“Making the city more of a place where ideas are built.”
That’s the goal of the Knight Foundation’s efforts to help Miami, and the broader South Florida region, develop into a place where bright young minds with solid tech business plans feel they can thrive – without having to take their talents to the big, better-funded tech hubs like the Silicon Valley and the Silicon Prairie. In other words, a city with a strong technology start-up scene.
Then perhaps Miami can be known for more than nightclubs, badly-behaved celebrities, dysfunctional elections and general weirdness, something we have written about before on this blog.
The Knight Foundation is the principal sponsor of SuperConf, a locally-grown Web design and development conference that brings together programmers, entrepreneurs and investors in the hope of helping build a new tech hub here in South Florida. It kicked off yesterday and wraps up tonight at the Knight Center downtown.
One of the conference’s most talked-about and anticipated events is the Startup Blastoff, where recently-launched companies compete for $22K in cash and prizes.
Some of the great startups vying for the honor include Gui.de, which was founded by a good friend of mine, Freddie Laker Jr. His start-up’s technology turns online news and blogs into video for consumption when reading isn’t possible. There’s also Kimetric, a cloud-based analytics and digital retail display provider, and Vynilfy, which helps old-school record enthusiasts share their collections online.
The foundation, in collaboration with The Atlantic and urban-affairs expert and author Richard Florida, also launched Startup City: Miami, a day-long event on Feb. 13 where tech-startup scene thought leaders – which this year included Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh – shared their experiences and insights.
Think about all start-up hubs across the country: San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Boston and the Denver/Boulder area. They’re all great urban centers with a vibrant street-level life. Both Florida and Hsieh believe fostering a strong urban culture creates a natural breeding ground for the constant networking that characterizes a great startup culture.
And I would have to agree. South Florida is better positioned than ever for this to happen.
Miami Herald startup columnist Nancy Dahlberg recently identified what may be the biggest hurdle in Miami right now: the lack of a strong, reliable network of tech-focused angel investors and venture capitalists who understand the challenges involved in getting a startup off the ground and turning a profit.
But even that is changing incrementally. There’s Accelerated Growth Partners, the Miami Innovation Fund, the Micro Venture Capital Club, which pools investments of as little as $1,000, and, most recently, UM’s Launch Pad Tech Accelerator, which gives $25,000 to companies accepted into the program.
In Miami, as in any city, positive change can be frustratingly slow to take hold. But it’s clear that growing numbers of stakeholders have faith that in today’s South Florida lies a future tech center that can hold its own among the country’s startup hotspots.
And if they believe it, I can too.