By Nancy Dahlberg / firstname.lastname@example.org
The LAB Miami, one of South Florida’s co-working pioneers, on Tuesday announced expansion plans that include the launch of two entrepreneurship programs and a new CEO. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is investing $1.1 million to support The LAB’s evolution.
With the new funding, The LAB Miami will launch a venture builder called LAB.Ventures, which will work with entrepreneurs, engineers and designers to test and build promising business ideas. The program aims to incubate several technology startups by 2019, the majority of which will be run by women and minorities. The LAB Miami announced it will also launch LAB.ID, which will use educational, community programming to encourage greater collaboration between startups and established businesses.
“The LAB is evolving to match the growing needs of our community. For more than three years, it has played an integral part in connecting innovators and forging new collaborations,” said Matt Haggman, Miami program director for Knight Foundation, on Tuesday. “[The LAB] will now also work to close gaps that still exist in our startup ecosystem by helping entrepreneurs foster relationships with business players and find the funding they need to scale and grow.”
Thomas “Tigre” Wenrich will be the new CEO. Wenrich is an active angel investor and startup mentor who helped Open English, a online English language education company, raise over $120 million in venture capital funding while serving as its founding CFO/COO. Prior to Open English, he was a partner at The Boston Consulting Group, a leading strategy consultancy to the world’s largest companies, where he worked for 16 years. Over the years he has been a mentor for Venture Hive’s startups and he is an investor and on the board of Miami startup LiveNinja.
The LAB Miami, co-founded by Wifredo Fernandez and Daniel Lafuente, opened its 10,000-square-foot center at 400 NW 26th St. in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood in late 2012, with $650,000 in initial funding from the Knight Foundation and a group of local investors. It offered co-working space and community programming at a time when there were few resources for entrepreneurs in Miami and co-working was coming alive in other cities. Over the years, the LAB has attracted a diverse membership of entrepreneurs, techies, nonprofits and artists, hosted hundreds of events, including its monthly Brainfood speaker series, and is the home of Wyncode, a coding school (a Wyncode Pitch Night is pictured above). The LAB currently has about 150 members, Wenrich said.
But since 2012, a wave of co-working spaces have swept in, including the global WeWork chain that has in the last year opened two 40,000-square-foot centers in Miami Beach, a 62,000-square-foot center at Brickell City Centre and has a 100,000-square-foot downtown Miami facility on the way and plans for more. The LAB has also gone through a number of management changes since Fernandez, then CEO, and Lafuente, then CFO, stepped down from the top management jobs in 2014. Wenrich replaces Ricardo Mesquita who came aboard as CEO in August 2015 and left the position about a month ago to return to Europe.
Wenrich said co-working will continue at The LAB but “we don’t view that as something we want to grow – we think that market is well served. We asked, what can we do next and how can we leverage what has been built there?”
LAB.Venture will not be an accelerator, which works intensely with startups for a set period of time to get them to market or the next level. Instead, the LAB.Ventures team, which includes Marco Giberti and Juan Pablo Cappello, will focus on solving problems for local industries and “will bring together educational resources and our own experiences building businesses to help build other successful businesses in Miami,” said Wenrich.” “We’re looking for big problems to be solved and bring them together with capital and great entrepreneurs guided by us and turn them into big companies.”
The LAB.ID will build on progress The LAB has already connecting corporations with startups. Over the years, a number of large companies have had offices at the LAB and have hosted events and workshops. This programming will be increased, and corporate partners will help LAB.Venture startups do pilot testing, Wenrich said.
“We’ll find an opportunity, invest a small amount of capital to build an initial minimum viable product and take it to our corporate partners and try to do a proof of concept. When we find something that we think has legs, we’ll invest in hiring a team to scale it up and take it to market,” said Weinrich. “Eventually we will look for outside capital for these businesses at a later stage.”
Wenrich said The LAB is in the process of raising several million dollars from private investors. Over the past three years Knight has made more than 200 investments in entrepreneurship in South Florida.