January 20, 2018

Fintech startup Birch Finance raises $1 million in funding led by AGP Miami

Birch Finance, the Florida-born startup that helps people reap more rewards from their credit cards, has raised $s million in funding in a round led by angel investor network AGP Miami.

With this new capital, Birch will continue expanding its already robust platform, which currently integrates with more than 19,000 banks and 175 different credit cards. Investors in the round included Kevin Johnson, the former CEO of Ebates, and Frank Azor, the co-founder of Alienware.

Founded in 2015 in Gainesville, Birch relocated to Silicon Valley in fall of 2017. The fintech startup' credit card rewards analysis app is available on web and iOS.

Alexc“Americans collectively miss out on roughly $20 billion in rewards each year by using the wrong cards, but it’s not really their fault,” Birch co-founder and CEO Alex Cohen said in a news release. “Credit card rewards programs are designed to be complex and typically reward only the savviest consumers. We created Birch to help the average person make sense of it all, so that anyone can take full advantage of their rewards programs without being an expert.”

By integrating with credit card providers and banks to track spending habits, Birch gives consumers personalized and detailed reports on their past transactions and recommends the best credit cards to earn the most rewards based on their shopping habits. Using geolocation, Birch also alerts users which card to use for their purchases as they walk into a store.

 “There’s no shortage of personal finance tools that track a user’s spending, but none of them offer any personalized advice, such as which cards are most effective based on the user’s behavior,” said Raul Moas, managing director of AGP Miami. “Birch is an innovative solution that provides an immediate benefit to consumers, so we’re excited to support the team as they set out to change the way people shop and pay.”

In the past year, AGP has been spreading its wings and has been scouting for companies in Gainesville and other parts of the state in addition to South Florida. In the last four years, AGP has grown to nearly 100 active investors and has made more than 24 investments in South Florida companies totaling more than $7 million. Moas was recently named Miami program director for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

 

January 15, 2018

Chatting with Chirrp: Miami company uses AI to engage with customers

Chirrpteam

 

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlbergbiz@gmail.com

Startup Spotlight: CHIRRP.AI

Headquarters: Miami

Concept: Chirrp is a conversational platform that harnesses the power of artificial intelligence to create engaging interactions with customers. Through Chirrp, companies can rapidly offer intelligent conversation that is engaging, personalized and targeted.

Story: Since working together on their first project many years ago, the founders of Chirrp — Mallesh Murugesan and Stephen Yuan — have been passionate about using technology to deliver better experiences for consumers. Over the past three years, their team has explored the capabilities of current Artificial Intelligence technologies, identifying weakness and working on ways to apply AI to enhance user interactions. In 2016, they decided to bring these ideas together to create a platform that would enable richer conversations and better experiences for their users.

Once the platform foundation was created, the Chirrp team focused on making the conversations robust, flexible and accurate. Through their research, they explored linguistics and communications in an effort to make Chirrp’s AI more human-like. The company has now created a patent-pending methodology that uses a unique way to understand the context of human intentions and provide human-like engagement.

Murugesan, CEO and co-founder, has been very involved in the startup community here in South Florida. “The startup community has evolved so much in Miami in the past few years right in front of us. There is a very vibrant startup community here and is growing tremendously,” Murugesan said. Prior to Chirrp, he started Abeyon to bring intuitive design, as well as great user experience design and user interface design (UI/UX) to complex business processes, be it health data, manufacturing or government.

Yuan is COO and has more than 25 years of experience working on technology products. He heads the R&D team of Chirrp’s Washington, D.C., office. Having two locations has allowed the company to work successfully in the healthcare industry, as well as with the federal government.

Chirrp is being implemented at hospitals around South Florida as a patient engagement tool, Murugesan said. Chirrp is also working on a project with the U.S. Department of the Navy to analyze data and find patterns and attributes to enable Navy to make better decisions. The company is having conversations with several other federal agencies as well, he said.

Launched: January 2017

Website: www.chirrp.ai

Management team: Mallesh Murugesan, co-founder and CEO, Stephen Yuan, co-founder and COO.

No. of employees: Five.

Financing: Currently raising seed funding.

Recent milestones: In June, Chirrp.ai won the eMerge Americas Early Stage Startup Showcase, taking home $50,000 in prizes. Since then, the company has brought in business development partners and advisory board members to grow and realize the potential of Chirrp.ai. The company also recently obtained another major healthcare client for which it will deliver customer engagement through digital channels.

Biggest startup challenge: “Our biggest challenge is the timing of the technology. Artificial Intelligence-based solutions are still new, especially in the enterprise space. Finding the right solution for an enterprise has been a challenge and a focus for us at Chirrp.ai. In the upcoming year, we believe AI will take a central role in solution offerings and we see Chirrp at the forefront of that movement,” Murugesan said.

Next step: To continue strengthening the platform and improve its capabilities. The startup is working on several proof-of-concepts for specific industries to showcase the applicability of AI-based conversations.

Strategy for next step: The strategy is to have a well-defined product road map from a technology perspective, continue to develop the capabilities of the platform, and then bring in the right strategic partners to capture the healthcare market using Chirrp.ai.

Mentor’s view: “Chirrp is also very well positioned and in the early stage of utilizing artificial intelligence to improve and streamline processes and customer interaction, specifically within the healthcare industry. Mallesh has a great attitude and is open to ideas and critique and able to executed changes quickly,” said Nathaniel Pool, an angel investor and adviser. “As with any startup, the key to Chirrp’s success will be to solidify their niche, then remain laser-focused.”

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter. Email Nancy at ndahlbergbiz@gmail.com

READ PAST STARTUP SPOTLIGHTS UNDER THE STARTUP SPOTLIGHT CATEGORY OF THIS BLOG.

ChirrpCEOandMaite Nogales

Chirrp Co-Founder & CEO Mallesh Murugesan and Maite Nogales, office manager, stand outside their office in Coral Gables on Nov. 21. Chirrp is a tech company that uses artificial intelligence to create engaging chat conversations. AL DIAZ adiaz@miamiherald.com

January 11, 2018

See who will be presenting at the Florida Venture Capital Conference in Fort Lauderdale

The Florida Venture Forum, Florida’s largest statewide support organization for investors and entrepreneurs, announced  its lineup of growth stage companies that will present and exhibit at the 2018 Florida Venture Capital Conference, to be held at the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Harbor Beach Resort and Spa on January 30-31, 2018. This includes seven companies from South Florida.

In addition to the opportunity to present before an audience of active equity investors, eligible presenting companies will be considered for the Accelerating Innovation (AI) Award offered by Space Florida, a cash prize totaling $100,000.

“Presenting at the Florida Venture Capital Conference has been a game changer for hundreds of Florida companies over the years, offering a unique opportunity to connect directly with more than 500 attendees, including 120+ equity investors actively looking for deals,” said Travis Milks, Chairman of the Selection Committee of the 2018 Florida Venture Capital Conference and a partner with Stonehenge Growth Equity Partners in Tampa. “In 2018, we had a near-record number of applications and we’ve selected a strong cohort of growth stage companies that are leaders in many of the markets and industry segments where investors are most heavily focused.”

The diverse group of presenters, selected from over 100 applicants by a committee of active equity investors, includes companies focused on industries and market segments such as life sciences and healthcare IT, enterprise software, on-demand economy technology solutions, cybersecurity and education technology.

“The growth of Florida’s venture capital market continues to make a lasting impact on the Florida economy and the presenting companies,” said Stanley “Stash” Jacobs, Jr. 2017-2018 Chair of the Florida Venture Forum and shareholder with Greenberg Traurig. “I would like to commend the investors on our selection committee, as well as congratulate the selected companies."

Selected presenting companies by region:

Southeast Florida

Catered Fit, (www.cateredfit.com), Fort Lauderdale, leverages technology, a fully integrated set of kitchens and an expansive network of last mile drivers to process, prepare and deliver 5,000 monthly orders as a sustainable lifestyle solution - not a diet. Each member receives perfectly proportioned, gourmet meals that are cooked fresh and delivered daily at an affordable price.

Global Shopex LLC, (www.globalshopex.com), Miami, enables small and medium size merchants in the US to sell to more than 200 countries. Globalshopex’s easy-to-integrate checkout technology is FREE and fast to integrate to any merchant, regardless of its ecommerce platform or technology. In a few hours, any merchant can start selling globally in local currency including shipping, taxes and duties, offering multiple international and local payment options.

Moocho, (www.moocho.com), Miami, is the leading college rewards and payment app. With Moocho, college students can pay with their phone at merchants around campus and earn exclusive rewards.

Prescriber's Choice, (www.prescriberschoice.com), Pompano Beach, is the solution to rising drug prices and vanishing insurance coverage in dermatology. In the last decade, prices for basic medications have skyrocketed, often to hundreds of dollars. Insurance hurdles, such as prior authorization, have killed access and therapy compliance, as insurers deem common medical dermatology conditions "non-essential."

ReloQuest, Inc., (www.reloquest.com), Sunrise, is a single platform sourcing solution initiating the evolution of global mobility in an industry that lacked a unified method. ReloQuest is the industry leader and the only temporary housing platform that provides an independent, unbiased and transparent resource to global mobility clients in need of sourcing temporary housing, service apartments, and hotels, worldwide.

Sensentia, (www.sensentia.com), Coral Gables, automates healthcare administration, unlocking access to information for both consumers and care providers through a new genre of natural-language self-service tools.

Tellus, (www.4tellus.com), Deerfield Beach, provides cost effective solutions to improve patient care and reduce fraud, waste and abuse. The company’s EVV solution is SaaS-based and licensed on a monthly basis.

Central/East Central Florida

 ITProTV, (www.itpro.tv ), Gainesville, delivers online IT training that is both comprehensive and entertaining. With a unique format where educators interact with hosts, ITProTV brings a human-to-human approach to the convenience and cost efficiency of eLearning.

RedTeam Software, (www.redteam.com), Orlando, is software as a service for commercial general contractors. The company was started by a general contractor when he could not find a solution to meet his need for project management. RedTeam has doubled in size to 50 people over the past 4 years and is entering its growth phase with very strong corporate partnerships.

Shadow Health, (www.shadowhealth.com), Gainesville, increases the effectiveness of healthcare practitioners by training them through measured improvement in practical application, patient interaction and personal empathy, empowering them to increase the health of those they serve.

Xhale Assurance, Inc. (www.xhale.com), Gainesville, provides from a single disposable sensor placed on the nasal ala (fleshy portion of the nostril) critically needed cardiorespiratory parameters that today require multiple sensors, or that in many cases are not currently available for patients from any other technology.

West Central/Southwest Florida

Homee, (www.homeeondemand.com), Tampa, is an on-demand property maintenance service that provides customers with instant access to electricians, plumbers, HVAC technicians and handymen from the convenience of their smart phones.

Ravti, (www.ravti.com), Tampa, provides a platform to quickly mobilize a complete HVAC inventory (in the United States) along with the world's largest organized HVAC database to drive capital savings for commercial real estate's largest M&R (maintenance and repair) expense. The company’s software tracks, manages, and procures HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) for sophisticated commercial real estate owners/operators.

SynDaver, (www.syndaver.com), Tampa, designs and builds the world’s most sophisticated synthetic human tissues and body parts. The company’s SynDaver Synthetic Human bleeds, breathes, and employs hundreds of replaceable muscles, bones, organs, veins and arteries – all made from materials that mimic the mechanical, thermal, and physicochemical properties of live tissue. This validated technology is used to replace live animals, cadavers and even human patients in medical device studies, clinical training and surgical simulation.

North Florida

HomeASAP LLC, (www.homeasap.com ), Jacksonville, is the leading provider of online marketing solutions for real estate professionals. The company offers a broad portfolio of integrated applications and services that help connect agents and brokers with home buyers, sellers and referral business, with an emphasis on Facebook.

LegacyShield, LLC, (www.legacyshield.com), Ponte Vedra Beach, is a B2B2C platform to help insurance and financial service organizations and their advisors onboard, engage and monetize their customers.

Rhode Island 

eNow, Inc., (www.enowwnergy.com), Rhode Island, is the leader in solar-based auxiliary power systems built exclusively for the transportation industry. The company’s proprietary solar products are designed to support and maintain auxiliary power to vehicle HVAC systems, hotel loads, liftgates, telematics, refrigeration units, and safety/emergency lighting.

 Exhibiting Companies:

Fortress Information Security, (www.fortressinfosec.com), Orlando, helps companies and people identify, prioritize, remediate, and monitor cybersecurity risks. Using flexible security orchestration and collaboration platform and managed services, the company focuses on providing custom solutions designed around clients’ regulatory, compliance and security goals.

 Vijilan Security LLC, (www.vijilan.com),  Ft. Lauderdale, specializes in threat intelligence monitoring and response, which represents 50% of the Cyber Security Market. The company’s services include threat detection and response in real time. It combines threat intelligence and correlation rules with a robust ticketing system that integrates with most CRM tools in the market (Connectwise, Autotask…) and provides monitoring through its 24/7 Security Operations Center in Ft. Lauderdale.

-Submitted by Florida Venture Forum

Drive for Uber, ride Uber? Ironhack/Uber offer $200,000 in coding scholarships

 

Ironhack-logo-235x235For the second year in a row, Uber is teaming up with coding and design bootcamp Ironhack to award scholarships to Uber drivers and riders to help them acquire professional skills in coding and design.

This year, $200,000 in scholarships will be given out.  Four winners will be awarded full scholarships (each valued at $11,000) to enroll in one of Ironhack’s bootcamps in 2018, and 40+ partial scholarships will be awarded to additional winners.

“We were overwhelmed with the response to our first scholarship campaign last year, and we’re delighted to bring back this great opportunity for our driver-partners and riders,” said Uber Florida General Manager Kasra Moshkani. “We’re excited to make this invaluable learning opportunity accessible to new South Florida residents who are looking to launch careers in technology.”

The first class of 2017 scholarship winners included 19 year-old Ivan Jorge, a Cuban immigrant who has been working since he was a teenager to support his family. After completing his bootcamp course at Ironhack, he was hired as a Software Engineer at Xevo, which provides software for the automotive industry. Oleh Kolinko, an immigrant from the Ukraine, discovered Ironhack through the Uber Scholarship. After completing the web developer bootcamp in January 2017, he was hired as a Web App Developer at JetSmarter, a mobile marketplace for shared and private charter flights.

“We’re thrilled to team up with Uber for the second year in a row and to double our scholarship offer,” said Ironhack Miami General Manager Alia Poonawala. “We continue to see increasing demand for tech talent both locally and nationally, and through this scholarship, we’ll be able to educate 50 more South Floridians who wish to make massive career changes and become part of the rapidly evolving tech landscape. We’re inspired every day by the stories of the students who pass through our doors and who have been placed at reputable companies in South Florida like Magic Leap, Visa, and CareCloud, and we can’t wait to see what our 2018 scholarship winners achieve.”

Rated the #3 coding school in the world in 2017 by global rating site SwitchUp, Ironhack is located in the heart of Brickell at Building.co, Miami’s shared workspace for tech companies and startups. The school, which opened in Miami three years ago, also has campuses in Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, and Mexico City.

To apply, here is the process:

  1. Uber riders and driver-partners in Florida should check their rider or driver app between January 8 and January 19 for details about the scholarship opportunity. To enter, users should enter their information and will receive a link to apply to one of Ironhack’s three courses (riders should make sure they have the latest version of the Uber app installed).
  2. Scholarship applications must be received by 11:59 PM EST on January 21, 2018.
  3. Selected finalists will be contacted for second-round interviews.
  4. Winners will be announced on Tuesday, February 6.

Interested Uber driver-partners and riders can also learn about the scholarships at Ironhack’s upcoming open house on Saturday, January 13 at 11 am. This free event will take place at Ironhack’s campus at 120 S.W. 8th Street in Miami. To attend, RSVP here.

For more information about the open house event or Uber’s scholarship, contact Ironhack at (305) 907-7086 or admissionsmia@ironhack.com.

  • Submitted by Ironhack

Magic Leap once again lifts Florida venture capital results

Magic Leap led 2017 and fourth-quarter venture capital financing in Florida with its previously reported  financing round of $502 million, according to the quarterly MoneyTree Report released Wednesday by PricewaterhouseCoopers and CB Insights.

Magic Leap’s investment round was led by Singapore’s Temasek Holding. The Plantation-based mixed reality technology company, which has raised $1.9 billion in total, made news this month when it announced its first product, the wearable Magic Leap One, Creator's Edition, would be released to developers.

According to MoneyTree, the Sunshine State snagged 88 venture deals worth $2.14 billion in 2017, up from 87 deals worth $1.24 billion in 2016.

Other South Florida companies raising venture capital in the fourth quarter, according to MoneyTree:

* CarSaver of Miami, provider of online car deals, $30 million;

* Vix, formerly Batanga Media, of Coral Gables, a marketing company, $6 million;

* Home61, an online real estate brokerage based in Miami, $4 million;

* SpringBIG of Boca Raton, a customer loyalty and marketing platform for cannabis retailers, $3.2 million.

In addition to Magic Leap, top South Florida fund-raises for the year included Boca Raton-based health-tech company Modernizing Medicine, which raised $231 million in the second quarter, and F1 Oncology in West Palm Beach, a biotech company that raised $37 million in the first quarter.

Nationwide, venture-backed companies saw $71.9 billion invested in 2017 across 5,052 deals. San Francisco-based Lyft received $1 billion during the fourth quarter, the fourth quarter’s largest investment tracked by MoneyTree. Magic Leap’s investment was second.

READ MORE HERE

January 04, 2018

Knight Foundation chooses AGP's Raul Moas to run Miami program

Raul moas


Raul Moas has been selected as the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Miami program director. He starts in his new post March 1.

 

Moas, already a civic leader and social innovator, will lead Knight’s initiatives in Miami, which are primarily focused on the arts and entrepreneurship. He will take the reins from Chris Caines, who served as interim director since Matt Haggman resigned last year to run for U.S. Congress in House District 27.  

 

Moas is currently managing director of AGP Miami, an angel investor network that brings together early-stage investors to support South Florida's most promising tech startups, a leadership role he assumed in 2016.  In the last four years, AGP has grown to nearly 100 active investors and has made more than 24 investments in South Florida companies totaling more than $7 million. 

 

Before joining AGP, Moas was executive director for Roots of Hope, an international nongovernmental organization focused on youth empowerment in Cuba where Moas led the creation of programs such as StartUp Cuba. Maos is also a member of the Global Shapers Miami Hub, the young professional arm of the World Economic Forum, and was a member of Class VIII of The Miami Foundation's Miami Fellows program. 

 

“Raul has a strong track record supporting Miami’s innovators. His insight and commitment to this city will enable Knight Foundation to continue to invest in the people connecting and empowering the city’s burgeoning entrepreneurial community,” said Sam Gill, Knight Foundation vice president for communities and impact, in a news release.  

 

Moas, who has also been a tax associate at global consulting firm EY’s Miami office, earned a Master of Science in taxation and a Bachelor of Business Administration at the University of Miami, and is a licensed CPA in Florida. 

 

"As a Miami native, I am especially thrilled to be joining Knight Foundation in realizing our city's potential to be a global hub where exceptional people and ideas thrive,” said Moas, in a statement. “We are a complex and dynamic community, full of incredible entrepreneurs, artists and civic leaders, who are all eager to build a better Miami. I look forward to advancing this goal together.” 

 

In the last five years, the Knight Foundation under Haggman's leadership has made building and supporting an entrepreneurial ecosystem an important focus of Knight's work.  Knight has made more than 200 investments in entrepreneurship organizations and projects. It has funded the launch  of organizations such as Endeavor Miami, the Miami Dade College Idea Center, LaunchCode Miami, StartupBootcamp Digital Health, Blacktech Week and AGP Miami. 

 

 

 

December 29, 2017

SpringBIG, a Boca Raton-based tech startup serving the cannabis industry, raises $3.2 million

SpringBIG, a Boca Raton-based startup serving the cannabis industry, announced this month that is has raised $3.2 million in capital. The round was led by Green Acre Capital and HALLEY Venture Partners, with participation from members of The Arcview Group and other investors, and it brings the startup’s total amount raised to $6.3 million.

SpringBIG is a customer engagement and marketing platform for cannabis dispensaries and brands.  Its data-driven approach includes loyalty and rewards, personalized messaging and analytics and its customers are cannabis stores in California, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan and Washington state.

Springbig-Jeff-HarrisSpringBIG said the funding will be used for product development, for new hires in technology development, product management, sales and support, finance and analytics and for national expansion. “Over the past year, we have established ourselves as a leader in the customer loyalty space, by integrating with over 300 cannabis retailers and providing SMS, loyalty marketing, and other tools to encourage repeat business for their locations. We look forward to continued growth as we help cannabis retailers build, retain, and grow their customer base with our world-class technology,” said Jeffrey Harris, founder and CEO of springBIG, in a press release.

Harris told the Palm Beach Post that springBIG first focused on selling its services to mom-and-pop pizzerias, yogurt shops and nail salons, but saw that cannabis dispensaries that had signed up for springBIG’s platform were far more lucrative than other types of merchants.

SpringBIG also won a $50,000 grand prize after Harris pitched at an investor conference in Palm Beach hosted by The Arcview Group in September.

 READ MORE ABOUT CANNABIS STARTUPS IN SOUTH FLORIDA

December 28, 2017

Q&A: Natalia Martinez-Kalinina weighs in on Miami’s entrepreneurial ecosystem

Natalia2 martinez biz cmg

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlbergbiz@gmail.com

Two years ago, Cambridge Innovation Center announced it would be expanding to Miami, taking most of the space in the University of Miami Life Science & Technology Park, which is now called Converge Miami. And at that time it made a bold prediction: that it would quickly become a hub for entrepreneurship in Miami.

Natalia Martinez-Kalinina, an organizational psychologist and strategist focused on merging innovation, entrepreneurship and community impact, led the expansion as general manager, and CIC Miami opened about a year ago, taking up nearly 80,000 square feet for offices, co-working and events. It plans to expand another 50,000 feet in future buildings planned for Converge.

CIC already houses more than 220 organizations, a vibrant mix of startups, small businesses and nonprofits in multiple sectors. Thursday evenings have quickly become a networking hub with CIC’s nonprofit partner Venture Cafe typically hosting a dozen or so community events that are free and open to the public.

As its first year comes to a close, CIC Miami and UM have launched Converge Labs, shared wet lab spaces available to university startups and researchers. The spaces will be available to the greater community as well after Jan. 1.

CIC also now has an arts program, a Latin American soft-landing program with Chile, Colombia and Argentina signed on as partners, and it is getting ready to launch a Corporate Innovation Program that is focused at connecting corporates with startups and vice versa.

“It is something that CIC in other cities is known for, and we are taking a different spin at it here in Miami,” Martinez-Kalinina said.

“The objective of CIC Miami is not to build a building or a set of buildings, but to build a community, create a true place of convergence, and add tangible value and momentum behind our city’s progress. As such, our walls should feel permeable for anyone, not just our clients. Although a chunk of our programming is internal, most of it is either fully or partially open to the public, so we hope that any participant in the innovation, entrepreneurship, or research sectors in Miami can benefit,” she said.

The Herald spoke with Martinez-Kalinina recently about CIC and the Miami entrepreneurial ecosystem, and followed up with questions via email. Here are excerpts of the conversation.

You have said you hoped CIC Miami would become an engine of innovation and a hub of collaboration in Miami. How do you think CIC is doing?

We have a long road ahead, but are very proud of the first year that both CIC and Venture Café have had in Miami. Both organizations have designed an inclusive, comprehensive vision that is largely informed by our trajectory in other cities over the last 18-plus years, but also very specific to the moment of growth stage that Miami is in.

The feedback we have gotten from our partners, visitors, and other stakeholders has reinforced that our mission is coming to life, and our high net promoter score (88) has been an indicator that our clients feel they can thrive and grow with us.

Year one was marked by experimentation, in which your team tried many new programs. What exceeded your expectations that will most surely be continued?

The focus of our first year was all about piloting, bootstrapping, and adjusting from feedback. Fortunately, several initiatives have truly exceeded our expectations.

One was the launch of our Latin American collaborations and closed agreements with both public and private entities in Argentina, Chile, and Colombia. Since then, we've advised entrepreneurial missions, connected startups to investment opportunities, helped to soft-land entrepreneurs, and provided other resources to our partners.

Since opening, we have launched a long list of CIC-led internal and external programming, including our ongoing “Future of” series on Fintech, travel/hospitality, health, education, law, corporate social responsibility (CSR), et al. The communities that are forming around each of these topics and the high level of engagement they have brought have signaled to us that this was truly needed and is adding real value.

Along the same lines, seeking to connect South Florida’s entrepreneurs with investors, we have done several recurring events and workshops (such as AntiPortfolio) focused on activating/educating more local investors, as well as provided ongoing investor office hours.

After hearing a lot of talk about how the arts and business sectors need to come together and learn from each other, we launched The Creator’s Lounge to provide artists, makers and performers the resources they need to bring their talents to market, collaborate within diverse industries, and build the supportive community they need.

And what was most surprising or challenging?

In other cities where CIC is located, we have seen remarkable engagement from corporations. They not only house portions of their innovation, small business, or R&D groups within CIC for proximity to the entrepreneurial scene, but move significantly beyond that by designing programming that places them front and center in these conversations.

In Miami, we heard about a much-talked about disconnect between how our enterprise sector engages with innovation, and we can attest that working at this interaction has been slower than we expected.

For this reason, we have launched a Corporate Innovation program, based on a history of fruitful experiences at other CIC locations and aimed at plugging in our local enterprises into the startup ecosystem.

What’s ahead for 2018?

If 2017 was our year of experimentation, 2018 will hopefully be the year of us growing and deepening across all of our objectives. The Converge Labshared wet laboratory pilot has been so successful within its first three months that we are doubling it in size. Our investor initiatives will continue to grow, connecting local startups and entrepreneurs with more and more national and international investors via our virtual office hours and visiting programming.

Most notably, our established partnerships will begin to bear fruit. Our Latin American collaborations are due to ramp up in the volume of startups we see, joint events we execute, and the creation of our digital resource library for Latin American startups (to be housed within our Why.Miami project). And 2018 will be the first year that Babson College’s expanded graduate curriculum is operational in Miami.

More broadly, how do you see the South Florida entrepreneurial ecosystem developing?

First and foremost, I believe our next chapter will be defined by how well we learn to collaborate; this goes for our universities, institutions, public-private touchpoints, corporations, entrepreneurs.

Secondly, I see us challenging ourselves and each other to think bigger with our ideas and push outside of Miami and Florida more aggressively with funding and scaling strategies. We need to define what success looks like outside of our own backyard earlier and better.

Thirdly, I see us learning to better optimize our resources into real strategic advantages. This includes truly taking advantage of the demographic/migration patterns in South Florida and better delivering on our position sandwiched in the hemisphere. It also includes elevating the innovation narrative and focusing resources around disrupting and advancing the industry verticals that are already our strengths (logistics, health, hospitality, real estate, et al.)

From CIC sitting in the middle of the health district, have you and your team seen a need to expand programing or services for this industry?

Yes, of course. In fact, one of the pillars of our strategic plan is to be a place of convergence between the life sciences/health sector and the rest of the innovation corridor in our city, both physically and figuratively. It is the reason why have wet laboratory facilities for chemical and biological research in addition to our office and coworking spaces. It is also the reason we piloted the shared Converge Lab with The University of Miami, which has expanded to include referrals from other universities and will be open to non-university affiliated research startups starting January 2018.

Lastly, since more than 60 percent of the companies housed at CIC are life sciences or health related, we have designed ongoing programming focused on their needs — from health investor in-person and virtual office hours and working groups and sessions with pharmaceutical, hospital, and institutional representatives to our ongoing “future of health” public-facing events in collaboration with Health 2.0.

In your view, what one or two ingredients are still needed in the entrepreneurial ecosystem?

We need a much larger and more engaged/capacitated class of local pre-seed and seed investors willing to fund South Florida based companies and be active in their development. We also need more local/state government support. Strengthening innovation and entrepreneurship should be a priority for our local public sector, and that entails the deployment of funds to incentivize talent creation, new initiatives, and direct investment.

Local government should co-lead how we connect and collaborate with innovation hubs across the region in substantive ways. Several city and regional governments around the world are setting a high and thoughtful bar for these priorities, and Miami needs to follow suit.

How best can universities play a role?

Universities play several truly invaluable roles. First, they educate the entrepreneurs, professionals, thinkers and creatives of the next generation. The impact they can have by not just inspiring, but training 21st-century and entrepreneurial skills is not just important, it is imperative for the workforce of the future.

Secondly, universities should be leaders in the commercialization of research, thus helping nudge existing markets, as well as create new ones. This is part of why we are excited to have The University of Miami as such a closer partner in the broader mission of the Converge Innovation District, and are looking forward to moving this larger vision forward in 2018.

Thirdly, it has been CIC’s experience that successful innovation clusters such as Cambridge and increasingly The Cortex Innovation District in St. Louis, are heavily anchored in not just one university, but multiple institutions that choose to align, incentivize innovation, drive capacitation, and — sorry to sound like a broken record — collaborate.

Lack of diversity has been huge topic in tech nationally. From where CIC sits, quite literally, how could CIC play a role to make Miami a role model for inclusive collaboration?

CIC takes a variety of approaches to this topic, and they are different in each city, but guided by a commitment in social engagement. In Cambridge, we run the largest private high school internship program in which nearly all participants are of color. In St. Louis, we are working directly with Forward Through Ferguson to bring innovation-focused gatherings, activities and opportunities to Ferguson.

At CIC Miami, we have taken a couple of approaches to this topic thus far, from supporting/housing several initiatives that accelerate and train low-income entrepreneurs or focus on resources for minority-led businesses and creating educational programming focused on female founders, to co-designing roundtable discussions focused on the role of immigration and partnering and designing a cohort program that supports veterans in entrepreneurship (launching Q1 2018).

One of our primary avenues for engaging in each city is Venture Café, our partner community development organization, which spun out of CIC. In Boston, Venture Café has launched targeted initiatives such as Roxbury Innovation Center in addition to inclusive, large scale projects such as District Hall. In Miami, Venture Café has already become a leading convenor of gatherings, conversations, entrepreneurial support specifically focused on diversity, among a long list of other community-facing and difficult topics.

From where we sit, Miami has a unique opportunity: as an adolescent and rapidly evolving entrepreneurial hub, we can take to heart some of the lessons learned across more seasoned hubs like San Francisco and New York and leapfrog over those hurdles. That said, we can only do so if we are intentional about the access, opportunities, and resources we deploy.

Tell us one thing about you that your colleagues may not know?

I believe very strongly in the value of adult learning, and one of the ways I do this is to pick up a new hobby every year. Over the last years, these have included horseback riding, archery, and tango; stay tuned for next year’s hobby du jour!

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

NATALIA MARTINEZ KALININA

Age: 31

Current: General manager, Cambridge Innovation Center Miami, leading the CIC’s expansion to Miami. She is also the founder of Awesome Foundation MIAMI and Aminta Ventures, and is on the Governor’s Commission on Community Service, a body that oversees the administration of $32 million in federal, state, and local funding to deliver high-impact educational and volunteer programs in the state of Florida.

Previous experience: Chief innovation and technology officer for Roots of Hope, a nonprofit focused on Cuba, as well as one of six product strategists for Ultimate Software.

Education: Bachelor’s in psychology and government, Harvard; master’s in organizational psychology, Columbia.

December 27, 2017

Buzzfeed and NBCUniversal discuss the future of digital advertising in the age of Google, Facebook

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Two leaders of the international expansion of some of the world’s largest and fastest growing media companies spoke in Miami about the strategic importance of their growing digital audiences overseas, particularly in Latin America. Top sales executives from NBCUniversal and Buzzfeed met before a packed audience at Venture Café Miami this month to discuss the challenge of growing their digital advertising business at a time of growing industry domination by Facebook and Google.

Silvia Bruegger of NBCUniversal said Latin America is a growth market for digital ads. Forty percent of NBC’s online video views of English-language content, such as Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, actually comes from audiences in Latin America. These Latin American viewers account for 1.9 billion video views a year on YouTube.

“There is a sophistication of the audience in Latin America, of Colombians and Brazilians and Mexicans,” said Silvia Bruegger of Latin America TV and Digital Advertising Solutions at NBCUniversal. “They are curious to know what’s going on in the U.S. And they want snackable content they can watch on their phones.”

Bruegger said that NBCUniversal, which owns dozens of television networks and film studios, is exploring new ways to deliver digital advertising to the underserved market in Latin America. For example, NBCU offers an advertising program called Social Synch that allows brands to post promotional content on more than one thousand online social media handles it controls, such as feeds from Jimmy Fallon and other TV stars. And last year NBCU launched Audience Studio, a one-stop shop for data-driven ad targeting.

Buzzfeed, named The World’s Most Innovative Company by Fast Company in 2016 for its innovations in clickable content and native advertising, similarly sees untapped revenue in its international audience. The company has a global audience of 650 million people, half of them under age 35.

“About 50 percent of Buzzfeed’s audience is outside the U.S.,” said Matthew Drinkwater, who is Buzzfeed’s Senior Vice President of International Expansion. “But a much smaller percentage of our revenue comes from outside the U.S.”

NBCUniversal is actually Buzzfeed’s largest single investor, having invested $400 million dollars in the company.

The importance to media companies of increasing ad revenue overseas is underscored by the growing dominance of Google and Facebook at home. The IAB earlier this year estimated that Google and Facebook captured 77 cents on every digital ad dollar spent in the U.S. in 2016. And the Internet giants are growing their lead, accounted for an extraordinary 99% of every new ad dollar spent in the US in 2016. That means the average growth rate for every other media company was close to zero.

“The fact is that our part of the market share is frozen, and we’re fighting that,” Bruegger of NBCUniversal said. “It forces us to push the boundaries and reinvent ourselves.”

“It does keep me up at night,” Drinkwater said, adding that Facebook and Google “need our content to keep audiences spending time on their platforms. And the ROI [return on investment] that we get as a media content provider is not quite adequate.”

Drinkwater said the challenge to all other media companies when competing for digital ad dollars is the advertising platforms built by Google and Facebook work really well. The Facebook Ads and Google Adwords platforms are self-service, relatively easy to use and allow an advertiser to track their return on investment.

“They both built really great mousetraps,” Drinkwater said. “If I were a small or medium business owner, I would absolutely put a bunch of my budget into those platforms.”

SEE A RECORDING HERE: 

 

The event was part of the BizHack Presents speaker series and was moderated by Dan Grech, a former journalist at The Miami Herald, NPR’s Marketplace and PBS’s Nightly Business Report.

The four-year-old public speaker series about innovations in digital marketing, entrepreneurship and media has featured guests from IBM, 500 Startups, Google, Facebook, Twitter, The Washington Post, and Stanford University.

The audience of more than 100 entrepreneurs and business owners asked the speakers what lessons they could share about how Miami businesses could learn to use digital advertising to grow.

“It took six months of daily work learning on the job before I started to feel like I even knew what I was doing in digital marketing,” said Dan Grech, the founder and lead instructor of BizHack, a digital marketing academy that’s trained more than 200 entrepreneurs and business owners in South Florida. “I don’t want any other professional who decides they want to learn digital marketing to grow their business or level up to get that promotion to have to go through six months being lost in the woods.”

-Submitted by BizHack

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December 22, 2017

Streann Media’s bold bet: ‘We are here to rescue the broadcast industry’

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Startup Spotlight: Streann Media of Miami seeks to reinvent digital content for media customers and brands through distribution, engagement and monetization.

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlbergbiz@gmail.com

Company Name: Streann Media

Headquarters: Miami

Concept: Reinventing digital content for media customers and brands through distribution, engagement and monetization.

Story: The beginnings of Streann Media trace back six years, when the paths of Giovanni Punzo and Antonio Calderón crossed during their roles with disruptive technology provider LiveU. Around this time, Netflix’s new media content business model was just emerging, and the pair of innovators discovered firsthand the struggles that other content providers were having making the shift to digital and then to streaming content. Knowing that these other providers would soon be forced to follow the Netflix model to save their businesses, they sought a new solution — and Streann Media was the result.

 “We are here to rescue the broadcast industry,” said Calderón, Streann’s chief technology officer. “Thanks to our technology, our customers are building next-generation digital networks, their own version of Facebook, Netflix, YouTube, etc. With our technology, our customers are finally really engaging with end users and most importantly they are monetizing in digital,” added Punzo, CEO.

How does a TV station or radio station make money? Selling advertising. While traditional advertising spending is down and it’s boring; digital ad spending is up and should be more engaging, said the co-founders, who previously worked in the broadcast industry. “We built a digital advertising technology that can increase digital ads revenue times 10 in live video, audio and video on demand. Our customers create campaigns like Facebook Ads Manager but the ads are in their own digital networks. Content providers are in control and they monetize,” Punzo said.

Game shows and contests are ways a radio or TV station can engage their audiences. So Streann created a new feature in the platform for content providers to create contests on mobile with cash rewards, such as video Selfie-Ads.

“Already customers like TCS Digital in Central America, Actualidad Radio in Florida, Cariflix in the Caribbean, Iriejam in New York and Puravida in Costa Rica are using our new inventions and engaging with their customers,” said Punzo. “The results have been great — new user generated content, real testimonials, real storytelling.”

Streann’s technologies touches millions of people with more than 160 digital entertainment networks deployed for Web, iOS, Android, Roku, AppleTV, Virtual Reality, streaming in 141 countries, Punzo and Calderón said.

“Streann looks at the future of television like no one else is. Its user experience and monetization platforms make companies take a huge leap in technology. They are at the forefront constantly and have a personalized and exceptional relationship with each client,” said Raúl Domínguez, digital and new business director of TCS Digital.

Founded: 2014

Website: www.streann.com

Management team: Giovanni Punzo, CEO and co-founder; Antonio Calderón, chief technology officer and co-founder.

No. of employees: 15

Financing: The company has received investment from Tamiami Angels and Florida Angel Nexus investors.

Recent milestones: Launched Inside-Ads in Q3 2017 and Selfie-Ads user-generated content in November 2017. The Selfie-Ads product attracted regional brands such as Nestle, KFC, Subway, Pizza Hut and Diana. Streann recently launched Vlixers, an influencer platform for its customer TCS-Digital. It’s a unique platform designed for millennials with original content created by millennials available on Web, iOS and Android. The company won at the Early Stage Capital Conference in 2016 and was a finalist in eMerge Americas Startup Showcase.

Biggest startup challenge: Educating content providers to make the digital switch utilizing Streann technologies.

Next step: Launching new engagement and monetization features by NAB 2018, a broadcasting trade show in April. “The soccer World Cup in 2018 will help us grow even more as many of our customers will transmit World Cup content through our platform,” Calderón said.

Advisor’s view: Eric Giler, a Boston-based serial entrepreneur and on the board of Streann, said he worked with Punzo at his previous company, and admires his vision and energy level. “Gio’s partner and co-founder Antonio Calderón is a superb technical complement to Gio’s market and business sense,” Giler said.

“A laser-like focus on the Latin American market has been key to Streann’s early success. No other company is approaching the market like Streann. The challenge will be scaling the business as they continue to expand. Building out the team and attracting capital will be important as they continue to grow.”

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter. Email ndahlbergbiz@gmail.com

 

Pictured above: Antonio Calderón, CTO, at left, and Giovanni Punzo, CEO, co-founders of Streann Media, in their office in Doral. Jose A. Iglesias jiglesias@elnuevoherald.com