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34 posts from December 2015

December 31, 2015

4 local women-led startups are semi-finalists in national SBA contest


Yoga Factory & Ftiness client Jenene Caramielo from Weston and others use Tone-y-Bands during a hot yoga class Monday in Weston. Photo by Taimy Alvarez / Sun Sentinel)

By Marcia Heroux Pounds / Sun Sentinel

Four local companies are semi-finalists in a national Small Business Administration competition for products and services that affect women and families.

The startups in the InnovateHer competition are:

  • Tone-y-Bands of Boca Raton, which developed adjustable wrist weights to improve a cardio and arm-toning workout.
  • Child Rescue Coalition in Boca Raton, which is developing forensic technology for law enforcement. It already provides software tools to track, arrest and convict child abusers.
  • Natural Birth Works in Coral Springs, a co-operative that provides midwife and other services for women.
  • Flat Out of Heels of Miami Beach, a maker of rollable ballet flat shoes.

Tone-y-Bands and Child Rescue Coalition are members of the latest class of entrepreneurial ventures in Florida Altantic University's Tech Runway program in Boca Raton, which provides $25,000 in funding as well as mentoring and resources to startups.

Tone-y-Bands was born when Janice Haley's husband was working on the house and said, "I wish I could get more [exercise] benefit out of what I'm doing." Not finding what they wanted for wrist weights, the Haleys developed their own, Tone-y-Bands, designed to burn more calories. Haley plans to sell Tone-y-Bands to fitness instructors and studio owners, who can sell them to their clients. She also is developing electronic versions of the bands, which could include exercise monitors or other options.

Child Rescue Coalition has its roots in a family business, TLO in Boca Raton, which was sold in 2013 to TransUnion. After her father, programmer and entrepreneur Hank Asher, died in 2013, Carly Asher Yoost and her sister Desiree Asher stepped in and ran the business. As part of the sale, Carly Asher Yoost was given the technology developed to track child abusers on the Internet. The tools show investigators how to track child abusers via the Internet as they share child pornography. "We have had over 6,000 arrests in the last four years alone directly from our system," she said.

Child Rescue Coalition works with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Internet Crimes against Children Task Force in South Florida, as well as law enforcement agencies in all 50 states and 57 countries. The nonprofit is now developing a forensic tool that it plans to sell to law enforcement that will automate the process of retrieving information that could lead to a conviction, including deleted files.

Natural Birth Works is a 2-year-old business founded by midwives Gelena Hinkley and Sandra Lobaina that offers midwifery care, childbirth classes, postpartum care and other services for women. The company will open a birthing center in March in Margate, Hinkley said.

"Some women don't want to go to hospitals, but they don't want to stay home either," Hinkley said. The new center will give them the option for midwifery care in a setting outside the home for the birth of their baby, she said.

Flat Out of Heels, launched in May 2012 by Dawn Dickson, are flat rollable shoes designed to be emergency shoes to carry and wear when high heels become unbearable. The company's website, FlatOutofHeels.com, claims it has larger sizes and more designs than competitors, as well as harder, more durable soles. The flats are sold online and in stores.

The four South Florida companies are among 12 semi-finalists in Florida. Ten of the semi-finalists nationwide will be chosen by Jan. 15 to compete for a $70,000 prize and connection to resources in the national InnovateHer competition in Washington, D.C.

December 30, 2015

Cheers! South Florida's spirited startups serve up innovation

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

As you are toasting the New Year, chances are you can thank a South Florida startup for that libation.

While Miami is well known for the bars, restaurants and party culture serving up the drinks, the vibe doesn’t stop there. Local startup companies are creating concepts in just about every aspect of the spirits industry, including brewing and distilling, packaging, selling and dispensing — even creating the perfect liquor-filled ice for each glass. Made-in-Miami apps simplify placing and paying for orders at crowded bars and can have wine, beer and spirits delivered to homes on demand. Many were founded by millennials, meaning their friends and neighbors are their test markets.

Take Miavina, for example.

Cindy Diffenderfer of Miami Beach and her Silicon Valley partners have come up with a sleek but simple “smart” appliance. Think Nespresso, but for wine. Branded wine pods will be more affordable and environmentally friendly than buying wine by the bottle, she said, and Miavina’s proprietary technology will dispense the wine at the proper temperature and store it for finishing later. The machine will pair naturally with the Miavina app, directing its owner to online wine education, wine descriptions, reviews and a Miavina wine club.

Cindy Miavina

“Prohibition made wine distribution laborious, expensive and inefficient. We plan to minimize waste, streamline the delivery process and engage with the consumer on a level they understand,” said Diffenderfer, who has been working on concepts for the beverage industry for eight years. “We will break through the mystique of the wine industry and teach the consumer about wine through technology in-hand and in-home.”

The entrepreneur recently pitched her new company to investors participating in Miami’s first UberPITCH (just like it sounds, a pitch competition taking place in the back of Uber-driven cars) — and won. As her prize, she will work with Rokk3r Labs, which co-builds and invests in startups. She hopes Miavina will hit the market in about a year.

Just launched is the Craft Spirits Exchange or CSX, an online community and marketplace aimed at helping consumers discover unique and hard-to-find spirits. Its platform combines a national marketplace selling more than 800 spirits with user reviews, tasting notes, cocktail recipes, news stories and event notices.

Luis Troccoli, founder and CEO of the Delray Beach-based CSX, believes that much like the craft beer awakening of recent years, craft spirits are going through a boom of their own, with micro-distilleries in the United States growing from 50 producers 10 years ago to more than 1,000 today. Yet most of these products are difficult or impossible to find in most local stores, he said.


That’s where drinkCSX.com comes in. Since its Oct. 15 launch, the site has already found a following, registering nearly 3,000 users, about 40 percent of them women, said Troccoli. The company has partnered with more than 50 spirits brands through its CSX Brand Partnership Program, a cross-promotion platform for craft producers.

“Just like you saw in wine and craft beer, people are moving more and more to interesting spirits, they want to find something new, a hidden gem. They are looking for their own spirit to identify with,” said Troccoli. “We want to build a destination site, not just a store.”

To be sure, beverages for grownups are big business, racking up $100.6 billion in 2014, according to food service consultant Technomic. And it’s no easy task for upstarts to get their names out there.

Miami-based Atlantico Rum, for instance, launched five years ago during the economic crisis. Despite that challenge, the company focused on younger consumers and the resurgence in crafted cocktails and drew a cult-like following for its hand-crafted rum made in the Dominican Republic, said co-founder Aleco Azqueta, who formerly was a director at Bacardi. “Because we don’t have the resources of the big companies, we have had to be very creative in our brand-building approach,” he said. That has included community events, social media, brand ambassadors and relationships with influential mixologists. “One of our partners is Enrique Iglesias, which allows us to leverage his music activities to market Atlantico in an organic way. It’s a brand he believes in.”

  Product Atlantico Rum (1) Enrique

Craft beer makers are following Atlantico’s recipe for success with events, tastings and social media campaigns. The newest brands include Concrete Beach and J Wakefield in Wynwood, MIA Brewing in Doral and 26 Degree Brewing in Pompano Beach.

Other startups are stirring innovative approaches into the alcohol industry.

LIQS offers premium vodka and tequila shots in four flavors, including Vodka Lychee Grapefruit; its products are sold at liquor stores, bars and clubs, hotels, golf courses, festivals and many other venues in seven states. It was founded in Miami three years ago by Michael Glickman, a South Florida resident, and Harley Bauer of New York. “RTDs (Ready to Drink products) got a bad rap in the last 20 or 30 years, but they are making a very big comeback in the spirits space because of the quality products now out there, and we are happy to be part of it,” said Bauer.


LIQS initially thought its target market would be young professionals, 21 to 35, but found the product skews with all demographics. “We use top quality spirits and all natural fruit juices, we’re low sugar and low calorie,” said Bauer. Its top seller: Tequila Cinnamon Orange.

The company started out selling in the liquor stores figuring the product would be a fit for home entertainment, boats, pool parties and tailgating, but in the last couple of years LIQS has also found that music venues and festivals have been hot sellers. It has participated in Miami Music Week, Ultra, Art Basel events and the boat shows. “Miami being our launch market, it’s always near and dear to our hearts,” said Bauer.

Friends Fun Wine, based in Aventura, pioneered wine in a can, with flavors like Chardonnay Coffee Cappuccino, Cabernet Coffee Espresso and Peach Moscato, according to its website.Blend Craft Wines, winner of the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge in 2012, produces “a wine-making experience” on MSC cruise ships.

Another product born in South Florida is Beyond Zero, which is developing a machine that dispenses liquor-filled ice to prevent drinks from becoming watered down. Alas, Kentucky lured the company away to join Louisville’s famed Whiskey Row, said founder Jason Sherman.

Fort Lauderdale-based SpeedETab, co-founded by Adam Garfield and Edward Gilmore, helps users skip the line at crowded bars and restaurants by letting them order and pay directly from their smartphones. Users receive a notification through their iOS or Android app when their order is ready. It’s available in nearly 75 locations in South Florida, including Coyo Taco, Pasion Del Cielo, The Wynwood Yard, Brick House, R House, Better Days, Mister Block, Drinkhouse Fire & Ice and Señor Frog’s.


Klink’s app, available on iOS and Android, brings the party to the customer, who can order beer, wine and spirits for delivery in under an hour. The two local app companies have several national competitors also targeting the Miami market — Velocity, Thirstie and Minibar among them.

And who can blame them? It’s Miami after all. Cheers to that.

Nancy Dahlberg; 305-376-3595; @ndahlberg


Beer, wine and spirits are big business: $100.6 billion in 2014. At a recent presentation at the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Show in Orlando, Jackie Rodriguez, a senior manager at food service consultant Technomic, offered a lowdown on the state of the drinks business:

▪ Where we drink: One out of three people order an alcoholic drink when dining out. Beer dominates, at 85 percent of those beverages, but it has slipped a point this year. Wine makes up 8.9 percent of the drinks pie chart and continues to grow; spirits trail at 6.2 percent. People do 40 percent of their drinking in bars, 38 percent at casual dining spots, 9 percent at hotels and 5 percent in fine-dining restaurants.

▪ What’s hot: In craft beer, super-premium domestics and imports “have not reached saturation,” but cider has come on strong in the past 12 months. In spirits, expect innovation in whiskeys, tequilas, cognacs and liqueurs; consumers are moving away from sweet taste profiles to more complex, assertive and nuanced flavors (think spicy, herbal or bitter drinks); smaller boutique brands have captured consumers’ attention. Wine on tap is surging; 70 percent of people surveyed said that wine from a tap tastes as good or better than wine in bottles.

▪ Looking ahead: In 2016, drinkers will go for boutique brands; better-for-you or hand-crafted options, such as cold-pressed juices in cocktails; more choice in serving sizes; and unusual garnishes. For some customers, value is still king; for one in four customers, price is the biggest driver.



 Deliveries on demand: Apps at your service this holiday season

December 29, 2015

Deadline approaching for Fintech Miami Forum Feb. 4

Help design the future of financial inclusion – Register for the Miami FinTech Forum by Jan 12.

Join Citi Community Development, Village Capital and Florida International University in bridging the opportunity gap for entrepreneurs who are taking on major challenges through Financial Technology. South Florida FinTech entrepreneurs will be selected to receive training, meet with experts and pitch their businesses.

Selected companies will have a chance to win $20,000 in seed funding.Women and minority entrepreneurs are strongly encouraged to apply.

Registration for FinTech Miami Closes January 12th!

Who Will Participate?
Early Stage startups with innovative
solutions in FinTech;leading investors;
business experts; and local stakeholders
Early stage FinTech ventures can apply here:
What is the Event?
One-day forum that includes training for
FinTech entrepreneurs, meetings with
business experts and a pitch session
Investors and stakeholders interested in participating may register at the link shown below:

Submitted by FIU

December 28, 2015

Tech Talk: A rockin' year for entrepreneurship

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

For today’s Business Monday centerpiece story, I contributed a couple of the staff’s picks for best business stories of the year, including the latest moves by the region’s emerging rock star Magic Leap and a crescendo of co-working spaces and accelerators. But it’s really the steady drumbeat of startup news I can’t get out of my head.

It was a very good year for healthcare venture deals. South Florida biotech, medical device firms and health-tech companies took 78 percent of the $241 million in venture capital that flowed into South Florida companies in the first three quarters and almost half of the state’s take. The area’s top three funding rounds were in this space: Fort Lauderdale telemedicine firm MDLIVE’s $50 million financing, Boca Raton-based electronic medical record software provider Modernizing Medicine’s $38 million financing, and Dania Beach smart orthopedics company OrthoSensor’s $19 million. (YellowPepper, a Miami-based mobile payments company, also received $19 million.)

It was also a good year for entrepreneurial infrastructure growth. In addition to the aforementioned co-working surge, 2015 saw a steady expansion of educational resources, from coding programs such as CS50X at Miami Dade College’s Idea Center, to talent matching organizations such as LaunchCode to more mentorship resources. The South Florida capital network continued to develop, though there is still much more work to be done there, as well as in attracting and retaining tech talent.

It was hard to miss the surge of national exposure, especially coming off the eMerge Americas technology conference in May. Thanks in large part to eMerge Americas’ media partnership with NBCUniversal, Miami’s tech and startup scene starred in English and Spanish-language news and business programs, magazines and blogs. eMerge Americas will be back for a third year in April.

I wrote about new (to me) and interesting South Florida entrepreneurs with innovative products and services, such as Einar Rosenberg of Creating Revolutions, Alon Mozes of Neocis, Daniel Rodriguez of Animusoft, Carmen Bigles of Coquí Radiopharmaceuticals. the trio of founders behind Nearpod and Janice Haley of Tone-y-Bands, to name just a few. Meanwhile, South Florida’s Kabaccha Shoes, Urban Drones, AdMobilize and Blackdove rocked their Kickstarter campaigns, showing South Florida entrepreneurs how it’s done.

Plenty of inspirational stories, too. I met Trina Spear of FIGS, a new Endeavor company based in Hollywood that is reinventing the common, uncomfortable and less-than-hygenic medical scrub, and for each set it sells, it gives a set to medical professionals in emerging markets. The founders of New Story, who grew up in South Florida, provided a sweet story of their own. Their Y-Combinator accelerated non-profit startup funded 151 homes, eliminating a huge tent slum in Haiti. CEO Brett Hagler said my article in the Herald drew in funding for a handful of those homes, including one by a single donor who financed an entire home.

Looking ahead, 2016 should be a good year for health-tech, with new resources coming on board such as startupbootcamp’s digital health focused accelerator and Cambridge Innovation Center setting up in the UM Life Science & Technology Park. Startups in the creative industries are beginning to make traction, as are food-oriented startups. Ed-tech, fin-tech and real estate-tech startups are emerging, too, and we will have Venture Hive, 500 Startup’s Distro program, FAU Tech Runway, EcoTech Visions, Endeavor and other programs helping to build better companies. We’ll see another huge funding round for Magic Leap, valuing the company at some $3.7 billion and assuring a good year on the venture capital front.

What’s your outlook for the year ahead? On my Starting Gate blog, you can read responses from a survey I took in October, including how some South Florida entrepreneurship leaders would pitch Miami to entrepreneurs and investors considering relocation. Let me know your thoughts.

Happy New Year, dear readers.


December 27, 2015

Entrepreneurship Datebook, The holiday edition: Plan ahead for next year

Entrepreneurship Datebook highlights workshops and networking events each week. With the holiday weeks quiet, here are a few entrepreneurship workshops and events to put on your calendars for next year:

Sales for B2B Startups: Introduction to software-as-a-service (SaaS) sales for early-stage companies, by Jorge Soto, fomer Head of Inside Sales at Twitter and sales trainer, 6:30 to 8 p.m. Jan. 6 at Building.co, 120 SW Eighth St. Register here: https://goo.gl/23faYt

Black Tech Week: Back for a second year, a week of events with speakers, panels, workshops and networkers, Feb. 15-20. More info: www.blacktechweek.com

SUP-X: A startup expo for entrepreneurs, investors and service providers, Feb. 16-17, Broward County Convention Center. Apply now to exhibit. More info: www.sup-x.org.

Miami Mini Maker Faire: The popular event returns in an expanded format Feb. 20-21 at YoungArts in Miami. MIAMade is now accepting applications for exhibitors on its website. More info: makerfairemiami.com

eMerge Americas: The third annual eMerge Americas conference, with two days of speakers, exhibits, contests and celebrity fun, returns April 18-19. eMerge is accepting applications for its Startup Showcase on its website. More info: emergeamericas.org.

Startup Acceleration: Powered by Consero, this calls itself an invitation-only peer-to-peer event for startup founders and it’s June 8-10. More info and to ask for an invite: startup.consero.com


It may have been a holiday week, but startup news broke anyway. Miami-based ParkJockey partnered with PayByPhone; Wyncode coding school announced its third expansion; and Urban.Us provided a guest post on making cities better. Catch up on startup news and community views on the Starting Gate blog on MiamiHerald.com/business.

Email submissions for Entrepreneurship Datebook to ndahlberg @miamiherald.com. Please put “Datebook’ in the subject line.

Nancy Dahlberg @ndahlberg

December 22, 2015

Wyncode to launch its third campus: WeWork in Miami Beach


By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Wyncode Academy, Florida’s first bricks and mortar coding bootcamp, is expanding in South Florida.

Wyncode, which teaches computer programming in nine weeks, will be offering its bootcamp at a third location: WeWork in Miami Beach. That’s in addition to The LAB Miami in Wynwood, its original location and its headquarters, and General Provision in Fort Lauderdale’s Flagler Arts and Technology Village. WeWork is a creator and provider of shared workspace and services for startups, freelancers and growing businesses.

WeWork shares Wyncode’s passion for building community,” said Juha Mikkola, who co-founded Wyncode with his wife Johanna. “We believe that the foundation for a successful tech ecosystem is coding talent that can build amazing things. That talent is right here in Miami Beach, they just need to get access to the right type of training.”

Wyncode launched in 2014 and its intensive, full-time program has attracted people without a programming background from a variety of careers: chefs, lawyers, salespeople, accountants, concierges, marketing executives and entrepreneurs. For instance, after graduating from Wyncode, Mario Aguayo launched My Style Blox, a marketplace for models and their clients to discover, book and manage projects. Agauyo had been a talent manager and also worked in retailing before learned to code at Wyncode. Frank Ortiz, a former chef, was also was a Wyncode graduate, then was hired by Wyncode and is now working full-time in technology for Fusion Recruitment Labs.

The program focuses on tech skills like Ruby, Javascript, HTML and CSS and also on the business skills that startups require to be successful. It’s one of a number of new resources that have developed here focused on narrowing the gap of 400,000 unfilled jobs in tech expected by 2020. The Mikkolas, who were chosen as Endeavor Entrepreneurs this summer, have participated in White House programs about the need for coding education.

The Head Instructor for the Miami Beach campus is Auston Bunsen, a long-time Miami tech leader, programmer and entrepreneur. He is the former chief technology officer of 1Sale and founder of Miami tech conference SuperConf. Bunsen has written code that has powered millions of visits across platforms using Python, Ruby and JavaScript. “He is passionate about learning, hacking, community, open source and having a positive influence on the world around him and is an ideal fit for Wyncode’s team,” Juha Mikkola said.

A quarter of Wyncode’s last cohort in Wynwood came from out of state, including students from New York, Seattle, Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela. “We believe Miami Beach is a great option for these students, as they’ll have access to industry leading education that is just steps away from the beach,” Johanna Mikkola said.

Wyncode Academy is licensed by the Florida Department of Education and has graduated more than 180 Wyncoders in 10 cohorts, maintaining a 90 percent placement rate within three months of graduation, the company said. Of those, 96 percent are working as developers with the majority receiving full-time offers to stay in South Florida’s tech ecosystem. Wyncode is the third most student reviewed program on the global coding-school industry site Course Report, earning a 4.9 out of 5 star rating from its 66 reviewers.

Wyncode’s first cohort in Miami Beach will begin on Jan. 25 and is limited to 10 seats. WeWork members will receive a $500 discount on the $10,000 tuition. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis and interested candidates should apply at wyncode.co. Wyncode is also starting cohorts in Wynwood and Fort Lauderdale in January; it offers financing partners for all programs and runs a scholarship program at its Wynwood location in conjunction with the Knight Foundation.



Wyncode's coding school is headquartered at The LAB Miami in Wynwood, top photo, and Demo Days such as this one at The LAB Miami end each cohort. Photos by David Salazar. 


Urban.Us public benefit update: Portfolio startups are reimagining cities, making them better

Urbanus new

Stonly Baptiste, right, with Shaun Abrahamson. Together they founded Urban.Us. Photo by Carl Juste 

By Stonly Baptiste

Cities today create 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and urban populations are set to double by 2050, making climate change a city problem. At the same time, policy, technology, and business interests have aligned uniquely to enable a new generation of entrepreneurs to reimagine cities.

In late 2013, we created Urban.Us to find, fund, and de-risk early-stage startups that make city life (and cities) better.

We are launching the next stage of our efforts in 2016 and now count nineteen companies in the portfolio, with a few more companies to be announced in the coming months.

Looking at our investments so far, they include some of the most promising startups in areas ranging from water and energy conservation to construction automation and law enforcement. We’re usually one of the first investors to work with a founding team and have developed a unique approach to find and support our companies.

We work with a community of investors, experts, governments, and corporations (now more than 850 people) to improve their chances of moving from concept to growth-stage funding (series A). We’ve been fortunate to enjoy support from organizations like the Knight Foundation, the Miami Foundation, and Direct Energy, which helped us organize a summit and showcase in Miami in 2015.

In fact, Miami-Dade County is already seeing some of the benefits from our portfolio companies.

Rachio makes a smart irrigation controller that dramatically reduces water usage (as much as fifty percent of water used outdoors right now is being wasted). In addition to saving money, the aggregate water savings of Rachio customers represent a significant shift in the demand on municipal water supplies. To date, 440,225,274 gallons of water have been saved thanks to Rachio, which is now at the top of Amazon and Home Depot product rankings in its category.

Miami-Dade's Urban Conservation Unit recently announced that Coral Gables is upgrading its potable system to Rachio Iro units.

Skycatch is leading the way in autonomous commercial data acquisition using drones. Skycatch has increased its focus on construction thanks to customers like Komatsu and partners like Autodesk, but it also has customers in areas like disaster response and mining. It has also worked with the FAA and NASA to shape commercial-drone policy and regulations.

In May, the Miami Herald interviewed Trevor Duke, a South Florida-based drone pilot for SkyCatch, about his work using drones to automate processes at construction sites. Bouygues, the French construction and energy conglomerate, has been testing Skycatch’s autonomous system at building sites in Miami since 2014.

Beyond Miami, our portfolio is creating public benefits nationally and even internationally.

HandUp is a platform that allows you to donate directly to a homeless neighbor in need.

They have helped match almost $1 million to over 3,000 specific needs through the platform. The team has begun expanding beyond San Francisco by partnering with community organizations in cities like Denver and Miami.

Dash creates software that help make driving smarter, safer, greener, and more affordable. Downloads of the dash mobile app have topped 250,000 users in 100+ countries—more than all the players in the emerging Connected Car space. It also recently launched a program with Allstate Insurance and the NY Department of Transportation to promote better driving through rewards and incentives.

BlocPower is automating sourcing, energy auditing, retrofit engineering, procurement, and financing processes to bring the best existing tech to low-income neighborhoods, where significant energy savings result in reduced CO2 footprints as well as less stress on community budgets. The team is now serving more than 300 small and medium-sized buildings in Metro New York City and are contracted to retrofit 1,000 to 2,000 buildings over the next three years, a $200 million project financing opportunity.

A few companies we work with are still too early in their development to be reporting public benefits but are showing great progress and promise.

OneConcern is a disaster-solutions company that provides rapid damage estimates across all natural disasters using artificial intelligence on natural phenomena sciences. We’re hoping to count the number of lives saved thanks to OneConcern’s focus on being at the forefront of every emergency.

Mark43 is a cloud-based records management system (RMS) and analysis tool built for and in collaboration with police. The early reports from its first deployment in Washington, DC have been encouraging, and we hope to share data about police hours saved and more as the company deploys to cities around the country.

RadiatorLabs converts old cast-iron radiators into precision heating machines. Its first product, “The Cozy,” is expected to save building owners up to forty percent annually in heating costs. Early deployments will soon be able to share data regarding the operational efficiency and safety the device has produced.

Flair is working on a complete lineup of next-generation heating and cooling products. Its first product is expected to produce huge energy and cost savings for people who want to stay comfortable in their homes and offices.

Our primary focus for our portfolio companies is that they make it through the “valley of death” where they are discovering their product offering, business model and customers. At this point we don’t worry much about impact, only potential impact. As they enter the growth stage, typically around series A funding, the impact begins to scale, too. Our portfolio of investments are on average less than two years old, so we hope to report even more progress next December.

Stonly Baptiste co-founded  Urban.Us with Shaun Abrahamson to fund early-stage companies that make cities better in 2013. He has co-founded or helped run a number of tech companies.


A panel of experts discusses urban mobility at the Smart City Startups conference in Miami in April, produced and hosted by Urban.Us.

See Miami Herald cover story about Urban.Us published in 2014.


December 21, 2015

Miami-based ParkJockey partners with PayByPhone to create parking marketplace

ParkjockeyBy Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

ParkJockey, a fast-growing Miami-based startup that helps consumers find and reserve parking spaces in advance, and PayByPhone, a leading player in mobile payments for parking by phone, are exclusively partnering to deliver a comprehensive set of off-street and on-street parking services, the companies announced Monday.

ParkJockey, focused on helping to solve the urban mobility problem, now operates in Miami, Chicago, New York, San Francisco and all major cities in the United Kingdom and has more than 100,000 parking spaces in garages, surface lots and valet operations available through its app. PayByPhone processes more than 4 million parking-related transactions a month in cities across Europe and North America, including the Miami metro area.

The partnership will essentially bring on-street and off-street parking together. Through the partnership, PayByPhone will integrate ParkJockey’s off-street parking location and reservation services into its PayByPhone mobile app, and ParkJockey will integrate PayByPhone mobile payment services into the ParkJockey app. Phase 1 of the partnership will initially focus on the U.S. and the United Kingdom, followed by the European Union and Canada, said Umut Tekin, co-founder and president of ParkJockey, which began offering services in Miami about two years ago.

The parking technology market continues to be very fragmented, with legacy companies as well as startups struggling to grasp how to effectively engage the market, said Tekin. “Through our partnership with PayByPhone, we will be able to rapidly consolidate the market and build the world’s largest parking marketplace,” he said. “We look forward to scaling our integrated solution globally and bringing the parking industry to a similar level to that of the taxi/ride sharing industry in terms of 21st century consumer experience.”

The two companies plan to introduce the integrated services to their customers early next year.

December 20, 2015

Deliveries on demand: Apps at your service this holiday season


See more photos with this story here.


By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Time. This just might be one of the season’s most precious gifts of all.

You don’t want to spend what few spare minutes you have standing in line, do you? That is exactly what South Florida’s burgeoning network of “on-demand” delivery services are banking on.

The holiday season brings a surge of consumer business to these new services, which deliver transportation, groceries, packages, restaurant meals, last-minute gifts and that pie you forgot to make for the office party. Many of these capitalize on the so-called sharing economy, where a network of contract workers often use their own vehicles and spare time to deliver whatever your heart desires.

All of the new services are app-enabled, aggregating demand on mobile devices but fulfilling that demand through offline services, giving the consumer or small business one less chore to do when time is at a premium.

Coming on the heels of Uber and Lyft launching their ride-hailing services in 2014, this year brought a flood of new options to South Florida shores — including the expansion of fast-growing companies such as Instacart for groceries, Caviar for restaurant food, Shyp for packages and Postmates for, well, just about anything, including the wrapping paper you just ran out of. Need a drink and need it now? KlinkMinibar or Thirstie will deliver the party to you. One of the most recent on-demand entries in Miami is Amazon Prime Now’s two-hour delivery service.

As they ramp up in South Florida and try to gain mainstream adoption, many of these services hope to entice holiday-frenzied consumers to give them a try.

Continue reading "Deliveries on demand: Apps at your service this holiday season" »

Tech Talk: Homegrown Sktchy draws up big plans for growth funding


By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Jordan Melnick isn’t the bragging type, but his app has drawn a passionate fan base many entrepreneurs only dream about. Perhaps his startup story will inspire you too, and it has only just begun.

Sktchy grew out of a local side project called Sketchy Miami that brought artists and community members together to make portraits at live events. Melnick expected 50 people at its launch party, but 500 showed up. The next event drew 1,000-plus attendees, and soon, artists around the world were asking to participate. Melnick (pictured above) knew he was on to something.


So his small team built a mobile app, Sktchy. The concept of Sktchy (sktchy.com) was simple: Users submit photos of themselves for inspiration and artists draw, paint or sculpt portraits. The before-and-afters can be discovered and shared on the app.

Jordan3Launched a little over two years ago, the iPhone app immediately took off, and in the past year, has accelerated. “Sktchy is a social network for artists. Today there are active artists in 100-plus countries, we get close to 2,000 original pieces every week, we are picking up hundreds of new artists every week. ... The growth has been all through word-of-mouth,” said Melnick, Sktchy’s CEO, who has a journalism background. “Our strategy is to keep making the product better.” (art by Nancy Guerrero)

This month, the team received a significantly larger, undisclosed round of funding from Mark Kingdon, its original angel investor, and Krillion Ventures, a Miami-based venture fund co-founded by Melissa Krinzman and Jeffrey Miller.
Jordan2“When I invested in Sktchy, I saw a beautifully designed app with great potential,” said Kingdon, who first funded Sktchy in 2014. “Today I see a five-star-rated app that’s been downloaded more than 100,000 times. I see 200,000 inspirational photos and more than 100,000 original artworks. The engagement around artists and their work is staggering with more than 2.5 million wows from the Sktchy community, rivaling what they’d see on Instagram.”

Kingdon is a three-time digital CEO and founder of Quixotic Ventures who also invested in Everypost and Hyp3r locally, and in Twitter, TheRealReal, Refinery29 and other companies.

Melnick says his small team plans to use the funding for product improvements, including a redesign that will better surface art in the platform’s archives and introduce a way to enable sales. An Android version of the app is in the plans, too.

Kingdon said he reinvested because he sees huge potential for Sktchy to build a leading community marketplace for art: “When launching a marketplace, liquidity — i.e., matching supply and demand — is the big challenge. With Sktchy, there is already significant latent liquidity because artists and their followers have asked repeatedly for the ability to buy and sell art.”

Artists and their fans already exchange contact information in the comments sections and conduct transactions via email, and some have commissioned works through Sktchy. So as Melnick sees it, it’s a natural progression for the company.

“We want to empower artists in various ways. We are an inspiration for them, we are a place where they can share their art and build a following, we are a community they can tap into. Now we want to help them easily sell their artwork inspired by our photos,” Melnick said.

Sktchy also plans to open up the platform beyond portraiture, and has been experimenting with inviting inspiration photos of landscapes, cityscapes, animals, etc. But no worries, Sktchy fans: Melnick said portraits will always be a big part of what Sktchy is about.

“I would love Sktchy to grow into a bigger creative community and a really valuable company from Miami,” Melnick said. “Our history is tied to this community, and it is great that investors here are supporting what we are doing.”

Nancy Dahlberg; 305-376-3595; @ndahlberg

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/biz-monday/article50820160.html#storylink=cpy