August 26, 2016

Miami-based fantasy game startup scores investment from New World Angels

LetsRUMBL SPLASHBy Marcia Heroux Pounds / Sun Sentinel

Boca Raton's New World Angels has invested in a fantasy sports game startup.

Miami-based Synkt Games has a mobile app, letsRUMBL, designed to attract the nonprofessional player. They can choose to play against friends or random individuals in daily baseball and basketball games or weekly football games. The app has "tens of thousands" of users, said Synkt Games CEO Bryan Abboud.

Synkt's latest version of the app will launch through Apple's iTunes on Friday, in time for football season, he said.

An unusual investment for this South Florida  angel group? Not so, said Steve O'Hara, president of New World Angels, a 63-member group of investors who only finance companies that are based in or have a major tie to the state.

"We invest in small startup companies on the verge of exploding," O'Hara said. Those have traditionally included investments in consumer, medical and technology companies, not gaming or apps, and it has invested a total of $7.4 million since the angel group was founded in 2003.

O'Hara said he likes the app game because he's not an experienced player but enjoys competing with his son, who lives in Chicago.

But he likes the investment, $140,000, because of Abboud's gaming industry experience. Synkt Games has raised more than $1 million in total, according to CrunchBase, which tracks innovative companies and their funding.

Abboud, who also is a director at New World Angels, previously co-founded IGW Software, which provided software and tech support to the online gaming industry, and the Interactive Gaming Council, a trade association for the industry.

With letsRUMBL, Abboud said he wanted to create a game app that was more accessible to the casual player, designed to be easy to use and more affordable.

Aboud"If we play an event that's $2 each, we take 40 cents off the top and pay out the rest to the winner," he said.


Most daily fantasy sports games are over-run by "highly experienced" players, he said. However, spokeswomen for two of the most popular games, DraftKings and FanDuel — which claim 7 million and 6 million users, respectively — dispute this, saying only a small percentage of their users are so-called "pros."

New World Angels has been particularly active in 2016, with both add-on investments in portfolio companies and new investments including: Miami-based Kairos, a facial recognition software company; Newberry-based OBMedical, which has developed products to monitor fetal heart rate; and Gainesville-based Admiral, which has developed software to prevent ad blocking.

The group's biggest investment this year has been $750,000 in Polarean, a Durham, N.C., company with some Florida operationsthat has developed a device to improve the readability of lung scans.

August 21, 2016

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

Banana milk 2

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

Headquarters: Palm Beach Gardens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Launched: March 19, 2013

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

No. of employees: 9

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

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

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

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

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

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

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August 18, 2016

Ride2MD, Lyft team up to fuel patient transport

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

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

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

 

August 17, 2016

Pipeline Workspaces opens Fort Lauderdale co-working location

Pipeline

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

 Pipeline Workspaces is on the move again.

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

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

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

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

Pipeline also runs a Pipeline location in Philadelphia.

 

Fintech company Nymbus closes $12 million financing round

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

August 08, 2016

Startup Spotlight: Octopi making waves in maritime industry

Cetus Labs 01 EKM

Company: Octopi (formerly Cetus Labs)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Website: octopi.co

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more: Mediconecta brings telehealth to emerging markets.

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

Read more: Need a ride? Freebee revs up to expand

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

August 05, 2016

UberEATS expands to Gables, Grove, South Miami

UberEATS Delivery_1

Following the July launch of the UberEATS app in the Miami area, Uber, the ride-hailing service, announced Monday the service is expanding. In addition to its Brickell-to-Hollywood and Miami Beach service area, UberEATS will also serve Coral Gables, Coconut Grove, South Miami and parts of Blue Lagoon area.

Now with more than 180 Miami-area restaurants featured, the UberEATS app now includes Buns & Buns, My Ceviche, GreenStreet Café and Harry’s Pizzeria in Coconut Grove, among others. UberEATS users can get up to $15 off their first two orders using the promo code EATSMIAMIWELCOME.

On-demand delivery services have been proliferating in South Florida but there has been consolidation. Caviar and Favor pulled out of the Miami market this summer, just as Amazon Restaurants and UberEATS were entering. 

Read more: Get that bacon doughnut at your door; UberEATS now delivers in Miami

On the move: Miami-based on-demand black car service miRide expands to Broward, Palm Beach

On-demand transportation options are revving up: miRide, a luxury service that launched in Miami-Dade County last summer, announced this week it is driving its chauffeured car service into Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Customers can use miRide’s app on iPhone and Android to summons the fixed-price black car service, which also can be scheduled in advance through the app. The cost is slightly more than a taxi, and unlike Uber, there is no surge pricing, said JC Carey, miRide’s co-founder and managing partner.

Also coming as part of the miRide platform is miKids, a transportation service for teens and pre-teens, tailored to simplify the lives of working parents. “MiKids offers safety and convenience while providing parents peace of mind,” Carey said.

July 13, 2016

Lemon City Tea Company: A new twist on tea now brewing

Lemoncity

Lauren Fernandez, Natalie Napolean de Bens and Gail Hamilton, founders of Lemon City Tea Company

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

The four women behind Lemon City Tea Company — Lauren Fernandez, Gail Hamilton, Natalia Napolean de Bens and Melissa Chamorro — believe tea can have attitude.

“Zen, no, that is not our tea; we want our tea to be full of life,” said Hamilton. “Our teas have personality and are experiential, designed to facilitate and enhance our customers’ everyday moments,” she added.

The name derives from the historic northeast Miami neighborhood of Lemon City, also known as Little Haiti, where the partners were enjoying after-work drinks and first came up with the concept.

And like many of the local food entrepreneurs, Lemon City strives to offer a high-quality, ethically sourced product. The company sources its tea leaves and tisanes from all over the world and combines these with tropical botanicals, natural herbs, fruits and essential oils.

“Our teas are inspired by the crazy, complex, diverse and exciting city we call home — Miami,” Hamilton said. “Lemon City develops and curates its Miami-inspired teas with Latin American, Caribbean and South Floridian flavors in mind. From a complex summery mate, to a mango-enhanced black iced tea and our soon-to-be-released signature Cafeci-té, our products proudly showcase this city’s robust culture, vibe and energy.”

Launched in 2014, Lemon City is self-funded. With just the team of four so far, Lemon City has built a wholesale book of business of 35 mainly local stores, salons and restaurants, including The Daily Creative, its first customer, Ms. Cheezious, Delia's, Rik Rak, Sakaya, Izzy’s Fish and Oyster Bar, Spillover, Lokal and O Cinema, said Napolean de Bens, a lawyer. The company also began shipping to two Philadephia restaurants.

The company, with about 30 blends that are certified organic, also has an online business (lemoncitytea.com also provides a playlist for tea time nontratraditionalists) and this year has shifted its focus to driving retail sales, including the launch of retail boxes, said Naolean de Bens. The company has finalized the design and size of its retail box.

“Our retail box is designed to delight both our current customers as well as introduce new customers to our brand,” said Hamilton, who owns a branding company and formerly worked at Bacardi. “It will offer a mixed selection of four of our most popular teas. We believe starting with a mixed box not only hits on what our current customers already enjoy but also gives a variety of options to try for someone that is new to our brand.”

The women, all friends, have day jobs (two attorneys, a branding consultant and an art director), but don’t call this a hobby business. For these passionate women it’s a full-time venture that they work on not from 9 to 5 but “from 5 til God knows what time — we don’t sleep much,” said Napolean de Bens. She and Hamilton worked in Asia for a time, honing their understanding and appreciation of tea. But the beverage has always been a part of the culture for the four, who are collectively of Jamaican, Haitian, Cuban and Nicaraguan decent.

Said Napolean de Bens: “We all grew up with tea — for any occasion or whatever ails you, there’s a tea.”

July 12, 2016

Half Moon Empanadas: Passion, perseverance powers company through tough start

Halfmoon

Half Moon Empanadas founders Juan and Pilar Guzman Zavala

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Juan Zavala and Pilar Guzman Zavala knew relatively little about the food industry when the couple went all in with their savings, their proceeds from a home sale and a lot of borrowed money.

Their concept: Half Moon Empanadas. Inspired by Argentina’s empanada culture and Latin American flavors, the food service company launched its first location in August of 2008, in Miami Beach. As its name suggests, Half Moon specializes in making and selling empanadas that are made from scratch, by hand and with the best ingredients, Pilar said. “We are empanada makers who are obsessed with product quality and superior service.”

Juan, born in Argentina, left his family-owned publishing company, and Pilar, who grew up in Mexico, left her full-time position at the Knight Foundation to pursue their dream. “Initially, we failed miserably, or should we say momentarily,” said" said Pilar, talking about their original 2,000-square-foot location in the heart of South Beach that was a financial mistake.

For a while it didn’t look like their business would make it. But the tough times forced the couple to get creative.

The couple worked several festivals like the South Beach Art Deco Festival and the Coconut Grove Art Festival, and realized they sold more in two days than what they could sell in a week at their SoBe location. A kiosk at University of Miami also did very well, producing 10-times the results of a former, more traditional vendor . Light-bulb moment: Much smaller, convenient, high-traffic, grab-and-go locations are key. “We learned from trial and error and listened to what the market told us,” Juan said. That led them to get out of their expensive SoBe lease and pursue all the locations they still have today at the University of Miami, Florida International University and Miami International Airport.

The airport location was a huge win. “We competed against six other local and national concepts. It took us "four years to open this location, from the moment we submitted the bid to the moment we opened the doors,” Pilar said. “We are among the few small businesses in the entire airport.”

The next huge hurdle was financing. Bank after bank after bank rejected them, even with contracts in hand. Then Pilar emailed their mentor and friend, Juan Martinez, CFO at the Knight Foundation, who referred them to TotalBank Chairman Jorge Rossell, who granted a personal meeting. “He believed in our potential, he believed in us,” said Pilar, who considers him a mentor and meets with him quarterly.

Since opening its first location in late 2008, Half Moon has built a new commissary while expanding aggressively into nontraditional and high-traffic venues and locations, including its commissary retail location and small café at 860 NE 79th St. in Miami, where the team is experimenting with specialty flavors and “build your own empanadas.” It also sells at three University of Miami kiosks, Miami International Airport (Gate D29), Florida International University and Sawgrass Mills mall.

In the past year, Half Moon Empanadas (halfmoonempanadas.com) has nearly tripled its revenue, has grown to 40 employees, and currently sells more than 40,000 empanadas a month. The 190-square-foot airport location, its top seller by far, is one of MIA’s five top-selling top five selling "food concessions per square foot, Juan said.

In time, Half Moon’s founders plan to expand nationally and globally, perhaps via a franchise model. Much like the international chain Auntie Anne’s did for pretzels, Half Moon Empanadas aims to lead the empanadas category well into the future, having survived a bumpy start, Pilar said.

“Quite frankly, we dusted ourselves off, we tightened our belts, and we survived, never abandoning our bigger dream of one day creating a new food category.”