July 12, 2016

Uber launches its UberEATS on-demand restaurant delivery service in the Miami area

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By Nancy Dahlberg/ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Craving a Maple Bacon doughnut about now? UberEATS wants to speed it over to you, and maybe some for your office mates, too.

As part of its move beyond transportation, Uber, the fast-growing ride-sharing service, launched UberEATS in the Miami area on Tuesday, joining a full menu of on-demand restaurant delivery options in South Florida. Uber says it has about 100 restaurants signed on so far; the company initiated the service in the densely populated eastern corridor, from Brickell through Hollywood, with plans to expand Coral Gables, South Miami and other areas in time.

“What we’ve seen is that South Florida has really embraced Uber ... so over the last few months we thought, let’s further invest in the community to bring UberEATS down here,” said Kasra Moshkani, Uber’s general manager for South Florida.

Consumers can scroll menus and place orders via a free UberEATS app, available on Apple and Android. One does not have to be an app-carrying Uber member to use UberEATS, said Moshkani. Would-be customers can enter their addresses at ubereats.com/miami to determine if delivery is available.

Menu prices are the same as in the restaurants. Deliveries will be free for at least the next few weeks, he said; they will then rise to $4.99. As with its ride-sharing parent company, tips are not expected with UberEATS.

The company will tap its network of about 10,000 area Uber drivers to pick up and drop off food orders between 8 a.m. and midnight any day. Along with The Salty Donut and its famous Maple Bacon indulgence, restaurants include Wynwood Kitchen & Bar, Sushi Maki, Sliders, the Daily Creative, Ms. Cheezious, DIRT, Jar + Fork, Roasters N Toasters, The Rice House of Kabob, Salsa Fiesta and SoCalTaco.

In addition to drivers, Uber has a membership network of thousands of consumers in South Florida (Uber will not disclose membership numbers) to which it can market the service. It goes up against the mighty Amazon, which entered Miami-Dade County last month with its Amazon Restaurants app, offering free one-hour deliveries for Amazon Prime customers.

The two giants also compete with Postmates and GrubHub, part of the wave of on-demand services sweeping South Florida in the past two years, led by the ride-sharing services. These companies are joined delivery services for groceries and meal ingrediants. The battle for users has already had at least one casualty: San Francisco-based Caviar, a restaurant delivery service owned by Square, operated for about a year in Miami but quietly pulled out in the wake of Amazon’s and UberEATS’ arrival. It still operates in a number of other cities.

What’s driving this trend beyond the traditional pizza delivery: millennials’ preferences for more varied and healthier food options delivered conveniently via a few clicks on an app. The urbanization of downtowns — like Miami’s — swarming with young professionals also provides the density to potentially make these business models work.

Consider this: Restaurant delivery outside of pizza is growing strongly, up by 26 percent since 2012, while traditional quick-service pizza delivery overall is down 5 percent, according to new NPD Group food-service market research. While non-pizza food-service delivery is still a relatively small segment, NPD expects rapid growth with players like UberEATS and Amazon now in the mix. NPD forecasts that restaurant delivery will continue to outpace overall restaurant industry traffic growth over the next decade.

Bonnie Riggs, restaurant industry analyst with NPD Group, sees a big growth opportunity ahead for restaurants, as these tech-enabled restaurant-delivery services begin to move into smaller cities and suburbs. “Consumers are looking for convenient meal solutions beyond pizza and Chinese food and anybody that can address that need in a timely, price-related value situation can drive business,” Riggs said. “But it’s critical that these third-party providers deliver the food in a fast, efficient manner so it stays hot and fresh. That is going to be key.”

Miami marks the 19th U.S. city where UberEATS is offered and signals Uber’s strategy to use its on-demand logistics engine in industries beyond transportation. The company, which recently was legalized in Miami-Dade County after a long regulatory battle, was the eighth market to get UberPOOL, the car-pooling service it launched in Miami late last year, Moshkani said.

The company also offers UberRUSH, a package delivery service, in some markets.

“In all these areas, we are constantly experimenting and testing reception,” said Moshkani, who said that South Florida is one of Uber’s fastest growing markets. “UberEATS is our next bet on this market. Everyone’s got to eat and the food space is something this community is really proud of in its culture. That’s why we are making the investment here.”

Still, the move come as some analysts and venture capitalists are concerned the food delivery sector is overheating. Kevin Kopelman, an analyst at Cowen & Co. who follows the publicly traded GrubHub, warned in a recent research note that UberEATS could become a threat to GrubHub, citing Uber's 19 million U.S. users and 400,000 drivers.

He also said the cost of UberEATS is more digestible: A $25 meal from UberEATS comes to $30 with the delivery fee, and a comparable order could run as high as $38 from Postmates, $37 from DoorDash, $36 from Caviar and $33 from GrubHub, he said.

Though venture capital investment in the young food-tech sector hit a record $5.7 billion last year, investors have pulled back in 2016. If the current rate of investment holds, the sector will attract about half the investment as last year, according to data analysis firm CB Insights’ research.

Matthew Wong, a data analyst at CB Insights, expects “a more scrutinized funding environment” as well as market consolidation, he has said in a Miami Herald interview and other media reports. “Food is such a big segment of consumer spending, and we're going to see companies emerge as big players here,” Wong said in a recent Los Angeles Times report. “Some companies in the space might lose, but the space as a whole won't.”

Andy Rodriguez, co-owner of the Salty Donut, is betting on UberEATS. He said he likes that UberEATS platform doesn’t have the same restaurants as everyone else. He also praised the customer service and attention to detail he has received from the Uber team.

For that Maple Bacon delight or any other Salty Donut hand-crafted creation, you will have to wait a few days. The gourmet doughnuts will be available Thursday through Sunday on the app, coinciding with the hours of its Wynwood pop-up store and a new pop-up location at the Confidante Hotel in Miami Beach, Rodriguez said — “while supplies last.”

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

June 23, 2016

3 South Florida companies make Forbes’ list of innovative growth companies

South Florida companies Ultimate Software in Weston, Mednax in Sunrise and Opko Health of Miami made Forbes' 2016 list of the 100 "Most Innovative Growth Companies" in the world.

Ultimate Software, which provides software for human resources, ranked No. 8; Opko Health, a pharmaceutical company ranked No. 21; and Mednax, a national physician network, came in at No. 65.

For Ultimate Software, it was the third year in a row ranking in the top 10; Ultimate ranked 7th in 2015 and 8th in 2014. “We remain focused on innovation and growth, consistently investing approximately 20 percent of our annual revenue in research and development and are committed to creating a culture that encourages new ideas,” said Scott Scherr, Ultimate Software’s CEO, president, and founder, in a statement.

To make the list, companies with seven years of public financial data and a total market value of $2 billion to $10 billion were ranked by a formula that includes the company's income and anticipated growth.  No. 1 on the list: Rightmove, a London-based residential and commercial property company.

To see the full list, go here.

Read more about Ultimate Software here. To see a Sun Sentinel slide show of Ultimate Software’s new building, go here.

June 19, 2016

Miami-based DiAmante creates diamonds for high-tech uses

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By Joseph A. Mann

DiAmante makes synthetic diamonds for the semiconductor market. The company founder’s goal: ‘a diamond-based technology revolution.’ The tiny company’s competitors include diamond giant DeBeers.

The company and its products: DiAmante is a small, privately owned company that makes synthetic diamonds. The Miami-based firm, started by physicist John Janik (pictured above) in 2010, uses a special procedure developed by Janik to build highly specialized diamond crystals through chemical vapor deposition, a chemical process used in industry and research labs. “Think of a microwave oven on steroids,” said Janik, DiAmante’s president.

Janik places a tiny, flat diamond (the “seed” diamond) in a microwave chamber that will be filled with methane gas. When activated, the device deposits new diamond material on the seed atom by atom and layer by layer. “This is atomic-scale 3D printing,” he said. “We just happen to be printing blocks of diamond. The exact process is not patented, but it is a trade secret.”

After the growth process is complete (48 hours to two weeks, depending on the specifications of the diamond), the diamond is sliced into wafers for polishing and smoothing, for sale to labs and companies using semiconductors.

“We began producing gems and diamonds for optics and tooling, but now we are exclusively focused on diamonds for the semiconductor market,” Janik said.

The scientist sees great possibilities for diamonds in semiconductors, which are used in chips for electronic devices, and a new market in quantum computing. DiAmante makes diamonds classified as Type IIa, which in natural and synthetic states have almost no impurities and are excellent heat conductors. As electronic devices become more sophisticated, silicon-based semiconductors face problems in thermal conduction. Diamonds used with silicon could resolve these heat issues.

Getting started: “I left a cushy research job at the Carnegie Institution for Science in 2009 and moved to Miami,” Janik said. “I grew up in Maryland, but I love Miami.” Janik became interested in diamonds when he studied crystal growth as part of his doctoral program at Florida State University. “Reading papers on diamond growth made me realize there was an opportunity to help remake the world. We need new materials and diamond is one of them.” Janik was not attracted to teaching and decided to start his own business to focus on synthetic diamonds. Putting together seed money from family, friends and outside investors, he acquired the costly equipment needed to make diamonds (one device alone cost $400,000), began working with a small team and sold his first batch of diamonds for optical applications in 2011.

The difference: Using the manufacturing process developed by Janik, “we can produce material to meet specifications clients are looking for, including concentration of nitrogen, quality of surface finish and orientation of the crystal,” he said. A recent study by the University of Southern California showed that diamonds produced by DiAmante and a giant competitor (the DeBeers diamond group) were equally suitable for semiconductor use. A sample from Sumitomo, another competitor evaluated in the study, was not rated as suitable.

Sales: Revenue fell sharply after DiAmante switched from making gems in 2014 to producing diamond semiconductors. Currently, the company is working to increase its sales in diamond semiconductors and move to profitability. DiAmante’s tiny diamond wafers, designed according to the specifications of clients, can cost from $500 to $3,000 each, depending on their size, material quality, surface finish and other characteristics.

Competitors: DiAmante’s biggest competitor in semiconductors is Element Six, part of the De Beers group. In diamonds for tools, it’s Sumitomo.

Challenges: “We’ve received feedback from the scientific community, as well as clients, who say that our home run is in the foreseeable future,” Janik said. “We are officially in the game, and now it’s time to build our partner relationships to find the right fit for a team to play with us. We are looking for a capital infusion to demonstrate scalability of our manufacturing process and business model, and to take us to the next level.”

Glitch: “I didn’t have a clear vision when I started,” Janik said. “I started working on making gems and diamonds for tools and optics — the low-hanging fruit. Now I’m focusing exclusively on diamonds for semiconductors.”

Customers: Research labs, like the Quantum Photonics Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the chemistry and physics departments at the University of Southern California, plus the defense industry. “We have purchased very low-content nitrogen diamond [from DiAmante] that we are intending to use for quantum information applications (QIP),” said Tim Schröder, a physicist at the MIT Quantum Photonics lab. Quantum physics refers to working with atomic and sub-atomic particles, and QIP refers to quantum computing. “DiAmante is a new player on the market, and we are always interested in trying out new products, new players, and in particular a diamond maker that does not only want to make gemstones for the jewelry industry.” Janik developed diamonds made according to MIT’s very demanding requirements. “Making a diamond for quantum information processing is not straightforward, but John’s diamonds have shown very promising properties,” he said.

Outside analysis: Diamond has the highest thermal conductivity of any material and can be used in semiconductor devices as silicon reaches its limits due to heat issues. But the cost of diamonds for this application is high. “If he [Janik] can cut production costs, there will be market opportunities in wireless systems and other sectors,” said Patrick Hindle, editor of Microwave Journal, an important source of information about radio frequency and microwave technology since 1958. The markets for semiconductors — wireless devices, appliances, electronics — are huge. “Like other small companies, DiAmante has the ability to focus primarily on sophisticated, high-tech products which require fewer skilled workers to produce the next generation of semiconductor-grade diamond wafers,” said Ion Benea, a physicist and vice president of operations for Hyprez Products at Engis Corp., a company specializing in industrial diamonds and superabrasive products. “Smaller companies are a lot more flexible and can play an important role in the development of new diamond products and technologies.”

Outlook: “There are physical limitations on packing more transistors onto silicon wafers due to heat issues,” Janik said. DiAmante’s diamond semiconductors could be the answer: “I want to help bring about a diamond-based technology revolution.”

 

June 16, 2016

The Force joins Magic Leap, Lucasfilm for ‘Star Wars’ augmented reality

Imagine R2-D2 and C-3PO dropping into into your living room or office.

 

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Imagine R2-D2 and C-3PO dropping into into your living room or office.

 

Magic Leap on Thursday announced a strategic partnership with Lucasfilm’s ILMxLAB. Together the companies will be producing Star Wars-related content for Magic Leap’s technology. As part of this new relationship, the two companies will open a “semi-secret” research lab with developers and researchers from both companies including from Lucasfilm’s Story Group. The lab will open in June in San Francisco’s Presidio, and together the companies will be producing Star Wars-related content for Magic Leap’s “Mixed Reality” technology.

The partnership was announced at the WIRED Business Conference in New York, and Magic Leap and Lucasfilm also released a proof-of-concept video demonstrating an ILMxLAB-produced Star Wars scene shown with Magic Leap's tech. It’s one of the closest looks yet of the secretive augmented reality technology Magic Leap calls "Mixed Reality.”

The new video stars everyone’s favorite droids, C-3PO and R2-D2.

“Lucasfilm has created some of the most iconic characters of our time. Ones that dare us to dream, unlock our imagination and excite us to go on a journey with them,” said Magic Leap founder and CEO Rony Abovitz. “Magic Leap is creating a whole new medium: Mixed Reality Lightfields, designed to harness the power of your imagination and take you to places you never thought possible. Collaboration between our two companies is a perfect fit, and I can't wait to share the results with the world.”

The secretive and heavily funded Magic Leap is based in South Florida, where it is building out a 260,000 square foot headquarters in Plantation. With hundreds of employees and $1.4 billion in venture capital, Magic Leap has offices around the world, including Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, Austin, Seattle, Israel, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.  

June 06, 2016

Multi-campus StartUP FIU gets ready for takeoff

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Emily Gresham and Robert Hacker, shown at Florida International University’s Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, are spearheading the StartUP FIU program. It will include three hubs, with programs for food businesses, tech and social entrepreneurship, and will be open to the community as well as to students. Alexia Fodere For The Miami Herald

Below: One of the events held for students as part of StartUP FIU. Photo by Daniela Ferrato.

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Cheng photoIn the culinary kitchens of Florida International University’s Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, Michael Cheng smelled opportunity. The commercial facilities were only being used about half time; as the director of the food-and-beverage program, Cheng thought FIU should offer the excess capacity to companies for a fee.

But after a discussion with Emily Gresham, who is spearheading a university-wide StartUP FIU program, and its student leader Valeria Siegrist, Cheng’s mindset changed. “They opened my eyes... They told me ‘there is an entire community of food entrepreneurs out there who would die to have this space but they can’t afford it.’ and I said ‘Well, let’s open that up to them.’ That’s how Food FIU got started.”

Beginning this fall, the Food FIU program will help entrepreneurs from low- and moderate-income communities in three stages of development – those at the idea stage, entrepreneurs selling in farmers’ markets but are ready to move to the next level, and later stage companies that want to scale. Cheng (pictured at right), who is also an associate processor, said StartUP FIU will start working with firms from North Miami, where the Biscayne Bay Campus is located, with a potential Homestead outpost at a later time. The program is free, and the entrepreneurs do not have to be affiliated with FIU in any way.

The Food innovation hub, supported in part by a $500,000 grant from Citi Foundation, will be one leg of a larger effort called StartUP FIU launching this fall. The interdisciplinary multi-campus resource for students, faculty, staff, alumni and entrepreneurs in the community will include physical spaces, programs and events for entrepreneurs and entrepreneur-wannabes to meet, collaborate, be mentored and take training. An accelerator will work with teams on commercializing concepts.

“Our economy increasingly offers opportunities to people who are able to make good jobs rather than take good jobs. We see this transformation as emblematic of what we have to do at FIU,” said FIU President Mark Rosenberg. “FIU is a huge cluster of talent ... What we are trying to do is provide platforms for that talent to come together around the capabilities that we have. ... We want to provide a safe haven for that talent to come together, with some supervision, to develop products, ideas and opportunities.”

Initially, StartUP FIU, will take root in three locations: the Modesto Maidique campus in Sweetwater, the Hospitality School at the Biscayne Bay campus, and a facility near Tamiami airport serving the growing cadre of technology and medical businesses there. The program has been appropriated $1.25 million from the state in addition to the Citi Foundation funding. It is run by Gresham, FIU’s assistant vice president for Research – Innovation and Economic Development, and Robert Hacker, StartUP FIU’s director.

The program joins existing FIU entrepreneurship resources including the Small Business Development Center, a new Tech Station, the Miami Fintech Forum and the Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center, most located on the Maidique campus on Tamiami Trail. FIU is also a designated “changemaker campus” for Ashoka, the global network for social entrepreneurship.

Despite those existing resources, students had no one-stop-shop for connecting with resources, concluded StartUP FIU’s team after conducting more than 100 interviews with students, faculty and community leaders. Often, students didn’t know where to go, nor were they connecting with the larger community.

“Our students are our energy, our talent, and the diversity of our students, faculty, alumni and the community improves collaboration,” said Gresham. “We’ve decided to have a more inclusive StartUP FIU, which means everyone’s welcome.”

Regionwide, students have more resources than just a few years ago. The Idea Center at MDC opened 18 months ago with an accelerator for MDC students, startup contests, events and a coding school. The University of Miami has been expanding its commercialization efforts, particularly in the healthcare area, working closely with dozens of startups. Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton opened Tech Runway, an accelerator that also offers funding and mentorship for student and community teams. Broward College opened its incubator last month.

These join a region-wide effort, fueled by the Knight Foundation, to accelerate entrepreneurship by expanding resources for mentorship, talent-building and funding. Entrepreneurial co-working spaces, incubators and accelerators have been proliferating, but most are in Miami’s urban core.

That’s the void in the ecosystem StartUP FIU hopes to help fill by focusing on Miami-Dade’s lower income communities and far west suburbs. “There’s a lot of activity, but we are still looking for depth, right?,” said Gresham. “We think we have something to offer in terms of depth building.”

Social entrepreneurship will be a key facet of the program, said Hacker. He expects ongoing themes to include sustainable cities, sea level rise, food supply, medical technology and education technology. An international businessman, Hacker has been teaching entrepreneurship and socially concsious business for more than a decade at FIU’s Honors College and Engineering School and MIT’s Sloan School.

“Miami enjoys the distinction of being the only city in the world that has two Ashoka Changemaker campuses – FIU and MDC. I think that both universities are fomenting all kinds of social entrepreneurs looking for support. We are interested and committed to putting incubators in communities that have not been served by incubators, and I think that will also naturally produce social entrepreneurs,” said Hacker.

As a startup itself, StartUP FIU has been developing over the past year, gaining grassroots support. StartUP FIU student directors Siegrist and Alessia Tacchella took Hacker’s course on Entrepreneurship and Design Thinking. That got the entrepreneurial juices flowing. But instead of working on their own startups, they jumped on the opportunity to help develop StartUP FIU. Tacchella, a finance/economics major who recently graduated, took the lead.

They gathered a diverse group of students with marketing, finance and technical expertise and began meeting weekly to plan the launch and test concepts, she said. About 80 to 100 students have been turning out for events. “When you tell them you want to help them to make their idea become a company, they are thrilled about it. They can’t believe all the resources we are bringing in on campus,” said Siegrist, a communications student.

Wifredo Fernandez, who co-founded The LAB Miami and was one of the founders of MDC’s’ Idea Center, offered insights on best practices and valuable connections, said Gresham. He now works with Gresham in the Innovation and Economic Development department and is StartUP FIU’s associate director.

Applications are being accepted at startup.fiu.edu for the accelerator’s first class. The free 13-week program will begin Sept. 6, will include weekly programs, mentorship and regular milestones for teams to meet, and end with a traditional demo day in which teams pitch to investors. The new StartUP FIU hub at the Maidique campus, a-10,000-square-foot space in the Marc building, should be ready by January; the program will operate in temporary space until then. Programs at the Biscayne Bay campus and near the Tamiami Airport will also get underway in the fall. The services are free.

“It’s an idea whose time has come,” said Rosenberg. “We’re pumped, we’re ready to go.”

Nancy Dahlberg; 305-376-3595; @ndahlberg

 

 

 

 

May 16, 2016

Spotlight: Nomads making tracks in app development, world of video

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Photo by Patrick Farrell of Kostresevic inside Miami Entrepreneurship Center, where Nomads has an office. 

 

 

Nomads, founded in 2011 by Bosnian immigrant Andrej Kostresevic, specializes in building high-scale video platforms for clients. Now the company has clients all over the country and is launching its own product, too.

Company: Nomads

Headquarters: Miami.

Concept: Nomads is an elite tribe of cloud and mobile engineering talent, specialized in building high-scale video platforms for mobile, web and connected devices. Its clients range from startups to a top U.S. sports league.

Story: At the age of 11, Andrej Kostresevic escaped Bosnia in 1992, one year after the start of the civil war, and one day after the borders were officially closed. He lived as a refugee in Serbia until about three months before the bombing campaign of 1999, when he managed to come to the U.S. The naively optimistic 17-year-old arrived alone with nothing but two suitcases and rudimentary programming skills.

“This experience is something I still draw from when the going gets tough, and I am still reminded frequently of the incredible importance of pure confidence and willingness to just go for it,” he said.

After working his way through Luther College in Iowa and then gaining more technology work experience for a number of years at Bombardier Recreation Products, Tire and Battery Corp., Myxer and other companies, he had the entrepreneurial itch. He took the plunge in 2011 and started Nomads in Miami.

“Nomads was born from an organic need I saw from the Miami community while organizing the Miami Android Developers,” said Kostresevic, CEO. “The group was getting frequent inquiries from startup founders looking for mobile engineers, as well as from engineers looking for work. I put those two together and that formed the basis for the tribe.”

The company quickly grew, as Nomads began working with startups all over the country, and it often takes equity in partial exchange for services. Today, its clients range from startups to the nation’s leading broadcast provider. Its apps have generated over $2 billion in revenue for Nomad clients and have won accolades, Kostresevic said. As one example, the work Nomads did for one of its clients was recently highlighted on stage by Google at one of its major launch events.

Nomads now also launches its own products, driven by opportunities and needs it runs into working with clients. “Our incentive is to maximize a client’s likelihood of success,” Kostresevic said. Its first product: NomadTV.

“The problems we’ve been solving for our clients over the last four years have helped us identify several interesting opportunities, which we have pursued into new proprietary products such as NomadTV,” Kostresevic said. Rather than using digital distributors such as Amazon, Hulu, Netflix and YouTube, companies increasingly wanted to get their video content directly to consumers but had limited engineering capabilities and found development costs for a custom video application too high. NomadTV allows content owners to create their own branded video apps for mobile, web, and connected devices.

“NomadTV offers a scalable, customizable, industry-standard Netflix-like experience, with no upfront engineering effort, and low up-front expense. We provide this product as a service, for the most popular mobile, web and connected devices. The end result is the ability to deploy our customers’ catalogs via a set of custom-branded apps for all major platforms, literally overnight.”

Launched: 2011.

Management team: Andrej Kostresevic; Marly Rufin; Vojkan Dimitrijevic; Giannina Amato.

No. of employees: Five employees and more than 50 contractors.

Website: www.nomads.co.

Financing: Nomads is self-funded through a fast-growing service business.

Recent milestones: 300 percent growth year-over-year for three consecutive years. Built the flagship video product for a top U.S. sports league. Expanded footprint into Puerto Rico. In addition to scaling services, Nomads launched its first product, NomadTV.

Biggest startup challenge: Scaling the revenue of a service business requires a corresponding scaling of the team. “We’ve been able to overcome this challenge by being unconstrained by geographic location, but the inherent variability of demand for services still presents some unique challenges for growth,” Kostresevic said. “While we are able to mitigate these by extensive use of independent contractors, we look forward to the type of growth we expect to achieve through our new products, which can be scaled more independently of team size.”

Next steps: Diversifying revenue sources by scaling products, such as NomadTV.

Kostresevic said his team is excited about the possibilities in this transformative industry: “We are already seeing a proliferation of content that could not exist in the traditional high-stakes broadcast world, and we believe this will have a transformational effect on our society at large. No other industry shapes our worldviews quite as much.”

- Nancy Dahlberg @ndahlberg

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NomadTV allows any content owner to create their own branded video apps for mobile, web, and connected devices (top photo). Nomads don't always work in the same physical space, but when they do, it's probably in front of a whiteboard (middle photo). Part of "the tribe" during a live taping inside one of their clients' studios (bottom photo). 

May 02, 2016

Registration open for free CS50x coding course at MDC

Registration is underway for CS50x Miami, the in-person version of Harvard University’s flagship online introduction to computer science course. It is now being offered free through an expanded partnership between The Idea Center at Miami Dade College and LaunchCode, a nonprofit that places aspiring developers and technologists into paid apprenticeships and jobs. The Idea Center is MDC’s hub for entrepreneurship. 

The 20-week class will provide students with a foundation in computer programming and web development that puts them on a path to launch a career in technology. All applicants must register and complete a skills assessment test prior to enrolling.

 “CS50x is the most efficient and cost-effective way to learn the skills needed to be a successful programmer,” said  LaunchCode Executive Director Brendan Lind. said  The Idea Center’s Executive Director Leandro Finol added, “Now, by offering it for free, we are confident in our ability to attract South Florida’s best and brightest applicants, particularly focusing on the inclusion of minorities and women.”

In addition to providing educational opportunities for students interested in learning how to code, LaunchCode places qualified candidates into apprenticeships and jobs in tech. To date, LaunchCode has placed CS50x Miami graduates with companies including MasterCard, Boeing, Modernizing Medicine, and Kairos.

To register or for more information, visit CS50xMiami.comClasses begin Monday, June 13.

April 30, 2016

Zumba: What the global fitness brand can teach Miami tech

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

It doesn’t get more Miami than the story of Zumba.

Perlman mug (1)Alberto Perlman, who appeared at The LAB Miami for the monthly  "Brainfood" series, is co-founder and CEO of Zumba Fitness, the largest branded fitness program in the world. He shared war stories and lessons learned.

Zumba dance fitness classes attract more than 15 million weekly participants in 200,000 locations in more than 180 countries. The brand also includes music, clothing, DVDs, video games, a charity platform and most recently its first food product.

Perlman oversees day-to-day operations, manages brand and product development, and negotiates partnerships with fitness clubs and organizations around the world. The Hallandale Beach-based company has about 220 employees and a development team of about 30. He co-founded the company with two other Albertos from Colombia, Alberto Aghion and Alberto “Beto” Pérez.

But Zumba used none of the traditional methods to grow. It hasn’t acquired any companies. Except for accepting one private equity investment, it hasn’t raised financing. Instead it was at the right place at the right time with the right idea, amid a confluence of healthy living trends, a resurgence of interest in all things Latin, and a fresh business model that relied on harnessing the passion of Zumba instructors to build the business. Today, they lead more than half a million classes every week. What’s the secret to building a worldwide movement? “You start with heart,” Perlman said at the discussion led by entrepreneur Marco Giberti on Thursday night.

Perlman said Zumba has been testing live streaming and virtual reality, and looks forward to testing augmented reality, but he told the tech audience that the live experience will always be the center of all Zumba does.

“The live experience is never going to be replaced. Face-to-face is never going away. Everything we do is to drive people to the classes.”

Not that there weren’t low points. One of them was in the downturn of 2008, when the team was running low on money and bracing for the worst. But 2008 was also an inflection point for the company because they realized that despite the recession, people were flocking to the classes to de-stress and have fun. The instructor ranks swelled also, as a means of employment in tough times. “We were there and the people found us.”

Since then, apparel has become a very big business for Zumba, which like all its products are co-created with the instructor network. Last year Zumba sold 4 million units, 90 percent of which are sold through the website, he said.

Zumba possibly would consider developing another fitness brand if it was the right fit (he said he didn’t see CrossFit coming), but it’s not a priority, Perlman said. “The Zumba brand keeps us very busy,” he said, and there is still innovation to do. For instance, in the last few years its charity platform, Zumbathon, has taken off, raising about $5.7 million. Its Zumba Stories website is packed with personal, life-changing stories. And the company this year introduced its first food product, Zumba Shake Shake Shake, a super healthy plant-based protein drink.

He said finding talent has been difficult in Miami, but he also believes that if he had started Zumba in New York or Los Angeles, it may not have gotten off the ground. Being under the radar and not having intense local competition has its advantages when you are building a company.

Perlman’s advice to entrepreneurs: “Focus on your product and customers — don’t spend all your time raising money. Customer-centric companies win.”

And perhaps he should have also added: “Listen to your mother.” She had a very instrumental part in the Zumba story, encouraging him to meet with her dance-fitness instructor, “Beto,” the accidental entrepreneur who invented the Zumba dance concept and became his co-founder. "Maybe you can start a gym together," she said then.

Nancy Dahlberg; 305-376-3595; @ndahlberg

 

 

April 26, 2016

Code Art Miami funds MDC scholarship to encourage women to get into animation, gaming

Codeart
Members of Code Art Miami’s event committee present MDC with a check to fund a new scholarship for Animation and Gaming students at MAGIC. From left to right: Diana Bien Aime (MDC Wolfson Dean of Academic Affairs), Josie Goytisolo, Sofia Garcia, Mauricio Ferrazza (MAGIC Chairperson), Amy Austin Renshaw, Lander Basterra, Maria Mejia, Lisa Hauser and Allison Cammack.

By Amy Austin Renshaw

For the past two years I have had the privilege to be an instructor with the Girls Who Code Club at iPrep Academy. The club was founded last school year by then junior, Maria Mejia, who was inspired to get more girls into coding after completing the Girls Who Code summer immersion program. This year Maria wanted to do even more to inspire girls to learn to code, and from that was born the idea for Code Art Miami, an event aimed at encouraging more girls to learn to code by highlighting the creative side of computer science through a student digital art exhibition and speaker symposium. 

Volunteers from three local Girls Who Code Clubs (iPrep Academy, The Idea Center @ MDC, and Pinecrest Library) and CODeLLA, a local organization that teaches coding and tech skills to Latina girls, came together to plan the event, which was hosted in early February at the Miami Animation & Gaming International Complex (MAGIC) at MDC Wolfson Campus. The event was a great success with over 300 attendees and over 150 student submissions of art-generating programs that ran on digital flat screens throughout the event venue.

In addition to the event, Maria worked to establish the Code Art Miami Scholarship fund at MDC to give back to our host and to make a positive impact on more lives. "A disadvantaged student should not be limited by finances in order to pursue an education, especially when the odds are already against her. Just as I have been fortunate enough to have an entire network of supportive friends and mentors, the Code Art Miami scholarship is my way of providing those same resources to someone else,” said Maria. 

"In setting up the scholarship, we were amazed to learn that just $7,000 would cover tuition costs for one student for both years in the two-year MAGIC program,” said iPrep math teacher and Girls Who Code Club advisor Lisa Hauser. Funds for the scholarship were raised at the event through a silent auction, which included donations from Miami Heat player Chris Bosh and artist Ahol, and through continued post-event sales of a limited-edition print donated by London-based artist Ryca. By early April, we reached our fundraising goal, and on April 20th, Maria and the rest of the Code Art Miami planning committee presented MDC with a check for $7,000 to establish a scholarship fund for women or other underrepresented minorities enrolled in one of MAGIC’s two-year programs. “Currently only about one-fifth of gaming developers are women. This new scholarship will help encourage more women to enter this field,” said Mauricio Ferrazza, MAGIC Chairperson. 

Volunteers who helped Maria make the event and the scholarship fund a reality include my event co-chairJosie Goytisolo and executive planning committee members Lander Basterra, Allison Cammack, Marina Ganopolsky, Sophia Garcia and Lisa Hauser, all of whom share a passion for education — particularly computer science eduction — and a belief in its ability to change lives. Speaking for the group, Allison said, "Coding teaches problem-solving, teamwork, and tenacity. Whatever you can dream, coding gives you the tools to build. And with imagination and determination, you can change the world.” 

Work is already underway for next year’s event. We are reaching out now to area schools to schedule information sessions and workshops in the fall for both teachers and students in the hopes of involving more girls next year. In addition to including more students, we plan to add age brackets and categories for next year’s competition. “It was incredibly difficult to choose just three winners from this year’s submissions, which came from girls in grades 4-12 and included still images, 3D-printed art, animations, and interactive art programs,” said Head Judge Marina Ganopolsky. To learn more about Code Art Miami or schedule an information session at your school or club, email amy@codeart.miami.

April 19, 2016

Magic Leap releases new video of its ‘mixed reality’ technology in action

 

Wired magazine writer Kevin Kelly received an exclusive look at the technology and reports that it worked “amazingly well.” Magic Leap also released a new video on its YouTube channel.

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Magic Leap, the high-flying South Florida company developing “mixed reality” technology, released a new two-minute video showing its technology, timed with the publication of an extensive report in Wired magazine.

As with other videos it has released, a Magic Leap spokesman said the video was shot directly through the Magic Leap system, and no special effects were used in its creation. It is dated April 8. See it above.

Wired’s co-founder and “Senior Maverick” Kevin Kelly received an exclusive look at the Magic Leap technology for his report in Wired’s May issue, which was also a deep dive into the world of virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality and the technologies of Magic Leap’s competitors. The article explained Magic Leaps’s technology and its “photonic lightfield chip” in greater detail than past reports, but the references are vague, such as these:

“The user sees the outside world through the glass, while the virtual elements are projected from a light source at the edge of the glass and then reflected into the user’s eyes by the beam-splitting nano-ridges,” Kelly wrote. “Magic Leap claims that its device is unique in the way it beams light into the eye, though the company declines to explain it further at this time. ...

“In trying out Magic Leap’s prototype, I found that it worked amazingly well close up, within arm’s reach, which was not true of many of the other mixed- and virtual-reality systems I used. I also found that the transition back to the real world while removing the Magic Leap’s optics was effortless, as comfortable as slipping off sunglasses, which I also did not experience in other systems. It felt natural.”

Natural is what Magic Leap founder and CEO Rony Abovitz is going for – technology that is an extension of the body, rather than an intrusion, “that will deliver and Internet of presence and experience and rather than just data,” he has said in past interviews. While exactly how Magic Leap’s technology will be delivered hasn’t been disclosed, it has been assumed in the tech press that it will be through some type of glasses or headset. Said Kelly: “It’s no great leap to imagine such glasses also replacing the small screens we all keep in our pockets. In other words, this is a technology that can simultaneously upend desktop PCs, laptops, and phones. No wonder Apple, Samsung, and everyone else is paying attention. This is what disruption on a vast scale looks like.”

The secretive company with more than 150 patents still gave no timetable on bringing its first product to market. Funding will not be an issue: Magic Leap has received nearly $1.4 billion in venture capital from Google and others, including $793.5 million in the first quarter in a round led by Alibaba, to develop and manufacture the technology.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.