribbean and Canada, and the current generation of paddles carries a three-year guarantee, the best in the market, Menendez said.

About a third of Titan’s diverse team are military veterans. “Titan Paddles is living proof of what Americans can achieve when they work together as people regardless of descent, race, religious beliefs and/or political views — and we are very proud of it,” Menendez said.

The founders hope to manufacture the Recon someday, but for now they are busy manufacturing and selling their paddles, offered in two sizes, 10 colors and an array of designs, from their manufacturing facilities in Dania Beach. They recently received national attention when Titan Paddles was selected as one of 20 businesses nationwide in a Chase grant program that attracted 25,000 applicants. The company received $150,000, which will be used for marketing and sales, as well as for expanding manufacturing.

Launched: August 2011.

Management team: Co-owners Carlos Menendez, Toby Grimes and Sean Collins.

No. of employees: 12.

Website: www.titanpaddles.com

Financing: Recently received a $150,000 Chase grant; co-owners have provided all other funding to date.

Recent milestones reached: Moved manufacturing facilities to Dania Beach; signed Tom Jones, who has set two world records for distance stand-up paddleboarding, to use Titan Paddles exclusively; introduced its Graphic Paddles line; received JPMorgan Chase Mission Main Street Grant of $150,000. At Surf Expo, selected for inclusion in Boarders’ “Best of Surf Expo” video.

Biggest startup challenge: Overcoming the technical and manufacturing challenges in order to develop a quality product with limited financial resources.

Next steps: To flawlessly fulfill customers’ demands and expectations, and manage growth effectively in all operational areas. Looking into co-branding with retailers and evaluating other opportunities.

Nancy Dahlberg

Posted Feb. 16, 2015

February 09, 2015

Miami-based SportsBuddy launches to find you someone to play with

Sb2Have you ever tried to look for a yoga buddy or find a last-minute pickup game? SportsBuddy says it solves the “finding someone to play with” problem by serving you dozens of “sports buddies” via proprietary Smart-Matching system. After months of beta testing in Miami, SportsBuddy is launching its app in the Apple App Store today.

Not only does the app introduce you to new sports buddies, but it can show you  golfing venues and open basketball games, for instance. You can also organize your own event, invite friends, and to keep track of RSVPs. The chat feature lets you coordinate times with a potential yoga partner or post pictures in a group thread after a friendly game of soccer.

Says CEO Pedro Ast, a former professional tennis player: “Playing sports together is one the most authentic experiences people can share. In sports, it doesn’t matter what you do, or what language you grew up speaking. What matters is the joy of playing, and the love of the game. I’m most excited to see how SportsBuddy can help people build real relationships.”

Sb1SportsBuddy’s Smart-Matching  algorithms learn more about you the more you use it so the app can make better matches in tennis, golf, basketball, soccer, yoga and gym. “We’re still hard at work improving the service and developing features to delight and engage our users,” said COO Michael Tsinkler.

SportsBuddy was spun out of FFWD Labs, a Miami-based accelerator of mobile applications. The iOS App supports South Florida users but plans to expand to other markets later this year.

Posted Feb. 9, 2015

February 05, 2015

Miami startup Videoo launches #Share1Love campaign with Bob Marley family

“One love, one heart” – Bob Marley

Bob_Marley (1)A year ago, Miami startup Videoo enabled Bob Marley fans around the world to wish the late music legend a happy birthday. More than 100 people uploaded short videos, and Videoo’s proprietary technology automatically connected the clips into one crowd-sourced compilation.

“That was nice but this year we wanted to do something with a bigger positive social mission,” said Barry Stamos, co-founder and CEO of Videoo, a collaborative platform to collect and curate social video playlists.

On Friday, which would have been Bob Marley’s 70th birthday, the Marley family and Videoo are teaming up to launch  #Share1Love. The aim of the campaign: Allowing anyone to show how they share acts of love and kindness, while simultaneously igniting a feel-good social video movement with a charitable twist. “My father’s universal message of love, peace and unity continues to transcend borders, cultures and generations,” said Cedella Marley. “#Share1Love is an extension of his vision, encouraging people to unite through positivity and hope and give back to those in need.”

For every person who uploads a video showing how they share love and kindness with the world, Videoo will donate $1 to charity: water, a nonprofit that brings clean drinking water to developing countries. Stamos admits the idea was partially inspired by the viral success of last year’s Ice Bucket Challenge.

Videoo’s media technology has also come a long way in a year, and the campaign will provide an excellent use case for the startup, said Stamos. Videoo organizes user-generated social videos into playlists, allowing the community to watch, vote, add, share and remix. The app for iOS and Android is free, and an improved version with new features will hit the Apple store next week, said Stamos, who founded the company with Jorge Moreno, a Latin Grammy winner who inspired the idea, Heidi Finn Roberts, Joshua Stedman and Abraham Elias. Since last year, Videoo also revamped videoo.com and launched Videoo Pro, a platform for enterprise clients. Videoo has eight fulltime employees and another dozen contractors, Stamos said.

To fund Videoo’s development, Stamos recently raised $1.6 million, part of a $2.1 million seed round. Eleven investors came through the local angel network Accelerated Growth Partners, including Alberto Beeck, Ernest Bachrach, Peter Kellner and Thomas Wenrich, Stamos said. Locally Krillion Ventures is also an investor, and the round includes a Brazilian billionaire who prefers to remain private, he said.

On Thursday, Ziggy Marley kicked off #Share1Love with a video and the family shared it on the Bob Marley's 76 million Facebook fans; within an hour, the post garnered more than  18,000 likes. Others have already started contributing videos, which can be uploaded to bobmarley.com/share1love, where there are instructions. Participants are sharing clips on social media with the hashtag #Share1Love.

The campaign will run until June, and Stamos believes it will attract worldwide participation – and result in a hefty donation to a good cause.  “We are proud to be a Miami startup and hope everyone locally and in LATAM supports #Share1Love," he said. “Let’s get together and feel alright!"

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

Posted Feb. 5, 2015

 

January 28, 2015

Kendall brothers ages 7 and 9 launch company selling socks designed by kids

 

Socks

SOCK KINGS: CEO Sebastian Martinez, 7, left, and his brother, Brandon, 9, sales director, have started with their mother a company, Are You Kidding, selling socks with different designs. The boys were featured on ‘Good Morning America’s Shark Tank Your Life: Kid-Preneurs Edition.’ PATRICK FARRELL MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/article8423790.html#storylink=cpy

BY REBECCA SAVRANSKY

Ever since he was a baby, Sebastian Martinez loved socks. He collected socks of all kinds, with different colors, patterns and styles.

About two years ago, his mother, Rachel Martinez, asked him if he wanted to design his own.

“He was so excited he ran to the table with his pencils and paper and markers, and he sat down and started drawing,” she said.

And on Friday, Sebastian, 7, and his brother Brandon, 9, were featured on Good Morning America’s Shark Tank Your Life: Kid-Preneurs Edition, for their business designing and selling different styles of socks.

Sebastian is the CEO of Are You Kidding, Brandon is the director of sales, and their mother is the president.

The brothers, who live in Kendall, got their moment in the spotlight Friday when they got to pitch their company to Daymond John, a Shark Tank investor, and to George Stephanopoulos, co-anchor of ABC News’ Good Morning America, on national television.

Before the show, they sent in an audition video, had a phone interview and a few days later, they booked their flights to New York. At the end of the show, the two brothers each took home a special trophy for their work.

Martinez said it was a great experience and the the show helped the business to get more exposure.

“Friday was amazing,” she said, watching the video of her sons giving their pitch for Are You Kidding during the show.

 Since the business started in May 2014, they have sold their socks to many different stores and raised thousands of dollars for charity.

Sebastian is responsible for all the designs. His mother then transfers them onto a computer and they are made by a company in Guatemala. Brandon is then in charge of selling the merchandise.

“It’s kind of like a little tag team,” Martinez said.

The business made about $15,000 last year. They sell their socks to local stores, through their website and on other online sites such as Etsy.

In addition to just bringing in revenue though, the company has a “dual-mission,” Martinez said.

“We want to not only be a for-profit company,” she said, “but also teach philanthropy to kids which is very important to us.”

In October, Are You Kidding sold specially designed socks for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

“We all spent the entire month of October selling the socks everywhere,” Martinez said. “At Tamiami basketball, all the kids were wearing the socks, the coaches, the refs. Everybody had our socks on.”

The $3,000 raised from the socks was donated to the American Cancer Society for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. Martinez said next year, they are hoping to reach their goal of donating $10,000 to the organization.

Are You Kidding is also working with a safe driving campaign called Be a Hero and Save Lives, cautioning people against texting and driving.

To teach kids about the charities, the company uses an app called VeePop, where people can scan the tags of the socks and a video will play giving information about the charity. Martinez said the team is planning to reach out to more organizations in the future to continue their charity work.

The company is also looking to expand, potentially adding T-shirts to the collection, she said.

“At the end of the day we want to create a brand,” Martinez said. “We started with socks because that’s the passion that I saw in my son and if you don’t start off with your passion, you’re never going to continue the business.”

She said running the business has been an exciting learning experience for her and her children, and she hopes to have more kids contribute in the future.

“It’s teaching kids how to start a business, run a business and grow a business. It’s not easy and it takes a lot of time and effort, but at the end of the day we do it as a family,” Martinez said. “We just want to make sure that it’s a fun brand. ... We want it to be a by kids for you collection.”

Website: http://www.areyoukidding.net/

 

Posted Jan. 28, 2015

 

 

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/article8423790.html#storylink=cpy