For many entrepreneurs and community leaders involved in the tech hub movement, Endeavor’s launch is one of the strongest signals yet that the dream of a strong and sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem in South Florida is attainable.
Endeavor is a global nonprofit with a 16-year history of identifying and helping high-impact entrepreneurs from all industries become global success stories, creating plenty of jobs for their communities. Those entrepreneurs also become role models, mentors and investors in the next generation of innovators in their regions, adding layers to the ecosystem. Founded in Latin America and now in 17 countries, Endeavor chose Miami to launch its first U.S. program.
“The timing for Endeavor to be here is perfect: Endeavor is what’s going to take the Miami entrepreneurship community to the next level,” said Adriana Cisneros, CEO of the Cisneros Group of Companies and chair of Endeavor Miami.
Champagne flowed at the launch party at The LAB Miami in Wynwood last week, but Endeavor’s arrival is far from the only marker of success in the past year: Co-working spaces buzz, accelerators attract top talent, and high-profile events draw outsiders here to check out the scene. Efforts to unite the tri-county area in building and branding a hub are gaining steam.
Early stage companies have been making headlines, too: Open English, CareCloud, Yellow Pepper, Easy Solutions, TissueTech, SafetyPay and Modernizing Medicine all raised millions of dollars in funding rounds recently, and startups Everypost, Gui.de and Kairos have been drawing national or international coverage.
To be sure, there are still challenges.
Finding funding and enough talent in the region still top the list of areas where improvement is needed, according to an informal survey of entrepreneurs and other leaders within the community. Brain drain continues to be a key concern. And although South Florida has always been highly entrepreneurial — the Miami-Fort Lauderdale metro area is the most entrepreneurial in the nation, according to Kauffman Foundation research — its growth is still dominated by micro-businesses that stay tiny. There are perceptions to fight, too, of Miami as a capital of sun and fun, not entrepreneurship and technology.
Yet, many believe that eMerge Americas, technology pioneer Manny Medina’s large tech conference planned for next May, will be a coming-out party of sorts. “It will be a chance to show the world what we’ve got,” said Diane Sanchez, CEO of Medina’s Technology Foundation of the Americas putting on eMerge.
In the past year, the tech hub movement has grown at a frenetic pace.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has committed $3.8 million to entrepreneurship-focused projects so far, including $2 million over five years to launch Endeavor. Knight also funded eMerge Americas, The LAB Miami, Refresh Miami, Ashoka and other organizations; it has several grants very near completion and many more in the pipeline.
The Knight Foundation began making grants in entrepreneurship last fall, starting out by funding events and projects such as hackathons, idea jams, entrepreneur pitching events and conferences, and will continue doing so. The foundation believes it can make a bigger impact making a greater number of grants in smaller amounts — such as a $20,000 grant it made last week to the Awesome Foundation, which itself makes micro-grants to entrepreneurial projects — and Knight will be “pushing forward aggressively in year two,” said Matt Haggman, Miami program director of the Knight Foundation. Coming up those include funding SIME Miami, a high-profile European conference of technology thought leaders from around the world, and the return of the popular Startup City: Miami early next year.