FWD.us, a national nonprofit started in Silicon Valley to fight for comprehensive immigration reform, has opened a chapter in Miami.
"This is our first chapter launch outside of San Francisco and the Valley, and it's only fitting to do it in the land of immigrants," FWD.us's founder Joe Green told the packed house gathered at Venture Hive Monday night for FWD's inaugural chapter meeting. "We started FWD because we believe the tech community has the ability to be a really important political force in America and we started with immigration reform because what could be a more important issue? ... Immigration is not something to be feared, It's America's greatest asset," he said, preaching to the choir. "The idea that so many talented people want to come here, that helps create more jobs and more opportunity."
Green also announced that FWD launched a "Built by Immigrants" campaign on Monday and is holding a competition for immigrant entrepreneurs to win a spot on a main stage panel with Steve Case at SXSW. At this site, people can upload their immigrant stories and then their friends can send those stories directly to their members of Congress -- by Twitter, Facebook, phone or letter. Antón Chalbaud of The Fan Machine, an Argentine startup offering a social marketing platform for brands and agencies that is accelerating at Venture Hive, told his immigrant story and asked the group to share his story -- tinyurl.com/thefanmachine.
At the inaugural chapter meeting, Green moderated a broad-ranging discussion titled "Can Tech Rebuild the Middle Class and the American Dream?" with Susan Amat, founder of Venture Hive, economist Tony Villamil of the Washington Economics Group, Diane Sanchez, CEO of the Technology Foundation of the Americas, and Seth Cassel, president of EveryMundo.
"As we move forward, a big piece of this is continuing to have our arms open, our doors open to awesome entrepreneurs like Anton," said Amat. "We need to set up the ecosystem to intake them easily and then support their growth. "
Sanchez noted that Miami's role as a tech hub for the Americas is a global play. "We as a community are exposed to diversity and therefore we have to help the rest of the country and be a gateway to the rest of the country. If we get this model right, we can help the middle class and the working class, and take the model onward."
What can the tech community do to rebuild the Middle Class?
If you are starting a business, offer your employees an equity incentive plan so they feel a sense of ownership and if things go well they can use their wealth to start their own company or invest in another startup. "That is how wealth can make change in the tech ecosystem," said Amat.
Villamil agreed: "We need to turn laborers into capitalists, through equity participation, profit sharing, whatever you do, but you have to get it into the system of growing companies and growing economies. We have to stop thinking about minimum wage this and minimum that."
Sanchez noted that South Florida has 1,400 multinationals. "Learn what ecosystem you should be a part of to accelerate your business model, but don't go to the Valley or Boston, it's here. Second, be demanding of your education system. How do we force our community to make that a priority? You can because of the companies you represent."
Cassel, who said of his 29 employees only four were born in the U.S., talked about the need to always be learning. "In a digital economy, education is the job... That is your competitive advantage, that is your value... and there is a constant refreshed opportunity to improve value, be valuable and accrue value."
Green had the last word: "We need to both continue to bring the most talented people into the country as well as doing a much better job educating and retraining people here ... Help spread the stories of all the things immigrants are contributing with your members of Congress to help pass immigration reforn."