Miami Beach firm wins top prize in contest at pop-up accelerator

Communities / Article

Above: Participants and advisers gather for the NewME Pop-Up Accelerator demo night at The LAB Miami. Photo credit: NewME.

A Miami Beach company with deep roots in managing assisted living facilities won first prize in a pitch competition staged Sunday night at The Lab Miami in Wynwood by an accelerator trying to give startups a boost toward success.

Mia Senior Living Solutions principal Pilar Bretos Carvajal said she attended the NewME pop-up accelerator to practice her message as the company, which was founded 17 years ago by Carvajal’s mother, Conchy Bretos, tries to “move the ship.”

“Our business model in the past has consisted of setting up and managing these assisted living facilities on behalf of owners,” she said. “We have had short-term contracts and handed the facilities over to the owner once the contract expired.  We realize now that we cannot control the quality of the product in this fashion so we are changing our business model to own and operate the facilities.” 

“I wasn’t expecting anything like this,” Carvajal said, after NewME founder Angela Benton announced that Mia Senior Living Solutions had won $46,625 in prizes.

The award package includes server and software services, a chance to pitch to Google Ventures and a space next year at NewME’s residential accelerator in San Francisco. The accelerator’s core service is a 12-week entrepreneurial immersion program for groups underrepresented in the tech industry, such as women, Latinos and African-Americans. 

It was the second year of the NewME accelerator program in Miami, which Knight Foundation first brought to South Florida in November.

“Miami really is a special place,” Benton said. “You have so much momentum.”

The event, which began Thursday night with a dinner hosted by Knight, included private coaching from experienced entrepreneurs and lessons on building presentation skills from communications coach Anthony L. Hogan.

Hogan, who held workshops for the teams Friday and Saturday nights, told the participants that they had to emulate eagles, with “the ability to fly above the storms.”

“You have to start thinking, ‘I’m an entrepreneur. I’m not like an average person,’” he said.

Demo night capped the weekend, with 38 companies pitching their ideas to a panel of four judges. The teams ranged from one-person shops refining pitches for a few thousand dollars to hire developers to mature companies like Mia Senior Living Solutions coordinating a message around the millions they need to diversify or scale their businesses.

Two teams tied for second place and each won packages worth $37,000: #HASH, which is developing “untraceable multiplatform messaging”; and Portbox, which is developing a real-time availability calendar with automated booking for the modeling industry. A third-place award of $22,000 in services and products went to Jurnid, a publishing, reading and advocacy news platform.

The winners provided just a sampling of the diversity of projects pitched by the entrepreneurs Sunday night. Other projects included, Art2po, a marketplace for digital art; Delicious Bath Water, a comedy company that produces video, film and books; ProTrack Guides, which provides track information to race enthusiasts; Oriculture, which is developing an African-centered approach to cultural learning for K-12 students; and Surfr App, which allows surfers to journal ocean conditions and share the information.

Will Hatcher, a standup comedian and founder of Delicious Bath Water in Delray Beach, also attended last year’s accelerator. Like several companies, he was seeking advisers.

“I didn’t know what I was doing last year,” he said. “But we’ve evolved since then. I spoke at South by Southwest and did a book signing there. Now we’re looking for strategic partnerships.”

Bimotics founder Roberto Landrau, who was also attending for the second time, said meeting other entrepreneurs and learning about the needs of other companies is an important part of the experience.

“Angela has introduced us to others who may be able to use our services,” he said.  His Fort Lauderdale company creates dashboards to help small businesses understand data. This year his team was pitching Instia powered by Bimotics, a broader use of the tech.

Matt Haggman, Knight’s Miami program director, said events like the pop-up accelerator are essential to cultivating the emerging startup community in South Florida. “We’re creating networks that connect entrepreneurs and platforms that provide the opportunity to experiment and grow new ventures,” he said. “We want Miami to be a place where ideas are built—and where they can thrive.”

According to Haggman, since NewME held its first accelerator in Miami last year the startup scene has become even more robust. NewME even brought its program back earlier than planned because they had received so many inquiries from South Florida entrepreneurs, Benton said.

The accelerator also began during the same week when Endeavor, a global entrepreneurship nonprofit, officially launched its first U.S. affiliate in Miami.  Haggman will represent Knight on the Endeavor board.

He said there’s more ahead in the coming months. Knight is supporting Miami Mini Maker Faire, a showcase of creativity and learning scheduled for November, and SIME Miami in December, a business conference that will bring together technologists, corporate executives and thought leaders in the days preceding Art Basel.

According to Benton, Miami was the first city outside of the San Francisco Bay Area for NewME, and it has been an incubator for ideas her team has taken to communities around the country.

“You guys are just way, way ahead of other cities already,” she said. “We’ll definitely be back here again.”

Michael D. Bolden, editorial director of Knight Foundation