Earlier this year, Miami played host to the Tomorrow Tour, an event series organized by Technical.ly and Comcast. Organizers visited a number of the country’s top, emerging technology hubs – including South Florida – to identify the problems, concerns, and specialties that are unique to each non-Silicon Valley region.
With some exceptions, the organizers found that the top focus areas of each city’s innovation efforts are connected to their pre-existing regional specialties. Washington D.C. tech initiatives and challenges, for example, involve public policy and government. Healthcare and transit are important to Philadelphia, media and finance in New York City, and so on.
Which brings us to Greater Miami.
Though the stakeholders inside our local tech scene are working diligently to show the world that Miami has immense potential in areas like cybersecurity and fintech, it’s hard for outside audiences to make the mental correlation between “tech innovation” and “Miami.”
And we can’t fault them. Even Miami’s most storied and successful business sectors – travel, tourism, hospitality, nightlife, real estate, Latin American trade – arose around our high-value geography. As a result, they are not inherently viewed as research-driven sectors – and rightly so.
The Imposing Power of Perception
Miami faces another issue: branding.
Miami’s technology sector does not align naturally or intuitively with our international brand perception as a place for sun, fun, and a party lifestyle. National media coverage of Miami’s tech scene is proof: “Startups Heat Up the Miami Tech Scene” or “Why Entrepreneurs Are Flocking to South Florida to Start Companies.” Few of the analyses slip by without a mention of beaches, bikinis, or Will Smith’s 1998 single.
Knowing we can never combat that perception entirely, we tend to embrace all of the elements of our identity when positioning the tri-county area as a startup hub. When we recruit, we tout as bonus points our weather, nightlife, relaxed lifestyle, and lower cost of living than New York and the Bay Area – all great reasons for top talent and high-growth companies to come here and stay. At the Tomorrow Tour, South Florida’s diversity and its rapid evolution as a young, growing city emerged as Miami’s tech scene’s key benefits.
It’s the second of those attributes, however – our rapidly-changing, young-and-growing ethos – that brings me the most pause, especially given our community’s ever-present fixation on attracting investor funding.
Moving Beyond “Potential” to Reality
Nearly every discussion of our tech scene addresses Miami’s collective need for capital. Whether asking “How do we get more venture capitalists to Miami?” or “What lessons have you learned from raising your round?” – our collective chase for funding consumes many local founder talks and educational events.
There’s merit behind such discussions, of course. No startup can scale without funding, and experienced investors can be top success drivers for early-stage companies. Just look at the most respected “big four” South Florida startups that have grown into large employers on the backs of hard-earned, high-dollar rounds: Magic Leap, CareCloud, Modernizing Medicine, and OpenEnglish.
In the long term, our community will undoubtedly need more active angel investors, more local venture capital firms, and more accelerator and incubator programs to take root here for us to truly thrive as a startup hub.
But in our efforts to get investors to South Florida, we always seem to circle the discussion back to our potential. As a young and growing city and an even younger tech hub, we want investors to see us as a mold-able market – a still-pliable place of opportunity, not of deeply entrenched legacy thinking or experience.
What’s our most critical challenge? And more importantly, what are the solutions?
Part 2 of Miami’s Technology Manifesto next week will look at the challenges of Miami’s “puberty” problem. Part 3 will offer ideas and solutions.