Get Smartsy! This Miami startup is making beautiful graphic design accessible to all

By Riley Kaminer

Graphic designer: It’s yet another hat that today’s founder is expected to wear, given the intensely visual nature of startup marketing today.

But the reality is that most founders couldn’t draw if their life depended on it. Meanwhile, new tools like Canva, which aim to make graphic design slightly more ‘idiot proof’ bring difficulties of their own.

Enter Kelly Quijano, co-founder of Smartsy, an artificial intelligence driven platform that enables small business owners to more easily create graphics. She knows a thing or two about design, having previously worked as the Head of Product at Austin-based SaaS work reference platform WorkGrades – and also holding a degree from New York’s Parsons School of Design.

“Canva was supposed to be the really easy tool for graphic design,” she told Refresh Miami. “But as we started to do user research, we began to realize that it was overwhelming for people without a design background.” 

Through Smartsy, users can simply insert the textual ideas they want to communicate and their ideal color scheme – and out pops a wide range of potential designs that are ready to upload. Users can also add images to bring their designs to the next level. “It’s bespoke and super easy to use,” Quijano shared. “You don’t have to do much to get the design to the perfect place.”

To further customize their designs, users can buy add-ons to enable them to customize content using their own brand guidelines and to access more suggested designs.

The original spark for Smartsy came in the form of a Techstars Miami program, Founder Catalyst. It was through this short program that Quijano met Andres Barreto, Techstars’ Miami-based managing director. After pivoting and onboarding co-founder and CTO Yaroslav Zhyvylo, Smartsy eventually joined the flagship Techstars Miami program late last year.

From that point, Smartsy developed its MVP and amassed its initial user base: a core of 20 brands plus a waitlist of 50. They also attracted a series of relevant angel investors including Tia Silas, Shopify’s Chief Human Resources Officer; ecommerce expert Reina Govindarajan; and Mitali Pattnaik, a former product executive at LinkedIn and Twitter.

Quijano landed in Miami around two years ago. While the primary impetus for her move was to accompany her husband, who was taking a new job here – it turns out that Miami has been the ideal place to build Smartsy. “I don’t think Smartsy would have happened unless we had come to Miami,” she said, underscoring Barreto’s deeply meaningful impact on the company. 

And Quijano’s plans are ambitions: “I feel like we’re building one of the first iconic companies in Miami,” she said. “We’re building something really special. It’s going to be big and global – also reflecting the culture of Miami and the tech scene here.”


Riley Kaminer