September 18, 2016

Why every incubator needs social entrepreneurs

Startupfiucohort1

Photo by Daniela Cadena

By Robert Hacker

In January 2016, Emily Gresham and I began to design the program that became StartUP FIU, Florida International University’s (FIU) new incubator. Emily, who is Assistant Vice President for Research and Economic Development, holds the strong belief that hospitals and universities are the anchor institutions in cities. This philosophy lead to StartUP FIU’s focus on serving the entire community and not just the Brickell-Wynwood corridor. I believe there is much confusion between small business management and entrepreneurship and that Miami would be best served if StartUP FIU supported the entrepreneurship that grows large, scalable ventures. With community and scalable ventures in place as the founding principles, Emily and I quickly added other key principles:

Inclusion We welcome everyone to apply to StartUP FIU, from high schoolers and college students to faculty from any university in South Florida. We welcome retired people, FIU alumni and people with no formal education. We received 160 applications to Cohort 1 and the applications were split almost evenly between students, alumni and the community. As they say, “we bet on the jockeys and not on the horses”.

Free: To be truly inclusive a program cannot have financial barriers to entry. The signature, 13-week incubator program “Empower” is totally free--no application fees, no payments or charges during the program and no equity participation for the incubator. We also provide mentors, consultants, space and university resources at no charge.

Stage Agnostic: When we first started talking to prospective entrepreneurs, we realized that many people did not even know how to advance their ideas beyond their first doodles on a piece of paper. Therefore, we decided that we would accept people who just had ideas, people that had a minimal viable product (MVP) but no revenue and companies with revenue. Applicants did not even have to have a company formed.

General Incubator: We think of StartUP FIU as a startup. We are iterating to determine the best way to serve the South Florida community. Today we accept all types of ideas from food and fashion to edtech, high tech and medical diagnostics. We even have a chair company in Cohort 1. We may experiment with specially “themed cohorts” in the future as we continue to explore what types of entrepreneurship will best serve South Florida, but today we welcome applications from all industries.

Authenticity: When one spends a lot of time with students, one realizes that they are most engaged by hands on, experiential learning. StartUP FIU’s incubator is offered through a group of entrepreneurs that use the customer fieldwork approach in a modified Lean Startup methodology. We do not use the professorial approach so common in most academic incubators. Demo Day at StartUP FIU is a pitch day to angel, seed and “A” round VCs.

The last key decision Emily and I made was to combine traditional and social entrepreneurs in the same cohort. Several institutions have separate incubators for traditional and social entrepreneurs, but we found that perhaps only Y Combinator shares our view that all the entrepreneurs should be combined in one cohort. We opted for this approach in part because we believe that diversity breeds better collaboration.

Secondly, we believe that the social entrepreneurs will help the traditional entrepreneurs to remember their responsibility to not only make a profit but also to improve society.

Lastly, millennials have a high level of genuine social concern. As they reach the years where they become the major purchasers, they will force all entrepreneurs to become social entrepreneurs.

Perhaps the evidence for this view of social entrepreneurship comes from the people and companies that began Cohort 1 Sept. 6 (pictured above). We have a former Detroit schoolteacher trying to provide better information about higher education alternatives to students. We have a team originally from Venezuela working to use bee keeping as a micro-entrepreneurship concept to help poor women raise their standard of living. We have a team composed of about fifteen FIU computer science graduate and undergraduate students from all over the world creating a new pedagogy for early child learning using the agile development methodology. We also have a PhD researcher from Baskin Palmer working on a new approach to eye diagnostics and a team building prosthetics with 3-D printers. As is obvious, the line between social and traditional entrepreneurship is becoming very cloudy.

[Who's in Cohort 1? See the list here.]

StartUP FIU will begin accepting applications Sept. 19, 2016, for its second cohort beginning in January 2017. Applications and more information about StartUP FIU can be found at Startup.FIU.edu.

Robert Hacker is the Director of StartUP FIU and teaches social entrepreneurship at FIU, MIT and UM. He is the former CFO of One Laptop per Child and prior to that built a publicly traded billion-dollar company in seven years in Indonesia. He consults to companies in the U.S., the Caribbean and Central America on growth strategies and complex problems through GH Growth Advisors. His books on entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship are available on Amazon.

READ MORE: Multi-campus StartUP FIU gets ready for takeoff

READ MORE: Q&A with Robert Hacker on scaling social entrepreneurship, finding partners, thinking big

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 Above, Bob Hacker introduced the mentors to the StartUP FIU entrepreneurs. At top of post, the first cohort of StartUP FIU.

September 10, 2016

How I became a Maker (again) -- and you can, too

  Moonlighter1

Join the movement. Let's make Miami a Maker town!

 

@MarioCruz

I often get asked by people what a maker or maker space is. A maker is someone who likes to DIY by repairing or creating electronic devices, building models, creating cosplay or 3D printing items, but in reality anyone who creates things can be considered a maker.

I was the kid who liked taking things apart and putting them back together. This was not always a successful process, but I got better and better. I eventually started to repair broken instruments, games, stereos and other electronic devices for my friends and me. The deal was when I repaired things for my friends, I charged a low price with the disclaimer that whatever I was repairing might end up as a pile of parts inside a Ziplock bag.

Additionally, I was interested in computers, which became an increasingly inexpensive way to create and invent because there was no need to purchase materials, no delay while waiting on mail orders, and no special tools were needed. My hardware career was short lived and my days of replacing broken screens or modifying gadgets were over as I got more and more into software and networking.

Last year the universe conspired to get me back into becoming a maker. First, Moonlighter Miami opened up and once again gave me access to all the things I had as the son of a mechanic: an awesome workshop and even new digital tools only available to real fabricators. Second, I took a job at Watsco Ventures and started working on extremely cool projects that required building prototypes using Raspberry Pi and Arduino. This made me spend even more time at Moonlighter tinkering and learning for my day job and as a curious maker.

Over the last year I have built lots of “stuff,” most of which is work related to be shown at a later date. However, I have made some things that have been shown off, including the Moonlighter photo booth that was built with a broken laptop’s monitor and a Raspberry PI, the modified PiGRRL 3 used for Moonlighter summer camp, and the poetry printer for the O'Miami poetry festival (See photo below). These are just some of the “stuff” that I have created as a maker, not to mention the bounty of projects I have in store for the future.

I have also helped on countless projects for others and have received help on my own projects. It's one thing to build something alone at home, but another thing entirely if you do it while surrounded by other makers. The communal experience of sharing thoughts and know-how, as well as having access to digital fabrication prototyping and manufacturing tools has made me more involved in the community. The teamwork and togetherness at Moonlighter this past year have not only been experienced by me, but also by my own young children, as they’ve created their own projects and received help and feedback from the community.

The barriers to becoming a maker have shrunk significantly with the cost of kits decreasing and with increasing availability of access to memberships to places like Moonlighter. These barriers that previously prohibited people from inventing, making prototypes or simply creating are a thing of the past. All you need today to become a “maker” is to use free tools like TinkerCad or Google Draw to make this into a reality.

The shop classes we all participated in when we were in school are nearly extinct, and there are little to no digital fabrication classes to take their place. Moonlighter and Learn01 have added summer camps, workshops, after-school classes  and events to fill the gap, but we have a long way to go before 3D printing and Raspberry Pi become household names.

Join the movement, mentor a future maker, and allow making to be something you do and share. Let's make Miami a Maker town!

Mario Cruz is a director at Watsco Ventures, an entrepreneur, a mentor and a drummer. He is not an investor in Moonlighter, but is a proud Moonlighter member and Maker Dad. 

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Photos taken at Moonlighter provided by Mario Cruz.

August 15, 2016

Q&A with Loren Ridenger: Changing the face of beauty

LorenRidinger-globalannualreport (1)
By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Loren Ridinger has been changing the face of the beauty business as well as internet shopping for more than 20 years, and the entrepreneur and senior executive has no plans to slow down. “It’s not in my blood,” she says.

With humble beginnings working out of their rental home’s garage at the time, she and her husband, JR, co-founded internet retailing giant Market America in 1992, in Greensboro, North Carolina, where the company is still headquartered. Earlier this month, the company held one of its twice yearly empowerment conferences there, hosting 25,000 people, and she gave the opening speech. Today, the Ridingers live in Miami Beach, and each February, the Market America World Conference takes over AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, bringing about 25,000 people to town.

Market America | Shop.com has generated more than $5.5 billion in accumulated retail sales and individuals have earned more than $2.9 billion in commissions and retail profits, the company said. In addition to the U.S., the company operates in Canada, Mexico, Australia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, Singapore, Mexico and Spain.

Ridinger also founded the award-winning cosmetics line Motives, her first line. She also created the solution-oriented personal care line Fixx and the jewelry collection Loren Jewels. Her daughter Amber is also an entrepreneur, having created DNA Miracles, a line of body and wellness products designed for babies, children and expectant mothers. Loren speaks about entrepreneurship regularly and has mentored young entrepreneurs. Last year, she partnered with Miami Beach startup Flat Out of Heels to create a line of shoes for the young fashion company.

Active on social media, Ridinger blogs regularly on www.LorensWorld.com, named one of Forbes’ Top 100 websites for women, and her fashion blog, www.MyFashionCents.com, often speaking about inspiration and women’s empowerment. “I use my voice wherever I can to make a difference,” she says. “The message cannot be heard enough. Sometimes thousands of people have to read for one of them to get it, but if one of them gets it, that’s all that matters, right?”

Loren Ridinger, senior executive vice president of Market America, serial entrepreneur, fashionista, mentor, mom and grandmother with a third grandchild on the way, surrounds herself with successful people and those who want to be. She calls Jennifer Lopez and Eva Longoria good friends. Still, Ridinger is a self-described private person, who puts socializing at the bottom of her priority list as she manages her many ventures and adventures.

She took time out this month to share her views about Market America, entrepreneurship, what’s next and the importance of knowing your “why.” Here are excerpts of that conversation.

Continue reading "Q&A with Loren Ridenger: Changing the face of beauty" »

June 08, 2016

In building an innovation economy in Miami, look to the arts for proven model of success

Wallcast

By Olga Granda-Scott

OlgaAs an early adopter of many early initiatives in Miami’s startup scene, I’ve enjoyed several years of conversations surrounding the hows and whys of investing in a technology-enabled entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Most recently, I turned my focus to the intersection of that entrepreneurial community and the arts. What I’ve observed are the essential building blocks the arts industry has employed in creating a community which now boasts a monumental economic impact while establishing a global brand.

I believe Miami’s arts scene is a true case study for the “innovation economy.” Here’s why:

P3s. Before it was a trendy acronym, private-public partnerships were laying the groundwork for the creative powerhouse that is Miami today. From the contribution of public lands to cultural organizations to cemented affiliations with public institutions of higher education (The Wolfsonian-FIU, MDC’s Miami International Film Festival, etc), these partnerships have given each side of the relationship opportunities to maximize their scalability and impact. These are cases in which the sum is exponentially greater than the parts.

Training. To name a few, a single decade saw the creation of: the New World Symphony, New World School of the Arts, Miami City Ballet, Design and Architecture High School, YoungArts, ArtCenter South Florida, Miami Light Project, Bakehouse Art Complex, and the Rhythm Foundation.

All of these institutions, some public, some private, were founded with aspirations to achieve artistic excellence at national and international levels and have sought to develop artists and audiences, from children thru post-graduates. Alumni are now making strides at home and abroad, pointing to Miami as their seminal reference.

Financial resources. From government grant programs to private foundations, aspiring artists and potential founders know there are annual funding opportunities from a few hundred dollars into the millions. Locally, the County’s Department of Cultural Affairs, the Knight Foundation, and the Miami Foundation are exemplary entities who have led this charge with boundless ambition and sustainable results.

Want $1,000 to try out a quirky idea? Apply for a micro-grant from the Awesome Foundation. Need $5,000 to host a choreographic festival? Solicit for a grant from the Funding Arts Network. Dream of $250,000 to launch a seaside artists’ residency? Pitch 150 words during the Knight Arts Challenge.

Everyone has a place to start exploring and seek the financial resources to get off the ground -- and know those public and private supporters will be there for continued capitalization if a successful product and experience is being delivered.  Much of that funding doesn’t come with strings attached, permitting a level of self-driven independent creativity that is equally essential for success.

Millions of dollars have been pumped into the local arts industry establishing schools, residencies, companies, work spaces, museums and cultural facilities -- all because the arts transform communities. The arts transform neighborhoods. The arts transform lives.

Now read that paragraph again, replacing the word “arts” with the word “technology.”

If we want to have global stature in technology as we do in the arts, we already have a proven model for success.

Olga Granda-Scott is a Cuban-American entrepreneur, raised in Miami. Olga co-founded TheHighBoy.com, an online marketplace for antiques and art to help other mom-and-pop shop owners compete in the digital world. After having secured a 7-figure investment round and winning the Miami Herald's Business Plan Challenge in 2015, Olga chose to pursue a new venture aimed at combining her experience in the arts and business with her passion for social impact. A believer in public-private partnerships, she is currently the Executive Director of the Coconut Grove Playhouse Foundation, whose mission is to expedite the restoration of the historic site as a world-class cultural and civic anchor. Follow her on Twitter @GrandaScott.

May 25, 2016

Calling all healthcare entrepreneurs and innovators

MiamiHerald24MAY

By Christian Seale

If you are reshaping the future of healthcare, Startupbootcamp Digital Health wants to meet you. And offer our help.

With our partners at the Knight Foundation, Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, the University of Miami Health System, Univision and Microsoft we are building Miami into a global hub for healthcare innovation. We encourage you to join us.

As part of our mission to find the best healthcare entrepreneurs globally and plug them into Miami’s growing ecosystem, we have traveled to over 20 cities to meet fearless, ambitious and extraordinary founders like yourself. If you haven’t already, reach out and set up a virtual or in person office hours in Miami.

Our applications close on June 10. So, the time to act is now!

We are looking for entrepreneurs working at the intersection of healthcare and technology and focused on making our healthcare system more equitable, efficient and accessible for all.

Our promise is simple: you will achieve one year of progress in three months. Take a look at the over 300 startups that have already done so.

For the companies selected to our program we will provide seed funding, mentorship, six months of free office space in the heart of Miami, in kind-services from Google Cloud, Amazon Web Services, Salesforce for Startups, Intel and Paypal and access to the most relevant network of corporate clients, investors and mentors.

During our program, you will interact with national network of healthcare providers and insurers including Ascension, Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, Jackson Health System, the University of Miami Health System, Duke University Health System, Mount Sinai, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Florida Blue, Aetna and Healthways among many others. Over 100 mentors will help you refine, grow and scale your business and prepare you to present at our 400+ attendee Demo Day in Miami.

We invite you to join us as we build Miami into a globally recognized hub for innovation and together transform the future of healthcare.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Christian Seale is Founder and Managing Director of startupbootcamp Miami. Follow on Twitter @sbchealth. For more information, email digitalhealth@startupbootcampdotcom.

Read More: Startupbootcamp chooses Miami for first U.S. accelerator

April 25, 2016

MentorDay: How Miami leaders are paving the way for entrepreneurs

By Juan Lopez Salaberry

Wow! Thirty less headaches for Miami entrepreneurs, and a $50,000 prize. Twenty-two industry experts helped 30 entrepreneurs solve their business problems  in 45 minute sessions for high impact mentorship across 4 venues in Miami.

MentorDay, a new made-in-Miami platform, was launched this moth to give industry leaders and experts a chance to pay it forward to the community, helping up and coming entrepreneurs solve specific obstacles in their ventures. Mentor Day allows entrepreneurs and startups to receive high impact mentorship in free one-on-one mentorship sessions with industry experts on topics ranging from marketing, venture capital, growth hacking, accounting, legal and beyond.

I have witnessed first hand how mentorship has a deep impact in one's company and also how countless opportunities to work with impressive mentors are lost because of a lack of a mentorship culture. On its first edition, MentorDay received 60 applications, gathered 30 entrepreneurs, 22 experts and solved 30 specific business hurdles.

And magic did happen! We are extremely proud and humbled to be even a (small) part of Cetus Labs’s story. This is an amazing startup from Venture Hive, who applied asking for help with their pitch deck as they had been selected to present at the early-stage competition at Emerge Americas. They won the competition and took $50,000 with them! “Thanks to Mentor Day, we had a great meeting with RJ Roshi where he helped us perfect our pitch before the eMerge Americas startup competition, which we ended up winning!,” Luc Castera, founder of Cetus Labs, told us on a written note.

We created MentorDay to provide a platform for both mentors and mentees to feel comfortable and protected (We even created rules for that purpose.) No deceitful approaches and no broad open questions. We want to educate mentees on how they need to formulate their asks and be clear about them,  while allowing experts in various areas to donate their time in an effective way. With clear expectations before coming, both will end the meeting with the satisfaction of solving one specific problem.

This also de-personalizes mentorship and takes a ‘problem focused’ approach. Instead of having a line to meet & greet with one our mentors, we can be flexible and allow anyone -from the mayor to a visitor to a local hustler, - to be able to share their expertise and pay it forward.

MentorDay started in Miami, and it will hopefully start happening in other cities soon. Silicon Valley has a mentorship culture, however the rest of the world does not look like Silicon Valley. Miami does not look like it. As most nascent and developing entrepreneurial ecosystems, we have our own strengths and areas of opportunity and we have an amazing chance ahead of us to do something about it. There is amazing talent right here and by facilitating the connections we have an amazing future ahead.

MentorDay wants to empower local communities, we want to see each other’s faces, 1-on-1 meetings, in person, for free, at least once a month and help someone else have a fair chance. We want to democratize the chances of success, regardless race, gender, or age. Whether or not entrepreneurs  are part of Endeavor,  received investment, work at a co-working space, or from home and are just starting. We can all use some help.

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Photo by Al delcy

Magic happened

We had an amazing contribution from local and even guest mentors. The .CO crowd almost in full jumped in to help out, investors such as Christian Seale and RJ Joshi, entrepreneurs from Wyncode or Gasninja, among many others. Even my dear friend and former partner at 500 Startups, Cesar Salazar, who was visiting the city took one of the sessions and said: “I've been to a large number of mentorship events and this one has by far the best return on time invested.”

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Photo by Al delcy

Our first go at MentorDay also received the immense support of four venues: Building.co, WeWork, The LAB Miami and Venture Hive, in which at anytime last Friday you would have found a room with 1 mentor, and 1 mentee.

Our sponsors also rocked. LateralView helped us put together our platform in record time, building.co housed us since the beginning and StartupVisa also helped with the initial funding to set this not-for-profit off the ground.

Next MentorDay

We honestly had no idea what was going to happen last Friday. We did our homework and put a lot of hard work, specially Pete Kovach who was instrumental to the success of the day. But we honestly had no idea what the response was going to be like. Now we want more.

Now that the format has been proven we want to test the frequency. Ideally we want to hold MentorDay once a month (3rd Friday of every month) but it is ultimately the market that will really dictate what will happen.

Our next MentorDay is scheduled for the 20th of May and we have already aligned some incredible mentors. Applications are now open and will close May 9th. We have also put together 5 tips to make sure mentees have higher chances at getting a session.

Get ready, Miami - we are only getting started!

Juan Lopez Salaberry is the founder of the new Miami nonprofit, MentorDay.co.

April 15, 2016

Women in #MiamiTech -- Breaking Boundaries

Kairosgroup

The women of Kairos pose for a picture with Girls Who Code students. Kairos mentors Girls Who Code. 

By Stefanie Genauer

I am an 80's baby. I grew up wearing scrunchies, I actually used encyclopedias (hard copy ones) from the library to write my research reports in elementary school, and Saved By The Bell was my bible on how to navigate adolescence.

Monochromatic spandex and teen idols aside, being born in the 80's also meant that I grew up in a time where girls were taught they had options-- lots of them in fact. I could cut the hair off all of my Barbie Dolls and join the community basketball league. I could run for student government ("You've got the power, vote Genauer" made for some exceptionally poignant campaign signs), and not only could I go to college, but I was actually the majority instead of the minority. I had parents who told me that I could be anything I wanted to be.

I believed them. I spent my life thinking that I could do anything I put my mind to (except being a doctor; I have an exceptionally strong aversion to blood and needles and do possess a degree of realism). Like many others, I went down a long windy road that took some interesting twists and turns, and somehow landed at my present- day gig, as the Chief Revenue Officer of a very cutting-edge facial biometrics and human analytics start-up based here in Miami. I credit my hard work in school, my previous dues-paying jobs in New York City, including my long stint at Apple, and my endless determination (which for some reason my dad mistakenly calls stubbornness) --but I also credit my forward thinking employer, Kairos.com, for believing that women in leadership roles at tech companies are a valuable asset.

It's amazing to me that to this day, it's still not an equal playing field. Growing up in a nurturing, progressively thinking household, apparently was more of a luxury than I realized. The real world still has presented roadblocks for women in the workplace. Things are wildly different than when my grandmother was my age, but nonetheless there are still examples of gender disparity.  

Just this week, I read an open letter posted on The Starting Gate blog in the Miami Herald about an unacceptable case of discrimination against a female developer at a local Hackathon. Hearing of such a disappointing instance of unwarranted behavior made me angry, and then it made me think. How are we not "there" yet?

I'm sure it's not the first instance, and it sadly won't be the last. It's sad because in my opinion, it all comes down to skill and passion. If you’re good at something you deserve to be there. You deserve to be hired. You deserve to be a part of the dialogue.  Confidence is a huge part of the equation here as well. We need to continue to teach women that they earned the right to be there. No more of this nonsense that "you don't belong". Just keep doing what you're doing -- be better-- be better than the naysayers who are trying to bring you down. It starts internally by believing in yourself -- and it's only amplified by the community around you supporting that notion.

Miami is a vibrant city, filled with diverse cultures. It's the reason why Miami is such a prime location to be next great tech hub in the US. There is money, great talent, wonderful resources and endless sunshine to inspire entrepreneurs. My hope for Miami is that it can continue to grow and promote greatness, wherever it can be found. And while this article is focused predominantly on women, it's true of all people. If you're passionate about what you do, don't second-guess yourself. 

I'm privileged because I get to work at a place that promotes diversity and equality (the company is even a member of the Kapor Capital Founders commitment for diversity and inclusion), and because I'm surrounded by other amazingly talented and fascinating women. Their presence alone makes our company better, and their stories have influenced me and I believe they can do the same for others.

Our newest team member Alia Mahmoud for example, a New York native and a brand new Miami transplant, spent half a decade in Tunisia after the revolution in 2011. She has family roots there and felt compelled to go back and help contribute to the creation of the entrepreneurial ecosystem that was blooming. She landed the job of Director at the Microsoft Innovation Center in Tunis. Visitors would come to the office and say "I need to speak with your boss" and when she would reply "yes, that's me, how may I help you" she says you could visibly see how taken aback they were to encounter a young woman as the Director.

"The lesson I learned quickly was to contribute to any conversation I found myself in, in order to demonstrate my knowledge and that I was not intimidated to interject in a lively discussion dominated by (usually) older men. The key here is not to speak just to be disruptive, but to really add value or ask a pertinent question."

She saw her tactics work. "I noticed that the more I did this, the more welcome I felt in future meetings - not as a woman, but as a person of valor at the table."

"If anyone doubts your capacity because of your age and your gender, you work to prove them wrong by the diligence of your work, the intelligence of your remarks, the courage of your actions and the sheer confidence of your stance", remarks Mahmoud.

Another colleague of mine, Rajnesah Belyeu, is an all-star software developer. She's one of a handful of exceptional talents here in Miami, regardless of gender. Rajnesah found tech, and specifically the field of software engineering, to be an inspiration after receiving her first computer. Her thirst for how things work followed her and in college, she decided to pursue it as an area of study.

Rajnesah found this path on her own, but notes that had educational programs around coding, like the 'Girls Who Code' club here in Miami existed when she was in high school it would have been incredibly helpful. Thankfully, Rajnesah had the forward thinking desire to go after her dreams despite the challenges of getting into the industry. She is incredibly reflective on how the experience has molded her.

"This job has taught me how to be confident in my abilities and myself. Being different from a majority of your peers can make you feel like you don't belong. I had to overcome that and be confident that I am just as good as my peers regardless of any differences. Then one day I realized that being different was more of a positive than a negative - and it changed my life. I realized that by being different I naturally had everyone's attention and it was up to me to own the moment."

Allison Cammack, one of our senior sales executives, didn't start out in tech.  A lawyer by trade, Allison spent years making her mark at some of Miami's most prestigious firms. After grieving the loss of her father and two of her uncles, she discovered that she needed to switch gears and follow a different calling. Life is short, as they say.

Her pursuits led to her enrolling for her very first coding class, and taking that all the way to landing what Allison now affectionately calls her "dream job", at Kairos.com.

"I had to find what I was passionate about doing, and let go of what others expected of me. I wrote out new goals and learned as much as I could about the Miami tech scene and the company I wanted to join. I even got involved with inspiring organizations like Girls Who Code, CodeArt Miami and Black Tech Week.”

“These experiences illustrate that there are opportunities in Miami that don’t exist in other markets. There is much work to be done. And we all need to be part of the solution - by speaking out against bias and leading by example in our hiring and our volunteerism."

It's never too late to follow your dreams. “When you show that you are genuinely passionate about an organization and have the grit to overcome any obstacles in your way, the right people will make a spot for you,” emphasizes Allison. And with a community around you that supports and cultivates these kinds of dreams, it makes it much easier to realize them.

Kiran Virdee-Chapman, the Chief People Officer at Kairos.com, traveled across the pond from London to be in Miami and join the tech revolution. Kiran worked at Apple for many years and has been immersed in the technology world long enough to observe certain trends.

Kiran believes "there are not enough female influences in technology." She said there is a misconception that it is a male-dominated industry. There are many talented females leading the way and even outshining their male counterparts. Virdee-Chapman thinks that if there were more women in the spotlight, it would help change some of the stereotypes about them in the field. They are already here. They are already making a difference. It's about changing the conversation and changing an outdated perspective.

The passion Kiran feels for the subject is evident, and she believes it goes even broader than what’s been mentioned thus far. “When thinking of inclusion, it should go beyond gender. It's about recognizing everyone and Miami has a unique opportunity to empower an eco-system that puts diversity ahead of stereotypes. Apple said to think different but I believe with diversity and inclusion it goes further than that. You need to embrace differences in individuals and be brave enough to act on them,”, Kiran reflects.

Kiran's thoughts got me thinking (as good thoughts should). Diversity and inclusion has turned into a "thing." It's something we get patted on the back for, but in reality, it's just how things should be. I have always tried to set a good example and excel in whatever I pursued, but that was just me, being me. It wasn't me, being a woman, doing all these things. The Herald blog article shed light on an important and apparently still present issue that deserves attention. I hope that the sum total of all the intelligent voices that have an opportunity to be heard, continue to overpower the ignorant ones and educate and expand people's minds. And that diversity and inclusion moves from being something you get a gold star for, to just the way things are.

I hope the Miami community continues to band together and show the rest of the country (and world for that matter) that women in Tech, and frankly any industry, deserve a seat at the proverbial table. And, one day, we'll all just be humans in leadership roles, changing the world and making things happen.

Stefanie Genauer is chief revenue officer at Miami-based Kairos. Reach her at @stef_genauer or stefanie@Kairos.com.

Read more: An Open Letter to the Miami Tech Community

Read more: An Open Challenge to Miami's 'tough guy' coders

 

 

April 13, 2016

Time to bury 'Silicon Beach' in the sand

Miami

 

By Juan Pablo Cappello

JpcOver the past five years, South Florida has slowly been recognized as a technology hub, gracing the pages of tech journals like “TechCrunch” and more mainstream publications like “The Atlantic”.  This buzz should not go to our heads.  Rather than fantasizing about creating a “Silicon Beach” here in the tropics, our politicians and our business leaders need to focus on creating quality jobs by helping our tech-enabled businesses to grow and scale.

Recently South Florida has been home to some spectacular successes for tech enabled companies.  We have seen billion dollar successes like Broward’s Mako Surgical, a medical robotics company that was sold for over $1.6 billion in 2013. Broward’s Magic Leap also joined the billionaires club with $1.4 billion of investment from Google Ventures and others to support its virtual reality technology. 

The outsize successes of Mako Surgical, Leap Magic and others have gotten the attention of local politicians and business leaders.  Talk of converting Miami into some sort of “Silicon Beach” has been around since at least the late 1990’s when Lincoln Road was the de facto capital of the whole Latin American tech scene. 

I suspect no one would suggest we are going to to create “Beach Street” in South Florida to compete with New York’s “Wall Street”.  Similarly, it is time to stop talking about building a “Silicon Beach”. 

Silicon Valley works because many of the the most innovative technologies in the world are developed in San Francisco and around Stanford University.  Silicon Valley is the mecca of disruptive innovation, like Hawaii is the center of surfing because it has amazing waves.   

Similar to Hawaii and its waves, South Florida will likely never compete with Silicon Valley (or New York or Boston) as a center of innovative technologies.  However, in South Florida we have unique strengths that almost no other region in the world has.

The “tech” revolution isn’t happening only at Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Uber and a few other household names in tech.  The rapid and unstoppable force of the innovations brought by technology is affecting every single business-big and small. For every Apple or Facebook there are a thousand or ten thousand small and medium-sized companies trying to leverage technology to compete better against larger, more established companies.

In South Florida today, we have more small and medium-sized business per capita than almost any major city in the nation.  The Miami area ranks 6th in the nation for small business activity.   And by some measure, almost 90 percent of South Florida’s economic activity comes from small businesses.  These small and medium-sized businesses are the key to South Florida finding its place in the tech world.

Far less sexy than talking about changing the world with THE next big thing, we and mainly our politicians and community leaders can focus on helping our existing army of smaller, more agile businesses make lots and lots of small innovations. Collectively these innovations can have an enormous impact and make South Florida a very unique tech hub.

In South Florida, nearly two-thirds of our small businesses have fewer than 5 employees.   This is a huge opportunity because there is tremendous room for these micro employers to hire more people. 

Many “pure” technology companies developed in Silicon Valley create very few jobs.  Instagram had only 13 employees when Facebook bought it for $1 billion and Snapchat had only 30 employees when Facebook offered $3 billion to acquire it.

Politicians and business-makers must help our local companies use technology more efficiently. They must support our businesses as they innovate these technologies. The result will be the creation of more jobs that are better paying, and businesses that will expand and employ more individuals throughout South Florida.

Silicon Valley is often criticized for not being very inclusive. There are very few minorities in leadership positions at tech companies in Silicon Valley and women are perennially underrepresented.   As our tech ecosystem grows we have an opportunity to attract female entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color who value the diversity and the community offered in South Florida.

In fifty years, the United States will only just be catching up to Miami with regards to the diversity of its population, a population that will be predominately non-white and immigrant. According to the to the Census Bureau, Miami is 66% Latino/Hispanic whereas the US is 65% White and almost 20% of our population is African American.  South Florida as a whole is also quite diverse -- much more diverse than most of the United States.

The more we can create the first truly inclusive tech hub in the United States, the more unique and powerful our local economy will become.

South Florida’s tech revolution will not be measured by how many millions our companies raise from outside investors or for how many billions our companies are sold for.  That is how Silicon Valley measures its success.  I wish them well with that.  In South Florida we are different, and we can have different values and different goals than those of Silicon Valley. 

The measure of the success of South Florida’s tech ecosystem should be how many quality, high paying, high skilled jobs we create in every segment of our diverse community.  

South Florida already has some of the most entrepreneurial, diverse small businesses in the world.  We do not need to try to replicate Silicon Valley here in the sunshine.  

Juan Pablo Cappello is the co founder of The Lab Miami (a co-working, shared office space in Wynwood) and AGP Miami (a local start-up investing group), as well as an active investor in technology companies. Twitter: @CappelloJP

April 12, 2016

An Open Challenge to Miami’s “tough-guy" coders

 

By Tim Berthold

Yesterday I read this in the Starting Gate.  

To recap, a UM female student seeking to improve her programming skills showed up to a “hackathon” and experienced what she felt was degrading behavior from her male teammates.  According to the article, other female students have experienced similar behavior at other events. 

Some might call it mild sexism.  It might not be rampant, but it seems to show up enough to be an issue.

Either way, it ticked me off.  Here are three reasons why:

Reason #1: Miami is young.  We have an opportunity to create the kind of tech ecosystem that we want, one that differs from Silicon Valley where gender and racial biases permeate the startup culture.  Not convinced it’s real?  Listen to this episode of the Startup Podcast.    

Reason #2:  I come from the military.  A very male-dominated part of the military.  And I’m proud to see the military I left over ten years ago become the inclusive organization it is today.  It didn’t get that way by belittling women, minorities, or anyone else.  I want no part of an ecosystem that condones such behavior toward anyone.  Thankfully, these adolescent-minded coders don’t reflect the entire community.

Reason #3: The behavior described is indicative of a culture that values status over learning.  “I’m good at coding” instead of “How can I become a better coder?”  Those who have this attitude will fail.  If too many people in Miami have this attitude then Miami will fail.  Growth only comes through the willingness to put oneself out there, show up, and try to get 1% better everyday . . . regardless of the outcome and regardless of who’s watching (reference Carol Dweck’s oft-cited book Mindset).

On that note, let’s get real . . . real quick.  Knowing how to code doesn’t make you tough.  Doing what this girl did makes you tough. 

She heard about an event she knew would be male-dominated and was probably scared to put her skills on display in front of better coders.  But she showed up anyway.  

For the women out there reading, I hope you continue to “show up.”  It won’t be the last time this kind of behavior happens.  It's also one of the “tamer” stories out there that makes no mention of the elephant in the room - social and sexual inappropriateness (or awkwardness, given we’re talking about coders).

For the coding boys - I think you’re just being “boys” and probably did not intend to cause harm by your comments and behavior.  This girl seems tough enough to get past it, but what harm have you done to the Miami ecosystem that can benefit from the skills, perspective, and hustle of female coders? 

Beyond inclusion I think the biggest lesson is one you already know - that growth takes risk . . . the same risk you've already faced in your coding career. Was there ever a point when you were afraid to take up coding?  Afraid to show your work to someone, thinking it might not be any good?  If you call yourself a “coder,” then chances are you did - then you faced that resistance and pushed past it.

Maybe it’s time to revisit that moment.  Here are some ideas for doing so:

Challenge #1: Pitch your business idea or your coding skills in front of an audience of at least 20 people who you don’t know.  Then put it on YouTube.  Brave graduates of Wyncode and Iron Hack do it every few months - why can’t you?

Challenge #2: Announce to the world that you are finally going to do something about the “idea for a startup I have.”  Put it on display for everyone to see you possibly fail.  Then show up and make a little progress everyday.  Maybe you fail, maybe you don’t.  The only certainty is you’ll learn.

Challenge #3: Show up to a 6:00 am workout with my military friends and me.  We’ll videotape it.  Perhaps you’ll be humbled, perhaps you’ll impress.  What matters is that you were scared and showed up anyway.  

If you pick #3, I will reciprocate and gladly attend one of your next coding sessions where you can run Ruby circles around me while playing “one-two-three-four, I declare thumb war" with your coding buddies.

I know the behavior of these boys doesn’t speak for the whole of the Miami tech community.  And to that community I say keep doing what you’re doing: showing up, making a little progress every day, and helping others around you become better.  Let’s keep up the momentum you’ve worked so hard to build.

Tim Berthold is a Navy veteran, advisor to young & fun companies, and runs the Miami Hustle Series Podcast covering stories of Miami startups & entrepreneurs (Twitter: @miamihustleco)

April 11, 2016

An Open Letter to the Miami Tech Community

By Kim Grinfeder

I direct and teach in the Interactive Media Program at the University of Miami, a new program that I helped create with hopes it would someday contribute to Miami’s budding tech scene. It was always my hope that the program be integrated into Miami’s community, and so I have always encouraged my students to participate in local meet-ups and hackathons. In fact, until recently, it was a requirement for students to attend at least five local meet-ups or hackathons as part of their class grades.

Last week, a female student shared her experience at a local hackathon. She attended the hackathon for the normal reasons: she wanted to hone her programming skills, meet new people, and have a good time. Because she did not know anyone there, she joined a group who happened to be all-male. She told them that she could help with design or front-end coding since she was proficient in both. One of the guys asked if he should “dumb it down for her.” The night went on with macho jokes that made her feel uncomfortable and ended in “not-bad-for-a-girl” high fives. Unfortunately, it is not the first time that I hear such a story from a student who attended a local coding event. I am not saying this type of gender-based disparagement happens all the time, but I have heard similar tales enough times from my students to warrant calling it out.

That being said, she also mentioned that a few of her teammates worked cordially with her and that she learned quite a bit from them. In fact, these teammates seemed put off by the rest of the team’s behavior, even though they did not exactly step in to stop it. It is unfortunate that too often good behavior is overshadowed by some vexatious comportment.

If we seriously aspire to become a blossoming tech community intent on recruiting and keeping talent in Miami, we cannot tolerate such behavior. Next time that you are at a local hackathon, look at the male/female ratio and ask yourself why this is so. We need to strive to make these events safe and fun for everyone if we want them to succeed. Meet-ups should implement a code of conduct and adhere to it so that everyone can feel welcome. This recommendation has already been carried out at some of our largest local meet-ups and has helped them grow (see http://www.meetup.com/South-Florida-PHP-Users-Group/pages/Anti-Harassment/). I would like, with this letter, to see more local groups and events adopt this policy.

Again, the vast majority of tech events in Miami have been welcoming to everyone, and great things are happening here like the WIN Lab and Girls Who Code, which are designed to attract women and encourage them to enter the industry. But we should also ensure that our mixed gender events are welcoming and safe for everyone. We should not have to rely only on gender exclusive events. It is hard enough to get things going in Miami without excluding people. Our new tech community should be built on shedding the old-school male-dominated STEM paradigm for a model that strengthens and benefits from our local gender diversity.

Kim Grinfeder is Associate Professor in the Department of Cinema and Interactive Media at the University of Miami. Twitter: @kimgrinfeder