February 02, 2016

Magic Leap lands $793.5 million in mega-funding round led by Alibaba


By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Magic Leap’s future is coming into focus, as a historic mega-round of funding could sharply accelerate its path to commercialization.

The secretive South Florida technology company working on a computing platform that simulates reality has raised $793.5 million in a new round of venture capital financing led by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group.

In the largest funding round of its kind, Magic Leap’s Series C investors also include Warner Bros., Fidelity Management and Research Co., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Morgan Stanley Investment Management, Magic Leap said Tuesday. Existing investors Google, which led a previous funding round of $542 million in late 2014, and Qualcomm Ventures also participated. Alibaba Executive Vice Chairman Joe Tsai will sit on Magic Leap’s board, joining Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

The latest round pushes Magic Leap’s total funding to almost $1.4 billion. The funding will give Magic Leap a post-money valuation of $4.5 billion – that’s for a company that has yet to reveal its technology to the world.

“This funding allows us to accelerate the move from product development to pilot manufacturing, manufacturing and commercial launch,” said Magic Leap founder and CEO Rony Abovitz, in a phone interview Tuesday morning. “But beyond that, this gives the company a very long-term runway – effectively we can be sustainable. We may not need to raise capital again – it doesn’t mean we won’t – but it gives us the ability to think well beyond the initial product launch.”

It also brings Magic Leap a strategic partner in Alibaba, which will help introduce Magic Leap's technology to the Chinese market and the more than 400 million people using Alibaba's platforms.

“We invest in forward-thinking, innovative companies like Magic Leap that are developing leading products and technologies,” said Tsai, in a statement. “We believe Alibaba can both provide support to and learn from such a partner, and we look forward to working with the Magic Leap team.”

Abovitz called Alibaba his “first-choice strategic partner,” adding that “Google re-invested in this round significantly so we will have a great Internet company in the West and a great Internet company in the East helping us fulfill our mission of creating the next computing platform.”

Magic Leap, a company Abovitz founded a few years ago in the proverbial and literal garage, is currently headquartered in Dania Beach and is building a massive facility in Plantation. The company is developing a computing platform that will enable people to seamlessly combine and experience their digital and physical lives, said Abovitz on Tuesday, without revealing specifics about the technology.

“We want the digital world to bend to your physical life, your real emotional life as a person, and we don’t want you to bend to computers,” he said. “We are forcing our technology to fit people’s lives the way it was before computing. I think of this as a conceptual computer, a computer based on context and awareness that will help you be more intelligent. It will make you smarter, not a machine, and it will deliver an Internet of presence and experience rather than just data.

“Computing today is like watching a shark on an iPhone, but when you are snorkeling you are experiencing it in the present, it is really there. We want to do that on the tech side,” added Abovitz, who grew up snorkeling and scuba diving in Florida. “We want this to bring you joy and emotion, experiences that you may never be able to have.”

Calling its technology “mixed reality,” a combination of virtual and simulated reality, the company is reportedly creating a wearable device, perhaps a headset, that would use a type of light-field technology to simulate 3-D images superimposed on the real world by projecting patterns of light to the eye. It is different from Facebook’s Oculus or Microsoft’s HoloLens, Magic Leap says.

As an example, Abovitz said the technology will bring film, games and books to life like never before, but it will also allow you to buy a must-have pair of Italian shoes, bringing the runway in Milan to you.

“All this means we have had to invent and create a lot of new technologies, some of which we will be mass fabricating here in our factory in Plantation; others we will be fabricating in our supply chain around the world.”

Abovitz has not yet disclosed when its first product would be hitting the market and few outside the Magic Leap family have seen the technology – which is highly unusual for a tech company attracting this range of venture capital. Likening it to how artists or film directors deliver their creations to the world, or even to the Beatles, his favorite band, Abovitz said the world will be happy it waited to see the finished product.

“I’m a big believer in really putting our heart and soul into the product, crafting it so that when we do launch it is finished and it is great. .. It should be like the Beatles making Sergeant Pepper and then they drop it ... The public got to hear Sergeant Pepper in its full glory and that was really fun ... Hopefully in our own way we will do something along those lines.”

Although funding rounds have been getting larger, this size round is historic for a company at this stage. Nikhil Krishnan, tech analyst with CB Insights, a data-analysis firm that closely tracks the venture capital industry, said Magic Leap's round of $793.5 million is the largest Series C round that CB Insights has tracked, with the next largest being $500 million rounds raised by Wish and Zenefit. For some context, the median Series C size since 2010 is $12 million, he said. This is also by far the biggest investment in the nascent but growing AR/VR space, bigger than the last four quarters of investment into the space combined, Krishnan added. All this and “Magic Leap doesn't have a commercial product yet to launch, and has been pretty much stealth about what's happening within the company,” he said.

Also highly notable is the funding group Abovitz has assembled, Krishnan said. In its previous round, Magic Leap assembled a group from all different industries, including venture capitalists such as Obvious Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz; corporations such as Google and Qualcomm Ventures, financial institutions and even film companies such as Legendary Entertainment.

“This was already a group of some of the top investors in their respective fields,” said Krishnan. “This new round of financing was led by Alibaba, providing a good entry for the technology into foreign markets. Warner Bros also participated, fortifying a strategic partnership that will help bring them into studios, and a host of crossover investors with deep pockets that can finance these types of large rounds, Wellington Management, T. Rowe Price, Morgan Stanley, etc.”

Alibaba has invested in about five U.S. startups a year since 2013, according to CB Insights data. Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma said last year that the company would fund U.S. tech startups and help them expand to China.

While most tech companies doing what Magic Leap is attempting would likely be in Silicon Valley, Magic Leap is headquartered in Dania Beach and moving its team to a 260,000-square-foot facility under construction in the former Motorola facilities in Plantation. Magic Leap, which also has locations in Silicon Valley’s Mountain View as well as Santa Cruz, Los Angeles, Seattle, Austin, the United Kingdom New Zealand and Israel, employs about 500 people with more than 200 in South Florida. Local and state governments last year approved $9 million in economic incentives to create 725 jobs with an average salary of $100,000 by 2020. Abovitz, a University of Miami alum who studied biomedical engineering, co-founded the pioneering robotics firm Mako Surgical in Davie, which was sold to Stryker for $1.65 billion in 2013.

“We are setting up our facility in Plantation, we’re hiring, and I currently expect that to be the primary hub of the company although we are setting up centers of excellence built around the U.S.,” said Abovitz. “We really want the greatest brains in the world, creative and technical, and we are also going where these brains are and setting up these centers of excellence. Think of it as a core planet, which is here, and satellites around it.”

In Plantation, the company will do pilot production runs, but also will be manufacturing parts for Magic Leap’s commercial shipments.

“We hope we will be part of reinvigorating the Florida and U.S economy. We are believers in that – that’s going against the grain, but we think that’s the right thing to do,” Abovitz said.

Noting Magic Leap’s group of long-term investors, Abovitz said, “You don’t change computing in one day, it’s something you do with great collaborative partners. ...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.”

Nancy Dahlberg; 305-376-3595; @ndahlberg

This post was updated at 1:30 p.m.

January 27, 2016

South Florida fintech startups invited to compete at Temenos’ series of innovation events

Temenos, the market-leading provider of mission-critical solutions to the financial services industry, has announced its investment in creating various platforms that will allow fintech companies and start-ups to pitch their products and solutions to the world’s largest financial institutions.  

“The Fintech Innovation Jams provide a unique opportunity for us to engage, identify and partner with the hottest fintech companies in the world. Through the Temenos MarketPlace, fintechs get access to the more than 2,000 financial institutions running our software, who serve more than 500 million banking customers. Our clients in turn get access to cutting-edge innovation, making it a true win-win situation,” said Ben Robinson, CMO for Temenos. He added that “Latin America is a region bubbling with technology innovation and we are excited to help propel fintech to the forefront as a sector with great opportunities for innovative entrepreneurs.”

The series of events will include demo presentations from fintech companies and startups showcasing their innovations to Temenos’ world class banking customers. It will also include presentations from various thought leaders providing insights to the opportunities that market disruptive forces offer to innovative companies, including a feature presentation from financial disruption guru and best-selling author, Brett King.

Fintech companies and startups can register for a demo slot by January 29, 2016 (subject to the rules of entry) and compete for an opportunity to win a place in the Global Innovation Jam finals taking place at the upcoming Temenos Community Forum (TCF) in Barcelona, in May 2016.

About the series:

-           March 10, Miami

-           March 22, Singapore

-           April 6, Dubai

-           April 13, London

The Miami Innovation Jam will take place at The Lightbox at Goldman Warehouse in Miami’s Wynwood Arts District. Each demo will last for 7 minutes and the audience will vote to choose two winners at the end of the event.

For more information, visit the Innovation Jam Miami page.

- Submitted by Maria L. Mancuso, FinTech Americas 

January 23, 2016

Code Art Miami: Inspiring girls to code through art

Students, parents, educators and the tech community are invited to Code Art Miami’s inaugural event. It will be hosted at the Miami Animation & Gaming International Complex (MAGIC) at MDC Wolfson Campus, February 6, 2016.

Code Art Miami is a collaboration between Girls Who Code Clubs and CODeLLA, a non-profit organization teaching coding and tech skills to Latinas from underserved communities. Code Art Miami seeks to inspire more girls to code and to foster community among participating student groups. 

As part of the event, Code Art Miami is sponsoring a friendly competition for girls in grades 4-12. Students submitted digital and 3D-printed art created through coding that will be displayed throughout MAGIC’s facility. Winners will be announced at the event.

 At the event, there will be a short, entertaining speaker program, which will include Mary Spio, founder of Next Galaxy Corp, a Miami-based virtual reality company.  A silent auction will be held featuring unique art and tech-related items. Offerings include two newpieces created just for this event. A painting by world-renowned South Florida native Ahol, and a limited-edition print by London-based artist Ryca. 

There will be a raffle to win a one-week summer camp scholarship at MAGIC for ages 14-19 in animation or gaming and family-friendly MAGICal experiences in the venue’s green screen capture studio and sound recording studio. Net proceeds will fund scholarships for women enrolled in MDC’s gaming or animation program. The goal is to raise $7,000 to fully fund one student for two years.

The event is free and open to the public. It begins at 4:00 pm on Saturday, February 6th, at MAGIC at Miami Dade College, 315 NE 2nd Ave., 1st Floor. To learn more and reserve tickets, visit www.codeart.miami, or email us at info@codeart.miami. To donate to the scholarship fund, go to www.codeart.miami/donate.

“Women represent only 18% of computer science graduates and 22% of gaming developers. The Code Art Miami event will help increase those numbers. Coding is the language of tomorrow, and we want all girls to feel like they can be a part of the future,” said Maria Mejia, student founder of Code Art Miami.

  Maria Mejia is the founder of the Girls Who Code Club at iPrep Academy and student intern with CODeLLA. She graduated from the Girls Who Code summer immersion program in 2014. Since then, she has worked to expand opportunities for young women in computer science.  Code Art Miami was formed as a result of Maria bringing together local coding clubs at iPrep Academy, the Idea Center at MDC, Pinecrest Branch Library, and CODeLLA. Maria's vision is to make Code Art Miami an annual event that builds community and provides opportunities for South Florida girls interested in coding.

-submitted by Code Art Miami


January 19, 2016

Girls Who Code programs returning to Miami; registration open

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At Tech Station at Florida International University's School of Computing and Information Sciences (SCIS), Taty Graesser, 15, of Cutler Bay, center, and Riya Srivastava, 16, of Miami, right, were among 20 high school girls who participated in an intensive computer skills summer immersion program in 2015 presented by SCIS and Girls Who Code, a national non-profit organization that equips girls with computing skills. MARSHA HALPER MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Girls Who Code, a tech education program for high school girls, is returning to Miami to provide another three years of Summer Immersion Programs, with $500,000 in new support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Applications for Girls Who Code’s 2016 Summer Immersion Program opened Tuesday in 11 cities across the country, including Miami. The program will begin this June and run for seven weeks, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. The two Miami-based programs will include a total of 60 rising high school juniors and seniors who demonstrate a passion for technology, regardless of prior coding experience. Applications will be open until March 1 on the Girls Who Code website at girlswhocode.com/apply.

Launched in New York in 2012, Girls Who Code pairs intensive instruction in programming fundamentals, mobile phone development and robotics with engagement opportunities led by top female engineers and entrepreneurs. “The gender gap isn’t just a Silicon Valley issue anymore,” said Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code. “The shortage of women in technical roles, whether it’s retail, entertainment or finance is an enormous crisis both in terms of innovation and socio-economic equality throughout the United States.”

Since its founding Girls Who Code has taught more than 10,000 girls in 42 states. The nonprofit conducted programs in 2014 and 2015 in the Miami area with Knight Foundation support.

January 14, 2016

Florida's innovation economy sputtering, recent analyses show

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com
It seems as if every state and metro area is striving to be an “innovation economy” these days — indeed, President Barack Obama talked about it in his State of the Union address and it was a theme throughout the Greater Miami Chamber’s economic summit this week. Yet, according to some recent analyses, Florida may be falling behind.

In a Bloomberg analysis released this month, Florida ranks 35th among the 50 states on its state innovation index. The index is based on six measures: research and development intensity; productivity; high tech density; concentration in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) employment; science- and engineering-degree holders; and patent activity.

Florida scored relatively well in high-tech density (13th among states) and down the middle in patent activity (22nd), according to the analysis. But the Sunshine State ranked 32nd for the number of degree-holders in science and engineering, 36th in R&D intensity, 41st in STEM concentration and 44th in productivity.

The Bloomberg state innovation index ranked Massachusetts tops in the country, followed by California, Washington, New Jersey and Connecticut. In the Southeast, North Carolina was the clear front-runner, ranking 16th nationwide, and Georgia landed at No. 26. The five lowest-ranked states for innovation were Louisiana, Arkansas, South Dakota, West Virginia and Mississippi.

“Innovation usually leads to job creation, and high-skilled job creation, mostly,” Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at global market analysis firm IHS, told Bloomberg. “But there are other jobs that come with it; namely, that as the labor force grows, they need haircuts, they need landscapers, all that stuff — so it does tend to have linkages to other parts of the economy.”

Behravesh noted the contribution of universities: MIT graduates have produced about 400 startup businesses over the past couple of decades, which then creates a “cluster” of companies that propel the labor market and growth.

The Florida Research Consortium and the Florida Chamber Foundation are conducting a series of reports analyzing the components of Florida’s innovation economy, starting with higher education. Its report released last week identifies a significant funding shortfall for higher education in Florida. It notes that in recent studies by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, Florida is identified as the lowest of the 50 states in funding per full-time student. It goes on to show that the gap is particularly large at the state’s Carnegie-designated “very high research” universities. At these institutions in Florida, total funding per student is 51 percent of the average of all the other states and 42 percent of the average of California, Texas and New York.

“Research shows us that a strong university system is a necessary foundational element for developing a dynamic innovation economy. This report shows us that investing in human capital leads to increased competitiveness — something we must do to secure Florida's future,” said Jerry Parrish, chief economist and director of research for the Florida Chamber Foundation.

The Milken Institute’s Best-Performing Cities index for 2015 ranks U.S. metropolitan areas by how well they are creating and sustaining jobs and economic growth, by measuring job creation, wage gains and technology industry growth trends. At the top of the index are San Jose and San Francisco in California; Provo, Utah; Austin, Texas; Raleigh, N.C.; and Seattle. While 11 Florida cities ranked in the top 100, South Florida cities fell in the middle of the pack, with Fort Lauderdale at 41, West Palm Beach at 50 and Miami at 65. Eight Florida metro areas were in the top 25 for fastest-growing metros; this group included Fort Lauderdale but not Miami or West Palm.

“Florida and local economic development organizations can learn from the most successful states and regions across the U.S. The most prominent performers are U.S. tech hubs and metro areas with the highest technology growth rates. We need a new direction with a prime focus on higher paying job creation and a more diverse and sustainable industry mix,” said Dale Gregory, executive director of the nonprofit InternetCoast, which tracks data such as Florida and South Florida STEM employment, university R&D expenditures, venture capital investment and other metrics on icoast.com.

The Progressive Policy Institute’s Chief Economic Strategist Michael Mandel recently released a list of the top 25 App Economy states that ranked Florida sixth in the nation for the number of jobs, with more than 59,000 “app economy jobs” in December 2015, up from 15,000 in April 2012.

However, when the institute measured the number of app economy jobs against all the other jobs in the state and ranked the share of app economy jobs in the workforce -- what it calls its "app intensity" ranking -- Florida fell to 28th, a spokesman said.

Nancy Dahlberg; 305-376-3595; @ndahlberg


January 10, 2016

South Florida tech companies betting on CES show exposure

By Jeff Berman / Special to the Miami Herald

The first products that come to mind when thinking about the annual technology extravaganza known as the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which was held through Saturday in Las Vegas, are probably not medical alert bracelets and facial masks to treat wrinkles and other skin-related issues. But several South Florida tech companies touting devices like those as well as more traditional electronics products were among the more than 3,600 exhibitors this time.

The show’s increased emphasis on newer, nontraditional consumer electronics product categories is underscored by the recent decision by the Consumer Electronics Association, which produces CES, to change its name to the Consumer Technology Association. CES is clearly no longer just about audio, video and computers.


Boca Raton-based MobileHelp (www.mobile"help.com) and Sunrise-based MDLIVE (https://www.mdlive.com/) are among a growing number of companies that exhibit at the show’s Health & Wellness Marketplace as the digital health field continues its energetic growth, thanks largely to the increased role that mobile devices play in consumers’ lives.

MOBILEHELP%201“This is a really great venue to announce new products,” said MobileHelp CEO Robert Flippo. Products get great national exposure because of all the media at CES, he said. The show also provides a good way for companies to forge business relationships with retailers, suppliers and other companies, he said. The company was started in 2006 and made the MobileHelp Medical Alert System available to consumers in 2009. The company first exhibited at CES in 2010.

This time, MobileHelp used CES to introduce devices including a Bluetooth emergency button that works together with the company’s medical alert devices and the MobileHelp Connect app it introduced for mobile devices in 2014. The button can be worn around the wrist much like a watch, but it also can be easily removed from the wristband and worn around the neck or attached to a key chain, Flippo said. In case of an emergency, users just have to press the button and they will automatically be able to access MobileHelp’s trained emergency call center operators, who can send help if needed. The button costs $19.99 (plus $15 a month for full monitoring services) and is the first device that MobileHelp has offered for sale to customers, Flippo said, pointing out that his company rents its other medical alert devices. “We’re working on some retail distribution.”

Up next for MobileHelp is a planned 4G LTE Cellular Base Station, in development now, that uses the same kind of touch-screen interface as a tablet, which it resembles. It will become available to consumers in late 2016 with the same rental business model and similar pricing as the company’s current in-home base station, which costs $41.95 a month to rent with a charging cradle, Flippo said. But the 4G LTE unit won’t require consumers to use separate computers to set up alerts, like the current model does, he said. That new product “opens the door to deliver a lot more services to the end user,” he said. It should also help accomplish the company’s goal of increasing the market for medical alert devices beyond senior citizens, he said, adding, “This doesn’t look like a medical alarm system,” but pretty much like a typical tablet.

MDLIVE, meanwhile, first exhibited at CES seven years ago, when the show started its Digital Health Summit, said Randy Parker, the company’s CEO, president and founder. MDLIVE continues to use CES to expose the company’s virtual health service to as many people as possible: Lack of awareness is the “biggest challenge we have in the virtual care space,” Parker said. His company allows consumers to get “immediate access” to a board-certified physician in all 50 U.S. states by visiting the MDLIVE website or downloading its Android, iOS or Windows app, he said. MDLIVE has deals with several health insurance companies, so users enrolled in one of those plans would just make a small co-payment to use MDLIVE, he said. It costs $49 to use the service if paying for it out of pocket without a health insurance plan, he said. This year at the show, the company was “going to hand out thousands of free” virtual MDLIVE visits with a board-certified doctor, he said.


NewvertThe increased popularity of mobile-based health features also plays a major role in the growth of the wearables market, made up largely of devices that can track fitness results and also measure heart rate, pulse and other data.

This year was the third time that Fort Lauderdale-based Vert has exhibited its "Vert Wearable Jump Monitor at CES, said Martin Matak, its president and founder. The company’s initial product targeted athletes, who can clip the small, black device onto their clothing near the waste. Or they can integrate the monitor into a separate article of clothing, such as the belt that comes with the product as part of a $124.99 bundle.

When Vert exhibited at CES three years ago, in Eureka Park — the specialized exhibit area for startups — the goal was to gauge attendees’ reaction, Matak said; “I think we had a great story to tell and I think CES is a great platform to do that.” The reaction was strong enough that Vert increased the size of its CES booth each time since then.

At this year’s CES, Vert introduced Vert2, an enhanced version of its device that adds the ability to measure the intensity, exertion and stress levels of the person wearing it. The new device is expected to available to consumers in May. Vert also said it partnered with Zensah, a Miami company that specializes in apparel featuring compression technology that, according to the Zensah website, “draws sweat away from the body, allowing the garment and athlete to stay cool, dry and light.” (http://www.zensah.com/contact-us/) In addition to its own website myvert.myshopify.com, Vert has also sold its device through Amazon.com. The partnership with Zensah may allow Vert to expand into brick-and-mortar retail because of the Miami company’s relationship with dealers including Dick’s Sporting Goods, Matak said.


Although the digital health and wearables categories are growing significantly — and those trends were underscored by the dedicated sections for each of them on the CES show floor — the same thing couldn’t exactly be said for beauty-related technology products at the show, specifically the low-level laser therapy (LLLT) products fielded by Boca Raton-based Apira Science (http://www.apirascience.com/).

But Apira, started five years ago by its president, Jeff Braile, and two partners, received a significant amount of publicity when it exhibited its first product, the $695 iGrow Hair Growth System, in Eureka Park last year, Braile said. That product is worn on the head like a helmet and treats thinning hair and balding in men and women, according to the company, which says at its website that LLLT “energizes cellular activity within the follicle” to promote hair growth.

It was “one of the best decisions we ever made,” said Braile of exhibiting at CES in 2015. Apira returned this time to Eureka Park to introduce the iDerma Facial Beautification System. Like the earlier product, iDerma is a fully wearable device. But instead of being worn on the head like iGrow, iDerma slips over the face and claims to treat various skin disorders. We’ll leave it to medical experts to say whether the device indeed accomplishes those goals. After all, unlike a product such as MobileHelp, whose benefits can be confirmed in only a few seconds on the show floor, the results from using a product like iDerma would take longer to see. Apira’s website includes a link to a published medical report touting the effectiveness of LLLT. The basic iDerma system will cost about $349 and include an anti-aging mask. The company will sell additional masks – one for skin lightening and the other for acme treatment – at $100-$200, said Braile. The company is hoping to make the products available at retail in the second quarter of 2016, he said.


MatrixxThe devices shown by Miami Beach-based AdMobilize (web.admobi"lize.com/) and Miami-based Webee (webee"life.com/) at CES last week fell into a wide category that, like wearables and digital medicine, has become increasingly popular in the tech space and CES in recent years: the Internet of Things (IoT) for the smart home.

AdMobilize has followed its AdBeacon advertising analytics device that measures the effectiveness of online ads with Matrix, a device that is sort of the exact opposite in its concept. While AdBeacon was designed to focus entirely on one application, Matrix is a device targeted at application developers that was designed to make it easier for them to build a wide range of IoT apps— including motion detection, Bluetooth and GPS — in a matter of minutes, according to the company. This will significantly cut down on costs as well as time, said Rodolfo Saccoman, AdMobilize CEO and founder. AdMobilize will release Matrix to developers in May at $299.99. The company raised $104,157 for the project on Kickstarter last month, and Matrix won the 2016 CES Innovation Award in the category of “Tech for a Better World.”

Saccoman, who attended CES for three years “just to explore,” exhibited at the show for the first time this year, at Eureka Park, he said. It was too soon to gauge what kind of exposure Matrix would achieve at the show, he said last week, but it was “rewarding just to be here and show the product.”

WEBEE%201Webee also used crowdfunding for the smart home hub it spotlighted at CES. The company sought $50,000 via Indiegogo in 2014 for its Webee smart home hub and ended up raising nearly $75,000 instead, said Lucas Funes, its CEO and founder. The device allows users to control several smart devices in their homes through one mobile app. It also uses artificial intelligence to provide energy monitoring inside the home, said Funes, telling us that the device learns the user’s energy consumption patterns, then detects anomalies in energy usage and makes suggestions to save energy.

After exhibiting at Eureka Park for the first time last year, it stepped up its presence at the show in 2016 with a booth in the Smart Home Marketplace, he said. Exhibiting at CES allows the company to demonstrate its product again and keep in touch with its business partners, he said.

The South Florida company with the most traditional consumer electronics product line among these companies — computers — opted to not even exhibit on the show floor. Instead, Miami-based custom PC maker Origin PC once again set up exhibit space offsite at the nearby Cosmopolitan hotel. The company has been offsite each year since 2010 because the “more controlled environment” that’s free from the “chaos” of the show floor makes it easier to meet with business partners and reporters, said Kevin Wasielewski, CEO and co-founder.

“Not everyone that comes to CES is our customer,” said Hector Penton, chief operating officer and another co-founder. One look at the new products Origin is showing this week underscores that. They include Omni, a customizable all-in-one gaming desktop PC featuring a 34-inch curved Samsung monitor that will start at $1,999 and can climb to well over $10,000 when it becomes available this quarter. It’s targeted at computer gamers looking for a powerful, customizable PC that can handle the latest computer games. Another new product is Chronos, a small but powerful desktop PC for gaming. The latter product will become available to consumers next month starting at about $1,699 and can top out at much more than that, Wasielewski said. That’s clearly a far cry from the sub-$1,000 price point of typical consumer PCs today.

Photos  by Jeff Berman

December 22, 2015

Wyncode to launch its third campus: WeWork in Miami Beach


By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Wyncode Academy, Florida’s first bricks and mortar coding bootcamp, is expanding in South Florida.

Wyncode, which teaches computer programming in nine weeks, will be offering its bootcamp at a third location: WeWork in Miami Beach. That’s in addition to The LAB Miami in Wynwood, its original location and its headquarters, and General Provision in Fort Lauderdale’s Flagler Arts and Technology Village. WeWork is a creator and provider of shared workspace and services for startups, freelancers and growing businesses.

WeWork shares Wyncode’s passion for building community,” said Juha Mikkola, who co-founded Wyncode with his wife Johanna. “We believe that the foundation for a successful tech ecosystem is coding talent that can build amazing things. That talent is right here in Miami Beach, they just need to get access to the right type of training.”

Wyncode launched in 2014 and its intensive, full-time program has attracted people without a programming background from a variety of careers: chefs, lawyers, salespeople, accountants, concierges, marketing executives and entrepreneurs. For instance, after graduating from Wyncode, Mario Aguayo launched My Style Blox, a marketplace for models and their clients to discover, book and manage projects. Agauyo had been a talent manager and also worked in retailing before learned to code at Wyncode. Frank Ortiz, a former chef, was also was a Wyncode graduate, then was hired by Wyncode and is now working full-time in technology for Fusion Recruitment Labs.

The program focuses on tech skills like Ruby, Javascript, HTML and CSS and also on the business skills that startups require to be successful. It’s one of a number of new resources that have developed here focused on narrowing the gap of 400,000 unfilled jobs in tech expected by 2020. The Mikkolas, who were chosen as Endeavor Entrepreneurs this summer, have participated in White House programs about the need for coding education.

The Head Instructor for the Miami Beach campus is Auston Bunsen, a long-time Miami tech leader, programmer and entrepreneur. He is the former chief technology officer of 1Sale and founder of Miami tech conference SuperConf. Bunsen has written code that has powered millions of visits across platforms using Python, Ruby and JavaScript. “He is passionate about learning, hacking, community, open source and having a positive influence on the world around him and is an ideal fit for Wyncode’s team,” Juha Mikkola said.

A quarter of Wyncode’s last cohort in Wynwood came from out of state, including students from New York, Seattle, Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela. “We believe Miami Beach is a great option for these students, as they’ll have access to industry leading education that is just steps away from the beach,” Johanna Mikkola said.

Wyncode Academy is licensed by the Florida Department of Education and has graduated more than 180 Wyncoders in 10 cohorts, maintaining a 90 percent placement rate within three months of graduation, the company said. Of those, 96 percent are working as developers with the majority receiving full-time offers to stay in South Florida’s tech ecosystem. Wyncode is the third most student reviewed program on the global coding-school industry site Course Report, earning a 4.9 out of 5 star rating from its 66 reviewers.

Wyncode’s first cohort in Miami Beach will begin on Jan. 25 and is limited to 10 seats. WeWork members will receive a $500 discount on the $10,000 tuition. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis and interested candidates should apply at wyncode.co. Wyncode is also starting cohorts in Wynwood and Fort Lauderdale in January; it offers financing partners for all programs and runs a scholarship program at its Wynwood location in conjunction with the Knight Foundation.



Wyncode's coding school is headquartered at The LAB Miami in Wynwood, top photo, and Demo Days such as this one at The LAB Miami end each cohort. Photos by David Salazar. 


Urban.Us public benefit update: Portfolio startups are reimagining cities, making them better

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Stonly Baptiste, right, with Shaun Abrahamson. Together they founded Urban.Us. Photo by Carl Juste 

By Stonly Baptiste

Cities today create 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and urban populations are set to double by 2050, making climate change a city problem. At the same time, policy, technology, and business interests have aligned uniquely to enable a new generation of entrepreneurs to reimagine cities.

In late 2013, we created Urban.Us to find, fund, and de-risk early-stage startups that make city life (and cities) better.

We are launching the next stage of our efforts in 2016 and now count nineteen companies in the portfolio, with a few more companies to be announced in the coming months.

Looking at our investments so far, they include some of the most promising startups in areas ranging from water and energy conservation to construction automation and law enforcement. We’re usually one of the first investors to work with a founding team and have developed a unique approach to find and support our companies.

We work with a community of investors, experts, governments, and corporations (now more than 850 people) to improve their chances of moving from concept to growth-stage funding (series A). We’ve been fortunate to enjoy support from organizations like the Knight Foundation, the Miami Foundation, and Direct Energy, which helped us organize a summit and showcase in Miami in 2015.

In fact, Miami-Dade County is already seeing some of the benefits from our portfolio companies.

Rachio makes a smart irrigation controller that dramatically reduces water usage (as much as fifty percent of water used outdoors right now is being wasted). In addition to saving money, the aggregate water savings of Rachio customers represent a significant shift in the demand on municipal water supplies. To date, 440,225,274 gallons of water have been saved thanks to Rachio, which is now at the top of Amazon and Home Depot product rankings in its category.

Miami-Dade's Urban Conservation Unit recently announced that Coral Gables is upgrading its potable system to Rachio Iro units.

Skycatch is leading the way in autonomous commercial data acquisition using drones. Skycatch has increased its focus on construction thanks to customers like Komatsu and partners like Autodesk, but it also has customers in areas like disaster response and mining. It has also worked with the FAA and NASA to shape commercial-drone policy and regulations.

In May, the Miami Herald interviewed Trevor Duke, a South Florida-based drone pilot for SkyCatch, about his work using drones to automate processes at construction sites. Bouygues, the French construction and energy conglomerate, has been testing Skycatch’s autonomous system at building sites in Miami since 2014.

Beyond Miami, our portfolio is creating public benefits nationally and even internationally.

HandUp is a platform that allows you to donate directly to a homeless neighbor in need.

They have helped match almost $1 million to over 3,000 specific needs through the platform. The team has begun expanding beyond San Francisco by partnering with community organizations in cities like Denver and Miami.

Dash creates software that help make driving smarter, safer, greener, and more affordable. Downloads of the dash mobile app have topped 250,000 users in 100+ countries—more than all the players in the emerging Connected Car space. It also recently launched a program with Allstate Insurance and the NY Department of Transportation to promote better driving through rewards and incentives.

BlocPower is automating sourcing, energy auditing, retrofit engineering, procurement, and financing processes to bring the best existing tech to low-income neighborhoods, where significant energy savings result in reduced CO2 footprints as well as less stress on community budgets. The team is now serving more than 300 small and medium-sized buildings in Metro New York City and are contracted to retrofit 1,000 to 2,000 buildings over the next three years, a $200 million project financing opportunity.

A few companies we work with are still too early in their development to be reporting public benefits but are showing great progress and promise.

OneConcern is a disaster-solutions company that provides rapid damage estimates across all natural disasters using artificial intelligence on natural phenomena sciences. We’re hoping to count the number of lives saved thanks to OneConcern’s focus on being at the forefront of every emergency.

Mark43 is a cloud-based records management system (RMS) and analysis tool built for and in collaboration with police. The early reports from its first deployment in Washington, DC have been encouraging, and we hope to share data about police hours saved and more as the company deploys to cities around the country.

RadiatorLabs converts old cast-iron radiators into precision heating machines. Its first product, “The Cozy,” is expected to save building owners up to forty percent annually in heating costs. Early deployments will soon be able to share data regarding the operational efficiency and safety the device has produced.

Flair is working on a complete lineup of next-generation heating and cooling products. Its first product is expected to produce huge energy and cost savings for people who want to stay comfortable in their homes and offices.

Our primary focus for our portfolio companies is that they make it through the “valley of death” where they are discovering their product offering, business model and customers. At this point we don’t worry much about impact, only potential impact. As they enter the growth stage, typically around series A funding, the impact begins to scale, too. Our portfolio of investments are on average less than two years old, so we hope to report even more progress next December.

Stonly Baptiste co-founded  Urban.Us with Shaun Abrahamson to fund early-stage companies that make cities better in 2013. He has co-founded or helped run a number of tech companies.


A panel of experts discusses urban mobility at the Smart City Startups conference in Miami in April, produced and hosted by Urban.Us.

See Miami Herald cover story about Urban.Us published in 2014.


December 18, 2015

Ironhack's Hackshow: Students shed their pasts for a future in tech

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By Ariel Quiñones

Ariel Quinones_HeadshotIn the past, computer science and coding were seen as uncreative and uninspiring; a niche area best left to the experts (and the geeks) but in the 21st century, this is no longer the case. Nothing demonstrated this better than Ironhack's recent Hackshow that graduated nearly 20 students from diverse backgrounds as Jr. Web Developers into Miami's tech community.  Ironhack is a leading international coding bootcamp with campuses in Miami, Madrid and Barcelona.  

More than 160 people including Ironhack’s hiring partners, leaders in the Miami tech community and the curious gathered on Thursday night at Building.co in Brickell to be wowed by the ideas from students who participated in Ironhack’s 23rd global cohort. 

Once again, we saw firsthand how people across a spectrum of jobs - lawyers, professional athletes, artists - are shedding their past for a future in the booming tech industry. Ironhack students dedicated eight weeks completely immersed in learning how to code in Ruby on Rails, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.  All of the hours and hard work pays off at the Hackshow, where they present their final project web applications to a panel of judges who selected a winner.  

The student projects were built from scratch and included apps designed to solve real-life problems in various industries. These projects included - "Litigrade," "DocDoc Who's There," "Orthodox Chic," "MyFunTrip" and "STRIPPRS." The panel of judges was comprised of some of the leading CTOs in South Florida - Tobias Franoszek, CTO and Co-Founder of KIPU Systems, Brett Paden, CTO and Co-Founder of Glip, and Rich Kroll, Director of Engineering at Modernizing Medicine.  

The evening also marked Ironhack’s one-year anniversary in Miami. 

The Winner

After much deliberation from the judges, the winner was David James Knight, a licensed attorney and a member of the U.S. Military, who created an application called "Litigrade" that uses public court data to rate trial attorneys based on their wins and losses—not on peer reviews or other subjective criteria. “Before Ironhack, I was an attorney with a liberal arts background. I dabbled in front-end design (HTML, CSS, WordPress), but always thought that anything more technical than that was for Computer Science majors," says Knight. "Ironhack proved me wrong. In eight very intense weeks, I went from being an unhappy attorney to a legitimate developer and tech entrepreneur."

Code or Go Home

Coding skills and tech literacy in general aren't just useful in technology. They can be applied to all industries. What business today doesn't have a computer component? Learning to speak to computers through code forces people to think in different ways. Students learn to decompose problems in the systematic way that computers want them to. What's most interesting is that it turns out computers aren't all that smart - they only appear to be smart with a good set of instructions and some solid logic. Applying that way of thinking to other disciplines can have surprising results. Coding is truly one of the most exciting education opportunities of the twenty-first century, and Ironhack hopes to bring that to new groups of people.

Ironhack is accepting final applications for its next cohort beginning January 11, 2016. More information: Ironhack.com

Ariel Quiñones is Co-Founder of Ironhack.


December 04, 2015

Fly on by, Angry Birds: Rovio’s new game stars Shakira and Miami


By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

The birds may be angry about this but it’s Shakira, with Miami in a supporting role, who stars in Rovio Entertainment’s latest game.

Vesterbacka at SimePeter Vesterbacka is the “Mighty Eagle” of Rovio, creator of one of the world’s most successful entertainment brands, Angry Birds. He was in town this week because he was a speaker at the technology conference Sime MIA. After Sime, he sat down with the Miami Herald at the LAB Miami to talk about Love Rocks Starring Shakira, Rovio’s newest game “featuring absolutely no birds.” But first a little bird talk.

“It may seem like it was an overnight success, but Angry Birds was our 52nd game,” said Vesterbacka, wearing his signature red hoodie. The Helsinki, Finland-based Rovio was founded in 2003; Angry Birds took flight in late 2009. “It was super difficult.”

When the goal was 100 million downloads for Angry Birds, “everyone told us we were crazy,” said Vesterbacka.

Today: 3 billion downloads. Think about that. Nine out of 10 people on the planet know that brand, he said.

There have now been more than 10 games, stuffed toys, animations (a button for ToonsTV is built into every game), activity parks around the world, including one in Cape Canaveral, and a movie coming out.

“We’re not in the business of making games for 100 days, we are in the business of making brands for 100 years,” said Vesterbacka. Angry Birds is among the top 10 entertainment brands in the world; the others are seven Disney brands, Hello Kitty and Peanuts, brands that have been around for decades. “We're the baby.”

It’s also the only one of those starting digital and that has made all the difference.

Vesterbacka rattles off some examples. The best selling song in 2012 made the same amount in two years as the best selling game did in four days. The Apple App store is bigger than all of the Hollywood box offices combined. China is the biggest market for Apple. “Mobile is the center of gravity for games and video consumption. It’s always there.”

LoveRocks (1)Love Rocks Starring Shakira — a game incorporating love, jewelry, fashion and travel — has been in development about two years and launched Oct. 15. It’s a matching game that starts easy but gets very strategic as you move up the levels. Beyond level 30 it becomes a brain-training game. (If you wonder why you win 520 points instead of 500, that’s because 520 symbolizes I love you in Chinese).

The Shakira character leads the gamer through the journey, all places special to the real Shakira, who collaborated with the Rovio team throughout the process. The game, which also features plenty of Shakira songs selected by the star, starts in Barcelona, then heads to the Taj Mahal in India and then the legendary El Dorado in Colombia. But a couple of weeks ago, the company launched a new destination in the game: Gamers getting into level 150 or so are rewarded by landing in the palm-studded Miami Beach by day and enjoy the Miami skyline by night, even hearing music playing from the cars traveling down a Biscayne Boulevard-like street.

Next, the game will hit a winter wonderland of Northern Lights, but no worries, Miami’s heat will be back from time to time in later levels as part of the next update, Vesterbacka said. “Games are a great way to promote different locations. It’s a new way of tourist promotion.”

Vesterbacka first met Shakira at a soccer game in Barcelona, and they clicked. “At Rovio, we’re a fans-first company, and that is something we share with Shakira,” who has more than 100 million fans on Facebook, said Vesterbacka. Successful partnerships start with shared values and a shared passion, he said.


They also share a passion for education and early childhood development, he said. Shakira has schools and daycare center projects across Latin America, and Rovio has been doing research on making learning fun and is spinning off a startup in that arena. They recently worked together on a U.N. campaign.

Using Coca-Cola Co. as an analogy, Vesterbacka said Angry Birds will always be Rovio’s Coke, but the company hopes Love Rocks will be its Sprite (and they mix it up a bit with a Shakira Bird.) This time, Rovio has a road map on building a brand, and is concentrating on that from the beginning.

That’s a necessity even if you have the track record of a Rovio because there are about 1,000 new games published every day.

Standing out is critical. That’s engrained throughout the company, and why Vesterbacka wears the red hoodie. There is no way Vesterbacka doesn’t stand out, whether he is in a crowd at Sime, or meeting with the prime minister and other high-ranking leaders of Japan, as he did recently.

Rovio now has 430 employees, including one in Miami who is primarily responsible for the Latin America market. It’s the biggest of about 200 gaming companies in Helsinki, which has an active startup scene. Vesterbacka also helps run a massive startup event in Helsinki called Slush, and it’s fittingly (and distinctively) held in November. Last month the event drew 20,000 people.

His message to Miami’s startup community, which is growing its own ecosystem: It starts with the mind-set and how the area can stand out. “You’re not Silicon Valley, you’re better,” he said. “It’s a great cosmopolitan city, and there’s a massive opportunity with Latin America.”

Oh, and you are all invited to Slush next November.

Nancy Dahlberg; 305-778-3790; @ndahlberg