January 24, 2016

Despite the naysayers, Miami continues to rise

BRACKEENBy Brian Brackeen

I have read a few negative articles lately, and I detect a simmering vibe from the naysayers that our collective work here in Miami is not where it should be. I wholeheartedly reject the idea that Miami’s innovation economy is anything but excellent. World-Class even, and I don’t apologize for it. 

I think there are a few trends that make Miami special:

Culture, homegrown talent and “brain-gain” are in abundance. 

There was an article recently released that said Miami is not a great innovation economy. It mentioned a few criteria, principal of which was the lack of “major, world-ranked institutions that have played a big role in terms of churning out some very, very well-qualified, bright people.” 

Don’t fall for that slight, Miami. It’s elitist and disgusting. The idea that “bright people” only can be found at Harvard, MIT and Stanford is thinking of the past. Two factors work in Miami’s favor here. 

  1. Boston, Philadelphia and other Ivy League cities are seeing an immense amount of brain drain to places like San Francisco, Houston, Dallas and Miami. These older cities are where a few bright people go to learn, however, they tend not to stay. Like LeBron once did, they bring their talents to South Beach. This brain gain to Sunbelt cities will only continue to strengthen our bench of amazing talent. 
  2. There are cultural reasons that some of our most brilliant minds in Miami don’t apply to Harvard, Stanford, Penn, etc… Here, many young people are working and pay bills in the home and help the family AND go to school. I’ve met so many brilliant students at FIU, UM and MDC who could go to school anywhere, but choose to be close to home. That cultural phenomenon does not exist as commonly in other parts of the US, and as such, you can’t judge Miami in the same way you would judge Cincinnati. 

I once spoke to a young brilliant girl who really loved Kairos and wanted to intern for us, however our internships are unpaid. She said, tearfully, “Brian, in my house, we all pay the bills, the electric bill for the family is my responsibility, other family members have other responsibilities.” That young lady, with her Harvard, pedigree, attends school locally, and after her matriculation will probably stay in Miami. I hope to hire her full-time one day. Her story is not uncommon, and the folks who write these articles who rank cities will never understand her, or us. 

Latin America is a source of funding, talent and trade.

One of the keys to San Francisco’s success is its proximity to Asia, its trading partners in Asia, and its immigrants from there. Sound familiar? Like San Francisco, we have all of Central and Latin America moving here, investing here, buying goods and services here, and are great trade partners. That outside influence is one that cities have. Because of our status as the “Capital of Latin America,” Miami companies think bigger, our staffs are more commonly multi-cultural and multi-lingual, and we have networks and partners who are based here that we can leverage to move into new markets abroad. Add to that, folks like Juha and Johanna Mikkola, who emigrated here from Canada. They started Wyncode at the LAB Miami, and now have three sites, employ a number of Miamians, and are churning out coders for our companies left and right. About 7,000 Juhas and Johannas move to Miami a week. Think about that, how can we not win? 

People have forgotten what made Silicon Valley great. 

Stanford University was not a bastion of entrepreneurship and technical excellence when Robert Noyce (founder of Intel) and team left New York to start Fairchild Semi-conductor in the Valley, New York met the very criteria that the naysayers suggest is necessary for tech growth, The New York area has a league of excellent universities, and had anchor organizations like IBM in 1957. San Jose at the time was mostly fruit farms. 

It was the innovative thinking, and some early angel and venture capital investments, that lead Robert and others to found one of the great achievements  of our time. They INVENTED a semi-conductor market and they INVENTED Silicon Valley as we know it. We don’t need anyone’s help, model, or permission. Miami is already seizing the day on our own terms. We are inventing the next generation of great companies and industries right here, in Miami, in our own way and on our own terms. Just like Bob Noyce and crew. The same naysayers are at it again with Miami, and again, they will be proven wrong. 

Let’s not forget the tenants of disruption and exponential growth.

Our growth curve started low, and accelerated in such a way that it seemed impossible. In fact, Salim Ismail of Singularity University (a recent addition to the Miami scene) has taught us about disruption and how the curve is sharp. It’s hard for humans to understand exponential growth. I’d offer that we are seeing exponential growth first-hand. When I first met Wifi and Danny, at the original LAB Miami, it was an 800 square foot space, with a few dreamers like WIllie Avendano working there at handmade pallet desks. Fast forward a few years later, and I’ve lost count of the co-working spaces and LAB is now 10,000 square feet. WeWork is opening five locations in Miami; their 2nd one is 95,000+ square feet and can hold up to 500 companies. From one to 20+ in 3 years is not logical, it’s not rational, it’s disruptive growth. On average, 7,000 people move to Miami a week, as mentioned, and the majority of them have post-secondary degrees. That’s exponential growth. I welcome each one of them. They are part of the story that writers outside of Miami can’t understand, because they are not exponential thinkers. We are. 

Pattern matching does not work, not with people, and not with ecosystems. 

What we have learned as part of this diversity in tech discussion is that we don’t all have to be Mark Zuckerberg to be successful. Same is true for the innovation economy in Miami. We don’t have to look like Silicon Valley and the cities of the past to be bigger and better than them in the future. Miami is certainly in the top 25 innovation cities in the world. I personally believe it’s in the top 5. Let’s embrace that, and scream it from the rooftops. We are not trying to become a great hub of innovation, we are a great hub of innovation, and now we are growing into being #1. No apologies. 

Brian Brackeen is the founder and CEO of Kairos.com, a San Francisco born, but locally raised Human Analytics company. Kairos uses facial recognition and emotion analysis to help its customers better understand humanity. In 2015 Kairos became an Endeavor company and is proudly based in Miami, Florida. 

November 22, 2015

4 takeaways from 500 Startups’ Juan Lopez Salaberry at Startup Grind Miami



500 Startups partner Juan Lopez Salaberry recently was interviewed by Jason Ibarra  as part of the monthly  Startup Grind Miami event. The event was hosted at Building.co, one of Miami's newest co-working centers serving the Miami tech community. Salaberry has been in Miami the past couple of months to help run  500 Startups Miami Distro, a 10-week program on growth marketing for eight selected startups taking place at Building.co. Here is a guest post from the Startup Grind event in November.

By Peter Kovach

From Argentina to Sweden, Mexico and now Miami, Juan Salaberry has seen it all, or a lot of whatever “it” is. Since his youth in Argentina, Juan has always been adventurous and willing to take risks.

He moved to Sweden to finish his university studies and to experience something new. That led him to a wild path that took him on a unexpected journey, allowing him to meet world leaders from around the globe.

Juan later moved to Mexico City and became a partner with 500 startups. He lead investments in over 80 early-stage companies in Latin America, Europe and the United States. For over two years he headed the accelerator for 500 Startups in Mexico City empowering entrepreneurs seeking opportunities in Spanish speaking markets.

Juan is now in charge of 500 startups expansion into the U.S. He is working with a group of startups in Miami. He is helping them identify and maximize on key indicators to help them grow.

Juan is extremely excited about the growth of the Miami tech scene especially in the last two years. More importantly, Juan sees a ton of potential in Miami’s future and he is glad to play a part.


* Mind the Gap - This is Juan’s philosophy. A gap is a disconnect between technology, information, society, economics etc... If we can identify the gap it means we notice something is missing, can be improved or does not exist yet. When we mind the gap we can create a bridge between the disconnect. To mind the gap means you are observant of things that can be changed or built to create a better and more efficient community.

* When Bringing on Partners ... -  When looking to bring people on your team, Juan suggests a trial period. Work on a project together before the person is a permanent member, learn how the other person works and how you work with them. If there is a good vibe, then bring the person on, if not you can separate ways before anything serious happens.

* To Make Miami Stronger, It’s Up to Us - Miami is a very young tech ecosystem. A lot of the major players are still building their reputation and businesses. In order for Miami to continue to grow as a Tech community, we need to collaborate with each other. Whether it is promoting a competitor's event or grabbing coffee with someone who wants to learn about the ecosystem, we need to go the extra mile in building relationships. It is easier to sustain growth with healthy relationships and strong environment. This goes back to Minding the Gap. Be open to allowing others to fill your gaps and do the same for others in the community in return.

* Seize the Day - If an opportunity presents itself, go after it no matter how unsuspecting or challenging it may seem. Juan recalls landing a big meeting after seeing a person of interest go and use the restroom. He didn't think he would have another chance to schedule the meeting , so he went into the bathroom, introduced himself and scheduled a meeting.

It's important to be mindful and aware, because you never know when a golden opportunity will appear.

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 building.co.

NEXT UP: Investor Mark Kingdon will be the featured speaker at Startup Grind Miami Dec. 8. More info: startupgrind.com/miami

November 15, 2015

Endeavor Miami report: 5 industries with strongest entrepreneurial growth potential

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Technology, healthcare, education services, creative industries and food/beverage are entrepreneurial industries that play to Miami’s strengths and appear to have the strongest growth potential in the local innovation economy, a new report by Endeavor Miami finds.

Endeavor Miami, a nonprofit organization that selects, supports and accelerates high-impact entrepreneurs, produced a report in order to get a better reading on where Miami’s entrepreneurial economy may be headed.

“I believe that Miami is beginning to define itself as an entrepreneurial community,” said Endeavor Miami Managing Director Laura Maydón. “Over time, industries with competitive advantages in South Florida versus other ecosystems will be able to attract resources faster and will have a higher impact in the economic development of our community. This report allows us to have a strategic view of where South Florida's entrepreneurial movement is growing.”

Maydón said people sometimes think that entrepreneurship is mostly related to tech but the report shows that there is strong entrepreneurial activity in several industries. The report also shows in what sectors there is an opportunity to innovate and differentiate South Florida, but resources have to be allocated not to miss that opportunity, such as in education, she said.

Here are a few highlights of the report released this week and available on EndeavorMiami.org.

Software rules: The technology industry shows potential as a leading industry for entrepreneurial activity in South Florida because of the strong infrastructure of support services, including eMerge Americas, the Idea Center at Miami Dade College, Venture Hive and Refresh Miami. The best evidence of promise is the investment progress: The software and technology sector was among the most active in South Florida in 2014 in venture funding. Furthermore, software and tech jobs are expected to grow faster than overall employment growth in South Florida — 1.6 percent average annual growth compared to 1.2 percent. In addition, the report found that jobs in this sector are expected to grow from about 36,000 in 2014 to 40,000 in 2022, the report found.

Healthcare has a healthy heartbeat: Success stories, a large mentor network and access to a talent pool are helping to drive substantial progress in entrepreneurship in the healthcare and medical technology sector. Indeed, the sector received the second-highest level of investment in South Florida (and this trend is accelerating in 2015). Growth in the talent pool is expected to accelerate with the number of biomedical engineers expected to grow 5.3 percent annually from 2014 to 2022, while the numbers of mechanical and electrical engineers are expected to grow 1.4 percent, all outpacing the average annual growth rate for all South Florida occupations.

Ginnybakes_2946It’s not only about tech: Food and beverage could sizzle for entrepreneurial activity because the ingredients are already here. Miami has been outperforming the rest of the state in food service earnings growth, while the number of firms and sector employment have also been increasing. There’s a foodie culture here, expertise, a talent base and educational opportunities to augment progress. Still, South Florida entrepreneurial investment in this sector has been sorely lagging, forcing entrepreneurs to go elsewhere for funding, the report said. Notably, three selected Endeavor Miami companies are in this sector: My Ceviche, DeliverLean and ginnybakes (Ginny Simon of ginnybakes pictured here).

Innovation gets creative: Similarly, the creative industries sector is seen as a leading player in entrepreneurial growth because of the infrastructure already in place: a pool of multicultural professionals, a burgeoning art scene and a growing network of TV production facilities, fashion designer icons and renowned art events. Some trending areas entrepreneurs could take a leading role in include solutions for making the supply chain more efficient; data analytics for retailers, brands and suppliers; wearable technology; leveraging video and social media for more consumer interaction; and Internet advertising.

Leading education innovation: Education services have underperformed in earnings, but healthy job growth reflects the potential need for more innovation in the industry. While private investment has been low, public investment in the classroom has been a bright spot and “leaders recognize that education is an important area to innovate in if our community is to flourish,” the report said. Game-based learning, online and hybrid learning, and data-driven learning and assessment are a few of the trends driving innovation in South Florida’s education services sector.

“Endeavor Miami will continue to look for the best high-impact entrepreneurs across industries; that won’t change,” said Maydón. “But the report provides us with guidance of where South Florida is growing and allows us to be more strategic about our sourcing. It also helps me think about what type of mentor capabilities and partners will be needed by our entrepreneurs as they continue to develop themselves within those verticals. The more entrepreneurial activity within one industry, the faster that sector will attract the resources needed to grow.”

Endeavor Miami launched in 2013 with significant funding from the Knight Foundation and Endeavor Miami’s local board; Endeavor Miami was the global nonprofit’s first U.S. program. In the past two years, Endeavor has screened 211 companies. Through an extensive selection process that culminated in judging by international selection panels, 11 companies with 17 entrepreneurs are now Endeavor Entrepreneurs, joining the global network of more than 1,100 entrepreneurs in 25 countries.

Together these 11 companies will generate more than $60 million in revenue and more than 1,200 jobs in 2015, the report said. Forty-nine mentors have donated 781 hours since 2013, and 12 of them sit on Endeavor Miami Entrepreneurs’ advisory boards. In addition to receiving mentorship and introductions, Endeavor companies have participated in or have been supported by programs such as EY’s Growth Navigator, Bain & Company’s “Externship” program, Harvard and Stanford business schools and Kellogg’s executive MBA program.

Endeavor banks on the multiplier effect: These high-growth companies not only generate jobs, but their founders become role models and leaders in the entrepreneurship community, inspiring and mentoring future generations to think big and pursue high-growth entrepreneurship.

Nancy Dahlberg; 305-376-3595; @ndahlberg

Find out more about Endeavor Miami

Read the report, “Impact Report 2015: Insight on Trends in Entrepreneurship in South Florida,” find out more about Endeavor Miami and nominate a deserving entrepreneur for the program at EndeavorMiami.org. Find the report here.

Coming up: Endeavor Gala

Endeavor Miami is holding a gala on Wednesday evening at the New World Center, and all proceeds go to furthering the organization’s mission. Honored with “Impact Awards” will be Jim McKelvey, co-founder of Square and LaunchCode, and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, co-founder of Gilt Group and GLAMSQUAD. Find out more and buy tickets at EndeavorMiami.org.


October 15, 2015

Voices of the community: On challenges, opportunities

  In conjunction with my report marking the progress and challenges of efforts to build a tech hub, I gathered opinions from some of the leaders in the community. This week, I will run a sampling of the views expressed. What's your view? Please feel free to comment on this post or email me at ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Today: What's our biggest challenge in developing a thriving tech/entrepreneurship ecosystem?

"Our young South Florida ecosystem has done a good job in bringing angel/seed financing to the table.  But we still have a big gap in the Seed+/Series A capital stack that needs to be addressed quickly.  Otherwise, many of the promising companies receiving initial funding will not find the funding to sustain themselves as they scale to self-sufficient businesses." - Joanna Schwartz, Earlyshares

"Inclusion. And it's not the traditional cause and effect, but I think investors have a limited scope for deal flow because the circles are very tight. The intellectual capital is here but it's not being equally supported by the financial capital. Food distribution and food deserts are big issues and we have farms in South Florida but yet it seems an outside company has to verify a good idea. Everything great isn't from California. All innovation and tech doesn't conclude with an app." -Michael Hall, Digital Grass

"We need to convince rock stars entrepreneurs to believe on the benefits of the Miami entrepreneurial ecosystem. This will be done by more and better collaboration between all the right parts of the ecosystem and once these entrepreneurs are here and we can link them with the rights partners (universities, investors, mentors, coworking spaces, etc.) the magic happens. I see magic happening in many different startups across Miami and South FL and I’m positive on the fact that we will see more and better local success stories during the following years." - Marco Giberti, angel investor

"The biggest challenge to South Florida is that while there are many amazing, wealthy smart people, there is also a large percentage of bullshitters that waste lots of time talking about doing things and investing money when in fact they have no intention to.   The community needs to continue to police itself to protect entrepreneurs from individuals that lack the experience and capital to help build companies." -Brad Harrison, Scout Ventures

"Florida has everything an entrepreneur could ask for.  The one element across the board that could have a higher velocity of maturity is the number of serious and well funded VC's present in the state.  It would catapult the entire ecosystem." - Rodolfo Sacoman, AdMobilize

"Miami is behind other leading cities in recognizing social entrepreneurship as a vital part of the entrepreneurial system. Many people would embrace socially focused entrepreneurship if they could find local support, resources and capital." - Robert Hacker, entrepreneurship professor and advisor

Technical talent is #1.  We need more companies started by exceptional technical founders.  These will be the companies that build big businesses and change the landscape.  I say this as a non-technical entrepreneur.  I know how important it is. … But I’m really encouraged by the increasing number of people who are coming to Miami to start companies.  People vote with their feet and the increased activities tells me something is definitely happening." - Patrick McKenna, HighRidge Global

"The remaining challenge is talent, but at this point it has become an opportunity.  Out of the success of the entrepreneurial movement these past two years have come initiatives like Wyncode and Launchcode that are preparing coders at a fast rate and placing them in top companies.  I think the next interesting challenge would be to get institutions like Singularity University and MIT Media Lab to set up satellite campuses in Miami. It is institutions like these that can think deep, big and long… this would bring depth to our new city." - Adriana Cisneros, Endeavor Miami

"There needs to be more emphasis on drawing in big name companies, drawing in more early/mid stage venture capital funds, and looking to address the infrastructure challenges that may slow or impact the growth we're seeing." - Brian Breslin, Refresh Miami"

Miami is not only rich in capital but also rich and diverse in culture. Our tech and knowledge economy will be stronger and more successful when a spirit of inclusion is embraced.  More efforts must be made to activate portions of our community that are continually disenfranchised due to socio-economic and racial divides." - Tony Jimenez, Richmond Global

“At the present time, focusing on a single biggest challenge is less helpful that a general call for ‘more.’  We need more access to capital for the better-qualified teams, more entrepreneurial management talent in both the early and expansion stages, more service providers (attorneys, accountants, advisors) who are willing work with talented teams at deeply discounted rates in the early going.  I see all of these elements are in place at the present time, we just need ‘more, more, more’.” - Rhys L Williams, New World Angels "

"The rising cost of rent / real estate and inadequate transit will start to hurt Miami in attracting future talent." - Mario Cruz, Watsco Ventures


September 14, 2015

VIDEO: Jessica Kizorek's series TechVersify to debut Thursday on WPBT2


As billions of people interact with digital technologies every single day, many struggle to balance real life obligations with the increasing demands of constant connectivity. TechVersify, a new online original series from WPBT2/PBS and Two Parrot Productions, premiering on WPBT2’s uVu Network on September 17th, aims to educate viewers in the art of using technology for maximum personal and professional benefit.

Following the debut of the first episode on Sept. 17, a new episode will be released each week on WPBT2’s uVu Network for Community Filmmakers (www.youtube.com/uVuNetwork). Each episode will also be available across WPBT2’s various digital channels and apps, including Apple TV, Roku and Fire TV.

“Miami makes the perfect epicenter for the TechVersify plot because it’s the melting pot of so many diverse perspectives. However, it was equally important to travel outside Miami to cities like Austin, Texas; Tokyo, Japan; and Kathmandu, Nepal,” says Creator/Producer Jessica Kizorek. “Tech is impacting lives everywhere, so we had to put the conversation in a global context.”

TechVersify explores this new landscape by telling stories about the psychological impact of the digital age through diverse human characters. Women, minorities and members of the LGBT community are the stars of the series. The show is hosted by Kizorek with expert analysis from psychiatrist Eva Ritvo, M.D. “TechVersify” illuminates what’s going on inside our brains and how technology can have both good and bad effects on our lives. Rather than being a slave to our gadgets, “TechVersify” postulates, we should aim to leverage technology to make ourselves happier and healthier.

South Florida is home to a celebrated intersection of diversity, technology, entrepreneurship and the arts. The expression of diverse perspectives is part of our community identity,” said Max Duke, VP of Content & Community Partnerships for WPBT2. “We are excited to be working with Jessica Kizorek and Two Parrot Productions to provide a vehicle for that expression, and to explore technology from a completely new perspective.”

Funding for the series, TechVersify, was provided by Gulliver Schools and the Center for Social Change.

- submitted by WPBT 

August 12, 2015

5 key considerations for South Florida startups seeking funding

By Ed Boland

EdSince we opened our Miami office in the fall of 2014, thus becoming the first institutional venture capital firm in the MagicCity, we’ve met with countless South Florida startups and are incredibly encouraged by the activity we see in the ecosystem. There are plenty of driven entrepreneurs as well as helpful organizations such as eMerge Americas, Knight Foundation, Rokk3r Labs, Wyncode and Carve Communications, all of which provide much needed support to the growing landscape. Needless to say, we are thrilled to be a part of this budding ecosystem, and intend to help entrepreneurs reach their potential.

That being said, after talking with many entrepreneurs over the past 10 months, there are some key aspects to raising capital that founders should be mindful of as they set out on the fundraising trail. Keep in mind the following are not ranked in any particular order of importance:

1. Team and Culture: Many founders believe their product is the most important asset, but at Scout, we look first and foremost at the team and the culture of the company in question. We examine the background of the team, and discuss how these contribute to what the entrepreneur and team are specifically working on. We also explore how the team is structured. At Scout, we make sure every team member has a clear job and is well suited to handle it. We also look to see if a founding team has both a technical and non-technical co-founder, as we have found that this often contributes to a successful team dynamic.

 2. Roadmap and Timeline: As investors, we like to know what you’ve built and accomplished since the inception of your business. But at Scout, we are just as interested in what you’re planning on doing next. As an entrepreneur, you should be able to confidently and succinctly discuss items such as: the benchmarks and KPIs that your business needs to hit, your product roadmap, who your key hires will be and when you plan on hiring them. If your company is sales-driven, be able to discuss who your target customer is and the typical sales cycle associated with your business. Understanding the future path to success is even more important than the path you took to get a meeting with an investor. Entrepreneurs should be thinking about revenue milestones, key hires, sales pipeline and the key performance indicators that are going to drive your business to the next level.

3. Product: As an entrepreneur, there are many distractions that you can get caught up in, including fundraising. While it is easy to get lost in the noise, successful entrepreneurs will be able multitask fundraising and building the product and sales pipeline. Of course, fundraising will take a good chunk of your time, but effective leaders delegate efficiently. Thus, we like to see teams who continue to improve their product during the fundraising process. We see that as a positive signal that teams will be able to successfully iterate on their product over the long run, even with the inevitable distractions that a startup will encounter over its life.  

4. Revenue: At Scout we are revenue focused because we aim to build sustainable companies that have a clear path to monetization. Although there are many VC firms that tend to invest in companies that focus on user growth before monetization, we do not subscribe to that mindset. As a result, we ask our entrepreneurs to have realistic revenue models as well as plans to achieve those revenue targets. These plans will not just please your investors, but they will set you up for long-term success, making your life much easier down the road.

5. Reporting: Although reporting can feel like an onerous task, it is a crucial aspect of your business. We’ve found a natural correlation between efficient reporting practices and successful startups. A company report should be sent to investors on a monthly basis and should include metrics such as monthly revenue, cash on hand, monthly burn, and other relevant KPIs. Founders should give these metrics context by describing how the business has evolved over the past month, and by giving any relevant news updates. Finally, founders should outline where they expect the company to be in the next month, and ask investors for any assistance reaching these goals

Hopefully, these tips are helpful to all the entrepreneurs based in Miami.  We’re very excited to be here, and we believe South Florida is on the verge of becoming a household name in the tech-ecosystem. Over the past year, we have seen local entrepreneurs make meaningful strides, and we believe the space will generate strong returns not only for us, but for any investors who are starting to build a thoughtful, strategic allocation to venture capital.

Ed Boland is a principal at Scout Ventures. Follow him on Twitter at @edbolandmia.


August 02, 2015

Q&A with Robert Hacker: On scaling social entrepreneurship, finding partners, thinking big

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Hacker picRobert H. Hacker often advises entrepreneurs to go after the “big opportunity.” The same advice holds true for social ventures, and he’s written a new book on it, Scaling Social Entrepreneurship: Lessons Learned from One Laptop per Child, available in  paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon.

Hacker, who teaches social entrepreneurship courses at FIU’s Honors College and MIT’s Sloan School, spent 3 1/2 years as CFO of One Laptop Per Child, an organization with a mission to provide every child in the developing world with a connected laptop. Big opportunity, scaled globally. How did the organization do it? One key was by successfully creating the worldwide 1:1 computing for children movement early on, Hacker says.

While improved education worldwide and corporations committing a sliver of their profits would go a long way toward solving the world’s biggest humanitarian problems, Hacker says, the for-profit entrepreneurship model is built for scaling social ventures. Just as with entrepreneurship without the “social” modifier, tackling large, worldwide problems is more effective than tackling smaller problems and you can achieve efficiencies of scale.

Final Cover SSEHow big is the opportunity? The population of the developing world will reach 4 billion by start of the 22nd century and the population of the world’s least developed countries will total another 3 billion people –- a nearly three-fold increase from this century, Hacker writes in the book.  In the book that is well-researched and rich in examples, Hacker, who spent 20 years working in Asia and Latin America and is also the author of Billion Dollar Company, explains ways to scale social entrepreneurial ventures in light of their unique challenges such as lower operating returns and less startup capital.

Hacker, who also manages the GH Capital consultancy and writes the Sophisticated Finance blog, talked with the Miami Herald about his views and work in social entrepreneurship.

Q. Why do you think the private sector can do a better job on social problems than government and non-profits?

A. The private sector represents a better option to solve social problems because they have better access to capital and a history of innovating to solve customer problems. However, now customers expect their brands to be genuinely involved in solving social problems. The private sector now finds it to be in their self-interest to solve the problems if they want to maintain their customer loyalty.

Q. Why do you think that the morality (or lack thereof) of capitalism is a theme that never goes away?

A. The question never goes away because the critics make their case better than the capitalists. But as I quote in the book, The Economist estimates that approximately one billion people escaped poverty in the twenty-year period ending in 2010 through the benefits of capitalism. That fact, and the progress it represents, is hard to legitimately challenge.

Q. Who do you think is the best example of social entrepreneurship today?

A. Toms Shoes. Toms Shoes  has successfully grown a company that is committed to both shareholder returns and social engagement at scale. Its recent private equity investment demonstrates that professional investors see no conflict between the social mission and future financial returns. 

Q. What is the key to scaling social entrepreneurship?

 A. The most important key to scaling social entrepreneurship is not capital or partners but rather to plan from the very beginning to achieve scale.

 Social entrepreneurship by definition has lower financial returns, which means such organizations generate less cash internally. Therefore, these organizations have less ability to iterate on business model due to lower cash reserves. They need to execute well right from the beginning, which requires very careful business model development and planning.

Q. What was the key to OLPC's early success?

A. OLPC's early success is attributable to its achieving the status of a movement, a worldwide movement. Nicholas Negroponte created a learning movement for 1:1 computing for children worldwide. While it might appear a daunting task, I would point out that a young girl from Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai was also able to create a worldwide movement. 

Q. What are three takeaways from your book?

A. Choose for-profit status for a social entrepreneurship project because it gives you better access to capital.

Partner with the private sector because they have the resources and can be motivated to support social projects.

Solve one social problem well and let others solve the myriad of other problems.

Q. Where do you see social entrepreneurship in South Florida?

A. Social entrepreneurship is in its infancy in South Florida but also worldwide. Many people are still not familiar with the concept despite the example of Muhammad Yunus of Grameen Bank and the teachings of CK Prahalad who coined the phrase "the fortune at the bottom of the pyramid." However, the Honors College at FIU and the University of Miami Business School have active programs to introduce and facilitate student involvement in social entrepreneurship. These efforts, combined with community support from Knight Foundation, the Center for Social Change and EcoTech Vision to name a few, will increase awareness of social entrepreneurship and generate positive results in the community.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

July 26, 2015

Q&A with Nico Berardi: Connecting startups with investors

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

56 BM Q&A Nico Berardi 0624Accelerated Growth Partners, a Miami-based angel investment group, relaunched a little over a year ago with a couple of key goals: to expand its network of active angel investors to help bridge the funding gap in South Florida and launch investor-education workshops aimed at broadening the pool of investors interested in early-stage ventures.

With funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the organization began meeting and Nico Berardi was chosen to lead the effort, acting as the connector between entrepreneurs and prospective investors. Berardi, AGP’s managing director, is the former U.S. CEO for TECHO, a nonprofit that mobilizes youth volunteers to fight extreme poverty in Latin America. Under his watch, the organization expanded and fund-raising doubled.

In a short time, Berardi’s track record at AGP has been impressive, too.

AGP Miami (agpmiami.com) was not a new organization when Berardi took over, but it had slowed down considerably. The group invites entrepreneurs seeking funding to pitch their businesses, and members can decide individually whether to fund them. Since Berardi took over, membership has quadrupled to more than 80, and more significantly, members have invested in nine South Florida startups. It’s now the largest local angel group.

“We sent out a survey to all our members, and what came across the strongest was the co-investor intellectual horsepower. The group represents so many industries, there is likely someone in the group that knows the particular space. We have seen really good deal flow, and our members are engaged. At each of our pitch meetings, we have had 50-plus of our members show up,” said Berardi.

Berardi meets with roughly 450 startups a year and sends the most qualified startups through the AGP screening process. The screening committee will then decide whether they will present to the AGP membership, typically with one member championing the investment. One startup company, ClassWallet, has been funded twice. The other companies receiving funding in year one of the relaunch were: Everypost, Weebee, Videoo, Blackdove, Stadson, Hair Construction, Waleteros and Nearpod.

“Because we are an up-and-coming ecosystem, a lot of our entrepreneurs don’t understand how to work with investors, and a lot of investors don’t know how to work with entrepreneurs. That is something we can work on,” Berardi said. “The entrepreneurial team brings an entire skillset, and we bring capital and experience. Most of the time, you need both.”

To be sure, startup funding is often cited as a key missing ingredient as Miami works to build up its entrepreneurial ecosystem. While there is plenty of wealth here and family offices proliferate, the money is typically not going into technology plays and local startups.

To help begin to fill that ecosystem need and make sure AGP has a growing roster of active investors to fund more companies, as well as double down on existing investments, Berardi and the Knight Foundation, together with partners such as Northwestern’s "Kellogg School and Greenberg Traurig, launched a series of workshops this year to train potential investors.

“This was an experiment. We said, ‘Let’s start shooting information,’" space="1"” said Berardi. Each of the six educational sessions were themed and led by experts in those areas. The result: standing-room-only workshops. “People were thrilled to get the content. Now we are talking about the second cycle. Is this going to move the needle, and are we going to have 100 new investors? We don’t know yet.”

This summer, Berardi was chosen to join Class 20 of the Kauffman Fellowship, 40 emerging leaders of venture capital and angel investing organizations from around the world that will meet regularly to learn about investing and leading capital ecosystems. The Fellowship’s goal is to develop a worldwide network of innovation investors who provide smart, connected capital to fuel entrepreneurial change, and Berardi is excited about bringing back what he learns to Miami. “The better investors we can be, the better we think we can help our companies,” Berardi said.

The Miami Herald spoke with Berardi recently about AGP’s first year and what is ahead.

Q. AGP relaunched just over a year ago. What were some of the highlights of the year?

A. The highlight was to realize how much a friendly platform to connect entrepreneurs to investors in an efficient way was needed. We made 10 investments into nine companies totaling $1.8 million. Membership stands at over 80 investors.

Q. What will be your metrics for success in year two?

A. Deal flow is king. As long as we keep on finding really interesting companies being built from or moving to Miami, we will continue to be active. We aim to make 8 to 10 investments per year.

Q. Do you think the quality of deal flow will continue?

A. We’re very optimistic because of all the new things coming to town. Existing institutions like the Venture Hive and Endeavor in town continue to do good work, while many others are drawing up plans to open shop. Large conferences like eMerge Americas and SIME bring a lot of attention, which then attracts entrepreneurs and organizations. The large tech firms are also paying attention; Twitter opening its new Brickell office is a key example. Infrastructure is becoming more robust, too — service providers are tailoring their offerings, coding schools are growing, and co-working spaces have proliferated. It is the combination of all these things that make us very optimistic.

Q. What kind of companies do you look for to potentially take to the members, if they make it past the screening process?

A. We have a strong preference to invest in South Florida-based companies. In fact, all nine companies we have invested in have key strategic operations here. From a stage perspective, we look for companies raising between $250,000 and $1.5 million that are in the market already. We usually steer away from beta, prototype, pre-launch companies. In a way, we come in after friends and family and accelerators but before an institutional Series A. Once a company fits within that sweet spot, we look for a combination of really big markets or attractive vertical niches and outstanding management teams.

Q. Tell me about a couple of the companies that got funding?

A. ClassWallet is an exciting company at the intersection of fintech and edtech. Today, in the U.S. alone, there are $23 billion worth of cash transactions that occur in K-12 classrooms every year! With cash, there is no accountability, no transparency and is very time-consuming from an administrative standpoint.

NearPod is also in education. They identified that smart devices took the classroom by storm, and today they represent a learning barrier for teachers to overcome. Their technology empowers teachers to create and deliver content that leverages those same incredible devices. Their platform is bringing the learning experience to the 21st century.

Q. What advice do you have for entrepreneurs seeking investment from AGP?

A. Don’t think about building a fundable company. Focus on one thing and one thing only: building an amazing product that your customers will love. That is what will draw our attention.

Q. Why did AGP launch an angel educational program?

A. The local community of investors has not been exposed to early-stage tech investments enough. Historically, it has been mostly real estate, public securities and a bit of private equity. While we have some of the smartest investors in the world in those areas, they are very different from investors in tech. Our hypothesis was that not many people were investing in tech because they lacked the know-how to do so. The premise then was that by educating the community more, people would get involved by understanding that tech is a great way to diversify your portfolio. We wanted to solve that problem by educating the community to leverage their intellectual horsepower with the financial capabilities.

Q. And how did your first education series go?

A. We honestly did not know what to expect but had two amazing partners that believed in our premise. Having had Kellogg and Greenberg Traurig co-organize the series really helped in having people step off the sidelines. All the speakers were volunteers we got from the community, and most of the success is due to their involvement, so a big shout-out to our speakers.

Q. Do you plan to continue the series or have other plans in the education area?

A. Absolutely. Having heard the feedback from the attendees, we are back at the drawing board for a second cycle starting in the fall. Stay tuned.

Q. What do you hope to bring back from your Kauffman Fellowship experience that is just getting under way?

A. Two things, mainly. The first is technical training. As I mentioned before, tech is very new to our investment community, so having more sophisticated investors will strengthen the ecosystem. The second is being able to plug in the Miami ecosystem to the global VC world.

Funding risk is perhaps the biggest risk Miami-based startups face. It’s a win-win situation if AGP can co-invest with the best VCs at a global level. More entrepreneurs will want to work with AGP because that will increase their chances of success.

Q. From your perspective meeting with so many entrepreneurs every month, how do you think our ecosystem is progressing?

A. There’s a natural hype that comes with a growing, improving ecosystem. That means more companies in quantity but not necessarily in quality. There starts to be a lot of noise coming from “want-a-preneurs.” I take it as a great sign, and we just have to be efficient at cutting to the next cycle.

Q. And, more specifically, the capital ecosystem?

A. Definitely a lot of activity. Some funds have taken the plunge and opened offices locally, while others are peeking in, ever more "aggressively. It’s not uncommon to grab coffee with a visiting VC every other week.

Q. What role do family offices play in all this?

A. Family offices understand there’s something going on that they want to be a part of. Most are not trained in VC and haven’t yet developed a strategy that fits within their broader portfolio. From what we’ve seen, the traditional VC model has not proven very successful when it comes to engaging them. A hybrid model is needed, and it’ll be interesting to see how the story unfolds.

Q. If you could wave a magic wand and add one ingredient to the ecosystem right now, what would it be?

A. I’ll cheat and mention two. One is more accelerators. If you look at developed ecosystems, the main accelerator alone will be working with 150+ companies a year. While the Venture Hive is amazing, we need more companies to go through programs like that. The second ingredient is investors across the board. More angel investors, more seed funds and definitely more VC funds.

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

Nico Berardi

Titles: Managing Director, AGP Miami. Kauffman Fellow.

Age: 26.

Experience: Former U.S. CEO for TECHO, a nonprofit that mobilizes youth volunteers to fight extreme poverty in Latin America, for two years, and before that was TECHO’s director of development for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Honors: Speaker at the Global Economic Symposium, TEDx Miami and the Center for Hemispheric Policy and the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. Participant in the Kellogg Innovation Network, Clinton Global Initiative and the PODER Business Awards. Selected as a Young American Leader by Harvard Business School, Top 100 Innovators of Argentina by BGH, GameChanger by the Miami Chamber of Commerce and showcased at Yahoo! The Innovators series.

Education: Bachelor’s in economics, Universidad Torcuato di Tella, Argentina.

Favorite book: ‘Outliers’ by Malcolm Gladwell.

Best advice received: There are over a thousand variables determining your success. How much effort you put in is the only one you can do anything about.

June 25, 2015

Discussion on 'Miami's tech footprint' attracts a crowd

Techfootprint (2)

When real estate and tech leaders come together to talk about “Miami’s tech footprint,” don’t expect everyone to be in lock-step. But perhaps they all can agree on this: With so much development slated for the Park West section of downtown Miami — including Miami Worldcenter, All Aboard Florida and the Miami Innovation District — tech needs to be in the conversation. And it was.

An audience of mostly business leaders and real estate professionals packed Venture Hive for a lunch-and-learn event on Thursday hosted by Commercial Industrial Association of South Florida.

They heard pitches from two local South Florida companies incubating at the Hive — Referrizer and Snow Lizard — and a keynote speech by Michael Rodriguez, CEO of eMerge Americas. “We are in the middle of the biggest change we have ever seen in our lives,” said Rodriguez, adding while other cities are constrained in their growth, “Miami is expanding at a time when technology is expanding — it’s a perfect fit.”

Ken Krasnow of CBRE in South Florida tried to put it in perspective for the audience. The 20 top tech-oriented office markets in the country created jobs five times faster than the national average between 2009 and 2013, CBRE found in its study. In South Florida last year, 370,000 square feet of new leases and expansions were in the tech sector, more than twice what it was in 2013, while the total in all industries was essentially flat, he said.

“Tech is touching every company now,” said Todd Oretsky, co-founder of Pipeline Workspaces. Locally, Watsco Ventures is doing a great job of investing in and bringing tech into a traditional industry, he said. How do you build a culture to create the big wins? You need a cluster and it takes a little time, he said.

There is incredible talent here, but our challenge is to create long-term businesses that have a heavy IP component to them, said Susan Amat, founder of Venture Hive, which is in talks with 12 cities about being a soft landing place for their startups. She also said Venture Hive is starting young, teaching kids business, design thinking, coding and software, including at camps at five city of Miami parks for lower-income students. “This is part of the long-term strategy to create innovation in South Florida. It’s not a physical place, it is a state of mind,” Amat said. “How do we stop the fluff and build great companies?”

Michael Simkins, developer of the proposed Miami Innovation District, said there are a lot of components to a tech ecosystem, and all are needed, but retaining and attracting the medium to large tech companies is the most important for Miami now because that provides the most jobs. He also said affordable micro-apartments, 250-350 square feet, are a key component: “I see it all coming together,” he said at the event Thursday. Though on the same day, the Miami City Commission dealt the project a blow in the first of two planned votes.


May 16, 2015

An Open Letter to Mayor Carlos Gimenez: A World-Class Community Must Have Open Data Governance

Earlier this week,  59 members of Miami's tech community came together to sign and send an open letter calling on Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez to introduce a robust open data policy for the county. This is the first time that so many of Miami's tech and civic leaders have come together to make a political statement, said Ric Herrero, founder of MIAMade. "This is a matter of great importance if Miami is ever to be taken seriously as a tech hub. New York City, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco and many other 'knowledge economy' cities have embraced open data. Miami-Dade should not be left behind," he said.

Below is the letter, which was crafted by leaders of  Code for Miami, a brigade of volunteers dedicated to improving civic technology throughout Miami-Dade County. Learn more about the future of Open Data in Miami, and see examples of local open data policies and projects in other cities at miamiopendata.org.

May 12, 2015

Dear Mayor Gimenez,

For years your administration has recognized that Miami’s tech community needs support if it is to thrive in the world-wide economy. Last February, you stood on stage before members of the tech community to launch Miami-Dade’s Open Data Portal. By doing so, you helped position the County as a worldwide leader in data-driven governance. Now, the undersigned members of Miami’s tech community ask that you continue your commitment to responsive governance and innovation by adopting an Open Data Policy that governs the maintenance of the County’s Open Data Portal and ensures the reliability of its data.

Since its launch, the County’s Open Data Portal has been an unequivocal success. It has fostered transparency and accountability within the County and has helped local developers to create innovative solutions to a variety of civic challenges. Making county data routinely and freely available to the public means it is also available internally across County agencies, empowering Miami-Dade County employees to more effectively monitor and improve services. Local volunteers have created tools using the County’s Open Data Portal to help Miamians predict flooding patterns, track public transportation services, and streamline the County’s permitting process. New applications are being built every day with public data and with each line of code our community grows stronger. Indeed, the county’s Open Data Portal is a promising start. But with your help, and the implementation of a robust Open Data Policy, Miami can solidify itself as a worldwide destination for technology.

An Open Data Policy would formalize the rules governing the County’s Open Data Portal and would provide needed guidelines on data accessibility and data security. A reliable Open Data Policy would foster innovation by preserving data integrity and ensuring that the County’s Open Data Portal is up-to-date and accurate. It would also provide assurances about the quality of the County’s data to entrepreneurs wishing to start local tech businesses and developers seeking to utilize public data to create high-tech applications that improve civic life. A great example of how an Open Data Policy can trigger entrepreneurism and civic improvement occurred recently in Los Angeles when the municipality entered into an open data partnership with mobile app Waze to help its residents avoid the city’s notorious rush hour traffic.

We appreciate the county’s existing civic technology outreach efforts. The Community Information and Outreach (CIAO) department has led efforts to leverage county data and analytics to improve services and has assisted citizens engaging with county government technology and data. This department has worked hand-in-hand with the civic tech community to develop more accessible, user-friendly solutions to civic challenges through technology. CIAO’s commitment to collaboration demonstrates that they should play a key role in the implementation of an Open Data Policy. We therefore recommend that your office empower CIAO to work directly with county agencies to open their data sets in ways that are responsive to community needs, and to measure CIAO’s success by its ability to demonstrate to agencies how they can procure and deliver services more effectively through the smart leveraging of open data.

We all share a commitment to building a strong civic ecosystem and ensuring that government technology benefits all residents. As members of this community, we will continue developing projects and hosting hackathons, trainings, and meetups to promote government transparency, technological innovation, and civic problem-solving. We’ll collaborate, compete, and share expertise to help Miami-Dade address our most pressing civic challenges. And we’ll train a new generation of Miamians to be civically engaged and to put their considerable skills to work for our community. We invite you, our commissioners and our county staff to join us again this year at Miami’s third annual National Day of Civic Hacking on June 6 at the LAB Miami to work on next steps together and to see this commitment in action.

Throughout your term as mayor, you have been an advocate for Miami-Dade County’s burgeoning tech scene. You have worked for economic opportunity, for transparency, for efficiency, and for accountability. We support these goals and believe that a robust Open Data Policy and your continued commitment to vital technology collaboration between community and government will accelerate our county’s progress toward them.

 Thank you,


Rebekah Monson
  Co-founder, Code for Miami

Ernie Hsiung
  Co-Founder, Code for Miami

Cristina Solana,
  Co-captain, Code for Miami

Tamara Wendt,
  The LAB Miami

Brian Breslin,
  Refresh Miami

Stonly Baptiste,

Felecia Hatcher,
  Code Fever

Wifredo Fernandez,

CREATE Miami at Miami   Dade College

Mariana Rego,


Johanna Mikkola


Wyncode Academy

Matt Mawhinney,


Natalia Martinez,
  Awesome Foundation

Justin Wales,

Emerge Miami

Christopher Sopher,

CEO, Whereby.Us

Matthew Toro

Co-founder, Maptime   Miami

Bruce Pinchbeck,
  Co-founder, Whereby.Us

Kubs Lalchandani

New Leaders Council   Miami,

Lalchandani Simon PL

Alice Horn

Network for Teaching   Entrepreneurship

Bobby Hannat

New Leaders Council   Miami

Binsen J Gonzalez,

Our City Thoughts,   Inc.

Andre Rodriguez

Influence   Communications

Kyler Berry,

Organizer, Front-End   Developers of Miami

Armando Ibarra,

Miami Young   Republicans

Lili Bach,

Miami-Dade Young Dems

Jose L Pimienta,

Front-End Developers   of Miami

Brett Hudson,

Defense Connect Group

Ashley Arostegui,

WMN Miami/Younger   Women’s Task Force

Ana Colls,

WMN Miami/Younger   Women’s Task Force

Nabyl Charania

Co-founder & CEO,   Rokk3r Labs

Juan Cuba,

New Leaders Council   Miami

Carlos E Caceres

Developer, Tow Truck   Alert

Adrian Esquivel,


Greg Bloom,

Open Referral   Initiative

Vitaliy Gnezdilov,


Jonathon Ende

CEO, SeamlessDocs

Chachi Camejo

CTO, SeamlessDocs

David Peraza

Co-Founder, Aecosoft   Corp.

Project Lead,   OpenPermit Initiative

Maykel Martin

Co-Founder, Aecosoft   Corp.

Project Lead,   OpenPermit Initiative

Tyler Gordon

Co-Founder, COO, Agent   Inbox

Alaa Mukahhal

Innovative Operations,   Wyncode Academy

Jose C Fernandez

Developer, JoseWorks,

Teaching Assistant,   Wyncode Academy

Walter Latimer

Wyncode Academy,

Codecademy Labs

Marta Viciedo

Founding Partner,   Urban Impact Lab

Chair, TrAC

Ric Herrero

Founder, MIAMade

Dan Grech

Co-Founder,   Hacks/Hackers Miami

Vice Chair, Dean’s   Advisory Board at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at FIU

Ed Toro

Head Instructor,   Wyncode Academy

Co-Organizer, Miami   Ruby Brigade

Susan Jacobson
  Assistant Professor, Florida International University School of Journalism   & Mass Communication

Mikhaile Solomon

Opa-locka Community   Development Corporation


New Leaders Council   Miami

Mario Cruz

CTO & Founder,   Choose Digital

Nelson Milian

Co-Founder Wynwood   Maker Camp, Mindjoule

Will Weinraub
  CEO & Co-Founder, LiveNinja

Rebecca White
  Vice President, AIGA Miami

Shaun Abrahamson


Nizar Khalife

Lead Instructor,   Ironhack

Vassoula Vasiliou

President AIGA Miami

Juha Mikkola


Wyncode Academy

David James Knight

Internet, IP and   Technology Attorney


A copy of this letter will follow by mail.