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.
Finally, we have to retain the talented technology employees our universities are producing and bring back the thousands of sophisticated workers that have left Miami for greater opportunities in other areas of the world. Miami is one of the best places in the world to live, play and work — let’s make a concerted effort to keep the talent we’re nurturing so they can serve as the fuel that takes our economy to new heights.
To make this a reality, I am putting my money where my mouth is. Along with many of Miami’s community and business leaders, we have created the Technology Foundation of the Americas — a non-profit organization whose mission is to serve as the catalyst for establishing Miami as the technology hub for the Americas. Our foundation’s primary focus today is in launching the preeminent technology conference focused on emerging technologies impacting the Latin American market. Starting in May of 2014 this annual conference, eMerge Americas, will attract thousands of technology leaders from across the Americas to Miami to hear about the latest trends driving areas like cloud computing, cybersecurity and mobile applications; to meet with their peers, customers and partners; and to enjoy all the fun and entertainment our community has to offer.
To validate the immense impact we believe this conference can have on our local economy, we have commissioned an economic impact study that took a conservative approach and predicts the event has the potential to help bring approximately 17,000 additional jobs in the high tech and related industries over the next 10 years; generate $1.6 billion in growth to Miami-Dade County’s GDP from the eMerge Americas conference and the economic development impact directly tied to the event; and bring $2.4 billion in additional local sales over the first 10 years the conference is held.
This is a herculean effort that will require the hard work and support of the public and private institutions that are at the core of our community. With the help of key leaders and organizations throughout South Florida, we can effect the change needed to make sure that in the near future we can all say with conviction “Miami has tech!”
Manuel D. Medina is the founding and managing partner of Medina Capital. For more information about the Technology Foundation of the Americas, please visit www.tfamericas.org.