If ever there was a poster image for the young, smart tech entrepreneur, it’s Joe Levy.
Levy, chief executive officer of clearCi, grew up in Aventura and later moved to San Francisco, where he was an integral part of research and development for a tech start-up that grew to 800 employees. Later, his experience took him to Israel, where he worked with upcoming tech companies.
But when it came to launching his business, Levy returned to South Florida, from where he’s changing the way companies collect, organize, manage and share information. The clearCi technology is used by more than 60 companies around the world, including Fortune 1000 companies. His experience in growing his company here offers plenty of lessons on what the region needs to do to build a vibrant tech community. What’s more, many of those lessons go against conventional wisdom.
Conventional Wisdom No. 1: Tech companies don’t locate here because they can’t find workers. Not so for Levy, who hasn’t had any difficulty filling positions. Granted he only has a handful of employees to date, but finding them hasn’t been a problem. Like many businesses, what he and other tech companies need are talented sales people and savvy marketing professionals, which he’s easily found and trained on how to sell and market clearCi. As for roles that require more technological expertise, he’s seeing a good crop of talented workers coming out the region’s universities and technical institutes.
Conventional Wisdom No. 2: To grow the local tech community, venture capitalists from places like Silicon Valley and Boston need to invest in South Florida tech companies. Perhaps, but Levy, who is in the midst of raising growth capital, is finding that venture capitalists from Silicon Valley want start-ups to have a presence in their area. As a result, a strategy that aims to get Silicon Valley investors to pay attention to South Florida companies could have the unintended consequence of having more of our tech companies move over there. Instead, Levy says he would like to see South Florida’s existing (and large) community of investors — which heavily focuses on sectors such as real estate and tourism — become more knowledgeable and aware of local tech investment opportunities. It’s not just about changing the focus of tech investors elsewhere, but also about re-refocusing investors already here.
Conventional Wisdom No. 3: South Florida can’t compete with established tech hubs elsewhere. In The New Argonauts, author AnnaLee Saxenian describes how places such as Taiwan and India have emerged as technology hubs because of their ability to lure back engineers and technicians who had immigrated to Silicon Valley. Those immigrants returned to their homelands, bringing back the tech expertise they had acquired. Back in their native homes, they found not only a culture and lifestyle they understood, but also countless untapped technology business opportunities. Rather than create replicas of Silicon Valley, they created their own unique centers of technology.
Levy is South Florida’s version of a new argonaut.
With the right economic-development strategy, he could be one of many.
Jacqueline Bueno Sousa, a former Herald metro columnist, is director of business-intelligence consulting firm i2 Integrity International, specializing in business and regional competitiveness.