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60 posts from February 2014

February 28, 2014

Entrepreneurs pitch to crowd of 300 at Startup Expo

I wasn't able to attend this event because of a work conflict, but here's a terrific story from our news partner.

By Marcia Heroux Pounds, Sun Sentinel

From a comfortable high heel and an odor-free toilet, South Florida entrepreneurs gave their pitches this week to potential investors at the Startup Expo in Boca Raton.

About 300 people — 20-somethings to 70-somethings — attended the inaugural Startup Expo organized Wednesday by the Gold Coast Venture Capital Association to help entrepreneurs connect with investors.

Companies from Palm Beach County to Miami-Dade County were a large presence at the show, held at the Embassy Suites in Boca Raton. But the event also drew startups and investors from around Florida.

Read more here.

Posted: Feb. 28, 2014


February 27, 2014

Black tech innovators blazing a trail in South Florida

By Felecia Hatcher

As many cities look to duplicate the model of Silicon Valley, it’s important that we don’t also duplicate the diversity issues especially as it relates to African Americans and women. Because South Florida has a large population of Caribbean and African Americans, I wanted to celebrate Black History Month by highlighting 10 emerging African American startup founders who are helping to not just reshape the ecosystem in Miami but also promote diversity and access.

Christine_nChristine Celise Johnson, Founder, DiversiTech

DiversiTech is a social enterprise dedicated to fostering the growth of underrepresented communities (ethnic minorities, women, youth, LGBTQ) in technology, with an emphasis on entrepreneurship. It leverages relationships with national industry leaders to connect our network with the resources necessary for startup success. http://www.iamdtech.com/

Andrew Quarrie, Founder, Jurnid 

Jurnid is a journalism platform, where freelance journalists and digital newsrooms collaborate on publishing stories. Journalism students use Jurnid to create portfolios and connect with professionals for mentorship and growing their personal brands. Readers follow or subscribe directly to their favorite journalists, students and newsrooms all in one place. Stories on Jurnid are delivered to users’ mobile and tablet devices in a simple interface that is easy to read and engage with. https://www.jurnid.com

Travis Profile pic
Travis Montaque, Founder, Splyst LLC

Splyst is a platform and social interest network for discovering, organizing and sharing interests that revolutionizes the way information finds people. The big data company smartly analyzes user’s interests/context to deliver personalized information to them. http://www.splyst.com

Brianbrackeen1Brian Brackeen, Founder / CEO, Kairos

Kairos is a B2B facial recognition company based in Miami. Its flagship product, Kairos TimeClock helps companies identify their employees who are clocking in for the day, with just their faces. In 2013, Kairos was the first facial recognition company to release an API providing retailers the opportunity to customize shopping-experiences. www.Kairos.IO

Ann marie must attend
Ann Marie, Founder/President,  MustAttend Events Inc.

 MustAttend.co is an online marketplace to find discounted business events and a platform where event organizers can both manage (ticketing and registration software) and market their events. Subscribers have the opportunity to get discounts ranging from 15-70 percent.   MustAttend focuses primarily on business events including conferences, conventions, networking meetings, charitable functions, and professional/continuing education forums. www.MustAttend.co

Stonly Baptiste, Chief Operating Officer, Urban.us

 Urban.Us funds and helps startups that help cities. The company is building a global network of enablers that help connect startups to resources and cities. Its tools help startups learn more about how to best work with cities and helps cities learn how to enable startups.  www.Urban.us

Tandi SGG Media HeadshotTandaleya Wilder, Founder, She Got Game Global

 She Got Game Global is a digital media empowerment startup. The aim is to advance "girl power," in developing and third world nations such as Haiti, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia, by offering young women living in these areas of the world an open, more visible platform to share their personal stories through the use of internet radio, video, photos, and even personal blogs. The topics will vary and include music, sports, health, entrepreneurship, political empowerment, gender-based inequities, culinary and tech. http://www.shegotgame.com/

TamarimageTamar Lucien, Co-founder, CanUStart2day.com

CanUStart2day.com is a Saas platform that does all the candidate vetting work for restaurant and hospitality managers.  Candidates complete a one time profile and create a 1 minute 30 second video pitch to showcase their expertise and charm. Their system immediately and continuously works to match employers and to the right candidates making it a search free process for everyone. It's accessible through mobile devices. www.CanUStart2day.com

AndreKayNewPhoto2Andre Kay, Founder, SociallyBuzz

SociallyBuzz is a social media and reputation management mobile app created to help restaurant and retail owners easily manage Yelp, Google Places, Facebook and Urbanspoon in one place, anytime, anywhere. The app allows users to protect relationship with customers, manage social networks and online reputation on the go. It is a powerful, intelligent and easy-to-use. http://www.sociallybuzz.com/app

Iname_nImani Hinton, CEO/Founder, GreenAsYouWannaBe

GreenAsYouWannaBe is a self-managing marketplace for people who sell goods that are sustainable (eco-friendly) and/or created on the principles of social entrepreneurship. GreenAsYouWannaBe is a hub for consumers who are looking for environmentally friendly products, looking to support social entrepreneurs, and looking for products that have a special uniqueness.  Currently in Beta. www.GreenAsYouWannaBe.org

Felecia Hatcher is co-founder of Feverish Ice Cream and Code Fever.



February 26, 2014

Miami Beach mayor (and his dog Earl) visit Rokk3r Labs, talk tech


Photo taken and tweeted by Mayor Philip Levine after his visit to Rokk3r Labs on Wednesday.


A Miami Beach tech company invited Mayor Philip Levine to their lab for a visit this week, in response to comments Levine made at the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting last month. Levine said that he could not see Miami Beach becoming a tech hub.

"It's the dumbest idea in the world," Levine said at the Mayors meeting, according to the Washington Post. "People cling on to things that are not the highest and best use for their city. Miami Beach is never going to be a high tech hub. As much as it sounds great, it's sexy, that's not who we are."

When Rokk3r Labs in Miami Beach heard his comments, they sent him a picture of their employees, each holding up a letter of the alphabet. Together, they spelled out an invitation to visit the Lab.

German Montoya is the managing director of Rokk3r Labs, a company that helps start businesses and builds mobile apps and other software for a number of portfolio companies.  They have offices in Miami, Bogota, Toronto and New York. Montoya said it is important for Levine to see the tech opportunities that already exist in Miami Beach.

"We wanted to raise awareness about the fact that there are real possibilities for Miami Beach as an entrepreneurial center," Montoya said. "Miami Beach is a great place to live... it is very open to thinking and working, and in that way we will be able to attract talent even from afar." 

Touringrokk3rLevine, accompanied by his dog Earl, spent about an hour touring the Lab and speaking to employees about his entrepreneurial past.

"Truly, I'm the start-up mayor," Levine said. "I'm probably one of the first mayors in Dade county who has actually started up companies." 

The group also talked about ideas for building up the tech industry in Miami Beach. Montoya said Levine's experience with entrepreneurship should help the Miami Beach tech scene grow.

"It's refreshing to see that he's actually an entrepreneur that has gone through every stage, has had success and knows how to relate to people that started even with $500," Montoya said. "We really want to learn from him."

In response to the criticism, Levine announced his office will start what he calls a "blue ribbon panel" made up of entrepreneurs and possible investors to get really get the Beach's tech scene rolling.

The mayor has been making the rounds and getting to know the tech community since his speech in Washington. He attended and spoke at a reception for SIME MIA in Wynwood and addressed the crowd of 600 gathered at Refresh Miami's event at the University of Miami earlier this month. The mayor will also be a speaker at Start-up City: Miami on March 31 at New World Center.  

Posted Feb. 26, 2014. In middle photo, Mayor Levine addresses Rokk3r Labs, accompanied by his dog, Earl. Photo by Hillary Lindwall/WLRN


February 25, 2014

Kairos secures $1.2 million in Series A funding

BrianbrackeenKairos, the Miami-based facial-recognition startup, recently secured a $1.2 million Series A funding round from investors that includes New World AngelsFlorida Angel Nexus, Innovision Ventures, True Venture Innovations, Lyonsden Investments and venVelo.

Brian Brackeen, founder and CEO who works out of The LAB Miami in Wynwood, told the NewME Accelerator, which first reported the news Tuesday, that the company plans to use the funding to rebuild its website, implement its go-to-market strategy globally and grow the company to more than 40 employees by 2016. Already, more than 300 enterprise companies with 17,000 employees use its products. Brackeen graduated from the accelerator in 2012.

Kairos, founded in 2010, received $500,000 in seed funding in  2012, bringing its total funding to $1.7 million. The company in 2012 launched its first product, Kairos TimeClock, which uses facial recognition to clock employees into work, thus eliminating “buddy punching” and saving companies about 6 percent on their payrolls. Last year, the company launched Kairos ID, an infrastructure as a service, open approach for others to implement their technology upon.

“We are excited about the future of Kairos and have great confidence in its ability to leverage its current product mix and execute on an effective marketing plan. Under the capable leadership of Brian Brackeen, we believe in the company’s ability to make a real difference in reducing fraud through its advanced facial recognition software,” said Rhys L. Williams, president and co-founder of Boca raton-based New World Angels. NWA members Steve O’Hara and Bryan Abboud have joined Kairos’s board of directors.

The funding will allow Kairos to scale quickly, Brackeen said. The company plans to grow to 14 employees by April, and almost all of them will be based in Miami. “We are hiring for rock star PHP developers,” said Brackeen, whose story was chronicled  by the Wall Street Journal last year as part of the WSJ Startup of the Year web series. 

Read Brian Brackeen's last guest post, My Year with Knight, here.

Read his first guest post, Miami Nice, here.

Posted Feb. 25, 2014


FWD.us inaugurates chapter in Miami to help pass immigration reform


FWD.us, a national nonprofit started in Silicon Valley to fight for comprehensive immigration reform, has opened a chapter in Miami.

"This is our first chapter launch outside of San Francisco and the Valley, and it's only fitting to do it in the land of immigrants," FWD.us's founder Joe Green told the packed house gathered at Venture Hive Monday night for FWD's inaugural chapter meeting. "We started FWD because we believe the tech community has the ability to be a really important political force in America and we started with immigration reform because what could be a more important issue? ... Immigration is not something to be feared, It's America's greatest asset," he said, preaching to the choir. "The idea that so many talented people want to come here, that helps create more jobs and more opportunity."

Green also announced that FWD launched a "Built by Immigrants" campaign on Monday and is holding a competition for immigrant entrepreneurs to win a spot on a main stage panel with Steve Case at SXSW. At this site, people can upload their immigrant stories and then their friends can send those stories directly to their members of Congress -- by Twitter, Facebook, phone or letter.  Antón Chalbaud of The Fan Machine, an Argentine startup offering a social marketing platform for brands and agencies that  is accelerating at Venture Hive, told his immigrant story and asked the group to share his story -- tinyurl.com/thefanmachine.  

At the inaugural chapter meeting, Green moderated a broad-ranging discussion titled "Can Tech Rebuild the Middle Class and the American Dream?"  with Susan Amat, founder of Venture Hive, economist Tony Villamil of the Washington Economics Group, Diane Sanchez, CEO of the Technology Foundation of the Americas, and Seth Cassel, president of EveryMundo.

"As we move forward, a big piece of this is continuing to have our arms open, our doors open to awesome entrepreneurs like Anton," said Amat. "We need to set up the ecosystem to intake them easily and then support their growth. "

Sanchez noted that Miami's role as a tech hub for the Americas is a global play. "We as a community are exposed to diversity and therefore we have to help the rest of the country and be a gateway to the rest of the country.  If we get this model right, we can help the middle class and the working class, and take the model onward."

What can the tech community do to rebuild the Middle Class?

If you are starting a business, offer your employees an equity incentive plan so they feel a sense of ownership and if things go well they can use their wealth to start their own company or invest in another startup. "That is how wealth can make change in the tech ecosystem," said Amat.

Villamil agreed: "We need to turn laborers into capitalists, through equity participation, profit sharing, whatever you do, but you have to get it into the system of growing companies and growing economies. We have to stop thinking about minimum wage this and minimum that."

 Sanchez noted that South Florida has 1,400 multinationals. "Learn what ecosystem you should be a part of to accelerate your business model, but don't go to the Valley or Boston, it's here. Second, be demanding of your education system. How do we force our community to make that a priority? You can because of the companies you represent."

Cassel, who said of his 29 employees only four were born in the U.S., talked about the need to always be learning. "In a digital economy, education is the job... That is your competitive advantage, that is your value... and there is a constant refreshed opportunity to improve value, be valuable and accrue value." 

Green had the last word: "We need to both continue to bring the most talented people into the country as well as doing a much better job educating and retraining people here ... Help spread the stories of all the things immigrants are contributing with your members of Congress to help pass immigration reforn."








Digital marketing: Quick tips to become your own superhero

By Susan Linning

SusanlinningPeople regularly stop me to ask:  How do I market myself, my product, service, business or brand in the digital space?  How do I initiate a social media strategy? They don’t know where to begin.  They don’t know how to start. They ask questions like:

  1. 1. Will I be overexposed?
  2. 2. Do I have anything to say?
  3. 3. What is my message?
  4. 4. How will I have to time for this with my ever-increasing list of things to do? 

Every business has a reason to engage and invest in social media and digital marketing. With all the hype and measures that surround these online forums, you simply can’t afford NOT to be in the game.  Remember:  If you’re not in the game, how can you expect to compete - much less win - in the increasingly important, digital, playing field?                  

FEAR NOT.  We’re here to teach you how to be your own superhero in the digital age.  We’ve complied a short list of quick tips, below, for getting started in the social media/online world.  To effectively launch your campaign and initiate a strategy for creating momentum and getting your brand in the public eye, start with the following:

  1. 1. Use Images.  A picture is truly worth a thousand words.  If you can tell the story with visuals or include at least one image, do so.  People absorb information quicker/easier, when it is presented in a visual manner.  Readers are more engaged with content that includes images/infographics and it then becomes easier to deliver your message.  According to Facebook statistics, posts that contain a photo are shared 33% more often than content that does not contain an image. HubSpot ran an experiment in November 2012 to determine how photos affected Facebook page engagement. Data found that images received 53 percent more likes than the average text-based post. In addition to likes, average comments-per-photo increased by 104 percent when compared to text-only updates.
  2. 2. Keep Copy to a Minimum.  You have mere seconds to grab someone’s attention. If you manage to interest them in those first seconds, you’ve got them for another minute, possibly two. Make it short and to the point.  Repeat your punch line/sales pitch/call to action (see more on the call to action in #3, below). 
  3. 3. Use CTAs.  A CTA is a “Call to Action” – language that inspires someone to act or to move on a message.  A CTA should also be short and to the point.  Examples:  “Call now to make an appointment with our experts,” “Stop by tomorrow for your free gift” or “Order now for 25% off.”  
  4. 4. Consistently Update Your Platforms.  It’s critical that your online community sees consistent updates to your pages.  They need fresh content.  They want (see #5, below): 
  5. 5. Entertainment, Education, Inspiration, Motivation.  Make sure your conversations don’t solely focus on your brand and selling your products/services.  People want to be entertained, educated, inspired and motivated.  Keep the conversation light and engaging.  Ask questions, get people involved in your discourse. 
  6. 6. Share content across all social media platforms that are relevant to your brand or business.  Don’t stop at Facebook or Instagram.  Use Twitter, YouTube, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Vine, etc.  Most of these platforms will reach some segment of your target market. 
  7. 7. Understand your audience and know the language they speak, what interests them and how to convert their mere “interest” into cash in the bank.  Use the metrics on your social media platforms and website to better understand where your traffic comes from and what folks do once they land on your brand pages.

Susan Linning is president of ECHO SOCIAL MEDIA + MARKETING of Miami, which develops and executes social media and integrated marketing strategies, creating custom content and maintaining pages on social media platforms. ECHO also provides blogging and copy-writing services.

Search this blog for past columns by Susan Linning.



February 24, 2014

Open Data Jam was a time to reflect, engage and unite for a better community

By Rob Davis / @robdotd

It isn’t very often that you get the opportunity to brainstorm about the future. You may daydream here and there about it, but do you ever really consider the potential?  How would things be different? What are the steps for us to get there?  And more importantly, who will be involved in creating it?


These were the types of questions posed at the Code for Miami’s Open Data Jam held last Saturday. An afternoon accompanied by group discussions and sticky-note adventures to help us reflect on something very important, the betterment of our community. This event was part of a much larger effort, an international CodeAcross day to unite people of all backgrounds and skillsets to engage each other in the hope of a better future. How do things get better you ask? Information is part of the answer, and our access to it as well as potential uses not currently being explored made the few hours shared together seem like just minutes.

Yenesco “Nesco” Cobain, an FIU student and one of the other attendees in the breakout group on Land Use and Real Estate, had much to add. “What if someone could be alerted if they were entering a dangerous area?” he stated. Tourists could certainly use such a service, and that goes for many other areas outside of Miami as well. Another attendee suggested a heatmap of housing information emailed regularly to show new changes and trends, a useful idea for potential buyers or agents on the hunt. Permitting requirements and the need for contractor “ratings” were also brought up, a practical tool for that could be used vetting qualified and responsible builders.

Ideas blended, borrowing bits and pieces from each other, and grew into unique and actionable items. It was a humbling experience to see citizens (once called “strangers”) largely from different parts of South Florida come together for a common good. We live in these places together, shouldn’t we talk about our experiences too? Although my one regret is that I couldn’t be in two places at once, as I certainly would have enjoyed hearing the other breakout group’s suggestions. Public transportation, campaign finance, transparency in local elections, our wonderful parks, improved walkability, and the need for more “open hearts” made that afternoon time well spent. If you want to contribute to the conversation, join us on Monday night, 7pm at The Lab Miami. Everyone is welcome.

A very special thank you is in order to Ernie, Rebekah, Maggie, Xavier, Antonio, Danielle, and Chris! Thanks to PayPal for keeping us fed, The Lightbox for housing the meetup madness, The Knight Foundation for additional support, and everyone who attended for making it AWESOME!


Startup Spotlight: LinguaSys

Brian Garr CES Las Vegas 2014


Headquarters: Boca Raton

ConceptLinguaSys software allows computers to “understand” human text, making it possible for people to communicate with devices and for companies to extract critical information from vast amounts of text in different languages. Linguasys, an IBM business partner, also provides big data text analytics, for example helping companies understand what customers are saying about them on social media like Twitter or Facebook in multiple languages.      

Story: Co-founder Brian Garr had managed human language technology programs at IBM’s Boca Raton offices. Given the converging trends of big data, the “Internet of things,” and social media, Garr recognized the growing importance of natural-language processing. He set out to identify the best new R&D in the natural-language field, located the best in Melbourne, Australia, and formed LinguaSys around this technology with its inventor, Vadim Berman. With a small investment from some South Florida angels and some from Washington, D.C., they created the Carabao Linguistic Virtual Machine, along with 16 language models. From the start, they attracted big name Fortune 500 companies and today have a list of clients billionaire entrepreneur/investor and — including DARPA, the U.S. Army and Micro Systemation — that attest to the quality and affinity for their products.

Launched: March of 2010 by Garr, Vadim Berman and Can Unal.

Management team: Brian Garr, CEO; Vadim Berman, chief technology officer; Can Unal, vice president of development and architecture; Carla Johnston, vice president of worldwide sales.

Number of employees: 12 on four continents; LinguaSys is planning to add 12 more employees in the first half of this year.

Financing: LinguaSys has raised about $1 million in seed capital from investors including well-known“Shark Tank” personality Mark Cuban. It is currently using EarlyShares.com, an equity crowdfunding platform, to raise up to $1.5 million.

Recent milestones reached: Growing number of government and Fortune 500 global companies using LinguaSys technologies. The company, in some cases with its partner IBM, serves top brands in banking, hospitality, mobile phones and financial services. Global market analysts Frost & Sullivan recently named LinguaSys an “exceptional early stage investment,” awarding the company with the 2013 North American Early Stage Investment Opportunity Award in the Internet Software and Services Industry. LinguaSys recently announced it is adding Nordic and Korean languages to its product offerings.

Biggest startup challenge: Attacking the right markets, in the right sequence. LinguaSys’ Carabao software has attracted clients in multiple areas, including natural language interfaces, text analytics and machine translation. “An emerging company can’t focus equal attention on all these markets at the same time. It’s not easy to turn away from some business opportunities, but it has to be done,” Garr said.

Next steps: Continue to close major customers in top-priority markets, bring on outside board members who can add significant experience in operating large software companies, and most important, “make sure the world knows about our solutions,” said Garr.

To read past Startup Spotlights, go to the Startup Spotlight category on this blog.

Posted Feb. 24, 2014

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/02/23/3954351/startup-spotlight.html#storylink=cpy

My Ceviche: Building a road map to the masses


By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com / @ndahlberg

Roger Duarte and Sam Gorenstein believe ceviche will be the new sushi. Endeavor Miami is betting that Duarte and Gorenstein are the pair of founders to make it so.

Duarte and Gorenstein teamed up to bootstrap and open the first My Ceviche restaurant in South Beach in 2012, offering a fresh take on fast-casual dining. The restaurant business, which offers a variety of affordable, made-to-order ceviches, salads, tacos and burritos, has quickly expanded to a second location in the Brickell area, 1250 S. Miami Ave., and now employs 36 people.

Two more locations are on the runway for this year — one in South Miami set to open this spring and another one at Miami International Airport in the summer. “It’s in the D Terminal which we are extremely excited about; we have 50,000 passengers passing there a day,” said Duarte. “As for a cash flow and branding perspective, it’s a home run.”

Duarte, 30, who left the world of high finance in 2008 to open George Stone Crab before My Ceviche, and Gorenstein, 29, who was an award-winning chef at BLT Steak, Michael’s Genuine and other restaurants, want to scale their business nationally. That’s where Endeavor, a global nonprofit that supports high-growth entrepreneurship, can help. Endeavor, which opened its first U.S. office in Miami last year, chose My Ceviche’s founders as one of its first “Endeavor Entrepreneurs” from South Florida.

Continue reading "My Ceviche: Building a road map to the masses" »

KidoZen: Powering the future of mobile

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com / @ndahlberg

KidozenAs more and more corporations embrace the reality that their systems and databases need to be accessible anywhere, anytime for their increasingly mobile workforces and customers, Jesus Rodriguez saw a big need in the market to ease the process for the companies.

Large companies want to build mobile applications that “talk” to their database systems — HR, payroll, etc. — and his new company, KidoZen, provides the safe, secure cloud-based platform that simplifies that. “We provide the platform that handles the back-end so the companies can implement their own applications,” said Rodriguez, KidoZen’s founder and CEO. “The infrastructure is already taken care of — they can just focus on building the app. We make it easy to connect to the system that is secure and compliant and that gives you all the analytics you need.”

Rodriguez, 34, was recently selected as one of the first Endeavor Entrepreneurs in Miami. Endeavor, a global nonprofit that supports high-impact entrepreneurship, will help him with growing his business worldwide.

To be sure, his company is already off to a strong start. KidoZen serves nearly 80 of the world’s largest companies and has formed a number of partnerships. More than 400 apps have been built on the KidoZen platform so far. Customers include Fort Lauderdale-based Citrix, Microsoft, Toyota, JetBlue and Macy’s. KidoZen, which has attracted $5 million in venture capital, booked nearly $5 million in revenue last year and is profitable.

By the time the young South Florida company opened its platform to the public in 2013 after testing the service for a year, KidoZen had already acquired paying customers and signed key strategic alliances with professional services and enterprise software vendors. Jason Port, a Miami angel investor and a KidoZen board member, noted that KidoZen has already been recognized by major analyst firms; Yankee Group recently called KidoZen one of its top three emerging platforms for mobile development.

Continue reading "KidoZen: Powering the future of mobile " »