Miami’s Ability To Compete Culturally Is One Of The Ways It Attracts New Startups: Mayor Suarez

Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
Written by Ebony Grimsley-Vaz

Miami, often considered the gateway to Latin America, played host to Unbound, a two-day conference highlighting up-and-coming startups from Colombia and the local area, held at the Mana Wynwood Convention Center.

Miami’s ability to compete culturally is one of the ways it attracts new startups, said Miami Mayor Francis Suarez during a fireside chat with Unbound Miami CEO Daniel Seal.

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The city ranks No. 1 in the U.S. for startup density, according to the 2017 Kauffman Foundation report.

South Florida is pushing for more innovation, encouraging tech companies to grow and move to the region, such as the bid for Amazon’s second headquarters in the area. The Oct. 30 and Oct. 31 conference attracted a diverse group of attendees including startup founders, members of large tech companies such as Google, Twitter, Verizon, and IBM, and representatives of entrepreneurial and government organizations.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, right, and Miami Mayor Francis X. Suarez, center, meet and greet residents of Liberty City, as they tour the neighborhood and discuss ways to curb gun violence plaguing the community on Friday, July 6, 2018, in the Liberty City neighborhood of Miami. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Many of the startups and entrepreneurs in attendance were connected through organizations such as The Knight Foundation, Miami Made, The Lab Miami and more.

“In comparison to Silicon Valley, the most unique aspect from the conference and its attendees and exhibitors was the community vibe,” said Nikki Turner, founder and managing director of The CFO District, a consulting firm that works with Silicon Valley companies. “It’s as if a large company acquired these startups in bulk for the perfect ecosystem to advance innovation locally and to rival other major tech hubs.”

Most can agree Silicon Valley has a way to go regarding inclusion. Discussions at Unbound focused on how to make Miami’s asset — its diverse innovation scene — more noticeable.

Miami
(Unbound attendee and tech enthusiast, Taqee Vernon, tries out local Miami startups Xennial Digital’s virtual reality environment.)

 

Leigh-Ann Buchanan, the founding executive director of Venture Café Miami and moderator for the session, “Breaking Innovation Barriers in South Florida,” reminded attendees of the area’s growth for startups. It’s the No. 1 city in the U.S. for startup density, according to the 2017 Kauffman Foundation report.

“Should we (Miami) be benchmarking against Silicon Valley or focus on our own value proposition?” Buchanan asked a panel  that included City of Doral Mayor, Juan Carlos Bermudez (managing director of Endeavor Miami), Laura Maydón (director of the Economic Development Department for Coral Gables), Pamela Fuertes (COO of TheVentureCity, Santiago), Canalejo Lasarte, and Susan Amat (CEO of Venture Hive).

“We’re still in the early stages,” said panelist Maydón. “We’ve grown, but we still need to demonstrate as an ecosystem our companies can grow, and we have the resources to help them accelerate.”

Susan Amat shared her frustration with Miami being constantly compared to Silicon Valley.

“We’ve been talking about if Miami is the next Silicon Valley for over a decade,” Amat said. “It is the most annoying question I can think of. Miami has demographics and really unique value propositions no other country in the world has.

“And as a starting point for foreign companies to come in and be able to not just test and validate the U.S. market and Latin American market opportunities, but to understand what the U.S. demographics are going to look like in 15-20 years and prepare for that properly, no one else has that value proposition.” Additionally, she said, the area keeps going back to “are we the next tech hub?” when it doesn’t matter. “Entrepreneurs should just build good companies.”

While the panelists of the Breaking Innovation Barriers panelists focused on the startup ecosystem, the panelist of the Tri-County Collaboration discussed its unique teamwork on bidding for Amazon’s second headquarters in Miami.

The panel consisted of moderator Mary Dorsett (ditor of Tropicult), David Coddington (vice president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance), Manuel A. Mencia (SVP International Trade and Development of Enterprise Florida, Inc.), Michael Finney (president and CEO of Miami-Dade Beacon Council), and Shereena Coleman (VP of business facilitation at the Palm Beach County Inc.)

Each provided a perspective into how their organization approached the Amazon bid.

“Government plays an important role and becomes an enabler of (a technological revolution) to happen,” Fenney said.

Unbound Miami participants got to meet 50 startup founders based in Colombia and Miami. Out of the 50, three had Black tech founders: 500gourdes, GovLia and Kairos.

The Colombian government sponsored around 80 Colombian entrepreneurs to participate in a matchmaking activity with U.S. companies.

Unbound, while on par with most innovation events, had a strong Miami commercial vibe throughout. It constantly praised the area with little discussion on innovation in other regions of the state or U.S. Many of the sessions which focused on South Florida and its ecosystem didn’t do deep dives into innovative ways to tackle concerns made by residents.

Additionally, there was not much discussion on the recent CBRE report, “Scoring Tech Talent in North America 2018” which showed Tampa and Orlando ranked higher than Miami in tech talent metrics, nor in-depth discussions on how to create affordable housing, cost of living, easing traffic nor plans to overcome the rising sea levels.

However, Unbound found a way to connect with individuals throughout the state and beyond to formulate a unique and diverse attendance in languages spoken, race and roles within the tech industry. Unbound holds festivals in London, Singapore, Bahrain, and Miami, providing a glimpse at the high-level talking points of the tech innovators in those cities.