For the past year through his new role at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Matt Haggman has been a man on a mission -- to help put Miami's startup community on the map.
As the Knight Foundation's Miami program director, Haggman has been the face of the foundation's new efforts to accelerate a technology hub and startup community in South Florida. Haggman and Ben Wirz, Knight's director of business consulting, set out to make foundation investments in key areas so that entrepreneurs would have places to meet, collaborate and learn and programs and networks offering access to mentorship, training and investor funding. The ultimate goal is a robust, sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem.
The office's biggest investment so far: $2 million over five years, to bring Endeavor, the global nonprofit, to Miami to mentor, promote and accelerate high-impact entrepreneurs. Endeavor, which launched in Latin America in the late '90s and now has operations in 14 countries around the world, chose Miami for its first U.S. office. Haggman said it all started with a get-to-know-one-another meeting with Peter Kellner, the co-founder of Endeavor, who now lives in South Florida, in the lobby of a Miami Beach hotel last spring. With more study, which included a trip to Mexico City to interview entrepreneurs, leaders and mentors involved with the program, "I became convinced this is the perfect thing for Miami," said Haggman, a former Miami Herald reporter.
The foundation has also invested in a co-working campus, The LAB Miami in Wynwood, and has been sponsoring dozens of events, contests and organizations around town. For nearly a year, Haggman and Richard Florida, the urban affairs expert and author, had been discussing and planning the recent Startup City: Miami, a day-long event that drew more than 1,000 people. And there's more to come: "We're just getting started," Haggman says.
Haggman answered some questions recently about the Knight Foundation's current projects in entrepreneurship and offered some thoughts about the entrepreneurial community.
Q. Let's go back a little bit. Why did the Knight Foundation's Miami office choose entrepreneurship as a focus?
A. Our mission at Knight Foundation is helping create more informed and engaged communities. With that in mind, in each city we work, we try to develop a locally-focused initiative that builds on trends in that particular city and in an area where we can have an impact.
For the past five years, we've helped develop the local arts scene in Miami. As we looked around a year ago, we saw a great opportunity in widening our lens on the creative community to focus on helping build the startup and entrepreneurial community -- from social entrepreneurs to for-profit efforts.
Q. The Knight Foundation seems to be a sponsor of entrepreneurship events all over town, from the AT&T Hackathon, the NewME Pop-up Accelerator, TekFight, HackDay and the Americas Venture Capital Conference to the recent Startup City: Miami, last week's SuperConf and many others. Is that by design?
A. Yes, it is by design. One of the pillars of our strategy is to make it easier for entrepreneurs to connect, exchange ideas and learn from each other. A fundamental challenge is that we as a community are siloed and quite fragmented, yet the elements are all here. To remedy that, we're looking to increase the frequency, quality and variety of convenings in the startup community.
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