In a recent interview with the New Tropic, Israeli entrepreneur and investor Oren Simanian explained his perception of South Florida in advance of Startup Nation, an event funded by the Knight Foundation to enhance Miami’s civic engagement and profile as a technology-focused startup city. His description:
“Miami is like an 18-year-old guy that has youth, has power, looks good, and he wants to be a serial entrepreneur and he needs to find his way. He’s got good parents to invest in him, good education, a good attitude, but now he has to choose his way. Is he going to hang out at the beach, is he going to get a career, or is he going to be an entrepreneur?
“The outcome depends on his parents, the institutions, the government, the private sector, the academic institutions — if they give the support he will grow. You can’t expect these 18-year-old guys to make all the right decisions. We have to be tolerant of failure, we have to be patient to support it… we don’t need to be the first and most advanced in everything, there is always the room to choose what we’re good at.”
To me, that description is troubling for a number of reasons.
Simanian’s take is that with patience and “parents” who are willing to invest, we can find our direction and “choose what we’re good at.”
At this advanced stage of the game in urban development, however, cities don’t really “choose” what they’re good at, as evidenced by the evolutions of Washington D.C, Philadelphia, and New York City.
Miami: “Yet to Hit Puberty”
At the recent Tomorrow Tour, angel investor and author Kelly Hoey told Miami’s startup stakeholders that “every startup community thinks it’s more mature than it actually is.” In response to an earlier panelist who likened Miami Tech to a “pimply teenager,” Hoey countered that New York is the teen; Miami is yet to hit puberty.
Miami, of course, can stay in the wheelhouse of our existing knowledge base and brand perception – or we can try to build a new one. But it’s a lot harder to have it both ways.
By touting fintech and cybersecurity as Miami’s key growth areas, for example, we’re telling the world that we’re forging new paths rather than innovating within our existing identity. In reality, the number of fintech- and cybersecurity-related startups here remains few, while the number of healthcare-, travel-, and lifestyle-focused startups seems to grow.
Meanwhile, we still want talent and big-league investors to like it here for the reasons everyone likes Miami: the ocean, the eternal-summer scene, the new-frontier sensibility. Join the movement; better yet, be the movement – that’s our hope.
Miami Tech’s Tipping Point
From a PR perspective, I see all of these mixed messages simultaneously emerging and converging – and working against our goal of being taken seriously on the national (or international) technology stages.
When it comes to the collective need for investor capital, our ever-evolving identity isn’t necessarily an asset. We may openly recognize that “Miami is what you want to make of it,” but big-time investors rarely write checks to open books waiting to be written.
With recent funding data showing that just $39.5 million was invested in South Florida companies in the second quarter of 2016, it’s clear that institutional investors aren’t that keen on subsidizing our handsome, rich city while we choose our path. And why should they? Amid talks of a tech bubble, institutional capital is drying up for startups of all stripes, regardless of geography.
For our community to truly mature, we need to stop waiting for outside investors to fund our future. We need to stop thinking of our tech scene as a story ripe to be written with other people’s money… because like it or not, that’s kind of how we got here (see: travel, tourism, hospitality, nightlife, real estate, Latin American trade).
We need to build it ourselves.
Next Wednesday: Part 3 of Miami’s Technology Manifesto will offer ideas and solutions.