As a result, Silicon Playa brims with a melange of Latin Americans who understand the needs, language, culture, and customs of Hispanics. More than three-quarters of elHerald.com’s 20-member content staff hail from Latin America or Spain, and half of the 60 employees at New York-based Starmedia’s Miami operation are from Latin America.
At Mercadolibre, 15 of the company’s 180 employees worldwide are based in Miami. Among them are natives of Colombia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Argentina, Paraguay, Spain, Venezuela, and Cuba. About one-third of them transferred from Latin America, while the remainder had already relocated to South Florida. “The mix helps us serve the Latin market,” says Mr. Vidaguren.
Despite the plethora of Hispanic talent, brick-and-mortar companies in Miami have long complained of a shortfall in the number of professionals who are truly bilingual. Now some dot-coms are facing a similar shortage. “It is very difficult to find people who can speak, read, write, and edit both languages with the same ease,” says Mr. Legon. True bilingual abilities are not necessary for many jobs at Latin American-oriented dot-coms, however, and some employees speak little or no English.
In terms of networking, many of Silicon Playa’s executives know each other socially and professionally. “On a senior level, there is camaraderie,” says Yupi spokesperson Nerea Alvarez. “Our CEO, Oscar Coen, interacts with other executives and has offered advice to some who have started dot-coms after he did. Still, competitive and confidentiality issues keep up some walls,” Ms. Alvarez adds.
Says Betsy Scolnik, Starmedia’s senior vice-president of strategic corporate development in Miami, “We certainly have gotten to know each other, because we are constantly on flights together. The amount of flying I do is unspeakable. I travel about 70 percent of the time.”
Familiarity and proximity have helped South Florida dot-coms form strategic connections. Mr. Legon, for example, points to elHerald.com’s alliances with three other sites for provision of editorial content – Terra, a successful portal; Salud.com, a health site; and Todobebe.com, a site for expectant and new parents. Yupi has teamed up with Eritmo.com, a Latin music e-tailer. Other Yupi partners include job search site LatPro.com, which offers a free job-seeker service. El Sitio has formed a partnership with Salutia.com, while SportsYa! and Starmedia have announced a strategic alliance to produce a co-branded sports channel through Starmedia.
Growth in the Silicon Playa zone has boosted Miami’s economy and image. Dot-coms represent diversification of the region’s tourism-dominated economy and have added numerous jobs – the recent round of tech company cutbacks notwithstanding. The technology boom has created a cadre of Hispanic Internet executives, managers, and investors who pump money into the local economy, notably in real estate.
Silicon Playa also gives Miami a certain intellectual cachet that it previously lacked, owing to its reputation as a sun-and-fun capital. “Dot-coms are a cerebral endeavor that dovetails with Miami’s service-oriented economy,” says Yupi senior vice-president Gustavo Morles.
Seeking to capitalize on Silicon Playa, Florida economic development officials are touting the Miami area as the e-business capital of Latin America. The State of Florida has created an Internet task force to help lure businesses to the region and has launched a Web site, www.bienvenidosalaflorida.com, which supplies state government forms in Spanish to allow Latin American companies to incorporate their businesses directly over the Internet. The site also helps companies find workers, venture capital, and business service providers. Meanwhile, South Florida dot-com executives have formed the Miami Internet Alliance to promote e-commerce companies doing business with Latin America.
The future-looking dot-com industry has plans for improving Florida’s technical and financial infrastructure to handle Silicon Playa’s traffic. Downtown Miami is slated for a Network Access Point (NAP), the sixth of its kind in the United States. The NAP will serve as a hub for high-speed Internet connections to Latin America. The privately funded $250 million project is expected to start functioning in 2002. On the venture capital front, Florida Atlantic University has opened a new high-tech incubator, while Boca Raton-based Cenetec focuses on bringing new Internet companies to market within six months.
Perhaps the best indication that Silicon Playa has found its identity is the debut of Punto-Com, a new monthly magazine for the region’s Web-savvy beachcombers. The magazine also has a Web site, of course – in both Spanish (www.punto-com.com) and Portuguese (www.ponto-com.com).
Biggest Player on the Beach
Many recognizable names in Hispanic cyberspace started out in Latin America and later opened offices in South Florida. But one with links to the Old World has established itself as a dominant player: Terra Lycos Inc.
Terra Lycos is the result of Spain-based Terra Networks’ acquisition of the U.S. search engine Lycos. The $12.5 billion stock swap was finalized in October 2000. With Lycos under its wing, the combined company calls itself the “the first truly global Internet company,” with operations in 37 countries, according to a company statement. Thanks to a traffic load of 175 million page views per day, Terra Lycos projects annual revenues of about $500 million.
In conjunction with the merger, Spain’s Telefonica, which owned 67 percent of Terra, sold off rights to its holdings for $1.9 billion. Those proceeds, plus a five-year, $1 billion advertising deal with German media conglomerate Bertelsmann, will provide Terra with approximately $3 billion in cash. That makes it one of the most highly capitalized Internet companies in the world – and the financial powerhouse of Silicon Playa.
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