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.

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

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   

July 29, 2017

Argentina to Miami, a bridge worth building (Part 7)

GlobPic1

A Q&A with Alejandro Mainetto, Partner of Globant, a multinational company that creates innovative software products for brands, about Globant's footprint in Miami, collaboration and making Miami a living tech lab.

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 last year  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. From the CIC Miami perspective, we have been working to build tangible bridges with Argentina though a handful of partnerships that will be announced in the next few months, in addition to our general softlanding offering. But most recently, a few interested entrepreneurs have come together with the support of the Argentine Consulate in Miami to create a better toolkit for entrepreneurs and small companies looking to come to Miami from their native country. We are still finalizing the framework, but anyone interested in participating or learning more can email EmprendedoresArgMia@gmail.com

Glonbant_0888Given the aligned priorities and interests, it seemed worthwhile to continue 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, and Socialmetrix. For this installment, we spoke with Alejandro Mainetto (pictured here) to shine a light on a major regional player, Globant, where he is a Partner.

Globant is a powerhouse of a company in Argentina and the region. What was the genesis story for the company? What has been the trajectory of growth these last years?

Globant's history began in 2003, when four friends got together with the idea of creating an multinational company that could provide innovative IT services to brands across the world, while offering challenging career opportunities for IT professionals and talent. In just 12 years they built a company that today has more than 6,000 professionals working for companies like Google, LinkedIn, JWT, EA and Coca Cola, among others. Globant’s story has also been selected as a case study at MIT and Stanford.

What’s next - how do you see the company’s future growth and development?

Globant continues being focused in becoming a global digital thought leader, in creating software that appeals and connects emotionally with millions of consumers. We seek to deliver the optimal blend of engineering, design, and innovation to harness the potential of emerging technologies for our clients. While engineering is central to information technology, only by combining strong engineering capabilities with creativity and agility can we deliver innovative solutions that enhance end-user experiences while meeting our clients’ business needs.

We take a dive into our customers industry, culture, challenges and goals in order to understand their business. The harmonious integration future trends and existing IT, infrastructure, services and applications is a critical enabler of any Digital Transformation process.

The US is currently a big focus of expansion - Globant has recently made four acquisitions in the US in a very short period of time and we continue to increase the number of people we hire in key markets for us such as Seattle, Dallas, Raleigh, Orlando and also Miami. Finally, Globant will also expand and grow by continuing to invest in key emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, Virtual Reality and Blockchain among others. In order to fuel this growth we strive to find the best talent possible - hopefully we'll find that talent coming from places such as South Florida and in particular Miami.

What is Globant’s footprint/engagement with Miami? Why did it choose to come here?

Globant has had a presence in Miami for the last 8 years working with several of the most important corporations in the city and the state of Florida. We are a global leader in advising clients in the travel and hospitality, financial services and healthcare industries - all big industries in Miami - We are currently working with many of the largest leaders in cruise lines, hospitality, entertainment, and software. However, the potential is still very large in terms of the number of companies that we could be helping in the South Florida area. We need to do a better job in getting the Globant brand and our capabilities recognized in the Miami market. We came to Miami because we believed in the city, the clients we could serve, its growing talent and specially its potential and what Miami could become one day.


What kinds of opportunities were you looking for here? What aspects or risks worried you? How have those played out over your time in Miami?

We were looking for opportunities to help companies become true transformational leaders in their own industries, we were looking to gain a presence in a city that could quickly become a tech hub within the US and the tech hub for Latin America, and finally we were also looking to establish a presence in a State which traditionally has been very pro business and easy to do business with.

How do you see Miami today? What works, what surprises you, what frustrates you? How have you found your industry reflected here?

It's a different Miami than the one from 5 years ago. A lot has happened and a lot more will continue to happen. - Places like co-working spaces came, innovation districts like CIC came, conference events like Emerge Americas came, accelerators and incubators came, powerful startups such as Magic Leap came, the money came but most importantly the talent came and the talent stayed.

Miami works because it's like putting together NYC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro all in one. Its weather, its lifestyle, its location - all major pluses, it's a good kept secret, but not for long. What surprises me, is that it still hasn't been able to attract bigger Fortune 500 companies and it hasn't built a new top technology and engineering education institution. The tech, creative and marketing industry which today has converged into a Digital Industry is not yet well represented, which is a huge opportunity for those who are smart enough to settle and lay roots in Miami - The city, the county and the state need to collectively join forces to attract more digital companies, more tech universities and more digital jobs.

What can Miami do better to become a truly value-adding “hub” for the region? (in your industry and in general)

I have written extensively about this and it goes back to five key points:

1) Need for a true coalition of government, corporate, vc, startups, academia and the community led by a set of progressive leaders

2) Need for development of innovation districts and the need for creating concentrated hubs/tech parks of technology and digital companies

3) Build a world class public transportation system and build somewhat affordable housing around these innovation districts

4) Make Miami a Living Tech Lab - Become the Smart City Poster Child, become the Autonomous Self-Driving Capital of the World, etc.

5) Become obsessed about marketing the Miami Tech brand, its value proposition and reward those who take a bet in Miami.

How has it worked to have your company straddling Miami and Buenos Aires (and the US and Latin America overall)? Any lessons or advice for companies exploring similar moves?

It's has worked very well - There is a natural magnetic connection between Latam and Miami - Miami is both aspirational and inspirational. While our company is a global company, we find it hard for anyone to say no when we ask them to come work and spend some time in Miami. However, the key is in committing, betting and investing on it.

The advice I would give companies or entrepreneurs is to commit to Miami, leverage its virtues when hiring talent and finally get deeply involved in the transformation of the city.

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. Is there something Miami can learn from the Argentine case study?

Miami can learn from Buenos Aires and many other cities in Latin America - From Buenos Aires you can learn about tenacity and hard work, about staying the course even when things may not be going right or you may be living under a not so ideal environment. It can also learn about the perseverance, vision and risk taking ability of the unicorns that Buenos Aires has produced - Globant being one of those. Miami can learn that "Si se Puede" - It's Possible.     

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?

Absolutely - I think, there are ways to formalize the informal collaboration and bridge-building that has been established already but much more can be done. Miami can make Buenos Aires a sister city and offer an immediate presence here to all key Argentinian technology firms. Miami could become the epitome of how easy it can be to do business in the US.  Miami companies should have the ability to penetrate Latin America by easily establishing their Latam HQ's in Buenos Aires. Co-working spaces and innovation districts have an opportunity to collaborate and forge exchange partnerships. The sky is the limit.


Natalia Martinez-Kalinina is the General Manager of CIC Miami and the Founder of Awesome Foundation MIAMI, and co-Founder of Aminta Ventures. 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. Past installments of this series can be found here: Balloon Group, Wolox, La Comunidad, and Oasis, Juana de Arco, and Socialmetrix.

Globant4

July 27, 2017

Modernizing Medicine to add 838 jobs, double office space

Health-tech company Modernizing Medicine announced on Thursday that it will be expanding, creating more than 800 new jobs and doubling its office space in Boca Raton.

Modernizing Medicine currently employs about 550 people and is generating $100 million in revenues annually, making it one of South Florida’s largest and fastest-growing tech companies. “There are not many companies growing as fast as Modernizing Medicine — in the world,” said Gov. Rick Scott, who was on hand for the announcement in Boca Raton.

Modernizing Medicine will receive $6 million in state, county and city incentives for creating the jobs by 2022, according to the Sun Sentinel. The 838 new, mostly software positions will have an average salary of $65,000 a year. In exchange, Modernizing Medicine will make a $15 million investment in the region.

To handle its growth, Modernizing Medicine is leasing 50,000 square feet at Boca Raton Innovation Campus, former home of IBM, to add to its similarly sized headquarters space at the FAU Research Park and an office in Weston. In May, Modernizing Medicine announced it had received a $231 million investment from private equity firm Warburg Pincus. “If there was any doubt that you could found and scale a company in South Florida, hopefully those doubts are now erased,” CEO Dan Cane said at the time.

Founded in 2010 by Cane and Dr. Michael Sherling, Modernizing Medicine has been one of the recent tech success stories in South Florida. Cane, a serial entrepreneur who earlier in his career co-founded and exited education-tech company Blackboard, met Sherling, his future co-founder, in the doctor’s office. Modernizing Medicine’s flagship product is EMA, which is a mobile, cloud-based, specialty-specific electronic health record system now used by more than 10,000 providers at thousands of specialty practices nationwide, and the company now offers a full suite of products and services including practice management, revenue cycle management, telehealth for dermatology and analytics.

July 18, 2017

Matt Haggman resigns as Knight's Miami program director

Haggman

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

After five years largely spearheading a movement in Miami to develop an entrepreneurship hub, Matt Haggman, Knight Foundation program director for Miami, has resigned, the foundation said on Tuesday.

Chris Caines, who has served as Haggman’s associate since January 2016, will assume responsibilities as Knight interim program director for Miami, the foundation said. The resignation is effective Friday.

“It has been the best job I have ever had in my life,” Haggman said on Tuesday. “The opportunity to work with amazing entrepreneurs, amazing innovators, to re-imagine how Miami could evolve into a center for innovation and play a role in building all of that has been the greatest privilege of my life. And that work for me will continue but that will continue in different ways.”

Haggman has been rumored to be considering running for U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s District 27 seat that will be up for grabs in November 2018. Tuesday, he would not talk about what’s next for him; all he would say is “stay tuned.”

Since Haggman joined Knight in 2011 and launched entrepreneurship funding in 2012, Knight has invested more than $28 million in supporting high-growth entrepreneurship in Miami and South Florida. Knight pledged its continued support to the entrepreneurship focus.

“We intend to continue this important work and to generate a more connected, better supported community of entrepreneurs. Our goal continues to be to make Miami a hub of ideas and innovation,” said Sam Gill, Knight Foundation VP/Communities and Impact in a note sent to supporters. 

“Chris has been working closely with Matt, our grantees and partners. He embodies Knight Foundation’s commitment to informed and engaged communities and will continue the work seamlessly,” he said in the note. “Matt leaves Knight with our profound gratitude for his leadership and efforts.”

After about six months of fact-finding, Haggman and Knight laid out a strategy and launched the Miami office’s focus on accelerating tech and entrepreneurship in mid-2012. Soon after Knight  made the foundation’s first investments to organizations that supported entrepreneurship, including a founding grant to The LAB Miami, one of the area’s first entrepreneurial co-working spaces. In October, Knight followed with a $1.25 million investment to launch venture-building and corporate innovation programs within The LAB.

“By leading Knight Foundation's efforts to support entrepreneurship, Matt has been the cornerstone of a renaissance in Miami tech,” said Thomas “Tigre” Wenrich, CEO of The LAB. “While we are still only in the early innings, we would not have the dynamic ecosystem we have today without Matt’s tireless work over the past five years. We will miss Matt’s presence on the board of The LAB, but we are excited to support him as he enters a new phase in his career.” 

Since the founding investment in the LAB, Knight has made grants or investments ranging from about $20,000 to more than $2 million to over 200 organizations, events and projects, from funding the weekly Waffle Wednesday gatherings in Wynwood to supporting a number of education programs, startup accelerators and coding school scholarships to funding the relaunch of Accelerated Growth Partners, an angel investing network.

Some of the larger investments over the years include: $2 million committed to bring Endeavor, a global organization that supports high-growth entrepreneurship, to Miami in 2013 for its first U.S. chapter; $2.18 million in 2014 to help launch the Miami Dade College Idea Center, a campus-wide entrepreneurship program; $1.25 million announced in 2014 to help bring LaunchCode, a tech apprentice program, to Miami; $1.5 million for eMerge Americas, a homegrown technology conference, as it headed into its second year in 2015; $2 million to bring Startupbootcamp to Miami, an accelerator for digital health that launched in 2016; and in February, $1.2 million in new support for Code Fever’s signature event Blacktech Week. Knight’s funding was also instrumental for the Miami launch of Babson WIN Lab, an accelerator for women-led companies, last year.

Laura Maydón, managing director of Endeavor Miami, said: “It was thanks to Matt Haggman’s leadership through Knight Foundation’s support that Endeavor Global considered launching its first U.S. affiliate. He has been a pioneer in Miami and has spearheaded the entrepreneurial movement by bringing many proven entrepreneurial organizations to Miami through Knight Foundation’s contributions. I consider Knight Foundation a key partner and contributor to our success.”

Before joining Knight, Haggman, who has a law degree, worked at the Miami Herald as a business reporter covering real estate and then metro reporter covering politics and won several awards for investigative reporting, and during that period also got to know Alberto Ibargüen, Knight’s CEO who previously was Miami Herald publisher. Before that, he worked at the Daily Business Review. 

Haggman was past co-chair of Miami-Dade Beacon Council’s One Community One Goal, Miami-Dade County economic development initiative. Haggman serves on the boards of Endeavor Miami, New World Symphony, The Underline and The LAB Miami. He is a longtime volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Miami.

Singularity U's Salim Ismail to be honoree, speaker at Endeavor Miami Gala. Here's what he's been up to in Miami.

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Go big.

That’s the advice an expert on exponential technologies has for the startup ecosystem in Miami.

IsmailSalim Ismail is the founding executive director and now the global ambassador for Silicon Valley’s Singularity University and a board member of XPRIZE, well-known organizations that inspire, educate and fund people and projects trying to solve world-changing problems through technology.

“In Silicon Valley, people think on a global scale. In many other parts of the world, Miami included, people are trying to build a niche product or feature,” said Ismail, the author of “Exponential Organizations.”

Yet Ismail, now a Miami area resident, also said Miami has passion that you don’t find everywhere. “When you can align the natural passion of the residents here with a very big purpose or outcome, there is literally no limit as to what could happen.”

Ismail is being honored with Endeavor Miami’s Impact Award at its fourth annual benefit gala, which will be held Oct. 21 at the Faena Forum in Miami Beach, Endeavor Miami announced. During an address to gala attendees, Ismail will share his vision for entrepreneurship and what emerging technology trends mean for the future. Endeavor Miami is an arm of the global organization that selects, mentors and accelerates high-impact entrepreneurs around the world.

“We choose honorees each year that reflect the characteristics we believe will inspire our entrepreneurs and exemplify the progressive mindset that Endeavor selects in its companies,” said Laura Maydón, managing director of Endeavor Miami. “Salim is a visionary leader whose accomplishments are shaping the future of entrepreneurship and technology.”

Of particular local interest, Ismail is also the co-founder of Fastrack Institute, along with South Floridians Rodrigo Arboleda, an architect who co-founded the global nonprofit One Laptop Per Child and CEO of Fastrack, and Dr. Maurice Ferré, co-founder of Mako Surgical and now is running Insightec and other healthcare-technology ventures. Fastrack, a one-year-old nonprofit developing in Miami, plans to partner with cities that then become launching pads to rapidly build companies that can solve critical urban problems – such as mobility or access to quality healthcare or education, for example – in those cities and then scale those technologies globally.

Because Fastrack teams work through legal, regulatory and safety issues with cities as they are building the companies, “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,” said Ismail, in an interview this week. “What we want to do is make Miami the capital for this kind of thinking ... what an ideal city should look like.”

Fastrack, which counts University of Miami’s Center For Computational Science as a partner, has been running pilot programs in Medellín, Colombia, and now about 20 cities around the world are interested in becoming Fastrack cities, including Miami, he said. One Fastrack problem could be traffic, he said. “Think about it. If we can solve it in Miami then that becomes an export industry that applies to every city in the world.”

Exponential companies, however they are built, need to be information-based because that scales, said Ismail, who also helps established companies quickly incorporate an exponential mindset through his company ExO Works. “Airbnb’s information is enabling people’s extra bedrooms. Ride-sharing is creating more of a liquid workforce,” he explained. Just as importantly, he said, exponential companies also need to have a massive transformative purpose. “It’s not enough to have a great product – it needs to effect meaningful change in the world.”

Ismail believes solar energy will be one of the world’s most powerful exponential technologies.

“Energy has been scarce for the whole of the history of humanity. It is about to become abundant in the next five to seven years and that will radically change the global geopolitics of it,” he said. “The Middle East will be essentially rendered mostly worthless. In Canada, the Keystone Pipeline will be irrelevant before it is even built. The poorest companies in the world are also the sunniest countries in the world; solar will really change the global equation.”

And there are other exponential technologies, including autonomous cars, drones and artificial intelligence, he said. Bitcoin and blockchain-based technology will radically change government services and public services even more so than the private financial sector, he said. Biotech technologies give people the power to edit the human genome, allowing the human body to become a software engineering problem.

Ismail, who was an executive at Yahoo and started companies before joining Singularity in 2008, moved to Miami in 2014 and has led or spoken at several events, including most recently eMerge Americas. “I love it. I am an avid tennis player and I am from India originally so I am like a lizard on the rocks – I love the humidity. I travel a lot and the airport is one of the best connected airports in the world.”

He also loves the natural diversity of the region – the ethnic makeup, the arts, the mix of industries, he 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.” And it has the power to attract: “It’s fascinating to see the talent that is now arriving in Miami, it really is.”

Calling himself a massive technology optimist, Ismail sees climate change as South Florida’s biggest urban challenge. “Miami has an opportunity to act as a world leader because it is going to be first affected. Whatever solutions come out of here, it will apply to about 60 percent of the global population.”

He calls Endeavor one of the most important and interesting initiatives to ever get created in entrepreneurship.

Endeavor Miami is the first U.S. affiliate of Endeavor Global. Since Endeavor Miami’s 2013 launch, 15 South Florida companies and 24 entrepreneurs have become part of Endeavor’s global network of business leaders, mentors and investors.

Previous IMPACT award recipients include Jessica Goldman Srebnick, CEO of Goldman Properties; Jim McKelvey, co-founder of Square and founder of LaunchCode; and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, co-founder of Gilt and GLAMSQUAD.

The 2017 Endeavor Miami Gala will be held Oct. 21 from 7:30 p.m. to midnight at the Faena Forum. Proceeds from the event directly support Endeavor Miami’s mission. Find more information about the gala here.

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

July 11, 2017

Florida startups have one less funding source to tap, thanks to state budget cuts

Venture

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

The impact of Gov. Rick Scott’s veto of a line-item in the state budget last month is already rippling through the South Florida tech community.

The Florida Institute for the Commercialization of Public Research was slated to receive $5.5 million to provide seed funding to startups. That was one of the $409 million in local items vetoed last month. The move came as a surprise: the program had been funded at the $5.5 million level since 2013, when the seed fund was incorporated into the Institute’s program.

The Florida Institute bridges early funding gaps for companies spinning out of Florida-based universities and research institutions by matching investments up to $300,000. South Florida startups Kairos, Candidate.Guru, Vigilant Bioscienes, Biscayne Pharmaceuticals, DealCoachPro, BlinkBio, EyeLife (now Biim Ultrasound) and Ovation Diagnostics are among the 71 companies that have been funded, most in the last few years. The result has been more than 4,000 jobs paying an average salary of $76,000, said Jackson Streeter, CEO of the Institute. The idea is to build tech companies that stay in Florida and create high-paying jobs. 

"We have seen tremendous value from Jane Teague [the Institute's COO] and and the team," said Chris Daniels, CEO of Candidate.Guru. "Candidate.Guru hopes this program is revived." 

The Institute was not the only tech casualty of the line-item vetoes. Startup FIU was slated to receive $1 million to help fund its new campus-wide entrepreneurship program that includes several accelerators, including one focused on technology being developed. Florida Atlantic University’s Tech Runway, also a campus-wide and community accelerator, was slated to receive $1.2 million to help fuel its young program.

Other university programs, including several incubators and maker spaces in Orlando, the Tampa Bay area and Gainesville, were also not funded.

Read more: Here’s the entire list of vetoes

Currently, Florida startups consistently attract only a small sliver of venture capital. The funding cutoff comes at a time when other states are dangling startup funds and other incentives to spur economic development and attract top tech talent.

Even before the Institute’s defunding, “the amount of funding the state was already putting into this was extremely low compared to other states,” Streeter said. According to the Institute, nearly 40 states have seed and early-stage funds ranging from $20 million to $500 million.

“Florida talks a technology game but refuses to fund it,” said Bob Williamson, co-founder and chairman of Aegle Therapeutics Corp., a Miami-based biotech company developing regenerative medicine therapeutics. Aegle, which licensed University of Miami technology, was one of the companies in the pipeline to receive Institute funding. “FICPR has helped fund more than 70 startups and been an integral part of technology in the state,” added Williamson, who is also a member of the New World Angels funding network.

“What is ironic is that FICPR funds are an investment, not a grant,” Williamson said. “The company must raise matching money from outsider investors. The state receives a return and grows businesses.”

Jane Teague, COO of the Institute, confirmed that Aegle was in the last stages of the pipeline for funding, along with a half-dozen other companies. Behind those companies were about 20 startups the Institute has been working with to get them ready for funding.

“Companies don’t have a lot of places to go for capital when they are that young,” said Teague, who has been part of the Institute since its founding in 2007. “We’ve put to work $23 or $24 million but our companies have gone on to raise $150 million. They match [Institute funding] one-to-one but then they go on to raise way more. And of course they are working on things like curing cancer and diagnosing diseases early.”

In addition to leaving companies in its pipeline unfunded, the Institute has laid off staff, and Streeter said he took a pay cut. The idea is to keep the organization going with a skeleton staff and regroup for the next Legislative session.

“Hopefully we will soon be back in the business of Florida innovation and getting companies formed with Florida technology and keeping them in the state,” Streeter said.

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

June 12, 2017

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

Newcity

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.