Want to know about Miami startups? A user's guide to this blog

Dear reader, Starting Gate has been providing and archiving South Florida startup and tech community news, views and resources since 2012. New to the Miami area? Thinking about relocating here? Just want to keep up with news, events and opportunities? We're there for you.

How to use Starting Gate: Besides scrolling the blog for the latest entries, you can access news and views by category. The "Funding" category will capture venture capital and angel funding news of individual startups as well as stories about funders. The startup categories chronicle news and my regular "Spotlights," and in Q&As you'll find interviews with CEOs and leaders in the entrepreneurship ecosystem. There are also categories for guest posts, views, accelerators/incubators, resources, events and more.

Have news? Have an idea for a guest post? Send it to me at ndahlbergbiz@gmail.com. (See my Facebook announcement here)

Thank you for your support through the years and please come back often. Follow me on Twitter @ndahlberg. - Sincerely, Nancy Dahlberg

March 28, 2018

Miami serial entrepreneur Albert Santalo announces his next big tech venture: 8base

Santalo

"8base has an enormous democratizing effect by affording businesses of all shapes and sizes the ability to digitally transform without enormous budgets or timeframes” - Albert Santalo

 

It’s not every day when a successful South Florida serial entrepreneur officially announces his or her next venture. This is one of those days.

Albert Santalo, founder of CareCloud and Avisena, is bringing 8base out of stealth mode. 8base is a platform and ecosystem for software development. The venture, incorporated in March 2017, has so far been funded by Santalo and angel investors in South Florida and Boston.

According to Santalo, 8base will allow citizen developers, or people with limited technical proficiency, to build and host their own enterprise software without having to contract software developers. It also allows engineers around the world to contribute new capabilities to the platform and earn one-time or recurring compensation in the process, he said. The product can be used to build blockchain as well as traditional software applications, something its competitors don't offer, Santalo said.

Market research firm IDC estimates that $2 trillion will be spent worldwide over the next five years on digital transformation initiatives. "8base has an enormous democratizing effect by affording businesses of all shapes and sizes the ability to digitally transform without enormous budgets or timeframes,” Santalo said in an email on Wednesday.

One of the pillars of a healthy startup ecosystem is exiting entrepreneurs launching and investing in new ventures, and Santalo has been doing that. He was most recently CEO of Miami healthcare-tech company CareCloud, raising more than $55 million in venture funding and building it in six years to hundreds of employees and customers before the founder stepped down nearly three years ago. Before that, he founded and led another health-tech software company, Avisena.

Before making a mark in health-tech, Santalo, with an MBA from FIU, worked in fintech and in management consulting in numerous industries and functional areas of business.

“8base is the culmination of 30-plus years spent building large, expensive systems over and over again. 8base makes the process easy and inexpensive. We believe that a pure technology company like this can make an enormous impact on South Florida,” said Santalo, an avid cyclist.

8base is already a team of 16, including some former CareCloud employees and Jax, the crypto guard dog. Stay tuned for more news about this new company, Santalo said. We will. 

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

March 22, 2018

Las Olas Venture Capital closes inaugural fund at $28.5 million

Money

Homegrown venture funds continue to take root and strengthen in South Florida.

The latest news: Las OIas Venture Capital announced on Thursday the closing of its inaugural venture capital investment fund, Las Olas VC I LP, at $28.5 million.

The fund has already been making a mark in South Florida: South Florida startups Plum, the maker of an innovative wine appliance, digital health company CarePredict, which tracks health of the elderly, and real estate-tech company Reloquest, a temporary housing platform, are portfolio companies. "We are aiming to be extremely active - ideally we want to find four to six great deals every year," said Mark Volchek, one of LOVC's founding partners.

The fund invests in seed and Series A-stage B2B startups in areas such as enterprise software, tech-enabled business services, financial technology and education technology, among others. The fund seeks to deploy up to $1 million investments and reserves up to an additional $2 million per company for follow-on rounds.

"We are incredibly pleased that the market has been so receptive to early stage venture capital here in Florida. There has historically been a gap at this stage where we invest, companies looking for $1-3 million funding rounds, and many excellent companies have had to relocate to established venture capital sources like Silicon Valley to receive funding," Volchek said in a news release. "We at LOVC believe there is huge untapped opportunity investing in companies outside of those established ecosystems."

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March 21, 2018

500 Startups decides to 'double down' on Miami, opens office for Florida, Latin America

Miami skyline

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlbergbiz@gmail.com

In a surprise to almost no one in Miami’s startup scene, 500 Startups is putting down deeper roots in the Magic City.

If you’ve been reading Starting Gate, you know that 500 Startups has been holding programs and events here, including a Series A accelerator and a PreMoney conference. The Silicon Valley company, which has invested in more than 2,000 startups in 60 countries, is an investor in a number of South Florida startups, including (at the risk of leaving some out) Home61, FIGS, Court Buddy, Alta5 and Senzari.

Now the venture fund and accelerator company is opening a large office in Miami, where it will host an expanded menu of programs and serve as its base for South Florida, Latin America and other markets in the eastern U.S., Managing Partner Bedy Yang told Bloomberg in its report Tuesday. 500 Startups has about $400 million under management in multiple funds, said Yang, who has been a speaker at several Miami area events.

 “Today, we believe the Miami entrepreneurial ecosystem is at an inflection point, with more high-potential founders launching locally than ever before. Further, we believe the city is uniquely poised to become a global hub for entrepreneurship and innovation that will hopefully connect South Florida with Silicon Valley, the East Coast, Latin America, Europe, Africa and beyond,” wrote Ana Paula Gonzalez, who has been on the ground for more than a year leading the efforts to establish a larger presence here, in a blog post announcing the news today.

CEO Christine Tsai said in a statement: “We believe Miami is a key market for us to double down on and continue to serve all three parts of that mission,” Tsai took over the reins of the company after Dave McClure resigned when his sexual misconduct toward women was brought to light.

Helping to fund the Miami endeavor is the Miami Downtown Development Authority, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Visa.

500 Startup Miami’s offices will be in downtown Miami at Mindwarehouse, where it will have about 7,200 square feet. Programs will include founder bootcamps, accelerator programs, corporate innovation programs, demo days and more. Learn more about 500 Startups Miami here.

Welcome (officially) to Miami, 500 Startups.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

UPDATE: Read more in the Miami Herald's report here.

January 23, 2018

Perry Ellis International, The LAB Miami and AGP team up for fashion pitch opportunity

Startups and suits don’t mix – or is that changing? New opportunities linking startups and Corporate America are beginning to grow in South Florida.

And if you are a fashion-tech, ecommerce or retail entrepreneur, this new pitching opportunity may be for you. Miami-based Perry Ellis International, a leading multi-billion dollar apparel designer, distributor and licensor, is teaming up with The LAB Miami’s venture builder, LAB Ventures, and angel network AGP Miami to launch Pitch to PERY (Perry Ellis International’s stock symbol), a search for the next great startup revolutionizing the fashion, e-commerce and retail industries.

Pitch to PERY is focused on finding novel solutions to some of retail’s biggest opportunities. Some of these could be driving brand awareness, increasing e-commerce sales, enhancing consumer in-store experience, and introducing new Internet of Things (IoT) products to PEI’s roster of brands, which include Perry Ellis®, An Original Penguin® by Munsingwear®, Laundry by Shelli Segal®, Cubavera®, Callaway® and Peony & Me®.  Building on the momentum of the company’s 50th anniversary, Pitch to PERY is part of a broader future-focused approach, which seeks to apply a digital mindset, technology and product innovation to PEI’s family of brands, the company said.

 "Our vision is to continue embracing our entrepreneurial spirit, foster our ability to adapt to change and integrate technology into our business strategy,” said Oscar Feldenkreis, CEO and President of Perry Ellis International, in a news release.

Through the competition, startups and entrepreneurs will receive private pitch-coaching from LAB Ventures, spend a day at PEI’s headquarters and ultimately, pitch their ideas in person to PEI executives during the Pitch to PERY Finals Night in March. The winning team will work with PEI and The LAB Miami to develop and implement a pilot program for their respective product or service, and have an opportunity to earn a long-term contract with PEI.

“When we started LAB Ventures our idea was always to try to build a bridge between corporations looking for external sources of innovation and startups looking for customers.  The one thing an early stage startup needs even more than investment capital is a marquee reference customer.” Said Thomas “Tigre” Wenrich, CEO of The LAB Miami and LAB Ventures.    “So when Perry Ellis International told us they wanted to meet local startups that might be able to provide technology relevant to their business, we jumped at the chance to help.”

Applicants are encouraged to attend The Future of Tech & Pitch to PERY Launch Night at The LAB Miami’s Wynwood offices on the evening of Wednesday, January 24 to meet executives from Perry Ellis International and learn specific details about the challenges they are looking to solve. The event will also feature a panel discussion with industry experts about where the worlds of fashion and retail are heading, and how startups can work with large corporations.

Applicants should preferably be companies with demonstrated proof-of-concepts, established client base and preliminary funding. To apply and learn more, visit: http://www.pitchtopery.com or visit the Pitch to PERY event page HERE.

It isn’t surprising to Wenrich that the Pitch to Pery Launch Night is already seeing a lot of signups on Eventbrite.

It’s part of a larger mission at The LAB to connect startups and corporations. Last year, LAB Ventures worked with Visa and Finnovista on the first annual Visa Everywhere startup search for the Latin America region, and coming up on Feb. 12, LAB Ventures will be present the finals of its TravelTech pitch competition at the Future of Travel Summit (www.FutureOfTravel.Miami).  That is another event that brings together not only startups and investors in TravelTech, but also corporate executives from the traditional travel companies, Wenrich said.

January 04, 2018

Knight Foundation chooses AGP's Raul Moas to run Miami program

Raul moas


Raul Moas has been selected as the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Miami program director. He starts in his new post March 1.

 

Moas, already a civic leader and social innovator, will lead Knight’s initiatives in Miami, which are primarily focused on the arts and entrepreneurship. He will take the reins from Chris Caines, who served as interim director since Matt Haggman resigned last year to run for U.S. Congress in House District 27.  

 

Moas is currently managing director of AGP Miami, an angel investor network that brings together early-stage investors to support South Florida's most promising tech startups, a leadership role he assumed in 2016.  In the last four years, AGP has grown to nearly 100 active investors and has made more than 24 investments in South Florida companies totaling more than $7 million. 

 

Before joining AGP, Moas was executive director for Roots of Hope, an international nongovernmental organization focused on youth empowerment in Cuba where Moas led the creation of programs such as StartUp Cuba. Maos is also a member of the Global Shapers Miami Hub, the young professional arm of the World Economic Forum, and was a member of Class VIII of The Miami Foundation's Miami Fellows program. 

 

“Raul has a strong track record supporting Miami’s innovators. His insight and commitment to this city will enable Knight Foundation to continue to invest in the people connecting and empowering the city’s burgeoning entrepreneurial community,” said Sam Gill, Knight Foundation vice president for communities and impact, in a news release.  

 

Moas, who has also been a tax associate at global consulting firm EY’s Miami office, earned a Master of Science in taxation and a Bachelor of Business Administration at the University of Miami, and is a licensed CPA in Florida. 

 

"As a Miami native, I am especially thrilled to be joining Knight Foundation in realizing our city's potential to be a global hub where exceptional people and ideas thrive,” said Moas, in a statement. “We are a complex and dynamic community, full of incredible entrepreneurs, artists and civic leaders, who are all eager to build a better Miami. I look forward to advancing this goal together.” 

 

In the last five years, the Knight Foundation under Haggman's leadership has made building and supporting an entrepreneurial ecosystem an important focus of Knight's work.  Knight has made more than 200 investments in entrepreneurship organizations and projects. It has funded the launch  of organizations such as Endeavor Miami, the Miami Dade College Idea Center, LaunchCode Miami, StartupBootcamp Digital Health, Blacktech Week and AGP Miami. 

 

 

 

December 28, 2017

Q&A: Natalia Martinez-Kalinina weighs in on Miami’s entrepreneurial ecosystem

Natalia2 martinez biz cmg

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlbergbiz@gmail.com

Two years ago, Cambridge Innovation Center announced it would be expanding to Miami, taking most of the space in the University of Miami Life Science & Technology Park, which is now called Converge Miami. And at that time it made a bold prediction: that it would quickly become a hub for entrepreneurship in Miami.

Natalia Martinez-Kalinina, an organizational psychologist and strategist focused on merging innovation, entrepreneurship and community impact, led the expansion as general manager, and CIC Miami opened about a year ago, taking up nearly 80,000 square feet for offices, co-working and events. It plans to expand another 50,000 feet in future buildings planned for Converge.

CIC already houses more than 220 organizations, a vibrant mix of startups, small businesses and nonprofits in multiple sectors. Thursday evenings have quickly become a networking hub with CIC’s nonprofit partner Venture Cafe typically hosting a dozen or so community events that are free and open to the public.

As its first year comes to a close, CIC Miami and UM have launched Converge Labs, shared wet lab spaces available to university startups and researchers. The spaces will be available to the greater community as well after Jan. 1.

CIC also now has an arts program, a Latin American soft-landing program with Chile, Colombia and Argentina signed on as partners, and it is getting ready to launch a Corporate Innovation Program that is focused at connecting corporates with startups and vice versa.

“It is something that CIC in other cities is known for, and we are taking a different spin at it here in Miami,” Martinez-Kalinina said.

“The objective of CIC Miami is not to build a building or a set of buildings, but to build a community, create a true place of convergence, and add tangible value and momentum behind our city’s progress. As such, our walls should feel permeable for anyone, not just our clients. Although a chunk of our programming is internal, most of it is either fully or partially open to the public, so we hope that any participant in the innovation, entrepreneurship, or research sectors in Miami can benefit,” she said.

The Herald spoke with Martinez-Kalinina recently about CIC and the Miami entrepreneurial ecosystem, and followed up with questions via email. Here are excerpts of the conversation.

You have said you hoped CIC Miami would become an engine of innovation and a hub of collaboration in Miami. How do you think CIC is doing?

We have a long road ahead, but are very proud of the first year that both CIC and Venture Café have had in Miami. Both organizations have designed an inclusive, comprehensive vision that is largely informed by our trajectory in other cities over the last 18-plus years, but also very specific to the moment of growth stage that Miami is in.

The feedback we have gotten from our partners, visitors, and other stakeholders has reinforced that our mission is coming to life, and our high net promoter score (88) has been an indicator that our clients feel they can thrive and grow with us.

Year one was marked by experimentation, in which your team tried many new programs. What exceeded your expectations that will most surely be continued?

The focus of our first year was all about piloting, bootstrapping, and adjusting from feedback. Fortunately, several initiatives have truly exceeded our expectations.

One was the launch of our Latin American collaborations and closed agreements with both public and private entities in Argentina, Chile, and Colombia. Since then, we've advised entrepreneurial missions, connected startups to investment opportunities, helped to soft-land entrepreneurs, and provided other resources to our partners.

Since opening, we have launched a long list of CIC-led internal and external programming, including our ongoing “Future of” series on Fintech, travel/hospitality, health, education, law, corporate social responsibility (CSR), et al. The communities that are forming around each of these topics and the high level of engagement they have brought have signaled to us that this was truly needed and is adding real value.

Along the same lines, seeking to connect South Florida’s entrepreneurs with investors, we have done several recurring events and workshops (such as AntiPortfolio) focused on activating/educating more local investors, as well as provided ongoing investor office hours.

After hearing a lot of talk about how the arts and business sectors need to come together and learn from each other, we launched The Creator’s Lounge to provide artists, makers and performers the resources they need to bring their talents to market, collaborate within diverse industries, and build the supportive community they need.

And what was most surprising or challenging?

In other cities where CIC is located, we have seen remarkable engagement from corporations. They not only house portions of their innovation, small business, or R&D groups within CIC for proximity to the entrepreneurial scene, but move significantly beyond that by designing programming that places them front and center in these conversations.

In Miami, we heard about a much-talked about disconnect between how our enterprise sector engages with innovation, and we can attest that working at this interaction has been slower than we expected.

For this reason, we have launched a Corporate Innovation program, based on a history of fruitful experiences at other CIC locations and aimed at plugging in our local enterprises into the startup ecosystem.

What’s ahead for 2018?

If 2017 was our year of experimentation, 2018 will hopefully be the year of us growing and deepening across all of our objectives. The Converge Labshared wet laboratory pilot has been so successful within its first three months that we are doubling it in size. Our investor initiatives will continue to grow, connecting local startups and entrepreneurs with more and more national and international investors via our virtual office hours and visiting programming.

Most notably, our established partnerships will begin to bear fruit. Our Latin American collaborations are due to ramp up in the volume of startups we see, joint events we execute, and the creation of our digital resource library for Latin American startups (to be housed within our Why.Miami project). And 2018 will be the first year that Babson College’s expanded graduate curriculum is operational in Miami.

More broadly, how do you see the South Florida entrepreneurial ecosystem developing?

First and foremost, I believe our next chapter will be defined by how well we learn to collaborate; this goes for our universities, institutions, public-private touchpoints, corporations, entrepreneurs.

Secondly, I see us challenging ourselves and each other to think bigger with our ideas and push outside of Miami and Florida more aggressively with funding and scaling strategies. We need to define what success looks like outside of our own backyard earlier and better.

Thirdly, I see us learning to better optimize our resources into real strategic advantages. This includes truly taking advantage of the demographic/migration patterns in South Florida and better delivering on our position sandwiched in the hemisphere. It also includes elevating the innovation narrative and focusing resources around disrupting and advancing the industry verticals that are already our strengths (logistics, health, hospitality, real estate, et al.)

From CIC sitting in the middle of the health district, have you and your team seen a need to expand programing or services for this industry?

Yes, of course. In fact, one of the pillars of our strategic plan is to be a place of convergence between the life sciences/health sector and the rest of the innovation corridor in our city, both physically and figuratively. It is the reason why have wet laboratory facilities for chemical and biological research in addition to our office and coworking spaces. It is also the reason we piloted the shared Converge Lab with The University of Miami, which has expanded to include referrals from other universities and will be open to non-university affiliated research startups starting January 2018.

Lastly, since more than 60 percent of the companies housed at CIC are life sciences or health related, we have designed ongoing programming focused on their needs — from health investor in-person and virtual office hours and working groups and sessions with pharmaceutical, hospital, and institutional representatives to our ongoing “future of health” public-facing events in collaboration with Health 2.0.

In your view, what one or two ingredients are still needed in the entrepreneurial ecosystem?

We need a much larger and more engaged/capacitated class of local pre-seed and seed investors willing to fund South Florida based companies and be active in their development. We also need more local/state government support. Strengthening innovation and entrepreneurship should be a priority for our local public sector, and that entails the deployment of funds to incentivize talent creation, new initiatives, and direct investment.

Local government should co-lead how we connect and collaborate with innovation hubs across the region in substantive ways. Several city and regional governments around the world are setting a high and thoughtful bar for these priorities, and Miami needs to follow suit.

How best can universities play a role?

Universities play several truly invaluable roles. First, they educate the entrepreneurs, professionals, thinkers and creatives of the next generation. The impact they can have by not just inspiring, but training 21st-century and entrepreneurial skills is not just important, it is imperative for the workforce of the future.

Secondly, universities should be leaders in the commercialization of research, thus helping nudge existing markets, as well as create new ones. This is part of why we are excited to have The University of Miami as such a closer partner in the broader mission of the Converge Innovation District, and are looking forward to moving this larger vision forward in 2018.

Thirdly, it has been CIC’s experience that successful innovation clusters such as Cambridge and increasingly The Cortex Innovation District in St. Louis, are heavily anchored in not just one university, but multiple institutions that choose to align, incentivize innovation, drive capacitation, and — sorry to sound like a broken record — collaborate.

Lack of diversity has been huge topic in tech nationally. From where CIC sits, quite literally, how could CIC play a role to make Miami a role model for inclusive collaboration?

CIC takes a variety of approaches to this topic, and they are different in each city, but guided by a commitment in social engagement. In Cambridge, we run the largest private high school internship program in which nearly all participants are of color. In St. Louis, we are working directly with Forward Through Ferguson to bring innovation-focused gatherings, activities and opportunities to Ferguson.

At CIC Miami, we have taken a couple of approaches to this topic thus far, from supporting/housing several initiatives that accelerate and train low-income entrepreneurs or focus on resources for minority-led businesses and creating educational programming focused on female founders, to co-designing roundtable discussions focused on the role of immigration and partnering and designing a cohort program that supports veterans in entrepreneurship (launching Q1 2018).

One of our primary avenues for engaging in each city is Venture Café, our partner community development organization, which spun out of CIC. In Boston, Venture Café has launched targeted initiatives such as Roxbury Innovation Center in addition to inclusive, large scale projects such as District Hall. In Miami, Venture Café has already become a leading convenor of gatherings, conversations, entrepreneurial support specifically focused on diversity, among a long list of other community-facing and difficult topics.

From where we sit, Miami has a unique opportunity: as an adolescent and rapidly evolving entrepreneurial hub, we can take to heart some of the lessons learned across more seasoned hubs like San Francisco and New York and leapfrog over those hurdles. That said, we can only do so if we are intentional about the access, opportunities, and resources we deploy.

Tell us one thing about you that your colleagues may not know?

I believe very strongly in the value of adult learning, and one of the ways I do this is to pick up a new hobby every year. Over the last years, these have included horseback riding, archery, and tango; stay tuned for next year’s hobby du jour!

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

NATALIA MARTINEZ KALININA

Age: 31

Current: General manager, Cambridge Innovation Center Miami, leading the CIC’s expansion to Miami. She is also the founder of Awesome Foundation MIAMI and Aminta Ventures, and is on the Governor’s Commission on Community Service, a body that oversees the administration of $32 million in federal, state, and local funding to deliver high-impact educational and volunteer programs in the state of Florida.

Previous experience: Chief innovation and technology officer for Roots of Hope, a nonprofit focused on Cuba, as well as one of six product strategists for Ultimate Software.

Education: Bachelor’s in psychology and government, Harvard; master’s in organizational psychology, Columbia.

September 29, 2017

Doral really wants to be the home of Amazon’s massive new headquarters

Doral
By Nancy Dahlberg and Rene Rodriguez / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Find Seattle on a map. Now find the farthest U.S. city from it.

The Miami metro area wants to be on Amazon’s map as the home for its second headquarters, a planned $5 billion, eight-million-square-foot, 50,000-employee campus for Amazon executives, staff and high-tech professionals (Read: high-paying jobs).

But while economic development agencies in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties are putting together a rare, tri-county proposal to lure the Seattle-based online shopping giant to the region, one South Florida city is flying solo with its pitch to bring Amazon here.

READ MORE: “Jeff Bezos: A rocket launched from Miami’s Palmetto High”

The city of Doral, in conjunction with developer Codina Partners, is offering Amazon 47 acres of prime space in downtown Doral for the first phase of its HQ2 expansion. Future growth space for the Amazon project would include part of the 250-acre White golf course, which Codina and Lennar Homes bought in 2016 and had earmarked to use for single-family home development.

“When we looked at Amazon’s [request for proposal], we felt like we met all the requirements to be the home of their second headquarters,” said Doral Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez. “I may be a little bit biased, but I think Doral is a very good fit.”

For its planned HQ2, Amazon seeks a major metropolitan area of more than 1 million people within 45 minutes of an airport and near quality universities. Its checklist for its planned HQ2 includes a business-friendly climate, low taxes, cultural amenities, proximity to mass transit, affordable cost of living, a diverse population — and a package of economic development incentives.

 

Bermudez said Doral fits all those requirements, including proximity to Miami International Airport and Florida International University; a booming (and growing) downtown area of restaurants, shops and entertainment; a large housing stock of condos, apartments and single-family homes; an educated and multilingual workforce; an ethnically diverse population, and a modern infrastructure with public spaces, bike paths and other live-work-play conducers.

The mayor said Doral even fulfills Amazon’s desire for “proximity to mass transit” with its three routes of free trolley service, which connects to the Palmetto Metrorail Station in Medley. At Wednesday night’s Doral City Council meeting, the council unanimously approved a resolution to endorse and support the Miami-Dade Transportation Planning Organization’s Miami Area Rapid Transit Smart Plan, which intends to reduce the county’s traffic congestion woes — a particularly grave problem in Doral.

“If we were going to submit our proposal with the existing status quo transportation, it would probably be deficient,” said Ana Codina, CEO of Codina Properties. “But we’re coupling our proposal with some ideas we have to enhance and improve the bus and trolley system so that there would be more transit options than there are now. I see it as a challenge, but not something that can’t be overcome.”

Doral is the fastest-growing city in Florida and 11th fastest in the U.S., according to Florida International University’s Metropolitan Center. Its population is 58,000, and the median household income in 2015 was $72,933, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

But the competition to become the home of Amazon’s HQ2 will be fierce — and rich with incentive offers. Since Amazon put out its request in early September, the Super Bowl of Economic Development has already drawn interest from several hundred metro areas. Orlando, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Brooklyn, Chicago, Boston, Denver, Toronto, Ottawa, Washington, D.C., St. Louis, Las Vegas, Detroit, Tulsa, Tucson and even Frisco, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, are a few that have already said they will have or will be submitting proposals by the Oct. 19 deadline. Tucson even sent Amazon a 21-foot cactus.

But none of those cities can boast that Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos graduated from one of their high schools. Bezos was valedictorian at Miami Palmetto and was a Miami Herald Silver Knight recipient.

The Miami-Dade Beacon Council, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance in Broward County and the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County are working on a proposal of their own to lure Amazon.

“There is a real opportunity to show off the region’s transit and other assets,” said Susan Greene, spokeswoman for the Miami-Dade Beacon Council, adding that the timing of Brightline “couldn’t be better.” Brightline’s inter-city train service is expected to connect the downtown centers of the three counties before the end of the year.

“We are in conversations with Mayor Bermudez about potential sites in Doral,” she added. “We’ve heard from lots of people with sites in Miami-Dade to consider.”

Bermudez said that he learned about the tri-county effort last week while talking to Beacon Council president and CEO Michael Finney.

“In the long run, it would behoove South Florida to offer Amazon several opportunities,” Bermudez said about the unexpected competition. “But we began this process before we even knew the Beacon Council was involved. The majority of Miami-Dade County residents live west of I-95. I see no reason why we can’t offer different options as a community.”

At stake for South Florida: Thousands of high-paying technology jobs in an economy that is now highly dependent on low-wage service jobs.

“Amazon HQ2 will be a complete headquarters for Amazon — not a satellite office,” Amazon said in its news release. “Amazon expects to hire new teams and executives in HQ2, and will also let existing senior leaders across the company decide whether to locate their teams in HQ1, HQ2 or both. The company expects that employees who are currently working in HQ1 can choose to continue working there, or they could have an opportunity to move if they would prefer to be located in HQ2.”

Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle covers more than 8 million square feet of space across 33 buildings and houses about 40,000 of Amazon’s global workforce of about 380,000.

The practice of cities and states lavishing millions of dollars in tax breaks, relocation perks and other credits on companies to lure them is widespread, yet still controversial. The media often doesn’t hear about these kinds of incentive-laden deals being negotiated until a deal is done — or at least in the final stretches. But Amazon’s very public call for proposals changed all that.

Timothy J. Bartik, a senior economist at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo, Michigan, told the New York Times that the average incentive package from a state usually adds up to 2 percent to 3 percent of wages. Recently, he said, there has been a spate of mega-deals, such as the $3 billion in state tax credits that Wisconsin offered Taiwanese electronics giant Foxconn. Boston’s deal to nab GE was another. Such outsized offers could end up being a “winner’s curse” where costs outweigh the benefits, he said.

A former governor went further.

“Competition for jobs should not be seen to hinge on which government can write the biggest check to an employer, but on the kinds of things that officials in Delaware and other states spend so much time on to make their communities places worth living in: the quality of schools, workforce development programs, the transportation grid and other infrastructure, and the overall quality of life,” Jack Markell, former governor of Delaware, wrote in the New York Times.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

September 20, 2017

Tech visionary Salim Ismail joins Rokk3r Fuel as a general partner

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

IsmailSalim Ismail, founding executive director of Singularity University and chairman of the new Miami-based Fastrack Institute, has joined Rokk3r Fuel, a venture capital firm based in Miami, as a general partner.

With the addition to Ismail, Rokk3r Fuel is also renaming its flagship fund Rokk3r Fuel ExO.

“For the last decade, Salim has been a visionary and has defined how we as an industry think about exponential organizations. We view his decision to join Rokk3r Fuel as a strong validation of both our commitment to identifying and investing in exponential technology, and our proprietary approach to working with our limited partners to optimize the way that venture is working to meet their investment objectives," said Jeff Ransdell, founding partner of Rokk3r Fuel ExO, in a news release.

[READ MORE ABOUT ROKK3R FUEL HERE.]

Ismail is co-founder and chairman of the Fastrack Institute in Miami, as well as chairman of ExO Works, which he founded. He is also a public speaker and authored the business best-seller Exponential Organizations. He is  now a global ambassador for Singularity, based at NASA’s Ames Research Center with a  goal is to "educate, inspire, and empower a new generation of leaders to apply exponential technologies to address humanity's grand challenges."

Said Ismail: "Today there are eight billion Internet-connected devices in the world. By 2020, there will be 50 billion. Will computer-driven cars be a reality in three years? Will we see a dramatically lengthened lifespan and delayed retirements in a matter of one to two decades? What does this mean for investment, growth, and contraction in key industries? As the world becomes more digital, advancements in technology are skyrocketing. Rokk3r Fuel ExO is tracking the trajectory of fascinating projects and investing in the ones that are sure to change our lives and challenge societal norms as we know them. Our insight on how to invest and where to deploy capital is driven around our exponential outlook on the world as we know it today.”

Before his work at Singularity, Ismail was a vice president at Yahoo, where he built and ran Brickhouse, the company's internal incubator. He co-founded and operated seven early-stage companies, including PubSub Concepts, which laid some of the foundation for the real-time web. His last company, Ångströ, a news aggregation startup, was sold to Google in 2010.

Ismail is being honored by Endeavor Miami at its annual benefit gala Oct. 21.

Rokk3r Fuel was launched  in March 2017 with the goal of investing in exponential technologies at a global level.  It has said its goal is to raise a $150 million fund. “The addition of Salim Ismail as general partner advances Rokk3r Fuel’s goal of globally sourcing and funding the best entrepreneurs who are building companies at the intersection of exponential technologies,” said Nabyl Charania, general partner at Rokk3r Fuel and CEO of Rokk3r Labs.

[READ MORE: INTERVIEW WITH SALIM ISMAIL]

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

 

September 15, 2017

Miami-based tech company YouVisit selected to join global Endeavor network

Endeavor

From left, Endri Tolka, Abi Mandelbaum and Taher Baderkhan are co-founders of YouVisit.

 

YouVisit incorporates virtual reality and other technologies in its 360 experiences for brands and organizations.

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

An immersive technology player is the latest South Florida company to be selected to join the global network Endeavor.

Endeavor Miami announced this week that YouVisit is now the 16th Endeavor Miami company to be selected for the network of high-impact entrepreneurship. It was selected during Endeavor’s 74th International Selection Panel in New York City Sept. 11-13. Endeavor companies receive mentorship and access to capital, global markets and talent.

While international students at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, Abi Mandelbaum, Taher Baderkhan and Endri Tolka were frustrated by the lack of affordable options for international and out-of-state students to get a better sense for what it is like to live and study at different college campuses. They launched YouVisit in 2009 to enable prospective students and families to tour colleges and universities around the globe for free from the comfort of their own homes.  In 2012, their proprietary Virtual Guided Walking Tour technology had proven so effective on college campuses that institutions in other industries, including hospitality, started asking YouVisit to build immersive experiences for them.

Today, the Miami-based YouVisit, now with nearly 100 employees, is powered by its award-winning production studio and Aria, its proprietary enterprise platform that enables brands and organizations to interact with and convert audiences through 360-degree experiences incorporating virtual reality and other technologies.

 The company, which also has a big office in New York City, engages consumers across mobile, desktop and virtual reality for more than 800 clients, including the U.S. Army, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco, Hilton, Yale, Harvard PwC and the cities of Houston and Philadephia. Some clients use the YouVisit's 360 experiences for talent recruitment, while others use them for lead generation and marketing.

 "Now our biggest verticals are corporate and travel an of course education," said Mandelbaum, CEO of YouVisit, in an interview Friday. "We have invested over 200,000 development hours in Aria and it is a platform that all of our clients benefit from. That's been a big reason  why our client renewal rate is above 95 percent. We continually make improvements to our platform so that our clients stay at the forefront of this changing technology. ... Now we are starting to implement augmented reality."

He said the average engagement rate of YouVisit's 360 content is nine minutes -- an eternity in online time. YouVisit clients' average conversion rate is an impressive 20 percent.

"That's what differentiates us in the space. Most people in the virtual reality and 360 content space are very caught up in the technology, while for us it is how we use this technology to enable actual business results rather than just PR," Mandelbaum said.

To that end, YouVisit is starting to work with some retail clients to enable purchasing through the Aria platform. "We've continued to grow and solidified our leadership position," Mandelbaum said. "We all feel strongly that joining the Endeavor community is only going to accelerate that."

YouVisit has won several awards, including first place at VR Fest 2016 and 2017, as well as the Science and Technology Samsung Creator Award.

YouVisit was chosen during Endeavor’s International Selection Panels, a culmination of a rigorous selection process involving interviews with global business leaders. 

“We see Abi, Endri and Taher as innovative tech leaders transforming consumer engagement through virtual reality and immersive technologies,” said Laura Maydón, managing director of Endeavor Miami. “Having achieved impressive growth and traction, these three entrepreneurs will be inspirational role models for our Miami tech ecosystem. As Endeavor helps YouVisit scale, I hope their success will bring attention to the quality of the work that’s being done in South Florida tech.”

Endeavor Miami launched its operation in September 2013 with the support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. It now supports 28 entrepreneurs from 16 companies; recent selections have included Powerful Yogurt and, Pincho Factory and Citizen.  For more information on Endeavor Miami or to nominate Miami entrepreneurs,  visit www.endeavormiami.org

To date, Endeavor Global has selected more than a thousand individuals leading over 800 high-growth companies that have created over 600,000 jobs. Headquartered in New York City, Endeavor operates in 27 countries throughout Europe, Latin America, North America, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the U.S.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

August 08, 2017

Traffic, transit - can we solve it? Fastrack Institute will marshall tech, talent and government

Traffic

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

When you think of Miami, images of traffic jams likely cloud the otherwise sunny picture. And don’t get us started on how mobility issues can weigh on the environment, personal livelihoods and the economy as a whole.

What if entrepreneurs, engineers, corporations, legal minds and governments came together to build mobility solutions that could help Miami and be used by other cities?

It’s an experiment that is already being tested in Colombia by a trio of South Florida’s most accomplished entrepreneurs: Rodrigo Arboleda, co-founder of the global nonprofit One Laptop Per Child; Dr. Maurice Ferré, co-founder of Mako Surgical who is now running the brain-health biotech firm Insightec; and Salim Ismail, founding executive director of Singularity University and a guru on the power of exponential technologies.

Their young Miami-based nonprofit foundation, Fastrack Institute, is now turning to Miami, where it will look at the mobility challenge with fresh eyes, seek ideas and “fastrack” some of them into prototypes that can be tested and developed further. Fastrack announced Tuesday that it will launch a 16-week program to help address Miami-Dade's transportation problems, with funding from the Knight Foundation, Miami-Dade Expressway Authority and local real estate developer and investor Armando Codina.

The Miami program will kick off Aug. 24 with a free daylong workshop open to the public.

The Miami announcement follows a year of experience in Medellín, Colombia, where Fastrack Institute has launched eight startups aimed at solving urban problems in fast, cost-effective ways using technology. These include not only potential solutions for mobility and air quality but also widening citizens’ access to banking and finance, healthcare and early education.

The Fastrack framework is based on ideas spearheaded by Singularity University and Ismail’s ExO Works, organizations that focus on the impact of “exponential” technologies — that is, technologies doubling in power or speed while their cost drops. The Institute runs 16-week programs, also called Fastracks, in which tech companies or nonprofits collaborate with government regulators, attorneys, sociologists and other experts to solve urban issues. The idea is that legal, regulatory and societal hurdles can be addressed while the concepts are being built and the technology is being being tested. Once deployed, the technologies can be used by other cities.

The three entrepreneurs came together serendipitously, each independently looking at ways to put technology to work on urban issues. Arboleda was looking for ways to engage more young people in Latin America in technology and the sciences after finishing his work with One Laptop Per Child, which provided laptops to more than 3 million children in emerging markets. Ferré was exploring how to accelerate and support advanced healthcare innovation locally as well as globally. Ismail had recently moved to Miami from Silicon Valley, and was helping corporations learn how to develop an innovative mindset.

“In Fastrack, what we have uncovered is a mechanism so that as you are investigating these technologies like solar or autonomous cars, you can ramp up the regulatory, legal and safety changes that need to be made as you are looking at the technology,” said Ismail, in an interview last month.

“We found with Fastrack we can solve a problem facing a city at about one-tenth the current cost, which makes it economically very compelling,” he said. Twenty other global cities, about half in Latin America, have expressed interest in Fastrack programs, according to Ismail.

Arboleda, the Institute’s CEO, Ferré and Ismail launched the first Fastrack programs in Medellín, about a year ago, and found the city to be an ideal partner for its pilot programs. The city has “earned its wings” because it which has risen from the brink of economic collapse by smartly employing the power of innovation, said Arboleda. Fastrack partnered with Colombian entrepreneurial organization Ruta N, which was founded by the city of Medellín and links academia and the private and public sectors, according to Arboleda.

“Cities should embrace and accelerate the adoptions of these technologies but try to minimize the collateral damage to those portions of societies these types of exponential, viral and disruptive technologies will be affecting. We need to complete the circle. Technology alone cannot make it,” Arboleda said in an interview earlier this summer. “That is the genesis of Fastrack Institute.”

Fastrack’s first foray spawned two startups to tackle access financial access and two more focused on transportation, including autonomous vehicles. Programs on air quality and healthcare have followed; one on education is in the works. Large corporations from various industries are providing most of the funding in Colombia, Arboleda said.

Take healthcare, for example. A town two hours from Medellín has the highest rate of Alzheimer’s in the world; it was profiled on CBS’ 60 Minutes and has been drawing the interest of scientists and doctors globally, including Ferré.

“There is a tremendous opportunity [in Colombia] to set up a living laboratory with gigantic potential for mankind,” Arboleda said. “One of the most difficult health challenges will be the aging populations and in that age bracket Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s will become the most damaging elements we have ever seen in humanity for older people and the younger people taking care of them.”

[READ MORE: How a Silicon Valley big thinker is helping to bring world-changing ideas to life – in Miami]

Closer to home, where expanding mass transit it a hot topic, Miami-Dade County and the Miami-Dade Expressway Authoring have asked Fastrack Institute to explore the transportation solutions of the future.

“Traffic — think about it. If we can solve it in Miami, then that becomes an export industry that applies to every city in the world,” Ismail said.

To launch the Miami-Dade Fastrack, the institute received $500,000 from the Knight Foundation, Miami-Dade Expressway Authority and local real estate developer and investor Armando Codina, representing the Codina Family.

“This initiative is a prime example of how public/private partnerships are beneficial to the community,” said Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez, in a statement.

Gimenez will accompany a delegation from Miami attending a Singularity University program next week, Arboleda said. The University of Miami’s Center for Computational Sciences and Rokk3r Labs are among the organizations already involved in Fastrack programs in Latin America.

In Miami-Dade, Fastrack will kick off Aug. 24 with a daylong public workshop in the Board of County Commission Chambers of the Stephen P. Clark Government Center. Register here to attend.

The workshop will begin with a presentation and discussion about Miami-Dade's transit issues and the institute will launch an open call for mobility solutions. Two teams will be selected from the pool of applicants to participate in the 16-week Fastrack. The teams will include global experts, local participants, organizations, educational institutions and public offices. The Fastrack will be directed and supported by a full-time Miami-based team and a local advisory board.

Climate change, accessible healthcare and affordable housing all could be issues for future Miami Fastracks.

“What we want to do is make Miami the capital for this kind of thinking,” Ismail said. “Absolutely the biggest success factor for any city is diversity, and the richness that comes from it. All great ideas come when you cross disparate domains together.” 

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg