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View from a Road Warrior: Building a tri-county tech community

By Rosston Meyer


RosstonTech entrepreneurs scattered throughout Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties face challenges to establish and expand support services outside of the metropolitan Miami locale. I have firsthand experience as an involved participant in the tech community, while living in central Palm Beach County. This post explores the genesis of the tri-county tech support system presently emerging outside of Miami.

There is considerable momentum in the tri-county S FL tech scene, including updates about new accelerators/incubators, constant news about Florida tech companies on this blog, and events such as the recent "Great Debate". The subject of location percolates at each event and meeting, focusing on the one thing that is theoretically essential to a growing tech community: Is there a central location for South Florida tech?

One Single Hub?

Most discussions identify Miami as the purported central hub; however, the Miami organizations and events are likewise scattered throughout the greater Miami area (Downtown, Midtown, Grove, etc.). The variety of scattered locations throughout Miami-Dade is more diffused than in Palm Beach and Broward. A variety of locations have sprung up in Palm Beach and Broward, such as the FAU Campus area, which houses the Enterprise Development Corporation, and upcoming Caffeine Spaces, proving that we are far from designating a central tech hub in South Florida.

The geographic layout of South Florida simply does not emulate the high concentration of tech companies and services that exist in San Francisco, Boston or Seattle. Tech entrepreneurs and  professionals will benefit by a realistic and honest solution that results in successful events and necessary introductions. Stonly Baptiste of IndependenceIT agrees, saying that Miami has the best shot at being a major tech hub than most of the other areas of South Florida. Those of us in Fort Lauderdale can benefit from that growth and focus our energies in helping a growing community instead of the uphill battle of firing up a Fort Lauderdale tech hub.”

Distance, Location & Driving: "on the Road Again"

Location and driving distance is another issue that prevents many tri-county residents from attending events in Miami. “I'm envious of the momentum that's growing down in Miami, that's without doubt. Unfortunately, being involved in the community in Miami includes 1.5 hours of commute with each engagement,” says Mike Greenberg, of Nobulb.com.

A recent trip down to the UM Campus to attend my first Refresh Miami event validated this for me, and ended up being a 3-hour trip. So, you may ask, was it worth it? Absolutely, as I was able to meet a handful of people in person that I’d only virtually interacted with as well as some new faces (some of which made the same trip and are quoted in this post). Having said that, it’s not feasible for many of us to take a 2 to 3 hour trip for every meetup I’d like to attend, especially when the travel time can be longer than the actual event.

Other local entrepreneurs agree with this. Sally Outlaw, of Jupiter based crowdfunding site Peerbackers said: “Even though we make an effort to attend and participate in events in Miami, I find it difficult to schedule follow-up meetings as this usually means trying to connect with people ‘half way’ with a drive to Boca Raton or Ft. Lauderdale for both parties.“

Gary Weston of Fort Lauderdale based LawyersReachPro, concurs: “Being located in Fort Lauderdale, we are basically central to both Palm Beach and Miami which is great, but it is still a longer commute than I would like to make. I would definitely attend more events and build up relationships more regularly if we were closer to Miami.

Finding Advisors, Investors & Mentors

When it comes to meeting investors and advisors, residents of Palm Beach and Broward may have greater difficulty than residents from the Miami area. “The only thing I find lacking in all South Florida counties are investors and mentors who will support emerging companies...of course there are a few out there and I'm grateful to those who engage, but there is a wealth of hidden talent in our area who I'd love to see step forward to work more closely with our dedicated entrepreneurs,” said Sally Outlaw.

A recent Palm Beach Post article about the Jupiter, FL based Angel Forum of  stated that only about 2 of the 20 or so Florida based companies that present to their group annually get funded. This low percentage surely won’t entice Miami area startups to race up north. Furthermore, the seasonal nature of South Florida makes getting the attention of these investors a more difficult and timely issue. “There are more investors and private banks per capita in Palm Beach County than the rest of the world, so there is money in Palm Beach. However, these investors are much less risk averse and are only here 4 months out of the year, which means that ‘season’ has to become a very busy, active pitch season,” said Chris Davies of Wellington, FL based photo-sharing site SnapReplay.

Not all events are created equal (or are in Miami):

CodeCamp424299_336526613053375_576543935_nOf course, not all of the tech happenings in South Florida are located in Miami/Dade. A handful of events are put on in Broward county, which is the central physical location of the tricounty area. Alex Funkhouser, the organizer of ITPalooza, an event that aims to bring together all South Florida Tech Groups on 12-12-12 this year, chooses Broward for this reason: “For the annual events that draw around 1,000 tech professionals, such as CodeCamp (pictured) and now ITPalooza, we locate these in Broward County to draw from the tri-county area. Due to the two-hour drive time between the geographic extremes, many groups rotate their regularly scheduled monthly event locations along the Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Boca Raton, and West Palm Beach circuit.”

Startup Weekends were recently held in two locations, one in Miami and one in Boca Raton,  on the same weekend. This opportunity gives prospective participants that may not have been able to commit to an entire weekend to Miami, the option of attending Startup Weekend in Boca Raton.

Despite the foregoing issues facing startup and tech professionals living in Palm Beach and Broward, many of us do not believe that location is a deciding factor in the success of our businesses. “Not being in Miami has not affected my ability to grow a business in any significant way,” Stonly Baptiste said. While moving to Miami is a subject that often comes up in conversation, it may not be feasible or desirable for many entrepreneurs living in Palm Beach or Broward.

Corey Leff, of Palm Beach county based SpendLo, also agrees: “I do not find being headquartered in Palm Beach County to negatively affect the development of spendLO. We take advantage of the resources available to us locally through the EDC (Enterprise Development Corporation) headquartered in the Technology Business Incubator (At the Research Park at FAU). Recent events such as Startup Weekend and upcoming events such as the annual Emerging Technology Business Showcase [this year it's Nov. 30] also help to keep Palm Beach County firmly entrenched in Silicon Beach tech circles. While it may be more convenient to be located in Miami, motivated entrepreneurs like myself will travel as necessary to stay relevant in the local tech scene.

Thankfully, there are resources that create a nexus for tech events from Miami through Palm Beach County, such as the following websites: RefreshMiami.com, MiamiTechEvents.com, MiamiTech.org, Startup Digest Miami, and more.

The dedicated tech entrepreneur can now avail himself of a variety of events, situated in a variety of locations, with some closer to home and some further away. This situation maximizes the contacts and exchange of information for all, with ever increasing opportunities to work together as a diverse group of tech entrepreneurs.

Rosston Meyer is the founder of Sponsorist Inc. in Lake Worth, Fla. Read an earlier guest post by Rosston here.

 (Photo shows South Florida Code Camp held at Nova Southeastern earlier this year, provided by Alex Funkhouser of SherlockTech Staffing.)

Comments

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Moises

Rosston, would have loved to be included in this article.
Greetings,
Moises from www.Startropica.com

Alex Funkhouser

South Florida is strong in Tech, and growing stronger each day. We have the IT Talent to change the world.

Tom Ordonez (@tomordonez)

Miami is a contradiction. There are a few things that can never be solved. Transportation for one. There will never be a fully integrated metro in the city. Some places are too wide and deters people from walking, even to the bus station. Carpooling could work if the bus transit was accurate, it has not been accurate in the last 10 years. It will never be accurate.

I lived in Miami from 2000 to 2008. Then moved to Chicago and just moved back 2 months ago. I don't see a lot of change, besides that there are more meetups and tech events. I don't see a collaborative force but more of a race of individual efforts, as if there were elections for a tech presidency.

I have been talking to people since I got here. Developers and non developers. Developers say there are a lot of developers. Non developers say there are no developers. Employers say there are no developers.

The 2nd winner of the Bass Hackathon said there were no developers. Andrej from the Lean Startup said he brought his army of android developers. mmm? What's going on then?

I went to the last Startup Weekend in Miami. There was a team with like 10 developers (cough cough Bunsen). I am not surprised. There was a team struggling because they didn't have developers and said there were no developers at the event. mmm. what?

It is not enough to bring an entourage of developers that don't want to collaborate with non developers. Keep on calling it a tech hub. In Palm Beach, Miami, Ft Lauderdale, Key West. Wherever. But if there is no collaboration. Then what's the point?

I met a lot of people since I got here. The usual suspects. You are all very smart and doing great things. But there should be a better collaborative force, than a race of individual efforts.

Bunsen. Please no debates. Thanks. You are awesome though!

Nancy Dahlberg

Tom, thanks for your comments. Are you saying there is no hope for collaboration?

Nancy Dahlberg

Thank you Alex for providing pictures, and Moises your view is always welcome!

TheReefbiz

Great article, I started www.theReef.biz to foster collaboration between various tech ecosystem, we are just getting going but we hope to help,,,Bill

Tom Ordonez (@tomordonez)

Nancy, there is hope for collaboration but Miami needs an intervention. Leaders need to step outside of the bubble, see how other tech communities are doing it, experiment and implement.
My point of view is what I have seen in Chicago. What worked and what didn't work. Organic collaboration is not happening in Miami. Organic means, go to a hackathon to meet new people and team up. Organic does not mean bring your friends, team up with your friends and don't meet anybody new.
My call to action for Miami is this. Go to social events, tech events, startup weekends, hackathons. And instead of hanging out and teaming up with your friends, make a better effort to meet someone new and team up with new people. Make your goal to meet at least 1 new person per week and offer them help.

Auston Bunsen

[warning: rant below]

Tom,

You're right transportation cannot be solved, which is why I advocate a small geographic area with entrepreneurial density. I don't think I need to elaborate - but if we don't do that, we need to follow something along these lines: http://abunsen.ruhoh.com/south-florida-tech/

As far as your thoughts on a tech presidency, I know they're not directed at me. I ran SuperConf for two years on my own. I brought in 2 partners this year, Brian Breslin & Davide DiCillo. I didn't have to do that, I chose to collaborate because they bring tremendous value to the relationship. I've been working with organizations to help them find developers for free, ask the people at .co, Senzari & other places. There is no need for me to even continue my defense here.

Talking about developers: people say what they know. If people do not make an effort to meet developers, then they won't. It's simple, there is a greater demand for developers than ever before. Employers who make claims like that do not have their ear to the ground. Developers are here, if you think their aren't you're not looking hard enough.

I went to the hackathon with 2 friends. The rest of my team was new to me - had met one of them before the event. I was actively recruiting votes & team members. My team was the result of being led by a technical leader - nothing else. Additionally, I did in fact avoid working with people I knew, like the guys on your team (Dainel specifically).

Again, I collaborate often & have many different things pending including with Juan Pablo Cappello & Marco Giberti. Not to mention my hopes for projects in partnership with the LAB & other South Florida companies.

Tom, I'm not sure what led you to your conclusions, but I think you would be well served by finding a few people & making some deeper connections with them. Most of the people I know understand that it's important to make meaningful relationships. Hit me on email if you want to continue this conversation.

---

Side note: Ross, some of your post is self-contradictory, like Stonly's statement: "Miami has the best shot at being a major tech hub than most of the other areas of South Florida. Those of us in Fort Lauderdale can benefit from that growth and focus our energies in helping a growing community instead of the uphill battle of firing up a Fort Lauderdale tech hub.”

and Gary Weston: “Being located in Fort Lauderdale, we are basically central to both Palm Beach and Miami which is great, but it is still a longer commute than I would like to make. I would definitely attend more events and build up relationships more regularly if we were closer to Miami.”

Problems that would be alleviated if they were in Miami, specifically Midtown or the Grove.

Tom Ordonez (@tomordonez)

Bunsen let me ask you this. If Steve Jobs and John Doe go to a startup weekend and they are looking for team members, which one would you join?

You are smart, cool, good looking. All the developers want to join your team. But what about the John Does. The new entrepreneur or developer that wants to push an idea but no one joins their team simply because they are unknown in the "scene". Maybe next time you should discourage people to join your team and you could join John Doe's team.

Your efforts on collaboration are a great example for others to follow, no doubt. My conclusions come from conversations with people and the question I ask them: "What problems do you have?".

I agree that employers that say "there are no developers" or "there is no talent in South Florida" are not trying hard to look for them (cough cough someone in the medical practice management software).

Some non developers that say "there are no developers" seem to be afraid of learning to code. Others are looking for developers to build their ideas for free. This should not be the way to go.

I don't agree completely on placing everybody into a small geographical location. Not everybody lives in Coconut Grove or Brickell (or Wynwood). It wouldn't make sense for people to commute 1-3 hours every day with the heavy traffic jams of Miami and poor public transportation. Instead build micro communities wherever people live while making major events in central locations.

Rosstamicah

Auston, I see your point but that was two other people's opinions, not my own. This article contained mostly my own personal views as well as the views of some other people in the tech community. I asked everyone the same questions and happened to take their quotes and place them throughout the article as I saw fit, so any contradictions were unintentional.

steve Earle (@e2mktg)

Thanx for the article Rosston. ITPalooza is a great example of how South Florida Tech is working together to provide a platform for the technology community. The 42 session slots are booked to capacity, several are developer specific sessions. There is also a job opportunity room where sponsoring companies can promote their hiring needs and meet prospective candidates. http://itpalooza.e2mktg.com/

Paul Senior  (@itspaulsenior)

Having just returned from San Francisco earlier this month, I have a few observations. The Silicon Valley technology-oriented Meetup groups are more varied, numerous and have hundreds or even thousands of members, but they are also spread out geographically between downtown San Francisco and the San Jose area.

I was at a hotel several miles north of Stanford University and was scheduled to attend a Meetup at Rackspace in downtown San Francisco, but never made it. Traffic and parking is worse there than South Florida. Gas is more expensive. They have CalTran, we have TriRail. They have BART, we have MetroRail. None of these public transportation options get you close enough to Meetups are happening.

I have been seeing more and more Meetup groups from both areas (i.e. RouterGods, WordPress Miami) running Google Hangouts broadcasts, and I think that is one good answer to the problem that I hope to see implemented more often.

Nancy Dahlberg

Thnks for your thoughts, Paul. I workedin Silicon Valley for a few years in the 90s and agree it's very spread out. In fact we did a project at the Mercury News then called where is Silicon Valley, mapping the statups, VCs, larger tech firms and ther supporting organizations -- they were all over from san francisco to san jose (and even santa cruz), from sunnyvale to berkely, there was no dominant area at that time.

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