Growing an entrepreneurial ecosystem takes time, but looking back on the year, I saw at least five significant green shoots that have the potential to nurture South Florida’s growing tech hub in a big way in 2014.
Mentorship and acceleration: The nonprofit Venture Hive opened his doors to its first accelerator class in January, providing a structured program, mentorship, free office space and $25,000 grants to 10 companies from Miami and around the world. Interest surged, an incubator was added, and the next accelerator class comes from seven different countries, including India, Romania and Spain. In addition, specialized accelerators and incubators opened up, including ProjectLift for heathcare, and others are in the plans. When the global nonprofit Endeavor announced in January it was making Miami its first U.S. location, it was a signal to many Miami should be taken seriously. Endeavor Miami, funded by the Knight Foundation, focuses on high-growth early-stage companies with traction — and helps them with global growth. Earlier this month, Endeavor chose its first two companies: Kidozen and My Ceviche.
Visibility: SIME MIA came onto the scene this year, and the multisensory conference will be a yearly staple with its heavy-hitter list of speakers and thought-provoking discussions. Most of the 600 attendees — entrepreneurs, investors, tech executives — were from other parts of the world, so it was an ideal time for Miami to shine, and shine we did. Many of the attendees I spoke with, including 500 Startups, have been checking out the scene, and said they liked what they saw. This May, eMerge Americas, founded by Manny Medina, promises to be a high-profile conference for the world’s leading enterprise tech companies, startups from South Florida and Latin America, investors and South Florida’s centers of excellence to mingle, network and learn. And if Miami wasn’t on the map before, eMerge should help put it there.
Funding: This is a controversial one, because we clearly have a long way to go on developing the funding networks needed here. But I see hope on this front for 2014. There were many standout successes this year, led by Open English’s $65 million series D round. Others — CareCloud, YellowPepper, OrthoSensor, Easy Solutions, TissueTech, SafetyPay, Modernizing Medicine and KidoZen — all raised millions of dollars in Series A, B or C funding rounds recently and dozens of startups raised seed financing. Angel groups in South Florida are growing, and investors from the Valley and elsewhere are checking us out.
Maker movement: The first Miami Mini Maker Faire bought more than double the attendance organizers expected, as more than 1,700 — many of them families with kids in tow — packed the LAB Miami and surrounding venues on a Saturday in November to meet makers and see their creations. It was a visible confirmation of the maker movement taking shape in South Florida. Maker spaces are opening up across the tri-county region, maker and civic hacker groups are meeting regularly, and now there is even a Makers Union made up of representatives of all the groups. The hope is that the maker movement will fill an important role in engaging South Florida’s youth to be makers, not just consumers of technology.
Youth education: For high school and even younger students, there’s never been a better time to learn about technology and entrepreneurship. There are plenty of new programs now, such as Code Fever and Black Girls Code, which offer one-day coding workshops such as a Code Fever workshop Jan. 11 at the Miami Innovation Center, Stardom Up, a nonprofit that introduces tech entrepreneurship to middle schools, and CoderDojo, which are coding clubs that meet twice a month in Miami and Pembroke Pines and are run by FIU’s School of Computing and Information Sciences. The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship and Miami Dade College will be holding coding summer camps, and next summer Girls Who Code, with Knight Foundation support. will be also launching in Miami. Venture Hive and Miami Dade County Schools are teaming up to open Florida’s first tech-entrepreneurship magnet school later in the year. On Jan. 18, Venture Hive is offering a Saturday workshop for high school students. These programs will help nurture a community of future technologists, help them connect to the greater community and ultimately help fill the talent pipeline.
Will 2014 be the breakout year for South Florida’s tech ecosystem? Let’s find out.
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