June 12, 2017

Facebook alum pulls back curtain on TheVentureCity, to be based in Miami


By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Former executives of Facebook, Google, eBay and other hyper-growth companies have come together to form a global “city” with everything a startup needs to scale internationally.

Laura headshotCo-founding the unique venture, called TheVentureCity, is Laura González-Estéfani (pictured here), former director of international business development and mobile partnerships for Facebook, and Clara Bullrich, a 20-year private banking and asset management veteran. They call it an accelerator for the global tech ecosystem.

With an “international-first” approach, the accelerator will create cross-functional bridges between key regions to scale startups on a global level, González-Estéfani said. The headquarters of TheVentureCity will be in Miami Beach, currently in the 1111 building off Lincoln Road, with a second campus in Madrid and a presence in San Francisco, with plans to expand into a number of cities worldwide by 2020, González-Estéfani she said.

“All my team has worked all over the world, they have all spent years working outside their countries of origin,” González-Estéfani said, in an interview last week. “When we see a startup that has all the right bones, we will advise where to scale first and how the product needs to be tailored for those companies.”

In addition to the international focus, the all-in-one approach for startup needs and consistent support is what will set TheVentureCity apart, said González-Estéfani, who is a native of Spain. “While others provide entrepreneurs with the initial tools to get them started, TheVentureCity is our response to the need for a solution that offers startups everything from engineering and product optimization to data analysis, guiding them throughout the entire process.”

To be considered for either theVentureCity’s 36-month incubator or 18-month accelerator program, startups that can be in any place in the world must demonstrate at least a six-month track record and solid numbers on growth and engagement metrics, not necessarily revenue. Using a data-driven approach, TheVentureCity builds on that foundation of solid data to help them make the best business decisions to achieve long-term growth. “We aren’t afraid of working with international-first companies all over the world, we just have to fall in love with the founders,” she said.

About 25 startups a year from all over the world will be selected to enter the “factory” each year. Other parts of the “city” include the “data library,” the heart of the city, the airport for internationalization, the laboratory for the product engineering and the bank for venture capital. TheVentureCity will help startups with their funding strategy and tapping into funding resources, she said.

TheVentureCity will be paid in startup equity as the partnership progresses, González-Estéfani said.

Directing the Miami campus will be Elisa Rodriguez-Vila, who formerly worked at Fusión and was part of the co-founding team at The LAB Miami. TheVentureCity is already working with 15 startups, including Boatsetter, Playground, The Fastmind and RecargaPay from South Florida.

TheVentureCity has forged partnerships with a number of entitities including Beacon Council, Startupbootcamp, Venture Café and Facebook on the local level. She said TheVentureCity has been working with Miami Dade College on a two-year degree in entrepreneurship and innovation, for instance. “We make things happen, we are not afraid of taking risks,” González-Estéfani said. “That is the mindset we want to bring here and we are learning everyday from the pioneers and we want to partner with them.”

González-Estéfani came to Miami 2 1/2 years ago with Facebook; she also worked in Facebook’s operations in Silicon Valley and Europe from 2008 to 2014. Before that she worked at eBay, Siemans and Ogilvy.

Upon arrival from Silicon Valley she noticed something quickly: a welcoming community.

“The Medinas [Manny Medina, founder of eMerger Americas] opened the door to their home to us. That is something I have never seen before in Business. "They introduced me to to everything that was happening here. That soul, that spirit, is something that I have never seen anywhere else. Everyone they introduced me to, the Knight Foundation, the Endeavor family, everyone was the same way,” González-Estéfani said.

“There must be something in the water in Miami that makes everyone so welcoming and so enthusiastic about the unknown. I found that willingness to take a risk. Hopefully I can contribute with my team to help make this one of the most exciting and vibrant ecosystems in tech around the world.”
González-Estéfani will be giving a talk about TheVentureCity at eMerge Americas at Miami Beach Convention Center on Tuesday.

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg.

Why international tech startups are making Miami their U.S. base

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

As the eMerge Americas technology conference opens on Monday, a number of international tech startups will likely be sniffing around, considering Miami for a possible launch point for their U.S. or Latin American operations.

They might want to talk to some of the recent arrivals.

Meet Solomoto, a Tel Aviv-based startup that offers a digital marketing dashboard to help small businesses take control of their online presence.

“We are an operating system for small business. Anything that you can do digitally for your small business, you should be able to do it in 30 minutes a day in one place,” said Solomoto co-founder Guy Israeli.

Solomoto checked out Miami last year and recently made the decision to base its U.S. expansion in Miami. The U.S. operations are led by Leandro Finol, former executive director of Miami Dade College’s Idea Center.

Miami, rich with small businesses, combined with its position as a gateway to Latin America, made the region a natural U.S. base, Israeli said. Plans are to soon have 10 employees, or 20 percent of Solomoto’s workforce, based here.

Solomoto, launched in 2015, recently announced a partnership with WeWork, which gives WeWork’s 30,000 members access to Solomoto’s services through WeWork’s Service Store. WeWork, a global co-working company that attracts numerous small businesses, will also be one click away for Solomoto’s customers. Solomoto also partnered with BlueVine, an online provider of credit lines for small businesses. “Both sync perfectly with our vision to help small businesses grow,” said Israeli, who said more partnerships will be announced. “Solomoto is a connection to the ecosystem of small businesses.”

About 5,000 small businesses in the U.S. are on the platform so far, but Solomoto’s real growth has been international. More than 150,000 companies from 24 countries are using the platform. “Small business owners have the same challenges no matter which market they are based in,” said Israeli, who co-founded the company with Pasha Romanovski, Solomoto’s CEO. Both have founded and run other international ventures.


[READ MORE: Why we chose Miami as the U.S. headquarters for Solomoto]

Solomoto board member Uri Levine, co-founder of Waze, will speak at eMerge; Israeli will speak at a growth hacking summit at The LAB Miami on Wednesday.

For its U.S. entry, French augmented reality startup Magic Xperience partnered with StartHub, a Miami-based co-working and accelerator company that specializes in helping international companies launch operations in the United States. Finaben, parent company of StartHub, is also an investor in Magic Xperience, part of a larger French firm called ARTech.

StartHub is helping Magic Xperience develop and sell consumer-focused augmented reality products through Walmart and 1,200 other retailers worldwide, said David Bensoussan, founder and managing director of StartHub Miami.

“We leverage local resources to fulfill the needs of our member companies launching in the U.S. market and deliver measurable growth … through our three-pillar approach: co-working, growth and acceleration,” Bensoussan said. “We have evolved and designed solutions that are adapted to the market we are in … and we offer resources and services for a company at any stage.”

StartHub has worked with about 15 consumer-centric companies, most of them international. Those include Amsellem, a Canadian company that makes dried beef snacks and KF Beauty, a United Kingdom cosmetic company with a fast-growing brand called WunderBrow, Bensoussan said. “We focus on digital strategies for revenue generation. This is how we roll.”

RELATED STORIES: Hatching a tech future: South Florida startups gain strength and Tech by the numbers

Last month, Pérez Art Museum Miami announced that Magic Xperience and StartHub will be developing an augmented reality experience for its visitors, funded with a $150,000 grant from the Knight Foundation.

The Miami-Dade Beacon Council, the county’s economic development organization, has worked with a number of international tech companies who located or relocated their U.S. operations to Miami in the past year, said Susan Greene, chief marketing officer for the council. These include Technocom from Spain, which offers IT, shipping and printing solutions; Clearsale from Brazil, a fraud prevention company; Woosh from Israel, whose patented smart water stations provide drinking water on the go in the Miami area; ThinkSmart from Spain, which develops sales-performance technology; and virtual reality company Dream VR from Spain.

In the last year, nearly half of the tech companies checking out Miami have been international, and the council has seen increasing interest from Europe, particularly from Spain and France. A trade mission to Spain in February that included visits to technology companies and accelerators in Madrid and Barcelona, for instance, yielded keen interest from more than a half dozen tech companies, said Mario Sacasa, senior vice president for international economic development for the Beacon Council, noting that four out of five companies he is working with right now are international. In addition to the cultural and global appeal of Miami, daily flights to Europe have been increasing and some countries incentivize their companies to expand beyond their borders.

This week’s Merge Americas will provide an international show of force; the conference was founded with the mission of developing a tech hub for the Americas in South Florida. The European Union and countries such as Colombia, Costa Rica and Belarus will have booths on the expo floor, and roughly 10 percent of the startups exhibiting and competing in the Startup Showcase are international, including Woosh. Keynotes include Israel-based Waze’s co-founder Uri Levine; Blanca Treviño, CEO of Mexico’s Softek; and Dave McClure, founding partner of 500 Startups who will talk about opportunities in Latin America, and there are panel discussions on Colombia, Cuba and innovation and media disruption in Latin America.

Lesley Ross Headshot (2)Kichink, a fast-growing e-commerce solutions platform in Mexico, will be there with a booth. The startup is setting up a Miami office and team to launch its U.S. operations, its first expansion outside its home country, said Kichink COO Lesley Ross. She also will be speaking at eMerge Americas on “the imminent e-commerce explosion.”

[READ MORE: As eMerge Americas evolves, what’s in store for 2017?]

Kichink provides an end-to-end e-commerce solution for small- and medium-sized enterprises, as well as corporations in web hosting, digital marketing, customer service, payment processing and pick-ups and deliveries, said co-founder Claudia de Heredia from Mexico City. She will be participating in an eMerge Americas panel on scaling across markets with fellow Endeavor companies.

Kichink launched its platform in Mexico with 60 stores in 2013; it is now used by 83,000 companies, from mom-and-pop stores to big brands including Unilever, L’Oréal, Olay and AVON.

“We already have a presence both in Miami and Silicon Valley, but we are establishing the global headquarters in Miami,” Ross said. “We have team members on board or about to be announced … Miami also strategically places us in a nice position if we expand to Europe soon after.”

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

What’s the average tech salary? How many startups are sprouting? A by the numbers look

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

As South Florida strives to develop a technology hub, here is a look at some measures of entrepreneurial and tech sector strength for the Miami area and Florida markets:

TecheggNumber of tech startups in South Florida: Hard to quantify because of the pivoting nature of startups and high failure rate, but by one measure, AngelList registrations, there are 2,761 startups and early stage companies registered on the platform, and some actively raising money, in the tri-county area. While not scientific because some of the startups are no longer active, that is up 63 percent since October 2015, when the number was 1,682, and 139 percent since 2014.

Job growth: 27.6 percent from 2012 through 2016, the top performing of the Miami-Dade Beacon Council’s seven targeted industries, according to the public-private economic development agency. By number of jobs, 10,413, technology is also the smallest of the seven targeted industries. In Broward, the tech industry employs 44,431, up 19.2 percent since 2012, according to the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance.

Average salary: Software developer for applications: $78,603 (Miami-Dade); $89,148 (Broward), according to federal labor data. The Miami-Dade Beacon Council said the average tech sector salary in 2016 was $95,087, compared to $81,406 in 2012. The Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance said the average tech sector salary in Broward County is $94,273.

Venture capital: Florida ranked seventh in the nation based on venture capital flows into Florida companies in the first quarter of the year, taking in $244.19 million, or 0.8 percent of the U.S. total, according to Pitchbook/NVCA’s quarterly venture capital report. Two-thirds of those dollars, $151.9 million, went to South Florida companies, ranking 14th among metro areas in the first quarter.

Patents per capita: Florida ranked 32nd for patents per capita in 2016, according to the Bloomberg Innovation Index. Miami nor any Florida city cracked the top 100 U.S. cities for patent activity, according to a 2017 Time magazine report.

Pipeline: South Florida ranks seventh in the nation for college students per capita. According to the 2015 edition of American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Profiles of Engineering & Engineering Technology Colleges, FIU placed fourth in the country for computer science degrees in the United States. It has ranked in the top 10 in the nation for the past five years.

RELATED STORY: Hatching a tech future: South Florida startups gain strength

Entrepreneurial activity and growth: The Miami metropolitan area ranked first among 40 big markets studied in new entrepreneurial activity in 2016, according to a study by the Kauffman Foundation published in May. But for growth, the Miami area ranked 39th out of 40th in another Kauffman study published in 2016. In 2016, 125 South Florida companies made the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies, down from 139 in 2015. For the state, Bloomberg’s 2016 U.S. State Innovation Index ranked Florida 34th, while the Milken Institute’s State Technology and Science Index for 2016 puts Florida in 41st place, falling four places since 2014.

Immigrant tech entrepreneurs: The Miami metropolitan area is No. 2 in the nation, behind San Jose, for the number of immigrant business owners with employees, according to a 2016 Kauffman Foundation study. Florida is third.

READ MORE: Miami area’s high-skilled workforce is fueled largely by immigrants

Hatching a tech future: South Florida startups are gaining strength


By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Nearpod, an education-technology startup, keeps outgrowing its Aventura offices.

“We have been doubling the company every year — in people, revenue, users, all the key metrics,” said Felipe Sommer. He co-founded the company with Guido Kovalskys and Emiliano Abramzon, three Argentine friends who have worked on ventures together for more than a decade (pictured below). Nearpod now employs 70 people and expects to be 100-strong by the end of the year.

“As you can see,” he said, motioning toward the dozens of workers in the spacious, open office, “we like to double.”


Now the company, which develops online lessons for students and teachers, will be doubling down on South Florida. Until now, Nearpod has kept some of its top management in Silicon Valley to tap talent and stay close to its Bay Area investors. Those employees, including CEO Kovalskys, the vice president of marketing and directors of content and product, will be relocating to Miami.

Nearpod and other South Florida fast-growing startups will be celebrated as the fourth annual eMerge Americas technology conference opens Monday at the Miami Beach Convention Center. At least 13,000 people are expected to attend the two-day conference, headlined by Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple; Uri Levine, co-founder of Waze; Gustavo Cisneros, founder of Grupo Cisneros; and Marcelo Claure, founder of South Florida’s Brightstar and now CEO of Sprint. eMerge will also be a show of force for the startup community: More than 125 startups will be exhibiting, while scores more will be attending.

The backdrop for the conference: a number of recent success stories in South Florida’s tech community.

In a transaction that closed last month, Dania Beach-based Chewy.com was acquired by PetSmart for about $3 billion, the largest e-commerce deal ever. Chewy CEO Ryan Cohen said the 5,000-employee unit that booked $900 million in revenue in 2016 will operate as an independent subsidiary and continue to grow in South Florida.

Modernizing Medicine, the Boca Raton health-tech company founded in 2010, raised $231 million to fund its growth. Modernizing Medicine employs more than 550 people and is booking $100 million in annual revenue.

And there’s the near-instant global technology player in cybersecurity company Cyxtera Technologies, headed by Manny Medina, who also founded Terremark Worldwide, Medina Capital and eMerge Americas. The result of a $2.8 billion transaction that closed last month, Cyxtera combines 57 data centers and four cybersecurity and data analytics companies from Medina Capital’s portfolio, and employs 1,000 people worldwide — about 100 in South Florida.

[READ MORE: Done Deal: Medina Capital, BC Partners form Cyxtera Technologies in $2.8 billion transaction]

[READ MORE: Q&A with eMerge Americas CEO Xavier Gonzalez]

“With the major successes we’re seeing like Modernizing Medicine, Chewy.com and Cyxtera — not to mention the massive potential impact of [augmented-reality technology company] Magic Leap — we are poised to have a number of very large, global technology companies based in this ecosystem,” said Xavier Gonzalez, CEO of eMerge Americas. “These companies and many others will continue to grow, innovate and attract talent from all over the world. That talent will develop new companies and bring even more interest from investors.”

The cycle, he said, points to increasing maturation of Miami’s technology sector.

Matt Haggman agrees. He is the Miami program director of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which leads the local movement to develop South Florida into a hub for technology and innovation. “Increasingly, what we are seeing is an evolution from what could be to what is now, and that is super exciting,” he said. “If you go online right now for jobs in tech, there are hundreds of jobs.”

The Knight Foundation has funded organizations and projects to develop an ecosystem since 2012, including Endeavor Miami, Miami Dade College’s Idea Center, Startupbootcamp, The LAB Miami and LaunchCode. It has committed more than $25 million in more than 200 projects in the Miami area, including recently $1.2 million to the Miami Urban Future Initiative, a joint project of Florida International University and the Creative Class Group for economic research on entrepreneurship and technology in South Florida. It also recently announced $1.2 million in new support for Code Fever’s signature event Blacktech Week, planned for September, and related programs that aim to expand opportunities for entrepreneurs of color.

RELATED STORIES: Why international tech startups are making Miami their U.S. base and Tech by the numbers

The foundation plans to continue investing in infrastructure projects and organizations that help support and accelerate the growth of an entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“We’re just getting started,” Haggman said. “If this is a nine-inning game, we are at the bottom of the first or the top of the second. The important thing to understand is that it can happen.”

Recent studies shed light on the challenges of that long game ahead. South Florida is a startup and small-business factory, sprouting more new businesses every year than any other large U.S. metro area. But growing large companies has always been a challenge for the Miami area as well as for the state.

Last year, the Miami metro area ranked 39th among the 40 largest metro areas for growth entrepreneurship. Bloomberg’s 2016 U.S. State Innovation Index ranked Florida 34th. The Milken Institute’s State Technology and Science Index for 2016 put Florida in 41st place — four places lower than in 2014. Among the components of the Milken index, the state ranked the lowest, 46th, for science and technology workforce. Other indicators show the state and South Florida lagging in patent activity and venture capital. (See related data on tech and startups here.)

“If you look at startup activity in Miami — its new venture creation — it is incredibly high. When we look at growth entrepreneurship, it’s pretty low,” said Arnobio Morelix, senior research analyst at the Kauffman Foundation and one of the authors of recent reports on startup activity and growth entrepreneurship.

Another key challenge: Miami-Dade’s technology sector is dwarfed by the service economy and its low-paying jobs. Still, by number of employees, tech is growing faster than aviation, banking/finance, creative design, tourism, healthcare and trade/logistics — all industries targeted for growth by the Miami-Dade Beacon Council, the county’s public-private economic development agency.

“The tech sector is growing faster than the overall economy,” said Jaap Donath, the Beacon Council’s senior vice president of research and strategic planning. “What we are starting to see is growth subsets linked to existing sectors, such as fintech, health IT, trade/logistics and tourism.”

By number of employees, the technology sector has grown 27.6 percent from 2012 through 2016 to 10,413 employees in Miami-Dade, according to Beacon Council data. The number of tech companies, 1,654, is up 10.9 percent, and the average salary is $95,087, up 16.8 percent — the second-highest after banking/finance.

[READ MORE: Taking telehealth to the masses is his Uber-like mission]

In Broward County, where technology is a much larger sector with the likes of Magic Leap, MDLIVE, Chewy and JetSmarter, 3,742 technology companies employ 44,431, and the average salary is $94,273. That’s up 19.2 percent from 2012, when the industry employed 37,266, according to the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance.

[READ MORE: What it’s like to run a billion-dollar startup — at age 28]

“The last five years have seen an enhancement of our tech ecosystem. For us, it is very exciting to see that growth, especially looking at potential scalability,” Donath said. “We’ve seen that with CareCloud — that was a local startup, and now [the health-tech company] is a mainstay of the Miami economy with hundreds of employees. Albert [Santalo, founder of CareCloud,] made a conscious choice to build and grow the company in Miami.”

This goes for companies focused on the Latin American market, too. “We’re seeing companies that come out of Latin America but find what they need in Miami to sell their products back into Latin America — a good example being YellowPepper, the fintech company,” said Donath. Based in Wynwood with a team of 61, YellowPepper is a pioneer and leading player in mobile payments and banking solutions in Latin America and has been recently valued by the Inter-American Development Bank at more than $100 million.

[READ MORE: Why mobile payment technology is leap-frogging in Latin America]

Community leaders point to progress on other fronts as well.

In the past year, new incubators and accelerators such as Startup FIU, Startupbootcamp and Babson WIN Lab have graduated their first cohorts, joining pioneer Venture Hive. Global fund 500 Startups has run a growth accelerator, conference and other events here; it is now planning to establish a permanent presence in Miami. Organizations such as LaunchCode and coding bootcamps train tech developers and designers and help match them with job openings.

What’s more, an international venture-builder called TheVentureCity, with Silicon Valley veterans at the helm, will be launched in Miami and was announced during eMerge Americas.

“When I came to Miami 2 1/2 years ago, the community here was very welcoming, everyone wants to meet you, every startup is welcome,” said Laura González-Estéfani, a former executive of Facebook in Miami, Silicon Valley and Europe who is now launching TheVentureCity. “It’s a tech community where you can build trust and relationships with people very, very fast. There is something definitely happening here.”

[READ MORE: How South Florida universities are revving up to be engines of innovation]

While funding is still a challenge and the region still lags badly in venture capital investment, several new funds have been announced in the past year, including Rokk3r Fuel and Las Olas Venture Capital. Local companies are attracting investment from beyond the region. They include JetSmarter, which raised $105 million in December, and Modernizing Medicine, which last month announced an investment of $231 million. Other firms — including Boatsetter, MealPal, Nearpod, Nymbus, Altor Bioscience and F1 Oncology — have each raised well north of $10 million in the last six months.

Wynwood’s Rokk3r Labs is announcing Monday the launch of 10xU, a global educational platform focused on teaching entrepreneurs to identify and assess opportunities for fast-growing, world-changing companies, as well as the nuts and bolts of team building, raising capital, scaling and exiting. Its content and programming will also be targeted at corporations whose models will likely face disruption.

10xU will become a portfolio company of Rokk3r Labs, a company builder that has worked with more than 40 startups. In March, Rokk3r announced that it launched an investment fund, Rokk3r Fuel. It aims to raise a $150 million fund — it’s not there yet — and already has invested in startups AdMobilize, Hyp3r, Taxfyle and Emerge.me. Over the next few weeks, the fund plans to announce more capital deployments, locally and globally. A second set of investments is planned in the fourth quarter, said Nabyl Charania, CEO of Rokk3r Labs.

“The growth of an ecosystem is not an overnight thing. If we wait for someone else to come in and do things for us, we will just continue to wait,” he said. “That’s why we proceeded with Rokk3r Fuel and 10xU and will continue to co-build companies, because we believe that is the best way to help an ecosystem — providing all the right tools to build world-changing companies.”

Some local serial entrepreneurs are already beginning to sprout new ventures and invest in others. After the $2 billion sale of Terremark, Medina started eMerge, Medina Capital and now Cyxtera. The $1.65 billion sale of Mako Surgical made way for co-founder Rony Abovitz to start Magic Leap, while former Mako CEO Maurice Ferré is involved with several health-tech ventures, including running the Israel-based Insightec from Miami.

Adam Boalt sold his first company, RushMyPassport.com, in 2013. Last September, Boalt sold his second tech company, LiveAnswer.com, to Stericycle, a publicly traded Fortune 1000 company. Now he is building again.

“govWorks will be launching in January 2018 and will change the way the public interfaces with the government,” Boalt said. The platform is aimed at greatly simplifying the processes for travel visas, passports, fishing licenses and other documents by storing customer information securely. An earlier company, the original govWorks, collapsed after raising $60 million. Boalt acquired the domain name: “They had a good idea that was ahead of their time, and they had challenges executing. I know the time is right now, and we have the team that can pull it off.”


Photo by Pedro Portal / Miami Herald 

govWorks (pictured above) has a team of 32 in Miami, 80 percent of them engineers. Boalt expects to add 20 more software engineers and product designers later this year.

“I’ve had opportunities to be in New York and the West Coast, but this is my home,” Boalt said. “I feel like people have doubts about Miami. I hate that. I feel like I can make a difference here.”

Other entrepreneurs have been urged to move elsewhere — sometimes by their own investors. Abovitz may be the most famous of these South Florida bulls, choosing Plantation as the base for his cutting-edge, mixed-reality technology startup, valued at an eye-popping $4.5 billion with a who’s who list of Silicon Valley and global investors, even though its initial product has yet to be released. Now Magic Leap is rumored to be raising another round of funding at a $6 billion to $8 billion valuation.

In Aventura, meanwhile, above a Bank of America office, Nearpod’s bright and open offices hum with employees at work on laptops or on the phone with customers. Two years ago, the company moved into 3,000 square feet; now Nearpod has filled 9,000 square feet, and it could already use more space.

As the co-founders demo the company’s virtual reality lessons, Abramzon explains that students virtually visit sites of history or culture like the Eiffel Tower, the Egyptian Pyramids and Checkpoint Charlie to learn about the Cold War or even concentration camps. The visits are accompanied by in-app videos, quizzes and opportunities for questions and interaction with teachers. Altogether, the VR lessons, which Nearpod began offering last year, have drawn more than 6 million views.


Photo of Emiliano Abramzon and Felipe Sommer by roberto Koltun/Miami Herald

Nearpod has users in one of every 10 schools nationwide, including more than 40 schools in the Miami-Dade and Broward County public school districts, Gulliver Prep, LaSalle, American Heritage and Pine Crest. About 4 million students worldwide view the content monthly. Nearpod also recently launched Nearpod for ELL at Miami-Dade public schools, which includes 500 ready-to-teach lessons designed specifically for non-native English speakers.

In March, Nearpod announced it had raised $21 million to fund its growth. “We are hiring for VPs of customer success and finance and a head of content,” said Abramzon. All will be based in South Florida because of its lifestyle, cost of living, diversity, growing entrepreneurial environment, strong partnerships with local schools, and support from local investors Krillion Ventures, Knight Enterprise Fund and the AGP network.

“Miami is in our DNA,” added Sommer. “We want everyone under the same roof, and that roof is going to be in Miami.”

But for all its growth, Rokk3r’s Charania believes South Florida’s startup ecosystem needs to develop more quickly: “What we need is more people from the community supporting the ecosystem. We need corporations to step into the game. We need the government and educational institutions … with a lot more impact. We’re not there yet but people are starting to pull together.”

Knight’s Haggman said it’s important to get the word out about the opportunities here: “There is still some disconnect, whether it is job opportunities, resources or funding, because there are still fixed ideas about this place, and we are changing. We are a much different place than we were, say, five years ago.”

Haggman also believes the ecosystem should connect the entire community, west of Miami’s urban corridor and well north of the Broward County line, and this isn’t the time to rest: “This is a work in progress. This is a long game.”

Nancy Dahlberg: 305-376-3595, @ndahlberg. This article was updated Monday morning.

February 20, 2017

Launch Florida initiative lifts off with 54 entrepreneurship and tech organizations

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Launch Florida, a statewide innovation coalition representing 54 organizations, announced its launch this week with a mission to foster collaboration between entrepreneurs, policymakers, business leaders, venture capitalists, philanthropists and other stakeholders in order to share knowledge and ultimately grow Florida’s innovation economy.

Launch Florida represents organizations from coding schools to universities, technology associations to startup accelerators. From South Florida members include: The LAB Miami, Building.co, SFTA, Refresh Miami, eMerge Americas, SUP-X, Ironhack, Wyncode, LaunchCode, FAU Tech Runway, Startup FIU, Research Park at FAU, Palm Beach Tech, Palm Beach Code School and the Florida institute for the Commercialization of Public Research.

“We will be the go-to resource for elected officials to help guide policy efforts supporting an innovation economy, “ said Joe Russo, executive director of the Palm Beach Tech Association and Launch Florida co-chair. 

By at least one measure, Florida has a lot of work to do if it wants to join the ranks of innovation powerhouse states. The Sunshine State ranked 34th out of 50 in The Bloomberg U.S. Innovation Index.

The organization will gather during the Launch Florida Summit May 18-19 in Orlando, coinciding with the Florida Venture Forum’s Early Stage Capital Conference. Learn more at LaunchFlorida.org

February 09, 2017

Blacktech Week receives $1.2 million in Knight funding to expand entrepreneurship programs


By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

This month’s Blacktech Weekend will bring the CEO of Y-Combinator and other tech leaders to Miami, and it is just a slice of what’s to come.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation on Thursday announced $1.2 million in new support for Code Fever’s Blacktech Week and related programs that aim to expand opportunities for black entrepreneurs.

Based in Miami, Code Fever is a non-profit organization dedicated to connecting people of color to the startup and tech ecosystem in South Florida and is run by Felecia Hatcher and Derick Pearson. In 2015, with support from Knight Foundation, Code Fever launched Blacktech Week, a six-day conference that was also held last year.

New support from Knight, awarded over three years, will go toward expanding Blacktech Week programming year-round to include Blacktech Weekend and continued monthly office hours and meetups. Code Fever will also introduce VC in Residence, a new program that will invite venture capitalists to spend a month in Miami advising and guiding minority entrepreneurs.

Hatcher said these events will continue to bring together participants eager to connect, learn and explore ideas around how to grow black entrepreneurship and make sure people of color are represented in the tech industry. “The talent and the demand are there. With our new, expanded programming, we’ll be able to provide greater year-round access to networking, mentorship and funding,” she said.  

Matt Haggman, Knight’s Miami program director, believes the funding will help Code Fever expand and deepen the impact of Blacktech Week. In addition to the signature event, a regular calendar of events will ensure an ongoing presence throughout the year while helping to create “an inclusive and equitable entrepreneurial ecosystem in Miami,” he said. The lack of diversity in the Silicon Valley tech industry is a well-documented problem with little progress made.

“We are still in the early days of building a Miami innovation ecosystem, and we want to be very intentional that this ecosystem includes the whole community. We see Black Tech Week as a key part of this effort,” said Haggman, who has spearheaded Knight’s involvement in Miami ecosystem-building. “The more the whole community is involved, the more success we will have.”

The first Blacktech Weekend — a condensed version of Blacktech Week — will take place Feb. 23-25, with a focus on business development and raising capital. Speakers include the CEO of Y-Combinator Michael Siebel, Richard Kirby of Venrock Capital and Marlon Nichols of Cross Culture Ventures, and panels and presentations will be on topics ranging from pitching investors and asset framing to storytelling and building hubs for inclusive innovation.

This year, Blacktech Week will be Sept. 25-30. The event will feature speakers from around the globe, panels, an interactive tech career fair, workshops, networking opportunities, pitch competitions, and a new government-tech track. Code Fever will also expand its monthly Blacktech meetups and office hours to better connect Miami’s black entrepreneurs with advisors, mentors and investors throughout the year.

Past speakers and panelists at Blacktech Week have included NFL Champion and AsktheDoctor.com founder Israel Idonije and Magic Leap CEO Rony Abowitz (pictured below), Maker’s Row Founder Matthew Burnett, DreamIt Ventures Managing Director William Crowder, Priceline.com co-founder Jeff Hoffman and former Twitter Engineering Manager Lesley Miley (pictured above), among many others.

Additional details about Blacktech Weekend and Blacktech Week can be found at blacktechweek.com.

Over the past three years Knight has made more than 200 investments in entrepreneurship in South Florida.

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg



Blacktech Week: Innovating, scaling, giving back

Why I quit Twitter (and turned down a seven-figure severance package)

Black Tech Week spotlights pioneers, rising stars

Numbers don’t lie: Silicon Valley still has a big diversity problem



January 16, 2017

Why we chose Miami as the US headquarters for Solomoto


CEO Pasha Romanovski, CEO of Solomoto, presents at the Startup Nation conference at the Idea Center last summer.

By Pasha Romanovski

Following my visit in May to Miami for the Startup Nation Conference at Miami Dade College's Idea Center, it became clear that the city would be the future home of Solomoto in the US. And next month we are finally making this decision a reality.

Solomoto is a global company that helps small business owner  grow online, simplifying the confusing world of digital marketing. We recently crossed the 100 000 mark of small business owners using the platform, and these entrepreneurs from Latin America, Europe and now the US are enjoying our simple dashboard to grow their business digitally in only 30 minutes a day.

 What makes Miami a good fit for us? After scouting different locations, we liked these two ingredients:

Talent – Miami has one of the most diverse populations in the US, an important fact that aligned with our team culture in both Israel and Europe. As a global company, we have found talent of every nationality to support our global growth.

Open ecosystem – Miami is an open city. In a relatively short period of time, we have met key stakeholders of the city’s growing innovation ecosystem. We get a sense of ambition and commitment to build a real tech hub, so we decided to be pioneers, not followers, and be part of this emerging hub.

What is Solomoto?

Solomoto is a digital marketing solution for small businesses. We understand that online visibility is an area many business are looking to grow, but they don’t understand its complexities or don’t have the time to dedicate to it.

Our solution is to provide an affordable alternative to agencies, a DIY platform where any small business owner can create an online presence that will help attract more consumers. With ready-made content, cross platform publishing tools for advertising and social media, a small business owner can grow his online visibility with just 30 minutes of digital marketing.  All of from one simple dashboard!

Pasha Romanovski is co-founder and CEO of Solomoto, based in Tel Aviv.

READ MORE: How to think big: Israeli entrepreneurs show how it's done


December 06, 2016

Argentina to Miami, a bridge worth building (Part 6)


By Natalia Martinez-Kalinina

Miami has a ways to go before we can truly claim the title of regional epicenter, but Argentina has long been recognized as one of the primary entrepreneurial - albeit not particularly stable - ecosystems in Latin America. Figuring out how to support Argentina’s wave of growth and appetite for engagement represents a unique opportunity to add value to the region and truly deliver on our vision as a gateway.

As a first step to test these waters, a group of us came together to co-author a full day of programming within StartupWeekBuenosAires - the largest event of its kind in Latin America-  specifically focused on how to engage with the U.S. ecosystem and market by way of Miami. Ahead of the full agenda being announced shortly, if you are interested in participating or learning more, please fill out this form.

Leading up to the event in December, we will be featuring interviews with a varied range of Argentine entrepreneurs and companies making their way to Miami. The first installments of this series have featured interviews with Balloon Group, Wolox, La Comunidad, and Oasis, Juana de Arco. For the fifth feature, we spoke with Martin Enriquez (pictured above), CEO and Co-Founder of Socialmetrix, an Endeavor company founded in Argentina but whose US expansion has been based in Miami since 2014.  

Tell us about Socialmetrix - how the company emerged, how has it changed over the years?

The idea of creating a company focused on listening to what people were saying online was something that started back in 2006. At the time, I had the chance to work with a very well-known computers brand, who had a major incident with one of their notebooks, and they were very worried about their online reputation and the impact of this episode on this notebook model sales.

After several iterations on the idea, we started up with Socialmetrix in late 2007 (formally in early 2008) in Argentina. Back then, Social Media in Latam was essentially Blogs, Forums and Message Boards. MySpace was kind of the “new thing” but wasn’t mainstream, just a few in Latam used it, and was very tied to the music community.

With a lot of effort, and our own savings invested in the company, by early 2009 we had a first product, and started our sales efforts in the region. We managed to bring a few nice brands as clients in different countries like Mexico, Chile, Argentina and Brazil. At that point the company was a startup completely, we had very little processes, we were learning which kind of professionals we needed to build our vision, and we were a bit ahead of the curve, which sometimes resulted in prospects looking at us as Martians.

All of that was progressively changing, sometimes easy but most of the time we experienced some type of growth pain, which somehow helped us to maintain our focus.

In mid 2009 we participated in La Red Innova, in Madrid, where we received a special mention as one of the most innovative companies in Iberoamerica. Later, in 2010 we were selected Endeavor Entrepreneurs by the Endeavor Foundation in Pebble Beach, CA, a very meaningful milestone for Gustavo Arjones, my co-founder, and myself. In 2011 we decided that we needed to raise capital to grow, and after having conversation with several VCs we partnered with DMGT, and since then have them as partners in the company.

Where do you see the growth and future of the company in the next years?

There is no doubt that Social Media reshaped the way we communicate with others and with brands or companies. This transformation is still happening, and there is an enormous opportunity to extract value from these conversations, helping companies to listen to their audiences and helping everybody else to get better products, better services and better overall experiences. I see Socialmetrix right in the center of this transformation, developing technology and actionable knowledge.

When did Socialmetrix come to Miami, and why?

We came in the second half of 2014, pursuing regional and multicultural accounts that were managed or lead from here, or other cities nearby.

What opportunities are you looking to find here?

A significant portion of Global Corporations have their Latin American and Multicultural Headquarters based in Miami or nearby. Being here enable us to create a conversation with these brands, understand their needs for these markets and provide a tailored set of solutions, leveraging our unique knowledge and experience in the US Hispanic market and Latin America.

What risks may you come across?

I think the biggest risk is to be too naïve. To get to Miami with the idea that the US market is open for business just because you are here, is a misinterpretation and an exaggeration of the opportunity. There is no doubt that there is an opportunity and an advantage being here, but materialize the advantage and the opportunity in form of new revenue for your company takes a lot of effort and money. The US market isn’t inexpensive, especially if you must hire top execs to execute your business development plans. Good professionals are expensive (compared to our countries in Latam) and they also require time to produce results.

So, coming to the US without having a clear understanding of costs and timing may become a very bad idea for the company.

What is the evaluation and product release/sales process in the United States?

I can only speak from my experience in my own vertical (SaaS for Social Media Listening and Analytics), having said that, although the US market is more competitive in terms of quantity of players offering solutions, and that the clients tend to be a bit more “experienced” than in Latam; the product evaluation process itself, in the US, is not that different from Latam.

Maybe this is what we experienced in Socialmetrix because in either region we engage with large corporations, who tend to have similar procurement processes no matter the country.

And so, selling to the BtoB segment in Latam is similar to selling to the BtoB segment in the US (process wise), there are other nuances to have in mind when selling in the US; like the quality of your collateral materials, the client’s toleration to errors, and the client’s expectation for the quality of a presentation/presenter.

Any lessons or advice for companies exploring similar moves?

I would suggest a few things that are obvious but in the heat and rush of your day to day may get forgotten:

*Make sure you have a clear business case to come to Miami, with a meaningful potential for your company.

*Spend as little as possible during your first months here while you research the market, get to know people and start building your network.

*Since day 1 dedicate yourself to business development. This single activity will give you a clear understanding of the market and your real opportunity here.

*Get your marketing materials revised by a native English speaker with experience in your industry. Miami might be considered “the capital of Latin America” but in business everybody speaks English and expect to have materials and documentation in this language.

*If you can afford it, and after validating yourself that there is an actual business opportunity, hire a native Business Development professional with experience in your industry and an existing client base.

*Make sure you run your numbers and that you have enough financial resources to sustain this new venture for at least 18 months (ideally 24 mo).Plan beforehand, what will you do and how will you do it if sales don’t take off and the opportunity don’t materialize as new revenue.

From the perspective of the Latin American entrepreneur, what do you expect as a contribution from Miami?

Although there are a few initiatives putting together professionals from Global Corporations who are based in Miami, I still feel the lack of a more connected entrepreneur community with corporations, and some sort of incentive for these corporations to create links with local entrepreneurs.

From this same perspective, what do you think Miami can do better to become a true value-adding "hub" in the region and support entrepreneurs who come here?

I think Miami could “teach” Latin American Entrepreneurs how to do business in the US. The city itself is a crossover of cultures, that, well managed, could add great value for those entrepreneurs who don’t have the experience or the knowledge about the US business culture.

Organizations like Endeavor have talked a lot about the Argentine model (not just the shortcomings, but the great achievements and opportunities). What do you think Miami can learn from Argentina’s case?

I think that Argentina, with its own shortcomings, has done a good job at creating a small but true entrepreneurial ecosystem around Tech, where successful entrepreneurs are now investors and advisors, and are also helping new entrepreneurs build their companies.

Miami probably still needs to figure out which industry / vertical will have as a main focus, and then help entrepreneurs build a few success stories around that. There’s probably no magic recipe, it takes time and a lot of people involved, pushing for (more or less) the same outcome.

Do you see potential for collaboration and bridge-building between the entrepreneurial ecosystem and the creative economies in Buenos Aires and Miami? Why or why not?

If Miami can effectively become a meaningful stage for Latin American entrepreneurs, where they can showcase their companies to the rest of the US, and maybe other developed countries, I believe there is a great opportunity for collaboration.

Natalia Martinez-Kalinina is the General Manager of CIC Miami and the Founder of Awesome Foundation MIAMI. If you are an Argentine company looking to expand to Miami or a Miami-based entrepreneur/investor looking to connect with the argentine ecosystem, please reach out to Natalia at martinez@cic.us


November 30, 2016

Magic City, an innovation district, coming to Little Haiti

Innovation center

Artist's renderings show what the innovation center in Magic City could look like (above) and the renovation of the Dupuis building (below)

Dupuis buildling (10)


By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

The Magic City will get a namesake innovation district with art, entertainment, technology and sustainability at its core, if the vision of a group of real estate developers, investors and entrepreneurs comes to fruition. In Brickell? Downtown? Wynwood? Nope. Little Haiti.

Bob Zangrillo, a Silicon Valley investor and CEO of Dragon Global, and Tony Cho, a Miami real estate developer and CEO of Metro 1, will announce plans Wednesday for Magic City, a 15-acre mixed-use development focused on creating an innovation district in the historic Miami neighborhood once known as Lemon City.

“Four years ago, Tony and I teamed up because we had a shared vision for an innovation district in Miami,” Zangrillo said. “We want to embrace the history. We want to create jobs in the community and foster companies that want to give back to [community] education programs and support the kids. That’s our goal, and we’re out there, and we think this is going to be transformative for Miami.”

The first phase of Magic City will bring art and entertainment to the emerging district and will include a sculpture garden, the 30,000-square foot-Magic City Studios and the 15,000-square-foot Factory, both of which will initially be used for events, an innovation center and an amphitheater, with the aim of creating a walkable campus-like neighborhood.

Initial tenants include Salty Donut, Aqua Elements, Photopia, Baby Cotton, ICA (Institute of Contemporary Art), Wynwood Shipping and etnia Barcelona. The project so far has been self-financed. Cho and Zangrillo, co-founders of Cho Dragon Management, say that are seeking strategic capital from private investors and will likely seek public financing.  

Their team plans to renovate a 15,000-square-foot building as an innovation center for incubating startups, co-working and entrepreneur collaborations, aiming to open it by early 2018. But the building will also be an incubator for a much larger built-from-ground-up innovation center they plan further along in the project. More office and retail space, affordable workforce housing, including micro-units, and possibly a boutique hotel are in the longer-range plans, they said.

At an event at 5 p.m. Wednesday at 401 NE 62nd St., Cho and Zangrillo plan to accompany the announcement of their Magic City vision with the unveiling of five large art pieces including artist Laura Kimpton’s “Magic.” Zangrillo commissioned the piece for Magic City (also Miami’s nickname) and it was first shown at the Burning Man festival this summer. They will also kick off a partnership with the III Points Art Basel Concert Series. [More information at the end of this article.]

III Points will be producing a series of nightly concerts at Magic City Studios and the Factory through Sunday. “Tony provides the right energy we need to work with,” said III Points CEO David Sinopoli. “When he revealed to us the whole scope of [the district], we felt very confident that our visions are aligned with what were trying to do in a city that is evolving and growing in areas that are not very discovered.”

Drive around the properties today, roughly between Northeast 60th and 64th Streets and Northeast Second Avenue and the railroad tracks, and you’ll see a gritty area with a number of industrial buildings slated for adaptive repurposing under Cho and Zangrillo’s plan. The property Cho Dragon owns also includes the century-old Magic City Trailer Park, which today is a demolition zone but soon will be a “beautiful green space and a sculpture garden,” Zangrillo said. They hope to renovate the adjacent historic but dilapidated Dupuis building, he said..

You may need to put on your visionary glasses to see what they see, but the area today is not unlike Wynwood a decade ago, said Cho, who has been heavily involved in the development of Wynwood into the artsy hipster neighborhood it is now.

“We are investing money, cleaning things up, bringing more street lights and security in the neighborhood; we’re bringing in art, creating jobs,” Cho said. “I see Miami melding as an urban node. These are all becoming very interesting neighborhoods.”

Zangrillo, who lives in Miami, is a veteran investor and executive in the social networking, entertainment media, e-commerce, mobility and software industries and has diversified in Miami commercial real estate development. As the founder of Metro 1, Cho has been a pioneering force in the redevelopment of Miami’s urban core neighborhoods.

“One of the things I am super-passionate about is creating unique, interesting neighborhoods that have a positive impact on the environment. Bob brings a unique perspective to the real estate game ... and that is supporting innovative companies and bringing in the technology component,” Cho said. “We are combining our talents in an area that is up and coming and really trying to offer something that is new and exciting.”

Zangrillo and Cho began looking for property that met certain requirements. Mass transit access and an exit off I-95 were key. Cho wanted high ground and vegetation. It needed to be walking distance to great neighborhoods, but at the same time, have its own identity. It had to be affordable for young entrepreneurs to set up shop.

Rising real estate prices and rents in nearby neighborhoods — such as Wynwood and the Design District to the south and MiMo to the east — opened the door for this emerging neighborhood. In 2014, artists began leaving Wynwood and moving to the Little Haiti/Little River areas, some of them buying their gallery spaces so they wouldn’t be priced out. Developer interest began to intensify, too. In recent months, that has been followed by restaurants, mixed-use retail buildings and startup offices.

Innovation districts are thriving or developing in Boston/Cambridge, New York, Seattle, Philadelphia and Los Angeles as well as London, Barcelona, Berlin, Stockholm, Medellin and many other cities, according to a Brookings Institution report. Typically, an innovation district is a clustering of tech companies, incubators, co-working and public spaces, services and cafés as a way to accelerate the growth of a tech ecosystem, an effort supported locally by the Knight Foundation and eMerge Americas, among others. Often but not always, these are anchored by a large tech company or a university. Many are in walkable-bikeable urban downtown-midtown areas close to public transportation and contain housing. “These assets, taken together, create an innovation ecosystem — the synergistic relationship between people, firms, and place that facilitates idea generation and advances commercialization,” the report’s authors said. Still, the innovation district moniker is prone to misuse, they warned: “Labeling something innovative does not make it so.”

To be sure, Magic City is not the only local team trying to develop an innovation district or a live-work-play-innovate area conducive to entrepreneurs and millennials. Michael Simkins is developing a 10-acre innovation district in downtown Miami with plans for offices, co-working, micro-units, expo spaces and park-like corridors, but the timeline has been held up over plans for the development’s controversial Innovation Tower. Meanwhile, the Cambridge Innovation Center leased nearly the entire UM Life Science and Technology Park on the edge of Overtown for CIC Miami, a co-working center and community events space. Founder Time Rowe has said that CIC could anchor an innovation district, citing its location near the urban core and within Miami’s health district. The life science park was recently renamed Converge Miami.

Moving north, while not calling it an innovation district, Moishe Mana is developing Mana Wynwood, a 25-acre mixed-use development with office space for tech companies as well as co-working, gathering spaces and housing for entrepreneurs and young professionals. And in Little River north of the future Magic City, there are mixed-use projects as well as the artsy co-working space MADE at The Citadel. Slated to open late next year is The Citadel, a food hall that will house multiple culinary concepts, retail outlets, creative workspaces and a rooftop bar.

Saying he doesn’t want a “copy and paste” of another neighborhood, Cho said Magic City should provide solutions for an urban area that needs workforce housing and more infrastructure for entrepreneurs. He said they would like to help homegrown businesses, specifically in food and beverage, health and wellness, sustainability and technological innovation.

“We hope to be involved in incubating and accelerating entrepreneurs and technologies that help to solve the problems for Miami and the U.S and world,” Cho said. “We do have issues that are pressing — that’s why we chose an area 18 feet above sea level.”

Look at what street art and businesses such as Panther Coffee did for Wynwood. “We will find our own vibe,” Cho said. “Magic City is going to be its own destination.”

Nancy Dahlberg: 305-376-3595; @ndahlberg

November 29, 2016

Argentina to Miami, a bridge worth building (Part 4)

  Rio - Villa

Oasis' hotel 2.0 concept features properties like this one in Rio.


By Natalia Martinez-Kalinina

Miami has a ways to go before we can truly claim the title of regional epicenter, but Argentina has long been recognized as one of the primary entrepreneurial - albeit not particularly stable - ecosystems in Latin America. Figuring out how to support Argentina’s wave of growth and appetite for engagement represents a unique opportunity to add value to the region and truly deliver on our vision as a gateway.

As a first step to test these waters, a group of us came together to co-author a full day of programming within StartupWeekBuenosAires - the largest event of its kind in Latin America-  specifically focused on how to engage with the U.S. ecosystem and market by way of Miami. Ahead of the full agenda being announced shortly, if you are interested in participating or learning more, please fill out this form.

ParkerLeading up to the event in December, we will be featuring interviews with a varied range of Argentine entrepreneurs and companies making their way to Miami. The first installments of this series have featured interviews with Balloon Group, Wolox, and La Comunidad. For the fourth feature, we spoke with Parker Stanberry (pictured here), Co-Founder and CEO of Oasis, a disruptive hospitality group that relocated its headquarters to Miami two years ago.

Tell us about Oasis. How was the company started? What has been the trajectory? How do you see its future growth and development?

I hatched the idea in 2007 based on my own experiences as an international traveller and then expat in Buenos Aires. I just felt there was a need for a better and more immersive traveller experience than hotels could provide.

In 2008 I partnered with two other Americans who knew Buenos Aires well, put together about $20K of start-up capital, and launched in early 2009. So it was a true startup in the early days. We had some success in BA and raised $100K, then opened Sao Paulo and Punta del Este, which proved the concept enough to raise $600K. Then in 2013 that we raised a Series A and were able to really hit the gas in terms of expansion.

Now we’re in 22 cities in 12 countries, and earlier this year did a Series B with AccorHotels. With additional capital and the institutional support of a partner like Accor, the goal is to really ramp up and reach 100 markets. Our goal is to build the first global brand around this “hotel 2.0” concept.

When did you/Oasis come to Miami and why?

We decided to move the HQ here in 2014, as a natural base from which to pursue a global strategy. It’s geographically ideal, lower cost than a NYC (which would have been our other option), and obviously very international. I myself moved up here last year.

What kinds of opportunities are you looking for here? What aspects or risks worry you?

I think more than a specific opportunity, it’s the factors that I mentioned above. It just checks some key boxes for us at this stage of the company’s trajectory.

The 2 worrying aspects to me are, first, access to later-stage capital. It seems that the seed and angel stage ecosystem is developing quite well, but there aren’t any funds doing B/C/D stage rounds. That’s less a worry for us now with Accor on board and good relationships with some NY-based funds.

The other is scarcity of talent. There are certainly some great people around, but nowhere near the density of young professional talent as you’d find in a major US or European city. Now the flipside of that is that there are also fewer opportunities, so when you do find the right person, there is less competition for them and more loyalty. But I think the depth of the talent pool is something that the folks involved in trying to build this ecosystem have to put some serious thought into.

From the perspective of a Latin American entrepreneur/founder, what advantages does Miami have?

Well, I’m kind of a pseudo-Latin American entrepreneur, since I’m from the US, but sure, for the purposes of this question, I can play up the LatAm angle. Advantages are a) proximity to the region, b) tremendous amount of back and forth of people between Miami and the region, c) ability to ease in culturally, d) fact that many LatAm HQs are here, so it’s actually easier to reach regional decision makers in Miami than in BA or Mexico City or Sao Paulo.

In light of this perspective, what can Miami do better to become a true value-adding “hub” for the region?  

The city needs to find a way to get some larger funds active here. And I think that organizations doing some more explicitly cross-border focused programs, talks, workshops would be great, such as the LAB did a few weeks back with an Argentina focus.

Organizations like Endeavor have talked at length about the “Argentine Model,” but Argentina is also a country that has lived through rocky political and economic cycles. What do you think Miami can learn from the Argentine case?

I’m not an expert on this so don’t have too strong of an opinion. But when looking at the Argentine model, I do feel that the original impetus for the movement has a good bit to do with luck - a few incredible entrepreneurs happened to build great companies in the late 90s, and that lead to the network effect that Endeavor points to. The great thing was that Endeavor was there in Argentina at that time, and really able to seize the moment and amplify the effect and influence of those 3 big success stories. So while maybe you can’t will those first success stories to happen, you, as a city or group of organizations in a city, can certainly be proactive in recognizing them and capitalizing on them.

That being said, you’re right - at a macro level it’s not like Argentina has been a model, and there haven’t been any majorly impactful start-ups, on a global scale I mean, since Globant. Meanwhile Sweden, a country 1/5th the size of Argentina, has created 4-5 [need to check that] unicorns in the past 8 or so years. So obviously the macro context is important, and is certainly an advantage that Miami has over Buenos Aires.   

Do you see potential for collaboration and bridge-building between the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Buenos Aires and the one in Miami? Why or why not?

Sure, there is no reason not to. There is a lot of commonality of language, a natural affinity between the two, and certain industries that are quite important in both cities (tech, real estate, hospitality come to mind). But again, that being said, the macro context in Argentina is so challenging, which begs the question of whether there are other US cities that have thrived in the recent years (Austin for example) that would make sense to study and forge connections to.

Natalia Martinez-Kalinina is the General Manager of CIC Miami and the Founder of Awesome Foundation MIAMI. If you are an Argentine company looking to expand to Miami or a Miami-based entrepreneur/investor looking to connect with the Argentine ecosystem, please reach out to Natalia at martinez@cic.us

[This is part 3 of a series. Read part 1 here - Honey vs. Vinegar: How are we luring and keeping the companies we want in Miami?, part 2 here and part 3 here]