January 16, 2017

Why we chose Miami as the US headquarters for Solomoto

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CEO Pasha Romanovski, CEO of Solomoto, presents at the Startup Nation conference at the Idea Center last summer.

By Pasha Romanovski

Following my visit in May to Miami for the Startup Nation Conference at Miami Dade College's Idea Center, it became clear that the city would be the future home of Solomoto in the US. And next month we are finally making this decision a reality.

Solomoto is a global company that helps small business owner  grow online, simplifying the confusing world of digital marketing. We recently crossed the 100 000 mark of small business owners using the platform, and these entrepreneurs from Latin America, Europe and now the US are enjoying our simple dashboard to grow their business digitally in only 30 minutes a day.

 What makes Miami a good fit for us? After scouting different locations, we liked these two ingredients:

Talent – Miami has one of the most diverse populations in the US, an important fact that aligned with our team culture in both Israel and Europe. As a global company, we have found talent of every nationality to support our global growth.

Open ecosystem – Miami is an open city. In a relatively short period of time, we have met key stakeholders of the city’s growing innovation ecosystem. We get a sense of ambition and commitment to build a real tech hub, so we decided to be pioneers, not followers, and be part of this emerging hub.

What is Solomoto?

Solomoto is a digital marketing solution for small businesses. We understand that online visibility is an area many business are looking to grow, but they don’t understand its complexities or don’t have the time to dedicate to it.

Our solution is to provide an affordable alternative to agencies, a DIY platform where any small business owner can create an online presence that will help attract more consumers. With ready-made content, cross platform publishing tools for advertising and social media, a small business owner can grow his online visibility with just 30 minutes of digital marketing.  All of from one simple dashboard!

Pasha Romanovski is co-founder and CEO of Solomoto, based in Tel Aviv.

READ MORE: How to think big: Israeli entrepreneurs show how it's done

 

January 15, 2017

VR tech startup Avenue Planet launches its first 'v-commerce' location: Lincoln Road

 

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Avenue Planet, which brings the world’s best shopping streets to your virtual world, launched with a splash last week, unveiling its Lincoln Road shopping experience to the real Lincoln Road. The tech startup is developing a content hub for immersive VR experiences, including the first e-commerce platform using virtual reality. Its Miami office is at Pipeline Brickell.

Above, Miami-Dade’s Beacon Council and Miami Beach officials participated in its client’s VIP launch at the Lincoln Road Books & Books on Friday morning. Avenue Planet’s two founders, Sanjay Daswani and Bruno Carvalho,  along with Miami Beach City Commissioners John Elizabeth Aleman and Michael Grieco, Miami Beach Chamber President Jerry Libbin, Miami-Dade Beacon Council Chair Jaret Davis and Interim President Sheldon Anderson test their first virtual reality shopping avenue, Lincoln Road, their first virtual commerce "v-commerce" location.  The company has announced that 5th Avenue in New York City will be next.

Avenue Planet also held a community launch party at Drinkhouse Fire & Ice Bar in Miami Beach Thursday night, where attendees got to experience Avenue Planet on  multiple VR devices or via a huge projection screen. Below, Kabir Frutos, North and South America director of Avenue Planet, helps an attendee experience the technology.

Read More: This startup wants to take you shopping – through virtual reality

 

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January 14, 2017

Flourish Media Conference to host its inaugural investment-focused conference for women of color in South Florida

Flourish Media Conference, in partnership with Florida International University, announced its inaugural investment-focused Flourish Media Conference: Where Women Do Business will take place Feb. 3-4 at Florida International University inside the Graham Center Ballroom.

FMC is the only media conference with opportunities for business funding for female entrepreneurs of color, offering them the opportunity to learn about branding, visibility and funding  through interactive workshops and panel discussions.

“Our goal is to prepare conference attendees with the knowledge, resources, and more importantly, access to willing investors, to help close the hugely disproportional female funding gap and under-representation of women of color in high-growth startup industries," said Vivian Olodun of FMC. "This conference presents the perfect opportunity to do just that.”

The two-day Flourish Media Conference offers guest lectures and workshops in two tracks. During both tracks, guests will have the opportunity to engage with successful female business owners and attend workshops with industry professionals to help propel their business to the next level. Saturday’s VIP conference attendees will have the opportunity to live pitch to investors for substantial funding.

FMC’s guest speakers range from bloggers, social media influencers, entrepreneurs and those operating in the business finance sector. Guest speakers scheduled to attend this year’s conference include Tracy Timberlake, YouTube vlogger turned six-figure video marketing strategist, who will teach conference attendees video hacks that can transform their personal branding into guru-status; and Lila Nikole, business owner and swimwear designer whose work has been featured on major media outlets including BET and VH1, Mercedes Benz Swim Week, and worn by some of the hottest pop stars and socialites. Lila will share personal knowledge and key insight on the strategies behind building a successful brand.

Tickets to attend Flourish Media Conference are $247 for the All-Access Garden Pass and $434 for Full-Access Buddy Pass. Live stream tickets are $57. For more information or to purchase tickets: www.flourishmediaconference.com.

-submitted by FMC

 

January 13, 2017

More fund-raising news: Aeropost, Kitchen22 close financing deals

It’s venture capital week in South Florida.

In addition to previously reported rounds raised by cross-border e-commerce startup iguama of Miami, human resources software startup Candidate.Guru of Boca Raton, Miami tech startup Tesser Health and ed-tech startup ClassWallet of Miami (scroll down to read about them), two more companies received funding, according to CB Insights’ daily report.

Aeropost International Services, a Miami-based company in the mail and package forwarding business, closed a $4 million financing round from North Bridge Venture Partners. Its Miami hub in conjunction with partners throughout Latin America and the Caribbean allows the company to provide end-to-end service for the members of its network to receive their packages, internet purchases, mail and logistics services, CB Insights’ report said.

Food business Kitchen22, founded by foodies and also of Miami, raised $800,000 from undisclosed investors. Kitchen22 wants to revitalize the consumer's experience by creating premium and innovative food products, while staying true to pure and simple ingredients.

READ MORE: U.S. venture capital dipped in 2017 but took a Magic Leap in Florida

Who's been funded? Find an archive of South Florida venture capital-related stories under the Funding category of Starting Gate.

January 12, 2017

Bitcoin and blockchain tech to be talk of conference next week

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The emerging digital currency Bitcoin has had its ups and downs, but organizers of The North American Bitcoin Conference expect hundreds of attendees next week as industry experts and entrepreneurs reflect on trends in the industry. One hot trend is the mounting interest in the Bitcoin’s infrastructure technologies called blockchain, which many in the tech industry believe could disrupt any number of industries.

The conference returns Jan. 17-18 at the James L. Knight Center in downtown Miami. Now in its fourth year, it is the longest-running and most-attended financial conference for the Bitcoin, blockchain and currency industries, organizers say. Topics explored will also include investing, regulation, startups and the Internet of Things.

Offering their insights at the conference will be more than 20 speakers, including John McAfee, founder of McAfee; Jeffrey Tucker, Foundation for Economic Education and Liberty.me (pictured above speaking last year at the conference); Roger Ver, CEO, Bitcoin.com; Charlie Shrem, CEO, Intellisys; Jeff Garzik, CEO, Bloq; Reggie Middleton, CEO, Veritaseum; Valery Vavilov, CEO, BitFury; Bruce Fenton, executive director, Bitcoin Foundation; and Andrew Filipowski, chairman, Tally Capital.

“The North American Bitcoin Conference is curated to explore next-level, actionable innovation and technologies that you can start utilizing now,” said conference director Moe Levin. “We meticulously scout the best of the best, choosing fantastic speakers to teach you about the strategies they’ve developed and the technologies they’ve mastered.” Levin particularly recommends talks by Ver on volunteerism, McAfee on privacy and Tucker on liberty.

General Admission tickets for the two-day event are on sale at http://btcmiami.com/tickets/. More information on the conference: http://btcmiami.com.  

Leading up to the conference will be the free 3rd annual Miami Bitcoin Hackathon, with 20 bitcoin worth of prizes for the first 6 places, taking place at The LAB Miami this weekend. More information is here: http://www.thelabmiami.com/event/miami-bitcoin-hackathon.

Court Buddy racks up award and spot at ABA's Startup Alley

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Miami startup Court Buddy was named the winner of the 2017 American Bar Association’s BROWN SELECT award for Legal Access on Jan. 10. Roughly 6,000 people across the country voted to determine the winner.
 
To win the award, voters chose Court Buddy over 35 other nominees. Each had to meet certain criteria, which, according to the ABA’s website, included the ability to create significant improvement of the delivery of legal services and information for people of moderate income means, innovation in the development, funding or implementation of the delivery of legal services, the ability to replicate the system in other settings, and demonstrated success in the operation of the system.
 
Since 1995, the ABA’s Louis M. Brown Award has been presented annually to companies that advance access to legal services for those of moderate incomes in ways that are exemplary and replicable, according to the ABA’s website.

“This is a testament to the faith that the public has in the positive impact that we are making with this system,” said Court Buddy President Kristina Jones. “At the end of the day, creating and implementing the latest technology to help improve the lives of others is what we are really focused on.”

Court Buddy, run by co-founder couple James and Kristina Jones (pictured above), will receive the BROWN SELECT award at the ABA's midyear meeting on Feb. 4 in Miami.

Initially launched in South Florida in January 2015, Court Buddy's  platform has grown to match 10,000 consumers and small businesses with attorneys across the country, helping clients save money on legal fees by avoiding paying high retainers and hourly fees that traditional law firms charge while also helping thousands of attorneys grow their law firms.

Court Buddy, winner of the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge People’s Pick in 2015, was also selected to participate in the American Bar Association's inaugural 2017 Inaugural Startup Alley in Chicago. “I'm sure this is going to be the first of many ABA Techshows for Court Buddy in the years to come,” said Suzie Smith, ABA’s Vice President of Sales.

The Court Buddy team will travel to Chicago to participate in the event in March 2017.

Miami e-commerce startup iguama scores $5 million in funding

IguamaBy Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiheraldcom

Miami startup iguama plans to open up its online shopping mall for U.S. brands to more consumers across Latin America, with the help of a $5 million Series A financing round led by technology venture capital firms Kibo Ventures and PeopleFund.

The company provides consumers in Latin America access to U.S. retail brands typically not available in local malls. Founded in 2014, iguama is the first cross-border e-commerce shopping club where members receive competitive pricing and exclusive deals, promotions on purchases from merchants such as Nordstrom, BCBG, Target, Overstock, Juicy Couture and others. All local customs, taxes and shipping are handled by iguama, removing international barriers from customers and providing a seamless shopping experience.

“iguama’s cross-border e-commerce technology provides tremendous value to millions of Latin American shoppers looking to access the best U.S. merchants and get delivery of their purchases to their door,” said Aquilino Peña, co-founder and managing partner of Kibo Ventures, a venture capital firm in Spain that has made nearly 40 investments.

DiegofernandezWith the new funding, iguama plans to expand throughout Latin America – and beyond, said Diego Fernandez (pictured here0, co-founder and CEO of iguama, who had been owned a freight forwarding franchise before founding iguama. The company currently services Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Panama, with several more countries including Mexico on the runway. iguama’s 35 employees are split between Guatemala, New York, China and Miami, where its logistics partners are based. Next week, iguama will be releasing a new version of its mobile site with a shopping assistant.

“A lot of Latinos like to go to Miami to buy their clothes. But [through iguama], people who don’t have access to travel can have access to the U.S. products, in a convenient way,” said Fernandez, a native of Guatemala. “Our goal is to personalize the shopping experience so customers will have the brands that they like. We are committed to expand our cross-border e-commerce platform to the rest of Latin America and eventually Europe as well.”

Cross-border e-commerce in Latin America is still an underserved market, and iguama has assembled a unique and experienced team in technology, e-commerce and cross-border logistics to become an important player, said Matias de Tezanos, co-founder and CEO of the Miami-based PeopleFund, an early backer of iguama.

iguama recently announced that Weihua Yan, co-founder and former CTO of diapers.com, has joined the company as Chief Technology Officer. Last year, Michael DeSimone, former CEO of cross-border logistics company Borderfree, joined the board of directors.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

January 11, 2017

Candidate.Guru of Boca attracts $950K from Florida angels to support its growth

Candidate.Guru, a Boca Raton-based human resources software startup, has raised $950,000 in funding from Florida angel organizations to support its growth.

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

The company, winner of the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge in 2016, uses its proprietary technology platform to predicts whether a job candidate is a culture fit for an employer. Florida Funders, The FAN FundMiami Innovation Fund and individual angels participated in the fund-raising round.

“We are impressed by technology-focused companies that provide unique solutions to current problems,” said Marc Blumenthal, CEO of the Tampa-based Florida Funders, which features an online investing platform. “Candidate.Guru is a great example of this, and we’re excited to be a part of the company’s growth in Florida and beyond.”

The funds will allow the company to focus on its sales and demand pipeline, and address sales requests in a timely manner. The funding also will help integrate Candidate.Guru with programs that companies already use during the hiring process.

CEO Chris Daniels (pictured above, at left, with co-founder Steve Carter), a former executive recruiter, founded Candidate.Guru in 2014 with the goal to create an easy-to-use hiring solution, enable greater productivity for HR professionals and reduce time spent in the hiring process. The revenue-generating company, now with seven employees, previously raised $475,000 in angel funding.

In addition to winning the Business Plan Challenge last May, Candidate.Guru won first place and $100,000 in funding in the Florida Venture Forum Early Stage Capital Conference's startup business competition. Candidate.Guru was selected in 2015 for Florida Atlantic University's Tech Runway startup accelerator program in Boca Raton.

READ MORE: Candidate.Guru’s big-data solution solves HR quandary: Will the new hire fit in?

U.S. venture capital dipped in 2016, but took a Magic Leap in Florida

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@Miamiherald.com

While venture capital investment cooled nationwide last year, investment in companies in the Sunshine State heated up, producing the best result since 2001.

Venture capitalists injected $1.12 billion into 71 deals in Florida in 2016, but most of that total went to Plantation-based “mixed reality” technology company Magic Leap, which raised $793.5 million in the first quarter, according to the MoneyTree Report from PricewaterhouseCoopers and CB Insights, which was released on Wednesday.

Florida’s total would  be the lowest total since 2011 without the mega-deal by Magic Leap. But with it, Florida companies raised 29 percent more venture capital than in 2015, according to the report, a 15-year high. Even so, Florida's venture capital take is less than 1 percent of the U.S. venture capital pie.

In the fourth quarter alone, $98.7 million flowed into the state, and South Florida companies received two-thirds of the state’s total. Companies that received funding included: CareCloud of Miami, $31.5 million, Boatsetter of Aventura, $13 million, Batanga Media of Coral Gables, $9 million and $6 million; Carevive of Miami, $4.25 million; and ClassWallet of Miami, $1.1 million, according to MoneyTree.

JetSmarter, which reportedly raised $105 million in the fourth quarter, was not included in the MoneyTree report, possibly because the investment round has not closed.

Magic Leap and JetSmarter were the two largest raises from South Florida for the year, followed by Finova Financial’s $52.5 million, Woundtech’s $40 million and CareCloud’s $31.5 million.

Nationally, investment in VC-backed companies ended the year on a weak note, as quarterly deals and dollars fell for the second-consecutive quarter, according to the MoneyTree Report. The U.S. full-year funding total of $58.6 billion represented a 20 percent drop from 2015, while the number of deals, 4,520, fell 16 percent, compared to the previous year. Globally, the trend was similar, with global deals and dollars declining 10 percent and 23 percent, respectively, in 2016, compared to full-year 2015.

Bolstered by the $1.2 billion raised by OneWeb, investors deployed $11.7 billion to U.S.-based VC-backed startup companies across 982 deals in the fourth quarter of 2016. That was down 17 percent in dollars and 14 percent in deals from the third quarter. Both quarterly figures were also down from the fourth quarter of 2015 and set the quarterly lows for 2016, which had already seen startup investment recede from the peaks of 2015. Deal activity, having fallen off consistently throughout the year, has now reached a multi-year low with the quarterly count failing to crack 1,000 deals for the first time since the fourth quarter of 2011.

“For those who predicted 2016 would be the popping of the venture bubble, it was not,” said Anand Sanwal, co-founder and CEO of CB Insights. “Yes, it was a tougher year in terms of deal activity and funding, but versus 2014, which we can call a more normal period, 2016 compares quite favorably. In 2017, unicorns and mega-rounds could see some of the same headwinds as in 2016, but interestingly, the introduction of new big money investors from the likes of Asia and increasingly the Middle East may serve to offset that. An expected healthy IPO and M&A market should also serve to help the VC market as well.”

All three of the major technology and startup hubs of Silicon Valley, New England (including Massachusetts), and New York Metro saw deal activity declining from the quarter prior. Silicon Valley-based companies saw the sharpest drop-off, with $3.9 billion invested across 310 deals, down 37 percent in dollars and 22 percent in deals from the third quarter of 2016.

MoneyTree Report results are available at www.pwcmoneytree.com. MoneyTree changed data providers and now uses CB Insights, a venture capital data analytics company, so some past data has been revised. CB Insights research can be found online here.

 

January 10, 2017

New ClassWallet investment follows $1.1 million raised in Q4

RosenbergBy Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

ClassWallet, a Miami-based company that streamlines the tracking of education funds, has closed a new minority investment from Brentwood Associates.

For Brentwood, a private equity investment firm, ClassWallet represents its fifth education-related investment.  Several existing ClassWallet investors also participated in the funding round.
 
Founded by Jamie Rosenberg, ClassWallet is a platform for school systems to disburse and track funds. The company also is gaining traction with university athletic departments for per diem expense management, as well as with states for education savings account management, an integral component to school choice, Rosenberg said.  ClassWallet is used in over 850 schools and in some of the largest school districts in the United States, including Los Angeles Unified. 

The amount of the investment wasn’t disclosed, but Rosenberg said it was not part of the $1.1 million financing round ClassWallet raised in the fourth quarter of 2016 that brought the company’s total funding to more than $5.1 million. ClassWallet plans to use the new funds for sales and marketing. “We are getting great traction and have a scalable sales process in place, so it will be for accelerating growth,” Rosenberg said.

ClassWallet plans to release the latest version of its platform this month, which will allow schools to accept cash payments from parents without taking cash into the school building or classroom.  Several districts are already working with ClassWallet to implement the solution. “Brentwood brings a variety of value-add capabilities, including digital marketing and salesforce expertise, which will allow us to invest in new customer acquisition efforts and expand our distribution,” he said.
 
Brentwood Partner Eric Reiter added: “ClassWallet aligns well with our strategy of targeting growing companies with a differentiated product offering and high levels of customer loyalty and satisfaction.  ClassWallet’s patent-pending technology is highly innovative and satisfies a real need in a large addressable market.”