June 08, 2016

In building an innovation economy in Miami, look to the arts for proven model of success

Wallcast

By Olga Granda-Scott

OlgaAs an early adopter of many early initiatives in Miami’s startup scene, I’ve enjoyed several years of conversations surrounding the hows and whys of investing in a technology-enabled entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Most recently, I turned my focus to the intersection of that entrepreneurial community and the arts. What I’ve observed are the essential building blocks the arts industry has employed in creating a community which now boasts a monumental economic impact while establishing a global brand.

I believe Miami’s arts scene is a true case study for the “innovation economy.” Here’s why:

P3s. Before it was a trendy acronym, private-public partnerships were laying the groundwork for the creative powerhouse that is Miami today. From the contribution of public lands to cultural organizations to cemented affiliations with public institutions of higher education (The Wolfsonian-FIU, MDC’s Miami International Film Festival, etc), these partnerships have given each side of the relationship opportunities to maximize their scalability and impact. These are cases in which the sum is exponentially greater than the parts.

Training. To name a few, a single decade saw the creation of: the New World Symphony, New World School of the Arts, Miami City Ballet, Design and Architecture High School, YoungArts, ArtCenter South Florida, Miami Light Project, Bakehouse Art Complex, and the Rhythm Foundation.

All of these institutions, some public, some private, were founded with aspirations to achieve artistic excellence at national and international levels and have sought to develop artists and audiences, from children thru post-graduates. Alumni are now making strides at home and abroad, pointing to Miami as their seminal reference.

Financial resources. From government grant programs to private foundations, aspiring artists and potential founders know there are annual funding opportunities from a few hundred dollars into the millions. Locally, the County’s Department of Cultural Affairs, the Knight Foundation, and the Miami Foundation are exemplary entities who have led this charge with boundless ambition and sustainable results.

Want $1,000 to try out a quirky idea? Apply for a micro-grant from the Awesome Foundation. Need $5,000 to host a choreographic festival? Solicit for a grant from the Funding Arts Network. Dream of $250,000 to launch a seaside artists’ residency? Pitch 150 words during the Knight Arts Challenge.

Everyone has a place to start exploring and seek the financial resources to get off the ground -- and know those public and private supporters will be there for continued capitalization if a successful product and experience is being delivered.  Much of that funding doesn’t come with strings attached, permitting a level of self-driven independent creativity that is equally essential for success.

Millions of dollars have been pumped into the local arts industry establishing schools, residencies, companies, work spaces, museums and cultural facilities -- all because the arts transform communities. The arts transform neighborhoods. The arts transform lives.

Now read that paragraph again, replacing the word “arts” with the word “technology.”

If we want to have global stature in technology as we do in the arts, we already have a proven model for success.

Olga Granda-Scott is a Cuban-American entrepreneur, raised in Miami. Olga co-founded TheHighBoy.com, an online marketplace for antiques and art to help other mom-and-pop shop owners compete in the digital world. After having secured a 7-figure investment round and winning the Miami Herald's Business Plan Challenge in 2015, Olga chose to pursue a new venture aimed at combining her experience in the arts and business with her passion for social impact. A believer in public-private partnerships, she is currently the Executive Director of the Coconut Grove Playhouse Foundation, whose mission is to expedite the restoration of the historic site as a world-class cultural and civic anchor. Follow her on Twitter @GrandaScott.

June 05, 2016

Q&A with EcoTech Visions’ Pandwe Gibson: Going green from ground up

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EcoTech Visions team, from left: Tamara Wendt, director of sales and manufacturing, Pandwe Gibson, CEO, executive director and Justin Knight, director of marketing, at their new facility, 670 NW 113th St. in Miami, for green manufacturing companies that is still under construction. PEDRO PORTAL 

 

When Pandwe Gibson set out to build EcoTech Visions, an incubator for green manufacturing businesses, she had no team, no funding and no space. Three years ago it was only a big vision that lived on her iPad, which she shared with anyone she could get to listen.

What was the vision? EcoTech would help “ecopreneurs” in its incubator launch and grow, including connecting them with grants and other resources. EcoTech would also hold programming such as coding courses, green internship programs and fellowships to help prepare the workforce in underserved communities to transition from blue collar to “green collar” jobs.

Gibson wasted no time bringing her big idea to life.

By the end of 2014, and after knocking on many doors and winning initial Miami-Dade County and Community Redevelopment Agency funding, Gibson moved EcoTech into its first location, a small space west of Interstate 95 with communal office space and a community garden, and with a handful of incubator companies she had already begun working with. Although the building had no space for manufacturing, a key goal of Gibson’s, it served as a minimal viable product. A few months later, EcoTech secured some additional office and classroom space in another Liberty City building, which allowed the company to expand its programming. The EcoTech team began forming, and EcoTech began attracting more green companies.

Last month, EcoTech Visions began partially moving into its new Miami headquarters space it leased to own at 670 NW 113th St., in the newly designated “green corridor.” Upon buildout, plans call for the building to provide 24,000 to 25,000 square feet of multilevel co-working space, offices, event space, maker space and manufacturing facilities. EcoTech will also use its Liberty City space during buildout.

Today, 26 companies are members of EcoTech (ecotechvisions.com), and the EcoTech team now numbers seven.

EcoTech Visions recently announced the launch of Digital Citizen, a technology boot camp that aims to provide real-world technology programs and entrepreneurship training to local underserved communities, funded by $200,000 from the Knight Foundation. The first cohort will begin June 20 and will run for eight weeks in the evenings at D.A. Dorsey Technical College in Liberty City. Applications for the boot camp are being accepted at etvfoundation.org/digitalcitizen.

“This program is desperately needed not only to fill the tech staffing gap but also to combat the economic hardships and growing income gap in inner-city Miami,” Gibson, CEO "of EcoTech, said in announcing the launch and funding. “We all succeed when the best and most diverse solutions are brought to the table.”

Since its founding, EcoTech has created 15 new jobs and more than 300 students graduated from EcoTech Visions workshops and certification programs, Gibson said. It has secured $10,000 start"up prototyping grants for nine incubator companies and assisted in securing seed loans for three of its ecopreneurs, Gibson said. It was named 2016 Entrepreneur of the Year by the Beacon Council, among other honors.

By the end of the year, Gibson hopes to see buildout of its headquarters get under way and be completed in one year. Plans include an urban vertical garden across the entire front of the warehouse-style building, space for creating prototypes and light manufacturing as well as co-working and a rooftop cafe.

Appropriately, the building is planned to be entirely powered by solar energy.

“Our goal is to have a net-zero-energy building,” said Tamara Wendt, EcoTech’s director of sales and manufacturing, explaining that there is currently only one other much smaller net-zero building in Miami. “Presently, we have on-site office space and will be holding events here. We expect to have our injection-molding equipment installed by early July and will move into production, warehousing and fulfillment.”

The Miami Herald toured the new EcoTech location last month and sat down with Pandwe Gibson to discuss EcoTech Visions and what’s ahead for the company.

Q: What’s your mission for EcoTech?

A: Our mission is to create opportunities for businesses to grow and to bring green manufacturing jobs to Miami.

Q: What does success look like to you?

A: In the next two years, to have at least five breakout companies. That sounds very ambitious, doesn’t it? But we already have some companies pursuing multimillion-dollar contracts, and when we start seeing the production actually occurring from here, that is very exciting.

The first year [in this building], we will be in massive construction, but we are starting with injection molding and I think we can make a lot of progress in the beginning with that one vertical. We provide the equipment, and there are a lot of businesses that have different molds and prototypes we can help. We plan to have two different machines.

Q: How are you funding all this?

A: We have private funding and public funding. We just completed a seed round of half a million dollars. We have public funding from Miami-Dade County and the CRA totaling about half a million and are pursuing more grants from the county. We recently found out we received a grant from the Knight Foundation. It’s a combination.

Q: Is EcoTech a for-profit or a nonprofit?

A: We have two arms. The for-profit is the maker space, the physical space that you are in, and the services associated with the production equipment. … The nonprofit really focuses on helping to facilitate training, the programs we administer.

Some of those programs are coding education boot camps and a green manufacturing internship program. These programs help prepare the community and workforce for careers in green manufacturing.

Q: Tell me about a few of your incubator companies.

A: Geeks Global is an internet services provider and sustainability-focused technology consultant. Darrell Russell and his team help greenify businesses by using technology like LED lighting, windmill-powered Wi-Fi towers and other innovations. Make The Homeless Smile Miami is an organization started and led by powerhouse community activist Valencia Gunder. They transition homeless Miami residents off the streets and into self-sustained lives. HBCNS LLC, run by Dawn Davis, is a distributor of water-based, biodegradable, protective coatings including the nation’s only non-slip coating. It’s main product is called Strong Seal. (All three entrepreneurs are pictured below with Gibson)

Earthware, led by Michael Caballero, is a producer of compostable cutlery, cups and containers for a better world. The company is committed to the restoration and preservation of our planet by replacing landfill-destined products with 100 percent compostable, tree-free products.

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Q: What do you do for member companies?

A: You can do prototyping here, you can have office space here, you can hold events here, you can run your company here, prototyping and distribution — it’s a one-stop shop and it is sorely needed in Miami.

Q: Explain what the “green corridor” designation is and what it can do for the neighborhood where EcoTech is?

A: The Green Corridor was created by proclamation by the Miami-Dade County Commission and stretches along Northwest Seventh Avenue from 79th Street to 119th Street. It is the first green corridor of its kind in the United States created with the purpose of establishing a citywide, countywide, statewide and regional hub of sustainable and environmentally friendly businesses. The Green Corridor and EcoTech Visions promote economic opportunity for the community where they sit and far beyond.

Q: Where do you see EcoTech in five years?

A: In five years, we want to start multiplying. We want to be in other communities, such as Los Angeles. When you look at the two markets, Miami and L.A., there are a lot of similarities. We are already forging relationships there. California is probably the largest green-tech community in the country. Connecting the two will help infuse vitality and innovation into Miami and help move us as a country into a really great space in green technology.

Q: What is your vision for the vertical garden covering the front of the building?

A: Ted Caplow, of CappSci and Miami Science Barge, is designing a game-changing vertical farm based on work by his company, BrightFarms Inc., which creates hydroponic farms for Whole Foods amongst other clients. The vertical farm will be a hydroponic system to grow organic produce inside a glass and screened-in enclosure on the façade of EcoTech Visions’ new building located at 670 NW 113th St. Installation and ongoing maintenance and production will be managed by Urban Green Works working with marginalized resources including women recently exiting incarceration. In addition, an aquaponics system will be incorporated by Fruit of Life Organics, one of our incubator companies, to grow organic fish and produce in one system that recreates the natural water cycle.

Q: There are even plans for a rooftop café?

A: Yes, and we will serve food from our vertical garden.

Q: What’s next for EcoTech?

A: We’re taking applications to fill out our pipeline of companies, educating people on the opportunities in green technology, and educating entrepreneurs on what is available in terms of funding so they can succeed by being clean and green.

Nancy Dahlberg; 305-376-3595; @ndahlberg

Read more entrepreneurship Q&As on this blog by going to the Q&A category.

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from left, EcoTech Visions'  staff Carlos Vazquez, Kenyona Pierre, Marisabel Lavastida, CEO Pandwe Gibson, Tamara Wendt and Justin Knight, at their new facility, 670 NW 113th St. in Miami, under construction. PEDRO PORTAL pportal@miamiherald.com



 

May 05, 2016

FIGS receives $5 million in Series A funding led by Campfire Capital

 

Spear

Tina Spear, co-founder of FIGS, delivers medical apparel as part of its Threads For Threads philanthropic program.

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

FIGS, a medical apparel startup in South Florida, received $5 million in Series A funding. The round of financing was led by  Campfire Capital, a Vancouver-based venture capital group that funds companies that combine retail and technology in their innovations.

 Founded in 2013 by Heather Hasson and Trina Spear, FIGS identified a need for alternatives to currently available products in the medical scrubs industry, the bulk of which were made up of low-quality, uncomfortable styles. Its fashion-forward designs are antimicrobial, wrinkle resistant and made from lightweight, breathable fabric. FIGS' philanthropic 1-for-1 program, Threads for Threads, has donated 75,000 scrubs to in-need health care professionals across 26 countries. FIGS, an Endeavor company selected out of Miami last year, has operations in South Florida, where Spear is based, and Los Angeles.

FIGS has raised $10 million in funding to date. The new capital will be used to increase inventory to meet demand, explore and expand new product categories, and scale its team. About Campfire Capital, Spear said, “It's been wonderful to align with a group who brings not only capital, but shares an unparalleled breadth of industry expertise and networks.”

FIGS will join Campfire’s growing list of portfolio companies, including Montreal-based menswear retailer Frank & Oak and San Francisco-based food tech startup Juicero.

 Christine Day, partner at Campfire, current CEO of Luvo and ex-CEO of lululemon, said: “In addition to capital, what entrepreneurs really need is access to the broad expertise required to build a successful retail business. We see a tremendous opportunity to leverage Campfire's collective experience and relationships to further brand and scale FIGS to transform this $9 billion unbranded industry.”

Read more: FIGS, SkyPatrol chosen for Endeavor network

Read more: Four healthcare startups in the spotlight

 

April 12, 2016

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

 

By Tim Berthold

Yesterday I read this in the Starting Gate.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 11, 2016

An Open Letter to the Miami Tech Community

By Kim Grinfeder

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 07, 2016

Study: South Florida a hotspot for women-owned firms -- but they're small

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Florida ranked No. 1 in the nation for the growth of women-owned businesses, according to a new report. The Miami metropolitan area led the state in growth as well, and the Miami area ranked No. 3 in the nation for the number of women-owned firms. Yet, the vast majority of these businesses have no employees.

The 2016 State of Women-Owned Businesses report, commissioned by American Express OPEN, found that Florida has an estimated 971,000 women-owned firms, employing 500,000. Florida is the fast-growing state in the growth of the number of firms (67.1 percent growth) over the past nine years and No. 31 for its 25.2 percent in growth of firm revenue between 2007 and 2016, the study found.

Nearly half the state’s total of women-owned businesses are in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale metro area, according to the report. In 2016, an estimated 453,100 firms employed 184,100 people, suggesting that the vast majority of these firms are one-women companies or employ solely contractors. In recent years, a number of small business and entrepreneurial organizations, including the Small Business Administration and Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses, have launched programs in South Florida to help these businesses grow. Most recently, WIN Lab, an accelerator for women-owned businesses expanding to Miami, cited this trend of South Florida’s women-owned businesses tending to stay very small . Still, the Miami area led the state with a 97 percent growth rate of women-owned companies between 2007 and 2016.

Nationally, the number of women-owned firms increased by 42 percent to 11.3 million enterprises, compared to just a 9 percent increase among all businesses since 2007. These businesses employ nearly 9 million people and are generating $1.6 trillion in revenue. Over the past nine years, the number of women-owned firms has grown at a rate five times faster than the national average.

"We are pleased to see the continued rise of the vital role that women-owned businesses play in our country’s post-recession recovery," said Susan Sobbott, president of American Express Global Commercial Payments. “We are inspired by these women who are continuing to pursue their entrepreneurial passions, and are strengthening our communities and economy even further.”

Among women-owned firms nationally, one of the fastest-growing sectors are businesses owned by women of color. Over the past nine years, the number of firms owned by women of color increased by 126 percent. In addition, the nearly five million businesses owned by women of color make up almost half of all women-owned firms. When comparing the growth in the number of firms owned by women of color with women-owned firms overall, nearly eight in 10 of the net new women-owned firms were started by a woman of color since 2007, the report found.

The sixth annual report is based on historical and current U.S. Census Bureau and Gross Domestic Product data. Read the full report here.

Women business owners: News to use

WHAT:

The free ChallengeHER event in North Miami will educate attendees on growth opportunities in government contracting as well as how to participate in the SBA’s Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Federal Contract program. Additionally, business owners can sign up to participate in Contract Connections – one-on-one meetings with procurement officials, government buyers and large prime contractors.

ChallengeHER is a national initiative designed to promote the WOSB Federal Contract Program, bring more women-owned firms into the federal government’s supply chain and provide an avenue for government agencies to meet qualified women-owned small business contractors.

WHO:

ChallengeHER is a joint initiative from the U. S. Small Business Administration (SBA), Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP) and AmericanExpress OPEN, the small business division of the financial services company.

A sample of confirmed participating speakers/organizations at the event include:

  • U.S. Army
  • U.S. Coast Guard
  • U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs
  • Miami-Dade County Public Schools
  • Turner Construction Company

 

WHEN:

Friday, April 15, 2016

9:00 AM – 1:30 PM

*Registration begins at 8:00 AM

WHERE:

Florida International University – Biscayne Bay Campus

Hospitality Management Building

3000 NE 151st Street

North Miami, FL 33181

EVENT/TICKET INFORMATION: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/challengeher-miami-tickets-22369459656

MEDIA CONTACT:

Media must RSVP to attend. Please contact Alison at AlisonH@mbooth.com or (212) 539-3260.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) announced last month that the federal government met its goal of awarding 5% of federal contracts to women-owned businesses (WOSBs) for the first time in history. This is a huge milestone for women entrepreneurs – and for those that are newer to government contracting, now is a great time to get started.

March 29, 2016

Meet Nelly Farra, new leader of WIN Lab set to launch in Miami

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Wanted: South Florida women “with the fire to make it happen.”

Nelly farraThat’s Nelly Farra’s message. She’s the new director of the WIN Lab, a Miami accelerator for women entrepreneurs launching on Thursday. With the launch, the program plans to begin taking applications for its first cohort of 20 selected female founders that will start this fall.

The eight-month entrepreneurship program was the brainchild of Babson College, consistently ranked tops in the nation for entrepreneurship education, and its Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership. Its Miami expansion, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, will be modeled after Babson’s successful program in Boston.

The WIN (Women Innovating Now) Lab is looking for outstanding early-stage founders — so-called WINners — from South Florida.

 “We are industry-agnostic and age-agnostic. We are looking for women who might have come out of wonderful corporate jobs and now are starting their own businesses as well as individuals earlier on in their careers who have that idea and are going for it,” Farra said.

Farra, born and raised in South Florida, most recently led business development for the Morrison, Brown, Argiz & Farra (MBAF) accounting firm, where she expanded the firm’s reach into the entrepreneurial ecosystem through its work with Endeavor. Before joining MBAF, Farra partnered on the launch of a green-gym concept in the Los Angeles area and also pioneered wellness professional talent management in South Florida. Farra is a graduate of the University of Miami and received her MBA from Babson College in 2010, where she was also co-chair of the Babson Entrepreneurship Forum.

“Our secret sauce is a developing community of women eager to build the next big idea,” said Farra, noting that just 15 percent of venture accelerator participants are women. That low level of diversity also pervades venture capital, the tech industry, CEO ranks and boards. To help build a stronger pipeline, Farra said: “We use near-peer role modeling so we have women who have been there and done that. We’ll have 20 female mentors matched up with the founders. We will also have entrepreneurs, executives and investors in residence.” Johanna Mikkola, co-founder of Wyncode Academy, will be an entrepreneur-in-residence, and others will be announced soon. The program will be free, and WINners will also get co-working space.

The program will meet one evening a week. It will begin with a two-day retreat for self exploration, idea investigation, inspiration and community building, Farra said. Then the WINners will get help in every step of launching and growing a business, including building a team, customer acquisition, capital raising and scaling.

The program is more spread out than a traditional three-month accelerator, so women may find it easier to work into their lives while their build their startups. They could also be students.

In Boston the WIN Lab has attracted founders such as Emily Levy and Maria Del Mar Gomes of PICCPerfect, maker of functional and fashionable medical dressings for chronic illness patients treated with PICC lines. Francine Gervazio of Cargo 42 created a platform where customers can post their shipping needs and shippers can make an offer to carry their cargo. Bernette Dawson launched Made Organics, a line of handcrafted personal-care products.

“We will expect a lot from our founders — an eight-month commitment — but we provide a lot in return,” Farra said.

The program embodies entrepreneurial thought and action — part of Babson’s methodology — to balance action, experimentation and creativity to create economic and social value. “That is what we are all about,” Farra said. “The concept is to take iterative steps to prove your model. That’s how I embody it: Everything I do is to go out and get it done.”

The deadline for applications will be May 2. For more information about the WIN Lab, go to www.babson.edu/WINLab and learn more about the program at the launch event on Thursday. (See accompanying box).

WIN Lab Miami Launch

When: 6-8 p.m. Thursday

Where: The Light Box, 404 NW 26th St., Miami

Speakers: Mary Biggins of ClassPass and MealPass; Julia Ford-Carther of Bammies; Jessica Do of PalmPress; Isabella Acker of Culture; Johanna Mikkola of Wyncode Academy

Cost: Free, but registration is required on Eventbrite.

For more information about WIN Lab: www.babson.edu/WINLab

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

Read more: Babson's Women Innovating Now Lab to launch in Miami

Read more: Numbers don't lie: Silicon Valley still has a diversity problem

 

March 17, 2016

SXSW: I'm Silicon Valley and I have a problem

Sxsw
By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Turns out the Elephant in the Valley was also the elephant in the room at the massive South by Southwest Festival this past week.

President Obama talked about it; so did his chief technology officer. Tech pioneers Steve and Jean Case discussed it, as did Pinterest and Twilio engineers, executives at Facebook and Yelp, several venture capitalists and the CEO of Vox Media.

The diversity issue in Silicon Valley took center stage at the SXSW Interactive Festival, in keynote speeches, panels, workshops and networkers. This comes several years after the embarrassing numbers that showed few women and minorities worked at Silicon Valley’s elite tech companies were brought to the forefront. One keynote session was even titled: Why we are still talking about it.

Why? Because the numbers are still going in the wrong direction, said Tracy Cho (pictured below), a software engineer at Pinterest. She was one of the people who raised the issue, penning a post on Medium in 2013 titled, “Where are the numbers?” Lack of diversity affects business results both through poorer products and lackluster shareholder returns, Cho said, citing research.

Her call to action and those of others helped spur employment reporting by Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter and other Silicon Valley companies but she said two years later the numbers really hadn’t budged. “In hindsight, hoping the numbers would improve themselves was not a plan,” Cho said.

Now Pinterest and other companies are beginning to tackle the problem in a business-centric way: tracking metrics, setting goals, creating accountability, experimenting, learning and iterating, Cho said.

How bad are the numbers?

The current status at Silicon Valley tech companies that have reported their numbers: Less than 20 percent of tech employees are female. Under-represented minorities in tech number in the low single-digit percentages. Women in senior leadership roles make up 15 percent to 30 percent of the companies reporting, but for blacks and Latinos in senior leadership, it’s back to the single digits.

The investing landscape looks similarly bleak. Women comprise less than 8 percent of investment decision makers in venture capital firms. Less than 1 percent of VCs are black; 1.3 percent are Hispanic, Cho said. A paltry 3 percent of funding goes to women-led startups and 1 percent to African American founders, said investor Trae Vassallo. In an earlier session at SXSW, Jean Case, CEO of the Case Foundation, said half of all successful Kickstarter campaigns are led by women, proving that good concepts and the appetite for funding are out there.

Vassallo and Michele Madansky recently released Elephantinthevalley.com, inspired by conversation coming out of the Ellen Pao/Kleiner Perkins trial last year that served to raise the issue no one wanted to talk about once again. They were joined on a panel by Obama’s CTO Megan Smith and Laura Weidman Powers, CEO of Code2040, a nonprofit aimed at increasing the numbers of minorities in tech (panel pictured above).

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“We believe this is a systemic ecosystem issue,” said Powers to a packed SXSW ballroom. In 1984, 35 percent of the computer science degrees went to women; now it is about 19 percent. In high school AP classes in computer science, the trend is similar.

There are many reasons commonly cited for why fewer women are going into computer science, much of it cultural. Noting that Grace Hopper invented the first programming language and the history-making computing team documented in The Imitation Game was actually heavily powered by women, Smith said, “We kind of ran our history through a rinse cycle and washed the women and people of color out and wrote the story without them.”

In the Elephant in the Room survey, the authors found some alarming results, including 60 percent of women suffered unwanted sexual advances in the workplace, and about the same number perceived they did not have the same opportunities as men. The authors also surveyed SXSW’s female attendees, and 74 percent said they believed they were less well compensated to their peers. [story can end here for print] "

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Research abounds showing the diverse teams perform better, Smith said. “We are at version 1.0 in solving this but we have to do it together.” Vox Media CEO Jim Bankoff admitted on stage that his biggest misstep was not building a diverse team from the start.

Some of the solutions offered by the panelists: Widen your net. Go outside your network for candidates. Have a surfing party with your team, look at award sites and other unconventional places for possible candidates. Mentor and sponsor promising women and minorities. Be role models. Get in the classrooms and help the teachers.

Cho added some of her own: To create a welcoming culture, it starts with the founders. Set goals and hold people accountable. She was also heartened to see some universities making their intro CS courses “more friendly,” rather than weed-out courses.

Earlier at SXSW, Obama spoke of the 1.5 million job openings expected in tech by the end of this decade, and that universities will not be able to fill that need. Help us get more Americans into these jobs, including women and people of color, and encourage them to tackle the biggest challenges of our time, he said.

Smith and Obama also brought up the White House’s TechHire initiative to train and place thousands of coders, which now includes 50 metro areas, including Miami. Coding boot camps are great placed to diversify your pool of candidates, the panelists said.

Diversity was a hot topic at Miami’s recent Blacktech Week, including Magic Leap founder Rony Abovitz asking the crowd to apply because he does not want his company to look like Silicon Valley. Code Fever, Codella, Girls Who Code and Black Girls Code are offering coding programs locally to inspire more youth into tech. Recent moves to help prime the pipeline include the announcements that PowerMoves, a fellowship program and national network for entrepreneurs of color, and WIN Lab, an accelerator for women entrepreneurs run by Babson College, are setting up operations in Miami this year.

“If everyone in this room would take an action, we could move incredibly quickly as a tech community because that is how we roll,” said Smith.

Find more South By Southwest coverage, including about President Obama’s keynote talk as well as talks about the Hyperloop and the Google self-driving car, on the Starting Gate blog. Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

Cho

March 11, 2016

Rise of the Rest: Steve and Jean Case at SXSW

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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