February 20, 2018

New name, new leader for South Florida angel network

AGP Miami has a new name -- Miami Angels -- and new leadership.
 
South Florida’s largest angel network has about 100 active members and about 24 startups in its portfolio.
 
"While AGP Miami served us well, we felt that we needed a brand that better represented who, what, and where we are," said outgoing Managing Director Raul Moas. 
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RebeccadantaAs Moas takes the reins as Miami Program Director of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation's Miami Program, Venture Associate Rebecca Danta will become managing director, effective March. 1. 
 
"Rebecca has been an integral part of our team over the last year. We are incredibly excited to see her step into this new role and take our investment group to new heights," Moas said in a note to supporters.
 
Before coming aboard last year, Danta was an Operations Lead for  General Assembly in New York City. She graduated from the University of Florida in public relations. 
 
With a primary focus on South Florida, Miami Angels has recently began expanding its investment focus to include in other areas of the state, including Gainesville where it has made several investments, and in Latin America.
 
Miami Angels' most recent investment was in Caribu, an education platform that helps parents and extended families read and draw with kids when they're apart.
 
Other recent fundings include AnimusoftHome61Nearpod, Gramercy, Birch Finance and Eventplicity. AGP also recently added Melissa Krinzman, managing partner of Krillion Ventures, Mark Kingdon, founder of Quixotic Ventures, and Tigre Wenrich, CEO of the LAB Miami who heads up LABVentures, to its board of directors. Find out more about Miami Angels here: www.miamiangels.vc.
 
"Miami Angels has been a catalyst for Miami’s early-stage investing landscape, having invested $8 million across 24 companies since our launch in 2014," Danta said. "We'll continue to bring together exceptional entrepreneurs and investors as we look to expand our reach throughout the state and Latin America."
 
 
 
 
 

February 17, 2018

How LaunchCode is tackling the tech talent gap in Miami with the help of community partnerships

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By Matt Mawhinney

Air Force veteran Judy Rincon was balancing her transition back into civilian life and being a single mother when she saw a newspaper article about LaunchCode, a nonprofit creating pathways for driven people seeking careers in technology. Although coding was something she never considered, Judy took the free class, honed her skills and started her journey on the path to become a developer.

“Being completely new to coding was frightening,” Judy admitted, “but the devoted LaunchCode staff made this new journey an effortless one for me.” This week, Judy was thrilled to find out she has been placed with MasterCard and will begin as an apprentice next month. “Working hard and staying focused throughout the program wasn’t easy, but well worth it in the end.”

Judy’s story is not uncommon to the staff at LaunchCode, which opened an office in South Florida in 2015 thanks to a grant from the Knight Foundation. LaunchCode provides free technology education to aspiring technologists like Judy looking to get their foot in the door without having to go into debt.

LaunchCode was founded as an innovative solution to the shortage of talent to fill tech jobs in America. Code.org estimates there will be 1 million more computing jobs than applicants who can fill them by 2020. By creating pathways for nontraditional students to enter the workforce, LaunchCode gives employers a low-risk way to add fresh, diverse talent to their teams and in turn, reduce this gap.

But the tech talent gap is an issue that no one individual or organization can solve alone. LaunchCode works closely with community partners in South Florida who are equally invested in creating career pathways in the region. The CodeCamp program, where Judy gained her skills, was funded by CareerSource South Florida and supported by Employ Miami-Dade and the Neighbors and Neighbors Association.

Judy’s apprenticeship marks the 120th career which began as a result of LaunchCode’s innovative training program in South Florida. In 2018, the mission to launch tech careers of even more Floridians continues. With the help of its partners, LaunchCode will continue to provide both technical and soft-skills training free of charge to make careers in technology as accessible as possible.

It takes a village to solve the shortage of tech talent in our region and when community partners come together, the success is shared by all.

Matt Mawhinney is the Candidate Engagement Manager - South Florida for LaunchCode. Find out more at:  https://www.launchcode.org.

 

February 15, 2018

Fort Lauderdale insure-tech startup ChronWell raises $4.5 million in funding

ChronWell, a Fort Lauderdale startup that is developing a technology-enabled platform company for the workers’ compensation insurance industry, raised $4.5 million in Series A funding, the company announced this week.

The investors were not disclosed.

ChronWell was launched in September 2017 by long-time veterans in the healthcare information technology and insurance industries. Dr. Joe Rubinsztain, ChronWell's CEO, and his brother Sam Rubinsztain, VP of Product Development, together founded Weston-based gMed in Weston in 1997, which was sold to Modernizing Medicine in 2015. ChronWell's president, Salomon Sredni, was formerly president and CEO of TradeStation, one of the largest online brokers in the U.S.

The company said that it aims to be the first line of care for injured workers, while getting them back to work faster and reducing costs.

 “Our mission is to use technology to bridge the gap between employee, employer and insurance company,” said Joe Rubinsztain. “In making the process more efficient, we will improve outcomes and help injured workers receive the care they deserve. Everyone agrees the workers’ compensation market is long overdue for disruption, and this is the right time to do it.”

The funding will support the first phase of the company’s innovative platform, which covers triage, on-site care, care coordination and personalized assistance service, the company said. When an employee is injured on the job, a ChronWell healthcare professional backed by Artificial Intelligence will determine the best course of action by recommending self-care, on-site care or a health care facility. The service provides follow-up with the worker and manages the claim.

“The current workers’ comp system is broken,” said Sredni. “We strongly believe in bringing compassion and empathy back into a system that is failing to serve those most in need.”

February 07, 2018

New World Angels kicks off 2018 with first investment

New World Angels jumped out of the gate with its first transaction of 2018. This follows a record year in 2017 when the Boca Raton-based structured angel group made seven investments in seven companies totaling $4.4 million.

The first investment of the year is a $1.3 million investment into Clarke Industrial Engineering’s $10MM Series B Preferred Stock offering.  Miami and Rhode Island based Clarke is the manufacturer of the Shuttervalve, which is innovating the $84 billion valve industry with new performance features at lower costs. With this fifth investment in Clarke, NWA has invested over $4.1 million in the company.  The Series B round was led by Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures and Chevron-Texaco Technology Ventures.

“We are very pleased that the venture capital arms of industry leaders Saudi Aramco and Chevron also recognize Clarke’s potential in this $84 billion market,” said Steve O’Hara, president of NWA, in a press release.  “We remain committed to helping Clarke achieve its lofty goals.”

In 2017, NWA added four new companies and invested in three existing portfolio companies.  In Q1, NWA invested a total of $1,487,500 in existing portfolio companies Tao Connect, a Tampa-based online counseling solution for universities and private payers, and Clarke’s A-3 round. In Q2, NWA invested a total of $1,985,000 in RecordGram, a Miami based innovative software solution provider allowing artists and musicians to collaborate on-line to provide greater opportunity to starting performers; Source Molecular, a Miami-based DNA-based water analysis company helping municipalities and utilities test and understand water pollution challenges; and Rewired Solutions, a Sarasota-based human resource solution provider for large employers seeking to identify potential new hires.  Also in Q2, NWA invested another $347,500 into its portfolio company Kairos, a Miami-based software as a service human analytics platform. In Q4, NWA funded Switchboard Live with $557,500, an Orlando-based company providing a live broadcast streaming alternative for publishers. 

[READ MORE: This Miami startup brings a recording studio to your phone]

O’Hara said nearly all of NWA’s 65 members participated in at least one due diligence team in 2017. “Our not so secret sauce is our diverse collection of members ranging from doctors to CEOs, lawyers to entrepreneurs, and technology to old school manufacturers, which provides us with a stable of talent we can offer our portfolio entrepreneurs to call on for advice and counsel.”

Since 2014, NWA has invested $14 million in companies that either are based in Florida or have a strong presence in the state. NWA has chapters on both in South Florida and on the state’s west coast.

February 06, 2018

Miami startup’s just-launched mystery box for crypto sells out - twice

 

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Three Miami coders were just messing around one Friday night and thought, "what if we could build a Birchbox for crypto?"

And they did.

Mario Aguayo, PK Banks and Auston Bunsen launched CBlocks, a mystery box of cryptocurrency, on Jan. 16. Their idea: To give anyone access to investment in cryptocurrencies without being a blockchain expert.

Despite January being a wild ride down for Bitcoin, the Miami startup still sold over 320 CB Wallets worth $17,000 in just two weeks, selling out twice.

“I have been interested in cryptocurrency for some years now in my personal life,” said Bunsen, in a press release. “But we’ve realized that the process of getting started was too difficult and fairly risky because you have to trust online exchanges with your private keys.”

How it works: Users choose how much to invest from the four CB Wallet tiers available ranging from $75 to $500. A proprietary algorithm loads your CB Wallet with a unique set of five alt-coins at random from the top 300 on CoinMarketCap. Your CB Wallet in the form of an encrypted USB arrives at your house by mail in a collectors case until you decide you want to open it. 

While Bitcoin’s rise and recent plunge has grabbed the headlines, CBlocks loads the mystery box with so-called alternative coins (alt-coins), a lesser-known but fast-growing segment that accounts for roughly $11 billion in daily transaction volume.

CBlocks takes $50 for processing, so a CB Wallet costing  $500 wallet would contain $450 worth of cryptocurrency. Because of demand, the startup has temporarily paused orders and hopes to start accepting orders again within the next three to five days.

“We think this is a no-brainer way to get started in crypto,” Aguayo said. More info: https://www.cblocks.io

February 04, 2018

The Entrepreneur and The Investor: Advice from both sides of the table

All about extraordinary exits and the journey to them: Ryan Cohen, CEO of Chewy.com, and angel investor Jason Calacanis share views at two separate events.

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Angel investor and author Jason Calacanis and Melissa Krinzman, co-founder of Miami's Krillion Ventures, discuss investing in startups at Refresh Miami's event  Jan. 30. Earlier in the day, Ryan Cohen, CEO of Chewy, and David Coddington, VP at the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, shown below, discuss the startup journey at the Florida Venture Capital Conference in Fort Lauderdale

  Cohen

 

 One day in South Florida, two separate conversations, priceless insight.

Last Tuesday, during the day, Ryan Cohen, co-founder and CEO of Chewy.com, took the stage as the keynote speaker at the Florida Venture Forum's Florida Venture Capital Conference in Fort Lauderdale, for a couple hundred investors, entrepreneurs and service providers from around the state. In the evening, angel investor extraordinaire Jason Calacanis gave an entertaining, but insightful interview in front of 350 from the tech community at Refresh Miami’s monthly event.

Cohen sold his Dania Beach-based e-commerce company for $3.35 billion to PetSmart last year; it was the largest ecommerce deal in history and the biggest exit in South Florida. The pet supplies retailer is a homegrown success story, and as he relayed the Chewy story in an on-stage discussion with David Coddington, VP of business development at the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, it was clear the journey was anything but easy.

Cohen, who started his first business at 14 creating websites, said he started Chewy in 2011 to replicate the same great customer experience of a neighborhood store, but online. He used Zappos as a model and inspiration. When he needed capital to grow, he approached more than 100 investors – and they all passed. “But I thought there’s a chance … we are on to something genius. I just felt with scale we will prove them wrong,” said Cohen.

Challenges were setting up the company for hyper growth. The year 2014 was transformational, he said, because Chew went from having virtually no experience with operations to it becoming its core competency. “In order to scale to a billion dollar company we had to go through that, but it was very, very challenging. … Our management team was working 7 days a week 16 hours a day and everything that could go wrong went wrong.”

So what went right? Customer service was its differentiator.

“We are 100 percent customer obsessed. We want them to feel as though they would never dream of shopping anywhere else. We’re human we get it, and we really care about their pets,” said Cohen, who owns a teacup poodle. After all, this is the company where hand-written holiday cards writing is a massive department; 5 million Chewy customers received them last year.

Today, Chewy has more than 7,000 employees; about 1,500 in South Florida, including a giant new call center in Hollywood. It’s got six warehouses, including one recently opened in Ocala.

“I’m persistent, I’m obsessive, … I’m relentless, I’m a contrarian. When all these VCs passed I didn’t change our business plan at all,” said Cohen.

He said scaling a company is not for everybody.

"Scaling a business is going to test you physically and emotionally. ... It is a huge act of selflessness and dedication and if you are ready for it, it is going to be a crazy, crazy, crazy roller-coaster and it will be a the journey of a lifetime." If not, he said stick to your day job.

Calacanis would agree with that. 

That evening, at the Refresh Miami event, Calacanis’ conversation with Melissa Krinzman, co-founder of Miami-based Krillion Ventures, gave a view from the other side of the table.

“Startups are a shitshow, they are a complete utter disaster,” the angel investor with a private syndicate, author and podcaster said. Calacanis hosts a popular podcast called “This Week in Startups,” has authored the new book, “Angel: How to Invest in Technology Startups” and created Launch Festival and Launch Scale and Launch Incubator, among other endeavors.

 Just don’t get him started on ICOs. Uh-oh, Krinzman did.

“I have seen this movie before. It’s not going to end well,” said Calacanis. “It’s a giant scam right now, 90 percent are incompetent, criminal people. UPDATE: For his rant on ICOs, watch this just-published video below! (rant starts at about 12:30.)

But once he [sort of] got back on track, Krinzman asked Calacanis, an an early investor in Uber and scores of other startups) about the questions investors should ask themselves. Among them: Why have the founder chosen this business? Why is he/she doing this? How skilled are the founders and the team and what do their customers think?

His advice to entrepreneurs: Go big.

“We need to take big bold risks,” he said. “If something doesn’t have long odds, it’s not worth doing as an investor or an entrepreneur. Don’t do the easy things, do the hard things.”

For startups raising money (always), he said the stakes are higher.

“I want to see what you are capable of. …. It’s a different world than 10 years ago. You have to up your game.  Traction speaks, show me your traction.”

Signals of a downward spiral”: If the founder stops sending you updates.

“I always know when I hear I am going to WebSummit or Summit at Sea, that is a really bad sign. I go, 'why don’t we summit revenue, why don’t we summit hiring a CTO?' ”

While a great entrepreneur can come from anywhere he thinks opening up an office and spending some time in Silicon Valley is a good thing. “You have to be cutthroat.”

For some practical advice he listened to three pitches by South Florida startups. Some of his advice, in no particular order:

  • Never read a script, it becomes robotic. Say it is your own words.
  • He’s not a fan of unpaid pilots. “You need to know if people are willing to pay for it, you need to get that piece of data.”
  • Always include an example of how your product or service would work and walk us through it.
  • The more reality you can give investors the better. Answer the questions crisply.
  • Get to the point sooner. When you have the nuts, you got a get to this immediately.

  UPDATE: I can’t do his talk justice, so watch the show below, courtesy of Refresh Miami.

 

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

February 02, 2018

Exit news: Plantation-based e-Builder acquired for $500 million

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e-Builder CEO Ron Antevy in gameroom of Plantation headquarters. Miami Herald File Photo

 

South Florida construction-software company e-Builder has been acquired by Trimble, a global technology company based in Silicon Valley, for $500 million, the companies announced Friday.

Founded in 1995 by brothers Ron and Jon Antevy, e-Builder today is a company with $53 million in annual revenues and about 220 employees, sprouting from Jon's idea to transform construction technology explored in his University of Florida master’s thesis.

e-Builder has been growing at about 20 percent a year, but the Antevys wanted to expand further and believed they needed a partner to do that, CEO Ron Antevy told the Sun Sentinel. Trimble was approached but pitched the acquisition instead.

e-Builder will remain in Plantation, where it is headquartered, with the Antevys at the helm. Many of the employees reportedly had stock options so they will benefit financially from the deal, too.

Publicly-traded Trimble, which had $2.4 billion in 2016 revenues and is based in Sunnyvale, Calif., is the buyer in the cash transaction. The company provides technologies in the construction, agriculture, transportation, logistics and other industries, and it operates in 35 countries.

READ THE FULL STORY HERE.

 

January 31, 2018

With Wyncode's new UX bootcamp, students pay after they land jobs

Wyncode Academy has added a new bootcamp to its offerings: an  eight-week immersion course to help individuals jump-start careers in technology and digital design. What's more, students in the inaugural cohort will not have to make a single payment toward their tuition until they have finished the course and gained employment.

In the bootcamp, qualified students will collaborate through hands-on learning, user testing practices and client interactions led by UX specialists and career designers. Students will learn the fundamentals of UX/UI design and methodologies such as Lean UX and Design Thinking while working with design programs Sketch and InVision. The program will be led by Director of Product Design Gessica Tortolano, who has worked with companies such as Google, Samsung and the Miami Heat and recently relocated from San Francisco.

“Creating an accelerated UX/UI program was a no brainer considering Miami’s rich design presence,” said Johanna Mikkola, co-founder of Wyncode Academy. “Miami is home to an infinite talent pool of creatives, artists and designers who are seeking to elevate their careers and break into more technical roles as the city transforms into the tech capital of the sunshine state. This model shows our confidence in our team and curriculum to ultimately land Wyncode graduates jobs quickly after graduation."

After completing the program, Wyncode’s staff will place UX/UI graduates in jobs with Miami-Dade hiring partners where they can begin careers at the intersection of design and technology. "Now is the best time to tap into South Florida's growing technology market,” said Jenna Blake, Director at Wander Agency. “As a California based UX/UI specialized agency, we are excited to partner with Wyncode on their first UX/UI course to help grow Florida's technology market together."

Wyncode's hiring partners include some of South Florida’s leading companies and startups such as Royal Caribbean, Watsco Ventures and CareCloud. Per Wyncode’s independently verified outcomes report, 91 percent of Wyncode graduates in the Immersive Web Development program find jobs as programmers.

 To find more information on the UX/UI Bootcamp Course or to apply, click here.

- Submitted by Wyncode Academy

READ GUEST POST BY GESSICA TORTOLANO

January 25, 2018

Tender Armor secures multi-million-dollar investment to prevent payment fraud

Tender Armor, a financial technology startup based in Fort Lauderdale, announced it has closed “a multi-million-dollar Series A investment.”

The Series A round enables Tender Armor, a global fraud prevention technology provider, to drive new business and product innovation, expand its workforce, and meet increasing demand by financial institutions for its multi-patent-pending CVV+ solution.

The investment was led private investors Aubrey Strul and Barry Beck, with additional funding through Strul Logistics and Technology.

Maddy Higher Res shot“Three years ago, the market void in fraud prevention solutions was evident as it still is today. We set out to create a highly effective payment fraud prevention tool that deputizes cardholders to protect them from fraudsters," said Madeline K. Aufseeser, co-founder and CEO of Tender Armor, in a press release. "Now, with the support of investors, Tender Armor enters the next phase of growth, expanding our product and workforce, and driving new business within the payments industry and beyond.”

According to American Express, nearly half of consumers who shop online report they have been the victim of payment fraud, representing nearly 80 million online shoppers. The CVV+ solution addresses the growing threat of card-not-present (CNP) fraud, which can result in customer hassles and significant losses for financial institutions. In the U.S. alone, CNP fraud is forecast to increase by 68 percent from 2016 to 2018, according to U.S. Payments.

The company's CVV+ technology anonymously authenticates the cardholder where ever payment cards are accepted, including through mobile devices, online, and over-the-phone, by generating a security code that only the cardholder can obtain, the company said. Tender Armor was founded in 2015.

January 23, 2018

Perry Ellis International, The LAB Miami and AGP team up for fashion pitch opportunity

Startups and suits don’t mix – or is that changing? New opportunities linking startups and Corporate America are beginning to grow in South Florida.

And if you are a fashion-tech, ecommerce or retail entrepreneur, this new pitching opportunity may be for you. Miami-based Perry Ellis International, a leading multi-billion dollar apparel designer, distributor and licensor, is teaming up with The LAB Miami’s venture builder, LAB Ventures, and angel network AGP Miami to launch Pitch to PERY (Perry Ellis International’s stock symbol), a search for the next great startup revolutionizing the fashion, e-commerce and retail industries.

Pitch to PERY is focused on finding novel solutions to some of retail’s biggest opportunities. Some of these could be driving brand awareness, increasing e-commerce sales, enhancing consumer in-store experience, and introducing new Internet of Things (IoT) products to PEI’s roster of brands, which include Perry Ellis®, An Original Penguin® by Munsingwear®, Laundry by Shelli Segal®, Cubavera®, Callaway® and Peony & Me®.  Building on the momentum of the company’s 50th anniversary, Pitch to PERY is part of a broader future-focused approach, which seeks to apply a digital mindset, technology and product innovation to PEI’s family of brands, the company said.

 "Our vision is to continue embracing our entrepreneurial spirit, foster our ability to adapt to change and integrate technology into our business strategy,” said Oscar Feldenkreis, CEO and President of Perry Ellis International, in a news release.

Through the competition, startups and entrepreneurs will receive private pitch-coaching from LAB Ventures, spend a day at PEI’s headquarters and ultimately, pitch their ideas in person to PEI executives during the Pitch to PERY Finals Night in March. The winning team will work with PEI and The LAB Miami to develop and implement a pilot program for their respective product or service, and have an opportunity to earn a long-term contract with PEI.

“When we started LAB Ventures our idea was always to try to build a bridge between corporations looking for external sources of innovation and startups looking for customers.  The one thing an early stage startup needs even more than investment capital is a marquee reference customer.” Said Thomas “Tigre” Wenrich, CEO of The LAB Miami and LAB Ventures.    “So when Perry Ellis International told us they wanted to meet local startups that might be able to provide technology relevant to their business, we jumped at the chance to help.”

Applicants are encouraged to attend The Future of Tech & Pitch to PERY Launch Night at The LAB Miami’s Wynwood offices on the evening of Wednesday, January 24 to meet executives from Perry Ellis International and learn specific details about the challenges they are looking to solve. The event will also feature a panel discussion with industry experts about where the worlds of fashion and retail are heading, and how startups can work with large corporations.

Applicants should preferably be companies with demonstrated proof-of-concepts, established client base and preliminary funding. To apply and learn more, visit: http://www.pitchtopery.com or visit the Pitch to PERY event page HERE.

It isn’t surprising to Wenrich that the Pitch to Pery Launch Night is already seeing a lot of signups on Eventbrite.

It’s part of a larger mission at The LAB to connect startups and corporations. Last year, LAB Ventures worked with Visa and Finnovista on the first annual Visa Everywhere startup search for the Latin America region, and coming up on Feb. 12, LAB Ventures will be present the finals of its TravelTech pitch competition at the Future of Travel Summit (www.FutureOfTravel.Miami).  That is another event that brings together not only startups and investors in TravelTech, but also corporate executives from the traditional travel companies, Wenrich said.