eMerge Magazine, Volume II

Page 1

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Contents
32 NICK GARCIA/BLINDLIGHT STUDIO

Welcome

With a focus on diversity and inclusion, this edition of eMerge Magazine celebrates Miami’s welcoming and multicultural tech community while highlighting all the valuable data and insights eMerge followers have come to expect.

eMerge Insights

Miami VC results for the first half of 2022 are in and proving that the Magic City is the place to be for all things crypto.

Features

Where Art Meets Tech

Miami emerges as an NFT hub with key players now active within art, events, blockchain services, and even NFT analytics.

eMerging Spotlights

Key supporters and sponsors of eMerge Americas provide firsthand accounts as to why they believe Miami is the city of the future.

Tech Comes Home

Forward-thinking entrepreneurs and global companies are harnessing blockchain technology and NFTs in order to transform the traditional real estate experience.

Success for Everyone

Within Miami’s tech community, growing businesses and entrepreneurs can reach out to some extraordinary groups focused on supporting women and minorities.

Tech Ed Thriving

Fostering the future of tech, local colleges and universities ramp up programming for the next generation of tech workers.

eMerging Entrepreneurs

South Florida is home to myriad entrepreneurs and innovators. We get to know a few local business owners and trendsetters as they utilize their companies to make a difference in our community and in the tech industry at large.

eMERGE MAGAZINE ON THE GO

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TAKE
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PRESIDENT & PUBLISHER MARISA BEAZEL EXECUTIVE OPERATIONS DIRECTOR

CONTENT +

Desirée Blanco

SANCHEZ

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Dahlberg, Doreen Hemlock, Sean McCaughan

PRODUCTION

Vice

Senior

ADVERTISING

Fernandez

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DIGITAL

President,

of

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volume 2
GIOVANNA
CREATIVE Editorial Director
Art Directors, eMerge Magazine
Contributors
Nancy
President, Production & Operations Gus
Production Manager
+ GENERAL INQUIRIES
Sales Director
Sales Director
Director
Digital Operations
LEGAL + FINANCE Vice
Finance & Administration Lori
Business Affairs Manager Ashley
HUMAN RESOURCES Director, People and Engagement Stephanie Betances
Web:
Web:
Chairman & CEO Jorge A. Plasencia Creative Chairman & President Luis Casamayor Executive Vice President & General Manager Anthony Bianco
5 eMerge Magazine Spring 2022 Mercedes-Benz of Cutler Bay 10701 SW 211th Street | 305.251.0345 | MBCutlerBay.com Mercedes-Benz of Coral Gables 300 Almeria Avenue | 305.445.8593 | MBCoralGables.com All Electric. All Mercedes. Give us a call or visit us online to learn more about Mercedes-EQ.

Letter from the Team

leaders, and venture capitalists — is no accident, and eMerge Magazine showcases it all through compelling content, interviews, and spotlight profiles.

The data speaks for itself — in the first half of 2022, South Florida startups pulled in $3.1 billion across 209 deals and startups based in the Greater Miami metro area accounted for 79 percent of Florida’s venture capital take in dollars and over 64 percent of the deals. Miami’s position as the #cryptocapital is booming with 21 crypto and blockchain deals totaling $732 million — just in the first half of the year alone.

At eMerge, we believe the rise of tech in Miami represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform South Florida into a global hub of innovation and create new high-skilled, advantageous jobs for the knowledge economy.

Since the very beginning in 2014, eMerge Americas has been a platform dedicated to helping foster a thriving and diverse tech ecosystem.

First and foremost, we do this by convening a broad base of stakeholders — from startup founders to investors, academia to corporate and government leaders, and more. Additionally, we’re connecting the dots between entrepreneurs, capital, and talent pipelines. And, lastly, we’re tracking the data and telling the stories of how South Florida and the region as a whole is transforming.

To this end, our eMerge Magazine, created in partnership with Havas House, seeks to celebrate Miami’s burgeoning and diverse tech community while continuing to highlight all the valuable data and insights our followers and supporters have come to expect from us. The fact that our community is booming with talent and innovation — making our hometown of Miami a top destination for startups, tech

Our mission is to catalyze — and capitalize — on this very moment so it doesn’t pass us by. Moreover, we believe we have a responsibility to ensure that we’re not leaving anyone behind, and that we’re helping our homegrown talent take full advantage of this economic prosperity.

We invite you to join us in this journey by becoming part of the #MiamiTech movement and look forward to what the future has in store as we make history together!

6 eMerge Magazine | Winter 2022 / Welcome

About eMerge Americas

eMerge Americas is transforming Miami into a global tech hub and hosts the premier technology event connecting the Americas and beyond, held annually during Miami Tech Month at the Miami Beach Convention Center. eMerge Americas is dedicated to connecting global industry leaders and investors with corporate business executives, government leaders, and entrepreneurs. In 2022, eMerge Americas attracted more than 20,000 attendees and more than 400 participating companies from over 50 countries. eMerge Americas serves as a catalyst to propel innovation and investment in South Florida and Latin America. The eMerge Americas founding partners include: Medina Capital, A-Rod Corporation, Greenberg Traurig, Knight Foundation, Florida Funders, Miami-Dade County, and the Miami Herald. For more information about eMerge Americas, please visit: emergeamericas.com.

7 eMerge Magazine | Winter 2022

eMerge Insights

Miami VC results show the Miami Movement is real and fueled by the Great Migration.

e’re in a crypto winter, but you wouldn’t know it in Miami. The sector of startups focused on cryptocurrencies, blockchain, or NFTs is hot, hot, hot — and that’s just one of the findings in this issue’s report.

Facing new economic headwinds, U.S. venture capital activity slowed significantly this year, but not in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale metro area. For the first half of 2022, the metro area made a respectable showing in both VC investments and exit activity, however, we will have to wait and see what the impact of the economy and slowing VC activity has on the Greater Miami area in the second half of 2022.

According to the research, which combines data from Pitchbook, Crunchbase, and CB Insights, South Florida startups pulled in $3.1 billion across 209 deals in the first half of this year. That’s ahead of the pace of last year’s record-shattering number

of $5.33 billion, which doubled over the year before, hugely benefiting from “The Great Migration” that brought hundreds of founders and venture capitalists to South Florida during the pandemic. The venture activity in the

last six months is also ahead of the pace nationally, which saw a 20 percent drop between Q1 and Q2. Our region saw no significant fall off.

Among the South Florida deals in Q2 were homegrown companies with

8 eMerge Magazine | Winter 2022 / eMerge Insights

dozens of employees in South Florida, such as OnChain Studios, SmartHop, and NovoPayment, as well as a number of newer-to-Miami startups, including MoonPay and KEO World. We had some mega-rounds too, led by Yuga Labs,

South Florida startups pulled in $3.1 billion across 209 deals in the first half of this year. That’s ahead of the pace of last year’s record-shattering number of $5.3 billion.

9 eMerge Magazine | Winter 2022
SHUTTERSTOCK / DEMETRIUS THEUNE

owner of the Bored Ape Yacht Club, CryptoPunks, and Meebits brands. After its $450 million “seed” round (yes, you read that right), Yuga Labs was valued at $4 billion. Notably, there were 12 exits valued at $4.4 billion, and that already exceeds last year’s dollar total.

This year, we’ve also seen big moves in the “Capital of Capital.” Following the lead of SoftBank and Founders Fund, Andreessen Horowitz announced in July that the firm — with $33 billion under management — was opening an office in Miami Beach and would no longer be a Silicon Valley-headquartered firm. It’s now based “in the cloud.” Miami is becoming a capital for hedge funds and private equity firms, too. Citadel,

After its $450 million “seed” round, Yuga Labs was valued at $4 billion. Notably, there were 12 exits valued at $4.4 billion, and that already exceeds last year’s dollar total.

with $51 billion AUM, announced it was relocating its headquarters from Chicago to Miami, joining hedge fund Elliott Management, private equity firm Blackstone Group, and others in the Magic City. They join at least 143 fund companies already based in South Florida, according to Pitchbook. Las Olas Venture Capital, Animo Ventures, and Florida Funders launched Fund 2s this year. Alexis Ohanian’s Seven Seven Six launched two Fund 2s totaling $500 million.

Of course, venture capital is just one ingredient for a successful tech ecosystem. A year for convenings kicked off with the return of Miami Hack Week, which hosted hundreds of hackers in houses across the city. This April brought the return of eMerge Americas, and some 20,000 attendees celebrated the explosive growth in the ecosystem and welcomed new arrivals to our community.

eMerge anchored Miami Tech Week, which expanded to #MiamiTechMonth, which also featured conferences including

10 eMerge Magazine | Winter 2022 / eMerge Insights
SHUTTERSTOCK / YUGA LABS (2)

Bitcoin 2022, the homegrown Miami NFT Week, the Miami Tech Summit, the Future Founders Summit, and others — all hosting a combined 26,000 attendees.

Big ecosystem announcements took aim at priming our tech talent pipeline. Miami Dade College and the City of Miami are opening a Miami Tech Charter School in the fall on the Wolfson Campus. What’s more, with a $15 million investment from the Knight Foundation, Miami-Dade County, the City of Miami, and the DDA, Miami Dade College will expand its emerging tech programs, including opening a Center for AI.

Helping to ensure that homegrown talent can thrive in Miami is a new consortium supported by JPMorgan Chase, the Knight Foundation, The Miami Foundation, and aīre ventures called Tech Equity Miami. It’s focused on bringing internet connectivity to all in Miami-Dade, significantly increasing tech exposure in grades K-12 and creating pathways into high-paying tech careers for underrepresented communities.

These programs and others will help shape our present and future tech talent pool, and that’s a good thing because beyond startups, larger tech companies are expanding here, too. This includes Picsart, Blockchain.com, and Kaseya. A Venture Miami Tech Hiring Fair in April brought out more than 1,300 job seekers.

Upon writing this report, signs that we are heading into — or are already in — a recession have become evident. We have seen a pull-back in venture capital nationally, and our region will surely be impacted. What’s unknown is by how much. As we hope for the best, we’ll look back at the first half of the year in venture capital in the following pages.

First Half 2022 Highlights

the Miami momentum,

South Florida

WAS INVESTED

South Florida startups and later-stage companies across 209 deals in 1H-2022. Compare that to $5.3 billion across 285 deals for all of 2021.

HEALTHTECH COMPANIES

snagged 40 deals, well ahead of the 2021 pace. Yet, with no mega-rounds in the pack, the dollar value of deals fell back in the first half of 2022, with $297.5 million flowing into healthcare-related companies.

based in

Miami

in
$3.1 billion Riding
the
area had an explosive first half of 2022, showing no signs of a venture capital slowdown that was seen nationally and globally.
MIAMI’S
BID AS THE
#CRYPTOCAPITAL is gaining steam, with 21 crypto and blockchain deals totaling $732 million recorded in 1H-2022, following a strong Q4 in 2021. This comes as the sector at large experiences a crypto winter. OF THE
VENTURE CAPITAL DOLLARS FLOWING
TO
SOUTH FLORIDA
COMPANIES. 37% FINANCIAL TECHNOLOGY TOOK
OVER AS THE MOST-ACTIVE SECTOR IN
2021
AND
STAYED ATOP
IN THE
FIRST HALF OF 2022, SECURING Startups
the Greater
metro area snagged 78% of
the
state’s venture capital take
in
dollars and over 64% of the deals. 1H-2022’s top funding was Miami-based YUGA LABS, creator of Bored Ape Yacht
Club.

— retained

saw

Rest,” just as

first

did in 2021.

saw $144

according to

that significantly lags the pace of

by dollars.

/ eMerge Insights 12 eMerge Magazine | Winter 2022 1H-2022 U.S. Metro Area and State Rankings for VC Although the big four metro areas — Silicon Valley, New York, Boston, and LA
their rankings, South Florida
record-setting VC flows for the “Rise of the
we
Miami broke into the top 10 and Florida climbed up the list. Nationally, the
half of 2022
billion invested across 9,432 deals,
Pitchbook, but
2021
Top 10 Note: Totals for all metro areas and states in 1H-2022 except South Florida and Florida are based on Pitchbook data. Calif. Bay Area New York City Boston Los Angeles Seattle Philadelphia Austin Washington DC Miami Denver $52.3 $19.8 $12.6 $12.6 $4.4 $3.8 $3.4 $3.2 $3.1 $3.0 1,692 1,156 536 669 250 264 209 230 209 203 California New York Massachusetts Texas Washington Florida Philadelphia North Carolina Colorado IIlinois $68.0 $18.9 $12.5 $5.2 $4.6 $3.9 $3.8 $3.3 $3.1 $2.5 2,580 1,049 505 401 276 328 181 149 223 181 DOLLARS (BILLIONS) METRO AREA DEALS STATE DOLLARS (BILLIONS) DEALS 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 1 2 3 8 9 10 7 6 4 5
/ eMerge Insights Florida-based companies attracted $3.9 billion in the first half of 2022 across 328 deals, ahead of last year’s record-setting pace. South Florida’s slice of the pie in 1H–2022: 78% of the dollars and 64% of the deals. Florida Snapshot Source: Historical data through 2016 tracked by Pitchbook; 2021 data includes 29 deals tracked by CB Insights, Crunchbase, or author’s research. Deal flow into Florida companies, by number of deals and billions dollars, by year 600 500 400 300 200 100 0 201320142015201620172018201920202021 8000 7000 6000 5000 4000 3000 2000 1000 0 $7051$3106$2053$1159$1750$1002$1665$1107 $2875 514 296303310 272296296 300 229 With a sharp increase in the number of deals and a strong intake of VC dollars, South Florida is on pace to shatter the record set in 2021. But economic headwinds and a VC slowdown other regions are experiencing could derail that later this year. Still, 1H–2022 was quite strong: Miami metro area companies attracted $3.1 billion across 209 deals. South Florida Snapshot 300 250 200 150 100 50 0 201320142015201620172018201920202021 285 153150142 163 161 6000 5000 4000 3000 2000 1000 0 123 124 156 $608 $1341 $489 $5331$2274$1907$695$1310 $2345 Deal flow into Miami-Fort Lauderdale Metro Area companies, by number of deals and billions dollars, by year 1H2022 328 $3928 1H2022 209 $3055
DISCOVER OUR DYNAMIC COMMUNITY AT DOWNTOWNDORAL.COM | @DOWNTOWNDORALLIFE LIVE. WORK. PLAY. LEARN. WE BRING THE FUTURE TO EVERY PART OF LIFE.
/ eMerge Insights COMPANY ROUND SECTOR $196 million Business productivity software $100 million Network management software $70 million Consumer products $65 million Logistics, fetchable storage service $60 million Healthtech, b2b $38.7 million Aquaculture $38.5 million Real estate software, business productivity $25 million Mobility, autonomous driving software $22.2 million Food service robotics $20 million Communications platform HQ Winter Park Maitland Tampa Tampa Tampa Vero Beach Tampa Orlando Sarasota St. Petersburg Top Funded Sources: Pitchbook, Crunchbase, CB Insights Notes: Healthcare.com’s round was an extension of its Series C; the company raised $180M in Dec. 2021. OppZo and Finally rounds included significant debt financing as well as equity funding. Top Florida Deals OUTSIDE SOUTH FLORIDA, 1H–2022 COMPANY ROUND SECTOR HQ $450 million Media, crypto Miami $300 million Media Miami $260 million Fintech, SMB finance Miami $175 million Design samples platform $130 million Fintech, logistics tech $100 million Edtech $96 million Fintech $90 million Fintech, digital bank $87 million Fintech, crypto $53.3 million Healthtech $50 million Fintech, crypto $50 million Fintech, B2B payments $35 million Fintech for cross-border real estate $32 million Legal tech $31.3 million Healthtech, fintech $31.3 million Smart cities technology Boca Raton Coral Gables Coral Gables Miami Miami Miami Boca Raton Miami Fort Lauderdale Miami Boca Raton Miami Fort Lauderdale SOUTH FLORIDA COMPANIES, 1H–2022 mosyle ThreatLocker Cirkul Red Rover Gale Healthcare Solutions Lemature AquaFarms Funnel Leasing Beep Automated Retail Technologies 5x5 Technologies Yuga Labs Recurrent Ventures OppZo Material Bank PayCargo ThriveDX Finally Novo MoonPay ModMed Metaversal Qolo Lendai Torticity Healthcare.com Ubicquia

Let’s

Deeper

South Florida Funding Rounds, 1H–2022

rounds plunged from 27% in 2021 to 6% in the first half of 2022, but seed rounds exploded from 20% to 38%. Early-stage (Series A) and later-stage funding percentages only differed by 1% or 2% over 2021.

Startup Locations, 1H–2022

all,

of

half of 2022 identified

located in the City of Miami.

Miami-Dade’s share fell from 64% in 2021 to 58% in 1H-2022.

18 eMerge Magazine | Winter 2022 / eMerge Insights
Angel
Angels Seed Rounds Early Stage (Series A) Later Stage Equity Crowdfunding 21% 23% 38% 12% 6%
Dig
What did South Florida funding rounds look like? Where are the startups based?
In
45%
the South Florida startups funded in the first
as being
But,
Miami-Dade Broward Palm Beach 20% 22% 58%

The Alan B. Levan | NSU Broward Center of Innovation is a public-private partnership between Nova Southeastern University and Broward County acting as an economic and education development engine linking the South Florida innovation ecosystem. The Levan Center supports the Founder’s Journey providing programs, events, and wraparound services to entrepreneurs and early-stage startups for the buildout and scaleup of their business.

The Levan Center offers four Core Programs (Ideate, Incubate, Accelerate, Post-Accelerate) designed to support the Founder’s Journey from birth of an idea through successful exit or global expansion. All programs include masterclass sessions, access to prototyping, and comprehensive wraparound services to ensure you succeed. No matter what phase your startup is in, our Core Programs have been designed to take it to the next level. Through expert support and resources, success is just around the corner.

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JOIN OUR COMMUNITY Scan the QR code to learn more

Top Trends to Watch

Once again, fintech leads South Florida’s VC ecosystem.

Through 2020, healthcare-related companies led the South Florida ecosystem in terms of venture capital. But the story changed in a big way in 2021: The rise of fintech. That has continued in 2022.

In all of 2021, $2.28 billion flowed into 62 fintech companies. In the first half of this year: the deals have increased while the dollars remained on pace with 2021. Already, $1.16 billion was raised across 46 companies. Big rounds in the sector included PayCargo, an all-in-one logistics

payment platform, with a $130 million round; Novo, a digital banking startup, that raised a $90 million Series B round; and MoonPay, a payment platform for crypto transactions, with an $87 million round. In addition, OppZo, a fintech in the government contracting space, and Finally, a platform for managing backoffice transactions, both had significant debt and equity rounds.

Will the momentum carry through in 2H–2022? That is yet to be determined. In July, Genesis Global, which recently relocated to Miami from London and plans major hiring, raised $20 million from Bank of America, BNY Melon, and Citi.

37.2%

Percentage of South Florida VC dollars that flowed to fintech companies in 1H–2022

22.0%

Percentage of South Florida VC deals for fintech companies in 1H–2022

HEALTHTECH: More deals but smaller values

Healthtech, medical device, biotech/ pharma, and health/wellness services companies attracted $1.1 billion in VC dollars across 52 deals in 2021. But so far in 2022, deal pace has picked up though the deals are smaller. In the first half of 2022, $297.5 million was invested across 40 deals.

Some of the top-funded startups in this sector: ModMed, the Boca Ratonbased EHR platform founded in 2010 by serial entrepreneur Dan Cane, raised $53.3 million; BTT, an Aventura startup developing innovative devices and treatments for targeted heat shock protein induction across numerous health conditions, secured $29.3 million; Nue Life, the Miami health and wellness startup focused on Ketamine therapies, raised $23 million; and DermaSensor, a Miami startup that built a non-invasive tool to better equip primary care physicians to detect skin cancer, raised $10 million.

20 eMerge Magazine | Winter 2022 / eMerge Insights
9.6%
Percentage of South Florida VC dollars that flowed into healthtech companies in 1H–2022
19.2%
Percentage of South Florida VC deals that were by healthtech companies in 1H–2022
FROM TOP: NOVO FOUNDERS; DERMASENSOR; SHUTTERSTOCK

Percentage of South Florida VC dollars that flowed to Web3 startups in 1H–2022

Crypto Fundings Defy the Market

Funding rounds of startups focused on cryptocurrencies, blockchain, and/ or NFTs have exploded in our region, following a movement led by Miami Mayor Francis Suarez to build the Miami area into a “Crypto Capital.” Venture funding rounds for Web3-focused companies began showing up in a big way in the second half of 2021, and it hasn’t slowed down, even with the recent market crashes of cryptocurrencies that ushered in the so-called crypto winter.

In all of 2021, $859 million was raised by 23 Miami metro area companies — 21 of these raises occurred in 2H-2021. In the first half of 2022, $732 million in funding rounds across 20 deals have been announced. The highlights:

Yuga Labs, creator of the Bored Ape Yacht Club and other NFT brands, raised $450 million in January, the largest crypto-related deal so far this year. The deal was led by a16z, which also announced a new office in Miami.

The “PayPal for crypto,” MoonPay, added another $87 million from a group of celebrities including Justin Bieber, Paris Hilton, and Snoop Dogg. This follows on 2021’s largest funding out of MoonPay: $555 million at a $3.4 billion valuation.

Other fundings flowed to Miami startups OnChain Studios, CoinRoutes, Zigazoo, CryptoLeague, Metaversal, Mytaverse, Mueshi, and many more.

Percentage of South Florida VC deals represented by Web3 startups in 1H–2022

Other Sectors to Watch

After fintech, healthtech, and crypto (and of course some companies fall into more than one category), we saw continued strength in consumer products and SaaS companies, followed by gaming/entertainment, edtech, proptech, and logistics.

21 eMerge Magazine | Winter 2022 23.4%
9.6%
SHUTTERSTOCK

Seeding the Future of #MiamiTech

With seed investments being our largest category by number of deals, here is a sampling of the faces behind our seed-stage startups.

Anji Ismail and Faouzi El Yagoubi Finnt

Raised $3.5M to help cross-border families send, save, and spend money.

Kaben Clauson and Brian Bristol Pigeon Loans

Raised $2.5M to expand lending platform for friends and family members.

Ariana Waller (aka Ariana The Techie) Mueshi

Raised $3.3M to develop platform to buy, sell, and fractionally invest in NFTs.

David Fano Teal

Raised $6.3M to grow the Teal career platform empowering job seekers.

Fefi Oliveira, Alessandra Angelini, Paula Coleman, Valeria Angelini Influur

Raised $5M to expand their platform that connects brands with influencers.

Michael Sayman Friendly Apps

Raised $3M to build social networking apps friendly to mental and physical well-being.

22 eMerge Magazine | Winter 2022 / eMerge Insights

SUPPORTING FUTURE INNOVATORS

Earlier this year, TD opened a new technology delivery hub in South Florida. We spoke with two of TD’s technology leaders about local tech talent, women in tech, and their tips for new entrepreneurs.

LICENIA ROJAS, Chief Engineer and Chief Architect, TD Bank Group

Q. Why did TD decide to open a tech hub in South Florida?

JUDY DINN, Chief Information Officer, TD Bank

Q. Why is technology an important initiative for TD Bank?

A. As TD continues to drive agility, innovation, and speed at scale, attracting and retaining top technology talent across our East Coast

no matter how they choose to bank with us. We also invest in our technology colleagues, so that they can develop their careers and learn new skills as they innovate for our customers.

A. TD continues to make investments in digital, data, cloud, and other innovative technologies, so that we can provide our customers with seamless, frictionless service footprint is critical. South Florida has a fast-growing technology talent pool, and our new technology hub in Fort Lauderdale will enable us to tap into innovative technologists who can help us deliver new experiences for our customers. Given TD’s retail footprint in Florida, we can leverage our brand strength to attract local talent and build our reputation as an employer of choice.

Q. With TD’s commitment to job creation, are you finding South Florida talent is competitive and up to the challenge?

A. Absolutely! The competition for the right talent is intense. TD and the industry at large are on the hunt for colleagues with startup mindsets who also value diversity, collaboration, and agile-thinking. Between the number of universities in the area and the many technology companies that are well established here, South Florida is a powerhouse region for that kind of talent.

Q. You are a member of the Board of Governors at the Alan B. Levan |NSU Broward Center of Innovation. What do you think about the future of tech talent here in South Florida?

A. The Levan Center is a growing nexus for tech talent and innovation, including students, academia, early-stage innovators, venture capitalists, and economic development experts — this will help TD build our presence in the South Florida tech community. I’m thrilled to sit on its Board of Governors and have the opportunity to support future generations and their entrepreneurial ventures by providing the tools and education needed to increase their chances of success from the start.

Q. What advice would you give to new entrepreneurs?

A. I have two pieces of advice. First, make sure you understand who your customers are and what problem you’re solving for them. Second, ensure you’re constantly learning — looking at companies leading the way forward and listening to what your customers are telling you. Be willing to innovate and adapt to ensure you’re continuing to meet your customers’ needs and achieve your financial goals.

Q. Can you speak to those TD Bank services that might interest entrepreneurs?

A. For business customers, we are focused on creating a banking experience that is typically reserved for consumer customers. This means leveraging digital innovation to deliver speed, flexibility, and personalization. New solutions include our collaboration with Autobooks to provide small business customers with an accounting and receivables platform that enables them to get paid faster, and our collaboration with FISPAN to embed TD Commercial banking products and services into our small- and medium-sized business customers’ ERP and accounting software.

Q. Are you seeing growth opportunities for women within the tech industry? How does TD support women?

A. Throughout my 25-plus-year technology career, there has been significant growth in the number of women in tech, but there is still more to do to support women in their education and careers and maintain a pipeline of strong female technology talent. TD is committed to attracting, investing in, and promoting all talent, and we have a strong suite of programming that helps support women’s career growth and advancement.

Q. What advice would you give to new entrepreneurs?

A. Working in financial services, I want to stress how important it is to establish a strong relationship with a bank. Banks like TD Bank will assign a relationship manager to business customers of any size and will learn about your business’s history; short- and long-term goals; and opportunities and challenges so that they can provide financial advice and support your financing needs. It can also connect you with free local resources, such as SCORE, which provides insight on creating a strong business plan.

SPONSORED CONTENT

Acquisitions and IPO Activity Ramp Up

After a few quiet years since Chewy’s 2017 exit for $3.5 billion, exit activity has come alive.

According to Pitchbook’s data, revised this year, 26 South Florida companies exited in 2021, which is up sharply from 11 in 2020 and 9 each in 2019 and 2018.

The disclosed 2021 deals were valued at $3.26 billion, according to the data that includes recent revisions by Pitchbook.

So far in 2022, there have been 12 exits with a value of $4.48 billion, according to Pitchbook’s data.

The big exits included Eve Air Mobility, headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, which

went public through a reverse merger valued at just over $2 billion. Technisys, the Miami-based fintech player focused on the LatAm market, was acquired for about $1.1 billion by publicly traded company SoFi Technolgies. Springbig, the Boca Raton-based marketing platform for the cannabis industry, went public through a SPAC transaction valued at $287 million. Other exits included SafetyPay, Expetitle, and Clutch Prep.

The exit of spacetech player Terran Orbital was announced last year, but the Boca Raton company celebrated its first day of public trading on the NYSE earlier this year.

24 eMerge Magazine | Winter 2022 / eMerge Insights
COURTESY OF EVE AIR MOBILITY

Methodology

Pitchbook includes equity investments into privately held companies from outside sources. Investment does not necessarily have to be taken from an institutional investor. This can include investment from individual angel investors, angel groups, seed funds, VC firms, corporate venture firms, and corporate investors. Investments received as part of an accelerator program are not included, however, if the accelerator continues to invest in follow-on rounds, those further financings are included.

All financings are of companies headquartered in the U.S. Venture analytics services differ by the way they track venture, including the type of deals included and when the deals are counted. Some don’t include angel funding, but Pitchbook does. We chose to use Pitchbook for its inclusiveness and

for consistency but added in venture/ private equity deals Pitchbook did not include and took out a handful that we could not verify.

For the first half of 2022, we used Pitchbook primarily but included 30 additional deals reported by CB Insights, Crunchbase, or our research. Our research found new-to-Miami companies where headquarters locations had not been updated. Not all deals in Pitchbook’s data could be independently verified. Data about Florida and South Florida venture capital results include only companies with their primary headquarters in the state.

No data set is perfect. Dozens of funding rounds go undisclosed or data is added, corrected, or revised months later. Although venture data often lags, we used the best available sources at the time of this publication. Email insights@emergeamericas.com if you believe we’ve missed something. We always update the data set for future reports.

eMerge Insights author

Nancy Dahlberg is a business writer, editor, and researcher. Most of Nancy’s career was spent with the Miami Herald and her expertise is writing about entrepreneurs. Find her South Florida startup coverage at RefreshMiami.com/news.

This report has been produced in partnership with Knight Foundation and FIU.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. Since 2012, Knight Foundation has invested more than $60 million in nurturing an entrepreneurial ecosystem by connecting innovators, attracting investments, and growing the city’s talent base. A founding partner of eMerge Americas, Knight’s strategy focuses on building an entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Florida International University is Miami’s public research university, and in less than five decades has become a top 100 public university, according to U.S. News and World Report ’s Best Colleges. FIU is focused on student success and research excellence, with nearly $200 million in annual research expenditures.

25 eMerge Magazine | Winter 2022
SHUTTERSTOCK

Promoting FLORIDA to the WORLD

TJ Villamil, Senior Vice President of International Trade and Development for Enterprise Florida, shines a spotlight on the state’s — and South Florida’s — robust business ecosystem.

Ever wonder why businesses are drawn to our shores, prompted to set up shop and hire our diverse local talent?

Or how about when local companies want to go international? How do they find the information and support they need? It’s thanks to organizations like Enterprise Florida and representatives like TJ Villamil, ambassadors of all things Florida business.

Q. How does Florida’s business climate compare to other states?

A. Our state has always been an attractive destination for business owners. After the pandemic, I’ve got to credit our Governor, who’s the chair of our board, for keeping our state and our economy open. What happened is we pulled forward almost a decade’s worth of growth in a short timeframe. Today, we have a 2.7 percent unemployment rate, compared to 3.7 percent in the nation. And not only are people moving here, but capital is also moving here. The IRS tracks this statistic called net income migration, and they track personal income statements from all the states. And Florida came in number

one at $2.7 million. The second closest state is Texas at $700,000. We saw a huge influx of technology coming from San Francisco, from New York, from Chicago, as well as the funds, the venture capital arm, the private equity arm, most notably Citadel Securities from Chicago. Obviously, we have a huge part of Wall Street South, not only here, but also in Palm Beach.

So, it’s a perfect collision of everything happening at once and us pulling forward a lot of future growth.

Q. You do a lot of international travel for trade shows and such. What are you telling people overseas about Florida and Miami specifically?

A. I’m a Miami boy through and through, the son of Cuban immigrants. I was raised here, but I have my Florida hat on. I think Miami is a great place for companies to come and set up. We have a huge life sciences cluster and a huge technology cluster, but it is also a great place for

executives to come and raise their children. But if you’re really looking for hard manufacturing, we have clusters elsewhere around the state. We believe we’ll be a top 10 global economy by 2030. Right now, we’re ranked 15th. We have the same size economy as the whole country of Mexico with fewer people, but we’re going to have 4 million new residents by 2030. So, we tell people, come to Florida where the growth is happening. Obviously, Miami is the big economic region that everyone knows, but you can’t sleep on places like Tampa, Orlando, and more. And of course, it is the best place to do business for Latin America.

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Q. Where does diversity and inclusion come into play when you’re talking to companies?

A. Florida is what the future of the United States is going to look like. Not only are we demographically diverse, but we are also a mosaic of the whole hemisphere. Not only that, it’s ideologically diverse, too. Miami is certainly one of the most balanced cities from an ideological standpoint. You’re going to have access to a whole lot of talented individuals and a whole demographic makeup that is going to be very good for your future growth goals and aims as a company, especially if you’re looking for diversity not only of background, but also diversity of thought. And I think that’s what makes that immigrant startup culture in Florida and in Miami so valuable.

Q. What kind of goals does Enterprise Florida set? How do you measure success?

A. Enterprise Florida is directly aligned with the economic development strategies of the state from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. We look at their strategic plan, but we also look at the private industry. The Florida Chamber of Commerce just came out with the Florida Trade & Logistics 2030 Study where they state that by 2030, if we’re going to add 4 million new residents, we need to create many more jobs and a lot more manufacturing output. At Enterprise Florida, our goal is to provide better paying wages for all Floridians, and so we target sectors that have higher paying jobs. A perfect example is Blockchain.com from the UK. They came here, invested, and opened in Miami, and they’re hiring. They have created 300 jobs, and those jobs pay higher than the average wages.

Of the many functions of Enterprise Florida, my team focuses on two things, two KPIs. First is international company establishment; we help facilitate moves, make it easier, and we help set up shop regionally. And the second KPI is helping Florida companies, specifically small to medium-sized companies, export. So, let’s say you’re a technology company that makes a product here in Miami, and you want to start selling to Colombia, Europe, or Germany. We have grants

TECH BUSINESSES FLORIDA ADDED IN 2021, AHEAD OF BOTH TEXAS AND CALIFORNIA*

TECH JOBS FLORIDA ADDED IN 2021, THE SECOND-HIGHEST IN THE NATION

TECH JOBS ADDED IN MIAMI IN 2021, WHERE MOST OF FLORIDA’S TECH GROWTH IS HAPPENING

ORLANDO, SOUTH FLORIDA, TAMPA, AND JACKSONVILLE RANKED AMONG CBRE’S TOP

TECH TALENT MARKETS IN 2022

*CompTIA Report

and a program that helps offset a lot of that startup cost. So, we focus on export sales, and we focus on international establishment.

Q. With regards to eMerge America, how does your partnership help Enterprise Florida achieve its goals?

A. We are absolutely proud to have partnered with eMerge for a few years now — I want to say at least five. Together we do two things. We support our Florida-based companies, technology companies that are interested in meeting international partners that are coming in from markets all around the world. And then we also support international companies that are really considering Miami and Florida as a place to set up and do business. Another big thing that we’re working on with eMerge and with another local partner, 8Base Miami, is to build out a soft landing pad for entrepreneurs and high-growth companies from around the world that are really interested in Florida.

Q. What do you see as obstacles for companies coming in?

A. We absolutely have challenges that feel more acute now considering the sheer amount of growth and capital recently. Affordable housing, certainly, and

transportation are big things that we need to address. I’m very proud of the state for preparing for the future by investing significantly in our robust multimodal transportation system. Florida is leading the way in housing starts, and we are continuing to build single-family housing. And, if you listen to our mayor, our skyline has the capacity to grow 10 times than what is currently available, so we’re doing a good job with our capacity building when it comes to affordable housing and transportation.

Q. What is the most fulfilling aspect of this experience for you?

A. I am a product of economic development in Florida, and I am the Florida story. Now I want to make sure that my children have the same opportunities afforded to them. I believe that Florida is not only the present but also the future because we continue to make smart investments in not only industries that are popular now but industries of the future. Florida’s leapfrogging other states, and that’s kind of our competitive advantage. We’re pretty much a startup. We were the least populated southern state in America in 1940, and now we are the third most populated state with the fourth largest economy and the highest growth trajectory, and it is all because of our nimbleness. I want to do a lot more international investment and foreign direct investment (FDI). That’s one of my KPIs. I want to support a lot more Florida companies as they internationalize because this kind of growth for companies is like wealth management diversification. It makes our economy a lot more resilient, it makes our jobs higher paying, and it allows Florida to continue growing the way that we have been. I am very proud of the work that we do and that we’ll continue to do. And I’m going to keep shouting it from the mountain top.

SCAN HERE TO LEARN MORE.

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DISRUPTING THE SYSTEM

8base is revolutionizing the way companies leverage technology to conduct business. The organization’s top executives reveal what drives them to continue challenging the status quo with their unique product offerings.

Q. You’ve been working in the tech industry for over 35 years now. How have you seen it grow and change in that time? What made you want to be a part of it so early on in the game?

A. In my early days, I loved wielding core computing to make the things I wanted to make. For the past 25

years, it’s been about leveraging that power to disrupt traditional business models. One of the last horizons of this disruption, is how these technologies are actually built — this is where low-code development platforms like 8base come in. Low-code software development has disrupted the status-quo of traditional bottoms-up coding, ushering in a new era of technology and innovation for everyone on the frontlines of application

development. Lowcode is revolutionizing the way software is designed, developed and run — and creating value for its adopters.

Q. With 8base, your business is to help other businesses and entrepreneurs. Why do you feel that was an important mission?

A. I have spent my entire career living the problem of coding, designing,

SPONSORED CONTENT
From left: Lesley DeCanio, Albert Santalo, and Timothy Myers collaborate at Leku.
NICK GARCIA / BLINDLIGHT STUDIO

implementing, and using software. I have seen the frustrations and shortcomings of legacy software development processes and can not recall a software effort that was easy, came in below budget, or met the specification on the first try. This came at the expense of founders and other digital creators who spent more of their time raising funds for their projects than actually working to make them successful. At the end of that process, they are oftentimes not in a great position to capitalize on the success of their efforts. 8base was born to transform the manner and timeline of how these solutions are built. Our mission is about unlocking innovation by dramatically lowering the barriers to entry and execution.

Q. What does the Miami connection mean to you? What role does being in this city play in your overall company goals?

A. From my earliest memories, Miami was where I wanted to be. Tech is the future of all cities, and that has always been clear to me. I am proud of the work that we did to build tech companies in Miami before it was “a thing.” Now, 20 years later, to see the funding rounds being announced here, VCs opening offices here, and the quality of ventures being launched here is a telltale sign that we’ve not only arrived, but that we have the substance, momentum, and ecosystem to keep it going.

Q. What’s your perspective on Miami becoming “Silicon Beach”?

A. “Silicon Beach” seems like a misnomer. To me, the place where core tech innovation happens is Silicon Valley and thus the term “silicon.” Skyrocketing tech hubs, like Miami, are mostly focused on “applications” rather than core innovation. It’s about curating and applying the core technologies invented elsewhere and putting them together in novel ways. Plus, there’s a juxtaposition of relaxing on beaches and the incredibly hard and not-so-glamorous work that is required to make tech startups successful. What is important: the tech community here is

progressing rapidly regardless of what we’re called.

Q. How does 8base benefit and contribute to its partnership with eMerge Americas?

A. eMerge Americas has catalyzed a generational technology wave that fuels Miami and the global tech community. Soon after our Series A announcement, I judged the start-up competition at eMerge Americas, where I listened to and learned from the next generation of founders. I spent time with them, heard their pitches, and was inspired by their visions for the future. Hearing their opinions and discussing their challenges validates our own mission; and I’m inspired and invigorated to continue 8base’s evolution.

LESLEY DECANIO, Chief Revenue Officer

Q. In your experience, what do you find gets potential clients most excited about 8base and its products? What do they respond to the most?

A. It’s fascinating to see the aha! moments unfold. When a client realizes the speed at which their application can be built — in weeks rather than months or years — because our low-code platform makes developers 10x faster. When they choose to build on 8base and become the beneficiaries of enterprise-grade architecture created with scalability and maintainability in mind. This means that subsequent development efforts can expand upon the application’s foundational build, as opposed to requiring a rebuild of the application. When they’ve attained the above at a fraction of the cost. In sales, you always want to ring the bell, loudly and often. Our team enjoys these wins through our customers’ success and those they impact with their digital innovations.

Q. How do you think 8base is changing the way companies do business?

A. Part of the vision for 8base is that we

are not only the platform that accelerates application development but an ecosystem of developers, agencies, and partners that helps innovators realize their ideas. Imagine that product development was not an issue for entrepreneurs. That the risks of digital transformation were not such a high-cost and labor intensive undertaking for larger organizations and enterprises. 8base helps its customers rethink the software development process — not only in terms of how they build or maintain applications, but how they structure their development teams and even create new lines of business.

TIMOTHY MYERS, Chief Technology Officer

Q. 8base has a new product in development. Can you explain what it is and how it differentiates from your other products?

A. Traditionally, 8base has been a lowcode backend-as-a-service (BaaS) with a powerful GraphQL API built for JavaScript developers. Our new product, App Builder, is a frontend low-code development tool for building beautiful, dynamic web applications. Like all of our products, App Builder provides visual tools to accelerate software development without inhibiting a developer’s ability to drop into custom code, if needed. With both, 8base fulfills its vision for a complete set of full-stack low-code development tools and introduces the future of low-code development.

Q. To build 8base, are you finding the talent here in Miami?

A. This is a question we are often asked in the context of the global developer shortage. The availability of local engineers is fundamental to a tech ecosystem, but in a world where developers, or anyone for that matter, can work anywhere… it becomes less about geography. Although much of our team is based in Miami and in parts of the United States, we also employ developers in Eastern Europe and have a near shore team in Colombia.

MATTERS MOST

DETERMINATION
Your will
to
succeed empowers you. Banking relations
should do the
same.

FOR ALL

Capital

IN THE ENTREPRENEURIAL LANDSCAPE OF TECH, venture capital emerges as a grand source of funding, providing an influx of cash to help innovative startups transform their dreams into reality or burn out trying. It’s the high-risk, high-reward antidote to the limitations of much more conservative sources of capital, which might not be as open to funding a new venture despite the possibility of large rewards.

Venture capital is inherently progressive and forward-looking, giving it the potential to be fertile ground for minority-owned venture capital firms and the minority-owned companies they fund to come to the forefront. In Miami, a city known for its international citizenry and famous for its diversity, minority venture capitalists are an important part of the booming tech sector. While some of Miami’s new crop of venture capitalists are originally from Miami, still many others — including ethnic minorities and women — have chosen to make the Magic City their home within the last year.

Miami’s top venture capitalists are spotlighting minority-owned businesses.

Director and co-lead of SoftBank Group’s SB Opportunity Fund, DAMI OSUNSANYA DADA, a Nigerian, believes that for venture capital, people with unique backgrounds are not only helpful but necessary. “Venture capital is an asset class marked by making bets on outliers,” she explains. “The current VC landscape is centered around what one group thinks, and this can result in missed opportunities.”

After growing up in Miami and leaving at age 18, Dada returned last year as Miami gained notoriety as a booming tech hub.

Chinese American CHESTER NG, general partner at venture studio and fund Atomic, also came to Miami during the pandemic. He thinks the city is well-positioned as a cradle of entrepreneurs from underrepresented backgrounds because of the city’s inherent diversity.

“It’s not a monoculture here, and there’s a general openness and optimism that fosters the energy that feeds entrepreneurship,” says Ng.

“At Atomic, we’re focused on opening up access to entrepreneurship and trying to stack the odds more in favor of the startups. We want entrepreneurship to be a career choice for all, to continue to develop programs for founders from all backgrounds, and, ultimately, we want to create the most impactful companies and solve as many problems as we can.”

34 eMerge Magazine | Winter 2022
35 eMerge Magazine | Winter 2022
FROM LEFT: JALAK JOBANPUTRA, PAUL JUDGE, AND ALEXANDRA WILKIS WILSON

Founder and managing partner of Seedcamp RESHMA SOHONI feels

“very fortunate” for being an immigrant multiple times. She was born in India and came to the U.S. when she was 10. She immigrated to Europe, where she lived in France and Germany, finally settling in the UK for 20 years. Coming back to the U.S. in 2021, she recognized the opportunities being offered in Miami and moved here. But those opportunities come with challenges, says Reshma. “Experiencing Miami for the first time ever, I am humbled at the journey ahead that women and minorities have in VC and beyond. I think we’re in for a 20-year uphill climb.”

Luckily, the first steps of that climb have already been taken.

“I do think the fact that the Miami area is diversifying with all kinds of minorities is going to prove hugely beneficial,” she predicts. “Thank goodness for [organizations] like eMerge Americas, the Knight Foundation, and all the VCs that have minorities in positions of decision-making here in Miami.”

36 eMerge Magazine | Winter 2022

For the past two years, PAUL JUDGE, managing partner of Panoramic Ventures and a native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has split his time between his homes in Miami and Atlanta. In 2020, he “felt a familiar energy” in Miami that harkens back to what he used to feel in San Francisco. “I realized that this was an important moment occurring in Miami around tech, startups, investing, and blockchain,” he says. Knowing that most venture capital funding doesn’t go to minorities or companies based in the Southeast, he felt Miami was a prime location to be a potential catalyst for that change. “Miami is authentically a diverse city that is full of culture. It provides the perfect, fertile ground to create successful minority-owned businesses.”

37 eMerge Magazine | Winter 2022

Born in Kenya to parents of Indian descent, JALAK JOBANPUTRA is the founder of early-stage venture capital firm Future Perfect Ventures. As an immigrant with parents who grew up in immigrant families, “It was always hard for me to answer the question, ‘Where are you from?’’’ she says. “I realized over time that there are more commonalities between people than differences. Empathy has been a core part of who I am because of these experiences.” Before she moved to Miami in 2020, Jobanputra spent much time here due to her interest in art. “I’ve been an Art Basel regular since 2007,” she says. Jobanputra also recognized that Miami was one of the first places to embrace cryptocurrencies. She believes the world has changed regarding recognizing diversity. “I envy the newer crop of VCs who are in an environment where we openly talk about diversity and the advantages diversity can bring to the investment table. I also feel privileged to have been part of leading that change. Miami represents immigration and diversity, and I enjoy being part of a culture that embraces innovation and change.”

ALEXANDRA WILKIS WILSON’S roots in Miami run deep. Her mother came through this city from Cuba during Operation Pedro Pan, and Alexandra spent her childhood summers here, although she didn’t move to the city full time until the pandemic in 2020. As a co-founder of Gilt, GLAMSQUAD, and Fitz, Wilson found that “being a woman and target consumer of the businesses that I was building was advantageous because I could intuitively understand how to position and market our companies.” She has taken that experience to found Clerisy, a growth equity fund in the consumer category, with business partner Lisa Myers. As a female owner/operator duo, Wilson believes, “most other growth equity funds don’t look like we do, think like we do, or have the networks that we do, and that’s one of our secret weapons.”

38 eMerge Magazine | Winter 2022
39 eMerge Magazine | Winter 2022
FROM LEFT: CHESTER NG, DAMI OSUNSANYA DADA, AND RESHMA SOHONI

rt

Miami innovators ar more mainstream, diverse, and data driven.
WHEREA
MEETSTECH COURTESY OF ONEOF
ONEOF RECENTLY ANNOUNCED A STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP WITH ICONIC PHOTO AGENCY GLOBE ENTERTAINMENT AND MEDIA, BRINGING HISTORIC PHOTOS TO WEB3.

on-fungible tokens, or NFTs, made headlines last year when artist Beeple sold one of the unique digital pieces for $69 million. Now, entrepreneur Lin Dai wants to make NFTs accessible to everyone.

Dai is CEO and co-founder of OneOf, a Miami startup producing the “one-of-akind” digital tokens with visual art and also with music. He’s taking NFTs mainstream by allowing payment in cash and not just cryptocurrencies. And, he’s slashing the cost for certifying each token as unique through codes on blockchain technology.

“Typically, making an NFT takes the energy that powers your household for six days and costs about $200-plus. But we built a ‘green’ NFT platform that takes only the energy of sending out a tweet and costs less than a penny,” explains Dai, a longtime tech exec in New York who recently moved to Miami.

Dai is part of a budding NFT industry at the nexus of tech and art. Miami is emerging as a hub, with key players now active within events, blockchain services, and even NFT analytics.

MAKING NFTS AFFORDABLE FOR BRANDS AND ARTISTS

Dai’s NFT focus is mass market. By cutting certification costs to near zero, he’s encouraging sports leagues, record labels,

beers, and other brands to give away NFTs to engage consumers. He’s also offering artists a chance to sell NFTs to fans at low prices to raise funds for concert tours, exhibits, and other projects, providing creatives more leverage with promoters. All the NFTs gifted or sold can later be traded on marketplaces, much like physical swag now changes hands on eBay, says Dai.

The approach is so groundbreaking that OneOf has already wooed more than $70 million in funding, with backers featuring music legend Quincy Jones. The venture has deals to make NFTs for the GRAMMY music awards, Warner Music, iHeart Radio, Sports Illustrated magazine, the NBA, and Anheuser-Busch beers, among others. It now employs 80 people, including some in Los Angeles, and likely will double its job count by 2025 as NFTs become more mainstream.

“Our goal is to introduce the next 100 million non-crypto users to this really great technology,” says OneOf’s leader Dai.

“We want to make NFTs an easy and fun experience, where mom can go online and participate.”

BUILDING AN INCLUSIVE NFT COMMUNITY IN MIAMI

Tech marketer Gianni D’Alerta wants to make the NFT community more inclusive through education and networking. He co-founded Miami NFT Week, the threeday event that drew 3,000-plus people including 250 speakers to its kickoff edition in Wynwood this spring.

42 eMerge Magazine | Winter 2022
ONEOF CEO AND CO-FOUNDER LIN DAI ON STAGE WITH PITBULL AND MIAMI MAYOR FRANCIS SUAREZ DURING e MERGE AMERICAS 2022.
FROM TOP: e MERGE AMERICAS; COURTESY OF ONEOF

The son of Cuban immigrants, D’Alerta noticed that many NFT events nationwide overrepresented Anglo men and underrepresented Latinos and others. He yearned for a gathering more like Miami, led by minorities. Ted Lucas, the Black Miamian who started Slip-n-Slide Records, joined as a co-founder along with entrepreneur Erik La Paglia, an investor in Web3 ventures and self-proclaimed NFT evangelist.

For the kickoff, organizers featured such Miami-based speakers as Ariana “The Techie” Waller, the Black woman engineer who leads Mueshi marketplace for fineart NFTs. Some presenters came from a local WhatsApp group on NFTs playfully dubbed “JPEG Morgan,” riffing with the name of the digital-photo format on the banking giant.

For 2023, the co-founders hope to add more local speakers, increase sessions on Latin America, and broaden the focus into digital music and culture to better reflect South Florida’s diverse, fun-loving vibe.

“We have a built-in bias for Miami people, to bring our demographics to the fore,” says D’Alerta. “I’d love to see Miami NFT Week become a mix between South by Southwest and Comic-Con.”

THE JOINING OF ART & TECH Tech mastery powers the NFT industry, and that’s where web developer Auston

Bunsen comes in. He co-founded Miami’s QuickNode, a blockchain tech services company that has raised more than $45 million since its launch in 2017. QuickNode tends to the “nodes” that handle billions of requests daily on cryptocurrency networks, providing a mix of infrastructure, software, and services to its customers.

Bunsen has seen an increase in NFT requests since 2020. To help respond, this spring QuickNode purchased an NFT analytics firm, icy.tools. The Denver-based firm tracks and analyzes prices, trading volumes, and other

44 eMerge Magazine | Winter 2022
THE FIRST-EVER MIAMI NFT WEEK CONFERENCE WAS HELD IN APRIL DURING MIAMI TECH WEEK.
D’Alerta noticed that many NFT events nationwide overrepresented Anglo men and underrepresented Latinos and others. He yearned for a gathering more like Miami, led by minorities.
COURTESY
OF
MIAMI
NFT WEEK (2)

market data on NFT sales, much like stock analytics firms track sales of stocks. “Buying icy.tools enhances our offerings to make building NFT-enabled experiences easier and better,” says Bunsen. The purchase also shows growing opportunity in NFT specialty businesses.

One Miami success story: Blackdove, a leading NFT development company that makes wall frames for digital art and can stream NFTs directly into the frames. With Blackdove, artists can sell their work in limited editions backed by NFT, license their artworks via in-app purchasing, and earn royalties on subscriptions. “Art is the last form of human intellectual property that has not gone mass market,” says Blackdove founder and CEO Marc Billings. “The world can now enjoy art in the same way that books or music have been broadly accepted. Today, we have over 500 contributing artists and are onramping another 1,500 to the platform.”

Because everything is digital, Blackdove offers customers the flexibility to subscribe to the platform and display a new artwork whenever they desire. “Customers absolutely love the opportunity to have new art rotating in their homes daily. The discovery process is intellectually stimulating and activates the mind in a completely unique manner.”

A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES

Of course, NFTs extend beyond art. Each is basically a deed to a digital asset. That asset can even be a reservation at a top restaurant, which you can sell if your schedule changes. Within art, there’s variety too. Some NFTs are a single master work, like Beeple’s $69 million collage of digital works he’d made for years. Many are limitededition collections, some generated by computers with variations on a theme.

OneOf’s Dai likens today’s NFT scene to the nascent internet in the late 1990s, when the web was still used mainly by techies. He says artists, brands, and consumers are only beginning to tap into the potential of digital tokens. “The use cases for NFTs,” claims Dai, “are really limitless.”

Blackdove is a leading NFT development company that makes wall frames for digital art and can stream NFTs directly into the frames.
COURTESY OF BLACKDOVE (2)
COURTESY OF ARTE SURFSIDE

Tech

comes

How cryptocurrency and NFTs are streamlining the home buying process.

47 eMerge Magazine | Winter 2022
HOME

INA FABBRI, DIRECTOR OF THE BUSINESS PARTNERSHIP GROUP AT HOMESERVICES OF AMERICA; NATALIA KARAYANEVA, FOUNDER AND CEO OF PROPY; AND PATRICK MURPHY, CEO OF TOGAL.AI, ARE THREE MIAMIANS PUSHING THE TECHNOLOGICAL ENVELOPE IN THE REAL ESTATE WORLD.

Murphy’s company won the 2022 eMerge Americas Startup Showcase for a construction estimating tool he invented, while Fabbri and Karayaneva are forging ahead in the integration of cryptocurrency, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and the blockchain into every real estate transaction. Miami is really at the forefront of it all.

“Miami has definitely become the capital of crypto in America,” says Fabbri. “This is the place to be if you’re into any type of cryptocurrency or Web3 companies.”

In May 2021, Arte by Antonio Citerrio became the first new residential development in Miami to accept cryptocurrency as a form of payment. Less than two weeks later, the property sold its coveted Lower Penthouse for $22.5 million to a purchaser using cryptocurrency. “There is strong pent-up demand for cryptocurrency transactions that are seamless and secure for both parties,” says Alex Sapir, Chairman of Sapir Corp LTD, whose subsidiary, SC 8955 LLC, developed Arte. “We were overwhelmed by the amount of calls we received from qualified buyers... Real-world crypto transactions haven’t made

their way fully into the mainstream yet, so it’s clear that top holders around the world pay attention when new opportunities to transact open up.”

Despite the recent cryptocurrency price crash and the concurrent softening of the real estate market, which many true believers see as an opportunity rather than an impediment, Miami is still going strong. “This is one of several ‘crypto winters’ the industry has experienced,” continues Fabbri. “This correction is weeding out the bad players in crypto marketplaces and funds that made risky decisions. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Warren Buffet: ‘Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.’”

As for how the softening of the real estate market could affect the implementation of the blockchain in the real estate market, “Regardless of crypto market fluctuations and spectacular algorithmic failures of some projects, blockchain technology is here to stay,” says Karayaneva. “In fact, all the key benefits of blockchain — immutability of records, transparency, automation — are

48 eMerge Magazine | Winter 2022
N
49 eMerge Magazine | Winter 2022
“Miami has definitely become the capital of crypto in America, This is the place to be if you’re in America and you’re into any type of cryptocurrency or Web3 companies.”
Nina Fabbri
COURTESY OF ARTE SURFSIDE (2); SHUTTERSTOCK
ARTE BY ANTONIO CITTERIO — THE MOST EXCLUSIVE BOUTIQUE CONDOMINIUM IN MIAMI’S SURFSIDE NEIGHBORHOOD, DEVELOPED BY ALEX SAPIR AND GIOVANNI FASCIANO — WAS THE FIRST NEW RESIDENTIAL DEVELOPMENT IN MIAMI TO ACCEPT
CRYPTOCURRENCY
AS A FORM OF
PAYMENT.

greatly needed to improve and bring the real estate experience into the modern age.”

In fact, at Propy the goal is to “transform the entire real estate transaction process,” from offer management to closing. “Our entire platform is powered by blockchain and uses smart contracts to ensure a transaction is transparent and secure. With the recent addition of Title & Escrow services, we achieved our goal of a click-to-close home purchase experience,” explains Karayaneva.

At the time of writing, Propy completed three real estate transactions with NFTs. These work by transferring the property from one wallet to another via NFT. All the preparations for the transaction take about a week, but the transaction itself happens in minutes, making the process much easier and less painful than the typical experience. This process also has the potential of lowering closing costs.

With each transaction, the people at Propy tweak and improve their processes. “In order to use an NFT as a representation of property ownership, we developed a proprietary legal framework in the U.S. and technology to make that possible,” says Karayaneva. They have also started using a cryptocurrency token tied to the U.S. dollar to manage

50 eMerge Magazine | Winter 2022
“Regardless of crypto market fluctuations and spectacular algorithmic failures of some projects, blockchain technology is here to stay.”
Natalia Karayaneva
COURTESY OF HOMESERVICES OF AMERICA

Innovation Hemispheric Hub of

The University of Miami is a catalyst for innovation throughout the Americas and a magnet for attracting top talent to Miami.

We are building networks that advance leading-edge research to solve global challenges— from the climate crisis to breakthrough health care solutions—that benefit communities throughout the world.

13 eMerge Magazine Spring 2022 miami.edu

the uncertainty of the crypto market. “We believe that NFT sales will become just another way to buy and sell a property.”

Smart contracts on the blockchain simplify and expedite the process of real estate closings. Real estate transactions are heavily regulated and usually have massive amounts of paperwork. With smart contracts, you can put all those contracts in one place that every party can see, and when anything is updated everyone is able to sign off on it in one place. The smart contract then

automatically distributes the funds to the seller and the property, as an NFT, to the buyer simultaneously.

Another interesting area where technology is playing a transformative role in real estate is Togal.AI, a company that automates the square foot analysis of a project for general contractors, speeding up what previously was a slow and onerous process. It’s such an impressive idea that the Togal.AI team, headed by CEO and former congressman Patrick Murphy, won $420,000 at the 2022 eMerge Americas Startup Showcase held during eMerge Americas 2022.

Returning from Washington and rejoining the family firm, Coastal Construction, the largest general contractor in Florida, Murphy saw the biggest expense in almost any project was just estimating the expense of construction. These include costs for every element of a project, from the big stuff like HVAC systems and plumbing to the little things like decorative tilework and a new door here or window there. It’s a process that is done manually and has to be redone many times as any project progresses. Although laborious and repetitive for a human to undertake, it’s the perfect solution for artificial intelligence, he notes. It’s simply a data set that can be labeled, with information that’s fairly consistent.

TOGAL.AI TEAM, HEADED BY CEO AND FORMER CONGRESSMAN PATRICK MURPHY, WON
$420,000
AT THE 2022 eMERGE AMERICAS STARTUP SHOWCASE.
e MERGE AMERICAS 2022

Togal.AI is incredibly effective at streamlining this cumbersome process. “Togal.AI was built by a general contractor for general contractors, so we understood from the start that accuracy and ease of use were very important,” says Murphy.

“Togal.AI was developed over the course of several years with more than 17,000 hours of labeling. Because of these statistics, we are able to perform at the highest level of accuracy and speed.”

Togal.AI claims to be 99 percent accurate. And that’s just the beginning of how it is using data sets and automation to bring incredible advancements to the industry. Their next frontier is tackling building code compliance. “In partnership with SLS Consulting, one of the nation’s leading code consultants, we have developed a solution for architects, code consultants, fire departments, and more to automatically ensure compliance with building codes and expedite approvals tremendously.” Expect a full launch in 2023, Murphy states.

eMerge Americas — We’re proud to support you

As part of our $1.25 billion, five-year commitment to advance racial equality and economic opportunity, Bank of America has increased our investments to benefit minority-owned businesses. Our increased commitment will accelerate the flow of capital to help establish and grow their businesses and ultimately spur job growth and more economic opportunity. Visit us at bankofamerica.com/

“Togal.AI was built by a general contractor for general contractors, so we understood from the start that accuracy and ease of use were very important.”
©2022 Bank of America Corporation | MAP4117394 | ESG-297-AD

SUCCESS for

Everyone

MORE LOCAL GROUPS FOCUS ON HELPING THOSE UNDERREPRESENTED IN TECH.

FTER LEADING A WEB3 CONFERENCE IN MIAMI LAST DECEMBER, MICHELLE ABBS RECEIVED LOTS OF QUESTIONS PRIVATELY FROM WOMEN WHO WERE UNCOMFORTABLE ASKING FOR MORE INFORMATION IN PUBLIC. AS A RESULT, SHE STARTED A TELEGRAM CHAT GROUP TO SHARE INSIGHTS, BUILDING ON HER BACKGROUND AS A TEACHER AND AN ADVOCATE FOR FEMALE TECH ENTREPRENEURS.

54 eMerge Magazine | Winter 2022
TUTTLE TRIBE ARTWORK COURTESY OF WEB3EQUITY

Today, Abbs’ Web3Equity group has some 800 female members, all seeking a stronger role in what’s been called “a boy’s club” in tech. The group recently minted its own NFT (non-fungible token) digital art marketplace, Tuttle Tribe, named after Julia Tuttle, the woman who founded Miami. Now, the organization is planning a series of Web3 workshops and conferences, with women making up about half of the speakers.

Web3Equity is among dozens of organizations helping to build a bigger, more inclusive tech community in Greater Miami. Many groups are led by women.

Some focus on people underrepresented in tech, from racial minorities to low-income residents. Leaders say they’re inspired in part by Miami’s openness to newcomers and immigrants, which suggests opportunity to increase diversity in tech, too.

“Because we are such a young city, the future also feels more unscripted that you can actually have a thumbprint on what the future may be. Younger people and people with creative ideas step up more,” says Abbs. “I don’t know if I’d feel the same in a centuries-old city. But in Miami, I feel hopeful.”

HELPING BUILD NETWORKS

Bringing in the underrepresented means more than adding a seat to the table, however. It requires a targeted approach

to address specific needs, leaders say. For instance, women tend to be more “risk rational” than men, and in Web3, they often seek more information on risk than men do, explains Abbs.

That targeted approach is clear in a newlylaunched tech group: FIU-Venture Miami Opportunity Program, which is aimed at female founders of color. It’s a collaboration between Florida International University and the City of Miami’s Venture Miami initiative to promote tech, with initial funding from JPMorgan Chase. So far, the program has graduated one cohort of 10 founders and is organizing a second.

Directing the effort is Kenasha Paul, a Black lawyer from Miami who founded and leads the nonprofit Black Professionals Network. Paul says women of color —

56 eMerge Magazine | Winter 2022
ABBS’ WEB3EQUITY GROUP HAS SOME 800 FEMALE MEMBERS, ALL SEEKING A STRONGER ROLE IN WHAT’S BEEN CALLED “A BOY’S CLUB” IN TECH.
COURTESY OF WEB3EQUITY (2)
MICHELLE ABBS HELPS GIVE WOMEN A LEG UP IN THE TECH INDUSTRY.

16 percent of the U.S. population — now hold only 4 percent of tech roles, with few in top posts. She has focused the new program on helping founders build “social capital,” that is, meeting investors, mentors, and others in the venture network.

“What moves opportunity and money is relationships and people, and because women of color often come from different ethnic or social backgrounds, they’re often not tied into those business networks,” says Paul. “You’re not going to solve that problem without being intentional.”

WOMEN OF COLOR HOLD ONLY

OF TECH ROLES.

Yet, Paul knows network-building will take time. Even socializing after introductions requires attention; “tech bros” sometimes network at gentleman’s clubs or pool parties, where female entrepreneurs may not feel comfortable. “So, women have to be more creative to build relationships,” continues Paul. “It’s a slow process. It won’t happen overnight.”

Adding her voice for women is Gloria Fonts-Suarez, a small business owner and wife of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez. She’s helping develop a new city campaign, #MiamiForHer. It will include a resource hub for women in tech with information on funding and other programs. Fonts-Suarez is motivated in part by studies that show women-led ventures receive less than 2 percent of tech funding.

“We want everyone in Miami to feel welcome,” says Fonts-Suarez, a mother of two. “And in tech, women-led ventures have been underfunded. We want to extend opportunities for women.”

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DIRECTING THE EFFORT IS Kenasha Paul, A BLACK LAWYER FROM MIAMI WHO FOUNDED AND LEADS THE NONPROFIT BLACK PROFESSIONALS NETWORK.
COURTESY OF BLACK PROFESSIONALS NETWORK (2)
BUILDING “SOCIAL CAPITAL” PLAYS A KEY ROLE IN STARTUP SUCCESS, CLAIMS PAUL.
4%

ENDEAVOR

million IN REVENUE AND 5,000+

SOUTH FLORIDA JOBS LAST YEAR.

you learn so much from your peers and the community that supports you in your journey,” explains Duran.

To expand the local pipeline, Duran has been developing EndeavorLAB programs to help smaller ventures meet specific needs: organizing one cohort for climatetech, one for Black founders, and one for entrepreneurs in the city of Boca Raton in Palm Beach County, for example.

Her team is also working on a report detailing the impact of tech and finance companies that have set up in South Florida since COVID-19 began. Newcomers include not just funders from higher-tax U.S. states but also Endeavor Entrepreneurs from Argentina, Brazil, and across Latin America, she says.

ENDEAVOR:

LINKING MIAMI TO A WORLDWIDE NETWORK

Perhaps most global of the groups for founders is Endeavor, a nonprofit that helps entrepreneurs worldwide — both male and female — to scale up their ventures, providing mentors, networks, and other resources. Its Endeavor Miami affiliate focuses on South Florida businesses.

Since launching in 2013, Endeavor Miami has accepted 51 leaders from 32 companies in greater Miami into its Endeavor Entrepreneurs global network. Those companies generated $700 million in revenue and 5,000-plus South Florida jobs last year, says Claudia Duran, Endeavor Miami’s managing director since 2019.

“The important thing is for entrepreneurs to feel connected and not siloed, because

Duran sees Miami’s tech community strengthening and becoming more inclusive, thanks in part to events organized by so many different support groups. She’s amazed that Miami now offers tech happy hours, workshops, or conferences nearly every day — even meetups for paddle boarding.

“Now it’s easier to connect. There’s momentum in Miami,” says Duran. “With so many activities, you can find your ‘tribe’ if you navigate a little, and people are very welcoming.”

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ADDING HER VOICE FOR WOMEN IS Gloria Fonts-Suarez, A SMALL BUSINESS OWNER. SHE’S HELPING DEVELOP A NEW CITY CAMPAIGN, #MIAMIFORHER.
COURTESY OF GLORIA FONTS-SUAREZ
GLORIA FONTS-SUAREZ IS A DRIVING FORCE BEHIND FEMALE-
FOCUSED
BUSINESS GROWTH IN THE CITY.
ENTREPRENEURS COMPANIES GENERATED $700
305.673.7572mbbiz@miamibeachfl.govwww.MBBiz.com MIAMIBEACH ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT MAKE A BOLD MOVE WELCOME TO YOUR NEW BOARDROOM OPEN, RELOCATE AND GROW YOUR BUSINESS KF.org/miami | @knightfdn HELPING TO POWER MIAMI’S TECH TALENT

THRIVING Tech Ed

Local colleges and universities ramp up programming for the next generation of tech workers.

The tech boom has arrived in South Florida, bringing with it both opportunities for local graduates and those looking to change roles. “There are more positions in tech than ever before and a huge need for tech talent,” says Antonio Delgado, Vice President of Innovation and Technology Partnerships at Miami Dade College. “The positions are changing and the requirements for these positions are becoming more flexible.”

In response, local colleges and universities are expanding their existing programs and creating new ones, educating the next generation of tech workers.

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COURTESY OF MIAMI DADE COLLEGE (4)

Miami Dade College works with local companies to develop the talent they need and get its students into those companies. Historically, students interested in tech would enter a generic computer science or information technology program. While the school is continually improving these programs, it also is expanding specific technical pathways — such as an associate degree in data analytics or cybersecurity — that allow students to secure jobs quicker. Miami Dade College created the state’s first cloud computing program and is working on an applied artificial intelligence program.

Florida Atlantic University offers students tech programs across its many different colleges. Those in the medical school, in collaboration with I-SENSE, take courses in artificial intelligence and medical device development, while engineering students study topics ranging from autonomy to cryptography. The university library houses a multi-disciplinary artificial intelligence lab, allowing students from all disciplines to explore the field. Students can secure internships through startup incubator FAU Tech Runway, Global Ventures (where international second-stage companies scaleup), or at tech companies, all on campus at the Research Park at FAU. Those who want to commercialize a patent can work with the university’s Office of Tech Development.

Nova Southeastern University is home to the Alan B. Levan | NSU Broward Center of Innovation, a 56,000-square-foot center that serves as a regional tech hub for South Florida. The Center — which includes a cybersecurity training facility, a makerspace with robots and 3D printers, and a state-ofthe-art pitch room — not only serves as an incubator for startups but as an education center for those looking to upskill or reskill through accelerated, non-academic certification programs, seminars, and bootcamps. Graduate and undergraduate students, meantime, can take advantage of new programs focused on emerging tech opportunities in cybersecurity; augmented, virtual, and mixed reality; spatial computing; and artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Florida International University has long shaped computer science and information technology professionals. Already the country’s top producer of minority graduates in STEM, the university has redoubled its efforts to hone local talent for global demand. The College of Engineering & Computing prepares students to be leaders in cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, high-frequency communications systems, and more, launching the country’s first Internet of Things degree in 2018. Top research professors work with industry partners to build a robust curriculum that meets the needs of the real world. FIU recently broke ground on a six-story building with makerspaces, active learning classrooms and labs, as part a $100 million-plus commitment to advance tech education.

University of Miami offers opportunities for tech-focused training throughout its pipeline, from robust programming within its undergraduate and graduate curriculum to workplace development for staff, alumni, and community members. The Launch Pad provides resources for the university community to bring commercial ventures to life through tools like mentorship programs, lecture series, and workshops. The ‘Cane Angel Network brings together the university’s entrepreneurs and investors to provide early-stage funding and advisors, while I-Corps provides the framework for moving ideas to the discovery stage. The Coulter Center helps university scientists commercialize their discoveries, giving their tech-related healthcare products a path from the ivory tower to the marketplace.

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Master of the (Cryptoys) Universe

OnChain Studios’ Will Weinraub is bringing collectible, playable digital toys — including Mattel’s iconic brands — to the metaverse.

Will Weinraub was working from home one day in 2018 when his daughter, Victoria, started shrieking with excitement: “Dad, come quick, come quick! I finally got the ultrarare!” he remembers hearing as he ran to the playroom.

“I walked in to see her holding up a gold, glittery LOL Surprise Doll,” he recalls. “Then I watch her look at it for 10 seconds before throwing it in a bin with all the other ones to collect dust.”

It was an aha! moment for Weinraub, a serial entrepreneur. “I thought, here is this multibilliondollar segment of the toy industry predicated on collectability and scarcity,” he said. “We can do these digitally for the first time ever, thanks to NFTs.”

As usual, Weinraub was a little ahead of his time. For two years, he worked nights and weekends with his daughter to create toys for the digital world but people just didn’t understand what he was doing. “I looked crazy,” he says. “People would ask me my next move, and

I’d tell them about the digital panda I was building that lives on the blockchain.”

Come 2021, when NFTs started to enter the mainstream, the side project Weinraub started to teach his daughter about technology and entrepreneurship became red hot.

“It’s been nonstop ever since.”

The world’s first digital toy company, OnChain Studios, aims to bring NFTs to kids and adults as colorful characters called Cryptoys that can be used with casual games and apps the company designs.

OnChain has also partnered with Mattel to transform some of its most iconic characters into playable avatars that can be sold as NFTs.

“We are trying to reinvent the toy industry and be an on-ramp for the next 100 million people to experience blockchain technology for the first time,” he explains.

Giving users ownership of their digital toys will allow them to control what they do with them. Weinraub looks forward to the day his daughter can donate her digital

toys to charity when she no longer wants them. For now, he joked, the 9-year-old is head of R&D.

The Miami native first hopped online at age 13, when he got an AOL CD Rom in the mail with 1,000 hours of internet access. Weinraub started designing websites on GeoCities and, before long, people in chat rooms started asking him to build their websites. “I had my first web business at 13, charging $100 a pop for websites,” he said. After studying communications at Florida State University, he returned to Miami and launched LiveNinja, a venture-backed video chat company that was acquired in 2017.

Married with three children, Weinraub loves spending time with his family and rooting for Miami sports teams. As CEO and cofounder of OnChain Studios, he can’t believe he gets to wake up every day and lead his company and its 45 employees. “I’ve always loved toys and loved video games, so for me, [the intersection of] toys, gaming, and technology is the sweet spot,” Weinraub gushes. “If you told me that I’d be working on Cryptoys for the rest of my life, I’d be thrilled. I love building this!”

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NICK GARCIA / BLINDLIGHT STUDIO
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“I’ve always loved toys and loved video games, so for me, toys, gaming, and technology is the sweet spot.”
WILL WEINRAUB’S DAUGHTER VICTORIA INSPIRED HIM TO DEVELOP CRYPTOYS.
64 eMerge Magazine | Winter 2022 / eMerging Entrepreneurs STORYBOOK APP FOUNDERS FIND SUCCESS IN MIAMI’S NURTURING TECH COMMUNITY.
NICK GARCIA
/ BLINDLIGHT STUDIO

Success Stories

Husband-wife entrepreneurial team make childhood learning a full sensory experience.

Moving to Miami was never a thought when the Cornejo family built an app combining stories, music, and massage to help their children sleep better. But since moving to the Magic City in January, they’ve found faster and grander success for their Storybook venture than they ever could have imagined.

This spring, during Miami Tech Month, husband-and-wife team Francisco Cornejo and Daniela Vega won multiple startup competitions organized by various groups — including Google for Startups, the Miami Herald, eMerge Americas, and others — garnering more than $600,000 in prizes and investor commitments.

Since then, they’ve raised $2 million to scale up the venture and help to nurture “togetherness” for families in the United States and beyond, says Cornejo. Now, they’re expanding marketing to consumers and also to companies that can offer the app as an employee benefit. Plus, they’re joining with babyproduct suppliers to add StoryBook as an emotional-health component in bundles for parents.

“None of that would have been possible without being here in Miami,” says Cornejo. The couple’s

South American homeland of Ecuador has a limited ecosystem for entrepreneurs and little venture capital, he explains. “In Miami, we made a big leap. We’ve been able to meet fantastic people. We’ve met investors face-to-face who have opened up new B2B partnerships for us.”

Cornejo and Vega conceived of Storybook half a world away in Australia. While studying there, Vega began practicing massage on her toddlers while reading bed time stories. The children liked the sound-touch mix so much, each vied to go to bed first. When dad needed directions on massage, the duo decided to build an app that could help other families build stronger parent-child bonds.

Back in Ecuador, the family kept up the project, collaborating with child mental health experts. Vega wrote the stories for children up to 12 years old, often focusing on emotions, empathy, and respect.

In early 2020, the couple heard about the eMerge Americas Roadshow Pitch Competition in

“In Miami, we made a big leap. We’ve been able to meet fantastic people. We’ve met investors face-to-face who have opened up new B2B partnerships for us.”

Ecuador’s capital of Quito and entered. They came out on top, winning a trip to eMerge Americas’ next conference in Miami.

By then, the family had been mulling a move to the U.S. to take the startup to the next level. Suddenly, Miami became an option. Once the COVID pandemic waned, they left their mountain town of Cuenca.

“Miami is a good soft landing coming from Latin America,” because it’s close, in a similar time zone, welcoming to immigrants with strong Latin culture and ample airlinks, says Cornejo. “There are so many open doors,” from government to community groups fostering startups. “And you have all these entrepreneurs from Miami or moved to Miami who are crazy about networking, learning, and growing together.”

In South Florida, Storybook is even collaborating on academic research. It’s working with Florida International University and an Ecuadorean counterpart on a clinical trial to measure the benefits for children receiving massages and hearing a story and music all at the same time. Storybook, available to download free of charge, uses no screens for children, so youngsters can focus on touch and sound.

For Cornejo, the Miami move shows that physical, in-person contact matters for business, just as it does to nurture “togetherness” in families. “Storybook is essentially about connection. It uses stories and massage to create a space where mom or dad gives of their time, presence, and physical affection. The younger the child, the more they communicate through touch,” says Cornejo. “We’re all kinesthetic.”

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Setting Sail

Zach Mandelstein gives yacht designs a second life as digital art on the blockchain.

Intellectual property management whiz Zach Mandelstein was sitting in his 1968 Boston Whaler in Silicon Valley trying to figure out how to combine NFTs and yachts when an idea struck. What if, he wondered, the intellectual property of megayacht designers could be monetized on the blockchain as art? After all, Mandelstein had seen their unsold designs shared as breathtaking art on Instagram.

“Yacht designers have a ton of intellectual property sitting on their computers doing nothing,” Mandelstein explains. “They will bid on a bunch of super-yacht projects that won’t get bought, and the designs end up sitting in a database. I was sure this was valuable intellectual property that could be monetized on the blockchain. But it took awhile for anyone serious in the yachting industry to listen to me!”

His big break came with Bob Denison of superyacht dealer Denison Yachting, a company that already had completed millions in bitcoin yacht sales. Denison put Mandelstein in touch with top designers to explain his vision. “I told them all I wanted to do is make NFTs out of superyachts that aren’t bought by the client. I’d let people make cool rash guards or whatever, then we would provide them access to the designers so they’d feel part of the superyacht community.”

The designers loved it. “How could they not?” Mandelstein said. “It was giving a second life to their intellectual property and a way to monetize it forever.”

Newly formed Cloud Yachts dropped at the Miami Yacht Show in February 2020 as the first digital yacht dealer to the metaverse, racking up $35,000 in sales and support from top superyacht brokers. Today, Cloud Yachts remains the only one in its space, selling digital yachts on the Ethereum blockchain. The company also sells real-life yachts using crypto and NFTs, and recently partnered with Winch Design and BOAT International to launch Message in a Bottle Charity NFT, with profits benefiting ocean conservation efforts.

“It’s a total dream come true,” Mandelstein says. “I can’t even begin to explain how fun it is waking up every morning and doing this.”

Building brands is second nature for Mandelstein, who began at age 19 as a sponsored snowboarder in Switzerland. He later licensed his trademarks to top manufacturers, earning his brand’s placement at “It’s a total dream come true,” Mandelstein says.

companies like Target and Nordstrom. As a side hustle, he acquired a yacht broker license, having developed his sea legs as a kid learning to sail in Cape Cod with his grandfather.

Mandelstein, a California native who lived through the dot com boom and bust, made sure to prepare for the NFT correction underway now. “Projects that don’t have a good community or provide anything will have a hard time, but the ones that provide real-life access will bloom and become the Web3 foundation,” he claims. “We’ve planned for this, and we are focused on the commercial use of NFT technology. Cloud Yachts is a licensed broker in real life. We sell used yachts, and we are working on delivering them with NFT-gated access where the yacht tag is included.”

He loves his work, but his days in the “NFT rabbit hole,” as he calls it, are stressful, and he winds down by listening to ancient Roman history and reading about naval history. It’s anyone’s guess what arena this entrepreneur will conquer next.

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MANDELSTEIN’S CLOUD YACHTS MAKES NFT ART OUT OF CUSTOM YACHT DESIGNS.
“I can’t even begin to explain how fun it is waking up every morning and doing this.”
NICK GARCIA / BLINDLIGHT STUDIO
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NICK GARCIA / BLINDLIGHT STUDIO
“We believe that what we are doing is paving a new way, and we get to define that through our success and the challenges we will and have already overcome.”

Fine Art, Disrupted

Ariana The Techie launches Mueshi, the world’s first fine art NFT marketplace.

The fine art space is a trillion dollar market, and for decades, it’s been waiting for someone to come in and shake it up. Enter Ariana Waller (known to many by her nickname, Ariana The Techie), a 26-year-old full stack software engineer and founder of Mueshi, a marketplace that allows artists and collectors to buy, sell, and fractionally invest in fine art exclusively using NFTs. In less than one year — most of which was spent beta testing — Mueshi has secured over $3 million from top venture capitalist firms like Harlem Capital, Presight VC, and CapitalT VC, and even hosted the world’s first 30-day NFT fine art exhibit in Miami in September 2021.

“Mueshi is a term we created, and it means ‘to bridge the gap between fine art and Web3,’” says Waller. “It’s almost like asking someone 25 years ago ‘What is Google?’ or ‘What is an Uber?’ We believe that what we are doing is paving a new way, and we get to define that through our success and the challenges we will and have already overcome.”

For Waller, Mueshi isn’t just a business, it’s her life’s purpose. An avid art collector herself, Waller was inspired by a Jay-Z lyric that talked about using art as a means of building long-term wealth. Fusing that inspiration with her passion for engineering and blockchain technology, Waller tapped into the metaverse — capitalizing on the new wave of innovation that was Web3 and NFTs — to create a fine and contemporary art marketplace that lets collectors purchase art directly from artists, ensuring artists get lifelong royalties for their work and giving Waller a platform to show the world that art exists in every culture. When she established Mueshi, she became the fourth Black woman ever to launch something in the blockchain space.

“It’s hard to be what you can’t see,” Waller explains. “Women only receive 2 percent of all venture capital funding — and that’s in all different industries combined, not just tech. When you think about how much of that goes to Black women, the money just keeps getting divided more and more. It’s a real honor to have made this achievement, but at the same time, it’s part of my duty to ensure that other women who look like me get access to capital funding too.”

Her motivation to get Black women in the engineering industry isn’t coincidental. Waller was in

college when she saw her first Black female engineer, and it was only then that she realized engineering, a field she had always been passionate about, was something she could actually do as a career. Ready to pave her own way, she dropped out of college, started doing technology bootcamps, and taught herself different program languages. She became an Apple Worldwide Developer Scholar, beating hundreds of other scholars from around the world and winning a fully-paid trip to Apple’s headquarters. She learned how to work with C# and Python, and, as her skills advanced, she went on to build websites and iOS and mobile apps. When @MiamiTech tweeted about the OnDeck Founders program, which helps prospective founders launch or build their startup, Waller applied and got in. She met many people in the Miami tech community, participated in a Backend Capital engineering fellowship, and attended Miami Hack Week, where she was introduced to her first Mueshi investor. She still runs her company on the MacBook she won five years ago at Hackathon, using it as a daily reminder of how far she’s come.

Today, Mueshi has a core team of 10 engineers and blockchain experts from five different countries, an art curatorial board made up of experts in the museum and art history space, and plans to make its first-ever Art Basel Miami Beach debut this December. As for how this 26-year-old built so much success so young, and in such a short amount of time, the answer is simple: Ariana The Techie doesn’t take anything for granted.

“Time is humbling. It lets you look at yourself in the mirror and say, ‘Wow, I don’t know how long I’m going to be here,’” Waller says. “So if I don’t know how long I’m going to be here on this Earth, I better wake up every day and start moving towards my purpose.”

ARIANA THE TECHIE FOUND HER LIFE’S PURPOSE WITH MUESHI.
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Students Helping Students

Mother-son team, Lourdes and Matias Aviñó, make education accessible to all with YTeach.

When Matias Aviñó, a sophomore at Belen Jesuit Preparatory School, was just 11 years old, he hopped in the back of his mother’s car in the school pick-up line with an idea.

“Sometimes, it’s uncomfortable to go to a teacher outside of class and ask for help with your homework, and the peer tutoring program at my school at the time was outdated and inefficient,” Matias recalls. “So I said to my mom, ‘What if there was an easier way for students to get help?’”

And then, like any successful entrepreneur, he got to work.

“My mom was making a business plan for an app idea she had, so I asked her if I could see it,” Matias says. “I made an initial business plan at dinner that night and presented it to my family. They thought it was a good idea, so I finished the rest of the plan that week and pitched it to a family friend with a coding business. When he told me he liked it, I thought, ‘Wow, I could really do this.’”

In 2019, Matias and his mother, Lourdes Aviñó, launched YTeach, an easy-to-use mobile app and website that gives K-12 students nationwide access to on-demand peer tutoring. Short for “youth teach,” it’s an app for students, by students. Those who need help with a specific class can sign into YTeach and find a

list of approved peer tutors at their school who excelled in that class. From there, they can message tutors directly, much like Instagram messaging, and agree on a time to meet. In exchange for their help, peer tutors get community service hours.

The same day YTeach launched on iOS, it became a top 10 earlystage finalist in the eMerge Americas Startup Showcase. After that, it launched as an Android app and website, and, in 2020, pivoted from in-person tutoring to Zoom. Three years and 40 participating schools later, the Aviñós are still constantly transforming YTeach to meet the needs of their users.

“We just added a feature that lets users who are stressed about homework pick a class, find the first tutor available, and get help right away,” explains Lourdes. “An alert goes out to all class tutors and the first one to accept it, gets it. It’s like Uber, but for tutors.”

Outside of YTeach, Lourdes is a real estate attorney, a mom of two, and a past Division 1

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THE AVIÑÓS TOUT THEIR YTEACH APP AS THE UBER OF EDUCATION. NICK
GARCIA / BLINDLIGHT STUDIO
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college tennis player who loves to challenge herself physically. This past September, she participated in 29029, where she had 36 hours to ascend a 4,000-foot mountain in Whistler, Canada, enough times to total 29,029 feet — the height of Mt. Everest. Matias is a member of the Key Club and National Junior Honor Society; is on a competitive crew team; does coding and robotics for fun; and, like any normal teenager, likes hanging out with his friends. For most of us, a schedule like that would make running a national tech startup

on the brink of massive growth impossible. But for these two, it’s just something else to get excited about.

To make it work, Lourdes and Matias find 30 minutes every Monday to talk about YTeach, covering participating schools, development, and marketing. Lourdes meets with developers while Matias is at school, and Matias handles social media and liaisons with students. They talk about the company in the car when Lourdes picks Matias up from school, and have a YTeach Google Drive where they leave notes to update the other on anything they missed.

Of course, no matter how smoothly your business runs, startups always come with their fair share of challenges. For Matias, one of those was bias about his age.

“We would be in meetings with schools and, at first, they were taken aback that he was so young,” says Lourdes. “But — like I always tell people — who better to create something for students than a student who’s actually using it? He knows it better than any of us.”

That said, any challenges Lourdes and Matias face pale in comparison to the joy YTeach has given them.

“This whole process has taught me so much about myself, especially on days where I was stressed and felt like I had too much on my plate,” says Matias. “It has allowed me to develop as a person.”

For Lourdes, it was a chance for her and her son to do what she’s always taught him to do since he was a little boy: help people.

“I am so grateful that I was able to do this with Matias and impact so many students and families,” intimates Lourdes. “You don’t need to go to a top school to get access to top tutors. No matter where you are, there are always people around you who can help.”

72 eMerge Magazine | Winter 2022 / eMerging Entrepreneurs
“This whole process has taught me so much about myself, especially on days where I was stressed and felt like I had too much on my plate,” says Matias. “It has allowed me to develop as a person.”
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