August 22, 2016

Learn to code in 10 weeks? Try one day.


Photos by Andrew Sierra of Digital Taste Makers


By Jocelyn Caster

This past Saturday morning, nearly one hundred young professionals flocked to the Wynwood Art District’s Miami Light Project for a truly unique experience. Unlike the crowd in Wynwood later that night, these men and women did not come for a chic gallery opening or a trendy bar night. No, these people gave up their Saturday to start on the path of learning how to code at Wyncode’s Wyntroduction to Code.

Wyncode Academy’s Lead Instructor, Ed Toro, helped attendees write their very first lines of code using the language Ruby. Less than eight hours later, these development newbies had completed an entire coding project - one that Wyncode’s own students work on during their first week at the web immersive bootcamp.

This wasn’t the first time Wyncode hosted a one day bootcamp. In the first iteration of the day-long introductory workshop, Wyncode welcomed ten students participating in the Ancient City Ruby Conference in St. Augustine to spend the day with Wyncode’s Head of Product Development Sean Sellek. Based on overwhelming positive feedback, Wyncode brought the workshop to Miami. The workshop was quickly waitlisted, despite the size of the Light Box, where there is much more room for increased participation compared to Wyncode’s traditional sample classes.

Wyncode Miami’s flagship classroom is just next door at The LAB Miami, which allowed interested students the chance to pop their heads in and see where they could be spending ten exciting but demanding weeks, should they apply and get accepted into the bootcamp. Wyncode also has a campus in Ft. Lauderdale’s trendy FATvillage district at co-working space General Provision.

The majority of participants showed up motivated and interested in learning how to code. But, many also came with an ulterior motive - a chance to figure out if the $11,500 investment in the full-time, immersive coding bootcamp is really worth it compared to other learning options, such as self-teaching, part-time courses, or online course routes.


Auston Bunsen, Miami Tech leader and Wyncode Fort Lauderdale’s lead instructor, said:, “A full-time program really pushes you to learn how to code and challenges you more than you ever could by yourself...You’re firing on all-cylinders, with a massive amount of content coming at you.” While he understands that this intense environment is not for everyone, Auston said “you really need to be [mentally] prepared for it, [if you are] it’s definitely the highest return on investment.”

With the heavy burden of expectation placed on bootcampers from the get-go, many Wyntroduction attendees spent the day not only wiring their first lines of code, but also evaluating if they are up for the challenge of completely immersed in the world of coding and South Florida's up-and-coming startup ecosystem for 10 weeks. In order to be accepted into the web immersive bootcamp, a potential student must prove he or she is prepared for the rigors of the course through a series of interviews and challenges.

Attendees of last Saturday’s Wyntroduction event were additionally able to experience the networking potential from enrolling in Wyncode first-hand. Wyncode welcomed alumni Sara Hincapie of Careerscore, Matthew Kellough of Sandals and Christina Nguyen of SapientNitro to share their Wyncode experience as well as the challenges and rewards of learning to code. Auston Bunsen used emojis to present his version of Miami Tech history in 5 minutes. Hiring partners JC Carrillo of Kipu Systems, Ivan Rapin-Smith of Watsco Ventures and Emilio Cueto of LiveNinja talked about their need for talent and why they hire from Wyncode, as each have hired multiple developers out of the program. The day wrapped up with a happy hour at nearby Gramps bar, where the attendees mingled with the Wyncode team, alumni as well as with local players in the Miami tech scene. Everyone was documenting the day with Wyncode’s custom Snapchat filter.

If Saturday was any indication, interest in the Miami Tech scene is at an all-time high. Wyncode was able to show how they can help totally inexperienced coders gain the skills and confidence necessary to tackle the process of learning to code and can supply you with a local community of similarly-minded individuals in the process.

Given how much was accomplished in one day, we look forward to what this group of ambitious individuals will do should they join Wyncode’s 350 graduates and 80 hiring partners in the future.


To learn more about Wyncode or sign up for the next Wyntroduction event, please visit


Photos by Andrew Sierra of Digital Taste Maker

August 18, 2016

LaunchCode partners with City of Miami to place tech apprentices

LaunchCode, a nonprofit founded by Square co-founder Jim McKelvey, announced this week that it will partner with the City of Miami to place technology apprentices across a number of departments.

 LaunchCode opened its South Florida office in 2015 and has partnered with more than 100 local companies to place more than 80 technologists in jobs and apprenticeships in tech. In addition to placing qualified candidates into jobs, the nonprofit also hosts computer programming classes and bootcamps with Miami Dade College. LaunchCode is supported by national and local organizations, including the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

 “This partnership between LaunchCode and the City of Miami creates a new pathway for emerging technologists from diverse backgrounds to help solve our community’s most pressing problems. It’s an important step as we commit to strengthen collaboration between City government and Miami’s growing tech scene,” said Mike Sarasti, Chief Innovation Officer at the City of Miami.

Learn more at

August 08, 2016

Startup Spotlight: Octopi making waves in maritime industry

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Company: Octopi (formerly Cetus Labs)

Headquarters: Venture Hive, 1010 NE Second Ave., Miami

Concept: Octopi builds and sells a modern and smart Terminal Operating System (TOS) that helps seaport terminal operators manage operations, track cargo, and communicate electronically in real-time with their commercial partners.

Story: Ninety percent of everything around you was carried over on a shipping container before it reached you. It’s the industry that puts food in your plate, clothes on your back and enables the success of e-commerce globally. Yet, very few companies are trying to solve the hard problems facing this industry, says Octopi co-founder Luc Castera.

“Our company was built with the mission to help the key players in this industry operate more efficiently using modern software. We are a team of software developers with lots of experience in developing modern software tools,” Castera said.

According to the International Chamber of Shipping, about 90 percent of world trade is carried by the international shipping industry, and the United Nations estimates that the maritime industry contributes about $380 billion to the global economy. It’s also one of Miami’s dominant industries.

“When we started learning about the shipping and maritime industry, we saw that there was a big opportunity to help companies in that space be more efficient using technology,” said co-founder Guille Carlos. “Everybody is impacted by the shipping industry so we feel like we can have a meaningful impact in the world by helping the players in this industry be more effective.”

Launched: Octopi went live with its first customer in October 2015.

Management team: Luc Castera and Guille Carlos [pictured above], who have more than 20 years of combined experience developing software. Previously, Castera was CTO of Intellum and Carlos was the first tech hire of FiveStreet, which was acquired by in 2013.


Financing: Bootstrapped. The co-founders said they are not in need of funding now but have had conversations with local investors and are building relationships with them in case they decide to raise funds in the future.

Recent milestones reached: In October 2015, Octopi went live with its first customer. In May 2016, the company signed a contract with Caribbean Port Services (CPS), which manages all the terminals at the port of Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. With that contract, about 85 percent of all containerized cargo going to Haiti now goes through Octopi. In June 2016, Octopi completed its billing module, which allows the software product to interface with accounting software such as Quickbooks Online or Microsoft Dynamics GP.

Octopi (then called Cetus Labs) was also the winner of the 2016 early-stage Startup Showcase competition at eMerge Americas in April, winning $50,000, and it participated in the 2016 Venture Hive class.

Biggest startup challenge: Focus. Carlos says: “We see so many problems we could solve in the shipping and maritime industry but we must remain focused on the problem we are currently solving for terminal operators, and not get distracted by other product ideas.”

Next steps: To continue improving the product. “We love to work closely with new customers and involve them early as possible as we develop our product. This ensures that we are solving their problem and we are not developing software in a vacuum. As such, we are always looking for container terminals that have a forward-thinking executive team and that are willing to build a strong alliance with their software vendor. It’s a win-win situation: They help us build a great product, and they get a better software at a better price,” Castera said.

Mentor’s view: “This is exactly the type of startup we need more of in Miami,” said Mike Lingle, who mentors the team at Venture Hive. “My favorite thing about Luc and Guille is that they've built a sustainable business with real revenue and customers, and they don't need to raise money. They both write code, but they also take the time to learn how to run the business, drive sales and marketing, etc. ... The next step is to focus on sales and build a predictable revenue stream. B2B sales cycles are often long and involve multiple stakeholders, so it's important to focus on this sooner rather than later.”

Read more: Mediconecta brings telehealth to emerging markets.

Read more: Why Hope Solo is partnering with this startup.

Read more: Need a ride? Freebee revs up to expand

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

August 06, 2016

Wyntroduction to Code: Learn coding in a day Aug. 20

Wyncode course

Wyncode Academy, Florida’s first bricks and mortar coding bootcamp teaching computer programming in ten weeks, is hosting Wyntroduction to Code: a 1 day bootcamp aimed at those who are interested in coding, but may feel intimidated or are unsure of how to begin learning. The goal of Wyntroduction is to reduce those apprehensions, and introduce attendees to programming in a fun, interactive and engaging way. The day-long workshop consists of mini-lectures interlaced with numerous hands-on practice exercises that attendees complete solo or in pairs. The day culminates with students being guided through the process of developing a simple game that might have seemed impossible before, followed by closing notes on how they can continue their learning in the field.

“We’re excited to host Wyntroduction for the South Florida community. Our technical team designed a low friction approach to getting a real taste for coding in just one day,” Wyncode co-founder Juha Mikkola said. “After a successful test run at the Ancient City Ruby conference hosted by HashRocket, one of the top app development companies in the world, we’re ready to open Wyntroduction to select attendees with a desire to learn more about coding. The demand for coders is ever increasing and it’s a skill set that anyone with a strong work ethic and determination can learn. That said, it can be really hard to know where to begin and this one day bootcamp is designed to fix that problem.”

Wyntroduction to Code costs $25 and is limited to the first 100 attendees, with early bird pricing available for the first 50 registrants, half of which are already sold out. The event will take place at The Lightbox in Wynwood on Saturday, August 20th. Featuring Wyncode’s award winning instructors, a hiring partner and alumni panel, as well as catered breakfast and lunch, the day is sure to be a fun experience for newbie coders. It’s also a great way for for someone that has tried to learn to code online or through other programs to experience the difference that the in person Wyncode experience provides.

Wyncode attracts people without a programming background from a variety of careers: chefs, lawyers, salespeople, accountants, concierges, marketing executives and entrepreneurs who have all learned to code through Wyncode’s intensive, full-time program. The program focuses on tech skills like Ruby, Javascript, HTML and CSS and also on the business skills that startups require to be successful.

Wyncode Academy is licensed by the Florida Department of Education and has graduated over 300 Wyncoders. The majority are currently working in South Florida’s tech ecosystem, with over 80 companies having hired Wyncoders and more than 30 companies hiring at least a second Wyncoder. Wyncode has two campuses, one in the Wynwood Arts District of Miami and the second in Ft. Lauderdale’s Flagler Arts and Technology Village. Wyncode is the leading student reviewed in-person program on industry-leading site Course Report, with over 100 reviews and a 4.7 out of 5 star rating.

Interested participants can register for Wyntroduction on Eventbrite or attend Wyncode’s Pitch Day X on August 11th in Miami or Pitch Day VI on August 18th in Ft. Lauderdale for more information.  Wyncode’s next full time cohorts begin in Miami on October 3rd and in Ft. Lauderdale on October 10th. Each class is limited to 30 seats. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis and interested candidates should apply at


July 12, 2016

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


By Nancy Dahlberg/

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 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 /

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



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.


By Nancy Dahlberg /

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 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


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.


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



Nomads_studio(3) (1)

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).