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27 posts from February 2016

February 19, 2016

Seen and heard at Blacktech Week: Two views of diversity (or lack thereof) in tech


Why I am here: Magic Leap CEO wants a company that looks like the world

What's cooking behind the Magic Leap curtain is still a mystery, but founder and CEO Rony Abovitz gave a short talk at Blacktech Week Friday. He hasn't given many local  appearances -- it's heads down for him and his "mixed reality" company -- but he said he had a message to share with the audience:

"I firmly believe that if you look at where computing can go, where media can go, where human experience can go, it should be designed and built by people from all over the world -- men, women, black and white, people of all races. ... Coming here today is about to saying we are a color blind company. If you have skills we want you. We don't care if you are not from Stanford or MIT, we want you."

Abovitz appeared on stage with Israel Idonije, an NFL veteran who also has started and runs several companies: Blessed Communion, seller of pre-filled communion cups, Athlitacomics, bringing sports heroes to life in a new medium, and Askthedoctor.com for medical help and advice. Idonije's Athlitacomics is collaborating with Magic Leap.

Abovitz also shared some advice with the mostly African-American audience: "I think you have to have an unstoppable determination to succeed. You have to have some vision of the future, I think that is the most important thing, you have to be creative ... It will be 100 times harder than you think, but those that don't quit those are the successful entrepreneurs, and ultimately you do need a helping hand." He added: Think positive and work your ass off, get smart people around you, and create a culture around you.

On starting a company in Florida (Magic Leap is building a 260,00-square-foot headquarters in Plantation), rather than the Valley:  "A thousand times harder.  For me it is like a badge of honor -- I am going to do it here and I don't care."

And about the technology: "It will blow your mind, in a good way. We call  it mixed reality lightfield. [With it] games and media will be amazing, visual music will be amazing, but I think education will be transformational. In healthcare, it will also be transformational."

As he has said many times before, we'll have to wait for the details. He said his company is full of enthusiastic 11-year-olds who want to make other 11-year-olds jump for joy. "We want to get it right."

The company is about  500 people now and will be doubling and tripling in the next 18 months.

"I don't want my company looking like Silicon Valley companies. I want it to look like what the world looks like. Somehow all these tech companies don't do that. If you guys apply, we will give you a chance.

"I really don't want to wake up and go we have 5,000 people and we look just like everyone else -- that is not my goal."

Read more: Magic Leap toasts its vision for the future of computing

Read more: Mysterious Magic Leap lands $793 million in mega-funding round

Read more: Magic Leap's Abovitz speaks at UM: "Set out to change the world and have fun doing it"



Why I quit Twitter (and turned down a seven figure severance package)

Leslie Miley, a black engineering manager at Twitter until last fall,  said he had to fly away.

Black Twitter drives Twitter -- 28 percent of the African American population uses Twitter, he said. More than half of Twitter users are women and minorities.

Yet inside Twitter the reality was: 1 percent black engineers, 3 percent Hispanic, 10 percent women, the worst in the Valley, said Miley, during a talk at Blacktech Week. #BlackLivesMatter was becoming a huge force in calling for change, but " I was still walking around the building at Twitter and still and not seeing people that look like me."

Miley, who has also worked at Apple, Yahoo and Google,  said he became reinspired when Jack Dorsey returned to the helm, and Miley came up with a plan -- and job description -- for making real change in diversity within Twitter.

"I believed if I can change the ratio here, I can change the internet. I got Jack's buy in, I got HR's buying, I was inspired. "

Then he said he pitched it to the VP of engineering, who suggested he could create a tool that classifies names by ethnicities in order to study the pipeline -- and as Miley saw it,  he was asking for a tool that profiles people.  "I knew at the moment it was time to leave. The work I need to do is bigger than all of this."

He said he resigned, but shortly after that Twitter had a layoff and included him, and offered him a severance package. But the severance package, he said, included a non-disparagement clause, preventing him from ever speaking negatively about Twitter. "I'll pass," he said. Then he said he continued to get higher offers until he received a 7-figure severance package." I said no, I said my experiences as a black man are not for sale."

When his post about why he resigned and the press around it made the rounds, he said he was heartened because people inside Twitter began retweeting it.

"We have to stay within technology. We have to own our stories, our own companies, our own technology.  I don't want you to come to Silicon Valley -- I want you to do it here," he told the crowd.

 "I think Silicon Valley is hostile to diversity - period," he continued. "Why don't they open an engineering center in Detroit? Or Miami...  people think we need help. No, we just need a level playing field."

Blacktech Week continues Saturday with a Women's Innovation Brunch, featuring Kathryn Finney talking about her organization's latest findings on women of color in tech. 

Read more: Blacktech Week opens, PowerMoves launches amid sobering statistics

Read more: Blacktech Week: Innovating, scaling, giving back











February 18, 2016

Blacktech Week: Innovating, scaling, giving back


Santonio Holmes, a pro football player, and Jeff Hoffman, co-founder of Priceline, share the stage at Blacktech Week at Florida International University. Photo by Nancy Dahlberg


By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Frederick Hutson, founder and CEO of Pigeonly, spent five years in prison and launched his startup while in a halfway house in Tampa. Today it’s a multimillion-dollar company that offers tech solutions for connecting inmates with their families.

Passionate about the data revolution, Michael Beal left a high-paying career on Wall Street and in private equity to found Data Capital Management, a public and data-driven hedge fund, with an experienced team of data scientists and quantitative researchers.

These two success stories in the making couldn’t be more different — and that’s the point of Blacktech Week. Blacktech Week, now in its second year, is a celebration of innovators of color. But more important to co-founders Felecia Hatcher and Derick Pearson, the week of events aims to inspire the current and next generations to be makers and shapers in the digital revolution — and not to be left on the sidelines.

To that end, Blacktech Week brought in more than 80 speakers, including serial entrepreneurs, data scientists, engineers, sci-fi aficionados, musicians, government officials, venture capitalists and a professional football player. They offered advice in the hallways and opened up their PowerPoints on the stage to share their wisdom on starting and growing businesses with several hundred entrepreneurs, professionals and students attending the 2½-day conference at Florida International University’s Biscayne Bay campus.

The summit was part of a weeklong series of events that included the launch of PowerMoves, a new accelerator program for entrepreneurs of color in South Florida; pitch competitions; youth coding events; parties; and a women’s entrepreneurship track and brunch.

Most of the sessions on Thursday focused on starting, scaling and funding businesses. Jeff Hoffman, co-founder of Priceline and seven other companies as well as a Grammy-winning producer and film director, reminded the audience that Priceline started around a kitchen table.

“What is the one thing that most differentiates and distinguishes you? That is your brand asset,” Hoffman said. To get a true idea of what that one thing is, ask 10 of your customers why they do business with you, he said. Then around the brand asset you can begin to build a brand personality: Think Ben and Jerry’s or Richard Branson.

In Priceline’s early days, the team got a lot of advice to expand into many areas beyond hotel rooms, he said. That’s bad advice for early-stage companies: “Pick one thing you are good at and win a gold medal.”

Another mistake for startups: believing “everyone” is your market, Hoffman said.

“You don’t have a marketing budget for ‘everyone.’ ” Instead, start with one city or segment, he advised. Within that you need to find the “Oh my God, where have you been all my life?” customers, he said. That segment of raving fans is in other cities, too, so it will become clearer where to expand next.

He also advised founders to spend a block of time every week in their target market’s own environment — and not in sales mode, but in listening mode.

Beal spoke about the difficulty of leaving a lucrative career and taking the plunge. That move involved going back to Harvard, cutting expenses in half and persuading his family to support his plan. “For me, I did not want to be an entrepreneur but I knew I had to be. ... I hope we can be the people powering the data revolution just like the white guys who powered the industrial revolution. That’s why I’m here.”

Hutson, who developed his first technologies in the Tampa halfway house in 2012, had an inside view of his customers — quite literally. When the time came to market his product, he targeted inmates and their families with direct mail rather than trying to work through the bureaucracy of the prison system. It seems to be working: He now runs a 25-person company in Las Vegas with multiple products on the market.

Another theme running throughout the day: the power of mentorship.

“Nobody showed me how to do anything – I wanted to be the role model of success for my brothers and my kids,” said professional football player Santonio Holmes, who is launching The Dream Foundation this month for mentoring youth where he grew up, Belle Glade. “When you have a dream, you help someone, you mentor someone, you guide them, you talk about your mistakes so they don’t make them,” he said.

For Hatcher, an entrepreneur who also founded Code Fever for teaching coding in underserved communities, a key benefit of Blacktech Week is making connections. This year’s event drew participants from Europe and Africa as well as from around the Americas. This year, the Blacktech Week team expanded the scope to include more content on consumer goods, lifestyle, music and entertainment to broaden the audience and to better connect with the Miami community. For instance, Thursday night there was a session on music, sports and pop culture with rappers, producers and others in the entertainment industry.

Hip-hop artist Spectacular Smith, who also co-founded a tech business, Adwizar, that helps entertainment industry influencers grow their followings and make residual income off their social media, was checking out Blacktech Week Thursday afternoon. “Anything to do with supporting my people, that’s what I’m all about. I love to see other people be successful. At the same time, I never know who I may meet here,” he said.

Hatcher, Pearson and their partners, including the Knight Foundation, plan to continue Blacktech Week as an annual week of events during Black History Month, along with other events and workshops throughout the year.

Blacktech Week continues Friday, covering topics such as cybersecurity, digital health and building impactful tech cities and including speakers such as renowned scientist and inventor Dr. Thomas Mensah and Rony Abovitz, founder of Magic Leap. It continues Saturday with a women’s innovation brunch, featuring Kathryn Finney, who last week released Project Diane, a report that showed that of the 10,238 venture deals sealed from 2012 to 2014, just 24 were to black women founders. More info: blacktechweek.com.



Andrew Goldner of GrowthX, Marcus Carey of Silicon Valley Bank, Birame Sock of Flyscan and VOO Media, Clarence Wooten of VentureFund.io and Michael Hall of Digital Grass share their Silicon Valley experiences at Blacktech Week. Photo by Nancy Dahlberg


February 17, 2016

Sup-X highlights startups from South Florida, around U.S.


By Marcia Heroux Pounds / Sun Sentinel

Angel investor Thomas Buchar sees a little bit of Texas in South Florida.

"This reminds me of Austin in the 1990s," Buchar said Wednesday. All it will take for the region to take off as a technology hub is for a local startup to make a big return for investors, he said.

The former Chicago resident is planting roots in Fort Lauderdale and is looking for new companies in the life sciences and financial technology to invest in. He attended the SUP-X startup expo at the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale.

The two-day event linked entrepreneurs and investors from South Florida, the Northeast and Canada.

To inspire the budding entrepreneurs, SUP-X featured Ultimate Software's vice president for strategic alliances Jim Jensen as keynote speaker.

"You've got to have a vision," said Jensen, who has worked for 21 years at Weston-based Ultimate Software, founded by CEO Scott Scherr. He said startups should come up with one to three words that say what their company is all about.

For Ultimate Software, that message has been "people first," supporting Scherr's philosophy that if the company treated its employees well, that would lead to customer satisfaction and robust sales. Fortune magazine recently named Ultimate Software the No. 1 technology workplace in the nation, and the company reached $618 million in annual revenues.

Jensen said another key to Ultimate Software's success has been getting feedback from customers to improve its products.

Customer feedback also has been key to entrepreneur Amanda Anthony, who founded FlyInStyle, which connects consumers with shopping and dining options at airports. She recently changed her business model from a consumer app to marketing directly to retailers and brand marketers in airports. "We listened to the market," Anthony said.

Aaron Itzkowitz, founder of Jinglz in Boynton Beach, said he saw the need for digital advertisers to get a better return for their advertising buck. Jinglz has developed a digital ad platform that helps ensure that a video ad will be watched by pausing when the viewer looks away. If the video is watched completely, the consumer is rewarded with an entry in a daily jackpot to win a cash prize.

Investor Joel Gold said he's investing in Jinglz and raising additional funds because Itzkowitz and his associates are hard working and have a great idea.

"We don't invest in companies. We invest in people," he said.

Two South Florida companies were in the final five Wednesday afternoon in the SUP-X startup competition offering about $50K in prizes.

Coral Springs data firm BDEX, which collects data to help retailers target customers, and Wellington-based EnergyBionics, which makes a mobile-device charging watch, pitched their businesses to investors and experts.

EnergyBionics was the third place winner, taking home $10,000. Apellix of Jacksonville and Torch of Chattanooga, Tenn., were the winner and runner up.


Honey vs. Vinegar: How are we luring and keeping the companies we want in Miami?

An interview with an upcoming transplant

By Natalia Martinez-Kalinina

Natalia martinez 12-12 f0001Like any city -- especially a young one -- Miami has its charms, quirks, and flaws. The Kauffman Foundation listed South Florida as the country’s second area with most startup activity, but we remain unlisted in any major city ranking that tracks venture capital investment. Speaking recently at the South Florida Economic Summit, Richard Florida remarked that Miami ranks as one of the most tolerant metro areas in the country -- a welcoming landing pad to any who choose to make a start here -- but also commented that we rank 40th in technology and 138th in talent. For every milestone earned, there are other difficult goals to achieve and gaps to bridge.

Ultimately, our maturity as a city will be measured on a par by our ability to attract engaging companies, entrepreneurs, and investors from elsewhere as by our ability to nurture and pollinate our own. The former will be tracked by our ability to become not just a logistics/transit hub for the region;  in order to cement Miami as a content and growth destination, we must do more than lure interesting projects and people with the promise of tight networks, a fantastic quality of life, and jovial aspirations. It is a fascinating and complex challenge that requires the maneuvering of systemic levers, and we can start by taking a more nuanced look at the business both seeking/leaving and growing/shrinking in our city in 2016.

 Below, we take a closer look at Balloon Group, an emerging company planning its expansion to Miami from Buenos Aires later this year. We spoke with Santiago Bibiloni (pictured here), the venture’s Founder and CEO.


Tell us about Balloon Group. How was the company started? How do you see its future growth and development?

Fundamentally, Balloon Group focuses on development (eCommerce and software), and performance-oriented digital marketing (sales, user acquisition, etc), but we also offer consulting services and a global network of contacts, which allows our clients/entrepreneurs to receive legal, accounting, and human resources services first-hand from specialists in these fields. We started the company with no capital investment, and today, 36 after months after launching, we have 400 clients in over 12 countries.

When is Balloon coming to Miami and why?

Balloon Group will take off in Miami in late 2016. We are launching in Miami because our vision was, is, and will continue to be to design the future. We aspire to become the top company working to strengthen technology and innovation-centered startups. And we believe that launching aggressively in Miami will position us to infiltrate northern markets better and faster. San Francisco, New York, Miami, Austin, and Mexico City -- these are the hard hitters in the Americas. We will take on Brazil at a later stage.

What kinds of opportunities are you looking for? What kinds of risks worry you?

We’re looking to access startups that have the potential to become the next unicorns, but lack the resources to develop and scale their businesses. When it comes to technology and marketing, we offer “know how,”creativity, quality, and reasonable pricing for a company operating in Latin America.

We also have our own project incubator and an investment fund for venture capital, so we are also in search for how to support start-ups in different ways.

Our biggest risk is failure, which involves losing time and money. But not betting on ourselves to grow is also failure, which is why I’m not worried about this leap.

From the perspective of a Latin American entrepreneur, what advantages does Miami have?

Miami was and is considered a fundamental and strategic platform to have operations both in Latin America and the US, and a few years ago it began to be an interesting market within itself, as far as start-ups are concerned. For Argentines and/or Latin Americans, it has many advantages: a stable economy, access to capital, public policies in favor of entrepreneurship, innovation and technology, free market and competition, safety and the legitimacy of government institutions, with a similar language and culture.

In light of this perspective, what can Miami do better to become a true “hub” for the region?

Miami is an emerging market, and because it lacks experience, it should try to both develop and import value-adds to increase venture capital investment and make it as efficient as possible. This could involve importing fund managers with expertise and facilitating access to work opportunities for high-potential foreign entrepreneurs.

You helped create the Argentine Association of Entrepreneurs (ASEA); tell us a little bit about this entity, its objectives and its development in Argentina’s economic and political framework. What perspective does this experience give you on the move to Miami?

ASEA aims to turn Argentina into an “entrepreneurial nation,” namely to ensure that we are a better country for enterprises. This involves improving both the macro and micro contexts for entrepreneurs: better public policies, favourable tax benefits, limited bureaucracy, and added mentoring, among other things. A bill sponsored by ASEA that outlines these points is already on the new government’s agenda.

Organizations like Endeavor have talked at length about the “Argentine Model.” What do you think Miami can learn from the Argentine case?

For years, Argentines have dealt with 30% annual inflation, taxes and social security contributions equivalent to 40% of our revenues, restrictions on exports, and many other obstacles.

And precisely because we have these shortcomings, we have developed our greatest asset: our waistlines. We are able to adapt to changing contexts and deal with competing priorities. That is an essential lesson in entrepreneurship.

The government and many Argentine institutions are understanding the need to work as an ecosystem and not, as my friend Mariano Mayer (current National Secretary for Entrepreneurs and Small & Medium Enterprises) would say, an “ego-system.” This is why we are developing an interesting model based on training, community, incubation acceleration and financing for entrepreneurs. In turn, the government is co-investing with private entities in high-potential startups. There is plenty to do and we are doing well.

Natalia Martinez-Kalinina is the General Manager of CIC Miami and the Founder of Awesome Foundation MIAMI.

February 16, 2016

PowerMoves launches in Miami at start of Blacktech Week


By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Close your eyes and picture a typical "tech entrepreneur." If you always see a young white man -- perhaps a hoodie is involved -- you are not alone, and PowerMoves, Blacktech Week, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Case Foundation and many other organizations want to change that.

The statistics are alarming. As the second annual Blacktech Week got underway in Miami, and PowerMoves Miami launched its operations with a bootcamp and pitch contests, a new study recently surfaced that showed that  of the 10,000-plus venture deals sealed  from 2012 to 2014, just 24 of them were led by a black women founder. Of those few that have raised money, the average amount of funding was just  $36,000, even though black women comprise the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in the U.S., according to the report, Project Diane by Digital Undivided, which calls black women founders “the real unicorns of tech.”

The statistics are only a little better for all minority entrepreneurs. PowerMoves, an entrepreneurship organization for entrepreneurs of color that just launched in Miami through Knight Foundation support, offers these numbers: While African-American and Hispanic students earn nearly 20 percent of computer science degrees, they make up only 9 percent of the technology industry and less than 1 percent of technology company founders. To help close this gap, PowerMoves is connecting entrepreneurs of color to mentors, capital, support and investment opportunities. The national initiative launched in New Orleans in 2014 has helped roughly 100 companies from across the country secure more than $27 million in capital commitments, the organization said.

This week, in partnership with Blacktech Week, PowerMoves held three-day  bootcamp (which followed six weeks of virtual programming) for about 15 entrepreneurs -- among them from South Florida were Daddy Knows Too, FlyScan, Jurnid, Kurator, Radifit and Renal Trkrr. It will culminate in a demo day open to the public Wednesday morning at the Fontainebleau. After holding a Disrupters Showcase on Monday night with Kairos and VOO Media representing the 305, on Tuesday PowerMoves  held two pitch competitions with $50K in prize money for eight selected entrepreneurs around the country, including two teams from South Florida: Court Buddy, a Miami-based matching service for a la carte legal services,  and Kweak, a video messaging platform company based in Miami and Berlin. Taking home $25K each  were Better Weekdays, a mobile job-matching platform, and Virgil, a mobile-first career navigation platform. Other teams pitching from around the country were Kudzoo, Unshrinkit,  CyberReef Solutions and Zoobean. 

"I was blown away by the ideas and the execution of the ideas so far. The ideas presented not only solved big social problems but would have great multiplier effects," said Carla Harris, a judge in the pitch contest and vice chairman of wealth management for Morgan Stanley, presenting sponsor of the event. "It is my thought that this will become the place for sophisticated investors who are looking for next generation technology and are specifically looking for entrepreneurs of color -- they will have to come to PowerMoves to find them."

She said that Earl Robinson, founder of PowerMoves, first asked her to be a judge for PowerMoves New Orleans in the first panel it ever had in 2014. "I was so impressed by the caliber of the entrepreneurs that I knew he was onto something that I wanted to get my firm involved in, because after all we are in the business of connecting capital with people and bringing leaders to the public and private capital markets. ... We helped support [PowerMoves] to go national."

The Case Foundation has also been a partner of PowerMoves for about a year and a half. Started by AOL founder Steve Case and his wife Jean, the foundation has been leading entrepreneurship initiatives  for decades. "But we really got to this point where the American Dream seemed to be fading, there was a full series of entrepreneurs that were being left on the sideline," said Sheila Herrling, senior vice present of social innovation for the foundation. "How could we exploit this potential to drive the economy, to drive jobs, to drive ideas, and source them from all places and all people?"

 In addition to PowerMoves, the Case Foundation is involved in JumpStart's Diversity Fund and Forward Cities and is looking for other partners.   To VCs who say 'I'd love to invest I am just not finding the deals,' PowerMoves is  creating this pipeline of entrepreneurs for them, Herrling said. The big goal: When you think of an entrepreneur, "that face that comes to you has just as much of a chance of being a women or an entrepreneur of color as the white guy in the hoodie," she said. 

That Project Diane report found that just 11 black female founders raised more than $1 million. "Four of them are PowerMoves alumni," said Herrling. "There is a secret sauce in that. Something is working. I'm optimistic we're going to level the playing field."

The second annual Blacktech Week, open to all,  also kicked off with a DiscoTech on Monday and youth event and opening reception on Tuesday. It moves into high gear Wednesday evening with the start of its 2 1/2 day summit at FIU's Biscayne Bay campus, featuring entrepreneurs and investors from around the world. On Saturday, Project Diane's author, Kathryn Finney, will keynote at the Blacktech Week Women's Innovation Brunch. Read more here from Blacktech Week co-founder Felecia Hatcher about why it's in Miami. 


See a complete schedule of events at BlackTechWeek.com

See more information about PowerMoves at powermovesnola.org.

See past coverage of Black Tech Week 2015 here.


 Judges watch pitches at PowerMoves Series A pitch Tuesday. At top, Disrupters Showcase at the Fountainebleau on Monday.

February 15, 2016

Entrepreneurship Datebook: Events, workshops in South Florida

Tech eggBlack Tech Week: A weeklong series of activities including a summit, pitch competitions and networking events, Monday through Saturday, multiple locations including FIU’s Biscayne Bay Campus. Find schedule and order tickets at" blacktechweek.com.

SUP-X, The Startup Expo: Expo, speakers, panel discussions and startup competition with $50,000 in prizes, Tuesday and Wednesday, Broward County Convention Center. Find schedule and order tickets at sup-x.org.

Word Camp Miami 2016: This eighth annual conference is for entrepreneurs, bloggers, marketers and others wanting to learn more about digital media, Friday through Sunday at Florida International University’s main campus. More information: http://2016.miami.wordcamp.org/

Miami Mini Maker Faire: Celebration of the maker movement, with interactive exhibits, demos, workshops and a Music Maker Showcase, Saturday and Sunday, YoungArts Campus in Miami. Find schedule and order tickets at MakerFaireMiami.com.

MIT Hacking Medicine: Start-upbootcamp Miami and the Idea Center at Miami Dade College host a hackathon for hacking the youth obesity crisis, Saturday and Sunday, The Idea Center, Wolfson Campus, Building 8. More info:" http://www.gohackhealth.com/


The 2016 Business Plan Challenge is open for entries. Deadlines are March 28 for the Community and FIU tracks and April 4 for the High School Track. Find the contest rules and judges’ bios and see the past winners on MiamiHerald.com/challenge.


Sign up for the free Miami Herald event on March 7 and get advice from early-stage investors Melissa Krinzman and Mark Kingdon, hear about the entrepreneurial journeys of past Business Plan Challenge winners and get the lowdown on this year’s contest. You don’t have to enter the Challenge to attend our bootcamp but we hope you do. Register for the bootcamp here: http://businessplanbootcamp.bpt.me


Find startup news and community views at the Starting Gate blog on MiamiHerald.com/business. Have news? Email ndahlberg@miami"herald.com

Nancy Dahlberg @ndahlberg

Spotlight: Boca Raton-based Fresh Meal Plan has appetite for high growth


Company Name: Fresh Meal Plan

Headquarters: Boca Raton; commissary opened in Edison, New Jersey, to serve customers along Northeast corridor.

Business: Gourmet “farm to table” portion controlled meals that are prepared and delivered to your doorstep for healthy lifestyle eaters on the go. Fresh Meal Plan’s mission is to help members enhance and sustain a more wholesome existence through fresh, healthy prepared meals delivered to their doors.

Story: Founder Marc Elkman’s passion for the nutritional aspect of health and fitness initially began when he started in the personal training industry. In addition to guiding people in enhancing their quality of life through exercise, he would also give his clients healthy and low- calorie recipe ideas. “I found that for my clients that it was too much work to make these meals that would lead a healthy lifestyle. Though there are other companies that provide prepared meals delivered to your doorstep, the product is usually frozen and full of preservatives.”

Fresh Meal Plan also is riding a strong trend: “We found that consumers are learning more about ingredients and health every year, and there is a rise of demand for a higher quality product,” Elkman said.

With many people now consuming four to six smaller meals a day, Fresh Meal Plan presents its members with the option to consult with a nutritionist and choose from a variety of plans starting at $95 a week to best fit their health goals. Offerings include Paleo, vegetarian and vegan, as well as plans designed specifically for weight loss and high performance athletes. Each meal contains fewer than 500 calories and is never frozen, canned or packaged. Furthermore, no additives or preservatives are used in any of the dishes.

In 2015, Fresh Meal Plan produced more than 2 million meals and projects that it will double this volume this year as it expands throughout the Eastern Seaboard. New markets in 2016 will include Atlanta, Boston, Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia, he said.

Launched: 2011

Management team: Marc Elkman, CEO; Dave Long, National Developer; Patrick Delaney, Corporate Chef; Rob Strandberg, CFO

No. of employees: 275

Website: freshmealplan.com

Financing: Completed Series A financing, seeking private equity or venture capital partner.

Recent milestones reached: Fresh Meal Plan was named the 70th fastest-growing private company in the country, 2nd fastest-growing food & beverage company in the country and third fastest-growing company in Florida on the 2015 Inc. 5000 ranking. To achieve those rankings, Fresh Meal Plan generated nearly $11 million in 2014 revenue and a 4,128 percent three-year revenue growth rate. Revenue has continued to accelerate. Today, Fresh Meal Plan is the nation’s largest “FDD” (Fresh Diet Delivery) service in the country, said Elkman.

Biggest startup challenge: Early on it was building grassroots with minimal startup funding — less than $50,000 to start.

Next steps: “Our goal is to continue scaling and growing across the country, making people healthier one Fresh Meal at a time. Our target markets for 2016 include Atlanta, Boston, Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia,” Elkman said. “To expand the brand across the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S., we plan to continue building our team and sticking to what we’ve done to get here.”

Nancy Dahlberg

February 10, 2016

Help solve 'one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century'

Join MIT Hacking Medicine Feb. 20-21 at the Idea Center at Miami Dade College 



By Christian Seale

Startupbootcamp Miami and the Idea Center at Miami Dade College are excited to bring MIT Hacking Medicine to Miami for a two-day hackathon* aimed at developing innovative solutions to stem the tide of childhood obesity.

This event represents MIT Hacking Medicine’s first time in Miami. We welcome all innovators, entrepreneurs, technologists, healthcare and educational professionals, food and beverage purveyors and other public and private sector community members to join us on February 20-21 to help us build healthier communities and improve the future health for all our children. Apply here by Feb. 15 to participate!

MIT Hacking Medicine has a storied history. Having facilitated nearly 50 hackathons across a dozen countries and multiple US states, it has worked in conjunction with organizations such as the Kauffman Foundation, Massachusetts General Hospital, Microsoft, Samsung, GE, Merck and AthenaHealth among many others.  Teams coming out of these events have raised over $70 million in investment funding and partnered with national and international healthcare institutions to pilot their solutions. Venture-backed darling Pill Pack, a full-service pharmacy that delivers a better, simpler experience for people managing multiple medications came out of one of the first MIT Hacking Medicine hackathons.

This video of last year’s GrandHack gives an idea of what to expect.


We’ll kick off 9am on February 20th with opening words from Dr. Narendra Kini, the CEO of Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, Karen Weller from the Miami-Dade County Health Department and a few special guests soon to be announced.

Participants will have the opportunity to pitch a problem/solution to all in attendance. Thereafter, most teams will form organically while others will have already come together before the hackathon. We’ll provide plenty of nourishment and guidance along the way. Mentors from Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, Ascension, the University of Miami, CVS Health, Rokk3r Labs, Health Semantics, The LAB Miami and many others will be on hand to assist teams as they develop their solutions. Univision will cover the event.

The hackathon will culminate February 21st in the afternoon with final pitches to win $5,000 in cash prizes and Amazon Web Service credits. Teams will present to a panel of five judges: Eric Wenke, Head of Corporate Transformation at Baptist Health, Dr. Norma Sue Kenyon, Vice Provost of Innovation at the University of Miami, Gabriela Perez, Partner at PiVisions LLC, Mark Everett, President of Miami Dade College Medical Campus, and Abhinav Gautam, Co-Founder of Carevoyance and Entrepreneur in Residence at Startupbootcamp Miami. 

With the rate of childhood obesity in the U.S. quadrupling in the past 30 years we encourage you to join us to solve what the World Health Organization has recently named “one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century.”

We look forward to seeing you there!


For more information visit Gohackhealth.com or reach out at contactus@gohackhealth.com

See our Facebook page here.

Christian Seale is Founder and Managing Director of Startupbootcamp Miami.


February 09, 2016

Sign up for free Business Plan Bootcamp March 7

Melissa Krinzman (2)Join us March 7 for a lively discussion and Q&A with our panel of experts sharing advice on launching your business, formulating a winning short business summary and pitching to investors. Also hear from a couple of previous Business Plan Challenge winners about their entrepreneurial experiences. You don’t have to enter the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge to attend our Bootcamp, but of course we hope you will.

Our discussion will be led by:

Melissa Krinzman, the Managing Partner of Krillion Ventures, a $50 million Miami-based early stage venture capital firm that actively invests in financial services, transportation, logistics, real estate and health startups. Her fund has invested in 17 early-stage companies, nine of which have South Florida roots. She is also a veteran Business Plan Challenge judge.

Mark Kingdon, a three-time tech CEO (Organic, SecondLife and NiftyThrifty) and an investor in two dozen early stage companies. His portfolio includes Twitter, TheRealReal, OfferUp, Refinery20 and three Miami-based companies (EveryPost, Sktchy and HYP3R).

Mark Kingdon (1)This event will be at 6 p.m. March 7 at Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus Auditorium, Room 1261 in Building 1.

The Bootcamp is free but registration is required. When you register, the form will allow you to tell us the questions you would most like our panel to answer. Don’t be shy – this way we can tailor the program as much as possible to our audience. Here is a report on last year’s Bootcamp.

Register here: http://businessplanbootcamp.bpt.me

Questions: ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

February 08, 2016

10 startups selected for 4th Venture Hive Miami Accelerator class



By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com Heroboy

As parents of young boys, Crissi and Ed Boland found that super-hero toys on the market were associated with PG-13 rated movies and violent videogames but marketed for kids 5 and up. “There was a disconnect there,” Ed Boland said. “We thought there was an opportunity to provide meaningful, thoughtful, developmentally appropriate content for children 4 to 9.”

So they created the HeroBoys, an initial line of toys and comic books made for young boys about young boys. Last fall, the Bolands raised more than $58,000 on Kickstarter, with more than 200 backers, providing proof of concept and an initial production run. The couple had been working on the project on the side for a couple of years, but last summer Ed Boland left a career in venture capital and investment banking to launch the startup with his wife.

The Bolands’ Miami-based company is Whimzy Entertainment and they will participate in the fourth class of Venture Hive’s Miami Accelerator. “Having spent time on the investor side, I’ve seen first-hand how well prepared and ready to scale the companies that come out of Venture Hive are,” Ed Boland said. “Venture Hive is the gold standard for accelerators here.”

Each of the 10 selected companies will participate in an intense three-month acceleration program beginning Feb. 29 designed to take the companies to the next level, will get free office space in Venture Hive’s incubator for six months, and will get a $25,000 grant. Each class ends with a Demo Day, called The Swarm (pictured above).

Unlike other years when the great majority of accelerator companies chosen were international, this year there are five Miami companies in the class, along with companies from San Francisco, Argentina and Ecuador. “I think the quality in Miami was greatly improved because there was another year of companies maturing. There were dozens of Miami applicants and many were ready to take on the training we do to take a team with a validated product to the next level,” said Susan Amat, founder of Venture Hive.

“Since the Miami DDA, Mayor Gimenez, and Miami WorldCenter made Venture Hive possible three years ago, we have had startups from more than 50 countries in our programs. Our Miami Accelerator is the heart and soul of Venture Hive and the support from the Knight Foundation will help ensure this is the best program we have offered yet,” Amat added.

I n this year’s class there is a biotech company, an Internet of Things venture and a smart hardware products company. “A quarter of our applicants were logistics businesses and three were selected for the program,” Amat said (pictured below). Along with Whimzy, the other companies selected for the accelerator are:

AmatAsombro Extremo Digital (Buenos Aires, Argentina): Founded by professional illusionists and technology experts, this company aims to create stunning technological campaigns.

Big Propeller (Miami): A company designed to help agencies and brands to better manage their social media content workflow, especially when collaborating with stakeholders and clients.

Cetus Labs (Miami): A tech company that builds and sells software to simplify and streamline port terminal operations. Its first product is a Terminal Operating System.

Datil (Guayaquil, Ecuador): A company that builds digital tools to make commerce simple and sustainable for micro, small and medium businesses. by using simple point of sale, accounting and e-billing applications together with legally complaint digital certificates.

Einsof Biohealth (Miami): A biotech company focused on the discovery, development and commercialization of novel, proprietary therapies and OTC products. Its first product, Speedlyte, is an oral rehydration solution.

OneClickShip (San Francisco): A web-based platform that empowers small businesses to take control of their global supply chain. By taking control of their supply chains, small businesses take control of their profits.

SmartLoc (Miami): An asset-tracking company whose core product LugLoc will let you know the location of your device anytime and anywhere. It utilizes both GSM-GPRS and Bluetooth BTE technology to provide you with the location of your device."

Wayniloans (Buenos Aires): A peer-to-peer lending platform based on blockchain technology for the Latin American and U.S. Hispanic market. To bring access to credit for the unbanked and underbanked, Wayniloans makes financial solutions more efficient and transparent for borrowers and lenders.

Webee(Córdoba, Argentina): A smart home system that goes beyond simple home automation and remote control to also provides an entertainment box, which learns from users and programs itself.

Venture Hive also houses an incubator, virtual accelerators and high school programs at its downtown Miami hub. Venture Hive also runs an accelerator for U.S. veterans in Fort Walton Beach and a new class will begin in March. Veterans can apply though Feb. 12 at Veterans.venturehive.com/apply

Nancy Dahlberg; 305-376-3595; @ndahlberg