« August 2014 | Main | October 2014 »

51 posts from September 2014

September 30, 2014

Girl Develop It launches in Miami

20140930_InaugralGirlDevelopItClass (1)

The national non-profit organization Girl Develop It has launched in Miami, with a mission of increasing the female software development workforce. "My goal is to empower women by offering them a nurturing learning environment where they can be exposed to mentors and role models as they learn the computer programming skills they need to build a lucrative future in what is increasingly becoming one of the most in-demand professions, software development." says Miami Chapter Leader Ibis Arrastia. Classes began Monday at The LAB Miami in Wynwood. Girl Develop It offers multiple classes throughout the year in HTML, CSS, Javascript, Ruby, Python, Java, Github, Android app development and iOS app development. More info: http://www.GirlDevelopIt.com/chapters/miami.

Happy 1st birthday to Endeavor Miami -- and to many more



By Laura I. Maydón

September has always been a special month for me. I have many reasons to celebrate: my two brothers’ birthdays, Mexico’s national festivities and my own birthday.  This year, September becomes even more relevant to me as I reflect and commemorate Endeavor Miami’s first birthday.

Endeavor Miami’s mission to select, mentor and accelerate high-impact entrepreneurs represents such an essential component to our city.  Leading Endeavor Miami gives me a strong sense of purpose.  Endeavor’s track record around the world is a testament to the fact that high-impact entrepreneurs create a multiplier effect by inspiring, mentoring and investing in other entrepreneurs. And this is how cities develop an entrepreneurial ecosystem. Collectively, Endeavor Entrepreneurs around the world generated approximately $6.5 billion in revenue and 400,000 jobs in 2013.

How did Endeavor make it to Miami? The idea was spearheaded by Endeavor co-founder Peter Kellner and Matt Haggman, Knight’s Miami program director.  In September 2013, Endeavor Miami debuted thanks to the support of Knight Foundation and the leadership of our board of directors, an amazing group of business leaders co-chaired by Adriana Cisneros and Danny Echavarria. Each of of them is committed to improving the economic sustainability of our city, by helping entrepreneurs scale. I could not be more grateful for their support.

We search and select high-impact entrepreneurs because they are an essential path to economic development and job creation. (If you’re curious to learn how these entrepreneurs are transforming the world, read “The Bold Ones: High-impact Entrepreneurs Who Transform,”,published by the World Economic Forum). At Endeavor we help entrepreneurs think bigger, make better decisions and multiply their influence.

It’s amazing to sit and think how a year ago, this big wind of change positively affected my life. I showed up at the Open English headquarters—Andres Moreno kindly let me borrow a space—and I started to learn and absorb as much as I could of Endeavor best practices from now 20 countries around the world.  Fortunately, I had an amazing team from Endeavor Global supporting my efforts all the way. At the same time, I was looking to build a pipeline and to fast-track our first entrepreneurs, plus setting up the operation. I had my own startup in many ways; I had to hire a team, look for an office and set the strategic direction for this impact organization.

A year after the launch, I can happily report that we have seven high-impact entrepreneurs and four very diverse companies: My Ceviche, Kidozen, Leapfactor and LearnerNation. And we are supporting them with our great network of mentors and other services, such as access to capital, access to markets and talent. Our target is to prepare at least four more companies in the next few months for selection by year’s end. A big shout-out to my wonderful team, which is taking the ride with me and helps make all of this happen.

A lot of hard work and collaboration remains to be done. We need to continue building brand awareness. The search, selection and servicing of high-impact entrepreneurs are ongoing – which means that I need to continue engaging a committed network of world-class mentors who support this ecosystem.  It’s no secret that there’s still a lot of development to do to attract smart capital so that entrepreneurs can grow.

Thankfully, I’m not alone in this journey. I’ve lived in Miami for 12 years and I’ve never felt so much energy and the willingness of so many brilliant and hardworking people who are all collaborating to increase the impact of entrepreneurship in Miami and to grow this ecosystem.

Happy birthday, Endeavor Miami … to many more Septembers ahead.

Entrepreneurs may apply to become an Endeavor Miami Entrepreneur at endeavormiami.org.

Laura I. Maydón is managing director of Endeavor Miami, the first U.S. affiliate of Endeavor, a global nonprofit that promotes high-impact entrepreneurship. Knight Foundation invested $2 million to launch Endeavor Miami.


Study: Large gender gap persists in VC deals, industry

MoneyWomen entrepreneurs have made progress obtaining venture capital, yet a wide gender gap persists, according to a new study released by Babson College on Tuesday.

The amount of early-stage investment in companies with a woman on the executive team has tripled to 15 percent from 5 percent in the last 15 years, the study found. Yet 85 percent of all venture capital-funded businesses have no women on the executive team and only 2.7 percent of venture capital-funded companies had a woman CEO, according to the study titled “Women Entrepreneurs 2014: Bridging the Gender Gap in Venture Capital.”

The study was conducted by Babson professors leading the Diana Project, a program founded in 1996 to research women-led businesses globally. The study analyzed 6,793 unique companies in the United States that received venture capital funding between 2011 and 2013.

Among other key findings:

* Businesses with women entrepreneurs perform as well as or better than those led by men. Businesses with a woman on the executive team are more likely to have higher valuations at both first and last funding (64 percent higher and 49 percent higher, respectively).

* Venture capital firms with women partners are more than twice as likely to invest in companies with a woman on the executive team (34 percent of firms with a woman partner compared to 13 percent of firms without a woman partner) and more than three times as likely to invest in companies with women CEOs (58 percent of firms with women partners versus 15 percent of firms without women partners).

* The total number of women partners in venture capital firms has declined significantly since 1999, dropping to 6 percent from 10 percent. Just 139 of the country’s 1,562 venture capital firms had women partners, at the time the Babson report was compiled.

“Only a small portion of early-stage investment is going to women entrepreneurs, yet our data suggest that venture capital-funded businesses with women on the executive team perform better on multiple dimensions,” said Candida G. Brush, Babson professor, report author and Diana Project co-founder. “Enormous untapped investment opportunity exists for venture capitalists smart enough to look at the numbers and fund women entrepreneurs.” 

The report included several recommendations for the venture capital industry, including examining the reasons why so few women enter or stay in venture capital roles, showcasing the successes of growth-oriented, venture-funded women entrepreneurs and doing more to seek out early-stage, women-led businesses across the country.

“For years, it was believed that women entrepreneurs needed to change their approach to networking, pitching or industry sector in order to secure venture capital,” said Patricia G. Greene, a co-founder of the Diana Project and the Paul T. Babson Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies at Babson College. “It is increasingly apparent that many women entrepreneurs have followed these prescriptions, yet they have not been able to achieve proportionate increases in early-stage growth capital.

"The tremendous work within the entrepreneurship ecosystem to support and foster growth of women entrepreneurs, and the findings of this study, demonstrate it is not the women who need fixing; the model for venture capital that has been in place since the 1980s simply does not work for women entrepreneurs,” Greene said.

The full report is available at www.babson.edu/DianaProject.

September 29, 2014

News: New York’s Scout Ventures chooses Miami for VC office

SCOUT 2 honeycombBy Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@MiamiHerald.com

A New York venture capital firm that specializes in early-stage investments has chosen Miami for its first office outside the Big Apple.

Brad Harrison HeadshotScout Ventures, this year named a top 100 VC firm by Entrepreneur magazine, typically invests $50,000 to $500,000 in emerging companies between their angel and Series A financing rounds. Scout, run by founder and Managing Partner Bradley Harrison, focuses on media, technology and entertainment, and likes companies focused on education technology, the shared economy, self-help health solutions, mobile payments, big data and social content. 

Now with two funds, Scout has invested in 48 companies in New York, California, Washington, Texas and up and down the East Coast, but it hasn't invested in a South Florida startup -- yet.

For South Florida, this is an important development because the entrepreneurial community has been working on developing a technology hub here. Big gains have been made at the angel level of financing -- several new networks have opened and others have expanded -- but for institutional money at the early stages entrepreneurs often had to look elsewhere, such as Silicon Valley or New York.

Ed Boland HeadshotEd Boland, who was until July a banker at the JP Morgan Private Bank in Miami, will run the office as a partner, with a dual mission of scouting South Florida companies and potential Limited Partners. Although Miami was on Harrison’s radar, it was Boland who sold Harrison on Miami. Boland wanted to lure a venture fund, and Scout was at the top of his list. He pitched the concept to Harrison in New York and that went well -- "a half day in New York and he left with a deal in his hand," Harrison said. Then Harrison took a two-day trip to Miami last week packed full of meetings. Scout had been also considering other markets, including Detroit, Cincinnati, Chicago and Indianapolis.

Working with wealthy investors over the years at JP Morgan and through his network, Boland believed in the need. Plenty of people say family offices aren't interested in investing in technology but that isn't true, he said. "I have worked with lots of high net-worth individuals the last four years who are some of the smartest, most opportunistic investors around. They want to invest, they just didn't have the vehicle ... We needed to have a fund here in Miami and we needed one with a track record." 

In his 48-hour-trip, Harrison had meetings with family offices that had an appetite for tech. He toured Wynwood and The LAB Miami, met with Matt Haggman of the Knight Foundation, Manny Medina of eMerge Americas, Miguel Farra of MBAF, Jaret Davis of Greenberg Traurig and others. Davis put together a group meeting of about 10 people representing different areas of the ecosystem, including the Beacon Council, other members of his firm and potential investors. Harrison said the meetings validated for him "that Scout fills a role that doesn't exist in Miami."

After graduating from West Point, Harrison served as a captain in the U.S. Army, earned an MBA at MIT Sloan School of Management where he also helped launch an MIT-Harvard incubator, co-authored three patents at AOL, and was an active investor before starting Scout. Harrison was part of the New York startup investing scene before that tech ecosystem took off, and he said he believes Miami is clearly at the beginning stages of its growth as a technology center.

"Professional money bridges the gap, that's when it becomes real," Harrison said during an interview in Miami on Saturday. "I feel like in Miami we can be a high impact player and we can do that with all the other players in the ecosystem where everything is aligned."

Like other emerging ecosystems he has studied, Miami is undergoing a artistic and cultural renaissance and building a maker culture, something he believes is key in sparking entrepreneurship. He also likes Miami's position as the gateway to Latin America, particularly with Scout's interest in financial technology.

"Latin America remains 80-90 percent unbanked," Harrison said. "You can change the overall landscape of a demographic ... and technology is driving that. The hub into Latin America is Miami."

The Magic City's historical synergies with the Big Apple don't hurt either. "New York just gets South Florida," he said.

Along with a track record that includes early success and a few exits, the new office also brings an extensive Scout network to the local ecosystem. "What I think is of tremendous value beyond the new investment dollars is the cross-pollination with New York City deals and contacts," said Melissa Krinzman, managing partner of Miami-based Krillion Ventures, who has known Harrison for years.

Scout has secured a live-work space and is already starting to look at deals, Harrison said. "It will be fun when we write our first check."

Group Photo

 Meet the Scout team, which will be spending more and more time in Miami (especially in the winter...)

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

Posted Sept. 29, 2014


Miami-based HealthCare.com launches new consumer website

HC_logotipos_original HealthCare.com announced the launch of its new health insurance comparison website that gives consumers more choices to research, shop and buy healthcare plans, potentially lowering costs. HealthCare.com now features nearly 200 carriers and more than 90,000 health insurance plans, including plans offered by the healthcare exchanges, the company said.

HealthCare.com offers tools such as a tax subsidy calculator that estimates potential financial aid from the federal government, a tax penalty calculator to measure how much tax would be due if someone decided not to buy health insurance, and a shopping guide to compare various insurance plans to determine which is the best economical choice for each individual. Also, consumers will have the choice to apply online, seek counsel from a licensed agent over the phone, or schedule an appointment with a local advisor.

"Our goal is to become a destination website for a variety of healthcare searches, similar to how travel or real estate websites aggregate thousands of options with a few clicks," said Jeff Smedsrud, co-founder and CEO of HealthCare.com. “Consumers will have more options, and can make better choices when applying for a health insurance plan if they start their search at HealthCare.com.”

HealthCare.com has been a privately-held technology company based in Miami since 2006 when the domain name was purchased. It saw huge spikes in traffic around the launch of healthcare.gov.

In May, the company announced a $2 million founders round of financing along with its plans to launch its health insurance search and comparison tools ahead of the next health insurance open enrollment period. For the last six to eight months, the HealthCare.com team of about 25 people has been working nonstop, said Smedsrud in an interview. 

With 1.2 million providers in its directory, Healthcare.com had been averaging more than a mllion unique visitors a month -- and that was before launching the new site and tools. "We expect that to ramp up significantly as we approach open enrollment,' Smedsrud said.

"We are completely agnostic in how people enroll, whether through a local agent, call center, online or through an exchange," he added. "We believe if people are given  enough information and the right tools, they will make good decisions. There's a need for this type of marketplace. "

Posted Sept. 29, 2014

September 28, 2014

Entrepreneurship Datebook

TecheggCIVIC HACK NIGHT: Join the weekly civic hack sessions in Wynwood, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, Sept. 29, The LAB Miami, 400 NW 26th St. More info: thelabmiami.com.

SBA WEBINAR: The SBA presents “Take Your Business Global” on Tuesday, Sept. 30 at 2 p.m. Registration encouraged; login information here: www.sba.gov/event/1400021

MEDIA SPARKS: Ten selected South Florida startups in marketing, media and publishing will pitch in an event at 1 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 30, at the LAB Miami for a chance to move on in the competition at the Festival of Media LatAm in Miami Beach on Oct. 3. More info here.

OPEN TECH NIGHT: Bring your laptop and meet others interested in open government and open data for Code for Fort Lauderdale's next meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 2, at Nova Southeastern, 4th Floor Conf. Room #4030, Carl DeSantis Building. More info: www.meetup.com/Code-for-FTL

CONTRACTING SEMINAR: The Beacon Council presents “Doing Business With the Military,” 8 a.m. to noon Friday, Oct. 3, at Hilton Miami Airport. $50. More info: www.sba.gov/event/1405071

LEAN STARTUP MACHINE: Three-day workshop teaches Lean Startup principles with a hands-on approach at 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 3 through 7 p.m. Sunday at Miami Dade College, 300 NE 2nd Ave, Building 8, 5th Floor. $199. Tickets: www.leanstartupmachine.com/cities/miami.

BUSINESS ETIQUETTE: SCORE Miami-Dade presents “Boost your Business Etiquette Skills to Ensure the Success of Your Business,” 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., 2000 Ponce Business Center, 2000 Ponce del Leon Blvd., Coral Gables. $40 in advance. To register: events@scoremiami.org or call 786-425-9119

See a sampling of tech-related events coming this fall here.


Last week, Code for America chose Miami-Dade County – one of just seven governments around the country – to be part of the 2015 Code for America Fellowship program, which pairs local governments with teams of mid-career, civic-minded technologists for one year. Three fellows will be announced in November. Also, EcoTech Visions announced it received $172,000 in grants to help launch its incubator for green businesses. Keep up with startup news and community views with the Starting Gate blog on MiamiHerald.com/business.

Please email your event information to ndahlberg@miamiherald.com and put event information in the memo line. Follow me on Twitter @ndahlberg 

Posted Sept. 28, 2014

September 26, 2014

Apply now for Citi Mobile Challenge; Miami is a demo event host, too

This week, Citi launched Citi Mobile Challenge, a  global initiative aimed to inspire technology developers to reimagine mobile banking and payments and to stimulate digital progress in the industry. Citi will provide developers with a suite of tools they can use to build solutions to benefit consumers either through mobile applications or the Internet of Things. Selected participants will present their concepts at demonstration events in Miami, New York and Silicon Valley and finalists will have the chance to take their technologies into production with the support of Citi. Citi has teamed up with  Intuit, Plug and Play,  Wearable World and other firms to connect with the developer community. Below is a post from EarlyShares with more information.

By Madelyn Young

CitiMobileDo you have an idea that could transform the digital banking landscape? Now’s your chance to make it a reality (and to partner with one of the world’s premier financial institutions in the process).

Citi has officially launched a new global “mobile challenge” – a virtual competition designed to accelerate digital banking innovation. The Citi Mobile Challenge will give the world’s most talented, creative developers and designers the opportunity to create cutting-edge applications for Citi’s digital banking platforms. EarlyShares is proud to be an official Collaborator in this exciting initiative.

Developers and designers interested in participating must apply by Friday, October 3 to be considered.

How it Works

If you’re interested in creating a banking- or payment-related solution for mobile or interconnected devices, register for the Citi® Mobile Challenge here. (You can register your whole dev team or join an existing one.) On October 10, Citi will notify registrants who have been selected.

Following that, over the course of nine days in October, Citi will make available a variety of its APIs to enable the developers to create real-world innovations that could function with existing Citi technology. Participants will submit their final concepts or prototypes on October 19.

A panel of entrepreneurs, investors, and leaders in technology and banking will review submitted innovations and select the finalists, who will present at the demonstration events in Silicon Valley on November 10, New York on November 12, and Miami on November 14. EarlyShares CSO Heather Schwarz-Lopes will serve on the review panel and be a judge at the Miami event.

Winning developers will have the opportunity to consult with technology mentors, share in a cash award, and connect with Citi’s partners for a chance to put their solutions into production. There will be $100,000 in prize money available, with $50,000 for the most Innovative Mobile Solution category and $50,000 going to the best Internet of Things/Wearables concept category.

Through the collaboration with EarlyShares, Citi will also refer a small selection of eligible Mobile Challenge participants to EarlyShares for potential investment offerings on our platform.

Why It’s a Big Deal

Though this is first time Citi has hosted a global Mobile Challenge, the competition is not a new idea. The company’s 2014 ‘Citi® Mobile Challenge LatAm,’ which wrapped up in April, brought together nearly 500 developers from around the world to present consumer and B2B projects in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Bogota, Colombia. Citi is currently evaluating several interesting pilot projects that came out of the LatAm program, including a personalized e-retail app, B2B mobile commerce platform, and a mobile customer service solution.

For more on the Citi Mobile Challenge, go to citimobilechallenge.com.

Written by Madelyn Young of EarlyShares.

Posted Sept. 25, 2014

Internet serial entrepreneurs: Been there, done that, doing it again


Many people may  know that the IBM PC was born in Boca but may not be aware that one of the first smartphones was developed right here in South Florida, said Chris Fleck, vice president of Mobility Solutions at Citrix. And  some may also not know that South Florida has a number of Web pioneers. Last night, for a South Florida Technology Alliance standing-room only event at Citrix to celebrate the 20th birthday of the Web, Fleck brought together four South Florida entrepreneurs who helped to build the web -- and are still innovating and giving back through new projects, mentorship and investing in South Florida startups.

Speakers included Scott Adams, who co-founded the highly successful web hosting company Hiway Technologies and is now deeply involved with two mobile health and safety companies:  he's chairman of MobileHelp, now with 120 employees and No. 111 on this year's Forbes list of fastest growing companies,  and also  CEO of GroupCare Technologies, somewhat similar to MobileHelp but with a keen focus on Alzheimer's and Autism.   Entrepreneurship and education are this FAU alum’s passions, and over the years he has been a huge contributor to the FAU entrepreneurship programs. Now Adams is also helping with the development of Tech Runway, the university’s new accelerator and comprehensive entrepreneurial education program rolling out now.

Manny Medina, whose founded and sold Terramark, said he didn’t create the NAP of the Americas, the industry did. Either way, today the NAP hosts the access points for 180 major carriers, serving Latin America and much of the world. Now Medina’s "day job" is chairman of Medina Capital that has invested in growth stage tech companies such as the fast-growing cyber-security player Easy Solutions. And his night job? Founding and overseeing eMerge Americas, which produced its first tech conference in May and has a larger mission of helping develop a tech hub for the Americas here. A team of 18 is hard at work on the next conference, with a goal of attracting 10.000+. “It’s very important that this is a regional effort -- Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach. Next year is going to be unbelievable,” Medina said.

After a few months working on a farm, Colin Campbell founded, grew and sold what quickly became the largest Internet service provider in Canada in the ‘90s. Then he co-founded a number of other tech companies, including Hostopia. Campbell, who said he has been inspired by Geoffrey Moore's writings on paradigm shifts, is  back on the ground floor in another kind of Internet gold rush: domain names. Campbell’s got a powerful one: .Club, and his Fort Lauderdale company is quickly gaining traction globally.

Mike Levy said he was moved to start Sportsline, later CBS Sportsline, when he saw the early interest in consumer sites like AOL and Prodigy and thought why now apply that to fantasy sports. Levy is investing in and advising several companies, Levy said, and one of the startups he is working on is Glip, a Boca Raton-based business messaging platform with built-in productivity tools. If you want to know about the future, don’t ask me, ask him,” pointing to Glip’s Peter Pezaris in the audience. Pezaris is CEO of the fast-growing startup that already has thousands of companies using the tool. And Pezaris and his co-founders have started and successfully exited other companies together. 

The four reminisced and shared war stories -- it was interesting to hear how all their careers intertwined in the '90s and how those connections continue today. 

Posted Sept. 26, 2014

September 25, 2014

EcoTech Visions receives $172K in grants for its green-business incubator, programs

With a mission of creating jobs that make both business and environmental sense, EcoTech Visions announced it received $172,000 in grants. That brings the nonprofit closer to its goal of hatching an incubator in Liberty City for green manufacturing small businesses.

EcotechThis week, the 7th Avenue CRA awarded EcoTech Visions a $60,000 grant to build out its accelerator space and make Northwest 7th Avenue its new home, said Pandwe Gibson, EcoTech's founder (pictured here).  The CRA also awarded two young companies within EcoTech’s incubator a total of $20,000 in grants for equipment: EarthWare, a biodegradable tableware company, and Aeolus Motors, an electric motor bike company.

In July, EcoTech Visions was awarded $52,000 in Miami-Dade County County CDBG funds to provide training for its Blue to Green Collar fellowship program.  The Blue to Green Fellowship is a second-chance program for formerly incarcerated adults who have blue collar certifications such as electrician, mechanic, AC repair, carpentry and other trade skills. This fellowship is also available to veterans. “Who better to install solar panels than the electrician who already has the basic skills, who better to create electric motorcycles than the mechanics who have been toying with the idea for years,” said  Gibson, who has been working passionately on EcoTech for nearly two years. 

Gibson was also awarded the Gulf Coast Fellowship, selected as one of five fellows from a pool of 500 applicants from Texas to North Carolina to represent the region as an ambassador for Southern “Ecopreneurs.” The Gulf Coast Fellowship comes with a $40,000 award to support her research and incubator development at EcoTech Visions.   Gibson said she was also been selected by the Peter Lang international publishing group through the University of New Orleans to publish a book highlighting the work of Miami’s blue collar to green collar conversion process, with publication planned for next spring.

In collaboration with Miami-Dade Commissioner Jean Monestime and his green corridors plan, EcoTech Visions nurtures a growing collective of “EcoPrenuers” from across South Florida and the country, Gibson said.  The incubator is located at 667 NW 90th St., in Miami-Dade County's Liberty City, and will contain meeting space, co-working space and offices. It will also have a Kitchen Lab for the development of topical products, and it is currently being used by  Raw and Precisions Barber Club Products; a bio-plastic molding lab for EarthWare’s  biodegradable tableware; a hydroponics lab and garden; and a mechanics lab, currently occupied by Aeolus. Gibson believes that with nurturing, these companies can grow and provide jobs in low-income areas.

The county grants require matching private funds; EcoTech is crowdfunding for the private funds on the Global Giving platform. Donations can be made at http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/create-50-new-jobs-in-impoverished-miami-areas/ “We are so excited and so close to our goal,” Gibson said.

Posted Sept. 25, 2014

Read previous post about EcoTech here. 




September 24, 2014

Fintech Latam highlights a growing sector in South Florida, Americas


Miami’s inaugural Fintech LatAm conference seemed perfectly timed — this month’s ApplePay announcement brought the mobile wallet back into the conversation, there have been several massive data breaches that retailers, banks and their consumers had to battle, and Bitcoin is seemingly always in the news, and not always in a good light.

On Wednesday, nearly 200 people attended the one-day conference that explored financial-technology innovation in the Americas as well as efforts to boost Miami as a hub for financial tech innovation. Speakers included representatives of giants such as MasterCard, Citi and PayPal to Miami-based companies including Easy Solutions, YellowPepper, Bid2Pay and LoopPay.

Miami public relations firm CVOX Group, which specializes in technology and financial services particularly in the Americas, hosted the all-day conference at the Light Box at Goldman Warehouse in Wynwood. CVOX founding partner Ray Ruga moderated the event that looked at the growth of mobile banking and payments, cyber-fraud, big data, loyalty programs and more, all of which require the financial services industry to become nimbler and more responsive than ever before in order to survive and grow, he said. Ruga also said it’s a sector that has been largely ignored by Silicon Valley, even though the fintech industry is expected to grow to $8 billion by 2015. That could make it a smart play for Miami, as the gateway to Latin America and already rich in financial services.

Mobile banking and mobile payments were particularly hot topics at the conference, particularly with predictions such as one out of every four people will be using mobile banking by 2015 and half the world will have a smartphone by 2017, said Jonathan LeBlanc, the South Florida-based head of global developer evangelism for PayPal, which is increasing its staff in Miami to serve the region.

Serge Elkiner, CEO of Wynwood-based YellowPepper, is a big believer in the Latin American market. YellowPepper is focused on transforming commerce in Latin America with Yepex, a mobile payment platform. The company also partners with 40 top financial institutions in the region to enable 5.5 million million customers to execute over 30 million transactions per month. YellowPepper has 52 employees globally, including eight in Miami.

Although YellowPepper is growing fast in Latin America and other mobile payment solutions such as Google Wallet have been in the U.S. market for several years, it may just be Apple’s ApplePay that will finally bring the worldwide market around in a big way. "Apple brings awareness to the industry that only Apple can do," said Daniel Cohen, senior vice president and group head of Emerging Payments for MasterCard. He was  in the ApplePay project as part of MasterCard.

While retailers will need to install technology for ApplePay and other solutions, not so for LoopPay, said the company’s chief technologist, George Wallner, who was a pioneer in point-of-sale technology. LoopPay, which attaches to your phone as part of the case, can converse with 90 percent of point-of-sale systems to make purchases, making your physical wallet obsolete, he said. Don’t want to carry your phone? No problem. LoopPay just developed a $35 device you can attach to your key chain that will do the same thing, said Wallner, who lives in Miami Beach. “In innovation, you don’t try to keep up, you get ahead.”

But migration to a cashless society isn’t without its regulatory and security challenges, particularly in Latin America, LeBlanc said. “In multiple ways, we are looking to destroy passwords.”

For a look at just how difficult this can be, just try to stay ahead of the bad guys. That’s what keeps Miami-based Easy Solutions up at night. "It is really crazy out there," said CEO Ricardo Villadiego. "Unfortunately, there's no silver bullet to fight fraud. Speed and flexibility are critical."

With an $11 million investment led by Miami’s Medina Capital and no shortage of fraudster tactics to battle, Easy Solutions has been on a growth tear, and its products are used in 220 financial institutions around the world. Like LeBlanc and others, Villadiego believes biometric means of ID — such as thumb prints, facial recognition, even vein patterns and heart beats — will play a big role ahead.

Miami also has been on the front lines of another important area — big data. "Every day we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data a day," said Driss Temsamani, Citi’s regional head of business intelligence, analytics and innovation for Latin America. And just who are biggest innovators to date in managing big data? It’s government, said Temsamani, but the private sector is trying to catch up.

He described the applications his team of data scientists and analytics experts at the Citi Innovation Lab in Miami have developed to unlock the hidden value of the data for their clients, and the lab always involves the clients in the R&D process. Citi wants to roll out the applications in Latin America and around the world. “Don’t use big data because it is the cool thing,” he said. “Do it because you’re solving a customer issue.”

Another area of innovation that will make doing business easier for the financial services industry as well as others: management and storage of email. Yes, that ubiquitous email overload that has become an indispensable part of our lives is never going away, but it also hasn’t changed much in two decades. Email was never designed to be a file manager but it has become that, said Alex Panagides, CEO of MxHero.

Thanks to cloud technology, look for big improvements ahead, said Panagides. MxHero is creating solutions that make collaboration on email easier and manages those attachments. With MxHero’s product Fusion, attachments are delivered as a link, and the sender is still the owner of the attachment, able to make changes or cut off delivery to a recipient, for instance, while eliminating multiple versions flying around. The sender can also track delivery. "We’ve just added a compliance layer of interest to the financial services community," he said. In two to five years, all email will be delivered this way, he said. “Everything is going to change radically and it took the cloud to crack it.”

How should South Florida and Latin America nurture a culture of innovation in fintech? Corporations shouldn’t be afraid to partner with startups, and they can do this through small controlled experiments at first, said Susan Amat, founder of Venture Hive, a tech startup accelerator and entrepreneurial education company in Miami. She said six of Venture Hive’s 31 resident startups are in the fintech space, including Waleteros, which is creating a mobile wallet solution for the “unbanked“ U.S. Hispanic market.

Venture Hive also has been helping some large companies create an innovation culture through programs that encourage intra-preneurship as well as working with outside startups. “Let us know what you need,” said Amat. “We need to do this well. We need to keep these startups local.”

This will be the first of many annual Fintech LatAm conferences in Miami, Ruga said, and CVOX will also be holding conferences in Latin America.

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

 Photo at top shows Ricardo Villadiego of Easy Solutions and Faquiry Diaz Cala, the moderator. Below shows networking during the lunch break. 


Posted Sept. 24, 2014

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/technology/article2239188.html#storylink=cpy