More than 500 of the top executives in South Florida were in the audience a year ago when I made the statement that was a sobering realization for a group that had convened to celebrate the great achievements the technology industry had enjoyed in the previous year. I myself cringed when I said bluntly, “Miami does NOT have tech.”
As someone with a deep, enduring love for Miami and the head of one of the few publicly traded technology companies in this community, nothing caused me more frustration over the years than the fact that our community has not been able to take advantage of our differentiators to elevate the IT sector to the level of economic staples like tourism, real estate and construction.
There have been some tremendous strides made to help foster a growing tech sector, but these efforts are just the beginning of what must be achieved to elevate South Florida in the context of the broader technology ecosystem.
Where we are today in technology mirrors the opportunity facing our community a decade ago when the organizers of Art Basel decided to launch the event here. For much of its history, Miami was never considered a major center for arts and culture. Yet today our community hosts tens of thousands of visitors every year for the premier art show in the Western Hemisphere. More importantly, Art Basel served as the catalyst that led to the development of an arts and culture industry that contributes millions of dollars and thousands of jobs to the local economy. If we can do the same thing in technology the impact will be truly game changing for South Florida.
The good news is that today we have the perfect opportunity to establish our region as the tech hub I know it can be. Our geography makes us the ideal bridge to connect Latin America and the world as the traditional large technology vendors chase growth in new emerging markets and highly skilled IT professionals with a strong entrepreneurial spirit from throughout the Americas look for opportunities to tap into the global marketplace. I firmly believe that if we act now, in a concerted and unified fashion, we can make Miami the center for technology innovation for the Americas.
In order to become a technology hub that compliments the mature ecosystems of Silicon Valley, Research Triangle, and London, there are four critical areas that we must advance.
First, we must enhance the world-class education our students are receiving by focusing on the areas that will drive technology-based employment opportunities in the 21st century. To do this we must instill a strong sense of curiosity in our children about how the technologies that convert 1’s and 0’s into the applications that make everything from mobile banking to angry birds flying across the screen possible.
Second, we must continue the momentum in nurturing the entrepreneurs and startups that have tremendous potential to be the next Facebook or Twitter. There are many intrepid young minds in our community that are working tirelessly to take their unique ideas and make them into thriving businesses. We need to continue providing the service that will accelerate their success.
Third, our community needs the institutional funding mechanism to finance these burgeoning companies so they don’t need to relocate to attract the financial resources needed to take their enterprises to the next stage. Access to capital beyond angel investments is critical to providing entrepreneurs with a clear path to business success without ever having to leave South Florida.