By Ashley Portero – Senior Reporter, South Florida Business Journal
Jan 6, 2022
With high failure rates and myriad challenges to overcome, it’s safe to say that launching a successful startup is a feat to be celebrated.
That was especially true in 2021, as businesses either revamped their products, pivoted or entered new verticals to cope with curveballs thrown by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
While financial technology and health care ventures make up large portions of South Florida’s startup scene, the region’s innovation sector isn’t completely dominated by any industry or vertical – and that’s reflected on our list.
Our inaugural Startups to Watch feature includes businesses from a variety of industries, with everything from virtual reality to psychedelic mental health care represented. The companies are tackling the future of work, crypto investing, real estate development, banking and more. They’re also attracting substantial funding from investors with an eye out for early-stage startups poised for growth in the years to come.
The companies highlighted have generally raised a series B round of funding or smaller, and most (but not all) were founded within the last three years.
(order has been adjusted for relevance)
What it does: The property technology venture uses artificial intelligence to help real estate developers identify parcels for their projects.
Why to watch it: Deepblocks, which is designed to optimize returns for real estate investors, has secured at least $2.3 million from investors including CRCM Ventures and Singularity University Ventures. The company, founded by Olivia Ramos, created software that uses data and deep learning to enable users to zoom in on a specific parcel, set building parameters and then build a 3D visual of their project. The program also provides an analysis with the development’s projected return on investment.
What it does: QuickNode provides infrastructure for companies to integrate with 10 blockchains, including Ethereum, Bitcoin and Binance Smart Chain.
Why to watch it: There’s growing demand for products that use blockchain, which powers cryptocurrency, NFT marketplaces, data-sharing and more. The Miami-based startup completed a $35 million series A funding round in October led by Tiger Global Management.
What it does: The Fort Lauderdale-based startup offers turnkey housing to people age 55 and over, matching customers with arrangements that vary from a room in a shared apartment to an entire home.
Why to watch it: The company is among a new wave of elder tech startups coming online to serve the nation’s baby boomer generation. One of its founders is Jake Rothstein, who also co-founded Miami elder tech firm Papa before leaving that company in 2017.
What it does: The Miami startup provides software that car rental and car-sharing companies need to process and manage insurance claims.
Why to watch it: Lula, launched by twin brothers Michael and Matthew Vega-Sanz, began as a car-sharing app for college students. They pivoted to insurance once campuses shuttered during the Covid-19 pandemic – and it quickly paid off. In July, Lula attracted $18 million in a series A funding round stacked by investors including Founders Fund, Khosla Ventures, SoftBank and Florida Funders.
What it does: The Miami-based game development studio focuses exclusively on virtual reality tech. The startup is developing Vail VR, a first-person multiplayer shooter game that combines virtual reality with social gaming.
Why to watch it: Founded in late 2020, Aexlab has already raised $1.4 million in seed funding through its equity crowdfunding campaign on StartEngine. The company has a $50 million valuation.
What it does: The Miami-based company designs and develops branded experiences for fans to buy, collect and resell NFTs.
Why to watch it: The sales of digital assets such as NFTs surged in popularity this year, and that could continue as more businesses and investors get behind the metaverse, a virtual environment accessible via a virtual reality headset. Recur, founded in 2021, has already raised $55 million in venture capital. Its founders, brothers Max and Zach Bruch, were among Forbes’ 30 Under 30 honorees in 2021.
What it does: The peer-to-peer boat rental service enables users to book a privately owned vessel (with a captain) near them, sort of like an “Airbnb for boats.”
Why to watch it: Founded in 2012, the Fort Lauderdale-based company has raised $31 million in funding to date, with San Francisco-based WestCap Group and Chicago-based Valor Equity among its investors. This year, Boatsetter began offering yacht rentals, and then fishing boat charters following its acquisition of New York-based Fisher Guiding.
What it does: The virtual health care company offers mental health and addiction therapy to Medicaid patients.
Why to watch it: The Miami-based company has raised $21 million from investors since launching in 2019, including a $10 million series B financing round that closed in October. Brave Health also targets a seriously underserved population: Medicaid patients. The number of psychiatrists who accept Medicaid shrunk by half over the past decade, leaving far fewer treatment options for the estimated 75 million Americans covered by the federal health insurance program.
What it does: The interactive video-calling platform enables families to read
and play games with their children and grandchildren from afar.
Why to watch it: The Miami-based venture’s customer base skyrocketed during the Covid-19 pandemic, with its number of users growing tenfold in one 24-hour period alone. Caribu has raised $5 million in seed funding from a combination of grants, investment firms and equity crowdfunding. Co-founder and CEO Max Tuchman is a well-known Miami tech advocate who previously served as White House fellow for the U.S. Department of the Treasury and executive director of Teach For America Miami-Dade.
What it does: Founded in 2017, Miami-based SelfDecode provides personalized recommendations based on an individual’s DNA and lab work.
Why to watch it: Health fanatics and physicians can find value in SelfDecode, which offers wellness reports and lifestyle suggestions to help customers optimize their health based on their genome. (As of this writing, however, the U.S Food and Drug Administration had not approved the DNA testing kit.) This year, SelfDecode raised $8 million in seed funding, including $1 million raised via equity crowdfunding.
What it is: An education technology chore-tracking app dedicated to teaching kids about credit scores and financial literacy.
Why to watch it: Founded by Evan Leaphart in 2018, Kiddie Kredit this year inked a partnership with Equifax – one of the country’s largest credit bureaus – to educate kids about credit. Leaphart was part of the second cohort of Endeavor Miami’s EndeavorLAB, which aimed to help Black-led businesses scale.
What it is: A financing platform for small exporting businesses in the U.S. and Latin America. The Miami-based company aims to facilitate cross-border trade by providing working capital to small and medium exporters.
Why to watch it: In July, the startup closed an $82 million seed financing round led by Chilean investment firm Kayyak Ventures to support product development. Marco Financial reports small exporters often struggle to obtain financing from traditional banks, making it nearly impossible to compete with larger companies. Founder Peter D. Spradling said the venture’s financing of small businesses can help build a more equitable trade ecosystem.
What it does: The telemedicine startup provides ketamine-supported mental health treatments to patients. Its mobile app is designed to support the psychedelic experience.
Why to watch it: The Miami-based startup is led by co-founder and CEO Juan Pablo Cappello, a longtime tech entrepreneur who co-founded the LAB Miami and Miami Angels. Medical research suggests mind-altering drugs such as ketamine and psilocybin (the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms”) could be effective treatments for conditions such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder in conjunction with therapy. Nue Life raised $3.3 million in seed funding this year, with investors including Shutterstock founder Jon Oringer, Atomic founder and Managing Partner Jack Abraham, and tech investor and former Uber executive Shervin Pishevar.
What it does: Novo’s mobile banking platform supports a range of digital banking features for businesses, including free checking accounts, payment transfers, budgeting, invoicing and e-commerce tracking.
Why to watch it: This year, the fintech raised $40 million in a series A funding round led by Valar Ventures, a venture capital firm backed by billionaire investor Peter Thiel. Novo, which moved its headquarters to Miami’s Brickell Financial District from New York City in March, reports it tripled its small-business customer base and surpassed more than $1 billion in transactions in the first half of 2021.
What it does: The Miami-based company streamlines hiring procedures for employers seeking international hires.
Why to watch it: The normalization of remote work during the Covid-19 pandemic means that employers can now consider candidates from anywhere in the world. The platform is backed by $26 million in venture capital from investors such as Tiger Global and SoftBank Opportunity Fund.
What it does: The startup buys small e-commerce businesses that operate on the Shopify platform.
Why to watch it: Venture capitalists Keith Rabois and Jack Abraham teamed up this year to found OpenStore, which has already raised $105 million across two funding rounds. Both Rabois, a general partner at Founders Fund, and Abraham, founder of startup studio Atomic, are California transplants credited with encouraging other Silicon Valley tech figures to move to Miami.
What it is: A Coral Gables-based payment platform for independent freight businesses. PayCargo’s cloud-based technology enables virtual payments for air and ocean carriers, maritime ports, ground handlers, freight forwarders and customs brokers, resulting in quicker cargo release for businesses.
Why to watch it: PayCargo reported it had more than 67,000 active users remitting and receiving payments on its platform as of June. The fintech attracted one of the largest venture capital investments in the region this year after raising $125 million from existing investor Insight Partners, a New York-based private equity and venture capital firm.
What it is: Pipe launched in early 2020 as a revenue trading platform for businesses. While companies usually sell equity or take on debt to fund their growth, Pipe allows them to sell revenue flows. The idea is to treat recurring revenue streams as an asset and trade future re
curring revenue into upfront capital.
Why to watch it: Pipe has become a favorite among the tech elite, with investors that include Salesforce founder Marc Benioff and Seven Seven Six, a venture fund led by Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian. It’s among a handful of Miami-area “unicorns,” or startups with valuations over $1 billion.
What it is: A vacation and short-term rental platform that operates in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and New Orleans.
Why to watch it: Miami-based Sextant Stays grew its inventory more than sevenfold in the early days of the pandemic, renting out entire apartment buildings in South Florida and New Orleans to fuel its expansion. Co-founder Iskander Karimov and COO Brandreth Canaley appeared on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 consumer technology list in 2021.
What it does: The startup pays people to earn qualifications in data engineering and cybersecurity in a quest to remove financial barriers that often prevent those in underrepresented groups from receiving that training.
Why to watch it: Miami-based Strategio launched in August after raising $2 million from U.K.-based investment group Hydrogen Group PLC. The startup aims to boost diversity in tech and connect people with job opportunities that could change their economic futures. Connecting locals and college students with tech positions is a key concern as the local sector gains attention. Strategio founder Conor Delanbanque was also among Forbes’ recent 30 Under 30 honorees.
What it is: An on-demand platform that matches individuals and businesses with tax professionals
Why to watch it: Founded in 2015, Taxfyle has raised more than $7.3 million from local investors including Fuel Venture Capital and Ocean Azul Partners. In 2020, the firm launched a separate company, RMW Accounting, to acquire CPA firms.
What it is: A cloud-based accounting platform for small businesses
Why to watch it: The Fort Lauderdale-based company reported a more than 700% increase in revenue from 2019 to early 2021, and said it gained customers during the Covid-19 pandemic when businesses rushed to digitize their back-office operations. Xendoo is backed by nearly $5 million in venture funding, and has customers across 45 states and 12 countries.