Conference focuses on urban startups, creative energy in Miami

Chef Tom Colicchio talks about restaurants as startups with urban affairs expert Richard Florida at Start-Up City: Miami on Monday.
Chef Tom Colicchio talks about restaurants as startups with urban affairs expert Richard Florida at Start-Up City: Miami on Monday. Miami Herald

Think about this: About 80 percent of all seats on roads today are empty at all times.

“If we could find a way to fill them we would have the most efficient transportation system in the world,” said Veronica Juarez, director of government relations of San Francisco-based Lyft, a popular ride-sharing service that launched in Miami last year.

Lyft’s service — still illegal in Miami as it fights regulatory hurdles — is aimed at making living in cities more efficient. That was one of the themes explored Monday at the day-long Start-Up City: Miami conference at the New World Center in Miami Beach. The third annual conference, produced by The Atlantic, CityLab and the Knight Foundation, brought together entrepreneurs, consultants and investors, both local and from other cities, to discuss ways of making Miami a more vibrant hub of innovation.

Speaking at Monday’s conference, Juarez explained Lyft’s new San Francisco service, Lyft Line, in which a driver picks up multiple riders on a particular route — in effect, personalized mass transit. Costs are 30 percent to 40 percent lower than the cost of a typical solo Lyft ride, and as the routes become more popular, costs will go down more, she said.

Already most of the Lyft traffic in San Francisco is via Lyft Line — a service the company wants to bring to Miami.

Bastian Lehmann, CEO of Postmates, also underscored the benefits to local communities of his service, which uses drivers with time in their schedules to deliver just about anything.

His and other sharing-economy companies generate revenues that stay in the cities they serve, providing money to hundreds of contract drivers. Tech enables the efficiency, allowing a customer to know who and where his driver is at all points in time, and allowing drivers to know their customers, too. Postmates launched in Miami last year.

“We are seeing very interesting use cases — the moms with children who can make money driving around while their kids are in school, seniors and people with disabilities who say this has fundamentally changed their lives,” Juarez said.

For Lyft, Miami’s organic creative energy was a lure. That same spirit has sparked a wave of collaborative co-working and maker spaces reflecting the way people work in cities now, according to a panel of Jason Saltzman of AlleyNYC, Pandwe Gibson of Miami’s EcoTech, Bill Jacobson of Workbar in Boston and Tamara Wendt of the LAB Miami in Wynwood.

It’s a work mode that has reached corporations, which are making their work areas more collaborative and allowing employees to be more intra-preneurial, the panel said. In the latest progression, corporations are seeking to mix more with entrepreneurs. A number of large companies are members of the LAB Miami, for instance. “Corporations know they need to innovate. We are exploring how we can help with that process,” Wendt said.

In Boston, Workbar is experimenting with a program in which startup teams from Workbar are setting up desks in corporate offices.

Such creative energy is also sparking a slew of restaurant “start-ups” outside the traditional culinary hubs.

“You are seeing young talent moving out of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco,” said Tom Colicchio, celebrity chef and owner of Crafted Hospitality. “It’s expensive to start a restaurant and it is expensive to live there. Now there are great restaurants everywhere.”

While cost factors are behind some of the restaurant renaissance in cities like Miami, South Florida and other locales offer attractive downtime options, he said. “Restaurants are hard work. You want to be able to enjoy the little bit of time off you have.”

Colicchio is soon opening a restaurant in Miami Beach, Beachcraft. Success of craft foods like the beans produced by specialty roaster Panther Coffee convinced him the time was right. Miami’s tourist economy is a bonus. “I don’t care if you are staying here three days on a vacation or you come three days a week, we have one goal … to make people happy.”

His advice: If you do something that makes you happy, everything else will follow.

“Every [restaurant] opening is exciting. There is an electricity in the air. Find moments like that every single day in your business — that will keep you going.”

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.