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A New Startup City: Miami’s Efforts to Create an Inclusive Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

Written by Amanda Maher

Though Miami’s innovation ecosystem is still in its infancy, there are many reasons to be hopeful for its prolonged success.

Over the past few years Miami has experienced a surge in entrepreneurship. When the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC) announced it was opening its second U.S. expansion location in Miami last month, it only solidified this notion.

Miami has innumerable assets that make it an attractive location to do business, from its diverse population and vibrant culture to its comprehensive transportation network that includes direct interstate highway, air, rail and deep-water port access. With its East Coast location and proximity to Latin America, Miami is already a gateway to South and Central America and Europe. Once the Panama Canal expansion is complete, Miami’s importance to the global business community will only increase.

“Miami is the Hong Kong of Latin America. I lived and worked in Hong Kong and it is a place that emerged as the focus point for an entire continent’s business,” said Tim Rowe, founder and CEO of CIC. “We think Miami has that potential.”

The Miami-based Knight Foundation, which focuses primarily on arts, media and innovation, also sees that potential. In the past three years alone, Knight has contributed $16 million in funding to 164 entrepreneurship initiatives in the Miami area.

Funded projects include $2.8 million for The Idea Center at Miami Dade College (MDC). The Idea Center is a business accelerator that combines resources, technical assistance and mentorship to help MDC’s 165,000 students to turn their bold ideas into real business ventures.

MDC isn’t alone in its efforts to support startup companies. Florida International University (FIU) opened its own small business development center in 2014. The University of Miami (UM) created “The Launch Pad,” whose co-curricular programs are designed to bring students, faculty and alumni together from across disciplines and support their entrepreneurial efforts.

UM recently announced it would also offer startup companies pro bono legal services through the UM School of Law. Students will work with entrepreneurs around topics such as forming a business entity, negotiating financial transactions and applying for patents. “We want to help the community by providing free legal services to those very early stage entrepreneurs who otherwise would not be able to get the legal assistance they need,” said Daniel Ravicher, an expert in intellectual property law who will be overseeing the program.

As Miami’s universities double down on investing in entrepreneurship, some are concerned that fledgling companies will leave the region as companies become more successful. “Our biggest challenge in building our ecosystem is keeping our talent and companies from leaving Miami,” noted Steve Luis, a director in FIU’s School of Computing and Information Sciences. The city needs to find creative ways to attract and retain its talent, while ramping up marketing efforts to attract like-minded startup companies. Otherwise, there’s a legitimate fear that the university’s efforts will spin out entrepreneurs who then leave for Silicon Valley, New York or Boston.

That’s why the proliferation of startup spaces and talent development programs has many people in Miami so excited.

In August 2012, shared workspace Pipeline announced it would open its first location in Miami’s Brickell neighborhood. In addition to traditional co-working space, the 14,000 square-foot facility offers private offices and dedicated desks for those who want to be around other entrepreneurs but who need some space to call their own. Pipeline Brickell hosts regular events, like an EarlyShares #CrowdCamp event to discuss crowdfunding for equity in startups.

WeWork, the largest office leaseholder in Manhattan, has also broken into the Miami market. Earlier this year, WeWork opened its first Florida location in South Beach, and recently announced they’d be opening a second, larger location in downtown Miami. Entrepreneurs have access to the global WeWork network, which includes locations in Israel, London and Amsterdam. WeWork has built its brand based on its ability to foster community; when its second Miami location opens, more than 1,000 innovators will have an inspiring and engaging place to gather, create, re-create and innovate.

“The entrepreneurial energy across Miami is palatable and infectious,” said Christian Seale, the founder and managing director of Startupbootcamp. Startupbootcamp is a business accelerator operating in Europe and Asia and focused solely on health care innovations. Through the support of a $2 million grant from the Knight Foundation, Startupbootcamp has chosen Miami as its first U.S. location. Companies will be recruited from around the world for an intensive three-month accelerator program. Each of the ten companies selected each year will receive a minimum $20,000 seed investment and in-kind services from a network of 100 mentors that include Google, PayPal and Amazon.

CIC’s expansion into Miami builds upon this excitement. The facility will be located in the University of Miami’s Life Science & Technology Park and will provide 70,000 square feet of office, co-working and event space with the potential to expand to an additional 50,000 square feet of space in the future. At capacity, CIC Miami will be able to house 500 tech startups.

At the same time, CIC is launching its Venture Café Foundation in Miami. The Venture Café will host public events and spearhead various initiatives aimed at growing the local innovation ecosystem through collaboration with existing organizations.

Miami was ranked second in the nation for new startup activity in 2014 by the Kauffman Index. With the addition of so many programs and workspaces dedicated to entrepreneurs, the movement shows no sign of losing ground.

“When you create an intense cluster … it creates a beacon effect, as this large collection of companies becomes a destination,” said the CIC’s Tim Rowe. “If you are making it more visible to the rest of the world, then more people will pay attention. That’s important because what you need is investors to come and start hunting there.”

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