Jerry Haar, executive director of the Eugenio Pino and Family Global Entrepreneurship Center at FIU, says the university also plans to open an incubator next year. There are other prestigious programs, including EO’s invitation-only Accelerator Program. South Florida’s program includes 20 entrepreneurs whose companies are bringing in at least $250,000 in revenues. The three-year program is structured to take them past the million-dollar mark. Other accelerators, incubators or meeting spaces, both public and private ventures, are in early development stages.
Strong accelerators are an important building block of a tech community, says Ivan Rapin-Smith, a serial entrepreneur and partner in Idealy, a Belgian accelerator network. He moved to Coconut Grove in November and immediately began immersing himself in the tech scene.
“Peer learning is really powerful, like Plug and Play in Silicon Valley. As an entrepreneur, you need a place where you can go and not feel alone and you know there are people — entrepreneurs, investors — to help you,” Rapin-Smith says.
Kristen McLean, CEO of Bookigee, would agree with that. She founded her company in 2010 to help the book market evolve for the digital age; one of her products, WriterCube, a marketing and analytics system for authors, is set to launch this month. As part of the 2011 Incubate Miami class, she worked with strong mentors, but more of a mentoring culture is needed throughout the tech community, particularly from lawyers and accountants with early-stage company expertise, she says. “I’d like to see some thoughtful work on getting local firms familiar with best practices in the tech communities. We had to go back and clean up some mistakes we wouldn’t have made with some knowledgeable help.”
Bookigee, with a core team of six, has raised $500,000 of seed financing in three phases from angels in Miami, North Carolina, New York and California, but McLean says a more sophisticated funding network is sorely needed in South Florida (see related story Tuesday). Still, she’s hoping to continue growing her company in Miami. “Starting a company down here is an adventure,” McLean says. “But Miami loves creativity — it is an awesome place.”
Successful tech hubs from Seattle to Boston already have a mentorship culture where successful entrepreneurs open their doors to aspiring start-ups. Providing avenues for mentoring is important at companies at all stages, says Haar of FIU’s Pino Center. In his 2013 plan — a venture mentor service to provide consulting and mentoring by highly experienced professionals to a small number of rigorously selected start-up, early stage and later stage firms.
MAKING IT WORK
Much of the debate of late has been on how to pull all these efforts together to speed up South Florida’s emergence as a tech hub. What’s needed, says Matt Haggman, the Knight Foundation’s Miami program director, is an infrastructure — from co-working spaces and mentors to better access to funders — that allows the start-up community to better connect and engage.
Should a South Florida tech hub focus on one area of strength? John Sculley, former CEO of Apple and now an investor living in South Florida, had some thoughts on that during a recent South Florida Technology Alliance event at Citrix in Fort Lauderdale: “There are really interesting healthcare companies here and there is a lot of talent around. ... Florida is No. 2 in medical device companies... Healthcare is something where the South Florida technology community can start with an advantage, not behind the starting line.”