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33 posts from August 2012

August 31, 2012

Miami players heat up Brazil tech conference

By Pabla Ayala

PablaphotoThe Next Web’s Latin American Conference, held in Sao Paulo Aug. 22-23, brought together tech industry keynote speakers such as Werner Vogels, CTO of Amazon, Nicolas Szekazy, co-founder of Kaszek Ventures, and Miami’s own Demian Bellumio, COO of Senzari, as well as an action packed Startup Battle featuring startups from Latin America’s best accelerators delivering their pitches to a panel of expert judges.

Keynote speaker Werner Vogels, CTO of Amazon, who took on the topic of big data and the popularity of cloud computing, cloud storage and increasing broadband penetration, stole the show. “Big data now drives real-time decision making,” Vogels told the packed room of listeners taking notes, tweeting and snapping pictures. His engaging delivery reinforced the message that the necessary technology is here, enabling companies to collect vast amounts of data, and as a business you must learn to harness all this information to learn and listen to your customers. "Big data is more than just analytics," he went on to say. “Your data is only as good as its content, and you must exercise data quality control; control data, correct data, validate data.”

Among the 114 applications, 20 of the best startups from 21212, AceleradoraAnjos do Brasil, Campinas StartupsDreamIt VenturesFounder InstituteNXTP Labs, Polo MarteStart-Up
, Startup Farm and Wayra were chosen for the Battle. There was a definite trend among the competing startups when it came to open source software, location-based programming and
educational apps.

Some of the crowd favorites were:

* Argentina’s WormHole IT, who won the CP Capital Inflection Venture Prize at the 2011 FIU’s Americas Venture Capital Conference, is a web conferencing platform allowing businesses to conduct meetings and training sessions.

* Peru’s WorldRat is a crowd-sourced travel guide giving users insight to a local’s point-of-view to explore the world. Some guides are as broad as ‘Architecture in Europe’ to ‘Surviving a
Hangover New Orleans Style’.

* Kinetik  gives you personal app recommendations from your friends, peers, and the  press so you’ll never have to search and browse over 600.000 apps again.

Drumroll please…

The panel of judges was so torn at the end of this Battle that they could not agree on a clear winner. The only thing they were unanimous on was letting a coin toss decide the winner. The coin chose Argentina’s Workana as the winner. Workana, backed by Miami-based angel investor Marco Giberti, connects Latin American freelancers with companies looking for temp staff to execute remote projects. This service offers freelancers a platform to easily and more effectively manage their
workflow, admin and accounting work.

Peru’s Papaya took home the second place in the Startup Battle and caught the attention of judge Juan Pablo Cappello from Miami, co-founder of Idea.me and an attorney. Papaya offers a solution to movie theatres for online and mobile ticket sales, revenue management system and an advertising platform for movie studios and distributors. He noted that in Latin America’s unruly queues, Papaya could be quite convenient!

Chile took home the third place for AgentPiggy, winner of the Startup of the Year award at TNW Chile
Startup Awards. It is a fun and easy to use educational platform for kids ages 5-15 to learn financial literacy. Parents set up chores or “challenges” on AgentPiggy’s platform with a dollar amount available to the child once the chore has been completed. AgentPiggy then teaches them about their financial options, like how to save or even donate their earnings.

In the end TNW’s Latin American Conference proved to be a great platform to see what the region’s best have to offer, get insight into the regional market trends and witness the immense talent and innovation it has to offer. If you missed TNW LatAm, don’t miss the LatAm Invasion of Silicon Valley Demo Day at Dave McClure’s 500 Startups headquarters Sept. 6, 2012 featuring the best startups
from Brazil’s leading accelerator 21212 and Argentina-based NXTP Labs, the only Tech Stars affiliated accelerator in Latin America.

Pabla Ayala is Media Whisperer at CVOX Group and producer of Geeky Beach

Watch Geeky Beach's videos and see blog posts from The Next Web conference here 


August 30, 2012

Refresh Miami turnout a symbol for how far tech community has come

When Brian Breslin founded Refresh Miami in 2006, his monthly meetup would be five people at a Starbucks. Last night, it was standing room only -- about 300 people -- at University of Miami's Storer Auditorium for its monthly event, themed "Founder Matchmaking: Finding your Tech/Biz Partner."

REFRESH1 CPJIt was the highest attendance ever for a regular monthly meeting, which was co-hosted by the UM MBA Entrepreneurship Club. Breslin attributes that partly to the recent momentum the tech community has been experiencing and partiy to the beer, wine and Misha's cupcakes. But whatever the reason, the topic was a magnet: There were a lot of people starting companies and hoping to meet potential team members, as well as many others looking to  join someone else's venture. "People have been toying with their (business) idea for a long time and are frustrated. They don't know how to get started," says Breslin.

REFRESH2 CPJAt last night's matchmaking event, there was a panel discusson with two from the technical side (Ed Toro of Inversiones.com and Charles Irizari of Rokk3r Labs) and two from the investment side  (Steve Repetti of RadWeb Technologies and RadWeb Technology Partners and Dr. Stewart Davis of multiple health and medical device companies), who were peppered with questions about red flags when looking for a startup "spouse," what an investor wants in a business plan and presentation, outsourcing versus bringing in a technical co-founder, what qualities one needs to succeed and more. But most of the action happened before and after the panel discussion -- in the auditorium's reception area, startups were on the prowl, with a lot of cards exchanged and phone bumping going on.  By the looks of it, some left with potential partners.

Regular meetups like Refresh fill a need, providing meeting places in South Florida, Breslin notes. Now there are dozens of groups, with more forming every month. In 2010, when he started offering a comprehensive listing of tech meetups and events in South Florida called miamitechevents.com, there were four to five events a month. Last month, there were 82. 

Still, what South Florida lacks is gathering spots like Coupa Cafe in Palo Alto, Breslin says, where you can go any time of the day and meet other entrepreneurs, techies and investors. In time, perhaps South Florida will sprout several of its own versions of Coupa. To that end Breslin recently started offering "open office hours" at the Bookstore in the Grove, where those who sign up get a 1/2 hour of his undivided attention for business discussion and feedback. Repetti said he offers "Godfather hours" for that purpose.   

Or maybe South Florida already has some favorite gathering spots in the making. Tell us. With South Florida so spread out, we will need several. What do you think should be our Coupas? 

For more entrepreneurship news, follow me on Twitter, @ndahlberg

(Photos by Miami Herald staff photographer Carl Juste show networking in the aisles and Brian Breslin leading the Aug. 29 Refresh Miami meeting in UM's Storer Auditorium.)


Startup news: Arctico completes seed funding round

  NestorvillalobosNestor Villalobos' latest startup is Arctico, which will produce and sell prepackaged ice products. He said he thought of the idea having lived in the Dominican Republic where there is no sure way ensuring that any ice consumed is clean.  The concept seems to be warming up investors.

Villalobos reports this week he just closed Arctico’s seed round of $255k in funding.

According to Villalobos, Arctico's inexpensive, purified ice in  patented, tamper-proof, recyclable packages that can be transported as water. The pre-sealed, purified ice cools drinks more efficiently than traditional cubes and provides clean, filtered ice in places where customers may not trust local sources. So far, more than 45 restaurants, hotels, and bars have expressed interest in testing the product when it becomes available next year, he says.

What else is going on in the South Florida startup world? Although I won't be able to post everything, I do want to keep in the know for future story ideas, etc. Email me at ndahlberg@miamiherald.com and follow me on Twitter at @ndahlberg


August 28, 2012

Startup Weekend coming to Boca Oct. 12

Startup Weekend returns to South Florida Oct. 12-14. This time, the home base will be the newly expanded Technology Business Incubator at the Research Park at Florida Atlantic University.

Header-Boca-Raton1Startup Weekend, headquartered in Seattle, is a global grassroots movement of entrepreneurs who are learning the basics of founding startups and launching ventures. Its organizers say it put on 400 events in 100 countries in 2011, making it the largest organization of its type. At the events -- which have taken place in countries from Brazil to Mongolia -- entrepreneurs, developers, designers and marketers come together for weekend-long workshops to pitch ideas, form teams and launch companies.

Organizers say Startup Weekend follows this model: anyone is welcome to pitch their startup idea and receive feedback from their peers. Teams organically form around the top ideas (as determined by popular vote) and then it’s a 54-hour frenzy of business model creation, coding, designing and market validation. The weekends culminate with presentations in front of local entrepreneurial leaders with another opportunity for critical feedback.

The weekend in Boca Raton is still taking shape but many speakers, mentors and judges have already signed on, including Steve Repetti, CEO/CTO of RadWeb Technologies and administrator of the RadWeb Technology Partners startup fund; Raj Kulkarni, a software entrepreneur, advisor and investor;  Rob Strandberg, president and CEO of the Enterprise Development Corp. of South Florida;  Kimberly Gramm, executive director of the Adams Center for Entrepreneurship at FAU; Andrej Kostresevic, founder of New Frontier Nomads; Craig Agranoff, CBS News Television tech contributor; Marc Asselin, CEO of mLabs and founder of StartupSquad; Jose A. Hernandez-Solaun, senior vice president at GE Capital; Franc Nemanic, board member of Miami Innovation Fund and member of New World Angels; and Alex de Carvalho, entrepreneur, speaker, author and professor.

Startup Weekend Boca Raton, which begins at 6 p.m. Oct. 12 and runs through 9 p.m. Oct. 14 at the incubator at 3651 FAU Blvd. in Boca Raton, costs $99. For more information or to register,  go here.


August 27, 2012

Fall brings opportunities to learn about entrepreneurship

South Florida offers no shortage of opportunities to learn about starting up, running and even selling a business. Several low-cost entrepreneurship workshops are scheduled for September:

SCORE Miami-Dade is offering a new workshop, "Cloud Technology for the Small Business," from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m on Wednesday, Sept. 5, at Score Miami-Dade’s office at the Stephen P. Clark Government Center, 111 NW 1st St., Floor 19 West, Miami. German Lopez,  co-founder partner at B2B Cloud Solutions, will be the workshop’s presenter. The cost is $30. For more information and to find out how to register, go here or contact SCORE at 786-425-9119.

SCORE Miami-Dade is also putting on a workshop called “Guide to Selling Your Business,” from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sept. 10 at the Government Center office. Topics will include documentation, pricing and valuation, working with a business broker and more. The cost is $30. To register, go here.

Florida International University's Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center has launched its fall entrepreneurship workshop series, held at FIU's College of Business Complex, 11200 SW 8th St., Miami. "Developing a Killer Business Plan" on Sept. 7, from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., focuses on learning how to profoundly understand your customer in order to solve a big problem in the market. The workshop will be led by Robert Hacker, chief executive of GH Capital Partners and CFO of One Laptop Per Child.  "Marketing Strategy and Social Media for Entrepreneurs," from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Oct. 5, will be led by  John Fleming, technology practice lead, Biztegra Partners. The FIU workshops are $50. For more information, call 305-348-7156 or go here.

FIU's Pino Center also offers a series of webinars. "Legal Issues for Entrepreneurs" is coming up Sept. 18 at 11 a.m. Cost is $25. For more information, go here.

In addition, SCORE Miami-Dade and FIU's Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center are teaming up on an Entrepreneurship Empowerment Series. The first workshop is set for Sept 12 from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.and is called Funding Your Growing Business. The second one in the series, on Sept. 19, is about selling a business and there are four others scheduled so far. The workshops in this series are $50. Find out more and register here.

 To see a list of organizations and agencies in South Florida that offer services to entrepreneurs and small businesses, go here. Often the services are free or offered at a  reasonable cost.

 Follow me on Twitter to stay up on entrepreneurship news: @ndahlberg


August 26, 2012

Teens launch company over summer break, take 3 apps to market

One new tech company formed, three mobile applications built and on the market, two more apps in development  --  not your typical teen summer vacation.

After graduating from Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale in June, Jared Browarnik, Ed Walker and Zachary Koerbel decided to forgo pool time and summer jobs to dive right into entrepreneurship.

Movora team 2With an idea for their first app already percolating, the three quickly formed Movora Software Development,  a  company specializing in mobile apps on a variety of platforms. Often working past midnight, the team finished  iPick Stocks within a week. The app provides a stock market game for the iPhone that challenges users to predict the movement of the market and see how their predictions stack up against other users.

Their company’s second app, also developed in about a week, is called Dow Board. The team says it is the quickest and easiest iPad app to visually track the 30 stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. “The idea was originally to write the app for my own personal use,” says Koerbel, “but after we realized the applicability behind it, there was no question that we should share it with others in the industry.”

Although there have been challenges working with Apple’s stringent requirements, “how well we work together as a team has been a big part of our success,” says Browarnik. “We think like-mindedly; we don’t argue.  We work efficiently and quickly.”

Browarnik, an award-winning wildlife photographer, serves as the lead iPhone developer. He developed his first app, 3D Photo Maker, two years ago. Now with nearly 250,000 downloads, 3D Photo Maker is one of the App Store’s most popular applications in its space, Browarnik says. Koerbel, an avid golfer, serves as lead web developer and secondary iPhone developer. Koerbel, along with Browarnik, recently placed 1st at both a statewide computer science competition hosted at Stetson University and the statewide TEAMS science competition. Walker, a competitive rower, serves as head graphic designer. He’s also an Android developer, and the team is exploring developing apps for the Android platform as well.

“When they are working, the outside world doesn’t exist,” says Michael Browarnik, Jared’s father. “Pine Crest has a nice way of instilling a wonderful work ethic in their students.”

So far, the apps have sold in “the hundreds” but the team hasn’t yet begun marketing them in a big way to students --  that’s next, Jared Browarnik says. The apps generally sell for $1.99, though some have free versions. 

Movora --  derived from Latin words for “move” and “frontier”  -- is interested in incorporating its stock market game into Pine Crest’s curriculum, as well as other schools, to help students more enjoyably learn about the market.  Browarnik sees other educational applications in the future, too – for instance an older game his chemistry teacher used in classes could be modernized for today’s iPhone-toting students, he says.

“We want to take our products and knowledge and give back to the schools and help kids learn about finance management and IT in unique ways,” says Browarnik. “With a looming digital learning gap in underserved areas, technology can become the great provider, not the great divider.”

The three teens also developed a third app this summer called iKey Cars, which allows a user to virtually key a car and trick his friend (or enemy) into thinking that his or her car has really been keyed. “We just wanted to do something light-hearted after the other two apps,” Browarnik says. It’s
not so funny when you’re on the receiving end of the prank, his father laughs.

Movora has two other apps in development. One of them will enable a slide show to transition with the beat of the music.  Another involves photography and nightlife, but because of a confidentiality agreement Movora can’t say more.

Now as the three young entrepreneurs head off to colleges in the Northeast, they will be bringing their company along, too.

Browarnik will attend Columbia University as an Egleston Scholar in the Fall, and will study computer science. Koerbel and Walker will attend Princeton University and are deciding between majors in either operations research and financial engineering or computer science.

Although they have put in long hours together this summer, the friends don’t see a problem keeping the company going while they are in college.

“There are so many ways to communicate nowadays,” says Browarnik, “And it’s only an hour train ride.”

(Photo above shows Movora team members, from left, Ed Walker, Zachary Koerbel and Jared Browarnik.)

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg

August 24, 2012

United Payments No. 1 on Inc. fastest growing companies list

United Payments, a North Miami Beach-based payment processing business, ranked  No. 1  on Inc. magazine’s list of  fastest-growing U.S. companies this year. The company, which has 31 employees, achieved a sales growth of 23,646 percent over three years, according to the listing.

 Seventeen other South Florida-based companies made the top 500 list, while dozens more made the top 5,000. Others that ranked high included Merchant Services of Miami Beach at No. 18, ING Solutions of North Miami Beach at No. 24, EngagePoint of Fort Lauderdale at No. 34, and BrokersWeb.com of Miami at No. 50.

The ranking measures revenue and staff growth from the recessionary years of 2008-2011. The Inc. 500’s aggregate revenue is $15.7 billion, with a median three-year growth of 1,431 percent. The companies on this year’s list employ more than 48,000 people in total, according to Inc.’s annual survey.

 This year’s rankings are published in the September issue of Inc. magazine.

See the full list at http://www.inc.com/inc5000/list/2012. You can filter the list by state.

Storm safety: Tips for safeguarding your financial records, data

With hurricane preparedness top of mind at this time, this guest post by an expert in information security at Kaufman, Rossin is particularly timely.

By Jorge Rey

Jorge ReyTwenty years ago when Hurricane Andrew ripped through South Florida neighborhoods, we were not as reliant on electronic data as we are now. With another storm threatening to make landfall here, here are 10 steps business owners should take to safeguard financial records and other valuable data and keep their companies running smoothly after a natural disaster.

* Create an electronic set of backup records (e.g. bank statements, tax returns, insurance policies.

* Protect your IT network and electronic devices by moving computers, cables, printers, etc., away from the floor and windows and covering them with plastic garbage bags. If possible and practical, relocate electronic devices to an unaffected area and use remote servers.

* Shut down all computers and monitors. Unplug all power cables and network cables to avoid power surges and lightning damage.

* Document valuables with photographs or videos of office contents and store with a trusted person who lives outside the area.

* Update company emergency plans, including planned timing for closing the business during a hurricane watch or warning.

* Form an emergency management team and assign specific tasks to each member.

* Identify staff, materials, procedures and equipment that are absolutely necessary to keep the business operating, and make plans to relocate essential personnel and equipment if necessary. 

* Update your communications plan, including a hotline or phone tree that provides employees
with up-to-date information about the business’ status (open or closed) and allows management to confirm that all employees are safe.

* Create a list of customers whom you need to contact immediately, and keep their contact information accessible.

* Check on fiduciary bonds if you are an employer who uses payroll service providers; a bond could offer protection if the provider defaults.

Jorge Rey, CISA, CISM, CGEIT is an associate principal and the director of information security & compliance for Kaufman, Rossin & Co. and can be reached at jrey@kaufmanrossin.com Kaufman, Rossin is one of the top CPA firms in Florida.

August 23, 2012

In the 'i' of the storm: South Florida startup Vaultbox.me

With a storm threatening our state, preparedness may finally be top of mind. Luckily, a South Florida startup has you covered. 


Vaultbox.me is a cloud-based inventory solution, which stores all relevant information about the items in a user's home, such as make, model, serial number and photos, said Jacob Israel, one of the company's co-founders.  All the information is input via iPhone, iPad or your personal computer.
"If disaster ever strikes, you can log on to your phone or any computer and pull a detailed report to give to the police and to your insurance agent," said Israel, who co-founded the company with Mauricio Jimenez. "Living in South Florida, we know very well what damage even a small hurricane could do."
Subscription fees range from free to $5 a month, depending on the number of items you wish to inventory. Customers range from consumers with just a few items to businesses with hundreds of computers.
Israel said he founded the company after he had been broken into several times in a year.  "Each time I tried to file a claim with the insurance companies, I was told I didn't have something that was needed for me to be reimbursed for my loss," he said, and he thought there had to be a better way.
The company, which has six employees plus an intern, launched its service and iPhone app earlier this year. VaultBox.me has more than 2,000 customers and recently signed affiliate deals with eight insurance companies and brokers that will offer the service to their customers.
Vaultbox.me is one of seven South Florida startups scheduled to be in the spotlight during an expot next Wednesday during the Republican National Convention. Read more about that here. The way this storm is headed, Vaultbox.me may get some extra attention.    

August 22, 2012

Sew Love, Oneironaut Games rev up their startups with Kickstarter

Sew Love FoundersSisters Sabrina and Silvia Scandar’s young fashion startup is designed for crowdsourcing. Designers post their ideas on sewlove.co and the people vote on their favorite fashions and sometimes offer suggestions for changes. Sew Love will manufacture the winning design.

“A lot of people use fashion as an expression of who they are. My sister thought what better way to express yourself than to actually be able to design your own clothes. We started playing around,” said Sabrina, 25, a Miami native who works out of the Wynwood co-working space LAB Miami. Silvia, 29, now works in San Francisco.

In the last couple of months, the Sew Love sisters have already crowdsourced one of their first winning designs, an orange Tulip Skirt (it was originally prototyped in pink but its fans had another vision). They are now running a campaign for a purse made of recycled materials. They’re working with a developer to build out their site and have added a fashion designer to their team.

 Sabrina said as a young company they are fine-turning their business model and want to fully test their concept — but they need money to do that.

 Enter Kickstarter, the website where people ask for money to finance their projects. The sisters are seeking $20,000 to give their startup a funding push, including financing production of that Tulip Skirt.

Kickstarter is the largest of dozens of sites, including Peerbackers.com based in Palm Beach County, devoted to crowdfunding, in which donors contribute small sums of money to get a project off the ground. There are dozens of projects posted on Kickstarter from South Florida, such as a ToyQuarium, music-related projects and quite a few video games.

Photo (8) One of those games is HarmEvil, the first product being developed by Oneironaut Games in Miami, a company incubated in the Game Developers Guild hosted at the Collaborative Open Innovation Lab at Florida International University’s Engineering Center. Contributors to Oneironaut’s Kickstarter project get various rewards, including a digital copy of the game at the $5 donor level. Higher levels offer more involvement, even meeting with the Oneironaut team. What does the $500 level get you? “An opportunity to leave a gigantic footprint in the HarmEvil world,” the founders say. This includes inside access and a say in the direction of future game development.

Viewer“In our game, each character has its own unique personality and you become attached to the character,” said Oneironaut’s founder, Gio Peralto-Pritchard, 19, who has teamed up with developer Carlos Gonzalez, 23. Both are FIU students. That customer attachment is important to the company, too. “We’re really trying to interact with our customers,” Peralto-Pritchard said, adding that along with the funding to develop the game, Kickstarter is helping the small company to get its name out there.

The Sew Love sisters, meanwhile, are already a quarter of the way to their fund-raising goal, but Sabrina Scandar understands that even its Kickstarter campaign may need a little kick to reach it. That’s why she has timed Sew Love’s launch party for Sept. 20 at LAB Miami, before the Kickstarter campaign ends Oct. 9. “We’ll have iPads there. We’ll make it very easy for our fans to contribute,” she said.

Read a fuller story about Kickstarter here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/08/22/v-fullstory/2963464/giving-projects-a-kickstart.html

(Photos show Silvia and Sabrina Scandar of Sew Love, top; middle photo shows Silvia Scandar and two models wearing Sew Love fashions; bottom photo shows Gio Peralto-Pritchard and Carlos Gonzalez of Oneironaut Games, which is producing the HarmEvil video game.

Follow Nancy on Twitter @ndahlberg