October 15, 2015

Voices of the community: On challenges, opportunities

  In conjunction with my report marking the progress and challenges of efforts to build a tech hub, I gathered opinions from some of the leaders in the community. This week, I will run a sampling of the views expressed. What's your view? Please feel free to comment on this post or email me at ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Today: What's our biggest challenge in developing a thriving tech/entrepreneurship ecosystem?

"Our young South Florida ecosystem has done a good job in bringing angel/seed financing to the table.  But we still have a big gap in the Seed+/Series A capital stack that needs to be addressed quickly.  Otherwise, many of the promising companies receiving initial funding will not find the funding to sustain themselves as they scale to self-sufficient businesses." - Joanna Schwartz, Earlyshares

"Inclusion. And it's not the traditional cause and effect, but I think investors have a limited scope for deal flow because the circles are very tight. The intellectual capital is here but it's not being equally supported by the financial capital. Food distribution and food deserts are big issues and we have farms in South Florida but yet it seems an outside company has to verify a good idea. Everything great isn't from California. All innovation and tech doesn't conclude with an app." -Michael Hall, Digital Grass

"We need to convince rock stars entrepreneurs to believe on the benefits of the Miami entrepreneurial ecosystem. This will be done by more and better collaboration between all the right parts of the ecosystem and once these entrepreneurs are here and we can link them with the rights partners (universities, investors, mentors, coworking spaces, etc.) the magic happens. I see magic happening in many different startups across Miami and South FL and I’m positive on the fact that we will see more and better local success stories during the following years." - Marco Giberti, angel investor

"The biggest challenge to South Florida is that while there are many amazing, wealthy smart people, there is also a large percentage of bullshitters that waste lots of time talking about doing things and investing money when in fact they have no intention to.   The community needs to continue to police itself to protect entrepreneurs from individuals that lack the experience and capital to help build companies." -Brad Harrison, Scout Ventures

"Florida has everything an entrepreneur could ask for.  The one element across the board that could have a higher velocity of maturity is the number of serious and well funded VC's present in the state.  It would catapult the entire ecosystem." - Rodolfo Sacoman, AdMobilize

"Miami is behind other leading cities in recognizing social entrepreneurship as a vital part of the entrepreneurial system. Many people would embrace socially focused entrepreneurship if they could find local support, resources and capital." - Robert Hacker, entrepreneurship professor and advisor

Technical talent is #1.  We need more companies started by exceptional technical founders.  These will be the companies that build big businesses and change the landscape.  I say this as a non-technical entrepreneur.  I know how important it is. … But I’m really encouraged by the increasing number of people who are coming to Miami to start companies.  People vote with their feet and the increased activities tells me something is definitely happening." - Patrick McKenna, HighRidge Global

"The remaining challenge is talent, but at this point it has become an opportunity.  Out of the success of the entrepreneurial movement these past two years have come initiatives like Wyncode and Launchcode that are preparing coders at a fast rate and placing them in top companies.  I think the next interesting challenge would be to get institutions like Singularity University and MIT Media Lab to set up satellite campuses in Miami. It is institutions like these that can think deep, big and long… this would bring depth to our new city." - Adriana Cisneros, Endeavor Miami

"There needs to be more emphasis on drawing in big name companies, drawing in more early/mid stage venture capital funds, and looking to address the infrastructure challenges that may slow or impact the growth we're seeing." - Brian Breslin, Refresh Miami"

Miami is not only rich in capital but also rich and diverse in culture. Our tech and knowledge economy will be stronger and more successful when a spirit of inclusion is embraced.  More efforts must be made to activate portions of our community that are continually disenfranchised due to socio-economic and racial divides." - Tony Jimenez, Richmond Global

“At the present time, focusing on a single biggest challenge is less helpful that a general call for ‘More.’  We need more access to capital for the better-qualified teams, more entrepreneurial management talent in both the early and expansion stages, more service providers (attorneys, accountants, advisors) who are willing work with talented teams at deeply discounted rates in the early going.  I see all of these elements are in place at the present time, we just need ‘more, more, more’.” - Rhys L Williams, New World Angels "

"The rising cost of rent / real estate and inadequate transit will start to hurt Miami in attracting future talent." - Mario Cruz, Watsco Ventures


Season of the Startup: Save the dates

It’s not just the arts calendar that heats up at this time of year. Here are some of the major startup and tech conferences and events to put on your calendar — save the dates.

▪ FinTech: Fintech Americas bridges the divide between banks and disruptive startups, Oct. 22-23, Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus. Tickets and more info: fintechamericas.co.

▪ Emerging Technologies and Business Showcase: This all-day business matchmaker event includes a pitch competition with $150,000 in prizes, investor panel, luncheon and networking opportunities, Nov. 4, Hyatt Regency, Coral Gables. For tickets to the event:https://www.facebook.com/EDCofSouthFla.

 Miami Make Week: A 10-day celebration of creative co-working and maker spaces in the Greater Miami area kicks off Nov. 6 with educational workshops, networking opportunities and other public events, ending with a design and prototyping competition. More info:miamimakeweek.com.

▪ The TigerDirect Tech Bash: The free expo and party returns on Nov. 6 for an evening of innovation, emerging technology, interactive entertainment and shopping opportunities. Now in its fourth year, the free TigerDirect Tech Bash will take place at Miami Marlins Stadium. Get your ticket here: tigertechbash.com

▪ Startup Weekend Miami at FIU: Join a team and build a company in a weekend, Nov. 20-22, FIU’s Tech Station. More info on Eventbrite.

▪ Sime MIA: The conference that has explored technology trends by bringing in speakers from Singularity University, Hollywood and the Oslo Freedom Forum is returning to Miami Beach for a third year Dec. 1-2 with an expanded format focusing on big data and fintech. Buy tickets and get info here: simemia.co.

▪ ITPalooza: Now in its fourth year, the conference on Dec. 3 at NovaSoutheasternUniversity in Davie brings together the entire South Florida IT community from CIOs through tech user groups to top local, national and international presenters and guests. Buy tickets and get more info here: www.itpalooza.com.


Sup-x: A startup expo for entrepreneurs, investors and service providers, Feb. 16-17, BrowardCountyConvention Center. More info: www.sup-x.org.

Miami Mini Maker Faire: The popular event returns in an expanded format Feb. 20-21 at YoungArts in Miami. More info: http://makerfairemiami.com/

eMerge Americas: The third annual eMerge Americas conference, with two days of speakers, exhibits, contests and celebrity fun, returns April 18-19. More info: emergeamericas.org.


October 12, 2015

Nurturing a tech future: Voices of the community

 In conjunction with my report marking the progress and challenges of efforts to build a tech hub, I gathered opinions from some of the leaders in the community. This week, I will run a sampling of the views expressed. What's your view? Please feel free to comment on this post or email me at ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Today's question: In the past year, where have you seen the most success in building an ecosystem? 

 “We're seeing more and more top-notch, high-profile people deciding to either stay or relocate to launch their next big thing in Miami. Folks like Jim McKelvey, David Koretz and Miami-natives like Natalia Martinez or Juan Calle are a few examples. Having mega talented folks build here is a key component in propelling everything forward.” – Nico Berardi, AGP

“Through my work at Endeavor I've found that world class mentors are available and really committed to helping entrepreneurs succeed. I've also seen the companies we support and some of the ones that are in our pipeline continue to grow and being able to attract good talent (although this last piece is still developing, it's on good track). Finally, it's great to have different stakeholders active in the ecosystem and it's great to see different players grow : co-working spaces /  accelerators that commit to Miami.” – Laura Maydon

“We are seeing growth and success in Media Tech (AdMobilize, Amp.it, SoStereo.com) and in FinTech (Waleteros, YellowPepper). However, I think the biggest growth in the ecosystem is in the community itself due to long-term commitments from many entrepreneurs and the Knight Foundation, Venture Hive, Watsco Ventures and Rokk3r Labs.” – Mario Cruz, Watsco Ventures

 “In the past year I have seen the most success in the entrepreneurial ecosystem through providing aspiring and/or early entrepreneurs the access to education and mentoring programs. We have seen programs such as Endeavor and the Idea Center at Miami-Dade College become amazing tools for up and coming entrepreneurs in South Florida.” – Michael McCord, LearnerNation

“One word: education. The community has done a great job making more people in Miami aware of the amazing things that are happening in the tech scene, which is leading to more opportunities all around. Also, organizations like Wyncode are doing phenomenal work educating the next wave of engineers and placing them at fantastic companies across South Florida.” - Will Weinraub, LiveNinja

 “The growth of the the ecosystem in South Florida over the past five years has been nothing short of extraordinary.  There is still lots of room to grow and evolve, but if we continue on the path ahead of us, in five years time the world will be talking about how great Miami is for new business.” – Will Silverman, The Launch Pad at the University of Miami

"Workspaces and skill-building programs. Startups now have a wide variety of options when it comes to creative office, from the expansion of Buro, Pipeline to the opening of Building.CO and entrance of WeWork into the market. We also have more focused programs for digital skills. At The Idea Center, we've seen the success of our CS50 collaboration with Harvard and LaunchCode and MarketHack, our digital marketing initiative. The growth of Wyncode & Ironhack are also positive signals.” -Wifedo Fernandez, The Idea Center at MDC

“I’ve really enjoyed seeing the resounding success of FAU Tech Runway. This public-private partnership started in 2014 to foster tech startups and it has really taken off.” – Dan Cane, Modernizing Medicine

“Many people arrive in Miami these days and quickly connect with whoever and whatever they need, which suggests this is becoming an increasingly networked city. As opposed to a group of semi-autonomous individuals just randomly bumping into each other, as was the case in the past.” -Philippe Houdard, Pipeline Workspaces

“Without any doubt, Venture Hive is the one. Susan Amat is gathering in one place all the resources a start-up may need.” – Etienne Gillard, Waleteros

“The best events and innovation have occurred through collaboration and bridge building.  Whether it is Black Tech Week, which had a steering committee of 15 organizations, or Emerge America, which brought in hundreds of local, national and international organization to collaborate, we have worked well together.” - Pandwe Gibson, EcoTech Visions

“The only thing that I can use to measure the success of the ecosystem is success of companies or entrepreneurs in our ecosystem. In that sense, I’ve definitely noticed some improvements, including the increasing ability for local companies to raise big dollars and keep their company local. Modernizing Medicine, Open English, Pipeline, and just last week Autoweb was acquired by Autobytel. Don’t forget the biggest story of last 12 months, Magic Leap raising half a billion dollars over in Dania Beach.” – Jose Rasco, Building.co

Watch Starting Gate for more views, including about talent and funding.

Cambridge Innovation Center makes big bet on Miami tech

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

A vision of Miami as a technology hub is coming into focus.

The Cambridge Innovation Center is the latest high-profile startup-centric organization to bet big on Miami’s future. The company chose Miami as its second U.S. expansion location, and its center will eventually house more than 500 tech startup companies.

LSTPThe new center, modeled on its successful spaces in the Boston-Cambridge area that house and support startups, will be in the University of Miami Life Science & Technology Park in Overtown. Organizers aim to open in the fall of 2016; some of the space may open in the spring. Initially it will take up 70,000 square feet in offices, co-working and event space for entrepreneurs, but plans call for an expansion of at least another 50,000 square feet. The CIC team hopes that it will help anchor an innovation district that will serve all of Latin America.

“Miami is the Hong Kong of Latin America. I lived and worked in Hong Kong and it is a place that emerged as the focus point for an entire continent’s business. We think that Miami has that potential. It’s an amazing opportunity,” CIC founder and CEO Tim Rowe said in a phone interview. “We are trying to build the infrastructure in the cities that have the potential to make an impact on the world.”

That’s just what community leaders, including Knight Foundation Miami program director Matt Haggman and eMerge Americas founder Manny Medina, like to hear.

The well-known startup center joins a number of outside players that have begun to place bets on Miami, including the giant WeWork co-working chain, which recently opened a 40,000-square-foot space in Miami Beach and leased the entire 96,575-square-foot Security Building in downtown Miami with plans to open early next year. Silicon Valley’s 500 Startups brought one of its accelerator programs to Miami this fall, and last week Founder Institute announced it is launching startup programs in both Miami-Dade and Broward, joining existing accelerator programs such as Venture Hive. Talks to bring other organizations to the region are ongoing.

All are betting on the future. Miami is still in the early stages of becoming a true center of tech innovation. But numbers of startups are growing rapidly, along with the support system: the Knight Foundation has made 164 investments committing about $16 million in the last three years, funding programs ranging from the weekly “Waffle Wednesdays” to Miami Dade College’s extensive Idea Center. The second annual eMerge Americas conference doubled attendance of its inaugural year, attracting more than 10,000 people as well as international media attention fostered through by its partnership with NBCUniversal.

CIC’s Rowe and Stas Gayshan, managing director, visited Miami periodically for the past two years to study the area. It was an inaugural eMerge event, a hackathon held at the UM Life Science Park that attracted more than 150 techies to develop apps for social good, that helped Gayshan understand Miami’s potential.

“I remember being in that room and thinking this is an interesting slice of Miami that’s here on a weekend, not outside, but getting together thinking about what’s a better way to make the world a better, more interesting place,” said Gayshan, who served as a hackathon judge. For CIC, “That was a defining moment. Miami got it,” Rowe said.

For Rowe, a meeting at The LAB Miami, one of the original Miami entrepreneurial co-working centers, also helped crystallize the vision. “I walked in and thought ... this is exactly what I was hoping to see there, the energy, the sense of collaboration that we are growing something together, it’s all there.”

But beyond warm and fuzzy feelings, the life science park and surrounding area needed to meet CIC’s criteria. That included available space for the innovation district’s expansion well beyond CIC to create a district serving all of Latin America. The location needed to be central with links to universities, particularly those involved in the life sciences — that’s provided by the University of Miami’s programs in the life science park and the health district that surrounds it. The CIC would need to be close to an airport — check — and near future modes of public transport, such as the proposed All Aboard station and TriRail hub. The numbers worked, too: Miami has well under 200,000 square feet of existing startup spaces (such as The LAB Miami, WeWork and Venture Hive) while the Boston area has about 700,000.

Haggman, who has led the Knight Foundation’s efforts to support and propel Miami’s entrepreneurship ecosystem, visited CIC’s spaces in Boston and Cambridge over the summer and was impressed with the thriving environments for entrepreneurs. “But what I especially liked is seeing how they are such collaborative, community-focused leaders aiming to help build the broader startup ecosystem, too. Their leadership in not only creating a world-class co-working space, but also in continuing to grow and shape Miami’s young but rapidly evolving startup community, will be invaluable,” he said.

The nine-acre University of Miami Life Science & Technology Park, adjacent to the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, is owned and operated by Wexford Science + Technology, a BioMed Realty company, and sits on UM-owned land. Wexford was an early adopter of the thesis that Miami could someday be a technology hub, opening the life science park in 2011. With CIC’s long-term lease, the park’s first phase is now 98 percent leased with more than 50 companies, said Bill Hunter, Wexford’s director of leasing.

“We see Miami as a true melting pot of innovation that is at the intersection of technology and the life sciences,” Hunter said. “It’s a big win for Wexford, the UM Life Science & Technology Park, and especially for Miami overall.”

CIC Miami plans to open officially in early fall 2016, with preliminary space becoming available and events commencing in spring/summer of 2016. CIC Miami will launch in Building 1 of the life science park, creating public space on the ground floor, co-working on the third floor and premium flexible office on the sixth floor. CIC will also be launching its nonprofit arm, the Venture Cafe Foundation, to run events and initiatives, collaborate with existing innovation organizations and run a public innovation space. In its other CIC centers, events and programs have typically included youth entrepreneurship programs, education fellowships, pitch events, regular Thursday meetups and a visiting investor program.

Natalia Martinez-Kalinina will be the general manager of CIC Miami. Martinez-Kalinina, a Harvard and Columbia graduate who attended high school in South Florida, returned in 2012 to serve as product strategist for Ultimate Software. Known as a community builder, she founded the Miami chapter of the Awesome Foundation and most recently has been chief innovation and technology officer of Roots of Hope, a nonprofit.

Natalia“I envision CIC becoming an engine and accelerator of innovation and technology in this city, a hub of collaboration, binding together a lot of entities that are siloed or dispersed. I imagine us as playing a role in deepening the ecosystem, including in the Overtown area, and creating a more well-versed investor community,” said Martinez-Kalinina, who is familiar with CIC from her time in Harvard and working in Boston after graduation. “One of the things that excites me most about CIC in Miami is the philosophy that CIC has about community impact and economic impact. They’ve proven their case in Boston, Cambridge and St. Louis.”

St. Louis was CIC’s first expansion outside the Boston area, opening one year ago in 120,000 square feet of space. “We just informed our landlord we need more space,” Rowe said. CIC also recently opened in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

CIC was founded in 1999 in Kendall Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as a place for Rowe and his MIT buddies to work on their startups, but the concept evolved. Rowe calls his model “an innovation concentrator.” CIC spaces are more than shared office space and not an incubator, though they may have incubators inside. Some founding teams move in and stay, growing to dozens or even more than a hundred employees. Today, CIC houses more than 1,000 companies in 500,000 square feet of office and co-working space across its locations. The densest concentration is in Cambridge, with about 750 startups, Rowe said.

“When you create an intense cluster ... it creates a beacon effect, as this large collection of companies becomes a destination,” Rowe said. “If you are making it more visible to the rest of the world, then more people will pay attention. That’s important because what you need is investors to come and start hunting there.”

When CIC opened in Cambridge, there was only one small venture fund in the area; now there are 15 funds with $7 billion under management, said Rowe, who is also a venture capitalist. “Miami is awash in cash, but how much is flowing into startups in Miami, creating jobs in Miami? Not much. There is an opportunity to link those resources together.”

High-profile companies started at CIC include marketing automation startup Hubspot, which employs more than 1,100 people and raised $125 million through its initial public offering in October 2014. Greatpoint Energy, a company revolutionizing the global energy industry, was founded at CIC; in 2012 it announced a $1.25 billion deal to build 34 nuclear reactors in China. Android co-founder Rich Miner built his portion of Google Android and established Google’s New England headquarters at CIC; Google now employs 800 people in the neighborhood.

CIC in Cambridge also has been a leader in supporting entrepreneurs in the life sciences and biotech areas. Positioned in the UM life science park, the Miami center has the potential to better connect the startup community with the the healthcare and life science industries.

“This will be a game changer,” said Norma Kenyon, chief innovation officer at the Miller School of Medicine who often works with startups at the life science park and UM’s medical school. “The high-collision environment created among innovators, investors and others will have a positive impact on the ability of the University of Miami and others to bring their ideas and inventions to market.”

Nancy Dahlberg: 305-376-3595, @ndahlberg

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/article38767662.html#storylink=cpy

October 11, 2015

Nurturing a future tech hub: South Florida efforts accelerate


By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

By at least one measure, South Florida is buzzing with tech startups.

The number of startups registered on AngelList, a platform for startups and investors, shot up 46 percent in the past year, to more than 1,600 companies in the tri-county area. While not scientific, it’s an indicator of momentum in South Florida’s effort to develop a thriving tech hub and startup ecosystem, a long-term project that is beginning to clock results.

The past year’s successes have included an explosion of co-working spaces for entrepreneurs to work, share ideas and find a community, said Matt Haggman (pictured above), the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Miami program director. Under his leadership, Knight has been spearheading much of Miami’s effort to grow an entrepreneurship and tech ecosystem. Funding for The LAB Miami, one of the Miami’s first entrepreneurial co-working spaces, came from Knight and other backers in 2012. This past year saw expansions of Buro and Pipeline, as well as new entrants including New York-based WeWork. WeWork, the co-working network with at least 42 locations opened or announced in 16 cities in four countries, opened a center on Lincoln Road this summer and recently leased a 96,575-square-foot building in downtown Miami.

And there’s more to come: The highly regarded Cambridge Innovation Center is putting down stakes locally, with plans to open next year and eventually house 500 tech startups at the University of Miami Life Science & Technology Park. (See related story here.)

“That’s hugely validating, and for us at Knight Foundation, that is exactly what we hoped to see. We hope our dollars will be catalytic with other players coming in, and that is what we’ve seen around co-working,” Haggman said in an interview in his office earlier this month.

With $2.18 million Knight funding, the past year also saw the launch of the Idea Center at Miami Dade College, comprised of an innovation lab to develop ideas, an accelerator to launch startups, tech training and other support to MDC’s 165,000 students. MAGIC, an innovation space for creative industries, also opened its doors at MDC. A large Knight investment went to LaunchCode, which links trained apprentices with tech companies to fill the jobs of the future.

“It’s been remarkable to see how the Knight Foundation’s entrepreneurial mandate has helped springboard the entrepreneurial scene in Miami,” said Adriana Cisneros, CEO of The Cisneros Companies and chair of Endeavor Miami, which selects, mentors and accelerates high-potential entrepreneurs. “It’s about creating the environment where entrepreneurs can thrive: This is where Knight has been successful and why Miami is now a great place to start or run a business.”

Altogether, in the past three years Knight has committed $16 million in funding to 164 entrepreneurship initiatives in the Miami area. That’s up from about 90 investments a year ago.

To be sure, nurturing a startup ecosystem is a tri-county effort. The past year also saw the opening of Tech Runway, Florida Atlantic University’s comprehensive entrepreneurship hub and startup accelerator for students, faculty and the Broward County community. Broward and Palm Beach counties were home to the area’s three biggest fundraising rounds in the past year. Boca Raton-based electronic medical records company Modernizing Medicine recently raised $38 million, for a total of $87 million, and Fort Lauderdale-based telemedicine company MDLIVE attracted $50 million in the second quarter, on top of $23.6 million last year.

And jumping out of the headlines last October was Magic Leap, the secretive “mixed reality” technology company that attracted an eye-popping $542 million in venture funding from the likes of Google and other Silicon Valley heavyweights. Magic Leap, believed to have several hundred employees already, is building its headquarters in a 260,000-square-foot space in Plantation, with plans to hire hundreds more.

Earlier this year, the three counties came together, along with entrepreneurs and tech executives from around the world, for the second edition of eMerge Americas, a conference founded by tech entrepreneur Manny Medina, with the goal of making Miami a hub for the Americas. eMerge partnered with NBCUniversal, which resulted in reams of national and international coverage; conference attendance doubled to more than 10,000.

“We had attendees from over 50 countries. They’re coming because they recognize the opportunity here in South Florida,” Michael Rodriguez, CEO of eMerge Americas, said via email from a road trip with the eMerge team in Latin America last week.

In the next year, Knight will focus its ecosystem-building strategy on broadening support initiatives, including funding more programs serving low-income communities, and continuing to build a funding network and talent pool, Haggman said.

“Diversity is our great differentiator. The more we can create collisions and connections among people of different backgrounds and life experiences and challenges, ultimately that leads to a richer set of ideas that people come up with and ultimately the greater the impact,” he said.

Building the type of technology hub and startup ecosystem envisioned by Haggman, Cisneros, Medina and other South Florida startup leaders takes time. How much time? Research about such efforts has not been able to adequately answer that question so far, said Yasuyuki Motoyama, director of Research and Policy with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which researches, supports and funds entrepreneurship initiatives. “[Entrepreneur and well-known venture capitalist] Brad Feld says the leaders have to commit to the long term, at least 20 years, and I have a pretty close view with his,” Motoyama said. “Creating new companies is the beginning phase and you have to successfully scale it up. That scale-up part will take many more years to mature.”

Beyond new-company creation — and the Miami area was No. 2 in the nation for new startup activity in 2014, according to Kauffman’s research — Motoyama said emerging areas will see a cluster of companies attracting large funding rounds, as South Florida has seen. Another important indicator that South Florida may be on the road to success is if entrepreneurs feel connected to other entrepreneurs and to support organizations so they can learn from each other, he said. A growing list of support organizations is another indicator.

By those measures, South Florida is on the right track, with a growing list of accelerators and incubators, mentorship organizations, talent-development initiatives and, slowly, investors. Haggman talks about the support network like a subway map, where entrepreneurs can hop on and off based on their needs. There is no one path for an entrepreneur.

Miami newcomer Seth Forsgren hopped on through Venture for America, one of the Knight-funded initiatives brought to Miami last year. Venture for America matches bright college graduates from anywhere with Miami area startups. Forsgren, originally from Iowa, moved here 14 months ago with a degree in molecular biology from Princeton and was placed at Rokk3r Labs, a young Miami Beach company that helps build startups. “I never thought of moving here, but was excited to work at Rokk3r Labs so I came on down.”

As he helped Rokk3r formulate internal strategy, Forsgren caught the bug himself. Forsgren, who started a nonprofit in college, recruited his childhood friend who graduated from Cornell and a lead developer from Miami he met during late nights at the Rokk3r ping-pong table. After a few months of nights and weekends, they quit their jobs and went all-in in May, Forsgren said during an interview at Panther Coffee, where he first got the idea for his tech startup. The team, now four people, is based at WeWork. “We’re hiring,” he said. “We’re trying to build the future of communications.”

What this team is building is called Yodel, formerly called Tracks, an app designed to make texting more like face-to-face communication through video and other visuals, with a new version expected soon. The ecosystem at work: Rokk3r and VFA were supportive of him going out on his own and Haggman connected him with potential advisors and funders. Patrick McKenna of HighRidge Global became his first seed investor. Alberto Chang-Rajii, founder of Grupo Arcano who is also on Endeavor Miami’s board, joined as an an investor, as did Andres Moreno, founder of Miami-based Open English, who is also his advisor, and others.

While that is the way an ecosystem is supposed to work, challenges remain. The Miami Herald surveyed 50 entrepreneurs, investors and community leaders for this report, and many of them pointed to a lack of startup funding, particularly Series A rounds of $1 million or more, as one of the area’s biggest challenges.

McKenna, who moved here in 2014 from San Francisco, said he has been impressed with the seed-level funding networks and the commitment the community has to supporting startups. “There is, however, a big gap for Series A and it’s not clear how [it] will be filled. There are some good companies coming up who will face the Series A challenge soon.”

He believes there should be a bigger focus on attracting successful entrepreneurs to the area. “This group is already equipped to solve many of the current challenges — attracting talent, funding and scaling. Consider that most of the entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley are transplants.”

One new initiative of the AGP Network, a growing angel group led by Managing Director Nico Berardi, is an education series aimed at growing the angel base. Miami is overflowing with wealthy people, but most are unfamiliar with tech investing, particularly in high-risk startups.

Other challenges identified in the Miami Herald survey included the region’s low corporate density and involvement, bridging the digital divide, a shortage of quality mentorship and lingering perceptions of Miami as a party city.

“We can’t have a tech ecosystem without a true pipeline with dedicated long-term partners. We need large tech companies to hire tech talent from Miami and create tech jobs for Miamians,” said Felecia Hatcher, co-founder of Feverish Pops and Code Fever, a nonprofit focused on teaching youth in low-income communities about coding and entrepreneurship.

Added Steve Luis, a director in Florida International University’s School of Computing and Information Sciences: “Our biggest challenge in building our ecosystems is keeping our talent and companies from leaving Miami. To do this we need to consider competitive salaries for engineers, creative incentives for companies to stay, and marketing strategies to attract tech companies.” The average software developer salary in South Florida is about two-thirds of what it is in San Francisco, according to government data.

FIU recently opened Tech Station on its western Miami-Dade campus and the CARTA Innovation Lab in Miami Beach as places for education, collaboration and experiential learning. FIU has a MOOC entrepreneurship course available to all its students and it opened a Small Business Development Center at FIU in 2014 to help entrepreneurs in the community. Its School of Hospitality and Tourism Management has an innovation program in the works, said FIU President Mark Rosenberg. “We’re not done.”

Coming soon: Startup FIU.

Rosenberg described it as “a one-stop hub for our students to come in and get assistance with their ideas and get those ideas off the ground into new businesses. It will also be a source of support for faculty to get products to market and to finish out the licensing and patenting,” he said. Satellite centers will likely be established for each academic field of study; the centers will be linked with the main Startup FIU hub, which will be available to students and faculty from any area of study. “We are putting the final details together.”

Locating the hub on FIU’s Mitch Maidique campus on SW Eighth Street is strategic, too. “We’re not downtown and we get that, but one of our strategic advantages is our talent. We have one of the largest engineering schools in the country … We want to focus on incubating, nurturing, getting prepared for the innovative 21st century that is upon us. There’s life out here, there is a lot of good stuff happening, and a lot are startups by FIU students and graduates. The time has come for us to focus on that,” Rosenberg said.

A wider reach to bring more parts of South Florida into the ecosystem is part of Haggman’s vision, too.

Events like Black Tech Week, which launched in February, and organizations such as Code Fever, the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, LaunchCode and the Idea Center — all funded by the Knight Foundation — help to expand the entrepreneurship movement. “There’s a lot more work to do there, but we’ve made some gains,” Haggman said. “If we can be that example of an emerging startup community that at its foundation is about diversity and inclusiveness, then we’ve cut a new path.”

He said Knight would also be laser-focused on developing the talent pool, citing the early success of programs like LaunchCode that has already signed up more than 120 companies to hire tech apprentices. “LaunchCode is making a market for tech talent in South Florida. We need both talented coders and companies who need to grow,” said Jim McKelvey, the co-founder of Square and LaunchCode, who expanded his nonprofit to South Florida earlier this year.

Coders don’t need a degree to be successful, McKelvey said. He pointed to programs like Harvard’s online CS50x coding course, offered this year at a low or no cost to 300-plus students by the Idea Center and LaunchCode.

Before the year is out, expect to see more programs coming to Miami, thanks to Knight funding. Still, Haggman said, it’s a long game.

“All this requires ongoing work by everyone. Ultimately the long-term success of this is going to be from the bottom up ... People will be engaging in ways they want to engage and pursuing ideas that they want to pursue. And each person should feel license to just go for it in an ecosystem that is fluid and agile with lots of ways to participate,” Haggman said. “Everyone is a champion — that’s how it really works.”

More success stories are critical, but the community needs patience, said investor Mark Kingdon, who moved to Miami from New York last year. “Like a fine wine, building a startup takes time. Average exits are eight to 10 years. We need some big exits, and those are years away.”

And even a long game deserves some timeouts, it seems. Last month, more than 300 local entrepreneurship fans gathered to celebrate milestones, including the launch of 500 Startups’ growth marketing accelerator and the opening of the co-working space Building.co. The evening end a group selfie shot from a drone. This is Miami, after all.

Nancy Dahlberg: 305-376-3595, @ndahlberg

 See photo gallery of 16 events and highlights of the year here.

Report card

A look at some metrics for South Florida and Florida technology:

Number of tech startups in South Florida:Hard to quantify because of the high failure rate, but by one measure, AngelList registrations, there are 1,682 startups and early stage companies seeking funding in the tri-county area. That is up 46.4 percent since a year ago, when the number was 1,149.

Job growth:20 percent from 2012 to 2015, the top performing of The Beacon Council’s seven targeted industries, according to The Beacon Council’s 2015 One Community One Goal report. By number of jobs, 1,629, technology is also by far the smallest of the seven targeted industries.

Average salary: Software developer: $75,380 (Miami-Dade); $73,278 (Broward).

Venture capital: Florida ranked 13th in the nation based on venture capital flows into Florida companies in the first half of the year, taking in $239 million, or 0.8 percent of the U.S. total; 68 percent of the dollars and 50 percent of the deals went to South Florida companies. South Florida’s slice of the VC pie was about 1/2 percent of the U.S. total.

Patents per capita: Florida ranked 19th for patents per capita in 2013.

Pipeline: South Florida ranks seventh in the nation for college students per capita. According to the 2014 edition of the ASEE Profiles of Engineering & Engineering Technology Colleges, FIU placed seventh in the country for number of bachelor’s degrees in computer science.

Entrepreneurial activity and growth: The Miami metropolitan area ranked second among 40 big markets studied in new entrepreneurial activity in 2014, behind Austin and ahead of San Jose, according to the Kauffman Foundation. Eighteen South Florida companies made the Inc. 500 list of fastest growing companies this year.

Immigrant tech entrepreneurs:The Miami and Fort Lauderdale metro areas were No. 1 and No. 2 for growth rates of immigrant tech entrepreneurs, 2000-11.

Sources: U.S. Labor Dept., Beacon Council, Pwc MoneyTree reports, Internet Coast, Kauffman Foundation, AngelList, Herald research

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/article38767662.html#storylink=cpy

October 11, 2014

Voices of the tech community – Part 5: And about the money…

Tech eggAs part of a look back -- and look ahead -- at community-wide efforts to build or accelerate a technology-entrepreneurial  ecosystem in South Florida, I asked a sampling of entrepreneurs, investors and service providers for their views with a variety of questions. We've put a sampling on this blog throughout the week. This is the last installment.

Find the main stories in the tech hub series here: fundraising and progress/challengesSee Part 1 herePart 2 here,  Part 3 here and Part 4. Find the entire series easily under the Tech Hub Series category of this blog. 

 What's your view? Add your comment on this post, email me at ndahlberg@miamiherald.com or tweet me @ndahlberg. Thank your for reading.

Today's questions:

As an investor, how would you describe the quality of deals you are seeing in South Florida?

"The deal are getting better in quality but we still need to see more companies. It's a numbers game and we need to increase the size of the funnel to increase the number of successful companies coming out of South Florida." - Ed Boland, Scout Ventures

"Improving with confidence and organization, such as the newly launched AGP, where I sense palpable excitement." - Peter Kellner, Richmond Global, Endeavor

 “Without doubt I am seeing a larger and better deals out flowing, driven by the emergence of the number of accelerators and incubators during the last 12-24 months.  The quality and preparation of the entrepreneur teams is also unequivocally superior.  However, I am still not seeing deals that seem to ‘jump the curve’ in uniqueness and potential.” - Ricardo Weisz, NorthVest, Miami Innovation Fund

Deal quality has been extremely high over the past two years.  We are seeing (1) technologies and products that address real and often novel market needs, (2) more complete management teams with deeper domain expertise, (3) realistic expectations from founders regarding their venture's intrinsic valuation and acceptance of the deal terms which investors require in order to make an attractive risk-adjusted return." - Rhys Williams, New World Angels

If you have raised funds, have the sources been local or elsewhere?

"SportsManias has been able to raise funds locally with ideal investors whom not only have provided the resources needed, but completely understand our vision. Jorge Mas of Mas Equity Partners is the ultimate sports fan that is precisely whom our app and website is designed for, therefore, he gives us important feedback as an end user, as well as, providing us the investment and network needed to continue to grow exponentially." - Aymara Del Aguila, SportsManias

"We were fortunate to have worked in our industry for over a decade before launching our business and initially raised funds from a friend who knew of our background. Eighteen months later, one of our new customers, which is based in Broward county, loved our solution so much they initiated a conversation that's leading to us closing a round of funding on Oct 1st. - Marlon Williams, Fenero

 How would you characterize the fund-raising environment here?

"Very poor. Investors do not pull the trigger fast enough and only a couple are truly doing early stage. B2B startups can have revenue early but B2C startups have a very hard time getting revenue until after a launch and sometimes months of customer acquisition, which is a prerequisite for most investors here." - Susan Amat

"Unhealthy for entrepreneurs. Slim pickings, low evaluations, and lacking in network reach critical for future fundraising needs." - Stonly Baptiste, Urban.Us

"The fund raising environment is slim to none in South Florida. It is dominated by a small handful of organizations which all seem to be part of each other. Makes it tough for entrepreneurs to get the best deal in their fund-raising activity. We raised a small pre-seed locally, but had to find sources outside of the market for my next round, which came from an angel in New York." - Darren Atinsky, WedWu
"On the seed level, it's thriving. There is a lot of new angel activity. However, it's still difficult for startups to make the jump from seed level rounds to a proper Series A or B round locally. Most entrepreneurs here are still going to have to go out West or to the Northeast to get those kind of deals done." - Will Weinraub, LiveNinja 

What will it take to develop a stronger investor network here?

"Money follows talent. We need to incubate companies at the earliest stages and allow talent, drive and opportunity to thrive," Jeff Brown, Palm Beach Angels

"Investors network with other investors constantly. For investors here or from out-of-state, we need draws to bring them together – things like eMerge and the Forum’s Capital Conferences, and other networking opportunities. There is a tremendous amount of money in Florida that doesn’t get deployed in early or venture-stage companies – often referred to as “money behind the palm trees” – but that is changing thanks to initiatives like the Forum’s that educate investors on becoming angels, and South Florida’s own EarlyShares that provides a platform for investors to find and invest in growing companies." - Kevin Burgoyne, Florida Venture Forum

 "Education, success cases of local entrepreneurs and investors from other cities coming to Miami are helping to develop a stronger investor network here. Talent attracts capital too. There are many local leaders that are supporting younger entrepreneurs which is critical for the ecosystem. In the same spirit, at Endeavor Miami we believe that a key to success is the example and commitment that a few local high-impact entrepreneurs dedicate to their local community - by supporting others as mentors and/or eventually as investors." – Laura Maydon, Endeavor Miami

We need leaders and role models in our investor community. We need more investors like Mark Kingdon, highly connected individuals who are experienced investors and tech entrepreneurs themselves.” – Carlos Garcia, Nobox

"Continued examples of success, greater connectivity and easier ways to plug in to the community we are continuing to build, and telling our story well. We've seen more and more opportunities for investors to learn more and connect around successful startups through initiatives like Endeavor, Accelerated Growth Partners, Florida Institute for Commercialization of Public Research angel investor seminars, and Enterprise Development Corporation. As a result, the momentum is growing." - Matt Haggman, Knight Foundation

If you could add one ingredient to the South Florida entrepreneurial ecosystem right now, what would it be? 

"Liquidity. The more exits that our market experiences, the more smart-money that'll be on the table. Excellent entrepreneurs tend to fund excellent entrepreneurs. The council of folks who have been through the journey and can relate empathetically is extremely valuable. A confluence of both will lead to a more robust ecosystem." Richard Lent, Thesis Ventures

Leadership, growth and mentorship are all vital to the tech scene in South Florida.  However, more important are the cutting-edge technologies that leverage Miami’s unique Latin American footprint.  We should focus on leveraging our strengths and seek to innovatively remedy issues that affect the Latin American market.  With the recent Apple Pay news, the mobile payments industry is on the forefront of technology growth. At YellowPepper, we’re harnessing similar mobile technology that has historically had its sights set on the U.S. market, and enabling its use for a growing middle class across the region. We want to see more of this taking place in our Miami backyard and are eager to help fuel future innovation.” -   Serge Elkiner, YellowPepper

"A BIG Google office!  A mega billion dollar exit!  Seriously, though, we could use more developer entrepreneurs." - Mark Kingdon, angel investor

In building an ecosystem, in what area has the most progress been made in the last year?

Exposure.  Thanks to the national and international efforts of eMerge Americas, the Knight Foundation and some far reaching programs such as Venture Hive, Miami is becoming known for its pioneering and entrepreneurial community.” – Mike Tomas, Bioheart

"South Florida’s technology community has grown beyond the plethora of great ideas; we have built a support system, providing entrepreneurs with the tools, resources, talent and funding that are needed to turn their ideas into viable products.  In parallel, top talent from the corporate world is joining the community. At Rokk3r Labs, we are gaining leaders and entrepreneurs from this pool, providing the tech hub with a wealth of knowledge and experience to help co-build amazing companies. Attracting more talent and investors to the community will be key for the upcoming year to help continue the development momentum." - Nabyl Charania, Rokk3r Labs 

"Organizations have been doing a great job of bringing in individuals and institutions that have brought technology to the forefront of Miami's political and business communities.  Many conferences have taken place, educational institutions have taken notice, and the local community has expressed interest in taking part in the tech movement.  Unfortunately, the low income communities are still being left behind and out of the conversation." - Derick Pearson, Code Fever

If it takes a village to raise a child I believe it takes a city to raise a startup. Diverse new players​ have come in the ecosystem in the last year (eMerge conference, Scout Ventures, MaverixLab, the "new" AGP, Wyncode, Thesis Ventures, Code for America, the Microsoft Innovation Center at the Venture Hive to name a few) creating ​a higher "density” of people who can be there at the right time and ​at the right place to connect startups with money, experience, knowledge and services.” - Ivan Rapin Smith, Idealy

 Posted Oct. 11, 2014

October 09, 2014

Voices of the tech community: Part 4

Tech eggAs part of a look back -- and look ahead -- at community-wide efforts to build or accelerate a technology-entrepreneurial  ecosystem in South Florida, I asked a sampling of entrepreneurs, investors and service providers for their views with a variety of questions. We'll put a sampling on this blog throughout the week.

Find the main stories here: fundraising and progress/challengesSee Part 1 herePart 2 here and Part 3 here.

 What's your view? Add your comment on this post or email me at ndahlberg@miamiherald.com. What's next: fund-raising. 

Today's questions:

Have you been able to find the talent you need locally?

Although Miami has not yet been recognized as a city that is tech-savvy, SportsManias has found amazing tech talent in our hometown. Our team includes a group of expert programmers that have built and maintained our website, as well as, our mobile app that is consistently rated 5-stars, validating the quality of content and functionality.” - Aymara Del Aguila, SportsManias

Finding talent is really no longer an issue.  Technology startups should be virtual, and hire the best talent wherever you can find it.  We are on 4 continents. “ Brian Garr, LinguaSys 

As we began recruiting our developer team we looked to tech hubs like Silicon Valley, New York and Boston thinking those individuals would be tough to find here. Fortunately (and to our surprise) we found incredibly skilled people right here in Miami. Our team is mostly local which brought with it the added value of having team members who have been working to build this ecosystem for some time and know the history but are also passionate about its future.” – Johanna Mikkola, Wyncode 

Absolutely! South Florida is a net-exporter of top talent – we keep sending our best and brightest off and need to do a better job of making sure that people – such as the leadership, professors and students at our area universities – know about the opportunities right here at home.” – Dan Cane, Modernizing Medicine

We have an amazing team and building this team was probably the biggest challenge we overcame.  I stuck with it and kept recruiting locally. I think people underestimate the talent in this area. But the truth is, you just have to keep looking and you'll find your perfect team." –Adam Boalt, LiveAnswer

Absolutely. Contrary to popular belief, there’s a huge and impressive talent pool here. My entire team – development, marketing, sales – was recruited from the local workforce and previously, as Managing Director of Silver Hill Financial, I grew a team to several hundred in South Florida. I’m proud of that, and I think the human capital in the region is only going to get better in years to come.” Joanna Schwartz, EarlyShares

We have had great success finding talent here as well as bringing talent here. We live in a truly global city that people want to move to from all over the world. Our Head of Design is moving here from London next month, a world class talent, and I'd dare to say that he feels blessed to have the opportunity to live and work in Miami.” – Brian Brackeen, Kairos  

 “So far, so good but I’ve been fortunate to work with Rokk3r Labs.  It’s definitely a challenge to convince US based development talent to move to Miami.” – Brad Liff, Fitting Room Social

Yes, but we had to import most of our top-engineering talent. In some cases we had to invest in getting them visas. If you are serious about building a tech company in South Florida you have to be willing to travel a lot and recruit talent outside of our community.” – Carlos Garcia, Nobox

"We are location agnostic for talent.  Since our raise, we now have 28 employees and have opened offices in London, Bogota, Tel Aviv, Washington.  Nowadays, collaboration tools make it possible to cross boundaries to achieve challenging milestones." - Rodolfo Saccoman, AdMobilize

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

"One of our greatest challenges is the disconnect between talent and opportunity. There is great talent here, but it is not as visible as it needs to be to fuel mobility. When talking to startups, tech talent doesn't seem to be a grave concern, but managerial talent that understands the dynamics of a startup is difficult to find. It isn't as simple as plucking a successful manager from a leading local corporation. As they say, startups are not smaller versions of corporations. Furthermore,  our graduates across institutions are facing a market that is not as clear in determining a long-term career path, hence why equipping them with an entrepreneurial skill set and mindset is key to their survival in a "gig economy." –Wifredo Fernandez, Idea Center @ MDC

"There is a tendency to continually assess Miami, to define its weak spots or seek validation from elsewhere. Don’t. Instead, just build. We’ve seen lots of success by entrepreneurs in Miami who identify an opportunity and pursue it. We’re seeing success comes from doing, not assessing or defining. We should stay focused on that." - Matt Haggman, Knight Foundation 

 "Early stage investor capital is by far the largest issue but a more subtle challenge (that is tough to fix in the short term) is our lack of a large tech job “safety net” for entrepreneurs to fall back on if their startup plans get derailed.  ...   While in SFL we have great universities graduating very strong business students, engineers and scientists, our corporate community – both small and large firms – is still relatively thin;   particularly compared to the other US regions where tech startups are flourishing in larger numbers.    And despite what I believe are some huge advantages for employers in South Florida, to fix this corporate density issue, we need to continue to focus on the core high level factors – quality of our public schools (so companies will more easily decide to relocate or add S FL branches), continued enhancements in transportation infrastructure, business tax incentives, labor training incentives, R&D tax credits, etc."  –Rob Strandberg, Enterprise Development Corp.  

"The biggest challenge is the misalignment, in fact disconnect, between what technology companies are seeking and what our universities are supplying. Tech firms complain our workforce is not up to par, while our graduates complain there are not enough tech companies here to employ them. The failure of the state of Florida to adequately fund university research and commercialization in STEM (compared to North Carolina, Texas. California, Massachusetts and New York) impedes tech hub development." –Jerry Haar, FIU College of Business

"A lot have been done in the ecosystem to develop a tech hub in Miami including top tech events such as SIME and eMerge, the opening of Endeavor office, WeXchange.com to promote women entrepreneurship and  amazing co-working and innovation centers such as  The Lab Miami and Venture Hive. 
Areas of opportunity: 
  • The VC and angel ecosystem can be  further developed and expanded. There is a lot of money in Miami, coming from Latam that it is not invested in tech startups mainly because they don't know how to do it .  
  • A more organized network of mentors can be greatly beneficial for entrepreneurs. 
  • It will also be nice to have more support and programas that foster and drive women entrepreneurship." - Silvina Moschini, Yandiki.com

I'd say that it's the false perceptions that many people have of the scene. I've heard lots of notable people in the industry discount South Florida for it's lack of success stories, but all that tells me is that they haven't been paying close enough attention. There have been a ton of success stories here." - Will Weinraub, LiveNinja 



"Outside of South Florida, changing the perception of Miami is still an ongoing challenge. Until we see serious exits, solid growth and long-term sustainability of the ecosystem, shedding the "South Beach image" could take some time." - Brett Hudson, Axis Space

 If you could add one ingredient to the entrepreneurial ecosystem, what would it be?

"Significant, organized involvement from experienced, well-known investors.  Boulder has Techstars and the Foundry Group, Vegas has Tony Hsieh's group, and San Francisco has countless Sand Hill types. South Florida needs an experienced group that mentors and cultivates founders and deploys strategic investment tactics.    -- Kubs Lalchandani, Lalchandani Simon PL

"I would like to increase visibility into the growth and talent of our community. One of the ways we could do this is by taking some of the best representatives of our local tech scene to present and showcase as a collective at events like SXSW, TechCrunch Disrupt, Collision Conf and demonstrating the level of talent and growth through our strength in numbers. We have startups doing really innovative things like LiveNinja and Kairos, budding funds like Urban.Us and educational organizations like Refresh Miami, The LAB Miami and Wyncode that deserve more attention and recognition. Many have no idea there is a growing community here in South Florida and it's time we made some noise. We may not be Silicon Alley, Silicon Beach, Boulder or Austin, but even those startup cities started somewhere. It's about creating awareness both home and away." - Pabla Ayala, pFunk Media

"A centralized, coordinated communications effort to get the message out to the local community and to the world that South Florida has strong technology that is getting better." - Bob Nagro, Next Horizon Communications
Formal small groups of entrepreneurs/CEOs/Founders willing to share their mistakes, lessons learned. “ Jose Li, 71 Lbs.
"More accelerators to come like 500Startups, NXTP Labs and others that can complete the rising ecosystem and attract more investors interested to invest in an excellent place to make business, pretty close to Latam and with great connections to all US." - Fernando Cuscuela, Everypost
"Harness more talent. We need a swell of brilliant people working on crazy ideas." –Stonly Baptiste, Urban.Us

 Posted Oct. 9, 2014

October 08, 2014

Voices of the tech community: Part 3

As part of a look back -- and look ahead -- at community-wide efforts to build or accelerate a technology-entrepreneurial  ecosystem in South Florida, I asked a sampling of entrepreneurs, investors and service providers for their views with a variety of questions. I’ll put a sampling on this blog throughout the week.

Find the main stories here: fundraising and progress/challengesSee Part 1 here  and Part 2 here.

 In coming days I will include comments on talent, fund-raising, progress, challenges and more. What's your view? Add your comment on this post or email me at ndahlberg@miamiherald.com. 

Today's questions:

Have you been able to find the talent you need locally?

Techegg"In most cases, the answer is yes.  In building and growing .CO, most of our talent was recruited by attending local tech events, tapping into entrepreneurship programs in South Florida colleges, and through referrals by friends and colleagues.  Whether looking to hire a developer or bring an intern on board for the summer, we’ve been able to attract some incredible local talent for sure.  In some cases, it has been a bit more challenging to find local talent.  The good news is that, when necessary, we have also been able to use the allure of life in Miami to inspire people to relocate to our sunny shores!” - Lori Anne Wardi, CO

“Absolutely, we have had success finding talent across South Florida. We have done this in large part due to our work with local universities as well as building a strong culture of innovation that attracts some of the best and brightest in the area. People are CareCloud’s number one asset.” – Albert Santalo, CareCloud

“I have held leadership roles in technology for the past decade and have built a solid network of talented technologists who are ready to work. The key to finding the tech talent needed for your business in South Florida is in growing your network - you'll rarely find talented resources willing to jump ship without having a previous relationship. We simply do not have enough nerds here to make this the norm.” – Marlon Williams, Fenero

 “Finding good talent has been very challenging.  The current talent pool is overloaded with people who have hospitality and real estate backgrounds.  It was very difficult for us to source top talent for what we were looking for.  However, we did find good quality people after making use of referral and personal networks.” – Umut Tekin, Park Jockey

“Finding great talent is only half the battle and talent is only as good as the time leadership commits to coaching. We've been fortunate enough to find talent both locally and in other states and it comes down to some basic principles: raw talent, commitment to learning quickly, and grit. That combination seems to be difficult to find anywhere.” – Frankie Coletto, PassTheNotes 

“For Shiver Entertainment, we are always on the look-out for great software engineers and digital artists to create amazing video games.  Finding them locally has been the most challenging issue for us.  While we have been able to find a few great digital artists within the local area (mostly Broward County), we have only found one local software engineer who can meet our qualifications.  We have some very large local colleges (FIU, Miami Dade, UM) that produce many computer science graduates who are ready for web and enterprise software development.  Unfortunately, they aren’t graduating with the skills necessary to jump into video game development or lower-level application development – even at an entry level.  As such, we’ve had to recruit from other universities around the nation and “import” our talent, which is very time consuming, costly and difficult.” – John Schappert, Shiver Entertainment

 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?

"I believe the biggest challenge is reaching a nationally recognized “critical mass” of scalable,tech-oriented deal flow.   In the short term, we need to craft a better story about the plethora of existing benefits for attracting and retaining Miami-based tech start-ups (for instance, an active and growing angel network, less competition for the emerging tech spotlight, the eMerge Americas Conference, increasing college graduates in tech, an emerging entrepreneurship support system, a critical mass of LA headquarters of Fortune 500 companies, Miami International Airport, Port of Miami, a network of Free Trade Zones, economic strength in key real estate and tourism growth sectors, a fascinating and magnetic international culture, a banking and transshipment center, low taxes, a world class entertainment and arts mecca and great weather.) – John Hall, Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses

“South Florida is a significant tech hub – certainly for Latin America and the Caribbean, and increasingly for the rest of the US – and we need to start from that premise. All of the necessary pieces – pro-business culture and regulatory landscape, talent, capital, academic and research institutions, entrepreneurial culture, and start-up support infrastructure – are present, growing, and in some cases, thriving. Our challenge is to continue the momentum and maintain our focus on raising the tide, rather than any one boat.” - Kevin Burgoyne, Florida Venture Forum 

“Convincing the rest of the US that there is actually a vibrant tech scene here in Miami and they should invest in it, and participate in it.” – Mario Cruz, Choose Digital


"Developing a permanent and competitive technology hub requires many factors to develop over time. While we need increased funding for viable ventures, we also need to continue pushing on the course we have set to connect our schools and universities with our technology industry, so the students are learning what they need to know to contribute to and create new technology ventures locally, as well as to showcase the growing technology opportunities available for these students to stay in South Florida. As this initiative gains more and more traction, we will not develop more home-grown technology ventures, but we will also experience an increased relocation of technology ventures to our region, which in turn will attract more funding opportunities for South Florida technology ventures." – Kevin Levy, Gunster

"The demand for creative digital content (gaming, apps, wearable tech, user interface) is growing at a staggering pace. A new non-profit called Americas Council for the Creative Economy is emerging under the leadership of Diane Sanchez to make Miami the world's top city when it comes to attracting, training, and retaining young people to produce the artistic digital user experiences of the future. Miami is a city of the future, and to become "Silicon Beach" we aspire towards we must focus on melding: 1) Art Basel 2) Our burgeoning tech corridor 3) The Latin America connection and 4) Flexible 1099 freelance business models of the future." - Jessica Kizorek, Two Parrot Productions

“In order to achieve the hyper-growth expected by venture investors, entrepreneurs need to keep their hiring standards high. I believe that much of the talent is already here and the rest will be recruited or home-grown as Miami continues to brand itself as a start-up hub. What’s been missing is the visibility into the local talent. The creation and collaborative nature of the Talent Development Network is a good start.” – Melissa Krinzman, Krillion Ventures

If you could add one ingredient to the entrepreneurial ecosystem, what would it be?

“I would have the Beacon Council focus their efforts on bringing VC's here to open offices.” –Brian Brackeen, Kairos 

“Encouraging people to think local and test, test, test. Big ideas start small and develop through teamwork and feedback. I guess my one ingredient would be ‘curiosity.’ “ - Rob Davis, Code for Fort Lauderdale

Persistence and attention span. We have to keep people engaged for the long run. We are on a 10 year mission, not a 10 month one.” --Adriana Cisneros, Cisneros Group, Endeavor Miami

 “Silicon Valley investors.” –Brian Garr, LinguaSys

“More women! We still fall short in bridging the gap between women and the localtech/entrepreneurial ecosystem.” Fabiola Fleuranvil, Blueprint Creative, Beacon Council New Leaders Taskforce

Posted: Oct. 8, 2014 


October 06, 2014

Voices of the tech community: Part 2

Tech eggAs part of a look back -- and look ahead -- at community-wide efforts to build or accelerate a technology-entrepreneurial  ecosystem in South Florida, I asked a sampling of entrepreneurs, investors and service providers for their views with a variety of questions. I’ll put a sampling on this blog throughout the week.

Find the main stories here: fundraising and progress/challengesSee Part 1 here.

 In coming days I will include comments on talent, fund-raising, progress, challenges and more. What's your view? Add your comment on this post or email me at ndahlberg@miamiherald.com. 

Today's questions:

What will it take to develop a stronger investor network here?

"As leaders within Miami’s technology ecosystem, it’s important that we come together and focus on the strengths of the community to help showcase to investors the growth and potential that is coming out of our region. There is a solid base here, and it’s a matter of us going out and telling this story to investors and influencers, allowing them to experience the benefits, especially those seeking to tap Latin America’s expanding technology market.' - Nabyl Charania, Rokk3r Labs

"More good companies. The more startup founders focus on building businesses that create real value with solid metrics, the more investors will come. At the end of the day, investors want to see returns and invest in scalable startups that generate revenue in a large enough market. ​In my opinion, this could mean going less for 'cool & sexy' consumer startups and more for b2b startups that provide real value for businesses in a very specific market and charging for a portion of the value generated. Good examples are Modernizing Medicine, Carecloud, Everypost, Kipu, Choose Digital and Learner Nation to name a few." - Ivan Rapin Smith, Idealy

"Miami needs 3-5 venture capital firms that do A and B rounds to bridge the funding gap between local angel and seed investors and the later money available from the major markets such as New York and Atlanta." – Robert Hacker, GH Capital

"More deals and more high net worth individuals and families making venture a part of thier overall investment portfolio." - Ed Boland, Scout Ventures

If you could add one ingredient to the entrepreneurial ecosystem right now, what would it be? 

"I think the city should embrace the tech commununity and create an online space that helps foster this growth by showcasing local tech startups and connect these companies to potential job candidates that are looking to relocate to Miami. Minneapolis has a great site, MinneADpolis.com, where they promote the advertising community by featuring their work and bios of firms across the city. It would be great to have the city of Miami promote the local tech community." - Adam Boalt, LiveAnswer 

"We need to ensure greater inclusion of opportunities for disenfranchised and impoverished communities.  They purchase goods and services as well and deserve opportunities to reach their fullest potential and to build wealth." - Marlon Hill, delancyhill

"Cooperation and collaboration between tech organizations, the education community, and the tech ecosystem to establish a common set of goals and measure the effectiveness and progress.  There are many initiatives and much excitement in South Florida.  Let's take it to the next level." – Lenny Chesal, Host.net, SFTA 

"A prestigious accelerator program associated with Techstars or Y Combinator." - Darren Atinsky, WedWu  

"Strong public sector support and engagement at the state, regional and local level. We need targeted investments to transition our economy to a knowledge economy and take advantage of the corporate base that we have in Miami that is actively supporting Miami as a Tech Hub." - Diane Sanchez, Americas Council for the Creative Economy 

"I would love to see more tech leaders and startup entrepreneurs from other parts of the country and world visiting us and speaking at events. This benefits us not only through their thought leadership, education, and contacts, but also because they become our best ambassadors when they return home and talk about South Florida's tech scene. - Alex de Carvalho, FIU Knight Innovator in Residence

"Although funding is always on top of every entrepreneur's mind, in every interview we have conducted via Our City Thoughts and even from my personal experience, meaningful mentoring is the most important piece missing. Meaningful mentoring equates to smart navigation for a startup, is what I think will help this ecosystem blossom." – Binsen Gonzalez, Our City Thoughts  

"I wish there was more around building a solid business vs just the 'start up hype.' I'm concerned that with one downturn in the market, the startup landscape could change significantly and quickly. There is a lot of talk of raising funds, building apps and exits but less around solid business practices." – Eric Dosal, BrightGauge 

"A major operations center for one of the world's most important technology companies. That kind of a move would elevate our global profile as a technology hub, help stimulate hundreds of employment opportunities, attract other companies to make a similar move, and increase the economic impact of the technology sector in Miami all at the same time." -Manny Medina, eMerge Americas, Medina Capital

 "We REALLY need more coders." - Jeff Brown, Palm Beach Angels

Posted Oct. 6. 2014 



October 05, 2014

Nurturing an entrepreneurial ecosystem: Voices of the tech community

TechhubimageAs part of a look back -- and look ahead -- at community-wide efforts to build or accelerate a technology-entrepreneurial  ecosystem in South Florida, I asked a sampling of entrepreneurs, investors and service providers for their views with a variety of questions. I’ll put a sampling on this blog all week.

Find the main stories here: fundraising and progress/challenges

In coming days I will include comments on talent, fund-raising, progress, challenges and more. What's your view? Add your comment on this post or email me at ndahlberg@miamiherald.com. 

Today: If you could add one ingredient to the ecosystem right now, what would it be?

“1,000 rockstar developers. Seriously, we need a lot more tech talent here in S. Florida. I think the local mayors should give first class tickets for the world’s best CTO’s to come here for Art Basel. Once they experience what the rest of us know (and why we love it here) they will never leave.” - Barry Stamos, Videoo

“Investors with backgrounds in tech and B2B / Development - there are maybe 1-2 here locally but that's changing for the better.” - Michael McCord, LearnerNation

“It all starts with promising entrepreneurs who have great ideas and can execute on them.  When they emerge, the money follows, the developers gravitate to the companies, quality executives get hired, and successful companies grow.  Great cities know that they have to attract and retain extraordinary people and companies, making their presence a big deal, working hard to make them happy.  We have to do that because everyone benefits from their success.  The rest will follow.” - Philippe Houdard, Pipeline Brickell

“I think if we saw one or more world-class technology companies in the South Florida area have significant impact in a specific industry, it would spur innovation in other sectors. I think a great example of this is salesforce.com. They took on much larger incumbents in their industry, had a successful IPO, hired leading talent that has gone on tostart companies and drive innovation in other industries – we need that to drive our technology ecosystem and South Florida.” - Albert Santalo, CareCloud

“I would add two ingredients: more funding and more positive energy. There’s a vision of the future that some of our leaders see and others may just be opening up to. Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez shares the vision and is committed to growing this industry. We have all theessential elements, the infrastructure, the universities and the innovators. The Beacon Council is ready to tell the world our story and to provide the groundwork to build a global innovation ecosystem.” - Larry K. Williams, Beacon Council

“A couple of VC funds who are more South Florida centric and signing Series A+ checks. I think that these sort of investors will allow us to keep growth companies in Miami instead of losing those companies going to places like NY or Silicon Valley.” - Marco Giberti, AGP

“A unified message.  The rest of the world understands the important part Miami plays in the world economy. Most of the US does not. Miami needs to be focused on explaining to other US cities what makes us integral to the flow of capital, talent, and information. That leads to mutually beneficial partnerships.” - Richard Schuchts, UM Life Science and Technology Park

“More diversity.” - Derick Pearson, Code Fever

“I would add a dash of optimism and a hint of evangelism. Ok, that’s two ingredients – but we first need to truly believe that we can become a tech hub, and then we need to tell the world.” - Dan Cane, Modernizing Medicine

“The one ingredient I would add to our ecosystem would be a coherent communications strategy, so that every great tech company in the region that succeeds can count on being known far and wide so that their successes help raise the game for all those still here trying to make it.” - Will Silverman, The Launch Pad at UM, Accredify

“A centralized resource hub to help anyone with entrepreneurial interest in South Florida navigate the entire tech eco-system.” - Andrew Quarrie, Jurnid

“High-caliber technical talent - we need to get computer engineering students to intern and apprentice under world-class technical people so they understand the difference between theory and practice in a high-growth global play.” - Susan Amat, Venture Hive

“A top-down road map that includes the allocation of financial resources, educational partnerships, knowledge sharing and facilities to increase the number of women and blacks in technology entrepreneurship.” - Christine Johnson, DiversiTech

“On a global scale, technology has become crucial to address the biggest social and environmental problems by, for example, leveraging solutions across the base of the pyramid (i.e. mobile based solutions, access to education through online platforms). It would be incredible to see in Miami all these newborn ventures considering the triple-bottom line and making a stronger push on social innovation. It wouldn’t be about creating technology for the sake of it, or even for the profit, it would be about addressing a need, creating a solution, and changing a pattern." - Maria Escorcia, Ashoka Miami

“Bring the cruise industry to the table.  Can you make the introduction to Micky Arison?” - Ricardo Weisz, NorthVest, Miami Innovation Fund

 “I’d like to see one story per week on the Starting Gate announcing a $1mm or higher funding round for a Miami-based company from a Miami-based lead investor.  Does that count as one ingredient?” - Bradley Liff, Fitting Room Social

 “Smart money: Miami needs successful people to commit their time to help companies strike deals, manage legal work, secure funds, offer advice, help companies overcome obstacles and accelerate their growth.” - Cory Hoffart, Hair Construction

Tune in each day this week for more responses on this topic and others. What's your view?