Op-Ed

The growth of Miami’s tech economy is on the ballot, too

Panelists discuss the tech business during Black Tech Week in Miami in 2015.
Panelists discuss the tech business during Black Tech Week in Miami in 2015. Miami Herald

We are entrepreneurs, investors and mentors deeply committed to building innovative companies in South Florida and seeing the tech economy flourish. Therefore, we can say with certainty that continuing the growth we have seen is at stake in this presidential election — and state and local contests, too.

We cannot sit on the sidelines of an election that has real consequences for the tech and startup community in Miami. In this election, investing in tomorrow’s entrepreneurs is on the ballot. Growing Florida’s tech economy is on the ballot. Expanding diversity in the tech sector is on the ballot.

Leadership in the White House and State House directly impacts Miami’s prospects for growing into the next tech powerhouse and for generating thousands of high-paying jobs. We have a strong foundation to build upon. According to the Kaufmann Index of Startup Activity, Florida ranks second in startup activity nationwide. Miami’s tech community and startups are primed for accelerated growth if conducive, focused policies emerge from the next administration.

It is imperative that we all — whether we lead a startup, work at an incubator or accelerator supporting entrepreneurs or provide skills training enabling people to pursue technical careers — identify which candidates have put serious thought into the policies that will help us grow.

Miami will be best served by policies designed to strengthen our startup ecosystem — by increasing entrepreneurial opportunities for more people and helping more communities become hubs for startups. Today, Florida lags when it comes to diversity in the tech industry. Just over a third of tech workers in our state are women, ranking 29th in the country. As worrying, interest in STEM careers has declined among women, Latinos and Africa -Americans in Florida’s 2017 high school graduating class — while national student interest among these groups increased. This bodes ill for the talent pipeline vital to our tech economy.

Closing this opportunity gap can bring enormous value. A recent Stanford study found that Latinos are starting companies 50 times faster than any other demographic segment, but their businesses are smaller and slower growing than the national average. If they generated revenue comparable to other U.S. businesses, they could add $1.4 trillion a year to the U.S. economy. In Florida, this would be a huge addition in growth, jobs and tax receipts.

Federal policies and dollars make a difference to Florida’s startup ecosystem. Increasing investments in STEM and computer science education and partnerships to train more science teachers will help develop tomorrow’s tech entrepreneurs. Expanding programs like the SBA’s Growth Accelerator Fund bring innovation financing directly to Florida startups. This especially helps businesses with less access to external financing such as Latino-owned startups. Less than 1 percent of venture-backed startups are Latino-owned, and only 6 percent secure commercial bank loans, compared to 11 percent of non-Latino business owners.

Public seed investment has an impact. An SBA Challenge Grant enabled Tampa Bay WaVE, a nonprofit supporting local startups and entrepreneurs, to launch its nationally recognized tech business accelerator program. That $1 million SBA grant has helped FirstWaVE support over 125 startups that collectively raised more than $20 million in investment capital. That is a serious return on investment — and we need more of it from the next administration to help more communities become hotbeds for startups and tech jobs.

Miami can become the example of what a “nation of entrepreneurs” looks like — where a greater number of recent graduates, women and minorities have the chance to turn their ideas into job-creating businesses. This requires elected officials — from a president to state and local officeholders — who recognize that federal-state and public-private partnerships investing in local innovation is a winning formula.

When it comes to finding ways to accelerate entrepreneurship and growth across America, we could use elected officials who are unapologetically policy geeks. That’s a good thing. Geeks get things done.

Miami’s tech and startup communities will be well served by a public sector that is more engaged at all levels, and by leaders who get the tech economy — and have policies that are something more than vaporware. We have witnessed firsthand how entrepreneurship invigorates our city, how efforts to increase opportunities for women and entrepreneurs of color make a difference, and how investment in STEM education prepares kids for new paths in life.

What should we, the tech community, draw from all this?

This election matters. Policies to invest in digital infrastructure, technical education and entrepreneurship matter.

Fortunately, there is one simple action that each of us in Miami’s tech and startup communities can take to see our success scale for years to come: Vote.

Miami is a city of immigrants and new beginnings, embodying an energetic spirit of innovation. It is exactly the kind of place where investing in accelerating and diversifying startups will pay huge dividends. Its tech and startup communities need to step up and vote for that future. Take advantage of early voting or on Nov. 8 — but get out and vote. It matters.

Felecia Hatcher-Pearson is co-founder of Code Fever + Black Tech Week. Wifredo Fernandez is co-founder of The LAB Miami and a Faculty Fellow at Florida International University. They wrote this article on behalf of several other entrepreneurs, including Brian Breslin, Leigh-Ann Buchanan, Seth Cassel, Maria Derchi, Gabriela Guzman, Natalia Martinez-Kalinina, Rebecca Fishman Lipsey, Raul Moas, Matt Mawhinney, Ani Mercedes, Jade Palomino, Nadia Payan, Mariana Rego,Christopher Sopher

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