-- On the horizon: FIU's third Americas Venture Capital Conference is set for December, a few days after Art Basel, and will be redesigned to be more like a TED conference, with thought leaders brought in from around the world, plus a shark tank, hackathon and more focus on networking. SuperConf will be back in late February, linking investors from inside and outside the region with South Florida's start-ups. The nonprofit Entrepreneur's Organization, or EO, is bringing its global annual meeting to Miami Beach's Fontainebleau next spring. Manny Medina, who founded, grew and exited Terremark, is spearheading a community effort to establish a large tech conference in Miami beginning in May 2014.
"We're about to hit the point where the ecosystem takes off. We're seeing a lot of momentum," says Brian Breslin, who has led the largest tech meet-up group in South Florida, Refresh Miami, since 2006. To sustain the momentum, he believes, government, the private sector and the entrepreneurial community need to come together and make growing a tech ecosystem a priority.
To be sure, start-up ecosystems have been sprouting up all over the country far from the mecca of Silicon Valley. Notable ones include Boulder, Austin and New York City. "We can take a page from their playbook," says Juan Pablo Cappello, an entrepreneur, investor and lawyer who recently co-founded a local angel network and is leading other efforts to bring investors and entrepreneurs together.
No doubt a healthy ecosystem to nurture the creation of high-growth technology businesses is needed, with the economy still underperforming, unemployment in South Florida higher than the state and national averages and brain drain still a key concern.
The tech industry remains a tiny portion of South Florida's economy compared to mega-employers like hospitality, healthcare and finance. The information sector in Miami-Dade County ranked 19th out of 20 industries in terms of the number of employees, yet the 2011 average wage in that sector was nearly $80,000, well above the over-all average of $45,000, according to the county's economic department. Growth of the tech sector is important because the economy at large is still dominated by very small businesses.
"We have more micro businesses, 1-10 people, than anywhere in the country," says Amat, who also leads Startup Florida, part of the public-private national initiative called Startup America. "Why don't more of them grow? They don't have access to resources and access to customers and investors who will take chances on them."
Launch Pad's accelerator will accept 10 companies in three industries that already are community sectors: tourism/hospitality, creative (arts, design, music) and healthcare, Amat says. It will also "adopt" 25 additional start-ups as mentees with workshops, programming and inexpensive office space near the accelerator.
This newest accelerator will join Incubate Miami in downtown Miami, which launched its fall Accelerator class last month with six companies and has graduated 18. On the incubator front, the C. Scott Ellington Technology Business Incubator next to Florida Atlantic University, open since 2000, expanded from 10,000 to 14,000 square feet this summer and now holds 22 start-ups and an innovation lab for FAU students to work on their own invention or partner with private industry on a project. The incubator is already in talks to expand again, says Andrew Duffell, CEO of the Research Park at Florida Atlantic University, who also oversees the incubator with the Enterprise Development Corporation of South Florida.
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