For the past year through his new role at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Matt Haggman has been a man on a mission — to help put Miami’s startup community on the map.
As the Knight Foundation’s Miami program director, Haggman has been the face of the foundation’s new efforts to accelerate a technology hub and startup community in South Florida. Haggman and Ben Wirz, Knight’s director of business consulting, set out to make foundation investments in key areas so that entrepreneurs would have places to meet, collaborate and learn and programs and networks offering access to mentorship, training and investor funding. The ultimate goal is a robust, sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem.
The office’s biggest investment so far: $2 million over five years, to bring Endeavor, the global nonprofit, to Miami to mentor, promote and accelerate high-impact entrepreneurs. Endeavor, which launched in Latin America in the late ‘90s and now has operations in 14 countries around the world, chose Miami for its first U.S. office. Haggman said it all started with a get-to-know-one-another meeting with Peter Kellner, the co-founder of Endeavor, who now lives in South Florida, in the lobby of a Miami Beach hotel last spring. With more study, which included a trip to Mexico City to interview entrepreneurs, leaders and mentors involved with the program, “I became convinced this is the perfect thing for Miami,” said Haggman, a former Miami Herald reporter.
The foundation has also invested in a co-working campus, The LAB Miami in Wynwood, and has been sponsoring dozens of events, contests and organizations around town. For nearly a year, Haggman and Richard Florida, the urban affairs expert and author, had been discussing and planning the recent Startup City: Miami, a day-long event that drew more than 1,000 people. And there’s more to come: “We’re just getting started,” Haggman says.
Haggman answered some questions recently about the Knight Foundation’s current projects in entrepreneurship and offered some thoughts about the entrepreneurial community.
Q. Let’s go back a little bit. Why did the Knight Foundation’s Miami office choose entrepreneurship as a focus?
A. Our mission at Knight Foundation is helping create more informed and engaged communities. With that in mind, in each city we work, we try to develop a locally-focused initiative that builds on trends in that particular city and in an area where we can have an impact.
For the past five years, we’ve helped develop the local arts scene in Miami. As we looked around a year ago, we saw a great opportunity in widening our lens on the creative community to focus on helping build the startup and entrepreneurial community — from social entrepreneurs to for-profit efforts.
Q. The Knight Foundation seems to be a sponsor of entrepreneurship events all over town, from the AT&T Hackathon, the NewME Pop-up Accelerator, TekFight, HackDay and the Americas Venture Capital Conference to the recent Startup City: Miami, last week’s SuperConf and many others. Is that by design?
A. Yes, it is by design. One of the pillars of our strategy is to make it easier for entrepreneurs to connect, exchange ideas and learn from each other. A fundamental challenge is that we as a community are siloed and quite fragmented, yet the elements are all here. To remedy that, we’re looking to increase the frequency, quality and variety of convenings in the startup community.
Q. In building a tech ecosystem, what can be learned from Miami’s success — and the Knight Foundation’s leadership — in the arts and culture?
A. That things can move quickly in Miami and that we have the ability to change, fast. That we must focus on the grassroots, while building at the organizational level too. That it’s a community effort — hierarchies and top-down approaches don’t work, and success hinges on building a strong, diverse network of people and organizations. That we at Knight Foundation don’t have the answers, but the community certainly does.
Q. Complete this sentence: South Florida’s startup community most needs ...
A. ... more big, homegrown successes.
Q. You’ve traveled and met with entrepreneurs in other communities, from Berlin to Mexico City. What are the takeaways for Miami?
A. Miami has many of the elements needed to succeed, and its gaps can be filled.
The characteristics that Miami shares with robust startup communities include strong universities, a thriving cultural scene, a highly diverse and international population, a widely-shared entrepreneurial spirit, an increasing urban density, easy accessibility from other cities, and a high concentration of wealth. Yet, we lack the infrastructure and support system — the strong connections between entrepreneurs, mentors and smart capital.
Q. Helping to bring Endeavor to Miami to set up its first U.S. center for high-impact entrepreneurs is Knight’s biggest investment to date in this area. Why is this a cornerstone of your strategy?
A. Endeavor’s model aims to solve the problems that Miami confronts: a lack of connection, mentorship and access to smart funding. For some 15 years, Endeavor has developed a pay-it-forward model in cities around the world that not only propels leading entrepreneurs but in which more than 65 percent of Endeavor Entrepreneurs go on to become future mentors and funders of other entrepreneurs.
Q. What’s ahead for Knight’s entrepreneurship investments?
A. We’re just getting started. And, by the way, this is a total team effort at Knight: Ben Wirz, our director of business consulting, has spent countless hours and is a partner on this. Our aim is to connect, educate and inspire. To do that, we’re focusing in six core areas: helping build physical places for entrepreneurs to meet, work and share; expand mentor networks; increase the richness of convenings, from weeknight meetups to large-scale conferences; improve communication platforms; better connect entrepreneurs and investors; and improve skills and capabilities — like expanded Internet access in our poorest areas — that broaden and further diversify our base of entrepreneurs.
Q. What will be your metrics for success?
A. Our ultimate goal is to help make Miami more of a place where ideas are built. The talent is here in Miami. Lindsay Hyde who founded the mentoring program Strong Women Strong Girls, and Jeff Bezos at Amazon — they called Miami home as kids. The challenge is getting our best innovators, social entrepreneurs and doers of all kinds to see that Miami has the people, the tools, and wherewithal to build their ideas here.
Q. How are you finding your career transition from journalism to philanthropy?
A. Enjoying it. There are similarities about the two jobs. The ongoing learning, the people.
Q. Favorite book?
A. Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Tracy Kidder.
Q. What inspired you to work with Richard Florida and the Atlantic team to put on the recent Start-Up City: Miami?
A. Richard is perhaps the leading thinker on what makes cities succeed. He and his wife Rana have grown increasingly attached to Miami and for nearly a year we’ve been discussing the conference. We couldn’t be more thrilled with how it went. New World Center was packed; so much energy and so many insights.
The idea was to combine both local doers and thought leaders, with national leaders in the field, and take a hard look at Miami. The feedback has been very good. But the big takeaway for me wasn’t the speakers, but the attendees. Miami turned out in a big way. Clearly something is stirring.