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GMCC Economic Summit offers broader stage for critical tech, education issues

While parts of the agenda of the Greater Miami Chamber's South Florida Economic Summit could be expected -- sessions and speakers on real estate and financial services, for instance -- others such as on education, entrepreneurship and technology came as a welcome surprise, noted Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez in remarks concluding the third annual summit on Monday.

That these topics were discussed at an economic forum attracting 600+ movers and shakers is signficant.  Topics brought up during these sessions -- closing the socio-economic and gender gaps when it comes to tech, combatting the region's brain drain and accelerating high-growth companies -- are familiar terrain to the tech and startup communities and likely to be debated again at next week's Start-Up City: Miami event. But these topics weren't to be found on last year's Chamber summit agenda. (It should be noted the Chamber does have active tech and education committees and the issues are included in its One Community One Goal initiative.)

In the education/entrepreneurship session, panelists noted the world is changing, old models of education aren't supported any longer, that schools need to teach entrepreneurship and business needs to be a strong education partner. Still, Dr. Eduardo Padron of Miami Dade College noted that the room should have been packed with business people; instead only about a third in the audience identified themselves as business people. Unfortunately, fixing education is not a priority with most, he said. Miami-Dade County Schools Superintendant Alberto Carvalho gave some sobering statistics about the digital divide in our community -- only 30 percent have Internet access in the country's fourth largest school district, for instance -- although there has been improvement and the business community has stepped up with funding, he noted. "The only way to level the playing field is through technology-- guaranteed universal connectivity, smart curriculums and smart connections," he said. Susan Amat, founder of the new Launch Pad Tech accelerator in downtown Miami, issued a call to action to the business community to give their time to mentoring high-growth startups so the new companies will continue to call Miami home and grow the jobs of  the future. “We want people to say ‘no business community is going to do what Miami did for me’ ” Amat said.

The technology panel covered some of the same ground. In disucssions about what it would take to build a world class tech ecosystem in Miami, Manny Medina of Medina Capital Partners said the four pillars of success are education, accelerators and incubators, funding and an employment base and South Florida has a fantastic opportunity to be a strong player in tech. Juan Diego Calle, founder and CEO of .CO Internet, said the community needs to come together and get to know one another, should attack its brain drain problem, and needs a few startups to become stars to inspire others. Calle, along with fellow panelists such as Andrew Carricarte, founder and CEO of IOS Health Systems, a national health information technology provider, could build their businesses anywhere but choose South Florida. Yet, nearly all said finding enough local tech talent is a challenge. Adam Burden of Accenture said the area needs specialists in big data and cloud archtecture programming and it's expensive for companies to have to import from New York or Silicon Valley. "We aren't producing enough organically grown talent."  Will Fleming, who is co-founder and CEO of MotionPoint, a global website translation service that is doubling the size of its Coconut Creek headquarters and adding 100-150 employees in the next couple of years, agreed and said we need to think regionally, drawing on all the strengths of the tri-county area, to develop a tech hub. Added Medina, who founded Terremark and is bringing a major tech conference to Miami in May of 2014: "People ask how do we compete [with other tech hubs]? My hope is that we don't compete, we complement."

For his part, Mayor Gimenez said he is putting his money where his mouth is and investing in education and tech, noting the county's $1 million investment in the Launch Pad Tech Accelerator. He  lauded the Knight Foundation's recent investments, including its $2 million investment to bring the global entrepreneurship nonprofit Endeavor to Miami to support high-impact entrepreneurs. Will education, entrepreneurship and tech be advanced by work through the Chamber's One Community One Goal? Clearly there is still work to be done, but  at least it's clearly on the agenda.

Related story on the housing recovery being the talk of the summit: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/02/04/3217385/economy-on-the-rebound-but-for.html