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40 posts from January 2015

January 30, 2015

VCs at Florida Venture Capital Conference: Industry outlook bright for 2015


By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Consider this: Last quarter's single $1.2 billion venture round in San Francisco-based ride-sharing company Uber is larger than most venture funds and is bigger than some initial public offerings. And in 2014, Uber attracted two of those.

“It’s staggering money,” said John S. Taylor, head of research for the National Venture Capital Association, speaking at the Florida Venture Capital Conference in Hollywood on Friday. “But when you strip back some of the hype and look at what is going on in the rest of the country and even what’s going on in some of the concentration areas, it’s really for the most part business as usual. There are trends out there but also good opportunities in the marketplace.”

Venture capitalists from Ballast Point Ventures, Harbert Venture Partners, Fulcrum Equity Partners, Edison Ventures, River Cities Capital Funds and Stonehenge Growth Equity Partners – all firms that have funded Florida companies – joined Taylor in a panel discussion on the state of the industry (pictured above). The session capped off the 24th annual conference, presented by Florida Venture Forum, that attracted about 500 investors, entrepreneurs, lawyers and advisers to the  Diplomat Resort & Spa Thursday and Friday.

Beyond the mega-deals, the number of first-time financings and the total number of deals changed little between 2013 and 2014, Taylor said. What's changed? He said because of the proliferation of accelerators, incubators and other programs, companies are now often further along in their development, receiving bigger checks. And there is another reason for the bigger deals:  “We are seeing new sources of money: Mutual funds are coming in big, more hedge fund activity, a lot of private equity players that aren’t traditionally in venture rounds,” Taylor said.

In Florida, venture capital dollars doubled over 2013, thanks in large part to a $542 million mega-deal in Dania Beach-based Magic Leap, a secretive company developing augmented reality technology. Coming off such a phenomenal year, is the market overheated?

Consensus of the panel: frothy at the least. “Not every SaaS (software as a service) company is worth 10 times revenue. There are valuations out there that are outragous at times,” said Ed McCarthy, managing director of River Cities Capital Fund.

Still, all of the panelists were optimistic about opportunities in 2015. “All the trends are pointing in the right direction for the entrepreneur raising money,” said Lenard Marcus, partner in Edison Ventures. Marcus’s advice for the entrepreneurs in the audience hoping to entice a VC: Choose wisely. “It’s much easier to divorce your spouse than a VC.”

Fresh meal plan

In addition to keynote speakers and panel discussions, 23 early-stage or later-stage Florida-based companies, were selected to present at the conference; 12 were from South Florida. The CEOs, who gave six-minute presentations on stage and urged the suits in the crowd to visit their booths, represented companies including Fresh Meal Plan of Boca Raton (pictured above), ALTPay of Hollywood, ParkJockey of Miami, PowerPHASE of Jupiter, Senzari of Miami and Skypatrol of Doral.

Steve Calle, CEO of Snow Lizard of Miami, which offers products to optimize and outdoor-proof your devices, invited investors to his booth to give his products a try. Few were willing to drop their own smartphones in the tank, preferring to take his word that the Snow Lizard cases are waterproof.

 Follow me on Twitter @ndahlberg  


Miami-Dade Public Library System wins Knight News Challenge award for co-working concept

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation named 22 projects as winners of the Knight News Challenge on Libraries, awarding the recipients a share of $3 million for their ideas. One of the national winners was the Miami-Dade Public Library System.

The library system won a $35,000 grant from the Knight Prototype Fund, which helps innovators take media and information projects from idea to demo, for its idea to create a collaborative co-working space for freelancers and entrepreneurs within the walls of the library. The grant will be used to create a prototype in one of the branches.

All the winning projects aim to leverage libraries as a platform to build more knowledgeable communities. Eight of the winners will receive investments of $130,000 to $600,000, while the other 14 early-stage ideas will receive $35,000 each.

Knight News Challenge on Libraries was the second Knight News Challenge announced in 2014. In June Knight announced 19 winners of the 2014 Knight News Challenge on Strengthening the Internet, which sought ideas to strengthen the Internet for free expression and innovation. Since 2007 Knight Foundation has reviewed more than 10,000 News Challenge applications and provided nearly $50 million in funding to 133 projects.

See the full list of winners here.


January 29, 2015

Florida Venture Capital Conference a chance to put spotlight on South Florida


By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

The 500 investors, advisors, attorneys and entrepreneurs gathered in Hollywood for the Florida Venture Capital Conference were treated to entrepreneurship Miami style.

And it doesn’t get much more Miami than the story of Zumba, co-founded by three Albertos from Colombia and now a worldwide sensation with 14 million people taking classes in 186 markets around the world. CEO Alberto Perlman shared the Zumba story  during the conference dinner Thursday at the  Diplomat Resort & Spa (pictured above).

Of course, the journey  wasn’t easy. For  Perlman, Zumba was actually his 18th or 19th company – by age 24. The team nearly ran out of money at one point, and Perlman acknowledged he made some poor hires early on. There were plenty of iterations as the company experimented with several business models.

Zumba was on the way to becoming an infomercial company, Perlman said, when the co-founders started getting calls from Zumba fans who wanted to become instructors. That’s when it hit them: Turn instructors into entrepreneurs. As they grow their own Zumba businesses, the instructor network would deliver the holy grail of business models: recurring revenue and scale, Perlman said. In each new market, master trainers are empowered to scale the business; that is how Zumba can be in 186 markets with just 200 employees.

 “The biggest lesson I have learned in life is to never lose the pulse of my customers,” said Perlman.

Now Zumba is a fitness, music, apparel and gaming company – and it is also a tech company, with about 30 developers. “We are all technology companies,” he told the crowd. "To compete, Florida needs to invest a lot more in technology education -- we need to lead.”

The conference attendees also heard from Dr. Maurice Ferre, co-founder of Mako Surgical, another South Florida success story. The surgical robotics company based in Davie was sold in 2013 to Stryker Corp. for $1.65 billion. (See earlier Q&A with Ferre here)

Just as Silicon Valley has the PayPal Mafia because so many  companies have spawned from that venture, there may be a Mako Mafia in the works.

For instance, Ferre  is involved in several startups doing cutting-edge healthcare technology and robotics.  Mako co-founder Rony Abovitz is developing Dania Beach-based Magic Leap, which attracted $542 million in financing from Google and other investors in November. And some former Mako employees and Mako funding went into OrthoSensor, a venture-backed Broward company that makes "smart" orthopedic devices.

"I'm really excited about the ecosystem down here in Florida, and especially South Florida," said Ferre,  who is also on the board of Endeavor Miami, which is helping to accelerate high-impact entrepreneurs. ‘We are seeing more people come up with novel innovations.” (Ferre pictured below with Knight Foundation's Matt Haggman)


As a way to spark more innovation, Andrew Rosen, chairman of Fort Lauderdale-based Kaplan, said at the conference Thursday that  the global education company “is committed” to opening an ed-tech accelerator in Fort Lauderdale. Jon Hage, CEO of Charter Schools USA, said his company is partnering with Kaplan on the endeavor, which would help promising tech startups with solutions for the education industry, including social entrepreneurial ones. The innovative and experimental nature of charter schools make them ideal laboratories for ed-tech startups to test their solutions, Hage said. “I think we can build something special together,” added Rosen. Stay tuned for more details.

In addition to keynote speakers and panel discussions, conference attendees heard presentations from some of the 23 selected early-stage or later-stage companies in Florida seeking venture funding -- 12 from South Florida. (See list of companies and descriptions here.)

On Thursday, companies giving  six-minute presentations included  EZDoctor of Fort Lauderdale, ParkJockey of Miami, PowerPHASE of Jupiter, Senzari of Miami and Skypatrol of Doral. In its pitch, Carlos Diaz of Pembroke Pines-based Entic, which describes itself as Nest for commercial buildings, included a testimonial from one of its many customers -- the Diplomat. Nice touch.


The annual conference, a signature event put on by the Florida Venture Forum, continues Friday with more company presentations.

Follow me on Twitter @ndahlberg

Posted Jan. 29, 2015

23 Florida early-stage and later-stage companies to present at Florida Venture Capital Conference

The Florida Venture Forum, a statewide support organization for venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, opened its 2015 Florida Venture Capital Conference on Thursday. More than 500 people are registered to attend the two-day conference at the Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood.

The following early-stage and later-stage Florida companies -- including 12 from South Florida -- have been selected to present at the conference:

ALTPAY – Hollywood www.altpayusa.com connects merchants to inform and influence their customers, before and at the point of sale by offering savings based on loyalty to the merchant.

Banyan Biomarkers,  Alachua www.banyanbio.com is a medical device/diagnostics company creating the first objective test to diagnose brain injury in less than 30 minutes by a simple blood test. 

BoxyCharm - Hialeah www.boxycharm.com is an online beauty box subscription service that provides subscribers full-size beauty products and helps connect cosmetic brands with qualified, engaged customers.

Continue reading "23 Florida early-stage and later-stage companies to present at Florida Venture Capital Conference " »

January 28, 2015

Learning from failure: Strategies for bouncing back

By Cindy Krischer Goodman

When Susie Taylor walked onto the set of ABC’s Shark Tank, she showed the investors her stain-resistant baby bibs and asked them for $40,000 to grow her Miami business. But something happened Taylor didn’t expect. The “sharks” reduced her to tears by calling her business a hobby, her margins terrible, her management skills lacking, and then delivering their famous line to indicate they weren’t investing: “I’m out!”

Taylor walked off the set in tears, having failed to secure an investment before seven million viewers on national television. Then she faced the challenge of bouncing back.

If your business or strategy failed, if you made an expensive mistake, or if you experienced a business or personal setback in 2014, this is the time for recovery. Today, failure is a hot topic, and the topic of bouncing back is even hotter. In Silicon Valley, for instance, failure has emerged as a badge of honor among start-ups who share their lessons publicly. FailCon, a one-day conference in San Francisco celebrating failure has been so successful that it has spread to other countries.

While no one wants to fail, wildly successful entrepreneurs such as Spanx founder Sara Blakely say that true failure is not taking risks or trying. Blakely publicly credits her embrace of failure for what helped make her the youngest self-made female billionaire in America.

“Most successful people have ‘failed’ multiple times,” says David Harkleroad of Chief Outsiders in Miami, a consultant to CEOs of small and mid-size companies. “What makes them successful is they seek to understand the opportunities that arise from the failure.”

To understand the opportunities, the first step is acknowledging your situation. Since her Shark Tank fiasco, Taylor has tried to scrutinize what went wrong and how it affected Bibbitec, her bib business.

Initially, she invested more money in Bibbitec to fill the orders that flooded in when the episode aired. But she had to figure out her next move: “It took a lot of self awareness.” Taylor says she considered the harsh advice doled out by the sharks and realized she needed a businessperson to run the company and an outlet for sales — not simply rely upon word-of-mouth praise among moms. Her husband now runs the company and has put in systems to operate it more efficiently. Bibbitec relinquished sales on its website and now sells its bibs almost entirely on Amazon, which markets the products for them. The company expanded its line to seven styles of bibs manufactured in Hialeah, and in 2014 the company sold 3,000 bibs for average price of $22. “We put down ‘failure,’ but it’s the only thing that makes you grow,” Taylor says.

Consultants say turning around failure requires searching for the root cause of what went wrong. “It’s usually not what people think it is,” Harkleroad says. Usually, listening carefully to customers, team members and trusted advisors reveals a clue for how to course correct: “It requires listening to understand, not listening to respond.”

When Jody Johnson expanded her company, ActionCoach Team Sage, by adding more business coaches, sales didn’t follow. She realized she needed to change course and listened carefully to feedback. “I had tried to grow too fast,” Johnson says. “I brought on coaches before I had a marketing machine in place to be able to feed them.” She then scaled back on staff and invested in marketing and tracking results for clients: “Now what I have is exactly the right plan to go forward. I will grow organically and I can bring on another coach when I’m ready.”

Another key to bouncing back is to cut losses early. Whether you’re the guy who introduced McPizza to the McDonald’s menu or the one who expanded Pollo Tropical into an underperforming market, knowing when to give up when the signs are obvious can be critical to long-term success.

Continue reading "Learning from failure: Strategies for bouncing back " »

New World Angels invests in Gainesville-based 3-D software company

New World Angels  announced Wednesday its sixth and final investment in 2014, a record year for the structured angel group founded in 2003.

NWA, based in Boca Raton, invested more than $3.5 million in the six companies last year.  NWA’s 6th investment of $507,500 was part of a $3.3 million round of seed funding in Paracosm, a cloud-based software company based in Gainesville with a mission to “3D-ify the world,” the angel group said. Other investors in the round included  Atlas Venture, iRobot, Osage University Partners, BOLDstart Ventures and Deep Fork Capital.

Paracosm’s advanced three-dimensional reconstruction technologies create digital models of physical spaces. When shared with machines, these models serve as blueprints which provide robots and applications a greater sense of awareness and understanding of the physical world. Such technologies are valuable for robotics, video game development, special effects, indoor navigation applications, and for the improvement of both virtual and augmented reality experiences, the company said.

  “Paracosm wants to take the digital world beyond screens and enable machines to understand the world as we do,” said Amir Rubin, founder and CEO of Paracosm, in a news release.

Other 2014 NWA investments included:

  • * Kairos, an innovator in providing facial recognition functionality and capabilities to large enterprises;
  • * OB Medical, a developer of a wireless, technologically superior fetal monitoring device which improves physician oversight and patient care during pregnancy and labor;
  • * Clarke Industrial Engineering, creator of the ShutterValve, the first significant innovation in industrial valves in over 50 years; 

as well as follow-on financing rounds in:

  • * Bioceptive, a revolutionary contraceptive device which focuses on enhancing IUD safety, comfort, and ease of use; and
  • * Aplicor, a cloud-based enterprise resource planning software provider for rapidly growing small & mid-sized businesses.

Noting NWA's record year for investments, Rhys L. Williams, the organization’s president and co-founder, said NWA now has more than 50 active members. NWA, which also has a chapter in the Tampa Bay area, typically makes investments ranging between $500,000 and $3 million. “In 2015, we look forward to continuing to support early-stage Florida companies in becoming the dominant leaders in their respective markets,” Williams said.

Posted Jan. 28, 2015

Kendall brothers ages 7 and 9 launch company selling socks designed by kids



SOCK KINGS: CEO Sebastian Martinez, 7, left, and his brother, Brandon, 9, sales director, have started with their mother a company, Are You Kidding, selling socks with different designs. The boys were featured on ‘Good Morning America’s Shark Tank Your Life: Kid-Preneurs Edition.’ PATRICK FARRELL MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/article8423790.html#storylink=cpy


Ever since he was a baby, Sebastian Martinez loved socks. He collected socks of all kinds, with different colors, patterns and styles.

About two years ago, his mother, Rachel Martinez, asked him if he wanted to design his own.

“He was so excited he ran to the table with his pencils and paper and markers, and he sat down and started drawing,” she said.

And on Friday, Sebastian, 7, and his brother Brandon, 9, were featured on Good Morning America’s Shark Tank Your Life: Kid-Preneurs Edition, for their business designing and selling different styles of socks.

Sebastian is the CEO of Are You Kidding, Brandon is the director of sales, and their mother is the president.

The brothers, who live in Kendall, got their moment in the spotlight Friday when they got to pitch their company to Daymond John, a Shark Tank investor, and to George Stephanopoulos, co-anchor of ABC News’ Good Morning America, on national television.

Before the show, they sent in an audition video, had a phone interview and a few days later, they booked their flights to New York. At the end of the show, the two brothers each took home a special trophy for their work.

Martinez said it was a great experience and the the show helped the business to get more exposure.

“Friday was amazing,” she said, watching the video of her sons giving their pitch for Are You Kidding during the show.

 Since the business started in May 2014, they have sold their socks to many different stores and raised thousands of dollars for charity.

Sebastian is responsible for all the designs. His mother then transfers them onto a computer and they are made by a company in Guatemala. Brandon is then in charge of selling the merchandise.

“It’s kind of like a little tag team,” Martinez said.

The business made about $15,000 last year. They sell their socks to local stores, through their website and on other online sites such as Etsy.

In addition to just bringing in revenue though, the company has a “dual-mission,” Martinez said.

“We want to not only be a for-profit company,” she said, “but also teach philanthropy to kids which is very important to us.”

In October, Are You Kidding sold specially designed socks for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

“We all spent the entire month of October selling the socks everywhere,” Martinez said. “At Tamiami basketball, all the kids were wearing the socks, the coaches, the refs. Everybody had our socks on.”

The $3,000 raised from the socks was donated to the American Cancer Society for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. Martinez said next year, they are hoping to reach their goal of donating $10,000 to the organization.

Are You Kidding is also working with a safe driving campaign called Be a Hero and Save Lives, cautioning people against texting and driving.

To teach kids about the charities, the company uses an app called VeePop, where people can scan the tags of the socks and a video will play giving information about the charity. Martinez said the team is planning to reach out to more organizations in the future to continue their charity work.

The company is also looking to expand, potentially adding T-shirts to the collection, she said.

“At the end of the day we want to create a brand,” Martinez said. “We started with socks because that’s the passion that I saw in my son and if you don’t start off with your passion, you’re never going to continue the business.”

She said running the business has been an exciting learning experience for her and her children, and she hopes to have more kids contribute in the future.

“It’s teaching kids how to start a business, run a business and grow a business. It’s not easy and it takes a lot of time and effort, but at the end of the day we do it as a family,” Martinez said. “We just want to make sure that it’s a fun brand. ... We want it to be a by kids for you collection.”

Website: http://www.areyoukidding.net/


Posted Jan. 28, 2015



Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/article8423790.html#storylink=cpy

January 27, 2015

Code4Good hackathon planned at FAU's Tech Runway

Quantum Foundation is teaming up with Modernizing Medicine and Florida Atlantic University’s new entrepreneurship program and accelerator, Tech Runway, to stimulate health-related innovation in Palm Beach County at a tech weekend on March 28 – 29. Quantum Foundation, a private grant making organization, will host its first hackathon, giving engineers, designers and entrepreneurs a hands-on environment to connect, build teams and create a piece of software that enhances the quality of life in underserved communities.

Throughout the weekend, participants will work together to create a technology solution then present their project to a panel of judges on the final day. There's a cash incentive for these teams to show up and put their talents to work. The top three teams will receive prizes in these denominations: First Prize: $5,000; Second Prize: $3,000; Third Prize: $2,000. The first place team will have the opportunity to participate in building their solution into an actual working product.

This event gives aspiring entrepreneurs, engineers, creatives and tech experts an opportunity to showcase their skills and code for good in Palm Beach County.

“South Florida is home to some of the best and brightest coders and software developers, as well as individuals dedicated to improving society. The technology resulting from the Code4Good hackathon will help increase efficiency and improve healthcare outcomes for our region’s citizens and beyond,” said Dan Cane, CEO and co-founder of Modernizing Medicine.

The event is open to designers, coders, marketers and anyone who has an idea and wants to contribute to a team in a technical or creative capacity.

 The event host and Palm Beach County's largest health-funder, Quantum Foundation, has given away $115 million since its inception and continues to push the envelope in support of its mission of inspiring and funding bold initiatives that improve community health. Code4Good Palm Beach County is the first of its kind in the county. 

To learn more or to register as a participant visit www.code4goodPBC.org


Posted Jan. 27, 2015 

Future of tech and media is focus of Miami Finance Forum event

MedinaTechnology entrepreneur Manny Medina, managing partner of Medina Capital and founder of the eMerge Americas technology conference, will be the keynote speaker next week at the Miami Finance Forum’s signature half-day event, “Mapping Miami’s Financial Future: An Insight Into South Florida’s Hottest Emerging Sectors.”

Medina will present the morning keynote address, “Why Miami is the Technology Capital of Latin America,” at the forum’s event at the Conrad Miami, 1395 Brickell Ave., on Feb. 4. Two panel discussions providing insights on opportunities and trends in technology, media and the financial sector, networking, lunch and a closing speech by Matt Haggman, Miami program director of the Knight Foundation, will follow.

A panel discussion on “Is Miami the Next Technology Investing Hub?” will include Ranjini Chandirakanthan, a director at Cassel Saltpeter & Co.; Melissa Krinzman, co-founder of Krillion Ventures; Brad Harrison, founder and managing partner of Scout Ventures; Celine Armstrong, managing director of investment banking for S&P Capital IQ; and Nabyl Charania, co-founder and CEO of Rokk3r Labs. A second panel, titled “Winning Media Content Mangement Strategies,” will feature Alexandra Villoch, publisher of the Miami Herald; Peter Blacker, executive vice president at Telemundo; Nathaniel Perez, global head of social for SapientNitro; Victor Kong, president of Cisneros Interactive; and Derek Bond, president of ImaginaUS.

Early registration is $145 for Miami Finance Forum members and $195 for non-members. To register, visit www.miamifinanceforum.com.


January 26, 2015

2015 Business Plan Challenge opens for entries: The lowdown



South Florida entrepreneurs, this is your time to shine!

Today we are launching our 17th Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge, our annual celebration of South Florida innovation in one of the most entrepreneurial regions in the nation. If you have a business idea or an operating startup that is less than two years old, you can enter.

Sponsored by the Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center at Florida International University, our contest welcomes business plan entries from any industry. There are three tracks — a Community Track, open to all South Floridians; an FIU Track, open to students and alumni of that university; and a High School Track, co-sponsored by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship.

Don't let the name of the contest scare you: We don’t want long, laboriously detailed business plans. That’s because today's investors in very early-stage companies want to see a succinct presentation of your concept and how you plan to turn it into a success. So do we.

Your entry may be up to three pages, and you may attach one additional page for a photo, chart or diagram if you wish. Think of it as a meaty executive summary. Experts in all aspects of entrepreneurship — serial entrepreneurs, executives, investors, advisors and academics (see their bios here on MiamiHerald.com/challenge) — will judge your short plan.

Judges will be looking at your product or service's value to the customer, the market opportunity, business model, management team and your marketing and financial strategies. Define the problem your business or business idea is solving, clearly explain your solution, and provide tangible details as to why— and how — you can make it a success. See the contest rules on MiamiHerald.com/challenge here.

Your entry is due by 11:59 p.m. March 16. Entries should be sent to challenge@MiamiHerald.com, fiuchallenge@MiamiHerald.com or highschoolchallenge@MiamiHerald.com.

Need help? On Feb. 18, we’ll host a free Business Plan Bootcamp, where Challenge judges Melissa Krinzman, co-founder of Krillion Ventures, and Steven McKean, serial entrepreneur in the tech space, Adam Smith of Medina Capital and other entrepreneurial experts will shed light on what should be in your business plan and share tips on pitching to investors. Register through this link: http://hrld.us/bootcamp.

And think of MiamiHerald.com/challenge as your base throughout this contest, as we'll be bringing you advice and answering your questions. You can email your questions to ndahlberg@MiamiHerald.com (please put challenge in the subject line). Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

The top six finalists in the Community and FIU Tracks will present their 90-second elevator pitches for our popular weeklong video contest in early April on MiamiHerald.com. We will also unveil semifinalists and finalists to keep the suspense building.

On April 27, in a special section of Business Monday, we will annouce and profile the winners — the judge's top three selections in each track plus the People’s Pick winners. DonorCommunity, PassTheNotes, AdMobilize, DeliverLean, WedWu, JustAskBoo and Baby Abuelita are just a few of the past winners in recent years — so this year’s winners will be in good company. What do winners win? Valuable exposure in the Miami Herald (we cover our winners’ progress for years to come), connections and mentorship.

Today we are looking back on the entrepreneurial journeys of our 2014 winners. Funding was a challenge for all, and many spent much of the year developing (or redeveloping) their platforms. Throughout the entry period, we’ll also look back on a few winners from the past 16 years.

You have seven weeks. May the best plans win. Go!


Meet the Judges

Free Business Plan Bootcamp set for Feb. 18

2014 Community Track winners have listened, improved, expanded

2014 FIU Track winners reached out to broader markets, refined their technology

2014 high school winners made a game of learning language skills

Posted Jan. 26, 2014