January 16, 2017

Why we chose Miami as the US headquarters for Solomoto

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CEO Pasha Romanovski, CEO of Solomoto, presents at the Startup Nation conference at the Idea Center last summer.

By Pasha Romanovski

Following my visit in May to Miami for the Startup Nation Conference at Miami Dade College's Idea Center, it became clear that the city would be the future home of Solomoto in the US. And next month we are finally making this decision a reality.

Solomoto is a global company that helps small business owner  grow online, simplifying the confusing world of digital marketing. We recently crossed the 100 000 mark of small business owners using the platform, and these entrepreneurs from Latin America, Europe and now the US are enjoying our simple dashboard to grow their business digitally in only 30 minutes a day.

 What makes Miami a good fit for us? After scouting different locations, we liked these two ingredients:

Talent – Miami has one of the most diverse populations in the US, an important fact that aligned with our team culture in both Israel and Europe. As a global company, we have found talent of every nationality to support our global growth.

Open ecosystem – Miami is an open city. In a relatively short period of time, we have met key stakeholders of the city’s growing innovation ecosystem. We get a sense of ambition and commitment to build a real tech hub, so we decided to be pioneers, not followers, and be part of this emerging hub.

What is Solomoto?

Solomoto is a digital marketing solution for small businesses. We understand that online visibility is an area many business are looking to grow, but they don’t understand its complexities or don’t have the time to dedicate to it.

Our solution is to provide an affordable alternative to agencies, a DIY platform where any small business owner can create an online presence that will help attract more consumers. With ready-made content, cross platform publishing tools for advertising and social media, a small business owner can grow his online visibility with just 30 minutes of digital marketing.  All of from one simple dashboard!

Pasha Romanovski is co-founder and CEO of Solomoto, based in Tel Aviv.

READ MORE: How to think big: Israeli entrepreneurs show how it's done

 

January 15, 2017

VR tech startup Avenue Planet launches its first 'v-commerce' location: Lincoln Road

 

Aveplanet

 

Avenue Planet, which brings the world’s best shopping streets to your virtual world, launched with a splash last week, unveiling its Lincoln Road shopping experience to the real Lincoln Road. The tech startup is developing a content hub for immersive VR experiences, including the first e-commerce platform using virtual reality. Its Miami office is at Pipeline Brickell.

Above, Miami-Dade’s Beacon Council and Miami Beach officials participated in its client’s VIP launch at the Lincoln Road Books & Books on Friday morning. Avenue Planet’s two founders, Sanjay Daswani and Bruno Carvalho,  along with Miami Beach City Commissioners John Elizabeth Aleman and Michael Grieco, Miami Beach Chamber President Jerry Libbin, Miami-Dade Beacon Council Chair Jaret Davis and Interim President Sheldon Anderson test their first virtual reality shopping avenue, Lincoln Road, their first virtual commerce "v-commerce" location.  The company has announced that 5th Avenue in New York City will be next.

Avenue Planet also held a community launch party at Drinkhouse Fire & Ice Bar in Miami Beach Thursday night, where attendees got to experience Avenue Planet on  multiple VR devices or via a huge projection screen. Below, Kabir Frutos, North and South America director of Avenue Planet, helps an attendee experience the technology.

Read More: This startup wants to take you shopping – through virtual reality

 

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January 11, 2017

U.S. venture capital dipped in 2016, but took a Magic Leap in Florida

Money

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@Miamiherald.com

While venture capital investment cooled nationwide last year, investment in companies in the Sunshine State heated up, producing the best result since 2001.

Venture capitalists injected $1.12 billion into 71 deals in Florida in 2016, but most of that total went to Plantation-based “mixed reality” technology company Magic Leap, which raised $793.5 million in the first quarter, according to the MoneyTree Report from PricewaterhouseCoopers and CB Insights, which was released on Wednesday.

Florida’s total would  be the lowest total since 2011 without the mega-deal by Magic Leap. But with it, Florida companies raised 29 percent more venture capital than in 2015, according to the report, a 15-year high. Even so, Florida's venture capital take is less than 1 percent of the U.S. venture capital pie.

In the fourth quarter alone, $98.7 million flowed into the state, and South Florida companies received two-thirds of the state’s total. Companies that received funding included: CareCloud of Miami, $31.5 million, Boatsetter of Aventura, $13 million, Batanga Media of Coral Gables, $9 million and $6 million; Carevive of Miami, $4.25 million; and ClassWallet of Miami, $1.1 million, according to MoneyTree.

JetSmarter, which reportedly raised $105 million in the fourth quarter, was not included in the MoneyTree report, possibly because the investment round has not closed.

Magic Leap and JetSmarter were the two largest raises from South Florida for the year, followed by Finova Financial’s $52.5 million, Woundtech’s $40 million and CareCloud’s $31.5 million.

Nationally, investment in VC-backed companies ended the year on a weak note, as quarterly deals and dollars fell for the second-consecutive quarter, according to the MoneyTree Report. The U.S. full-year funding total of $58.6 billion represented a 20 percent drop from 2015, while the number of deals, 4,520, fell 16 percent, compared to the previous year. Globally, the trend was similar, with global deals and dollars declining 10 percent and 23 percent, respectively, in 2016, compared to full-year 2015.

Bolstered by the $1.2 billion raised by OneWeb, investors deployed $11.7 billion to U.S.-based VC-backed startup companies across 982 deals in the fourth quarter of 2016. That was down 17 percent in dollars and 14 percent in deals from the third quarter. Both quarterly figures were also down from the fourth quarter of 2015 and set the quarterly lows for 2016, which had already seen startup investment recede from the peaks of 2015. Deal activity, having fallen off consistently throughout the year, has now reached a multi-year low with the quarterly count failing to crack 1,000 deals for the first time since the fourth quarter of 2011.

“For those who predicted 2016 would be the popping of the venture bubble, it was not,” said Anand Sanwal, co-founder and CEO of CB Insights. “Yes, it was a tougher year in terms of deal activity and funding, but versus 2014, which we can call a more normal period, 2016 compares quite favorably. In 2017, unicorns and mega-rounds could see some of the same headwinds as in 2016, but interestingly, the introduction of new big money investors from the likes of Asia and increasingly the Middle East may serve to offset that. An expected healthy IPO and M&A market should also serve to help the VC market as well.”

All three of the major technology and startup hubs of Silicon Valley, New England (including Massachusetts), and New York Metro saw deal activity declining from the quarter prior. Silicon Valley-based companies saw the sharpest drop-off, with $3.9 billion invested across 310 deals, down 37 percent in dollars and 22 percent in deals from the third quarter of 2016.

MoneyTree Report results are available at www.pwcmoneytree.com. MoneyTree changed data providers and now uses CB Insights, a venture capital data analytics company, so some past data has been revised. CB Insights research can be found online here.

 

January 10, 2017

Six South Florida companies to present at Florida Venture Capital Conference

The Florida Venture Forum, Florida’s largest statewide support organization for investors and entrepreneurs, announced  its lineup of 20 high quality companies that will present and exhibit at the 2017 Florida Venture Capital Conference, to be held Feb. 2-3 at the Waldorf Astoria in Orlando.

Six South Florida companies are among the presenters. They are:

Breezer Holdings, LLC, (www.powerbreezer.com), Deerfield Beach, their products combine custom fan technology with a highly efficient water atomizing system that delivers the cooling effect of misting (at distances up to 100 feet) without getting people or machinery wet.

Citizen, (www.citizen.co), Miami, provides its customers with a frictionless, convenient experience in filling-out and submitting U.S. government forms.

Everyware, (www.everyware.com), Boca Raton, is a consumer relationship platform targeted to businesses who are underserved by technology. Ease of adoption, low cost and a virtual marketing assistant give the business owners capabilities in marketing, CRM and mobile engagement.

iraLogix, (www.iralogix.com), Miami, provides the only institutionally priced, fully managed, paperless IRA technology platform, including advice and education.

MyTaskit, (www.mytaskit.com), Hobe Sound, is a comprehensive software solution for coordinating and managing tasks within companies and between multiple businesses and their customers.

VortexLegal, (www.vortexlegal.com), Ft. Lauderdale, disrupts the “agency” business model and connects law firms and corporate legal departments with all legal vendors resulting in savings of 10-20% on all services by using our technology platform to “go direct” to each vendor.

 "Our investor-only selection committee has done an outstanding job of selecting 20 companies that will make the Conference one of the best in the event’s 26-year history,” said Travis Milks, Chairman of the Selection Committee of the 2017 Florida Venture Capital Conference and a partner with Stonehenge Growth Equity Partners in Tampa.

The diverse group of presenters includes companies focused on multiple industries and technologies selected from over 100 applicants by a committee of active equity investors. The other presenters are:

 Captozyme Inc., (www.captozyme.com), Gainesville, develops and manufactures highly effective enzymes in superior manufacturing processes allowing for consumer food products and therapeutics with exceedingly high margin.

Fattmerchant, (www.fattmerchant.com), Orlando, is a subscription-based merchant services provider and payment technology company revolutionizing the industry by providing a transparent, wholesale model where merchants pay direct cost of credit card processing with no markups, no ancillary fees, and no contract, for a flat monthly membership.

Fortress Information Security, (www.fortressis.com), Orlando, is the leading third party risk management (TPRM) security technology and services provider for organizations that have large, complex vendor and supply chain networks.

ProAct Health Solutions, (www.proacthealthsolutions.com), Celebration, is a Florida based provider of a nationally scalable, technology enabled, turnkey solution for obstructive sleep apnea.

Vestagen Protective Technologies, (www.vestagen.com), Orlando, develops and markets advanced performance textile products and technologies.

Catalyst OrthoScience LLC, (www.catalystortho.com), Naples, is a medical device company that is commercializing a novel design for a total shoulder replacement system known as the Catalyst Shoulder Replacement System (the “CSR”).

Happy Grasshopper, (www.happygrasshopper.com ), Safety Harbor, their service combines the strengths of marketing automation and professional copywriting to help salespeople acquire more opportunity and close more business.

Mize, (www.m-ize.com), Tampa, enables durable goods manufacturers to maximize customer lifetime value by helping them to retain the customers and grow the revenues and profits from the loyal customer base.

PikMyKid, (www.pikymykid.com), Tampa, is the first and only communication portal to simplify student dismissal process in K-12 schools, increasing teacher efficiency & student security while reducing traffic around schools. PikMyKid was the winner of the 2016 Florida Early Stage Capital Conference.

That’s Us Technologies, (www.lotvantage.com), Tampa, is a digital marketing company for dealerships. The company is acquiring a tablet-based, end-to-end sales process for dealerships and eventually, technology to complete the online purchase process for the dealer and to remove the hassle for the consumer.

NanoLumens, (www.nanolumens.com), Norcross, Georgia, designs, builds and sells display solutions to hundreds of the world’s largest retailers, airports, corporations, transit stations, hospitals, casinos, universities and sports teams.  With a large intellectual property portfolio and a proprietary building block called a "Nixel", NanoLumens is proud to include hundreds of the largest and best brands as their clients. 

 RSVP Loans, LLC, (www.rsvploans.com), Hurst, Texas, is an online provider of personal loans to nonprime consumers. Their proprietary technology platform automates the entire loan process from marketing offer through loan origination and servicing, resulting in superior cost position and scalability.

Exhibiting Companies:

BioTools, Inc. (www.btools.com), Jupiter, is a Life Sciences tools company. It is recognized worldwide as the innovator that commercialized two of the most advanced techniques for critical structure characterization of molecules. They specialize in two types of pharmaceuticals – chiral and biologics - both kinds comprising blockbuster examples which include drugs such as Plavix, Lipitor and Humira.

Society Plus, (www.societyplus.com), Melbourne, is a vertically-integrated brand selling plus size clothing directly to millennial women through its website (B2C) and to wholesale customers (B2B)

For more information about the Florida Venture Forum or the upcoming Florida Venture Capital Conference. www.flventure.org.

 

 

January 06, 2017

The LAB Miami to kick off 2017 with 3 events, including new Product Council and GrowthHacking series

Brainfood
 A Brainfood with Martin Varsavky in 2016 attracts a big crowd at The LAB Miami.  

The LAB Miami is kicking off 2017 with three events ‑ Brainfood and two new event series, Product Council and GrowthHacking ‑ with the aim to bridge the gap between the corporate and startup communities, spark meaningful conversations around new relevant content, and bring the Miami ecosystem together. 

Jan 18: Brainfood with Mary Biggins Link 

Brainfood with Endeavor @ The LAB is a monthly, hands-on discussion with successful entrepreneurs, investors, and CEOs from around the world. 

Jan 24: Product Council Link  

Product Council provides startups and existing companies a fresh new outlet for critical feedback, ideation, and improvement of their products. Join product makers, (designers, developers, etc.) and founders to learn valuable lessons and insights from experienced product owners as they dive deep into the challenge, success and failure of product design. This month we will hear from DermaSensor and CareCloud

Jan 31: GrowthHacking with Grant Lingel, Head of Growth in Latin America for Neil Patel Link 

Many businesses struggle with brand awareness and getting their products/services seen by potential customers. Because content marketing takes a lot of time and persistence, many people seek shortcuts in order to get the word out. That's where growth hacking comes in handy. There are many simple yet extremely effective growth hacks that can be implemented that will help get the word out about your business and not break the bank doing so. This talk will discuss some of the best ones.

With $1.1 million in new funding from the Knight Foundation and under a new CEO, Thomas “Tigre” Wenrich, The LAB announced in October it was planning to launch LAB.ID, which will use educational, community programming to encourage greater collaboration between startups and established businesses. These programs are part of that new effort. At the same time, The LAB announced it would will launch a venture builder called LAB.Ventures, which will work with entrepreneurs, engineers and designers to test and build promising business ideas. The program aims to incubate several technology startups by 2019, the majority of which will be run by women and minorities.

READ MORE: Knight invests in LAB's next chapter; new CEO named

 

 

January 04, 2017

Net2Phone acquires LiveNinja, but the team -- and #WaffleWednesday -- will live on in Miami

LiveNinjaFounders (1)

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Net2Phone, a subsidiary of IDT Corporation, acquired LiveNinja, a Miami-based messaging and live chat technology startup, the companies announced Wednesday.

Net2Phone, based in New Jersey, will be integrating LiveNinja’s messaging technology into its new product now in development, called PicuP, a self-service communications platform that gives small and medium sized businesses tools to professionally answer, route and manage their inbound calls at an affordable price. LiveNinja, a team of 14, will stay in Wynwood, and will immediately add employees to enhance and support PicuP. Terms of the transaction weren’t disclosed.

“This is a big deal for us because we are joining a company that is just as bullish about the future of our product as we are,” said LiveNinja CEO Will Weinraub, who founded the company with Emilio Cueto and Alfonso Martinez (pictured above). “It just became clear that if we were going to scale this thing and reach the audience we were trying to reach, we needed additional resources and someone who believed in it to take it further. The two platforms complement each other well, and we can get the product out to market faster and reach a bigger audience.”

Was it the team or was it the tech? Net2Phone, founded in 1990 to pioneer VoIP communications, was attracted by both, said Zali Ritholtz, Net2Phone’s chief operating officer, who met Weinraub through a mutual acquaintance. Net2Phone had already built the extensive telecom components to its PicuP product and was planning to add live text messaging, but changed course after seeing what LiveNinja had built and what hundreds of LiveNinja’s business customers were already using.

“I took a look at [LiveNinja’s technology] and in my head said wow, this is the missing piece we were about to build for PicuP and these guys have done a phenomenal job and are such an energetic and amazing team,” Ritholtz said. With LiveNinja, PicuP will become a multi-channel platform that spans phone, messaging, SMS and live chat, he added. “Now we will have a super powerful tool to provide to small and medium-sized businesses so they can communicate with their customers however they like.”

LiveNinja, founded in 2012 as a video-chat platform, changed its own course and last year unveiled its messaging application that lets companies and their customers have seamless conversations across multiple messaging and chat channels, including live chat, SMS and Facebook Messenger – the messaging channels that businesses most often use to meet, convert and serve their customers. Over the years, LiveNinja raised more than $3 million in venture funding and is also well known for serving up innovative waffles at the lively community networkers the company hosts every week in its Wynwood office.

For LiveNinja, the new owner brings resources it needed to market and scale its technology. Weinraub said he will be posting eight software engineer jobs right away, doubling the engineering team in Miami. “Everybody’s staying, we’ll still be based in Miami,” he said. “[Net2Phone] came down and saw the space, saw the energy and felt the vibe of the community and wanted to be part of the community. There will still be #WaffleWednesdays with LiveNinja. It’s a big win all around for us.”

PicuP will be launched shortly and LiveNinja will continue to offer its messaging platform as a standalone product until the full integration of the two companies’ services has been completed later this year, Ritholtz said. At that point LiveNinja’s customers will be transitioned to PicuP.

In A Facebook posting Wednesday morning, Weintraub said: "We're absolutely thrilled to be joining forces with IDT and Net2Phone to not only scale our team, but to create a one-of-a-kind product that we truly believe in. We couldn't be more excited about this next chapter. It’s been a long ride, but it feels like we’re just getting started."

Is it the team or is it the waffles -- we can't be 100 percent sure -- but congratulatory messages flowed in by the dozens on Twitter and Facebook.

  

Liveninja3

 

  WaffleWednesday1

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

December 30, 2016

Why mobile payment tech is leap-frogging in Latin America

YELLOW PEPPER SPOTLIGHT b e

YellowPepper, a Miami-based tech company, is undergoing a growth spurt, recently deploying its mobile payments technology in Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico and looking to expand to other Latin American countries. To further power that growth, Volta Global, run by emerging markets specialist Marko Dimitrijević (pictured above at right), recently became an investor in YellowPepper, run by Serge Elkiner (pictured above, left).

 

BY NANCY DAHLBERG / ndahlberg@maimiherald.com

The world of mobile payments is one of the hottest segments of the financial technology industry. Based in Miami, YellowPepper has been a pioneer of mobile payment technology in Latin America, where an immense market need and a millennial-rich population of early adopters converge.

YellowPepper has done this before. Years ago, the YellowPepper team targeted the untapped Latin American mobile banking market and developed a state-of-the-art platform to enhance the overall consumer experience. While continuing to grow the mobile banking side of the business, YellowPepper is now focused on another untapped opportunity: mobile payment solutions for consumers in the region. The company, founded in 2004 in Boston, provides financial institutions with the latest technology that alters the way in which consumers and retailers transact.

YellowPepper is undergoing a growth spurt, recently deploying its mobile payments technology in Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico and looking to expand to other Latin American countries. To further power that growth, Volta Global, run by emerging markets specialist Marko Dimitrijević, recently became an investor in YellowPepper. The terms of the investment weren’t disclosed, but Miami-based YellowPepper has raised more than $40 million in venture capital to date, making it one of the highest funded early-stage fintech companies in Miami.

With such a large market opportunity, mobile payments continues to attract attention in the venture capital community. The global mobile wallet market is expected to reach $635 billion by 2020 from $113.5 billion in 2015, increasing 41 percent annually between 2015 and 2020, according to Research and Markets. The turning point, many experts cite, is the growing availability and use of mobile phones. With the mobile and financial expertise of CEO and co-founder Serge Elkiner coupled with the emerging markets and investment experience of Volta, YellowPepper is poised to exceed its expansion goals in the coming months, the company said.

On the heels of YellowPepper’s success in the Latin American mobile banking space, the Belgian-born Elkiner moved the headquarters to Miami, where offices of U.S. and Latin American financial institutions are based and a growing number of fintech companies have set up operations. YellowPepper, now with a team of 68, currently partners with top financial groups and institutions, including FIS and MasterCard, in the region and is poised to launch in Peru and the Dominican Republic shortly. After years of heavily investing in research and development, YellowPepper turned profitable last year.

The tech company is hiring, too. It is looking to add up to a dozen engineers to its Miami headquarters, located in art-adorned offices in Wynwood. YellowPepper now has about 16 employees in Miami.

Dimitrijević, who has been investing in emerging markets for more than 25 years, has recently focused on frontier markets, or smaller emerging markets beginning to take off, and recently authored a book, “FRONTIER INVESTOR: How to Prosper in the Next Emerging Markets.” Prior to founding Volta, the Stanford MBA graduate ran hedge fund company Everest Capital, which managed more than $3 billion in assets at its height, but a single bad bet in January 2015 wiped out one of its funds after the Swiss National Bank unexpectedly removed the franc’s exchange-rate cap against the euro, sending the currency surging, media reports said. He returned investors’ capital, later started Volta and now invests with his own funds, making strategic investments. I set up Volta Global as a private investment group and we do both public and private investments, and that’s how we got to meet YellowPepper,” Dimitrijević said.

To get the view from both sides of the table, the Miami Herald met with Elkiner and Dimitrijević before the holidays and asked about YellowPepper’s growth, recent developments and the future, as well as about frontier investing and why YellowPepper falls into Dimitrijević’s investment wheelhouse. Here are excerpts from that conversation.

Q. I know you are actively hiring in Miami. How will you use the new funding, Serge?

A. To support our growth. We’ve been able to grow internally in markets where we were growing very fast, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico, and we are launching our mobile payments in the Dominican Republic and Peru. We already had a strong presence in Peru in mobile banking for the past 10 years. We are also in Bolivia with mobile banking.

Yepex is our mobile payments platform and we develop separate white label products with financial institutions from the platform.

For our mobile payments solution, we have more than 100,000 users in Colombia and it is growing every day, Today it is our biggest market.

In Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico, 220,000 merchants are currently enabled with our mobile payments technology. In the next four to six months, there will be 365,000 merchants coming on board.

Q. Marko, you have a new book on investing in frontier markets and mobile payments is one of the themes of investments that is growing in Latin America. Why do you believe in mobile payments?

A. We’ve seen the story before. We have been early investors before in several frontier markets and we saw a leap-frogging in some of those countries. For example, in some countries only a fortunate few had a fixed-line phone and basically [the countries] skipped directly to mobile and everyone has a mobile five years later. We see that in payments in countries like Kenya, where very few people had a bank account but went directly to apps and mobile and we think the same story is happening in Latin America, particularly in Ecuador and Colombia, which are frontier countries. And we believe YellowPepper is really at the forefront in Central and Latin America and that is really exciting.

Q. What is a frontier market?

A. Frontier markets are smaller emerging markets. Think emerging markets of the future. Twenty years ago few people focused on India, few people focused on Russia and even fewer focused on China — they were all novelties. Few people today focus on Ecuador or Colombia or the DR or Vietnam or Bangladesh, but those will be the markets of the future. You catch them at their inflection points, right before the hockey stick starts to turn up. That is what is so exciting about those markets.

In Latin America, that is everything but Brazil, Mexico and Chile — it’s a very, very large market.

The frontier markets — that’s where the growth is in the world. In the large emerging markets, Russia, Brazil, China, all are slowing or have slowed over the past five to 10 years. If you look at the top 75 fastest-growing economies in the world, 71 are in the frontier markets. They are starting at a much lower base and are going to be growing much faster over the next 10 to 20 years.

Q. Marko, what attracted you to YellowPepper?

A. The people, and obviously they have been at it for a number of years. They have built a cohesive and attractive team and created something we think is a very powerful mousetrap and building it in our backyard. It’s exciting for Miami to have a company of this caliber here.

The potential growth for YellowPepper is much higher than a company doing a similar thing in the U.S. or a more developed emerging market.

Most people don’t realize how attractive the frontier markets are because they are all individually small. But when you take them all together as a group they are larger than the U.S. or China. That’s why it is remarkable when companies like YellowPepper get on our radar screen because they have taken advantage of this very powerful force and the fact that the demographics go in favor of those markets. YellowPepper focuses on the most attractive segment, 15- to 34-year-olds, the early adopters, and those are massively located in frontier markets.

Q. What’s next for YellowPepper, Serge?

A. One thing is consolidating the markets where we are right now. By the end of the second quarter [2017] in Colombia you will be able to make mobile payments in 100 percent of the shops that take credit card or debit cards. That’s 250,000 merchants, and 100 percent of that is based on our technology.

And expansion. In the last 18 months, we have built the second generation of our platform. It’s an inhouse platform that connects to international platforms, like Mastercard, Visa, American Express and other institutions in those countries. We are also integrating with Facebook messenger for our clients. Given that we are connected to these global platforms, the technology we built is fully deployable globally. This changes the story for us.

Right now we can pitch a bank in Vietnam, for instance. … What we learned and have done in Latin America is totally applicable to other markets that are similar, such as Southeast Asia. We could in the future do a distribution deal to push our technology outside of Latin America and this was not possible 18 months ago. Now it’s completely viable.

And we are one of the very few players in emerging markets with a very deep understanding of emerging market dynamics.

The potential is huge. But Latin America is still virgin territory for us. … We’ve built the highway and any cars that want to use it are welcome to come and pay the toll and use it. It cost us a fortune to build it, but now the value is there.

Q. And what is your biggest challenge?

A. People still don’t understand that it is more secure to do things with your mobile phones. There is a lot of work still ahead of us in the markets we have been strong.

Tokenization of the transaction means the credit card or account number of the debit card is no longer part of the transaction. What goes through is a one-time generated number used for that transaction. If someone steals your token, they can’t do anything with it. There is a lot of security around that and so far we have had no problems.  

Q. Who are your users?

A. In Colombia, I can tell you there are almost twice as many millennials using our product … than the traditional credit card and debit card. … We have 63 percent in the 18-35 segment. Another statistic that is very interesting: 65 percent of our users have used [our product] twice already meaning they are becoming repeat users. The challenge is breaking that barrier with the consumer so they use it the first time, but the first time they use it, they are likely repeat users.

SERGE ELKINER

Title: CEO and co-founder of YellowPepper, a Miami-based company that provides mobile banking and payment solutions across Latin America.

Previous: Vice president of business development at HelloTech Technologies, an Israeli firm providing remote monitoring and mobile payment solutions for vending machines.

Education: Bachelor of science in accounting from Boston University.

MARKO DIMITRIJEVIĆ

Title: Founder and chairman of Volta Global, a private investment group. Author of “FRONTIER INVESTOR: How to Prosper in the Next Emerging Markets” (Columbia University Press, 2016).

Previous: Investor for more than three decades, mostly in emerging markets, and ran hedge funds.

Education: MBA, Stanford University; bachelor’s in economics, finance and management science, University of Lausanne.

 

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

 

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December 28, 2016

Magic Leap commits to creating 725 high-paying jobs in Broward

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Magic Leap officially announced on Wednesday that is will expand its operations in Broward County, creating 725 high-wage positions and making a capital investment of $150 million.

The South Florida technology company said it selected Broward County for its R&D Center of Excellence over locations in Texas and California. Magic Leap received $9 million in government incentives, in an effort by the state of Florida, the city of Plantation, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance and Broward County. “Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County is proud to be the home of Magic Leap and its transformational technology,” said Bob Swindell, president and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance.

With locations in Plantation and Dania Beach as well as offices around the world, Magic Leap is developing a mixed-reality platform to enable people to seamlessly experience the real and virtual environments together. The company’s virtual retinal display technology superimposes 3D computer-generated imagery over real world objects. Magic Leap was founded by Rony Abovitz, who also co-founded Mako Surgical in Davie and is a University of Miami alumnus.

The incentives package has been in the works for about a year, and the $150 million capital investment will be for its Plantation facility. Magic Leap broke ground on its 260,000-square-foot campus in Plantation last fall and has begun moving in. The new headquarters and manufacturing facility is in the former Motorola campus. Magic Leap employs about 800 globally and between 200 and 300 in South Florida. The company currently lists about 175 openings in Plantation and Dania Beach.

“Our new location in Plantation will create many new jobs in the area, and we hope to continue to grow and expand our efforts over the coming years. We see Florida as an emerging hub for both technology and creativity, and we at Magic Leap are inspired by events such as the first launch to the moon, which happened right here in Florida just a few decades ago. Florida is a place where people can dream, and where amazing things can happen,” said Abovitz, in a statement on Wednesday.

To fund its innovation, Magic Leap raised $1.4 billion from investors including Google, Alibaba and others, a record in Florida. “Now it’s heads-down for us and we will be accelerating everything. We are super-focused on our getting first product out and getting it right, and letting it speak for the company. We know we have to deliver against high expectations,” Abovitz said earlier this year.

The secretive company, which hasn’t released timelines or launch dates on its product development, hit media turbulence earlier this month: Tech publication The Information reported that some former employees say its development is behind schedule and that some technology the company invented couldn’t be applied to its consumer product, thought to be spectacles. Management changes followed. New Chief Marketing Officer Brenda Freeman, formerly of National Geographic, recently responded in Recode that Magic Leap “is absolutely on track” and “racing toward launch.”

To be sure, Magic Leap’s commitment to creating 725 jobs in Broward paying an average of $92,066 — twice Broward County’s average annual wage — over a five-year period would make a large bump in South Florida tech employment. Florida is home to more than 26,000 IT companies employing nearly 250,000 professionals; nearly 80,000 people work in information and communications technologies in South Florida. Still, in a Bloomberg study released last week, Florida ranked 34th out of 50 for innovation measures including R&D, patent activity and science and engineering degree holders. 

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

December 27, 2016

The Sunshine State has a stormy showing in Bloomberg Innovation Index


Vision-strategy-innovation-signpost-24720693-001By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

By at least one measure, Florida has a lot of work to do if it wants to join the ranks of innovation powerhouse states. The Sunshine State ranked 34th out of 50 in The Bloomberg U.S. Innovation Index.

The 2016 index, released last week, scored each of the 50 states on a 0-100 scale across six equally weighted metrics: R&D intensity; productivity; high-tech density; concentration of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) employment; science and engineering degree holders; and patent activity.

No. 1 on the ranking was Massachusetts, which enjoyed a faster recovery from the last recession than most states and boasts a 2.9 percent unemployment rate. The state’s innovation is a potent mix of tax incentives to draw in companies, research partnerships between its big-name universities and local businesses, and the transfer of much of that research into patent-able products, said Greg Sullivan, research director at Boston-based Pioneer Institute, in a Bloomberg report.

California, Washington, New Jersey and Maryland rounded out the top five most innovative states. Arkansas, West Virginia and Mississippi are the least innovative in the U.S., the data show.

Keeping Florida from the bottom was its relatively high ranking – 11th – in tech company density, defined in this study as the the number of highly technical publicly traded companies, such as in aerospace and defense, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, software, energy etc compared to all public companies in the state. But all the other indicators were very low; Florida ranked 35th for R&D intensity, 44th for productivity, 40th for STEM concentration, 33rd for science and engineering degree holders; and 32nd for patent activity.

Florida ranked 35th overall in 2015.

The year in business: my top picks among many for best local stories in 2016

South Florida was spared Hurricane Matthew’s wrath, but Zika season never seemed to end. Meanwhile, another year in South Florida business brought other sea changes, including international cooperation (Cuba) and corruption (Panama Papers), booms, busts and a few surprises.

The Miami Herald business staff rounded up our picks for the best business stories of 2016 in real estate, tourism, international business, media and tech for this week’s Business Monday. Rather than stories that dominated the headlines of the day, we looked for stories that told the bigger picture of trends that could continue into 2017.

Here are my top picks from the tech/entreprneurship/startup beat.

Uber and Lyft are legally yours: Miami-Dade commissioners finally made ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft legal in May, after a nearly three-year fight that pitted the tech-enabled services against the county’s taxi drivers. Uber and Lyft followed an approach that brought it success in other markets: launch in defiance of local regulations, then build a following of drivers and passengers so large that political pressure builds on elected officials to sanction the operation. It worked. Broward and Palm Beach counties have approved the services, too. Both Uber and Lyft have introduced carpool-like services this year for multiple riders going the same way. And while ride-sharing was speeding along, an on-demand war heated up for restaurant delivery. Once UberEATS and Amazon Restaurants entered the fray, bye-bye services Caviar and Favor.

Manny Medina’s (nearly) instant tech company: South Florida leaders have been trying to develop a tech hub here, but one of the missing elements has been a critical mass of large tech employers. What will likely help the cause: Tech pioneer Manny Medina will lead a new multinational data center and cybersecurity company based in Miami. Medina Capital, his Miami-based private equity firm, and global private equity firm BC Partners formed the new venture in a $2.8 billion transaction announced in November. The new company, not yet named, will combine a worldwide network of 57 CenturyLink data centers with cybersecurity and data analytics companies, including Doral-based Easy Solutions, a cyber-fraud fighting company. Calling it “Terremark on steroids,” Medina said the new company will have more than 1,000 employees. While it hasn’t been determind" determined how many of them will be in South Florida, it will be a strong presence, said Medina, who founded and led Terremark until its $2 billion sale to Verizon in 2011 and more recently founded eMerge Americas, a homegrown technology conference that returns June 12-13. As for his new venture, “I’m back and I can’t wait,” said" Medina said. “I feel like I have been rehearsing for this my entire life.”

A Magic Leap for venture capital — and negative press: Venture capital in Florida is on track for its best year since the frothy days of 2000, but don’t break out the champagne. While Florida companies have pulled in more than $1 billion so far, without Q4 tallied, the mysterious Magic Leap alone pulled in nearly $800,000 from Alibaba and other investors in Q1, bringing its total funding to $1.4 billion. Pull out that one mega-round, and the total would likely trail most of the years since 2001, according to PwC’s Moneytree Report. Still, one big success story can lift a region, drawing more investors and startups, as well as creating jobs. Will it be Magic Leap, said to be developing a “mixed-reality” technology that brings the virtual and real world together? Magic Leap, now in its new 260,000-square-foot campus in Plantation, hasn’t released product details or timelines but hit major media turbulence this month when tech publication The Information reported that some former employees say its development is behind schedule and that some technology the company invented couldn’t be applied to a consumer product, apparently spectacles. The exclusive article also said that a demo of an earlier prototype (it was hands-off for the current prototype) was less than awesome and that at least one of its promotional videos was created by a studio but presented as real. “Magic Leap may have oversold what it can do,” wrote Information reporter Reed Albergotti. Tech publications piled on with negative press. Management changes swiftly followed, and new CMO Brenda Freeman recently responded in Recode that Magic Leap “is absolutely on track” and “racing toward launch,” without giving specifics. Still, we really don’t know much more than a year ago. Founder and CEO Rony Abovitz has said that Magic Leap’s technology will be worth the wait. Stay tuned.

And here are two stories to watch from my entrepreneurship/tech/startups beat:

Innovation districts: If you build them …: Art Week brought to light the vision for an innovation district called Magic City. Developer Tony Cho and investor Bob Zangrillo, who have amassed 15 acres in Little Haiti, want the district to include an innovation center, music and events spaces (already opened), an amphitheatre, sculpture garden and green space, much of it renovated from industrial buildings and spaces already there, as well as micro-unit housing and a much larger innovation center in later phases. This follows announced plans by Moishe Mana for a 25-acre development in Wynwood catering to tech companies, creatives and millennials, and a Miami Innovation District on 10 acres in downtown Miami, announced by Michael Simkins. Will these visions begin taking shape in 2017 as they work through the planning and development phases?

The proliferation of pot-preneurs: Amendment 2’s passage on Nov. 8  means that the state’s medical marijuana law will become effective Jan. 3, and health regulators have six months from that date to put regulations into effect. The law requires that the state begin licensing dispensaries and issuing IDs by early October. There are still a lot of unknowns, although lawyers have seen increased interest from real-estate investors seeking plots of industrial land suitable for growing or storefronts for dispensaries. And while all that rule-making goes on, South Florida startups have already been ramping up for the new industry.

Read the full story, including top stories from the real estate, travel/tourism, international biz and media beats,  here.