By Wifredo Fernández
Where do you go when you have an idea in Miami? How do you find talent, connect with like-minded people or investors, get advice from other entrepreneurs and learn new skills? Those questions motivated Danny Lafuente and me in the spring of 2011 when we created a space to experiment, a LAB if you will, for Miami.
We’ve seen that grow into an incredible space for innovation. Now, we believe it’s time for someone else to bring a new perspective, and new ideas, to what has become an essential part of Miami’s startup community. Danny and I are stepping back, though we will remain involved in The LAB as ambassadors-in-residence, and I will join the board. Our fundamental vision, though, remains very much a part of The LAB’s future.
Entrepreneurs set out to solve problems that they themselves experience. From the beginning, we wanted to provide a place that would help when they encounter those obstacles in Miami. In the summer of 2011 we brought on our third co-founder, Elisa Rodriguez-Vila, a brilliant creative mind who gave our concept a unique identity, developing a beautiful brand, to facilitate this. At the time there were many signals of a strong, budding community: RefreshMiami, Incubate Miami, the Launch Pad, the Americas Venture Capital Conference, and the perennial institution of transformational leadership, Knight Foundation. For the next year, we waded into the community to determine local needs, hear feedback and validate that people actually wanted such a space. After countless meetups, events, coffees, beers and mentorship sessions, we found a resounding yes.
A few things happened that following spring. First, we lost the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge. Some would have been discouraged, but we moved on immediately. Secondly, we threw a Hail Mary and applied to the Knight Arts Challenge with an idea for an Art Hackathon (a LAB and YoungArts collaboration coming later this year). In parallel to that application, we bootstrapped and signed on a 700-square-foot space at The Wynwood Building, with about a month of cushion in the bank. We built the furniture ourselves out of $300 worth of wood and shipping pallets. Before we opened our doors, a man named Matt Haggman paid us a visit. With his reporter’s notebook and pen in hand, he listened to our vision of an entrepreneurial Miami. Clearly we were on the same wavelength.
In the summer of 2012 we opened our doors. Quickly we filled the space with 20 members, some who are still with us, such as Shaun Abrahamson (Urban.Us), Ernie Hsiung (Code for Miami) and Ric Herrero (MIAMade). In the evenings, we offered space for free workshops and meetup groups. We finally met a group of investors and others who shared our vision for a bigger campus. Together with Matt, Ben Wirz, Marco Giberti, Daniel Echavarria, Jonathan Mirabito, Juan Pablo Cappello, Faquiry Diaz Cala and Boris Hirmas Said, we raised $650,000 to move to 10,000 square feet at 400 NW 26th St.
After a few weeks lost in the permitting process because the city thought we were an actual medical lab, we started the buildout. During Art Basel, we hosted HackDay and Wayra Global demoDay, two key events that set the tone for the next 18 months. We welcomed our first members in February and on March 2, held the Cirque du Cowork, our community-wide opening, where over 700 people came out for a Knight Foundation IdeaJam and startups pitching in a dunk tank.
What would ensue in 2013 was incredible. We were a part of over 200 events and welcomed over 23,000 individuals to our campus. From civic hackathons and two PayPal Battlehacks to Ruby-on-Rails and Web development courses, 3-D printing workshops, numerous panels and speakers, film screenings, farmers markets and hybrid poetry/ballet performances, it was a diverse lineup of programming that showed the creative and entrepreneurial spirit of Miami.
We also held many programs for youth, such as the Miami Mini Maker Faire, exposing them to new technologies, for which the Miami-Dade County Public School Board recently honored us. Wyncode has kicked off its first cohort. This summer we’ll host the inaugural Wynwood Maker Camp as well as the first Network for Teach Entrepreneurs Gentech program.
Our impact in our first year at our current location was only made possible by the sweat of countless community members. Everything we have done has always been collaborative, which is a testament to the drive and passion of the leaders we have here in Miami.
Here we are almost halfway through 2014, two years after our first meeting with Matt. We are home to amazing members such as LearnerNation, RefreshMiami, LiveNinja, Kairos, Square, Rackspace, Flomio, MasterCard, Klangbox.fm, pFunkMedia, Akerman Senterfitt and Wyncode, to name a few of our 175 innovators. So, what’s next?
For Danny and myself, we’ve built the platform that we had always envisioned. Our goal was always to have a space in Miami where we could build ideas and explore new opportunities, learn new skills and meet like-minded people, and that’s what we’ll continue to do. We’re ready to have a new entrepreneur emerge and lead the day-to-day management and operations of The LAB. We’re excited to see the campus evolve, changing with every member and event. We look forward to seeing who steps up to the challenge and continues to innovate and experiment. For all those who have helped The LAB and contributed to this point and beyond, we thank you. As always, our success is the success of the Miami community.
Wifredo Fernández is co-founder of The LAB Miami, a co-working space in Wynwood, in which Knight Foundation invested to provide a place for South Florida’s entrepreneurs, makers and technologists to explore ideas and build connections.
Posted May 12, 2014