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 ( 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 /

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 /

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 ( 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

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.

April 30, 2015

All eyes on Miami as the next global tech frontier

By Javier Avino

Javier AvinoAll eyes will be on Miami as more than 10,000 entrepreneurs descend on our city to take part in the global tech conference, eMerge Americas, beginning this weekend.  Now in its second year, it is a stark reminder of Miami’s continued maturation as a global city – one that is no longer simply a place where the affluent come to play – but rather a true urban metropolis where real money is being put to work in the form of new business ventures, new development and new ideas.

Rather than look to compete with more established cities like New York and San Francisco, Miami is leveraging its proximity to Latin America, relatively low barrier to entry, influx of young millennials and thriving urban core to set itself apart for startups looking to break into global markets.  

Miami's diverse culture and close proximity to Latin American has always been a major draw for Latin American entrepreneurs.  With a market that is still virtually untapped, Miami is positioned to be the hub of Latin America.   Creating the ecosystem for Miami as a major tech hub requires not only the entrepreneurs, but also a place for them to connect and foster relationships.  For those entrepreneurs to stay and grow their businesses we need to have accelerators and incubators in place.  And we also need links to a vigorous network of available capital funds. 

In the last 18 months, Miami has established and cemented many of the key components critical to creating a healthy tech ecosystem.  These include the formation of collaborative workspaces such as Pipeline; entrepreneurship incubators such as Endeavor Miami and Venture Hive; and venture capital firms such as Richmond Global, XP Securities and Scout Ventures that have relocated and expanded into Miami to tap into our growing technology sector.

These venture capital firms and hedge funds see Miami for its potential as much as for its existing opportunities.  While Miami's tech scene continues to warm up, it benefits from being far less competitive than Silicon Valley and other major tech hubs.  This lower barrier of entry is a major draw for those firms looking to expand to the next major market.  In addition, Miami has many high-net-worth individuals who want to invest and diversify their investments.  Up until now, many of these individuals have not had the opportunity to invest locally in these funds but with new ideas have come new opportunities. In fact, according to VentureSource, venture capital investment in Miami companies jumped more than 260% from 2010 to 2013.

With the right ecosystem in place, the sky is really the limit for what Miami as a promising tech hub.  We have only seen a small glimpse of what is in store and can expect the next few years to be marked by sustained progression as the public and private sectors continue placing high priority on expanding and diversifying Miami’s economy in this regard.  While Miami will likely always be known for its surf, sand and sun, it will also grow in relevance as a global hub for technology, innovation and investment.

Javier Avino is a partner at Miami-based Bilzin Sumberg.


February 24, 2015

Rokk3r Labs, journalist Lilia Luciano launch Coinspire, a video series with groundbreaking entrepreneurs


Rokk3r Labs and journalist Lilia Luciano officially announce the launch of Coinspire, a thought-leadership video series uncovering insights of groundbreaking entrepreneurs. Coinspire challenges the concepts of failure, self, risk, business, reality, success, and achievement through intimate interviews with some of today’s more innovative minds.

For the premiere of Coinspire, Lilia Luciano has conducted in-depth interviews with leaders from the entrepreneurial community:

 * Alexandra W. Wilson @AWilkisWilson - Founder, Gilt

* Benzion Aboud @benzionaboud - Founder, Saveology

* Chris Dannen @chrisdannen - Editor, Fast Company

* Gary Mahieu - Serial Tech Entrepreneur

* Jeremy Office - Principal, Maclendon

* John Stuart @jstuartFIUMBUS - Director, CARTA FIU

* Juan Carlos Ortiz @juancarlosortiz - CEO, DDB Latina 

* Juan Pablo Cappello @cappelloJp - Founder of private advising group

* Laura Maydon @limaydon - CEO, Endeavor Miami

* Rodolfo Saccoman @RodolfoSaccoman - Founder, AdMobilize

The interviews are presented both in full, demonstrating the continuity of thought and questioning involved, and segmented by topics, empowering viewers to explore their interests. Rokk3r Labs Chief Strategy and Creative Officer German Montoya says, “We are in an era where it is common to see the upstart entrepreneur disrupting the unsuspecting traditional business. We hope that with Coinspire, we can collectively catalyze this global movement to accelerate even faster.”

Visit for free access to the entire video series.

Lilia Luciano, an accomplished journalist, documentary film director, will serve as host and creative director of Coinspire in partnership with Rokk3r Labs. She is currently directing a feature documentary for HBO and has worked as a national correspondent for NBC News. Rokk3r Labs launches companies through its comprehensive cobuilding approach, with its specialized team of engineers, creatives and strategists.

Posted Feb. 24, 2015 

December 31, 2014

Raise a glass as we look ahead to 2015 in South Florida tech

I don’t know about you, but I get tired of all the “stories of the year” that proliferate like cat videos around this time. But a certain amount of look-back is necessary to look ahead and this has been one interesting year in South Florida tech and entrepreneurship.

I looked back on my end of the year column for 2013 where I pointed out green shoots in the areas of mentorship, visibility, funding, the maker movement and youth education. Green shoots in all those areas are thriving and some have become healthy branches. For example, new resources for mentorship and acceleration now include, to name a few, Miami Dade College’s Idea Center, Florida Atlantic University Tech Runway, the Microsoft Innovation Center at Venture Hive and Endeavor Miami. In funding, beyond Magic Leap’s phenomenal raise, five or six new early-stage funds are now calling South Florida home and others are in the works, as efforts continue on many fronts to move a sliver of South Florida’s significant wealth into startups and early-stage companies.

So what are this year’s green shoots that could grow stronger in 2015? Let me know your thoughts – I see many, but here are a just a couple.

Corporate involvement: While the Knight Foundation kick-started and now is continuing to fuel the current South Florida tech hub movement with more than 90 investments, it’s notable that we are starting to see much more corporate involvement. A few examples: Goldman Sachs funded the well-regarded 10,000 Small Businesses program, and made a $5 million investment into the program at Miami Dade College that is about to begin its fourth cohort and open to the community. Beyond the significant check, Goldman Sachs executives take part in the curriculum and mentoring. Microsoft chose to locate its first Microsoft Innovation Center in the U.S. at Miami’s Venture Hive and has already held 50 events and workshops for the community there, including office hours for mentoring. Citi used Miami as a launching pad for its Global Citi Mobile Challenge, and in December it launched a meetup series on Fintech in Miami. Dan Sachar of Highnote Foundry is exploring the role of corporations in the startup culture at an upcoming breakfast event.

Supported by the Knight Foundation, the new LaunchCode, a St. Louis nonprofit that expanded to Miami this month, is all about corporate involvement as it matches tech talent with companies. In fact, if all corporations that hire IT workers are not involved the model doesn’t really work, says Jim McKelvey, co-founder of Square who founded the nonprofit. In a few short weeks, LaunchCode has already signed on 21 companies, said Mariana Rego, who is running LaunchCode’s Miami operation.

One region: Who could forget the Internet firestorm over Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine’s tech-hub comments that opened the year? He was talking quite literally about the role of the city of Miami Beach, but it sounded as if he was talking about the region. The mayor said he learned a lesson about communication (and also quickly got to know Rokk3r Labs ... and has become a strong supporter of the movement) but perhaps there is even a greater lesson here as the area efforts to brand itself a technology hub: We are a tri-county region with each area taking part. (And although the phrasing inevitably pops up in out-of-town media, we are not “Silicon Beach” or even worse, "the next Silicon Valley," "the Silicon Valley of the East Coast" or any other variation -- there is only one Silicon Valley). For proof that a significant amount of our early-stage action happens in and around Boca Raton, look no further than the “Startup Spotlights,” “Early Stage Companies” and “Funding” categories on Starting Gate (and the quarterly venture capital recaps).

The counties to the north are home to success stories such as Citrix and fast-growing companies like Modernizing Medicine. Events such as ITPalooza in December, with 2,000 attending at Nova Southeastern, or the Gold Coast Venture Capital Association’s Meet the Angels event in August that drew more than 500 to Boca, seem to underscore a thriving tech and entrepreneurial scene. It’s also notable that Miami mega-event eMerge Americas went out of its way to make its inaugural conference a tri-county event, and that will be evident this year also, its organizers say. We are stronger together.

These are just a few trends I am seeing, and to be sure challenges remain. Yet, on the education front, South Florida saw a mini-explosion of coding school options come onto the scene. And two very recent encounters made me feel particularly good about the future, as they point to the power of early education.

The Miami Herald runs an annual charitable project called the Wish Book. My story was about Nathan Hagood, a talented teen in all things tech at North Miami Beach Senior High who needed help with college expenses. After the story ran, FIU offered a scholarship to the teen. “After the holiday, we’ll arrange for him to come over and see what we’re doing. I certainly hope he’ll choose to come to FIU and Honors,” said Lesley Northup, dean of FIU’s Honors College who extended the offer. While Nathan is applying for scholarships at various schools in and out of South Florida, it is great to see a local university step up to try to keep home-grown talent here.

And recently I wrote about the entrepreneurial journey of the co-founders of the cyber-security firm Guarded Networks, which after a couple of sales and name changes became part of SilverSky and then most recently BAE in a $232.5 million acquisition. I focused on the story of the original CEO who stayed with the company through all the transitions. But one of the other co-founders, Brian Otte, reached out to me after the piece ran. In a nice way, he conveyed that the journey as I told it missed a key point: the power of education.

Otte moved to the U.S. when he was 8 and said he is a proud product of the Miami-Dade County Public School System. Otte, now the director and head of sales at ProfitStars, who graduated from Florida State University and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School, told me: “As I have traveled in my career, I am taken aback at the negative perception the rest of the country seems to have on our school system as a whole. Frankly, I think it prepared me not just scholastically but from a social perspective as well. I got the opportunity to grow up in a melting pot and was blessed with great teachers along the way who motivated me to excel. ... In my case, I owe my journey to them.”

Happy New Year, dear readers,  and cheers to more success stories in 2015.

Nancy Dahlberg

 Posted: Dec. 31, 2014

December 18, 2014

Entrepreneur, Wantrepreneur: Big difference

By @MarioCruz

MariocruzThis month’s phenomenal Sime MIA has allowed us to meet like-minded entrepreneurs and champions for the Miami tech scene, while getting great content and inspiration from an amazing lineup brought together by Demian Bellumio. During one of the talks, Susan Amat, a friend and respected Entrepreneur in our community, had this to say, "You don't build a company by going to events or just networking; you build it by sitting down and working ridiculous hours."

Lately, in Miami's tech scene, I've noticed lots of Wantrepreneurs, people who like the idea of successful entrepreneurship but do not exactly have the right mindset, perspective, discipline or direction to pursue it. These Wantrepreneurs do not want to risk their cushy jobs but want in on the growing Miami startup economy. They want to be a broker of ideas and network with all the past successful entrepreneurs, but they do not understand that ideas and networking are not what makes a real entrepreneur.

Successful entrepreneurs require mental toughness with the combination of a creative idea and a superior capacity for execution. In the process of execution, they are taking risk and offering a product customers love. They are also setting quantifiable goals about the product idea, measuring the results from the ideas and feedback from customers, and then they “Rinse and Repeat.” Today, product marketing, sales, pounding the pavement and other non-technical risks are actually causing more failures than technical risks.  

 The question that plagues these Wantrepreneurs is "job lock." Each one of them wants a sustainable income with benefits and time to build the perfect product – a product for which there may not be a market. Wantrepreneurs fear validating their ideas with paying customers and are afraid of approaching potential clients who may not be willing to pay for the product. An even greater fear is that the customers might find the product or idea to be a failure before any funding any is received.

 The primary benefit in building a minimum viable product (MVP) is entrepreneurs do not have to quit their jobs to have paying customers tell them exactly what problems are being experienced. Savvy entrepreneurs are able to start building out ideas and solutions to those problems, allowing validation of the idea before spending excessive time networking or looking for cash to quit their jobs.

After validation of an idea, even successful entrepreneurs can find it extremely difficult to be passionate about it, convincing investors and teammates to join, while simultaneously remaining skeptical enough to test and continuously validate the idea. But by going down this path successful entrepreneurs don’t just take risks, they manage them.

Miami is now a real viable tech market, and I believe Wantrepreneurs are actually a byproduct of our success. They just need to move beyond being imitators by making strides towards becoming innovators, and not continually wasting time and resources by hustling vague ideas like “It’s an Uber for Slack with AirBnB functionality.”

Real Miami entrepreneurs are creatives who are continuing to bring innovation to market in education, security, mobile payments, the unbanked, beacons, rewards programs, music tech and marketing as well as other new ideas, strategies and products. These risk takers have fresh ideas that can continue to transform the Miami tech scene by creating new jobs and opportunities in Miami.  In a year where Miami has seen its best year yet with over a billion dollars raised or in acquisitions, we are ripe for an even bigger 2015, but only if the Wantrepreneurs stop just networking and start working their tail off, chasing ideas and the American dream of being a Real Entrepreneur.

Mario Cruz is CTO of Wynwood-based Choose Digital, owned by Viggle.