Education

Blastoff for StartUP FIU, with food, art and tech on way

Bid.Aero co-founders Anthony Leon, Gabriel Martinez and Nicholas Rodriguez pitch before a crowd at Refresh Miami’s Demo Day. Bid.Aero, a marketplace for airplane and engine parts, is part of StartUP FIU’s first cohort.
Bid.Aero co-founders Anthony Leon, Gabriel Martinez and Nicholas Rodriguez pitch before a crowd at Refresh Miami’s Demo Day. Bid.Aero, a marketplace for airplane and engine parts, is part of StartUP FIU’s first cohort.

Bid.Aero, a marketplace for airplane and engine parts, is ready to fly but just needs a little help.

The Miami startup is part of Florida International University’s first cohort of StartUP FIU, a new multidisciplinary, multi-campus innovation program.

“We needed mentorship and guidance. Running a startup is not the easiest thing. You never know what is going to come up with fundraising, developing the website and having to deal with business logistics, but it was the best thing possible to get into this program,” said Anthony Leon, Bid.Aero’s CEO.

StartUP FIU (startup.fiu.edu) launched this fall on the Modesto Maidique campus, but much more is on the runway. Coming in early 2017: another cohort of StartUP FIU at the main campus, free and open to students and the community, with startups in any industry as well as social entrepreneurs. The StartUP FIU team will also be opening a tech-focused incubator in Kendall’s West End and a food incubator at the Biscayne Bay campus. Planned for next fall: StartUP FIU will power the College of Communication, Architecture + the Arts’ Ratcliffe Art + Design Incubator, started with an $831,000 gift from the Ratcliffe Foundation, at the Biscayne Bay campus.

StartUP FIU is a startup itself, and its organizers were surprised that more than 300 businesses applied for the first two cohorts of its general incubator. “It’s further evidence that the market is underserved,” said Bob Hacker, director of StartUP FIU. With most entrepreneurial activity in Miami’s downtown and Wynwood areas, there has been pent-up demand for programs out west, and location is one of StartUP FIU’s key differentiators.

Planned for next fall: StartUP FIU will power the College of Communication, Architecture + the Arts’ Ratcliffe Art + Design Incubator, started with an $831,000 gift from the Ratcliffe Foundation, at the Biscayne Bay campus.

[Read more: Multi-campus startup FIU gets ready for takeoff.]

The tech-focused program in the West End will be held in Topp Solutions’ building that houses Alienware. StartUP FIU will have space on the bottom floor. “We’re trying to get people to cluster there. There is a lot of tech talent in West Kendall, and they commute east to go to work,” said Emily Gresham, assistant vice president for Research, Innovation and Economic Development. “The opportunity for economic development is ripe … and we want to try to spawn new companies. … It’s an interesting experiment to see if the community comes together to think differently and help each other grow their businesses.”

Food FIU will take on a different model. Food startups will go through phases: A beginning phase includes working through basic business planning with StartUP FIU and the Small Business Development Center at FIU, and then an eight-week technical program about food production and machinery. Companies past that stage will be eligible for the StartUP FIU incubator if their products are scalable and they want to grow nationally or globally; if they aren’t scalable or they would prefer to stay small, they will have access to FIU’s state-of-the-art commercial kitchen.

“We’ve met with community groups such as the Opa-locka CDC and Partners for Self Employment. They see a lot of food entrepreneurs come through that actually have zero support right now. We are working with community development people to drum up some customers,” said Gresham, who wants to serve businesses in the low- to moderate-income groups. It shouldn’t be too hard to find them — there are 8,000 food companies in Miami-Dade with four or fewer employees.

[Read more: How millennial tastes shape a new generation of food startups]

Another new initiative: A pilot group of FIU students, under StartUP FIU’s direction, will work with faculty members to hack ideas on how to commercialize their nascent technologies. Patent applications are up, too. StartUP FIU will show some of these technologies at an upcoming Beacon Council event on Nov. 15.

Another new initiative: A pilot group of FIU students, under StartUP FIU’s direction, will work with faculty members to hack ideas on how to commercialize their nascent technologies.

Hacker said the incubators may get even more specialized because there are very specific types of expertise in Miami that have never had entrepreneurial support, like arts and entertainment, for instance. But he said there will likely always be a general incubator at the main campus open to all industries.

Back at the Modesto Maidique campus in the 19-company cohort 1, Bid.Aero is getting ready for StartUP FIU’s Dec. 6 pitch day.

The three co-founders — Anthony Leon, CEO; Gabriel Martinez, COO; and Nicholas Rodriguez, CFO, all first-time entrepreneurs — were raised in Miami and have known each other since second grade. Leon graduated from FIU and majored in marketing, then worked at an airline leasing agency. Rodriguez majored in finance at FSU and then was a pricing analyst for FedEx, and Martinez is currently studying software engineering online at Arizona State.

These co-founders take experiential learning seriously. Earlier this year, they all went through Wyncode’s 10-week coding boot camp and developed an early prototype for their idea. Then Wyncode recommended that they apply to StartUP FIU to further develop it.

Bid.Aero’s b2b marketplace is up and running privately with a few clients. Bid.Aero already has suppliers and repair shops in Miami ready to put their products on its reverse-auction site, and StartUP FIU introduced them to others. In Startup FIU, Bid.Aero has learned to test assumptions and the importance of gathering feedback to make its product as customer-centric as possible. The team now works in space that StartUP FIU provided on campus. The co-founders haven’t started serious fund-raising yet, but they recently seized the opportunity to pitch to a full house at Refresh Miami’s Demo Day.

The team aims to launch Bid-Aero publicly by the end of the year.

“There’s the highs and the lows but every week that goes by we are building our own skills sets as business men,” Leon said. “There are a lot of things we think we know that we don’t.”

Nancy Dahlberg: 305-376-3595, @ndahlberg

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