June 19, 2016

Startup Spotlight: Need a ride? Freebee revs up to expand



By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@MiamiHerald.com

The free short-haul ride service in downtown Miami and Miami Beach has added an app, vehicles and territory. Working with the Small Business Development Center, Freebee has a multi-city expansion plan.

Company name: Freebee

Headquarters: Wynwood

Concept: Freebee is changing the way people experience Miami, moving customers short distances with free electric transportation. Each Freebee car hosts its own marketing campaign for national brands and local businesses.

Story: After graduating from the University of Miami with business management degrees and working a few sales jobs to keep financially afloat, Jason Spiegel and Kris Kimball (pictured above) quit their 9-5s and took the entrepreneurial plunge. “The mix of creativity, fun and the overhanging theme of a better, greener tomorrow were the elements that drove us to pull the trigger on Freebee,” said Spiegel. “We always had it in our minds that we would create something special.”

The co-founders purchased six open-air vehicles — think oversize golf carts — and they were off. The idea was that each vehicle would be branded for one of Freebee’s clients — some of which now include Pepsi, Anheuser-Busch, Jack Daniels, "T-Mobile, Vita Coco, Goya and Related Group. Along with advertising on the inside and outside of the vehicles — indeed, Vita Coco’s Freebees carry a custom built coconut rack on the roof — the drivers become brand ambassadors, providing riders with brand information and coupons and surveying users for feedback.

Service began in South Beach, and by the end of 2014 Freebee launched in Brickell. It now serves South Beach and Mid-Beach as well as Brickell to the Design District with 28 vehicles. Riders can hail a ride through the free “Ride Freebee” mobile app as well as flag a vehicle down.

“The app also gives tourists and locals insight into deals, discounts and “Places To Bee” in the greater Miami area,” Spiegel said. “We promote a greener tomorrow, while also spreading the word about great local establishments and national brands.”

Now the company is revving up with a big expansion strategy.

Launched: September 2012

Management team: Managing Partners Jason Spiegel and Kris Kimball; Matt Friedmann, Business Development; Operations and Logistics Managers Marcellus Johnson, Bryan Jobe and Chris Walker; Directors of Fleet Maintenance Josh Del Sol and Carlos Hernandez.

No. of employees: 43, including in-house designers who create vehicle campaigns and experiences.

Website: www.ridefreebee.com

Financing: Self-funded plus a $450,000 working capital loan from C1 Bank and a $175,000 economic development grant from Miami-Dade County.

Startup2Recent milestones reached:
Launched the Ride Freebee mobile app in October, already generating more than 15,000 downloads. About 60 percent of Freebee’s rides are now requested through the app. Added vehicles in current territories.

Biggest startup challenge: Building a team. Freebee turned to mentors from the Small Business Development Center at Florida International University for guidance on team-building and growth strategy.

Next steps: The mobile app technology has opened the door to more revenue streams, including in-app promotions and data collection, as well as the ability to scale the business to other major cities. But first Freebee’s plans are to expand further in Miami-Dade County.

Strategy for next steps: “Innovation and execution are the key,” Spiegel said. “By partnering and combining key components, we believe that we can scale this business to 50-plus cars in any market, further expanding the known marketing real estate in a given territory, as well as increasing engagement and usage activity levels.”

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg. Read another Startup Spotlight here and see more small business coverage here.

June 06, 2016

Startup Spotlight: Modern ŌM, created mindfully


Company: Modern ŌM

Headquarters: Miami and Asheville, N.C.

Concept: Modern ŌM is a lifestyle brand that uses color to infuse the seven chakra-based intentions into its products. “We bring mindfulness into people’s everyday lives through design,” said Myk Likhov, founder and CEO.

Story: Modern ŌM is a family business built on a shared passion for mindfulness. It’s not the founder’s first business. In 2007, after earning an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Likhov founded the successful Green Monkey yoga brand at age 26. After exiting Green Monkey, he worked in consumer tech in New York City, then returned to Miami in 2014 and began working on Modern ŌM". His parents joined him in this venture with their collective 50-year background in international manufacturing and distribution.

The idea behind Modern ŌM" was to build a lifestyle product brand for people who are mindful, or spiritual in intent. “We’re creating everyday objects that people can use as reminders of how they want to live,” Likhov said. “No one is doing anything like that — and the opportunity is significant.”

Based on the color heritage of the more than 3,000-year-old chakras, Modern ŌM’s affordably priced products are infused with the meaning of seven chakra-based intentions. These ever-present cues of mindfulness are woven through Modern ŌM’s products, which include: accessories such as malas, men’s and women’s apparel, iPhone cases and sustainable beverage totes, candles and stationary. Modernom.co allows you to shop by intention — for example, Vitality, red, the energy that springs from living in balance, or Connection, violet, the joy of being present in the now — making it easy to find items containing the energy you seek.

Modern ŌM products are also carried locally at Exhale Spa South Beach and Cowshed at Soho Beach House and through the Spring app.


Website: www.modernom.co

Launched: Jan. 1, 2016; soft launched in October 2015.

Management team: Co-founders Myk Likhov, CEO; Marina Likhov, Chief of Product; Steven Wenig, COO.

$250,000 self-funding invested to date with an angel round opened this May. Seeking to raise $500,000.

Recent milestones reached: Produced the company’s first apparel line from concept to sales in high-end Italian factories. YogaWorks and Exhale, two of the largest national wellness studio brands, now retail Modern ŌM. In April, the company launched The 7, an underground meditation studio in Miami, and taught 150 students in the first month of operations.

Biggest startup challenge: “We are building a company that embodies a lifestyle, which is a much grander vision than simply making products. The biggest challenge is consumer education. Once people understand how meaning is infused into our design principles, and how having reminders of their intentions can improve the quality of their lives, they love it,” said Likhov.

Next step: To create a direct relationship with 10,000 customers. “Building awareness is a challenge for a new company. It requires creativity, passion and pursuit of a larger purpose,” Likhov said. “That’s why our strategy is all about delivering tremendous value in alignment with our mission.”

Strategies for next steps: Build The 7, an underground meditation studio, into a recognizable mindfulness resource for the Miami community by providing an immersive meditation experience, where people can recognize the value that" this lifestyle delivers to them and become evangelists/customers.

Last week, the company launched a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo to bring meditation into the prison system. The goal of this project, which continues through June 30, is to fund meditation lessons for 1,000 inmates. To accomplish this, it has created a limited edition mala (bracelet) for $29. For every one mala sold, Modern ŌM commits to funding for one inmate to learn how to meditate. “Through impact, we also build relationships with meaning-driven consumers,” said Likhov.

Oct. 22-23, the company will hold Miami’s first mindfulness festival — 7 Life — at Sacred Space, with activities, speakers, meditation classes and a party.

- Nancy Dahlberg

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter. Photos of Likhov are by Jose Iglesias/Miami Herald 

Read more Startup Spotlights under the Startup Spotlight category of this blog.

May 16, 2016

Spotlight: Nomads making tracks in app development, world of video


Photo by Patrick Farrell of Kostresevic inside Miami Entrepreneurship Center, where Nomads has an office. 



Nomads, founded in 2011 by Bosnian immigrant Andrej Kostresevic, specializes in building high-scale video platforms for clients. Now the company has clients all over the country and is launching its own product, too.

Company: Nomads

Headquarters: Miami.

Concept: Nomads is an elite tribe of cloud and mobile engineering talent, specialized in building high-scale video platforms for mobile, web and connected devices. Its clients range from startups to a top U.S. sports league.

Story: At the age of 11, Andrej Kostresevic escaped Bosnia in 1992, one year after the start of the civil war, and one day after the borders were officially closed. He lived as a refugee in Serbia until about three months before the bombing campaign of 1999, when he managed to come to the U.S. The naively optimistic 17-year-old arrived alone with nothing but two suitcases and rudimentary programming skills.

“This experience is something I still draw from when the going gets tough, and I am still reminded frequently of the incredible importance of pure confidence and willingness to just go for it,” he said.

After working his way through Luther College in Iowa and then gaining more technology work experience for a number of years at Bombardier Recreation Products, Tire and Battery Corp., Myxer and other companies, he had the entrepreneurial itch. He took the plunge in 2011 and started Nomads in Miami.

“Nomads was born from an organic need I saw from the Miami community while organizing the Miami Android Developers,” said Kostresevic, CEO. “The group was getting frequent inquiries from startup founders looking for mobile engineers, as well as from engineers looking for work. I put those two together and that formed the basis for the tribe.”

The company quickly grew, as Nomads began working with startups all over the country, and it often takes equity in partial exchange for services. Today, its clients range from startups to the nation’s leading broadcast provider. Its apps have generated over $2 billion in revenue for Nomad clients and have won accolades, Kostresevic said. As one example, the work Nomads did for one of its clients was recently highlighted on stage by Google at one of its major launch events.

Nomads now also launches its own products, driven by opportunities and needs it runs into working with clients. “Our incentive is to maximize a client’s likelihood of success,” Kostresevic said. Its first product: NomadTV.

“The problems we’ve been solving for our clients over the last four years have helped us identify several interesting opportunities, which we have pursued into new proprietary products such as NomadTV,” Kostresevic said. Rather than using digital distributors such as Amazon, Hulu, Netflix and YouTube, companies increasingly wanted to get their video content directly to consumers but had limited engineering capabilities and found development costs for a custom video application too high. NomadTV allows content owners to create their own branded video apps for mobile, web, and connected devices.

“NomadTV offers a scalable, customizable, industry-standard Netflix-like experience, with no upfront engineering effort, and low up-front expense. We provide this product as a service, for the most popular mobile, web and connected devices. The end result is the ability to deploy our customers’ catalogs via a set of custom-branded apps for all major platforms, literally overnight.”

Launched: 2011.

Management team: Andrej Kostresevic; Marly Rufin; Vojkan Dimitrijevic; Giannina Amato.

No. of employees: Five employees and more than 50 contractors.

Website: www.nomads.co.

Financing: Nomads is self-funded through a fast-growing service business.

Recent milestones: 300 percent growth year-over-year for three consecutive years. Built the flagship video product for a top U.S. sports league. Expanded footprint into Puerto Rico. In addition to scaling services, Nomads launched its first product, NomadTV.

Biggest startup challenge: Scaling the revenue of a service business requires a corresponding scaling of the team. “We’ve been able to overcome this challenge by being unconstrained by geographic location, but the inherent variability of demand for services still presents some unique challenges for growth,” Kostresevic said. “While we are able to mitigate these by extensive use of independent contractors, we look forward to the type of growth we expect to achieve through our new products, which can be scaled more independently of team size.”

Next steps: Diversifying revenue sources by scaling products, such as NomadTV.

Kostresevic said his team is excited about the possibilities in this transformative industry: “We are already seeing a proliferation of content that could not exist in the traditional high-stakes broadcast world, and we believe this will have a transformational effect on our society at large. No other industry shapes our worldviews quite as much.”

- Nancy Dahlberg @ndahlberg



Nomads_studio(3) (1)

NomadTV allows any content owner to create their own branded video apps for mobile, web, and connected devices (top photo). Nomads don't always work in the same physical space, but when they do, it's probably in front of a whiteboard (middle photo). Part of "the tribe" during a live taping inside one of their clients' studios (bottom photo). 

March 06, 2016

Startup Spotlight: The Wynwood Yard, a hub for entrepreneurs, food and culture



COMPANY NAME: The Wynwood Yard

Headquarters: Miami

Concept: The Wynwood Yard is a vibrant first-of-its-kind outdoor space in Miami (56 NW 29th St.), showcasing food entrepreneurs and hosting a smorgasbord of food, fitness and cultural events.

Story: The Wynwood Yard grew out of the founder’s foray into food entrepreneurship.

Della Heiman (pictured above) traveled around the world as a student and young adult and for the first time was exposed to people extremely passionate about plant-based foods. “Through hours spent in kitchens and markets, upscale neighborhoods and shantytowns, schools, buses and fields, I learned how people /from/ all walks of life grew, purchased and prepared food for their families,” she said. “These new friends taught me about the importance of understanding where our food comes from, and gifted me their time-tested recipes. At the same time, I also learned of the dark side of global food economics.”

While at Harvard Business School, her classmates encouraged her to pursue her own food business, which would later become della test kitchen. “I would throw large dinner parties, and they kept encouraging me to turn my recipes into a business. They helped me focus my passions for making healthy food more accessible to all and preventing chronic illness into this concept of delicious, plant-based bowls.”

After spending more than year conceptualizing and testing her restaurant idea, she moved to Miami in late 2014 to find a brick-and-mortar location for the della test kitchen concept, but then reality set in. The real estate barriers to entry for retail concepts in Miami are quite high, and she began studying less expensive and more iterative approaches to launching her business. The vision for The Wynwood Yard was inspired by food trucks, culinary incubators, food halls and pop-up concepts around the world. 

“I wanted to create an ecosystem that would help support new food businesses in Miami since I knew the obstacles they faced,” said Heiman. “The goal is to give promising local entrepreneurs a support system and launch pad for innovative concepts.”

The Wynwood Yard, where people can come morning, afternoon or evening to dine, socialize, catch an event, sneak in some laptop time, work out or just relax, is a now a hub of food and culture in Miami. Hand-picked culinary concepts, along with a pop-up bar and a garden by Little River Cooperative, are anchored within an outdoor setting. The first round of food concepts has included della test kitchen, offering plant-based “healthy bowls of happy”; the omakase sushi food truck Myumi; Middle Eastern concept The Arabian Knife; Dim Ssam a Go Go, serving twists on Asian cuisine; and Vibe 305, a food truck and cafe with a social mission to help train inner-city youth.

Launched: Leased site in August 2015; The Wynwood Yard opened in November 2015.

Management team: Della Heiman, founder and CEO of The Wynwood Yard and della test kitchen; Ken Lyon, founder of Thyme Bar; Jesse and Sefra Levin, “Senior Cultural Chameleons.”

No. of employees: 60 people employed at The Wynwood Yard, spread out among the culinary and beverage tenants and The Wynwood Yard management team.

Website: thewynwoodyard.com

Financing: Bootstrapped 

Recent milestones: Worked with The Prism Music Group to launch a series of events spotlighting talented local musicians and highlighting innovative food specials. Olé! A Night of Flamenco with The Arsht Center was among the most successful, and attracted an audience of more than 1,000. Orchestrated sophisticated, multicourse dinner experiences curated by top local culinary talent, including “The Saffron Supper Club,” “Nutritious Nights — an evening of Jazz, Hand-Crafted Cuisine and Specialty Intoxicants” and “Shabbat at the Yard.” Launched several educational series, including garden tasting tours with local farmers and chefs, adult and children’s cooking classes, free craft workshops with top local artists, and innovative yoga events with live music. Launched delivery and catering programs for della test kitchen. Named to the Miami Herald’s 2016 South Florida Food 50

Biggest startup challenge: Dealing with unpredictable and unseasonably rainy weather. That stalled Wynwood Yard’s opening and created serious operational issues for weeks. “In many ways, the stormy skies ultimately ended up being a blessing in disguise,” said Heiman. “Excessive amounts of water exposed infrastructural weaknesses and gave us more time to improve operational kinks.”

Next steps: A big round of new initiatives and improvements is cooking at The Wynwood Yard, including a new bar and coffee program, aesthetic improvements to the property, new culinary vendors, creative workshops, a speaker series, pop-up dinners, and delivery/catering initiatives.

Heiman’s mentors have no doubt she has the big vision and the ability to execute. The Wynwood Yard has already been attracting crazy crowds, said Beth Kaplan, managing member of Axcel Partners and formerly president of Rent the Runway who has mentored Heiman in everything from business planning and branding to introductions and fund-raising. “She has an instinct for customers and sees ‘white space’ in the market where she can create something very special,” said Kaplan. “Della has the capability and the inner strength to figure out the next steps for her business. She is the real deal.”

Shawn Amuial, an attorney and co-founder of LegalTech Labs, has been helping Heiman strategize about various business models, arrangements with vendors and tenants and the Yard’s future direction. “Enthusiasm, passion and competence — those three qualities exude from Della and are key qualities of any successful entrepreneur,” said Amuial. “Her biggest challenge is time. Della has fascinating ideas for Miami and the food industry and she has the perseverance to execute, but there is not enough time in the day for her to achieve it all by herself, so she needs to find the right people to team up with to make it all happen.”

Nancy Dahlberg


March 02, 2016

Startup Spotlight: Ironhack coding school

BM Startup Spotlight IronHack b epfCompany name: Ironhack

Company description: Ironhack is an international coding boot camp that believes the best way to learn is by doing it. This ideology is reflected in its teaching practices, which consist of eight-week immersive programming courses aimed to graduate students as full-stack junior Web developers. Ironhack has three locations: Barcelona, Madrid and Miami.

On average, the students log in over 400 hours of work throughout the course, finishing with a final project Web app that they present to the local tech scene. After Ironhack, graduates are equipped with the knowledge and tools of the latest Web and mobile development technologies. Ironhack says it has a 94 percent job placement rate, a global alumni network of 500 graduates, and is one of the first coding bootcamps with a presence in both Europe and the Americas.

Headquarters: Miami and Madrid.

Website: www.ironhack.com.

Story: Ironhack was founded in Spain by two Wharton MBA grads, Ariel Quiñones and Gonzalo Manrique. At the time, Spain was at the worst point of its financial crisis, with unemployment for adults under 30 reaching 57 percent. Paradoxically, there were approximately 700,000 unfilled IT/coding jobs in Europe. Quiñones and Manrique saw this as fertile ground to re-train many young adults who were unemployed and place them in the jobs that were available.

The founders chose Miami as Ironhack’s next home because of its connections to Latin America, its fast-growing tech scene, and the high demand for technical talent.

Ironhack, which charges $10,000 for its coding school, is located at Building.co, a collaborative workspace for technology companies. The students are currently finishing up their final projects and preparing for the upcoming Hackshow, the cohort’s demo day, on March 4. Students have included former NFL players, lawyers and strategic consultants looking for a career change. “Although our student backgrounds are so diverse, they all share a common desire to improve themselves and their industries through the use of technology,” Quiñones said.

Launch Date: July 7, 2013 (Miami expansion in January 2015).

Management Team: Co-founders Ariel Quiñones, based in Miami, and Gonzalo Manrique, based in Madrid.

No. of employees: 22 worldwide, 9 in Miami.

Financing: Currently bootstrapped.

Recent milestones: Ironhack formed a partnership with McKinsey & Co., a management consulting firm with over 100 global offices, for its first nonprofit program, Generation, aimed to improve employment prospects through education initiatives. In April, Ironhack will be launching a part-time Web Development Bootcamp; the course is comprised of the same material as the immersive eight-week cohort, but will span six months, giving students the necessary time to maintain their jobs while taking the course. More recently, with its latest graduating cohorts in Miami and Spain, Ironhack has graduated 500 students into the global tech scene.

“I admire the fact that they're doing good and making a good business,” said Jose Rasco, co-founder of Building.co and a mentor. “Since they're in Building, I see firsthand the transformation of their students from Day 1 and the value that they get from the Ironhack program. The connection that students make with the instructors and the Ironhack team is truly impressive.”

Biggest startup challenge: Running a company across the Atlantic with a six-hour time difference has proved to be a big operational challenge. “Every one of the three cities is very unique — they each have their own cultures, languages, business environments and educational systems that are very different,” Quiñones said. This makes it a challenge to scale the product and market strategies.

Next step for Ironhack: To continue delivering high value to the stakeholders Ironhack works with in Miami, including students, employers and the wider tech ecosystem, by providing students with the specific skills that will align them with what top companies in South Florida need. Through the launch of the part-time Web Development Bootcamp, Ironhack plans to increase its offering to students that may not enroll in a full-time learning experience.

Nancy Dahlberg: 305-376-3595, @ndahlberg

February 15, 2016

Spotlight: Boca Raton-based Fresh Meal Plan has appetite for high growth


Company Name: Fresh Meal Plan

Headquarters: Boca Raton; commissary opened in Edison, New Jersey, to serve customers along Northeast corridor.

Business: Gourmet “farm to table” portion controlled meals that are prepared and delivered to your doorstep for healthy lifestyle eaters on the go. Fresh Meal Plan’s mission is to help members enhance and sustain a more wholesome existence through fresh, healthy prepared meals delivered to their doors.

Story: Founder Marc Elkman’s passion for the nutritional aspect of health and fitness initially began when he started in the personal training industry. In addition to guiding people in enhancing their quality of life through exercise, he would also give his clients healthy and low- calorie recipe ideas. “I found that for my clients that it was too much work to make these meals that would lead a healthy lifestyle. Though there are other companies that provide prepared meals delivered to your doorstep, the product is usually frozen and full of preservatives.”

Fresh Meal Plan also is riding a strong trend: “We found that consumers are learning more about ingredients and health every year, and there is a rise of demand for a higher quality product,” Elkman said.

With many people now consuming four to six smaller meals a day, Fresh Meal Plan presents its members with the option to consult with a nutritionist and choose from a variety of plans starting at $95 a week to best fit their health goals. Offerings include Paleo, vegetarian and vegan, as well as plans designed specifically for weight loss and high performance athletes. Each meal contains fewer than 500 calories and is never frozen, canned or packaged. Furthermore, no additives or preservatives are used in any of the dishes.

In 2015, Fresh Meal Plan produced more than 2 million meals and projects that it will double this volume this year as it expands throughout the Eastern Seaboard. New markets in 2016 will include Atlanta, Boston, Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia, he said.

Launched: 2011

Management team: Marc Elkman, CEO; Dave Long, National Developer; Patrick Delaney, Corporate Chef; Rob Strandberg, CFO

No. of employees: 275

Website: freshmealplan.com

Financing: Completed Series A financing, seeking private equity or venture capital partner.

Recent milestones reached: Fresh Meal Plan was named the 70th fastest-growing private company in the country, 2nd fastest-growing food & beverage company in the country and third fastest-growing company in Florida on the 2015 Inc. 5000 ranking. To achieve those rankings, Fresh Meal Plan generated nearly $11 million in 2014 revenue and a 4,128 percent three-year revenue growth rate. Revenue has continued to accelerate. Today, Fresh Meal Plan is the nation’s largest “FDD” (Fresh Diet Delivery) service in the country, said Elkman.

Biggest startup challenge: Early on it was building grassroots with minimal startup funding — less than $50,000 to start.

Next steps: “Our goal is to continue scaling and growing across the country, making people healthier one Fresh Meal at a time. Our target markets for 2016 include Atlanta, Boston, Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia,” Elkman said. “To expand the brand across the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S., we plan to continue building our team and sticking to what we’ve done to get here.”

Nancy Dahlberg

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.

Website: www.mundolanugo.com.

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 wearfigs.com. 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 / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

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 tiogazpacho.com. Its biggest customers are Whole Foods, FreshDirect.com, 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.

Website: www.tiogazpacho.com.

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: https://circleup.com/c/tio-gazpacho/

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, ndahlberg@miamiherald.com