May 25, 2016

Calling all healthcare entrepreneurs and innovators


By Christian Seale

If you are reshaping the future of healthcare, Startupbootcamp Digital Health wants to meet you. And offer our help.

With our partners at the Knight Foundation, Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, the University of Miami Health System, Univision and Microsoft we are building Miami into a global hub for healthcare innovation. We encourage you to join us.

As part of our mission to find the best healthcare entrepreneurs globally and plug them into Miami’s growing ecosystem, we have traveled to over 20 cities to meet fearless, ambitious and extraordinary founders like yourself. If you haven’t already, reach out and set up a virtual or in person office hours in Miami.

Our applications close on June 10. So, the time to act is now!

We are looking for entrepreneurs working at the intersection of healthcare and technology and focused on making our healthcare system more equitable, efficient and accessible for all.

Our promise is simple: you will achieve one year of progress in three months. Take a look at the over 300 startups that have already done so.

For the companies selected to our program we will provide seed funding, mentorship, six months of free office space in the heart of Miami, in kind-services from Google Cloud, Amazon Web Services, Salesforce for Startups, Intel and Paypal and access to the most relevant network of corporate clients, investors and mentors.

During our program, you will interact with national network of healthcare providers and insurers including Ascension, Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, Jackson Health System, the University of Miami Health System, Duke University Health System, Mount Sinai, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Florida Blue, Aetna and Healthways among many others. Over 100 mentors will help you refine, grow and scale your business and prepare you to present at our 400+ attendee Demo Day in Miami.

We invite you to join us as we build Miami into a globally recognized hub for innovation and together transform the future of healthcare.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Christian Seale is Founder and Managing Director of startupbootcamp Miami. Follow on Twitter @sbchealth. For more information, email digitalhealth@startupbootcampdotcom.

Read More: Startupbootcamp chooses Miami for first U.S. accelerator

April 25, 2016

MentorDay: How Miami leaders are paving the way for entrepreneurs

By Juan Lopez Salaberry

Wow! Thirty less headaches for Miami entrepreneurs, and a $50,000 prize. Twenty-two industry experts helped 30 entrepreneurs solve their business problems  in 45 minute sessions for high impact mentorship across 4 venues in Miami.

MentorDay, a new made-in-Miami platform, was launched this moth to give industry leaders and experts a chance to pay it forward to the community, helping up and coming entrepreneurs solve specific obstacles in their ventures. Mentor Day allows entrepreneurs and startups to receive high impact mentorship in free one-on-one mentorship sessions with industry experts on topics ranging from marketing, venture capital, growth hacking, accounting, legal and beyond.

I have witnessed first hand how mentorship has a deep impact in one's company and also how countless opportunities to work with impressive mentors are lost because of a lack of a mentorship culture. On its first edition, MentorDay received 60 applications, gathered 30 entrepreneurs, 22 experts and solved 30 specific business hurdles.

And magic did happen! We are extremely proud and humbled to be even a (small) part of Cetus Labs’s story. This is an amazing startup from Venture Hive, who applied asking for help with their pitch deck as they had been selected to present at the early-stage competition at Emerge Americas. They won the competition and took $50,000 with them! “Thanks to Mentor Day, we had a great meeting with RJ Roshi where he helped us perfect our pitch before the eMerge Americas startup competition, which we ended up winning!,” Luc Castera, founder of Cetus Labs, told us on a written note.

We created MentorDay to provide a platform for both mentors and mentees to feel comfortable and protected (We even created rules for that purpose.) No deceitful approaches and no broad open questions. We want to educate mentees on how they need to formulate their asks and be clear about them,  while allowing experts in various areas to donate their time in an effective way. With clear expectations before coming, both will end the meeting with the satisfaction of solving one specific problem.

This also de-personalizes mentorship and takes a ‘problem focused’ approach. Instead of having a line to meet & greet with one our mentors, we can be flexible and allow anyone -from the mayor to a visitor to a local hustler, - to be able to share their expertise and pay it forward.

MentorDay started in Miami, and it will hopefully start happening in other cities soon. Silicon Valley has a mentorship culture, however the rest of the world does not look like Silicon Valley. Miami does not look like it. As most nascent and developing entrepreneurial ecosystems, we have our own strengths and areas of opportunity and we have an amazing chance ahead of us to do something about it. There is amazing talent right here and by facilitating the connections we have an amazing future ahead.

MentorDay wants to empower local communities, we want to see each other’s faces, 1-on-1 meetings, in person, for free, at least once a month and help someone else have a fair chance. We want to democratize the chances of success, regardless race, gender, or age. Whether or not entrepreneurs  are part of Endeavor,  received investment, work at a co-working space, or from home and are just starting. We can all use some help.


Photo by Al delcy

Magic happened

We had an amazing contribution from local and even guest mentors. The .CO crowd almost in full jumped in to help out, investors such as Christian Seale and RJ Joshi, entrepreneurs from Wyncode or Gasninja, among many others. Even my dear friend and former partner at 500 Startups, Cesar Salazar, who was visiting the city took one of the sessions and said: “I've been to a large number of mentorship events and this one has by far the best return on time invested.”


Photo by Al delcy

Our first go at MentorDay also received the immense support of four venues:, WeWork, The LAB Miami and Venture Hive, in which at anytime last Friday you would have found a room with 1 mentor, and 1 mentee.

Our sponsors also rocked. LateralView helped us put together our platform in record time, housed us since the beginning and StartupVisa also helped with the initial funding to set this not-for-profit off the ground.

Next MentorDay

We honestly had no idea what was going to happen last Friday. We did our homework and put a lot of hard work, specially Pete Kovach who was instrumental to the success of the day. But we honestly had no idea what the response was going to be like. Now we want more.

Now that the format has been proven we want to test the frequency. Ideally we want to hold MentorDay once a month (3rd Friday of every month) but it is ultimately the market that will really dictate what will happen.

Our next MentorDay is scheduled for the 20th of May and we have already aligned some incredible mentors. Applications are now open and will close May 9th. We have also put together 5 tips to make sure mentees have higher chances at getting a session.

Get ready, Miami - we are only getting started!

Juan Lopez Salaberry is the founder of the new Miami nonprofit,

April 15, 2016

Women in #MiamiTech -- Breaking Boundaries


The women of Kairos pose for a picture with Girls Who Code students. Kairos mentors Girls Who Code. 

By Stefanie Genauer

I am an 80's baby. I grew up wearing scrunchies, I actually used encyclopedias (hard copy ones) from the library to write my research reports in elementary school, and Saved By The Bell was my bible on how to navigate adolescence.

Monochromatic spandex and teen idols aside, being born in the 80's also meant that I grew up in a time where girls were taught they had options-- lots of them in fact. I could cut the hair off all of my Barbie Dolls and join the community basketball league. I could run for student government ("You've got the power, vote Genauer" made for some exceptionally poignant campaign signs), and not only could I go to college, but I was actually the majority instead of the minority. I had parents who told me that I could be anything I wanted to be.

I believed them. I spent my life thinking that I could do anything I put my mind to (except being a doctor; I have an exceptionally strong aversion to blood and needles and do possess a degree of realism). Like many others, I went down a long windy road that took some interesting twists and turns, and somehow landed at my present- day gig, as the Chief Revenue Officer of a very cutting-edge facial biometrics and human analytics start-up based here in Miami. I credit my hard work in school, my previous dues-paying jobs in New York City, including my long stint at Apple, and my endless determination (which for some reason my dad mistakenly calls stubbornness) --but I also credit my forward thinking employer,, for believing that women in leadership roles at tech companies are a valuable asset.

It's amazing to me that to this day, it's still not an equal playing field. Growing up in a nurturing, progressively thinking household, apparently was more of a luxury than I realized. The real world still has presented roadblocks for women in the workplace. Things are wildly different than when my grandmother was my age, but nonetheless there are still examples of gender disparity.  

Just this week, I read an open letter posted on The Starting Gate blog in the Miami Herald about an unacceptable case of discrimination against a female developer at a local Hackathon. Hearing of such a disappointing instance of unwarranted behavior made me angry, and then it made me think. How are we not "there" yet?

I'm sure it's not the first instance, and it sadly won't be the last. It's sad because in my opinion, it all comes down to skill and passion. If you’re good at something you deserve to be there. You deserve to be hired. You deserve to be a part of the dialogue.  Confidence is a huge part of the equation here as well. We need to continue to teach women that they earned the right to be there. No more of this nonsense that "you don't belong". Just keep doing what you're doing -- be better-- be better than the naysayers who are trying to bring you down. It starts internally by believing in yourself -- and it's only amplified by the community around you supporting that notion.

Miami is a vibrant city, filled with diverse cultures. It's the reason why Miami is such a prime location to be next great tech hub in the US. There is money, great talent, wonderful resources and endless sunshine to inspire entrepreneurs. My hope for Miami is that it can continue to grow and promote greatness, wherever it can be found. And while this article is focused predominantly on women, it's true of all people. If you're passionate about what you do, don't second-guess yourself. 

I'm privileged because I get to work at a place that promotes diversity and equality (the company is even a member of the Kapor Capital Founders commitment for diversity and inclusion), and because I'm surrounded by other amazingly talented and fascinating women. Their presence alone makes our company better, and their stories have influenced me and I believe they can do the same for others.

Our newest team member Alia Mahmoud for example, a New York native and a brand new Miami transplant, spent half a decade in Tunisia after the revolution in 2011. She has family roots there and felt compelled to go back and help contribute to the creation of the entrepreneurial ecosystem that was blooming. She landed the job of Director at the Microsoft Innovation Center in Tunis. Visitors would come to the office and say "I need to speak with your boss" and when she would reply "yes, that's me, how may I help you" she says you could visibly see how taken aback they were to encounter a young woman as the Director.

"The lesson I learned quickly was to contribute to any conversation I found myself in, in order to demonstrate my knowledge and that I was not intimidated to interject in a lively discussion dominated by (usually) older men. The key here is not to speak just to be disruptive, but to really add value or ask a pertinent question."

She saw her tactics work. "I noticed that the more I did this, the more welcome I felt in future meetings - not as a woman, but as a person of valor at the table."

"If anyone doubts your capacity because of your age and your gender, you work to prove them wrong by the diligence of your work, the intelligence of your remarks, the courage of your actions and the sheer confidence of your stance", remarks Mahmoud.

Another colleague of mine, Rajnesah Belyeu, is an all-star software developer. She's one of a handful of exceptional talents here in Miami, regardless of gender. Rajnesah found tech, and specifically the field of software engineering, to be an inspiration after receiving her first computer. Her thirst for how things work followed her and in college, she decided to pursue it as an area of study.

Rajnesah found this path on her own, but notes that had educational programs around coding, like the 'Girls Who Code' club here in Miami existed when she was in high school it would have been incredibly helpful. Thankfully, Rajnesah had the forward thinking desire to go after her dreams despite the challenges of getting into the industry. She is incredibly reflective on how the experience has molded her.

"This job has taught me how to be confident in my abilities and myself. Being different from a majority of your peers can make you feel like you don't belong. I had to overcome that and be confident that I am just as good as my peers regardless of any differences. Then one day I realized that being different was more of a positive than a negative - and it changed my life. I realized that by being different I naturally had everyone's attention and it was up to me to own the moment."

Allison Cammack, one of our senior sales executives, didn't start out in tech.  A lawyer by trade, Allison spent years making her mark at some of Miami's most prestigious firms. After grieving the loss of her father and two of her uncles, she discovered that she needed to switch gears and follow a different calling. Life is short, as they say.

Her pursuits led to her enrolling for her very first coding class, and taking that all the way to landing what Allison now affectionately calls her "dream job", at

"I had to find what I was passionate about doing, and let go of what others expected of me. I wrote out new goals and learned as much as I could about the Miami tech scene and the company I wanted to join. I even got involved with inspiring organizations like Girls Who Code, CodeArt Miami and Black Tech Week.”

“These experiences illustrate that there are opportunities in Miami that don’t exist in other markets. There is much work to be done. And we all need to be part of the solution - by speaking out against bias and leading by example in our hiring and our volunteerism."

It's never too late to follow your dreams. “When you show that you are genuinely passionate about an organization and have the grit to overcome any obstacles in your way, the right people will make a spot for you,” emphasizes Allison. And with a community around you that supports and cultivates these kinds of dreams, it makes it much easier to realize them.

Kiran Virdee-Chapman, the Chief People Officer at, traveled across the pond from London to be in Miami and join the tech revolution. Kiran worked at Apple for many years and has been immersed in the technology world long enough to observe certain trends.

Kiran believes "there are not enough female influences in technology." She said there is a misconception that it is a male-dominated industry. There are many talented females leading the way and even outshining their male counterparts. Virdee-Chapman thinks that if there were more women in the spotlight, it would help change some of the stereotypes about them in the field. They are already here. They are already making a difference. It's about changing the conversation and changing an outdated perspective.

The passion Kiran feels for the subject is evident, and she believes it goes even broader than what’s been mentioned thus far. “When thinking of inclusion, it should go beyond gender. It's about recognizing everyone and Miami has a unique opportunity to empower an eco-system that puts diversity ahead of stereotypes. Apple said to think different but I believe with diversity and inclusion it goes further than that. You need to embrace differences in individuals and be brave enough to act on them,”, Kiran reflects.

Kiran's thoughts got me thinking (as good thoughts should). Diversity and inclusion has turned into a "thing." It's something we get patted on the back for, but in reality, it's just how things should be. I have always tried to set a good example and excel in whatever I pursued, but that was just me, being me. It wasn't me, being a woman, doing all these things. The Herald blog article shed light on an important and apparently still present issue that deserves attention. I hope that the sum total of all the intelligent voices that have an opportunity to be heard, continue to overpower the ignorant ones and educate and expand people's minds. And that diversity and inclusion moves from being something you get a gold star for, to just the way things are.

I hope the Miami community continues to band together and show the rest of the country (and world for that matter) that women in Tech, and frankly any industry, deserve a seat at the proverbial table. And, one day, we'll all just be humans in leadership roles, changing the world and making things happen.

Stefanie Genauer is chief revenue officer at Miami-based Kairos. Reach her at @stef_genauer or

Read more: An Open Letter to the Miami Tech Community

Read more: An Open Challenge to Miami's 'tough guy' coders



April 13, 2016

Time to bury 'Silicon Beach' in the sand



By Juan Pablo Cappello

JpcOver the past five years, South Florida has slowly been recognized as a technology hub, gracing the pages of tech journals like “TechCrunch” and more mainstream publications like “The Atlantic”.  This buzz should not go to our heads.  Rather than fantasizing about creating a “Silicon Beach” here in the tropics, our politicians and our business leaders need to focus on creating quality jobs by helping our tech-enabled businesses to grow and scale.

Recently South Florida has been home to some spectacular successes for tech enabled companies.  We have seen billion dollar successes like Broward’s Mako Surgical, a medical robotics company that was sold for over $1.6 billion in 2013. Broward’s Magic Leap also joined the billionaires club with $1.4 billion of investment from Google Ventures and others to support its virtual reality technology. 

The outsize successes of Mako Surgical, Leap Magic and others have gotten the attention of local politicians and business leaders.  Talk of converting Miami into some sort of “Silicon Beach” has been around since at least the late 1990’s when Lincoln Road was the de facto capital of the whole Latin American tech scene. 

I suspect no one would suggest we are going to to create “Beach Street” in South Florida to compete with New York’s “Wall Street”.  Similarly, it is time to stop talking about building a “Silicon Beach”. 

Silicon Valley works because many of the the most innovative technologies in the world are developed in San Francisco and around Stanford University.  Silicon Valley is the mecca of disruptive innovation, like Hawaii is the center of surfing because it has amazing waves.   

Similar to Hawaii and its waves, South Florida will likely never compete with Silicon Valley (or New York or Boston) as a center of innovative technologies.  However, in South Florida we have unique strengths that almost no other region in the world has.

The “tech” revolution isn’t happening only at Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Uber and a few other household names in tech.  The rapid and unstoppable force of the innovations brought by technology is affecting every single business-big and small. For every Apple or Facebook there are a thousand or ten thousand small and medium-sized companies trying to leverage technology to compete better against larger, more established companies.

In South Florida today, we have more small and medium-sized business per capita than almost any major city in the nation.  The Miami area ranks 6th in the nation for small business activity.   And by some measure, almost 90 percent of South Florida’s economic activity comes from small businesses.  These small and medium-sized businesses are the key to South Florida finding its place in the tech world.

Far less sexy than talking about changing the world with THE next big thing, we and mainly our politicians and community leaders can focus on helping our existing army of smaller, more agile businesses make lots and lots of small innovations. Collectively these innovations can have an enormous impact and make South Florida a very unique tech hub.

In South Florida, nearly two-thirds of our small businesses have fewer than 5 employees.   This is a huge opportunity because there is tremendous room for these micro employers to hire more people. 

Many “pure” technology companies developed in Silicon Valley create very few jobs.  Instagram had only 13 employees when Facebook bought it for $1 billion and Snapchat had only 30 employees when Facebook offered $3 billion to acquire it.

Politicians and business-makers must help our local companies use technology more efficiently. They must support our businesses as they innovate these technologies. The result will be the creation of more jobs that are better paying, and businesses that will expand and employ more individuals throughout South Florida.

Silicon Valley is often criticized for not being very inclusive. There are very few minorities in leadership positions at tech companies in Silicon Valley and women are perennially underrepresented.   As our tech ecosystem grows we have an opportunity to attract female entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color who value the diversity and the community offered in South Florida.

In fifty years, the United States will only just be catching up to Miami with regards to the diversity of its population, a population that will be predominately non-white and immigrant. According to the to the Census Bureau, Miami is 66% Latino/Hispanic whereas the US is 65% White and almost 20% of our population is African American.  South Florida as a whole is also quite diverse -- much more diverse than most of the United States.

The more we can create the first truly inclusive tech hub in the United States, the more unique and powerful our local economy will become.

South Florida’s tech revolution will not be measured by how many millions our companies raise from outside investors or for how many billions our companies are sold for.  That is how Silicon Valley measures its success.  I wish them well with that.  In South Florida we are different, and we can have different values and different goals than those of Silicon Valley. 

The measure of the success of South Florida’s tech ecosystem should be how many quality, high paying, high skilled jobs we create in every segment of our diverse community.  

South Florida already has some of the most entrepreneurial, diverse small businesses in the world.  We do not need to try to replicate Silicon Valley here in the sunshine.  

Juan Pablo Cappello is the co founder of The Lab Miami (a co-working, shared office space in Wynwood) and AGP Miami (a local start-up investing group), as well as an active investor in technology companies. Twitter: @CappelloJP

April 12, 2016

An Open Challenge to Miami’s “tough-guy" coders


By Tim Berthold

Yesterday I read this in the Starting Gate.  

To recap, a UM female student seeking to improve her programming skills showed up to a “hackathon” and experienced what she felt was degrading behavior from her male teammates.  According to the article, other female students have experienced similar behavior at other events. 

Some might call it mild sexism.  It might not be rampant, but it seems to show up enough to be an issue.

Either way, it ticked me off.  Here are three reasons why:

Reason #1: Miami is young.  We have an opportunity to create the kind of tech ecosystem that we want, one that differs from Silicon Valley where gender and racial biases permeate the startup culture.  Not convinced it’s real?  Listen to this episode of the Startup Podcast.    

Reason #2:  I come from the military.  A very male-dominated part of the military.  And I’m proud to see the military I left over ten years ago become the inclusive organization it is today.  It didn’t get that way by belittling women, minorities, or anyone else.  I want no part of an ecosystem that condones such behavior toward anyone.  Thankfully, these adolescent-minded coders don’t reflect the entire community.

Reason #3: The behavior described is indicative of a culture that values status over learning.  “I’m good at coding” instead of “How can I become a better coder?”  Those who have this attitude will fail.  If too many people in Miami have this attitude then Miami will fail.  Growth only comes through the willingness to put oneself out there, show up, and try to get 1% better everyday . . . regardless of the outcome and regardless of who’s watching (reference Carol Dweck’s oft-cited book Mindset).

On that note, let’s get real . . . real quick.  Knowing how to code doesn’t make you tough.  Doing what this girl did makes you tough. 

She heard about an event she knew would be male-dominated and was probably scared to put her skills on display in front of better coders.  But she showed up anyway.  

For the women out there reading, I hope you continue to “show up.”  It won’t be the last time this kind of behavior happens.  It's also one of the “tamer” stories out there that makes no mention of the elephant in the room - social and sexual inappropriateness (or awkwardness, given we’re talking about coders).

For the coding boys - I think you’re just being “boys” and probably did not intend to cause harm by your comments and behavior.  This girl seems tough enough to get past it, but what harm have you done to the Miami ecosystem that can benefit from the skills, perspective, and hustle of female coders? 

Beyond inclusion I think the biggest lesson is one you already know - that growth takes risk . . . the same risk you've already faced in your coding career. Was there ever a point when you were afraid to take up coding?  Afraid to show your work to someone, thinking it might not be any good?  If you call yourself a “coder,” then chances are you did - then you faced that resistance and pushed past it.

Maybe it’s time to revisit that moment.  Here are some ideas for doing so:

Challenge #1: Pitch your business idea or your coding skills in front of an audience of at least 20 people who you don’t know.  Then put it on YouTube.  Brave graduates of Wyncode and Iron Hack do it every few months - why can’t you?

Challenge #2: Announce to the world that you are finally going to do something about the “idea for a startup I have.”  Put it on display for everyone to see you possibly fail.  Then show up and make a little progress everyday.  Maybe you fail, maybe you don’t.  The only certainty is you’ll learn.

Challenge #3: Show up to a 6:00 am workout with my military friends and me.  We’ll videotape it.  Perhaps you’ll be humbled, perhaps you’ll impress.  What matters is that you were scared and showed up anyway.  

If you pick #3, I will reciprocate and gladly attend one of your next coding sessions where you can run Ruby circles around me while playing “one-two-three-four, I declare thumb war" with your coding buddies.

I know the behavior of these boys doesn’t speak for the whole of the Miami tech community.  And to that community I say keep doing what you’re doing: showing up, making a little progress every day, and helping others around you become better.  Let’s keep up the momentum you’ve worked so hard to build.

Tim Berthold is a Navy veteran, advisor to young & fun companies, and runs the Miami Hustle Series Podcast covering stories of Miami startups & entrepreneurs (Twitter: @miamihustleco)

April 11, 2016

An Open Letter to the Miami Tech Community

By Kim Grinfeder

I direct and teach in the Interactive Media Program at the University of Miami, a new program that I helped create with hopes it would someday contribute to Miami’s budding tech scene. It was always my hope that the program be integrated into Miami’s community, and so I have always encouraged my students to participate in local meet-ups and hackathons. In fact, until recently, it was a requirement for students to attend at least five local meet-ups or hackathons as part of their class grades.

Last week, a female student shared her experience at a local hackathon. She attended the hackathon for the normal reasons: she wanted to hone her programming skills, meet new people, and have a good time. Because she did not know anyone there, she joined a group who happened to be all-male. She told them that she could help with design or front-end coding since she was proficient in both. One of the guys asked if he should “dumb it down for her.” The night went on with macho jokes that made her feel uncomfortable and ended in “not-bad-for-a-girl” high fives. Unfortunately, it is not the first time that I hear such a story from a student who attended a local coding event. I am not saying this type of gender-based disparagement happens all the time, but I have heard similar tales enough times from my students to warrant calling it out.

That being said, she also mentioned that a few of her teammates worked cordially with her and that she learned quite a bit from them. In fact, these teammates seemed put off by the rest of the team’s behavior, even though they did not exactly step in to stop it. It is unfortunate that too often good behavior is overshadowed by some vexatious comportment.

If we seriously aspire to become a blossoming tech community intent on recruiting and keeping talent in Miami, we cannot tolerate such behavior. Next time that you are at a local hackathon, look at the male/female ratio and ask yourself why this is so. We need to strive to make these events safe and fun for everyone if we want them to succeed. Meet-ups should implement a code of conduct and adhere to it so that everyone can feel welcome. This recommendation has already been carried out at some of our largest local meet-ups and has helped them grow (see I would like, with this letter, to see more local groups and events adopt this policy.

Again, the vast majority of tech events in Miami have been welcoming to everyone, and great things are happening here like the WIN Lab and Girls Who Code, which are designed to attract women and encourage them to enter the industry. But we should also ensure that our mixed gender events are welcoming and safe for everyone. We should not have to rely only on gender exclusive events. It is hard enough to get things going in Miami without excluding people. Our new tech community should be built on shedding the old-school male-dominated STEM paradigm for a model that strengthens and benefits from our local gender diversity.

Kim Grinfeder is Associate Professor in the Department of Cinema and Interactive Media at the University of Miami. Twitter: @kimgrinfeder

March 25, 2016

My experience at SXSW 2016: 'Hope, inspiration, family and support'

Sxsw hall

Michael hallBy Michael Hall

Digital Grass Innovation & Technology's vision is to transform, develop and promote diversity inclusion by increasing the presence of diverse groups in entrepreneurial ventures, innovation and technology. Digital Grass provides symposiums, training curriculums and professional services to develop a more diverse community in South Florida (Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach) nested in a technological hub for entrepreneurs. While the mission started off in South Florida, we quickly realized working with other organizations throughout the nation is more of the legacy we would like to leave. We focus on building a place of comfort for excellence in innovation, technology and entrepreneurship.

Our team of 11 entrepreneurs came together with one goal: to offer the support to others that we didn't receive ourselves. Self motivation can easily lead to depression when you don't have a support system. The biases at play in the tech world may have just made the national platform in the last two years, but I grew up seeing this problem as a young black man from Brewton, Alabama while watching a majority of my family attend Tuskegee University to become engineers when there was a fight for diversity in engineering. I watched my father, Marcus Hall, take this fight into his own hands and build a program recognized by the Pentagon, where he recruited black engineers to work for the Department of Defense. I strive to continue his legacy. Diversity inclusion in technology is not a new problem, rather, it is an old problem in a new sector. In the legal realm, the National Bar Association has spearheaded the fight for inclusion and in the engineering sector, the National Society of Black Engineers champions the cause. No matter how much patience one can have, you must have a leader to take action, but that lies in comfort when you come to South by Southwest and you realize you are not the only one fighting.

As a business owner, innovator and advocate for diversity inclusion in innovation and technology, meeting peers, those you admire, from Brandon Andrews leading the diversity inclusion in Shark Tank to Leslie Miley, the last black engineer of Twitter, to Joey Womack with Goodie Hack’s Founders’ Therapy program, SXSW offers hope, inspiration, family and support. The price you pay for that golden ticket offers the support that drives you for the next nine months to make it through the year because you quickly realize you aren't fighting for popularity, fame or fortune, but a legacy to help others become successful and simply not give up. The moment you realize that someone is not just introducing you to someone because you are black, but simply because you are talented, is priceless. The sharing of resources and the free advice is monumental to helping someone keep their path or pivot to make the best decisions. While the speakers for keynotes and sessions are amazing, nothing beats the conversations in the JW Marriott with meetups by Black Tech Week to the "Capital of Talent' in the We DC House with young amazing talent floating around like Angel Rich of the Wealth Factory while relaxing in the Black Wall Street House with Talib Graves Mann and Jessica Averhart of American Underground.

I can't name the endless count of mentors, friends, leaders and inspiration that is convened at SXSW, but aside from my outlet to Sherell Dorsey, I am not sure who was there to envision this beautiful scenery beyond the techies themselves.

You continue to notice that there are many others doing great things, but what you never see is them getting coverage for just being great, but only because they are a visual representation of "diversity". The role of Digital Grass will remain true to the original name, Digital Grassroots, connecting our community and sharing resources to help us strive forward. And to think it’s only March, we have 9 months left!

Michael Hall is the founder of Digital Grass Innovation & Technology.

March 11, 2016

Rise of the Rest: Steve and Jean Case at SXSW

By Nancy Dahlberg /

Seventy-five percent of venture capital last year went to California, New York and Massachusetts. When the other 47 states divide up just 25 percent, it deprives the nation from having a broader innovation economy, said technology pioneer Steve Case.

Furthermore, 85 percent goes to men, and just 15 percent to women. “That’s not right,” said Case, who co-founded AOL and now is leading a number of programs promoting entrepreneurship.  “We are trying to level the playing field.”

IMG_4199Steve and Jean Case founded Rise of the Rest, to promote entrepreneurship in other hubs around the country as well as by women and under-represented minorities. They gave a feature presentation at South By Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas.

“I think there will be more opportunities for more entrepreneurs in more places in this third wave of entrepreneurship,” said Steve Case.

The reasons for diversity are rooted in economics. Harvard and McKinsey research shows diverse teams perform better and a lack of diversity limits ideas, said Jean Case, CEO of the Case Foundation. Half of all successful Kickstarter campaigns are run by women, yet women take just 15 percent of the venture capital.

IMG_4198New programs are popping up to increase diversity. Washington DC has an inclusive accelerator in 1776, and Village Capital is starting a national program, the Cases said.

Locally, PowerMoves has started a fellowship program for entrepreneurs of color, Black Tech Week is an annual conference and platform for events and programs throughout the year, and Babson College is opening a WIN (Women Innovating Now) LAB accelerator in Miami this fall.


March 04, 2016

Q&A with Melissa Krinzman: Homegrown venture fund gets running start



By Nancy Dahlberg /

A number of early-stage investors are just beginning to dip their toes in the Miami startup market, meeting entrepreneurs and mulling over a few deals. But in just two years, one fund jumped right in and created quite a splash.

Already one of the most active early-stage funds operating in South Florida, Krillion Ventures is a $50 million homegrown venture fund founded by two longtime Miami investor/entrepreneurs. Jeffrey Miller is a prominent South Florida business and civic leader. He has been an active investor for nearly 30 years, with most of his holdings in the real estate, banking and energy sectors. Entrepreneurship is in the Miller DNA: His father, Leonard Miller, took Lennar public; today it is a Fortune 500 company and one of the nation’s leading homebuilders. Melissa Krinzman has a 20-year history of launching, growing and advising private companies and nonprofit organizations. She has been active in the entrepreneurship community as a speaker on capital raising and a judge of business plan competitions across the country, including the Miami Herald’s Business Plan Challenge.

“Krillion was born out of a desire to make South Florida an even better place to live and work,” Krinzman said. She met Miller more than four years ago through the Ransom Everglades School: He was chairman of the board of trustees, she was on the alumni board. “We were both Miami natives, career entrepreneurs, had experience growing businesses as well as nonprofit organizations, and shared a common vision about the importance of access to quality education for all children,” she said.

After many discussions about the imminent growth of South Florida’s tech sector and the corresponding need for active “hometown” early stage venture funds to support these nascent companies, they joined forces in January 2014 as managing partners to launch Krillion Ventures ( They picked up the pace significantly in 2015 and closed the year with a total of 17 investments, including an equity crowdfunding platform for startups, an electric scooter-sharing company and a startup aiming to make it easier for consumers and businesses to use digital currencies.

Today, the firm actively invests in financial services, transportation, logistics, real estate and healthcare startups, and has developed a “Miami First” strategy. Eight of its 17 investments are from South Florida.

“We believe that local investors have an exciting opportunity as well as a responsibility to invest in and support South Florida’s next wave of high growth companies that will contribute to more and better local jobs and talent retention,” she said.

Still, Krinzman sees a potentially nasty venture slowdown ahead and believes entrepreneurs need to batten down. The Miami Herald talked to Krinzman about the firm’s first years and plans for the road ahead.

Why a ‘Miami-first’ and not a ‘Miami-only’ focus?

Like all venture capital funds, our primary goal is to earn a return on our investment. We call ourselves a “Miami-first” fund because we prioritize the review of and investment in opportunities in South Florida. Within two years, we have made eight investments in South Florida-based startups, which is approximately half of our portfolio. We have also made investments in early stage companies located in cities such as New York City, Boston and San Francisco. The relationships we make and insights we gain from these investments help our Miami entrepreneurs, and vice versa.

Why have you selected the verticals you have?

For the first two years, we decided not to focus on any verticals. We wanted to cast a wide net and see where it would lead us. This is evidenced by the diversity of our current portfolio. But at the end of 2015, we decided to take a note from New York City’s tech sector. In my role as founder and managing director of Venture Architects, a firm dedicated to helping startups raise investment capital, I saw that the New York-based companies that gained the most traction were the ones innovating in the verticals that New York dominated such as advertising, marketing, financial services and fashion.

So, after a rigorous analysis, we selected five focus areas in which we believe Miami has innate strength — financial services, real estate, health, transportation and logistics — and where we can provide value beyond our dollars invested. Moving forward, our investments will primarily fall into these categories.

What stage do you invest in?

We are making initial seed stage investments from $50,000 to $250,000. Once the company shows traction, we’ll then provide additional investment capital through their Series A, on a deal-by-deal basis. We prefer to be active investors and often take advisory board or director seats.

A differentiator is your nonprofit strategy. How did that develop?

In addition to supporting South Florida entrepreneurs and the overarching technology community, we are also committed to local education and civic initiatives. We believe that one can’t thrive without the other. For example, independent of Krillion, in September 2014, Jeffrey and I were part of the team that opened Beacon College Prep, a nonprofit charter school located in Opa-locka with 240 students in K-3, focused on developing college-bound students. Additionally, Jeffrey is chairman of the board of Breakthrough Miami and supports many cultural, educational and community organizations. And in a few weeks, Krillion will host an event for local investors and entrepreneurs to learn about The Miami Foundation’s leadership agenda, which is looking to the future and addressing transportation congestion, sea level rise and the need for more public spaces — all issues that impact the quality of life for South Florida’s current and future entrepreneurs.

What attributes do you look for in founders?

As we say on our website, we are seeking “one in a krillion.” We review both referred and unsolicited pitch decks from all over the country and hold office hours once a month to meet with local entrepreneurs. Thus far, we have backed entrepreneurs who believe passionately in their goals to solve a problem but who, at the same time, are willing to learn and be flexible. We believe that passion, tenacity and fearlessness are essential. But if not mixed with the ability to accept and process feedback, we’ve seen these three attributes quickly become negatives. We’ve also found that the entrepreneurs who have taken the time to educate themselves about the process and the etiquette of raising capital are the ones who shine.

Please tell us about a couple of your most recent investments. What attracted you to them?

Our two most recent investments were made in December 2015 and both are Miami-based companies — MealPass and Sktchy.

Mealpass is co-founded by Mary Biggins, one of the founders of ClassPass, a membership program for fitness classes across multiple gyms and studios that has raised $84 million from prominent venture funds.

For a flat fee of $99 a month, members can choose to eat lunch at one of over 50 restaurants each day. MealPass launched in Brickell in January and in downtown Boston earlier this month. From the moment Mary started to walk us through her business model, it was clear that she was a seasoned entrepreneur, highly analytical, and extremely focused and hardworking. We also liked that MealPass has a subscription business model and offers a significant cost savings to budget-conscious office workers.

Sktchy, founded by Jordan Melnick, is an app where users submit photos of themselves for inspiration and artists draw, paint or sculpt portraits. The before-and-afters can be discovered and shared on the app. With Jordan, it was clear that he had a deep understanding and connection with his audience and a steadfast vision for Sktchy. We immediately saw the simplicity, usefulness and addictiveness of the app, as well as the significant opportunity to provide a marketplace for these talented artists to sell their sketches. We believe the company is poised for exponential growth and can’t wait for the marketplace to launch in March so that the sketches can be purchased from the talented community of artists.

What keeps you up at night?

The venture investing and valuations have recently begun to lose velocity, a repeat of 2000 and 2008, when the venture market slowed to a crawl. In my mind, the only question is, how long will this one last? Having experienced both of the downturns up close and personal, it wasn’t pretty. But most local entrepreneurs that I have spoken with haven’t even begun to think about gathering the hurricane supplies that they’ll need to wait out the storm.

Investors are already putting on their battle gear. Those who have horses in the race are running the numbers to figure out which ones they are going to bet on and which are being released into the pasture. And they have already slowed down their decision-making and will wait out the storm in order to acquire new investments at attractive valuations.

On the other hand, optimists by nature, I haven’t seen many entrepreneurs suiting up. Our advice to entrepreneurs is to educate themselves about the past two market downturns by reading the recent articles by investors and entrepreneurs who survived them, revise their game plans and pro-actively cut costs to make sure their businesses will continue to thrive during the lean times ahead.

In general, how would you characterize the deal flow you have seen from South Florida?

Drawing from a broad and diverse gene pool, it is not surprising to us that potential deals in South Florida come in all sizes, shapes, colors and patterns. And we’ve seen a steady increase in the pure number of South Florida-based companies that are seeking investment capital. From our perspective, both are very good things.

Nancy Dahlberg; 305-376-3595; @ndahlberg

Melissa Krinzman

Investor: Managing partner of Krillion Ventures, a $50 million Miami-based early stage venture capital firm that actively invests in financial services, transportation, logistics, real estate and healthcare startups.

Business planning: Krinzman also founded Venture Architects, a business planning firm that has positioned early and growth stage companies for success in the capital-raising process since 1998.

Previous experience: Part of founding teams for three prominent, national nonprofit organizations.

Board appointments: Vice chairwoman of the board of The Miami Foundation as well as a board member of Beacon College Prep and the Ransom Everglades School Alumni Board. She also serves as a board member or adviser for a number of Krillion Ventures' investments.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in English and American studies from Tufts University.

Three most recent books read: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi; The Most Important Thing Illuminated: Uncommon Sense for the Thoughtful Investor by Howard Marks; and The Prize: Who's in Charge of America's Schools? by Dale Russakoff.

More about Krillion Ventures:

February 25, 2016

Christian Seale @ Startup Grind: His views on startup growth from both sides of table

Christian seale startup grind (1)

By Peter Kovach

Christian Seale is the founder and managing director of Startupbootcamp Digital Health Miami, the first digital health accelerator and seed fund focused on diverse and underserved communities. He has been on both sides of the table as an entrepreneur and early stage investor and loves supporting ambitious and extraordinary founders navigate the high and lows of their startup journey. Before building SBC Miami, he was a founding member of Equitable Origin, the world’s first certification for responsible energy production. He is also a member of NextGen Angels and worked for consumer-only VC firm Maveron. This month at  Venture Hive, Christian sat down with Startup Grind’s Jason Ibarra to discuss his experiences and how they can help startups grow.

* Understand your Barriers of Entry - While at Brown University, Christian set out to create the ideal oil company in Colombia, a company that is environmentally friendly and respectful to the community stakeholders. Unfortunately, the barriers of entry were too high as many of the oil companies in Colombia were far more established and it was too costly to enter into the market. However, Christian and his partners were able to leverage previously established relationships with stakeholders and other oil companies to create a certification for responsible oil production. It's important to know the cost of entry and other barriers you may face before you make a big investment. You may intend to pursue an idea, but discover it’s not feasible. If you are observant of the industry, you can always find ways to make an impact regardless of the obstacles.

*The Business Plan - One of the most overrated aspects of business for startups is the business plan. Many businesses get caught up on having a long drawn out plan that will explain every single way in which they will make money for the next five years. The business plan for startups does not need to be 50 pages long, especially because things can change so quickly. Instead, don’t get caught up in length and focus on quality. The business plan should be a road map of where you want your company to be in the next few months with an overview of how you’ll address the next five years. It can be a simple 5-page document that identifies your target customer, the market, any competition, plans for growth and key goals you want to achieve in the the near future.

* To V.C. or not V.C. - In today’s startup ecosystem, we are all focused on who gets how much money and from whom. This can be a major distraction, and quite honestly getting funding from investors may not be the best option for everyone. In fact, growing a business organically may be the better option for a lot of companies. Of course, there is not the same sex appeal and your growth may take longer, but you don’t have to worry about keeping investors happy and reaching absurd revenue expectations. Instead, you can focus on what is most important, growing your business the right way, and when the time is right the money will follow. Remember, once you take someone else’s money, their goals become your goals.

* Approaching Investors - Christian has had his fare share on NOs in life, maybe more than 1,000. If it taught him anything, it's that you should never be afraid to ask. If you decide to look for venture money, it is necessary to do your research. Make a list of the investors you are interested in, understand what they like to invest in, and how involved they are with their companies. Remember, bringing on a VC is a marriage, and you will be stuck with them for the foreseeable future, so it is essential to understand who is investing in your startup. Christian mentioned, once you have a list, prioritize it from best possible investor to the “hey I just want your money” investor. Then approach the investors starting from the bottom of the list. This will give you plenty of practice, to refine your pitch and handle difficult questions, so when you finally meet with your ideal investors you are more than prepared.

* Accelerator or Incubator - Accelerators and incubators are essential for Startup ecosystems to grow. They build a community of like-minded companies and offer them assistance in reaching their full potential. If you are contemplating putting your company in an accelerator or incubator, Christian emphasizes the importance of understanding their differences. An incubator, he said, is like coddling a newborn baby, where an accelerator is essentially putting your business in a rocket ship and having it blast off. Incubators typically work with companies that are fresh off the idea phase and help them formulate their business. On the other hand, accelerators typically deal with more established companies and help them target and achieve specific goals within a few months. Understand what phase your company is in, so you can properly identify if you are more geared toward an incubator or accelerator.

Peter Kovach is a recent graduate from Loyola University of New Orleans. He moved to Miami to be a part of the rising tech scene and is currently an associate at

NEXT UP: Xavier Gonzalez, CEO of eMerge Americas, will be joining Startup Grind for a Fireside Chat on March 8th at the Venture Hive. Tickets are now available here.