May 05, 2016

FIGS receives $5 million in Series A funding led by Campfire Capital



Tina Spear, co-founder of FIGS, delivers medical apparel as part of its Threads For Threads philanthropic program.

By Nancy Dahlberg /

FIGS, a medical apparel startup in South Florida, received $5 million in Series A funding. The round of financing was led by  Campfire Capital, a Vancouver-based venture capital group that funds companies that combine retail and technology in their innovations.

 Founded in 2013 by Heather Hasson and Trina Spear, FIGS identified a need for alternatives to currently available products in the medical scrubs industry, the bulk of which were made up of low-quality, uncomfortable styles. Its fashion-forward designs are antimicrobial, wrinkle resistant and made from lightweight, breathable fabric. FIGS' philanthropic 1-for-1 program, Threads for Threads, has donated 75,000 scrubs to in-need health care professionals across 26 countries. FIGS, an Endeavor company selected out of Miami last year, has operations in South Florida, where Spear is based, and Los Angeles.

FIGS has raised $10 million in funding to date. The new capital will be used to increase inventory to meet demand, explore and expand new product categories, and scale its team. About Campfire Capital, Spear said, “It's been wonderful to align with a group who brings not only capital, but shares an unparalleled breadth of industry expertise and networks.”

FIGS will join Campfire’s growing list of portfolio companies, including Montreal-based menswear retailer Frank & Oak and San Francisco-based food tech startup Juicero.

 Christine Day, partner at Campfire, current CEO of Luvo and ex-CEO of lululemon, said: “In addition to capital, what entrepreneurs really need is access to the broad expertise required to build a successful retail business. We see a tremendous opportunity to leverage Campfire's collective experience and relationships to further brand and scale FIGS to transform this $9 billion unbranded industry.”

Read more: FIGS, SkyPatrol chosen for Endeavor network

Read more: Four healthcare startups in the spotlight


May 04, 2016

LiveNinja closes $2 million round of financing, launching messaging tool for businesses


LiveNinja co-founders: Will Weinraub, CEO, center. Emilio Cueto, CTO, left, and Alfonso Martinez, CCO. File Photo by CW Griffin of the Miami Herald.

By Nancy Dahlberg /

LiveNinja, a Miami-based technology company that provides communications tools for businesses, announced Wednesday that it has closed a $2 million round of financing, bringing its total funding to $3.5 million.

The bridge funding is from Scout Ventures, Anzu Partners, Comcast Ventures Catalyst Fund, Citi Ventures, Accelerated Growth Partners and SeedInvest.  LiveNinja will use the funding to build out its product line and expand its sales and marketing team. LiveNinja, founded in 2012, is a team of 19 people.

Along with the funding, LiveNinja announced a new product, LiveNinja Messenger, to make it easier for businesses to manage conversations, no matter where or how the customer chooses to engage. This differentiates it from the pack of applications out there, including Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Skype and others, which can’t be embedded on a company website.

LiveNinja CEO and co-founder Will Weinraub gave a demo of its newest tool at a recent weekly Waffle Wednesdays networking event that the company puts on each week at its Wynwood offices free for the tech community, most days for breakfast and one Wednesday a month after work.

“We’re entering a new era for business-to-customer communication but to do it right, we have to think about what businesses really need to make messaging work for them,” said Weinraub in the announcement. “Most messaging apps are walled-gardens that operate in a separate environment. We built LiveNinja to be more flexible. You can use it as a standalone messaging application, but you could also embed it within your existing website and share it on other channels as well.”

He showed the crowd that using LiveNinja Messenger, brands can not only start conversations on their website, but also on social media and other apps with an easy to share link. Instead of one-off conversations that frustrate customers, each of these conversations can be easily managed in one seamless thread, giving both the customer and the brand the ability to scroll up to view what they spoke about last. An iOS application makes it easy for businesses to maintain customer conversations on-the-go, he said. Part of the new funding will be used to build out new features for the tool.

Weinraub said anyone can sign up at to try LiveNinja Messenger for free for a limited time, and he encouraged feedback. In time, it will evolve into a "pay as you grow" model where brands will only pay on a per-customer engagement.

Website to iphone (1)

Vigilant Biosciences cleared to launch oral cancer risk detection test across Europe

Vigilant Biosciences CEO Matthew H.J. Kim is shown with scientific founder Dr. Elizabeth Franzmann, who is looking at a OncAlert point-of-care test prototype for an early detection system for risk of oral cancer.


Vigilant Biosciences CEO Matthew H.J. Kim is shown with scientific founder Dr. Elizabeth Franzmann, who is looking at a OncAlert point-of-care test prototype for an early detection system for risk of oral cancer. Miami Herald File Photo


By Nancy Dahlberg /

Vigilant Biosciences, an early-stage Fort Lauderdale-based company that develops solutions that aid in the early detection and intervention of cancer, announced that it has CE Marked its OncAlert Oral Cancer RAPID Test, meaning it can market the product in the 28 countries of the European Union as well as Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

The OncAlert RAPID Test is an easy-to-use oral rinse test to aid healthcare clinicians assessing potentially at-risk patients for oral cancer, a disease that brings more than 600,000 new cases each year worldwide.   The company said it is the first and only rapid test to detect a tumor-initiating and stem cell associated biomarker for head and neck cancer. The test results can be read by the clinical professional within 20 minutes.

The venture-backed company said it has multiple distribution agreements secured throughout Europe and the Asia/Pacific region and it expects to begin shipping the product during the second half of this year. It is not available in the U.S., but is undergoing FDA regulatory approval processes. Vigilant has received nearly $8 million in funding, including from the Florida Institute for the Commercialization of Public Research.

Matthew H.J. Kim, founder, chairman and CEO of Vigilant Biosciences, called the CE Marking a major milestone because it enables the company to begin manufacturing and sales efforts. “We have built, and will continue to build upon, a strong distribution network across the EU and other regions of the world, and we are looking forward to making an impact on the high rate of late-stage oral cancers diagnosed globally,” Kim said.

Read more: Miami life science startup stems from personal mission to fight oral cancer

Read more: Prescription for economy: Healthcare startup energy

May 02, 2016

UM graduate and team win 'Code for Hillary' hackathon

Hillary Clinton’s campaign hosted the first ever hackathon for a presidential candidate Saturday at the Impact Hub San Francisco. “Code for Hillary” brought together top technology talent from around the country to build solutions that will strengthen political engagement in this cycle’s pivotal election.

CapelliMiami resident and University of Miami graduate David Capelli was part of the winning team for their “Voter Equity App,” an easy to use bilingual mobile app for voters to request on-demand resources trying to get to the polls or while standing in line at the polls with a few clicks.

Joining Capelli were Carla Mays, Founder/CEO of Mays Civic Innovation (Obama ‘08 Campaign Alum & civic innovation advisor) and Rocio Lopez, a dreamer who recently left her job at Cisco to explore founding her own UI/UX Design & Storytelling Firm. The team won tickets to see and meet with Clinton herself on Friday evening at an event in San Francisco. The team hopes to join the campaign’s national tech team to bring diversity and insights on technology, voter engagement and protection.

The app concept hits home in Florida, where long poll lines, hot weather, and voter suppression make voting difficult for many people. This is the first mobile application that builds equity, inclusion and protection for voters in political elections. People of color, low-income communities, the elderly, and disabled now have a tool that empowers them to go to the polls and stay in line during long waits.

The civic tech team hopes to continue develop technology platforms that solve civic problems in communities like Miami, where there are minority-majorities. They are currently developing an all in 1 regional transportation mobile application that focuses on a market more accurately represented than current civic solutions. “Politicians, regardless of their political affiliation, have an opportunity to invest in entrepreneurs to build technology solutions that serve as tools to solve and mitigate problems in their community” shared Capelli. “We encourage leaders in Miami to embrace and invest in their diverse talent to help solve access and equity problems across disciplines,” continued Capelli. “Miami can be the place that gets it right.”

Registration open for free CS50x coding course at MDC

Registration is underway for CS50x Miami, the in-person version of Harvard University’s flagship online introduction to computer science course. It is now being offered free through an expanded partnership between The Idea Center at Miami Dade College and LaunchCode, a nonprofit that places aspiring developers and technologists into paid apprenticeships and jobs. The Idea Center is MDC’s hub for entrepreneurship. 

The 20-week class will provide students with a foundation in computer programming and web development that puts them on a path to launch a career in technology. All applicants must register and complete a skills assessment test prior to enrolling.

 “CS50x is the most efficient and cost-effective way to learn the skills needed to be a successful programmer,” said  LaunchCode Executive Director Brendan Lind. said  The Idea Center’s Executive Director Leandro Finol added, “Now, by offering it for free, we are confident in our ability to attract South Florida’s best and brightest applicants, particularly focusing on the inclusion of minorities and women.”

In addition to providing educational opportunities for students interested in learning how to code, LaunchCode places qualified candidates into apprenticeships and jobs in tech. To date, LaunchCode has placed CS50x Miami graduates with companies including MasterCard, Boeing, Modernizing Medicine, and Kairos.

To register or for more information, visit CS50xMiami.comClasses begin Monday, June 13.

Hacks/Hackers seeks technologists, journalists and media innovators for launchpad event with Google



By Dan Grech and Christine Johnson

On Friday, May 13th, and Saturday, May 14th, Hacks/Hackers Miami is hosting one of the largest journalism technology gatherings ever held in South Florida. It’s called Hacks/Hackers Connect, and it aims to catalyze and inspire media innovation through talks and workshops from some of the nation’s top media innovators.

Miami is one of seven cities worldwide hosting this Google News Lab-partnered launchpad event to agitate for more media entrepreneurship. More than 150 of Florida’s foremost innovators in journalism, engineering, design and business will attend.

Topics include: virtual reality, streaming video, data journalism, lean startup culture, gaming for storytelling, reaching bilingual audiences, and many more unique offerings. “Brain date” sessions will be offered for participants to have one-on-one time with speakers (pre-registration required). And prominent angel investors will offer roundtable coaching sessions for founders of leading Florida journalism startups organized by the Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corporation.

Some of the contributors for the 2-day event are:

  • Jennifer Brandel, Co-Founder and CEO, Hearken;
  • Ruth Spencer, Managing Editor, Guardian News & Media;
  • Edward “Ed” Rodriguez, Vice President of Americas Marketing, Citrix;
  • Bharat Krish, Corporate VP IT (CIO), HBO Latin America;
  • Nathaniel Lash and Eli Murray, Pulitzer Prize-winning Data Reporters,
    Tampa Bay Times;
  • Alex de Carvalho, Founder, Visual Storytelling Institute;
  • Hillary Frey, Co-Chief Creative Officer, Matter Studios;
  • Olman Hernandez, Video Producer, Fusion;
  • David Schutz, Design Director, South Florida Sun Sentinel;
  • Christopher Sopher, CEO, The New Tropic;
  • Jeff Brown, Founder, Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corporation; and,
  • Anna Sterling, Video Producer, Fusion.


Connect events are made possible through a partnership between Hacks/Hackers, a global network of more than 40,000 journalists & technologists,  and Google News Lab. The Hacks/Hackers Miami chapter is bringing Connect to Miami as an extension of their dedication to build the South Florida media innovation landscape. Hacks/Hackers Miami launched in 2013 and now has more than 1,150 members and has hosted over 150 events. The chapter is led by Dan Grech, Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations, OfferCraft; Rebekah Monson, Co-Founder, The New Tropic; and, Rachel Schallom, Interactive Designer, Fusion.

Connect is an intimate event. Space is limited, and RSVPs are required for attendance by Monday, May 9th. Learn more about the programming and save your seat at The cost to attend is your creative energy and knowledge!

For questions, contact Christine Johnson, Local Producer, at

Dan Grech is Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations for OfferCraft and Christine Johnson is Local Producer for Hacks/Hackers Connect, Miami.

May 01, 2016

Last day to vote in Business Plan Challenge People's Pick - send a startup to winner's circle

An online platform for automotive services, the Lyft for healthcare, a tool for shoe addicts. Or maybe it’s a logistics software creator, a tool for hiring managers to measure cultural fit, an online legal marketplace, or a monthly goody box for the pampered pooch? How about interactive alphabet blocks, an international e-commerce checkout solution, a health and wellness marketplace for cash patients or a tool to negotiate consumer debt? We’ve even got selfie gift wrap.

Who is building the best new business? You’re telling us!

The top six finishers in the Community and FIU Tracks of the 18th annual Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge are competing for the The People’s Pick. View the videos and scroll down to vote here up to once per day through 11:59 p.m. Sunday, May 1. Follow their creative tweets on @ndahlberg.

More than 11,500 votes have been cast so far. Winners in each track will be announced May 9.

The contenders are:


AlphaTechBlocks, pitched by Marilu Kernan and Taryn Keim, will create digital interactive alphabet blocks. With the accompanying mobile apps, kids learn ABCs and words in English and Spanish.

Candidate.Guru, pitched by Christopher Daniels, is a big data-analytics solution that can predict a culture fit between corporate hiring managers and prospective job seekers without the need for surveys and assessment tools.

Gift Wrap My Face, pitched by Vanessa Clavijo and Aryel Rivero, is the cure for the common gift. It allows the gift-giver to design his or her own selfie wrapping paper.

Ride2MD, pitched by George Fernandez, is the Lyft for healthcare, providing an innovative solution that eliminates wasted time and effort by streamlining the transportation process with real-time technology that offers complete transparency.

Shoes Dsire, pitched by Jane Bernacca, is a dynamic social commerce tool that combines cutting-edge visual search technology with crowdsourcing to provide a faster and more personalized experience for shoe shoppers.

TradeLanes, pitched by Vijay Harrell, automates document preparation for exporters. Exporters can orchestrate demand planning, supplier performance, inventory management and end-to-end logistics in one application.


Joust, pitched by Franco Aquino, Julio Benavides and Jonas Erthal, is an online platform that facilitates the quoting and payment process for automotive services.

Jurbid, pitched by Aydin Bonabi and David Johns, is an online legal marketplace that seamlessly connects clients with lawyers.

Pooch Perks, pitched by Tina Vidal, is pet-parent purchased, dog-tested and veterinarian-approved; it provides a monthly customizable box of carefully curated goods for the pampered pooch.

Settleitsoft, pitched by Rich Rudner, offers a free, web-based debt negotiation platform that will help resolve the global economic problem of consumer default on contractual obligations.

SkyBox Checkout, pitched by Taylor Philippi, is an anywhere-to-anywhere international e-commerce checkout solution with shipment to 200 countries and territories and multicurrency in 140 local currencies.

ValueDOC, pitched by Alain Fernandez, is an online health and wellness marketplace for cash patients.

Entrepreneurship Datebook: Events, workshops, deadlines for week of May 2-May 8


TecheggCode For Miami: Join developers, designers and community leaders in creating open-source projects for the community’s good, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, The LAB Miami, 400 NW 26th St. Info:

Going Global: The FIU Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center presents the Global Business Workshop for Small Business, 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Tuesday, FIU Brickell Campus, South Tower, Room 1010, 1101 Brickell Ave., Miami. RSVP:

Create Miami Launch: Learn about’s Create Miami campaign, which will help 20 entrepreneurs receive funding for their ventures, including matching funds from the Knight Foundation, 6 p.m. Tuesday, The LAB Miami, 400 NW 26th St. Info:

Refresh Miami: Topic is “Future of Mobile in Latin America” featuring speakers from Twitter and Google, 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday,, 120 SW Eighth St., Miami. Info:


WIN Lab Miami: Applications for the Miami WIN Lab, Miami’s first all female accelerator, close on Monday, May 2. Find out how to accelerate your business, while engaging with a community of female founders over the course of eight months. Apply:

American Entrepreneurship Award: The deadline to enter this contest with a $25,000 prize was extended until Tuesday, May 3. Enter at


Keep up with startup news and views on Starting Gate on Have news? email

Nancy Dahlberg @ndahlberg


April 30, 2016

Zumba: What the global fitness brand can teach Miami tech


Zumba filer

By Nancy Dahlberg /

It doesn’t get more Miami than the story of Zumba.

Perlman mug (1)Alberto Perlman, who appeared at The LAB Miami for the monthly  "Brainfood" series, is co-founder and CEO of Zumba Fitness, the largest branded fitness program in the world. He shared war stories and lessons learned.

Zumba dance fitness classes attract more than 15 million weekly participants in 200,000 locations in more than 180 countries. The brand also includes music, clothing, DVDs, video games, a charity platform and most recently its first food product.

Perlman oversees day-to-day operations, manages brand and product development, and negotiates partnerships with fitness clubs and organizations around the world. The Hallandale Beach-based company has about 220 employees and a development team of about 30. He co-founded the company with two other Albertos from Colombia, Alberto Aghion and Alberto “Beto” Pérez.

But Zumba used none of the traditional methods to grow. It hasn’t acquired any companies. Except for accepting one private equity investment, it hasn’t raised financing. Instead it was at the right place at the right time with the right idea, amid a confluence of healthy living trends, a resurgence of interest in all things Latin, and a fresh business model that relied on harnessing the passion of Zumba instructors to build the business. Today, they lead more than half a million classes every week. What’s the secret to building a worldwide movement? “You start with heart,” Perlman said at the discussion led by entrepreneur Marco Giberti on Thursday night.

Perlman said Zumba has been testing live streaming and virtual reality, and looks forward to testing augmented reality, but he told the tech audience that the live experience will always be the center of all Zumba does.

“The live experience is never going to be replaced. Face-to-face is never going away. Everything we do is to drive people to the classes.”

Not that there weren’t low points. One of them was in the downturn of 2008, when the team was running low on money and bracing for the worst. But 2008 was also an inflection point for the company because they realized that despite the recession, people were flocking to the classes to de-stress and have fun. The instructor ranks swelled also, as a means of employment in tough times. “We were there and the people found us.”

Since then, apparel has become a very big business for Zumba, which like all its products are co-created with the instructor network. Last year Zumba sold 4 million units, 90 percent of which are sold through the website, he said.

Zumba possibly would consider developing another fitness brand if it was the right fit (he said he didn’t see CrossFit coming), but it’s not a priority, Perlman said. “The Zumba brand keeps us very busy,” he said, and there is still innovation to do. For instance, in the last few years its charity platform, Zumbathon, has taken off, raising about $5.7 million. Its Zumba Stories website is packed with personal, life-changing stories. And the company this year introduced its first food product, Zumba Shake Shake Shake, a super healthy plant-based protein drink.

He said finding talent has been difficult in Miami, but he also believes that if he had started Zumba in New York or Los Angeles, it may not have gotten off the ground. Being under the radar and not having intense local competition has its advantages when you are building a company.

Perlman’s advice to entrepreneurs: “Focus on your product and customers — don’t spend all your time raising money. Customer-centric companies win.”

And perhaps he should have also added: “Listen to your mother.” She had a very instrumental part in the Zumba story, encouraging him to meet with her dance-fitness instructor, “Beto,” the accidental entrepreneur who invented the Zumba dance concept and became his co-founder. "Maybe you can start a gym together," she said then.

Nancy Dahlberg; 305-376-3595; @ndahlberg



April 29, 2016

EY announces 14 South Florida finalists for Entrepreneur of the Year

Today EY announced the finalists for the Entrepreneur Of The Year 2016 Florida Program, including 14 South Florida entrepreneurs. The prestigious awards program recognizes entrepreneurs who demonstrate excellence and extraordinary success in such areas as innovation, financial performance and personal commitment to their businesses and communities. The business leaders were selected by a panel of independent judges. The 14 finalists from South Florida by category are:

Distribution and Manufacturing

Angel Alvarez – ABB Optical, Coral Springs, FL

Financial Services

Jorge Gonsalez – City National Bank of Florida, Miami, FL

Kent Ellert – Florida Community Bank, Weston, FL

Healthcare & Life Sciences

Nestor Plana – Independent Living Systems, Miami, FL

Armando Bardisa – SMP Pharmacy Solutions, Miami, FL

Amy Tseng – TissueTech, Inc., Doral, FL

Hospitality & Leisure

Michelle Fee – Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel Representative, Coral Springs, FL

Sergey Petrossov – JetSmarter, Fort Lauderdale, FL

Rodger Bloss – Vantage Hospitality Group, Coral Springs, FL

Media, Entertainment & Communications

Jayson Dublin – Playwire, Deerfield Beach, FL

Real Estate & Construction

Vincent Signorello – Florida East Coast Industries, Coral Gables, FL

Dagan Kasavana – Phoenix Tower International, Boca Raton, FL

Retail and Consumer Products

Mario Murgado – Brickell Motors, Miami, FL


Ellen Latham – Orangetheory Fitness, Ft Lauderdale, FL

Award recipients will be announced at a black-tie awards gala onJune 9, 2016, at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, Florida.