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Voices of the tech community: Where are the challenges?

We asked a sampling of South Florida entrepreneurs, leaders of entrepreneurship organizations, educators, investors and service providers a few questions about developing a tech hub and entrepreneurial ecosystem. Some of the answers selected have been condensed.

Find more voices of the tech community on Wednesday on the Starting Gate blog on MiamiHerald.com/business. What do you think? Add your opinion to the comments section.  

In your view, what is a big challenge South Florida faces in developing a tech hub and what will it take to overcome that challenge?

The exodus of talent.  I've said in the past that SFL has great people, great entrepreneurs, great developers.  They're just temporarily displaced.  We have to bring them back.  

-- Juan Diego Calle, .CO Inernet founder


One big issue the local community faces here in South Florida is a lack of mentorship from the experienced entrepreneurs to the younger generation. There are great programs in schools such as UM, FIU, and private accelerators, but that mentorship is limited to a small group of mentees and mentors. We need widespread mentorship at scale.

-- Brian Breslin, Refresh Miami founder


The biggest challenge facing South Florida is just how new this effort is.  It has taken other cities decades to built it and it will take us a long time as well.  To overcome the time challenge we need the leadership and patience of all the community leaders to make sure that we continue going forward when the going gets tough.  This can not be a return to the Latin Internet days of the 1990s.

-- Faquiry Diaz Cala, Tres Mares Group president/CEO 


Developing a sustainable tech hub is a challenge anywhere in the world. It takes entrepreneurial leaders with passion, drive and a long term vision to overcome challenges and leverage opportunities one day at the time.

-- Ivan Rapin-Smith, Venture Hive program director


Misperceptions  of Miami as being merely a tourist destination, both by locals and those outside the area. Miami has become a world-class city in the last 10 to 15 years for a number of industries, and we need that story to be told over and over again. Drawing the technology world to Miami through ties to Latin America, Israel, Europe and Asia will help to changes the existing misperceptions. 

-- Kevin Levy, business, corporate and technology attorney, Gunster


I think South Florida is facing a huge talent issue in the sense of developing, attracting, and maintaining young talent. Myself included, many young people will look to communities like Silicon Valley, New York, Austin, Boulder, etc as breeding grounds for successful businesses, powerful networks, and enriched personal lives…  Silicon Valley companies spend massive amounts of money and time recruiting the world's top talent, Vegas brings in dozens of people each week for free to check out their revitalization efforts, and even Boulder flies in potential job-seekers, so we need to also get in the fight for the type of company-changing and community-growing individuals that are courted by the Facebooks and Googles of the world each day.

-- Jared Kleinert, 20 Million Under 20 co-author


The lack of a large corporate concentration, in my opinion, is the biggest issue.   South Florida needs to do a far better job attracting corporations; particularly since our schools are generating very strong, well-educated grads.  IBM, RIM, Motorola, etc. are all having challenges.   Where is the next wave of these sorts of corporations?    FIU shared that many large northern corps (Chrysler, GE, etc.) come down and cherry-pick their best grads.   Maybe we should convince these corps to open up offices in South Florida.  

-- Maurice Lopes, MEC261 founder


We have to get out of the old habit of looking at this region county-by-county and collaborate regionally.  Then we can combine the strengths of every part of the community and can compete on an equal basis with other tech centers in the country.

-- Linda Gove, South Florida Technology Alliance executive director


To me it’s mostly about image.  The city is regarded by the outside (especially venture capitalists) as rich in arts, culture and entertainment.  But not as a nerve center of entrepreneurship.  That’s why the “big wins” I referenced are so key.  For Argentina in the late 1990s, these were MecadoLibre, Patagon.com and Officenet, all Endeavor Entrepreneurs.  You can trace the entire technology ecosystem in Argentina back to these three.

-- Peter Kellner, Endeavor Global co-founder, Endeavor Miami board


One of the biggest challenges is just telling the story about the tech hub that is growing here and drawing more top talent to the area. We are helping to overcome that in our own community of Boca Raton with programs like the Young Entrepreneurs Academy sponsored by the Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Atlantic University’s Adams Center for Entrepreneurship. It is a groundbreaking program that takes 24 students between the ages of 12 and 18 through the process of starting a launching a real business over the course of an academic year. By the end of the class, students own and operate fully-formed and functioning businesses, which may be carried after their graduation from the program. Modernizing Medicine participates in the program as a business partner.

-- Dan Cane, Modernizing Medicine founder


Capital investment will follow the prospects for high rates of return very efficiently. The “capital gap” is not a major issue for highly attractive opportunities seeking major investments of $3-5 Million or more  (e.g., CareCloud or OpenEnglish).   The problem remains of funding the start-up and early stage companies, where the transaction costs and friction caused by distance and lack of familiarity with the local market, make investments inefficient for the traditional pools of capital.   Public sector programs (like the new Florida Technology Seed Capital Fund) are an important partial solution. But we need more visible successes to fuel the flow of seed and early stage investment from funds, angels and groups,  like Medina Capital Partners, Accelerated Growth Partners and the group that I belong to, New World Angels.

-- Jonathan Cole, Edwards Wildman, New World Angels


A robust, high tech employment base. The talent gap needs to be addressed from both the workforce development and economic development perspectives. Our local universities need to continue producing talented graduates that are prepared for next-gen technology jobs, while at the same time enhancing their current offering to prepare students for the next wave of technology's rapid evolution. We must also make Miami a destination for technology businesses to establish and grow so there are plenty of opportunities for these graduates.

-- Xavier Gonzalez, Technology Foundation of the Americas


South Florida won't be a destination for technology anytime soon and that's something we need to come to grips with. Instead of striving to make ourselves a "hub" we should first focus on establishing our city as a welcoming place that can sustain and aid early stage technology companies - and that's something I think we're currently doing a great job at.

-- Will Weinraub, LiveNinja founder


In what area has the most progress been made? and the least?

I think one of our strongest efforts has been the collaboration between the academic and private sectors. For example, CareCloud is working with academic institutions like FIU to create new curricula to train the next generation of medical IT and health management professionals, as well as engineers trained in the latest cloud-based technologies that can be leveraged in a wide range of industries. These same students will be the entrepreneurs that will spur the creation of the new companies the will further expand South Florida’s already vibrant technology sector. One challenge ahead of us will be building an equally powerful infrastructure to support growth companies as they mature – another tier of operating and investment support.  I have no doubt we’ll get there. ”

-- Albert Santalo, CareCloud founder


Most progress -- coops, incubators, accelerators, initiatives.  Least progress -- engagement in the form of local and regional companies/people doing business with the startups.

-- David LeVine, The LeVine Group


We’re starting to do a decent job at encouraging a dialogue that brings all the key players together: venture capital/angel investors, universities, accelerators/incubators, mentors, law firms, accountants, investment banks, media, etc. It has been particularly helpful to have gatekeepers such as the Knight Foundation and eMerge Americas so everyone has a common point of contact and the wheel isn’t being constantly reinvented. If I had to identify one area that could be strengthened it would be a stronger emphasis on the STEM disciplines at the K-12 level. That’s really the missing ingredient for kick starting a community into greatness in the area of technology innovation.

-- Jaret L. Davis, Co-Managing Shareholder of the Miami Office of Greenberg Traurig


The greatest progress has been made by our universities, colleges and public school systems.  The number of students being recruited by top technology companies throughout the U.S. underscores the quality of our local graduates. However, much work is still needed to retain this talent.   As Chair of the Technology & Bioscience Committee of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, we launched an initiative earlier this year to increase the linkages between education and industry to ensure students learn the skills our employers need and are afforded internship opportunities to apply what they learn and stay in South Florida.  

-- Ralph MacNamara, Kaufman Rossin director of client services


As Miami grows into maturity, there has been a parallel growth in organizing groups and steering committees. While the growth in leadership is generally positive, our city needs to establish clear goals and a common identity for our tech ecosystem before it loses out as a result of being spread to thin and a lack of cooperation amongst the key players.

--Danny Lafuente, The LAB Miami co-founder



 I've seen many of my friends successfully raise respectable amounts of seed funding - from $300K to $2M - without leaving Miami. This was not the norm just a couple of years ago.

-- Andrej Kostresevic, New Frontier Nomads founder, Miami Startup Digest

See yesterday's responses to "What will it take to build a strong and sustainable South Florida tech hub?"