March 29, 2015

Q&A: Technion's role in Israel's Startup Nation immense

By Nancy Dahlberg /

TPeretz Laviehe Technion developed into a world-class research university out of necessity.

As President Peretz Lavie explains it, although the Israeli university’s roots date back to 1912 as an engineering school, it wasn’t until 1948 that Technion began its transformation into a leading research institution. Simply put, then-Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion believed the new state of Israel needed aeronautical expertise to power its Air force to defend the country; now aeronautics is one of the largest industrial complexes in Israel, he said.

 And that was just the beginning, Prof. Lavie said. “We have become a world class university, with 3 ½ Nobel laureates and a global presence, and we are the cornerstone of Startup Nation.”

The Technion – Israel Institute of Technology is a public research university in Haifa, Israel that offers  degrees in science and engineering, architecture, medicine, industrial management and education. With 18 academic departments and some 50 research centers, it is often grouped with  Stanford and MIT, universities that have played outsized roles in building their entrepreneurial ecosystems. Israel's movement, powered by Technion, is dubbed Startup Nation. The USB flash drive, drip irrigation, a Parkinson’s drug, the Iron Dome air defense system, the data compression algorithm used in pdfs, and instant messaging are some of the inventions developed at Technion or by alumni.

Prof. Lavie, who grew up in Israel but earned his PhD in physio-psychology (a precursor to neuroscience) at the University of Florida, joined Technion in 1975 to set up a sleep research lab. He worked his way up and became president in 2009. He’s also started two medical device companies and two medical service providers.

In 2011, a bid by a consortium of Cornell University and Technion won a competition to establish a new high-tier applied science and engineering institution in New York City. A state-of-the-art tech campus, the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech, is being built on Roosevelt Island, while the campus is currently housed in Google’s mammoth New York offices.

Technion is also establishing a technological institute in Guangdong Province, China. As part of the agreement, the Li Ka Shing Foundation will donate $130 million to Technion – the largest donation in the university’s history.

Lavie talked with the Miami Herald when he was in town earlier this month for an American Technion Society board meeting. Here are excerpts of the conversation.

Q. How did Technion become a powerhouse for high-tech?

A. In 1969, the Technion established a micro-electronics institute, when no one had heard of it. After the ‘67 war, we needed night vision devices and infrared sensors, there was no knowledge in Israel but Technion established the institute to produce the first semiconductors.  ... If you ask anyone where the high-tech sector in Israel started, everyone would say ’69 in the Technion. This is where they started to teach microelectronics, this is where semiconductors were produced, this is where it all started. …

The same year the faculty split into electrical engineering and computer science, these two are the backbone of the Israeli high tech 69 The Technion also decided to open a faculty of medicine. It was again prophetic, the decision was made because in the future, medicine and technology would work hand in hand. This is why Israel now is an empire of medical devices.

Today, a 10 minutes’ drive from the Technion you will find Yahoo and Google and Intel and H-P and Philips and GE and now Apple, relying on Technion students and Technion graduates.

I just completed a study on companies established in the last 20 years by Technion graduates.  Of the 2,000 companies [founded and led by Technion alumni or professors], 169 were established outside Israel, mostly in the U.S., the rest, more than 1,800 were in Israel. The number of jobs was 100,000, the mergers and acquisitions [activity] was $28 billion, the total money raised was $6 billion. ... And if you ask them why they are doing it, they want to change the world; it’s not the money.

Q. Sounds like you don’t have a problem with brain drain.

A. Brain drain is not an issue and I’ll tell you why. Intel is largest tech employer with 8,000 or 9,000 jobs. Intel in Israel was started by a Technion [graduate who moved back from the U.S.]. Same with Applied Materials, same with Apple, and others.

When we established a branch in New York together with Cornell, everyone said ‘oh, you will cause brain drain of Israelis to New York.’ I said ‘no, what we will do is attract second generation Israelis in the U.S., including as faculty members.

I don’t think all immigrant groups have a deep sense of responsibility. A large number of Israelis feel a lot of responsibility for Israel. Israel is a startup experience on its own; there is a shared sense of responsibility.

Q. What has Technion’s role been in the tech boom of Israel?

A. MIT did a study on universities that turned their areas into ecosystems of innovation and entrepreneurship. … MIT and Stanford were No.1 and 2, and Technion was no. 6 -- it changed the ecosystem of its country. When they asked the experts to rerate only the ones in challenging environments, Technion was no. 1.

Great universities need to attract top students, to attract top faculty, and the third is a mission. A university must have a mission. The mission is part of the Technion DNA -- To serve the country, to serve mankind. During the Russian immigration wave of the ‘90s, a wave of a million people within a span of five years, Technion stood up to the challenge. We increased the number of students by almost 30 percent in one year. We have a pre-academic center for minorities, every year we have 700 of them, and students are accepted without affirmative action; 67 percent are making it [into Technion].

Arab Israelis 10 years ago were 7 percent of the Technion students. The dropout rate was 40 percent. We started bringing the top kids from all the villages into the program, appointed them a big brother or sister, and held regular discussion groups. Fast forward 10 years, 20 percent of our students are Arab and the dropout rate is 13 percent, about the same as the Israel population. 48 percent of those students are Arab women in all the faculties.’

Q. What about overall?

A. 37 percent women. But electrical engineering is still 15-20 percent. We are trying to move that. We started programs in the high schools, k-12, and to attract girls into science, math, physics.

Q. What other factors led to Startup Nation?

A. Two major characteristics I found are characteristics of Israelis. First, risk-taking behavior. ... The army service teaches you how to take risks. ... The second one is acceptance of failure. There are many countries where failure is not an option. In Israel, failure is part of the learning curve.

Then there is the emphasis on education, a Jewish tradition. But we don’t teach the materials, we are taught how to learn; it is a lifelong experience. I hear this  from our alumni, ‘we are taught how to learn … There is not a situation where we cannot cope.’

The fourth is the government during the ‘60s had the right policy when they started to support research, in companies.

Q. How is your global expansion progressing?

A. Mayor Bloomberg, I admire him for his vision. When I met with him, I said why Technion? He said I am envious of Silicon Valley and Route 128 [in Boston] and I want New York to be the capital of technology.

We are now temporarily at Google headquarters in Chelsea, I asked Eric Schmidt why, and he said we want to be close to you. You need the nucleus of academic excellence that will attract faculty, students and customers. This is a unique to have a degree in applied science and engineering. No excuses. Its tailor made for the industries of New York. We started with The Connective Media, including a major publication. Next year we have are going to open The Healthier Life. The third one is The Built Environment, to open in 2017.

We would like to be close to you. This is the key.

.... [In China,] hopefully we will get the greenlight and start in 2017; we have appointed a leader already. Cornell and China were our first expansions, and we won’t do anymore. With 14,000 students and 600 faculty, we can’t spread ourselves too thin. But I must say we became the most courted boy on the block. We have strategic agreements with the University of Michigan, Toronto, MIT, Cornell and several leading European universities. It’s exciting."

Q. What brought you to  Miami this month?

A. I was here for a board meeting of the American Technion Society. The backbone of our support has come from the American Technion society established in 1940. Without their support we would just be another college in the Middle East. We don’t get research and development funding form the Israeli government … I travel here and crisscross the country twice a year to meet our supporters. This is amazing, the dedication, the love for our institute -- now we have third and fourth generation families that support Technion.

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg. 

See related story on Miami startup delegation's knowledge exchange in Israel as part of AJC's Project Interchange.

March 07, 2015

For South Florida firms, finding top tech talent still a challenge


e-Builder President and CEO Ron Antevy, left, and recently hired employee Lisa Ruggieri, right, play foosball in the game room of the company office in Plantation. NICK SWYTER MIAMI HERALD STAFF

With the economy growing again, local demand for senior developers and other technology experts is heating up. Some employees say salaries need to rise to keep them in South Florida.

Read more here:

By Nancy Dahlberg /

Ron Antevy knows a little something about the war for tech talent in South Florida. He’s on the front lines.

Antevy is the CEO of e-Builder, a provider of program management software for the construction industry that has been growing 30 to 40 percent a year in revenues, he said. He has hired seven people in the tech industry since January and plans to hire at least 40 more employees before year’s end.

“I feel like I am always behind,” he said. “Those really awesome software developers are the toughest to find.”

The market for tech talent is white hot nationally and locally, thanks to a recovering economy and growing entrepreneurial activity. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. unemployment rate among software developers and engineers in the United States was just 2.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014, compared with an overall rate of 5.7 percent.

  Funkhouser“It’s starting to feel like 1999 again,” said Alex Funkhouser, CEO of Miami Beach-based SherlockTalent, a staffing company that specializes in the tech industry. He says he has been seeing multiple-offer situations for the somewhat small pool of senior-level developers and systems engineers. Companies have to act faster than they are accustomed to, he said, and often have to go outside “their comfort zone” on salaries and benefits. Signing bonuses are back, too.

The competition is only going to become more acute: The Department of Labor forecasts that the United States will have 1 million more tech jobs than candidates to fill them by 2020 if trends continue.

Continue reading "For South Florida firms, finding top tech talent still a challenge " »

March 04, 2015

LaunchCode signs up 102 companies, now accepting apprenticeship applicants


Liftoff for LaunchCode.

LaunchCode, a tech-employment nonprofit, aims to attack the tech-talent gap by matching candidates with short-term apprenticeships at partnering companies -- 102 South Florida companies and counting (see photo below). In an event at the Idea Center at Miami Dade College on Wednesday attended by several hundred people, LaunchCode founder Jim McKelvey said  the organization is now ready to take applications. Candidates can apply at

LaunchCode tests all candidates, and if they already have the skills, LaunchCode can place them tomorrow in positions that are the right fit for them, McKelvey said. No degree? No experience? No problem. If they don't have the skills, LaunchCode will suggest training options, such as  coding bootcamps IronHack and Wyncode or free  online classes. The Idea Center, Miami Dade College's entrepreneurship hub, launched its first LaunchCode training class Tuesday; a group of about 100 students are taking a free 19-weeklong introductory programming course taught by Harvard University. The online training is supplemented by in-person help from the Idea Center. After training, many of the students could be ready for apprenticeships.

The past couple of months has been all about onboarding companies, and now the real work begins -- making great matches and expanding the talent pipeline. "It's what we do," said McKelvey, who co-founded Square and now lives in South Florida. Typically, the apprentices are hired full-time after the one- to three-month apprenticeships because they have been matched appropriately, he said.

At the event, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez shared the stage with other speakers including McKelvey; Matt Haggman, Miami program director for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which provided major support to bring LaunchCode to Miami and establish The Idea Center; Leandro Finol, executive director of the Idea Center, a key partner for LaunchCode and where LaunchCode is based; and Jorge Plasencia, an early LaunchCode supporter and  CEO of República. Both The Idea Center and LaunchCode are Knight Foundation grantees. “Miami-Dade County has committed to hiring LaunchCode apprentices for our IT department and I encourage all South Florida companies to consider this innovative program,” the mayor said.

Lc3LaunchCode has already placed its first apprentice. 

Digital and advertising agency República hired Nate Beers, a recently trained web developer who formerly was a professional poker player.  Wanting to make a career change, Beers took a coding bootcamp in San Francisco and then applied to LaunchCode. Now he is helping to create websites for Republica clients. “Nate has been doing great work and we look forward to bringing on more LaunchCoders in the future,” said Plasencia.

Mckelvey 2

 See related story here.

February 24, 2015

Magic Leap's Rony Abovitz on starting a company: Don't do it if it's not rocking, if it's not awesome


By Nancy Dahlberg / 

Rony Abovitz, CEO of the mysterious Magic Leap startup, returned to his alma mater, the University of Miami, to share some secrets of entrepreneurial  success -- and just a very few snippets about the company he is currently building.

"There's a whole mystery to what Magic Leap does and I hope half the room isn't here to find that out because I am not really going to unveil it," he told the group of about 250 gathered at the UM Newman Alumni Center for the College of Engineering's Entrepreneurship Forum, part of its Engineering Week events. Instead he talked about pivotal moments in his career of starting companies, including a couple that will no doubt become part of Magic Leap lore, and what he has learned about being a leader.

Magic Leap, founded in 2011 and  based in Dania Beach, is developing "Cinematic Reality" backed with an eye-popping $542 million  from Google and venture capitalists, the third largest fund-raising round of the year last year. "I still go holy crap, I still can't really believe it," he said of the round. The company is now valued at about $2 billion. 

One of the first articles that have begun to explain the technology was published this month in the MIT Technology Review. Said the writer, Rachel Metz, who tried an early prototype of the technology: "It’s safe to say Magic Leap has a tiny projector that shines light onto a transparent lens, which deflects the light onto the retina. That pattern of light blends in so well with the light you’re receiving from the real world that to your visual cortex, artificial objects are nearly indistinguishable from actual objects."

Metz said the company is aiming to fit its technology into a "glasses-like wearable device" and that, according to Abovitz, the technology  "is not far away." He may share a few more details with the world today: Abovitz is hosting a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) at 2 p.m. EST.   (Update: read it here)

The fast-growing Magic Leap is approaching "a few hundred" employees spread between Dania and Mountain View, Calif., as well as New Zealand and London, Abovitz said in a short interview before the UM talk. Abovitz said he would like to base 80 percent of the company in South Florida.

He also said in the interview he wants to help South Florida grow a technology community and would like to see UM become a Stanford of the South. Abovitz earned his engineering bachelor's and master's degrees at UM in the mid-90s and was in one of the university's first biomedical engineering programs, which he credits with stirring his interest in developing technology for the human body. Before starting Magic Leap, Abovitz was co-founder of Mako Surgical, the South Florida medical robotics company that sold for $1.65 billion to Stryker in 2013.

Abovitz believes in the next five years augmented reality technology will become widely adopted. But what sets  Magic Leap apart from its competitors is how it works with the body rather than against it, he said before the talk. "No one else is doing that.... Put the body first and engineer around it... All computing will be biomedical going forward."

 In the talk at UM, Abovitz shared some of the defining moments of his career. For instance, one day after receiving good news about funding for the robotics company, Sept. 11, 2001 happened. Another one: Going public in 2008.

During both times, the world was ending but the team kept going. In 2001, after his investors pulled out, that meant taking a van around the country, prototype robot in the back, and not coming back until the company secured funding. In 2008, Mako was known as that crazy team trying to go public during the Great Recession.  These are the times you learn what you are made of, he said.

But these defining moments also included the first time a Mako robot was used in a surgery on a human.  "That was one of the greatest moments of my life," he said of the successful surgery in a Fort Lauderdale hospital in 2006.

There have already been a few pivotal moments in the Magic Leap story, too. Abovitz said a trip with music industry mogul Chris Blackwell to Blackwell’s GoldenEye resort in Jamaica in 2011 helped to ferment Abovitz’s idea for Magic Leap. He loved being out in the environment, not staring into the phone, and realized computing had to change. “That’s where the world becomes your new desktop. … We shouldn’t bend to technology, technology should bend to us.”

 Four days after Magic Leap received the "serious capital" from Google and other investors,  Google executive Alan Eustace parachuted a record-setting 135,000+ feet from a balloon near the top of the stratosphere. Eustace had spent time in Magic Leap in May, and was one of the engineers who pushed for the funding. That was a message too: "For cool things to happen, you have to get out of your comfort zone," said Abovitz, who  took up his own challenge of becoming a javelin thrower on the UM team during his college years.

"When you are doing something neat and you’re doing it with neat people and there is that convergence, something amazing will happen," he said. "If you really want to change the world, you have to have that attitude."

On leadership, he told the engineering students and alumni, you have to be bold. "It's little like jumping off a cliff with your backpack, a bag of parts and you are building the plane wings and engine  on your way down.... You also have to be insanely tough, you'll get pummeled over and over again and you have to keep getting back up. ... And you have to attract a team that is freaking smart."

Creativity and finding a counter-balance play a big role too -- it's why he was a cartoonist for the school newspaper during his UM years and now plays in a band, Sparkydog & Friends. But he told the students the most important thing to learn is teamwork. "Starting a company is like doing 100 Iron Mans [competitions] in a row," he said. And while it requires endurance and mental toughness, have fun. "Don't do it if it is not rocking, if it's not awesome."

And don't take yourself too seriously, said Abovitz, who once gave a TED talk dressed as an astronaut.

Posted Feb. 24, 2015 

February 19, 2015

Samsung to buy LoopPay, a technology developed by Miami Beach entrepreneur

George WallnerAnother shot in the mobile wallet wars: Samsung Electronics Co. will be buying LoopPay, which turns existing magnetic stripe readers into secure, contactless receivers. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

LoopPay’s proprietary technology works with about 90 percent of existing point-of-sale terminals, with no investment in new infrastructure required by merchants, and it was developed in the Miami Beach home lab of co-founder George Wallner. Its products include an an affordable protective sleeve that fits around your smartphone, turning it into a mobile wallet. Wallner (pictured here speaking at last year's Fintech LatAm conference), is a veteran in the mobile payment industry. He is credited with developing the first credit card swipe machine as founder and CEO of Hypercom, taking that company from zero to IPO. 

As part of the acquisition, LoopPay founders Will Graylin and Wallner will work closely with Samsung’s Mobile Division. The companies believe LoopPay’s talent and technology, paired with Samsung’s world leading mobile technology, global presence and distribution capabilities, will help drive the next wave of innovation in the digital smart wallet.

“This acquisition accelerates our vision to drive and lead innovation in the world of mobile commerce. Our goal has always been to build the smartest, most secure, user-friendly mobile wallet experience, and we are delighted to welcome LoopPay to take us closer to this goal,” said JK Shin, President and Head of IT and Mobile Division at Samsung Electronics, in a news release.

Samsung had already been working with LoopPay, which is headquartered in Boston, as it was a strategic investor along with Visa and Synchrony Financial. The investment, which was facilitated by Samsung’s Global Innovation Center, helped fuel LoopPay’s MST technology development.

Posted Feb. 19, 2015


February 05, 2015

Miami startup Videoo launches #Share1Love campaign with Bob Marley family

“One love, one heart” – Bob Marley

Bob_Marley (1)A year ago, Miami startup Videoo enabled Bob Marley fans around the world to wish the late music legend a happy birthday. More than 100 people uploaded short videos, and Videoo’s proprietary technology automatically connected the clips into one crowd-sourced compilation.

“That was nice but this year we wanted to do something with a bigger positive social mission,” said Barry Stamos, co-founder and CEO of Videoo, a collaborative platform to collect and curate social video playlists.

On Friday, which would have been Bob Marley’s 70th birthday, the Marley family and Videoo are teaming up to launch  #Share1Love. The aim of the campaign: Allowing anyone to show how they share acts of love and kindness, while simultaneously igniting a feel-good social video movement with a charitable twist. “My father’s universal message of love, peace and unity continues to transcend borders, cultures and generations,” said Cedella Marley. “#Share1Love is an extension of his vision, encouraging people to unite through positivity and hope and give back to those in need.”

For every person who uploads a video showing how they share love and kindness with the world, Videoo will donate $1 to charity: water, a nonprofit that brings clean drinking water to developing countries. Stamos admits the idea was partially inspired by the viral success of last year’s Ice Bucket Challenge.

Videoo’s media technology has also come a long way in a year, and the campaign will provide an excellent use case for the startup, said Stamos. Videoo organizes user-generated social videos into playlists, allowing the community to watch, vote, add, share and remix. The app for iOS and Android is free, and an improved version with new features will hit the Apple store next week, said Stamos, who founded the company with Jorge Moreno, a Latin Grammy winner who inspired the idea, Heidi Finn Roberts, Joshua Stedman and Abraham Elias. Since last year, Videoo also revamped and launched Videoo Pro, a platform for enterprise clients. Videoo has eight fulltime employees and another dozen contractors, Stamos said.

To fund Videoo’s development, Stamos recently raised $1.6 million, part of a $2.1 million seed round. Eleven investors came through the local angel network Accelerated Growth Partners, including Alberto Beeck, Ernest Bachrach, Peter Kellner and Thomas Wenrich, Stamos said. Locally Krillion Ventures is also an investor, and the round includes a Brazilian billionaire who prefers to remain private, he said.

On Thursday, Ziggy Marley kicked off #Share1Love with a video and the family shared it on the Bob Marley's 76 million Facebook fans; within an hour, the post garnered more than  18,000 likes. Others have already started contributing videos, which can be uploaded to, where there are instructions. Participants are sharing clips on social media with the hashtag #Share1Love.

The campaign will run until June, and Stamos believes it will attract worldwide participation – and result in a hefty donation to a good cause.  “We are proud to be a Miami startup and hope everyone locally and in LATAM supports #Share1Love," he said. “Let’s get together and feel alright!"

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

Posted Feb. 5, 2015


February 04, 2015

Mapping Miami's Financial Future: Tech, media industries take stage



As tech community leaders rally behind an effort to build a tech hub in South Florida, Miami’s Hispanic media and entertainment industry may be able to teach them a thing or two.

That’s because Miami already has become a hub for the Hispanic media industry. Speaking at a Miami Finance Forum event Wednesday called “Mapping Miami’s Financial Future,” media executives from Cisneros Group, Telemundo, SapientNitro, Imagina US and the Miami Herald (pictured above) pointed out that in their industry, the elements of a healthy ecosystem have already developed. As evidence they pointed to a critical mass of innovative companies, from large enterprises such as Telemundo and Univision to a growing group of scrappy media startups; an organic and authentic specialization in Hispanic media that few areas can duplicate; and educational projects and internship programs to attract and retain future media talent.

Is Miami the Hispanic Hollywood? Not so far-fetched, said the panelists. As an example, Telemundo executive Peter Blacker pointed to Ana Maria in Novela Land — a spoof on Telemundo’s own lifeblood, the telenovela, opening Feb. 27 in select theatres in South Florida and other cities. That project started out as a much smaller video idea but took on a life of its own bridging platforms, languages and cultures, said Blacker, executive vice president. The company is also beginning to experiment with virtual and augmented reality technologies, which he said would appear in upcoming World Cup coverage.

Nathaniel Perez, global head of social for digital media firm SapientNitro, said Miami’s Hispanic specialization is allowing the city to make its own mark. “You have Silicon Valley for tech, New York for media and you have Miami for multi-cultural,” he said.

Derek Bond, president of Imagina US, a production company specializing in the Hispanic market, agreed. “I have been here since 1997 and we have twice as many studios but I’ve got to think 10 times as much production – a huge digital play.”

Greater forces are at work, of course – namely the lightning-fast digital revolution. The Miami Herald Media Company is seeing 55 percent of its online traffic coming through mobile devices, said its president and publisher Alex Villoch.

A challenge often cited in the tech community is a shortage of talent, but that’s not a problem in the media industry because of the growing cluster of Hispanic media and entertainment companies here, said Victor Kong, president of Cisneros Interactive. "It's very easy to attract talent."

The number of content-creation companies has also grown, said the speakers. For instance, last year SapientNitro acquired La Comunidad, a small specialized Miami ad agency with deep talent. “There is a nice pool of talent sitting in Miami. This place will keep rocking, I don’t see it stopping,” added Bond.

Financeforum-medinaThe Miami Finance Forum’s half-day event also included keynote speeches by Terremark Worldwide founder Manny Medina, now a venture capitalist and founder of eMerge Americas, and Matt Haggman, Miami program director of the Knight Foundation. A panel of tech investors also participated in the forum.

In both panels, executives said the community still has to battle perceptions that Miami is more about play than work. eMerge Americas’ newly announced partnership with NBCUniversal will play a key role in exposure, both Medina and Blacker said. Under the arrangement, CNBC and other networks plan to anchor news and business programs from the floor of May’s eMerge Americas technology conference.

Building a tech hub is a long-term play that could take 10 or 20 years, said Bradley Harrison, founder of New York venture capital firm Scout Ventures. He’s bullish though; Scout recently located its first office outside New York in Miami and has made two investments, including one to Rokk3r Labs, a Miami Beach-based co-building company, that was announced at the event.

Melissa Krinzman, co-founder of Krillion Ventures, another new Miami early-stage venture fund that has so far invested in local startups EveryPost and Videoo, suggested to the crowd of about 200 finance professionals and entrepreneurs that there is a great deal they can do, including mentoring a startup or becoming its customer, making key introductions for startups and investing in them. Medina went one step further: “There is a fantastic opportunity in financial services to be the tech bank,” referring to Silicon Valley Bank’s impact on the ecosystem.

While South Florida will never be another Silicon Valley or Boston, it should aspire to find its own identity and specialization, other speakers said. For Medina and the eMerge Americas team, that goal is to become the tech hub for the Americas. Some areas that still need work, speakers said: serious transportation improvements, meaningful incentives programs, more venture firms investing in the $1 million to $5 million range and more success stories.


Matt Haggman said none of these tech and entrepreneurship conferences and events were in existence two years ago. 

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

Published Feb. 4, 2015


February 02, 2015

Q&A with Cindy Provin: On the frontlines of cyber-security

Cindy Provin
From her perch at the helm of Thales e-Security since 1999, Cynthia Provin has been a key player in the growth of a new industry: data security.

As president of Thales e-Security, she oversees the company’s operations in the United States, Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean. She is also vice president of sales and marketing, overseeing strategy worldwide. Thales e-Security is part of Thales Group, a French multinational company that supports aerospace, defense, transportation and security with 65,000 employees in 60 countries. Thales e-Security, with about 400 employees, including 70 in Plantation, provides solutions to protect data.

“The attacks are becoming much more advanced, and firewalls and passwords are not enough. We promote encryption,” which renders the data unreadable, Provin said from her offices in Plantation.

Before joining Thales e-Security, Provin was vice president of the Product Division for Racal Data Group, managing the Racal Data Group product operations in the Americas. In the fall of 1998, she was instrumental in the sale of Racal Data Group and the formation of Racal Security and Payments, now known as Thales e-Security.

Born in Baltimore but raised in South Florida since she was 10, Provin attended CooperCityHigh School and earned a bachelor’s of business administration from the University of Miami. She met with the Miami Herald recently to talk about her work at Thales e-Security and trends in cyber-security.

Continue reading "Q&A with Cindy Provin: On the frontlines of cyber-security" »

January 21, 2015

Virtual Reality: The here and now and what's possible


By Nancy Dahlberg /

Will 2015 be the year virtual reality technology goes mainstream?

Industry experts speaking at The B.I.G. Summit this week in Miami Beach believe the time is right for more widespread adoption, and presented ways immersive experiences are already being used in industries such as automobile manufacturing, healthcare, sports and entertainment, retail and education.

The executives and entrepreneurs in the trenches of this technology, some for two decades, see a transformative year ahead because of the advances in quality coupled with prices of VR headsets coming down – there’s even a Google Cardboard (also available in plastic) for under $35. Samsung, Sony and other big brands are getting into VR in a big way, and much more content is being developed, they told the crowd of several hundred people at New World Center.

Much of the conference focused on what’s out there and what’s possible, and some of the innovation is grounded in Miami.

Many of the companies at the summit, some local and others from all over the world, are creating content for these technologies for a number of industries. “We are starting to see a lot of companies in the creative industries moving here and working with one another – this is an important evolution in building a technology ecosystem,” said Diane Sanchez, president of the Americas Council for the Creative Economy and a longtime technology executive in South Florida.


For instance, she said, Next Galaxy, which hosted the conference, has recently made South Florida its home. Founder Mary Spio (above) is working with Miami Children’s Hospital to create training courses using immersive technologies, said Dr. Narendra Kini, CEO of Miami Children’s.

“We want to develop the world’s first CPR course in a virtual reality environment,” said Kini. “This is a solution that is scalable – it can help millions of people so they are ready when there is a real emergency.”

Dr. Kini sees immersive technologies playing a big role in the next generation of healthcare training, an area dominated by the use of patient simulators now. Though the simulators are lifelike, the more advanced VR technology can completely immerse the students into an ever-changing medical procedure in a way no mannequin can, he believes. Could it help teach bedside manner, too, he asked?

Kini believes there are massive opportunities in healthcare for VR as well as other technologies. Not finding all the tools it needs, Miami Children’s dove in to develop some itself. “We took the risk in developing an incubator within the hospital,” added Kini. “We have three startups today. We plan to add another half dozen.”

Spio’s company works with brands to create content for VR and augmented reality, which has VR qualities but is grounded in the real world. Her company developed CEEK, a platform to access all sorts of content with one app, and CEEKARS, a 3D audio headphone that completes the VR experience, to “open up the doors to experiences that would be out of reach to most people,” said Spio.

Next Galaxy also partners with EON Reality, which has produced more than 7,000 VR applications for industry, education and edutainment and has offices all over the world. EON’s clients include Boeing, Microsoft, Lexus and Cornell University. Mats Johansson, co-founder and CEO, was named “Global Innovator of the Year” at the conference.

AvenuePlanet’s product puts you on the streets and in the stores of the world’s greatest shopping districts, bringing window shopping to a whole new level, said co-founder Sanjay Daswani, who was demoing the product. It’s launching soon and the London-based company has recently opened a U.S. base in Miami (I tried it out).


From Ford Motor Company’s multiple VR labs around the world, to the Golden State Warriors’ 12-acre ultra-high tech “campus” housing the team’s arena and more being built in San Francisco, to Lockheed Martin using VR for its advanced aircraft training, speaker after speaker gave use cases and what’s possible in the near future with the technology, including wearables. While Google recently shelved its Google Glass, Vuzix showed smart glasses that look like, well, glasses.

We have Palmer Luckey, a California high school kid, to thank for much of this. Luckey, a gamer, started buying VR headsets to see what the problems were and started building his own prototypes. Posting his plans on a message board attracted bigtime partner interest, led to important introductions and demos, and what would eventually became Oculus Rift, sold to Facebook for $2 billion, said Peter Rubin, senior editor of Wired.

The latest Oculus prototype shown at the Consumer Electronics Show has 360 degree tracking and 3D immersive audio, Rubin said. There are a number of exciting companies promising the next big thing with the technology, including Magic Leap of Dania Beach, he said. “I have not seen the technology but I have heard it is mindblowing.”


All this innovation doesn’t surprise keynote speaker Randi Zuckerberg (above), author of Dot Complicated and founder of Zuckerberg Media who directed marketing for Facebook into 2011. She believes that this is the age of the “entremployee,” and that companies should do everything they can to encourage innovation. Google, for instance, allows all its employees to spend a fifth of their company time on passion projects.

“Imagine what can happen if you gave your employees 20 percent of their week to work on passion projects?” she said. At Google, innovations from Google Adwords to Google Cardboard came out of that 20 percent.

Spio shared her own story at the conference, receiving a standing ovation. Though she was born in New York she grew  up in Ghana until she was 16. Her first job after returning to the U.S.: McDonald’s fry-maker. “When I got my first paycheck, I felt like a millionaire,” she said.

But joining the Air Force stoked the engineering fires that had always been in her, leading to her work for Boeing creating technology to digitally distribute motion pictures over the satellite and now heading her own company innovating in virtual reality and the Internet of Things. “See the world with a sense of wonder and make magic,” she told the crowd.

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

Posted Jan. 21, 2014


January 16, 2015

Virtual reality conference in Miami Beach to feature Randi Zuckerberg

A conference next week in Miami Beach will explore how virtual reality and wearable technologies have already begun to transform healthcare, education, entertainment and other industries.

Attendees of the B.I.G. Summit will hear about real-world examples of how these technologies are already being deployed, as well as get a peek into what is under development, said Mary Spio, whose South Florida firm Next Galaxy Corp. is hosting the event Tuesday at the New World Center.

RandiZuckerbergRandi Zuckerberg, a best-selling author, founder of Zuckerberg Media and editor of Dot Complicated, will be the keynote speaker. “We've seen technology change the way that the world thinks and communicates over the past couple of decades, and I think that we are getting ready for another major shift with the emergence of virtual and augmented reality,” said Zuckerberg, who is Mark Zuckerberg’s sister and was an early executive at Facebook.

Mary-Spio-3Other speakers include Peter Rubin, senior editor of WIRED; Avi Muchnick, founder of Aviary; Diane Sanchez, executive director of Americas Council for the Creative Economy; and Dr. M. Narendra Kini, CEO of Miami Children’s Hospital. Executives from Ford, Lockheed-Martin and the Golden State Warriors of the NBA are also on the agenda. Grammy-winning record producer, songwriter and musician Teddy Riley will produce a virtual reality experience featuring a medley of Michael Jackson songs. Spio (pictured at left), a former Boeing executive best known for creating technology to digitally distribute motion pictures over satellite, will talk on “Imagining the Future.”

Spio has been running the B.I.G. Summit (Business, Innovation and Growth) since 2009, most recently in Orlando, but moved it to Miami Beach this year, as she is also relocating her company to South Florida. In temporary offices now, she hopes to move into Miami’s Film and Entertainment Complex set to open this fall and is hiring game developers and backend developers.

Spio, who after Boeing went into 2-D video and now is immersed in virtual reality and the Internet of Things, sees Miami’s potential as a tech hub for the creative industries.

“Virtual Reality is such a powerful tool in education and remote learning,” she said. “I see many opportunities here but the talent must be developed to cover the opportunities. In other areas such as the Valley, everyone is fighting for the same talent. Here, we can mold and shape them for everything we need.”

Learn more about the conference at