Why International Tech Startups are Making Miami their U.S. Base


June 11, 2017

As the eMerge Americas technology conference opens on Monday, a number of international tech startups will likely be sniffing around, considering Miami for a possible launch point for their U.S. or Latin American operations.

They might want to talk to some of the recent arrivals.

Meet Solomoto, a Tel Aviv-based startup that offers a digital marketing dashboard to help small businesses take control of their online presence.

“We are an operating system for small business. Anything that you can do digitally for your small business, you should be able to do it in 30 minutes a day in one place,” said Solomoto co-founder Guy Israeli.

From left, at StartHub accelerator in Miami: Marc Thoumyre, VP of development at Remade U.S.; Megan Conyers, director of acceleration at StartHub; David Bensoussan, founder/managing director of StartHub; Ygal Senior of Seven Seas Foods. Roberto Koltun rkoltun@miamiherald.com

Solomoto checked out Miami last year and recently made the decision to base its U.S. expansion in Miami. The U.S. operations are led by Leandro Finol, former executive director of Miami Dade College’s Idea Center.

“ANYTHING THAT YOU CAN DO DIGITALLY FOR YOUR SMALL BUSINESS, YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO DO IT IN 30 MINUTES A DAY IN ONE PLACE.” Solomoto co-founder Guy Israeli

Miami, rich with small businesses, combined with its position as a gateway to Latin America, made the region a natural U.S. base, Israeli said. Plans are to soon have 10 employees, or 20 percent of Solomoto’s workforce, based here.

Solomoto, launched in 2015, recently announced a partnership with WeWork, which gives WeWork’s 30,000 members access to Solomoto’s services through WeWork’s Service Store. WeWork, a global co-working company that attracts numerous small businesses, will also be one click away for Solomoto’s customers. Solomoto also partnered with BlueVine, an online provider of credit lines for small businesses. “Both sync perfectly with our vision to help small businesses grow,” said Israeli, who said more partnerships will be announced. “Solomoto is a connection to the ecosystem of small businesses.”

About 5,000 small businesses in the U.S. are on the platform so far, but Solomoto’s real growth has been international. More than 150,000 companies from 24 countries are using the platform. “Small business owners have the same challenges no matter which market they are based in,” said Israeli, who co-founded the company with Pasha Romanovski, Solomoto’s CEO. Both have founded and run other international ventures.

Solomoto co-founders Pasha Romanovski, CEO, left, and Guy Israeli. The Tel Aviv-based startup helps small businesses take control of their online presence.

Solomoto board member Uri Levine, co-founder of Waze, will speak at eMerge; Israeli will speak at a growth hacking summit at The LAB Miami on Wednesday.

For its U.S. entry, French augmented reality startup Magic Xperience partnered with StartHub, a Miami-based co-working and accelerator company that specializes in helping international companies launch operations in the United States. Finaben, parent company of StartHub, is also an investor in Magic Xperience, part of a larger French firm called ARTech.

StartHub is helping Magic Xperience develop and sell consumer-focused augmented reality products through Walmart and 1,200 other retailers worldwide, said David Bensoussan, founder and managing director of StartHub Miami.

“We leverage local resources to fulfill the needs of our member companies launching in the U.S. market and deliver measurable growth … through our three-pillar approach: co-working, growth and acceleration,” Bensoussan said. “We have evolved and designed solutions that are adapted to the market we are in … and we offer resources and services for a company at any stage.”

StartHub has worked with about 15 consumer-centric companies, most of them international. Those include Amsellem, a Canadian company that makes dried beef snacks and KF Beauty, a United Kingdom cosmetic company with a fast-growing brand called WunderBrow, Bensoussan said. “We focus on digital strategies for revenue generation. This is how we roll.”

Last month, Pérez Art Museum Miami announced that Magic Xperience and StartHub will be developing an augmented reality experience for its visitors, funded with a $150,000 grant from the Knight Foundation.

The Miami-Dade Beacon Council, the county’s economic development organization, has worked with a number of international tech companies who located or relocated their U.S. operations to Miami in the past year, said Susan Greene, chief marketing officer for the council. These include Technocom from Spain, which offers IT, shipping and printing solutions; Clearsale from Brazil, a fraud prevention company; Woosh from Israel, whose patented smart water stations provide drinking water on the go in the Miami area; ThinkSmart from Spain, which develops sales-performance technology; and virtual reality company Dream VR from Spain.

Woosh is installing its patented smart water stations that provide drinking water on the go in the Miami area. Woosh Water

In the last year, nearly half of the tech companies checking out Miami have been international, and the council has seen increasing interest from Europe, particularly from Spain and France. A trade mission to Spain in February that included visits to technology companies and accelerators in Madrid and Barcelona, for instance, yielded keen interest from more than a half dozen tech companies, said Mario Sacasa, senior vice president for international economic development for the Beacon Council, noting that four out of five companies he is working with right now are international. In addition to the cultural and global appeal of Miami, daily flights to Europe have been increasing and some countries incentivize their companies to expand beyond their borders.

This week’s Merge Americas will provide an international show of force; the conference was founded with the mission of developing a tech hub for the Americas in South Florida. The European Union and countries such as Colombia, Costa Rica and Belarus will have booths on the expo floor, and roughly 10 percent of the startups exhibiting and competing in the Startup Showcase are international, including Woosh. Keynotes include Israel-based Waze’s co-founder Uri Levine; Blanca Treviño, CEO of Mexico’s Softek; and Dave McClure, founding partner of 500 Startups who will talk about opportunities in Latin America, and there are panel discussions on Colombia, Cuba and innovation and media disruption in Latin America.

Kichink, a fast-growing e-commerce solutions platform in Mexico, will be there with a booth. The startup is setting up a Miami office and team to launch its U.S. operations, its first expansion outside its home country, said Kichink COO Lesley Ross. She also will be speaking at eMerge Americas on “the imminent e-commerce explosion.”

Lesley Ross is COO of Kichink

Kichink provides an end-to-end e-commerce solution for small- and medium-sized enterprises, as well as corporations in web hosting, digital marketing, customer service, payment processing and pick-ups and deliveries, said co-founder Claudia de Heredia from Mexico City. She will be participating in an eMerge Americas panel on scaling across markets with fellow Endeavor companies.

Kichink launched its platform in Mexico with 60 stores in 2013; it is now used by 83,000 companies, from mom-and-pop stores to big brands including Unilever, L’Oréal, Olay and AVON.

“We already have a presence both in Miami and Silicon Valley, but we are establishing the global headquarters in Miami,” Ross said. “We have team members on board or about to be announced … Miami also strategically places us in a nice position if we expand to Europe soon after.”

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

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