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Miami is a finalist for an artificial intelligence hub, tech giant announces

At Miami’s eMerge, a local company shows off its rideable tech

Sebastian Gomez Puerto, 33, CEO and founder of SunVessel, demonstrates how his rideable tech operates during the technology conference, eMerge Americas, in the Miami Beach Convention Center in Miami Beach, Florida on Monday, April 29, 2019.
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Sebastian Gomez Puerto, 33, CEO and founder of SunVessel, demonstrates how his rideable tech operates during the technology conference, eMerge Americas, in the Miami Beach Convention Center in Miami Beach, Florida on Monday, April 29, 2019.

Miami as artificial intelligence hub? One of the largest tech conglomerates in the world says it could happen.

Speaking at the keynote address kicking off the 2019 eMerge Americas technology conference at the Miami Beach convention center, Paulo Passoni, managing investment partner for Tokyo-based SoftBank, said Miami was among the finalist cities for a planned artificial intelligence hub it is seeking to locate in the Caribbean-Latin America region.

Such a hub — where new AI technologies would be developed and applied — would bring potentially dozens of jobs and millions in tech investment to the unofficial capital of Latin America. The hub would also serve as SoftBank’s headquarters for the region. Passoni reports to Marcelo Claure, SoftBank’s COO and a partner in the Inter Miami soccer club. The owners of the club have previously discussed bringing a significant tech operation to its complex when it proposed the Melreese golf course as its stadium site; at the time, no details were revealed.

Sao Paolo, Brazil, and Mexico City are also in the running for the hub.

Earlier this month, SoftBank announced Passoni would be joining Claure, along with a second managing investment partner, Shu Nyatta, at a Miami outpost to launch at $5 billion Latin America-focused investment fund.

Right now, that group is working out of a Miami WeWork. If SoftBank’s presence in Miami were capped at that team, it would expand to a couple-dozen individuals at most, a source familiar with the company’s decision-making said.

But a true tech hub would fulfill the vision of Miami’s leaders to truly launch Miami’s economy into the 21st century.

“We are talking to them,” said Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez in an interview on the convention center floor. “I think we’ve put together a pretty good, compelling argument of why it should be Miami.” He and three other local mayors — Mayor Dan Gelber of Miami Beach, Mayor Francis Suarez of Miami and Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez of Doral — joined Chile’s economic minister, Jose Ramon Valente, and the mayor of Odense, Denmark, Peter Rahbaek Juel, in sessions exploring the nexus of government and technology.

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Gabriel Llaurado, 32, reacts while wearing the Magic Leap headset during the technology conference, eMerge Americas, inside the Miami Beach Convention Center in Miami Beach, Florida on Monday, April 29, 2019. Magic Leap is a head-mounted virtual retinal display. MATIAS J. OCNER mocner@miamiherald.com

As for the SoftBank’s AI hub, Gimenez said there is no formal incentive package involved.

“It should be Miami because...people from Latin America love to come to Miami...So what better place to establish a Latin American headquarters than in Miami?” Gimenez said. “You can get to Latin America faster through Miami than anywhere probably through Latin America. We have the infrastructure, the entrepreneurial infrastructure.”

eMerge President Melissa Medina said in an interview that Passoni’s keynote, and the launch of the Latin America innovation fund itself, were signs of the tech community’s recognition of the rise of the Americas’ rising importance in the tech world.

“It’s a $5 billion fund, the biggest technology fund focused on Latin America,” she said. “The fact that he was here speaking about this fund was pretty exciting.”

Now in its sixth year, the two-day eMerge conference is the centerpiece of what its CEO Felice Gorordo hopes will become a permanent Miami Innovation Week. Thursday, the Revolution Fund will host a “Rise of the Rest” tour bus stop highlighting tech hubs outside California. Friday, the Miami Herald caps its annual Startup Pitch Competition with a free community event honoring the winners and featuring a fireside chat with SoftBank’s Claure.

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Ali Qureshi, 32, left, a lead designer, and Sebastian Gomez Puerto, 33, CEO and founder, demonstrate how the SunVessel operates during the technology conference, eMerge Americas, inside the Miami Beach Convention Center in Miami Beach, Florida on Monday, April 29, 2019. MATIAS J. OCNER mocner@miamiherald.com

Norma Kenyon, vice provost for innovation of the University of Miami, used the conference to announce it is planning a Cane Angel Fund to connect students, faculty, alumni, and family members with resources to implement business ideas.

UM joined Florida International University, Broward College and Miami-Dade College on the eMerge showcase floor. FIU on Monday touted its new blockchain research group, noting that blockchain students took home second place at a national competition for a program that could simplify the process of tracking beef shipments.

And Miami-Dade College displayed the latest virtual reality project from its Miami Animation and Gaming International Complex. Ruben Ruiz, a student studying the technology, said demand will only increase for individuals knowledgeable about virtual and augmented reality as tech giants like Amazon use it to enhance the shopping experience.

Elsewhere on the expo floor, startups from around the region sought out investors and advisers, while established companies like T-Mobile and CenturyLink hoped to interest new clients. High-profile but enigmatic Magic Leap, a Plantation augmented reality company that has drawn some $2.6 billion in funding, offered opportunities to try out its headsets; within an hour of the conference opening, appointments were booked out for the day.’

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Manuel D. Medina speaks on the main stage of his technology conference, eMerge Americas, inside the Miami Beach Convention Center in Miami Beach, Florida on Monday, April 29, 2019. Medina is the founder of eMerge Americas. MATIAS J. OCNER mocner@miamiherald.com

Kicking off the conference, founder Manny Medina, now CEO of data security company Cyxtera, said eMerge’s mission was to permanently change Miami’s entrepreneurial ecosystem into one that reflects the rapidly evolving 21st century economy.

At the same time, eMerge leaders are planning to augment the annual conference with year-round pitch competitions, bootcamps and executive meetings throughout the year.

The conference continues Tuesday. Organizers said they expect attendance to exceed last year’s total of 15,000.

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