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The Great Debate: We've only just begun...

On one side: Juan Pablo Cappello, lawyer, serial entrepreneur and serial investor in tech startups. On the other side: Auston Bunsen, young entrepreneur, programmer and organizer of the annual SuperConf.

DemianbellumiophotofinalThe motion for debate: Miami is rapidly becoming a tech hub and doesn’t need to be a gateway for Latin America to succeed. Read their original viewpoints, where Juan Pablo Cappello argued  Miami needs a major public-private leadership effort to build a tech hub and put forth a five-part plan to do that and Auston Bunsen debated it, first aired on this blog.

They met and agreed to debate the issue this week in front about 100 or so guests that represented a cross section of Miami’s tech community –- startups, investors, university representatives, service providers among them -- in Greenberg Traurig’s large meeting room. UM Launch Pad’s leader, Susan Amat, moderated the debate.

AustonjpcsusanfinalAuston, defending the motion, cited how meetup attendance has skyrocketed, how software company investment has grown, and the fact that GitHub brought its developer conference here and Tech Stars is looking to Miami to source its prestigious programs. While Juan Pablo talked about the late ‘90s when Silicon Beach was in full swing largely powered by Latin American Internet companies, Auston asked, where are those entrepreneurial leaders now?

“We don’t need South America to succeed. We’re at the beginning of our own path to success,” Auston said, citing examples of committed local leaders, investment groups forming, the growing number of coworking spaces and incubators and local successes like CareCloud. He argued that we will get a bigger ROI focusing on our own area rather than importing companies from Latin America.  But he also said there is a lot more work to do. The area needs more web developers and computer scientists with particular skill sets, for instance.

 “We need to double down on our efforts and connect with the people and companies here in our own backyard and other people will follow given our own success. Ultimately, I speak for myself and my peers when I say, we will support any endeavor to grow the community here,” he added.

Juan Pablo agreed there are great things happening here, but “the reality is when you look at Miami from the national level, Miami is not on the map.” Of the 150 largest VC firms, not one has an office here, he said. When you google lists of great cities for tech, Miami does not come up.

He also said Miami should take a page from the playbook of Boulder, Austin and New York, which recently developed tech hubs built around niches. Those cities succeeded by developing a brand first, becoming known for something and growing from there, he said. 

“The reason I argue the gateway city brand is it’s the one that makes sense, it has already happened, ... We’re a gateway city to over a 100 multinationals that have corporate headquarters for Latin America here,” he said, also citing local Latin demographics. “So my view is Miami has a tremendous opportunity, a large natural advantage as the gateway city… We need to decide collectively on a brand for this locality and push it  out to the world. Once we do that, with all the advantages Miami has to offer,  we are going to have no problem bringing experienced talent from elsewhere here.”

Each also offered a call to action. Juan Pablo’s call: “A lot of the people doing good things down here aren’t collaborating. What we have to do is… get through these issues and concerns that are dividing us, and get rowing  in the same direction.”

Auston agreed with that and added: “My call to action would be to focus efforts in a small geographic area –- literally a square mile or five square miles. There are too many pockets which leads to disparate communities. We will be better served if everything was centralized.  A hub will serve us all very well.”

Also as part of the event, representatives from Knight Foundation, Refresh Miami, Incubate MiamiStartup Florida, Hack Day Foundation, AVCC, CVOX/Geeky Beach, Straat Investments, Launch Pad and yours truly from the Miami Herald all gave short talks about what they have been doing to support entrepreneurs. Most of them also sent this message: Let’s work together, people!

Then a vote of the audience was taken to determine a “winner” of the debate as well as get a pulse on how many minds may have been swayed. The voting was about even -- and few people admitted to being swayed.

That bothered Auston. “The fact that there was only one person swayed scares me. It tells me people  -- including my friends, who are awesome -- value loyalty over open-mindedness. The vote was the same before and after, absent one independent thinker -- who I applaud. It makes it clear that it's going to be a lot harder than I originally thought to make progress as a region and I hope I am wrong. With that said, I am very happy with the turnout and I am very thankful for everyone's support.”

My take: It takes more than one event to get people all rowing in the same director, as Juan Pablo put it, particularly here. And perhaps the bigger message of the evening was not the debate itself, but the fact that many people from the community came together who don’t normally do so to talk about moving Miami’s tech community forward. That’s a healthy start.

The morning after, Juan Pablo added: “There are great techies here who are doing interesting things and building great businesses. Lots of talented people would love to live here. We have the luxury of many wealthy potential ‘super angel’ investors who live here. Literally, the world visits Miami every year -- thanks to local tourism. The local tech community, broadly defined, needs to debate the big issues and come up with a game plan -- the way New York City, Austin and Boulder have. Carpe diem.”

What’s your view? Let’s keep the conversation going -- why not share your view on this post? Auston posted his remarks and research after the debate; he also answered some questions he said he wished he was asked -- read them here.  Update: Also, see the comments below for more views, including this post by Brian Breslin. Read a view by Doug Poretz inspired by the original posts, with some interesting comments from Ed Toro and Mike Greenberg.There is also this earlier  view by Carlos Ordonez on a Latin America hub, and there are other views on this blog, including about forming a healthcare hub, here and here. Watch Starting Gate for views, news and tools for entrepreneurs, and tweet me @ndahlberg. 

(Top photo of the event was provided by Demian Bellumio and the photo of Auston Bunsen, Susan Amat and Juan Pablo Cappello was provided by Geeky Beach)  

Comments

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Rosston Meyer

This was a great event to attend and its good to see such enthusiasm from both sides of the spectrum.

As someone involved in the SFL tech scene but NOT from or in Miami (i'm up in Palm Beach County) I disagree that a defined location or even a "focus" (like clean tech is in Boulder or cloud is in Austin) will solve any of issues that Miami faces as far as getting on the map in comparison to other parts of the country. What we need down here is quite simple really: more success stories from South Florida tech companies. The pieces are in place, we just need a few stars. That stay here.

Nancy Dahlberg

Thanks for your comments. I agree with you that more success stories will really help. I also think the area our size would need more than one hub of activity.

Auston Bunsen

Nancy, I'd agree with you except I have some really compelling evidence that we do need a single, central place, at least to get started.

Look at the Bay Area; for a long time if you wanted to raise money it required a trip to Sand Hill Road. Or look at New York, most of the startups are in or around the Flatiron district. For finance, everything revolves around Wall Street there. When you look at Hollywood (entertainment industry) all of the activity is largely based in the TMZ (Thirty Mile Zone).

Brian Breslin

Nancy, I wrote a response, too long for a comment.
http://brianbreslin.com/the-great-response/

Nate

Did anyone mention that the local schools need top notch computer science programs in the debate? They could definitely be producing better graduates. That seems to be one of the key pieces in Silicon Valley, Silicon Alley, Austin and Boston.

UM is clearly the one better positioned to step up take on this challenge.

Nancy Dahlberg

Nate, not so much there but i've heard others express that concern about education. It's top of mind for many. Auston, yea, that makes sense to get started, seems to me if you follow the activity so far downtown has the edge -- so far. Thanks to Brian for his link to his post on this -- definitely worth checking out!

Ghalley

I think one of the early steps is developing local talent. The only job I could get as an aspiring web developer was as a data analyst. Everyone hiring in Miami is looking for experienced workers. I worked for two years at that analyst job while looking for an opportunity. The first break I got was in Atlanta, where I now live and work. With only a year's development under my belt, recruiters are calling all the time because companies actually want young people they can train and mold into what they need. What few tech companies are in Miami aren't willing to do that, either because they can't or don't wan't to. The other tech hubs are popular because young people can and frequently do make their starts there. Make Miami a good place to start a career in tech, and the rest will follow rapidly.

Auston Bunsen

@Ghalley has part of the equation!

I did not mention this explicitly in my opening or closing, but it's what part of what I meant when I said that we need to grow our own talent!

I 100% agree with your statement!!

Lu Martinez

As the "lone" person swayed (or just the fool who raised his hand to be caught in an answer that required further explanation), I think I have to clarify something:

If this debate was a strictly defined "support the locals" vs "embrace a gateway," that was relatively unclear. When I noted that I switched from Auston's position to lean toward Juan Pablo's position, it's because I interpreted Juan Pablo's theme (which, prior to the debate, I understood to be focus on Latin America) to be more inclusive of embracing and encouraging an influx of talent. While I disagreed with a number of Juan Pablo's premises (e.g. that Miami needs to build a brand or specialty and then grow from that), I don't believe we should forego an infusion of talent from Latin America (or anywhere, really). I'll stand with my perspective after listening to both: I simply don't see why the two perspectives are being framed as mutually exclusive. We *should* support the locals AND we *should* be receptive to any and all talent willing to partake in the community.

Tito Gil

I think that with funding sources lacking in south Florida, our best bet is to invest in human capital, and that happens primarily through collaboration. There are so many new great groups and initiatives in Miami that make collaborating much more possible today than it was just 5 years ago. I think we're on the right track, and that the money will follow once we have some more success stories that we can market to the world.

Scottg

As a founder of a tech startup and going to my fair share of networking events their definitely needs to be more synergy within the tech community not just with established businesses but also with educational institutes and up and coming entrepreneurship. With more collaboration will come more growth opportunities which will in turn attract more tech talent. With the right group forming together with this goal in mind growth will then occur organically and the growth will do the marketing of Miami as a tech hub on it's own.

Stonly Baptiste

To put it simply, we need more startups working on bigger ideas, or small ideas. I second the motion that more success stories and the highlighting of them will result in more investor confidence, serendipity in the community, and inspiration to a growing batch of founders. To Auston's point about the talent strain, more people need to hunker down and learn to code or build their startup with the resources we have. Talent will follow the energy (and the money)

Lorena Garcia Duran

As you might know Ashoka opened an office in Miami also because we agree with the huge potential this community has. We encourage these types of initiatives also to leverage social entrepreneurship in town and especially support the creation of those tech entrepreneurs who aim to tackle a social issue. Congrats for what it seemed to be a great event!

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