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.