November 13, 2015

UberPOOL to launch next Thursday in parts of Miami-Dade; expansion in plans


General Manager for Uber in South Florida, Kasra Moshkani, left, and Ryan Graves, Uber’s Senior Vice President and Head of Global Operations, speak at a press conference at TamboWorks co-working center in South Miami, regarding uberPOOL, and how this new ride sharing option can help address Miami-Dade’s transportation issues. Photo by Walter Michot. 

By Glenn Garvin /

Ride-sharing service Uber will start offering Miami customers next week a chance to knock 25 to 50 percent of their fares by traveling with another passenger headed in the same direction.

The new service, UberPool, will debut on Nov. 19. Initially it will be available only in Miami, Miami Beach and parts of Coral Gables. Eventually the company plans to expand it through its entire South Florida operational area, including Broward and Palm Beach.

“It’s a way to help relieve some of the congestion on Miami streets, and save customers some money at the same time,” said Kasra Moshkani, Uber’s South Florida general manager. “Anybody who’s been out on I-95 or 836 at rush hour knows how many cars are out there. This is a way to cut back.”

Customers who are summoning a car by clicking on the Uber app on their cell phones will now see an option to use UberPool. If they choose it, Uber’s software will match them up with another nearby passenger traveling to the same area. And the software will have plenty of choices, Moshkani said.

“We noticed a long time ago that for almost every customer calling for a car, there was what we call a look-alike trip nearby at the same time,” he said. “It was a logical fit and it just requires an extra couple of minutes of the customer’s time.”

Miami is the eighth U.S. city to add UberPool, which started out in San Francisco a little over a year ago and has been successful everywhere else it’s been tried — partly because of the reduced fares, partly because a lot of customers like the social aspects of sharing a ride.

In some cases, they really like it: “It’s speed-dating on demand, and the people doing it say it’s better than Tinder,” noted the popular Silicon Valley website Re/ One particularly enthusiastic pair of San Francisco customers even got married after meeting in an Uber back seat.

Nonetheless, there are enough hazards — tardiness at the pick-up point, overripe post-gym aromas — that the company publishes a guide to UberPool etiquette. (”Consider chatting about the weather or your favorite sandwich, but perhaps avoid any heated political debate.”)

Uber, which began operating in Miami-Dade County in June 2014, remains technically illegal in the eyes of local authorities, though enforcement attempts have practically ceased and Mayor Carlos Gimenez says he expects the county to work out a legal operating agreement by the end of the year. Broward and Palm Beach counties last summer both revised their laws to make room for Uber and other ride-sharing companies.

November 12, 2015

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick: A 'champion's mindset' is what you need to succeed

5Travis and Melissa Media_2904

By Nancy Dahlberg /

What separates the great entrepreneurs from all the rest? In a rare South Florida appearance, Travis Kalanick, co-founder and CEO of Uber, offered his inspiring perspective to several hundred Miami Dade College students and tech community leaders on Thursday.

And it was a love fest with this crowd. “There is no better way to set up our students for success than to host one of the most innovative companies of the 21st century,” said Leandro Finol, executive director of The Idea Center, an entrepreneurship hub for MDC. “I want to apologize, Travis, for any type of pushback you got from our community. ... I don’t even remember what it is like not to have Uber – I Ubered here today, as a matter of fact. Uber has truly made Miami a more connected place,” said Melissa Medina, a vice president of eMerge Americas tech conference, who introduced Kalanick to the packed room at the Idea Center (pictured above with Kalanick.

Although it took longer than he would have liked to launch Uber in South Florida last year, Kalanick said that never-give-up attitude is what one needs to succeed. “We fell in love with the idea of Uber being here,” he said. It was about putting everything you’ve got into it, getting knocked down and getting back up – every time, he said.

That “champion’s mindset” is one of the traits of a great entrepreneur, he told the students, many of them entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs. Kalanick came up with the idea for Uber in his UCLA apartment and launched it as a side project for his friends and network, before seeing the global potential. He co-founded Uber in 2009, and guided the company from a niche market in San Francisco to its global presence in over 60 countries and 350 cities today. Uber, for those living under a rock, is a technology platform that lets riders push a button and get a ride and connects drivers with flexible work.

To take a company from five people to Uber’s current workforce of 5,000, great entrepreneurs also need purpose – for Uber it’s making transportation as reliable as running water. Their product or service must also have magic, that something that makes your customers awestruck, and it must be something that everybody can’t offer, he said. Great entrepreneurs have to be comfortable going against the grain. and they are a cross between analytical and creative, said Kalanick, who came up with the idea for Uber Ice Cream Day, which has since gone viral.

Great entrepreneurs also enjoy the ride, because then even the hardest problems are fun to solve: “It’s a long journey and you have to push to a point where it hurts.” Getting over the fear of failure is also critical, and he said he faced that after facing “100 no’s a day for four years straight” at his previous entrepreneurial venture.

The CEO credits much of Uber’s success launching in city after city all over the world to a former marketing intern’s “This is how you launch a city” playbook. “We’ve turned in into a machine of sorts, tuned to go faster and faster.”

He said he is excited about building cities of the future and that is why Uber is investing heavily in uberPOOL, the company’s ride-sharing service, which matches multiple passengers who are traveling along the same routes to different destinations, taking more cars off the overly congested roads and ultimately lowering carbon emissions. “The price comes down, the driver can make more money and then because of all the efficiencies the city gets better.” He said uberPOOL will be coming very soon to Miami-Dade County.

Uber has been on an international expansion tear, focusing most recently on the Asia Pacific region, and particularly China.

Its warchest for expansion is hefty: Uber is planning to raise close to $1 billion in new venture capital from investors, its eighth funding round, according to a New York Times report last month. Investors are looking at a valuation of $60 billion to $70 billion, which would would make Uber the world’s most valuable private startup by far, the report said. To date, the company has raised more than $8 billion from Benchmark, Google Ventures, Goldman Sachs and others.

Kalanick was in town because he is a speaker at Summit at Sea, an invitational three-day voyage departing Miami on Friday with about 2,500 entrepreneurs, nonprofit leaders and artists across all industries. He’s giving one of the opening day talks with Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman, on the voyage.

The Idea Center @MDC, funded by the Knight Foundation, is the college’s hub of innovation, and includes programs such as the CREATE accelerator, CodePro, The Startup Challenge, Operation Startup and the Innovation Lab, to name a few. It brings in speakers nearly every week to talk to students.

Nancy Dahlberg; 305-376-3595;

November 10, 2015

French IT company opens U.S.-LatAm office in Venture Hive

The Beacon Council announced that Net Reviews, a France-based IT company opened an office at Venture Hive in downtown Miami to service the U.S. and Latin American markets.

Net Reviews created, a web solution that enables online retailers to collect and display genuine customer reviews.

 "Our objectives are to develop both the U.S. and LATAM markets," CEO Olivier Mouillet said. "We needed to employ people that know and speak both American [English] and Spanish languages. Miami is the best place to reach these markets and find this kind of valuable employee."

Net Reviews has more than 200 customers in South America and has already opened in Chile, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil and Peru, he said.

 The company invested $250,000 and is adding 22 direct jobs within three years, the Beacon Council said. The Beacon Council, Miami-Dade's economic development organization, assisted the tech company with site selection, research and marketing analysis, labor/training, business contacts and referrals. The IT sector has been the fastest growing sector of the seven targeted industries of the Beacon Council's One Community One Goal initiative.

With an accelerator, incubator and other programs, Venture Hive is an entrepreneurial hub in downtown Miami that is home to more than 30 companies from more than a dozen different countries. "The Venture Hive family is very diverse and to give a home and family to European entrepreneurs is a win-win for Miami-Dade County and for all of our resident startups," said Susan Amat, founder and CEO of Venture Hive.


November 04, 2015

Tech Bash to turn Marlins Park into a field of geeks Friday night

Tech Bash 2014

By Nancy Dahlberg / / @ndahlberg

Gadgets and gamers and drones, oh my: Marlins Park will become a field of geeks Friday night as TigerDirect throws a Tech Bash for the community.

The TigerDirect Tech Bash, now in its fourth year and third at the park, will include more than 120 vendors, including Microsoft, Intel, Alienware and Vizio, showing off their latest technologies in interactive exhibits. There will also be a gaming area, a university section, product giveaways, entertainment and concessions, all in a carnival-like atmosphere, said Steven Leeds, director of marketing for TigerDirect, the Miami-based subsidiary of Systemax.

Tech Bash is free with advance registration, and attendance is expected to exceed last year’s total of 18,000 people. The hours, as well as the size of the event, have been extended.

Attendees are encouraged to download the TigerDirect Tech Bash app, free through Google Play and Apple stores, which will send push notifications during the event about special meetups and product giveaways, including TVs, 3-D printers, hoverboards and drones. Oh, and yes, you can shop ‘til you drop.

Through the app, attendees can buy from any booth and have the items delivered to their home, Leeds said. The hottest devices, gadgets, wearables and games will also be displayed in a pop-up store on the field. There will be Black Friday-like deals to be had throughout the park, he said.

Other highlights of the event include exhibits and demonstrations in the Alienware Alpha Truck and the H-P Sprout Trailer, both of which will be in the West Plaza outside the stadium. The Build Your Own PC Race for Charity finals will be back, Leeds said; initial competitions were held around the country. Universities will be displaying their latest technologies, and Miami-area startups and community organizations will have displays. TechnoBuffalo, a YouTube star, will host a meetup, and for small businesses, there will be B2B lounges for networking.

"It's not just about consumer technology, it's really about how technology is playing a role in all aspects of life and offering a glimpse into the future,'' Leeds said. "We really want to help make Miami a hub for technology."

General admission to the TigerDirect Tech Bash, which will be from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. Friday, is free with pre-event registration at Otherwise, it will cost $10 at the door. For the first time, early access admission will be available at 5:30; that will cost $20 and include some gifts as well as a meet-and-greet opportunity with the Shark Tank’s Kevin O’Leary for the first 100 arrivals. Event parking is $10.


October 22, 2015

ETBS chooses 24 startups to pitch for $150K in prizes; 10 are from South Florida

 Florida Venture Forum, Space Florida, and Enterprise Development Corp of South Florida have selected  twenty-four Florida-based companies to present at the Emerging Technologies & Business Showcase (ETBS), to be held at the Hyatt Regency in Coral Gables on November 4.

In addition to presentations and other programming, the ETBS will feature $150,000 in awards presented to winning companies in the early and growth-stage categories. The awards will be provided by Space Florida.

Presenters were selected from a record pool of applicants by a committee of active Florida venture capitalists and other investors, and will present to an audience of investors, other deal professionals and entrepreneurs.

Presenting companies from South Florida are:

BDEX, LLC, Coral Springs (, is the first ever Data Exchange Platform (DXP). BDEX is a market-driven exchange platform combining all of the functionality, data and reach of traditional Data Management Platforms (DMP) in a true marketplace environment. The DXP is disruptive cloud-based innovation that will revolutionize how data is bought and sold across all industries.

ClassWallet, Miami (,is the leading end-to-end digital solution for schools and teachers that manages funds disbursement, e-commerce and tracking in a single platform designedfor maximum simplicity and accountability. ClassWallet brings an unprecedented efficiency to a a $23B system that relies heavily on cash, checks and purchase orders that add up to 40% transaction costs and a fund-spend-track lifecycle that takes weeks. ClassWallet reduces these costs to less than 5%, and the lifecycle to same day.

EGLA COMMUNICATIONS, Boca Raton (, is a cloud-based multimedia streaming platform that delivers multimedia content to cable and telecommunication operators with hundreds to thousands of subscribers in mobile, cable systems, web, and over-the-top. Mediamplify provides music, tv, and video experiences to its affiliates.

Neocis, Miami (, creates a robotic guidance system for the dental implant market. It reduces surgeon time and improves clinical performance through a minimally invasive approach. With 1M-2M implant procedures annually in the US, dental implants are the standard of care for tooth replacement, and the dental implant market totals nearly $15B with a 15% growth rate. Neocis uses a recurring revenue model by tracking implant placement in the software.

RedCap, Ft. Lauderdale (, has developed technology and business process that transforms the current experience of buying and servicing a vehicle. The integration of RedCap's software enables any automotive dealer to offer their customers "out of store" experiences which not only allows a customer to service and purchase without ever leaving their home or office but allows the dealer to extend their brand and services beyond the property of the dealership. Most importantly, the software improves customer satisfaction by nearly 40 points, revenue by 18% and reduces loaner expense by as much as 40%. RedCap is working with leading Connected Car players to fully integrate RedCap software into the connected car experience.

Settleitsoft, Ft. Lauderdale (, has identified an enormous business opportunity in the debt settlement and financial services industry.  The Company's flagship product, SettleiTsoft® system platform has been developed using the latest technology to address the ever-growing problem of consumer default on contractual debt obligations.   SettleiTsoft® web-based, self-help debt settlement software is accessible 24/7; encapsulating the debt settlement process in an automated, intuitive and user-friendly experience where debtors may electronically communicate and virtually negotiate with their creditors in ways never before possible.  SettleiTsoft® not only offers effective solutions for consumers in need of debt settlement, but also provides debt relief alternatives to those who want to control and manage personal finances, achieve savings goals, and improve their financial situation through a worldwide data-mining platform.

71 Pounds, Ft. Lauderdale ( ), is a "set-and-forget" system that automated the FedEx & UPS money-back guarantee (MBG) policy. Did you know that if an overnight, ground, or international shipment is late - even by 60 seconds - customers are entitled to 100% refund? Not many businesses do, as $2 Billion are left unclaimed each year.

Symptify, Sunny Isles Beach ( ), is a virtual doctor. It helps users figure out causes for their symptoms, what to do about them and where to go for help. Millions of people turn to the web to self-evaluate their symptoms everyday but they rely on the use of web search engines which often lead them to erroneous conclusions, needless anxiety and unwarranted doctor visits. Symptify is a powerful decision aid that helps users discern which conditions are amenable to self-treatment, which require immediate attention and which ones can be cared for at lower acuity venues. It is made available as an API to health systems, governments, payers, ACOs and health plans interested in improving patient engagement, promoting health literacy and curbing healthcare costs.

SirenMD, Miami (, is an enterprise created to offer efficiencies and improvements in healthcare communications, and its signature product is a real-time, medical case collaboration platform. Through its multimedia, telemedicine application, SirenMD facilitates coordinated communication between caregivers and patient advocates (doctors, nurses, athletic trainers, and other medical personnel) using mobile and web systems.

Videoo, Miami Beach (, is new technology (SaaS) built for brands and publishers to better engage audiences in collaborative social broadcasting. Videoo takes social media to the next level; They call it “living media"! Now passive viewers become active participants in social storytelling. Videoo automatically pulls content from Vine, Twitter, Instagram & YouTube for all-in-one playlists that re-order in real-time as audiences watch, vote, upload and share. Use cases: News feeds, social storytelling, events, contests and social TV. Early adopters include: The Huffington Post, NHL, Bob Marley and Fusion (Joint venture between ABC, Disney & Univision). Results are deeper engagement and monetization: 40x impressions, 11.64 clip views per user, +408% time on site, +267% social referrals.

In addition, 14 other companies from other parts of the state will also be presenting.

Pre-registration for the Emerging Technologies and Business Showcase is available until November 2, 2015. Walkup registration rate will apply thereafter, based on availability.  Attendees have the opportunity to listen to pitches from leading Florida companies, an investor panel and a guest luncheon speaker, retired NASA Astronaut Captain Winston Scott.  Additionally, on November 3, 2015, registered attendees are invited to register for a Pitching to Investors workshop, taught by lead instructor Troy Knauss of the Angel Resource Institute. The workshop is an add-on event with an additional charge to the November 4th Showcase.

Visit for more information.

October 17, 2015

Know your numbers: Some facts about tech employment in South Florida

InternetCoast collects and compiles relearch and statistics about Florida's tech industry employment, venture capital, SBIR grants and STEM education, among other topics on It recently released a “Facts about South Florida’s High Tech Industry” Report as well as a “Facts about Florida’s High Tech Workforce” Report.  The South Florida report includes an analysis of STEM occupation employment and high tech industry employment during the period 2008 – 2014. 

Report highlights include:

  • ·       Approximately 86,600 people were employed in STEM occupations in 2014, accounting for 3.4 percent of all jobs in South Florida.
  • ·       Miami-Dade County companies employed the most STEM workers in 2014 (34,000)
  • ·       3.9 percent of Palm Beach County workers were employed in STEM occupations in 2014
  • ·       9,466 South Florida high-tech industry business locations employed 77,807 tech and non-tech employees in 2014
  • ·       Non-STEM occupations and non-high tech industry employment is growing at a faster pace than STEM occupation and high tech industry employment

A summary of the South Florida and statewide reports are available at the InternetCoast “Florida Innovation Highlights” web portal at

October 13, 2015

Magic Leap toasts the future of personal computing


CEO of Magic Leap Rony Abovitz, right, gives opening remarks during Magic Leap's groundbreaking event, with Plantation Mayor Diane Veltri Bendekovic and Bob Swindell, president and CEO of Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance. Magic Leap celebrated the groundbreaking of Magic Leap's new facility in Plantation, Florida. Its 260,000 square-foot facility will be the new headquarters and home to many high-tech jobs in Florida. CARL JUSTE


By Nancy Dahlberg /

There were no wizards flying around, no holograms to dodge, no sense-defying technology evoking oohs and ahhs. But Magic Leap, one of South Florida’s most secretive companies, went slightly more public Tuesday.

With government and business leaders and hundreds of employees and community members packed under a big white tent, Magic Leap founder and CEO Rony Abovitz toasted to the company’s new 260,000-square-foot Plantation headquarters. Yet, nobody still seems to know exactly what Magic Leap is jumping at.

The company, currently crowded into the Design Center of the Americas in Dania Beach, will be moving its entire South Florida workforce – about 200 people now of 400 worldwide and growing rapidly – into the former Motorola campus on West Sunrise Boulevard. Magic Leap will use it for its engineering, design and pilot manufacturing operations. Build-out will begin immediately, costing “tens of millions,” and the hope is that the first 100 or so employees will move in by the end of the year.

“To me, it’s proof you can dream wildly and make things happen,” Abovitz said.

But just what is Magic Leap making happen?

Publicly, Magic Leap will only cryptically say it is developing a new “mixed reality” computing platform that will “enable people to interact with the world in ways never before possible ... defining the future of computing, entertainment, communication, education and play.” Although the technology does have elements of augmented reality – layering 3-D virtual images on the real world – that’s about where similarities end with other virtual and augmented realty technology, including Oculus Rift.

LINK:Magic Leap HQ (2)

The company has been under a strict cone of silence about its technology – the employees in the crowd were told not to share with the media – but some details have emerged. In a rare public appearance at his alma mater, the University of Miami, in February, Abovitz said that the technology works seamlessly with the body – a format that, according to Abovitz, will be the future. Magic Leap’s technology, he hinted, may make the smartphone obsolete — effectively changing the world of personal computing as it is now known.

Those are big words, but Google and other high-profile Silicon Valley venture funds are believers, pumping $592 million into the company last year. That’s serious growth capital for any company and highly unusual in Florida. But beyond the big idea is a founder that has been there, done that: Abovitz co-founded Mako Surgical, a South Florida medical robotics company that grew to hundreds of employees and sold for $1.65 billion to Stryker in 2013.

One of the first articles to hint at the technology was published in February in the MIT Technology Review. Said the writer, Rachel Metz, who tried an early prototype of the technology: “It’s safe to say Magic Leap has a tiny projector that shines light onto a transparent lens, which deflects the light onto the retina. That pattern of light blends in so well with the light you’re receiving from the real world that to your visual cortex, artificial objects are nearly indistinguishable from actual objects.” Metz said then the company was aiming to fit its technology into a “glasses-like wearable device.” MIT Technology Review named it one of the 2015 breakthrough technologies of the year.

In June, at MIT Technology Review’s EmTech Digital conference, more was revealed in a panel discussion by Magic Leap executives Abovitz; sci-fi novelist and Magic Leap Chief Futurist, Neal Stephenson; and Chief Creative Officer Graeme Devine, a well-known gaming developer. “That screen in your head that builds the world, I thought that would be an awesome place to do computing and that was the notion in kicking off the company – and we think it will change everything,” Abovitz said during the panel.

Through descriptions and diagrams, patent application filings – including 97 filed in August alone – give other clues into the technology’s potential uses. The technology could help consumers with the most mundane of tasks, grocery shopping, where information about products can pop off the shelves. It can also be used for fun and games, such as giving a live sports game a whole new dimension – or maybe a different ending – with fantasy gaming. Or it might be used for educational and potentially life-saving uses, such as providing doctors with key patient information while at the operating table.

Magic Leap has assembled a diverse executive team, many with film, music or video game industry experience. Rachna Bhasin, who serves on the board of the GRAMMY Foundation and previously worked as senior vice president of SiriusXM Radio and also at Dell and EMI Music, joined last month as chief business officer. More than 150 jobs were listed on the “Wizards Wanted” section of this week, including optical, systems, software and vision systems engineers, machine learning positions, designers, art directors and cinematic producers.

“After experiencing what Magic Leap is creating first-hand, I am confident that this technology will not only lead us into the next era of media and entertainment, but also more broadly how we will experience the world around us,” Bhasin said in her employment announcement.

A few years ago, Magic Leap started in the proverbial and literal garage, said Abovitz, a University of Miami biomedical engineering alum. From there, Magic Leap’s small, original team took space in a strip mall in Hollywood “where no one believed we were changing the world,” Abovitz said in June. The company moved to DCOTA, where it will stay until its new campus is built out. Magic Leap also has offices in Mountain View, Los Angeles and Santa Cruz, California, Seattle, Austin, the UK, New Zealand and Israel.

Like entrepreneurs at other cutting-edge tech firms, including Google and Facebook, Abovitz has been known to turn to sources that are unconventional — at least in corporate terms — to inspire creativity. Those have included bringing rock bands, filmmakers and even Apollo astronauts to the office.

“This is what the United States is all about – the dream,” said U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, at the groundbreaking on Tuesday. “I’m hoping the next time I come here, ... I will be able to remember the day when I was here, when this dream now has taken over and has replaced things that we are so used to now with something that is so much more advanced, so much more high tech  … And that not only was it started here in South Florida, but the jobs, the creators, the brain power will stay here in South Florida.”

At the very least, noted Plantation Mayor Diane Veltri Bendekovic, Magic Leap has put Plantation on the “international map,” joking that she wished she could harness all this energy under the tent for use in her city meetings. Bob Swindell, president and CEO of Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance and a board member of Enterprise Florida, both economic development organizations, also said a few words: “The tradition of innovation on this campus will serve Magic Leap for decades to come. The state that helped put a man of the moon promises to do all it can to help [Magic Leap] stay and grow.”

Afterward, Swindell said state and local officials are “in the early stages” of discussing an incentives package for Magic Leap’s growth stage.

Magic Leap isn’t saying when it expects to release its first product, but Tuesday was all about toasting things to come. With champagne flutes raised, Abovitz told the crowd the world will see the world through Magic Leap’s eyes — sometime soon.

Nancy Dahlberg, 305-376-3595, @ndahlberg



September 28, 2015

Mayor Gimenez: Uber, Lyft will be legal in Miami-Dade by end of year

By Glenn Garvin

Ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft will be legal in Miami-Dade County by the end of the year, Mayor Carlos Gimenez said Monday, while “a substantial part” of the taxi industry will be deregulated.

“Demand is too great” for the ride-sharing companies, Gimenez said. “You're not going to put that genie back in the bottle.... I'm not going to drag Uber and Lyft back into the 20th century. I think the taxi industry has to move into the 21st.”

Gimenez made his remarks following a press conference where the New York-based company ZabCab unveiled a new app that will allow customers to summon regular taxis with a single tap on their smart phones, one of the popular features of the ride-sharing companies.

Ride-sharing companies, which hook up passengers with freelance drivers via cellphone technology, are technically illegal in Miami-Dade. But, after drawing a blizzard of traffic tickets when they first set up shop in the county in the spring of 2014, they've operated more or less openly for the past year.

Broward and Palm Beach counties, after similar tumult, took steps this summer to legalize the ride-"sharing companies. And Gimenez said he's going to follow the same path.

At the same time, he added, he'll push for measures to expand the regular taxi force by ditching restrictions on how many cabs can operate in Miami-Dade and who can drive them. Under current law, the size of the taxi fleet is capped and each cab must have a permit — medallion, in industry jargon — that can cost as much as $300,000.

“We're going to do something about the numbers and we're going to do something about the medallions, these kind of things,” Gimenez said. “There are issues that have to be overcome. The owners had to purchase those medallions, so we have to figure out, how do we deal with that?”

“We're going to look at the rest of the country and see how they've changed their regulations. Uber and Lyft will shortly be legal in Broward and Palm Beach — that's my understanding — and we want to see how they're dealing with it.”


September 27, 2015

PREPWORKS: from learning center to global ed-tech platform



By Nancy Dahlberg /

In 2007, Tracy LaFlamme Ortega opened her first Learning Center in Key Biscayne. Today the former high school English teacher is running a global education-technology company that provides test preparation and supplemental lessons to students anywhere, anytime, on any device.

Ortega’s company, PREPWORKS, painstakingly developed an online platform for its tutoring methodology and launched it in 2011. Now PREPWORKS’ technology is used by more than 100,000 people in 26 states and 18 countries.

PREPWORKS is an adaptive learning company; its supplemental curricula is for middle and high schools — public, private, and charter — in core subjects like algebra and civics, while its PSAT, SAT and ACT programs ready high school students for college entrance tests.

“We have translated the science and success of our 10 years of 1-to-1 tutoring into a highly scalable and adaptive online platform that delivers the most prescriptive learning experience to students seeking college and career readiness,” Ortega said. She worked briefly at a test prep company, wondered why results were not better, and set out to develop a better way: “We are really looking to make a difference.”

Over the years, the Key Biscayne learning center and a second one in Coconut Grove have served as incubators to develop and test the company’s proprietary adaptive learning processes. Not a one-size-fits-all system of the the past, PREPWORKS “serves as a GPS for each student, delivering to each student instructional content and practice activities specific to the student’s specific level of mastery and deficiency in given lesson areas,” said Ortega, in an interview at the Coconut grove center.

Content includes videos, technology-enhanced practice questions, and a writable sketchpad accessible from any Internet-ready device. The result: 281 trillion personalized learning paths, Ortega said. “For our SAT and ACT programs, we have a track record of improvement of 300 SAT points and 5 ACT points.”

Unlike private tutoring unaffordable to many, the company’s online courses cost about $100 to $300 in the direct-to-consumer market, and the company is testing a monthly subscription model that would bring the cost down to about $25 a month, Ortega said. Schools and districts that PREPWORKS partners with pay about $10 to $75 per student depending on the course. “We see technology as the great equalizer in education,” she said.

Until now, PREPWORKS has quietly developed its products and grown, but is now ready to scale. While Ortega won’t disclose revenue figures, it’s in the multi-millions, Ortega said, with an average year-over-year growth rate of 120 percent since launching its e-learning systems in 2011. Her company, now with 12 employees and 30 contractors, has attracted more than $2 million in angel funding, including an investment from e-learning entrepreneur John Edelson in the spring.

“I always look first for a market that is growing and ripe for innovation, and test preparation is really ripe,” said Edelson, founder of Fort Lauderdale-based, and other e-learning sites. “Tests are increasing and evolving, and tests are getting better ... and somewhat adaptive. The company has a sophisticated adaptive learning technology to address this market. A good adaptive system will see which skill or concept you are missing ... and teach you something you really needed to know.”

To be sure, the market is large and crowded. According to BMO Capital Markets, estimates for the U.S. K-12 tutoring and test preparation range from $5 billion to $7 billion. BMO Capital Markets projects that spending in K-12 testing and assessment will reach roughly $1.8 billion in 2019. With such a big opportunity, there are dozens of ed-tech companies in this sector, from startups to established players like Kaplan.

“PREPWORKS has a winner product in a market that’s growing and in need of better products. The next step is ‘let’s learn to market this thing broadly.’ The company’s Web presence has room for improvement as does some other pieces of its sales and marketing,” said Edelson, who has been an e-learning entrepreneur for 12 years. “But it’s poised for growth, and it’s a relatively easy challenge to overcome.”

One market PREPWORKS is going after hard is helping public schools and districts to significantly increase student performance in core subject areas such as algebra, civics and language arts. In Louisiana, PREPWORKS has already started to make a difference, as 100 percent of eighth-graders enrolled in PREPWORKS algebra achieved a passing score on their official state assessment, in a district where the historical pass rate was 44 percent, Ortega said.

“Our experiences with PREPWORKS were very favorable. We started with 15 students and entered a partnership with the parents, the students and the school, and we all signed off that we would have a part in supporting the child but this course is really set up to be an independent,” said Cherie Haydel Goins, assistant principal of Martin Behrman Charter School Academy of Creative Arts and Sciences in New Orleans, who has signed up to again offer PREPWORKS.

PREPWORKS is also partnering with Teach for America, a nonprofit that helps low-performing schools. The courseware will be offered free to all 300 students who attend the organization’s ROOTS Miami leadership summit on Nov. 21 with teachers and families. “PREPWORKS is really invested in the potential of students in Miami-Dade County Public Schools ... and that they have the tools that they need to succeed,” said Kiesha Moodie, managing director of alumni and community impact at Teach for America. “Hopefully this can be a model about how education and tech can partner and collaborate at a grassroots level.”

Along with schools and the direct-to-consumer market in the U.S., the company sees significant opportunity internationally. Last year, the company began selling in China, where the SAT/ACT test prep market is estimated to be $225 million. All lessons are in English because the curricula aims to prepare the student for college and career readiness in the United States, Ortega said.

Ortega understands the complicated world of test prep, and she brings the right attitude to her course design, said Penny Townsend, head of school for Miami’s Ransom Everglades, which has recently begun using the SAT and ACT PREPWORKS programs. “We see this as a low-stress way for students to assess their own test-taking skills and preparedness — and that the process will hopefully build confidence. The program is focused on identifying strengths and finding solutions for weaknesses.”

At Ransom Everglades, the program is a voluntary endeavor, Townsend said. “We hope that this kind of engagement will ultimately lead to more intrinsically motivated learners capable of self-directed study — skills needed in our technologically infused world.”

Nancy Dahlberg: 305-376-3595, @ndahlberg

September 17, 2015

Mayor, CEO announce .MIAMI domain name launch

Mayor Regalado


By Nancy Dahlberg /

Move over, .NYC -- you are not the only master of your domain.

 Beginning Oct. 2, Miami will become the third U.S. city with a dedicated Internet domain name, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado announced Thursday.

.MIAMI will join New York (.nyc) and Las Vegas (.vegas) in creating a global Internet identity through which the city’s businesses, communities and residents can identify themselves with the Magic City and its internationally recognized brand, he said.

“Everyone wants to be a part of Miami and the launch of the .MIAMI domain establishes a unique Internet presence for us,” said the mayor (pictured above), who participated in a press conference along with City Commissioner Francis Suarez and Chief Information Officer Kevin Burns. “Public departments, local businesses and residents can now demonstrate their passion for Miami with a .MIAMI domain and in doing so, elevate our visibility and reputation on the Internet stage.”

The .MIAMI domain is operated by the domain registry Minds + Machines in cooperation with the City of Miami. An undisclosed portion of the revenue from the sale of .MIAMI domain names will be disbursed to the city. Minds + Machines, a British public company, has launched 18 new top-level domains in the past year, including .london. “This is a huge opportunity — people should be thinking not just about a single name they want, but the full list of names their business, family or community might need,” said Antony Van Couvering, CEO of Minds + Machines, who was also at the Thursday morning press conference. 

.MIAMI domain names will go on sale starting Oct. 2 on a first-come, first-served basis. Standard domain names such as will typically cost about $20 a year, with premium names such as priced higher. GoDaddy is taking advance orders for discounted domain names at .MIAMI domain names can also be pre-ordered at a discount now (currently $13.99) or purchased beginning Oct. 2 through a Miami-based domain registry service, HelloDotMiami, at

The .MIAMI top-level domain (TLD) was established as a part of the historic expansion of the Internet naming system administered by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. More than 7 million domain names have now been registered across several hundred new generic top-level domains. Learn more at  

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