Entrepreneurs from around the world took the stage during this packed week of entrepreneurship events in Miami: Florida International University’s Americas Venture Capital Conference (known as AVCC), HackDay, Wayra’s Global DemoDay and Endeavor’s International Selection Panel.
The events, all part of the first Innovate MIA week, also put the spotlight on Miami as it continues to try to develop into a technology hub for the Americas.
“While I like art, I absolutely love what is happening today... The time has come to become a tech hub in Miami,” said Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez, who kicked off the venture capital conference on Thursday. He told the audience of 450 investors and entrepreneurs about the county’s $1 million investment in the Launch Pad Tech Accelerator in downtown Miami.
“I have no doubt that this gathering today will produce new ideas and new business ventures that will put our community on a fast track to becoming a center for innovative, tech-driven entrepreneurship,” Gimenez said.
Brad Feld, an early-stage investor and a founder of TechStars, cautioned that won’t happen overnight. Building a startup community can take five, 10, even 15 years, and those leading the effort, who should be entrepreneurs themselves, need to take the long-term view, he told the audience via video. “You can create very powerful entrepreneurial ecosystems in any city... I’ve spent some time in Miami, I think you are off to a great start.”
Throughout the two-day AVCC at the JW Brickell Marriott, as well as the Endeavor and Wayra events, entrepreneurs from around the world pitched their companies, hoping to persuade investors to part with some of their green.
And in some cases, the entrepreneurs could win money, too. During the venture capital conference, 29 companies —including eight from South Florida such as itMD, which connects doctors, patients and imaging facilities to facilitate easy access of records — competed for more than $50,000 in cash and prizes through short “elevator’’ pitches. Each took questions from the judges, then demoed their products or services in the conference “Hot Zone,” a room adjoining the ballroom. Some companies like oLyfe, a platform to organize what people share online, are hoping to raise funds for expansion into Latin America. Others like Ideame, a trilingual crowdfunding platform, were laser focused on pan-Latin American opportunities.
Winning the grand prize of $15,000 in cash and art was Trapezoid Digital Security of Miami, which provides hardware-based security solutions for enterprise and cloud environments. Fotopigeon of Tampa, a photo-sharing and printing service targeting the military and prison niches, scored two prizes.
The conference offered opportunities to hear formal presentations on current trends — among them the surge of start-ups in Brazil; the importance of mobile apps and overheated company valuations — and informal opportunities to connect with fellow entrepreneurs.
Speakers included Gaston Legorburu of SapientNitro, Albert Santalo of CareCloud and Juan Diego Calle of .Co Internet, all South Florida entrepreneurs. Jerry Haar, executive director of FIU’s Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center, which produced the conference with a host of sponsors, said the organizers worked hard to make the conference relevant to both the local and Latin American audience, with panels on funding and recruiting for startups, for instance.