Who are the community’s young innovators?


I was selected as one of the honorees in the Miami Herald’s 20 Under 40 2011 cohort. Unlike my peers, my photo clearly showed my life was in transition — eight months pregnant and proudly wearing a scarf made by one of the start-ups I was coaching. Past classes included several accomplished friends and colleagues such as Saif Ishoof, David Clarke, John Kunkel, Marlon Hill and Jaret Davis — entrepreneurs and leaders who are often unsung heroes making South Florida a better place.

If you ask what the 20 Under 40 honorees have in common, it may not be obvious at first. We are an incredibly diverse group, but I would bet on a few things. It is likely we all dream big, someone gave us a shot to be great and that being part of a 20 Under 40 class may prove to be an inflection point — the best may be yet to come.

My role at the time was as co-founder and executive director of The Launch Pad at the University of Miami, but the road to that position was a long and winding one. I was born and, for the most part, reared in Miami. My journey, and my business, took me around the world before returning to my hometown in my mid-20s to complete undergraduate studies. I went on to do my MBA and create another startup. But it was in working on my dissertation research for my Ph.D. that I finally realized my calling.

The University of Miami gave me an opportunity to apply my entrepreneurial experience and research to create a new model for entrepreneurship education. Within a couple of years, The Launch Pad was replicated by the Blackstone Charitable Foundation in Detroit, then Northeast Ohio, then Orlando, Philadelphia, the state of Montana and, most recently, in Southern California.

When the 20 Under 40 story ran, I was living my dream of supporting entrepreneurs in a scalable way, empowering students to create solutions and jobs for themselves. Just a year later, a new challenge began to consume me. There was no place for students to go when they were ready to scale to the next level, and there weren’t resources in the community focused on high-growth tech entrepreneurs.

This isn’t a problem unique to Miami. The question: How to scale world-class resources for high-growth businesses while continuing and expanding mindset-shifting content and programs to serve the full spectrum of entrepreneurs across the continuum of idea to exit? In starting Venture Hive, my decades in business and academia coalesced. Venture Hive is an entrepreneurship education company created to democratize access to resources and networks.

We pilot and test everything in South Florida to scale it internationally, from our accelerator and incubator curriculum to K-12 programs, including the TechCEO program launching in a few weeks with Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

This is the new model: economic development meets education meets workforce development addressing and integrating the full ecosystem. And it’s not my job, it’s my raison d’etre. Sometimes only through age and experience can one make the impossible possible; creating the team, partnerships and level of execution needed to disrupt paradigms.

So now is the time for you to act. Who is making an impact in the community or in a specific industry? Who is the example, showing the world that South Florida has innovators?

Submit nominations for the 2014 class of 20 Under 40 by midnight Sept. 29 to 20under40@miamiherald.com. Don’t just look within your office, but across your network for the young professionals who exemplify the hopes for the future of our community.

When you can give someone an opportunity to be challenged, to see what she is capable of, do it! Take a chance and give a pilot opportunity to a startup. Become a mentor. I have a long list of people who took long odds on me during the past 10 years: Dr. Norma Kenyon, Dr. Bill Green, UM President Donna Shalala, Provost Thomas LeBlanc, DDA Executive Director Alyce Robertson, Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, Kidozen founder Jesus Rodriguez, my tortured husband, Luis — each contributing to making me who I am today, for better or worse. Those projects that require a reach, and sometimes a lot of prayers, are ensuring the pipeline for 20 Under 40 nominees of the future.

Take this opportunity to celebrate excellence without forgetting the many people and sacrifices that are the foundation for any achievement. And I’m sure the Herald will be keeping us posted on their accomplishments for many years to come.