November 22, 2015

Startup Spotlight: Mundo Lanugo


From left, Mundo Lanugo’s Natalia Becerra, Avery Bailey, Roberto Castro and Carla Curiel. Photo by Hector Gabino.

Company: Mundo Lanugo

Headquarters: Venture Hive, downtown Miami.

Concept: Mundo Lanugo is a Latino entertainment brand that, through fun and authentic stories shared via digital videos and apps, inspires children to maintain their Latin culture and Spanish language while building the child’s self-esteem and identity.

Story: The second Carla Curiel became a mom, she had an urge to share with her twins her culture’s traditional songs, games and stories. She also wanted to pass along her Latino values and traditions as well as give them the gift of being bilingual. “But when I went to the stores looking for tools to help me raise proud bilingual and bicultural children, I just could not find any products that resonated with me,” she said. “I longed to see our spice, our culture, our uniqueness represented in media and consumer products.”

Next, the Babson College graduate set out to figure out if this was just the experience of “one crazy Latina mom” or a real unmet need in the market. Seeing the staggering numbers from her research, she concluded: “My calling was to develop those characters and that brand that I so desired for my kids, and that would serve as a bridge to help them grow a healthy identity with both cultures.” Curiel is creating a Latino children’s lifestyle and entertainment brand of American appeal and Latin feel that promotes the Spanish language and rich Latino culture.

Launched: September 2014.

Management team: Carla Curiel (co-founder and CEO), Roberto Castro (co-founder and VP), Natalia Becerra (creative director).

No. of employees: Four.


Financing: Mundo Lanugo has mostly been financed by Curiel’s husband and co-founder, Roberto Castro, and herself. Four months ago, the company raised a friends and family seed round of $200,000 and plans to raise more money in 2016. 

Recent milestones: Mundo Lanugo’s special 45-second animated interstitials centered on teaching values through Latino idioms were broadcast on Univision’s Despierta America during the summer, and ratings increased while animations were on the air. The company’s Christmas YouTube and Facebook videos have reached 1 million views and over 33,000 shares. Corporate partners have included Macy’s, Humana, Seventh Generation, Jackson Memorial Hospital, Hialeah Hospital and Miami Children’s Museum. The Mundo Lanugo: Juega & Aprende app has been downloaded more than 25,000 times. Alongside President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, Curiel celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month and the 25th anniversary of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics in Washington, D.C.

Biggest startup challenge: “Our biggest startup challenge has been organizing a complex and comprehensive idea for teaching culture to children into one single product, and also finding an ecosystem in Miami that supports entrepreneurs building brands, rather than a tech product,” Curiel said. 

Next steps: Continuing the path toward developing a full children’s animation series. In the meantime, the company will continue to share the Latino story and culture through shorter animations and interactive apps. “There are so many opportunities in the works for Mundo Lanugo,” Curiel said. “I can’t spill the beans on some of those yet, but you can expect great partnerships with broadcasters, co-production companies, distributors and direct-to-retail programs.”

Advisers’ views: As a board member, Michelle Spinale lends her expertise to help direct brand efforts anchored in content development and key partnerships to drive awareness, grow a loyal audience and connect with both Latino parents and kids in memorable ways. “I believe Carla and Roberto have the right vision, commitment and passion to make Lanugo Mundo a tremendous success,” said Spinale, brand marketing strategist and principal at The Spinale Group.

Venture Hive mentor Andrew Heitner, an entrepreneur and investor, has been helping Mundo Lanugo on the business side: “Carla is the expert on animation and creative endeavors. I have helped them create a sales funnel in order to categorize and prioritize potential key partners for the animation series, as well as future licensing opportunities. We have also explored together their go-to-market strategy and pricing model for their apps.”


 By Nancy Dahlberg; @ndahlberg


November 10, 2015

Healthcare startup in the spotlight: FIGS



FIGS finds better way to clothe an industry

The best medical treatment in the world can be sabotaged by a hospital-spread infection. Trina Spear and her co-founder Heather Hasson are squarely focused on making a difference there with their mission-driven e-commerce startup, FIGS.

FIGS, a fashion-forward medical apparel company based in South Florida, makes scrubs and sells them directly to healthcare professionals on To shake up an antiquated industry making the same boxy, uncomfortable and not-always-hygenic scrubs for a century, FIGS spent two years innovating the fabric alone.

“We were the first company to develop an anti-microbial treatment so that bacteria and infection and fluids aren’t seeping through and harming the medical professional. That was important to us,” Spear said. “Our fabric is stain-repellent and has moisture-wicking abilities. Think about what Dry-Fit did for athletics: We are the company that is bringing performance elements and technical elements to this industry that has never existed before.”

The scrubs are designed to look nice, too, with lots of functionality — pockets properly sized for today’s devices, medical supplies and other work gear, inside zippers where you can put your your wedding ring or your watch. “These are very important when you are on your feet 14 hours a day and you need something comfortable and functional for your job,” Spear said.

Based in Hollywood with an office in Los Angeles, the venture-funded FIGS is now a company with about 15 people. Before co-founding FIGS, Spear went to Harvard Business School and worked in investment banking: “I was doing very well and was working with talented and smart people, but I wanted to make a bigger difference in the world.”

FIGSINGUATEMALAHasson, a serial entrepreneur in the fashion industry, was trying to help a nurse practitioner friend find a better pair of scrubs — without success. At about the same time, Spear had done a private equity deal on a large medical apparel company, so she knew the antiquated industry needed disruption. They teamed up.

Integral to its social entrepreneurial business model, FIGS (which stands for Fashion Inspires Global Sophistication) has a nonprofit arm, Threads for Threads: For every set of scrubs sold, FIGS gives a set to medical workers in need in emerging economies in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and other parts of the world.

“In two years, we’ve donated about 75,000 sets of scrubs in 26 countries, and we’ve been able to reduce the hospital-acquired infection rate there by 66 percent,” said Spear. “It’s really just about having a clean pair of scrubs: Many [medical professionals] are working in dirty jeans and a T-shirt, and they are spreading disease from patient to patient.”

The company also partners with organizations such as International Medical Corps and sponsors medical missions for doctors and nurses to go abroad and help. It has sent in scrubs after natural disasters.

Nancy Dahlberg, @ndahlberg

See more healthcare startups in the spotlight here. 

See Special report Prescription for economy: Healthcare startup energy here.



November 02, 2015

Robotics startup in the spotlight: Neocis


Alon Mozes, left, and Juan Salcedo are CEOs of Neocis. 

Neocis targets dental implant market

By Nancy Dahlberg /

Alon Mozes worked at a number of young companies, including MAKO Surgical from the early days through its IPO. Then the Miami biomedical engineer took the plunge with his own robotics startup, Neocis.

Neocis is creating a robotic guidance system for the fast-growing dental implant market. The system provides the dental surgeon guidance both physically and visually before and during surgery, aiming to reduce surgery time and improve accuracy and outcomes through a minimally invasive approach. The surgeon’s procedure is planned in the software beforehand and the robot guides the drill while the doctor can also see everything on a large screen. “It’s perfect execution of your plan every time,” said Mozes. And if the surgeon needs to change her plan, that can be done on the spot within the software.

Mozes grew up in South Florida, and after getting his bachelor’s and master’s in engineering at MIT, he got his start in Silicon Valley. He worked for SportVision, an innovator in special effects for sports broadcasts like that yellow first-down line, gaining knowledge that would later come into play in robotics. But he wanted to come back to Miami, and returned in 2004 to study biomedical engineering at the University of Miami, earning his Ph.D. a few years later.

In 2005, he became one of the first 20 employees at MAKO Surgical. Mozes helped the robotics company develop software for its ground-breaking Rio system for orthopedic robotics surgery, create its first cadaver lab, and get its first FDA clearance.

He met his future co-founder in Neocis there as well: Juan Salcedo. Salcedo, who received his bachelor’s in mechanical engineering and master’s in biomedical engineering at Florida International University, was a key player in the design of Mako’s first and second generations.

Both men believed there was an unmet need and a lot of potential in the fast-growing dental implant market for robotic surgery. The $4.5 billion dental implant market, driven by an aging population and rising awareness about oral health, is estimated to reach nearly $8 billion by 2020, according to a 2014 research report.

They began working on their idea about 2009, Mozes said. Their prototype, made with scrap metal, looks nothing like what they have now, but it is proudly displayed in their office. “Nights, weekends, in the garage, that’s our beginning,” Salcedo said.

Neocis raised seed funding — its first investor was Fred Moll, who founded Intuitive Surgical and is well-known in the industry — at the end of 2012 and hired its first employee in January 2013. The company’s next multimillion-dollar injection came from a mix of local investors from Mozes’ Mako network as well as some from California.

Now with 11 employees, Neocis has completed its first-generation system and is going through the FDA process. Neocis is raising more money now.

Still, funding has been a challenge, Mozes said, because South Florida is still not seen from the outside as a typical environment for robotics and medical device innovation. But he’s happy to be seeing a growing healthcare innovation ecosystem here, with companies like MAKO, OrthoSensor, Modernizing Medicine and CareCloud among the leaders of the current generation: “It’s great to see them growing here and finding success.”

See all four healthcare startups in the spotlight here.

October 25, 2015

Startup Spotlight: Tio Foods aims to reinvent soup

Tio gazpachoCOMPANY NAME: Tio Foods

Headquarters: Wynwood

Concept: Tio Foods is on a mission to reinvent soup. Ditch the spoon, get rid of the bowl, forget about the mess: Its first product line, Tio Gazpacho, is soup that is as convenient as it is delicious, offering single-serve bottles for a premium organic light lunch or healthy snack on the go.

Story: Austin Allan lived in Spain for four years in the early 2000s and fell in love with gazpacho. He returned to the U.S. and worked at a startup in Washington, D.C., and then later for a large bank in New York, but he never found his calling. In 2012, he left his career and New York City behind to move to Miami to start a gazpacho company — with no food industry experience. 

“I am passionate about this product because it is a game-changer for the soup industry. We make a product that is certified organic, harms no animals, creates little waste, can be consumed on the go, and is going to shake up the soup industry,” Allan said. “Gazpachos are the first of many products that we are going to offer that will change people’s perceptions about soup.”

Tio Gazpacho has wholesale distribution in 14 states; it also has direct distribution in all 50 states through Its biggest customers are Whole Foods,, King’s Markets, Balducci’s and Shop-Rite. The company works with UNFI and Kehe, two of the largest distributors of natural, organic and specialty foods in the U.S., and is actively working to expand distribution in Florida and the Southeast.

Launched: Company founded in January 2013; first product launched in September 2014.

Management team: Austin Allan, founder, CEO and Totally Important Officer. Carolina Braunschweig, VP of sales.

Number of employees: Four.


Financing: Allan invested $100,000 of personal funds to start the business, then raised $325,000 in a friends and family/seed round that closed December 2014. Currently raising $500,000 through CircleUp:

Recent milestones reached: CEO was chosen to participate in a two-year emerging brands forum organized by Coca-Cola. Won a Best of East award at Natural Products Expo East, the largest organic food trade show on the East Coast. Drinkable soup named as one of the hottest food trends of the year by the Specialty Food Association (organizers of the Fancy Food Shows), SELF Magazine and CNN Money.

Biggest startup challenge: Without having a finance background, Allan said convincing investors that the concept was financially viable was a huge challenge. He spent the summer updating his business plan with the help of his advisors to show investors why this is a winning proposition. He turned to Circle Up to attract the interest of investors who want to write smaller checks. “And Circle Up is a great way to market your business in the investment community,” he said.

Next step: Launching a Watermelon-Cilantro Gazpacho in early 2016, and in the planning stages of an entirely new line of chilled soups (that are not gazpachos) in mid-2016. West Coast expansion in early 2017.

Strategy for next step: “I have assembled a rock-star team of food industry veterans that are advising me every step of the way,” Allan said. They include Eric Schnell, founder of Steez Tea, and Debbie Wildrick, a former Tropicana executive.

Nancy Dahlberg,


September 28, 2015

Startup Spotlight: Taylannas breaks reading, language barriers


Read more here:


Susan Perry, center, is founder and CEO of Taylannas, a company that makes products that speak for those with language and reading obstacles. From left is Daryl Viamonte, Crystal Ice and Olivia Gomez.  PETER ANDREW BOSCH

Read more here:

Company: Taylannas

Headquarters: Miami

Concept: “Our products remove the language and reading obstacle to healthcare and hospitality,” said Taylannas founder and CEO Susan Perry. “Our mission is one of inclusion.”

Story: Perry created her first product, MenusThatTalk, to help people who have impaired vision or who cannot read, and a version for hospitals followed. Then she looked at traditional healthcare communication in a broader way. She thought, how can patients and their caregivers follow instructions when they don’t understand them?

“Imagine that your life depended on taking a bottle of pills properly. Now imagine how scary it would be if you were one of the 90 million people who, for educational reasons, stage-of-life reasons, or different first-language reasons cannot read, understand or process the complexity of medical instructions, especially if other members of your family or your caregivers had the same problem,” Perry said. “We developed a new range of voice-driven technologies that would really help guests and patients by providing easy-to-use tools that include reading information to them in the language that they understand.”

SpeechMED was a result of experiences with caregiving for her mother and mother-in-law and a visit to the VA hospital: “My mother-in-law is a great example of how bad things can get when people don’t understand what they are supposed to do. Her life was ruined by a medication mishap after discharge from a hospital. She spoke English, but at 81, did not read it as well.”

SpeechMED, Taylannas’ voice- and video-information platform, delivers a wide range of personalized care information and discharge instructions, as well as medications, reminders, emergency contacts, appointments and explainer videos in the patient’s own language. It also provides that same information in the caregiver’s language should it differ. More important, it provides audio instructions. It is being pilot tested now.

The initial mechanical version of MenusThatTalk was developed in 2009 and was innovative in its time. A hospital version, launched in 2012, is used by Baptist Health South Florida. Perry is particularly excited about the newest all-digital version of MenusThatTalk, which offers 16 languages — including Klingon, of the fictional Klingons in Star Trek. A large restaurant chain will be its first big customer, Perry said.

“Taylannas is driven by a desire to create fresh thinking and new solutions to large and scale-able — sometimes systemic — problems. And the company clearly is not afraid to take on challenges for which no sustainable solutions currently exist,” said Bill Connors, managing director of The C Group and advisor to Taylannas. Staying focused on the core business will be critical, but that will be guided by Perry’s passion, he said. “In the world envisioned by Taylannas, in a way literally everyone will someday have a seat at the table.”

Launched: MenusThatTalk, 2009; MenusThatTalk Hospital Version, 2012; SpeechMED, 2013.

Management team: Susan Perry, CEO; Olivia Gomez, director of operations; Daryl Viamonte, production manager; Crystal Ice, creative director, Bill Connors, advisor.

No. of employees: 8

Website: www,

Financing: The company has been mostly self-funded by Susan and husband Tayloe Perry, in addition to an investment by Dr. Bill White. In total, about $1.25 million.

Recent milestones reached: Launched SpeechMED Caregiver, an application for caregivers and patients to use at home. New pilot test starting at the University of Miami Hospital to test SpeechMED with congestive heart failure patients in English and Spanish. For MenusThatTalk, secured new technology partner for a planned 250-restaurant concept that will launch in December and offer the MenusThatTalk product in at least 10 languages.

Biggest startup challenge: Access to funding and finding the right business partners.

Next steps: Building the most innovative restaurant technology available and refining SpeechMED to fit patient needs by continuing to implement strategy with the understanding that validation has to be achieved at each crucial milestone.

“The biggest challenge for Taylannas now is to develop strategic alliances with more health industry partners whose patients could benefit from the potential life-saving features of SpeechMED and the related cost savings from reduced readmissions,” said Anne Freedman of Speakout Inc., who has been mentoring Perry and her team in leadership and marketing. “The company also needs to expand its reach to restaurant chains to help them satisfy federal requirements to serve the disabled, as well as simply provide better customer service.”


September 07, 2015

Startup Spotlight: Moonlighter Makerspace


Company: Moonlighter Makerspace

Headquarters: 2041 NW First Place, Miami

Concept: Moonlighter is a membership-based makerspace for creative collaboration, personal manufacturing and engaging in the design process. Moonlighter features and supports local designers, artists and creators and aspires to engage the communities with fun and educational STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts and Mathematics) experiences that foster the growing maker movement.

Story: After co-founders Tom Pupo and Daisy Nodal graduated with a master’s in architecture, they realized that there wasn’t a place in Miami equipped with the same technologies they were used to using on a daily basis for design projects. After doing some research, they found that this need was unfulfilled for a range of different user groups, including artists, designers, engineers, entrepreneurs, professional firms and hobbyists.

They visited various makerspaces around the country and in Europe to see how these new organizations were fulfilling this need for their communities and realized it was becoming a global phenomenon. “We bootstrapped for a year, bought our first two 3-D printers and hosted a series of maker workshops around the city. Each one was booked over capacity, and we found that there was a huge demand for a place where one can come and create anything with the high-tech machines needed to do so,” Pupo said. The team also entered the 2014 Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge (they were finalists) and participated in the Miami Mini Maker Fair, MDC MOA+D Bazaar Bar, Miami Science Museum’s Innovation + Engineering Weekend, BritCode for Britweek Miami, Art Basel, eMerge Americas and other events that drew creative people and listened to feedback and needs of the community.

Moonlighter 2Then Pupo and Nodal sought out the guidance of SCORE Miami-Dade, the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at FIU and the Hispanic Business Initiative Fund (HBIF). They took SCORE workshops on business planning and funding, and SCORE and SBDC counselors connected them with the Miami Bayside Foundation’s loan program. “We were able to obtain a loan to finally open our doors in Wynwood, to become a hub for the emerging creatives in our city and to empower a new generation of technology enabled creators,” Nodal said.

Launched: 2014

Management team: Daisy Nodal and Tom Pupo


Financing: $85,000 in personal savings and friends and family; $50,000 loan from Miami Bayside Foundation.   

Recent milestones: Celebrated grand opening Aug. 14 of Moonlighter Makerspace with the latest technologies for digital design and personal manufacturing; also chosen to join as the first littleBits Global Chapter in South Florida, joining a community of creative spaces worldwide. Received loan from Miami Bayside Foundation.

Biggest startup challenge: Raising capital. “Our space doesn’t have all the technology in our vision, and we don’t have as much space as we know the concept needs, but we produced our current space as a prototype to illustrate the possibilities. Hopefully, as [investors] inhabit the space and understand the relationship between each machine and component of our vision, they will understand the bigger picture,” Pupo said. 

Next step: To build a membership base while hosting workshops, classes and events led by experts in art, design and engineering.

“It is crucial to generate different sources of revenue and to keep on with educational sessions in schools and universities in order to grow the future community of makers in South Florida,” said Gustavo Grande of HBIF, which helped Moonlighter with a marketing plan, promotions and media strategy. “Moonlighter will definitely add value to the technological and innovative ecosystem that is growing in South Florida and at the same time is a wonderful place where anyone can have fun, meet great people while making a new collection of furniture, an exclusive piece of jewelry or a robotic prosthetic arm.”

Nancy Dahlberg


August 10, 2015

Startup Spotlight: Blue Ring Technologies a one-stop shop for inventors


Company name: Blue Ring Technologies

Headquarters:2240 SW 70th Ave., Suite J, Davie.

Concept: Blue Ring Technologies, a startup manufacturing company, specializes in helping entrepreneurs and businesses develop their ideas, manufacture their products and realize their dreams.

Story: Blue Ring Technologies began when its founder, Jay Prendes, was creating his own product, the Jayster, a keychain and app that used Bluetooth technology to find lost valuables. Having tech manufacturing experience with IBM and Motorola and a firm understanding of the development process, Prendes, a computer engineer, set out to assemble the necessary professional services to help bring Jayster to life and manufacture it in South Florida. Yet he found a lack of affordable engineering services that can help to prototype, design and manufacture plastic parts for small businesses within the immediate area.

Prendes decided to invest in 3D printing technology to help with his design process. Because of the success of his Kickstarter campaign in 2013, he was able to buy tooling equipment and injection-molding machines to help create Jayster in its product form. In the process, he began meeting fellow inventors who were seeking the same kind of services he put into place for Jayster: He saw a clear market need for a business with all the engineering services under one roof.

JaysterToday, Blue Ring Technologies handles hundreds of projects for clients ranging from individual, self-funded inventors who bring in ideas or rough prototypes for consumer products to larger companies such as Pavilion Furniture and Home Depot that may need a particular plastic part or project item manufactured. One of the products Blue Ring still manufactures is the former Jayster, which has undergone some iterations, was licensed by ShopLive, and is now called Beacon Plus.

Blue Ring Technologies provides additive manufacturing, 3D printing, rapid prototyping, product tooling and injection-molding services. In 2014, Blue Ring expanded into its 2,500-square-foot Davie facility. It has added 3D printers, CNC machines, which guide manufacturing tools by computer, and more advanced and larger-process injection-molding machines for plastic manufacturing, including with bio-degradable, eco-friendly plastics. A recent afternoon was abuzz with activity, as several of the machines were producing parts for companies, while engineers were working on designs and prototypes for other clients.

“We are most known for the ability to create products for our clients quickly and efficiently — in the most affordable manner possible,” said Prendes, 33, who worked for Motorola for seven years before jumping full time into entrepreneurship. “Though born with a focus on prototyping, Blue Ring has quickly evolved to become a one-stop shop for our clients, expertly bringing ideas from concept to finished product.”


Launched: 2012

Management: JoaquinJay” Prendes, president.

Employees: Rodrigo Lima, engineer/designer; Fernando Gomez, master machinist; Jesse Azueta, designer; Travis Pittman, machinist; Brian Fata, designer.

Financing: Raised $15,000 through Kickstarter in 2013. Now exploring raising capital for new equipment and ISO certification costs.

Recent milestones reached: “We have added CNC machines, moved into our larger Davie facility, added engineers to our team, started a tooling apprenticeship program, and signed major corporate accounts,” said Prendes, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer engineering at Florida International University. We just purchased another professional 3D printer, expanding our prototyping capability.”

Biggest startup challenge: Hiring qualified team members to serve its growing client list.Our team needs to be versatile, have experience in manufacturing and handle CNC machines. This is a very hard skill set to find,” he said.

Next step: Expansion through attaining full ISO 9001 certification, which will allow Blue Ring to pursue projects in the aerospace, medicine and government sectors. “We are seeking partnerships or investors that can help accelerate our ISO 9001 certification,” Prendes said.

Nancy Dahlberg


July 26, 2015

Startup Spotlight: Symptify


Brandt Delhamer, M.D. (left), CEO Jalil Thurber, M.D., (center) and Mazyar Rouhani, M.D. (right), started a company called Symptify which helps users figure out causes for their symptoms, what to do about them and where to go for help. | PETER ANDREW BOSCH MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Read more here:

Company name: Symptify

Headquarters: Sunny Isles Beach

Concept: Symptify is a virtual doctor. It helps users figure out causes for their symptoms, what to do about them and where to go for help.

Story: As emergency physicians, Symptify’s co-founders have seen many people make needless and costly ER visits after “Googling” their symptoms online. In many cases, an online search for answers actually led to an unfounded escalation of fears. A recent study by Microsoft found that the medical content on the Internet is skewed toward more serious conditions. This is part of the reason why “Googling” your symptoms is not the best way to arrive at a diagnosis.

The Symptify team created a proprietary, patent-pending algorithmic engine that renders virtual consultations by asking users a series of questions regarding their symptoms. Because Symptify takes into account a user’s own medical history, it gives personalized and precise results. This has helped many people become more knowledgeable regarding their health conditions, helping them avoid “cyberchondria.” Symptify also facilitates a user’s access to healthcare providers by allowing the person to transmit his or her consultation record and medical profile to participating facilities.

“Ninety million Americans go online to self-diagnose their symptoms. But they didn’t have an app for that, so we made one,” said Dr. Jalil Thurber, CEO of Symptify.

Founded: 2013.

Management team: Co-founders Dr. Jalil Thurber, CEO; Dr. Mazyar Rouhani, COO; Dr. Brandt Delhamer, CCO; Nicola Mazola, CTO; Pierre Schiro, CIO.

Number of employees: Three developers.


Financing:. The company has been funded by its founders, who have provided $1.5 million in cash and services. Seeking $2 million in additional seed funding.

Recent milestones reached: Won the eMerge Americas Startup Showcase for early-stage companies, and through that victory Symptify obtained first outside investment of $50,000. Participated in Miami’s first Healthbox Studio, a program that was sponsored by Florida Blue. Last year signed up 10 emergency rooms that renewed their contracts three months ago. Launched a Spanish version of the platform in May. Launched a doctor appointment scheduler app in February and several physicians have enrolled for this service.

Biggest startup challenge: Raising capital in South Florida.

Next step: “We have a large sales funnel and anticipate that we will announce partnerships with large and well recognized brands soon,” said Thurber.

Strategy for next step: Continue building Symptify’s brand, which emphasizes the functionality and ease of its unique medical self-assessment platform. The end goal is to brand Symptify as synonymous with an online “virtual doctor” and essentially create a new paradigm through which users self-diagnose their symptoms online, Thurber said.

Advisor’s view: “This is a company founded by people with deep subject matter expertise. That's exciting and not necessarily common. Their company is solving a real problem and will have meaningful impact on probably the most important thing in life, our health,” said Payam Zamani, board member of Symptify and chairman of Reply! Inc. “The core technology and the highly intelligent platform that allows you to diagnose yourself using your smart phone is light years ahead of anything else out there.”



July 12, 2015

Startup Spotlight: Waleteros offers mobile banking app for the underbanked


Company: Waleteros

Headquarters: Venture Hive in downtown Miami.

Concept: Waleteros, the mobile banking app for the underbanked, offers a way for the more than 60 million people in the U.S. who don’t use or have a bank account to use their smartphones as their banking solution. U.S. Hispanics represent a disproportional percentage of this population.

Story: When Etienne Gillard (pictured above) moved to t Waleteros2he U.S. from Spain two years ago, he realized that millions of people in this country don't use or have a bank account. In order to meet their financial needs, they rely on alternative solutions such as check-cashing stores that are time-consuming, extremely expensive and quite unsafe. Together with two friends with complementary professional experience, they decided to develop a mobile wallet solution that is cheaper, safer and more convenient than any other alternative, said Gillard, Waleteros’ CEO, who previously co-founded a language training company.

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 keep track of their transactions and send money instantly to other users for a small fee.

Waleteros, part of the 2014 Venture Hive Miami Accelerator class, launched its app on Google Play on June 18. It plans to roll out an iOS version this summer.

“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,” Gillard said.

Founded: 2014

Management team: Co-founders Etienne Gillard and Sergio Carrera; Antonio Talledo, business development manager.

Number of employees: Six.


Financing: In March 2015, Waleteros closed a $600,000 seed round with angel investors from AGP Miami and others. The team plans to raise a Series A in 2016.

Recent milestones reached: Went live with app on Google Play on June 18; Partners with more than 100 independent cellphone dealers in Miami that are distributing Waleteros services. Raised $600,000 seed round in March. Upgraded its direct deposit solution allowing users to receive their payroll up to two days earlier than usual.

Biggest startup challenge: “Our biggest challenge is to be good at pushing the viral marketing snowball,” Gillard said. Goal: “1,000 happy early adopters!”

Next step: Running promotional campaigns in cellphone stores, taking part in events where potential users are gathering and being proactive on social networks.

Investor/advisor’s view: Thomas “Tigre” Wenrich was paired with Waleteros founders during the 2014 Venture Hive accelerator because of his prior experience owning a chain of brick-and-mortar check-cashing stores. Over the following four months as a mentor, he said he became very impressed with the team’s experience and product, and at the end of the program offered to participate alongside them as a founding investor.

“They have done a great job bootstrapping — which is important because the process from idea to launch has been an 18-month ride,” Wenrich said. “They have some innovative distribution channels to get the app in front of the people who need it, but it will take some time to build momentum. They are targeting a population that has a high penetration of smartphones, but it isn’t a group that is used to transacting online. Check-cashing store customers are generally very loyal customers, and the two biggest drivers of their decision-making are convenience and trust. Waleteros offers convenience in spades, but they will have to work on developing the trust of consumers.

“They need to find channels that already have consumer trust, where it will be easier to introduce them to this new and better concept for managing their money. That is the idea of partnering with independent cellphone dealers, and they have several other complementary channels that they will be testing soon. Once they gain critical mass, this should really take off.”

Nancy Dahlberg


 Co-founder Etienne Gillard; Antonio Talledo, business development manager; and co-founder Sergio Carrera. Photos by Jessica Bal.


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


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