Want to know about Miami startups? A user's guide to this blog

Dear reader, Starting Gate has been providing and archiving South Florida startup and tech community news, views and resources since 2012. New to the Miami area? Thinking about relocating here? Just want to keep up with news, events and opportunities? We're there for you.

How to use Starting Gate: Besides scrolling the blog for the latest entries, you can access news and views by category. The "Funding" category will capture venture capital and angel funding news of individual startups as well as stories about funders. The startup categories chronicle news and my regular "Spotlights," and in Q&As you'll find interviews with CEOs and leaders in the entrepreneurship ecosystem. There are also categories for guest posts, views, accelerators/incubators, resources, events and more.

Thank you for your support through the years and please come back often. Follow me on Twitter @ndahlberg. - Sincerely, Nancy Dahlberg

October 21, 2017

Ouch, that late fee hurt. This Miami startup wants you to never worry about parking tickets again

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From left, Jona Araujo, Charlie Melendez and Auston Bunsen of JINXD. Photo by Beyond South Beach. 

 

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Who hasn't forgotten to pay a parking ticket and paid the very steep price?   

Yep, been there, done that too many times. It's a fact of urban life.

JINXD, a new Miami startup, has a solution for that.

JINXD is one of only two apps in the United States that allow you to auto-pay your citations. You can simply sign up with your license plate numbers and payment info and the next time you receive a parking citation, JINXD automatically pays it, charging a small service fee.

"As you may already know, Miami is notorious for parking tickets and when you receive one, you cannot pay for it immediately on the Miami Clerk of Courts website until it populates their servers three to five days after -- another inconvenience," said Auston Bunsen, one of the co-founders.

"We're trying to be a magical background technology that you only think of when we make your life better. Our users love it when they get a notification that we saved them from getting a tow or just saved them from a $25 late fee," added Bunsen, who oversees technology. 

JINXD works with commercial clients that have large fleets such as rental car companies and automobile dealers. Braman BMW, Infiniti of Coral Gables and Mercedes Benz of Cutler Bay are customers. "JINXD for our business clients is a no-brainer as it frees up their afternoons to focus on bigger tasks at hand," said CEO and co-founder Jona Araujo, who also oversees marketing.

The  number of active customers has grown 448 percent and revenue has grown 346 percent since the beginning of this year, Melendez said. JINXD is tracking more than 2,000 license plates in Miami-Dade County among consumers and  commercial clients.

Late fees can add up quick. After two months, an $18 parking ticket rises to $63 in Miami -- ouch. And if you have five unpaid tickets, your car could be towed.

"We've found and/or paid thousands of tickets for our customers, saved our customers over $22,000 in late fees, as well as prevented dozens of customers from getting their car towed or having their registration renewal blocked," said co-founder Charlie Melendez, who oversees finance.

The team created a heat map of the most ticketed areas in Miami-Dade.

Jinxd-heat-map

Expansion to other cities could begin next year, and JINXD's market is sizable. The team said there is more than $200 million in unpaid parking tickets at any one time just in nine major U.S. cities that include Miami.  

Said Araujo, "We're laser focused on getting product/market fit for our existing product and expanding to other cities as soon as possible. We believe this product is helping businesses, consumers and government alike."

You can sign up at https://JINXD.co or download the 5 star reviewed iPhone app on the App Store here.

JINXD will be one of six startups competiting at Refresh Miami's Demo Day Oct. 27. Sign up to attend here

 

Finova Financial secures $102 million in funding

 

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Finova Financial, provider of flexible, affordable alternatives for the 70 million Americans under-served by the traditional banking system, announced this week that has secured $102.5 million in equity and credit facility funding. 

The financing was led by CoVenture with participation from existing Silicon Valley investors who funded Finova’s $52.5 million seed round. The West Palm Beach-based financial-technology company was founded in 2011.

Gregfinova“Seventy million Americans spend $141 billion on alternative financial services a year because they don’t have or want a relationship with traditional banks or financial institutions. This rapidly growing group feels that traditional financial services companies can’t solve their core financial needs," said Gregory Keough, CEO (pictured here). "Finova is using advanced technologies and designing innovative new financial products to serve the needs of this large and growing population. Finova’s proprietary platform delivers an all-digital financial product and experience that fits the lifestyle of the 28 percent of Americans — and growing — outside the formal financial system.”

Finova’s digital products include its flagship Car Equity Line of Credit (CLOC), providing fast emergency loans based on car equity; and its industry-first Automobile-Secured Prepaid Card, which accepts either cash or car equity to fund the card.

Finova’s CLOC, currently available in Florida, California, Tennessee, New Mexico, South Carolina, Oregon and Arizona, has earned Consumer Affairs prestigious partner accreditation for delivering up to 50 percent lower cost than the national average on title loans to consumers, instant online pre-qualification, and payment-against-principal with every payment, the company said. Finova’s Automobile-Secured Prepaid Card helps consumers avoid check-cashing fees, get their paychecks faster, and better manage their finances, the company said. The new funding will be used to expand its digital financial services.

“We look at many fintech companies but Finova has built an incredible all-digital technology platform that consumers really like and has experienced amazing traction in a short period of time,” said CoVenture Managing Partner Ali Hamed. “Finova has created a customer-centric focus for Americans outside the formal financial system that is driving strong growth, rapid consumer adoption, and opportunities for rapid national expansion, which I think is what the future of banking will look like.” 

 

October 19, 2017

The party bobs along with this Shark Tank contestant’s products

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Will the “Human Bobbers” sink or swim in the Shark Tank?

Justin Rietema of Oakland Park and Doug Schultz of Coconut Creek invented the Human Bobber line of multipurpose personal flotation devices. They will appear on ABC’s “Shark Tank’ show at 9 p.m. Sunday to pitch their Bottoms Up, a dual-purpose life vest that can also be worn like a pair of shorts, and the Scuttlebutt, a saddle-like float that’s also an in-water lounge chair or kayak seat.

“We are boaters at heart, and after watersports like tubing, water skiing and wakeboading, we would often anchor up our boat and float around in the water with some drinks,” Schultz said. “Most of the guys in our group would just put on a life vest upside down and use that as a saddle for floating, but as you can imagine, life vests are not designed for that. There was foam in all the wrong places.”

Rietema and Schultz have day jobs as landscape architects, but formed H3O Sports in 2011 as a side hustle.

After creating and testing several hand-made Human Bobber prototypes, they began manufacturing and selling the Bottoms Up and the Scuttlebutt on HumanBobber.com in 2012. Both products are patented, Rietema said.

Sales were slow at first, but in 2016, Bottoms Up received U.S. Coast Guard approval as a type III flotation aid suitable for rescues in calm waters. The process took two years but was worth it, Rietema said. Before 2016, sales totalled about $60,000 in total, but with last year’s sales and this year they will likely nearly double that. Another popular item is their Beverage Bobber, which runs $16 to $18.

Today, Rietema and Schultz still have their day jobs – but their hopes are high the Sharks will bite. The Sharks have taken a liking to other South Floridians’ products, including the AquaVault and Three Jerks Jerky. On Sunday, they will face Mark Cuban, Lori Greiner, Robert Herjavec, Daymond John and Kevin O’Leary.

Like all Shark Tank contestants, these two entrepreneurs have to be hush-hush about the outcome of their time in the tank, but whatever happens they are planning to toast the journey at a watch party Sunday night at 26 Degree Brewing Company in Pompano Beach. No Beverage Bobber needed. Bottoms up!

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

October 17, 2017

Magic Leap confirms it has raised $502 million in funding

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Magic Leap confirmed that it has raised another large funding round as it apparently readies its first product for launch.

The secretive South Florida tech startup announced on Tuesday that it has raised $502 million in a Series D round of funding led by Temasek Holdings, an investment fund owned by Singapore’s government. The round includes three other new investors, Grupo Globo of Brazil, EDBI of Singapore and Janus Henderson Investors, and existing investors Alibaba Group, Google, Fidelity Management, JP Morgan and T. Rowe Price.

“We’re excited to welcome Temasek and the other new investors in this round to the Magic Leap family,” said Rony Abovitz, founder and CEO of the Plantation-based Magic Leap, in a news release. “We also greatly appreciate the strong support and partnership from our existing shareholders.”

Magic Leap had already raised $1.4 billion, which brought a valuation of $4.5 billion at the time. The new funding brings the company’s total funding to nearly $1.9 billion, and significantly expands Magic Leap’s arsenal as it prepares to launch a long-awaited headset or pair of smart glasses with its proprietary “mixed reality” technology. Magic Leap has not yet revealed a product, and those who have seen the technology have signed a non-disclosure agreement.

Last week, a Delaware filing showed that Magic Leap authorized up to $1 billion in new shares. Last month, a Bloomberg report cited sources who said Magic Leap would be raising about $500 million from Temasek and others, and suggested that a limited launch of its product – bigger than a pair of glasses but smaller than VR headsets now on the market – may be within the next six months. The sources also said the device could be priced around $1,500 or higher, but Magic Leap has not said when it plans to release its product or released pricing details.

Magic Leap is believed to have more than 800 employees in South Florida and hundreds more in offices around the world, including Los Angeles, Sunnyvale, Seattle, Austin, Dallas, Zurich, New Zealand and Israel.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

Endeavor's impact on South Florida entrepreneurship: It's in the numbers

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EverymundoSFBJBy Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com
 
EveryMundo, founded by Anton Diego and Seth Cassel (pictured here), provides performance marketing technology for airlines. The Miami startup  has grown the team to 60 employees and has experienced double-digit revenue growth every year. It's now working with about 30 airlines.
 
Founded by Juha and Johanna Mikkola, Wyncode offers coding boot camps that prepare students for the local tech job market. It has graduated more than 450 students and more than 200 companies have hired them. It recently raised funding and opened its own headquarters space (shown above).
 
Pincho Factory, the fast-casual restaurant concept inspired by Latin American street food founded in 2010, has been on a growth spurt since the beginning of 2016. It has gone from two locations to eight, with three more are on the runway, and has added 180 employees. Today it is closing in on $14 million in annual revenue systemwide. It was founded by Otto Othman and Nedal Ahmad.
 
What the three South Florida companies have in common is they were all selected by Endeavor, the global organization that provides mentorship and services to high impact entrepreneurs, including access to talent, capital and markets on local and global levels. The Endeavor Miami chapter, the global nonprofit's first office in the U.S., opened in 2013.
 
"Endeavor has been monumental in terms of mentoring and advising us with our growth strategy. We were able to truly learn how to raise funds and how to negotiate term sheets with the help of our mentors," said Othman. "The networking component provided to us by Endeavor has been huge for us as well. Meeting other fellow entrepreneurs and successful Miami locals has played a big role in our growth. From advising to sharing best practices, these are the lessons you just simply don't learn in school."
 
FigsThese companies and others were highlighted in Endeavor Miami's just released annual impact report, which shows that the 16 active Endeavor Miami companies are booking $130 million in 2017 revenue. Together they employ 1,600 people, and that's up 37 percent since 2014 while jobs statewide were up 9.4 percent in the same period. They've raised $15 million in capital, Endeavor Miami says in its new report.
 

These include companies such as the My Ceviche fast-casual restaurant company, which has grown from two restaurants to six, including its Midtown Miami, Coral Gables and MIA locations, since the founders were selected in 2013. Powerful's yogurt and other other all-natural products are in 10,000 stores, including Target, Walmart and Kroger. FIGS, founded by Trina Spear (pictured here) and Heather Hasson, offers antimicrobial, breathable and fashionable scrubs, and is also a B Corp. that has donated more than 75,000 sets of scrubs in 26 countries. Kairos, the facial recognition and  human analytics technology startup used by a number of enterprise clients, made a strategic acquisition and has raised some $8 million in funding to power its growth.

Brian Brackeen OfficeEndeavor Miami's network of 75 mentors have donated 1,371 mentor hours to help make these successes happen, according to the report. "It’s like having a network of experts at my disposal 24 hours a day, 7 Days a week. It’s family. They would do anything to help us to win," said Brian Brackeen, founder and CEO of Kairos.

To be sure, Endeavor is part of a whole network of community organizations and university programs offering services and support to entrepreneurs in South Florida. Endeavor focuses on selecting companies that are ripe to scale and could benefit from Endeavor's help, as well as founders who are likely to give back to the South Florida community after they've found success by helping the next generation of startups through mentorship and/or investment.

Four years in since the Knight Foundation funded the launch of Endeavor Miami, the community is already seeing the give-back, with entrepreneurs like Brackeen, the Pincho founders, the Mikkolas and many others mentoring startups, offering connections and speaking around town and beyond about entrepreneurship. The organization is celebrating with a benefit gala on Saturday honoring tech visionary Salim Ismail. 

Read the Endeavor Miami impact report here.

To nominate a company for the Endeavor network, go to www.endavormiami.org

October 15, 2017

Startup Spotlight: LifeWallet helps consumers take control of their health

 

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From left: Norberto Menendez, CEO and founder of Life Wallet; Anthony Alviz, software engineer, Scott Johns, design lead, Yaismel Miranda, software engineer; and Kyle Carriedo, engineer manager, at the company offices at 14591 SW 120th St. in Miami-Dade. 
Roberto Koltun rkoltun@miamiherald.com

 

Company name: LifeWallet

Headquarters: Miami-Dade County (Kendall)

Concept: LifeWallet aims to change the healthcare delivery model, enabling consumers to own their health.

Story: Using the LifeWallet HealthBook app, a 59-year-old locksmith recently lost 17 pounds in three months and his blood glucose reading dropped enough that he was no longer considered pre-"diabetic. “You have to do it for yourself,” he said, adding that the app helped him stay on track because “someone is always looking at your readings and you’re accountable.”

That’s just one example of LifeWallet at work.

LifeWallet, a South Florida-based startup, creates digital health assistants in the form of apps and care programs. “We empower consumers and communities to lead healthier lifestyles and take control of their health,” said Norberto Menendez, LifeWallet’s founder and CEO.

Menendez, 55, was born in Cuba, graduated from South Miami High School and the University of Miami, and then went to Silicon Valley to work for Apple. He returned to Miami in the mid-1990s to take care of his ailing father.

As he continued to work remotely for Apple while caring for his father, frustrations with insurance, the healthcare system, access to medical records, lack of communication between healthcare providers and the high costs of healthcare led him to take the entrepreneurial plunge with LifeWallet.

Menendez believed that technology focused on empowering consumers with control of their health could save lives as well as solve many of the systemic problems of the industry. He recruited several members of his top management team from Apple.

LifeWallet offers a consumer product, its HealthBook app, as well as products for healthcare providers and health insurance plans. Customers have included Baptist, where LifeWallet has done nearly 20,000 health assessments with West Kendall Baptist Hospital, GE, the City of Doral, YMCA, and Indiana Health University. It will be working with Athlete’s Health and the NFL Players Association, where it will be doing assessments for concussions and the health of athletes, Menendez said.

One of LifeWallet’s programs is Sugar Smart for Life, in which the locksmith participated. It is a collaborative effort between the GE HealthyCities Leadership Academy, LifeWallet and West Kendall Baptist Hospital, a one-year pilot program designed to engage consumers diagnosed as pre-diabetic create healthier lifestyles and prevent the onset of Type II diabetes. It recently received a grant from AstraZeneca to continue the program.

Re-imagining the Healthy Hub at West Kendall Baptist Hospital is another program. Consumers go through a simple health screening process at this free one-stop screening and referral-to-care kiosk. Within minutes, consumers receive a Healthsnap, or snapshot of their health, sent to their cellphones.

In August, Doral Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez challenged his residents to take the StepUp Your Health Doral Challenge. He’s trying to get his citizens to walk a billion steps in the next year. LifeWallet created the app that keeps track of residents’ steps, adds them to the community total and provides individual rankings.

What’s next? LifeWallet is working on strategic initiatives with Florida International University, connecting with Watson Health of IBM and doing work using artificial intelligence and predictive analytics. It aims to create a digital health store where consumers can purchase health assessments they can take from the comfort of their own homes and care plans that can be monitored by health and wellness coaches, Menendez said.

“We’re talking to major healthcare systems throughout the country ... about how the LifeWallet platform can save them, and consumers, billions of dollars a year, particularly in the fight against chronic diseases that account for 86 percent of the costs of healthcare,” Menendez said.

Website: www.lifewallet.com

Launched: 2014

Number of employees: 15

Management team: Norberto Menendez, CEO; Kyle Carriedo, leads engineering team; Ben Sharpe, development; Scott Johns, designer; Edwin Rivera, brand evangelist.

Financing: $6.5 million in private financing from family and friends. Currently seeking Series A financing of $10 million.

Recent milestones: Grant from AstraZeneca to continue its Sugar Smart for Life program with West Kendall Baptist Hospital. Pilot with KeepLivin, Jessie Trice Community Health Center and Health Choice Networks for diabetes prevention and management to help manage patients affected with diabetes. Collaboration with Athlete’s Health to assess and track the course of concussions and overall health in former NFL players and young athletes and to promote health screenings in the community with local organizations, hospitals, schools and companies in 32 cities throughout the U.S. Partnership with AgaMatrix to facilitate preventative care and remote monitoring in populations at risk of developing diabetes.

Biggest startup challenge: Funding in South Florida. “We’re talking to various funding sources in the Northeast and in Silicon Valley, but South Florida still remains a challenge,” Menendez said.

Next step: Continuing to enhance the LifeWallet platform and getting the word out to healthcare providers and insurers.

Mentor’s view: “I always look first at the opportunity and then the team. LifeWallet is at the forefront of the change from traditional healthcare to patient-centered wellness management, one of the biggest possible opportunities. A team of ex-Apple programmers was a very attractive plus,” said Bob Hacker, director of StartUP FIU, startup advisor and professor. “The challenge is picking the early commercial partner — whether it be an insurer, hospital group, large local employer or government organization — to leverage the SAAS platform to scale LifeWallet. I like the insurers as the first customer segment.”

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

READ MORE STARTUP STORIES

Is my mole cancerous? Miami-based Dermasensor developing a hand-held device to evaluate risk

BloomsyBox: A startup idea takes root that keeps on giving

How sea-rise ready is your home or business? Coastal Risk offers the lowdown

 

Need affordable travel in Latin America? Voyhoy has the ticket

Planning a party? Created by a chef, PartyTap app is at your service

 

 

October 08, 2017

StartUP FIU: Your chance to change the world

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By Kate Sackman

What do fair trade yoga pants, paying off student loans, and promoting minority businesses have in common? Yep, all of these opportunities, and more, are being addressed by the StartUP FIU Empower Accelerator companies.

An exciting array of startups are in the third cohort of companies now going through the fall 2017 Empower Accelerator on the main campus of Florida International University.  This 14-week intensive program guides early stage companies rapidly through the key analyses and decisions for building a strong company foundation and scaling. Of the eleven companies in Cohort 3, six are FIU-affiliated (students, alumni, and faculty) and five are from the Miami community.  All of the companies at least have a prototype in development and four of them are generating revenue. The industries represented include apparel, food service, finance, ecommerce, supply chain monitoring and digital marketing

Companies in Cohort 3 are working to provide fair incomes and humane treatment of garment workers in Sri Lanka, help people get out from under crushing debt, and reduce fraud at construction sites.  Cool technologies such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things, and predictive analytics are being applied by companies to improve consumer intelligence, make online marketing more fair and efficient, and yes, help you get fit.

Here are the companies in Cohort 3:

Alana Athletica: Alana designs and sells yoga pants made to employ and empower women in Sri Lanka who are abuse survivors.

Aromas del Peru: A successful Peruvian restaurant chain in Miami that plans to franchise nationally.

CoinStash: An automatic savings plan that helps users pay off student and credit card debt by automatically rounding up their purchases to the nearest dollar and applying the difference to their debt.

Ekkobar: A sophisticated application of machine learning, Ekkobar enables companies to analyze their digital media in real time and interact directly with their audience.

Lunchology: A healthy meal delivery service for schools using only fresh, local ingredients.

Major Marketplace: An online marketplace for minority businesses and those who want to support them.

Merkari: A digital marketing company that enables companies to run multi-channel campaigns across any device.

Mettosof: Mettosof makes InstanRate, a SaaS system that expedites customers’ review process and helps business operators analyze customer feedback   to improve their operations.

Origo: A blockchain-based web platform that allows businesses to validate the true identity and fair trade practices of traders in the Americas.

Smart Barrel: Provides rugged, solar-powered IoT products for construction jobsites that enable construction workers to punch in and out without an RFID tag or other device and enables project managers to oversee and plan construction sites more efficiently.

Sodima Solutions: A chatbot company that provides customer management and a lead generation fitness assistant for the Facebook business page of fitness professionals and gyms.

APPLICATIONS OPEN FOR NEXT COHORT

Applications are now open for Cohort 4! Aspiring entrepreneurs from throughout South Florida are invited to apply.  Companies that have a prototype in development and a good understanding of their customers and market are eligible. Preference is for companies with some revenue, but companies at any stage are welcome to apply. You can apply on the StartUP FIU website: http://startup.fiu.edu. Cohort 4 begins in January 2018.

On the website you can also find StartUP FIU workshops, speakers, and other programs for the public. Upcoming workshops by leading experts include A Beginner’s Guide to Crowdfunding (October 5), and Sea Level Rise Mitigation (October 12). 

Kate Sackman is the director of the StartUP FIU Empower Accelerator and a seasoned entrepreneur.  She has a background in finance, marketing, high-tech, and media. She is also a consultant and a professor of Global Social Entrepreneurship at FIU.

 

October 06, 2017

Hallandale Beach's EasyPeasie a finalist in national SBA InnovateHER contest

The U.S. Small Business Administration announced the 2017 finalists of the SBA’s InnovateHER Business Challenge, the nationwide competition highlighting innovative products, services or technology developed by visionary entrepreneurs that have a measurable impact on the lives of women and families, and in the marketplace.

Sisterly duo and Hallandale Beach natives, Dr. Jamelah Tucker and Dorielle T. Price, a pediatrician and electrical engineer, respectively, co-founded “EasyPeasie” Veggie Blends, a custom blend of all natural vegetable powders.  The company initially pitched their undetectable veggie products during an event sponsored by Miami’s Mindwarehouse before advancing to the final round of competition.

“We are extremely proud to have a South Florida company recognized amongst the finalists for the 2017 InnovateHER competition,” said South Florida District Director Francisco “Pancho” Marrero. “Over the last couple of years, our District has been home to the second place overall winners in both 2015 and 2016.

South Florida is a breeding ground for innovation, and creating an undetectable veggie product as a way to get children to eat their vegetables is a testament of just that,” he added. “I wish them the best of luck in the next round of judging and with all their future endeavors."

The 10 finalists were selected through a rigorous nationwide competition held by host organizations, including universities, accelerators, and SBA Resource Partners that ran local area competitions through June 3, 2017.  Next, an executive committee of SBA officials evaluated more than 120 semi-finalist nominations and chose 10 finalists to participate in the National Pitch Competition, whose products and services best meet the competition criteria and present the greatest potential for success. 

The InnovateHER Business Challenge finalists are invited to conduct a marketing pitch before a team of expert judges at the National Pitch Competition held on October 26, 2017, in Washington, D.C., as they compete for the top three awards totaling $70,000 in prize money, provided by the Sara Blakely Foundation.

For details on the competition and to read about the other finalists, visit www.sba.gov/innovateHER 

October 05, 2017

Real estate-tech startup Home61 receives $4M in funding, will expand nationally

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

A Miami real estate startup is on the move, with plans to bring its tech-enabled brokerages to new cities next year. 

In buying his own condo several years ago, Home61 CEO Olivier Grinda found the experience stressful and unnecessarily complicated, and as a serial entrepreneur, he thought there had to be a better way. With Home61, which now operates in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, technology enables easy scheduling of viewings, anytime access to notes and analytics and a streamlined contractual process for buyers and renters, as well as sellers and agents. Agents unburdened by administrative work can better focus on service for clients with any budget, Grinda says.

Home61 announced Thursday it has raised an additional $4 million in venture capital to take its service nationwide, with plans to expand next to Chicago, Houston and Phoenix. The new round brings Home61’s total funding to $5.3 million.

“Miami is the heart of our company and a key city as it’s representative of the larger U.S. real estate market,” said Grinda, who was raised in France and ran startups in Brazil before moving to Miami in 2013. “The first thing we will do with this funding is continue to strengthen our presence in Miami before expanding to new cities. We currently have 55 agents in Miami and plan to nearly double that to 100 by the end of this year.”

According to Grinda, Home61 agents average $70,000 in earnings in their second year, far more than the industry average, because Home61’s platform provides them with a steady stream of leads, intensive training and automation tools.

In 2016, the company did $44 million in sales and has done close to 900 closings since its Miami launch in 2015, Grinda said Wednesday. In March, Home61 launched an agent accelerator program modeled after tech accelerators. Agents complete a training program of up to 120 days in which they are taught how to use Home61’s technology tools and best practices for communicating with clients.

But for this underdog upstart, taking on the traditional real estate model is no easy feat. The U.S. real estate market, with $2.17 trillion in residential sales in 2016, is an enormous opportunity, but tech companies have yet to make significant progress nationally — more than 90 percent of the market is still owned by conventional real estate firms. Yet, venture capital interest has been on the rise for tech-enabled businesses. In 2016, U.S. real estate-tech companies set a record, raising $2.6 billion, and this year the sector is on track to lure about $3.4 billion at the current pace, according to venture tracker CB Insights. In South Florida, real estate tech firms are adding up, too, including RealConnex and Gridics that have recently raised funding.

Investors in Home61’s new round include FF Angel, Founders Fund’s early stage investment vehicle that has also backed SpaceX, Facebook and Airbnb; global investor Fabrice Grinda of FJ Labs (also the CEO’s brother); and AGP Miami, an active angel network that has invested in 23 South Florida companies. 

“The Home61 team is exceptional. We love the way they are making the process of finding your next home easier and more transparent, and are really excited to see them grow into new markets in the coming months,” said Raul Moas, managing director of AGP Miami, whose members invested $400,000 into Home61’s financing round.

Home61 plans to enter its next city in 2018, setting up a a physical presence there and finding a local partner to ensure a level of service consistent with its Miami operation, and then will roll out to additional cities, Grinda said.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

October 04, 2017

Court Buddy co-founder becomes 14th African American woman ever to raise $1 million or more

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Only 14 African American women have raised $1 million or more in venture capital, and Kristina Jones of Miami-based Court Buddy is one of them.

Court Buddy is a legal tech startup founded by James and Kristina Jones that helps clients save money on legal fees by avoiding paying high retainers and hourly fees that traditional law firms charge while also helping thousands of attorneys grow their law firms. The company announced Wednesday that it has raised $1 million in seed funding.

When Court Buddy launched in 2015 in Miami, its web-based instant-matching platform allowed consumers to choose the a-la-carte legal services  at flat rates and then matched them to pre-screened solo and small law firm attorneys. Since then, Court Buddy has launched an app, CourtBuddy Chat, and a secured attorney-client payment exchange, CB Direct Pay. Now once matched, consumers can instant message, video chat and pay  attorneys for the legal services that they need, and solo attorneys can create and manage the legal tasks they perform for clients and collect legal fees.

The Court Buddy platform has grown to match over 11,000 consumers with attorneys across the country.

Earlier this year while participating in the 500 Startups seed program, Court Buddy soft-launched Instaclient for lawyers, which allows lawyers to pre-screen payment-verified clients who have pending court appearances or court-related matters before representing them. More than 5,000 lawyers signed up within 30 days of the launch. It also opened its San Francisco office.

LDR Ventures led the seed funding round, with participation from XFactor Ventures/Flybridge Capital, UpHonest Capital, GingerBread Capital/KKR, LSS Fund, Equipo Ventures, 500 Startups, L.A. Women Angels, and angel investors. Andrew Koven of LDR Ventures will join Court Buddy’s board of directors as part of the deal.

“With the new infusion of capital from our investors, not only can we continue building on our core products, but we can also hire more top talent to support the company’s rapid growth and expansion,” said CEO James Jones Jr., also a Florida attorney.

Court Buddy was named the winner of the American Bar Association’s Brown Select Award for Legal Access earlier this year, a winner of the inaugural American Entrepreneurship Award in 2016, and was the 2015 Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge People’s Pick Winner.