April 19, 2015

Entrepreneurship Datebook: Events, workshops in South Florida this week

Tech eggLEGAL HACK NIGHT: A presentation and discussion about the intersection of law and technology, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aptil 22, General Provision, 525 NW First Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Info: www.meetup.com/Code-for-FTL/

SMART CITY STARTUPS FESTIVAL: An opportunity to see, try and ride the very best emerging technologies from 100 of today's leading startups re-imagining cities and hear from sci-fi author Ramez Naam, 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, April 23, Wynwood Warehouse Project, 450 NW 27th St., Miami. Read more here. Tickets: www.smartcitystartups.com.

GOOGLE SPEAKER: Join Refresh Miami and The Launch Pad in welcoming Max Henderson, head of Google Cloud Platform, during an appearance at the University of Miami. 6:30 to 9 p.m., Thursday, April 23,  University of Miami Alumni Center. Info: www.refreshmiami.com

GUIDE TO SELLING YOUR BUSINESS: When is the right time to sell? Learn 20 steps to selling your business , 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, April 23, 2000 Ponce Business Center, 2000 Ponce De Leon Blvd., Suite 569, Coral Gables. Fee applies. Info: www.miamidade.score.org (click on local workshops).

WRITE YOUR FIRST ANDROID APP: A weekend workshop to learn how to use Android Studio and Java to build your first Android App;  no experience needed, noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, April 25, and  Sunday, April 26, at  CityDesk, 350 S Miami Ave., Miami.  Fee applies. Info:   http://www.meetup.com/Girl-Develop-It-Miami/events/220245181/


JPay of Miramar was sold, OpenEnglish launched into the U.S. market, AdMobilize launched  AdBeacon, Wyncode expanded to Fort Lauderdale's General Provision, Caviar restaurant delivery service began in Miami, UM's School of Architecture, with Knight funding, will create entrepreneurship centers in two low-income neighborhoods, FashInvest and Open Source Fashion are teaming up on back-to-back events, and healthcare dominated South Florida's Q1 venture capital numbers. That's just some of the news you missed last week if you aren't reading Starting Gate. Find it all on MiamiHerald.com/business.

Nancy Dahlberg @ndahlberg 

April 14, 2015

Dallas company buys Miramar tech firm JPay

JPay, a Miramar-based technology company that provides prisons with electronic payment services, email and a host of educational and entertainment apps, is being acquired by Securus Technologies of Dallas. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

JPay, with 255 employees, operates in 33 state prisons serving more than 1.6 million inmates. JPay was founded in 2002 as a payments company and later evolved to include a digital platform that combines tablets, kiosks and an inmate cloud, giving inmates access to email, music, books, games, shopping and education.

Ryan“We are always eager to expand our footprint,” said Ryan Shapiro, JPay's CEO (pictured here). “With Securus behind us, we can now make that happen in a fraction of the time. … I credit our team for their relentless pursuit of the company's vision, which is to develop products that make prisons safer, more efficient, and most importantly that enable inmates to transition into viable citizens once released.”

Shapiro said the entire team is staying put in South Florida, and Shapiro will continue to run JPay, but as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Securus. “We are interested in being more active with the tech community here in South Florida,” said Shapiro. “Most of our team is software and firmware developers.”

The transaction is subject to regulatory approval and is expected to close in the second or third quarter of 2015, the companies said.

Securus Technologies serves more than 2,600 public safety, law enforcement and corrections agencies, and more than 1 million inmates across North America, with a host of services. “This transaction thrusts Securus into the fastest-growing segments in corrections: payments, email, and most recently, inmate tablets," said Rick Smith, CEO of Securus Technologies, in a news release.


December 19, 2014

A cyber-success in South Florida tech: from 4-man startup to $232.5M sale to BAE

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Success stories in South Florida entrepreneurship don’t always follow the classic script of dream, launch, grow, sell and start all over again. Sometimes the founder starts out as an “accidental entrepreneur,” stays with the acquiring company and grows the team into a successful division, providing jobs that power the local economy.

RD Face PhotoThat’s Richard Dobrow’s story. In 2000, the young accountant started Guarded Networks Inc. or GNI, with three other colleagues, all just a couple of years out of school. After a couple of sales and name changes along the way, that venture with roots in South Florida became SilverSky, which sold on Friday to London-based defense giant BAE Systems for $232.5 million. But that’s getting ahead of the story.

After earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting at Florida International University in the late ‘90s, Dobrow was working at Arthur Anderson in an area that was just beginning to get really hot: technology risk management. With Arthur Anderson in turmoil at the time, and futures uncertain, he and colleagues Sajid Khan, also an FIU alumnus, Thomas Neclerio and Brian Otte, decided to split off and start a company in this new area of expertise they had been building up – information security.

At the time, Dobrow really didn’t see it as a long-tem play. “We thought we’d go do this for a couple of years and then be back in the industry.”

But Guarded Networks grew to be a leading player as what’s known as an MSSP, a managed security service provider, for financial institutions. GNI established its “Bordershield” software platform as a market leading compliance product used by hundreds of banking and medical organizations to help meet their growing information security requirements. By 2004, it had grown to about 35 employees and was serving more than 300 banks and credit unions and more than 1,000 corporate customers, said Dobrow, who was GNI's CEO. That’s when it merged with Perimeter E-Security of Connecticut in a transaction valued at more than $25 million.

Dobrow said two of the original founders exited along the way – Khan is with Lockheed Martin and Otte is with ProfitStars – but Dobrow and Neclerio stayed on. An investment group led by Goldman Sachs purchased a chunk of Perimeter in 2007, and Perimeter rebranded under the name SilverSky in early 2013. Most recently, Dobrow was SilverSky’s president, Asia-Pacific region, and chief compliance officer – yes, the job involved a lot of travel – and Neclerio was senior vice president of consulting services.

Dobrow, named to FIU’s Entrepreneur Hall of Fame in 2002, could have exited in 2004 and 2007. But each time he was offered intrapreneurial leadership roles with “interesting opportunities” and decided to stay, always based in South Florida. And a local employee base of about three dozen stayed, too.

SilverSky, a commercial cyber-services and compliance provider with operations in the United States and Asia, employed about 400 people and had more than 5,000 customers at the time of the BAE acquisition. SilverSky’s sales, marketing and engineering workforce and management team joined BAE’s global Applied Intelligence division, focused on cyber-security with about 3,200 employees worldwide.

“SilverSky’s cloud-based email and network security solutions complement our existing portfolio and increase our presence in the United States, a very significant market for IT security,” said Ian King, CEO of the 80,000-employee BAE, in a statement on Friday announcing the closing of the acquisition.

Dobrow plans to stay on with BAE as chief compliance officer as the company goes through a post-acquisition reorganization. As before, he will see where this goes. “My understanding is that the 36 people in South Florida will remain in South Florida and there will be an expansion of the Security Operation Center in Fort Lauderdale,” Dobrow said, adding that BAE didn't have a significant cyber-security business presence in the U.S. until now with the acquisition, so there is no overlap and the plan is to grow, not cut.

Mike Tomás also stayed with the team through it all in another role – investor and advisor. Tomás got to know Dobrow and his team early on as a mentor and also became an investor. He joined Guarded Networks’ board, staying on with SilverSky until last week’s BAE acquisition. Tomás, CEO of Bioheart, is also chair of FIU’s Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center and on the board of Miami Dade College’s Idea Center.

“South Florida has been a hub of technology entrepreneurship for years and with recent efforts like eMerge Americas, Endeavor, Venture Hive and the Idea Center will only help to create more company successes like SilverSky,” said Tomás. “Richard Dobrow is a brilliant technology pioneer and his company was born and raised in South Florida.”

Guarded Networks

EARLY DAYS OF GNI: In a 2001 photo, Guarded Networks co-founders Thomas Neclerio, left, and Brian Otte, center, along with the company’s CFO, Eric Lambert, hold firewalls used in their engineering security solutions. Photo by Water Michot/Miami Herald archives.

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.


November 10, 2014

CorQuest Medical, a stealth medical device company in Miami, is sold to Cardio3 BioSciences in Belgium

A South Florida entrepreneur and a former University of Miami heart surgeon teamed up two and half years ago to create a medical device company for cardiac surgery. Now CorQuest Medical has been sold to a publicly traded Belgian company that aims to  take its technology to market.

CorQuest Medical of Miami, which specializes in developing medical equipment and technologies that facilitate minimally invasive cardiac surgical procedures, was purchased by Cardio3 BioSciences, a biotechnology company focused on the discovery and development of regenerative and protective therapies for the treatment of cardiac diseases. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

Serge Elkiner Bio PicCorQuest was co-founded by a pair of Belgians: Dr. Didier De Cannière, a professor of surgery in Brussels and formerly director of Minimally Invasive and Robotic Cardiothoracic Surgery at UM, and Serge Elkiner, an entrepreneur and CEO of Miami-based YellowPepper, a fast-growing provider of mobile-banking and payment solutions in Latin America.

“He came to me and said 'look, I have this patent and I think it is a pretty good idea but I just don’t know how to build a company,' ” said Elkiner (pictured here). “When he showed me the idea, which is completely different than what existed today, and the benefits it would bring the patients, I told him I would help him.”

The company raised angel money, built a prototype of the device, did animal testing and has been quietly developing its technology with a team of three in Miami and board member Dr. Pedro Martinez-Clark, an interventional cardiologist in South Florida, plus a team of engineers in Belgium and France. CorQuest was part of an emerging but fast growing medical device industry in South Florida; there are nearly 150 device companies in Miami-Dade and Broward.

"Since Serge showed me the technology, I knew CorQuest was onto something important in the medical device space.  This shows another example that healthcare companies like Mako Surgical, CorQuest and others, can have a bright future in South Florida," said Dr. Stewart B. Davis, CEO of Bioceptive and a South Florida medical device serial entrepreneur and angel investor.

The companies said CorQuest's technology, currently in the advanced pre-clinical development phase, enables cardiologists to take a unique access route directly to the patient's left atrium and therefore has the potential to become a breakthrough innovation for therapeutic indications such as mitral valve disorders and structural heart disease, conditions often linked to heart failure.

Cardio3 BioSciences, which first learned of CorQuest at a conference, aims to obtain European approval by the end of 2016, which would allow commercialization of the device in Europe. The first indication to be targeted with the CorQuest technology is expected to be the repair or replacement of the mitral valve.

The companies believe the market potential is huge, as the global market of cardiac medical devices is expected to total $65.6 billion in 2015, with an annual growth rate of 9.8 percent.

"With their track record in device and therapeutic development, I am confident that Cardio3 BioSciences will successfully bring CorQuest's technology to physicians and, ultimately to patients," said De Cannière, who will remain involved in the company.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

Posted Nov. 10, 2014

November 01, 2014

Random thoughts on a random week: exits, age, heart -- and a start

I had an interesting conversation with a South Florida entrepreneur who built a very successful company that has been sold a few times now. At each juncture he could have exited  but chose to stay and continue to contribute to the company and build his team, which now numbers hundreds. While that is not the typical course, he stayed because his job was still rewarding, and his team was still growing and having an impact as well as providing jobs for South Florida.  I'll be writing more about him in a few weeks as he approaches yet another opportunity to exit. Will he stay or will he go? -- stay tuned! (Yes, that's a tease)

MoneyExits are certainly up in South Florida. Since I have been covering startups and  tech full time (about a year now), there have been a number of them  -- off the top of my head, Mako Surgical, New Wave Surgical, .CO Internet, Choose Digital, BlueKite, Simplikate, Kwiksher, The Fresh Diet ... -- and I am sure I have missed a bunch. (I will be adding Exits to the categories on this blog soonest!).  On the funding front, it will most certainly be a record-setting year, with the magic leap venture capital in South Florida will take in the fourth quarter. In fact, if Magic Leap's $542 million raise from Google and friends had come in any of the other quarters this year, Florida would be ranked number 4 (just behind the big three in venture: California, Massachusetts and New York) instead of 27th or thereabouts. But there have been other sizable South Florida raises, Technisys, of course, but several more are on the burner and should complete this quarter (yes, that is another tease). 

Then at the Miami Open Coffee Club, I met an entrepreneur, David Kay of Video Rehearser, who said that he is finding that his age and gray hair is a detriment when talking to investors, even though he brings 40 years of technology and business experience to the table. Does youth and energy trump subject matter expertise? Charles Irizarry of Rokk3r Labs doesn't think so. He said Rokk3r looks for founders with experience starting up companies as well as experience in their industries. And  Kauffman Foundation research finds that, year after year,  each of the 35-44, 45-54 and the 55-64 age groups starts businesses are  far higher rates than their 20-34 counterparts.  That's good because  a Venture Beat post argues that in the next generation of innovation -- robotics, etc. -- the expereinced entrepreneur will be in high demand. Lately I have also been seeing more young teams with one, shall we say significantly older co-founder that brings extensive experience, subject matter expertise and often a different network to the table.

 By the way, Irizarry took part in a real-life role play about pre-launch strategy with Xavier Cossard of Plarity (and a Rokk3r portfolio company) -- both are pictured below -- as part of Miami Open Coffee Club's new format. Expect subsequent MOCCs to address post-launch strategies. Next up: marketing, says MOCC organizer Tito Gil:  A session on marketing featuring Kairos and Jaques Hart of Roar Media. After the interview there is time for Q&A.

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On Wednesday, I attended Women in Innovation at Pipeline, expecting a great networking event to meet people, as I already know and have reported on the stories of the panelists. It was a great networker, with 150 in attendance, almost all women. But I also enjoyed the panel discussion, in which all the women -- Christine Johnson (DiversiTech), Dawn Dickson (Flat Out of Heels), Fatima Lalani (Blo Blow Dry Bars) and Felecia Hatcher (Feverish Pops and Code Fever) and hosted by Paula Celestino (Kloset Karma) -- kept it real and were incredibly open and personal about their entrepreneurial journeys. While they all went through periods where they weren't sure their business would make it, they said doing what they needed to do to survive and eventually thrive was what women really rock at. Some lessons learned: Nurture your friendships and  support network; there's no such thing as work-life balance as an entrepreneur but do set priorities, and trust your gut.  They spoke from the heart -- refreshing -- and as one women noted in the elevator on the way out: When was the last time you were at a tech or entrepreneurship event where the overwhelming majority attending and on panels were women?

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Highlight of a busy week: The packed official opening of the Miami Dade College's Idea Center, which will serve MDC's 165,000 students with an accelerator, workshops, a speaker series, an idea factory, a venture growth program and more. With so much support from the community clearly evident on Tuesday morning (below), the center is off to a great start. 

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Posted Nov. 1, 2014 



August 24, 2014

Q&A with Maurice R. Ferré: What's next after MAKO?


Photo by Carl Juste / Miami Herald

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@MiamiHerald.com

“Today marks a milestone, a watershed moment,” Maurice R. Ferré told his employees last December, on the day of the sale of MAKO Surgical. “It is the end of a nine-year startup company that grew up, a company that went against all odds and succeeded in starting the orthopedic robotic revolution. ... Remember that this journey is far from over, rather it is being catapulted to new levels and opportunities.”

And, he added, “there is so much more to do” — words he has personally taken to heart.

You could have forgiven Ferré, the chairman and CEO, for taking time off after selling the robotics company he co-founded in Davie for $1.65 billion in December. After all, that was an intense ride, as he and his top team grew the company to 500 employees and more than $100 million in annual revenue.

While Ferré says he did take “a pause” to figure out his post-MAKO life, it was a short pause. Ferré revealed that his post-MAKO plan includes building another company, investing and advising in others, and giving back through mentorship and board involvement.

Ferré is also building a robotics education program for school age children. As part of that, 20 fifth- and sixth-graders participated in a four-week summer camp last month at Phillis Wheatley Elementary School in Overtown. The students built robots, got a virtual tour of the world-renowned robotics lab at Stanford University, saw how they were designed and assembled at Styrker-MAKO and saw them at work in a Larkin Hospital operating room. This was the pilot program for a bigger, scalable initiative he is working on with Nola Garcia of StarBot to take the program into schools.

Then there’s the next big thing Ferré is involved with, which he will only say will be transformational robotic technology for the brain, and he has taken on advisory roles with companies in South Florida and around the world doing cutting-edge work in the field.

Leadership and entrepreneurship run deep in Ferré’s family. His grandparents came from Venezuela and Puerto Rico to call Miami home. Ferré said his grandfather, Joe Ferré, was an industrialist who took control of Maule Industries, one of the world’s largest cement companies, in 1955. His father, Maurice A. Ferré, was a six-term mayor of Miami. “His dedication and commitment has made Miami the great city that we see today,” Ferré said of his father.

The Miami Herald visited Ferré in his Key Biscayne office to ask him more about his post-MAKO life and to reflect on his MAKO years. Here are excerpts from that conversation:

Continue reading "Q&A with Maurice R. Ferré: What's next after MAKO?" »

August 20, 2014

The Fresh Diet sold to Florida-based Innovative Food Holdings

FRESH06freshdiet BIZ JWR KITCHN06 freshdiet BIZ JWR

The Fresh Diet's Chairman Zalmi Duchman, left,  with Chief Culinary Officer Yosef Schwartz.

The Fresh Diet, a homegrown national fresh-food delivery company, has been purchased by Innovative Food Holdings, a publicly traded specialty foods company based in Bonita Springs, Fla.

South Florida entrepreneur Zalmi Duchman founded The Fresh Diet in 2006. The then 25-year-old wanted  to bring healthy, portion-controlled diet meals to people's doorsteps daily. To finance it, he put $500 on his Visa card.

Today, the company with about 350 employees is one of the largest U.S. food producers in the fresh cooked, daily delivered category, delivering healthy, gourmet meal plans daily to consumers in  12 states and 44 metropolitan areas across the country. In 2013, the company generated $26.9 million in revenue, and its three-year growth surge landed it on the Inc. 5000 list announced Wednesday.

The Fresh Diet will be operated as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Innovative Food Holdings, which provides specialty foods, healthcare foods and gluten free foods to the professional food service market. The company was purchased via 10 million shares of the Innovation Food’s common stock plus the assumption of debt.  In addition, Innovative Food raised $1.4 million of equity capital that be targeted toward growth for The Fresh Diet, Innovative Food said. “We believe that the expansion of Innovative Food Holdings’ platform to include the capabilities of The Fresh Diet’s platform is an extraordinary opportunity for the company,” said Sam Klepfish, CEO of Innovative Food Holdings.

In addition to providing its parent company with fresh prepared foods, The Fresh Diet can expand into additional specialty food market categories such as non-diet daily specialty meals, meal kits, allergen specific meals and other specialty food opportunities, said Duchman. “I'm very excited about this. We believe Innovative Food Holdings and The Fresh Diet can use their synergies to expand both companies,” said Duchman, chairman of The Fresh Diet.

Duchman and The Fresh Diet's team will continue to operate out of its North Miami headquarters, Duchman said. He said as an entrepreneur, he is also looking forward to getting involved in two other branches of Innovative Food, its food-focused incubator called Foodhatch.co and Forthegourmet.com, a retailer of specialty items for the home gourmet.

July 09, 2014

Karmaloop buys Broward-based Soletron

Karmaloop, one of the largest online retailers of streetwear, announced it has acquired South Florida-based Soletron, a leader in content generation for the youth market. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Soletron was founded in 2010 by A.J. Steigman and Shane Robinson, former investment bankers, as a streetwear ecommerce and social media platform for "sneakerheads." It changed course in 2012 and became a full content model for its target market of men aged 18-35. Soletron has generated tens-of-thousands of blog articles – up to 2,000 a month -  through its global network of freelance writers and it reaches a few million monthly in page views and unique visitors, said Steigman, Soletron’s CEO. Content partnerships include Nike, Adidas, Reebok, UnderArmour and FootLocker, he added.

“Karmaloop was the pioneer of our space, and is such a global powerhouse. … We are looking forward to really disrupting this vertical with our existing content network and custom built technological tracking software,” said Steigman, Soletron’s CEO.

Soletron, a team of about 10 based in Parkland, was backed by Canrock Ventures and Easton Capital, and its advisory board included former CEO of Adobe Bruce Chizen, Superbowl MVP Santonio Holmes and co-founder of AND1 Basketball Tom Austin, among others.

“The Verge generation (first generation to grow up on internet, highly influential alpha consumers) has a voracious appetite for content, and Karmaloop is excited to be further expanding into the content creation arena…  Soletron’s article production capabilities, its genuine editorial voice, and its competitive cost structure will allow Karmaloop to become a content destination for our respective community,” said Karmaloop CEO Greg Selkoe in a press release.

June 25, 2014

Miami's Choose Digital purchased by Viggle


Choose Digital, a Miami-based digital marketplace platform that lets companies  incorporate music, e- books, TV and movies into existing rewards and loyalty programs, has been purchased by Viggle, a New York-based public company, in an all-stock transaction valued at about $9 million, the companies said Wednesday morning.

With the acquisition, the Choose Digital platform will power digital media rewards for the Viggle platform, enabling Viggle members to get free entertainment content for enjoying their favorite TV shows and music.

Choose Digital’s team of 11 people will continue to be based in Miami. 

Choose Digital was founded in 2011 by Stephen Humphreys and Mario Cruz. Humphreys, CEO, who moved to Miami from the UK in 2008, is a veteran of the loyalty and affinity marketing space with more than 17 years of global experience. Cruz, CTO, who grew up in Miami, has more than 17 years of experience in IT, with a focus on high-volume transaction programs in the loyalty and rewards market, and has been awarded a patent in the space.

 “The Choose Digital team has some of the deepest experience in loyalty programs, promotional marketing, rewards and technology,” said Greg Consiglio, COO of Viggle.  “With this acquisition, we can now develop end-to-end entertainment and loyalty rewards programs for our brand, TV network and music industry partners."

Choose Digital works with major music labels and top independents, offering millions of songs, albums and box sets through its platform.  More than 300,000 books from three top publishing houses are available through Choose Digital as well.  Streaming for tens of thousands of TV programs and movies is expected to launch in the Fall.

 Choose Digital has built a “private label” digital marketplace that allows companies to incorporate digital content into their sales and marketing strategies.  Its content, consisting of digital music, movies, TV shows, eBooks and audiobooks, is current, wide and sourced directly from global record companies, major studios, and publishers.  New categories including apps, games and magazines are currently under development.  The market positioning of Choose Digital is agnostic – it has no consumer-facing brand, or any direct relationship with consumers.

The Viggle Store – a rewards destination where members can redeem their Viggle Points for music downloads – is already powered by Choose Digital. Choose Digital also powers the digital media rewards capabilities for leading loyalty programs at businesses such as Marriott, SkyMall and United Airlines, and will continue servicing its current customers.

 "With the combined power of Viggle and Choose Digital technologies, we look forward to becoming the premier solution for brands to deliver digital rewards," said Cruz.

 Choose Digital joins Viggle Music and the Viggle Store as recent additions to the Viggle Platform, which includes Wetpaint, an entertainment destination for creating, curating and sharing  entertainment content; NextGuide, which helps TV networks reach and engage their audiences; and the Viggle app.  In March 2014, Viggle achieved a total reach of 20.8 million.

Choose Digital – an active sponsor of Miami tech events such as hackathons and the inaugural MIA Music Summit earlier this year – recently moved from Coral Gables into new offices in Wynwood, "the tech hub of South Florida," said Cruz. “We love Miami, we love the growing tech scene, we are staying.” 

The company is part of a wave of acquisitions this year. This is at least the fifth early- or growth-stage company in South Florida acquired by public companies in the past few months: .CO Internet was acquired by Neustar; Nutri-Force was bought by Vitamin Shoppe; BlueKite was purchased by Xoom Corp.; and New Wave Surgical was acquired by Covidien. And in a private-company transaction, Simplikate was acquired by Phunware.

Choose Digital  is also part of an emerging creative hub of music- and entertainment-oriented tech startups  in Miami. “Miami is growing steadily in this new arena,” said Cruz in a recent blog post. “We're no longer threatened by losing our local talent for well-known hubs like New York, Boston or Chicago. We are building a nexus of music, fashion, art, technology and media. We’re heading somewhere great.”

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Not all work and no play: Choose Digital participates in the Startup Battle of the Bands at The LAB Miami in March, at a party to kick off the inaugural MIA Music Summit.

June 03, 2014

Miami-based Simplikate acquired by Austin’s Phunware

Simplikate, a Miami company that provides a mobile commerce platform and applications for malls, airports and luxury real estate, has been acquired by Austin-based Phunware.

The Simplikate team and offices will remain in Miami to both support customers and partners and act as a gateway for new business opportunities throughout Central, South and Latin America, the companies said. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Phunware is an integrated multiscreen services platform that enables brands to engage, manage and monetize their users worldwide. The company, which launched in 2009 and had more than $22 million in revenues last year, recently ranked No. 36 on the Forbes list of America’s Most Promising Companies and No. 40 on the Inc. 500 list of America’s Fastest Growing Companies. It now has 170 employees and 32 contractors.  Phunware's South  Florida customers include Telemundo, Univision, Discovery International, UHealth, allCanes and Sunbeam.

 As part of the acquisition, Phunware will add a large international customer base across more than 150  malls and 15 airports and 400,000-plus multiple dwelling units (MDUs) specific to luxury communities, buildings and properties, said Alan S. Knitowski, co-Founder, chairman and CEO of Phunware.  Phunware also plans to expand South Florida operations to support growth in new business in South Florida and Latin America, the company said. 

Founded in 2002, Simplikate has 18 employees in offices in Miami and Fort Lauderdale and has 10 contractors in Mexico City. Its global venues and properties include malls such as Tyson’s Corner, Westfield San Francisco and West Edmonton Mall, airports such as Dallas-Ft.Worth International Airport, Miami International Airport and Calgary International Airport and MDUs such as Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas, ICON South Beach and NEMA San Francisco. Additionally, its customers include Verizon, Macerich, Mandarin Oriental Residences Worldwide and HBO Latin America.

 “Our substantial footprint in the venue space is the ideal theater for Phunware’s vision to engage, manage and monetize every person touching every screen on every device touching every network everywhere globally,”  said Tushar Patel, co-founder and CEO of Simplikate.

To be sure, the market is huge for brands as there will be 50 billion connected devices expected to compose the "Internet of Things" by 2020, Phunware said.  Forrester estimates that the Mobile Services Market will soar to $32.4 billion globally by 2018 and that mobile engagement providers will need strong end-to-end competencies in order to act as providers of record. In parallel, eMarketer estimates that Mobile Ad Spending will balloon to $72.3 billion by 2017, up nearly 10 times over 2012 spending levels.

Posted June 3, 2014