In a city known for a plethora of co-working spaces, standing out becomes a challenge.
But since landing in Miami two years ago, the Cambridge Innovation Center has done so. Sitting just west of I-95 inside the complex previously known as the University of Miami Life Science and Technology Park, CIC sticks out as the tallest building in the area. Today it is called the Converge Innovation District.
A recent visit showed a space humming with tenants; current membership stands at 250. Its largest is Lavu, a point-of-sale company founded in Albuquerque. What started out as a handful of Lavu workers has since become a workforce of three dozen that occupies CIC’s largest ground-floor space and spills onto the 6th floor.
“We wanted somewhere in the heart of Miami, the heart of South Florida,” said Lavu CEO Saleem Khatri. “We wanted plug-and-play for our employees and not have to worry about Wifi, electricity snacks, etc. — all the important stuff for running a successful office — so we could focus on product and services. CIC had that out of the box. They’ve been great to us.”
Last month, CIC released a report taking stock of its Miami performance. To mark the occasion, we submitted questions to CIC Miami General Manager Natalia Martinez-Kalinina to learn more about its progress and where CIC is going next. Some responses were edited for clarity.
Q. What was CIC’s original goal in coming to Miami — and has that goal been met?
A. The most direct answer is yes, and no. As I wrote in the opening statement of our 2016-2018 impact report, our focus has always been to create a community, not just build an institution, and to engender an inclusive ecosystem, not just build a company. In this sense, I would say that our goal has been met and continues to shift, in equal parts. Over the first two years of operation, we supported hundreds of client companies, launched new programming, piloted and launched new initiatives, et al. We are incredibly proud of the aforementioned milestones, but we also ardently believe that our next chapter is just as important and that the horizon has kept shifting. Cementing the initiatives we’ve tested, adapting to accompany a growing market, pushing certain types of thought leadership forward and helping to develop the rest of the Converge Innovation District [in Allapattah] — the list of goals we are focusing on remains expansive, and although our goal has not changed, it has perhaps broadened.
Q. How has CIC boosted Miami’s tech and innovation ecosystem?
A. We like to think that there are many quantitative and qualitative points of contribution that we have added over the first two years since expanding to Miami. At the core of our mission is supporting the acceleration of the companies housed at CIC, connecting them to resources, expertise, etc. We often hear from our clients that we have had an impact in validating, scaling, funding, expanding their work; this is without question one of the most important and rewarding impact milestones for us, and the metrics behind this is one of the parts of the impact report that is most meaningful. These include the reality that, over the course of those first two years, our clients raised $162.6M in funding. Eighty-two percent of them hired at least one new employee; and in total they created 900+ local and global jobs.
Separately, our vision has been to bridge gaps that we see in the ecosystem. This has included a diverse range of projects, from identifying the need for more early stage laboratory space and launching Converge Labs in partnership with The University of Miami, to attracting companies here from Europe, Australia, and Latin America through our soft-landing program [for out of towners], to actively supporting many organizations working on impact, inclusion, and education within the investment, innovation, and entrepreneurship space. The metrics we track are very plural, but they ultimately signal to us that we are already having an impact. I do want to point out that none of this has been accomplished single-handedly, and our team at CIC, our clients, and our many partners deserve a hefty portion of acknowledgment, respect, and gratitude, for their continued efforts.
Q. Can you describe some of the local partnerships you’ve established to help integrate CIC into the broader Miami community?
A. It has been our distinct privilege and good fortune to have partnered with many organizations over the first two years — too many to truly name equitably here, but without whom our impact to date would have been simply impossible. The most important point of reflection might be that. More than just partnership building, our central mission has been that of finding opportunities for true co-leadership with other stakeholders. This affects our viewpoint, because it has led to different approaches that go beyond just an event or a brief collaboration, and hopefully add novel value that is shared beyond the scope of a partnership, and certainly beyond the scope of our four walls.
This kind of co-leadership has included opportunities from supporting the expansion of the Venture Mentoring Network to Miami and co-organizing the first pitch Genesis Ventures has done in South Florida, to co-launching CR Miami with Radical Partners and many members of South Florida’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) community and becoming the home of the Inter-American Development Bank’s innovation laboratory (IDB Lab) presence in our city, which has the potential to truly change and support their engagement with the region. The goal of our partnerships is not just to integrate into a broader conversation, but to challenge and move that conversation.
Q. What shortcomings do you still see in Miami’s ecosystem, and what role can CIC play in helping to address them?
A. A couple of things come to mind. First, we remain much too siloed, sometimes out of habit and sometimes out of advantage. This is evident in many ways. Our enterprise sector remains disconnected from the larger entrepreneurship community. Our academic research is too often disconnected from commercialization opportunities. Our public sector is just beginning to touch broader topics within innovation as economic development. CIC’s hope in this context is to continue to be at times a glue and at times a bridge for tangible cooperation, to maintain and grow our role as convener and supporter of exchanges where holistic conversations are held and real collaborations are hatched.
The second observation is that we need to raise the bar across the board. [That includes the] support we provide to scaling companies, what companies themselves consider scalable ideas, what we measure and how we define our success as an ecosystem. [It also includes the] etiquette and terms our investor community ascribes to,.. and how we build inclusive pipelines across a tri-county area that is sometimes balkanized.
Mediocrity is not dangerous — it can be outgrown — but tolerance of it is. In this sense, our role through CIC is to push for transparent discourse, create on-ramps for raising the bar across sectors and topics, and provide exposure to best practices from other ecosystems. Our goal is to find a balance between focusing on supporting our client companies, sharing resources, and being a squeaky wheel about gaps and unmet potential in South Florida overall.
Q. What is CIC’s future plan for Miami? Is it committed to staying? Why or why not?
A. In the immediate future, our plan is to continue to cement and grow the initiatives we tested during the first two years. This includes but is not limited to increasing our support of the life sciences vertical, growing out our Latin American engagement into a distinct function, doubling down on certain partnerships and co-led projects, and launching a multi-stakeholder “Why Miami” platform in September 2019. A little down the line — but hopefully not too far down — our objective is to kick off the next phase of construction for the Converge Innovation District and to begin fulfilling the vision that we spent a year master planning with our partners.
It goes without saying we are not just committed to staying here, but excited to do so! Miami’s potential is incredible, not just for generating ground-breaking growth but for rewriting the economic development agenda for the region as a whole. Our story as a city is bound to be rich, intricate and impactful, and we are eager to continue to stretch ourselves into a challenge with such a bold vision.