March 30, 2015

Q&A with Mary Spio: Down-to-earth advice from a rocket scientist

By Nancy Dahlberg /

SpioWhen Spio was 16, her parents spent everything they had to send her to the United States for a better life.

Her first job was at a McDonald’s, but after a while she found her way into the Air Force. “It was when I was in the Air Force that an engineer pulled me aside and told me I was really great at fixing electronics; and that I should look into becoming an engineer. I did and it was the best thing I’ve ever done.”

After six years with the Air Force, she went to Syracuse and the Georgia Tech for engineering degrees, and she was soon working at satellite communications firms, some while in college, where she designed and launched satellites into deep space on a NASA project, headed up a satellite communications team for Boeing, and pioneered digital cinema technology for LucasFilms that redefined the distribution method for major motion pictures.

With a continued interest in media, Spio turned to entrepreneurship about a decade ago and has never looked back — even though at one point she was voted out of her own company because her investor wanted a white male at the helm.

Now Spio heads her own company once again, Miami Beach-based Next Galaxy, a developer of innovative content and tools for virtual reality. Its flagship application is CEEK, a social VR hub for accessing entertainment, education and branded experiences. One of her newest products, CEEKARS 4-D headphones, is out this month and Spio is currently running an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign for the product. In January, Spio brought the B.I.G. Summit to the New World Center on Miami Beach, and her conference explored ways to use virtual reality across a broad spectrum of industries.

She also has a new book out. In It’s Not Rocket Science: 7 Game-Changing Traits for Achieving Uncommon Success,sheoffers advice and insights by exploring the distinct actions and attributes that successful leaders across many fields share as they challenge old precepts and create worldwide impact.

The Miami Herald met with Spio recently in her Miami Beach office. Here are excerpts of that conversation:

Q. Why did you decide to write the book?

A. After working with the U.S. Department of State visiting and speaking at all these different countries like Pakistan, South Africa, Ukraine and Russia, I kept getting a lot of the same questions. I said I need to put something together that shares what I have learned along the way. To do that, I had to go back to my foundation. I had been studying game-changers for a long time and never realized it.

When I was young and living on my own in New York … I was working in McDonald’s, back then my idea of success was going from fries to cashier. But I started reading. My first book was Sumner Redstone’s A Passion to Win — I read it over and over and over and over, I could connect to something in there — overcoming challenges. I also read about Bill Gates. As I read about these people who I admired, I thought there was more that I could do. It gave me the courage to try new things.

As I traveled later on, I got to meet all these game-changers, more than 100 over time. As a scientist I said, how do I codify this?

A lot of times when I speak, some people say it is easy for you to say because you are a rocket scientist. But I was like those people, thinking technology is for those other people. Even when I went into the Air Force, I really didn’t know technology. The more I learned about it, it’s really not rocket science. For anyone who thinks technology is for those other people, this is the book for them and it has steps you can take to leverage tech for what you want to do. It’s a combination of my observations and discoveries; this is my personal playbook, these are the people I go to over and over again when I am having a hard time and it keeps me going.

Q. Is there one particular trait among all these game-changers?

A. I think it’s courage. Most of these people are almost crazy. When you do anything new, there is opposition and shaming that comes with it, and these people didn’t care about that. It’s not fearlessness; they have the fear but they act in spite of the fear. It’s also the scientific mindset. As an engineer, I know failure is not failure, it is just an experiment. In entrepreneurship too, I realize these founders have the scientific approach to success. It’s OK to fail. It’s not failure, it’s feedback.

Q. How did you fall into technology — and stay?

A. I was the kid that always tore the radio apart, I wanted to know how it worked, how, how, how, how — I drove my parents crazy. In the Air Force testing, I scored very high in electronics.

In the Air Force, I was usually the only woman, but it felt like home. I enjoyed what I was doing.

And when I was working on Gen2Media, my last company, I felt like I had died and gone to heaven. There is more to the movie industry than what happens on the big screen, there is so much excitement that happens behind the scenes.

A big part of why women and girls don’t go into technology is they don’t want to be in the lab all day. But there are so many opportunities, there are so many other options.

Q. Is that also why you also created the B.I.G. Summit?

A. Yes, I go to a lot of virtual reality conferences. Ninety-nine percent of everything I was seeing is games, shoot-’em-up games. I think enough is enough — what about healthcare and education and all these other things?

That was the idea of the B.I.G. Summit. We are looking at healthcare, we are looking at education.

Q. What were some of your biggest challenges along the way?

A. I felt like a kid in the candy store coming into tech because I was pulled in so many ways; it surprised me to see how much my perspective was needed. When everyone is the same, everyone thinks the same way and you miss a lot. But not all of what I have experienced was positive.

At one company, for example, I had a boss who was racist and sexist, the work environment was not ideal. … Fortunately I was recruited by Boeing where my experiences were all wonderful. Culture starts at the top. I worked at Aerospace Corp. under a woman CEO, and my experience there was phenomenal. While at Georgia Tech they let me work remotely from my dorm room. From Boeing on I never felt any type of discrimination [as an employee], I felt right at home.

But as an entrepreneur raising capital, I ran into challenges. When I launched Gen2Media, we were doing a million before beta. We had an investor come in to help us raise capital — and he said he was having a hard time because no one was writing checks to black women and he needed a white male at the helm. Then he got my other partners (they were all equal partners) on his side — I was forced out of my own company.

This was a company I built with every dime I had. … We had 26 employees. That was toughest thing I have gone through, and it happened not because of something I did but because of who I am. I am a black woman and that is not going to change.

I was pregnant at the time. I took some time off [about two years, 2010-2012], moved in with my family for awhile, started writing the book, did some consulting but mostly spent time with my son and family in London.

Q. And then?

A. When I was ready to go back to work, I put my resume out there, and heard from Amazon and NBCUniversal and others, but I decided I really wanted to build my own company again. I participated in a Google for Entrepreneurs program and we visited Facebook and I saw the Oculus [the virtual reality headset maker that Facebook later purchased]. I always loved 3D movies. I tried it on and I said “oh my god this is exactly what I want to do for ever and ever.” Everything was leading up to this point. It was religious for me. I said I would love to watch a movie this way, I would love to deliver education this way, healthcare this way. I said I gotta build something that I can enjoy this thing with.

Then I went to a Samsung conference, saw the Gear VR [headset] and said this is the way to change the market but content is going to drive it. We dove headfirst into developing content, not just as an entertainment means but as a way to do medical training. We partnered with Miami Children’s Hospital to develop these models for CPR and also anti-choking. As a mom I think this is super important. With the Google Cardboard [a very low cost VR headset], you can have a headset and you can experience it affordably. We are also working with the schools.

I want to make a different kind of impact. All these companies are spending billions to to teach kids to kill; no one wants to hear that but it is true. I think we can be more intentional about what we program for kids. Whether we are putting them on the moon, or they are flying through the sky, why can’t it be a learning voyage? It can be a lot more than just killing. That is the impact I am trying to make with Next Galaxy.

Q. Who are your heroes?

A. Oprah definitely. Bill Gates, Larry Page and Elon Musk because of their moonshots; they set out to do something extraordinary for humanity.

Also Mark Cuban, Mark Zuckerberg and Laurie Clark. Laurie was the first female mentor I ever had, she was one of the first SVP at Staples, she was also on the board of Suncoast Motion Pictures, GamePlay, etc. and not only gave me advice but walked me into decision makers there and at Sony. My very first mentor in business was Yoav Cohen; he was instrumental in the growth of JDATE, also co-founder of Genesis Media. He made a huge difference in my career with advice, opportunities and introductions, including to Laurie Clark. Also, Leslie Hielema, the first female president of the Orlando Chamber and a dear friend and mentor.

I believe mentorship is super, super important as it provides not just guidance but access. Once you get in the door, what you do is up to you.

Q. What is the best advice you have ever received?

A. Don’t clip your wings to fit in someone else’s box. It came with a story from my father. … Your value comes from your difference, not your similarity.

Q. When do you think we will see mainstream adaption of virtual reality technology?

A. I think mainstream adaption will come from mobile phones, and I think it will happen very quickly. I think we have about 15 months to go.

Mainstream adaption is going to be based on content outside of gaming. Everybody currently is looking at gaming because that is what they know, but movies, concerts, sports healthcare, medical training, all of that is going to eclipse gaming and it is going to be from smartphones. Last year there were over a billion smartphones that were shipped out, everyone has a smartphone in their hand whether they are in India, Ghana or Miami. They are looking for what to do with their phones, they want a different kind of experience ... Imagine I can deliver Intersteller to you and you can be in the experience and all you have to do is flip your phone, download CEEK and watch it that way. … Our goal is to make VR as simple as turning on the TV. That’s when mainstream adoption will happen.

Thanks to the Samsung Gear VR, I think we will get there much faster than anyone predicted. I am curious about what Apple has, you have Microsoft with Hololens. It is going to happen on the mobile phone, not on the Oculus Rift.

Q. You moved here last year. How are you finding South Florida?

A. I love it! I came here for the beaches, but the community is why i am staying. The support is here. There are so many people who are very serious about turning South Florida into a tech hub. There is a big opportunity with the third wave of the Internet for us to do exactly that.

Opportunities abound here, and it is fantastic to be a part of building this ecosystem. There are great people here: Manny Medina, Rokk3r Labs, and Felecia Hatcher and Michael Hall of Digital Grass. It is a great time to be here, like the early days of the Internet. The one thing missing is seed capital. That needs to change. Here you have lot of opportunities but the money is not here. We raised our money in New York, and had to fight tooth and nail to be here.

Q. What is the biggest takeaway you’d like readers to take from your book?

A. Their voices are needed today, not tomorrow. We are all techies and you can make an impact leveraging technology and you don’t have to a rocket scientist to do that. The book offers practical advice on ways to get started, testing your model and making your mark on our world.

This is all stuff I have been through and I have used whether it was going from McDonald’s to Boeing, or when I lost everything and had to come back again. A lot of my mistakes are what I draw from — this is my playbook and I am opening it up and sharing it with others.

Q. What advice do you have for students interested in tech?

A. I think it is a great time to be in tech, stay up to date with the industry. It'a not just what you learn in the classroom, read the trades, the daily newspaper, you need to know the industry.

Also, find someone in your industry you admire and try to connect with them — with all the social networks around this is very possible today. You might have go reach out to hundreds, before you find one person, remember they get thousands of emails so don't give up or get discouraged just because you contact one person and don't hear back. Keep searching.


Mary Spio

Current position: CEO of Next Galaxy Media

Career highlights: Patent-holding deep-space scientist at Boeing and other companies. Serial entrepreneur and consultant. She has worked with and/or provided content development, marketing and technical expertise to over 200 leading retailers, corporations and entertainers including Microsoft xBox, Tribune News Company, Coca Cola, Toyota, Mary J. Blige and Lebron James. Spio is on the USA Today panel of CEOs, presidents, founders and chairmen where she advises on leadership trends annually and is a speaker for the U.S. State Department on innovation and entrepreneurship.

New book: “It’s Not Rocket Science: 7 Game-Changing Traits for Uncommon Success.”

Age: 42

Lives in: Miami Beach

Education: Majored in engineering at Syracuse University and earned her graduate degree in electrical engineering and computer science, with an emphasis on deep-space communications, from Georgia Tech.

Favorite movies: “Avatar,” “Unforgiven” and “The Butler.”


Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

February 24, 2015

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


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

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

 * Alexandra W. Wilson @AWilkisWilson - Founder, Gilt

* Benzion Aboud @benzionaboud - Founder, Saveology

* Chris Dannen @chrisdannen - Editor, Fast Company

* Gary Mahieu - Serial Tech Entrepreneur

* Jeremy Office - Principal, Maclendon

* John Stuart @jstuartFIUMBUS - Director, CARTA FIU

* Juan Carlos Ortiz @juancarlosortiz - CEO, DDB Latina 

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

* Laura Maydon @limaydon - CEO, Endeavor Miami

* Rodolfo Saccoman @RodolfoSaccoman - Founder, AdMobilize

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

Visit for free access to the entire video series.

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

Posted Feb. 24, 2015 

February 02, 2015

Q&A with Cindy Provin: On the frontlines of cyber-security

Cindy Provin
From her perch at the helm of Thales e-Security since 1999, Cynthia Provin has been a key player in the growth of a new industry: data security.

As president of Thales e-Security, she oversees the company’s operations in the United States, Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean. She is also vice president of sales and marketing, overseeing strategy worldwide. Thales e-Security is part of Thales Group, a French multinational company that supports aerospace, defense, transportation and security with 65,000 employees in 60 countries. Thales e-Security, with about 400 employees, including 70 in Plantation, provides solutions to protect data.

“The attacks are becoming much more advanced, and firewalls and passwords are not enough. We promote encryption,” which renders the data unreadable, Provin said from her offices in Plantation.

Before joining Thales e-Security, Provin was vice president of the Product Division for Racal Data Group, managing the Racal Data Group product operations in the Americas. In the fall of 1998, she was instrumental in the sale of Racal Data Group and the formation of Racal Security and Payments, now known as Thales e-Security.

Born in Baltimore but raised in South Florida since she was 10, Provin attended CooperCityHigh School and earned a bachelor’s of business administration from the University of Miami. She met with the Miami Herald recently to talk about her work at Thales e-Security and trends in cyber-security.

Continue reading "Q&A with Cindy Provin: On the frontlines of cyber-security" »

December 11, 2014

Linda Rottenberg: 'If you aren't being called crazy, you aren't thinking big enough'


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"If you aren't being called crazy, you aren't thinking big enough," Linda Rottenberg, co-founder and CEO of Endeavor, told gatherings of entrepreneurs at the WeXchange conference and a book signing at The LAB Miami this week. She was in town for Endeavor's International Selection Panel being held in Miami and her best-selling book, "Crazy is as  Compliment,"  is  out. She shared her own "kitchen table moment" when she and Peter Kellner hatched the idea for Endeavor, a global nonprofit that finds, mentors and accelerates high-impact entrepreneurs,  and  how everyone including her parents thought they was crazy.

Indeed, the biggest barriers  entrepreneurs face are themselves and getting past the fear is key, she said. Sometimes the people closet to you don't get it either.  In fact, in a survey by Babson College,  the No. 1 regret entrepreneurs expressed was telling friends and family too early -- friends don't let friends start businesses. She said that is why it is really important that an ecosystem has entrepreneurial role models in the community, a key mission of Endeavor, a global nonprofit that selects, mentors and accelerates high-impact entrepreneurs.

Find like-minded communities at entrepreneurship centers like The LAB Miami and online, she said. Crowdfunding can be a great way to find the like-minded too, and they can become your storytellers and carry your message forward, she said.

Telling stories of other famous entrepreneurs, including several females such as Este Lauder, she left us with this message, especially well received at WeXchange, a conference focused on women entrepreneurship in Latin America where she was the keynote speaker: Being an entrepreneur is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor.  "You don't need a hoodie to be an entrepreneur."

Posted Dec. 11, 2014


December 05, 2014

WeXchange announces pitch finalists; conference is next week

This is the second time around for the WeXchange Pitch Competition, an initiative that is part of WeXchange 2014, a forum for dynamic women entrepreneurs who work in the Latin American and Caribbean region. The Pitch Competition will reward the most innovative female entrepreneur in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the finalists have just been chosen.

A group of experts conducted a pre-selection process involving all of the registered projects, and decided that the following six women will have the opportunity to present their companies to investors, mentors, and experts on December 11th in Miami:

  • * Priscilla Maciel (Argentina): Co-founder of Almashopping, a virtual store that offers beauty products and cosmetics, and serves all of Argentina.

  • * Sofía Giraudo (Chile): Founder of, a site that recruits young professionals with 0-2 years of job experience.

  • * Cecilia Retegui (Argentina): Co-founder of Zolvers, a platform designed to facilitate household chores of a wide variety, which may be used in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico.

  • * Lorena Amarante (Argentina): Co-founder of OM Latam, the first Latin American interactive social network geared toward marketing professionals.

  • * Carolina Medina (Colombia): Co-founder of Soko Text, an application that helps to improve the distribution of food products and other basic goods in impoverished neighborhoods.

  • * Maria Leal (Guatemala): Founder of Zynn, a tool that facilitates precision in business, by means of mobile devices and working in the cloud.

The entrepreneur selected as the winner in this decisive competition will receive the following prizes: Four 1-hour mentoring sessions provided by  NXTPLabs, an investment fund to speed up the growth of startups that is a major partner  in WeXchange); a license to Scopia, a videoconferencing platform developed by Avaya; a one-month subscription to the toolWideo; and a subscription to MSDN Ultimate, which offers more than 900 Microsoft products available for download; as well as other prizes.

The lucky winner will follow in the footsteps of the 2013 Pitch Competition  winner, the Italian-Mexican Angela Cois, who received recognition for Lastroom, her application for making last-minute hotel reservations.

There is still time to sign up and take part in the entrepreneurial climate at WeXchange 2014: Registration is open until the 5th of December for those who wish to attend this forum in Miami. Additionally, women entrepreneurs across Latin America and beyond will be able to view all elements of this event live online, vía livestream ,using their computers or mobile devices.

Information provided by WeXchange

November 28, 2014

As 2014 wanes, tips to turn your idea into reality

By Cindy Krischer Goodman

85-CindyGoodmanWhen I ushered in the new year, I came up with an idea for a book I wanted to write, a business I wanted to start and an app I wanted to launch. Now, I am eating a turkey feast and realizing I have not focused on turning any of them into reality.

This Thanksgiving, I’m going to step back, look at all I am grateful for, and ponder the ideas I had wanted to pursue in 2014. With one month left in the year, I plan to ask myself some tough questions about where I have gotten stuck and what I can do to move at least one idea into action.

A friend of mine says she, too, has stalled while trying to move an idea forward. She wants to add an ancillary service that could help her pet-sitting business become more profitable. But like me, she has become bogged down in the daily struggle of balancing work and family.

Recognizing we all need help bringing our ideas to reality, I have turned to experts to share their best methods for follow through.

▪ Do your research. Wifredo Fernandez has seen dozens of ideas come to fruition as co-founder of The LAB Miami and now as founding director of CREATE Miami, a venture incubator and accelerator at the new Idea Center at Miami Dade College. Fernandez tells entrepreneurs to propose their idea to at least 100 potential customers and even ask for feedback on how to improve on it. “You need to validate that there is a big enough problem to make a venture out of solving it,” he says.

▪ Let passion drive the idea: The pivotal shift from idea to reality happens once you find yourself unable to think about anything else but solving the problem. “The specific idea may change, but if you’re passionate and focused, your drive to solve the problem will push you to execute,” Fernandez says. Miami business strategist Dave Lorenzo tells his clients to pursue an idea when they want to achieve it as much as they want to breathe air everyday. “That’s when it is going to become a reality. That is how badly you have to want it.”

Continue reading "As 2014 wanes, tips to turn your idea into reality" »

November 20, 2014

WeXchange returning to Miami, plans two-day event

  WeXchange, a forum designed to advance the work of high-impact women entrepreneurs from Miami, Latin America and the Caribbean, is back for its second year. Organized and led by the Multilateral Investment Fund, a member of the Inter-American Development Bank, with $40,000 of support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the forum will be held from Dec. 11-12 at Miami Dade College.

Investors and women entrepreneurs who focus on Latin America or the Caribbean are encouraged to apply to attend WeXchange 2014. The event aims to empower women entrepreneurs, promote them as role models and help them connect to expand their networks and build impact. It will feature networking opportunities with investors, coaching sessions, workshops, and a pitch competition, in which 6 pre-selected finalists present their business ideas to a jury of international experts.

Foto Susana-1“Our research and experience show that women in Latin America and the Caribbean are highly motivated to start businesses and can be just as successful as their male counterparts, but face many barriers related to limited access to finance and weaker networks,” said Susana Garcia-Robles, principal investment officer of the MIF’s Early Stage Equity Group, in a news release. “WeXchange is seeking to break down those barriers by building a powerful community for dynamic women entrepreneurs. We are very much looking forward to returning to Miami — the most important city for doing business in and with Latin America and the Caribbean — for the second WeXchange forum.”

Research conducted by MIF, such as its WEGrow study of high-growth women entrepreneurs, show that women entrepreneurs tend to face more challenges than men in the region, mostly due to the lack of strong networks, which can limit access to capital. Other research such as the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor’s 2012 Women’s Report found that women-owned businesses attract less than 5 percent of venture capital funds worldwide.

Support for WeXchange programs is part of Knight Foundation’s efforts to invest in fostering an entrepreneurial community in South Florida. “By helping to propel the work of women entrepreneurs in Miami, WeXchange is providing some of the main assets they need to scale and grow — strong networks, access to investors, as well as mentorship and support opportunities,” said Matt Haggman, Knight Foundation program director for Miami.

Visit for more information and to register.

Read last year's guest column by Susana Garcia-Robles

Posted Nov. 20, 2014


November 17, 2014

Startup Spotlight: Yandiki


Photo of Silvina Moschini of Yandiki by Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald


Headquarters: The LAB Miami

Concept: Yandiki is an employment platform for the connected workforce generation. It provides immediate access to curated creative talent from around the world, in the cloud, on demand, transparently, with no hassle.

Story: Silvina Moschini has been managing public relations and online visibility projects for major U.S. corporations for more than 15 years. She has witnessed firsthand the difficulties many companies have in hiring creative talent. Top creative talent in major U.S. cities is costly and, often, not immediately available. Moschini resolved this challenge for her own agency (called Intuic) by creating TransparentBusiness — a platform that allows for hiring and efficiently managing creative talent in Argentina, Colombia, Chile and other low-cost countries. Later, she founded Yandiki to offer the same convenience to other U.S. ad agencies and companies adding curated talent and creating a marketplace of talent for hire.

With, clients can manage virtual teams seamlessly, can provide immediate feedback on all work-in-progress and access the status and cost of each project.

With, clients can find and hire creative talent at their fingertips and on demand. “The goal is to create the perfect work platform for millennials, the connected workforce,” Moschini said.

Launched: May 2014

Management team: founders: Silvina Moschini (CEO), Marcelo Altamura (chief strategy officer), Nadia Di Vito (chief creative officer).

No. of employees: 17

Financing: So far, the founders have financed the project from personal funds. “While we can continue developing the project without outside financing, finding a strong equity investor would allow for faster growth,” said Moschini.

Recent milestones reached: Within two months of its launch, Yandiki landed major clients such as International Development Bank, Cable & Wireless and MFS (a joint venture of MasterCard and Telefonica), and it recently added EMC and Sony.

Biggest startup challenge: Coping with slow payment cycles in many major corporations.

Next step: Forming a sales team to target major corporate accounts in the United States and Canada, and forging alliances with governments in Latin America to help them create curated marketplaces of qualified creative experts, and export the professional services in the cloud. For them is the opportunity to increase their GDP, keep talent at home, and create employment. “For the talent, this is their chance to access world-class employment opportunities,” Moschini said.

Strategy for next step: Yandiki is interviewing people with experience in B2B sales and working with government programs and institutions to obtain financing and implement the programs.

Advisor’s view: “As a VC, I have seen many entrepreneurs — very few are as talented and driven as Silvina,” said Vanesa Kolodsiej, founder of Nazca Ventures, who has been advising Yandiki for about six months. She applauds Moschini for making progress educating governments and corporations about the advantages of the talent cloud and attracting the best creative talent in Latin America. “My advice is to be focused and be patient. Implementing a platform such as Yandiki [across the region] can take much time and effort, but once it is in place, the payoff is enormous.”

Nancy Dahlberg

November 01, 2014

Random thoughts on a random week: exits, age, heart -- and a start

I had an interesting conversation with a South Florida entrepreneur who built a very successful company that has been sold a few times now. At each juncture he could have exited  but chose to stay and continue to contribute to the company and build his team, which now numbers hundreds. While that is not the typical course, he stayed because his job was still rewarding, and his team was still growing and having an impact as well as providing jobs for South Florida.  I'll be writing more about him in a few weeks as he approaches yet another opportunity to exit. Will he stay or will he go? -- stay tuned! (Yes, that's a tease)

MoneyExits are certainly up in South Florida. Since I have been covering startups and  tech full time (about a year now), there have been a number of them  -- off the top of my head, Mako Surgical, New Wave Surgical, .CO Internet, Choose Digital, BlueKite, Simplikate, Kwiksher, The Fresh Diet ... -- and I am sure I have missed a bunch. (I will be adding Exits to the categories on this blog soonest!).  On the funding front, it will most certainly be a record-setting year, with the magic leap venture capital in South Florida will take in the fourth quarter. In fact, if Magic Leap's $542 million raise from Google and friends had come in any of the other quarters this year, Florida would be ranked number 4 (just behind the big three in venture: California, Massachusetts and New York) instead of 27th or thereabouts. But there have been other sizable South Florida raises, Technisys, of course, but several more are on the burner and should complete this quarter (yes, that is another tease). 

Then at the Miami Open Coffee Club, I met an entrepreneur, David Kay of Video Rehearser, who said that he is finding that his age and gray hair is a detriment when talking to investors, even though he brings 40 years of technology and business experience to the table. Does youth and energy trump subject matter expertise? Charles Irizarry of Rokk3r Labs doesn't think so. He said Rokk3r looks for founders with experience starting up companies as well as experience in their industries. And  Kauffman Foundation research finds that, year after year,  each of the 35-44, 45-54 and the 55-64 age groups starts businesses are  far higher rates than their 20-34 counterparts.  That's good because  a Venture Beat post argues that in the next generation of innovation -- robotics, etc. -- the expereinced entrepreneur will be in high demand. Lately I have also been seeing more young teams with one, shall we say significantly older co-founder that brings extensive experience, subject matter expertise and often a different network to the table.

 By the way, Irizarry took part in a real-life role play about pre-launch strategy with Xavier Cossard of Plarity (and a Rokk3r portfolio company) -- both are pictured below -- as part of Miami Open Coffee Club's new format. Expect subsequent MOCCs to address post-launch strategies. Next up: marketing, says MOCC organizer Tito Gil:  A session on marketing featuring Kairos and Jaques Hart of Roar Media. After the interview there is time for Q&A.

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On Wednesday, I attended Women in Innovation at Pipeline, expecting a great networking event to meet people, as I already know and have reported on the stories of the panelists. It was a great networker, with 150 in attendance, almost all women. But I also enjoyed the panel discussion, in which all the women -- Christine Johnson (DiversiTech), Dawn Dickson (Flat Out of Heels), Fatima Lalani (Blo Blow Dry Bars) and Felecia Hatcher (Feverish Pops and Code Fever) and hosted by Paula Celestino (Kloset Karma) -- kept it real and were incredibly open and personal about their entrepreneurial journeys. While they all went through periods where they weren't sure their business would make it, they said doing what they needed to do to survive and eventually thrive was what women really rock at. Some lessons learned: Nurture your friendships and  support network; there's no such thing as work-life balance as an entrepreneur but do set priorities, and trust your gut.  They spoke from the heart -- refreshing -- and as one women noted in the elevator on the way out: When was the last time you were at a tech or entrepreneurship event where the overwhelming majority attending and on panels were women?

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Highlight of a busy week: The packed official opening of the Miami Dade College's Idea Center, which will serve MDC's 165,000 students with an accelerator, workshops, a speaker series, an idea factory, a venture growth program and more. With so much support from the community clearly evident on Tuesday morning (below), the center is off to a great start. 

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Posted Nov. 1, 2014 



September 30, 2014

Study: Large gender gap persists in VC deals, industry

MoneyWomen entrepreneurs have made progress obtaining venture capital, yet a wide gender gap persists, according to a new study released by Babson College on Tuesday.

The amount of early-stage investment in companies with a woman on the executive team has tripled to 15 percent from 5 percent in the last 15 years, the study found. Yet 85 percent of all venture capital-funded businesses have no women on the executive team and only 2.7 percent of venture capital-funded companies had a woman CEO, according to the study titled “Women Entrepreneurs 2014: Bridging the Gender Gap in Venture Capital.”

The study was conducted by Babson professors leading the Diana Project, a program founded in 1996 to research women-led businesses globally. The study analyzed 6,793 unique companies in the United States that received venture capital funding between 2011 and 2013.

Among other key findings:

* Businesses with women entrepreneurs perform as well as or better than those led by men. Businesses with a woman on the executive team are more likely to have higher valuations at both first and last funding (64 percent higher and 49 percent higher, respectively).

* Venture capital firms with women partners are more than twice as likely to invest in companies with a woman on the executive team (34 percent of firms with a woman partner compared to 13 percent of firms without a woman partner) and more than three times as likely to invest in companies with women CEOs (58 percent of firms with women partners versus 15 percent of firms without women partners).

* The total number of women partners in venture capital firms has declined significantly since 1999, dropping to 6 percent from 10 percent. Just 139 of the country’s 1,562 venture capital firms had women partners, at the time the Babson report was compiled.

“Only a small portion of early-stage investment is going to women entrepreneurs, yet our data suggest that venture capital-funded businesses with women on the executive team perform better on multiple dimensions,” said Candida G. Brush, Babson professor, report author and Diana Project co-founder. “Enormous untapped investment opportunity exists for venture capitalists smart enough to look at the numbers and fund women entrepreneurs.” 

The report included several recommendations for the venture capital industry, including examining the reasons why so few women enter or stay in venture capital roles, showcasing the successes of growth-oriented, venture-funded women entrepreneurs and doing more to seek out early-stage, women-led businesses across the country.

“For years, it was believed that women entrepreneurs needed to change their approach to networking, pitching or industry sector in order to secure venture capital,” said Patricia G. Greene, a co-founder of the Diana Project and the Paul T. Babson Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies at Babson College. “It is increasingly apparent that many women entrepreneurs have followed these prescriptions, yet they have not been able to achieve proportionate increases in early-stage growth capital.

"The tremendous work within the entrepreneurship ecosystem to support and foster growth of women entrepreneurs, and the findings of this study, demonstrate it is not the women who need fixing; the model for venture capital that has been in place since the 1980s simply does not work for women entrepreneurs,” Greene said.

The full report is available at