There is a lot of talk recently about what it takes to build a great entrepreneurial ecosystem. Programs like Startup America (full disclosure, I am the state chair and I love them) do workshops for the regional champions to discuss best practices; both blogs and books offer instructions on what role the government should play, how universities can support the system and what we all need to do to make it work.
Launch Pad Tech will be a good example of a microecosystem at work. We didn’t want to just do another accelerator — we wanted to innovate on economic development principles and attract great people in great teams. Doing a multi-vertical (tech companies in creative, travel/hospitality and healthcare sectors) accelerator was a new concept that got great traction within the international tech community. Any issues with the business model or development can be worked out so we hunted for individuals who not only could scale big but also wanted to be part of the family we were creating. We want those people to stay in Miami to attract more great people. With the help of a superstar judging panel, we selected the 10 grantees for the first Launch Pad Tech class, ending up with five from the U.S. and five from abroad. We chose another 25 tech startups we believe in who are not in those verticals.
Between our first Launch Pad Tech class and the Community Program, those 35 companies, with more than 100 founders, will all be together, under one roof, in downtown Miami. That density in itself is the start of an ecosystem. Only in breaking bread, and sharing your joys and struggles, does it become something sustainable.
In reviewing more than 200 applications to the programs, the one consistent trait of those who seemed ready for greatness was a sense of balance among the founders. In interviews and in their video submissions, the teams with trusted partners exhibited confidence that was a clear competitive advantage. Everyone talks about complementary skills, but this team equilibrium was shown in other ways, a yin and yang of world view, energy and perhaps life experience. Teammates were respectful, each wanting the others to shine. Until you know your goals (both personally and professionally) and who you are, you won’t attract the partners you may need to find success. In achieving clarity of focus, your team can achieve a Zen stability even through startup chaos.
A few ways to achieve team equilibrium:
1. Work with mature people — not an age but a state. People who are mature are rational and don’t bring drama and stress into the lives of people they care about.
2. Maintain an open dialogue about each of your personal strengths and weaknesses and the corresponding roles — then stick to it! Maybe press is handled by one of you, then the others should be OK with not being interviewed.
3. Recruit high-level employees, as this will often result in positive results for your company as well as contribute to the local scene. When someone great moves from the West Coast or even Tampa, it promotes Miami as a place of opportunity and offers new network opportunities for the scene as a whole.
4. If you are working on transforming an industry, you may need experts and recognized names in the field as mentors and board members. You can attract world-class members to your board by striving to be world-class yourself. Not cutting corners, nor erring on the side of inclusion. Hold out for the best board members instead of who is available. Their involvement will validate you and Miami, and their network may change the course of your opportunity.
Every entrepreneur is driven to execute on a dream, an idea, a solution for a problem they have or something they want. That person is his most authentic self in this pursuit. There will be many more “agony of defeat” moments than even itty-bitty thrills, but you can’t imagine doing anything else. Somehow each becomes a valued battle scar that allows for a deep connection that only another entrepreneur can understand. We need to know we are not alone.
The shared pain of the realities of entrepreneurship is what drives the great ecosystems to grow and ultimately flourish. Success isn’t measured in the number of events or a new record for the multiple on a recent return on investment. At the end of the day, the goal is a support system strong enough that a business failure isn’t blamed on location.
All the advice from our friends in booming tech communities won’t help if we don’t have A-level people who care and are here for the long haul. Studying best practices in a vacuum doesn’t move the needle. Those looking simply to replicate best practices will never lead us to outpace our market rivals — we will always be catching up. We need to throw the gauntlet and forge a new path and innovate for ourselves! Dare I say it? We must be disruptive innovators and be entrepreneurial in our approach to rebranding Miami as the tech hub of the hemisphere. Then we can host other cities coming to study what we did. In January more than 20 tech founders will be moving to Miami. Next year let’s make it 200.
Susan Amat is the co-founder of The Launch Pad at the University of Miami and the founder of Launch Pad Tech. Follow her on Twitter at @susanamat.