We asked a sampling of South Florida entrepreneurs, leaders of entrepreneurship organizations, educators, investors and service providers a few questions about developing a tech hub and entrepreneurial ecosystem. Some of the answers selected have been condensed.
Find more voices of the tech community on Tuesday and Wednesday on the Starting Gate blog on MiamiHerald.com/business.
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What will it take to develop a strong and sustainable tech hub and entrepreneurial ecosystem in South Florida?
The first step in developing a strong and sustainable tech hub in Miami is to build awareness. We need to make sure the efforts and the success stories of Miami’s technology community are well known in order to generate more interest, garner confidence and attract investors. I am teaming up with organizations like Endeavor and Technology Foundation of the Americas along with investors, incubators, entrepreneurs and community leaders to help build the momentum Miami needs. … I can tell you from my experience, Miami has the potential to become an important technology hub and we’re all working hard to make sure it happens.
-- Andres Moreno, Open English founder
First, having a local talent pool of engineers and developers. Those are the folks that are the engine of any tech company. Most students that graduate from computer science and engineering programs from the local institutions leave to find work elsewhere, simply because since the dotcom bubble, there have been very few tech companies in South Florida. The second aspect is convincing the investment community here that tech is a viable option for their investments. Out of the $26.5 billion (3, 698 deals) in 2012, Florida only scored $203 million (34) or 0.8% of the total venture investment in the US. This needs to change. In contrast, Just last week, a New York investment trust bought two South Florida hotels for $31 million, in a single deal!
-- Miguel Alonso, School of Engineering, Miami Dade College
Four things need to coordinate together in one ecosystem: 1) A vibrant education system at both the nniversity and K-12 levels with a strong focus on the STEM disciplines (science, tech, engineering and math); 2) a community of startups generated by that education system and finally feeding this ecosystem with 3) a well-trained and engaged employment base and 4) a developed base of institutional funding.
-- Jaret L. Davis, Co-Managing Shareholder of the Miami Office of Greenberg Traurig
South Florida is blessed to have a strong core of academic institutions, entrepreneurs and investors that create a very rich and expanding innovation ecosystem that is spurring new technologies and business models across a number of industries. ...With that said, I think we still need to continue to find ways to foster stronger bonds among the key stakeholders in the region that will allow us to retain top talent and help fuel both the existing as well as the emerging start-up communities. Organizations and accelerators like ProjectLift and VentureHive are helping to drive these efforts and CareCloud is thrilled to have the opportunity to work with them.
-- Albert Santalo, CareCloud founder
We need far more angel capital tranched in smaller increments $50k/$200/$500k (we have far more good deals than capital capacity); We need less money spent on events and more money directly helping finance and advise startups. Over the longer term, we need far more corporations with offices in South Florida so entrepreneurs have a job safety net should their entrepreneurial aspirations fail... Our regional economic development groups need to sell us as a region and enlist some of us current and ex-corporate types to sell South Florida’s big advantages.
-- Rob Strandberg, Enterprise Development Corp. CEO
Although challenged by the divisive efforts of a handful of individual contributors, Miami is building tech startup hub cred thanks to the consolidation efforts of Knight, Technology Foundations of the Americas and the high impact entrepreneurial centers of our local colleges and universities. To make these efforts long term and sustainable, cities and counties will have to join and invest in infrastructure, marketing and support. The economic development net result for the metropolitan areas will be clear (see examples of entrepreneurial malls around the globe) and start-ups will evolve to growth, liquidity events and new investments.
-- Mike Tomas, Bioheart CEO, FIU Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center board chairman
South Florida must continue supporting the people in the trenches, the innovators that push the boundaries in the evolving tech hub. We also need to change how we think about ourselves, and how others think about us. The tech hub needs more than happy hour to evolve, and it’s why Our City Thoughts is putting a face to the names championing the cutting edge and a better living.
-- Binsen Gonzalez, Our City Thoughts founder
Time and Focus. From where I sit, it’s about healthcare tech and we have great energy focused on that part. But overall, creating a strong and sustainable tech hub in Miami will take a concerted effort from leaders in a variety of roles in our community. Everyone from industry leaders, to civic leaders, and media need to work in a coordinated fashion to not only educate everyone on what it means to be a tech hub, but to create brand awareness around the concept for Miami and South Florida at the center of such collaboration. We have all of the right pieces such as excellent academic institutions that graduate hundreds of talented students every year to feed the system, wealth that can be channeled to support the start-up ecosystem, and most importantly the people of South Florida who are entrepreneurial by nature and who are willing to lead.
-- Robert Chavez, ProjectLift co-founder
We need more talent and we need to create our own "Paypal mafia" effect. For the talent piece, we need a strong pipeline of design, UX, development, and business management talent at the entry, mid, and senior levels. For the "Paypal mafia" effect to happen, we need to have successful acquisitions and IPOs in the area in order to generate capital, attract more talent, and solidify the area’s credibility in order to spur future endeavors.
-- Leslie Bradshaw, Gui.de COO
We have many strong tech assets within the three county region but they are fragmented, siloed and spread out. We have to bring them together into a collaborative community if we are going to reach the critical mass necessary for sustainable success.
-- Lonnie Maier, South Florida Technology Alliance president
An organized long-term plan that shifts culture and perception. I think we’re in the early stages of executing this in Miami. In general, it starts with physical spaces, continues with attracting impactful capital, and really takes a big step forward when we start seeing successful exits of local companies.
-- Norberto “Tito” Gil, MapYourStartup.co founder
Home of the IBM PC revolution, the first smartphone, Terramark NAP … the question really is when did we forget we were a tech hub?
-- Steve Luis, School of Computing and Information Sciences, Florida International University
People like me are looking for any excuse to move to Miami. We need to inform and pull startups from both directions, North and South... Startups from the US, Canada, and Europe, as well as startups from Latin America. We can do it!
-- Brian Brackeen, Kairos founder
We need to come together as a community and make a concerted effort to identify and promote Miami’s Centers of Excellence and enhance those with the latest technology. We also need to provide access and acceleration to the eco-systems that are created around these Centers to early startup and emerging growth companies in order to insure their success. The public sector must follow Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s lead in promoting major initiatives that have the potential to position Miami as a true technology corridor on the global level. At the same time we need to expand the enterprise technology ecosystem enabling legacy and new entrants a prominent position in our community.
-- Xavier Gonzalez, Technology Foundation of the Americas
To expand and deepen its technology community, Miami and South Florida must focus on its natural advantage as the most diverse aggregation of Latin and Caribbean populations in the world. Technologies which enhance the ability of businesses to reach the emerging middle classes in the Latin American countries, across the existing political, cultural and language borders, will be increasingly valuable. With its incredibly diverse local demographic, Miami can be the living laboratory for developing and applying these technologies. An existing vertical where Miami can build on its strong technology base and its current global position is in the Latin media and entertainment market.
-- Jonathan Cole, partner-in-charge of Miami, West Palm Edwards Wildman offices; New World Angels
Getting all our cities and towns across the region educated on what the essential elements are to be a startup city and to have a successful entrepreneurial ecosystem. Set up a simple, uniform evaluation and let our cities and towns respond so they can see where their gaps are and then create a plan on how to close the gaps. This collective data can then inform South Florida’s development of a regional roadmap of tech strengths and build on those.
-- Irene Revales, Startup Delray founder
Our experience with Endeavor is that Miami will need 3-4 big wins or entrepreneurial success stories in the next 24-36 months – and they be could clear successes in the making, not exits. These wins will provide sustainability if they originate in the ecosystem cultivated currently by the Knight Foundation, The LAB Miami, Venture Hive, Endeavor Miami and others. Sustainability by definition requires many symbiotic connections (think mentors and capital) that produce success, not one-off companies having no connection to the emerging system.
-- Peter Kellner, Endeavor co-founder, Endeavor Miami board
I think some strong startup success stories are needed to catch the attention of VC money and make them see that setting up offices in Miami is not only beneficial, but will give them an edge on LatAm investments. The first VC office that actually does this will not only make a big difference to growing the startup hub here, but will have a big influence and shape how the community grows... I am very optimistic that we can start to make this a viable and competitive tech hub, but we need to stop using the terms, the next Silicon Valley or Silicon Beach. We are our own startup hub and we need to start showing everyone else our advantanges and strengths.
-- Pabla Ayala, pFunk Media founder
Company boosters (local government, universities, large companies, mentors), investors, success stories, talent and a collaborative environment. …A special thanks to The LAB, the Knight Foundation and the EDC for what they have already accomplished.
-- Tamara Brenes, DemoHire.founder
Time, money and most importantly the desire to make it happen in Miami. Creating a startup company or community takes patience, which is not a trait many of us entrepreneurs have. We have a lot of key elements in place including: community support (Knight Foundation), university support, strong entrepreneurs and capital….. Most importantly companies have to make it part of their vision. At Rokk3r Labs, growing the community and having a long term vision for Miami is core to our philosophy and drives our company.
-- Nabyl Charania, Rokk3r Labs co-founder
We are already developing a strong and sustainable tech hub in South Florida. With companies like Modernizing Medicine setting the example of how entrepreneurs can start great companies in the area and attract top talent to operate them, more tech leaders will follow suit. The geographical location is attractive for headquartering a business. The infrastructure is here with easy access. We haven’t had any trouble attracting star players. It’s more about changing a mindset so that the perception changes about hi-tech companies being tied to any one area.
-- Dan Cane, Modernizing Medicine founder
We just need a handful of startups to really break free and make it. People involved in those enterprises naturally will develop deep knowledge and skills so they can ultimately create their own startups, enabling the cycle to continue.
-- Phillippe Houdard, Pipeline Brickell co-founder
Check back Tuesday and Wednesday on Starting Gate for more community voices.
Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg