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

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

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

Have news? Have an idea for a guest post? Send it to me at ndahlbergbiz@gmail.com. (See my Facebook announcement here)

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

February 17, 2018

How LaunchCode is tackling the tech talent gap in Miami with the help of community partnerships

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By Matt Mawhinney

Air Force veteran Judy Rincon was balancing her transition back into civilian life and being a single mother when she saw a newspaper article about LaunchCode, a nonprofit creating pathways for driven people seeking careers in technology. Although coding was something she never considered, Judy took the free class, honed her skills and started her journey on the path to become a developer.

“Being completely new to coding was frightening,” Judy admitted, “but the devoted LaunchCode staff made this new journey an effortless one for me.” This week, Judy was thrilled to find out she has been placed with MasterCard and will begin as an apprentice next month. “Working hard and staying focused throughout the program wasn’t easy, but well worth it in the end.”

Judy’s story is not uncommon to the staff at LaunchCode, which opened an office in South Florida in 2015 thanks to a grant from the Knight Foundation. LaunchCode provides free technology education to aspiring technologists like Judy looking to get their foot in the door without having to go into debt.

LaunchCode was founded as an innovative solution to the shortage of talent to fill tech jobs in America. Code.org estimates there will be 1 million more computing jobs than applicants who can fill them by 2020. By creating pathways for nontraditional students to enter the workforce, LaunchCode gives employers a low-risk way to add fresh, diverse talent to their teams and in turn, reduce this gap.

But the tech talent gap is an issue that no one individual or organization can solve alone. LaunchCode works closely with community partners in South Florida who are equally invested in creating career pathways in the region. The CodeCamp program, where Judy gained her skills, was funded by CareerSource South Florida and supported by Employ Miami-Dade and the Neighbors and Neighbors Association.

Judy’s apprenticeship marks the 120th career which began as a result of LaunchCode’s innovative training program in South Florida. In 2018, the mission to launch tech careers of even more Floridians continues. With the help of its partners, LaunchCode will continue to provide both technical and soft-skills training free of charge to make careers in technology as accessible as possible.

It takes a village to solve the shortage of tech talent in our region and when community partners come together, the success is shared by all.

Matt Mawhinney is the Candidate Engagement Manager - South Florida for LaunchCode. Find out more at:  https://www.launchcode.org.

 

February 04, 2018

The Entrepreneur and The Investor: Advice from both sides of the table

All about extraordinary exits and the journey to them: Ryan Cohen, CEO of Chewy.com, and angel investor Jason Calacanis share views at two separate events.

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Angel investor and author Jason Calacanis and Melissa Krinzman, co-founder of Miami's Krillion Ventures, discuss investing in startups at Refresh Miami's event  Jan. 30. Earlier in the day, Ryan Cohen, CEO of Chewy, and David Coddington, VP at the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, shown below, discuss the startup journey at the Florida Venture Capital Conference in Fort Lauderdale

  Cohen

 

 One day in South Florida, two separate conversations, priceless insight.

Last Tuesday, during the day, Ryan Cohen, co-founder and CEO of Chewy.com, took the stage as the keynote speaker at the Florida Venture Forum's Florida Venture Capital Conference in Fort Lauderdale, for a couple hundred investors, entrepreneurs and service providers from around the state. In the evening, angel investor extraordinaire Jason Calacanis gave an entertaining, but insightful interview in front of 350 from the tech community at Refresh Miami’s monthly event.

Cohen sold his Dania Beach-based e-commerce company for $3.35 billion to PetSmart last year; it was the largest ecommerce deal in history and the biggest exit in South Florida. The pet supplies retailer is a homegrown success story, and as he relayed the Chewy story in an on-stage discussion with David Coddington, VP of business development at the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, it was clear the journey was anything but easy.

Cohen, who started his first business at 14 creating websites, said he started Chewy in 2011 to replicate the same great customer experience of a neighborhood store, but online. He used Zappos as a model and inspiration. When he needed capital to grow, he approached more than 100 investors – and they all passed. “But I thought there’s a chance … we are on to something genius. I just felt with scale we will prove them wrong,” said Cohen.

Challenges were setting up the company for hyper growth. The year 2014 was transformational, he said, because Chew went from having virtually no experience with operations to it becoming its core competency. “In order to scale to a billion dollar company we had to go through that, but it was very, very challenging. … Our management team was working 7 days a week 16 hours a day and everything that could go wrong went wrong.”

So what went right? Customer service was its differentiator.

“We are 100 percent customer obsessed. We want them to feel as though they would never dream of shopping anywhere else. We’re human we get it, and we really care about their pets,” said Cohen, who owns a teacup poodle. After all, this is the company where hand-written holiday cards writing is a massive department; 5 million Chewy customers received them last year.

Today, Chewy has more than 7,000 employees; about 1,500 in South Florida, including a giant new call center in Hollywood. It’s got six warehouses, including one recently opened in Ocala.

“I’m persistent, I’m obsessive, … I’m relentless, I’m a contrarian. When all these VCs passed I didn’t change our business plan at all,” said Cohen.

He said scaling a company is not for everybody.

"Scaling a business is going to test you physically and emotionally. ... It is a huge act of selflessness and dedication and if you are ready for it, it is going to be a crazy, crazy, crazy roller-coaster and it will be a the journey of a lifetime." If not, he said stick to your day job.

Calacanis would agree with that. 

That evening, at the Refresh Miami event, Calacanis’ conversation with Melissa Krinzman, co-founder of Miami-based Krillion Ventures, gave a view from the other side of the table.

“Startups are a shitshow, they are a complete utter disaster,” the angel investor with a private syndicate, author and podcaster said. Calacanis hosts a popular podcast called “This Week in Startups,” has authored the new book, “Angel: How to Invest in Technology Startups” and created Launch Festival and Launch Scale and Launch Incubator, among other endeavors.

 Just don’t get him started on ICOs. Uh-oh, Krinzman did.

“I have seen this movie before. It’s not going to end well,” said Calacanis. “It’s a giant scam right now, 90 percent are incompetent, criminal people. UPDATE: For his rant on ICOs, watch this just-published video below! (rant starts at about 12:30.)

But once he [sort of] got back on track, Krinzman asked Calacanis, an an early investor in Uber and scores of other startups) about the questions investors should ask themselves. Among them: Why have the founder chosen this business? Why is he/she doing this? How skilled are the founders and the team and what do their customers think?

His advice to entrepreneurs: Go big.

“We need to take big bold risks,” he said. “If something doesn’t have long odds, it’s not worth doing as an investor or an entrepreneur. Don’t do the easy things, do the hard things.”

For startups raising money (always), he said the stakes are higher.

“I want to see what you are capable of. …. It’s a different world than 10 years ago. You have to up your game.  Traction speaks, show me your traction.”

Signals of a downward spiral”: If the founder stops sending you updates.

“I always know when I hear I am going to WebSummit or Summit at Sea, that is a really bad sign. I go, 'why don’t we summit revenue, why don’t we summit hiring a CTO?' ”

While a great entrepreneur can come from anywhere he thinks opening up an office and spending some time in Silicon Valley is a good thing. “You have to be cutthroat.”

For some practical advice he listened to three pitches by South Florida startups. Some of his advice, in no particular order:

  • Never read a script, it becomes robotic. Say it is your own words.
  • He’s not a fan of unpaid pilots. “You need to know if people are willing to pay for it, you need to get that piece of data.”
  • Always include an example of how your product or service would work and walk us through it.
  • The more reality you can give investors the better. Answer the questions crisply.
  • Get to the point sooner. When you have the nuts, you got a get to this immediately.

  UPDATE: I can’t do his talk justice, so watch the show below, courtesy of Refresh Miami.

 

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

December 12, 2017

#Miamitech leaders support Net Neutrality

 
Net-neutrality
An open letter to Congress:
 
Congressman Carlos Curbelo et al.
 
We are the founders & leaders of technology startups here in Miami. Collectively, we represent tens of millions of dollars in revenue and thousands of employees in Miami's burgeoning tech scene. We have a deep understanding of web technology as it is essential to our livelihood. We are writing to ask you to help stop the repeal of Title II classification of ISPs. It is unfortunate that we currently face a difficult question: Should we (the U.S.A.) repeal Title II's net neutrality protection or not?
 
We believe the answer is no. We should not repeal the Title II classification without a legitimate, well thought out replacement. As business owners, we understand the serious nature of regulation & its hampering effects on our ability to innovate. We believe these regulations are an exception to the rule. In 2015, the Title II classification of ISPs explicitly excluded more than 700 of the rules found in Title II regulation [1] for the exact reason of maintaining a "light touch" philosophy. Beyond the fact that it has indeed been a light touch approach, the most important thing to note is that there are guarantees that come with the current classification that are essential to maintaining a competitive environment for businesses like ours to thrive. Businesses like Clutch Prep which depends on open internet access to college students who use their platform to become the doctors of tomorrow [2]. Businesses like LiveNinja who depend on WebRTC communications to consumers across the entire country by customers like Apple, Samsung & HP [3]. Businesses like NomadsTV which provides OTT software to media companies [4].
 
Ajit Pai's original dissent [5] expressed valid concerns. However, the last two years have come to show that they are not currently an issue. Things like Universal Service Fund taxes are not being imposed (at least not to our knowledge), the classification has not stopped or prevented zero rating (T-Mobile is a great example of the current protections being in place without disrupting innovation [6]). Many small local ISPs are not overburdened due to this classification [7], broadband prices have stagnated or decreased in price [8]. Meanwhile, access to broadband is growing [9] [10] and speeds are increasing [11]. 
 
We believe the internet has grown and provided economic opportunity unfettered by existing regulations. However, bad behavior has arisen among ISP's covering the "last mile": providers have tried to charge companies for access to their own customers [12],  they have been caught blocking services that customers have paid for [13] [14], and found throttling traffic they deemed to be unimportant [15].
 
Because the draft order repeals net neutrality rules altogether, it allows ISPs to block or throttle lawful content, or give the highest-paying websites and apps a better ability to reach customers’ devices or to favor Internet traffic from the ISPs’ own subsidiaries and business partners, all without any legal repercussions. This could be devastating to our livelihoods and have many implications in the long term.
 
We believe Pai can and should continue to have a light touch and maintain the current Title II classification while he crafts a legitimate, better-designed replacement that guarantees no blocking of content, throttling or paid priority while providing an even less intrusive regulation than is currently in place. This is the United States of America; we can do better.
 
 
Thank You,
Auston Bunsen, Lead Instructor at Wyncode Academy
Johanna Mikkola, Co-founder of Wyncode Academy
Juha Mikkola, Co-founder of Wyncode Academy
Ivan Rapin-Smith, Managing Director at Watsco Ventures
Rob Dyson, CTO & Co-founder of Willing.com
Rebekah Monson, Co-founder of WhereBy.us
Lu Martinez, Founder of StardomUp
Mary Wolff, CEO & Co-Founder, Spacewolff
Brian Breslin, Co-founder of SimCase
Ulises Orozco, CPO of Saving for College
Maria Derchi, Executive Director of Refresh Miami
Erik Mendelson, CEO of RecordGram
Otto Othman, CMO & Co-founder of Pincho Factory
Miles Varghese, SVP of Sales for Octopi
Guille Carlos, CTO & Co-founder of Octopi
Luc Castera, Founder of Octopi
Andrej Kostresevic, CEO of Nomads
Will Weinraub, CEO & Co-founder of LiveNinja
Emilio Cueto, CTO & Co-founder of LiveNinja
Alfonso Ligares, CDO & Co-founder of LiveNinja
Brian Brackeen, Founder & CEO of Kairos
Herwig Konings, CEO of InvestReady
Alex Nucci, CEO of Gramercy
Richard Grundy, CEO of Flomio
Jose Rasco, Founder & CEO of dotHealth
Marcio Souza, CEO & Co-founder of Clutch Prep
Alain Fontaine, CTO & Co-founder of Clutch Prep
Juan Bermudez, CEO & Co-founder of Coach-HQ
Larry Ho, COO of Ziro
Javier Sarmiento, Founder and VP, Payments at Open English
 
 
4. Information on Nomads OTT product: http://nomads.co/product/whitelabelottvideo/
5. Ajit Pai's 85 page original dissent on Net Neutrality order: https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-15-24A5.pdf
6. Get "free" streaming with a special plan from T-Mobile: https://www.t-mobile.com/offer/free-music-streaming.html
14. ISP Madison River blocking VOIP traffic FCC ruling: https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DA-05-543A2.pdf
15. Comcast blocking / throttling legal peer-to-peer traffic: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comcast_Corp._v._FCC#Background
 
HAVE YOUR SAY: here is more info, including how to reach all yourblocal lawmakers. Sign a petition to save net neutrality here.

December 03, 2017

From Facebook to Miami, she’s investing in dreams, maybe even the next ‘iguanacorn’

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlbergbiz@gmail.com

When Laura González-Estéfani moved from Silicon Valley to Miami in 2015, the former Facebook executive said she was taken aback by the welcoming tech and entrepreneurship community.

“There must be something in the water in Miami that makes everyone so welcoming and so enthusiastic about the unknown. I found that willingness to take a risk,” she said in an interview this summer.

At eMerge Americas in June, González-Estéfani and business partner Clara Bullrich announced plans to start a venture-building company, called TheVentureCity, headquartered in Miami and Madrid, with an office in Silicon Valley, that would bring together a team from hyper-growth companies such as Facebook, Google and eBay. The venture builder would focus on accelerating high-potential tech startups with international growth aspirations. And that was just the beginning of a whirlwind six months for González-Estéfani and Bullrich.

Since then TheVentureCity team has begun offering free workshops and events for the community. The company has also partnered with Miami Dade College on an associate’s degree in entrepreneurship, and González-Estéfani and her team have assembled a group of instructors, including herself, who are CEOs or top executives of South Florida companies to teach the classes. The MDC program started this fall.

 “Those amazing young kids, their brains are so open,” said González-Estéfani, born in Spain and a mother of three. “What is your dream? That’s how I started my class. That was the first interview question I got at Facebook. When you can dream, things happen.”

And in September, TheVentureCity announced it has launched a $100 million venture capital fund, and kicked it off with 14 investments so far, including four investments in South Florida companies Boatsetter, RecargaPay, Above & Beyond and The FastMind.

Although her fund invests all over the world, González-Estéfani is a believer in Miami’s potential for tech. She even coined her own Miami term for so-called unicorns — companies valued at $1 billion or more. She calls them “Iguanacorns,” and Miami already has several.

To find the next iguanacorns, TheVentureCity is taking applications for its 36-month or 18-month accelerator-like program called The Garden Fellowships. Startups that can be in any place in the world must demonstrate at least a six-month track record and solid numbers on growth and engagement metrics. Using a data-driven approach, TheVentureCity builds on that foundation.

The Miami Herald interviewed González-Estéfani in her office in October about her time at Facebook and her new venture in Miami that includes a fund. These are excerpts of that conversation.

Q.  Why did you start TheVentureCity?

A. I worked for Facebook almost nine years, I’m 41, which is almost one-fourth of my life dedicated to that amazing company. I worked in Europe, Silicon Valley, Miami and Latin America. In 2000, I founded my own startup and we failed miserably. But I am surprised that after 20 years the problems in these emerging tech hubs are still the same.

A Silicon Valley startup founded by a Stanford guy is valued three times more than one founded by a Venezuelan guy based in Miami or a woman based in Spain. This is my passion — I want to fix that. I want to work with companies that are making a huge impact, not because of where the founders are.

A Silicon Valley startup founded by a Stanford guy is valued three times more than one founded by a Venezuelan guy based in Miami or a woman based in Spain. This is my passion — I want to fix that.

I believe the next billion-dollar companies won’t be coming from Silicon Valley only. There are so many huge problems to solve around the world. If you look at fin-tech, insure-tech, health-tech, feminine-tech, if you look at AR [augmented reality], those founders are so talented, so driven, but they don’t have the right people supporting them.

What moves our team is giving founders in those emerging tech hubs support to change the world in the best way they can. We have been busy executing.

Q. What do you look for in an investment?

A. We don’t invest in companies without at least a six-month track record with engagement and growth metrics. We need to understand the founders first, have chemistry with them, and then look at the product or their engineering, the core of what they are building.

If everything goes well, then we will look at the financial model and legal structure. Why? We are looking at the bones, what are the things we need to track to understand if the company is going somewhere. We are not looking at revenues from the very beginning, which is something that happens in Miami all the time [because] investors want to see early revenues. If I have a small company, I want everyone focused on growing the company. The Googles, Facebooks, eBays of the world, they didn’t start monetizing until the year three or five.

That’s the thinking. Even our term sheets are different. A lot of funds require a board seat. I don’t want that. I want the entrepreneur to feel at home and that they can call our team at any time. I don’t want to wait until the board meeting to hear what the problem is. It doesn’t make sense.

The transparency, the directness and information flow we request is very different, it is more like we are part of the same team. At the end of the day, the best deals are coming our way and our founders feel we can help them.

We need to bring more people here who want to support founders along the way. Not roadblocks; it’s already so difficult to be an entrepreneur.

Q. Tell me about The Garden Fellowships. How is it different from a startup accelerator?

A. Our program is not a fixed program; it is tailor-made for each of the startups. Our experience is giving to the talent.

We don’t require equity in advance; we invest as we go over 18 or 36 months. We have to keep earning it. If they want to leave at any point, they are free to leave at any point. We don’t want anyone to feel trapped. We are so sure of how much we can deliver, I am comfortably fine to demonstrate every day that we have earned it.

We are going to work with 25 companies. They can work wherever they want. Pushing the boundaries, that is what disruption is all about.

Every company should have a chief happiness officer. When I asked the kids at Miami Dade College what kind of company they want to work with, none of them said a corporation. They are mission-driven.

Q. What are some lessons you learned at Facebook and earlier?

A. Don’t pay attention to the noise, don’t pay attention to the drama, you can make it happen.

Figure out where you want to go and then deconstruct and move backward.

My first startup [a beach tourism portal in 2000] was a disaster. We didn’t plan in advance, of course 2000 the bubble burst, it was bad timing and we didn’t know what we were doing. I’m an angel investor who is on boards and my husband is building a company, and I’ve learned you have to think five years out and build backwards.

Five years in tech is a long time. I didn’t have that five-year vision when I was 20 years old. I needed to have an action plan with steps on how to get there. Now we are trying to embed that into everyone.

If you are a natural leader, people will follow you.

Have a suite of values that every member of the team speaks to. You need to do what you preach. Invest in the culture of the company, transparency, diversity, being fair to the founders, thinking of the founders first. Our list of mentors is pretty amazing and you need to connect them with the community. If you say you are going to do this, you have to do this. That’s something I learned at Facebook.

Every company should have a chief happiness officer. (At TheVentureCity that’s Miami campus director Elisa Rodríguez-Vila). When I asked the kids at Miami Dade College what kind of company they want to work with, none of them said a corporation. They are mission-driven. Millennials and those coming after are expecting to work with a purpose, not just for the money. Every company needs to invest in happiness officers guaranteeing that there will be an amazing culture.

I never hire people who want to work just because of the money. I’ve never done that. But we do pay people right. That is something Miami needs to understand — if you really want to attract the best talent, you should pay them in a fair way. You can’t expect them to work for $50,000, excuse me?

Q. How else can Miami’s entrepreneurial ecosystem be improved?

A. The showstoppers are there is a lot of money and a lot of awesome tech. Explore different ways to make an impact. We have to create those role models, the Jacqui’s [Baumgarten, CEO of Boatsetter] of the world, the guys from The FastMind, the founder of CareCloud, these are role models for the community. They need to mingle more and be more proactive. On the other side, to the founders, you can’t wait for things to happen for you. You need to put skin in the game. I’ve had founders who’ve wanted investment and they aren’t even working on their venture full time. I’m putting everything I have into this and I expect the same from you.

We need investors that really understand tech. We need traditional venture capitalists to understand that in tech it doesn’t work the same way, you can’t expect returns in a year. We need the talent to stay here because they are getting the right salary. You can’t be strangled by regulation, hello government.

We still have a long way with the government. I am not talking about handouts, I am talking about making it easier for them to thrive. Tech drives tons of high wage jobs.

Everyone contributes to what happens here.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.


Laura González-Estéfani

Position: Co-founder of TheVentureCity, a venture builder headquartered in Miami and Madrid.

Experience: González-Estéfani spent nearly nine years with Facebook in various roles supporting overall growth strategies, including as director of international business development and mobile partnerships for Latin America, spearheading the Internet.org and connectivity initiatives from Silicon Valley and later Miami. Before Facebook, she held management roles at eBay, Siemens and Ogilvy Group and co-founded Esplaya.com, the first international beach tourism digital platform.

Education: Universidad Europea de Madrid and Vlerick Business School in Belgium.

Personal: 41 years old, born in Spain, “citizen of the world.” Married, mother of three, lives in Miami.

Community involvement: Mentor for Endeavor Miami and Stanford Latina Entrepreneurship Program; coach for Babson College.

November 16, 2017

Miami is fertile ground for world-class product design

By Gessica Tortolano

GessicaWith 20 yrs of experience building and leading User Experience (UX) teams from Boston to Silicon Valley on projects for Google, Facebook, Gap, Samsung and other exciting brands, I am bringing my expertise back to South Florida as head instructor of UX/UI Immersive, an intensive 8-week program at Miami’s Wyncode Academy.

UX is about solving real problems and addressing pain points, not just making something cool as a product or a feature. It is about storytelling, screen composition and clear paths to completion, while removing friction, not just rearranging elements on a screen. As a problem solving framework, UX puts the user at the heart of the process. It results in a better experience thereby producing better products.

With IOT, voice user interfaces, the blend of digital and physical experiences, and new devices entering the market daily, it is critical to realize a connected, holistic experience.

Miami is a beloved vacation destination, but I truly believe it is so much more. A creative and diverse culture like Miami’s is fertile ground for world-class design. This program will help nurture a new generation of product designers who will lead the charge in quality design in our ecosystem.

As a former resident of Miami, I worked with aspiring designers through community initiatives at University of Miami, IT Women, Honey Shine Inc., and Urgent Inc. I was overwhelmed and humbled by their interest in UX, it was palpable.

Since the beginning of my career I’ve worked with many of the world’s biggest brands, including Burger King, Instagram, IBM, the NBA, Chrysler, Coca-Cola, GM, Norwegian Cruise Lines and Carnival Cruise Lines.

It is after all these years, and diverse experiences that I am compelled to share and teach my expertise. I recall telling Johanna Mikkola, co-founder of Wyncode, it was time for me to foster a new generation of designers. Together with Wyncode that is what we will do.

It was clear, I had to partner with a school that was just as committed to quality in their programs as I was about design. I had to ensure the future UX designer would marry their skills with a methodology.

In the valley, large brands are anxious to blur the lines between physical and digital. They are running experiments and adopting Design Thinking, a human-centered methodology that reveals truths about how confident we are in a feature or product.

Product designers grasp the importance of being flexible, nimble, and are experts in team inertia and momentum. Most will hone their skills, but with a solid foundation, they can own end-to-end product development.

The Googles and Facebooks are looking for agility and iteration. Value over deliverables became my world and I am thrilled to help build an ecosystem rich with designers who practice true product development.

Curious to learn more? Join us at our UX/UI Design Workshop: Bridging The Physical & Digital World event December 7, 2018 7:00 - 9:00 PM. Classes start Jan. 22, 2018 Program details at wyncode.co or email weare@wyncode.co

Gessica Tortolano will be head instructor of  of UX/UI Immersive, an intensive 8-week program at Miami’s Wyncode Academy.

October 24, 2017

Need help? Me, too. A woman's view: 'It is time we support one another and speak up'

 

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By Pilar Guzman Zavala

I consider myself a strong woman. I am the owner and CEO of Half Moon Empanadas. I am also the CEO of my home, where I am helping raise two wonderful children along with my husband and business partner.

Recently I had an interview with a panel of community leaders. The idea of this panel was to understand if I could be really someone who can commit to making a difference in Miami, to leading the way, to helping bridge the gap between the poor and rich. We talked about my experience over these years and their questions took me back to some of the most painful moments of being an entrepreneur. Like the time we suddenly got a notice of eviction, both from the business and our apartment. I left the restaurant to go to my car, sat in there and screamed. Or the time when my first child was born, I remember being at the hospital after the c-section and learning that the checks were bouncing because we did not have enough money in the bank.  I remembered how stressed and scared I was; I vividly remember the pain I felt.  I talked about how in the past two years, we tried really hard to focus on streamlining the operation and created a structure that finally set us in the path of growth, and made us the 2016 Best Concession Overall for Miami Airport. And how proudly we did it.  This also took me back to the many dark places I had been, how much I have fought, how much I had sacrificed to be where I am today, to have what I have today, to be who I am today.

During the interview, they asked me where I thought I could use help personally. I went straight to my entrepreneurial side and spoke about my operational challenges, but the panel pressed on and asked again what help I needed. Nothing else came out. 

I left the interview thinking about all of the things I didn’t say, and should have.  But there was no time to pause or think. This day was like many in my life where the responsibilities of being a mom, wife, business owner, and daughter took over. I had to pick up my kids and take them to a play date that I had promised. I was grateful to have had 20 minutes to speak with my father, which I rarely do because of time, but which I cherish so much. Then there was my Facebook feed full of friends posting #MeToo and me sharing the same two words. It was all so overwhelming.

That day I kept thinking of the question, “How can we help?” I wish I could have said “Of course! Of course, I do need help, I need help in all fronts of my life. I still feel lonely; I still would like to have a woman that I can look up to. I still would like to have another woman entrepreneur to just talk to, and for that someone to understand how I feel. I feel stressed many times. I am afraid I am not doing the right things as a mother. Am I a good example of this “working mom”, or do they need more of me? All of these questions that sometimes, more often than not, cross your mind. I wanted to tell them how hard it is to be this woman, but I couldn’t.

I had a hard time sharing my story during the interview. I talked about the hard times. I almost cried, but I controlled myself. I said that I am a true believer that entrepreneurship is the best equalizer force, that despite all the ups and downs and the sacrifices, that I truly believed my business was helping me make a difference. 

"I want to say that it is possible to have it all, just not all at once. I have learned that the life I chose as working/wife/mom/entrepreneur is about trade-offs, and that perfection doesn’t exist."

This day reminded me how strong I am, and how far I have come. I, ME TOO, struggle, and continue to stand on my two feet, despite it all. I have shared my story and days like this with other women, and I realized how lonely we all feel, and how little help we ask for.  The overwhelming statistics of gender inequality say it all.  I wanted to share this story because I understand that our lives as women, business owners, and mothers is hard.  I want to say that it is possible to have it all, just not all at once. I have learned that the life I chose as working/wife/mom/entrepreneur is about trade-offs, and that perfection doesn’t exist.  I have learned the importance of creating a support system around oneself. I continue to learn to be kind to myself, and to understand that if I take care of myself first, I will be a better at all fronts. And that quality is 10 times better than quantity with my children.

I still have a way to go. I want to be the best kind of mother my kids can have. I continue to dream Half Moon Empanadas will become a national name. I even just started a new business, and I also want to be able to make a difference in my community. I want to continue to work hard, and dream higher. I want it all.

But most of all, I decided that I am OK with being this strong woman who sometimes doesn’t have it all together, and who sometimes needs to reach out for help. I think it is time we all support one another and speak up.

Pilar Guzman Zavala is the owner and CEO of Half Moon Empanadas, based in Miami.  She is a mentor for women entrepreneurs in Miami with the WIN Lab Miami from Babson College and the FIU Startup Food Lab and is a Ricardo Salinas Scholarship recipient for the Aspen Institute and a Young American Leaders Program fellow from Harvard School of Business.

READ MORE ABOUT HALF MOON EMPANADAS IN THE MIAMI HERALD: Passion, perseverance powered empanada maker through tough start 

 

 

October 08, 2017

StartUP FIU: Your chance to change the world

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By Kate Sackman

What do fair trade yoga pants, paying off student loans, and promoting minority businesses have in common? Yep, all of these opportunities, and more, are being addressed by the StartUP FIU Empower Accelerator companies.

An exciting array of startups are in the third cohort of companies now going through the fall 2017 Empower Accelerator on the main campus of Florida International University.  This 14-week intensive program guides early stage companies rapidly through the key analyses and decisions for building a strong company foundation and scaling. Of the eleven companies in Cohort 3, six are FIU-affiliated (students, alumni, and faculty) and five are from the Miami community.  All of the companies at least have a prototype in development and four of them are generating revenue. The industries represented include apparel, food service, finance, ecommerce, supply chain monitoring and digital marketing

Companies in Cohort 3 are working to provide fair incomes and humane treatment of garment workers in Sri Lanka, help people get out from under crushing debt, and reduce fraud at construction sites.  Cool technologies such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things, and predictive analytics are being applied by companies to improve consumer intelligence, make online marketing more fair and efficient, and yes, help you get fit.

Here are the companies in Cohort 3:

Alana Athletica: Alana designs and sells yoga pants made to employ and empower women in Sri Lanka who are abuse survivors.

Aromas del Peru: A successful Peruvian restaurant chain in Miami that plans to franchise nationally.

CoinStash: An automatic savings plan that helps users pay off student and credit card debt by automatically rounding up their purchases to the nearest dollar and applying the difference to their debt.

Ekkobar: A sophisticated application of machine learning, Ekkobar enables companies to analyze their digital media in real time and interact directly with their audience.

Lunchology: A healthy meal delivery service for schools using only fresh, local ingredients.

Major Marketplace: An online marketplace for minority businesses and those who want to support them.

Merkari: A digital marketing company that enables companies to run multi-channel campaigns across any device.

Mettosof: Mettosof makes InstanRate, a SaaS system that expedites customers’ review process and helps business operators analyze customer feedback   to improve their operations.

Origo: A blockchain-based web platform that allows businesses to validate the true identity and fair trade practices of traders in the Americas.

Smart Barrel: Provides rugged, solar-powered IoT products for construction jobsites that enable construction workers to punch in and out without an RFID tag or other device and enables project managers to oversee and plan construction sites more efficiently.

Sodima Solutions: A chatbot company that provides customer management and a lead generation fitness assistant for the Facebook business page of fitness professionals and gyms.

APPLICATIONS OPEN FOR NEXT COHORT

Applications are now open for Cohort 4! Aspiring entrepreneurs from throughout South Florida are invited to apply.  Companies that have a prototype in development and a good understanding of their customers and market are eligible. Preference is for companies with some revenue, but companies at any stage are welcome to apply. You can apply on the StartUP FIU website: http://startup.fiu.edu. Cohort 4 begins in January 2018.

On the website you can also find StartUP FIU workshops, speakers, and other programs for the public. Upcoming workshops by leading experts include A Beginner’s Guide to Crowdfunding (October 5), and Sea Level Rise Mitigation (October 12). 

Kate Sackman is the director of the StartUP FIU Empower Accelerator and a seasoned entrepreneur.  She has a background in finance, marketing, high-tech, and media. She is also a consultant and a professor of Global Social Entrepreneurship at FIU.

 

July 29, 2017

Argentina to Miami, a bridge worth building (Part 7)

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A Q&A with Alejandro Mainetto, Partner of Globant, a multinational company that creates innovative software products for brands, about Globant's footprint in Miami, collaboration and making Miami a living tech lab.

By Natalia Martinez-Kalinina

Miami has a ways to go before we can truly claim the title of regional epicenter, but Argentina has long been recognized as one of the primary entrepreneurial - albeit not particularly stable - ecosystems in Latin America. Figuring out how to support Argentina’s wave of growth and appetite for engagement represents a unique opportunity to add value to the region and truly deliver on our vision as a gateway.

As a first step to test these waters, a group of us came together last year  to co-author a full day of programming within StartupWeekBuenosAires - the largest event of its kind in Latin America-  specifically focused on how to engage with the U.S. ecosystem and market by way of Miami. From the CIC Miami perspective, we have been working to build tangible bridges with Argentina though a handful of partnerships that will be announced in the next few months, in addition to our general softlanding offering. But most recently, a few interested entrepreneurs have come together with the support of the Argentine Consulate in Miami to create a better toolkit for entrepreneurs and small companies looking to come to Miami from their native country. We are still finalizing the framework, but anyone interested in participating or learning more can email EmprendedoresArgMia@gmail.com

Glonbant_0888Given the aligned priorities and interests, it seemed worthwhile to continue featuring  interviews with a varied range of Argentine entrepreneurs and companies making their way to Miami. The first installments of this series have featured interviews with Balloon Group, Wolox, La Comunidad, and Oasis, Juana de Arco, and Socialmetrix. For this installment, we spoke with Alejandro Mainetto (pictured here) to shine a light on a major regional player, Globant, where he is a Partner.

Globant is a powerhouse of a company in Argentina and the region. What was the genesis story for the company? What has been the trajectory of growth these last years?

Globant's history began in 2003, when four friends got together with the idea of creating an multinational company that could provide innovative IT services to brands across the world, while offering challenging career opportunities for IT professionals and talent. In just 12 years they built a company that today has more than 6,000 professionals working for companies like Google, LinkedIn, JWT, EA and Coca Cola, among others. Globant’s story has also been selected as a case study at MIT and Stanford.

What’s next - how do you see the company’s future growth and development?

Globant continues being focused in becoming a global digital thought leader, in creating software that appeals and connects emotionally with millions of consumers. We seek to deliver the optimal blend of engineering, design, and innovation to harness the potential of emerging technologies for our clients. While engineering is central to information technology, only by combining strong engineering capabilities with creativity and agility can we deliver innovative solutions that enhance end-user experiences while meeting our clients’ business needs.

We take a dive into our customers industry, culture, challenges and goals in order to understand their business. The harmonious integration future trends and existing IT, infrastructure, services and applications is a critical enabler of any Digital Transformation process.

The US is currently a big focus of expansion - Globant has recently made four acquisitions in the US in a very short period of time and we continue to increase the number of people we hire in key markets for us such as Seattle, Dallas, Raleigh, Orlando and also Miami. Finally, Globant will also expand and grow by continuing to invest in key emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, Virtual Reality and Blockchain among others. In order to fuel this growth we strive to find the best talent possible - hopefully we'll find that talent coming from places such as South Florida and in particular Miami.

What is Globant’s footprint/engagement with Miami? Why did it choose to come here?

Globant has had a presence in Miami for the last 8 years working with several of the most important corporations in the city and the state of Florida. We are a global leader in advising clients in the travel and hospitality, financial services and healthcare industries - all big industries in Miami - We are currently working with many of the largest leaders in cruise lines, hospitality, entertainment, and software. However, the potential is still very large in terms of the number of companies that we could be helping in the South Florida area. We need to do a better job in getting the Globant brand and our capabilities recognized in the Miami market. We came to Miami because we believed in the city, the clients we could serve, its growing talent and specially its potential and what Miami could become one day.


What kinds of opportunities were you looking for here? What aspects or risks worried you? How have those played out over your time in Miami?

We were looking for opportunities to help companies become true transformational leaders in their own industries, we were looking to gain a presence in a city that could quickly become a tech hub within the US and the tech hub for Latin America, and finally we were also looking to establish a presence in a State which traditionally has been very pro business and easy to do business with.

How do you see Miami today? What works, what surprises you, what frustrates you? How have you found your industry reflected here?

It's a different Miami than the one from 5 years ago. A lot has happened and a lot more will continue to happen. - Places like co-working spaces came, innovation districts like CIC came, conference events like Emerge Americas came, accelerators and incubators came, powerful startups such as Magic Leap came, the money came but most importantly the talent came and the talent stayed.

Miami works because it's like putting together NYC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro all in one. Its weather, its lifestyle, its location - all major pluses, it's a good kept secret, but not for long. What surprises me, is that it still hasn't been able to attract bigger Fortune 500 companies and it hasn't built a new top technology and engineering education institution. The tech, creative and marketing industry which today has converged into a Digital Industry is not yet well represented, which is a huge opportunity for those who are smart enough to settle and lay roots in Miami - The city, the county and the state need to collectively join forces to attract more digital companies, more tech universities and more digital jobs.

What can Miami do better to become a truly value-adding “hub” for the region? (in your industry and in general)

I have written extensively about this and it goes back to five key points:

1) Need for a true coalition of government, corporate, vc, startups, academia and the community led by a set of progressive leaders

2) Need for development of innovation districts and the need for creating concentrated hubs/tech parks of technology and digital companies

3) Build a world class public transportation system and build somewhat affordable housing around these innovation districts

4) Make Miami a Living Tech Lab - Become the Smart City Poster Child, become the Autonomous Self-Driving Capital of the World, etc.

5) Become obsessed about marketing the Miami Tech brand, its value proposition and reward those who take a bet in Miami.

How has it worked to have your company straddling Miami and Buenos Aires (and the US and Latin America overall)? Any lessons or advice for companies exploring similar moves?

It's has worked very well - There is a natural magnetic connection between Latam and Miami - Miami is both aspirational and inspirational. While our company is a global company, we find it hard for anyone to say no when we ask them to come work and spend some time in Miami. However, the key is in committing, betting and investing on it.

The advice I would give companies or entrepreneurs is to commit to Miami, leverage its virtues when hiring talent and finally get deeply involved in the transformation of the city.

Organizations like Endeavor have talked at length about the “Argentine Model,” but Argentina is also a country that has lived through rocky political and economic cycles. Is there something Miami can learn from the Argentine case study?

Miami can learn from Buenos Aires and many other cities in Latin America - From Buenos Aires you can learn about tenacity and hard work, about staying the course even when things may not be going right or you may be living under a not so ideal environment. It can also learn about the perseverance, vision and risk taking ability of the unicorns that Buenos Aires has produced - Globant being one of those. Miami can learn that "Si se Puede" - It's Possible.     

Do you see potential for collaboration and bridge-building between the entrepreneurial ecosystem and the creative economies in Buenos Aires and Miami? Why or why not?

Absolutely - I think, there are ways to formalize the informal collaboration and bridge-building that has been established already but much more can be done. Miami can make Buenos Aires a sister city and offer an immediate presence here to all key Argentinian technology firms. Miami could become the epitome of how easy it can be to do business in the US.  Miami companies should have the ability to penetrate Latin America by easily establishing their Latam HQ's in Buenos Aires. Co-working spaces and innovation districts have an opportunity to collaborate and forge exchange partnerships. The sky is the limit.


Natalia Martinez-Kalinina is the General Manager of CIC Miami and the Founder of Awesome Foundation MIAMI, and co-Founder of Aminta Ventures. If you are an Argentine company looking to expand to Miami or a Miami-based entrepreneur/investor looking to connect with the argentine ecosystem, please reach out to Natalia at martinez@cic.us. Past installments of this series can be found here: Balloon Group, Wolox, La Comunidad, and Oasis, Juana de Arco, and Socialmetrix.

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July 18, 2017

Singularity U's Salim Ismail to be honoree, speaker at Endeavor Miami Gala. Here's what he's been up to in Miami.

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Go big.

That’s the advice an expert on exponential technologies has for the startup ecosystem in Miami.

IsmailSalim Ismail is the founding executive director and now the global ambassador for Silicon Valley’s Singularity University and a board member of XPRIZE, well-known organizations that inspire, educate and fund people and projects trying to solve world-changing problems through technology.

“In Silicon Valley, people think on a global scale. In many other parts of the world, Miami included, people are trying to build a niche product or feature,” said Ismail, the author of “Exponential Organizations.”

Yet Ismail, now a Miami area resident, also said Miami has passion that you don’t find everywhere. “When you can align the natural passion of the residents here with a very big purpose or outcome, there is literally no limit as to what could happen.”

Ismail is being honored with Endeavor Miami’s Impact Award at its fourth annual benefit gala, which will be held Oct. 21 at the Faena Forum in Miami Beach, Endeavor Miami announced. During an address to gala attendees, Ismail will share his vision for entrepreneurship and what emerging technology trends mean for the future. Endeavor Miami is an arm of the global organization that selects, mentors and accelerates high-impact entrepreneurs around the world.

“We choose honorees each year that reflect the characteristics we believe will inspire our entrepreneurs and exemplify the progressive mindset that Endeavor selects in its companies,” said Laura Maydón, managing director of Endeavor Miami. “Salim is a visionary leader whose accomplishments are shaping the future of entrepreneurship and technology.”

Of particular local interest, Ismail is also the co-founder of Fastrack Institute, along with South Floridians Rodrigo Arboleda, an architect who co-founded the global nonprofit One Laptop Per Child and CEO of Fastrack, and Dr. Maurice Ferré, co-founder of Mako Surgical and now is running Insightec and other healthcare-technology ventures. Fastrack, a one-year-old nonprofit developing in Miami, plans to partner with cities that then become launching pads to rapidly build companies that can solve critical urban problems – such as mobility or access to quality healthcare or education, for example – in those cities and then scale those technologies globally.

Because Fastrack teams work through legal, regulatory and safety issues with cities as they are building the companies, “we found with Fastrack we can solve a problem facing a city at about one tenth the current cost, which makes it economically very compelling,” said Ismail, in an interview this week. “What we want to do is make Miami the capital for this kind of thinking ... what an ideal city should look like.”

Fastrack, which counts University of Miami’s Center For Computational Science as a partner, has been running pilot programs in Medellín, Colombia, and now about 20 cities around the world are interested in becoming Fastrack cities, including Miami, he said. One Fastrack problem could be traffic, he said. “Think about it. If we can solve it in Miami then that becomes an export industry that applies to every city in the world.”

Exponential companies, however they are built, need to be information-based because that scales, said Ismail, who also helps established companies quickly incorporate an exponential mindset through his company ExO Works. “Airbnb’s information is enabling people’s extra bedrooms. Ride-sharing is creating more of a liquid workforce,” he explained. Just as importantly, he said, exponential companies also need to have a massive transformative purpose. “It’s not enough to have a great product – it needs to effect meaningful change in the world.”

Ismail believes solar energy will be one of the world’s most powerful exponential technologies.

“Energy has been scarce for the whole of the history of humanity. It is about to become abundant in the next five to seven years and that will radically change the global geopolitics of it,” he said. “The Middle East will be essentially rendered mostly worthless. In Canada, the Keystone Pipeline will be irrelevant before it is even built. The poorest companies in the world are also the sunniest countries in the world; solar will really change the global equation.”

And there are other exponential technologies, including autonomous cars, drones and artificial intelligence, he said. Bitcoin and blockchain-based technology will radically change government services and public services even more so than the private financial sector, he said. Biotech technologies give people the power to edit the human genome, allowing the human body to become a software engineering problem.

Ismail, who was an executive at Yahoo and started companies before joining Singularity in 2008, moved to Miami in 2014 and has led or spoken at several events, including most recently eMerge Americas. “I love it. I am an avid tennis player and I am from India originally so I am like a lizard on the rocks – I love the humidity. I travel a lot and the airport is one of the best connected airports in the world.”

He also loves the natural diversity of the region – the ethnic makeup, the arts, the mix of industries, he said. “Absolutely the biggest success factor for any city is diversity and the richness that comes from it. All great ideas come when you cross disparate domains together.” And it has the power to attract: “It’s fascinating to see the talent that is now arriving in Miami, it really is.”

Calling himself a massive technology optimist, Ismail sees climate change as South Florida’s biggest urban challenge. “Miami has an opportunity to act as a world leader because it is going to be first affected. Whatever solutions come out of here, it will apply to about 60 percent of the global population.”

He calls Endeavor one of the most important and interesting initiatives to ever get created in entrepreneurship.

Endeavor Miami is the first U.S. affiliate of Endeavor Global. Since Endeavor Miami’s 2013 launch, 15 South Florida companies and 24 entrepreneurs have become part of Endeavor’s global network of business leaders, mentors and investors.

Previous IMPACT award recipients include Jessica Goldman Srebnick, CEO of Goldman Properties; Jim McKelvey, co-founder of Square and founder of LaunchCode; and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, co-founder of Gilt and GLAMSQUAD.

The 2017 Endeavor Miami Gala will be held Oct. 21 from 7:30 p.m. to midnight at the Faena Forum. Proceeds from the event directly support Endeavor Miami’s mission. Find more information about the gala here.

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

June 15, 2017

Wanted: 'Fearless, ambitious and extraordinary entrepreneurs' for startupbootcamp Miami

 

By Christian Seale

Today, we are excited to announce the launch of applications for the second cohort of our digital health innovation program, startupbootcamp Miami.

If you share our passion and vision to transform healthcare, we want to meet you. Apply here!

We are a year older and have assembled an even deeper bench of local and national healthcare providers, insurers, pharma companies, industry leaders and top-tier healthcare investors committed to helping you refine and scale your companies.

Boot1Last year our program resulted in multiple implementations, customer contracts and financings for our portfolio companies from the likes of Miami Children’s Health System, University of Miami, Florida Blue, Jackson Health System, Univision and many others (read more here). Local entrepreneur Wolf Shlagman, CEO of CareAngel and founder of Consult-a-Doc (sold to Teladoc and Kleiner Perkins) highlighted: "the program surpassed our expectations and resulted in multiple customer contracts and venture financing. I highly recommend this program to any serious entrepreneur looking to take their healthcare business to the next level."  (pictured here: Rene Lerer, President Florida Blue, discusses healthcare reform with Startupbootcamp entrepreneurs.)

We encourage you to apply and accelerate your business. We are looking for fearless, ambitious and extraordinary entrepreneurs working at the intersection of healthcare and technology with proven and tested models and committed to making our system more equitable, efficient and accessible for all. If chosen to participate, you will receive funding, implementation and contract opportunities, mentorship from our dedicated expert network, office space and a comprehensive suite of portfolio and in-kind services.

We are proud to be part of Miami’s growing entrepreneurial ecosystem recently named the top city in startup activity by the Kauffman Foundation and grateful to be recognized by Inc. for our work to build the city into a globally recognized hub for healthcare innovation.

We invite you to join us and our partners at the Knight Foundation, Miami Children’s Hospital and many others as we build Miami into a globally recognized hub for innovation and together transform the future of healthcare. If you are a healthcare entrepreneur, please reach out and set up a time for virtual office hours.

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@startupbootcamp.com.

 

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Shane Battier, NBA and NCAA Champion, shared leadership lessons with Startupbootcamp entrepreneurs.

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Dr. Maurice Ferre Jr., Co-Founder of Mako Surgical and CEO of Insightec, shares lessons on building and selling a company with Startupbootcamp entrepreneurs.

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A panel discusses the future of digital health in South Florida at Startupbootcamp’s Demo Day. From left: Christian Seale of Startupbootcamp, Jaret Davis of Greenberg Traurig, Elizabeth Lopez of Miami Children’s Health System and Juan Ortiz of Sonas Home Health Care.

Photos provided by startupbootcamp Miami