Want to know about Miami startups? A user's guide to this blog

Dear reader, Starting Gate has been providing and archiving South Florida startup and tech community news, views and resources since 2012. New to the Miami area? Thinking about relocating here? Just want to keep up with news, events and opportunities? We're there for you.

How to use Starting Gate: Besides scrolling the blog for the latest entries, you can access news and views by category. The "Funding" category will capture venture capital and angel funding news of individual startups as well as stories about funders. The startup categories chronicle news and my regular "Spotlights," and in Q&As you'll find interviews with CEOs and leaders in the entrepreneurship ecosystem. There are also categories for guest posts, views, accelerators/incubators, resources, events and more.

Have news? Have an idea for a guest post? Send it to me at ndahlbergbiz@gmail.com. (See my Facebook announcement here)

Thank you for your support through the years and please come back often. Follow me on Twitter @ndahlberg. - Sincerely, Nancy Dahlberg

January 31, 2018

With Wyncode's new UX bootcamp, students pay after they land jobs

Wyncode Academy has added a new bootcamp to its offerings: an  eight-week immersion course to help individuals jump-start careers in technology and digital design. What's more, students in the inaugural cohort will not have to make a single payment toward their tuition until they have finished the course and gained employment.

In the bootcamp, qualified students will collaborate through hands-on learning, user testing practices and client interactions led by UX specialists and career designers. Students will learn the fundamentals of UX/UI design and methodologies such as Lean UX and Design Thinking while working with design programs Sketch and InVision. The program will be led by Director of Product Design Gessica Tortolano, who has worked with companies such as Google, Samsung and the Miami Heat and recently relocated from San Francisco.

“Creating an accelerated UX/UI program was a no brainer considering Miami’s rich design presence,” said Johanna Mikkola, co-founder of Wyncode Academy. “Miami is home to an infinite talent pool of creatives, artists and designers who are seeking to elevate their careers and break into more technical roles as the city transforms into the tech capital of the sunshine state. This model shows our confidence in our team and curriculum to ultimately land Wyncode graduates jobs quickly after graduation."

After completing the program, Wyncode’s staff will place UX/UI graduates in jobs with Miami-Dade hiring partners where they can begin careers at the intersection of design and technology. "Now is the best time to tap into South Florida's growing technology market,” said Jenna Blake, Director at Wander Agency. “As a California based UX/UI specialized agency, we are excited to partner with Wyncode on their first UX/UI course to help grow Florida's technology market together."

Wyncode's hiring partners include some of South Florida’s leading companies and startups such as Royal Caribbean, Watsco Ventures and CareCloud. Per Wyncode’s independently verified outcomes report, 91 percent of Wyncode graduates in the Immersive Web Development program find jobs as programmers.

 To find more information on the UX/UI Bootcamp Course or to apply, click here.

- Submitted by Wyncode Academy

READ GUEST POST BY GESSICA TORTOLANO

December 28, 2017

Q&A: Natalia Martinez-Kalinina weighs in on Miami’s entrepreneurial ecosystem

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlbergbiz@gmail.com

Two years ago, Cambridge Innovation Center announced it would be expanding to Miami, taking most of the space in the University of Miami Life Science & Technology Park, which is now called Converge Miami. And at that time it made a bold prediction: that it would quickly become a hub for entrepreneurship in Miami.

Natalia Martinez-Kalinina, an organizational psychologist and strategist focused on merging innovation, entrepreneurship and community impact, led the expansion as general manager, and CIC Miami opened about a year ago, taking up nearly 80,000 square feet for offices, co-working and events. It plans to expand another 50,000 feet in future buildings planned for Converge.

CIC already houses more than 220 organizations, a vibrant mix of startups, small businesses and nonprofits in multiple sectors. Thursday evenings have quickly become a networking hub with CIC’s nonprofit partner Venture Cafe typically hosting a dozen or so community events that are free and open to the public.

As its first year comes to a close, CIC Miami and UM have launched Converge Labs, shared wet lab spaces available to university startups and researchers. The spaces will be available to the greater community as well after Jan. 1.

CIC also now has an arts program, a Latin American soft-landing program with Chile, Colombia and Argentina signed on as partners, and it is getting ready to launch a Corporate Innovation Program that is focused at connecting corporates with startups and vice versa.

“It is something that CIC in other cities is known for, and we are taking a different spin at it here in Miami,” Martinez-Kalinina said.

“The objective of CIC Miami is not to build a building or a set of buildings, but to build a community, create a true place of convergence, and add tangible value and momentum behind our city’s progress. As such, our walls should feel permeable for anyone, not just our clients. Although a chunk of our programming is internal, most of it is either fully or partially open to the public, so we hope that any participant in the innovation, entrepreneurship, or research sectors in Miami can benefit,” she said.

The Herald spoke with Martinez-Kalinina recently about CIC and the Miami entrepreneurial ecosystem, and followed up with questions via email. Here are excerpts of the conversation.

You have said you hoped CIC Miami would become an engine of innovation and a hub of collaboration in Miami. How do you think CIC is doing?

We have a long road ahead, but are very proud of the first year that both CIC and Venture Café have had in Miami. Both organizations have designed an inclusive, comprehensive vision that is largely informed by our trajectory in other cities over the last 18-plus years, but also very specific to the moment of growth stage that Miami is in.

The feedback we have gotten from our partners, visitors, and other stakeholders has reinforced that our mission is coming to life, and our high net promoter score (88) has been an indicator that our clients feel they can thrive and grow with us.

Year one was marked by experimentation, in which your team tried many new programs. What exceeded your expectations that will most surely be continued?

The focus of our first year was all about piloting, bootstrapping, and adjusting from feedback. Fortunately, several initiatives have truly exceeded our expectations.

One was the launch of our Latin American collaborations and closed agreements with both public and private entities in Argentina, Chile, and Colombia. Since then, we've advised entrepreneurial missions, connected startups to investment opportunities, helped to soft-land entrepreneurs, and provided other resources to our partners.

Since opening, we have launched a long list of CIC-led internal and external programming, including our ongoing “Future of” series on Fintech, travel/hospitality, health, education, law, corporate social responsibility (CSR), et al. The communities that are forming around each of these topics and the high level of engagement they have brought have signaled to us that this was truly needed and is adding real value.

Along the same lines, seeking to connect South Florida’s entrepreneurs with investors, we have done several recurring events and workshops (such as AntiPortfolio) focused on activating/educating more local investors, as well as provided ongoing investor office hours.

After hearing a lot of talk about how the arts and business sectors need to come together and learn from each other, we launched The Creator’s Lounge to provide artists, makers and performers the resources they need to bring their talents to market, collaborate within diverse industries, and build the supportive community they need.

And what was most surprising or challenging?

In other cities where CIC is located, we have seen remarkable engagement from corporations. They not only house portions of their innovation, small business, or R&D groups within CIC for proximity to the entrepreneurial scene, but move significantly beyond that by designing programming that places them front and center in these conversations.

In Miami, we heard about a much-talked about disconnect between how our enterprise sector engages with innovation, and we can attest that working at this interaction has been slower than we expected.

For this reason, we have launched a Corporate Innovation program, based on a history of fruitful experiences at other CIC locations and aimed at plugging in our local enterprises into the startup ecosystem.

What’s ahead for 2018?

If 2017 was our year of experimentation, 2018 will hopefully be the year of us growing and deepening across all of our objectives. The Converge Labshared wet laboratory pilot has been so successful within its first three months that we are doubling it in size. Our investor initiatives will continue to grow, connecting local startups and entrepreneurs with more and more national and international investors via our virtual office hours and visiting programming.

Most notably, our established partnerships will begin to bear fruit. Our Latin American collaborations are due to ramp up in the volume of startups we see, joint events we execute, and the creation of our digital resource library for Latin American startups (to be housed within our Why.Miami project). And 2018 will be the first year that Babson College’s expanded graduate curriculum is operational in Miami.

More broadly, how do you see the South Florida entrepreneurial ecosystem developing?

First and foremost, I believe our next chapter will be defined by how well we learn to collaborate; this goes for our universities, institutions, public-private touchpoints, corporations, entrepreneurs.

Secondly, I see us challenging ourselves and each other to think bigger with our ideas and push outside of Miami and Florida more aggressively with funding and scaling strategies. We need to define what success looks like outside of our own backyard earlier and better.

Thirdly, I see us learning to better optimize our resources into real strategic advantages. This includes truly taking advantage of the demographic/migration patterns in South Florida and better delivering on our position sandwiched in the hemisphere. It also includes elevating the innovation narrative and focusing resources around disrupting and advancing the industry verticals that are already our strengths (logistics, health, hospitality, real estate, et al.)

From CIC sitting in the middle of the health district, have you and your team seen a need to expand programing or services for this industry?

Yes, of course. In fact, one of the pillars of our strategic plan is to be a place of convergence between the life sciences/health sector and the rest of the innovation corridor in our city, both physically and figuratively. It is the reason why have wet laboratory facilities for chemical and biological research in addition to our office and coworking spaces. It is also the reason we piloted the shared Converge Lab with The University of Miami, which has expanded to include referrals from other universities and will be open to non-university affiliated research startups starting January 2018.

Lastly, since more than 60 percent of the companies housed at CIC are life sciences or health related, we have designed ongoing programming focused on their needs — from health investor in-person and virtual office hours and working groups and sessions with pharmaceutical, hospital, and institutional representatives to our ongoing “future of health” public-facing events in collaboration with Health 2.0.

In your view, what one or two ingredients are still needed in the entrepreneurial ecosystem?

We need a much larger and more engaged/capacitated class of local pre-seed and seed investors willing to fund South Florida based companies and be active in their development. We also need more local/state government support. Strengthening innovation and entrepreneurship should be a priority for our local public sector, and that entails the deployment of funds to incentivize talent creation, new initiatives, and direct investment.

Local government should co-lead how we connect and collaborate with innovation hubs across the region in substantive ways. Several city and regional governments around the world are setting a high and thoughtful bar for these priorities, and Miami needs to follow suit.

How best can universities play a role?

Universities play several truly invaluable roles. First, they educate the entrepreneurs, professionals, thinkers and creatives of the next generation. The impact they can have by not just inspiring, but training 21st-century and entrepreneurial skills is not just important, it is imperative for the workforce of the future.

Secondly, universities should be leaders in the commercialization of research, thus helping nudge existing markets, as well as create new ones. This is part of why we are excited to have The University of Miami as such a closer partner in the broader mission of the Converge Innovation District, and are looking forward to moving this larger vision forward in 2018.

Thirdly, it has been CIC’s experience that successful innovation clusters such as Cambridge and increasingly The Cortex Innovation District in St. Louis, are heavily anchored in not just one university, but multiple institutions that choose to align, incentivize innovation, drive capacitation, and — sorry to sound like a broken record — collaborate.

Lack of diversity has been huge topic in tech nationally. From where CIC sits, quite literally, how could CIC play a role to make Miami a role model for inclusive collaboration?

CIC takes a variety of approaches to this topic, and they are different in each city, but guided by a commitment in social engagement. In Cambridge, we run the largest private high school internship program in which nearly all participants are of color. In St. Louis, we are working directly with Forward Through Ferguson to bring innovation-focused gatherings, activities and opportunities to Ferguson.

At CIC Miami, we have taken a couple of approaches to this topic thus far, from supporting/housing several initiatives that accelerate and train low-income entrepreneurs or focus on resources for minority-led businesses and creating educational programming focused on female founders, to co-designing roundtable discussions focused on the role of immigration and partnering and designing a cohort program that supports veterans in entrepreneurship (launching Q1 2018).

One of our primary avenues for engaging in each city is Venture Café, our partner community development organization, which spun out of CIC. In Boston, Venture Café has launched targeted initiatives such as Roxbury Innovation Center in addition to inclusive, large scale projects such as District Hall. In Miami, Venture Café has already become a leading convenor of gatherings, conversations, entrepreneurial support specifically focused on diversity, among a long list of other community-facing and difficult topics.

From where we sit, Miami has a unique opportunity: as an adolescent and rapidly evolving entrepreneurial hub, we can take to heart some of the lessons learned across more seasoned hubs like San Francisco and New York and leapfrog over those hurdles. That said, we can only do so if we are intentional about the access, opportunities, and resources we deploy.

Tell us one thing about you that your colleagues may not know?

I believe very strongly in the value of adult learning, and one of the ways I do this is to pick up a new hobby every year. Over the last years, these have included horseback riding, archery, and tango; stay tuned for next year’s hobby du jour!

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

NATALIA MARTINEZ KALININA

Age: 31

Current: General manager, Cambridge Innovation Center Miami, leading the CIC’s expansion to Miami. She is also the founder of Awesome Foundation MIAMI and Aminta Ventures, and is on the Governor’s Commission on Community Service, a body that oversees the administration of $32 million in federal, state, and local funding to deliver high-impact educational and volunteer programs in the state of Florida.

Previous experience: Chief innovation and technology officer for Roots of Hope, a nonprofit focused on Cuba, as well as one of six product strategists for Ultimate Software.

Education: Bachelor’s in psychology and government, Harvard; master’s in organizational psychology, Columbia.

November 29, 2017

As Argentina's entrepreneurial community grows, it looks to Miami as nexus point

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By Natalia Martinez-Kalinina 

Natalia martinez (1)Argentina’s entrepreneurial, tech, and research sectors are on a remarkable upswing, and Buenos Aires is looking toward Miami as the first community to bridge the gap between the US and LatAm startup ecosystems and serve as a gateway for tangible collaboration. How Miami steps up to play the role of a connector, anchor, support system, and co-creator will arguably be a powerful test of our ability to evolve into a true regional point of convergence around innovation.

“Buenos Aires is strategically positioning itself to become a major global entrepreneurial hub. Human capital is one of Argentina’s most valuable resources, and with various government programs launching, it is only a matter of time before the city is recognized as the innovation epicenter it has become,” says Lisa Besserman, the founder of Startup Buenos Aires who now works with the city on startup initiatives.

“Working closely with US cities like Miami will help bridge the gap between our nations, allowing us to create a more globalized startup ecosystem. Miami has always been regarded as the gateway to the Americas, so working with the city to create targeted soft landing programs and investment strategies creates opportunities for many global entrepreneurs,” says Besserman. Taking a more abstract view, she adds, “While some people are discussing building walls, Miami and Buenos Aires are working together toward building bridges.”

Argentina is already becoming South America’s new hotspot for venture capital, with the growth of inflow starting to outpace neighbors that have gotten much more attention over the last decade, mainly Chile and Brazil. George Soros has invested in an Argentine startup for the first time in 15 years, the country is regaining credibility by leaps and bounds and is expected to be upgraded to an ‘Emerging Market’ next year, and Wharton professor Stephen Sammut (a private equity and emerging markets expert) urges that, “Savvy people who are looking for a foothold in Latin America may see [investment in Argentina] as a golden opportunity.”

Startups in Argentina still face significant regulatory and quotidian challenges, including inflation, legal red tape, restrictive labor practices, and the overall recovery from more than a decade of disenfranchisement from the global economy. Luckily, current Argentine startups can gain inspiration from the country’s famous startups of the late 90s and early 2000s – Argentina has the most unicorn companies in LatAm. They can also rely on their capacitated human capital and tout the amount of agrotech, pharmaceutical, biomedical, and health tech research happening in several hubs. More relevantly, they can rely on changes from the federal and city governments, which have been focused on passing laws that support entrepreneurship, promote impact investment, incentivize startup acceleration, and even tackle the sacred cow of labor reform.

One such program, IncuBAte, is a government sponsored seed fund that offers startups from anywhere in the world as much as $30,000 in equity-free funding, free office space in Buenos Aires for a year, and access to mentorship, government resources, and investments. This year, 100 startups will be selected across ten verticals, applications close on December 28, and incubation begins in March 2018.

Given that the program is open internationally but will be conducted in Spanish, Miami is perceived as being in the best position to act both as a loudspeaker for startups in the Latin American region as well as the nexus point for promotion for US-based startups interested in expanding to the LatAm market. The Buenos Aires government is hoping to see more regional and U.S startups coming through, so there’s hope to see some Miami companies in the mix.
 
Andy Freire, Minister of Modernization for Buenos Aires, looks ahead at these increasing connections. “Diversity inclusion is a competitive advantage, one that has been recognized and catalyzed strongly in Miami," he says, "Connecting the entrepreneurial ecosystems between Buenos Aires and Miami will help more people reach the tools they need to scale their startups, through programs like IncuBAte and shared soft landing initiatives. We believe this will be key to empower families and drive economic growth between both of our cities.” 
 
Overall collaboration with Argentina is also being worked on from the Miami side. As a first step to test these waters, a group came together in late 2016 to co-author a full day of Miami-focused programming within StartupWeekBuenosAires - the largest event of its kind in Latin America - specifically focused on how to engage with the U.S. ecosystem and market by way of our city. CIC Miami has expanded on and concretized these efforts by signing agreements with several public and private partners in Argentina to help softland startups, advise commercial missions, and promote investment opportunities.

Just recently, the City Government of Buenos Aires brought an entrepreneurial mission to Miami, in addition to a more traditional enterprise delegation; it was the first pilot of what could come with more local on-the-ground support and was a successful first step toward more exchanges. Conferences and gatherings with a proven track record - such as Red Innova - will also be landing in Miami from Argentina next year with workshops and events aimed at connecting stakeholders across entrepreneurship and innovation.

In addition, a few interested and more seasoned entrepreneurs have come together with the support of the Argentine Consulate in Miami to create a better toolkit for entrepreneurs and small companies looking to come to Miami from their native country. The Entrepreneurship Committee has officially launched, is looking for local collaborators as well as startups in need of support, and can be reached at EmprendedoresArgMia@gmail.com

Natalia Martinez-Kalinina is the General Manager of CIC Miami and the Founder of Awesome Foundation MIAMI, and co-Founder of Aminta Ventures. She can be reached at Martinez@cic.us

 

November 16, 2017

Miami is fertile ground for world-class product design

By Gessica Tortolano

GessicaWith 20 yrs of experience building and leading User Experience (UX) teams from Boston to Silicon Valley on projects for Google, Facebook, Gap, Samsung and other exciting brands, I am bringing my expertise back to South Florida as head instructor of UX/UI Immersive, an intensive 8-week program at Miami’s Wyncode Academy.

UX is about solving real problems and addressing pain points, not just making something cool as a product or a feature. It is about storytelling, screen composition and clear paths to completion, while removing friction, not just rearranging elements on a screen. As a problem solving framework, UX puts the user at the heart of the process. It results in a better experience thereby producing better products.

With IOT, voice user interfaces, the blend of digital and physical experiences, and new devices entering the market daily, it is critical to realize a connected, holistic experience.

Miami is a beloved vacation destination, but I truly believe it is so much more. A creative and diverse culture like Miami’s is fertile ground for world-class design. This program will help nurture a new generation of product designers who will lead the charge in quality design in our ecosystem.

As a former resident of Miami, I worked with aspiring designers through community initiatives at University of Miami, IT Women, Honey Shine Inc., and Urgent Inc. I was overwhelmed and humbled by their interest in UX, it was palpable.

Since the beginning of my career I’ve worked with many of the world’s biggest brands, including Burger King, Instagram, IBM, the NBA, Chrysler, Coca-Cola, GM, Norwegian Cruise Lines and Carnival Cruise Lines.

It is after all these years, and diverse experiences that I am compelled to share and teach my expertise. I recall telling Johanna Mikkola, co-founder of Wyncode, it was time for me to foster a new generation of designers. Together with Wyncode that is what we will do.

It was clear, I had to partner with a school that was just as committed to quality in their programs as I was about design. I had to ensure the future UX designer would marry their skills with a methodology.

In the valley, large brands are anxious to blur the lines between physical and digital. They are running experiments and adopting Design Thinking, a human-centered methodology that reveals truths about how confident we are in a feature or product.

Product designers grasp the importance of being flexible, nimble, and are experts in team inertia and momentum. Most will hone their skills, but with a solid foundation, they can own end-to-end product development.

The Googles and Facebooks are looking for agility and iteration. Value over deliverables became my world and I am thrilled to help build an ecosystem rich with designers who practice true product development.

Curious to learn more? Join us at our UX/UI Design Workshop: Bridging The Physical & Digital World event December 7, 2018 7:00 - 9:00 PM. Classes start Jan. 22, 2018 Program details at wyncode.co or email weare@wyncode.co

Gessica Tortolano will be head instructor of  of UX/UI Immersive, an intensive 8-week program at Miami’s Wyncode Academy.

November 01, 2017

Miami’s TheVentureCity launches $100M global fund for tech startups

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Clara Bullrich, left, and Laura González-Estéfani at their TheVentureCity office in Miami Beach. TheVentureCity is now launching a $100 million fund for startups. Alexia Fodere for The Miami Herald

 

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@Miamiherald.com

This summer, when former executives of Facebook, Google, eBay and other hyper-growth companies formed a global “city” based in Miami with everything a tech startup needs to scale internationally, they were missing one key element: the money.

But not anymore.

The founder and CEO of TheVentureCity, Laura González-Estéfani, former director of international business development and mobile partnerships for Facebook, and co-founder Clara Bullrich, a 20-year private banking and asset management veteran, have launched a $100 million fund for tech entrepreneurs. This will be a tool in its unique TheVentureCity, which offers a tailored fellowship program and consultancy for tech startups with global hypergrowth potential.

TheVentureCity Fund I has already has already put $20 million to work, investing in about 14 companies globally – four of them based in the Miami area.

The new fund has invested in Boatsetter, a boat-rental platform; gaming venture The FastMind; and financial-technology startups Above & Beyond and RecargaPay, all from South Florida. It has also funded three Silicon Valley companies; the remainder are from Latin America and Europe. One has roots in Angola. Another five companies are in the pipeline. TheVentureCity typically invests more than $1 million.

“We want to accelerate emerging tech hubs around the world with amazing entrepreneurs who want to make their dreams come true. The way to do that is to guarantee that the right, smart money is there,” said González-Estéfani, in an interview last week. “There’s a lot of money in Miami but many of the LPs [limited partners] don’t understand tech.”

TheVentureCity Fund I joins several new funds launched in South Florida in the past couple of years for early-stage investments, including Krillion VenturesRokk3r Fuel ExOLas Olas Venture Capital and AGP Miami, an active angel investing network. But the number of South Florida startups has risen 63 percent in the past two years, and the lack of local venture capital options has long been an issue in the area.

Some of South Florida’s most successful startups have gone elsewhere, including Silicon Valley, for their funding. Some don’t come back.

González-Estéfani said the fund is looking for companies that can show at least six months of strong growth and customer engagement. “We are not looking at revenues from the very beginning, which is something that happens in Miami all the time – investors want to see early revenues,” said González-Estéfani, a native of Spain who worked in Silicon Valley, Europe, Latin America and Miami at Facebook for nine years, and before that was with eBay, Siemans and Ogilvy.

“But if I have a small company, I want everyone focused on growing the company. The Googles, Facebooks, eBays of the world, they didn’t start monetizing until the year three or five.”

With an “international-first” approach, TheVentureCity aims to create cross-functional bridges between key regions to scale startups on a global level through its consultancy, its acceleration programs and in-house product and engineering expertise, González-Estéfani said.

The headquarters of TheVentureCity is in Miami Beach, but the team of 17 is looking for a 10,000-square-foot office in Miami. There is a second campus in Madrid and an office in San Francisco. It just added a presence in Sydney, Australia, and Singapore may be in the works, González-Estéfani said. Elisa Rodríguez-Vila, who co-founded The LAB Miami, runs the Miami campus.

TheVentureCity’s 36-month or 18-month tailored acceleration programs, which will be called The Garden Fellowships, will launch this month at WebSummit in Lisbon, Portugal. TheVentureCity will take equity in the startup as the partnership progresses, not upfront, González-Estéfani said.

This fall, Miami Dade College and TheVentureCity launched a two-year degree in entrepreneurship. TheVentureCity recently received a “key” from the Miami-Dade Beacon Council for locating and investing in Miami.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

October 24, 2017

Need help? Me, too. A woman's view: 'It is time we support one another and speak up'

 

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By Pilar Guzman Zavala

I consider myself a strong woman. I am the owner and CEO of Half Moon Empanadas. I am also the CEO of my home, where I am helping raise two wonderful children along with my husband and business partner.

Recently I had an interview with a panel of community leaders. The idea of this panel was to understand if I could be really someone who can commit to making a difference in Miami, to leading the way, to helping bridge the gap between the poor and rich. We talked about my experience over these years and their questions took me back to some of the most painful moments of being an entrepreneur. Like the time we suddenly got a notice of eviction, both from the business and our apartment. I left the restaurant to go to my car, sat in there and screamed. Or the time when my first child was born, I remember being at the hospital after the c-section and learning that the checks were bouncing because we did not have enough money in the bank.  I remembered how stressed and scared I was; I vividly remember the pain I felt.  I talked about how in the past two years, we tried really hard to focus on streamlining the operation and created a structure that finally set us in the path of growth, and made us the 2016 Best Concession Overall for Miami Airport. And how proudly we did it.  This also took me back to the many dark places I had been, how much I have fought, how much I had sacrificed to be where I am today, to have what I have today, to be who I am today.

During the interview, they asked me where I thought I could use help personally. I went straight to my entrepreneurial side and spoke about my operational challenges, but the panel pressed on and asked again what help I needed. Nothing else came out. 

I left the interview thinking about all of the things I didn’t say, and should have.  But there was no time to pause or think. This day was like many in my life where the responsibilities of being a mom, wife, business owner, and daughter took over. I had to pick up my kids and take them to a play date that I had promised. I was grateful to have had 20 minutes to speak with my father, which I rarely do because of time, but which I cherish so much. Then there was my Facebook feed full of friends posting #MeToo and me sharing the same two words. It was all so overwhelming.

That day I kept thinking of the question, “How can we help?” I wish I could have said “Of course! Of course, I do need help, I need help in all fronts of my life. I still feel lonely; I still would like to have a woman that I can look up to. I still would like to have another woman entrepreneur to just talk to, and for that someone to understand how I feel. I feel stressed many times. I am afraid I am not doing the right things as a mother. Am I a good example of this “working mom”, or do they need more of me? All of these questions that sometimes, more often than not, cross your mind. I wanted to tell them how hard it is to be this woman, but I couldn’t.

I had a hard time sharing my story during the interview. I talked about the hard times. I almost cried, but I controlled myself. I said that I am a true believer that entrepreneurship is the best equalizer force, that despite all the ups and downs and the sacrifices, that I truly believed my business was helping me make a difference. 

"I want to say that it is possible to have it all, just not all at once. I have learned that the life I chose as working/wife/mom/entrepreneur is about trade-offs, and that perfection doesn’t exist."

This day reminded me how strong I am, and how far I have come. I, ME TOO, struggle, and continue to stand on my two feet, despite it all. I have shared my story and days like this with other women, and I realized how lonely we all feel, and how little help we ask for.  The overwhelming statistics of gender inequality say it all.  I wanted to share this story because I understand that our lives as women, business owners, and mothers is hard.  I want to say that it is possible to have it all, just not all at once. I have learned that the life I chose as working/wife/mom/entrepreneur is about trade-offs, and that perfection doesn’t exist.  I have learned the importance of creating a support system around oneself. I continue to learn to be kind to myself, and to understand that if I take care of myself first, I will be a better at all fronts. And that quality is 10 times better than quantity with my children.

I still have a way to go. I want to be the best kind of mother my kids can have. I continue to dream Half Moon Empanadas will become a national name. I even just started a new business, and I also want to be able to make a difference in my community. I want to continue to work hard, and dream higher. I want it all.

But most of all, I decided that I am OK with being this strong woman who sometimes doesn’t have it all together, and who sometimes needs to reach out for help. I think it is time we all support one another and speak up.

Pilar Guzman Zavala is the owner and CEO of Half Moon Empanadas, based in Miami.  She is a mentor for women entrepreneurs in Miami with the WIN Lab Miami from Babson College and the FIU Startup Food Lab and is a Ricardo Salinas Scholarship recipient for the Aspen Institute and a Young American Leaders Program fellow from Harvard School of Business.

READ MORE ABOUT HALF MOON EMPANADAS IN THE MIAMI HERALD: Passion, perseverance powered empanada maker through tough start 

 

 

Maxeme Tuchman of Caribu wins South Florida award at Demand Solutions Start-up Challenge

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Maxeme Tuchman, CEO of Caribu, was the South Florida winner of the Miami Dade College – InterAmerican Development Bank “Demand Solutions” Start-up Challenge that featured nearly 20 start-ups from Latin America and Miami, most owned by women entrepreneurs.

Tuchman took home the $15,000 prize and the “Most Innovative Startup in South Florida” distinction for Caribu, described as the place where FaceTime meets Kindle, for kids.

The education platform helps parents, family, and mentors read and draw with children when they’re not together. It provides an engaging livestream shared-screen experience in a carefully designed, platform with an in-app bookstore containing hundreds of books, in six languages, and educational workbooks with interactive drawing overlays. It was also a winner in the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge and other contests.

 Here are the other awards:

An Ecuadorian startup that created a platform for Latin American emerging writers was declared the winner of the Inter-American Development Bank's fifth pitch competition, held as part of the Demand Solutions event in Miami last week.

The event, featuring 18 innovative startups from across Latin America and the Caribbean, was co-hosted by the IDB and Miami Dade College (MDC). Demand Solutions, the IDB's flagship event on innovation and entrepreneurship, brings together creative minds from around the world to share solutions that improve lives.

The event closed with a pitch competition featuring 18 startups from Barbados, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Miami.

Galo Vargas, cofounder of the Ecuadorian startup Inkspired, won the top prize of $30,000 for being the Creative Entrepreneur with the Highest Potential for Global Impact. Inkspired is a platform that allows emerging fiction writers from Latin America and the world to publish their books and creative series, connecting them with interested readers and providing them with metrics to improve their work and make their stories more appealing.

Ariana Green, cofounder of Couple Six from Barbados won the Disruptive Creativity for Development Award, a $15,000 USD cash prize from the IDB. Couple Six is the first videogame development studio in Barbados; it features games based on narratives of the history and culture of the Caribbean.

Ariana also won a special award by Creative Business Cup : an invitation to participate in the Global Finals competition in Copenhagen in November.

Barbara Arteaga, cofounder of Ecoplaso from Mexico, won the Creativity for Social Impact Award, a $7,000 USD award by the IDB. Ecoplaso is a Mexican startup run by 5 women who use their proprietary biotechnology to turn fruit waste into textile substitutes of leather and fast fashion fabrics.

The entrepreneurs pitched their startups' innovations to an audience of more than 300 people and a jury composed of leading specialists from Santander Universidades, the Innovation Lab of Miami Dade College, Creative Business Cup, the Cambridge Innovation Center in Miami (CIC Miami), Latam Startups, Endeavor Miami, Babel Ventures, 23 Design, Lobo Ecosystem Builders, Babel Ventures and the Inter-American Development Bank.

The startups were selected from over 300 candidates to showcase their innovative products and services at the one-day Demand Solutions event, designed to connect startups with investors, mentors and thought leaders.

One representative from each startup traveled to Demand Solutions Miami for the Pitch Competition and to take part in two days of activities with innovators, mentors, entrepreneurs and investors, organized by MentorDay.

Other awards include:

Linda Franco, cofounder of Machina, won the award for the High-Growth Woman Entrepreneur, an invitation to participate in WeXchange Annual Forum in Santiago, Chile, in December 2017.

Julio Oliveto, cofounder of Livre, won the Lean Case award: legal and accounting services directed to startups from the creative and cultural industries to expand their business to Colombia.

All 18 startups were awarded free co-working space and network connections for programmatic objectives at the Cambridge Innovation Center in Miami (CIC Miami).

The event was sponsored by Santander Universidades. Other partners included Endeavor MiamiBabson Win Lab and Americas Society/Council of the Americas.

The livestream of the startup pitches is available here.

This was the ninth edition of Demand Solutions. The next edition of Demand Solutions will take place on November 9th in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

 

October 04, 2017

Court Buddy co-founder becomes 14th African American woman ever to raise $1 million or more

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Only 14 African American women have raised $1 million or more in venture capital, and Kristina Jones of Miami-based Court Buddy is one of them.

Court Buddy is a legal tech startup founded by James and Kristina Jones that helps clients save money on legal fees by avoiding paying high retainers and hourly fees that traditional law firms charge while also helping thousands of attorneys grow their law firms. The company announced Wednesday that it has raised $1 million in seed funding.

When Court Buddy launched in 2015 in Miami, its web-based instant-matching platform allowed consumers to choose the a-la-carte legal services  at flat rates and then matched them to pre-screened solo and small law firm attorneys. Since then, Court Buddy has launched an app, CourtBuddy Chat, and a secured attorney-client payment exchange, CB Direct Pay. Now once matched, consumers can instant message, video chat and pay  attorneys for the legal services that they need, and solo attorneys can create and manage the legal tasks they perform for clients and collect legal fees.

The Court Buddy platform has grown to match over 11,000 consumers with attorneys across the country.

Earlier this year while participating in the 500 Startups seed program, Court Buddy soft-launched Instaclient for lawyers, which allows lawyers to pre-screen payment-verified clients who have pending court appearances or court-related matters before representing them. More than 5,000 lawyers signed up within 30 days of the launch. It also opened its San Francisco office.

LDR Ventures led the seed funding round, with participation from XFactor Ventures/Flybridge Capital, UpHonest Capital, GingerBread Capital/KKR, LSS Fund, Equipo Ventures, 500 Startups, L.A. Women Angels, and angel investors. Andrew Koven of LDR Ventures will join Court Buddy’s board of directors as part of the deal.

“With the new infusion of capital from our investors, not only can we continue building on our core products, but we can also hire more top talent to support the company’s rapid growth and expansion,” said CEO James Jones Jr., also a Florida attorney.

Court Buddy was named the winner of the American Bar Association’s Brown Select Award for Legal Access earlier this year, a winner of the inaugural American Entrepreneurship Award in 2016, and was the 2015 Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge People’s Pick Winner.

September 27, 2017

11 South Florida leaders selected for cohort 4 of Social Entrepreneurship Bootcamp

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Rebecca Fishman Lipsey, center, is founder and CEO of Radical Partners, a social impact accelerator.

 

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

What are some of the most pressing issues facing our region, and how can we solve them?

Ask the alumni and new cohort of Social Entrepreneurship Bootcamp, an accelerator program for social-impact ventures based in South Florida.

The program, led by Radical Partners, announced its fourth cohort on Wednesday, selecting 11 leaders at the helm of some of the most innovative organizations seeking to improve our region. From expanding opportunities for diverse food entrepreneurs to providing a support network for transgender locals, the cohort of both for-profit and non-profit companies is committed to strengthening communities, increasing equity, and improving the quality of life for those in our city.

Each participant is offered a full scholarship to enable participation in the 12-week accelerator program focused on scaling the impact of their ventures. Upon completion of the program, participants are welcomed into an active alumni network, where they will continue to focus on strengthening Miami alongside some of the most celebrated social innovators in the region.

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In an effort to diversify the investor base in the social innovation sector, Radical Partners sought to fund the entire program through support from female investors and philanthropists. All scholarships for this fourth cohort were made possible by female investors who are committed to the future of Miami, including Tere Blanca of Blanca Commercial Real Estate, Leslie Miller Saiontz of Achieve Miami and Teach For America, CL Conroy of The Conroy Martinez Group, Ruth Admire of The William J. and Isobel G. Clarke Foundation, Dr. Elizabeth Leight, Stephanie Ansin, and Michelle Huttenhoff, among others.

The cohort will also benefit from expert advice from financial advisors, branding experts, and lawyers through partnerships with Desnoyers CPA, Fiscal Management Associates, and Milkcase Creative. Participants will also receive legal health checks from Akerman and have access to the AkermanX/Radical Partners innovation space housed at the Cambridge Innovation Center for all 12 weeks of the program.

Here are the 2017 Social Entrepreneurship Bootcamp cohort members (list provided by Radical Partners):

Communities In Schools of Miami

Elyssa Linares, President and CEO

Nonprofit providing wraparound resources to help students succeed, whether that’s clean clothes, help with school work, or emotional support to cope with or recover from a traumatic event.

Melanites

Jennifer Pierre, Founder and CEO

Toy company that creates diverse toys, storybooks, and games that celebrate brown boyhood and inspire children of color to dream big.

Mind&Melody

Cristina Rodriguez, President and Co-Founder

Nonprofit that creates novel music programs at healthcare facilities to improve the quality of life for individuals with neurological impairments like dementia.

Moonlighter

Tom Pupo, Co-Founder

S.T.E.A.M. Learning Center, Fabrication Lab, and Co-Working Space that encourages creative collaboration among artists, designers, engineers, students, educators, and innovators in order to catalyze meaningful solutions through education, technology, and community.

O, Miami

Scott Cunningham, Founder and Director

Annual festival with the goal of every single person in Miami-Dade County encountering a poem.

Open Referral Initiative

Greg Bloom, Founder and Leader

Open-access platform that enables people in need (and related organizations) to get accurate information about the health, human, and social services available in our region.

The New Tropic

Ariel Zirulnick, Director

Local media startup that connects people to their cities through storytelling and events.

TransSOCIAL

Ashley Mayfaire, Co-Founder and Director of Operations

Trans-led nonprofit working to build LGBTQ+ unity and expand community resources and support.

Unconventional

Jordan Magid, Founder and CEO

Art production agency beautifying neighborhoods, strengthening relationships and inspiring citizenship.

The Wynwood Yard

Della Heiman, Founder and CEO

Culinary incubator and community hub designed to foster the development of innovative Miami-based food, culture, design and fitness entrepreneurs.

Young Musicians Unite

Sammy Gonzalez, Co-Founder, President and CEO

Nonprofit giving students a voice through music by providing underserved communities with free, comprehensive music programming.

 

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A scene from Radical Partners Social Entrepreneurship Bootcamp Cohort 2 workshop

 

September 24, 2017

MealPal raises $20 million in venture funding, expands services

 
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Mary Biggins, right, and Katie Ghelli founded MealPal, a restaurant lunch subscription service, in Miami. It's now international.
MealPal
 
By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

MealPal, the Miami-based startup offering a subscription restaurant lunch service, announced it has raised a $20 million Series B investment, led by Silicon Valley firm Menlo Ventures.

The round brings MealPal's total funding to $35 million since its Jan. 2016 launch. In February, MealPal raised a $15 million Series A round; Miami-based Krillion Ventures is an investor. MealPal aims to make lunch pick-up from restaurants convenient and affordable. MealPal offers its service in  Miami, as well as New York, Boston, San Francisco, Toronto and a number of other cities around the world. 

Along with the funding, the company recently announced it expanded its lunch pickup service to include dinner, starting in New York City, its largest market. 

"MealPal has helped thousands of people upgrade their lunch break by skipping long restaurant lines and getting lunch for as little as $6. Now we're excited to bring this quality, affordability and efficiency to dinner," said CEO Mary Biggins, who co-founded MealPal with Katie Ghelli.

MealPal has serviced more than 3 million lunches and expended to 12 markets, most recently Manchester in the United Kingdom and Melbourne, Australia, said Biggins, who previously co-founded ClassPass, which offers fitness classes by subscription.

Previous MealPal investors, including Bessemer Venture Partners, Comcast Ventures, Haystack Partners and Next View Ventures, all participated in this new round.

The new funding will support further team and market expansion in the United States, United Kingdom Canada and Australia, as well as new markets throughout Europe in the next several months.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter. 

READ MORE:

MealPass rebrands as MealPal, unveils ‘Pal’ feature, launches in Chicago, Washington, DC

Tech Talk: From ClassPass to MealPass, the Big Apple to the Magic City