While Miami has gained a worldwide reputation for celebrity-clad beaches, a sexy social scene, now-departed LeBron James, Cuban coffee and a party-all-night mantra, the Magic City is also welcoming a new, more esteemed title: tech startup hub – and an international one at that.
Couple Miami’s moniker as “the gateway to Latin America” with its rapidly-growing entrepreneurial scene, and this South Florida hotspot is on its way to becoming an international Silicon Valley of the East, putting Miami on the map for something other than South Beach hotels, plastic surgery and bikinis.
As it stands, South Florida is already home to a handful of notable tech startups. Miami-based startup YellowPepper, for example – the mastermind behind Yepex, a mobile wallet being launched in Latin America – is making mobile banking a critical payment avenue, beginning with Mexico and Colombia. Boasting the same capabilities as ApplePay, Yepex uses a “token system” that does not require NFC (near-field communication) technology, can be used outside of the U.S. and already helps more than five million customers execute 30+ million mobile transactions a month, a first for Latin America.
Similarly, Miami-based startup Centric Consulting recently landed a top prize at an international Citi competition for its Bluebeak mobile platform, which enables smartphone users to send money to friends, and in turn allows those friends to withdraw funds from an ATM machine without having to use a physical debit card. Centric Consulting was awarded a $20K top prize and a chance for Citi to deploy BlueBeak globally.
Empowering Miami’s startup culture are a series of large-scale conferences, taking place in the Magic City itself, which attract some of the world’s top innovators and forward-thinkers. Most recently, Sime MIA, which took place during last week’s Art Basel Miami 2014, featured political activists, industry leaders, inventors and more, all exploring how technology impacts society within various industries. One standout presentation even invited a volunteer on stage to implant an NFC chip in her hand through a large injection needle, in front of a live audience. Equal parts disturbing and intriguing, the result was one giant leap into the future – now able to open doors and connect with NFC-enabled devices with the wave of a hand, this demonstration proves that we have developed a new type of wearable technology: the human body.
Interestingly, Miami’s common thread in its start-up culture is mobile technology. With experts predicting 1.76 billion active smartphone users globally by the end of 2014, mobile devices are revolutionizing both personal and professional lives. And with a range of non-profit organizations and venture capitalist firms always looking for new ways to support SoFla’s startup scene – like the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which just donated $6 million to 60 startups throughout the city – it looks like Miami’s tech boom is here to stay.
Is Miami, a destination typically known around the world as a leisure and party destination, up to the challenge?