Amid flurry of tech-hub advances, pause to take stock of what we have

 

ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

With a host of co-working spaces and accelerators for entrepreneurs, Endeavor’s new office and the eMerge conference on the way, and recent news such as Open English’s Series D raise of $65 million, there’s been a shift in the tech-hub conversation of late: It’s not what we don’t have, it’s what we have.

The panel discussion at last week’s Miami Finance Forum event , “The CEO Power Breakfast: Meet Miami’s Newest Investor Groups,” included Melissa Krinzman, managing director of Venture Architects, Ben Wirz, director of business consulting, Knight Enterprise Fund, Adam Smith, partner of Medina Capital Group, Peter Kellner, co-founder of Endeavor, Marco Giberti, angel investor with Accelerated Growth Partners, and Matt Haggman, the Knight Foundation’s Miami program director.

Here’s a bit on what we do have, according to the panelists:

The new  Venture Architects Investor Network is a private network where investors will be matched with entrepreneurs who fit their investment profile. The deals that come through the network have been vetted; the network draws on  Venture Architects' strong New York-Miami ties. Just since launching in January, there are already 20 angel investors and five funds in the network, Krinzman said.

Accelerated Growth Partners, a relatively new local angel group, in less than a year has invested $2 million plus ($25K to $250K or sometimes more) in early-stage companies, some locally and many from Latin America, as well as other U.S. and European companies that are open to moving offices here. “Our position is to find the best angel investors and find the best talent here or bring that talent here,” said Giberti.

Medina Capital, founded by Manny Medina, invests in spaces like cyber security, big data, cloud and storage, Smith said. “What we try to do to fill this gap (between angels and later-stage funds) for folks that need to go to the next level … That also led to eMerge Americas (the tech conference planned for next May). ... We are a natural gateway to Latin America and we should use that to our advantage,” he said.

Endeavor, the global nonprofit for high impact entrepreneurship, now in 15 countries, chose Miami for its first U.S. office, now under development. “We look for entrepreneurs across all industries that will have a very significant impact. … We are a signaling organization so when we get set up here, we believe entrepreneurs will start coming out of the woodwork,” said Kellner. ( See "the Endeavor Effect on Endeavor.org.)

Knight Enterprise Fund, launched a year ago, has made 12 or 13 seed and Series A investments to date, said Wirz. “We are looking at companies that reduce the distance between people and information.” He said the foundation’s $10 million fund has invested in one local company, Gui.de, which turns blogs and online news into TV, making information more fun and interesting to consume, and is looking at a second company.

Opportunities for growth come with exposure. “One of the challenges is communicating the experience of the money here. We have a lot of talent here and we are going to have to shout about what that talent brings beyond the dollars,” said Krinzman. On all the family offices here, Giberti said the offices often don’t have experience in investing in tech “but when they try it, they do like it. I think family offices can play a vital role in this early-stage community… it will be interesting to syndicate more and better capital for startups.” Kellner added: “I see a flow that is not one way — I see an opportunity to bring companies from Europe and elsewhere to Miami. I have two companies interested, one in Swtizerland and one in the Netherlands, and I also think there is an opportunity to bring some of Silicon Valley’s brightest here.”

Audience members, largely executives and professionals, lawyers and others, also included some startups. Nestor Villalobos, founder of Arctico, believes South Florida is quickly emerging as "the place to be for startups across the country looking to start or grow their businesses.”

Glen Surnamer, COO of Bookigee, said he too believes the tech-hub movement is hitting an inflexion point. “I think the Miami early stage scene is becoming more comfortable being Miami, rather than trying to be the Bay, NY, Boston, Austin, etc. This is important because each of those scenes emerged organically out of very specific sociological, demographic and economic circumstances,” Surnamer said. “The point here is that the Miami entrepreneur culture has to organically germinate out of the seeds that underpin us. This is clearly starting to happen.”

Read more on The Starting Gate blog on MiamiHerald.com/business and follow me on Twitter @ndahlberg

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