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Knight Foundation adds focus on Miami entrepreneurship

Much like Miami’s arts community has blossomed, so can the startup ecosystem with the right nurturing, believes The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. That’s why the foundation is adding entreprenueurship as one of its new areas of focus in South Florida, said Miami Program Director Matt Haggman.

MattHaggmanThe mission will be to strengthen the entrepreneurial ecosystem and connect it to the broader community, Haggman said.

When the foundation looked at places where it could make an impact, entrepreneurship seemed like a natural area. A decade ago that would not be the case, but recent advances by South Florida’s universities and the urbanization of Miami’s core now make South Florida more attractive to entrepreneurs. Yet, while Miami’s startup community is developing, it’s still fragmented.

 “There is a 'there' there,” Haggman said, “We can help foster the sense that Miami is a place where ideas are built.”

While the program is still in its infancy, the foundation plans to make grants in six areas: space, or places where entrepreneurs would gather such as co-working spaces and accelerators; mentorship and training; regular gatherings; annual gatherings (think signature events such as what Art Basel is to the arts community); communications, such as ways to get the success stories out; and funding, which continues to be a major challenge for South Florida entrepreneurs. These foundation grants could help fund organizations, major conferences or events, contests and other initiatives to foster innovation, Haggman said, stressing that no decisions have been made.

While the entrepreneurship umbrella can encompass all types of innovation, including artistic and social entrepreneurship endeavors, the foundation would likely focus most on nurturing an ecosystem for technology startups to launch and thrive.  A byproduct of a strong ecosystem is talent retention, or reversal of the brain drain, added Haggman.

The foundation may use its recent work in the arts -- which includes its annual Knight Arts Challenge and millions in grants to major cultural institutions -- as a model for the entrepreneurship program. But it would be in addition to the work it does in the arts, which would continue.

“Our commitment to the arts is as strong as ever,” said Haggman. “This is a way of building on that. All of it is part of our effort to create a more informed and engaged Miami.”