July 01, 2015

VSN Mobile agrees to sell 360-degree image technology

VSN Mobil, a Fort Lauderdale tech startup that developed 360-degree image technology, has signed a letter of intent to sell that technology to 360fly of Pittsburgh.

360fly will buy the assets and intellectual property rights to VSN's 360-degree technology, not its other products, the companies said in a news release. A definitive agreement has not been reached, and terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“We're very pleased to be pursuing this direction with VSN. There are a lot of synergies between our two companies, and the work we’re doing around 360-degree video, virtual reality, and even more advanced applications of our technology,” said Peter Adderton, CEO of 360fly Inc.

VSN Mobile was founded in 2013 by former product designers from Motorola, Foxconn, Samsung and General Dynamics. VSN Mobil president Peter Aloumanis said in the Sun-Sentinel that the agreement positions the companies to advance more innovations at a quicker pace.

VSN Mobile developed a technology for seamless 360-degree high-definition images. During its pitch during the finalist round of the eMerge Americas Startup Showcase this year, VSN Mobile demonstrated its V.360 -- think a 360-degree version of a GoPro camera, with applications for outdoor sports, security, video conferences and drone overviews. VSN mobile won the competition, which included $100,000 in investment from the panel of judges, including the Miami Heat’s Chris Bosh.

VSN Mobil will continue to independently operate its other business units, including one for its V Alert personal alert device. Two dozen engineers who developed VSN Mobil's 360-degree technology may join the Pittsburgh company, according to the news release.


Shyp’s on-demand workforce now 100% employees

Bucking a trend in the sharing economy, Shyp, the app-enabled shipping service, said today it is re-classifying its couriers from 1099 contractors to W2 employees, making it the first on-demand company with a workforce made up entirely of employees. 

“This move is an investment in a longer-term relationship with our couriers, which we believe will ultimately create the best experience for our customers,” said CEO Kevin Gibbon in a blog post. “This is an operational decision based on our interest in owning the entire, end-to-end Shyp experience; it is not in response to recent lawsuits against other technology companies.”

Newly classified W2 couriers will now get workers’ compensation, and Shyp will pay for their vehicle expenses, in addition to unemployment, Social Security, and Medicare taxes. Depending upon the number of hours worked, Shyp provide additional benefits such as healthcare. Added Gibbon: "This is a huge step forward for Shyp."

Shyp launched in Miami just before Art Basel last year, its third city after San Francisco and New York. It's now also in Los Angeles and headed to Chicago, and it has continued to grow. In an interview earlier this year, Gibbon said the Miami market skews particularly high for international shipments, including art.  Shyp now has a team of about 25 in Miami, including couriers, drivers and warehouse technicians, said Johnny Brackett, who heads communications.

Read previous coverage of Shyp in Miami here.

Moving in: Kogi Mobile, app development

Kogi Mobile announced the company has moved its app development operations to Miami.

Founded by Nick Aldridge, who previously co-founded and exited Mobile Interactive Group, Kogi has developed nearly 200 apps and hundreds of mobile and responsive websites for its international client base, including Hitch Radio in LA, the company said. Kogi offers startups specific development services as well as project lifecycle management solutions, often working with clients from concept to series A financing and beyond. The company manages development in-house and sometimes invests in the startups; it says it has launched over 10 startups since 2014.

Kogi’s main commercial headquarters is now Miami, where its operations and creative team is based. Medellin, Colombia, is its back office where it was founded and does its development work. Kogi also has a offices in New York and Bogota, Aldridge said. Kogi currently is based at The LAB Miami.

“Kogi Mobile works on everything from MVPs to full working interfaces for iOS, Android, and Web, as well as full backend stacks,” says Aldridge, Kogi Mobile's CEO. “We have many customers across the U.S. ... who have $50-100k but this is not enough to get their initial product into the marketplace with the local agencies who simply cannot afford to offer their world-class solutions for this cost. Kogi is enabling U.S. companies to do this on these budgets and now with our presence in Miami we want to be able to offer our personalized, localized service to budding entrepreneurs in South Florida.”


June 30, 2015

Beepi, a peer-to-peer marketplace for cars, launches in South Florida

Beepi, a peer-to-peer marketplace to buy and sell pre-owned cars online, continues its eastward expansion by launching in South Florida.

Starting Tuesday, consumers in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties can conveniently sell their vehicles as well as have Beepi cars delivered to their driveways. Beepi operates in eight major metropolitan areas in four states. The Silicon Valley-based startup, launched in 2014, has raised $79 million in funding from Redpoint Ventures, Sherpa Ventures, Foundation Capital and others.

“Our success in California, Arizona and Texas has enabled us to continue growing in line with the demand for a safe and easy car buying experience that meets the needs of today’s consumer,” said Beepi CEO and co-founder Ale Resnik.

The process of connecting buyers and sellers, according to Beepi, goes like this: When selling on www.Beepi.com, sellers schedule an appointment to have a local Beepi Inspector come to their home or office to conduct a comprehensive 185-point inspection. If the car is approved, they get free professional car photos taken and receive a guranteed sale price. If the car doesn’t sell in 30 days, Beepi will buy it. The price paid would be more than what a dealer would pay for the car.

Buyers purchasing cars through Beepi.com will get free delivery of a certified, fully detailed car wrapped in a bow. All cars come with a three-month, 3,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty. The prices would be less than what a dealer would sell the model for, according to the company. No test drives, but Beepi provides a 10-day money-back guarantee for any reason. So far, however, fewer than 1 percent of customers have returned their cars, the company said.

Beepi, part of a wave of companies leveraging the online marketplace and the “on-demand economy” in traditional industries, says the company is able to narrow the spread because it doesn’t have overhead such as inventory, parking lots and dealerships.

Beepi is on track to book about $100 million in revenue over the next year and has plans to expand to seven more regions by the end of 2015, according to a recent New York Times article


Beepi founders Ale Resnik and Owen Savir. 

June 26, 2015

Waleteros launches app for the underbanked in U.S.

P2P_framedWaleteros, which created a mobile banking solution for the underbanked, launched its app on Google Play this week and an iOS version is close behind. The Miami-based startup offers a way for the millions of people in the U.S. who don't use or have a bank account - of which Hispanics represent a disproportional percentage - to use their smartphones as their banking solution.

To cash checks, pay bills and send money to their families in their home countries, underbanked consumers typically go to check cashing stores and pay hefty fees. The company saw an opportunity to cut out the middleman and offer these services digitally, understanding that Hispanic consumers are adopting smartphones at a higher rate than any other demographic group.

CEO Etienne Gillard explained that after completing a short registration via the app, users receive a Prepaid Debit MasterCard with no monthly maintenance, minimum balance or overdraft fees. The card can be used to make purchases in stores domestically and internationally, online, and to withdraw money from a network of thousands of surcharge free ATMs. Through the app, users can track transactions and send money instantly to other users for a small fee. 

"We are Latinos living in the U.S. and we wanted to find a way to send money for less than $10. And guess what... we did much better than that. Thanks to Waleteros, now anyone, regardless of whether you have a bank account or not, can send money anytime anywhere for only 75 cents," said Gillard.

Waleteros, now a team of six,  participated in the 2014 Venture Hive accelerator class and closed a $600,000 seed round in March. The company plans to roll out an iOS version of its application next month.


June 23, 2015

Instacart marches north, doubles delivery area in Miami-Dade

Instacart_WFM screen shot with itemsFinding the Miami market hungry for grocery delivery, Instacart announced Tuesday it will begin serving up a much bigger delivery zone: much of Northeast Miami-Dade County.

The fast-growing app-enabled grocery delivery service, which uses “personal shoppers” to hand pick and deliver items, launched in the Miami metro area, its 16th location, a month ago, beginning with a zone that included Brickell, downtown, Coral Gables, Coconut Grove, Wynwood, Midtown and Miami Beach. Now it says customers north of that zone can order from Whole Foods Market, Costco, Winn-Dixie and Petco stores and have everything delivered by Instacart in as little as one hour. Instacart customers do not need a Costco membership.

Additional cities and neighborhoods being served by Instacart as part of the expansion include Surfside, Sunny Isles, Golden Beach, Aventura, Miami Shores, North Miami, North Miami Beach and North Bay Village. For a map of Instacart’s Miami-area coverage, visit www.instacart.com/locations/northern-miami-dade.

“With the Zip Codes added in the zone expansion, we have nearly doubled the population that we can serve in the Miami area,” said Instacart Southeast General Manager Nick Friedrich, adding that the delivery area will be expanded again soon.

Friedrich said Miami’s launch was the most successful yet for the service that launched in San Francisco in 2012 and now includes 16 cities including New York, Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles. Instacart began with 60 personal shoppers but now has hundreds servicing the Miami metro area, he said.

Delivery fees are $5.99 for one-hour delivery; $3.99 for two-hour delivery; or $3.99 for scheduled delivery (you pick the day and hour). New customers can open an account at www.Instacart.com, and get free delivery on their first order of $10 or more. Instacart also offers a $99 Instacart Express annual membership that eliminates delivery fees for all orders of $35 or more.

June 20, 2015

Startup Spotlight: Boatyard delivers 'boater happiness' with a click

Name: Boatyard

Headquarters: Fort Lauderdale

Concept: Boatyard delivers boater happiness on-demand. Boat owners can now order fuel delivery, boat washing and any other service they need with a few clicks on their mobile device.

Story: Boatyard was incubated as a peer-to-peer boat rental platform as part of the inaugural accelerator class at Venture Hive. While building out the platform, Nathan Heber (pictured above) heard over and over again about the pains that boat owners had to endure. It wasn’t until months after demo day, right before taking final delivery of the Boatyard platform, that Heber had his “aha moment” and Boatyard changed course.

“We set our sights on a giant white space in the boat services market. The reason Boatyard exists is to deliver happiness to the boating community,” said Heber, who continued to grow the company at Thesis Ventures’ Fort Lauderdale studios.

“We knew so many people who weren’t using their boats because they didn’t want to deal with the hassle of maintenance, cleaning or taking the ride to the fuel dock,” Heber said. Some couldn’t find a good mechanic or enough free time to keep their boats seaworthy, while others shared horror stories about their experiences with unqualified and unreliable service providers. Said Heber: “We knew there had to be a better way, so we built one.”

Launched: Dec. 1, 2014

Website: www.boatyard.com

Management team: Nathan Heber, CEO, founder; Matias Penela, chief technology officer; Christian Romer, chief creative officer; Richard Smith, director of operations; John Robinson, community manager.

Financing: $25,000 grant from Miami-Dade County/Venture Hive. Raised a $250,000 seed round in September 2014 funded by Thesis Ventures. Currently raising a seed round of $500,000.

Recent milestones: Over the company’s first six months, gross revenues have increased at a compound monthly growth rate of 56 percent, with month-over-month growth of 89 percent in May. Recently partnered with the fast-growing boat-sharing marketplace Boatbound to provide its boat owners with Boatyard services, including refueling and cleaning. Named “Top Product of 2015” by Boating Industry Magazine. Featured on TechCrunch Radio Pitch-Off on May 26 and on ProductHunt on June 9.

Biggest startup challenge: Finding employee talent that is passionate about delivering the highest levels of customer service.

Next steps: Crafting new strategic partnerships, scaling the business to additional boating markets and adding new product offerings.

Strategy for next steps: Building out new features for users and vendor partners and expanding business development efforts in key markets. Features include geo-targeting and advanced customer service capabilities for servicing its vendors, Heber said. “Like we are doing with Boatbound, we are working on partnerships with broker-dealers and technology companies in the marine industry to expand our user base and scale the business.”

Advisor’s view: “Nathan Heber has a killer blend of deep passion for the domain, big vision, in the weeds tenacity, operational know-how, and a great sensibility for customer service. He understands his brand’s voice very, very well,” said Jon Vanhala of Crossfade Partners and a board member, investor and advisor for Boatyard.

He has advised Heber that great partnerships drive mutual value. “Put your empathy hat on and identify real ways to add true value to your target partners before you can expect them to do business with you or care about your needs. Look to turn your perceived competition into collaborators where it makes sense,” Vanhala said.

“We are also constantly white-boarding and brainstorming expanded product offerings in software and hardware that fit the criteria of 1) make boater's lives better … and 2) help “all boats rise” in the industry — sorry, couldn't help that one,” Vanhala said. “Boatyard turns the age old boating joke on its head such that now the two best days in a boat owner’s life are the day they buy it, and the day they join Boatyard.”

Nancy Dahlberg

June 19, 2015

Boca Raton tech startup Glip acquired by RingCentral

RingCentral, a leading provider of cloud communication services, has acquired Glip, a Boca Raton tech startup focused on modern business messaging built for teams, the companies announced Friday. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Glip, founded in 2012, makes teams more efficient by embedding shared calendars, task and project management, video conferencing and file sharing directly in the conversation stream. It launched its product in early 2014, relaunched with a Glip 2 early this year and launched an iOS and Android app this spring.

This is not the first exit for the Glip team. Led by co-founders Peter Pezaris, Claudio Pinkus and David Hersh, Glip's management team has worked together for 20 years and started and successfully exited several other  startups, including Multiply, inventor of the first social news feed. The self-funded Glip, with 13 employees,  recently relaunched its product that for the first time enabled the seamless integration of team conversation with advanced task and project management, Pezaris said.

Glip was being actively used by more than 10,000 teams – including at IBM, CBS Interactive, The Economist and Harvard University -- helping them be more productive with team messaging closely integrated with task management, group calendars, notes, annotations and file sharing. The product also includes integrations with Asana, Box, Dropbox, Evernote, JIRA, GitHub, Google, Zendesk, and many others.

Glip’s capabilities will be integrated and made available to all RingCentral Office customers. RingCentral also plans to keep the current stand-alone Glip application, renamed as RingCentral Teams, available for web, Windows, Mac, iOS and Android for all current and future customers, said Vlad Shmunis, CEO of RingCentral, a publicly traded tech company based in Belmont, Calif.

Glip “Collaborating with employees, partners, and customers to solve business problems is becoming more complex, and email is no longer sufficient by itself,” said Peter Pezaris, CEO of Glip (pictured here). “We started Glip with the vision of empowering employees to work more efficiently by developing a world-class messaging solution with integrated productivity tools. We’re excited to join RingCentral to take our vision even further by combining with their state-of-the-art business communications platform.”

Pezaris and the R&D team will join RingCentral.


North Miami-based Quantum Suppliers to release 3rd product, its PC stick

Pc stick

North Miami-based Quantum Suppliers, a Windows PC manufacturer, said its newest product that allows you to affordably turn any  TV or monitor into a PC will be on the market beginning Monday.

 Measuring at 4.3 x 1.9 by 0.4 inches, the Quantum Access Mini PC Stick plugs into a TV or monitor and runs the latest Windows 8.1 operating system, making it easy for a small business to access files and presentations, watch movies as a family, and play high quality games, the company said.

 “The Quantum Byte was our first product in our new line of mini Windows PCs. We saw an extremely positive customer reaction to our Byte and decided to go even smaller, which led to the creation of the Quantum Access,” said CEO Alex Rodriguez.

The Quantum Access carries the new Intel Atom Z3735F quad core 1.33 GHZ and houses 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. Part of its revolutionary design is the built-in HDMI output, patent pending fan less technology, and external antenna, Quantum Suppliers said in its news release. It will be available on Amazon, Newegg, and Quantum Suppliers’ website and costs $129.

Rodiguez founded Quantum Suppliers in 2013 with $2,000. Tpday Quantum, with 10 employees, has two other products on the market: the Quantum Byte, a mini PC, and the Quantum View  a tablet, in addition to the new Access. Both have received 4.5 out of 5 star ratings on Amazon, which is where they sell primarily. The company’s bilingual technical support is done in South Florida.


June 14, 2015

South Florida education-tech company Nearpod enables teacher 'magic'



By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Since 2012, three founders have grown their revenue-generating education-technology startup to 40 people and attracted millions in financing. Their product is used by thousands of schools and millions of students around the world.

Another Silicon Valley company? Nope. This startup is headquartered in South Florida, although the California Bay Area certainly plays a key role in this story — we’ll get to that later.

NearpodteamGuido KovalskysFelipe Sommer and Emiliano Abramzon, Argentines who have worked together on other ventures for more than a decade, co-founded and run Nearpod, a fast-growing mobile learning platform that helps teachers create engaging classroom experiences for use with smartphones, tablets, desktops and multiple operating systems.

“We use technology to leverage the power of teachers, in terms of multiplying the touch points they have with their students exponentially. Technology becomes the super enabler,” said Kovalskys, CEO of the Aventura-based company. “We are at the super forefront of where the classroom will be in five or 10 years from now.”

Nearpod’s model is to take a bottom-up approach, by first becoming a free tool that K-12 teachers want to use to engage their students. Nearpod gives them a safe, secure platform to create their own content or curate inexpensive lesson plans from the Nearpod store. Once the teachers are fans and users, they become ambassadors, making it easier for Nearpod to sell customized licenses to schools and even bureaucratic school districts, although the founders acknowledge they faced their share of naysayers at first. “Our conversion strategy from free to paid is proving to be very effective,” Kovalskys said.

Today, Nearpod reaches almost 2 million students monthly in 100 countries, 85 percent of them in the United States. Among its 2,000 school contracts are large school districts for Florida’s Seminole County, Fulton County in Georgia, San Francisco and Houston, as well as Eanes Independent School District near Austin, Texas and the Canyons district in Utah. But a huge market awaits. Market estimates vary, but a BMO Capital Market report in 2013 valued the K-12 software market at about $8 billion and the larger education-technology market at $34 billion.

Put another way: “There are 125,000 schools in the U.S. alone, and technology is on the agenda of all of them,” Kovalskys said.

Venture capitalists are taking notice, too. Globally in 2014, education-technology companies raked in $1.87 billion in VC investment in 350 deals, a new record, according to CB Insights. On a year-over-year basis, ed-tech funding jumped 55 percent while deals only climbed 5 percent, the research company said. While startups continue to enter the K-12 market, Nearpod’s biggest competitors are Promethean’s ClassFlow and Socrates Online, said Abramzon, Nearpod’s chief marketing officer.

To compete in a hot market, Nearpod recently closed a $6 million Series A financing round with Silicon Valley and South Florida investors including Marc Benioff, Salesforce’s CEO, Storm Ventures, Rothenberg Ventures, Stanford University (via its STartX fund), NewSchools Venture Fund, Reach Capital and Deborah Quazzo of GSV Advisors, as well as Florida-based investors Krillion Ventures, angel investors in the AGP network, Arsenal Venture Partners and the Knight Foundation’s Enterprise Fund.

“We immediately understood Nearpod’s value as an in-class educational tool that facilitates the development of teacher-generated curriculum and increases student engagement. We were also impressed by Nearpod’s adoption and usage rate by legitimate educators across the country and believe that their innovative platform represents the future of classroom learning,” said Melissa Krinzman, co-founder of Krillion Ventures in Miami.

“Nearpod is also a great local story,” added Benoit Wirz, who manages the Knight Enterprise Fund. “Based in Aventura and growing quickly, Nearpod is a great example of the burgeoning Miami startup community that Knight’s charitable efforts are focused on strengthening. Even more exciting, Nearpod is being adopted locally.”

NearpodscreenshotTeachers within Miami-Dade public schools have been using the platform, as it has spread through word of mouth to different departments and classes. Three local private schools, Immaculata-La Salle, Pine Crest and American Heritage, were among Nearpod’s first customers.

“We’ve been helping them test new features, and our teachers have given them input and created content — it’s been a nice partnership,” said Fredy Padovan, executive director of advancement and technology at La Salle and an Apple Distinguished Educator.

Padovan said La Salle teachers structure their Nearpod lectures differently, but usually after two or three slides there is something interactive such as a question or a poll, and the teacher can see in real-time if the students are engaged and understanding the material. Even a student sick at home could participate if they want to. And the teachers have employed the interactive features in other ways, he said. For instance, if online tests are administered through the platform, the teachers can monitor the students taking tests and will know if they are being distracted or possibly cheating. “That’s been one creative way we have used it outside the standard interactive lecture,” he said.

Another way: Four La Salle teachers created Catholic school-specific content and helped launch a Catholic school library on the Nearpod platform for other Catholic schools to also use. “There really isn’t a lot out there when it comes to religion and technology,” Padovan said.

All the recent progress aside, this entrepreneurial journey hasn’t always been easy for the three founders, who say they have been doing business together for 10 years but have been friends for far longer. Kovalskys and Sommer, Nearpod’s president, even went to the same high school and universities. Between the three of them, they have founded and run several businesses before Nearpod and worked at companies such as Accenture and McKinsey.

For the first two years, the founders bootstrapped while building out their model that was already generating revenue. But after coming to the realization that to scale big they would need outside investors, they naturally went to Silicon Valley, where Kovalskys and Sommer also went to college (University of California, Berkeley). At first, they were getting nowhere — and many of the investors told them that if they were based in Miami, they weren’t interested — but then a big door opened. Kovalskys was invited to join Stanford University’s well-known design accelerator as a fellow. “And that opened a lot more doors,” Kovalskys said.

NearpodToday, about 25 members of the 40-person team handle all operations in the Aventura headquarters. Nearpod also has a product team in Silicon Valley, where Kovalskys spends most of his time. Nearpod was also recently accepted into Co.Lab, an education-gaming accelerator hosted by Zynga.org in San Francisco.

The first version of Nearpod’s product focused on putting on the secure platform what teachers needed for lectures — “PowerPoint on steroids” is how early media reports described it. But the platform took off after the team began incorporating features teachers asked for, such as virtual field trips, and began paying its top teachers to create content for a Nearpod marketplace, where lessons sell for $1.99 or less if bought in bundles. “We turned them into publishers,” said Sommer. “We’re the tool, the teachers are responsible for the magic.”

Last year, the company did a large pilot test with the San Francisco Unified School District, which is still using Nearpod today. Just about everything they tested in San Francisco was learned and developed in their first schools in South Florida. Padovan said his students last year were beta-testing a revamped Nearpod student application pre-production while teachers were testing the teacher app.

“We are very devoted to our first schools,” said Abramzon. “They taught us the power of the product.”

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.




Business: Learning platform for the K-12 schools marketplace in the education-tech industry.

Headquarters: Aventura

Launched: 2012

Management team: Co-founders Guido Kovalskys, CEO, Felipe Sommer, president, Emiliano Abramzon, chief marketing officer.

Employees: About 40; 25 are in Aventura, the rest in Silicon Valley.

Financing: Recently closed a $6 million Series A round from South Florida and Silicon Valley investors.

Recent partnerships: Common Sense Media and OZY Media; accepted into Co.Lab, an education gaming accelerator hosted by Zynga.org.

Website: Nearpod.com