Entrepreneurs, tech moguls gather at Miami’s inaugural eMerge technology conference


eMerge Americas Techweek brought the big tent into the Miami Beach Convention Center, showcasing all things tech.


eMerge conference final day

eMerge Tech Week continues Tuesday at the Miami Beach Convention Center with a hiring fair, additional summit panels and an appearance by Miami rap star-and-business mogul Pitbull. Information and tickets:

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From the Miami Beach Convention Center expo hall to well-attended “summit” panels, a food truck lunch tent and an evening celebration at the New World Center featuring the Spam Allstars, eMerge Americas Techweek, Miami’s first homegrown mega-tech expo, opened its main conference Monday with one clear message: South Florida’s got tech.

eMerge Americas Techweek had a simple but giant mission: Put Miami squarely on the virtual map as the eventual tech hub for the Americas. Its strategy: Showcase all the region has to offer, from big companies to tiny startups, hospitals, universities and industry support services. “I want people leaving here linking Miami and tech,” said Manny Medina, the Terremark founder whose vision drove the project.

And tech was everywhere, starting with more than 150 experts speaking on topics including health, education, big data and sustainability. Add to that expos showcasing international companies, startups, smart city projects, university research, even an expo for students, K-12. Some areas were busy while others were awkwardly quiet in the cavernous expo hall, but all told more than 6,000 people registered for the conference, the organizers said, exceeding the first-year target by 1,000.

Among the speakers appearing on the four summit stages were Wences Casares of Xapo, Paul Maritz of Pivotal and Alexandre Hohagen of Facebook.

Also on the dais was physicist and physician Dr. Anita Goel, whose Nanobiosym initiative has created inexpensive diagnostic technology for HIV disease and crafted public-private partnerships worldwide that can bring such technologies to undeserved communities.

Now under FDA review is Gene Radar, an iPad-sized device that quickly analyzes a drop of blood or saliva to determine whether a person has HIV, with a 98 percent accuracy rate. The company is also looking at being able to identify a virulent flu coming out of China. Eventually, the device might be able to help doctors identify treatments for other diseases, such as cancer.

Goel’s goal is to give access to the 4 billion people worldwide in underdeveloped and rural areas who don’t have healthcare. She already is working with University of Miami’s U-Health and Miami Children’s Hospital. Thanks to those partnerships and her exposure to Miami through eMerge, she is looking at putting a Nanobiosym hub here.

That would be an outcome eMerge has been working for. Building hubs of innovation was a common theme throughout the day, with national and international experts sharing strategies for building hubs in their cities — even some from a mountaintop. Co-founders of the Summit series and Summit Powder Mountain are building an entire innovation village, with hotels, restaurants and homes, on the slopes in Utah, said Jeff Rosenthal, one of the speakers.

Walking into the expo hall, visitors were hit by large displays from IBM, University of Miami, the Knight Foundation as well as soccer-playing robots and a Tesla. OK, you might have expected to find the Tesla here, but how about a prototype that can be custom-designed to use natural gas, with a lithium battery, and fuel cell and photo sensitivity on the windshield that would send energy to the radio and air conditioning? Ray Prada, president of Miami hedge fund WorldTechFunds raised capital to hire a team of ex-car manufacturers to build the prototype.

The as yet nameless car would cost upward of $1 million, Prada said, and would be manufactured in limited quantity. No word on when it will hit the roads. 

Elsewhere in the hall, the quiet Startup Village featured more than 100 startup entrepreneurs, mainly from South Florida and Latin America, who showcased their business ideas.

Among them were Prevvy, a Miami-based mobile health assistant that connects patients to their doctors, said founder and Chief Executive Alejandro Roman Salsamendi, and Colombia-based ​Alma Shopping, ​an e-commerce and content site for beauty products that has generated $500,000 in its first year, said founder Rita Almela.​ Antonio Otalvaro, founder of Miami-based Raw Shorts, explained his cloud-based video builder that helps companies make explanatory videos.

Those companies had come to pitch to potential investors among the attendees. While they weren’t seeing a lot of traffic at the far end of the hall, the startups as well as later-stage companies also were being secretly judged in a competition for big bucks: $150,000 in prizes in the LAUNCH competition that concludes Tuesday.

Inside the Smart Cities expo, U.S.-based Cisco and the Spanish firm Ikusi showcased their partnership designed to improve the efficiency of city services, including public security, public transportation and traffic control. The integrated system, called Spider, is already being used at the airport in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, said Ramon Montes, general manager of Ikusi in Colombia.

With road stripes on the floor and security cameras overhead, the pavilion offered a glimpse inside a potential technologically advanced city, with thousands of embedded sensors gathering data that ideally would be used to ease traffic gridlock and expedite emergency responses. “We don’t understand a city as isolated, we understand a city like a whole,” Montes said.

Among the international exhibitors were Colombia and Taiwan, with eye-catching pavilions designed to boost awareness of their countries.

Colombia showcased 26 different companies hoping to export services tied to technology, such as digital animation, cyber security, mobile applications and IT services.​

Taiwan also highlighted companies, and even brought representatives from Tapei’s National Palace Museum, which is using modern technology to showcase museum exhibitions in far-flung locales. Said James Quq-Ping Lin, director general of the museum’s department of education, exhibition and information services, “​In digital form, we can make it easier for people appreciate our ancient artifacts​.”

​In the student area, more than 150 elementary school students from various local schools watched student-built robots piling up blue balls at the Vex IQ Robotics competition at eMerge Americas. “They designed and created robots that can do all kinds of things,” said Elizabeth Ferrand, a teacher from Pinecrest Academy South Charter School, which offers classes in robotics.

For high school students in the nonprofit Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship’s business plan competition, giving their elevator pitch at eMerge could be a career-defining event. NFTE is a national program run through schools that gets lower income students involved in entrepreneurship. The first-place winner was Miami’s Karen Bonilla, a Ferguson High School student who created Lepsy’s App to explain epilepsy to young children after her five-year old sister witnessed a classmate having an epileptic seizure.

“It’s an amazing feeling of fulfillment,” said Bonilla, after winning. She will now advance to the national championship in Silicon Valley in October.

As the day ended, Medina said he was overwhelmed by the response. “I think we exceeded our most optimistic expectations for first day of the first conference.”

Does Miami have tech? “I think Miami has the beginnings of tech,” said Medina. “We’ve planted the seed.”

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

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