Startup City: Miami’s Emerging Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

Miami

If tasked with naming entrepreneurial cities, a few startup stalwarts might top your list: San Francisco. Boston. New York.

But, a new hub has emerged far from the sphere of Silicon Valley or the bustling Northeast. A coastal city where the startup scene is just as hot as the temperature, with an ever-increasing number of new ventures and opportunities for entrepreneurs.

That place? Miami.

The south Florida city was No. 1 on the Kauffman Foundation’s 2017 Index of Startup Activity, a measurement of new business creation in the country’s 40 largest metro regions. To measure startup activity, the Kauffman index weighed three dimensions: the rate of new entrepreneurs opening businesses in any given month, the percentage of those driven by “opportunity” rather than “necessity,” and the number of newly created businesses that employ at least one other person.

More proof of Miami’s budding entrepreneurial ecosystem: Florida was named one of the top 10 best states to start a business by WalletHub. The ranking was based on a WalletHub analysis of business environment, access to resources, and business costs from all 50 states. Florida earned the sixth spot overall, and had the third-highest average growth in number of small businesses.

There is, of course, a catch. The region’s startup resource availability hasn’t quite caught up with its increase in new ventures. The WalletHub study ranked Florida No. 20 overall for “access to resources,” based on metrics including financing accessibility and venture investment per capita.

To learn more about Miami’s emerging entrepreneurial ecosystem, we talked with Melissa Medina Jimenez, a fixture in the city’s startup community. She is the president of eMerge Americas, a large global technology conference that takes place annually in Miami.

Bringing together entrepreneurs, investors, and business and government leaders, eMerge launched in 2014. This year’s event drew more than 16,000 attendees. “We have grown significantly,” says Jimenez.

People Feel Welcome

Jimenez grew up in Miami, and she says several factors make the area an attractive place for entrepreneurs to launch their businesses. For starters, she points to Miami’s warm and welcoming environment.

“Miami is a community that has been built by immigrants and led by immigrants. That creates an environment of diversity and inclusion. That makes all people feel welcome,” she says. “We are not trying to compete with Silicon Valley, Austin, or Boston. We are offering another launch pad for these entrepreneurs.”

Over the last 10 years or so, a number of incubators, accelerators, co-working spaces, workshops, and organizations supporting entrepreneurs have sprung up in the city. “There are a lot more resources for entrepreneurs to scale their businesses,” says Jimenez.

A big reason for this is the Knight Foundation, a national foundation that invests in journalism, the arts, and communities. The foundation has poured millions of dollars into the city’s startup ecosystem. It was one of eMerge’s founding partners. “They financially support a lot of entrepreneurial activities in Miami,” says Jimenez. “If it wasn’t for them, it would have been difficult for Miami to ramp up as fast as it has.”

Miami also offers low taxes and, lest we forget, amazing weather and beaches. “It’s a beautiful city,” Jimenez says. “Combine a city where most people like to vacation, with the resources and the programming for entrepreneurs to scale their businesses, and that creates the perfect ingredients for entrepreneurs to thrive.”

The Babson Connection

Not that the city is without challenges. The entrepreneurial ecosystem is still fairly new, and so as the WalletHub analysis alluded to, finding investors can be an issue. “We need more funding and more venture capital to come into Miami,” Jimenez says. “It has been increasing, but it’s something we need more of.”

Beyond her work at eMerge, Jimenez also is on the board of Babson’s Miami Women Innovating Now (WIN) Lab, a venture accelerator for women entrepreneurs. She is pleased that Babson, which offers courses in Miami, has created such a strong presence in the area in recent years.

“The fact that Babson has planted a flag in Miami has really helped foster entrepreneurship,” she says. “They realize the opportunity in Miami, and for us, it’s amazing to have them here. They are the leaders in entrepreneurship.”

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