The Starting Gate

A Swarm of activity at Venture Hive, other news of note

Juan Bermudez passionately presented NightPro to investors, telling them about a whirlwind of recent accomplishments for the young Miami company that offers a cloud-based event and management platform for the nightlife industry. NightPro has been working with two of the region’s largest promoters — MMG and The Opium Group — that between the two of them represent a who’s who of nightclubs in South Florida.

Bermudez and his co-founder Francisco Quintero are part of the first accelerator class at the new Venture Hive, and capped off an intense three months last week with The Swarm, the accelerator’s demo day-style event. NightPro was just one of the 14 startups — including six international companies — that presented on Friday afternoon to more than 100 investors and others.

During the past three months, NightPro ( rebuilt its iPhone and iPad apps from scratch — that will be launching in the next few weeks — and developed a premium version of NightPro that can be customized. It also integrated online ticketing into its platform.

With the help of his mentor, serial entrepreneur Jesus Rodriguez, the NightPro team came away with a better approach for sales and beginning this week will now be going full-throttle on pushing its solution well beyond the local market, said Bermudez. “We have been working with larger companies that want to expand with us in the U.S. and beyond,” including Canada and Europe. In his pitch to investors, he said he needs $400,000 in seed funding to help make it all happen.

Other Venture Hive startups also made their presentations, and then met with investors and showed off their products in private offices set up for them at the Hive. Hair Construction and international companies Tabber and Kimetric all presented global expansion plans. Some announced news: Do You Remember?, a nostalgia company, will be launching its site this week, said founder Michael Gitter.

This has also been a busy time for other South Florida startups:

• Jared Kleinert, a 17-year-old entrepreneur from Boca Raton, is doing something this week he says has never been done before: Launching a company on its own crowd-funding site. Kleinert, a junior at Spanish River High School, will be launching Synergist ( on Saturday with a social media splash — and hoping to raise $25,000 to fund his company. Synergist is a platform where social entrepreneurs can find other like-minded people, collaborate on projects together and crowdfund their projects. Kleinert plans to use the money to revamp the website and potentially bring on a new team member, Kleinert said. Learn more here:

• Guide is a Miami-based startup led by Freddie Laker and Leslie Bradshaw with technology that will turn your online news into video newscasts, complete with an anchor of your choice. It is one of 16 chosen from around the world to present in the Startup Rally at The Next Web Conference Europe Thursday and Friday in Amsterdam. Guide was one of only two startups chosen from the United States; the other one hails from San Francisco and the others are from Europe and Israel.

•  New ventures including a boat shoe seller, a health care provider and a social entrepreneurship program built around a café took top honors in the University of Miami’s 2013 Business Plan Competition. The competition winners, honored in an awards ceremony last week took home a combined total of $30,000 in first, second, third and other prizes. Grand prize winners were Category 5 Boat Shoes (undergraduate student category), S.H.H.A.D.E, (graduate student category); and Savory Community Café (alumni category. Find the full list on The Starting Gate.

Venture capital, Americas-style

Andres Moreno, founder and CEO of Open English, said it took him more than a year to raise his first $400,000. “Every morning I’d get off my friend’s couch in Menlo Park, put on the same suit jacket and go ask for money,” explaining that he was meeting with Silicon Valley angel investors and was sometimes raising $25,000 at a time. “I was getting really good at it.”

Fast-forward to today, and Open English has landed major venture backing. Open English, the fast-growing Miami company that offers live online English classes all over Latin America, has already raised more than $55 million and is in the process of raising another significant round. That will go to fund the expansion of Open English beyond the region.

Moreno, who started his company in 2006 in Venezuela, was part of a panel that explored venture capital and entrepreneurship in Latin America. The panel, hosted by AS/COA and the Latin American Venture Capital Association (LAVCA) and held last week at The LAB Miami, also included Cate Ambrose, president of LAVCA, Juan Pablo Cappello, co-founder and board member of, Boris Hirmas Said, chairman of Tres Mares Group and chairman of Yellow Pepper, and Manny Medina, managing partner of Medina Capital Group and chairman of the Technology Foundation of the Americas.

Panelists described the venture landscape in Latin America as way ahead of where it was just five years ago, but still with a ways to go. Some U.S. venture firms have entered the market recently and “we are seeing more Latin venture firms co-investing with U.S. firms, learning how venture capital is done,” Ambrose said. According to LAVCA research, Colombia and Mexico’s entrepreneurial ecosystems have made great strides in the past year, outpacing Brazil by some measures. Similar to what we hear locally, the panelists said the region could use some more big exits, or success stories, to attract more venture attention.

Coming up this week

Refresh Miami, the largest networking group in South Florida, keeps outgrowing its venues. This Thursday its monthly event — the topic is “Lean Startup” — will be held in two large rooms at the Miami Science Museum, with an expected attendance of up to 500. Refresh Miami has organized more than 76 events and has about 5,000 members.

The Startup Bus, which made its debut run at last month’s Refresh event and then followed with a Miami-to-Delray Beach run for a Startup Delray event, will be back to shuttle members from Palm Beach and Broward counties. More information on Refresh Miami’s event is here:

Keep up with the news on The Starting Gate on and follow me on Twitter @ndahlberg

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