Bolstered by growth, Miami’s tech leadership eyes equity, sea level rise

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Miami leaders want to ensure everyone enjoys the spoils of the city's tech and finance boom.

Miami’s technology and financial sectors are booming. Now, the city’s tech leadership wants to harness that growth to tackle pressing local problems, from sea level rise and steep housing costs to inequity in access and opportunity for women- and minority-owned businesses.

More than a year since Miami Mayor Francis Suarez’s famous “How can I help?” tweet drew national attention from the increasingly interlocking tech and finance sectors, South Florida remains abuzz with activity and growth.

Tech job postings in the Greater Miami area — Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties — have skyrocketed, far outpacing other major metropolitan areas, according to a Computing Technology Industry Association analysis of labor insights data.

The Miami metropolitan area also saw 22% growth in venture capital dollars as major money firms like Founders Fund, General Catalyst, SoftBank and Tiger Global attracted investors, making the region ninth in total funds invested, business analytics company CB Insights found.

Combine that with Miami’s pro-crypto policies — including being home to the first municipal cryptocurrency, MiamiCoin, whose potential Suarez likened to that of a newly tapped oil well — and the city is succeeding in being a tech beacon and a so-called “capitol of capital,” said Saif Ishoof, Suarez’s senior innovation and technology adviser.

To keep the momentum going, Ishoof said Miami must ensure there’s a sense of accessibility between tech organizations, local talent and local opportunities, which together allow for future upscaling.

That’s where initiatives like the Venture Miami Opportunity Program come in. The four-month-old program, funded with a $150,000 JPMorgan Chase grant, is a partnership between the city and Florida International University. Black Professionals Network founder Kenasha Paul leads the program.

Its goal: supporting a cohort of female founders of color in growing their recurring annual revenue and accessing capital — potentially millions of dollars — to scale up their businesses through intensive management and leadership training.

“As we like to say at Venture Miami, diversity, equity and inclusion in Miami is our region’s core competitive advantage,” said Ishoof, who also works as vice president for FIU’s Office of Engagement. “But it requires intentionality.”

Ishoof believes Miami can harness technology to make the city a leader in dealing with the next public health crisis and confronting climate change, a problem for which the “Magic City” is on the front line.

That, he said, will require new and continued investment in local academic institutions.

“Our institutions will graduate record numbers of interdisciplinary technologists prepared to address the coming challenges and build their own firms,” he said. “I also think we will see this movement scale our local minority-owned ventures as we continue to intentionally focus on becoming the most diverse and inclusive tech hub in the world.”

Suarez launched Venture Miami in February with Ishoof at the helm. Ishoof said he has since organized a team of “extraordinary professionals” who “are truly the best in our community at understanding how to support funders, founders, job seekers and businesses.”

The group, which has no shortage of projects, is “getting ready to unlock the power of Web3 and take Miami to the next level,” Ishoof said.

Also called Web 3.0, Web3 is a conceptualized new internet that would incorporate key aspects of cryptocurrency, such as decentralization and blockchain technologies. Coined by Ethereum co-founder Gavin Wood in 2014, proponents see Web3 as a way to possibly upend the current internet model that has been in place nearly two decades and wrest content and information control from a small number of “Big Tech” companies.

The city also intends to use MiamiCoin to help fund free or affordable workforce development programs.

“And next year, we’re going to work on tackling everyday challenges Miamians are facing, preparing more of our locals to make and take these new opportunities in Miami and stay in Miami — and keeping our doors open to inbound capital,” Ishoof said.

Over the last couple years, scores of tech and finance companies have either opened new offices and headquarters in South Florida or sizably increased their footprints in the area. Among them: cryptocurrency, blockchain and nonfungible token companies Glozal, Orca Capital, BlockTower Capital, Blockchain.com, Compass Mining, Bit Digital and Okcoin; venture capital and private equity firms Thomas Bravo, Founders Fund, Atomic, Loon Advisors and Apollo Global Management; fintech companies Milo, Legend Advance, Majority and OKY; hedge funds D1 Capital Partners, Schonfeld, Point72 and Moore Capital Management; tech consultants Slalom, Nucleus Research and Amberdata; augmented and virtual reality companies Red 6 and Aexlab; tech companies Microsoft and Pipe; e-commerce businesses Loupe and Shyft Moving; health tech companies Papa Health, Olios Health and BraveHeart Wireless; wealth managers Silicon Valley Bank and HPS Partners; music streamers like Unitea and Spotify; and others like Motorsport Network, REEF, Matrix Renewables, Axela Technologies, EveryMundo, Shiftpixy, Uber, Kaseya and Blackstone Group.

“Francis Suarez was open to ideas, and it was a real dialogue,” said serial entrepreneur and investor Jack Abraham, the founder and CEO of investment fund Atomic, among many other companies.

In May, Atomic and Founders Fund inked long-term leases for office space in Wynwood, one of the city’s hottest neighborhoods and the place Abraham believes should be the heart of Miami’s tech community.

Asked about Miami’s local talent pool for tech, Abraham said the city still has ground to cover before it can compete with Silicon Valley.

“Very cutting-edge — artificial intelligence or the latest data science — you might need to find that talent from specific parts of the (San Francisco) Bay Area or other parts of the country,” he said. “But largely, I think there is a great talent base to pull from here.”

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.



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