January 20, 2018

Fintech startup Birch Finance raises $1 million in funding led by AGP Miami

Birch Finance, the Florida-born startup that helps people reap more rewards from their credit cards, has raised $s million in funding in a round led by angel investor network AGP Miami.

With this new capital, Birch will continue expanding its already robust platform, which currently integrates with more than 19,000 banks and 175 different credit cards. Investors in the round included Kevin Johnson, the former CEO of Ebates, and Frank Azor, the co-founder of Alienware.

Founded in 2015 in Gainesville, Birch relocated to Silicon Valley in fall of 2017. The fintech startup' credit card rewards analysis app is available on web and iOS.

Alexc“Americans collectively miss out on roughly $20 billion in rewards each year by using the wrong cards, but it’s not really their fault,” Birch co-founder and CEO Alex Cohen said in a news release. “Credit card rewards programs are designed to be complex and typically reward only the savviest consumers. We created Birch to help the average person make sense of it all, so that anyone can take full advantage of their rewards programs without being an expert.”

By integrating with credit card providers and banks to track spending habits, Birch gives consumers personalized and detailed reports on their past transactions and recommends the best credit cards to earn the most rewards based on their shopping habits. Using geolocation, Birch also alerts users which card to use for their purchases as they walk into a store.

 “There’s no shortage of personal finance tools that track a user’s spending, but none of them offer any personalized advice, such as which cards are most effective based on the user’s behavior,” said Raul Moas, managing director of AGP Miami. “Birch is an innovative solution that provides an immediate benefit to consumers, so we’re excited to support the team as they set out to change the way people shop and pay.”

In the past year, AGP has been spreading its wings and has been scouting for companies in Gainesville and other parts of the state in addition to South Florida. In the last four years, AGP has grown to nearly 100 active investors and has made more than 24 investments in South Florida companies totaling more than $7 million. Moas was recently named Miami program director for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

 

January 15, 2018

Chatting with Chirrp: Miami company uses AI to engage with customers

Chirrpteam

 

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlbergbiz@gmail.com

Startup Spotlight: CHIRRP.AI

Headquarters: Miami

Concept: Chirrp is a conversational platform that harnesses the power of artificial intelligence to create engaging interactions with customers. Through Chirrp, companies can rapidly offer intelligent conversation that is engaging, personalized and targeted.

Story: Since working together on their first project many years ago, the founders of Chirrp — Mallesh Murugesan and Stephen Yuan — have been passionate about using technology to deliver better experiences for consumers. Over the past three years, their team has explored the capabilities of current Artificial Intelligence technologies, identifying weakness and working on ways to apply AI to enhance user interactions. In 2016, they decided to bring these ideas together to create a platform that would enable richer conversations and better experiences for their users.

Once the platform foundation was created, the Chirrp team focused on making the conversations robust, flexible and accurate. Through their research, they explored linguistics and communications in an effort to make Chirrp’s AI more human-like. The company has now created a patent-pending methodology that uses a unique way to understand the context of human intentions and provide human-like engagement.

Murugesan, CEO and co-founder, has been very involved in the startup community here in South Florida. “The startup community has evolved so much in Miami in the past few years right in front of us. There is a very vibrant startup community here and is growing tremendously,” Murugesan said. Prior to Chirrp, he started Abeyon to bring intuitive design, as well as great user experience design and user interface design (UI/UX) to complex business processes, be it health data, manufacturing or government.

Yuan is COO and has more than 25 years of experience working on technology products. He heads the R&D team of Chirrp’s Washington, D.C., office. Having two locations has allowed the company to work successfully in the healthcare industry, as well as with the federal government.

Chirrp is being implemented at hospitals around South Florida as a patient engagement tool, Murugesan said. Chirrp is also working on a project with the U.S. Department of the Navy to analyze data and find patterns and attributes to enable Navy to make better decisions. The company is having conversations with several other federal agencies as well, he said.

Launched: January 2017

Website: www.chirrp.ai

Management team: Mallesh Murugesan, co-founder and CEO, Stephen Yuan, co-founder and COO.

No. of employees: Five.

Financing: Currently raising seed funding.

Recent milestones: In June, Chirrp.ai won the eMerge Americas Early Stage Startup Showcase, taking home $50,000 in prizes. Since then, the company has brought in business development partners and advisory board members to grow and realize the potential of Chirrp.ai. The company also recently obtained another major healthcare client for which it will deliver customer engagement through digital channels.

Biggest startup challenge: “Our biggest challenge is the timing of the technology. Artificial Intelligence-based solutions are still new, especially in the enterprise space. Finding the right solution for an enterprise has been a challenge and a focus for us at Chirrp.ai. In the upcoming year, we believe AI will take a central role in solution offerings and we see Chirrp at the forefront of that movement,” Murugesan said.

Next step: To continue strengthening the platform and improve its capabilities. The startup is working on several proof-of-concepts for specific industries to showcase the applicability of AI-based conversations.

Strategy for next step: The strategy is to have a well-defined product road map from a technology perspective, continue to develop the capabilities of the platform, and then bring in the right strategic partners to capture the healthcare market using Chirrp.ai.

Mentor’s view: “Chirrp is also very well positioned and in the early stage of utilizing artificial intelligence to improve and streamline processes and customer interaction, specifically within the healthcare industry. Mallesh has a great attitude and is open to ideas and critique and able to executed changes quickly,” said Nathaniel Pool, an angel investor and adviser. “As with any startup, the key to Chirrp’s success will be to solidify their niche, then remain laser-focused.”

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter. Email Nancy at ndahlbergbiz@gmail.com

READ PAST STARTUP SPOTLIGHTS UNDER THE STARTUP SPOTLIGHT CATEGORY OF THIS BLOG.

ChirrpCEOandMaite Nogales

Chirrp Co-Founder & CEO Mallesh Murugesan and Maite Nogales, office manager, stand outside their office in Coral Gables on Nov. 21. Chirrp is a tech company that uses artificial intelligence to create engaging chat conversations. AL DIAZ adiaz@miamiherald.com

January 11, 2018

Drive for Uber, ride Uber? Ironhack/Uber offer $200,000 in coding scholarships

 

Ironhack-logo-235x235For the second year in a row, Uber is teaming up with coding and design bootcamp Ironhack to award scholarships to Uber drivers and riders to help them acquire professional skills in coding and design.

This year, $200,000 in scholarships will be given out.  Four winners will be awarded full scholarships (each valued at $11,000) to enroll in one of Ironhack’s bootcamps in 2018, and 40+ partial scholarships will be awarded to additional winners.

“We were overwhelmed with the response to our first scholarship campaign last year, and we’re delighted to bring back this great opportunity for our driver-partners and riders,” said Uber Florida General Manager Kasra Moshkani. “We’re excited to make this invaluable learning opportunity accessible to new South Florida residents who are looking to launch careers in technology.”

The first class of 2017 scholarship winners included 19 year-old Ivan Jorge, a Cuban immigrant who has been working since he was a teenager to support his family. After completing his bootcamp course at Ironhack, he was hired as a Software Engineer at Xevo, which provides software for the automotive industry. Oleh Kolinko, an immigrant from the Ukraine, discovered Ironhack through the Uber Scholarship. After completing the web developer bootcamp in January 2017, he was hired as a Web App Developer at JetSmarter, a mobile marketplace for shared and private charter flights.

“We’re thrilled to team up with Uber for the second year in a row and to double our scholarship offer,” said Ironhack Miami General Manager Alia Poonawala. “We continue to see increasing demand for tech talent both locally and nationally, and through this scholarship, we’ll be able to educate 50 more South Floridians who wish to make massive career changes and become part of the rapidly evolving tech landscape. We’re inspired every day by the stories of the students who pass through our doors and who have been placed at reputable companies in South Florida like Magic Leap, Visa, and CareCloud, and we can’t wait to see what our 2018 scholarship winners achieve.”

Rated the #3 coding school in the world in 2017 by global rating site SwitchUp, Ironhack is located in the heart of Brickell at Building.co, Miami’s shared workspace for tech companies and startups. The school, which opened in Miami three years ago, also has campuses in Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, and Mexico City.

To apply, here is the process:

  1. Uber riders and driver-partners in Florida should check their rider or driver app between January 8 and January 19 for details about the scholarship opportunity. To enter, users should enter their information and will receive a link to apply to one of Ironhack’s three courses (riders should make sure they have the latest version of the Uber app installed).
  2. Scholarship applications must be received by 11:59 PM EST on January 21, 2018.
  3. Selected finalists will be contacted for second-round interviews.
  4. Winners will be announced on Tuesday, February 6.

Interested Uber driver-partners and riders can also learn about the scholarships at Ironhack’s upcoming open house on Saturday, January 13 at 11 am. This free event will take place at Ironhack’s campus at 120 S.W. 8th Street in Miami. To attend, RSVP here.

For more information about the open house event or Uber’s scholarship, contact Ironhack at (305) 907-7086 or admissionsmia@ironhack.com.

  • Submitted by Ironhack

Magic Leap once again lifts Florida venture capital results

Magic Leap led 2017 and fourth-quarter venture capital financing in Florida with its previously reported  financing round of $502 million, according to the quarterly MoneyTree Report released Wednesday by PricewaterhouseCoopers and CB Insights.

Magic Leap’s investment round was led by Singapore’s Temasek Holding. The Plantation-based mixed reality technology company, which has raised $1.9 billion in total, made news this month when it announced its first product, the wearable Magic Leap One, Creator's Edition, would be released to developers.

According to MoneyTree, the Sunshine State snagged 88 venture deals worth $2.14 billion in 2017, up from 87 deals worth $1.24 billion in 2016.

Other South Florida companies raising venture capital in the fourth quarter, according to MoneyTree:

* CarSaver of Miami, provider of online car deals, $30 million;

* Vix, formerly Batanga Media, of Coral Gables, a marketing company, $6 million;

* Home61, an online real estate brokerage based in Miami, $4 million;

* SpringBIG of Boca Raton, a customer loyalty and marketing platform for cannabis retailers, $3.2 million.

In addition to Magic Leap, top South Florida fund-raises for the year included Boca Raton-based health-tech company Modernizing Medicine, which raised $231 million in the second quarter, and F1 Oncology in West Palm Beach, a biotech company that raised $37 million in the first quarter.

Nationwide, venture-backed companies saw $71.9 billion invested in 2017 across 5,052 deals. San Francisco-based Lyft received $1 billion during the fourth quarter, the fourth quarter’s largest investment tracked by MoneyTree. Magic Leap’s investment was second.

READ MORE HERE

December 22, 2017

Streann Media’s bold bet: ‘We are here to rescue the broadcast industry’

BM STREANN MEDIA0010 JAI

 

Startup Spotlight: Streann Media of Miami seeks to reinvent digital content for media customers and brands through distribution, engagement and monetization.

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlbergbiz@gmail.com

Company Name: Streann Media

Headquarters: Miami

Concept: Reinventing digital content for media customers and brands through distribution, engagement and monetization.

Story: The beginnings of Streann Media trace back six years, when the paths of Giovanni Punzo and Antonio Calderón crossed during their roles with disruptive technology provider LiveU. Around this time, Netflix’s new media content business model was just emerging, and the pair of innovators discovered firsthand the struggles that other content providers were having making the shift to digital and then to streaming content. Knowing that these other providers would soon be forced to follow the Netflix model to save their businesses, they sought a new solution — and Streann Media was the result.

 “We are here to rescue the broadcast industry,” said Calderón, Streann’s chief technology officer. “Thanks to our technology, our customers are building next-generation digital networks, their own version of Facebook, Netflix, YouTube, etc. With our technology, our customers are finally really engaging with end users and most importantly they are monetizing in digital,” added Punzo, CEO.

How does a TV station or radio station make money? Selling advertising. While traditional advertising spending is down and it’s boring; digital ad spending is up and should be more engaging, said the co-founders, who previously worked in the broadcast industry. “We built a digital advertising technology that can increase digital ads revenue times 10 in live video, audio and video on demand. Our customers create campaigns like Facebook Ads Manager but the ads are in their own digital networks. Content providers are in control and they monetize,” Punzo said.

Game shows and contests are ways a radio or TV station can engage their audiences. So Streann created a new feature in the platform for content providers to create contests on mobile with cash rewards, such as video Selfie-Ads.

“Already customers like TCS Digital in Central America, Actualidad Radio in Florida, Cariflix in the Caribbean, Iriejam in New York and Puravida in Costa Rica are using our new inventions and engaging with their customers,” said Punzo. “The results have been great — new user generated content, real testimonials, real storytelling.”

Streann’s technologies touches millions of people with more than 160 digital entertainment networks deployed for Web, iOS, Android, Roku, AppleTV, Virtual Reality, streaming in 141 countries, Punzo and Calderón said.

“Streann looks at the future of television like no one else is. Its user experience and monetization platforms make companies take a huge leap in technology. They are at the forefront constantly and have a personalized and exceptional relationship with each client,” said Raúl Domínguez, digital and new business director of TCS Digital.

Founded: 2014

Website: www.streann.com

Management team: Giovanni Punzo, CEO and co-founder; Antonio Calderón, chief technology officer and co-founder.

No. of employees: 15

Financing: The company has received investment from Tamiami Angels and Florida Angel Nexus investors.

Recent milestones: Launched Inside-Ads in Q3 2017 and Selfie-Ads user-generated content in November 2017. The Selfie-Ads product attracted regional brands such as Nestle, KFC, Subway, Pizza Hut and Diana. Streann recently launched Vlixers, an influencer platform for its customer TCS-Digital. It’s a unique platform designed for millennials with original content created by millennials available on Web, iOS and Android. The company won at the Early Stage Capital Conference in 2016 and was a finalist in eMerge Americas Startup Showcase.

Biggest startup challenge: Educating content providers to make the digital switch utilizing Streann technologies.

Next step: Launching new engagement and monetization features by NAB 2018, a broadcasting trade show in April. “The soccer World Cup in 2018 will help us grow even more as many of our customers will transmit World Cup content through our platform,” Calderón said.

Advisor’s view: Eric Giler, a Boston-based serial entrepreneur and on the board of Streann, said he worked with Punzo at his previous company, and admires his vision and energy level. “Gio’s partner and co-founder Antonio Calderón is a superb technical complement to Gio’s market and business sense,” Giler said.

“A laser-like focus on the Latin American market has been key to Streann’s early success. No other company is approaching the market like Streann. The challenge will be scaling the business as they continue to expand. Building out the team and attracting capital will be important as they continue to grow.”

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter. Email ndahlbergbiz@gmail.com

 

Pictured above: Antonio Calderón, CTO, at left, and Giovanni Punzo, CEO, co-founders of Streann Media, in their office in Doral. Jose A. Iglesias jiglesias@elnuevoherald.com

December 20, 2017

Magic Leap reveals its first product: Magic Leap One, Creator Edition

Magicleap1 (1)

By Nancy Dahlberg and Jane Wooldridge

South Florida’s secretive virtual reality wunderkind has finally revealed its long-anticipated technology — sort of.

On Wednesday, Broward-based Magic Leap unveiled Magic Leap One, a mixed-reality headset that allows wearers to see and interact with people and objects that aren’t in the room with them — but will appear as if they were. Unlike current virtual reality headsets that replace the experience of the physical setting, Magic Leap’s technology allows for experiences within the existing physical setting.

The version released Wednesday includes goggle-like headgear, called Lightwear, hooked to a pocket-sized Lightpack computer. It is aimed at digital creators “who could change how we experience the world,” according to the company’s website — to create interactive shopping, games and lifelike meet-ups between people in different physical spaces. (Think Star Trek’s hologram room, and you’re heading toward the right galaxy.) The technology simulates 3-D images superimposed on the real world by projecting patterns of light to the eye.

According to the company’s digital release, the technology will ship in 2018, when the company led by local entrepreneur Rony Abovitz will also reveal a “Creator’s Portal.”

READ THE FULL STORY IN THE MIAMI HERALD HERE.

December 14, 2017

Endeavor taps South Florida startups Boatsetter, Entic and Mediconecta to join global network

Endavor

The Airbnb for boating. On-demand energy savings for enterprise. Telehealth for the Spanish-speaking world.  Endeavor Miami announced Thursday that the co-founders of South Florida companies Boatsetter, Entic and Mediconecta were selected as Endeavor Entrepreneurs at Endeavor’s 76th International Selection Panel this week in Miami.

“Boatsetter, Entic and Mediconecta exemplify the high-impact traits that we select in our Endeavor Entrepreneurs, and it is a privilege to welcome their three technology companies into the Endeavor Miami portfolio,” said Laura Maydón, managing director of Endeavor Miami, in a news release.

The selected companies will receive services that include mentorship and access to capital, global markets and talent. Here are descriptions provided by Endeavor.

Boatsetter: Founded by Andy Sturner and Jaclyn Baumgarten, Boatsetter combines the rental mechanics of Airbnb with the on-demand labor dynamics of Uber to deliver a hassle-free boat rental experience. Boatless individuals choose from vetted boats in ports worldwide to rent for excursions at competitive prices on Boatsetter’s digital marketplace. Boatsetter recently entered a strategic partnership with Airbnb to provide exclusive nautical experiences in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami and Barcelona.

Entic: Founded by Carlos Diaz and Manuel Rosendo, Entic offers building owners and operators a reduction in energy usage with its cloud-based, SaaS platform that implements operational intelligence, analytics and advanced sensor technology to deliver portfolio-wide savings. Customers enjoy on-demand reports and live dashboards that display current costs and achievable savings, alert customers when buildings reach high energy thresholds and analyze the overall health of energy consuming systems.

Mediconecta: Founded by Daniel Silberman and Salomon Simkins, Mediconecta is the leader in telehealth for the Spanish-speaking world. The company provides on-demand remote health services via video conference using in-house physician networks and a platform accessible by web, mobile or point-of-care kiosks. Mediconecta provides access to real-time, on-demand virtual medical visits that can take place anywhere the patient is located, offering better access to higher standards of care across the entire healthcare landscape.

More than 50 entrepreneurs from 18 countries in the Endeavor network convened for interviews, private deliberations and networking at the ISP held at various locations around Miami. To be selected as Endeavor Entrepreneurs, they had to  receive a unanimous vote from a selection panel of six global executives, entrepreneurs or investors who interviewed founders about their business model, leadership potential and timing and gave them feedback.

“Endeavor was founded 20 years ago with a belief in the power of high-impact entrepreneurs to change lives and transform entire cities and countries,” said Endeavor co-founder and CEO Linda Rottenberg. “At each selection panel we hold, I’m reminded of just how true that is -- and just how far that belief has spread across the world. The passion that entrepreneurs, panelists and staff brought to our final ISP of our 20th Anniversary year in Miami is a testament to the potential of this movement.”

Endeavor Miami launched in September 2013 with the support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation as the first U.S. affiliate of Endeavor Global. Endeavor Miami’s entrepreneurs generated nearly $130 million in revenues and 1,600 jobs in South Florida in 2017. With the addition of its newest companies, the affiliate currently supports 19 companies and 32 entrepreneurs. Headquartered in New York City, Endeavor operates in 27 countries throughout Europe, Latin America, North America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

For more information on Endeavor Miami or to nominate Miami entrepreneurs, visit www.endeavormiami.org.

READ MORE: Endeavor Miami's impact: It's in the numbers

Top photo, from left: Andy Sturner and Jaclyn Baumgarten from Boatsetter; Daniel Silberman of Mediconecta; Manuel Rosendo and Carlos Diaz of Entic, after being selected Endeavor Entrepreneurs in Miami this week. Photo provided by Endeavor Miami.

December 12, 2017

#Miamitech leaders support Net Neutrality

 
Net-neutrality
An open letter to Congress:
 
Congressman Carlos Curbelo et al.
 
We are the founders & leaders of technology startups here in Miami. Collectively, we represent tens of millions of dollars in revenue and thousands of employees in Miami's burgeoning tech scene. We have a deep understanding of web technology as it is essential to our livelihood. We are writing to ask you to help stop the repeal of Title II classification of ISPs. It is unfortunate that we currently face a difficult question: Should we (the U.S.A.) repeal Title II's net neutrality protection or not?
 
We believe the answer is no. We should not repeal the Title II classification without a legitimate, well thought out replacement. As business owners, we understand the serious nature of regulation & its hampering effects on our ability to innovate. We believe these regulations are an exception to the rule. In 2015, the Title II classification of ISPs explicitly excluded more than 700 of the rules found in Title II regulation [1] for the exact reason of maintaining a "light touch" philosophy. Beyond the fact that it has indeed been a light touch approach, the most important thing to note is that there are guarantees that come with the current classification that are essential to maintaining a competitive environment for businesses like ours to thrive. Businesses like Clutch Prep which depends on open internet access to college students who use their platform to become the doctors of tomorrow [2]. Businesses like LiveNinja who depend on WebRTC communications to consumers across the entire country by customers like Apple, Samsung & HP [3]. Businesses like NomadsTV which provides OTT software to media companies [4].
 
Ajit Pai's original dissent [5] expressed valid concerns. However, the last two years have come to show that they are not currently an issue. Things like Universal Service Fund taxes are not being imposed (at least not to our knowledge), the classification has not stopped or prevented zero rating (T-Mobile is a great example of the current protections being in place without disrupting innovation [6]). Many small local ISPs are not overburdened due to this classification [7], broadband prices have stagnated or decreased in price [8]. Meanwhile, access to broadband is growing [9] [10] and speeds are increasing [11]. 
 
We believe the internet has grown and provided economic opportunity unfettered by existing regulations. However, bad behavior has arisen among ISP's covering the "last mile": providers have tried to charge companies for access to their own customers [12],  they have been caught blocking services that customers have paid for [13] [14], and found throttling traffic they deemed to be unimportant [15].
 
Because the draft order repeals net neutrality rules altogether, it allows ISPs to block or throttle lawful content, or give the highest-paying websites and apps a better ability to reach customers’ devices or to favor Internet traffic from the ISPs’ own subsidiaries and business partners, all without any legal repercussions. This could be devastating to our livelihoods and have many implications in the long term.
 
We believe Pai can and should continue to have a light touch and maintain the current Title II classification while he crafts a legitimate, better-designed replacement that guarantees no blocking of content, throttling or paid priority while providing an even less intrusive regulation than is currently in place. This is the United States of America; we can do better.
 
 
Thank You,
Auston Bunsen, Lead Instructor at Wyncode Academy
Johanna Mikkola, Co-founder of Wyncode Academy
Juha Mikkola, Co-founder of Wyncode Academy
Ivan Rapin-Smith, Managing Director at Watsco Ventures
Rob Dyson, CTO & Co-founder of Willing.com
Rebekah Monson, Co-founder of WhereBy.us
Lu Martinez, Founder of StardomUp
Mary Wolff, CEO & Co-Founder, Spacewolff
Brian Breslin, Co-founder of SimCase
Ulises Orozco, CPO of Saving for College
Maria Derchi, Executive Director of Refresh Miami
Erik Mendelson, CEO of RecordGram
Otto Othman, CMO & Co-founder of Pincho Factory
Miles Varghese, SVP of Sales for Octopi
Guille Carlos, CTO & Co-founder of Octopi
Luc Castera, Founder of Octopi
Andrej Kostresevic, CEO of Nomads
Will Weinraub, CEO & Co-founder of LiveNinja
Emilio Cueto, CTO & Co-founder of LiveNinja
Alfonso Ligares, CDO & Co-founder of LiveNinja
Brian Brackeen, Founder & CEO of Kairos
Herwig Konings, CEO of InvestReady
Alex Nucci, CEO of Gramercy
Richard Grundy, CEO of Flomio
Jose Rasco, Founder & CEO of dotHealth
Marcio Souza, CEO & Co-founder of Clutch Prep
Alain Fontaine, CTO & Co-founder of Clutch Prep
Juan Bermudez, CEO & Co-founder of Coach-HQ
Larry Ho, COO of Ziro
Javier Sarmiento, Founder and VP, Payments at Open English
 
 
4. Information on Nomads OTT product: http://nomads.co/product/whitelabelottvideo/
5. Ajit Pai's 85 page original dissent on Net Neutrality order: https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-15-24A5.pdf
6. Get "free" streaming with a special plan from T-Mobile: https://www.t-mobile.com/offer/free-music-streaming.html
14. ISP Madison River blocking VOIP traffic FCC ruling: https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DA-05-543A2.pdf
15. Comcast blocking / throttling legal peer-to-peer traffic: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comcast_Corp._v._FCC#Background
 
HAVE YOUR SAY: here is more info, including how to reach all yourblocal lawmakers. Sign a petition to save net neutrality here.

December 03, 2017

From 'grandkids on demand' to apps: How Miami startups are helping seniors and their caregivers

 

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlbergbiz@gmail.com

Who hasn’t worried about elderly family members and wished it was easier to keep up with them from afar?

Now there’s a slew of technology that offers better care for the seniors and peace of mind for the family caregivers. What’s more, some South Florida startups are at the forefront of this technology, fueled by advances in artificial intelligence, big data and voice technologies.

One Plantation company has a solution that tracks and analyzes a senior loved one’s activity and routines and will alert caregivers when something is out of the ordinary. Another Miami startup supplies “grandkids on demand” to help with transportation, chores and companionship. Still other local firms have rethought the daily phone call, supplied elder-friendly multilingual hospital discharge instructions, and matched up the elderly with others who have room in their homes. Yet another enhanced alerts for when your elder has “fallen and can’t get up.”

It’s a large and growing market; more than 50 million Americans are over the age of 65, and 10,000 more hit that mark every day. While that slice is now about 13 percent of America’s population, it will jump to 19 percent by 2030 — about 72 million people — according to a U.S. Census Bureau report. About $1.2 trillion is spent on healthcare for American seniors each year, according to government estimates.

Perhaps most importantly, this technology can keep seniors safe and independent, allowing them to live in their homes — their overwhelming preference, according to surveys. Some of the technology could also prevent life-changing injuries caused by falls. The big vision: empowering the elderly to live more safely on their own while easing the worries of their loved ones.

Through its mobile app, website or 800 number, Miami startup Papa provides assistance and socialization to seniors through young and enthusiastic team members called Papa Pals. It’s like grandkids on demand, said CEO Andrew Parker.

Olga DeMartino, 92, visits with Papa founder Andrew Parker and Papa employee, Valeria Sosa, 26, Nov. 14, 2017, in her Coral Springs home. Parker runs a startup called Papa. It provides “grandkids on demand” — basically college students hired to help elderly customers by taking them to hair appointments or to get groceries, or to do a little cleanup or cooking, or just to be a companion.

Parker came up with his startup idea from a personal need. Andrew Parker’s grandfather had been diagnosed with early onset of dementia that progressed into Alzheimer’s. As a family, the Parkers had a lot of difficulty managing his daily needs and supporting his primary family caregiver, Andrew’s grandmother.

Papa started as a simple concept, said Parker, who previously worked at telemedicine provider MDLIVE, which was founded by his father. “Our grandfather and grandmother need support; others must as well. There is a huge senior population that continues to grow on a daily basis. There are also a lot of amazing college students who want to become future nurses, doctors and other leaders. Let’s connect these inter-generational groups and I bet something amazing happens.”

So Parker gathered a small team and started Papa, to support his own grandfather, whom he called “Papa,” and other seniors. The service, which is insured, now has about 150 Papa Pals on board. Most are college students earning extra money.

Recently, Papa Pal Valeria Sosa, a 26-year-old Broward College student, took Olga DeMartino, 92, to her weekly hair appointment. After Sosa walked with her to the car and buckled her in, they chatted and joked about each other’s families.

Regina DeMartino, Olga’s daughter-in-law, said before they found Papa on social media, family members took turns taking time off work to take her to her appointments.

“She loves them – she finds them all really interesting and loves being with younger people,” Regina said of the Papa Pals. They walk her out of her appointment and always have an umbrella so her hair won’t get wet, she said. “If she needs help around the house, they do that too.”

On Valentine’s Day last year, a Papa Pal brought Olga a rose. “How sweet is that?” said Regina.

Like Papa, Room2Care also leverages the so-called sharing economy but in a different way. The Miami startup is creating a network of vetted private caregiver homes, which provide less expensive and more personalized care than assisted living, said Richard Ashenoff, who founded the company with Dr. Todd Florin.

Room2Care, a Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge winner in 2015, is licensed and doing business in five states – Florida, West Virginia, Texas, Arizona and California – and has over 5,000 users and growing daily, Ashenoff said.

While Room2Care and Papa use tech to connect seniors with humans for companionship, assistance and caregiving, technology steps in to help in all the other times, too.

Take CarePredict, an elder-care platform powered by artificial intelligence. CarePredict makes bracelets that help track an elderly resident’s every activity. Currently it is available only to large group senior-living facilities and home care agencies, but the company hopes to offer the device directly to consumers in the future.

In an office space above a Boston Market in Plantation, more than a dozen engineers and data scientists are quietly toiling away on computers in an office adorned with large portraits of senior citizens. In the next room, another worker is carefully assembling the devices.

Founder and CEO Satish Movva keeps a portrait of his own parents near his office as a reminder of his mission. His parents, who are now 90 and 80, live just 10 miles away. Still, despite frequent calls and visits, he couldn’t trust the answers he was getting from them about their health.

“No matter how many times I would call them during the week, when I showed up on Saturday I’d find new things I didn’t know about. It was frustrating,” said Movva. “I wanted a wearable device that would answer all the questions I have about them every day.”

Changes in activity and behavior patterns show up well before the underlying issues manifest into medical conditions, said Movva, who has been an innovator in healthcare technology for 23 years, including as founding CIO for Sheridan Healthcare. He wanted a system to observe his parents continuously but privately, so he could be alerted to changes early enough to intervene. After finding the existing technologies inadequate, he set out to develop CarePredict in 2013.

CarePredict’s application offers a summary page and more details when each category is clicked.

The idea is to monitor daily activities like eating, drinking, walking, bathing, cooking, sleeping, said Movva. “We couple that with contextual cues to surface insights like self-neglect, for example, due to depression.” The data can also help predict falls or suggest malnutrition, dehydration or infections before the senior or another person reports them.

Angel, an artificial intelligence- and voice-powered Virtual Nurse Assistant, can play a similar role. She reaches out via low tech but clinically intelligent phone conversations, said Wolf Shlagman, founder and CEO of Care Angel.

“You look at the aging market and 90 percent or so choose to age at home ... managing themselves the best they can,” he said. “Angel is meant to be an assistant that will help family caregivers by being able to simply call mom just as a nurse would, asking a series of questions.”

Angel asks a series of personalized questions such as “how did you sleep last night?,” “did you take your medication today?” and “what was your glucose reading today?” If it detects cause for concern, Care Angel alerts caregivers via app, text message or phone. “Our mission is to help millions of people take better care of their families for a fraction of the cost of anything else out there,” said Shlagman.

A basic version Care Angel is currently available for free for AARP members and through other partners such as health insurers. A feature-filled premium version will be available next year for about $9.95 a month.

In a recently finalized study with a Humana Medicare Advantage population, Care Angel received high marks from recipients and also had a substantial effect on clinical and financial outcomes. Results showed engagement of about 83 percent, a reduction of 63 percent in hospital readmissions and $496,000 in savings, said Shlagman, who previously founded and sold Consult-a-Doctor, a telemedicine company.

MobileHelp, founded in 2006 and headquartered in Boca Raton, took the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” personal emergency response system idea pioneered by Life Alert and turbo-charged it. Help can be summoned at the touch of a button worn around the neck or on the wrist; unlike the first-generation systems designed for use only in the home, MobileHelp‘s products can be used on the go since they don't require a landline phone connection. The device also detects falls so help can be summoned without a button being pressed. Its app also provides verbal medication notifications and a tracker that monitors activity levels for reports that go to caregivers.

SpeechMED is designed to demystify medical instructions. It was started by Susan Perry after her mother-in-law died of a medical mishap because she could not understand post-surgery instructions given by the hospital. The application operates in 16 languages, offering patients and their caregivers the instructions in the spoken word as well as in text in the language they understand. There’s an accompanying caregiver app, too. The SpeechMED system is being piloted at Baptist Health System.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

From Facebook to Miami, she’s investing in dreams, maybe even the next ‘iguanacorn’

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlbergbiz@gmail.com

When Laura González-Estéfani moved from Silicon Valley to Miami in 2015, the former Facebook executive said she was taken aback by the welcoming tech and entrepreneurship community.

“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,” she said in an interview this summer.

At eMerge Americas in June, González-Estéfani and business partner Clara Bullrich announced plans to start a venture-building company, called TheVentureCity, headquartered in Miami and Madrid, with an office in Silicon Valley, that would bring together a team from hyper-growth companies such as Facebook, Google and eBay. The venture builder would focus on accelerating high-potential tech startups with international growth aspirations. And that was just the beginning of a whirlwind six months for González-Estéfani and Bullrich.

Since then TheVentureCity team has begun offering free workshops and events for the community. The company has also partnered with Miami Dade College on an associate’s degree in entrepreneurship, and González-Estéfani and her team have assembled a group of instructors, including herself, who are CEOs or top executives of South Florida companies to teach the classes. The MDC program started this fall.

 “Those amazing young kids, their brains are so open,” said González-Estéfani, born in Spain and a mother of three. “What is your dream? That’s how I started my class. That was the first interview question I got at Facebook. When you can dream, things happen.”

And in September, TheVentureCity announced it has launched a $100 million venture capital fund, and kicked it off with 14 investments so far, including four investments in South Florida companies Boatsetter, RecargaPay, Above & Beyond and The FastMind.

Although her fund invests all over the world, González-Estéfani is a believer in Miami’s potential for tech. She even coined her own Miami term for so-called unicorns — companies valued at $1 billion or more. She calls them “Iguanacorns,” and Miami already has several.

To find the next iguanacorns, TheVentureCity is taking applications for its 36-month or 18-month accelerator-like program called The Garden Fellowships. 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. Using a data-driven approach, TheVentureCity builds on that foundation.

The Miami Herald interviewed González-Estéfani in her office in October about her time at Facebook and her new venture in Miami that includes a fund. These are excerpts of that conversation.

Q.  Why did you start TheVentureCity?

A. I worked for Facebook almost nine years, I’m 41, which is almost one-fourth of my life dedicated to that amazing company. I worked in Europe, Silicon Valley, Miami and Latin America. In 2000, I founded my own startup and we failed miserably. But I am surprised that after 20 years the problems in these emerging tech hubs are still the same.

A Silicon Valley startup founded by a Stanford guy is valued three times more than one founded by a Venezuelan guy based in Miami or a woman based in Spain. This is my passion — I want to fix that. I want to work with companies that are making a huge impact, not because of where the founders are.

A Silicon Valley startup founded by a Stanford guy is valued three times more than one founded by a Venezuelan guy based in Miami or a woman based in Spain. This is my passion — I want to fix that.

I believe the next billion-dollar companies won’t be coming from Silicon Valley only. There are so many huge problems to solve around the world. If you look at fin-tech, insure-tech, health-tech, feminine-tech, if you look at AR [augmented reality], those founders are so talented, so driven, but they don’t have the right people supporting them.

What moves our team is giving founders in those emerging tech hubs support to change the world in the best way they can. We have been busy executing.

Q. What do you look for in an investment?

A. We don’t invest in companies without at least a six-month track record with engagement and growth metrics. We need to understand the founders first, have chemistry with them, and then look at the product or their engineering, the core of what they are building.

If everything goes well, then we will look at the financial model and legal structure. Why? We are looking at the bones, what are the things we need to track to understand if the company is going somewhere. We are not looking at revenues from the very beginning, which is something that happens in Miami all the time [because] investors want to see early revenues. If I have a small company, I want everyone focused on growing the company. The Googles, Facebooks, eBays of the world, they didn’t start monetizing until the year three or five.

That’s the thinking. Even our term sheets are different. A lot of funds require a board seat. I don’t want that. I want the entrepreneur to feel at home and that they can call our team at any time. I don’t want to wait until the board meeting to hear what the problem is. It doesn’t make sense.

The transparency, the directness and information flow we request is very different, it is more like we are part of the same team. At the end of the day, the best deals are coming our way and our founders feel we can help them.

We need to bring more people here who want to support founders along the way. Not roadblocks; it’s already so difficult to be an entrepreneur.

Q. Tell me about The Garden Fellowships. How is it different from a startup accelerator?

A. Our program is not a fixed program; it is tailor-made for each of the startups. Our experience is giving to the talent.

We don’t require equity in advance; we invest as we go over 18 or 36 months. We have to keep earning it. If they want to leave at any point, they are free to leave at any point. We don’t want anyone to feel trapped. We are so sure of how much we can deliver, I am comfortably fine to demonstrate every day that we have earned it.

We are going to work with 25 companies. They can work wherever they want. Pushing the boundaries, that is what disruption is all about.

Every company should have a chief happiness officer. When I asked the kids at Miami Dade College what kind of company they want to work with, none of them said a corporation. They are mission-driven.

Q. What are some lessons you learned at Facebook and earlier?

A. Don’t pay attention to the noise, don’t pay attention to the drama, you can make it happen.

Figure out where you want to go and then deconstruct and move backward.

My first startup [a beach tourism portal in 2000] was a disaster. We didn’t plan in advance, of course 2000 the bubble burst, it was bad timing and we didn’t know what we were doing. I’m an angel investor who is on boards and my husband is building a company, and I’ve learned you have to think five years out and build backwards.

Five years in tech is a long time. I didn’t have that five-year vision when I was 20 years old. I needed to have an action plan with steps on how to get there. Now we are trying to embed that into everyone.

If you are a natural leader, people will follow you.

Have a suite of values that every member of the team speaks to. You need to do what you preach. Invest in the culture of the company, transparency, diversity, being fair to the founders, thinking of the founders first. Our list of mentors is pretty amazing and you need to connect them with the community. If you say you are going to do this, you have to do this. That’s something I learned at Facebook.

Every company should have a chief happiness officer. (At TheVentureCity that’s Miami campus director Elisa Rodríguez-Vila). When I asked the kids at Miami Dade College what kind of company they want to work with, none of them said a corporation. They are mission-driven. Millennials and those coming after are expecting to work with a purpose, not just for the money. Every company needs to invest in happiness officers guaranteeing that there will be an amazing culture.

I never hire people who want to work just because of the money. I’ve never done that. But we do pay people right. That is something Miami needs to understand — if you really want to attract the best talent, you should pay them in a fair way. You can’t expect them to work for $50,000, excuse me?

Q. How else can Miami’s entrepreneurial ecosystem be improved?

A. The showstoppers are there is a lot of money and a lot of awesome tech. Explore different ways to make an impact. We have to create those role models, the Jacqui’s [Baumgarten, CEO of Boatsetter] of the world, the guys from The FastMind, the founder of CareCloud, these are role models for the community. They need to mingle more and be more proactive. On the other side, to the founders, you can’t wait for things to happen for you. You need to put skin in the game. I’ve had founders who’ve wanted investment and they aren’t even working on their venture full time. I’m putting everything I have into this and I expect the same from you.

We need investors that really understand tech. We need traditional venture capitalists to understand that in tech it doesn’t work the same way, you can’t expect returns in a year. We need the talent to stay here because they are getting the right salary. You can’t be strangled by regulation, hello government.

We still have a long way with the government. I am not talking about handouts, I am talking about making it easier for them to thrive. Tech drives tons of high wage jobs.

Everyone contributes to what happens here.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.


Laura González-Estéfani

Position: Co-founder of TheVentureCity, a venture builder headquartered in Miami and Madrid.

Experience: González-Estéfani spent nearly nine years with Facebook in various roles supporting overall growth strategies, including as director of international business development and mobile partnerships for Latin America, spearheading the Internet.org and connectivity initiatives from Silicon Valley and later Miami. Before Facebook, she held management roles at eBay, Siemens and Ogilvy Group and co-founded Esplaya.com, the first international beach tourism digital platform.

Education: Universidad Europea de Madrid and Vlerick Business School in Belgium.

Personal: 41 years old, born in Spain, “citizen of the world.” Married, mother of three, lives in Miami.

Community involvement: Mentor for Endeavor Miami and Stanford Latina Entrepreneurship Program; coach for Babson College.