Entrepreneurship is on the rise in Miami.
That’s what Steve Case, AOL co-founder and Babson’s 2019 undergraduate Commencement speaker, discovered when he brought his Rise of the Rest bus tour into the city a couple of weeks ago. What Case found in Miami is a startup scene that is diverse, thriving, and infused with a bit of Babson’s entrepreneurial spirit.
Case is on a mission to bring money and attention to entrepreneurial ventures far removed from the usual startup hot spots of California, New York, and Massachusetts. “There are entrepreneurs like me all over the country,” Case told “60 Minutes” in March. “Most people aren’t paying attention to them.”
Case’s visit to Miami culminated in a pitch competition. It featured two ventures that were past participants in Babson’s Women Innovating Now (WIN) Lab®, an accelerator program for women entrepreneurs.
Michelle Abbs, WIN Lab® Miami’s director, said the competition served as a showcase of what Babson and the rest of the city’s close-knit entrepreneurial ecosystem have accomplished.
“There was a lot of pride,” Abbs says of the atmosphere that night. “There was a lot of energy and excitement.”
An internet pioneer who once made the phrase “You’ve Got Mail” an everyday part of American life, Case is now the chairman and CEO of Revolution, a Washington-based investment fund. “When we started Revolution, it was with the philosophy that great companies can start and scale anywhere,” wrote Case on a Revolution blog post. “We believed that Silicon Valley did not have a monopoly on creativity.”
Since 2014, Case has traveled about 10,000 miles in his distinctive red bus, meeting with local leaders and entrepreneurs across the country. Each stop includes a pitch competition featuring the best startups in the area, with the winner receiving a $100,000 investment from Revolution’s $150 million Rise of the Rest Seed Fund.
Miami was the 42nd city Case had visited, but it was much different from the other stops in one important aspect. That became evident when Abbs and other leaders from the city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem met with a Case representative to help plan his upcoming visit. The room for that meeting was filled predominately with women.
“Not only were we all women, but we were a diverse group of women,” says Abbs. “Different backgrounds. Different ages.”
That was a startling contrast to what Case’s ongoing bus tour has encountered in the male-dominated startup scenes in other cities. “That’s something special about Miami,” says Abbs. “We are paying attention to gender and inclusion and diversity.”
The Big Prize
Of the eight local startups in the pitch competition, four were led by women. Of those, two had participated in WIN Lab Miami: Imalac, a venture seeking to improve breast pumping for moms, founded by Noreen Sablotsky and Rachael Kish; and Luxe Fete Social, a dinner party rental service, founded by Nathalie Cadet-James.
Before the competition, another WIN Lab alumna, Maxeme Tuchman, offered advice to applicants. Tuchman’s company, Caribu, the creator of a video call app for families, had won a $100,000 investment in a previous Revolution competition. “We partnered with her and sponsored office hours to any female in the ecosystem,” says Abbs. “She was giving very tailored feedback.”
The ultimate winner of the competition was Lil Roberts of Xendoo, which offers cloud-based bookkeeping. “While she wasn’t a WIN Lab alumna, we were excited to see a female founder take home the big prize,” Abbs says.
Next Stop: Babson
Case was impressed by the entrepreneurs of Miami. “You go to some cities, and they can be a little bit cautious,” he told the Miami Herald. “There’s a hunger here, a scrappiness, a confidence.”
Now that the most recent leg of his Rise of the Rest tour is over, Case will next be making a stop at Babson for Saturday’s Commencement ceremonies.
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