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Miami’s Technology Manifesto Part 3: Drive the Narrative & Turn Potential Into Reality

Sep 28, 2016 / By Vanessa Horwell

In Public Relations, we talk a lot about “driving the narrative” – using media visibility to tell a brand’s story to the world.

But it’s not yet time for “Miami Tech” to do any storytelling; we still have a lot of growing up to if we want to be taken seriously as a vital and innovative technology hub.

The efforts of the Knight Foundation, local angel investor groups, top entrepreneurs, and various accelerator/incubator programs are a great start at establishing Miami’s technology identity and voice. But before we expect investors to come here, we have a lot more work to do here.

  • Truly Do Our (Due) Diligence: The scandals simply have to stop. Every incidence of an investor duping scheme or the ouster of someone who lied about their background negates the massive amounts of good work being done by smart people in this community. It’s up to all of us inside #MiamiTech to do our own due diligence and weed out bad apples before this stuff makes headlines. Otherwise, the good apples will go elsewhere.
  • Put the Lifestyle Stuff Aside: People party everywhere, OK? And yes, the beach and the weather are great. That’s why I am here. But if anyone believes the best thing about working in Miami is living here, then they do not understand work. Miami may be able to attract top talent over a trip to the beach and a “work hard, play hard” pitch, but we can’t retain talent unless we build solid, good-growth companies that can provide long-term advancement opportunities.
  • Focus on the Fundamentals, not the Funding: When it comes to our “big four” technology startup successes (Magic Leap, CareCloud, Modernizing Medicine, and OpenEnglish), the businesses deserve less recognition for their funding than for the traction that helped them secure it. As a friend of mine in private equity recently put it, when it comes to fundamentals and funding, the chicken is the egg: money follows viable companies, period. If we want to be taken seriously as a startup ecosystem, we have to stop scrambling the funding and the successful traction.
  • Prioritize Academic Involvement: Oren Simanian (quoted in Part 2 about Miami’s need to choose its future) is right about the importance of partnerships – especially when it comes to finding greater alignment between our educational ecosystem and our entrepreneurs.

Amazing hurricane research is happening at Florida International University, and the University of Miami is renowned for its marine science and atmospheric research. Why aren’t we pursuing stronger economic-growth partnerships around those initiatives? But if the highest any Florida university ranks nationally is #48 for top computer science programs (U.S. News & World Report), why aren’t our state’s colleges investing more in strong computer science training programs so that we can produce our own programmers and technical expertise?

Making stronger connections among our universities and our professional-employer knowledge base will be key to Miami’s long-term growth. As an example, I present Akron, Ohio. The Atlantic recently pointed out that the Rubber City’s “many small polymer companies now employ more people than the big tire companies did at the height of their dominance,” thanks in part to economic development initiatives, research programs and public-private partnerships backed by the University of Akron.

Potential Needs to Become Reality
Ultimately, for Miami’s technology scene to become a sophisticated startup ecosystem, we need to recognize that investors will only truly want to be here to leverage and benefit from high-growth, high-impact companies we’re building – not the “potential” of our community at large.

We do not want investors to perceive our tech scene as an aimless 18-year-old trust-funder who cannot find his focus. We want them to see us a recent, energetic college grad with a few internships under her belt, who just needs some mentorship and equity capital to help her business idea take off.

Admittedly that future is far ahead of us – just as it is for all of the other tech hubs outside the Bay Area.

As we advance our city past adolescence, I hope we’ll spend a lot more time building a brand we can be proud of instead of letting a mixed message (and fantasies of outside funding) shape the future of our startup scene and technology economy.

Vanessa

Horwell

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