Miami Looks to Capitalize on Its Regional Connection: Is a “Latinized” Tech Hub Taking Shape?

Miami has been known for years as the de-facto “capital of Latin America.” But some local tech leaders want the city to take on a new title – …

Miami has been known for years as the de-facto “capital of Latin America.” But some local tech leaders want the city to take on a new title – one that reflects a forward leaning vision on tech and innovation. With little of the historical advantages of Boston’s Route 128 corridor, or the giant successes of Silicon Valley, Miami would be firing up its tech hub campaign with a different kind of recipe. Yet efforts are underway to transform Miami into what Susan Amat, co-founder and Executive Director of the University of Miami’s Launch Pad expects to be an influential tech hub for Latin America – over the next  five years.  The Launch Pad also created the Launch Pad Tech Accelerator which is scheduled to start operations in January 2013.  So far, reports Amat, they have received applications from interested developers from all over the world, but they still don’t know who will be moving to Miami.

Stunted Growth

Dr. Jerry Haar, Director of Eugenio Pino and Family Global Entrepreneurship Center at Florida International University (FIU), said, “We attract talent from all over, including Europe,to come here on short-, long-term, and permanent bases.”

This mix can only serve to enrich the talent pool’s DNA, and help to favorably position Miami.  Reasons for tech entrepreneurs to relocate to Miami, according to Haar, include “political and/or economic instability (e.g., Venezuela, Argentina), poor protection of intellectual property, public safety concerns, and the desire to link up with their friends and colleagues in the diaspora (in this case, Miami) with whom they can partner and launch or expand and enterprise.”

However, the stringent visa policies of the US could hinder the ability of some valuable people to contribute to the growth, not only of Miami, but the nation, “US visa policies,” stated Haar, “are morally reprehensible, economically injurious to our nation, and an administrative abomination. Sure, there is the EB-5 (business investor) option –a laborious, lengthy, and expensive path–but for the whole country we are losing out in attracting entrepreneurs and talented people (young and old) that can boost the nation’s competitiveness and fuel economic growth.”

South Florida has increased its IT expertise for serving not just the local community but the rest of the state, the rest of the country, and  in truth, the world.”

Miami Connects

Miami has become increasingly globalized, deepening its connection to the Americas while at the same time broadening its connections to the rest of the world—namely Europe and Asia. Several of the biggest names in the Nearshore industry – including Neoris, Stefanini and CPMBraxis (part of Capgemini) – also have offices in the Miami area. In addition, many LatAm countries have established consultants and trade offices in south Florida, extending relationships between private and public sectors.

“Since the technological revolution has been rapidly spreading and moving up the value chain vis-à-vis Miami’s trading partners, it is only natural that our IT services capabilities, whether in trade, investment, finance and training have been expanding, too.”

With regard to the growth of the Miami tech industry, Haar said, “South Florida has increased its IT expertise for serving not just the local community but the rest of the state, the rest of the country, and  in truth, the world.”

Haar’s organization, The Pino Center, has been instrumental in supporting entrepreneurial endeavors in Miami via its workshops, webinars, mentoring, coaching, business plan competitions, and collaboration with key players and institutions in the entrepreneurial ecosystem of South Florida assists not only start-up companies, but existing ones—particularly early stage entities and they host the Americas Venture Capital Conference, being held December 13-14, the signature event that brings together entrepreneurs and investors in Miami to gain critically important knowledge, network, and do deals.

Ready to Launch

The Launch Pad Tech Accelerator has received close to $1.5 million in public-private sector funding; $1 million from the Miami-Dade County over four years, and $460,000 from the Miami Downtown Development Authority over two years. The accelerator will also award individual grants of $25,000, funded by the county, to selected startup companies.

As encouraging as this is, the question remains – at what point will the accelerator have to obtain funding from individuals who believe in the initiative, and who will they be?

According to Haar, Miami’s tech ventures are being bolstered by the development of an   ecosystem of supporting institutions, “such as universities (FIU is number two nationwide in graduating computer science majors), business organizations such as the Beacon Council and Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce,non-profit institutions and funders (the Knight Foundation being the most prominent), along with early and later-stage companies in addition to start-ups.”

South Florida already has a burgeoning tech industry providing design, big data analytics, platforms, gaming, cloud computing, mobile telephony and applications, cyber-security, ERP and CRM Google, Research in Motion, Microsoft, amongst other services, which acts as an encouraging base for future startups.

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“Miami is an American city that is multicultural, diverse, local and global at the same time,” said Haar. “Some might say a Latinized American city and an Americanized Latin city at the same time. It is in many ways a harbinger of what other large, cosmopolitan cities will look like in the next decade.” That said, other cities in North and South America with long-established as tech hubs could be seen as harbingers of what Miami strives to become in half that time. While strides are being made, there is still a long way to go before “The Gateway to the Americas” will become the tech hub of Latin America.

“We need to harness the positive essence of what we are and help make a good city a great city,” advised Haar.

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