By Boris Hirmas Said
Miami’s bourgeoning Tech/Innovation industry made news recently at the U.S. Conference of Mayors Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. Speaking at the Conference, newly elected Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine stated that ongoing efforts to create a local tech hub was “the dumbest idea in the world.” I couldn’t disagree more and a look back at all that has been accomplished throughout Miami, will quickly dispel his erroneous premise that technology and innovation “is not who we are.”
2013 was a banner year for our City’s growing Technology/Innovation ecosystem. It started with Rokk3r Labs taking it to the next level in the heart of Miami Beach, followed by The Atlantic’s Start-up City: Miami, which brought together a World Class line-up of speakers that firmly announced that we were ready to raise the bar. SIME MIA closed 2013 letting everyone see our unique take on innovation with over 600 high profile attendees.
In between, we saw Refresh Miami continue its growth and maturity, LAB Miami become a hub of entrepreneurship and innovation, Venture Hive graduate its first class of Startups and Endeavor Global launch its Miami office.
We also saw the launch of Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses at Miami-Dade College, Miami-based Kairos become Wall Street Journal’s Startup of the Year and local hackers make serious noise in PayPal’s Battle Hack in San Francisco.
There were “green shoots” of activity and optimism everywhere you looked and while there is reason to believe that we are on our way, the reality, as usual, is more complicated.
As we look back on 2013, we can definitively say that yes, we made great strides and momentum is on our side. However, it is critical that we realize that we’ve only just begun and that there is a lot of hard work ahead if we are to prove that all of the “sizzle” is more than deft marketing, but in fact, a demonstration of a vibrant community of ideas, entrepreneurship and investment that is poised to transform Miami’s economy.
This year, we need to step up our game and prove that our entrepreneurs and companies are ready for the serious business of growth by forging of a unified community strategy that brings together entrepreneurs, investors, educators and government officials.
First and foremost, we need to help our local entrepreneurs continue building their businesses through access to World Class mentoring and financing. It is through the successful growth (and exits) of our homegrown technology and innovation businesses that we will ultimately prove that we do in fact have a real and thriving ecosystem worthy of the “buzz.” In fact, it is through these budding entrepreneurs that we will capture the attention of the global VC community as well as the imagination of the next generation of entrepreneurs.
On the education front, we need to continue encouraging our local institutions at all levels – from colleges and universities, through high schools and elementary schools – to focus on preparing our most important resource, our children, to compete and participate in the innovation/technology industry. This begins through the promotion of a strong STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) curriculum as well as promoting innovation through creativity and design. These institutions also need to work closely with the private sector so that each side understands the needs of the other and are able to coordinate an education strategy that prepares local talent to meet the needs of local industry.
As was highlighted by Mayor Levine’s comments, it is clear that part of our political establishment needs to catch up getting on board with the work of the private and academic sectors. While there is growing awareness of the great economic development potential of the innovation/technology sector amongst our local political class, it will be imperative that this awareness be transformed into a solid commitment to doing its part. Whether it is developing a plan to promote Miami as a relocation option for entrepreneurs, especially those in Latin America or creating incentives that stimulate the construction of world-class technology infrastructure, having an informed and engaged local government will be a critical component to the long-term viability and sustainability of the ongoing efforts.
Another area to begin working on in 2014 is the development of technology infrastructure that will be instrumental in attracting World Class companies, such as PayPal and Facebook to our City to set-up regional headquarters.
I am greatly optimistic of the future and I stand ready to roll up my sleeves and continue working to see Miami emerge as a center of technology and innovation excellence. I can’t wait to see what 2014 and beyond has in store for us.
Boris Hirmas Said is Entrepeneur in Residence at Miami Dade College, chairman of Tres Mares S.A. (Chile), and an entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist.
Posted Feb. 5, 2014