A few weeks ago I was asked by the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness to host a roundtable discussion about challenges that South Florida entrepreneurs encounter. As I began the list, I wanted to focus on great representatives of our community — people like Devon Rifkin of the Great American Hanger Co., Zalmi Duchman of The Fresh Diet, David Lekach of Dream Water, Nicolette Moreno of Open English, Natalia Diaz of Green Roks and Patrick Tardieu of Bogosse. My list for a closed small event ballooned to 38 names before I realized it. Being able to identify so many entrepreneurs who are playing on national and international stages and choosing Miami as their home was truly a joyous moment.
We covered many topics at the roundtable over a two-hour period: funding, healthcare mandates, import tariffs. The energy in that boardroom was palpable — 20 entrepreneurs who really cared about making things better for others in their own startup journeys. After the roundtable, we spent the next hour talking about the future of Miami.
As I shared the details of Launch Pad Tech, generous offers of support came quickly. Of course I wanted to drag everyone in to my new endeavor but ultimately that won’t help us reach our goal. If we want Miami to have a world-class startup ecosystem, two main things must occur:
1. We must have a world-class support system for our entrepreneurs.
2. We must have world-class entrepreneurs.
So how do we get there?
The South Florida business community will play a vital role in Miami’s transformation into the tech hub of the hemisphere, but quality control will be the key. Support for entrepreneurs includes everything a startup needs to assess feasibility, develop, pilot, structure, build and grow the business.
I was in another region in Florida recently where they bragged about having many lawyers willing to support the scene. Over the following days it was evident that there were dozens of corporate and transactional lawyers who were lovely people with little to no experience or understanding of technology licensing or investment. A new friend of mine is a lawyer in Palo Alto who has worked on more than 3,000 emerging growth transactions, mostly in tech — that is all he does. When it comes time for me to bring in a lawyer, I am going to protect myself and my company and I have not yet found that kind of experience locally.
A similar issue occurs as a founder seeks engineers, both designers and computer scientists, to build products. Many entrepreneurs don’t even know the best language in which to develop their solution, counting on a friend who is “good with computers” to make decisions. Those suggestions often lead to disastrous outcomes and force the entrepreneur to start again from scratch.
Entrepreneurs don’t need advice from people who are well-meaning, they need access to thought leaders. If I am helping a startup that has a solution for the airline industry, I am going to beg Art Torno, a vice president of American Airlines, to meet with the team, and then hope the team impresses Art enough that he will further connect them to more experts.
To build and maintain a world-class support system for entrepreneurs, the best and brightest have to be willing to share their knowledge and experience. Florida is notorious for low levels of civic engagement (we rank No. 48 of 50 states, according to the Graham Center for Public Policy). A cultural shift must occur so that mentoring and volunteering become a regular part of a citizen’s schedule. And let’s be honest about our expertise: If you don’t know something, say you don’t know. We have to celebrate excellence and stop tolerating mediocrity.
Entrepreneurs must demand excellence as well, for themselves, their team and all those with whom they associate. Entrepreneurship is lonely — it is all you, all the time, and it is easy to feel desperate for help from anyone who offers. Calibrate your gut so that you have a long-term plan and avoid scams and fraudsters. Ask lots of people lots of questions and review those answers with a critical lens, revisiting your mission to ensure consistency.
The best thing entrepreneurs can do to help Miami is focus on their businesses. They have to build successful, high-growth companies to show it can be done, and only then will I beg them to mentor and invest in the next generation of startups.
Will the best minds in our business community please step forward and volunteer time to help our entrepreneurs create the next great Miami success story? And entrepreneurs: No one else is making your business a reality — your future is in your hands. Head’s down — get back to work!
This is a very special time to be in Miami. I hope you will join us in supporting and nurturing the job creators who will breathe new life and opportunity into our community. And maybe next time successful South Florida entrepreneurs are brought together, we will fill a stadium instead of a boardroom.
Susan Amat is the co-founder of The Launch Pad and the founder of Launch Pad Tech. She loves Miami. Follow her on Twitter at @susanamat.