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38 posts from April 2013

April 30, 2013

ContactUs.com completes seed round

ContactUs.com announced today the completion of $400,000 in seed  financing, led by the Miami-based PeopleFund.

ContactUs.com, headquartered in Miami, operates a suite of online marketing tools called ContactUs for small businesses to create easy-to-configure contact forms and lead management solutions. The company is using the funding to build out the capabilities, features and UI of ContactUs, as well as to begin sales and marketing.

Founded in November 2012, ContactUs.com was funded initially by co-founders Brad Seiler and Howard Yeh.  Seiler is the founder of boberdoo, an automation and distribution software company serving online lead generators.  Yeh was previously co-founder and COO of BrokersWeb,  a performance marketing company that was twice named to the Inc 500 list of fastest-growing companies before its sale in 2011. “The capabilities of the founders, along with ContactUs.com’s business model, convinced us of a big opportunity,” said Matias de Tezanos, founder of PeopleFund.

The company offers a free version of ContactUs for website, mobile and Facebook.  It also has a WordPress contact form plugin  as well as premium packages enabling businesses to generate phone leads, accept appointment requests, receive SMS notifications and qualify leads. “Our goal is to turn website “Contact Us” forms into better outlets for generating new customers,” said Seiler.

April 29, 2013

Rokk Miami with Brad Feld: No shortage of ideas, next steps for building a startup community

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How do you pack together a couple of hundred people -- many of them entrepreneurs -- to come up with executable steps to building a startup community? It's OK if the process is a little messy and chaotic, said Brad Feld, who wrote the book on the subject -- that's how the magic happens.

At Rokk Miami 2013, the first event of its kind hosted by Rokk3r Labs with support from the Knight Foundation and Brad Feld and held at The Light Box, 10 working groups of 10-12 people broke away to brainstorm strategies for their assigned themes, which revolved around the role of early stage and later stage companies, investment, education, the Miami brand and community support, while others networked in the halls. Later the groups came back together and each working group presented one to three of their best ideas. Brad shared  insights on what worked and hasn't worked in other areas. 

Jose of TekFight (look for TekFight to return to Innovate MIA in December) shared his group's idea for a central go-to place, like a startup chamber of commerce, to get the advice or guidance you need about resources and options Miami's community offers.  Brad advised recognizing there will be messiness but organize it as organically as you can, using technology rather than physical spaces. For example the Hitchhiker's Guide to Boulder Tech Startup Community is a 28-page SlideSshare on the web containing lots of info and links that can be easily updated. Boulder also has a Co-working Space Week, a tour of all the spaces and a website with spaces.

 Other ideas were presented about how to get later-stage companies more involved in mentoring and other ways of helping the startup ecosystem, and Demian of Senzari said he would convene a group of CEOs of these companies. Brad said these companies are at the stage where they can start paying it forward -- either by making small monetary investments in startups or in sharing resources, such as office space, services or their time. Don't let them get disconnected from the community at just the time they are needed most, Brad said.  "Be the person that helps the next generation of entrepreneurs."


There were several ideas for creating an online network for connecting investors and startups, or embracing one that has already been started, such as mapyourstartup.co. Another group suggested an investor collective that includes local and out of market investors. Another one: an investor bootcamp.

Brad said the seed and angel network is easiest for the startup community to build. "The next layer [of funding] is really hard to raise everywhere all the time no matter what you read in TechCrunch," he said. I would  encourage you to focus your energy on your local layer of angels or in trying to lure investors from other areas that already have ties here, he added.


In an area the size of South Florida, think of the startup community as neighborhoods, Brad said. Each neighborhood has unique characteristics but they are all linked. Make sure you are cross pollinating. Pick an event in another neighborhood every month and check it out. "Move around, that connective tissue between the neighborhoods is so important, on the capital side as well." TheSouth Florida startup community has already started experimenting with offering a bus between the three counties for some events.

Kristen of Bookigee asked: How do we vet and put together a network of quality startup advisors and connect them with startups who need them?  There is a difference between hiring a lawyer and hiring a lawyer with experience in startups; same for accountants. We would like to build a network of homegrown vetted legal and financial experts who specialize on startups, her group said. Brad agreed this is essential for long-term growth. One of Brad's suggestion: If you find a good lawyer or accountant or investor, don't keep it to yourself, share that person.

We need to connect high school students with startups and we have 400 students eager and ready to go -- let's make it happen, said Wifredo of The LAB Miami.  We are working with Miami Dade Public Schools, the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship and the co-working spaces to start getting these students placed this summer, Wifredo's group said. "I put this idea in the highly awesome category," said Brad.  "If every company that's local decides to adopt two or three high school students, that's transformative."

How to get junior high and high school students interested in tech? Get kids involed in the maker movement, robotics and hackathons -- way more fun. Progressive companies like Sphero are doing events with kids and their parents.

As for branding Miami, your brand is Miami, Brad said. Embrace your natural resources -- which are often cultural -- such as Miami's position as the gateway to Latin America and its vibrant arts scene.  Amplify them.

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Later in the day at The LAB Miami, with several hundred in attendance, Brad shared more from his book, Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City, and experiences: Recognize that, just like building a company, building a community takes time -- 5, 10, 15 years; the movement needs to be led by entrepreneurs; it should be inclusive; and regular events by and for entrepreneurs are critical (we seem to have that one down, thanks to Refresh Miami and many meetup groups).  "What you all did today was awesome," he said.

"At Rokk3r Labs, our commitment is to continue to lead the charge and take on all the things that we can, but we are looking  to you guys -- let's work together to make these goals measurable, let's make them  actionable," said Nabyl Charania, co-founder and managing director of Rokk3r Labs in closing the event. "If we can do that, this event was a success."

Check out this  digital capture of RokkMiami from Jodi and The Value Web team, which fascilitated the event.

The Knight Foundation's blog post, which includes a link to the full presentation, is here.

For more Miami startup news, follow me on Twitter @ndahlberg


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The event photos were provided by CVOX Group, Jose Pimienta and yours truly.

Open English raises Series D round of $65 million

Open English, the rapidly growing online English language school, has raised an additional $65 million in venture capital to fund its expansion within Latin America — and outside the region.

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The Series D round, valuing the company at $350 million, brings the total funding raised to $120 million. "There are very few companies that have had that level of funding in ed-tech and certainly for companies in Latin America," said Andres Moreno, CEO and co-founder of the Miami-based company with offices or call centers in Panama, Caracas, Bogota and Sao Paulo. The round was led by Technology Crossover Ventures, whose investments include Facebook, Expedia, Netflix, HomeAway and others, including education technology companies.  C-Round investors Redpoint Ventures and Insight Venture Partners also participated in this round, Moreno said on Monday.

Open English, which offers live, online classes by native English speakers in 22 countries across Latin America, has grown from 5,000 students in 2010 to more 70,000 current students today. With about a year of launching in Brazil -- it’s first non-Spanish market -- the company recently enrolled its 10,000th student there. Open English employs more than 2,000 full-time, part-time and contract workers.

"We’re just really scratching the surface here. We think there is meaningful opportunity to continue to capture market share as people realize this is a better and more cost effective solution than traditional brick and mortar schools," said Moreno, who started the company in Venezuela with his partners with just $700 in 2006.

Moreno explained the $65 million round will fund expansion within Latin America, significant investments in its products, including its back-end and consumer learning platforms, and, for the first time, expansion beyond the core region.

"We will be launching in three new territories outside of Latin America in 2013," Moreno said, adding that announcements will be coming out in the next few months.

“I can’t tell you how excited we are to grow this,” said Moreno. “This is good news for the Latin American entrepreneurial ecosystem ... and it is a good thing for Miami.”

Boris Hirmas Said, entrepreneur in residence at Florida International University and chairman of Tres Mares Group who was attending the Rokk Miami event on Monday, added: "Andres Moreno and Open English are the role models Miami empowers everyday to inspire our new generation of entrepreneurs, as top valuations and serious money are a reality in our neck of the woods."

 To read the recent Miami Herald profile of Open English, go here.


April 28, 2013

Rokk Miami: Building a roadmap for a tech hub + free event with Brad Feld

TecheggWhat does Miami need to put it on the map as a vibrant tech hub?

That’s the focus of Monday’s Rokk Miami, which will bring together up to 140 people from the community — entrepreneurs, foundations, government leaders, educators, big businesses and others — to assemble a roadmap for building a tech hub. Rokk Miami will be hosted by Miami Beach-based Rokk3r Labs, the Knight Foundation and Brad Feld, the well-known investor and author of Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City who will be at the event to advise and help guide the roadmap process.

Image_1367007937693290 (1)The participant list for the April 29th gathering was curated to represent a broad spectrum of the community but to be mostly entrepreneurs, said Nabyl Charania (pictured), managing director of Rokk3r Labs, a hybrid accelerator that launches disruptive companies that has grown to 33 employees in a year. Under the guidance of Feld and the assistance of The Value Web, which helps facilitate collaboration, the large group will be subdivided into smaller groups that will be asked to come up with strategies in various areas such as angel and later-stage funding, branding Miami, and attracting and retaining tech talent.

Noting the successes of Refresh Miami, Knight Foundation, Venture Hive, The LAB Miami, Pipeline and other groups and that many of the pieces needed for a vibrant tech community are already in place, Charania said: “Our goal is to come up with a roadmap. We want executable goals so as entrepreneurs we can take ownership of some pieces and other people take ownership of other pieces. Everyone needs to buy in. We are not naive enough to think this will happen in one sitting, but we hope this ignites the spark and entrepreneurs will get inspired to band together to achieve the goals they decide upon.” 

Later on Monday, at 4 p.m., Feld will give a presentation about building a startup community; it will be at The LAB Miami and it is open to the public. He'll sign books, too. As of Friday, more than 300 people had registered for the free event. More information is here: rokkmiami.eventbrite.com/

“Like Brad says in his book, we can’t wait for government, we can’t wait for investors to come here, it has to be entrepreneurial led,” said Charania. To build a tech and startup hub, “we have to take responsibility.”


More crowdfunding sites to consider + tips

By Tasha Cunningham

My article in this week’s Business Monday provided insight into  how South Florida entrepreneurs are using crowdfunding  to fund their business ventures – or even launching sites of their own. In addition to the sites mentioned in the article, we’ve compiled a list of four more that could help you realize your dream or fund your cause.

CrowdRise – If you want to raise money for a charity project, you might be interested in CrowdRise, a site for 501(c)(3) charities to raise money. It’s unique because anyone can sign up to volunteer to launch a fundraising campaign for a charity already registered on the site, creating instant social entrepreneurs in the process. Check it out here – www.crowdrise.com

Tip – Use crowdfunding to gauge public support for a project. Are people enthusiastic about              your idea? Crowdfunding is a great way to test the waters and determine whether your project             is viable. Remember that a major component of any successful crowdfunding campaign              is             promotion. Whether you’re raising money for a cause or a business venture, it’s important        to aggressively market what you’re doing.

StartSomeGood – This is another crowdfunding site for charities. Projects range from books and films to environmental programs and volunteer opportunities. Find out more here – www.startsomegood.com

Tip – When you decide on a project or business you’d like to start using crowdfunding, be sure         to check out who else is out there doing what you do. Find out if there are other projects similar          to yours that have been crowdfunded. Reach out to those in charge of the project and talk to             them about their experiences in crowdfunding. This will give you a good idea of what you will be        up against.

RocketHub – This is a crowdfunding platform for just about anything creative. It is a free to launch a project and you get to keep the funds you raise regardless of whether or not you reach your fundraising goal. Check it out here – www.rockethub.com.

Tip –Just because your project didn’t get fully funded the first time around, it            doesn’t mean you can’t improve and come back again. Poll the crowd, talk to your backers and            find out what people liked and didn’t like about your product or service. Keep in touch with your      backers and keep them informed about the progress you’re making and create opportunities to get feedback from them along the way.

Ideame – This Latin America-focused crowdfunding site aims to help creators, such as artists, NGOs, social entrepreneurs and startups, connect with funders. Projects from the U.S. are welcome. Check it out here, particularly if your project is focused on the Latin American marketplace — www.idea.me

If you missed the article, check it out here. 

April 26, 2013

The lowdown on Legal Hackathon Miami

This event is an experiment in combining the standard hackathon format with Lean-style customer development, with the goal being finding products worth building, rather than simply building products. We will be bringing in legal professionals throughout the 2-day event, as an opportunity to explore their painpoints and collaboratively design solutions for problems they encounter in their day-to-day operations.

The lowdown:

Legal Hackathon Miami

Location: Pipeline Brickell, 1101 Brickell Avenue, Miami, Florida

Date: May 10-11, 2013

Hours: Friday, May 10, 2013 at 6:00 pm to Saturday, May 11, 2013 at 9 pm

Primary Organizers: Lalchandani Simon PL, New Frontier Nomads, LLC, Pipeline Brickell and AT&T

Sponsors: Boalt.com, Vivid InfoTech USA, Roho Cuban Coffee Company, Porketta, and Pizzarium.

Concept: The inspiration behind the LHM is to bring together lawyers and legal professionals on the one hand, and technology professionals on the other, to develop applications that will benefit the legal profession. LHM teams will be made up of legal professionals, programmers, and designers. LHM demonstrates that Miami’s technology community has grown from a hodge-podge of technology enthusiasts to a comprehensive development presence that can focus its innovative creations on sector specific problems.

Prizes: Knight Foundation’s $5000 prize for best legal application, $200 to $500 in gift cards for other participants.

Ancillary activities: Networking events on each day – opening reception, Saturday lunch, Saturday networking event and judging.


Juan Pablo Capello – Lawyer at Greenberg Traurig and Entrepreneur

Anton Diego – CEO EveryMundo

Benoit Wirz – Director of Business Consulting at the Knight Foundation

Kubs Lalchandani – Founding Partner Lalchandani Simon PL and Entrepreneur

Cost: free

To sign up: http://mobileappjdmia.eventbrite.com/

More info: https://www.facebook.com/LegalHackathonMiami

April 25, 2013

Florida Venture Forum selects early-stage presenting companies

The Florida Venture Forum (http://www.floridaventureforum.org) has selected 18 Florida-based companies to present at its Early Stage Capital Conference, to be held at the Reunion Resort in Orlando on May 15, 2013. Five of the companies are from the tri-county area. The Conference is open to the public and registration is available on the Forum’s website.

Eighteen of Florida’s best early-stage prospects for equity financing will make 8 minute presentations to an audience of venture capitalists, private equity investors, angel investors, investment bankers, financial intermediaries and entrepreneurs.  Presenting companies are listed below by region:

Central/East Central Florida

AZZLY® (www.Azzly.com) Vero Beach, is a “Platform as a Service”, an end to end medical office system that benefits physicians, non-physician providers, payers, research organizations and patients. For the 500,000+ office based providers in the US-AZZLY delivers a real-time conversion from a patient encounter (visit) to a claim, improving profits, cash flow and revenues.

Cantoche (www.livingactor.com; www.cantoche.com),Orlando, is an international company based in Orlando, FL and Paris, France, that develops and distributes Living Actor™, an avatar Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform. Living Actor™ is a powerful CRM marketing and training tool that allows companies to intuitively create and publish personalized intelligent 3D virtual assistants to provide Web self-service to online, mobile, and tablet users. Living Actor™ technology automatically indexes and converts content to natural conversational speech and real-time social behaviors.

Frontline Technology Solutions (www.FrontlineTS.com) Winter Park, developed a tablet replacement to the standard GPS unit rented out at rental car desks.  They currently are working with Virgin Holidays, Dollar Thrifty, 4 hotels and a few other companies. The Navi-Tablet is a custom software suite they put download on top of a mobile device's OS that changes the way the mobile device operates.  Currently, they have a strategic partnership with Samsung and T-Mobile.

Partender (www.partender.com) Gainesville, is a mobile, B2B software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution that reduces the time it takes managers and owners to do bar inventory from a frustrating 5-6 hours to 15 minutes or less. We do this by digitizing the crazy, archaic paper-pen-clipboard process into a few taps and swipes on iOS and Android.

TruMobility, Inc (www.trumobility.com ) Vero Beach, offers Private Cellular Network solutions, which enable businesses to integrate cellular phones with their corporate phone systems.  TruMobility is the only B2B cellular carrier in the U.S. that has combined a Hosted PBX solution with a Private Cellular Network together with nationwide cellular voice, text and data.  The result is a converged business communications solution that substantially lowers communication costs, increases mobile productivity and eliminates coverage gaps in the office. 

TrueMotion Spine (www.truemotionspine.com ) Gainesville, is a medical device company focused on commercializing patented cervical and lumbar disc replacement devices to preserve and restore motion to the human spine, while alleviating chronic neck and back pain caused by degenerative disc disease. Since the early1900s, arthrodesis or “spinal fusion” has been the leading surgical treatment for degenerative disc disease.

Southeast Florida

Arctico Holdings, LLC (www.arctico.com ) Miami, seeks to pioneer the untapped market of purified ice in single-serving, tamper-proof packaging. The company will locally source and purify water, subsequently storing it in sealed vessels. When frozen, the ice may be removed from the packaging without risking contamination. This would allow consumers to cool their drinks using expertly engineered, slow-melting ice in places where they may not trust local sources.

Bookigee, Inc. (www.bookigee.com ; www.writercube.com) Miami, seeks to create a new breed of analytics for the $28B book publishing industry. Female-founded by a team of experienced publishing veterans, they combine data with our deep domain expertise to make smart, actionable tools that help control risk & drive profitability as publishing retools into a flatter information-driven business. Their industry relationships and reputation for innovation give them tremendous credibility and partnering opportunities that few other publishing-related startups can duplicate. They look for underperforming streams of data--both public and private--that can become high-value with the addition of their unique domain expertise. The goal is to move information in new patterns to unlock powerful business opportunities for key stakeholders such as publishers, authors, retailers, and consumers.

LearnerNation! (www.learnernation.com ) Miami, is a cloud-based SAAS learning platform featuring patent-pending technology that enables anyone anywhere to instantly deploy learning, training, and performance management initiatives. The LearnerNation™ platform is different from other e-learning solutions because it has a number of powerful, built-in teaching and learning tools that provide users the capacity to publish and consume media-rich content in a highly gamified and socialized user environment. Currently servicing companies like LG, Cartier and RIOT Games, Learnernation™ has demonstrated its product’s versatility and acceptance in a myriad of industrial sectors: they service clients ranging from international professional certification organizations (over 1600 different State / Local / Private Organizations + 23 US State Child Welfare Offices), to fitness franchises, EHR & Medical companies, restaurant franchises, professional continuing education organizations, large educational publishers, language schools, luxury retailers, and even New York Times Best- Selling Authors.

Maxx Technologies, Inc.(www.MyBarMaxx.com ) Ft. Lauderdale, provides bar owners the world’s most comprehensive liquor inventory management system. This technology was designed by Maxx Tech in response to a well demonstrated market need in the hospitality sector, which suffers from over $50 Billion in shrinkage each year. Using state of the art RFID technology, extremely accurate scales and video monitoring, the system and its robust software helps bar owners increase beverage profits substantially by recapturing lost revenues and decreasing costs. Users of the system are able to remotely monitor and control operations, generate reports and help eliminate shrinkage.  Furthermore users can easily calculate and re-order inventories on a real time basis through the web-based User Interface.  The User Interface’s reports are accessible from any internet enabled device; anywhere, anytime.  

Melanovus Oncology (www.melanovus.com) Jensen Beach, is a late pre-clinical stage biotechnology company that is developing innovative new therapies and diagnostics for late stage melanoma, which remains an unmet medical need representing a $3B US market.  The company's portfolio includes compounds with demonstrated pre-clinical activity in various stages of melanoma. The core technology comes from the labs of the Director of the Penn State Melanoma Research Center, with exclusive global license to the company from the Penn State Research Foundation. 

71 Pounds, Inc. (www.71lbs.com ) Ft. Lauderdale, offers a "set-and-forget, then collect" system that allows small and medium businesses (SMBs_ to easily collect the $2 Billion of unclaimed FedEx & UPS shipping refunds left on the table each year. They automatically recover their clients an average of 4-6% of their parcel spend on a no risk, contingent fee basis. They are adding 100+ customers each month and provide tens of thousands of dollars in monthly refunds to their customers.

Southwest Florida

GSL Solutions Inc. (www.gslsolutions.com) Tampa, specializes in helping government organizations manage relationships with key stakeholder groups through design and technologies. GSL Solutions has developed a Software as a Service (SaaS) platform that publishes content across web, mobile, e-mail and social media channels. Additionally, the system was built to process financial payments and other communication transactions.

Innovatia Medical Systems LLC (IMS)  St. Petersburg, designs high performance wirelessly networked in vivo medical devices to advance minimally invasive surgery (MIS).  MIS is the preferred approach in 39 procedures, 4 of which account for 2.4M abdominal surgeries per year in the U.S. (1.3M of those are MIS). MIS is accomplished with one or several small incisions, has a lower probability of complications vs. open surgery, results in less pain and trauma and a shorter recovery time. MIS under local vs. general anesthesia, results in cost savings in drugs and a lower probability of complications.

Interactive Lifestyle Management LLC (www.interactivelifestylemanagement.com), Osprey, has designed a proprietary, web-based behavior change program in conjunction with its corporate partner, Morneau Shepell (MS), to improve the overall health of employee users and reduce employer health care and absenteeism costs. The online platform uses advanced software technologies to deliver behavior change programs to large audiences at low cost.  ILM programs are sold by Healthcare Benefit Administrators (HBAs) such as MS to their corporate clients.

KiteDesk (www.kitedesk.com), Tampa, helps companies leverage their employees’ extended social networks to drive more sales and to make better hires. Our solution integrates public, private, and third party data to provide highly accurate details regarding customer or employee candidates including opportunities for warm introductions, company and contact social information, and a unique stream view that includes all public posts and communication histories. KiteDesk’s free Personal Cloud client, a component of KiteDesk enterprise, was launched in February of 2013.

Uptown Network (www.uptownnetwork.com), Naples, Macroeconomic factors have the hospitality industry squeezed for profits.  Daily deals and digital coupons exacerbate the situation further.  Menu technology has scantly changed in 50 years.  Uptown Network has invented the solution; SMART Menu Services for the Dining Lifestyle. (SMART stands for Social, Mobile, Aware and Real-Time).  They have proprietary technology that creates a network of menus and brands, creating a network effect in hospitality.  In addition to the technology, they have a pristine, curated database of food and wine.  

North Florida

Mystical Basket, LLC (www.mysticalbasket.com), Jacksonville, is a social e-commerce company focused on the development of the MystiKit platform that empowers the creation, promotion, discovery and purchase of materials and tools for DIY projects using a unique patent-pending technology.  MystiKit Platform is a Do-it-Yourself (DIY) Projects eco-System – that solves both the problems Consumers face in acquiring the right materials and tools needed to do a project and the problems that prevent DIY Project Creators from capitalizing on their ideas.


SCORE Miami-Dade offering 5 workshops in Spanish

Starting in May, SCORE Miami-Dade will present five new business workshops in Spanish – thanks to sponsorship from Staples. SCORE is a longtime provider of free and low-cost resources to entrepreneurs and small businesses.


“We realize how important it is to reach this growing group of business owners with Spanish language workshops to provide them more tools to grow and succeed,” says Marjorie Weber, Chair of Score Miami-Dade. “The support from Staples will help us reach an under-served part of Miami’s new business population.”


The first Spanish language workshop, “Creando un Plan de Mercadeo,” will help business owners or those considering starting a business create their marketing plan, promote their business and learn how to use the Internet to increase sales. It takes place on Thursday May 9, 2013 at 5:00 p.m. at Shake a Leg Foundation, 2620 South Bayshore Drive, Coconut Grove, FL 33133. Presenter Luis M. Zuniga, former President and Secretary of the Miami-Dade SCORE chapter, is a current SCORE counselor with 40 years of experience in marketing and sales operations for high-tech multinational corporations.


On Saturday June 8, 2013, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., SCORE will feature “Estrategias para mejorar la Productividad de su Negocio usando Internet e Innovación.” Students will learn techniques, strategies and methods to improve business productivity using the Internet and social networks. Presenter Gonzalo Capriles is an international consultant with extensive experience in business competitiveness using internet marketing and social networking. The workshop will take place at the Small Business Administration Offices, 100 South Biscayne Blvd., Miami, FL 33131.


The cost for each workshop is $30. Register at http://miamidade.score.org or call 786-425-9119 for more information.


The additional three Spanish-language workshops will take place this fall.

New SBA-backed program aimed at helping women-owned businesses with government contracting

Did you know women-owned businesses are one of the fastest-growing segments of new business in our economy? To help support their growth, the Small Business Administration (SBA) along with American Express OPEN and Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP) announced the launch of ChallengeHER – a new national initiative aimed at boosting government contracting opportunities for women-owned small businesses.

ChallengeHER will offer women business owners the following to help them successfully complete in the government contracting marketplace:

* Free events and workshops across the country – in 2013, there are nine events planned starting on May 23 with the Department of Energy;
* Online curriculum and resources that address various government contracting topics;
* Mentoring opportunities with experienced women contractors;
* Access to government buyers and prime contractors

You can read more about the program here


April 24, 2013

5 social media predictions for 2013

The LAB Miami is flying in digital marketing expert Katya Constantine to lead a  workshop on customer acquisition and digital marketing that will address how to best use the channels to acquire and retain customers, how to optimize your costs and track and measure performance. More details on the workshop, taking place May 6, are here: http://labcustomeracquisition.eventbrite.com. Below is her guest post.

By Katya Constantine

Katya2012 brought a lot of change when it comes to social media. We saw the rise of gamification. We saw more analytical tools being launched in the social media world.  We also saw brands trying to
figure it out:  What does social media mean to them?  Should they be on Facebook?  Twitter? Pinterest? Google+?  Given the rapid revenue growth and emergence of a number of new platforms, 2013 promises to be an even more exciting year in social media.

Over the last two years, I’ve had the opportunity to be at the forefront of social media trends, as I was responsible for strategy and development of social media for one of the largest consumer brands in the world — Amazon.com, specifically for the movies product line.

Based on that, and what I've been seeing happening in social media, here are my predictions for 2013:

1. The rising use of analytics:  Social media is no longer just a brand channel for businesses. It is a fully-fledged marketing channel, just like search and email.  In 2013, brands will start to assign (if they haven’t already) business goals to this new channel.  Thus, we will see a rise in analytics tools to help businesses measure ROI on their social media spend.  We’ll see some better standardization on metrics as well as the tools that allow businesses to succeed.

2. Increased presence of consumer brands across multiple social media sites: Most brands recognize that even if they are not at the front line of a social media, they need to have a presence. In 2012, new social media channels came in to the mix such as Google+ and Pinterest.  Especially in consumer brands, we will see an increase in brands having a presence across all major social media channels. Expect to see more promotions and messages coming in from your favorite brands across multiple sites.

3. The rise of social game-based promotions: It is very common to see sweepstakes as a pathway to grow your fan base.  Expect to see more social media promotions from brands - whether it’s credits, deals, or sweepstakes -  as brands try to grow their fan base as well as customer database.  This is a great way for consumers to learn and to share their favorite brands with their friends but also one of the key ways that a brand has to build its base.

4. The rise of targeted offers:  Brands are becoming savvy in terms of using social media data to target their messages based on demographics, location, your interests… And the leading social media platforms starting with Facebook and Twitter have recently rolled out targeting mechanisms that allow proper targeting at scale.  2013 will become a year of targeted offers being delivered via social media channels.

5. Increased integration between social media and other digital channels: Expect to see brands integrate social media into all of their digital channels, whether its website, email, or search.  Social media will have deep integration whether it's for personalization or for recommendations - as well the ability to close the feedback loop with other channels. There are some tools out there that are already doing it today.  This will be a standard for how brands engage and bring awareness to their products and services in 2013.

Well, here you go.  These are our top predictions for social media for 2013.  We are yet to see what the next social media channel is that is embraced by brands (mobile messaging, anyone?), but we definitely know that social media is here to stay as an online channel for both B2B and B2C brands.

Katya Constantine is a seasoned marketer with over 10 years of online marketing experience.  Most recently, she was at Expedia and Amazon, leading projects ranging from behavior-based programs to increasing customer acquisition and conversion with great success. Katya is the founder of DigiShopGirl Media and is an active blogger for TechCocktail. Follow Katya on Twitter: @digishopgirl