As tech community leaders rally behind an effort to build a tech hub in South Florida, Miami’s Hispanic media and entertainment industry may be able to teach them a thing or two.
That’s because Miami already has become a hub for the Hispanic media industry. Speaking at a Miami Finance Forum event Wednesday called “Mapping Miami’s Financial Future,” media executives from Cisneros Group, Telemundo, SapientNitro, Imagina US and the Miami Herald pointed out that in their industry, the elements of a healthy ecosystem have already developed. As evidence they pointed to a critical mass of innovative companies, from large enterprises such as Telemundo and Univision to a growing group of scrappy media startups; an organic and authentic specialization in Hispanic media that few areas can duplicate; and educational projects and internship programs to attract and retain future media talent.
Is Miami the Hispanic Hollywood? Not so far-fetched, said the panelists. As an example, Telemundo executive Peter Blacker pointed to the movie Ana Maria in Novela Land — a spoof on Telemundo’s own lifeblood, the telenovela – opening Feb. 27 in select theaters in South Florida and other cities. That project started out as a much smaller video idea within Telemundo but took on a life of its own bridging platforms, languages and cultures, said Blacker, executive vice president. The company is also beginning to experiment with virtual and augmented reality technologies, which he said would appear in upcoming World Cup coverage.
Nathaniel Perez, global head of social for creative agency SapientNitro, said Miami’s Hispanic specialization is allowing the city to make its own mark. “You have Silicon Valley for tech, New York for media and you have Miami for multi-cultural,” he said.
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Derek Bond, president of Imagina US, a production company specializing in the Hispanic market, agreed. “I have been here since 1997 and we have twice as many studios but I’ve got to think 10 times as much production – a huge digital play.”
Greater forces are at work, of course – namely the lightning-fast digital revolution. The Miami Herald Media Company is seeing 55 percent of its online traffic coming through mobile devices, said its president and publisher Alex Villoch.
A challenge often cited in the tech community is a shortage of talent, but that’s not a problem in the media industry because of the growing cluster of Hispanic media and entertainment companies here, said Victor Kong, president of Cisneros Interactive. “It’s very easy to attract talent.”
The number of content-creation companies has also grown, said the speakers. For instance, last year SapientNitro acquired La Comunidad, a small specialized Miami ad agency with deep talent. “There is a nice pool of talent sitting in Miami. This place will keep rocking, I don’t see it stopping,” added Bond.
The Miami Finance Forum’s half-day event also included keynote speeches by Terremark Worldwide founder Manny Medina, now a venture capitalist and founder of eMerge Americas, and Matt Haggman, Miami program director of the Knight Foundation. A panel of tech investors also participated in the forum.
In both panels, executives said the community still has to battle perceptions that Miami is more about play than work. eMerge Americas’ newly announced partnership with NBCUniversal will play a key role in exposure, both Medina and Blacker said. Under the arrangement, CNBC and other networks plan to anchor news and business programs from the floor of May’s eMerge Americas technology conference.
Building a tech hub is a long-term play that could take 10 or 20 years, said Bradley Harrison, founder of New York venture capital firm Scout Ventures. He’s bullish though; Scout recently located its first office outside New York in Miami and has made two investments, including one to Rokk3r Labs, a Miami Beach-based co-building company, that was announced at the event.
Melissa Krinzman, co-founder of Krillion Ventures, another new Miami early-stage venture fund that has so far invested in local startups EveryPost and Videoo, suggested to the crowd of about 200 finance professionals and entrepreneurs that there is a great deal they can do, including mentoring a startup or becoming its customer, making key introductions for startups and investing in them. Medina went one step further: “There is a fantastic opportunity in financial services to be the tech bank,” referring to Silicon Valley Bank’s impact on the ecosystem.
While South Florida will never be another Silicon Valley or Boston, it should aspire to find its own identity and specialization, other speakers said. For Medina and the eMerge Americas team, that goal is to become the tech hub for the Americas. Some areas that still need work, speakers said: serious transportation improvements, meaningful incentives programs, more venture firms investing in the $1 million to $5 million range and more success stories.
Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.