eMerge Americas threw open the doors of the Miami Beach Convention Center on Monday for Year 3 of the homegrown technology conference.
Manny Medina, founder of eMerge Americas, said 13,000 people from 60 countries registered for the conference, a sellout, and eMerge had to unexpectedly close registration on Saturday. “We didn’t want to do it. With the convention center under construction, we had physical limitations this year.”
But attendees, many back for a second or third year, braved the construction and in the morning hours that the expo hall was buzzing with startups, corporate, community and government leaders and visitors from around the Americas and the world.
In opening remarks to the media, Medina said eMerge is a platform to help fuel a movement already underway to make South Florida a center for technology for the Americas. “This realization of our dream is coming faster than we expected because of the need.”
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Retired Gen. Colin Powell kicked off eMerge with a keynote that was part inspiration, part humor — who knew he was so funny? — and part politics, drawing stories from his upbringing in the Bronx as a C student, the military that gave him a chance, Desert Storm which brought GPS technology to the forefront, his White House years and his observations on the current state of affairs.
Immigration reform, politics, Congress, anti-immigrant rhetoric, he hit all those topics. “The American system is in deep trouble. We have to close this gap between those who are making it and those who have not,” Powell said.
The former Secretary of State called Congress a reality show at its worst. “We the people have to start voting out the people not getting it done.”
Saying the Republican party left him 10 to 12 years ago, he spoke out against anti-abortion movement and the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the Trump campaign and spoke up for immigration reform. “If we want to recapture our place in the world ... we have to have immigration reform.”
While summit talks were ongoing on the separate eMerge stages, the expo hall was buzzing with exhibits, startups and a hiring fair surrounding a center stage with talks on Cuba, mobile technology and other topics. On Tuesday that stage will showcase startups competing for $175,000 in prizes.
As if to put an explanation point on anything is possible and there is no such thing as an overnight success, co-founder Marc Randolph told the story of Netflix. At one point early on when the company was deep in the red and seeking “strategic opportunities” (read: find an acquirer quick!), the co-founders were laughed out the Blockbuster board room, he said. I remembered thinking, ‘now we are going to kick their ass.’ ... It took us 10 years but we drove Blockbuster out of business.”
And it wasn’t easy. At first they were selling and renting, but they foresaw that selling would be a commodity. Once they decided to bet the farm on the rental model (and walk away from 99 percent of their revenue), it took 2 1/2 years of trial and error to get to the model right. “It wasn’t boom, instant company,” he said.
eMerge continues Monday afternoon with Steve Case, founder of AOL, skateboard legend and entrepreneur Tony Hawk, and a variety of panel discussions.