Want to know about Miami startups? A user's guide to this blog

Dear reader, Starting Gate has been providing and archiving South Florida startup and tech community news, views and resources since 2012. New to the Miami area? Thinking about relocating here? Just want to keep up with news, events and opportunities? We're there for you.

How to use Starting Gate: Besides scrolling the blog for the latest entries, you can access news and views by category. The "Funding" category will capture venture capital and angel funding news of individual startups as well as stories about funders. The startup categories chronicle news and my regular "Spotlights," and in Q&As you'll find interviews with CEOs and leaders in the entrepreneurship ecosystem. There are also categories for guest posts, views, accelerators/incubators, resources, events and more.

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

October 21, 2017

Ouch, that late fee hurt. This Miami startup wants you to never worry about parking tickets again

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From left, Jona Araujo, Charlie Melendez and Auston Bunsen of JINXD. Photo by Beyond South Beach. 

 

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Who hasn't forgotten to pay a parking ticket and paid the very steep price?   

Yep, been there, done that too many times. It's a fact of urban life.

JINXD, a new Miami startup, has a solution for that.

JINXD is one of only two apps in the United States that allow you to auto-pay your citations. You can simply sign up with your license plate numbers and payment info and the next time you receive a parking citation, JINXD automatically pays it, charging a small service fee.

"As you may already know, Miami is notorious for parking tickets and when you receive one, you cannot pay for it immediately on the Miami Clerk of Courts website until it populates their servers three to five days after -- another inconvenience," said Auston Bunsen, one of the co-founders.

"We're trying to be a magical background technology that you only think of when we make your life better. Our users love it when they get a notification that we saved them from getting a tow or just saved them from a $25 late fee," added Bunsen, who oversees technology. 

JINXD works with commercial clients that have large fleets such as rental car companies and automobile dealers. Braman BMW, Infiniti of Coral Gables and Mercedes Benz of Cutler Bay are customers. "JINXD for our business clients is a no-brainer as it frees up their afternoons to focus on bigger tasks at hand," said CEO and co-founder Jona Araujo, who also oversees marketing.

The  number of active customers has grown 448 percent and revenue has grown 346 percent since the beginning of this year, Melendez said. JINXD is tracking more than 2,000 license plates in Miami-Dade County among consumers and  commercial clients.

Late fees can add up quick. After two months, an $18 parking ticket rises to $63 in Miami -- ouch. And if you have five unpaid tickets, your car could be towed.

"We've found and/or paid thousands of tickets for our customers, saved our customers over $22,000 in late fees, as well as prevented dozens of customers from getting their car towed or having their registration renewal blocked," said co-founder Charlie Melendez, who oversees finance.

The team created a heat map of the most ticketed areas in Miami-Dade.

Jinxd-heat-map

Expansion to other cities could begin next year, and JINXD's market is sizable. The team said there is more than $200 million in unpaid parking tickets at any one time just in nine major U.S. cities that include Miami.  

Said Araujo, "We're laser focused on getting product/market fit for our existing product and expanding to other cities as soon as possible. We believe this product is helping businesses, consumers and government alike."

You can sign up at https://JINXD.co or download the 5 star reviewed iPhone app on the App Store here.

JINXD will be one of six startups competiting at Refresh Miami's Demo Day Oct. 27. Sign up to attend here

 

Finova Financial secures $102 million in funding

 

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Finova Financial, provider of flexible, affordable alternatives for the 70 million Americans under-served by the traditional banking system, announced this week that has secured $102.5 million in equity and credit facility funding. 

The financing was led by CoVenture with participation from existing Silicon Valley investors who funded Finova’s $52.5 million seed round. The West Palm Beach-based financial-technology company was founded in 2011.

Gregfinova“Seventy million Americans spend $141 billion on alternative financial services a year because they don’t have or want a relationship with traditional banks or financial institutions. This rapidly growing group feels that traditional financial services companies can’t solve their core financial needs," said Gregory Keough, CEO (pictured here). "Finova is using advanced technologies and designing innovative new financial products to serve the needs of this large and growing population. Finova’s proprietary platform delivers an all-digital financial product and experience that fits the lifestyle of the 28 percent of Americans — and growing — outside the formal financial system.”

Finova’s digital products include its flagship Car Equity Line of Credit (CLOC), providing fast emergency loans based on car equity; and its industry-first Automobile-Secured Prepaid Card, which accepts either cash or car equity to fund the card.

Finova’s CLOC, currently available in Florida, California, Tennessee, New Mexico, South Carolina, Oregon and Arizona, has earned Consumer Affairs prestigious partner accreditation for delivering up to 50 percent lower cost than the national average on title loans to consumers, instant online pre-qualification, and payment-against-principal with every payment, the company said. Finova’s Automobile-Secured Prepaid Card helps consumers avoid check-cashing fees, get their paychecks faster, and better manage their finances, the company said. The new funding will be used to expand its digital financial services.

“We look at many fintech companies but Finova has built an incredible all-digital technology platform that consumers really like and has experienced amazing traction in a short period of time,” said CoVenture Managing Partner Ali Hamed. “Finova has created a customer-centric focus for Americans outside the formal financial system that is driving strong growth, rapid consumer adoption, and opportunities for rapid national expansion, which I think is what the future of banking will look like.” 

 

October 17, 2017

Magic Leap confirms it has raised $502 million in funding

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Magic Leap confirmed that it has raised another large funding round as it apparently readies its first product for launch.

The secretive South Florida tech startup announced on Tuesday that it has raised $502 million in a Series D round of funding led by Temasek Holdings, an investment fund owned by Singapore’s government. The round includes three other new investors, Grupo Globo of Brazil, EDBI of Singapore and Janus Henderson Investors, and existing investors Alibaba Group, Google, Fidelity Management, JP Morgan and T. Rowe Price.

“We’re excited to welcome Temasek and the other new investors in this round to the Magic Leap family,” said Rony Abovitz, founder and CEO of the Plantation-based Magic Leap, in a news release. “We also greatly appreciate the strong support and partnership from our existing shareholders.”

Magic Leap had already raised $1.4 billion, which brought a valuation of $4.5 billion at the time. The new funding brings the company’s total funding to nearly $1.9 billion, and significantly expands Magic Leap’s arsenal as it prepares to launch a long-awaited headset or pair of smart glasses with its proprietary “mixed reality” technology. Magic Leap has not yet revealed a product, and those who have seen the technology have signed a non-disclosure agreement.

Last week, a Delaware filing showed that Magic Leap authorized up to $1 billion in new shares. Last month, a Bloomberg report cited sources who said Magic Leap would be raising about $500 million from Temasek and others, and suggested that a limited launch of its product – bigger than a pair of glasses but smaller than VR headsets now on the market – may be within the next six months. The sources also said the device could be priced around $1,500 or higher, but Magic Leap has not said when it plans to release its product or released pricing details.

Magic Leap is believed to have more than 800 employees in South Florida and hundreds more in offices around the world, including Los Angeles, Sunnyvale, Seattle, Austin, Dallas, Zurich, New Zealand and Israel.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

October 15, 2017

Startup Spotlight: LifeWallet helps consumers take control of their health

 

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From left: Norberto Menendez, CEO and founder of Life Wallet; Anthony Alviz, software engineer, Scott Johns, design lead, Yaismel Miranda, software engineer; and Kyle Carriedo, engineer manager, at the company offices at 14591 SW 120th St. in Miami-Dade. 
Roberto Koltun rkoltun@miamiherald.com

 

Company name: LifeWallet

Headquarters: Miami-Dade County (Kendall)

Concept: LifeWallet aims to change the healthcare delivery model, enabling consumers to own their health.

Story: Using the LifeWallet HealthBook app, a 59-year-old locksmith recently lost 17 pounds in three months and his blood glucose reading dropped enough that he was no longer considered pre-"diabetic. “You have to do it for yourself,” he said, adding that the app helped him stay on track because “someone is always looking at your readings and you’re accountable.”

That’s just one example of LifeWallet at work.

LifeWallet, a South Florida-based startup, creates digital health assistants in the form of apps and care programs. “We empower consumers and communities to lead healthier lifestyles and take control of their health,” said Norberto Menendez, LifeWallet’s founder and CEO.

Menendez, 55, was born in Cuba, graduated from South Miami High School and the University of Miami, and then went to Silicon Valley to work for Apple. He returned to Miami in the mid-1990s to take care of his ailing father.

As he continued to work remotely for Apple while caring for his father, frustrations with insurance, the healthcare system, access to medical records, lack of communication between healthcare providers and the high costs of healthcare led him to take the entrepreneurial plunge with LifeWallet.

Menendez believed that technology focused on empowering consumers with control of their health could save lives as well as solve many of the systemic problems of the industry. He recruited several members of his top management team from Apple.

LifeWallet offers a consumer product, its HealthBook app, as well as products for healthcare providers and health insurance plans. Customers have included Baptist, where LifeWallet has done nearly 20,000 health assessments with West Kendall Baptist Hospital, GE, the City of Doral, YMCA, and Indiana Health University. It will be working with Athlete’s Health and the NFL Players Association, where it will be doing assessments for concussions and the health of athletes, Menendez said.

One of LifeWallet’s programs is Sugar Smart for Life, in which the locksmith participated. It is a collaborative effort between the GE HealthyCities Leadership Academy, LifeWallet and West Kendall Baptist Hospital, a one-year pilot program designed to engage consumers diagnosed as pre-diabetic create healthier lifestyles and prevent the onset of Type II diabetes. It recently received a grant from AstraZeneca to continue the program.

Re-imagining the Healthy Hub at West Kendall Baptist Hospital is another program. Consumers go through a simple health screening process at this free one-stop screening and referral-to-care kiosk. Within minutes, consumers receive a Healthsnap, or snapshot of their health, sent to their cellphones.

In August, Doral Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez challenged his residents to take the StepUp Your Health Doral Challenge. He’s trying to get his citizens to walk a billion steps in the next year. LifeWallet created the app that keeps track of residents’ steps, adds them to the community total and provides individual rankings.

What’s next? LifeWallet is working on strategic initiatives with Florida International University, connecting with Watson Health of IBM and doing work using artificial intelligence and predictive analytics. It aims to create a digital health store where consumers can purchase health assessments they can take from the comfort of their own homes and care plans that can be monitored by health and wellness coaches, Menendez said.

“We’re talking to major healthcare systems throughout the country ... about how the LifeWallet platform can save them, and consumers, billions of dollars a year, particularly in the fight against chronic diseases that account for 86 percent of the costs of healthcare,” Menendez said.

Website: www.lifewallet.com

Launched: 2014

Number of employees: 15

Management team: Norberto Menendez, CEO; Kyle Carriedo, leads engineering team; Ben Sharpe, development; Scott Johns, designer; Edwin Rivera, brand evangelist.

Financing: $6.5 million in private financing from family and friends. Currently seeking Series A financing of $10 million.

Recent milestones: Grant from AstraZeneca to continue its Sugar Smart for Life program with West Kendall Baptist Hospital. Pilot with KeepLivin, Jessie Trice Community Health Center and Health Choice Networks for diabetes prevention and management to help manage patients affected with diabetes. Collaboration with Athlete’s Health to assess and track the course of concussions and overall health in former NFL players and young athletes and to promote health screenings in the community with local organizations, hospitals, schools and companies in 32 cities throughout the U.S. Partnership with AgaMatrix to facilitate preventative care and remote monitoring in populations at risk of developing diabetes.

Biggest startup challenge: Funding in South Florida. “We’re talking to various funding sources in the Northeast and in Silicon Valley, but South Florida still remains a challenge,” Menendez said.

Next step: Continuing to enhance the LifeWallet platform and getting the word out to healthcare providers and insurers.

Mentor’s view: “I always look first at the opportunity and then the team. LifeWallet is at the forefront of the change from traditional healthcare to patient-centered wellness management, one of the biggest possible opportunities. A team of ex-Apple programmers was a very attractive plus,” said Bob Hacker, director of StartUP FIU, startup advisor and professor. “The challenge is picking the early commercial partner — whether it be an insurer, hospital group, large local employer or government organization — to leverage the SAAS platform to scale LifeWallet. I like the insurers as the first customer segment.”

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

READ MORE STARTUP STORIES

Is my mole cancerous? Miami-based Dermasensor developing a hand-held device to evaluate risk

BloomsyBox: A startup idea takes root that keeps on giving

How sea-rise ready is your home or business? Coastal Risk offers the lowdown

 

Need affordable travel in Latin America? Voyhoy has the ticket

Planning a party? Created by a chef, PartyTap app is at your service

 

 

October 12, 2017

Magic Leap could raise another $1 billion in new funding round

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A revamped Magic Leap website appears to be dropping hints of what's to come.

 

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Magic Leap could soon be flying high as a $7 billion company – without having yet launched a product.

Magic Leap, the secretive South Florida startup that has strongly hinted that its “mixed reality” technology may soon be revealed, is seeking to raise up to $1 billion in fresh funding from investors, according to reports of a new corporate filing on Thursday.

The company, based in Plantation, has authorized the sale of more than 37 million shares of Series D stock at $27 each to raise about $1 billion, according to the Oct. 11 filing with the State of Delaware obtained by venture data company CB Insights.

The filing does not mean that the company will raise that much, but it could, and it did not mention any investors. The filing also did not mention how much the company has raised so far. Magic Leap has declined to comment.

When asked if he was raising another large round, Magic Leap’s CEO Rony Abovitz said in June that the company is always in fund-raising mode. However, Bloomberg reported last month that the company has held talks with Temasek Holdings, an investment firm owned by the Singapore government, to join a $500 million investment.

The new financing round comes as Magic Leap readies a long-awaited debut product, believed to be a headset or pair of glasses that will integrate computer graphics onto the real world through its proprietary technology, making for a more natural experience for users, Abovitz, who founded the company in his garage, has said. Bloomberg’s sources said the new product could cost as much as $2,000 and product shipments may begin within six months. In the past couple of weeks, though, the company has unveiled a new logo, a website that proclaimed “we are taking you on this journey to launch” and a new promo video about Magic Leap’s beginnings.

Magic Leap has already raised $1.4 billion from investors such as Google, venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz and e-commerce company Alibaba, giving it a valuation last year of $4.5 billion. The new funding could raise the company’s valuation to about $7 billion, reports said.

The company, which has offices worldwide and at least 800 employees in its South Florida headquarters, has nearly 200 open jobs listed for its Plantation office alone.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

October 10, 2017

Miami Dade College hosting MIA Animation Conference & Festival this weekend

  MIA Animation 2015_028

 

Miami Dade College  will again host the renowned MIA Animation Conference & Festival on Friday, Oct. 13 and Saturday, Oct. 14, at MDC’s Wolfson Campus in downtown Miami. The renowned event features world-renowned speakers, technology influencers from the nation’s top animation studios, universities, and the best talent in the industry. It has become one of the most exciting and cutting edge events in Miami, alongside a community of advanced technology-explorers, decision-makers, trend-setters, software developers, and creative industry professionals.

The industry conference focuses on Computer Animation, Gaming, Visual Effects and Motion Graphics, Virtual and Augmented Reality.  It draws some of the world’s top leaders in animation and education, and features exhibitions, workshops and master classes.  It has been designed to be a forum for active networking and practical information exchange with strong commitment and emphasis in education while developing and nourishing new talent. 

Featured speakers at this year’s MIA Animation Festival include Matt Shumway, animation supervisor at ILM and 2016 Oscar Nominee for “The Revenant”; Aliki Theophiloupolos, supervising producer at Dreamworks; Leah Hoyer, vice president of creative at Telltale Games; and Kat Thorson Good, director at the Walt Disney Company.

Some of this year’s highlights include the Arts & Technology Breakfast, which will explore the ways in which the arts and tech industries can work together to build a connected creative ecosystem.   Also, exploring the power that creativity can bring to everything it touches, specifically to amplify technology as a true connector and catalyst for innovation. This year’s breakfast topic will focus on virtual reality storytelling for areas like gaming, journalism, broadcasting and animation.

Another highlight is Game On, the third annual indie game competition, which is sponsored by MIA Animation and the Idea Center @ MDC.  The competition was created to encourage independent game development and fresh voices in the video game industry. The winner will receive a consulting meeting at the IDEA Center. The finalists will be showcased at the MIA Animation Festival where attendees will be able to play the prototype. 

The MIA Animation Festival will also hold a Pitching Contest for applicants to submit animation projects for a TV animated series.  The top submissions in both categories will be invited to pitch their idea in person to a panel of animation industry experts and professionals. The top pitch overall will be set up with interviews with major animation studio execs in Los Angeles.

Another highlight of the MIA Animation Festival is the Students and Young Directors competitions, which are currently taking submissions for animated films to be judged for conceptual, technical, and aesthetic innovation and excellence. 

The conference is free for MDC students and faculty; $65 for students and $195 for professionals.

For more information: visit miaanimation.com or contact (305) 521-3429

 - Submitted by Miami Dade College

October 05, 2017

Real estate-tech startup Home61 receives $4M in funding, will expand nationally

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

A Miami real estate startup is on the move, with plans to bring its tech-enabled brokerages to new cities next year. 

In buying his own condo several years ago, Home61 CEO Olivier Grinda found the experience stressful and unnecessarily complicated, and as a serial entrepreneur, he thought there had to be a better way. With Home61, which now operates in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, technology enables easy scheduling of viewings, anytime access to notes and analytics and a streamlined contractual process for buyers and renters, as well as sellers and agents. Agents unburdened by administrative work can better focus on service for clients with any budget, Grinda says.

Home61 announced Thursday it has raised an additional $4 million in venture capital to take its service nationwide, with plans to expand next to Chicago, Houston and Phoenix. The new round brings Home61’s total funding to $5.3 million.

“Miami is the heart of our company and a key city as it’s representative of the larger U.S. real estate market,” said Grinda, who was raised in France and ran startups in Brazil before moving to Miami in 2013. “The first thing we will do with this funding is continue to strengthen our presence in Miami before expanding to new cities. We currently have 55 agents in Miami and plan to nearly double that to 100 by the end of this year.”

According to Grinda, Home61 agents average $70,000 in earnings in their second year, far more than the industry average, because Home61’s platform provides them with a steady stream of leads, intensive training and automation tools.

In 2016, the company did $44 million in sales and has done close to 900 closings since its Miami launch in 2015, Grinda said Wednesday. In March, Home61 launched an agent accelerator program modeled after tech accelerators. Agents complete a training program of up to 120 days in which they are taught how to use Home61’s technology tools and best practices for communicating with clients.

But for this underdog upstart, taking on the traditional real estate model is no easy feat. The U.S. real estate market, with $2.17 trillion in residential sales in 2016, is an enormous opportunity, but tech companies have yet to make significant progress nationally — more than 90 percent of the market is still owned by conventional real estate firms. Yet, venture capital interest has been on the rise for tech-enabled businesses. In 2016, U.S. real estate-tech companies set a record, raising $2.6 billion, and this year the sector is on track to lure about $3.4 billion at the current pace, according to venture tracker CB Insights. In South Florida, real estate tech firms are adding up, too, including RealConnex and Gridics that have recently raised funding.

Investors in Home61’s new round include FF Angel, Founders Fund’s early stage investment vehicle that has also backed SpaceX, Facebook and Airbnb; global investor Fabrice Grinda of FJ Labs (also the CEO’s brother); and AGP Miami, an active angel network that has invested in 23 South Florida companies. 

“The Home61 team is exceptional. We love the way they are making the process of finding your next home easier and more transparent, and are really excited to see them grow into new markets in the coming months,” said Raul Moas, managing director of AGP Miami, whose members invested $400,000 into Home61’s financing round.

Home61 plans to enter its next city in 2018, setting up a a physical presence there and finding a local partner to ensure a level of service consistent with its Miami operation, and then will roll out to additional cities, Grinda said.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

October 04, 2017

Court Buddy co-founder becomes 14th African American woman ever to raise $1 million or more

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Only 14 African American women have raised $1 million or more in venture capital, and Kristina Jones of Miami-based Court Buddy is one of them.

Court Buddy is a legal tech startup founded by James and Kristina Jones that helps clients save money on legal fees by avoiding paying high retainers and hourly fees that traditional law firms charge while also helping thousands of attorneys grow their law firms. The company announced Wednesday that it has raised $1 million in seed funding.

When Court Buddy launched in 2015 in Miami, its web-based instant-matching platform allowed consumers to choose the a-la-carte legal services  at flat rates and then matched them to pre-screened solo and small law firm attorneys. Since then, Court Buddy has launched an app, CourtBuddy Chat, and a secured attorney-client payment exchange, CB Direct Pay. Now once matched, consumers can instant message, video chat and pay  attorneys for the legal services that they need, and solo attorneys can create and manage the legal tasks they perform for clients and collect legal fees.

The Court Buddy platform has grown to match over 11,000 consumers with attorneys across the country.

Earlier this year while participating in the 500 Startups seed program, Court Buddy soft-launched Instaclient for lawyers, which allows lawyers to pre-screen payment-verified clients who have pending court appearances or court-related matters before representing them. More than 5,000 lawyers signed up within 30 days of the launch. It also opened its San Francisco office.

LDR Ventures led the seed funding round, with participation from XFactor Ventures/Flybridge Capital, UpHonest Capital, GingerBread Capital/KKR, LSS Fund, Equipo Ventures, 500 Startups, L.A. Women Angels, and angel investors. Andrew Koven of LDR Ventures will join Court Buddy’s board of directors as part of the deal.

“With the new infusion of capital from our investors, not only can we continue building on our core products, but we can also hire more top talent to support the company’s rapid growth and expansion,” said CEO James Jones Jr., also a Florida attorney.

Court Buddy was named the winner of the American Bar Association’s Brown Select Award for Legal Access earlier this year, a winner of the inaugural American Entrepreneurship Award in 2016, and was the 2015 Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge People’s Pick Winner.

September 30, 2017

Miami health-tech startup DermaSensor is developing a hand-held device to evaluate skin cancer risk

Dermasensor 01 EKM

Cody Simmons is CEO of DermaSensor, a Miami-based health-tech startup that is developing a medical device that aims to detect the risk of skin cancer. A user would scan a mole or lesion with the device and the technology inside the device would determine whether the lesion is potentially cancerous, based on its data and algorithm. A prototype of the handheld device that Simmons is holding is a little larger than a pen, but the device started out at as a 30-pound desktop machine that sits next to him. The technology has been miniaturized to be contained in a hand-held device. Emily Michot emichot@miamiherald.com

 

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Chances are you have looked at a mole or irregularity on your skin and thought that maybe you should see a doctor about it. And, chances are, you didn’t.

Yet, there are more new cases of skin cancer every year than the combined incidences of cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon, according to the American Cancer Society. And one person in the U.S. dies every 52 minutes of melanoma, the most-deadly form of skin cancer, which can afflict any age group, gender or race.

DermaSensor, a Miami-based health-technology startup, has been quietly developing a hand-held device that uses artificial intelligence to help users evaluate skin lesions for cancer. The device, undergoing clinical trials, would allow physicians and eventually consumers to perform simple skin checks in physician offices and patient homes at the first sign of a potential problem.

DermaSensor recently completed a $2 million financing deal, comprised primarily of South Florida and New York angel investors with medical device and finance expertise. This financing round brings the company’s total funds that have been raised to $4.45 million. The company is now raising a Series A financing round to further grow its team and fund continued product development, clinical development and commercial efforts.

“We are excited about this novel spectroscopy technology and its potential to transform skin cancer care and save lives around the world,” said Cody Simmons, CEO of DermaSensor.

The company’s recent clinical developments spring from the rapidly growing medical device and health-tech industry in South Florida. The industry benefits from the region’s large hospital district and access to universities and research institutes, the area’s history with successful medical device and pharmaceutical companies, and access to Latin American markets. A number of companies have sprung from Mako Surgical’s sale, for instance. Others are incubating at wet labs and offices at Cambridge Innovation Center, in partnership with the University of Miami. Some have benefited from the services of Startupbootcamp Miami, an accelerator for health-tech startup that focuses on eradicating healthcare disparities in the United States.

[READ MORE: A health system bets big on Miami’s future in health-tech]

DermaSensor was founded in 2009 by healthcare investor and serial entrepreneur Dr. Maurice Ferré, who was previously the CEO of MAKO Surgical, which sold to Stryker for $1.65 billion. Ferré, son of the former Miami mayor, is also chairman and CEO of Insightec, a brain health company founded in Israel; co-founder of Miami-based Fastrack Institute; and on the board of Endeavor Miami, an organization that supports high-impact entrepreneurship.

“What we’ve learned is that this is a public health issue,” Ferré said about DermaSensor’s journey. “The issue is catching these things early, and what we find is not enough people go see dermatologists.”

DermaSensor’s patented technology was pioneered at Boston University and University College London, and the device has been undergoing development since 2011 through clinical studies and collaborations with dermatologists in Florida.

The device itself is evolving, from a 30-pound desktop system to a hand-held device that is now just a little larger than a pen.

The device itself includes the technology, which records the skin lesion and runs a machine-learning algorithm that was developed using a trove of spectroscopy data on lesions. Within seconds, the technology evaluates the risk and recommends further evaluation from a dermatologist, if necessary. Clinical validation of the prototype is underway in Florida clinics, Simmons said.

Simmons came aboard in 2016 to lead the company through its clinical trials and into commercialization. Before joining DermaSensor, Simmons led commercial efforts for a Silicon Valley mobile health device startup and held business development and commercial strategy roles at biotech company Genentech.

Christian Seale, founder of Startupbootcamp Miami, originally introduced Simmons to Ferré, a mentor and advisor for Startupbootcamp, with the idea that they might work together to build DermaSensor. Seale is a member of DermaSensor’s advisory board, which also includes Dr. Stewart Davis and other Miami entrepreneurs in the healthcare and tech industries. “The Miami ecosystem is working,” Ferré said.

DermaSensor is undergoing clinical trials in the United States, working toward FDA clearance, a process that can take years. DermaSensor’s product will likely hit the market first in Europe, where the regulatory process is further along, Simmons said.

The ultimate goal is to be able to sell the device at an affordable price, for a few hundred dollars, Simmons said.

Once cleared by regulators, the go-to-market strategy is to sell the device first to clinicians, and eventually consumers. To save lives, he said, “we want to make it very easy to use.”

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

September 29, 2017

Doral really wants to be the home of Amazon’s massive new headquarters

Doral
By Nancy Dahlberg and Rene Rodriguez / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Find Seattle on a map. Now find the farthest U.S. city from it.

The Miami metro area wants to be on Amazon’s map as the home for its second headquarters, a planned $5 billion, eight-million-square-foot, 50,000-employee campus for Amazon executives, staff and high-tech professionals (Read: high-paying jobs).

But while economic development agencies in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties are putting together a rare, tri-county proposal to lure the Seattle-based online shopping giant to the region, one South Florida city is flying solo with its pitch to bring Amazon here.

READ MORE: “Jeff Bezos: A rocket launched from Miami’s Palmetto High”

The city of Doral, in conjunction with developer Codina Partners, is offering Amazon 47 acres of prime space in downtown Doral for the first phase of its HQ2 expansion. Future growth space for the Amazon project would include part of the 250-acre White golf course, which Codina and Lennar Homes bought in 2016 and had earmarked to use for single-family home development.

“When we looked at Amazon’s [request for proposal], we felt like we met all the requirements to be the home of their second headquarters,” said Doral Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez. “I may be a little bit biased, but I think Doral is a very good fit.”

For its planned HQ2, Amazon seeks a major metropolitan area of more than 1 million people within 45 minutes of an airport and near quality universities. Its checklist for its planned HQ2 includes a business-friendly climate, low taxes, cultural amenities, proximity to mass transit, affordable cost of living, a diverse population — and a package of economic development incentives.

 

Bermudez said Doral fits all those requirements, including proximity to Miami International Airport and Florida International University; a booming (and growing) downtown area of restaurants, shops and entertainment; a large housing stock of condos, apartments and single-family homes; an educated and multilingual workforce; an ethnically diverse population, and a modern infrastructure with public spaces, bike paths and other live-work-play conducers.

The mayor said Doral even fulfills Amazon’s desire for “proximity to mass transit” with its three routes of free trolley service, which connects to the Palmetto Metrorail Station in Medley. At Wednesday night’s Doral City Council meeting, the council unanimously approved a resolution to endorse and support the Miami-Dade Transportation Planning Organization’s Miami Area Rapid Transit Smart Plan, which intends to reduce the county’s traffic congestion woes — a particularly grave problem in Doral.

“If we were going to submit our proposal with the existing status quo transportation, it would probably be deficient,” said Ana Codina, CEO of Codina Properties. “But we’re coupling our proposal with some ideas we have to enhance and improve the bus and trolley system so that there would be more transit options than there are now. I see it as a challenge, but not something that can’t be overcome.”

Doral is the fastest-growing city in Florida and 11th fastest in the U.S., according to Florida International University’s Metropolitan Center. Its population is 58,000, and the median household income in 2015 was $72,933, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

But the competition to become the home of Amazon’s HQ2 will be fierce — and rich with incentive offers. Since Amazon put out its request in early September, the Super Bowl of Economic Development has already drawn interest from several hundred metro areas. Orlando, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Brooklyn, Chicago, Boston, Denver, Toronto, Ottawa, Washington, D.C., St. Louis, Las Vegas, Detroit, Tulsa, Tucson and even Frisco, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, are a few that have already said they will have or will be submitting proposals by the Oct. 19 deadline. Tucson even sent Amazon a 21-foot cactus.

But none of those cities can boast that Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos graduated from one of their high schools. Bezos was valedictorian at Miami Palmetto and was a Miami Herald Silver Knight recipient.

The Miami-Dade Beacon Council, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance in Broward County and the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County are working on a proposal of their own to lure Amazon.

“There is a real opportunity to show off the region’s transit and other assets,” said Susan Greene, spokeswoman for the Miami-Dade Beacon Council, adding that the timing of Brightline “couldn’t be better.” Brightline’s inter-city train service is expected to connect the downtown centers of the three counties before the end of the year.

“We are in conversations with Mayor Bermudez about potential sites in Doral,” she added. “We’ve heard from lots of people with sites in Miami-Dade to consider.”

Bermudez said that he learned about the tri-county effort last week while talking to Beacon Council president and CEO Michael Finney.

“In the long run, it would behoove South Florida to offer Amazon several opportunities,” Bermudez said about the unexpected competition. “But we began this process before we even knew the Beacon Council was involved. The majority of Miami-Dade County residents live west of I-95. I see no reason why we can’t offer different options as a community.”

At stake for South Florida: Thousands of high-paying technology jobs in an economy that is now highly dependent on low-wage service jobs.

“Amazon HQ2 will be a complete headquarters for Amazon — not a satellite office,” Amazon said in its news release. “Amazon expects to hire new teams and executives in HQ2, and will also let existing senior leaders across the company decide whether to locate their teams in HQ1, HQ2 or both. The company expects that employees who are currently working in HQ1 can choose to continue working there, or they could have an opportunity to move if they would prefer to be located in HQ2.”

Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle covers more than 8 million square feet of space across 33 buildings and houses about 40,000 of Amazon’s global workforce of about 380,000.

The practice of cities and states lavishing millions of dollars in tax breaks, relocation perks and other credits on companies to lure them is widespread, yet still controversial. The media often doesn’t hear about these kinds of incentive-laden deals being negotiated until a deal is done — or at least in the final stretches. But Amazon’s very public call for proposals changed all that.

Timothy J. Bartik, a senior economist at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo, Michigan, told the New York Times that the average incentive package from a state usually adds up to 2 percent to 3 percent of wages. Recently, he said, there has been a spate of mega-deals, such as the $3 billion in state tax credits that Wisconsin offered Taiwanese electronics giant Foxconn. Boston’s deal to nab GE was another. Such outsized offers could end up being a “winner’s curse” where costs outweigh the benefits, he said.

A former governor went further.

“Competition for jobs should not be seen to hinge on which government can write the biggest check to an employer, but on the kinds of things that officials in Delaware and other states spend so much time on to make their communities places worth living in: the quality of schools, workforce development programs, the transportation grid and other infrastructure, and the overall quality of life,” Jack Markell, former governor of Delaware, wrote in the New York Times.

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