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27 posts from April 2017

April 30, 2017

Startup Spotlight: Visual Blasters' FlipaClip app can make anyone an animator

FLIPACLIPS 042617

Jonathan Meson, who heads up the team behind Visual Blasters, at his downtown Miami office. The team’s app FlipaClip is a hit on Android devices and is now available on iOS. AL DIAZ adiaz@miamiherald.com


 

 

Company name: Visual Blasters (creators of FlipaClip)

Headquarters: Downtown Miami

Concept: Visual Blasters develops gaming, multimedia and animation mobile apps. “We provide high quality, intuitive apps with an eye toward making the world a better place by helping people express their creativity, discover music and have fun while doing it,” said CEO Jonathan Meson.

Story: In 2010, brothers Jonathan Meson, 33, then a software engineer for Motorola, and Marcos Meson, 38, a senior motion graphics designer at HairDirect.com, founded Visual Blasters, with the mission of designing apps that create “communities” around people’s passions and creative pursuits such as music, animation and games.

​The brothers combined their programming and design skills to create their first product, “XiiaLive,” an internet radio app that offers an uninterrupted Internet radio experience. The app has been downloaded more than 5 million times and has about 100,000 active users. “Xiialive was a success, but was more a product of opportunity, not long-term strategic planning,” said Jonathan. That changed with its next release.

Youngest brother Tim Meson, 26, a software engineer at Oracle, joined the startup to launch a free animation app for Android users in 2012 called FlipaClip. This flip-book style drawing and animation app for Android grew faster than anyone expected, quickly earning a 4.3/5.0 star rating, and over 4.5 million downloads. In less than a year, FlipaClip doubled monthly active users from 250,000 to more than 550,000.

The app, now also available for iOS, allows people to make their own animations by drawing a series of pages through the app to achieve the motion. “People are using it on social media to express their artistic side,” Jonathan said. Here’s a tip: “You don’t have to be a really good artist. We give them all the basics they need to get started.”

The company’s competitive advantage is a combined laser-focus on ease of use and simplicity, a robust set of features, and a platform that ensures products scale effortlessly. The startup makes money through in-app purchases that unlock additional animation tools and ads within the app. Plans for FlipaClip include adding audio as an animation tool.

A key milestone came in 2014, when Visual Blasters entered into a licensing agreement with Fuhu Holdings, a company that makes children’s tablets for Target and Walmart and was recently acquired by Mattel. The agreement resulted in more than 400,000 devices with FlipaClip tech pre-installed.

FlipaClip has attracted all age groups, but the brothers are seeing lots of traction among the 13- to 18-year-olds. “They are spending hours animating instead of watching video games,” said Jonathan, who created stop-motion animation with Legos when he was a kid and made movies with his brothers. “A sense of creation was embedded in us and this app was born out of that.”

In March, FlipaClip launched on iOS with the help of the Animate ‘Unravel’ Contest – a partnership with Miami-based indie band “Tell Her I Love Her” to promote its first single. The contest, underway through May 12, seeks animation entries inspired by the band’s “Unravel” song; entrants are vying for $2,000 in cash prizes. The FlipaClip team learned that the contest can be a powerful vehicle to introduce people to the FlipaClip app, earning some 72,000 views of more than 180 contestant animated videos so far.

Launched: Flipaclip (Cartoon Animation) launched 2012

Website and social: www.visualblasters.com, www.instagram.com/flipaclip and flipaclip.tumblr.com.

Management team: Jonathan Meson (CEO and co-founder), Tim Meson (co-founder and software engineer); Marcos Meson (co-founder and lead designer), Jeremiah Meccage (head of business development).

No. of employees: 8, including contractors in Argentina and the Philippines.

Financing: Self-funded. Considering seeking an angel round of financing.

Recent milestones: In February, reached 5.5 million downloads and 550,000 active monthly users with FlipaClip for Android. in March, FlipaClip went live in Apple’s App store. Also in March, launched the Animate ‘Unravel’ Contest with Miami-based indie-band “Tell Her I Love Her” to announce iOS version of FlipaClip.

Biggest startup challenge: Working with a remote workforce and communicating with developers and customer service team members in different countries and time-zones.

Next steps: “Our plan is to grow FlipaClip and slowly release new applications that fit within our product portfolio and that makes sense with our company focus,” Jonathon said. “New products experience greater growth when they have the power of an existing user base and known brand to leverage. ... In the coming years, we’re going to devote more attention to honing our marketing and brand message and activating our user community in ways that are both fulfilling to them and beneficial to us.”

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter

FlipaClip-Team

The Meson brothers, of Miami-based Visual Blasters, and one of their company advisors, at eMerge Americas in 2015. From left: Tim Meson, Marcos Meson, Jeremy Meccage. Jonathan Meson. Visual Blasters



Read more Startup Spotlights

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Want a fast, safe way to sell your gadgets? These entrepreneurs created one

Miami startup offers car washes on demand that save water too

 

 

Q&A with MDLIVE CEO Scott Decker: Taking telehealth to the masses

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

When Scott Decker told friends and colleagues in Portland, Oregon, he was going to be taking the helm of MDLIVE in South Florida, they were surprised.

“The outside perception is that there is no technology market down here and that is clearly not the case,” Decker said. Today, MDLIVE, a fast-growing provider of telehealth services, has more than 300 employees and has been growing about 60 percent a year, he said.

The longtime health-tech executive was named CEO of the Sunrise-based MDLIVE in November, succeeding Randy Parker, MDLIVE’s visionary founder and now chief business development officer.

Decker joined MDLIVE with nearly 30 years of experience as both an innovator and health information technology leader. Most recently, he served as CEO at HealthSparq, where he built the industry’s first cloud-based shopping/transparency platform for healthcare consumers. In four years, HealthSparq grew from startup to servicing 70 health plans and 70 million Americans. Prior to HealthSparq, he held CEO and president roles at NextGen Healthcare and HealthVision.

MDLIVE, founded in 2009, was one of the early entrants in telehealth, where the doctor is a click away. The company’s virtual healthcare service covers more than 20 million people for the 2017 health plan year and is on track for 22 million by year end. MDLIVE has raised more than $73 million in venture capital financing, making the company one of the best-funded South Florida tech companies. Nationally, it competes with Teladoc, Doctor on Demand, American Well and others.

Already this year, MDLIVE has launched a new virtual health and wellness package to support the country’s 28 million small businesses that traditionally have a difficult time obtaining affordable health benefits. The offering, MDLIVE Prime, is designed as a cost-effective, stand-alone benefit for businesses that are unable to offer traditional health insurance benefits or as an add-on benefit to traditional health plans, the company said. The package includes virtual doctor visits, including behavioral health, with no co-pay, pharmacy benefits, and second opinion services. MDLIVE couldn’t provide a cost for this service as it will vary widely depending upon the service details selected, but said a virtual care offering typically costs roughly $2 to $15 per employee per month.

MDLIVE also announced this year that it is the first telehealth provider to offer virtual psychiatric services in all 50 states through a network of more than 1,300 mental health professionals, and Decker sees that as a fast-growing part of the business going forward. The market is huge, as about 20 percent of people in the U.S. have a diagnosable mental disorder and current wait times to see a behavioral health expert average 30 days.

MDLIVE also plans to begin offering virtual dermatology visits in a few months.

The Miami Herald interviewed Decker in early April about his transition, the company and the telehealth sector.

Q. You moved from Portland, Oregon, in November. How are you finding South Florida?

A. Portland winters are rainy and cold. Pretty easy transition!

Q. What new set of challenges does leading MDLIVE bring?

A. Most of my background is purely on the technology side, providing technology that helps healthcare organizations be more efficient and effective, and this is combining the two. It’s not only the technology of how do we make it easier for consumers to get to doctors, but in reality we are also running a very large physician practice on the back-end at the same time, where we have more than 1,800 licensed physicians and therapists in our network. It’s marrying those two things together in delivering healthcare in a way it hasn’t been delivered before.

Q. Do you think telehealth has lived up to its expectations so far?

A. I don’t know that it has lived up to its expectations, but expectations are low because I think most people still don’t even know the service exists. In a lot of respects I equate it to my early days using Uber. I was an early adopter and I can still remember sitting on a corner in Washington, D.C., and having to wait 20 minutes to get a car because there weren’t enough drivers yet. And we were thinking, ‘Is this really living up to expectations, is it really going to take off?’ That’s where we are in telehealth right now, we are just in the very beginnings of it.

I fully expect that three or four years from now when we are talking, [telehealth] will be as common place as Uber is for how people are getting healthcare delivered. The customer satisfaction level we get of consumers who do use it is off the charts compared to traditional physician visits.

Q. What trends do you see in the sector?

A. We are starting to see adoption pick up fairly dramatically. On an average day, MDLIVE now sees about 1,200 patients a day, whereas a year ago it was half that amount. The bigger trend is we are seeing consumers get comfortable with the basic things we have traditionally [addressed], like ‘I have a sore throat or a UTI.’ We now have launched behavior health services; we’ve launched psychiatry services; we will soon be launching dermatology services. What you are starting to see as we get consumers comfortable with the concept is that we can expand to more and more things that make more sense to do virtually rather than burdening the consumer to go to a physical facility.

Q. Virtual psychiatry — how big a part of your business is that and what is its potential?

A. It’s about 10 percent of our business now. I think its market is tremendously untapped. It could be as big as our core business over time, and it probably fits our model even better than a basic physician office visit. A virtual visit can take away the stigma that has been associated with behavior health issues.

Q. You recently launched a new mobile health platform. What does that bring you that you didn’t have before?

A. We’ve now made it a completely native application — so you get a complete iOS or Android based experience. We’ve incorporated a brand new video conferencing capability that is getting really good reviews from consumers.

Q. What do you see ahead as the biggest opportunities for MDLIVE?

A. We are on the way, to be honest. The opportunity for us is to take advantage at what I think will be a commonplace way to see physicians in the future and making sure that happens sooner rather than later.

Q. Do the new healthcare proposals out there help or hurt telehealth and MDLIVE specifically?

A. The shift toward value-based care as opposed to fee for service just helps us more and more because people are looking for more efficient, cost-effective ways of providing care to broader populations. We definitely fit that bill. There is nothing in the changes that are occurring that we see as a headwind for us, really only tailwind. Generally in the market, what is helping us more than anything right now is two or three years ago, almost no insurers covered telehealth visits. We are well down the path and probably only a year away from almost all health plans covering telehealth as a core benefit. That is probably the biggest barrier that will come down for us.

Q. Can you tell me more about your recent growth?

A. MDLIVE has been trending the last few years at a 60 percent growth rate and does not see anything slowing that down over the next few years. MDLIVE is up to about 300 employees in the company, and more than two-thirds are in South Florida.

Q. Are you fund-raising?

A. Yes. We’re in that high-growth stage, so part of that is to always be out making sure we have the capital in place to take care of that growth.

Q. What sets MDLIVE apart from competitors?

A. For us, it is a lot about customer service and also scale. There are a lot of startups in this space, but I think if you are really going to be delivering care 24/7 365 days a year in 50 states, it’s a pretty big game and you need a big infrastructure to do that. We are clearly one of the companies that has scaled up in this space, and as I was saying, we have really put an emphasis on the customer service side of things, and the feedback we get is that is resonating well, and that’s both in our internal people and also training our physicians in a new way of taking care of patients in the virtual world.

Q. What are some other areas MDLIVE is looking to get into?

A. We have a new offering for small employers, which gives them a packaged opportunity to get access to these services. A lot of times the benefit we provide doesn’t come in the regular health plan package so we give access to these kinds of services with an all-you-can-eat model even for a lot of the small employers. For a small monthly per-employee fee, the employees can get access to as much of our network as they need. That’s a new program we are putting together and it is getting good reception in the market.

Traditionally we work with Fortune 1000 companies, and more and more health plans are working telehealth into their benefits, but a lot of that doesn’t flow down to the small employers.

Q. And you are getting into dermatology?

A. We are launching that later this summer. That’s kind of an obvious one, right? You don’t necessarily need a live visit. You can share pictures of what you are concerned about with the physician network and they can get back to you.

Q. What are some of the qualities a leader should have?

A. Making sure it is really clear to everyone in the organization where you are trying to get to, especially in technology and a high growth market where the future isn’t clear. The second is building a great team; it’s about surrounding yourself with the right people. Already I’ve been pleased with the market in South Florida, the high diversity in the workforce of executive and team players we have been able to bring aboard.

Q. What was the best advice you’ve received and from whom?

A. ‘Always try to find opportunities that can provide five years of experience every year … rather than the opposite.’ That was from my first branch manager at IBM.

Q. What is one thing colleagues may not know about you?

A. I worked on a project for NASA in college analyzing atmospheric data collected by the Voyager spacecraft as it passed Mars.

Q. How are you finding talent in South Florida?

A. I’ve been pleasantly surprised. As soon as I started telling folks I was moving to South Florida and I was hearing, ‘oh my gosh, how are you going to run a tech company down there?’ it’s been anything but. There is probably a cap to it, but for a company this size there is definitely enough talent down there and a great university system to feed into it. We may have to do a little more training to get people onto the top technologies, but I have found there is a hunger for that. We have worked with a lot of incubator and training facilities down here to make sure they are helping us feed our future growth. On the executive side, there are some really talented healthcare and technology executives I have been able to tap into in the local markets. And recruiting up north in the winter does have benefits.

Q. Are you hiring now?

A. Always. We are looking for technical people to customer service to sales and marketing. We are always looking for talent.

Q. Do you have any observations on what could make South Florida a stronger area for healthcare technology?

A. It will feed on itself; it’s an emerging market. What it needs are some good winds and that will attract more talent. The biggest barrier right now is just perception. The outside perception is that there is no technology market down here, and that is clearly not the case. So I think a little bit of PR will help and a few of us need to be wildly successful. So we’ll work on both.

READ MORE: Prescription for economy – healthcare startup energy

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg.

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April 28, 2017

More contest news: FAU Wave Competitions announces winners

Florida Atlantic University’s Division of Research has announced the winners of the 2017 FAU Wave Competition, an undergraduate and entrepreneurial research contest. Participants received $500 this past fall to develop new ideas to address societal problems, and worked throughout two semesters to develop their proposed projects.

Vithulan Suthakaran, a FAU High School student who is dual-enrolled in FAU’s College of Engineering and Computer Science, took home $1500 in prize money for his SEA Skimmer project, which won first place. Suthakaran developed an inexpensive autonomous oil skimmer to decontaminate oil from large bodies of water to protect aquatic species. The SEA Skimmer is cost effective, efficient, sustainable and collects oil nearly three times faster than current devices on the market.

“I’ve always had a passion for marine life and love to visit marine life centers,” he said. “I started noticing more marine mammals showing up at these centers because of oil pollution and I wanted to find a way to help out.”

Alexis Base, a FAU High student studying ocean engineering at FAU, tied for second place with electrical engineering undergraduate Ben Coleman, earning them $1000 for their projects. Base developed an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) with an onboard camera image recognition system to locate lionfish, an invasive fish species in the Atlantic Ocean. Coleman’s Transient-Image Density Evaluation System (TIDES) improves smartphone sensing technology by deleting additive noise and reducing the effect of multiplicative noise.

“The FAU Wave competition teaches students how to get published in journals, launch a start-up, file for a patent and connect with other experts in their fields,” said Dan Flynn, Ph.D., vice president for research. “It primes them for future opportunities in entrepreneurship and technology start-ups, like FAU Tech Runway or a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship.”

FAU High student Hannah Herbst, also studying biology at FAU, tied for third place with Pedro Flores, an undergraduate majoring in physics. Herbst developed an inexpensive device that quickly identifies the presence of airborne chemicals and issues a warning or evacuation notice. Flores created an artificial intelligence project that uses math algorithms to create music.

Other projects included a drone that can detect air pollution, filters that reverse the effect of sea coral diseases, an African-inspired clothing company and a portrait project focused on better understanding the LGBTQ population.

            For more information on the FAU Wave competition, visit www.fau.edu/research/fau-wave/fau-wave-competition.php.

- Submitted by FAU 

April 27, 2017

FAU Business Plan Competition: And the winners are ...

FAUbusiness-plan-competition-newsdesk

Pictured left to right are: FAU College of Business Dean Daniel Gropper, Barbara Ruiz, Rodrigo Gayoso, Christopher Waddington, Regynald Augustin, Kendrick Dubuisson, Kristopher Stewart, William Hahn, Brandon Jadotte, Kurtis Rodriques, Quintin Warren.

 

A team of four engineering students took home the top prize at this year’s Florida Atlantic University Business Plan Competition with a system that helps prevent the theft of printed classified or proprietary documents. 

Their company is Protection Against Physical Element Removal or PAPER for short. Founding members Alyssa Harris, Kris Stewart, Quintin Warren, and Wesley Klemas formed PAPER earlier this year in their senior engineering design class. 

The idea started when Harris, who previously worked as an intern in the defense industry, read news articles detailing one of the issues the defense community grapples with – how to prevent people walking out with pages containing proprietary or classified information. 

“She came up with the initial idea of trying to track the pages, and from there all of us together developed the idea of printing RFIDs onto the page,” Warren explained. 

RFID stands for radio-frequency identification, which uses electromagnetic fields to automatically identify and track tags containing electronically stored information, which are attached to objects. PAPER utilizes conductive nanoparticle ink to tag classified documents, allowing its system to detect if documents are being removed from the premises. 

Andrew Duffell, president and CEO of the Research Park at FAU and one of the judges for the competition, said the fact that government would be a good customer for PAPER’s services and the company could get funding through various grant mechanisms gives them a good opportunity to ramp up their business to become revenue-positive. 

“They showed us a huge market that really has never been addressed in a comprehensive way,” he said. “Their technology and their solution and the way prepared their plan and they pulled out the answers very carefully was impressive. It was just a very interesting concept, well thought out and well presented.”

While classified information is well-secured and encrypted in a cyber environment, government and large enterprise businesses haven’t had a successful solution to securing their printed classified documents. This has led to these sensitive materials being leaked online. The PAPER team said this can be remedied using their system, which allows organizations to know when printed, classified material is removed before it even leaves the premises, ensuring it doesn’t get leaked.

The PAPER team won $10,000 for taking first place in the competition, along with an additional $1,000 for being named Best Interdisciplinary Team.

Ripple, a creative micro-influencer and marketing agency that empowers local celebrities by offering them the ability to rent their social media real estate, was awarded $5,000 for second place.

Idle Automation, which uses a mobile app to provide self-driving shuttles for university campuses, retirement communities and resorts where short-distance travel is cumbersome or inaccessible, took third place and $2,500.

Fit Families of South Florida won the People's Choice award and $1,000.

The students on the PAPER team said they received support from faculty in the College of Engineering & Computer Science, as well as the College of Business, which hosted the competition in conjunction with the Adams Center for Entrepreneurship. The competition took them out of their comfort zone as engineers, but they got the result they wanted.

“Coming up with the actual business plan was probably the most difficult part of the competition because it was out of our discipline,” Stewart said. “The part I enjoyed the most was competing and getting to talk about the business aspect of it versus the technical side of the project.”

 - Submitted by Florida Atlantic University

April 25, 2017

CarHopper raises $1.5 million, plans expansion

Bora Hamamcioglu  Founder of CarHopper

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

CarHopper, an app-enabled booking platform for luxury car rentals, announced Tuesday its plans to expand operations to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale.

The South Florida startup also announced it has raised $1.5 million in seed funding, raised from a syndicate of angel investors, which will help the company expand product development and sales and marketing efforts.

CarHopper recently honed its focus to a more curated inventory, sourced from boutique luxury car rental purveyors. “Latest trends demonstrate that people prefer buying experiences rather than assets,” said founder and CEO Bora Hamamcioglu, a Turkish entrepreneur who founded the company in Miami in 2016 (pictured above). In addition to private jet services and luxury homes with other services, sophisticated shoppers now have easy and streamlined access to luxury cars with CarHopper, he said.

 

April 24, 2017

Deadline extended until May 2: Enter American Entrepreneurship Award contest now

The American Entrepreneurship Award business plan competition offers aspiring and early stage entrepreneurs the opportunity to win a share of $125,000 as well as free mentorship and business support services. The competition is available to entrepreneurs currently living in, currently operating in, or who plan to open or expand their businesses to the areas of The Bronx, New York and Miami-Dade County, Florida.

To enter this competition, please visit: http://www.AmericanAward.com/ and click the “Register Here” on the page. Follow the instructions to create a profile and you will be taken to the online application. Once you complete the online application, you will be entered into the contest.

The deadline to complete your application is  now 11:59 p.m. May 2 so start your application today!

For any questions about the application or the award please contact: info@americanaward.com

April 20, 2017

Miami real estate-tech startup Gridics raises $1.1 million from developer Avra Jain and others

Gridex

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Efficient isn't a word most people would use to describe a planning and zoning process, but a Miami-based real estate technology startup wants to change that.

Gridics announced Thursday that it has raised a $1.1 million round of seed funding. The round was led by Dune Road Capital and included John Dyett, managing director of Salem Partners, Robert Kall, CEO and co-founder of Cien.ai, and Miami real estate developer Avra Jain. 

Gridics, short for Grid Analytics, is a real estate dataa and software development company founded in 2015. From applications on its platform,  users can visualize real estate data in order to make smarter investment and development decisions while streamlining inefficient processes in the real estate world, the company said.  For example, the Zonar.City application helps bridge the gap between the private sector development community of architects, developers and attorneys by automating development feasibility analysis and streamlining the development plan approval process. 

"By creating a solution that can digitize and automate any zoning code, the Gridics team has created a way to streamline an antiqued process," said Peter Richards, managing partner of Dune Road Capital.

The company, which has raised over $2 million  to date, is focused on further strengthening its product and driving adoption of its Zonar.City application. 

"Our new automated compliance module allows cities and developers to quickly check development plans against site-specific zoning requirements.  Cities that integrate their code with Zonar.city will streamline their zoning approval processes resulting in faster approvals, improved transparency and significant reductions to backlogs," said Gridics CEO Jason Doyle, in announcing the funding.

Gridics is also developing a Market Intelligence application, which allows real estate professionals to conduct hyper-local market analysis.  More than 1,000 members of the Miami Association of Realtors have joined Gridics since February, the company said.

 

Gridics2

 

Latest national data on female-led teams show little progress, but there's hope for South Florida's future

  Womeninvestimage

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

17 percent: The percentage of tech startups that have at least one female founder. That number hasn’t budged much since 2012, Crunchbase’s updated study found.

Crunchbase’s inaugural study on female founder representation of U.S.-based companies was published in May 2015; this week it published an update.

Other findings from Crunchbase, an open-source database spun out from TechCrunch that tracks startups and funders:

For companies with an initial raise in 2016, female-founded companies are weighted toward education (32 percent), e-commerce (31 percent), healthcare (21 percent) and media and entertainment (21 percent) startups.

Female-led companies are raising less as they go up the venture food chain, Crunchbase found. In 2016, companies with at least one female founder raised 19 percent of all seed rounds, 14 percent of early-stage venture and 8 percent of late-stage venture rounds. They companies raised 17 percent of seed dollars, 13 percent of early-stage dollars and 7 percent of late-stage dollars.

Let’s put that in dollars and sense: Across all funding stages in 2016, $10 billion went to companies with at least one female founder contrasted with $94 billion invested in male-only founder teams, Crunchbase found.

Read about the study here.

Anecdotal evidence in South Florida suggests the numbers may be similar in South Florida but higher in the future. From my own observations, the number of women at tech events and conferences has been growing, albeit very slowly. I would be interested to know how much Refresh Miami’s female membership has grown percentage-wise, for instance.

But there seems to be more women-led companies developing in the very early stages. South Florida now has an accelerator for female entrepreneurs – Babson WIN Lab – and organizations aimed at growing more female angel investors such as Aminta Ventures are developing here. StartUP FIU’s second cohort of its Empower accelerator, open to all, is about 40 percent women. In the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge this year, which attracts pre-venture companies from all industries at the earliest stages, 48 percent of the entrants this year had female-led teams (either the CEO was female or the majority of the co-founding team was female), up from 12 percent in 2009. All this suggests more women-led businesses may be growing in our midst.

Stay tuned.

April 18, 2017

PetSmart to buy Chewy.com, and the price fetched may be eye-popping

Chewy1%20ceo%20biz%20cmg

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

The biggest e-commerce acquisition deal in history could be going to the dogs.

PetSmart, the nation’s largest pet-supplies retailer, has agreed to acquire Dania Beach-based Chewy.com, the market’s No. 1 online retailer.

The combination of Phoenix-based PetSmart, with 1,500 stores nationwide, and Chewy will enhance both companies’ reach, the companies said Tuesday. The acquisition, which is subject to customary regulatory approvals, is expected to close by the end of PetSmart’s second fiscal quarter.

Terms of the transaction were not disclosed. However, tech media site Recode is reporting that the deal in place is valued at $3.35 billion, according to its sources. That would make the sale of Chewy the biggest e-commerce acquisition to date, even larger than Wal-Mart’s $3.3 billion deal for jet.com last year.

“We are focused on improving our customers’ experience in-store and online as we continue to execute against our long-term strategic initiatives. Chewy’s high-touch customer e-commerce service model and culture centered around a love of pets is the ideal complement to PetSmart’s store footprint and diverse offerings,” said Michael Massey, PetSmart president and chief executive officer, in the announcement.

Chewy, which had been rumored to be a candidate for going public, has seen explosive growth since it was founded by Ryan Cohen (pictured above) and Michael “Blake” Day in 2011. The privately held company registered $26 million in sales during its first full year in business and logged more than $900 million in sales in 2016, the company said.

Although it was not yet profitable, Cohen said in February Chewy was projected to increase revenues to nearly $2 billion this year — nearly a 7,600 percent growth spurt in just six years. Today it has about 5,000 employees nationwide.

[READ MORE: Chewy has seen fantastic growth, but can it keep up the pace?]

The company built its following — more than 2 million customers nationwide — on customer service. Among its many campaigns, it sends hand-painted pet portraits as thank you gifts to 700 randomly selected customers every week.

“Since we started Chewy, we have been dedicated to understanding and satisfying the evolving needs of our customers to deliver the highest quality pet products and customer service,” said Cohen, Chewy’s CEO. “Combining our strong e-commerce expertise with PetSmart’s best-in-class infrastructure, footprint and breadth of offerings including services will help us wow our customers even more.”

Chewy will operate as an independent subsidiary of PetSmart run by Cohen and will remain focused on its current business strategy, while PetSmart will continue to execute its strategic initiatives across the combined company, PetSmart said.

Chewy tried to reassured customers on social media Tuesday that Chewy wasn’t going anywhere and the level of service would not change after the acquisition.

According to 1010Data, Chewy.com holds 51 percent of the online pet food market, including 40.5 percent in direct sales and 10.2 percent in subscription sales. But Chewy always had bigger aspirations.

“If you look at where we are today in the business, we’re still scratching the surface in terms of the total addressable market. We want to be No. 1. We’re No. 1 online. We want to be the largest pet retailer in the world,” Cohen said in a Miami Herald cover story in February.

Chewy had raised several rounds of capital — about $236 million in total — to support its growth. On Feb. 1, Wells Fargo Capital Finance had become the latest investor, announcing an agreement to lend $90 million over the next five years to Chewy.

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

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Miami fintech company DadeSystems receives $2 million in funding

DadeSystems, a Miami-based provider of account receivable automation solutions, raised $2 million in funding to accelerate its growth from Miami early-stage venture firm Ocean Azul Partners.

The funding  will be used to  accelerate engineering and product enhancement efforts as well as expand the sales team, digital marketing and client services, according to the announcement.

"We're pleased with the progress of DadeSystems and excited about the product suite, relationships and potential for growth," said Bill Pruitt, managing director of Ocean Azul Partners, in a statement. "We look for capital efficient companies developing new markets using differentiation and providing value to create a defendable market position and grow rapidly. DadeSystems is aligned with our investment strategy."

DadePay AR Automation, part of the SaaS suite of fully integrated products, automatically captures all incoming payments, including cash, checks, ACH, EFT, and credit cards.  Using patented technologies, payments are automatically matched to open invoices and update the companies' ERP systems.  All checks received are electronically transmitted to the bank for immediate deposit, the company said. DadeSystems serves multiple industries including distribution, food and beverage, manufacturing, financial, transportation, wholesale, property management, healthcare, retail, travel and agriculture. 

"Last year was another strong year as we exceeded our revenue and customer acquisition targets. Securing this additional funding allows us to expand our product suite and services and grow our presence as the preferred payment solution in the marketplace," said DadeSystems CEO Bill Zayas.