« May 2017 | Main | July 2017 »

22 posts from June 2017

June 26, 2017

5 Miami business leaders win EY Entrepreneur of the Year honors

EY named five business leaders in South Florida winners of its annual Entrepreneur Of The Year Award for Florida.
This group of winning entrepreneurs were part of a group of nine selected by an independent judging panel made up of previous award winners, CEOs, investors and other regional business leaders. The winners were unveiled at a special gala on Friday night in Orlando hosted by the accounting giant.
Winners from the Miami area are:
Lifetime Achievement Award: Cesar L. Alvarez, Greenberg Traurig, Miami
Emerging: Adriana Cisneros, Cisneros Interactive, Miami
Retail and Consumer Products: Edie Rodriguez, Crystal, Miami
Services: Brett Beveridge, The Revenue Optimization Companies, Coral Gables
Technology: Pete Pizarro, Ilumno, Miami
Since its founding in 1986, the EY Entrepreneur of the Year program has expanded to recognize business leaders in over 145 cities in 60 countries. Finalists from Florida were announced in May.
Regional award winners will be considered for the Entrepreneur Of The Year National program. Those winners will be announced in November and the overall winner will compete for the World Entrepreneur Of The Year Award in Monaco in June 2018.



June 24, 2017

Miami startup RecordGram brings a recording studio to your phone


New World Angels' Sandra Arber (left) and Gary Manheimer (right) get together with RecordGram founders, Grammy-winning music producer Winston “DJ Blackout” Thomas; Erik Mendelson, a music industry veteran; and hip-hop’s Shawn Mims on a rooftop in Wynwood. New World Angels invested in RecordGram. PATRICK FARRELL pfarrell@miamiherald.com


By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

A trio from the hip-hop music industry hopes to make its next hit in the worlds of venture capital and technology.
Miami startup RecordGram — co-founded by Grammy-winning music producer Winston “DJ Blackout” Thomas, hip-hop musician Shawn Mims and music industry veteran Erik Mendelson — is not unlike the aspiring artist in search of one’s first big break. The team has knocked on endless numbers of doors, made countless pitches, relentlessly sought meetings. And it’s working: Just last month, the “wildcard” startup was named best startup at TechCrunch Disrupt, one of the tech startup world’s largest conferences.
Now the company’s co-founders are closing a $1 million investment round from Silicon Valley funders and the Boca Raton-based New World Angels investment group.
The basis for all this excitement is RecordGram’s music collaboration app that lets amateur musicians create original songs with award-winning music producers without having to trek to L.A., New York, Nashville or land a spot on “The Voice.” It empowers users “to awaken their inner-musician,” said Mendelson, who has worked in the industry since 2001 leading marketing, promotion and artist management.
“We’re democratizing music collaboration so that anyone, regardless of where they live in the world or how much money they have, can create an original song,” said Mendelson, CEO of RecordGram.
On the free RecordGram app for the iPhone or iPad, those inner-musicians can search for beats (music sans voice), upload them to a virtual recording studio, write lyrics and record vocals for a professional-sounding audio file. They can also make a music video. Both song and video can be shared to their social-media platforms or privately sent to producers.
The company makes money by charging producers a $90 annual subscription, or $9.99 monthly fee, to upload 15 beats per month to the platform. Producers then can lease tracks for up to $4.99 to aspiring artists, retaining copyrights but perhaps discovering the next Justin Bieber, Lil Wayne or Eminem.
In less than a year, more than 700 songs and videos have been created from the 500-plus beats currently available in the app, Mendelson said.
The trio first came together in 2014 to work on an app called uRemix, a concept that involved creating personal mixes with portions of top songs — say, instrumentals from Dr Dre and vocals from Jay-Z.
“I thought it would be easy transitioning from hip-hop to the tech space,” Mims said. “I had a show in San Francisco, and I said ‘You know what, I’m here. Let’s go knock on some VC doors.’ It wasn’t that easy. No doors were opening, no one took any meetings.”
As it turned out, the licensing fees were too onerous to make uRemix work, so the collaborators quickly shelved that idea and pivoted in late 2015 to RecordGram.
RecordGram sprang from “some of the things I lacked in my musical career in the early stages,” said Mims, best known for This is Why I’m Hot. “I felt it was an unfair system for the artists who are just trying to discover their talent. … In order to collaborate with a producer as an amateur artist, I would have to pay thousands of dollars just to get into that world.”
The co-founders bootstrapped development. They were selected for Project Music, a Nashville accelerator backed by 15 of the world’s biggest record labels, management companies and music publishers. After finishing the program in May of 2016, they launched version 1 of RecordGram in the App Store. But investment dollars did not follow.
To get noticed, they hit the contest circuit. They entered a YPO pitch contest (they didn’t know the letters stand for Young Presidents’ Organization) and won.
After the event, the Enterprise Development Corp., a nonprofit in South Florida that mentors startups, connected them with the 68-member New World Angels. NWA, which has invested more than $10 million in Florida companies since 2014, is best known for its investments in the healthcare space but has also supported South Florida startups Raw Shorts, which provides an explainer video-making tool, human analytics tech company Kairos and gaming startup Synkt Games, among others.
“I sensed the excitement in the team,” said Gary Manheimer, a New World Angels member who led the due diligence team on RecordGram. “It is coming to market at the right time. It’s solving a problem in a very exciting way. Looking at their app, it’s very well developed — and fun.”
At about the same time, RecordGram pitched at a TechCrunch meetup in Miami, winning two tickets and exhibit space at the media company’s New York conference. Once there, they were unexpectedly selected to pitch on stage as a “wildcard;” two rounds later, they were crowned the winner last month. Mendelson said a high energy, musical pitch that included a live demo separated RecordGram from the pack.
Was it the pitch or was it the flamingo print jacket Mendelson wore on stage? Said Mendelson, “People said, ‘There’s the flamingo guy.’ People noticed us.”
Whatever the reason, winning the contest was tech validation, Thomas said. “When you look at what we’ve done for a living for a decade or more, it has been strictly music. When you get validation from one of the biggest tech outlets saying you have an incredible startup, that just puts another battery in our pack to go back to the music industry and say, ‘This is what you need to pay attention to.’ … Now we have a lot more doors opening up in the music world, and in the tech world.”
New World Angels, which has invested $250,000, hopes to help the team with connections, business direction and mentorship, said Manheimer, who has experience growing companies in the tech and entertainment industries. “They are proven winners. It’s exciting to see these types of companies coming through Florida.”
With the funding, RecordGram has hired a chief technology officer and a growth hacker to onboard more users. It has also hired a development team in Russia to give the app a facelift and position it for additional features. Other marketing opportunities and partnerships are in the works.
Mendelson says that any company with a music and original content strategy will need RecordGram. “Microsoft, Spotify, Google, Apple and Samsung are all competing in the streaming music space. What will separate them is how they compete with original content. We think what we have created will fill that void.”
Among its fans is soul artist Jimmy Levy of Miami, who was encouraged by his manager to try RecordGram, Mendelson said. “Now Grammy award-winning producers are putting together his first album, and several labels have expressed interest in signing him. That’s why when we say RecordGram is built for musicians by musicians, we really mean it.”
Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

June 21, 2017

Kairos receives follow-on investment from New World Angels


New World Angels announced this week that it has invested $347,500 into a planned $2 million Series B round of Miami-based Kairos.

The round is aimed at funding Kairos’ continued expansion of its human analytics SaaS platform.  Combining facial recognition with emotion analysis and demographic information, Kairos provides developers the building blocks to add the benefits of facial analysis to any product, app or service, helping businesses solve security, marketing and other challenges.

“We are grateful to New World Angels for their on-going support through funding and business advice," said Kairos CEO and founder Brian Brackeen in a news release.  "We are excited to have their additional support to expand our product and marketing efforts to build Kairos into a leading supplier of human analytics to retailers, advertisers, consumer marketers, as well as security, healthcare and mobile workforce providers.”

NWA President and Kairos Board member Steve O’Hara added: “Since its pivot from a single payroll product to a provider of facial recognition, demographic and emotion analytic API’s and SDK’s in 2015, Kairos has shown the flexibility, creativity and resolve needed to build a new business.   This is our third investment in Kairos having led the Series A offering and supported the subsequent convertible debt offering. “

New World Angels is a group of 68 accredited private investors  providing equity capital to early-stage entrepreneurial companies with a strong presence in Florida.  Since 2014, NWA has invested over $10 million into these companies.


June 20, 2017

4 South Florida startups advance to finals in WeWork Creator Awards

BM cover tech hub 4 d epf

WeWork today announced that four Miami entrepreneurs have been selected as finalists for The Creator Awards South Regional Final on June 27 at ACL Live in Austin, Texas. Chosen from a pool of more than 2,000 applicants from all across the South, these finalists, along with approximately 30 others, will present before a live audience and compete for financial awards, which range from $18,000 up to $360,000.

“We’re beside ourselves to be accepted by the WeWork Creator Awards to compete against what we know is a massive community of exceptional thinkers, inventors, entrepreneurs: creators,” says AlulA co-founder Thomas Byrd. “To be recognized for our vision to be fellow ‘creators’ by WeWork and the Creator Awards, an organization centered on creators is humbling to say the least.”

Byrd and his founders were inspired by the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. They wanted to find out how this was possible and prevent it from happening again in the future. The team has worked over the past two years to find a simple and affordable crowdsourcing method of retrieving aircraft data to make air travel safer and more efficient.

This will not only help track planes location but will also help with collect data for environmental research and help improve air travel over all -- shorter flights, cheaper flights and less burning of fossil fuels.

According to previous winners, these awards can be a game changer for companies and organizations looking to reach the next level.

Jill Bigelow, founder of a company making products for new mothers called Pelv-Ice, says her company’s prize money “allowed us to launch our sales team expansion sooner than anticipated.”

“It’s going to allow us to take advantage of a bunch of opportunities that we were going to have to skip before we won,” says Bigelow. “It will certainly help us scale faster.”

The AlulA team is at the stage where they are ready to begin product testing. “We have completed the prototype for the small box to allow our vision to become a reality,” explains Byrd. “ With the winnings we could put these small boxes on aircrafts and immediately impact flight safety and climate change research. This, we feel is the least we can do out of respect for those who lost loved ones on MH370, and the future of our planet.”

In addition to the pitch competition and awards show, the Creator Awards involves masterclasses with celebrity influencers, a career fair, pop-up market with local food vendors and live music. Creators from Austin, Houston, Dallas, Miami, Atlanta, San Antonio, Santa Fe, to name a few, will be competing. 

Subsequent events will take place in North America, Europe, and the Middle East. Winners from each event will come together for the global finals, to be held at Barclays Center in New York City on November 30.

Complete List of Miami Finalists

Launch: Businesses or nonprofits that have launched but are still learning ($72K - $180K)

AlanaAt Alana Athletica, we focus on combining four factors that we think are currently not intertwined into any women™s active-wear brand in the market – quality, price, women empowerment, and social responsibility. We design and manufacture premium quality yoga pants that enable empowerment for ALL women (regardless of size, race, background, age, etc.) at an affordable price, and we do so by employing and empowering women abuse survivors in Sri Lanka who are joining our all-women production facility - all while giving back to deserving local communities.

AlulA - Inspired by the tragic disappearance of Malaysia flight MH370, we have innovated a system to stream black box data in real time affordably from planes in flight. This allows safer air travel, as well as enabling the ability to predict and fix critical aircraft components before they fail. This makes air travel safer and more affordable!

Scale: Proven record of success and are ready for the next level (Awards: $180K - $360K)

Debris Free Ocean (nonprofit) - We provide in-classroom education about marine debris, host adventure cleanups, host zero-waste lifestyle awareness events, provide sustainability consulting services to businesses, and propel pro-ocean legislation. While providing all of these services, we ensure that our messaging is positive and uplifting so as to motivate individuals to take action towards cleaner oceans on a daily basis. We consider ourselves a warm and inviting environmental group, specifically positioned to captivate audiences who may ordinarily not appreciate aspects of the environmental movement.

Viera Academy - Viera Academy is a free college prep platform that helps students gain admission to college by maximizing their academic development and providing a personalized application strategy. We conduct a proprietary analysis of students' academic profile, personal interests, and financial need to recommend colleges and create an individualized month-by-month action plan.

- Submitted by WeWork

Meet the finalists of the American Entrepreneurship Awards; winners announced Friday

The American Entrepreneurship Award, a non-profit that aims to support American start-up businesses and entrepreneurs, will announce the selected winners of their business plan competition at their second annual ceremony taking place Friday, June 23, 2017. The awarded entrepreneurs will win business services, mentorship, and a share of $250,000 towards their businesses.

The American Entrepreneurship Award will work with their partner, Miami Dade College to present the awards. The ceremony is set to take place at Tuyo, Miami Dade College’s acclaimed restaurant located on the top floor of the Miami Culinary Institute. The event will commence with a cocktail reception at 6:00pm – 7:30pm followed but the presentation of awards at 7:30pm.  

“We’re excited for these tremendous companies who’ve shown the courage to apply and make it this far through the process. I truly believe entrepreneurship can be a catalyst for helping individuals and families achieve economic self-sufficiency. The skills and knowledge one has the opportunity to gain through their entrepreneurial pursuit stands to enhance their viability. The American Entrepreneurship Award exists to aid these business owners and help them harness their true potential.” Said Christopher Upperman, CEO of the American Entrepreneurship Award.

The finalists are... 

* UX Gofer (com): a user research platform that empowers startups and enterprises to create innovative experiences for their customers. Make better design decisions by incorporating live user feedback through our guided usability tests.

* PIERCE Plan (com): a SaaS LMS licensing and delivery model to automatically track academic requirements in real time so high school student-athletes are eligible for scholarships to play college sports, prepared to compete in the classroom, and positioned to succeed in life.

* VITAL On Demand (com): dietician-approved, nutritious and delicious meals and snacks delivered in under 15 minutes for a $1 delivery fee. They serve the professional lunchtime crowd the most flavorful, nutritious meal faster and for a lower delivery fee than anyone else.

* Full Circle (co): a platform where people can purchase products and services that ideally memorialize their deceased – both humans and pets. The company empowers people with the products and services that help them honor their loved one the way they deserve, and helps them through the grieving process.

* SOP Technologies (com): provides cities with innovative solutions to manage and protect the environment. The company's mission is to Stop Ocean Pollution, and it works towards this goal by developing cost-effective physical and digital technologies to prevent trash and contaminants from entering waterways.

* Ustaff: an on-demand healthcare staffing platform that serves as a conduit for healthcare facilities and healthcare professionals to directly connect, in order to service their scheduling and staffing needs.

* Major Marketplace (com): an online marketplace for minority businesses and those who want to support them. They curate local and international products and services made and offered by passionate creators, bridging conscious buyers to minority businesses.

* Arslin.com (arslin.com): provides consumers with a dealership-free online platform for purchasing of used cars.

* Smart Barrel (co): an Internet of Things (IoT) company that builds and designs products focusing on the construction industry. Smart Barrel products are physical field products that are introduced into the jobsite to assist and enhance the communication between Office and Field personnel.

* Cargo42 (com): a digital marketplace for local trucking committed to reduce empty miles for trucking companies and to offer lower freight rates for Less than Load (LTL) shippers.

Prior to the ceremony, The American Entrepreneurship Award will host a small business expo located next door to Tuyo, at the Idea Center at Miami Dade College. Doors to the expo will open at 4pm and will host a multitude of Miami’s local business support services such as Neighborhood Lending Partners, Beacon Council, and Venture Café among others.

All members of the community are encouraged to attend both the expo and ceremony. Both events are free of charge and open to the public.

Past American Entrepreneurship Award winners from Miami-Dade County are:

* StatLab Mobile (com): a complete mobile laboratory with the capabilities to test blood and urine samples on site at any location. Their goal is to provide quality blood testing for the insured and the uninsured at a fraction of the traditional cost.

* ValueDoc (valuedoc.com) a free online health and wellness marketplace where cash or self-pay patients find local, quality, pre-screened doctors offering basic services, like dental cleaning, cardiology consultations, MRI, urgent care visits, plastic surgery, physical therapy, acupuncture, skin consultation, etc., at discounted prices of up to 80% off retail.

* CourtBuddy (com): an automated legal matchmaking system that pairs consumers and small businesses with solo attorneys for a-la-carte legal services based on an individual’s budget.

 To learn more about the American Entrepreneurship Award, please visit: www.americanaward.com.


- Submitted by AEA

June 19, 2017

BBX Capital acquires IT'SUGAR for $57 million

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

With a growing sweet tooth for the candy business, BBX Capital Corp. announced Monday it has acquired the majority stake in South Florida-based candy retailer IT’SUGAR in a $57 million transaction.

Fort Lauderdale-based BBX previously acquired Hoffman’s Chocolates of Palm Beach County, and its Sweet Holdings unit holds a number of other candy makers.

IT’SUGAR, founded in 2006 and based in Deerfield Beach, is the largest specialty candy retailer in the United States with 95 locations in 26 states and Washington, D.C. During the 12 months ended April 30, IT’SUGAR generated net revenues of $78.4 million, BBX said.

JeffrubinJeff Rubin (pictured here), IT’SUGAR’s founder and CEO, will remain in his current position and continue to hold “a meaningful membership interest,” BBX said.

With thousands of candy choices, “IT’SUGAR is not just a candy store,” Rubin said in a 2014 Miami Herald article. “We’ve really positioned ourselves as a gift store that lives at the intersection of attitude and fun. ... We sell humor, we sell fun.”

BBX said it now owns 93 percent of IT’SUGAR and plans to further expand IT’SUGAR by opening new retail locations in high traffic leisure locations. In South Florida, IT’SUGAR stores are at Miami International Airport, Aventura Mall, Sawgrass Mills and 10 other locations.

“IT’SUGAR has had great success expanding its presence across the United States as a modern-day candy playground, and we are very pleased to partner with Jeff Rubin and the IT’SUGAR management team to support continued expansion of its retail footprint and grow the brand in other channels,”said Jarett Levan, president of BBX Capital, who called it an “excellent fit” with the growth strategy of BBX Sweet Holdings.

BBX is a diversified holding company that owns timeshare company Bluegreen Corp. and other joint ventures and investments in real estate. BBX Sweet Holdings invests in and acquires manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers of chocolate and confectionery products, including Hoffman’s Chocolates, Anastasia Confections, Droga Chocolates, Williams & Bennett, Helen Grace Chocolates and Kencraft Confections.

June 18, 2017

DonorCommunity merges with West Coast nonprofit management software company

Two nonprofit-management software companies based on opposite coasts have merged.

Fort Lauderdale-based DonorCommunity, developers of a cloud-based platform for online fund-raising, donations, volunteer management, event management and email marketing software for nonprofits, and Telosa Software, developers of donor management solutions, announced that they have merged to form Arreva, a software company serving the fund-raising needs of nonprofit organizations. Terms of the deal were not released.

DavidblyerDonorCommunity was founded by computer industry veteran and software entrepreneur David Blyer in 2010 (pictured here); in 2011, the company won the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge. Telosa Software, based in Palo Alto, Calif., was founded by philanthropist and computer scientist Susan Packard Orr in 1986. Combined, Arreva has thousands of customers, including the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Jewish Federations of North America, Ronald McDonald House Charities, The Arc, The National Association of Police Athletic Leagues, Variety - the Children’s Charity, Meals on Wheels America and others.

“This merger is a major milestone, not only for us, but also for the nonprofit industry as a whole,” said Blyer, a serial software entrepreneur who founded and sold Vento Software before starting DonorCommunity. “As Arreva, we’ll be able to offer nonprofits of every size a suite of best-of-breed applications for online fundraising, event management, campaign manager, grant management, gifts manager, people and organizations, donor relationship management, volunteer management, peer-to-peer fundraising, email marketing and website content management.”

Arreva will be headquartered in Fort Lauderdale with sales and support operations in Palo Alto. Blyer will lead Arreva as CEO; Telosa CEO Gregg Davis becomes executive vice president and chief operating officer. Blyer and Orr will have seats on Arreva’s board.

June 15, 2017

NFTE students pitch -- and win -- on the eMerge Americas stage


Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) students got a chance to pitch on the eMerge Americas center stage last week -- and some of them took home winnings to fund their businesses.

Like in the regional finals last month, Ashley Bellinger (pictured above) took home the big prize, followed by the team of Fresh Fit. They will represent the South Florida Region at the NFTE 2017 National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge in October in New York City where they will present and defend their business plans to compete for prizes totaling $20,000. 

Here is a rundown of all the eMerge Americas winners:

1st Place - $2,500 – AmberAsh – Ashley Bellinger

AmberAsh is a fashion business dedicated to creating clothing with graphic designs that represent minority women. She was inspired by a trip to the clothing store with her litter sister, Amber who was disappointed that none of the little girls on the t-shirts looked like her. Ashley decided to create a t-shirt for her and AmberAsh was born!

2nd Place - $1,500 – Fresh Fit – Manny Mollinedo & Danny Martinez

Fresh Fit is provides customers with a time saving and inexpensive way to keep their protein-blending bottle Fresh with the perfect Fit.

3rd Place - $500 – Brushah Brushah – Addy Gold & Allison Heighl

Brushah Brushah is a mobile app that encourages young children to brush their teeth regularly through gamified characters and songs that all sync to the parents’ account.

4th Place - $500 – Tech Trade In – Jorge Troitino & Mark Hurtado

Tech Trade In specialized in conveniently purchasing used and broken tech devices, repairing and selling them to new owners.

The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship  is an international nonprofit that activates the entrepreneurial mindset in young people and builds their knowledge about business startup.  NFTE focuses its work on under-resourced communities, with programs in 22 locations in 9 countries. In South Florida, thousands of students across 38 schools are enrolled in the NFTE program.



Wanted: 'Fearless, ambitious and extraordinary entrepreneurs' for startupbootcamp Miami


By Christian Seale

Today, we are excited to announce the launch of applications for the second cohort of our digital health innovation program, startupbootcamp Miami.

If you share our passion and vision to transform healthcare, we want to meet you. Apply here!

We are a year older and have assembled an even deeper bench of local and national healthcare providers, insurers, pharma companies, industry leaders and top-tier healthcare investors committed to helping you refine and scale your companies.

Boot1Last year our program resulted in multiple implementations, customer contracts and financings for our portfolio companies from the likes of Miami Children’s Health System, University of Miami, Florida Blue, Jackson Health System, Univision and many others (read more here). Local entrepreneur Wolf Shlagman, CEO of CareAngel and founder of Consult-a-Doc (sold to Teladoc and Kleiner Perkins) highlighted: "the program surpassed our expectations and resulted in multiple customer contracts and venture financing. I highly recommend this program to any serious entrepreneur looking to take their healthcare business to the next level."  (pictured here: Rene Lerer, President Florida Blue, discusses healthcare reform with Startupbootcamp entrepreneurs.)

We encourage you to apply and accelerate your business. We are looking for fearless, ambitious and extraordinary entrepreneurs working at the intersection of healthcare and technology with proven and tested models and committed to making our system more equitable, efficient and accessible for all. If chosen to participate, you will receive funding, implementation and contract opportunities, mentorship from our dedicated expert network, office space and a comprehensive suite of portfolio and in-kind services.

We are proud to be part of Miami’s growing entrepreneurial ecosystem recently named the top city in startup activity by the Kauffman Foundation and grateful to be recognized by Inc. for our work to build the city into a globally recognized hub for healthcare innovation.

We invite you to join us and our partners at the Knight Foundation, Miami Children’s Hospital and many others as we build Miami into a globally recognized hub for innovation and together transform the future of healthcare. If you are a healthcare entrepreneur, please reach out and set up a time for virtual office hours.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Christian Seale is founder and managing director of startupbootcamp Miami. Follow on Twitter @sbchealth. For more information, email digitalhealth@startupbootcamp.com.



Shane Battier, NBA and NCAA Champion, shared leadership lessons with Startupbootcamp entrepreneurs.


Dr. Maurice Ferre Jr., Co-Founder of Mako Surgical and CEO of Insightec, shares lessons on building and selling a company with Startupbootcamp entrepreneurs.


A panel discusses the future of digital health in South Florida at Startupbootcamp’s Demo Day. From left: Christian Seale of Startupbootcamp, Jaret Davis of Greenberg Traurig, Elizabeth Lopez of Miami Children’s Health System and Juan Ortiz of Sonas Home Health Care.

Photos provided by startupbootcamp Miami


June 13, 2017

Tech talk at eMerge: Startup life, cybersecurity and a Magic Leap to the future


By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Call it Tech Tuesday at eMerge Americas.

While Day One of the homegrown technology conference at Miami Beach Convention Center was a mix of tech and politics, tech and startups took the spotlight on the conference’s second and final day.

Quite literally. Startups pitched on center stage throughout the day, competing for $175,000 in prizes — and investor attention, while hundreds of people milled around their tables. They also took in talks by some of the industry’s top entrepreneurs on topics including artificial intelligence, big data and cybersecurity.

The secretive Magic Leap has yet to reveal its highly anticipated product. But founder Rony Abovitz, whose Plantation-based company has brought in $1.4 billion in venture capital, described Magic Leap as an effort to experience the world more naturally. “We’re trying to build a computer that acts like people, so you don’t have to look at your phone all the time,” he said, in an on-stage discussion with Matt Haggman, Miami program director of the Knight Foundation, and Jean-Pierre Bardet, dean of the University of Miami’s College of Engineering.

READ MORE: Rony Abovitz on Magic Leap: We are trying to make science fiction real

While Magic Leap used to call its technology “mixed reality” — something like augmented reality, but different — Abovitz said he now prefers describing it as “spatial computing powered by a digital lightfield.” Translation: It will allow computing to become part of you.

Magic Leap is believed to be creating a wearable device such as glasses. But for the people who came to the talk wanting to know when they can get their hands on it, Magic Leap remained, well, vague, saying only that its first product launch is “not far away” and “if we were at NASA … you would see a rocket sitting on the launch pad.” Pricing, he said, was aimed at “affordability in the mass premium category. ... It’s not a Kindle kind of pricing but it’s not unattainable.”

READ MORE: Tech and politics do miss, if it’s eMerge Americas

Uri Levine, co-founder of the popular Waze, described the traffic app as “a social network for driving.” Everything on the app was created by the driver, he told the audience. “We the drivers help other drivers avoid the traffic jams we are in. This is the magic of Waze.”

For the many entrepreneurs on hand, he said launching a startup is like falling in love. “Fall in love with the problem you are solving, not your solution,” he advised. Focus is key too; if an entrepreneur loses focus of the central problem he is solving, he won’t be building the right thing. Timing helps: Waze started on a PDA — remember those? — but the smartphone enabled scale.

READ MORE: Hatching a tech future: South Florida startups are gaining strength

Startups he is involved in now include Moovit, an app similar to Waze but for public transit; Engine, technology that runs ongoing diagnostics on a car and gets repair quotes; and Solomoto, an all-in-one platform for small businesses .

What was his best startup? “The next one.” His advice for Miami entrepreneurs: Solve the high cost of U.S. healthcare.

The recent Wannacry hack put the ever-hot topic of cybersecurity on high boil. On Tuesday, eMerge founder Manny Medina unveiled details about his latest venture, Cyxtera Technologies. The “giant startup,” as he called it, combines 57 data centers and four cybersecurity-and-data analytics companies that already serve 3,500 customers with 1,100 employees.

“We believe the next revolution is the era of cybersecurity. We believe security has to be adaptive and intelligent ... but also made for the cloud,” Medina said. “This is a giant opportunity and we are in the forefront and it will be based in Miami.”

READ MORE: Done deal: Medina Capital, BC Partners form Cyxtera Technologies in $2.8 billion transaction

The conference’s final keynote came from a celebrity investor better known for baseball than business. Miami’s Alex Rodriguez — better known as A-Rod — started his business holdings with a Miami duplex 18 years ago; today his 400-employee company, Arod Corp., manages 15,000 housing units in 12 states. And real estate is just one arm of his business; he also owns fitness centers and auto dealerships and holds investments in a number of ventures, including eMerge Americas.

Most recently, he has dived into the media world, a business Rodriguez called “fun and exciting but tough.” He said he’s proud to be the first Latino Shark on “Shark Tank,” he said.

“Every business I have has a huge digital component. As an entrepreneur, you always have to be looking around the corner. What’s next, what is the competition? Whoever figures out digital will be the winner.”

But not everything should be digitized, he said — including the sport that brought him wealth. Using the example of a player’s worth for instance, he said, “you need character, you need grit and you need toughness. And that cannot be appraised in a computer.”

Throughout the day, startup finalists in various categories took to the stages to pitch their products to investor judges.

The top prize of the conference went to later-stage company Voyhoy, a travel site that lets consumers compare and buy tickets combining transportation on bus, plane, train and ferries throughout Latin America. Since launching in late 2015, Voyhoy has acquired more than 6 million users, and relocated to Miami to grow the business. Its prize: $100,000.

Chirrp, a multichannel platform for customer engagement, won the competition for early-stage companies, a prize worth $50,000. TSOLife, an online tool to help users record and share their stories for future generations, won the university category, worth $25,000.

At the high school level, eMerge partner Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship awarded its first-place prize of $2,500 to fashion business AmberAsh, created by Ashley Bellinger.

Xavier Gonzalez, eMerge CEO, said the conference will return April 23-24, 2018.

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg