One by one, representatives from six startup companies walked onto the wooden stage and presented their products or services to a full house of about 200 investors, mentors, and other supporters Thursday at Incubate Miami’s DemoDay in the loft-like Grand Central in downtown Miami. With a large screen behind them projecting their graphs and charts, they set out to persuade the funders in the room to part with some of their green and support the tech community.
Just 24 hours later, from an elaborate “dojo stage,” a drummer warmed up the crowd of several hundred before a “Council of Elders” entered the ring to share wisdom as the all-day free event opened. Called TekFight, part education, part inspiration, and part entertainment, the martial arts-inspired program challenged entrepreneurs to earn points to “belt up” throughout the day to meet with the “masters” of the tech community.
The two events, which kicked off Innovate MIA week, couldn’t be more different. But in their own ways, like a one-two punch, they exuded the spirit and energy growing in the startup community.
One of the goals of the TekFight event was to introduce young entrepreneurs and students to the tech community, because not everyone has found it yet and it’s hard to know where to start, said Saif Ishoof, the executive director of City Year Miami who co-founded TekFight as a personal project. And throughout the event, he and co-founder Jose Antonio Hernandez-Solaun, as well as Binsen J. Gonzalez and Jeff Goudie, wanted to find creative, engaging ways to offer participants access to some of the community’s most successful leaders.
That would include Alberto Dosal, chairman of CompuQuip Technologies; Albert Santalo, founder and CEO of CareCloud; Jorge Plasencia, chairman and CEO of Republica; Jaret Davis, co-managing shareholder of Greenberg Traurig; and more than two dozen other business and community leaders who shared their war stories and offered advice. Throughout the day, the event was live-streamed on the Web, a TekFight app created by local entrepreneur and UM student Tyler McIntyre kept everyone involved in the tournament and tweets were flying — with #TekFight trending No. 1 in the Miami area for parts of the day. “Next time Art Basel will know not to try to compete with TekFight,” Ishoof quipped.
‘Miami is a hotbed’
After a pair of Chinese dragons danced through the audience, Andre J. Gudger, director for the U.S. Department of Defense Office of Small Business Programs, entered the ring. “I’ve never experienced an event like this,” Gudger remarked. “Miami is a hotbed for technology but nobody knew it.”
Gudger shared humorous stories and practical advice on ways to get technology ideas heard at the highest levels of the federal government. “Every federal agency has a director over small business — find out who they are,” he said. He has had plenty of experience in the private sector: Gudger, who wrote his first computer program on his neighbor’s computer at the age of 12, took one of his former companies from one to 1,300 employees.
There were several rounds that pitted an entrepreneur against an investor, such as Richard Grundy, of the tech startup Flomio, vs. Jonathan Kislak, of Antares Capital, who asked Grundy, “why should I give you money?”