Saturday’s diasporas@miami event was part a celebration of Latin American diaspora entrepreneurship and part call to action. While speakers shared their entrepreneurial journeys and startups pitched their businesses, there were also strong calls for immigration reform and incentives to help startups grow and promote an entrepreneurial ecosystem. And, the participants believe, Miami shines brightly as an ideal place to bridge the worlds and launch global businesses.
The celebration, which drew representatives from the U.S. government, public-private partnerships and plenty of entrepreneurs, was also grounded in economic fundamentals. “Of the Fortune 500 companies, 40 percent were founded by immigrants or children on immigrants. Clearly there is a massive economic upside. It’s not just a social issue, it is a hard-core serious economic opportunity,” said Patrick Hidalgo, deputy director of the White House Business Council, pictured here with Susan Amat. “The numbers are astonishing -- look at remittance flows. The whole notion of national identity is changing, where people can live in between. It’s a massive force, how do we … use our assets to help stimulate this inspiring entrepreneurship coming out of the diaspora communities?”
Miami is the city with the largest percentage of foreign-born individuals in the world, and Miami-Dade County as a region is also ranked at the top in foreign-born population worldwide, added Susan Amat, founder of the Venture Hive, the new Miami entrepreneur space that hosted the event and is already full of diaspora startups, including seven Argentinian entrepreneurs, five Brazilians, three Cubans, two Venezuelans and a Colombian. “Looking at the important work that Latin American entrepreneurs have done, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Miami is going to play a critical role” as a technology hub for the Americas, she said.
Carlos Garcia, CEO of Nobox and an angel investor, agrees: “2013 is a year for Miami to leap forward in a huge way. Facebook is setting up its Latin America headquarters here – that is a very big deal. They realize they need a headquarters and that headquarters only makes sense in Miami.”
Still, there are challenges such as immigration limits, brought up during a panel (pictured here) l of Garcia, Stephen Keppel of Univision and Nicolai Bezsonoff of .CO Internet. Bezsonoff said he recently lost a great potential employee who couldn’t get her visas. “If you want to grow economy here, It’s not about closing doors, it’s letting the right people in so you can spark innovation and spark growth of the company and make it something that can hire a hundred more people,” he said, noting that knowledge transfer is critical and even securing temporary visas can be difficult. “If we want Miami to be a technology hub of the Americas, we need to import, not just export. It has to be easier for businesses.”
There are other ways government can help, the panelists said, all noting that Miami is ideal for a Latin American startup as well as for U.S. or European companies doing business in Latin America. “Incentives are going to be very important,” said Garcia, suggesting government incentives for startups to stay here and tax incentives for investing in early-stage companies make sense, he said. Providing funds for programs run by private-sector partners that help diaspora startups is another way.
“Miami is an awesome place to be. By working with entrepreneurs in Latin America, there’s a symbiotic relationship for business and jobs and growth. We need to look for ways to work with setting up the right relationships with the federal, local and state governments and the private sector and we are on the way to doing that,” Keppel, the director of empowerment issues for Univision Network News. He noted the work Univision is doing with La idEA, a new platform to connect Latino entrepreneurs in the U.S. with opportunities and entrepreneurs in Latin America.
The event also included a keynote address by Tony Argiz, CEO of top 40 accounting firm Morrison, Brown, Argiz and Farra, who recounted his journey from Cuba at age 9, and also pitches by iMasterdata, CloudShopper, GetMyRx, NightPro, Tabber and everypost. The event was in partnership with the International Diaspora Engagement Alliance, the U.S. State Department, Univision and Venture Hive and was part of the larger Global Diaspora Forum going on this week in Washington DC, in which Amat also participated in. In addition to Miami, satellite events were also held in Dublin, Toronto, Los Angeles and Silicon Valley.