January 17, 2017

Small Business Spotlight: USP Motorsports owner's road to riches was slow and steady, unlike his Orange Lamborghini

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Turbocharging and test driving some of the fastest cars on the road: Just another day at the office?

For Chris Green (pictured above), founder of USP Motorsports, it is. The 35-year-old Coral Springs small-business owner, who started the company when he was 18, will be featured this week on CNBC’s second season of “Blue Collar Millionaires: Dirty Stinkin’ Rich,” a show that celebrates America’s self-made successes.

Green grew up modestly in the South Miami area, the son of a single mom. He sold candy to make money before turning to selling $60 car speaker boxes he built himself out of the family’s garage while in high school.

“I wasn’t exactly the best student in school, put it that way,” Green said.

They moved to Broward when Green was 15, and by the time he graduated from Coconut Creek Senior High School, he had saved up $5,000 in a bubble gum jar to rent 1,200 square foot space and had incorporated USP Motorsports. The venture combined his interest in car audio with his love of fast cars, because he also taught himself how to modify a car’s computer to make more horsepower, a service he began doing for his customers, while also providing custom parts. That was his start to his road to riches. But Green says it was passion, not the pursuit of dollars, that fueled his drive to succeed.

Far from being an overnight success, Green described his entrepreneurial journey as slow and steady. In the next few years, Green began adding high-level repair services for these fast cars. “I had no schooling for this stuff — it was literally 20 hour days just doing and doing and doing,” said "Green said. Even now when he hires specialists for his shop, he is not impressed with degrees and certifications: “You have to put your time into it.”

USP Motorsports was chugging along, and Green began to make a name for himself drag racing cars around the country —even winning races with a turbocharged Volkswagen Jetta, which is still on display at his Coral Springs location. In 2008, he began putting his business on the Internet and started to see opportunities beyond being a retail grease monkey in his shop.

Today, USP Motorsports, with 20 employees, is a repair shop, bricks-and-mortar retail location for custom parts and accessories and an e-commerce business for selling car parts worldwide. The company hit its first million in annual revenues in 2008.

“By 2012, it was a $3 million company, and last year, we did $7 million, and I hope to be in the $9 million range this year,” said Green, who owns an orange Lamborghini Superleggera with the license plate “NO DEGREE.”

Green is the second South Florida business owner to be featured on “Blue Collar Millionaires” this season. Antonio Ofer Sustiel, aka The Flooring King of Fort Lauderdale, was featured Jan. 4.

Each half-hour episode explores three success stories. Green’s episode is scheduled to air on CNBC at 10 p.m. Wednesday.

South Floridians are becoming regulars on business and reality TV shows. A dozen or so entrepreneurs have appeared on ABC’s “Shark Tank” over the years, and some have been on CNBC’s “The Profit.”

On Tuesday night at 10 p.m., Luke Freeman, founder of Wizard Creations, a Fort Lauderdale marketing and promotions company that makes custom T-shirts, hats and other branded products for clients including South Florida’s professional sports teams, Carnival Cruise Lines, University of Miami, Florida International University, ADT, Boca Regional Hospital and others, will appear on an episode of CNBC’s “Billion Dollar Buyer.” “We’re an underdog fight story,” Freeman told the Sun Sentinel about the $5 million company. On the show, Freeman will try to strike a large deal with restaurant operator Landry’s. He’s sworn to secrecy about whether Wizard Creations wins the contract.

 

SUP-X: The StartUp Expo to host regional finals of national hardware startup competition

SUP-X: The StartUp Expo announced that it had formed a partnership with Pittsburgh based accelerator AlphaLab Gear and that it will host the Southeast Regional competition of AlphaLab Gear’s Hardware Cup, one of the country’s most prestigious startup competitions focused on hardware.   

“We can’t wait to see who they select as finalists to compete at SUP-X,” said Bob Fitts, founder and producer of SUP-X, which is held at the Broward Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, each winter.

Six teams will be chosen from online applications to give a four-minute pitch in front a panel of Hardware Cup judges at SUP-X.  Judges will have five minutes to ask questions and the teams are judged on commercial viability, team capability and demonstrated commitment.  Regional finalists receive $3,000, a free one-year SOLIDWORKS license, as well as other prizes and a chance to win a $50,000 investment from Startbot VC at the Hardware Cup National Finals in May.  

“The growth of IoT, the falling cost of sensors, and increased access to tools and resources through makerspaces like TechShop make it cheaper, faster, and easier than ever before to get a hardware startup off the ground,” said Ilana Diamond, managing director at AlphaLab Gear. "The goal of the Hardware Cup is to find and highlight the most promising hardware startups in the nation, and we can't wait to hit the road and see what talent is out there this year."

SUP-X and Fort Lauderdale join Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Boston, Washington DC, Chicago and Austin as regional Hardware Cup hosts.  

Startups interested in applying to the regional Hardware Cup competition at SUP-X may apply at http://www.alphalabgear.org/hardwarecup/

SUP-X: The StartUp Expo is March 6-7, 2017, at the Broward Convention Center.  SUP-X is a two-day, international startup and early-stage conference at the Greater Fort Lauderdale-Broward Convention Center.    The event features a special “Diversity in Entrepreneurship Forum” to address the needs of those typically under-addressed in the startup and venture capital communities.  SUP-X will also have about 18 speeches and panel discussions on topics of interest to investors and entrepreneurs alike, as well as  its own startup competition with $50,000 in cash divided among three winners.  Fifty startups from over three-dozen US cities will exhibit at SUP-X for free.  Tickets to SUP-X range from $59-$399. 

More information about SUP-X may be found at http://www.sup-x.org/ or by contacting info@sup-x.org.

There will be a free Miami kickoff event for SUP-X with a pitch contest on Jan. 26 at Building.co. More info and to register: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/sup-x-2017-miami-dade-kickoff-party-startup-competition-tickets-30614306214

- Submitted by SUP-X: The StartUp Expo

Read last year's Miami Herald coverage from SUP-X here.

 

 

Check out the 12 Miami finalists of the 2017 Knight Cities Challenge

A neighborhood market for Overtown, a civic innovation competition for college students and a network of mobile popup containers ready for activations are among the Miami finalists in the the third annual Knight Cities Challenge.

Chosen from a pool of more than 4.500 applicants, 144 concepts nationwide have made it to the finalist round, including 12 from Miami, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced Tuesday. The Knight Cities Challenge is a national call for ideas to make the 26 communities where Knight invests more vibrant places to live and work.

Winners, who will receive a share of up to $5 million, will be announced in the spring.

The finalists from Miami are:

95 Park by Omni Community Redevelopment Agency (submitted by Jason Walker): Giving the Omni community a place to gather by converting three blighted, vacant city blocks into a large urban park with businesses, a skate park, art installations and restaurants.

Dan Paul Park Recreation Center (submitted by Mauricio Velazquez): Transforming Dan Paul Park into an active recreation hub by installing soccer fields, bike paths and a playground.

Green Space Pop-ups by Audubon Florida (submitted by Eric Draper): Creating incentives for developers to lend private vacant land for green spaces in urban Miami-Dade.

Instant City: A micro-urban infrastructure (submitted by James Brazil): Creating a network of mobile pop-up containers to activate underused public spaces and carparks around the city.

Ludlam Days by Green Mobility Network (submitted by Mari Chael): Building momentum for the Miami Loop, a proposed 70-mile greenway, through a series of events and demonstrations.

Magic City Innovation Challenge by Venture Cafe Miami (submitted by Leigh-Ann Buchanan): Nurturing Miami’s native talent and emerging innovation ecosystem through a competition that challenges college students to solve real-world civic and business problems.

Miami Great Streets Program by Street Plans Collaborative (submitted by Anthony Garcia): Establishing a program within Miami-Dade County in partnership with local transportation nonprofit Green Mobility Network that advances low-cost, quick-build transportation and open space projects.

The MIA Market (submitted by Mauricio Velazquez): Reinvigorating Overtown while creating opportunities for residents and chefs by repurposing a vacant warehouse into a neighborhood market.

OurSchoolYards (submitted by Wifredo Fernandez): Bridging the divide between communities and their public schools by transforming underused school yards into public parks.

Rep(resentative) MIA by Engage Miami (submitted by Rob Biskupic-Knight): Breaking down barriers to civic participation by putting clear, actionable information about local elected officials directly into citizens’ hands.

WiFi Parks @ Overtown by Venture Cafe Miami (submitted by Leigh-Ann Buchanan): Bringing public Wi-Fi to parks in Overtown to improve digital access and encourage people to connect in the outdoors.

Civic Incite: Citizens Setting the Agenda (submitted by Civic Incite): Inspiring civic engagement with an online platform that tracks public meetings and legislation across cities to promote in-person engagement with local governments. Finalist in the “Multiple Cities” category.

In addition, there were two finalists from Palm Beach County: 12 for 12: Pop-up to Rent, with a plan to activate 12 empty storefront spaces as an economic catalyst for West Palm Beach, and The Tie Beam, which creates a public space parallel to the railroad tracks in downtown West Palm Beach that encourages pedestrian activity and integrates public art, transportation and urban design.

“The finalists use creativity and inventiveness to tackle community challenges and realize new opportunities, proposing ideas that are unique to their city, but also hold lessons and inspiration for civic innovators across the country,” said George Abbott, Knight Foundation director for community and national initiatives.

Last year, three Miami projects were winners: The Underline project, a linear park under the Metrorail, “Biscayne Green,” a pop-up park spearheaded by the Miami Downtown Development Authority underway now, and a civic technology user testing group. In total, they received $495,000 in funding.

Nationwide, applicants proposed a wide range of ideas, from technology to better connects local government with the public and increase voter engagement, to creating public spaces – parks, trails, pools, and even treehouses – that connect people from diverse backgrounds and contribute to economic growth. Many of the projects also address racial divides, blighted neighborhoods, and social and economic inequities.

Now in its third year, the challenge is part of a three-year, $15 million commitment that Knight Foundation launched in the fall of 2014. Since then, the Knight Cities Challenge has named 69 winning ideas. See the full list of 2017 finalists at knightcities.org.

January 16, 2017

Why we chose Miami as the US headquarters for Solomoto

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CEO Pasha Romanovski, CEO of Solomoto, presents at the Startup Nation conference at the Idea Center last summer.

By Pasha Romanovski

Following my visit in May to Miami for the Startup Nation Conference at Miami Dade College's Idea Center, it became clear that the city would be the future home of Solomoto in the US. And next month we are finally making this decision a reality.

Solomoto is a global company that helps small business owner  grow online, simplifying the confusing world of digital marketing. We recently crossed the 100 000 mark of small business owners using the platform, and these entrepreneurs from Latin America, Europe and now the US are enjoying our simple dashboard to grow their business digitally in only 30 minutes a day.

 What makes Miami a good fit for us? After scouting different locations, we liked these two ingredients:

Talent – Miami has one of the most diverse populations in the US, an important fact that aligned with our team culture in both Israel and Europe. As a global company, we have found talent of every nationality to support our global growth.

Open ecosystem – Miami is an open city. In a relatively short period of time, we have met key stakeholders of the city’s growing innovation ecosystem. We get a sense of ambition and commitment to build a real tech hub, so we decided to be pioneers, not followers, and be part of this emerging hub.

What is Solomoto?

Solomoto is a digital marketing solution for small businesses. We understand that online visibility is an area many business are looking to grow, but they don’t understand its complexities or don’t have the time to dedicate to it.

Our solution is to provide an affordable alternative to agencies, a DIY platform where any small business owner can create an online presence that will help attract more consumers. With ready-made content, cross platform publishing tools for advertising and social media, a small business owner can grow his online visibility with just 30 minutes of digital marketing.  All of from one simple dashboard!

Pasha Romanovski is co-founder and CEO of Solomoto, based in Tel Aviv.

READ MORE: How to think big: Israeli entrepreneurs show how it's done

 

January 15, 2017

VR tech startup Avenue Planet launches its first 'v-commerce' location: Lincoln Road

 

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Avenue Planet, which brings the world’s best shopping streets to your virtual world, launched with a splash last week, unveiling its Lincoln Road shopping experience to the real Lincoln Road. The tech startup is developing a content hub for immersive VR experiences, including the first e-commerce platform using virtual reality. Its Miami office is at Pipeline Brickell.

Above, Miami-Dade’s Beacon Council and Miami Beach officials participated in its client’s VIP launch at the Lincoln Road Books & Books on Friday morning. Avenue Planet’s two founders, Sanjay Daswani and Bruno Carvalho,  along with Miami Beach City Commissioners John Elizabeth Aleman and Michael Grieco, Miami Beach Chamber President Jerry Libbin, Miami-Dade Beacon Council Chair Jaret Davis and Interim President Sheldon Anderson test their first virtual reality shopping avenue, Lincoln Road, their first virtual commerce "v-commerce" location.  The company has announced that 5th Avenue in New York City will be next.

Avenue Planet also held a community launch party at Drinkhouse Fire & Ice Bar in Miami Beach Thursday night, where attendees got to experience Avenue Planet on  multiple VR devices or via a huge projection screen. Below, Kabir Frutos, North and South America director of Avenue Planet, helps an attendee experience the technology.

Read More: This startup wants to take you shopping – through virtual reality

 

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January 14, 2017

Flourish Media Conference to host its inaugural investment-focused conference for women of color in South Florida

Flourish Media Conference, in partnership with Florida International University, announced its inaugural investment-focused Flourish Media Conference: Where Women Do Business will take place Feb. 3-4 at Florida International University inside the Graham Center Ballroom.

FMC is the only media conference with opportunities for business funding for female entrepreneurs of color, offering them the opportunity to learn about branding, visibility and funding  through interactive workshops and panel discussions.

“Our goal is to prepare conference attendees with the knowledge, resources, and more importantly, access to willing investors, to help close the hugely disproportional female funding gap and under-representation of women of color in high-growth startup industries," said Vivian Olodun of FMC. "This conference presents the perfect opportunity to do just that.”

The two-day Flourish Media Conference offers guest lectures and workshops in two tracks. During both tracks, guests will have the opportunity to engage with successful female business owners and attend workshops with industry professionals to help propel their business to the next level. Saturday’s VIP conference attendees will have the opportunity to live pitch to investors for substantial funding.

FMC’s guest speakers range from bloggers, social media influencers, entrepreneurs and those operating in the business finance sector. Guest speakers scheduled to attend this year’s conference include Tracy Timberlake, YouTube vlogger turned six-figure video marketing strategist, who will teach conference attendees video hacks that can transform their personal branding into guru-status; and Lila Nikole, business owner and swimwear designer whose work has been featured on major media outlets including BET and VH1, Mercedes Benz Swim Week, and worn by some of the hottest pop stars and socialites. Lila will share personal knowledge and key insight on the strategies behind building a successful brand.

Tickets to attend Flourish Media Conference are $247 for the All-Access Garden Pass and $434 for Full-Access Buddy Pass. Live stream tickets are $57. For more information or to purchase tickets: www.flourishmediaconference.com.

-submitted by FMC

 

January 13, 2017

More fund-raising news: Aeropost, Kitchen22 close financing deals

It’s venture capital week in South Florida.

In addition to previously reported rounds raised by cross-border e-commerce startup iguama of Miami, human resources software startup Candidate.Guru of Boca Raton, Miami tech startup Tesser Health and ed-tech startup ClassWallet of Miami (scroll down to read about them), two more companies received funding, according to CB Insights’ daily report.

Aeropost International Services, a Miami-based company in the mail and package forwarding business, closed a $4 million financing round from North Bridge Venture Partners. Its Miami hub in conjunction with partners throughout Latin America and the Caribbean allows the company to provide end-to-end service for the members of its network to receive their packages, internet purchases, mail and logistics services, CB Insights’ report said.

Food business Kitchen22, founded by foodies and also of Miami, raised $800,000 from undisclosed investors. Kitchen22 wants to revitalize the consumer's experience by creating premium and innovative food products, while staying true to pure and simple ingredients.

READ MORE: U.S. venture capital dipped in 2017 but took a Magic Leap in Florida

Who's been funded? Find an archive of South Florida venture capital-related stories under the Funding category of Starting Gate.

January 12, 2017

Bitcoin and blockchain tech to be talk of conference next week

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The emerging digital currency Bitcoin has had its ups and downs, but organizers of The North American Bitcoin Conference expect hundreds of attendees next week as industry experts and entrepreneurs reflect on trends in the industry. One hot trend is the mounting interest in the Bitcoin’s infrastructure technologies called blockchain, which many in the tech industry believe could disrupt any number of industries.

The conference returns Jan. 17-18 at the James L. Knight Center in downtown Miami. Now in its fourth year, it is the longest-running and most-attended financial conference for the Bitcoin, blockchain and currency industries, organizers say. Topics explored will also include investing, regulation, startups and the Internet of Things.

Offering their insights at the conference will be more than 20 speakers, including John McAfee, founder of McAfee; Jeffrey Tucker, Foundation for Economic Education and Liberty.me (pictured above speaking last year at the conference); Roger Ver, CEO, Bitcoin.com; Charlie Shrem, CEO, Intellisys; Jeff Garzik, CEO, Bloq; Reggie Middleton, CEO, Veritaseum; Valery Vavilov, CEO, BitFury; Bruce Fenton, executive director, Bitcoin Foundation; and Andrew Filipowski, chairman, Tally Capital.

“The North American Bitcoin Conference is curated to explore next-level, actionable innovation and technologies that you can start utilizing now,” said conference director Moe Levin. “We meticulously scout the best of the best, choosing fantastic speakers to teach you about the strategies they’ve developed and the technologies they’ve mastered.” Levin particularly recommends talks by Ver on volunteerism, McAfee on privacy and Tucker on liberty.

General Admission tickets for the two-day event are on sale at http://btcmiami.com/tickets/. More information on the conference: http://btcmiami.com.  

Leading up to the conference will be the free 3rd annual Miami Bitcoin Hackathon, with 20 bitcoin worth of prizes for the first 6 places, taking place at The LAB Miami this weekend. More information is here: http://www.thelabmiami.com/event/miami-bitcoin-hackathon.

Court Buddy racks up award and spot at ABA's Startup Alley

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Miami startup Court Buddy was named the winner of the 2017 American Bar Association’s BROWN SELECT award for Legal Access on Jan. 10. Roughly 6,000 people across the country voted to determine the winner.
 
To win the award, voters chose Court Buddy over 35 other nominees. Each had to meet certain criteria, which, according to the ABA’s website, included the ability to create significant improvement of the delivery of legal services and information for people of moderate income means, innovation in the development, funding or implementation of the delivery of legal services, the ability to replicate the system in other settings, and demonstrated success in the operation of the system.
 
Since 1995, the ABA’s Louis M. Brown Award has been presented annually to companies that advance access to legal services for those of moderate incomes in ways that are exemplary and replicable, according to the ABA’s website.

“This is a testament to the faith that the public has in the positive impact that we are making with this system,” said Court Buddy President Kristina Jones. “At the end of the day, creating and implementing the latest technology to help improve the lives of others is what we are really focused on.”

Court Buddy, run by co-founder couple James and Kristina Jones (pictured above), will receive the BROWN SELECT award at the ABA's midyear meeting on Feb. 4 in Miami.

Initially launched in South Florida in January 2015, Court Buddy's  platform has grown to match 10,000 consumers and small businesses with attorneys across the country, helping 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.

Court Buddy, winner of the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge People’s Pick in 2015, was also selected to participate in the American Bar Association's inaugural 2017 Inaugural Startup Alley in Chicago. “I'm sure this is going to be the first of many ABA Techshows for Court Buddy in the years to come,” said Suzie Smith, ABA’s Vice President of Sales.

The Court Buddy team will travel to Chicago to participate in the event in March 2017.

Miami e-commerce startup iguama scores $5 million in funding

IguamaBy Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiheraldcom

Miami startup iguama plans to open up its online shopping mall for U.S. brands to more consumers across Latin America, with the help of a $5 million Series A financing round led by technology venture capital firms Kibo Ventures and PeopleFund.

The company provides consumers in Latin America access to U.S. retail brands typically not available in local malls. Founded in 2014, iguama is the first cross-border e-commerce shopping club where members receive competitive pricing and exclusive deals, promotions on purchases from merchants such as Nordstrom, BCBG, Target, Overstock, Juicy Couture and others. All local customs, taxes and shipping are handled by iguama, removing international barriers from customers and providing a seamless shopping experience.

“iguama’s cross-border e-commerce technology provides tremendous value to millions of Latin American shoppers looking to access the best U.S. merchants and get delivery of their purchases to their door,” said Aquilino Peña, co-founder and managing partner of Kibo Ventures, a venture capital firm in Spain that has made nearly 40 investments.

DiegofernandezWith the new funding, iguama plans to expand throughout Latin America – and beyond, said Diego Fernandez (pictured here0, co-founder and CEO of iguama, who had been owned a freight forwarding franchise before founding iguama. The company currently services Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Panama, with several more countries including Mexico on the runway. iguama’s 35 employees are split between Guatemala, New York, China and Miami, where its logistics partners are based. Next week, iguama will be releasing a new version of its mobile site with a shopping assistant.

“A lot of Latinos like to go to Miami to buy their clothes. But [through iguama], people who don’t have access to travel can have access to the U.S. products, in a convenient way,” said Fernandez, a native of Guatemala. “Our goal is to personalize the shopping experience so customers will have the brands that they like. We are committed to expand our cross-border e-commerce platform to the rest of Latin America and eventually Europe as well.”

Cross-border e-commerce in Latin America is still an underserved market, and iguama has assembled a unique and experienced team in technology, e-commerce and cross-border logistics to become an important player, said Matias de Tezanos, co-founder and CEO of the Miami-based PeopleFund, an early backer of iguama.

iguama recently announced that Weihua Yan, co-founder and former CTO of diapers.com, has joined the company as Chief Technology Officer. Last year, Michael DeSimone, former CEO of cross-border logistics company Borderfree, joined the board of directors.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.