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View: Miami-to-Boston move shines light on importance of centralization

By Grant Deken

Grant_dekenTech is an increasingly discussed topic in South Florida. The recent “Great Debate” highlighted increasing meet-up attendance, new accelerator programs, and more seed funding for startups. In a different tone a South Floridian founder discussed the difficulties of tri-county travel.  As a startup co-founder who moved from Miami to Boston this year, I’ve noticed some key factors behind what’s driving Boston’s startup culture and what entrepreneurs and business leaders could consider as they work to define and grow Miami’s tech community.

Get People Together, Now!

A Boston journalist covering startups once wrote that great things Venture_cafehappen when smart people bump into each other. The phrase resonated with enough people that it eventually found itself written on one of the kitchen walls at the Cambridge Innovation Center (known in Boston as the CIC), the 16 floor home to 450 startups, VC firms, consulting firms, and technology companies. Each week there are events covering a variety of topics including growth hacking, programming, and workshops for fundraising to help founders overcome challenges and meet others dealing with the same issues. Most of Boston’s startup programs can be found in Kendall Square in Cambridge, the tech hub located next to MIT. Google, Amazon, VM Ware, Microsoft, TechStars, Dog Patch Labs, Matrix Partners, Highland Capital, and hundreds of other startups, venture capital firms, incubators, and large tech companies are within a stone’s throw of each other.

Centralizing where everything is happening makes it easier to get people together. This is tough for South Florida because it’s so spread out, but it’s an important component for building a startup community. The programs, events, and workspaces downtown need to provide enough value to overcome the issue of commuting while also creating a sense of a community. After all, we drove 25 hours to become a part of one.

Get Academia Behind the Movement

Boston’s universities support entrepreneurship in big ways. MIT’s Media Lab, Harvard’s Innovation Lab, and Babson’s #1 ranked entrepreneurship MBA program all provide students with the resources to build successful startups. South Florida universities can play a critical role in building Miami’s tech  community by enabling students with the tools to build startups. University of Miami’s Launch Pad has been leading the effort to date. With more students considering entrepreneurship as a viable career option, other universities need to adapt. Stanford has a dedicated course for startups (Computer Science 183) taught by legendary entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel.  Startups are motivated as much by academia as they are by stories of successful exits and blockbusters.

It’s also hard to build software without software developers. This is one of the biggest reasons for our decision to move to Boston. Ironically, the problem isn’t so easily solved. Sure there are more engineers in Boston, but there are equally as many startups competing for talent. Ensuring Miami’s universities have strong computer science departments will pay dividends to the city.

Playing to Your Strengths

Boston isn’t without its own flaws and Miami has a number of benefits for founders. The biggest factor without a doubt is the cost of living. Boston is incredibly expensive like its larger counterpart New York. Corporate taxes are also significantly higher in Massachusetts. Additionally, Miami’s proximity with Latin America –- both culturally and geographically –- offers unique opportunities for entrepreneurs who want to disrupt emerging markets.

Grant Deken is the co-founder of Knowyourbank, a funded, Cambridge-based early-stage startup creating a breakthrough online service that's changing the way people discover banks and financial products.

Comments

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Mike Greenberg

Grant, I appreciate your point of view coming from Boston. I'd be curious to know why you traveled 25 hours to join our community here when Boston is flourishing. Don't misunderstand me, your arrival in Miami from Boston is a great signal for the momentum we're building here.

Regarding your centralization thesis, I think South Florida actually benefits from many communities locally forming and organically growing. The effort to maintain a relationship between counties would be better focused helping locally and finding others in your own neck of the woods.

I've been organizing casual meetups in Broward and have found many people who share my interest in a local community and don't feel like driving an hour to get it from Miami. Having small groups organize locally gives you stronger, more intimate relationships which translates to organic growth (as you invite friends to meet these awesome nerds over beer). And you have more reach throughout South Florida as each community establishes their anchor-point for others to find them and network.

Many in Broward get involved in the community growing here as well as trekking out to other communities to get involved there. Being involved in other communities as well as locally can only make South Florida's ecosystem healthier.

Grant Deken

Mike, you've got it backwards! We started the company in Miami, and moved it to Boston...

Mike Greenberg

Ah, misread. Doesn't change my interest in hearing your story sometime. And I maintain my counter-position.

Auston Bunsen

Mike, your position stands without merit. Please, provide us evidence to support your thesis. There are plenty of evidence to support mine & Grant's; cross industry & multi-nationally - Wall Street in NY, TMZ in Hollywood, Palo Alto in Silicon Valley, Flat Iron District in NY, Canary Wharf in London, Place Vendôme in Paris for fashion.

The point is, if South Florida wants to succeed at becoming a place worth coming to, we need to concentrate our efforts in a small area - Grant made this observation on his own, he didn't fabricate it in a vacuum. I have to suggest you take a step back & reassess your position, my guess is that you won't find any significant evidence to justify it.

Grdeken

Mike, I really believe that the key to building community is to bring all the actors together in one place. The resistance to do that is really what will - in my opinion - hold a community back from thriving. Having satellite communities may be comfortable for you, but that's not what will contribute to future growth.

If you ever come to Boston get in touch with me and I'll give you a tour of our building. The energy levels are so high. Imagine hundreds of entrepreneurs, developers, and marketing people all collaborating to solve tough problems or build another silly photo sharing app. Regardless of what you're building you feel like you are at the heart of where things are happening.

I believe that great talent (your core team) is the single most important thing for building successful startups. This centralization thesis couldn't be more true for attracting great talent as well. People want a scene. They want to be a part of something. That comes in different shapes and sizes, but no one wants to go to a meetup with ten people. They want to go where the action is happening. How will we attract great python developers when there a virtually none in south florida? Boston's Python group has over 2,700 members. As a recent college grad, where would you go? You want to go where there is community, jobs, and people who can mentor you towards being a rockstar coder.

I think Miami can create that with time. It's a very entrepreneurial place. The city has to reinforce that it supports entrepreneurship. Boston speaks and thinks very highly of entrepreneurship, so it's more than social acceptable to be a startup founder mingling with HBS Hedge Fund managers and Lawyers. It's looked at as a very serious, viable thing for people to do. Boston has seen enough multi-billion dollar deals done to know that it can and does happen (it's home to Trip Adviser, HubSpot, and a bunch of others).

Mike Greenberg

My experience may be isolated, but let me share it with you. Over almost two years, I've organized events for Hack and Tell. Monthly, I get several handfuls of members together to socialize, learn something, and occasionally participate as a group in other events. I've worked with a local makerspace which I've collaborated with on events and refer members to. Getting involved in the Ruby community northward has helped me connect local entrepreneurs and developers together that would have otherwise left.

I don't pretend to think that Hack and Tell is nearly at the pace as a group like Refresh Miami, but I know there are many guys who have to invest a lot of time to participate in Miami's community and appreciate that there's community growing closer to them. And the intimacy of the small groups means members know each other, build rapport, and know who to point each other to for help if its nearby.

I don't disagree that centralization is needed, but here's value in the long-tail of the community that Miami's scene doesn't serve today and I feel that it's larger than it appears. Given its geography, I believe there needs to be a balance between centralization and supporting micro-communities for South Florida to flourish as a whole.

Doug Poretz

The first step to building a successful tech community is getting past denial and wishful thinking and coming to grips with reality and figuring out how to deal with it. The simple reality is that South Florida, by itself, does not have a critical mass of players to attract the world class lawyers, investors, mentors, marketing firms, etc. that are critical to success. Therefore, the region MUST expand its outreach beyond a small section of Miami or even beyond Miami itself. But there is the problem of geography -- you can't get much "bumping into" each other in a region that extends from Miami to West Palm Beach and maybe even more north. Fortunately, there is a solution to dealing with that reality: the web. It is not a substitute for face-to-face but it is at least a partial solution that can be very advantageous. Accordingly, as part of the launch of the new integrated communications firm I and three partners will be launching officially later this week, we have conceived, built, and now manage on a daily basis -- pro bono -- a single go-to web site -- a clearinghouse -- where anyone interested in any aspect of the life sciences industry of South Florida can find all the events (if we are missing some, let us know), resources, links, comments, etc. It is not a single floor of a single facility, but it is a start to coalescing the community for the region -- don't let perfection stand in the way of moving the ball forward -- check it out: click this link: http://southfloridalifescienceinformation.com/ -- it has just been launched so it will take some time to get it as valuable as it can/should be.

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