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Q&A with Diane Sánchez on eMerge plans, movement to build a tech hub

SanchezFriday afternoon, Diane Sánchez moderated a local panel discussion about building a successful technology hub, but other leaders participated through video conferencing, discussing their experiences and lessons learned in the United Kingdom, France and Mexico. The BritWeek Miami eMerge Americas Transatlantic Tech Bash capped off a busy week of speaking engagements and planning meetings for Sánchez, who has for the past year been traveling throughout South Florida, around the Americas and beyond, meeting with corporate executives, government leaders and leading entrepreneurs in the technology industry.

It’s all part of building partnerships in a giant initiative called eMerge Americas. Sánchez is CEO of the Technology Foundation of the Americas, the organization founded by tech entrepreneur and visionary Manny Medina to produce the eMerge Americas Techweek conference and spark a movement to establish a technology hub of the Americas in South Florida.

“eMerge Americas is not just an event. It’s a movement that will transform Miami,” said Sánchez, whose career as a technology executive spans 30 years. “I can honestly say that we are transforming thinking, in the way we see ourselves and the way the world sees Miami... I think people are starting to realize how much opportunity there is for our community and the Americas region if we work together.”

The team has been working nonstop to produce and promote eMerge Americas Techweek, coming May 2-6. The conference and anciliary events will bring together industry experts, entrepreneurs and policy makers from around the Americas and world as well as movers and shakers from within South Florida’s technology, government and business communities. Nearly 100 speakers have already been confirmed. A mayoral summit, hackathon, Americas-wide entrepreneur pitch contest, a Smart City Expo, mobile summit, student robotics competition and plenty of parties are also planned. “We have been overwhelmed by the amount of interest from around the world,” Medina told the Tech Bash crowd on Friday.

Most of the events will take place at the Miami Beach Convention Center. Tickets, which begin at $55 for the Expo and $195 for the Summit package with significant early-bird discounts, are selling on emergeamericas.org.

We talked to Sánchez about plans for eMerge, the mission, and her views on how the movement to build a tech hub is progressing.

Q. How will eMerge Americas Techweek differ from other tech conferences?

A. eMerge Americas Techweek is truly embracing the six relevant industry sectors — healthcare, finance, education, government, media/entertainment and logistics/trade — to promote technology and establish centers of excellence in Miami in collaboration with the region. This conference will also celebrate innovation and technology and serve to unite a region.

Q. In your opinion, what are the three hottest topics on the agenda?

A. 1. The excitement around entrepreneurship in Miami and Latin America and the recent activity and investment in this area, 2. the awakening of the gaming industry coming on shore in Miami, and 3. the opportunity that presents itself to establish Centers of Excellence for healthcare and entertainment in Miami.

Q. Who are a couple of the speakers not to be missed, and why?

A. Richard Florida, Atlantic — he’s dynamic and will set the stage for the transformation of a community; Mary Galligan, former head of the Secret Service — an excellent speaker, and focus on cyber security is huge today in the world; Jeff Rosanthal — motivational in building a community of entrepreneurs whose spirit and excitement are felt in the industry today!

Q. Is sponsor support where you hoped it would be?

A. Yes, the sponsors have been fabulous. We targeted the anchor customers of all of the six sectors to include healthcare, finance, education, government, media/entertainment and logistics/trade and have had phenomenal response. They are not only sponsoring the event but extremely engaged and committed to the movement in every capacity.

Q. Besides financial support, what do these partnerships bring to the table?

A. The partnerships that we have engage all of the industry and civic leaders, technology partners who are relevant to the industries, consultants and analysts, incubators, accelerators, financial institutions, community organizations ... They provide a vote of confidence but also a commitment to stay the course in establishing Miami as The Technology Hub of the Americas and support the movement.

Q. How have you involved the tri-county community in its formation?

A. All of the EDOs [Beacon Council, Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance and the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County] are VERY much involved. The associations include the chambers, SFTA, Internet Coast, CIO Council, all of the universities, incubators/accelerators, and the private sector and public sector. This is becoming truly a community initiative.

Q. How can the local community still get involved going forward?

A. Sign up to register to participate in all of the events we will be hosting, and engage in your industry to better understand the impact that technology will have to your business and the community.

Q. Tell me about how a few of the countries in Latin America are participating.

A. Mexico, Colombia and Guatemala, for example, will be bringing some of their mayors, thought leaders, enterprises and entrepreneurs to participate.

Q. And beyond Latin America?

A. Taiwan, Israel, Spain, UK, Canada are all participating as well. Those are the only ones we invited as allies this first year with a focus on Latin America and Caribbean working with the intent to operate in South Florida and Latin America.

Q. What’s been the biggest surprise, good or bad, in the planning of eMerge?

A. The organic nature of eMerge in how it has grown and been received by so many people. The private sector at the highest level across all sectors and the public sector have been overwhelming responsive and supportive. On the other side, every day, I again am reminded how much we have to build awareness in our community of innovation and technology and how it impacts this community and its future.

Q. What are a couple of the latest news developments with the conference itself?

A. The fact that Google, Facebook, Amazon are extremely interested in what we are doing and committed to working with us and several of the other new entrants and industry leaders. The excitement in STEM TECH and rallying the community to sponsor the STEM TECH Olympiad.

Q. Tell me about the STEM TECH Olympiad.

A. This is very exciting. The STEM TECH Olympiad will give students from elementary through college an opportunity to showcase their skills in science, tech, engineering and math — and it will be fun! It will include a LEGO League Challenge, a Battling Robots contest, a video game programing competition, a “green design” challenge and many other events.

Q. Answer this question: The eMerge conference will be a success if . . .

A. ... we succeed in creating an ecosystem, engage both the private and public sectors, and gain acceptance from the countries that in fact Miami is the Technology Hub of the Americas and we can through collaboration build a technology corridor in the Americas.

Q. What’s one thing that may surprise people about eMerge Americas?

A. How the movement has energized our community for what this can become and how much of an economic stimulus this can provide. People outside of Miami get it.

Q. And inside Miami?

A. They are starting to get it. They don’t all understand how accessible technology is to enhance their lives, careers and industries... Our job is to build awareness.

Q. What is the biggest challenge that you see in eMerge Americas?

A. Overcoming the balkanization of the three counties and achieving a higher degree of concerted action aimed toward the goal of eMerge Americas.

Q. You have said this isn’t a local play, it’s a global play. What do you mean by that?

A. Miami as the Gateway to the Americas is a global city that has significant impact in Latin America, Europe, and the USA in commerce and foreign policy. We can help take a leadership role to set standards and policy on technology that has the potential to impact key industries and economies in the countries. For example, cyber security. This is an issue for everyone in the region — how to address cyber terrorism. We as a country can set up standards and get the industry to support it. And it can be done from Miami.

Q. What is the ultimate goal of the Technology Foundation of the Americas?

A. To become the catalyst in the transformation of Miami as The Technology Hub of the Americas and to promote collaboration in the region driving best practices that can evolve into a cohesive strategy to transform our region and communities.

Q. Once the conference is over, how do we as a community keep the movement going?

A. The summits represent the six industries relevant to South Florida, and we have top level executives and thought leaders who today lead these industries on our advisory boards that will carry this forward.

Q. If you could add one ingredient to the South Florida tech community right now to strengthen it, what would it be?

A. A stronger educational system.

Q. OK, you can have two more ingredients. What would they be?

A. Venture capital and the infrastructure investment to support a technology hub in South Florida.

Q. In the past, South Florida’s tech community has tended to be siloed, particularly in terms of tri-county regionalization. Do you think it still is or have you seen progress on that front?

A. Yes and no! I do think that we are still siloed but the change now is that people realize very quickly that this community is advantaged by working as one and is viewed as one outside of South Florida. There is a real interest to collaborate.

Q. How does South Florida’s emerging tech community compare to the experience of some of the others you have worked in, like Austin?

A. I think that we are definitely on to something big. I have lived in SFO and Austin enough to see the transition in those community from the inception. We have not yet created our own tech culture unique to Miami, but that, too, will come.

Q. What is a typical day for you like these days?

A. I literally work 18-20 hour days working with industry and thought leaders to formulate a strategy for the sectors and engaging with the key stakeholders to build on the momentum.

Q. What’s a perfect day?

A. A perfect day is when we are able to secure a partner that truly resonates with our vision.

Diane Sánchez

Position: CEO, Technology Foundation of the Americas, leading operations and outreach efforts. The Foundation is producing eMerge Americas Techweek May 2-6.

Experience: One of the highest-ranking Hispanic women in the information, communications and telecommunications sector in the Americas, Sánchez served as president of global operations and executive VP at global mobile payment provider Mozido. Before that, she was president of Telefónica North America, and served in leadership positions at Terremark Worldwide, Alcatel-Lucent and Global Crossing.

Education: Bachelor’s of science in international business, University of Texas at Austin.

Best advice received: “Do what is right and follow your heart.”