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Voices of the tech community: Views of entrepreneurs, investors

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. Read the previous voice columns here and here

What do you think? Add your opinion to the comments section here or on the blog.     

Read more here: http://miamiherald.typepad.com/the-starting-gate/2013/09/voices-of-the-tech-community-share-your-opinion-on-building-a-tech-hub.html#storylink=cpy

If you believe South Florida  is on the way to building a tech hub, what was the signal for you that this is real?

Where as 10 years ago, a budding entrepreneur may have said ,"I want to open a restauraant!", now more folks are saying, "I want to be the next Twitter or Facebook!", which is a hugely positive paradigm shift in thinking. Entrepreneurship is being infused in all aspects of higher ed as well. For example, Miami Dade College and Miami-Dade County Public Schools are partnering to develop Engineering and Technology Entrepreneurship summer camps for students in their Academies of Engineering and IT. Things are definitely looking up. 

-- Miguel Alonso, School of Engineering, Miami Dade College


I feel that 2013 was the tipping point.  It’s when South Florida raised its collective hands and said we are in the game and ready to play, as evidenced by The Knight Foundation’s focus on and investment in entrepreneurship; the announcement of the eMerge Americas Conference; the new leadership and energy behind the South Florida Technology Alliance; the growth and development of the Miami Innovation Center; the formation of the Group of Groups; the inaugural class of Project Lift; the launch of Startup Delray and Startup Palm Beach; the choice of Miami as the first US location for Endeavor; The LAB Miami’s new space and programming; the burgeoning Maker Movement across the tri-county area; and much more.

-- Irene Revales, Startup Delray founder

At Pipeline, we’ve been seeing early stage companies attract very talented people from outside of Miami.  It’s a sign that companies from here have enough juice to have people leave everything behind and invest themselves into quality companies here.

-- Philippe Houdard, Pipeline Brickell


The high quality entrepreneurs from around the world who apply to the Venture Hive accelerator program and express a strong desire and motivation to come to Miami to build their startup.

-- Ivan Rapin-Smith, Venture Hive program director


Although there is still a lot to accomplish the young minds of South Florida are starting to engage in the present and future of their community in ways we haven’t seen before. Young changemakers from 27 different high-schools are launching ventures that are making their communities and neighborhoods a better place to live for all. This enables us to imagine a South Florida where young talent remains connected to their communities because they have actively and positively affected their quality of life.  

-- Lorena Garcia Duran, Ashoka Miami


As an entrepreneur, what could the ecosystem most help you and your company with?

The Miami ecosystem has already helped us tremendously. The individuals and organizations associated with the Miami tech community have been incredibly supportive of our work from the beginning. Through advice from other founders, tech help from experienced developers, PR introductions, we've felt like this community has been cheering us on, and that's been an incredible part of running a startup. Moving forward, we're looking for great advisors and investors. And as this ecosystem grows, we're really hoping to find individuals and/or firms that can provide a unique combination of funding and industry expertise.

-- Sabrina Sandar, Vividly co-founder 


The best thing the ecosystem can do is bring more talent here and not just tech talent, but all types. We need to recruit more forward thinking minds to our city and give them all the tools they need to thrive. When more of those types of people becomes locals, then everybody benefits. 

-- Will Weinraub, LiveNinja founder


There are so many firms / people who say "How can we help you other than money?" The answer is: Money. :) We need groups willing to write checks from $1MM to $3MM locally. 

-- Brian Brackeen, Kairos founder


As an entrepreneur, what has been most challenging about starting a business in South Florida?

I think there's a misalignment that exists between new prospective investors that would like to explore investing in early stage tech companies and the entrepreneurs they engage in conversations with - which can be troublesome for both sides. Investing in tech startups is very different than investing in real-estate and expectations need to be aligned from the get-go. 

-- Will Weinraub, LiveNinja founder


Access to talent. 7 out of the last 10 hires we've made were from outside of SFL.  

- Access to office space - there seems to be a void for spaces suitable for someone our size (~20) - we've been facing the tough choice to either commit for 3 years to something we know we will outgrow in a year, or to get something much larger than we need. 

-- Andrej Kostresevic, New Frontier Nomads founders


All the typical answers apply, money, talent and time. However, I think the most challenging is remaining focused on the big picture. The hardest part of running a business is working towards your big-picture vision and not getting bogged down in the day-to-day details.  Building a company is tough regardless of where you start, but if you understand the landscape in South Florida you can design your strategy to overcome deficiencies and in fact be part of creating the eco-system to help future entrepreneurs as well as ensure success for your business.

-- Nabyl Charania, Rokk3r Labs co-founder


Limited access to capital—both private AND governmental—are hurdles we in the technology sector in South Florida face on an almost daily basis.  As a perfect example, two years ago our company had to take a back seat on a project we initiated for Disney Consumer Products because our Canadian-based strategic partners had immediate access to government capital as part of an innovation and job creation fund. Thus with that funding they could afford to work for months on the project without worrying about billables and overhead. The immediate—and real—impact was the creation of 10 jobs in Canada versus here in South Florida.  I believe the South Florida technology sector has come far since that time but local governments and the private sector need to understand that supporting technology can create good paying jobs that positively impact our local economy.

-- Edwin Rivera, RealityBOOST founder


The lack of a  strong transportation system is a top challenge for an entrepreneur. Serious tech hubs thrive in dense communities where entrepreneurs can meet and connect with others quickly, conveniently and inexpensively. The lack of an extensive transportation system in South Florida inhibits connectivity and tech growth.

-- Sonia Succar Ferré. Principal, Sustain Ventures


As an entrepreneur, my biggest challenge was not having an offline support system. Until I started attending meetups and going to various coworking spaces, I didn't even know what an impact having mentors guiding my way would have. Something as simple as to why I should choose one bank over another was just out of grasp.

-- Mark Laymon, founder of Caffeine Spaces, co-founder of New Tech Community

What will it take to develop a stronger investor network?

It's a numbers game. We just need 'more'. More skilled entrepreneurs with good ideas. More of Miami'ssuccessful entrepreneurs willing to share their wisdom and contacts. And more entrepreneurial education and leadership initiatives that build on the work that the Knight Foundation has seeded. Then more investors will surface.

-- Melissa Krinzman, Venture Architects founder


Venture capital is a hits business—but no investor network will be more impacted by the upcoming crowdfunding wave than Angel investors.  Local Angel investors desirous of 'staying in the game' are investing precariously shallow and wide (also known as spray-and-pray). We are grateful; they have added value to the ecosystem—even at the expense of their own returns—but will be driven out by the flood of upcoming crowdfunding sites.  Developing a stronger local investor network will require hits—and the strategic foresight, diligence and business analysis associated with making more informed investments.  The hits will work gravitationally to pull new investors to our market."  

-- Mike Tomas, Bioheart, chair of FIU Pino Global Entrepreneurship board


The first big win will draw investor interest.  Once we have a 100 million dollar plus exit  of a local company started after 2003, investors will align themselves to invest locally.  I hear rumors that about five of those that will be taking place within the next 24 months.

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


Success. We need our talented entrepreneurs to take their vision and idea and successfully exit through an IPO or a major strategic acquisition. Then we need them and their team to re invest the proceeds in the community and set-out to do it again. Nothing attracts investors more to a region than a strong ecosystem of proven entrepreneurs and successful ventures.

-- Boris Hirmas Said, Miami Dade College Entrepreneur-in-Residence


Real companies with real products staying in Miami. I'm fortunate enough to have some amazing member companies at MEC, we have managed assist a couple of them in a very short period of time to secure significant funding from local investors that are truly impressed with the way these companies are being financially responsible (bootstrapping it).   EDC and MEC are also reaching beyond South Florida to make VCs and angels aware of our companies and we are getting them financed.

-- Maurice Lopez, MEC261 founder


It starts with developing a strong angel community.  I think we're well underway in that sense.  But it needs to be followed by VC's and Private Equity taking an interest in the region.  For that to happen, we need scale.  VC's & PE need to have 10's if not hundreds of deals in their pipeline for it to make sense to establish themselves in any given city. I think its more important to focus on helping a few local companies shine.  A few "pioneers".  The money and the talent will follow.  

Juan Diego Calle, .CO Internet founder


Investors follow opportunities. If we focus on attracting top entrepreneurs who focus on creating genuine value to customers in a large enough market, investors will come.

-- Ivan Rapin-Smith, Venture Hive program director

This is part three of the sampling of survey responses. Read the previous voice columns here and here


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