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 www.coinspire.org 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.

November 12, 2014

View: Florida’s science/tech ecosystem -- the next frontier is here

By Jerry Haar

HAARLate in September, Bioheart, a South Florida-based biotech company, opened a new facility overseas, the South African Stem Cell Institute and immediately began treating patients with their stem cell therapies for spinal cord injury, diabetes, arthritis, autoimmune disease and more.

As our state and our community very much need to grow knowledge-based industries, the Bioheart news is especially welcome.

Precisely what is the status of life sciences and advanced technology (the non-start-up arena) in the state? What are the challenges and opportunities it faces? What policies and actions are needed to enhance this sector?

The installed base of science and technology institutions in the state is good and dispersed both geographically and by industry sector. Florida is home to world-class biomedical research institutes and more than 1,000 biotech, pharmaceutical, and medical device companies employing over 25,000 professionals. This includes Scripps, Sanford-Burnham, Max Planck Institute, Torrey Pines, VGTI Florida, Draper Laboratory and UM’s Hussman Institute for Human Genomics. Florida ranks third nationwide for pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing, and Florida universities invest over $1.2 billion annually in R&D in the life sciences. That includes all of the research-oriented state universities as well as the University of Miami.

One must mention also the Florida Institute for the Commercialization of Research, which pairs commercially viable discoveries with management and capital. They promote economic development through commercialization and have helped firms such as U.S. Bioplastics, Accelogic, and Garmor.

The principal challenges facing Florida in the life sciences and advanced technology fields are human capital and wage rates. STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) are the future of the state’s economy, with 1-in-5 job postings in those fields; moreover, the top jobs typically pay double Florida’s average wage. Nearly 80 percent of the fastest growing careers are in STEM fields; and half of these jobs do not require a four-year college degree. Unfortunately, continuing poor performance by Florida students on the FCAT, especially in science and math, sends up a red flag to life sciences and tech companies thinking of expanding in the state or coming to the state. Many firms also complain about the preparedness of college graduates they seek to recruit.

The other challenge is wages. Examining comparative costs of life sciences companies vis-à-vis other states, Florida boasts a zero state income tax in the belief that is a game-changer. It is not. Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania all have state income taxes under 6 percent; yet the average wage rate, in biotechnology for example, is in many instances more than double Florida’s.

To strengthen Florida’s science and technology ecosystem, consideration should be given to:

l. Upgrading standards in secondary school and higher education, not watering down the FCAT and not lowering college admission and grading standards.

2. Instituting apprenticeship programs in life sciences and advanced technology, modeled after the Knight Foundation-funded Venture for America and Enstitute.

3. Advocating continuing professional education at all levels.

4. Pursuing cross-county coordination and cooperation to recruit companies.

5. Targeting those life sciences and advanced the fields that can provide the greatest impact to economic development and employment generation.

6. Promoting more vigorous commercialization of university research with strong IP and financial incentives for inventors.

7. Creating a public-private investment capital fund, like Philadelphia.

8. Considering an eMerge Americas in the life sciences, showcasing talent and companies in the state and inviting investors poised to fund them.

Miami-Dade County’s “One Community One Goal” initiative provides a sound road map from which the rest of the state could benefit as well.

The race is on to advance life sciences and technology, and the competition with other states for talent and investment dollars is intensifying. Florida must do much more to remain a contender.

Jerry Haar is a visiting scholar at Harvard and Georgetown universities and a business professor at Florida International University.

Posted: Nov. 12, 2014


October 21, 2014

View: My courtship with Miami


By Austin Rhoads

AustinWhen I told friends and family I was moving to Miami, their initial reaction was:  "You're doing what? You... living in Miami?!" Once over the initial shock, the next natural question they asked was how soon could they come visit.  Before finding an apartment and even stepping foot on the ground, I had already experienced one of the biggest challenges this city faces.

Miami has a reputation for being a wonderful place to visit. A playground for the rich and famous.  A place where the sun always shines, drugs and alcohol flow freely, exotic cars grace the streets, and clothing is optional. People from around the world flock to Miami for vacation.  But who in their right mind would ever want to live there?

As it turns out, I do.

I have only been here for two months, but I can already tell you Miami is a much different place than I ever imagined.  Yes, the stereotypes mentioned above exist.  But they are just that -- oversimplified generalizations.  Consider the following:  I certainly don't own a lime green Lamborghini, my rock-hard beach body is a work in progress at best, and I have yet to hang out with Pitbull on the weekends.

Guess what?  There are hundreds of thousands of other Miamians like me who don't fit the stereotypes.  From institutions like the Knight Foundation and the Miami Foundation to entrepreneurs at the LAB and cycling activists in Emerge Miami, there are people in this city who care deeply about making it a better place.  I'm not talking about people who say they care and then run off to their next rah-rah speaking engagement.  I'm talking about people who are sacrificing their personal lives (and in some instances their careers) to pour their hearts, time, and money into the future of this city.                

I just graduated college and am, as Elite Daily so "eloquently" puts it, an idealistic twenty-something.  I may be overly naive and inexperienced, but I see tremendous potential in this city.

Each year when college graduates frantically decide where to begin their new lives, why shouldn't Miami be at the top of their list?  Instead of waiting until retirement to figure out S. Florida has some of the best weather and opportunities in the world, why not reap the benefits now?  Does it really make sense to run off to NYC and join a saturated, highly competitive market when you have a city like Miami that is ripe for change and young talent?

Millions of people both young and old visit Miami each year.  Instead of merely visiting, let's get them to stay.

Let’s get them to stay and become engaged in this community we call home.

Austin Rhoads graduated from Elon University in North Carolina in May and moved to Miami through the Venture For America entrepreneurship program.  He currently works for Vero Water in South Beach where he focuses on a variety of functions from sales to operations to business development.  Follow him on Twitter @austinrhoads.


October 11, 2014

Voices of the tech community – Part 5: And about the money…

Tech eggAs part of a look back -- and look ahead -- at community-wide efforts to build or accelerate a technology-entrepreneurial  ecosystem in South Florida, I asked a sampling of entrepreneurs, investors and service providers for their views with a variety of questions. We've put a sampling on this blog throughout the week. This is the last installment.

Find the main stories in the tech hub series here: fundraising and progress/challengesSee Part 1 herePart 2 here,  Part 3 here and Part 4. Find the entire series easily under the Tech Hub Series category of this blog. 

 What's your view? Add your comment on this post, email me at ndahlberg@miamiherald.com or tweet me @ndahlberg. Thank your for reading.

Today's questions:

As an investor, how would you describe the quality of deals you are seeing in South Florida?

"The deal are getting better in quality but we still need to see more companies. It's a numbers game and we need to increase the size of the funnel to increase the number of successful companies coming out of South Florida." - Ed Boland, Scout Ventures

"Improving with confidence and organization, such as the newly launched AGP, where I sense palpable excitement." - Peter Kellner, Richmond Global, Endeavor

 “Without doubt I am seeing a larger and better deals out flowing, driven by the emergence of the number of accelerators and incubators during the last 12-24 months.  The quality and preparation of the entrepreneur teams is also unequivocally superior.  However, I am still not seeing deals that seem to ‘jump the curve’ in uniqueness and potential.” - Ricardo Weisz, NorthVest, Miami Innovation Fund

Deal quality has been extremely high over the past two years.  We are seeing (1) technologies and products that address real and often novel market needs, (2) more complete management teams with deeper domain expertise, (3) realistic expectations from founders regarding their venture's intrinsic valuation and acceptance of the deal terms which investors require in order to make an attractive risk-adjusted return." - Rhys Williams, New World Angels

If you have raised funds, have the sources been local or elsewhere?

"SportsManias has been able to raise funds locally with ideal investors whom not only have provided the resources needed, but completely understand our vision. Jorge Mas of Mas Equity Partners is the ultimate sports fan that is precisely whom our app and website is designed for, therefore, he gives us important feedback as an end user, as well as, providing us the investment and network needed to continue to grow exponentially." - Aymara Del Aguila, SportsManias

"We were fortunate to have worked in our industry for over a decade before launching our business and initially raised funds from a friend who knew of our background. Eighteen months later, one of our new customers, which is based in Broward county, loved our solution so much they initiated a conversation that's leading to us closing a round of funding on Oct 1st. - Marlon Williams, Fenero

 How would you characterize the fund-raising environment here?

"Very poor. Investors do not pull the trigger fast enough and only a couple are truly doing early stage. B2B startups can have revenue early but B2C startups have a very hard time getting revenue until after a launch and sometimes months of customer acquisition, which is a prerequisite for most investors here." - Susan Amat

"Unhealthy for entrepreneurs. Slim pickings, low evaluations, and lacking in network reach critical for future fundraising needs." - Stonly Baptiste, Urban.Us

"The fund raising environment is slim to none in South Florida. It is dominated by a small handful of organizations which all seem to be part of each other. Makes it tough for entrepreneurs to get the best deal in their fund-raising activity. We raised a small pre-seed locally, but had to find sources outside of the market for my next round, which came from an angel in New York." - Darren Atinsky, WedWu
"On the seed level, it's thriving. There is a lot of new angel activity. However, it's still difficult for startups to make the jump from seed level rounds to a proper Series A or B round locally. Most entrepreneurs here are still going to have to go out West or to the Northeast to get those kind of deals done." - Will Weinraub, LiveNinja 

What will it take to develop a stronger investor network here?

"Money follows talent. We need to incubate companies at the earliest stages and allow talent, drive and opportunity to thrive," Jeff Brown, Palm Beach Angels

"Investors network with other investors constantly. For investors here or from out-of-state, we need draws to bring them together – things like eMerge and the Forum’s Capital Conferences, and other networking opportunities. There is a tremendous amount of money in Florida that doesn’t get deployed in early or venture-stage companies – often referred to as “money behind the palm trees” – but that is changing thanks to initiatives like the Forum’s that educate investors on becoming angels, and South Florida’s own EarlyShares that provides a platform for investors to find and invest in growing companies." - Kevin Burgoyne, Florida Venture Forum

 "Education, success cases of local entrepreneurs and investors from other cities coming to Miami are helping to develop a stronger investor network here. Talent attracts capital too. There are many local leaders that are supporting younger entrepreneurs which is critical for the ecosystem. In the same spirit, at Endeavor Miami we believe that a key to success is the example and commitment that a few local high-impact entrepreneurs dedicate to their local community - by supporting others as mentors and/or eventually as investors." – Laura Maydon, Endeavor Miami

We need leaders and role models in our investor community. We need more investors like Mark Kingdon, highly connected individuals who are experienced investors and tech entrepreneurs themselves.” – Carlos Garcia, Nobox

"Continued examples of success, greater connectivity and easier ways to plug in to the community we are continuing to build, and telling our story well. We've seen more and more opportunities for investors to learn more and connect around successful startups through initiatives like Endeavor, Accelerated Growth Partners, Florida Institute for Commercialization of Public Research angel investor seminars, and Enterprise Development Corporation. As a result, the momentum is growing." - Matt Haggman, Knight Foundation

If you could add one ingredient to the South Florida entrepreneurial ecosystem right now, what would it be? 

"Liquidity. The more exits that our market experiences, the more smart-money that'll be on the table. Excellent entrepreneurs tend to fund excellent entrepreneurs. The council of folks who have been through the journey and can relate empathetically is extremely valuable. A confluence of both will lead to a more robust ecosystem." Richard Lent, Thesis Ventures

Leadership, growth and mentorship are all vital to the tech scene in South Florida.  However, more important are the cutting-edge technologies that leverage Miami’s unique Latin American footprint.  We should focus on leveraging our strengths and seek to innovatively remedy issues that affect the Latin American market.  With the recent Apple Pay news, the mobile payments industry is on the forefront of technology growth. At YellowPepper, we’re harnessing similar mobile technology that has historically had its sights set on the U.S. market, and enabling its use for a growing middle class across the region. We want to see more of this taking place in our Miami backyard and are eager to help fuel future innovation.” -   Serge Elkiner, YellowPepper

"A BIG Google office!  A mega billion dollar exit!  Seriously, though, we could use more developer entrepreneurs." - Mark Kingdon, angel investor

In building an ecosystem, in what area has the most progress been made in the last year?

Exposure.  Thanks to the national and international efforts of eMerge Americas, the Knight Foundation and some far reaching programs such as Venture Hive, Miami is becoming known for its pioneering and entrepreneurial community.” – Mike Tomas, Bioheart

"South Florida’s technology community has grown beyond the plethora of great ideas; we have built a support system, providing entrepreneurs with the tools, resources, talent and funding that are needed to turn their ideas into viable products.  In parallel, top talent from the corporate world is joining the community. At Rokk3r Labs, we are gaining leaders and entrepreneurs from this pool, providing the tech hub with a wealth of knowledge and experience to help co-build amazing companies. Attracting more talent and investors to the community will be key for the upcoming year to help continue the development momentum." - Nabyl Charania, Rokk3r Labs 

"Organizations have been doing a great job of bringing in individuals and institutions that have brought technology to the forefront of Miami's political and business communities.  Many conferences have taken place, educational institutions have taken notice, and the local community has expressed interest in taking part in the tech movement.  Unfortunately, the low income communities are still being left behind and out of the conversation." - Derick Pearson, Code Fever

If it takes a village to raise a child I believe it takes a city to raise a startup. Diverse new players​ have come in the ecosystem in the last year (eMerge conference, Scout Ventures, MaverixLab, the "new" AGP, Wyncode, Thesis Ventures, Code for America, the Microsoft Innovation Center at the Venture Hive to name a few) creating ​a higher "density” of people who can be there at the right time and ​at the right place to connect startups with money, experience, knowledge and services.” - Ivan Rapin Smith, Idealy

 Posted Oct. 11, 2014

October 09, 2014

Voices of the tech community: Part 4

Tech eggAs part of a look back -- and look ahead -- at community-wide efforts to build or accelerate a technology-entrepreneurial  ecosystem in South Florida, I asked a sampling of entrepreneurs, investors and service providers for their views with a variety of questions. We'll put a sampling on this blog throughout the week.

Find the main stories here: fundraising and progress/challengesSee Part 1 herePart 2 here and Part 3 here.

 What's your view? Add your comment on this post or email me at ndahlberg@miamiherald.com. What's next: fund-raising. 

Today's questions:

Have you been able to find the talent you need locally?

Although Miami has not yet been recognized as a city that is tech-savvy, SportsManias has found amazing tech talent in our hometown. Our team includes a group of expert programmers that have built and maintained our website, as well as, our mobile app that is consistently rated 5-stars, validating the quality of content and functionality.” - Aymara Del Aguila, SportsManias

Finding talent is really no longer an issue.  Technology startups should be virtual, and hire the best talent wherever you can find it.  We are on 4 continents. “ Brian Garr, LinguaSys 

As we began recruiting our developer team we looked to tech hubs like Silicon Valley, New York and Boston thinking those individuals would be tough to find here. Fortunately (and to our surprise) we found incredibly skilled people right here in Miami. Our team is mostly local which brought with it the added value of having team members who have been working to build this ecosystem for some time and know the history but are also passionate about its future.” – Johanna Mikkola, Wyncode 

Absolutely! South Florida is a net-exporter of top talent – we keep sending our best and brightest off and need to do a better job of making sure that people – such as the leadership, professors and students at our area universities – know about the opportunities right here at home.” – Dan Cane, Modernizing Medicine

We have an amazing team and building this team was probably the biggest challenge we overcame.  I stuck with it and kept recruiting locally. I think people underestimate the talent in this area. But the truth is, you just have to keep looking and you'll find your perfect team." –Adam Boalt, LiveAnswer

Absolutely. Contrary to popular belief, there’s a huge and impressive talent pool here. My entire team – development, marketing, sales – was recruited from the local workforce and previously, as Managing Director of Silver Hill Financial, I grew a team to several hundred in South Florida. I’m proud of that, and I think the human capital in the region is only going to get better in years to come.” Joanna Schwartz, EarlyShares

We have had great success finding talent here as well as bringing talent here. We live in a truly global city that people want to move to from all over the world. Our Head of Design is moving here from London next month, a world class talent, and I'd dare to say that he feels blessed to have the opportunity to live and work in Miami.” – Brian Brackeen, Kairos  

 “So far, so good but I’ve been fortunate to work with Rokk3r Labs.  It’s definitely a challenge to convince US based development talent to move to Miami.” – Brad Liff, Fitting Room Social

Yes, but we had to import most of our top-engineering talent. In some cases we had to invest in getting them visas. If you are serious about building a tech company in South Florida you have to be willing to travel a lot and recruit talent outside of our community.” – Carlos Garcia, Nobox

"We are location agnostic for talent.  Since our raise, we now have 28 employees and have opened offices in London, Bogota, Tel Aviv, Washington.  Nowadays, collaboration tools make it possible to cross boundaries to achieve challenging milestones." - Rodolfo Saccoman, AdMobilize

In your view, what is the biggest challenge South Florida faces in developing a tech hub and what will it take to overcome that challenge?

"One of our greatest challenges is the disconnect between talent and opportunity. There is great talent here, but it is not as visible as it needs to be to fuel mobility. When talking to startups, tech talent doesn't seem to be a grave concern, but managerial talent that understands the dynamics of a startup is difficult to find. It isn't as simple as plucking a successful manager from a leading local corporation. As they say, startups are not smaller versions of corporations. Furthermore,  our graduates across institutions are facing a market that is not as clear in determining a long-term career path, hence why equipping them with an entrepreneurial skill set and mindset is key to their survival in a "gig economy." –Wifredo Fernandez, Idea Center @ MDC

"There is a tendency to continually assess Miami, to define its weak spots or seek validation from elsewhere. Don’t. Instead, just build. We’ve seen lots of success by entrepreneurs in Miami who identify an opportunity and pursue it. We’re seeing success comes from doing, not assessing or defining. We should stay focused on that." - Matt Haggman, Knight Foundation 

 "Early stage investor capital is by far the largest issue but a more subtle challenge (that is tough to fix in the short term) is our lack of a large tech job “safety net” for entrepreneurs to fall back on if their startup plans get derailed.  ...   While in SFL we have great universities graduating very strong business students, engineers and scientists, our corporate community – both small and large firms – is still relatively thin;   particularly compared to the other US regions where tech startups are flourishing in larger numbers.    And despite what I believe are some huge advantages for employers in South Florida, to fix this corporate density issue, we need to continue to focus on the core high level factors – quality of our public schools (so companies will more easily decide to relocate or add S FL branches), continued enhancements in transportation infrastructure, business tax incentives, labor training incentives, R&D tax credits, etc."  –Rob Strandberg, Enterprise Development Corp.  

"The biggest challenge is the misalignment, in fact disconnect, between what technology companies are seeking and what our universities are supplying. Tech firms complain our workforce is not up to par, while our graduates complain there are not enough tech companies here to employ them. The failure of the state of Florida to adequately fund university research and commercialization in STEM (compared to North Carolina, Texas. California, Massachusetts and New York) impedes tech hub development." –Jerry Haar, FIU College of Business

"A lot have been done in the ecosystem to develop a tech hub in Miami including top tech events such as SIME and eMerge, the opening of Endeavor office, WeXchange.com to promote women entrepreneurship and  amazing co-working and innovation centers such as  The Lab Miami and Venture Hive. 
Areas of opportunity: 
  • The VC and angel ecosystem can be  further developed and expanded. There is a lot of money in Miami, coming from Latam that it is not invested in tech startups mainly because they don't know how to do it .  
  • A more organized network of mentors can be greatly beneficial for entrepreneurs. 
  • It will also be nice to have more support and programas that foster and drive women entrepreneurship." - Silvina Moschini, Yandiki.com

I'd say that it's the false perceptions that many people have of the scene. I've heard lots of notable people in the industry discount South Florida for it's lack of success stories, but all that tells me is that they haven't been paying close enough attention. There have been a ton of success stories here." - Will Weinraub, LiveNinja 



"Outside of South Florida, changing the perception of Miami is still an ongoing challenge. Until we see serious exits, solid growth and long-term sustainability of the ecosystem, shedding the "South Beach image" could take some time." - Brett Hudson, Axis Space

 If you could add one ingredient to the entrepreneurial ecosystem, what would it be?

"Significant, organized involvement from experienced, well-known investors.  Boulder has Techstars and the Foundry Group, Vegas has Tony Hsieh's group, and San Francisco has countless Sand Hill types. South Florida needs an experienced group that mentors and cultivates founders and deploys strategic investment tactics.    -- Kubs Lalchandani, Lalchandani Simon PL

"I would like to increase visibility into the growth and talent of our community. One of the ways we could do this is by taking some of the best representatives of our local tech scene to present and showcase as a collective at events like SXSW, TechCrunch Disrupt, Collision Conf and demonstrating the level of talent and growth through our strength in numbers. We have startups doing really innovative things like LiveNinja and Kairos, budding funds like Urban.Us and educational organizations like Refresh Miami, The LAB Miami and Wyncode that deserve more attention and recognition. Many have no idea there is a growing community here in South Florida and it's time we made some noise. We may not be Silicon Alley, Silicon Beach, Boulder or Austin, but even those startup cities started somewhere. It's about creating awareness both home and away." - Pabla Ayala, pFunk Media

"A centralized, coordinated communications effort to get the message out to the local community and to the world that South Florida has strong technology that is getting better." - Bob Nagro, Next Horizon Communications
Formal small groups of entrepreneurs/CEOs/Founders willing to share their mistakes, lessons learned. “ Jose Li, 71 Lbs.
"More accelerators to come like 500Startups, NXTP Labs and others that can complete the rising ecosystem and attract more investors interested to invest in an excellent place to make business, pretty close to Latam and with great connections to all US." - Fernando Cuscuela, Everypost
"Harness more talent. We need a swell of brilliant people working on crazy ideas." –Stonly Baptiste, Urban.Us

 Posted Oct. 9, 2014

October 08, 2014

Voices of the tech community: Part 3

As part of a look back -- and look ahead -- at community-wide efforts to build or accelerate a technology-entrepreneurial  ecosystem in South Florida, I asked a sampling of entrepreneurs, investors and service providers for their views with a variety of questions. I’ll put a sampling on this blog throughout the week.

Find the main stories here: fundraising and progress/challengesSee Part 1 here  and Part 2 here.

 In coming days I will include comments on talent, fund-raising, progress, challenges and more. What's your view? Add your comment on this post or email me at ndahlberg@miamiherald.com. 

Today's questions:

Have you been able to find the talent you need locally?

Techegg"In most cases, the answer is yes.  In building and growing .CO, most of our talent was recruited by attending local tech events, tapping into entrepreneurship programs in South Florida colleges, and through referrals by friends and colleagues.  Whether looking to hire a developer or bring an intern on board for the summer, we’ve been able to attract some incredible local talent for sure.  In some cases, it has been a bit more challenging to find local talent.  The good news is that, when necessary, we have also been able to use the allure of life in Miami to inspire people to relocate to our sunny shores!” - Lori Anne Wardi, CO

“Absolutely, we have had success finding talent across South Florida. We have done this in large part due to our work with local universities as well as building a strong culture of innovation that attracts some of the best and brightest in the area. People are CareCloud’s number one asset.” – Albert Santalo, CareCloud

“I have held leadership roles in technology for the past decade and have built a solid network of talented technologists who are ready to work. The key to finding the tech talent needed for your business in South Florida is in growing your network - you'll rarely find talented resources willing to jump ship without having a previous relationship. We simply do not have enough nerds here to make this the norm.” – Marlon Williams, Fenero

 “Finding good talent has been very challenging.  The current talent pool is overloaded with people who have hospitality and real estate backgrounds.  It was very difficult for us to source top talent for what we were looking for.  However, we did find good quality people after making use of referral and personal networks.” – Umut Tekin, Park Jockey

“Finding great talent is only half the battle and talent is only as good as the time leadership commits to coaching. We've been fortunate enough to find talent both locally and in other states and it comes down to some basic principles: raw talent, commitment to learning quickly, and grit. That combination seems to be difficult to find anywhere.” – Frankie Coletto, PassTheNotes 

“For Shiver Entertainment, we are always on the look-out for great software engineers and digital artists to create amazing video games.  Finding them locally has been the most challenging issue for us.  While we have been able to find a few great digital artists within the local area (mostly Broward County), we have only found one local software engineer who can meet our qualifications.  We have some very large local colleges (FIU, Miami Dade, UM) that produce many computer science graduates who are ready for web and enterprise software development.  Unfortunately, they aren’t graduating with the skills necessary to jump into video game development or lower-level application development – even at an entry level.  As such, we’ve had to recruit from other universities around the nation and “import” our talent, which is very time consuming, costly and difficult.” – John Schappert, Shiver Entertainment

 In your view, what is a big challenge South Florida faces in developing a tech hub and what will it take to overcome that challenge?

"I believe the biggest challenge is reaching a nationally recognized “critical mass” of scalable,tech-oriented deal flow.   In the short term, we need to craft a better story about the plethora of existing benefits for attracting and retaining Miami-based tech start-ups (for instance, an active and growing angel network, less competition for the emerging tech spotlight, the eMerge Americas Conference, increasing college graduates in tech, an emerging entrepreneurship support system, a critical mass of LA headquarters of Fortune 500 companies, Miami International Airport, Port of Miami, a network of Free Trade Zones, economic strength in key real estate and tourism growth sectors, a fascinating and magnetic international culture, a banking and transshipment center, low taxes, a world class entertainment and arts mecca and great weather.) – John Hall, Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses

“South Florida is a significant tech hub – certainly for Latin America and the Caribbean, and increasingly for the rest of the US – and we need to start from that premise. All of the necessary pieces – pro-business culture and regulatory landscape, talent, capital, academic and research institutions, entrepreneurial culture, and start-up support infrastructure – are present, growing, and in some cases, thriving. Our challenge is to continue the momentum and maintain our focus on raising the tide, rather than any one boat.” - Kevin Burgoyne, Florida Venture Forum 

“Convincing the rest of the US that there is actually a vibrant tech scene here in Miami and they should invest in it, and participate in it.” – Mario Cruz, Choose Digital


"Developing a permanent and competitive technology hub requires many factors to develop over time. While we need increased funding for viable ventures, we also need to continue pushing on the course we have set to connect our schools and universities with our technology industry, so the students are learning what they need to know to contribute to and create new technology ventures locally, as well as to showcase the growing technology opportunities available for these students to stay in South Florida. As this initiative gains more and more traction, we will not develop more home-grown technology ventures, but we will also experience an increased relocation of technology ventures to our region, which in turn will attract more funding opportunities for South Florida technology ventures." – Kevin Levy, Gunster

"The demand for creative digital content (gaming, apps, wearable tech, user interface) is growing at a staggering pace. A new non-profit called Americas Council for the Creative Economy is emerging under the leadership of Diane Sanchez to make Miami the world's top city when it comes to attracting, training, and retaining young people to produce the artistic digital user experiences of the future. Miami is a city of the future, and to become "Silicon Beach" we aspire towards we must focus on melding: 1) Art Basel 2) Our burgeoning tech corridor 3) The Latin America connection and 4) Flexible 1099 freelance business models of the future." - Jessica Kizorek, Two Parrot Productions

“In order to achieve the hyper-growth expected by venture investors, entrepreneurs need to keep their hiring standards high. I believe that much of the talent is already here and the rest will be recruited or home-grown as Miami continues to brand itself as a start-up hub. What’s been missing is the visibility into the local talent. The creation and collaborative nature of the Talent Development Network is a good start.” – Melissa Krinzman, Krillion Ventures

If you could add one ingredient to the entrepreneurial ecosystem, what would it be?

“I would have the Beacon Council focus their efforts on bringing VC's here to open offices.” –Brian Brackeen, Kairos 

“Encouraging people to think local and test, test, test. Big ideas start small and develop through teamwork and feedback. I guess my one ingredient would be ‘curiosity.’ “ - Rob Davis, Code for Fort Lauderdale

Persistence and attention span. We have to keep people engaged for the long run. We are on a 10 year mission, not a 10 month one.” --Adriana Cisneros, Cisneros Group, Endeavor Miami

 “Silicon Valley investors.” –Brian Garr, LinguaSys

“More women! We still fall short in bridging the gap between women and the localtech/entrepreneurial ecosystem.” Fabiola Fleuranvil, Blueprint Creative, Beacon Council New Leaders Taskforce

Posted: Oct. 8, 2014 


October 06, 2014

Voices of the tech community: Part 2

Tech eggAs part of a look back -- and look ahead -- at community-wide efforts to build or accelerate a technology-entrepreneurial  ecosystem in South Florida, I asked a sampling of entrepreneurs, investors and service providers for their views with a variety of questions. I’ll put a sampling on this blog throughout the week.

Find the main stories here: fundraising and progress/challengesSee Part 1 here.

 In coming days I will include comments on talent, fund-raising, progress, challenges and more. What's your view? Add your comment on this post or email me at ndahlberg@miamiherald.com. 

Today's questions:

What will it take to develop a stronger investor network here?

"As leaders within Miami’s technology ecosystem, it’s important that we come together and focus on the strengths of the community to help showcase to investors the growth and potential that is coming out of our region. There is a solid base here, and it’s a matter of us going out and telling this story to investors and influencers, allowing them to experience the benefits, especially those seeking to tap Latin America’s expanding technology market.' - Nabyl Charania, Rokk3r Labs

"More good companies. The more startup founders focus on building businesses that create real value with solid metrics, the more investors will come. At the end of the day, investors want to see returns and invest in scalable startups that generate revenue in a large enough market. ​In my opinion, this could mean going less for 'cool & sexy' consumer startups and more for b2b startups that provide real value for businesses in a very specific market and charging for a portion of the value generated. Good examples are Modernizing Medicine, Carecloud, Everypost, Kipu, Choose Digital and Learner Nation to name a few." - Ivan Rapin Smith, Idealy

"Miami needs 3-5 venture capital firms that do A and B rounds to bridge the funding gap between local angel and seed investors and the later money available from the major markets such as New York and Atlanta." – Robert Hacker, GH Capital

"More deals and more high net worth individuals and families making venture a part of thier overall investment portfolio." - Ed Boland, Scout Ventures

If you could add one ingredient to the entrepreneurial ecosystem right now, what would it be? 

"I think the city should embrace the tech commununity and create an online space that helps foster this growth by showcasing local tech startups and connect these companies to potential job candidates that are looking to relocate to Miami. Minneapolis has a great site, MinneADpolis.com, where they promote the advertising community by featuring their work and bios of firms across the city. It would be great to have the city of Miami promote the local tech community." - Adam Boalt, LiveAnswer 

"We need to ensure greater inclusion of opportunities for disenfranchised and impoverished communities.  They purchase goods and services as well and deserve opportunities to reach their fullest potential and to build wealth." - Marlon Hill, delancyhill

"Cooperation and collaboration between tech organizations, the education community, and the tech ecosystem to establish a common set of goals and measure the effectiveness and progress.  There are many initiatives and much excitement in South Florida.  Let's take it to the next level." – Lenny Chesal, Host.net, SFTA 

"A prestigious accelerator program associated with Techstars or Y Combinator." - Darren Atinsky, WedWu  

"Strong public sector support and engagement at the state, regional and local level. We need targeted investments to transition our economy to a knowledge economy and take advantage of the corporate base that we have in Miami that is actively supporting Miami as a Tech Hub." - Diane Sanchez, Americas Council for the Creative Economy 

"I would love to see more tech leaders and startup entrepreneurs from other parts of the country and world visiting us and speaking at events. This benefits us not only through their thought leadership, education, and contacts, but also because they become our best ambassadors when they return home and talk about South Florida's tech scene. - Alex de Carvalho, FIU Knight Innovator in Residence

"Although funding is always on top of every entrepreneur's mind, in every interview we have conducted via Our City Thoughts and even from my personal experience, meaningful mentoring is the most important piece missing. Meaningful mentoring equates to smart navigation for a startup, is what I think will help this ecosystem blossom." – Binsen Gonzalez, Our City Thoughts  

"I wish there was more around building a solid business vs just the 'start up hype.' I'm concerned that with one downturn in the market, the startup landscape could change significantly and quickly. There is a lot of talk of raising funds, building apps and exits but less around solid business practices." – Eric Dosal, BrightGauge 

"A major operations center for one of the world's most important technology companies. That kind of a move would elevate our global profile as a technology hub, help stimulate hundreds of employment opportunities, attract other companies to make a similar move, and increase the economic impact of the technology sector in Miami all at the same time." -Manny Medina, eMerge Americas, Medina Capital

 "We REALLY need more coders." - Jeff Brown, Palm Beach Angels

Posted Oct. 6. 2014 



October 05, 2014

Nurturing an entrepreneurial ecosystem: Voices of the tech community

TechhubimageAs part of a look back -- and look ahead -- at community-wide efforts to build or accelerate a technology-entrepreneurial  ecosystem in South Florida, I asked a sampling of entrepreneurs, investors and service providers for their views with a variety of questions. I’ll put a sampling on this blog all week.

Find the main stories here: fundraising and progress/challenges

In coming days I will include comments on talent, fund-raising, progress, challenges and more. What's your view? Add your comment on this post or email me at ndahlberg@miamiherald.com. 

Today: If you could add one ingredient to the ecosystem right now, what would it be?

“1,000 rockstar developers. Seriously, we need a lot more tech talent here in S. Florida. I think the local mayors should give first class tickets for the world’s best CTO’s to come here for Art Basel. Once they experience what the rest of us know (and why we love it here) they will never leave.” - Barry Stamos, Videoo

“Investors with backgrounds in tech and B2B / Development - there are maybe 1-2 here locally but that's changing for the better.” - Michael McCord, LearnerNation

“It all starts with promising entrepreneurs who have great ideas and can execute on them.  When they emerge, the money follows, the developers gravitate to the companies, quality executives get hired, and successful companies grow.  Great cities know that they have to attract and retain extraordinary people and companies, making their presence a big deal, working hard to make them happy.  We have to do that because everyone benefits from their success.  The rest will follow.” - Philippe Houdard, Pipeline Brickell

“I think if we saw one or more world-class technology companies in the South Florida area have significant impact in a specific industry, it would spur innovation in other sectors. I think a great example of this is salesforce.com. They took on much larger incumbents in their industry, had a successful IPO, hired leading talent that has gone on tostart companies and drive innovation in other industries – we need that to drive our technology ecosystem and South Florida.” - Albert Santalo, CareCloud

“I would add two ingredients: more funding and more positive energy. There’s a vision of the future that some of our leaders see and others may just be opening up to. Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez shares the vision and is committed to growing this industry. We have all theessential elements, the infrastructure, the universities and the innovators. The Beacon Council is ready to tell the world our story and to provide the groundwork to build a global innovation ecosystem.” - Larry K. Williams, Beacon Council

“A couple of VC funds who are more South Florida centric and signing Series A+ checks. I think that these sort of investors will allow us to keep growth companies in Miami instead of losing those companies going to places like NY or Silicon Valley.” - Marco Giberti, AGP

“A unified message.  The rest of the world understands the important part Miami plays in the world economy. Most of the US does not. Miami needs to be focused on explaining to other US cities what makes us integral to the flow of capital, talent, and information. That leads to mutually beneficial partnerships.” - Richard Schuchts, UM Life Science and Technology Park

“More diversity.” - Derick Pearson, Code Fever

“I would add a dash of optimism and a hint of evangelism. Ok, that’s two ingredients – but we first need to truly believe that we can become a tech hub, and then we need to tell the world.” - Dan Cane, Modernizing Medicine

“The one ingredient I would add to our ecosystem would be a coherent communications strategy, so that every great tech company in the region that succeeds can count on being known far and wide so that their successes help raise the game for all those still here trying to make it.” - Will Silverman, The Launch Pad at UM, Accredify

“A centralized resource hub to help anyone with entrepreneurial interest in South Florida navigate the entire tech eco-system.” - Andrew Quarrie, Jurnid

“High-caliber technical talent - we need to get computer engineering students to intern and apprentice under world-class technical people so they understand the difference between theory and practice in a high-growth global play.” - Susan Amat, Venture Hive

“A top-down road map that includes the allocation of financial resources, educational partnerships, knowledge sharing and facilities to increase the number of women and blacks in technology entrepreneurship.” - Christine Johnson, DiversiTech

“On a global scale, technology has become crucial to address the biggest social and environmental problems by, for example, leveraging solutions across the base of the pyramid (i.e. mobile based solutions, access to education through online platforms). It would be incredible to see in Miami all these newborn ventures considering the triple-bottom line and making a stronger push on social innovation. It wouldn’t be about creating technology for the sake of it, or even for the profit, it would be about addressing a need, creating a solution, and changing a pattern." - Maria Escorcia, Ashoka Miami

“Bring the cruise industry to the table.  Can you make the introduction to Micky Arison?” - Ricardo Weisz, NorthVest, Miami Innovation Fund

 “I’d like to see one story per week on the Starting Gate announcing a $1mm or higher funding round for a Miami-based company from a Miami-based lead investor.  Does that count as one ingredient?” - Bradley Liff, Fitting Room Social

 “Smart money: Miami needs successful people to commit their time to help companies strike deals, manage legal work, secure funds, offer advice, help companies overcome obstacles and accelerate their growth.” - Cory Hoffart, Hair Construction

Tune in each day this week for more responses on this topic and others. What's your view?