March 16, 2017

$300,000 in Florida Institute funding closes $1.1 million round for Candidate.Guru

MONEY

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Candidate.Guru received a $300,000 investment from The Florida Institute for the Commercialization of Public Research, closing out its financing round at $1.1 million.

The Boca Raton-based startup developed its human resources software solution with technology developed at the Florida Institute for Human Machine and Cognition so it was eligible to apply for Florida Institute funding. The Florida Institute supports new company creation based on publicly-funded research, and bridges early funding gaps for companies spinning out of Florida-based universities and research institutions. To date, 65 Florida companies have been funded through the Institute, which makes matching investments up to $300,000; Candidate.Guru received the maximum.

Candidate.Guru developed a big-data software solution that can predict a culture fit between companies and prospective job candidates without the need for surveys and assessment tools. It was the winner of the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge in 2016.

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“Our customers can easily submit job candidates to Candidate.Guru via LinkedIn, job boards and human resource systems, and we then return them in rank order based on strength of the culture fit with a specific hiring manager, team or the company itself. This enables our customers to prioritize thousands of job candidates instantly and reach out to the best culture fits first,” Candidate.Guru CEO Chris Daniels said in the news release. Daniels, a former executive recruiter, founded the company in 2014.

“Candidate.Guru is improving the hiring process by enabling companies to hire the best candidates more efficiently, thereby increasing long-term employee productivity,” added Jackson Streeter, Florida Institute’s CEO.

The new funding extends Candidate.Guru’s previously reported round to $1.1 million, which also included funding by Florida angel groups The FAN Fund, Florida Funders and Miami Innovation Fund. Before that, Candidate.Guru raised about $475,000 from friends and family. The revenue-generating Candidate.Guru has more than 20 corporate customers.

The Florida Institute has also funded South Florida companies Vigilant BioscienesBiscayne PharmaceuticalsKairos, Heart Genomics and Genetic Networks, among others.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

READ MORE: Candidate.Guru’s big-data solution solves HR quandary: Will the new hire fit in?



March 06, 2017

Startup Spotlight: Traditional trucking meets the ‘sharing economy’ with Miami tech startup Cargo42

 

Cargo

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Through a simple-to-use app, Cargo42 provides companies an option to ship locally for a lower rate with trucks that have empty space in them. At the same time, trucking companies enjoy an additional revenue stream and maximize the trucks’ productivity.

COMPANY NAME: Cargo42

Headquarters: CIC Miami, 1951 NW Seventh Ave.

Concept: Through a simple-to-use app, Cargo42 provides companies an option to ship locally for a lower rate with trucks that have empty space in them. At the same time, carriers (local trucking companies) enjoy an additional revenue stream and maximize the trucks’ productivity.

Story: The truck-sharing economy concept came from Francine Gervazio’s professional experience in the logistics and tech industries. She frequently saw trucks driving nearly or completely empty, and her company was paying the price for that empty space. Once Gervazio came to the United States in 2015, she confirmed this was not only a problem in her home country, Brazil, but a global issue.

She decided to spin the opportunity into an actual business during her Babson College MBA program in 2015. That’s where she met Murilo Amaral and Alfredo Keri, who were essential pieces to make this happen. After having performed a pilot test in Boston, the Cargo42 team moved the operations to Miami last summer because of the big opportunities as a result of inefficiencies in this important U.S. logistics hub. The decision was also based on a competitive analysis and strategic positioning for future expansion and market growth, the founders said.

“We knew already that Miami was a very big logistics hub, but we were really impressed when we saw the numbers and said, yea, that’s where we are going,” Gervazio said.

Before attending Babson for their MBA degrees, Cargo42’s co-founders had diverse experiences and backgrounds, including logistics, supply chain and operations as well as e-commerce and marketing and sales.

Gervazio managed new operations for Easy Taxi, a Rocket Internet company, in Southeast Asia and Latin America, after working in logistics in Brazil and Australia. Amaral founded a packaging company with 250-plus employees, which acquired 6 percent of the Brazilian market share. Keri worked in sales and marketing for multinational companies, including British American Tobacco in Latin America.

Last summer, the founders spent their summer going door to door in the South Florida territory to build their initial truck base. That was followed up with online marketing, cold calling and lots of networking at trade shows and industry events. Today, the company has 85 shipping companies and 380 carriers using the service. Its goal is to partner with a large company so it can expand much faster.

Gervazio participated in the WIN Lab, Babson’s accelerator program for female founders, in Boston, and the whole team is part of StartUP FIU’s Cohort 2 now in progress.

“With Cargo42, we are sure we can help carriers reduce their empty miles and get more customers, as they have limited resources to acquire new customers. We also support their cash flow problems, issuing payments three times faster than the industry. For shippers, we provide a lower price, increasing their tight margins. Also, our platform saves their time giving real-time quotes and online tracking even when using a small trucking company. Finally, we also play an important role to help to reduce the traffic and pollution in communities and cities, by making more effective use of the trucks,” Gervazio said.

“In the last four years, 20 percent of the small trucking businesses have closed their doors in Florida,” Amaral said “We are changing the rules and leveling the field to get them back in the game.”

Launched: July 2016.

Website: https://www.cargo42.com/

Management team: Co-founders Murilo Amaral, Francine Gervazio, Alfredo Keri (pictured above).

No. of employees: Eight team members, including interns.

Financing: Self-funded.

Recent milestones: 85 shipping companies and 380 carriers are now using the Cargo42 platform.

Biggest startup challenge: Customer acquisition. The trucking industry is very traditional, and it takes time for people to accept and embrace the changes to the process they have been doing for years, Keri said. “But once they give it a shot, they immediately see the benefits.”

Next steps: Closing important strategic partnerships that could lead to exponential growth and begin the company’s geographic expansion.

Adviser’s advice: Nabil Malouli, vice president of Customer Solutions and Innovation at DHL, said Cargo42 has developed a model that can be flexible at this stage. “I have recommended to use a multi-channel approach, such as partnerships with established companies that have complementary products and solutions, and to focus on the big deals. The sales and implementation cycles of small and big deals are very similar, and you have to focus on the big deals that will truly help you grow the business.” He also recommended that the team focus strongly on Cargo42’s first customers and have them become the indirect sales team. “First customers need to have an amazing experience so they can help you grow the business much faster,” he said.

Malouli believes Miami, already a global logistics hub, has the potential to become a global hub for logistics innovation. “This is a huge opportunity and we have to keep promoting entrepreneurship in the logistics industry in Miami, as Cargo42 is doing.”

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February 20, 2017

Startup Spotlight: Want the yachting life, even for a day? Miami startup will hook you up

Spotlight News rk

From left to right, YachtLife cofounders Patrick Curley and Nick Cardoza pose for the picture at River Yacht Club in Miami. Roberto Koltun rkoltun@miamiherald.com

 

Company: YachtLife Technologies

Headquarters: Miami, one of the world’s only year-round yachting destinations.

Concept: YachtLife aggregates local inventories of fully crewed luxury yachts and displays them on one platform. The YachtLife app has photos, specs and pricing for all yachts, so users can browse available inventory, and even book on the fly, without needing to speak to a broker or owner. A concierge assists when needed to plan itineraries and attend to the needs of the user to ensure a luxury, fluid and memorable experience, and at prices less than what a broker would typically charge. YachtLife gives yacht owners a direct way to list their own yachts for day or multi-day charters to offset their costs.

Story: Nicholas Cardoza, co-founder and designer of YachtLife, is vice president of the luxury yacht company VanDutch and has been involved in yachting his entire life. In 2008, Cardoza got his start working in the yachting industry as a personal chef and deckhand on mega- and super-yachts, and later obtained his captain’s license and began delivering yachts during the off-season. In 2012, Cardoza joined VanDutch and has since helped build the company’s presence as a major luxury brand.

Patrick Curley, co-founder of YachtLife, quit his job in finance in New York to start a mobile tech startup in the hospitality space and moved to Miami three years ago. When visiting, his friends would occasionally inquire about chartering a yacht, and since he had no idea how to go about chartering yachts, he would refer them to Cardoza and VanDutch would help his friends. After a number of times doing this, both Curley and Cardoza realized how the yacht charter industry was still light-years behind other industries — few websites actually list pricing, so customers need to search multiple websites and call brokers for quotes. After receiving quotes from multiple websites, customers then needed to go back to the site with the best quote and finalize all booking details over the phone.

“YachtLife has assembled a top-notch portfolio of some of the nicest yachts for charter in Miami and beyond. Since we removed the middleman and negotiated the best terms, users can now book fully crewed luxury yachts for the day, in most cases without even speaking to a broker — simply choose your yacht, pickup time, and tell us what day you’d like to go out. YachtLife usually confirms your charter within an hour,” Curley said. “The YachtLife concierge also helps with any questions before, during or after your charter.”

Today, YachtLife operates in South Florida, the Bahamas, the Hamptons, Chicago, New England, Spain, the South of France, Italy, Greece and Turkey. Prices for half-day to multi-day private yacht charters vary widely, but start at about $1,600 in Miami.

YachtLife currently lists about 250 yachts on its platform, from a 40-foot VanDutch to a 154-foot Feadship with a crew of 12 — “It’s a 6-bedroom floating mansion on the water with all the water toys you can imagine,” Curley said.

Launched: May 2015

Website and social: www.yachtlife.club; @yachtlifeapp; www.facebook.com/yachtlife.club

Management team: Patrick Curley, Nick Cardoza, Anko Mast

No. of employees: 12

Financing: VanDutch Yachts, a leading luxury yacht manufacturer, purchased a stake in YachtLife in 2016. YachtLife is raising a $1 million seed round. The gener8tor accelerator fund and a handful of angel investors have already committed half of the round.

Recent milestones reached: On Saturday, YachtLife announced it has launched a membership club, and has already attracted a Miami Heat player and other YachtLife users. Members receive discounts on yacht charters and benefits from partners, such as hotels, yacht clubs and restaurants. YachtLife recently signed a deal to act as exclusive yacht provider for the two-weekend long Fyre Festival, a music and cultural festival in April/May 2017 in a private cay in the Exumas, Bahamas; the festival is expecting 20,000 and YachtLife is the exclusive yacht provider for the festival, including yacht accommodations and tender service for VIPs. It offered a Valentine’s partnership promotion with the Standard Hotel. YachtLife recently completed the gener8tor accelerator program, which has been instrumental in helping YachtLife from a strategic and tactical perspective. The startup acquired space at the River Yacht Club on the Miami River in partnership with the VanDutch Lounge to open its own YachtLife Lounge, where users and members can enjoy yacht club amenities and benefits.

Biggest startup challenge and why: Scaling inventory and opening up new regions. Each region has cultural and legal differences, and you need to really have good on-the-round relationships with luxury yacht owners/brokers/management companies in order to negotiate favorable deals, the co-founders said.

Next steps: Campaigns to grow inventory in existing areas YachtLife services as well as partnerships with strategic hospitality and luxury brands. After fund-raising, YachtLife will hire a sales rep with group-sales experience in order to target corporations to host events on yachts.

Mentor/Investor’s view: “We are big fans of marketplace companies, in particular those with high margins and that leverage the broader trend in the sharing economy. Yachts are a perfect example of an underutilized asset, and YachtLife allows yacht owners and renters to better utilize those assets for mutual benefit. In addition, YachtLife’s exclusive partnership with VanDutch is truly unique in the industry and allows their marketplace to be seeded with the most popular yachts available,” said Troy Vosseller, co-founder of gener8tor.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

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SSS00 Spotlight News rk

YachtLife co-founders Patrick Curley, left, and Nicholas Cardoza pose for the picture at River Yacht Club in Miami.Roberto Koltun rkoltun@miamiherald.com



 

February 15, 2017

One year later: Miami-based MealPal raises $15M, expands internationally

Katie and Mary

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

5.5-inch (iPhone 6+) - Screenshot 1One year ago, Mary Biggins launched MealPal, a subscription restaurant lunch service, in the Brickell area of Miami, and quickly expanded to Boston, New York and four other U.S. cities. On Wednesday, Biggins announced the startup is jumping across the pond to London, its first international expansion, and it has raised $15 million in venture capital to fund its growth.

The Series A financing round was led by Comcast Ventures, the venture capital affiliate of Comcast Corp., with participation from Bessemer Venture Partners, Haystack Partners, NextView Ventures and Miami-based Krillion Ventures, said Biggins, who co-founded the Miami-based company with Katie Ghelli (both are pictured above).

“MealPal has built an exciting business in the huge, but overlooked meal takeout space, using technology to create a win-win for consumers and restaurants,” said Daniel Gulati of Comcast Ventures, in a statement. “Their early traction has been outstanding.”

In the markets it serves, Miami-based MealPal offers hundreds of affordable and curated local restaurant lunch options to its members near where they work or live for a flat, monthly fee. Every weekday, members can browse the curated list of offerings on MealPal’s website or app and pre-order the night before or in the morning and then skip the takeout line. For restaurants, it can increase revenue and exposure. In London, it launched with 125 restaurants.

With London, the tech-enabled subscription meal service is now in eight cities, including San Francisco, Washington DC, Chicago and Philadelphia. The service has facilitated more than 1 million reservations for lunch – doubling its total in the last four months – and has thousands of restaurants on the platform, said Biggins, who previously co-founded ClassPass, which offers fitness classes by subscription.

In September, the company rebranded from MealPass to MealPal and introduced “Pal,” a smart bot that uses artificial intelligence to make reserving lunch easier and more personalized. “Pal will know if you like big lunches or small lunches, if you like cheese, if you like meat or are a vegetarian, if you likes beets, etc, so it can make really good recommendations to you,” Biggins said then.

Now? “We’ve captured preference data for hundreds of thousands of meals at this point with Pal,” Biggins said on Wednesday.

MealPal has about 45 employees, most of them in its biggest market, New York. Although Biggins travels a great deal between all MealPal locations, she and her Miami team are based at Building.co. Krillion Ventures also participated in MealPal’s seed funding round.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

READ MORE:

MealPass rebrands as MealPal, unveils ‘Pal’ feature, launches in Chicago, Washington, DC

Tech Talk: From ClassPass to MealPass, the Big Apple to the Magic City

 

February 08, 2017

Wyncode coding school raises $1 million to fund growth

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Juha and Johanna Mikkola, founders of coding education company Wyncode, announce that the startup has received $1 million in funding. The announcement was made during the opening party for Wynbase, their new Wyncode campus.Photo by Nancy Dahlberg.

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

As the Wyncode Academy team celebrated the opening of their new coding school campus Wednesday night with the Miami technology community, the founders announced they have raised $1 million from a leading Swedish consulting and education group to fund their growth. 

Wyncode, which offers in-person coding bootcamps teaching computer programming in 10 weeks, will receive the funding from Academic Work X Group, a sister company of Academic Work. Academic Work is one of the largest education, consulting and placement companies in Sweden with operations in six European countries.  This investment is the company’s first step into the the U.S. market.

Wyncode was co-founded by the husband-wife team of Juha and Johanna Mikkola in 2014; in 2015 they were selected as Endeavor Entrepreneurs, giving them a global network of mentorship and support. Last month Wyncode opened Wynbase, its new 3,100-square-foot dedicated code school campus in Wynwood. It has two classrooms, an open space for students to work in and conference rooms. “It definitely feels like we are growing up but it also feels like we are putting down stronger and stronger roots here,” Wyncode co-founder Johanna Mikkola told the crowd. “We’re all working together to build something great.”

Juha Mikkola said Wyncode has graduated 400 people, called Wyncoders, who gained the skills needed to get entry level coding jobs in tech. About 190 companies have hired Wyncoders with 49 companies hiring at least two, he said. CareCloud, Kipu Systems and Watsco have each hired six to eight graduates.

Although its bootcamps will always be at the core of what Wyncode does, Wyncode will also form a training and consulting arm of the business that will place more experienced coders into companies. “A comment we hear from Miami companies is they face an ongoing challenge finding vetted talent,” Johanna Mikkola said. “We are going to be working with companies to provide specific talent and specific training for needs at all levels of tech positions. That’s going to be a whole new phase and wave and we are here to provide that to this community.”

That’s where Academic Work’s expertise will come in, as that company is focused on connecting talented individuals with opportunities in the work force. “We fell in love with the entrepreneurs and we have a very similar model in Europe, so we know this business works and what potential it has,” Academic Work CEO Johan Skarborg told the crowd.

Wyncode’s next full-time coding bootcamp begins on Feb. 13 and $10,000 in scholarships are still available, the company said. Wyncode also launched its first part-time course on Feb. 6 and is accepting applications for its next cohort. Wyncode’s Wyntroduction, a one-day coding bootcamp, takes place Feb. 25 at the Lightbox in Wynwood.

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

READ MORE: Wyncode outgrows The LAB, will open its own campus Jan. 8

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The Mikkolas with their team, above, and the crowd, shown below, at the opening of Wynbase, Wyncode's new campus. Photos by Nancy Dahlberg

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Court Buddy racks up 500 Startups investment, enters accelerator

Courtbuddy
By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Court Buddy, a legal-tech startup founded in Miami, received seed funding from global venture capital fund 500 Startups and was selected for its Silicon Valley accelerator.

Court Buddy will be using the $150,000 investment from 500 Startups to hire key personnel and to ramp up sales and marketing efforts, said CEO and co-founder James Jones Jr., who is also an attorney. Court Buddy will also be receiving mentorship and support from 500 Startups, and is participating in one of 500 Startups’ current accelerator cohorts.

Founded in 2015, Court Buddy is a national legal technology platform that allows consumers and small businesses to choose the a-la-carte legal services at flat rates and then instantly matching them to top, pre-screened solo and small law firm attorneys nationally. Once matched, consumers and small businesses can instant message, video chat, and make secured payments to attorneys for the legal services that they need.

In two years, courtbuddy.com has matched about 10,000 consumers and small businesses with attorneys across the country, helping clients avoid paying high retainers and hourly fees that traditional law firms charge while also helping thousands of solo attorneys and small firms grow their practices.

“Our goals are to grow the company and to continue to provide maximum value to our customers. This partnership with 500 Startups allows us to tap into a global network to accomplish these goals,” said Court Buddy president and co-founder Kristina Jones.

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

Headquartered in Silicon Valley, 500 Startups has invested in 1,400 technology companies worldwide since 2010. It has $200 million in assets under management.

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

February 07, 2017

Miami-based Gradvisor partnership to bring 529 college savings plan benefit to 40,000 businesses


Gradvisor_marcos%20corderoNancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Miami-based Gradvisor, which helps companies offer tax-advantaged college savings plans to employees, and Gusto, an all-in-one HR platform, announced a partnership on Tuesday that will allow Gusto’s more than 40,000 small and medium-sized businesses to create customized 529 college savings plans for their employees, enabling them to save for their children’s college education.

According to a recent survey from The College Board, just 11% of companies currently offer 529 benefits to employees, and large companies are twice as likely as small businesses to do so. However, as more millennials move up in their careers, this benefit is becoming more prevalent. About 87 percent of millennial parents say having student debt motivates them to save for their children’s college education, and 56 percent of millennial parents who are saving for their children are still paying off their own student debt, Gradvisor’s co-founder and CEO Marcos Cordero said.

Gradvisor works as a roboadvisor, using algorithms and data to recommend the best 529 plan for each employee. Traditionally, 529 benefits have been one-size-fits-all, with the company selecting one plan that works best for the biggest number of employees, said Cordero. Gradvisor users save earlier, starting when their child is age 5 rather than 7, and they save more -- $236 per month vs. $175 per month -- than non-users, he said.

“We’ve always wanted to bring this benefit to smaller businesses, but it was difficult for us to scale on our own,” said Cordero, who launched Gradvisor in 2015. “By tapping into Gusto’s well-established ecosystem of 40,000 customers, we can now bring this benefit to a broader audience simply and automatically – helping small businesses and their employees to plan for the future.”

 According to the College Board survey, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2016–2017 school year was $33,480 at private colleges, $9,650 for state residents at public colleges, and $24,930 for out-of-state residents attending public universities and is one of the fastest-growing household expenses.

529 plans will be available within Gusto for an additional $6 per employee that registers to use Gradvisor. Gusto, headquartered in San Francisco with an office in Denver, offers companies an intuitive platform to manage payroll, benefits and HR.  More information is available at: gusto.com/product/529-college-savings.

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

 

READ MORE: Need help saving for college or managing affairs? Miami fintech startups can help

GV - Goal Setting

February 06, 2017

Startup Spotlight: Stopoint delivers a fast, easy way to sell your gadgets

BM STARTUP SPOTLIGHT STOPOI
Steeve Simbert, left, friend Marc Estinville, center, and Steeve’s twin, Ally Simbert, co-founded Stopoint.com, which specializes in buying and selling used electronics. The trio of Haitian immigrants are shown in the courtyard of the Little Haiti Cultural Center.
PATRICK FARRELL pfarrell@miamiherald.com

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Miami-based Stopoint, founded by a trio of Haitian immigrants in 2015, aims to provide the fastest, easiest and safest service for the public to sell used electronics. Sales have rocketed in recent months, and the founders give back to help children in their homeland.

Company: Stopoint

Headquarters: 1175 NE 125th St., Miami

Concept: Stopoint aims to provide the fastest, easiest and safest service for the public to sell used electronics.

Story: After being robbed while exchanging computer equipment in person and later scammed while selling electronics online, Ally Simbert, 25, who at the time was a St. Thomas University computer science freshman, met with his twin brother, Steeve Simbert, 25, and best friend Marc Estinville, 26. “We felt really bad and really sad, but then we said we can make things better,” said Estinville.

They decided to start a company that would make buying and selling safer and easier.

In 2015, this trio of Haitian immigrants launched Stopoint.com, a national company that specializes in buying and selling used electronics. The co-founders recognized that selling products to strangers was unsafe, and they  also noticed that other companies in their market were buying electronics for unfair prices and making customers wait more than 10 days for payments.

“We made Stopoint based on three fundamentals: to create safety, offer fair prices and provide fast payment,” Estinville said. Because of the sophisticated tech system it created, Stopoint is the only company in the industry that pays within 24 hours, the team said.

It works like this: A customer places a tech product, such as a phone or tablet, that he or she wants to sell on Stopoint’s website, and through Stopoint’s simple process, the customer lists the features, quality and the condition of the product. Stopoint offers a buying price. When agreed, Stopoint emails a shipping label free, and when Stopoint receives the product, it transfers the agreed cash amount to the the customer’s bank account via PayPal within 24 hours. Stopoint then takes the product, upgrades and cleans it as needed, and sells it for a markup to an online buyer — all within three or four days.

Stopoint solves many problems. It brings security back to selling by ensuring people do not have to meet with strangers to sell a product; they can do it entirely online. It provides convenience because customers won’t have to negotiate or wait for weeks to find a buyer. Lastly, it makes the environment cleaner and greener with every electronic device that Stopoint buys by keeping the device out of a landfill.

The team believes one of their biggest strengths is that they collaborate well and their strengths complement one another. The twin brothers came to Miami in 2010 after the devastating earthquake in 2010; Estinville arrived in 2007. All three graduated from North Miami Beach Senior High. Ally, “the computer guy,” received his bachelor’s degree from St Thomas and master’s in computer engineering from FIU. Steeve, whose strength is sales and marketing, is also interested in politics and received his bachelors from Georgetown and then a master’s in public policy from Oxford University. Estinville, the finance specialist, attended Miami Dade College, received his economics degree from FIU and is now enrolled in an MBA program through the University of Florida. “He sees things in numbers none of us can see,” Steeve Simbert said.

One of their biggest challenges was gaining the trust and credibility of customers. People would Google Stopoint and find nothing, and the company tried marketing and got no returns. That all changed Sept. 28 when a CNET reporter wrote about Stopoint and listed it as a top company where people can sell their Apple watches. Other media followed. “Stopoint’s bragging point is speed. Stopoint will pay you via PayPal within 24 hours of receiving your device,” wrote reporter Nathan Olivarez in The Wall Street Journal.

Ever since then, business exploded. Before the CNET article, the team was doing just two or three transactions a day, but between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, the company sold 1,500 products and generated $340,000 in revenue. The team has built on that surge through marketing and every week is stronger, Estinville said.

Now, Stopoint is ready to market its service to a broader audience, and it is seeking $1 million in investment to execute its robust growth plan. The startup also has incorporated a philanthropic program called Give 5. For every item it purchased and sold, the company donates $5 to organizations that provide toys for the holidays in Haiti.

“These boys have more than thanked it forward, they live it,” said Juan Casimiro of the Casimiro Global Foundation, who mentors the founders. “For example, Stopoint sponsored Casimiro Global Foundation to empower hundreds of Haitian children from vulnerable communities through motivational workshops.” Through the same foundation program, the Stopoint founders donated toys to more than 5,000 Haitian children during the holiday season.

Launched: March 2015

Website and social: www.stopoint.com / www.facebook.com/stopointtrade / @stopointtrade

Management team: Co-founders Marc Estinville, chief strategist; Ally Simbert, vice president of operations; Steeve Simbert, executive consultant

No. of employees: 8

Financing: Investment to date: $60,000. Seeking $1 million for 2017.

Recent milestones reached: Recognized as a top company on CNET, The Wall Street Journal and The Huffington Post. Secured startup investment funding.

Biggest startup challenge and why: Getting the trust and credibility of our customers. “Our biggest challenge is securing investment to keep the momentum and growth of the company,” Estinville said. “It’s a challenge because it is a competitive market, and we are in the race to be one of the top three companies that will dominate this market for many years to come.”

Next steps: Market Stopoint, including expanding all aspects of digital marketing, including social media, Google ads, etc.

Strategy for next steps: Secure $1 million investment and put it into the acquisition of new customers and improving Stopoint systems for continuing to provide the fastest trading service in the industry.

Mentor’s view: “I saw success in them the minute I met them. These boys turned all of their life challenges into opportunities,” said Casimiro, who runs a BizNovator program that the trio took part in. “Their progress has grown fast and steadily. They have expanded their client base while creating a very user friendly model.”

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

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February 02, 2017

Miami-based Taxfyle raises $2 million in seed financing, launches version 2.0 of tax-filing app

TAXFYLE0400 PHONES CTJ

By Nancy Dahlberg/ ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Last month, Miami-based Taxfyle launched a more robust version of its app that makes it easier for consumers, freelancers and small businesses to file taxes. On Thursday, the technology startup announced it has raised seed financing to fund its growth through this tax season and beyond, including with the millions of consumers and businesses who have complex returns.

Taxfyle, a secure on-demand tax and accounting service, has closed a $2 million seed financing round from new investors Jeff Ransdell Group and Jonas Tempel of Beatport as well as existing investors.

“Taxfyle is solving a problem that directly impacts every person and small business here in the U.S. as well as expatriates abroad,” said Jeff Ransdell, investor and managing director of Rokk3r Fuel, a Miami-based venture capital firm, in a news release. “With a team led by smart executives from the world’s top financial institutions, the company’s model has already made a massive impact on how tax returns are being filed and will continue to impact the future of accounting.”

Taxfyle was co-founded by Richard Lavina, Michael Mouriz and Will Sahatdijan in August 2015. Today it is the top-ranked tax app in the App Store. It has grown its network to more than 700 Certified Public Accountants and Enrolled Agents. Taxfyle gives CPAs and EAs the opportunity to participate in the “gig economy” by building their own businesses or earning extra money by taking on accounting gigs on their own time.

How TaxFyle works: Clients can submit jobs, are matched with licensed tax professionals, and then can chat, exchange documents and sign for their tax return, all on their mobile device or web browser.

“We started Taxfyle because we saw an entire segment of the population that needed expert tax services, but didn’t have the resources or time to hire a top-notch CPA or accounting firm,” said Lavina, Taxfyle’s CEO, adding that Taxfyle’s certified tax professionals have on average 14 years of experience and charge about 40 percent less than conventional tax services.

The first version of the app was largely a consumer version. Version 2.0 of the app launched last month “provides more agility and mobility to users,” said Lavina, who is a CPA. It includes a full-service web platform and extensive mobile capabilities including Apple Pay, Touch ID integrated with top financial institutions, including Fidelity, Bank of America, E*Trade, TD Bank, Charles Schwab, Chase, Merrill Lynch and others. The free app is available for Apple, Android and web users.

“We’ve handled everyone from recent college grads to multi-millionaires, to small business owners and freelancers. We find our product solves the most problems for those people who need a slightly more complex tax solution because of the quality of tax expert you have at the other end and the efficiency gained via this communications channel Taxfyle provides,” Lavina said, in a phone interview with the Miami Herald. As for costs, he said many freelancers can have their taxes done through TaxFyle for under $100, while a small business may pay $300 for business and personal taxes through Taxfyle.

This new round of funding will help Taxfyle expand its platform, said Mouriz, COO. Its full-time team is 10 people and growing, and it is currently interviewing for another developer, Mouriz said. Taxfyle has moved its office to Coconut Grove. .

In January, Taxfyle partnered with TaxAct, a technology-enabled financial-solutions product for consumers, small businesses and tax professionals. Through the partnership, Taxfyle is able to service consumers with more complex returns. The company has also signed marketing agreements with Postmates and Albert in its efforts to bring simple, on-demand expert accounting services to people who provide sharing economy services like hosting, car sharing, home/office delivery and other freelance services.

“In the case of Postmates, for example, their entire fleet has about 40,000 couriers, and they are all 1099 contractors,” Lavina said. “This is the year of the 1099er. [The U.S. has] more 1099ers than ever before. We want to alleviate the burden and take this off their workforce’s shoulders.”

READ MORE: Need help saving money, filing taxes or managing affairs? Miami fintech startups can help

January 22, 2017

Startup Spotlight: WashMyWhip brings car wash to you and saves water, too

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WashMyWhip, a Miami-based startup, provides an on-demand, eco-friendly car-care service. Through the WashMyWhip app, you can drop a pin on your car’s location, select a service, and a WashPro will tend to your vehicle at a place and time of your choosing. 

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Company name: WashMyWhip 

Headquarters: The LAB Miami

Concept: WashMyWhip is an on-demand, eco-friendly car-care service. Through the WashMyWhip app, you can drop a pin on your car’s location and select a service, and a WashPro will tend to your vehicle at a time of your choosing. 

Story: Imagine telling your JPMorgan bosses you’re leaving a high-finance career to start a car-wash company. “They thought I was crazy,” Nathan Bekerman said. “But my years at JPMorgan taught me how to execute and run a business.” 

Bekerman and Tarek El Gammal (pictured above), who was also working at JPMorgan, as well as Ryan Serkes, “the computer guy,” believed there was something lacking in car-washing: consumer convenience. It also disturbed them that car-wash employees were typically being overworked and underpaid. Add to that the frightening figure that a traditional car wash can waste 50 to 100 gallons of water, and you have an industry in dire need of a makeover, they thought.

Their solution: WashMyWhip.

“We believe that everyone deserves to have quality car care right at their fingertips. Why would you take the time to drive to a car wash when you can launch an app and have a trained professional tend to your car whenever and wherever you want? The convenience and satisfaction of our customers is our utmost concern,” Bekerman, the CEO, said. “If they’re happy, we’re happy.”

WashMyWhip’s “WashPros” have the ability to manage a flexible schedule and earn both salary and commission-based pay. “We feel that these car-wash experts don’t deserve the working conditions of other car washes and can find a more pleasant working experience with WashMyWhip,” Bekerman said. A graduate of Bentley University, he worked at JPMorgan for 51/2 years before starting WashMyWhip.

Water conservation is key, Bekerman said. Instead of gallons and gallons of water, WashMyWhip uses a waterless car wash service that consists of lubricants that raise the dirt, clay that breaks it down, and wax that makes sure a car stays shiny and protected.

The service was launched last summer, and so far, the company has cleaned more than 5,000 cars without wasting 250,000 to 500,000 gallons of water. A reservation can be made sun-up to sundown daily via the free app (iOS or Android). An outside cleaning is $20, inside and out is $30, and full detailing is $120.

But where WashMyWhip sees real opportunity is with corporate clients that manage fleets of cars, and it has developed a web application that can manage their inventory for car care, which is tailored to them. WashMyWhip has already secured a partnership with Xchange Leasing, an Uber company, as its preferred car-cleaning provider, and has begun expanding into other major cities such as Atlanta, Philadelphia and New York. 

“Our goal is to eventually expand to other car services, such as battery and tire changes, wiper blade replacements and windshield replacements,” Bekerman said.

Where did the name “WashMyWhip” come from? In the early days of automobiles, a car’s steering wheel was called a whip, alluding to horse and buggy days, the team said. Who knew?

Launched: April 2016

Website: www.washmywhip.com/cities/miami 

Management team: CEO: Nathan Bekerman; COO: Tarek El Gammal; CTO: Ryan Serkes.

Number of employees: 40

Financing: More than $225,000 in funding to date

Recent milestones reached: Acquired Xchange Leasing (an Uber company) as a partner; expanded into Philadelphia and Atlanta with wmwFleets (the fleet servicing arm of WashMyWhip); was a finalist in the Global Mobile Challenge for the U.S. and Canada. 

Biggest startup challenge: Educating the consumer about its waterless car-cleaning service. 

Next step: Expand into other markets while continuing to partner with local businesses in South Florida to grow its foothold. 

Strategy for next step: WashMyWhip now offers a comprehensive solution for businesses that own/operate large fleets. The startup plans to continue partnering with car dealerships and car-rental agencies to grow wmwFleets to a national level and leverage that to expand the WashMyWhip app.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

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