January 26, 2016

New World Angels goes long with Raw Shorts, leads $1 million Series A round

Antonio-Headshot-2015 (1)

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

New World Angels has closed an investment in Raw Shorts, a Miami tech startup that enables users to create customized explainer videos. The Boca-Raton based NWA led the $1 million Series A financing round, joined by prior investors in the company, Mosley Ventures of Atlanta, and members of Accelerated Growth Partners angel group in Miami.

Raw Shorts will use the funding to make key hires in product development and marketing in order to “scale the business that we know works and take the product from early adopter to early majority stage,” said the company’s CEO and co-founder Antonio Otalvaro (pictured above).

Explainer videos have boomed in popularity, but many businesses find them difficult and expensive to produce. Raw Shorts created an easy-to-use drag and drop explainer video builder that allows business users to make their own videos. The video builder has already been used by 150,000 businesses, and the company closed out 2015 with its highest quarter yet in terms of revenue and new accounts, Otalvaro said. He and his technical co-founder George Estrella have worked together for more than a decade on a number of prior startups.

“We’ve been impressed with Antonio’s accomplishments thus far, building out a very user-friendly tool that produces a high quality explainer video in mere minutes,” said Rhys L. Williams, co-founder and president of New World Angels.

“In addition to an exceptionally talented management team, the capability of the company’s product offering to provide scale and mass for its users is absolutely breathtaking. These factors are what initially attracted us to the Raw Shorts investment opportunity,” added Randy Wood, the NWA member who led the investment effort. Wood, a co-founder of Fort Lauderdale-based Citrix, will join Raw Shorts’ board.

Raw Shorts, housed in Miami’s Venture Hive incubator, has raised $1.35 million in total, and most of it through a supportive local ecosystem, said Otalvaro. “Venture Hive was the first to believe in us. We were an example of a company that came in with just a solid idea and a team,” Otalvaro said. As part of Venture Hive’s inaugural accelerator class in 2013, which came with a $25,000 grant, Raw Shorts worked on its business strategy and its investor pitch. After that, it received a seed investment from Miami Innovation Fund, which later led to Mosley Ventures of Atlanta investing, and now AGP and NWA, said Otalvaro.

NWA, an organization of about 60 members, funds early-stage companies based in Florida. With chapters in both South Florida and Tampa Bay , NWA typically invests $600,000 to $1.5 million as lead investor or co-investor. The organization also often makes subsequent investments in companies it funds.

In the past two years, NWA has invested in six new deals and six follow-on rounds. Along with Raw Shorts, NWA most recently led a $1.1 million investment in TAO Connect Inc. (TCI), a St. Petersburg-based company that has pioneered a Therapist Assisted Online integrated treatment platform of evidence-based tools for providing online mental health treatment. TCI, a startup from the University of Florida’s Innovation Hub, is initially focused on serving the needs of college students who suffer from depression and anxiety.

Nancy Dahlberg; 305-376-3595; @ndahlberg

Dawn Dickson a finalist for SBA’s InnovateHER Business Challenge

DawndicksonDawn Dickson, founder and CEO of Flat out of Heels, is one of 10 finalists of the 2016 InnovateHER: Innovating for Women Business Challenge, a nationwide business competition presented by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Dickson’s Miami Beach-based companies makes and sells rollable ballet flats that can easily fit in a purse -- a convenient way for women to relieve stiletto sore feet on the go.

An executive committee of SBA officials reviewed more than 180 semi-finalist nominations and selected 10 finalists whose products and services best met the competition criteria and presented the greatest potential for success. The semi-finalists were chosen at more than 200 local competitions across the country hosted by universities, accelerators, clusters, scale-up communities, SBA’s resource partners and other local community organizations and involving more than 1,000 entrepreneurs.

These 10 finalists are invited to the National InnovateHER: Innovating for Women Business Challenge during Women’s History Month in Washington, D.C., where they will pitch their businesses to a panel of expert judges for an opportunity to win $70,000 in cash and prizes from Microsoft.

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

 

January 25, 2016

Tech Talk: ClassPass co-founder's journey from the Big Apple to the Magic City

Biggins

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Mary Biggins co-founded ClassPass, a fast-moving New York-based company that lets fitness enthusiasts pay one monthly fee to gain access to multiple specialized boutique fitness studios.

Launched in June 2013, ClassPass now has more than 200 employees and serves 37 markets around the world, including Miami, and most recently, Australia. It offers classes at 10,000 studios from the big names to small boutique neighborhood spots and has booked more than 10 million class reservations.

It’s also a venture capital darling, having raised more than $80 million in financing from Google Ventures and other firms.

So what is she doing in Miami? Not taking a vacation on South Beach, although she probably deserves one. Biggins is starting another company — but this time, it’s based in South Florida.

Along with co-founder Katie Ghelli, she launched MealPass this month in its first market, Brickell, with 50 restaurants, such as American Social, Grazionos, El Taco Loco, Novecento, Sushi Siam and Suviche. For $99, members can select online and then pick up a meal from a curated list of nearby restaurants each weekday, which works out to $5 a day if used daily. They can choose from dozens of choices such as veggie pizza, a tuna wrap, zucchini quiche or chicken teriyaki, among the offerings on one recent day.

MealPass creates efficiencies for restaurants because they will get all their orders by 9 a.m., Biggins said in an interview before the big launch day. Customers pick them up in a special line, so there’s no wait, and they will know exactly what they are getting because the photos on the website were taken by professional photographers and include detailed descriptions.

Now a team of 10, MealPass works out of Building.co, a shared workspace in Brickell. Fellow co-workers were beta testers. “We’ve been eating really well and a lot of it,” Ghelli said. “Somebody’s got to do quality control — we willingly take that on.”

Biggins and Ghelli said they expect to be launching in a lot of markets in a short period of time, including New York and San Francisco, similar to ClassPass.

Why Miami? “There’s a lot of opportunity. We see it as an interesting place to test ideas. Brickell is like a New York but on a smaller scale,” Biggins said. And yes, she also wanted to experience living someplace warm.

She began spending time in Miami last spring and found a good tech scene and less competition for talent than in New York or San Francisco. One of the first people she met here was Melissa Krinzman, co-founder of the Miami-based early-stage fund Krillion Ventures. Krillion is now an investor in MealPass.

At a Citi Fintech Meeting last week about women in technology co-hosted by the monthy meetup organization Refresh Miami and held at WeWork, Biggins shared more about her ClassPass journey — how the team went from 35 paying customers the first month (“I am pretty sure I knew 30 of them,” she said) to more than 1,000 customers and a $100,000 recurring revenue run rate in just six months. That is also about the time they began to get investors on board.

She said her experience at Vistaprint and Betterment helped prepare her for the startup life. Here are a few of the lessons learned with ClassPass that she shared at the Citi event:

* Don’t build too much technology until you have extensively tested the business model. At ClassPass, that meant doing many, many tasks less efficiently by hand, but if the company had spent time and money building out the technology at the beginning, it would have been wasted because of the numerous iterations.

* Spend on marketing, but with every channel, test, test, test. Try out different versions of ads and content to figure out what moves people to buy your product. “Once you find it you’ll know you found it. But until you find it, it could be crickets,” she said.

* Learn to sell, and the secret is it’s 99 percent listening. When ClassPass was pitching studios, it listened to what features they wanted and added them constantly, she said.

At ClassPass, Biggins transitioned from an operational role to an advisory role this past summer. She knew it was time.

“I love building things and launching things, and I have a lot of ideas,” she told the full house at the Citi event. “ClassPass has a great team in place, it’s on a great path, it knows what it needs to do.”

But she loves the startup challenge. “You don’t do that in the same way when you are a 200-person company,” she said. “You’re either a builder or an optimizer, and you need to know that about yourself.”

Nancy Dahlberg; 305-376-3595; @ndahlberg

January 15, 2016

3 South Florida companies to present at state VC conference

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The Florida Venture Forum announced 19 companies, including three from South Florida, that will present and exhibit at the 2016 Florida Venture Capital Conference to be held at the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club on Jan. 28-29.

Selected were Delivery Dudes of Delray Beach, a concierge delivery service with a focus on restaurant food delivery in local markets; Strategic Planning Online of Coral Springs, a cloud-based software solution that helps align team members with strategic planning efforts to start producing results; and Xcovery of Palm Beach Gardens, is a biopharmaceutical company working on discovering medicine to fight advanced tumors.

The companies were selected from a pool of nearly 100 applicants by a committee of investors. The companies will present to more than 500 conference attendees, including over 100 investors from angel, venture capital, and private equity funds, family offices and corporate venture groups. Wildcard Payments of Ft. Lauderdale, a real-time payment processor, was selected as an exhibitor.

See full list of presenting companies here. More information on the conference: www.flventure.org.

 

January 10, 2016

#MadeInMiami: Ginnybakes finds sweet success, becoming national player

Ginny

Ginnybakes, which makes better-for-you snacks, is run by the family team of Steve Simon, president, left, his wife, Ginny Simon, CEO/founder, and son Michael Simon, vice president. CARL JUSTE cjuste@miamiherald.com


Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/biz-monday/article53809605.html#storylink=cpy

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

In this made-in-Miami story, Ginnybakes has created a recipe for success.

The young food-products company offering organic, gluten-free and kosher snacks started out five years ago as one woman’s vision and then a tiny family company with all hands on deck. Today ginnybakes has 35 employees, and its products are in some Publix, Whole Foods, Kroger, Fresh Market and Albertson’s supermarkets as well as many smaller stores nationwide. Ginnybakes cookies are part of first-class snack baskets on American Airlines, and the products are also sold on ginnybakes.com and through Amazon.

Ginnybakes cookies in two sizes (regular-sized cookies in boxes and minis in snack bags), bake mixes, bars and crumbles are created, baked, packaged and shipped right from ginnybakes headquarters, a large office, kitchen and warehouse in northwest Miami. The company’s T-shirts sport the hashtag #MadeInMiami.

“It’s been a real sense of fulfillment that this product launched, hit supermarkets and is a national product. This is my dream, this is my passion project, I taught my boys more lessons from this than anything else I ever taught them. It’s about hard work, ambition, drive,” said Ginny Simon, founder and CEO of ginnybakes and a mother of four sons.

Last year, ginnybakes landed at No. 211 on the prestigious Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies, with $2.15 million in revenue in 2014 and a three-year-growth rate of 2,027 percent. The company was No. 13 in the food and beverage category, “and we were number one in passion, don’t forget to mention that,” quipped Steve Simon, president of the company and Ginny’s husband.

Since then, revenues have grown to $3.1 million in 2015, a 45 percent increase over 2014, said CFO Jason Lewis, who has a background in private equity and financial analysis. Online sales at ginnybakes, which were essentially zero at the beginning of 2015, grew steadily and are currently 2 to 3 percent of revenues, he said.

The company’s biggest customers are health-conscious millennials moms like Serena Berra, of Miami Beach. For a couple of years now, Berra has been buying the ginnyminis at Whole Foods for her family, and has purchased the vegan cookies online. “They are all delicious. It’s hard to find good taste when you are eliminating glutens or dairy. I grew up working at a bakery so I really care about taste.”

Ginnybakes has been riding a trend of healthier living and organic eating. The U.S. organic foods market produced an annual growth rate of about 12 percent in 2013 and 2014, and sales reached nearly $40 billion, according to the Organic Trade Association. The 2013 total cookie market was $8.27 billion and the premium and healthy cookie category was about 20 percent of that total. Growth looks like it will continue: According to the 2015 Global Snacking Survey by Nielsen, 75 percent of respondents want snacks with no artificial colors or flavors and more than half of the respondents seek gluten-free indulgences.

“We are outrageously delicious and we are a better-for-you cookie. But the first thing we want you to know is we are outrageously delicious,” said Ginny Simon. The company released three new cookie flavors, sweet cinnamon love, ginger crisp love and cranberry pistachio bliss, in the fall for a total of 10, and there is also a vegan line of snack foods. “We are just real food; that’s really our pride and joy.”

The story of ginnybakes is rooted in family and the founder’s own passion for healthy living and baking. When her four sons hit high school and college ages, Ginny Simon went back to school to become a certified holistic nutritionist and founded her first company, Mindful Organics, a consultancy on healthy living, in 2009. She was a home baker and wanted to offer her clients a healthy baking mix but she couldn’t find anything on the market she loved. That’s how ginnybakes got started in 2010, and its first products were baking mixes.

By early 2011, she and her small team — basically any family members and friends she could recruit — decided to get the product out into the marketplace. By April, ginnybakes was in Epicure and Apple A Day in Miami Beach, then Fresh Market soon afterward, she said.

Fresh Market’s Aventura store manager, Eddy Neam, was instrumental in helping Ginny Simon get her start. She was experimenting with the gluten-free products at the time and wanted to test the marketability through sampling in the store, he said. With the gluten-free population growing, he thought the products were very viable, “but what really sold me was her. Her passion is what elevated it to the next level.”

By this time she had baking mixes and ready-made boxed cookies, a request by the stores, and with Neam she came up with the idea of smaller cookies in ready-to-go snack bags. He was impressed with how she had sought out the right people to help her with the packaging and she went through two or three phases of packaging to get it just right.

Ginny Simon had set up shop in a friend’s warehouse and had use of his commercial kitchen for a while and by the end of 2011 built out her own 1,200-square-foot kitchen in her friend’s warehouse. Alas, within six months that space was too small, and the Simons bought their current northwest Miami headquarters building in 2012. “Manufacturing is not easy, but I didn’t know better when I started,” she said.

By then, the company was beginning to go national with Fresh Market and had begun entering Whole Foods, and Ginny had finally persuaded her husband, Steve, an attorney, to join the business full time as president. “In the beginning, he wanted it to go away, he didn’t believe it was real,” she said.

After graduating from Northwestern University in chemical engineering, son Michael joined in 2013 as “the ball was rolling and sales were growing and I thought it would be an amazing opportunity to step into,” he said. His mother laughed at his request for a job description. “At the time, I had other offers, and I was teetering on going, and I wanted to make sure this wasn’t just a son job,” said Michael Simon, who is vice president.

After the first day on the job, he was convinced it wasn’t. In the early days he focused on the manufacturing and quality assurance side of the business; now he focuses on sales. But as any small business owner knows, every management job is a little bit of everything. “I like to say ginnybakes is our fifth child. Sometimes she is really really good and sometimes really really bad,” quipped Ginny.

Although ginnybakes began being picked up by Whole Foods in the Midwest in 2012, it wasn’t in the chain’s Florida stores until 2013. “Brett King of Whole Foods Florida said, ‘How come you aren’t with Florida? I’m going to tell you why. You’ve been too polite a nuisance; if you really want something, you go for it,’" space="1"” she recalled. By July, ginnybakes was in Whole Foods Florida stores.

A big milestone was getting into the first Publix in 2014, a store in Miami Beach. “I was beyond thrilled because this was the everyday shopper that we could educate and they could find us. Publix put us at a good price point to sell, and I felt like we could reach the consumer that really needed us,” Ginny Simon said. It’s now in the GreenWise sections of 50 to 60 Publix stores.

Also in 2014, Ginny, Steve and Michael Simon were selected as high-impact Endeavor Entrepreneurs, which means they would be mentored and supported by a global network of business experts. Lewis started out volunteering as an Endeavor mentor to the company, but joined ginnybakes’ management team about four months ago.

Endeavor has helped the company build an advisory board, and offered access and connections to experts in the food industry and entrepreneur mentors who have been there, done that, the team said. Ginnybakes also participated in a Northwestern Kellogg School of Management program last year, in which a team of Executive MBA students from Miami integrated with the company and helped guide strategic planning, said Steve Simon.

Building on the company’s growth in 2015, the near-term goal is to expand distribution in large grocery chains, and eventually saturate regions, Steve Simon added.

Ginnybakes, now with 35 employees, is much more structured these days as the company has grown up, but there are still the “all hands on deck” days, such as when the whole team worked on a recent Sunday to get a big order out. “In the early days there were a lot of those, with all four sons helping out,” Ginny Simon said.

She adds, “I don’t know that we would have been so successful in another city or state. The stores in Miami, Miami Beach, in Florida — they really took care of us.”

Nancy Dahlberg; 305-376-3595; @ndahlberg

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January 06, 2016

CES news: AdMobilize wins innovation award for MATRIX

Matrix

AdMobilize announced Wednesday that its Internet of Things creation, MATRIX, would receive recognition as a CES 2016 Innovation Awards Honoree in the Tech for a Better World product category. The product promises a standard OS for the Internet of Things and app marketplace where people around the world can build and download applications that connect the physical and online worlds. For the smart home vertical, MATRIX utilizes existing software API tools from prominent smart home device makers, for example Nest and August, to serve as the most intuitive hub for connected devices.

Products entered in the prestigious Innovation Awards are evaluated on their engineering, aesthetic and design qualities, intended use/function and user value, how the design and innovation of the product directly compares to other products in the marketplace and unique/novel features present.

The industry-defining MATRIX device hosts over a dozen sensors that interact with physical spaces, including a camera, thermometer, microphone, barometer, gyroscope, and many more. Integrations with Z-Wave, Zigbee, and IR are possible. Additionally, MATRIX comes with a wide range of wireless communication methods such as Bluetooth, 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, along with CDMA and GSM 3G cellular protocols. Thus, connecting semi-smart devices such as networked cameras and Bluetooth security sensors to MATRIX is simple.

"As developers of cutting edge-technology, we believe in the creative power of developers to change the world. Today, there isn't a unified Internet of Things platform powered by a single device that allows the industry to reach its full potential; that's why we created MATRIX," said Rodolfo Saccoman, CEO of Miami Beach-based AdMobilize, in its press release.

Currently, Internet of Things applications and devices take months, if not years to develop. The MATRIX platform leverages Google V8 Javascript's engine via Node.js and gives developers the opportunity to build IoT apps in minutes. The MATRIX OS combines access to powerful libraries, including computer vision, machine learning, and data processing, with an easy to use API and a robust SDK (including a CLI tool). For a quick overview of the MATRIX developer platform visit matrix.one.

After successfully completing a MATRIX Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign on Dec.  10, the company dove full-speed into the development of the MATRIX. If you are at CES, a first look at MATRIX technology will be available at CES Booth #82732- Tech West, Sands/Venetian Level 1 Hall G.

- Information submitted by AdMobilize

December 22, 2015

Wyncode to launch its third campus: WeWork in Miami Beach

  Wyncode2

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Wyncode Academy, Florida’s first bricks and mortar coding bootcamp, is expanding in South Florida.

Wyncode, which teaches computer programming in nine weeks, will be offering its bootcamp at a third location: WeWork in Miami Beach. That’s in addition to The LAB Miami in Wynwood, its original location and its headquarters, and General Provision in Fort Lauderdale’s Flagler Arts and Technology Village. WeWork is a creator and provider of shared workspace and services for startups, freelancers and growing businesses.

WeWork shares Wyncode’s passion for building community,” said Juha Mikkola, who co-founded Wyncode with his wife Johanna. “We believe that the foundation for a successful tech ecosystem is coding talent that can build amazing things. That talent is right here in Miami Beach, they just need to get access to the right type of training.”

Wyncode launched in 2014 and its intensive, full-time program has attracted people without a programming background from a variety of careers: chefs, lawyers, salespeople, accountants, concierges, marketing executives and entrepreneurs. For instance, after graduating from Wyncode, Mario Aguayo launched My Style Blox, a marketplace for models and their clients to discover, book and manage projects. Agauyo had been a talent manager and also worked in retailing before learned to code at Wyncode. Frank Ortiz, a former chef, was also was a Wyncode graduate, then was hired by Wyncode and is now working full-time in technology for Fusion Recruitment Labs.

The program focuses on tech skills like Ruby, Javascript, HTML and CSS and also on the business skills that startups require to be successful. It’s one of a number of new resources that have developed here focused on narrowing the gap of 400,000 unfilled jobs in tech expected by 2020. The Mikkolas, who were chosen as Endeavor Entrepreneurs this summer, have participated in White House programs about the need for coding education.

The Head Instructor for the Miami Beach campus is Auston Bunsen, a long-time Miami tech leader, programmer and entrepreneur. He is the former chief technology officer of 1Sale and founder of Miami tech conference SuperConf. Bunsen has written code that has powered millions of visits across platforms using Python, Ruby and JavaScript. “He is passionate about learning, hacking, community, open source and having a positive influence on the world around him and is an ideal fit for Wyncode’s team,” Juha Mikkola said.

A quarter of Wyncode’s last cohort in Wynwood came from out of state, including students from New York, Seattle, Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela. “We believe Miami Beach is a great option for these students, as they’ll have access to industry leading education that is just steps away from the beach,” Johanna Mikkola said.

Wyncode Academy is licensed by the Florida Department of Education and has graduated more than 180 Wyncoders in 10 cohorts, maintaining a 90 percent placement rate within three months of graduation, the company said. Of those, 96 percent are working as developers with the majority receiving full-time offers to stay in South Florida’s tech ecosystem. Wyncode is the third most student reviewed program on the global coding-school industry site Course Report, earning a 4.9 out of 5 star rating from its 66 reviewers.

Wyncode’s first cohort in Miami Beach will begin on Jan. 25 and is limited to 10 seats. WeWork members will receive a $500 discount on the $10,000 tuition. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis and interested candidates should apply at wyncode.co. Wyncode is also starting cohorts in Wynwood and Fort Lauderdale in January; it offers financing partners for all programs and runs a scholarship program at its Wynwood location in conjunction with the Knight Foundation.

 

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Wyncode's coding school is headquartered at The LAB Miami in Wynwood, top photo, and Demo Days such as this one at The LAB Miami end each cohort. Photos by David Salazar. 

 

December 21, 2015

Miami-based ParkJockey partners with PayByPhone to create parking marketplace

ParkjockeyBy Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

ParkJockey, a fast-growing Miami-based startup that helps consumers find and reserve parking spaces in advance, and PayByPhone, a leading player in mobile payments for parking by phone, are exclusively partnering to deliver a comprehensive set of off-street and on-street parking services, the companies announced Monday.

ParkJockey, focused on helping to solve the urban mobility problem, now operates in Miami, Chicago, New York, San Francisco and all major cities in the United Kingdom and has more than 100,000 parking spaces in garages, surface lots and valet operations available through its app. PayByPhone processes more than 4 million parking-related transactions a month in cities across Europe and North America, including the Miami metro area.

The partnership will essentially bring on-street and off-street parking together. Through the partnership, PayByPhone will integrate ParkJockey’s off-street parking location and reservation services into its PayByPhone mobile app, and ParkJockey will integrate PayByPhone mobile payment services into the ParkJockey app. Phase 1 of the partnership will initially focus on the U.S. and the United Kingdom, followed by the European Union and Canada, said Umut Tekin, co-founder and president of ParkJockey, which began offering services in Miami about two years ago.

The parking technology market continues to be very fragmented, with legacy companies as well as startups struggling to grasp how to effectively engage the market, said Tekin. “Through our partnership with PayByPhone, we will be able to rapidly consolidate the market and build the world’s largest parking marketplace,” he said. “We look forward to scaling our integrated solution globally and bringing the parking industry to a similar level to that of the taxi/ride sharing industry in terms of 21st century consumer experience.”

The two companies plan to introduce the integrated services to their customers early next year.

December 20, 2015

Tech Talk: Homegrown Sktchy draws up big plans for growth funding

Jordan

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Jordan Melnick isn’t the bragging type, but his app has drawn a passionate fan base many entrepreneurs only dream about. Perhaps his startup story will inspire you too, and it has only just begun.

Sktchy grew out of a local side project called Sketchy Miami that brought artists and community members together to make portraits at live events. Melnick expected 50 people at its launch party, but 500 showed up. The next event drew 1,000-plus attendees, and soon, artists around the world were asking to participate. Melnick (pictured above) knew he was on to something.

 

So his small team built a mobile app, Sktchy. The concept of Sktchy (sktchy.com) was simple: Users submit photos of themselves for inspiration and artists draw, paint or sculpt portraits. The before-and-afters can be discovered and shared on the app.

Jordan3Launched a little over two years ago, the iPhone app immediately took off, and in the past year, has accelerated. “Sktchy is a social network for artists. Today there are active artists in 100-plus countries, we get close to 2,000 original pieces every week, we are picking up hundreds of new artists every week. ... The growth has been all through word-of-mouth,” said Melnick, Sktchy’s CEO, who has a journalism background. “Our strategy is to keep making the product better.” (art by Nancy Guerrero)

This month, the team received a significantly larger, undisclosed round of funding from Mark Kingdon, its original angel investor, and Krillion Ventures, a Miami-based venture fund co-founded by Melissa Krinzman and Jeffrey Miller.
 
Jordan2“When I invested in Sktchy, I saw a beautifully designed app with great potential,” said Kingdon, who first funded Sktchy in 2014. “Today I see a five-star-rated app that’s been downloaded more than 100,000 times. I see 200,000 inspirational photos and more than 100,000 original artworks. The engagement around artists and their work is staggering with more than 2.5 million wows from the Sktchy community, rivaling what they’d see on Instagram.”

Kingdon is a three-time digital CEO and founder of Quixotic Ventures who also invested in Everypost and Hyp3r locally, and in Twitter, TheRealReal, Refinery29 and other companies.

Melnick says his small team plans to use the funding for product improvements, including a redesign that will better surface art in the platform’s archives and introduce a way to enable sales. An Android version of the app is in the plans, too.

Kingdon said he reinvested because he sees huge potential for Sktchy to build a leading community marketplace for art: “When launching a marketplace, liquidity — i.e., matching supply and demand — is the big challenge. With Sktchy, there is already significant latent liquidity because artists and their followers have asked repeatedly for the ability to buy and sell art.”

Artists and their fans already exchange contact information in the comments sections and conduct transactions via email, and some have commissioned works through Sktchy. So as Melnick sees it, it’s a natural progression for the company.

“We want to empower artists in various ways. We are an inspiration for them, we are a place where they can share their art and build a following, we are a community they can tap into. Now we want to help them easily sell their artwork inspired by our photos,” Melnick said.

Sktchy also plans to open up the platform beyond portraiture, and has been experimenting with inviting inspiration photos of landscapes, cityscapes, animals, etc. But no worries, Sktchy fans: Melnick said portraits will always be a big part of what Sktchy is about.

“I would love Sktchy to grow into a bigger creative community and a really valuable company from Miami,” Melnick said. “Our history is tied to this community, and it is great that investors here are supporting what we are doing.”

Nancy Dahlberg; 305-376-3595; @ndahlberg

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/biz-monday/article50820160.html#storylink=cpy

December 14, 2015

GasNinjas joins the on-demand economy in Miami

GasninjaHate pumping gas?

GasNinjas delivers fuel right to your car, wherever you are. "Studies show that cars are parked for over 95 percent of their lives, so why do we have to deal with the mundane task of filling up our tanks during that 5 percent of the time when we actually drive them? It takes time out of our day - usually when you're already running late," said Brandon Timinsky, CEO and co-founder. "We're trying to train a new consumer behavior."

GasNinjas, which recently launched in Miami, is now offering free delivery while you sleep and users pay the same price as the pump in their area, he said. With GasNinjas, you can request a fill with the tap of a finger, but if your tank locks automatically just remember to pop your gas flap before locking your car so they can securely fill your tank while you're away.  You can either get gas within as little as one hour, for $5, or request a free fill-up overnight so you can wake up to a full tank of gas. 

"Most of our beta users were very excited when we first approached them to sign up, but a few were skeptical," said founder Barret Hammond. "At first, one might think on-demand fuel delivery might seem unnecessary, but customers get hooked once they start using the service because they realize what an inconvenience going to the gas station really is."

Head to GasNinjas.com, check out its video, and never pump gas again.

- Submitted by Brandon Timinsky of @GasNinjas