eMerge Magazine Volume 1

Page 1

eMerge

PREMIERE ISSUE volume 1

The Changing Face of Tech Transforming Miami into a Global Tech Hub


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Contents

12

Welcome

As the eMerge Americas 2022 tech conference kicks off, the new eMerge Magazine celebrates Miami’s burgeoning and diverse tech community while highlighting all the valuable data and insights eMerge followers have come to expect.

14

eMerge Insights

Recent record-setting numbers within South Florida venture capital prove that the Miami Movement is real and booming.

32

eMerging Spotlights

Key supporters and sponsors of eMerge Americas provide firsthand accounts as to why they believe Miami is the city of the future.

70

eMerging Entrepreneurs

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TAKE eMERGE MAGAZINE ON THE GO

NICK MOLINA/BLINDLIGHT STUDIO

South Florida is home to myriad entrepreneurs and innovators. We get to know a few local business owners and trendsetters as they utilize their companies to make a difference in our community and in the tech industry at large.


62 Features 38

The New Wave

A stampede of new technology, venture capital, private equity, and many other business industries — lured away from Silicon Valley and Manhattan — are changing the face of Miami, driving unprecedented innovation, technology, and philanthropy.

46

Strength in Numbers

Miami’s female tech leaders put their heads together to tackle a male-dominated industry and influence positive change.

54

54

Techonomics

Cryptocurrency. Blockchain. NFTs. These new tech trends are changing the face of business. We break down what it all means and provide tips on how the everyday business owner take advantage of their benefits.

62

Tech Support

Miami’s pro-business ecosystem is the direct result of committed and hardworking government figures, including City of Miami Mayor Francis X. Suarez and Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.

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PREMIERE ISSUE volume 1

PRESIDENT & PUBLISHER MARISA BEAZEL EXECUTIVE OPERATIONS DIRECTOR GIOVANNA SANCHEZ CONTENT + CREATIVE Editorial Director Desirée Blanco Creative Director Elizabeth Carlisle Contributors Lauren Comander, Nancy Dahlberg, Dirk DeSouza, Doreen Hemlock, Bill Kearney PRODUCTION Vice President, Production & Operations Gus Fernandez Production Manager Luisa Zelaya ADVERTISING + GENERAL INQUIRIES Senior Sales Director Cristiana Glassford, cglassford@havashouseinc.com Senior Sales Director Ewald Fuchs, efuchs@havashouseinc.com DIGITAL + SOCIAL MEDIA Manager, Social Media & Communication Ingrid Martinez Director of Digital Operations Abe Zarran LEGAL + FINANCE Vice President, Finance & Administration Lori Sundermier Business Affairs Manager Justin Berezin HUMAN RESOURCES Director, People and Engagement Lina Ortiz REPUBLICA HAVAS Chairman & CEO Jorge A. Plasencia President & CCO Luis Casamayor Executive Vice President & General Manager Anthony Bianco

2333 Ponce de Leon, Ste 900, Coral Gables, Florida 33134 Tel: 305-407-8568 Web: emergeamericas.com

2153 Coral Way Miami, Florida 33145 Tel: 786-347-4700 Web: havashouseinc.com

FOLLOW US @emergeamericas for the latest news, events, and information. Join the conversation with #emergeamericasmag.


A WORLD-CLASS CONVENTION C E N T E R I N M I A M I B E AC H

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Contact Carol Motley, SVP of Convention Sales and Services at Cmotley@GMCVB.com for assistance


/ Welcome

Letter from the Team

S

ince the very beginning in 2014, eMerge Americas has been a platform dedicated to helping foster a thriving and diverse tech ecosystem. First and foremost, we do this by convening a broad base of stakeholders — from startup founders to investors, academia to corporate and government leaders, and more. Additionally, we’re connecting the dots between entrepreneurs, capital, and talent pipelines. And, lastly, we’re tracking the data and telling the stories of how South Florida and the region as a whole is transforming. To this end, our new eMerge Magazine, in partnership with Havas House, seeks to celebrate Miami’s burgeoning and diverse tech community while continuing to highlight all the valuable data and insights our followers and supporters have come to expect from us. The fact that our community is booming with talent and innovation — making our

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hometown of Miami a top destination for startups, tech leaders, and venture capitalists — is no accident, and eMerge Magazine showcases it all through compelling content, interviews, and spotlight profiles. The data speaks for itself — 2021 was a profoundly transformative year for South Florida: ranking Miami 9th in the nation for venture activity and investments by dollar value with more than $5.33 billion invested in South Florida-based startups. At eMerge, we believe the rise of tech in Miami represents a once-in-ageneration opportunity to transform South Florida into a global hub of innovation and create new high-skilled, good-paying jobs for the knowledge economy. Our mission is to catalyze — and capitalize — on this very moment so it doesn’t pass us by. Moreover, we believe we have a responsibility to ensure that we’re not leaving anyone behind, and that we’re helping our homegrown talent take full advantage of this economic prosperity. We invite you to join us in this journey by becoming part of the #MiamiTech movement and look forward to what the future has in store as we make history together!

L. Felice Gorordo CEO

Melissa Medina President

Diane Vidoni COO


About eMerge Americas

eMerge Americas is transforming Miami into a global tech hub and hosts the premier technology event connecting the Americas and beyond, held annually at the Miami Beach Convention Center. eMerge Americas is dedicated to connecting global industry leaders and investors with corporate business executives, government leaders, and entrepreneurs. In 2019, eMerge Americas attracted more than 16,000 attendees and more than 400 participating companies from over 40 countries. eMerge Americas serves as a catalyst to propel innovation and investment in South Florida and Latin America. The eMerge Americas founding partners include: Medina Capital, A-Rod Corporation, Greenberg Traurig, Knight Foundation, Florida Funders, Miami-Dade County, and the Miami Herald. For more information about eMerge Americas, please visit: emergeamericas.com.

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/ eMerge Insights

eMerge Insights 2021 was a record-smashing year for venture capital, and that’s just part of the story. By Nancy Dahlberg

outh Florida venture capital smashed all kinds of records in 2021: Highest total in dollars ever, highest number of deals, most yearly growth for both categories. The record-setting numbers you will find in this report were powered by a momentous and pivotal year for South Florida. If there was ever a doubt the Miami Movement is real, it’s history now, as hundreds of founders and investors from the Bay Area, New York, and other

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locales made the Miami area their new home in 2021. Company relocations and new startups were announced almost daily, and that has only accelerated so far in 2022. To be sure, the data tracked for this report — from Pitchbook, Crunchbase, and CB Insights — can’t keep up with Miami Tech: Dozens of companies now located in the Miami area are still listed elsewhere in their databases, and so the year-end VC reports by the big three were incomplete


SHUTTERSTOCK/ DEMETRIUS THEUNE

when it comes to the South Florida region. But rest assured we’ve compiled to the best of our abilities the real numbers for our slice of paradise. Let’s look back on a few highlights and trends that helped drive our ecosystem to new heights. Mayor Francis Suarez’s now famous December 4, 2020, “How can I help?” tweet was the rallying cry for the momentous year that would follow. Early in 2021, the mayor brought together key leaders in the ecosystem to

launch Venture Miami, a platform for his near-daily Cafecito Talks, the creation or sponsorship of new initiatives such as the Venture Miami Opportunity Program, resource sharing, data gathering, social media, and more. Last year, Miami made big strides in the race to become a cryptocurrency capital. The Bitcoin Conference lured 12,000 enthusiasts to the Magic City and TechBasel was an absolute explosion of tech and NFT events, including

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If there was ever a doubt the Miami Movement is real, it’s history now, as hundreds of founders and investors from the Bay Area, New York, and other locales made the Miami area their new home in 2021.


/ eMerge Insights

eMerge Americas’ La Casa and NFT BZL by Mana Tech. The MiamiCoin launched, and late last year Mayor Suarez announced that residents will receive a dividend. Big names in the space relocated or announced expansions here, including Blockchain.com, eToro, Okcoin, Borderless Capital, and others, and crypto and blockchain startups seemingly came out of the woodwork. FTX even bought naming rights to Miami’s arena. Some of the relocations and expansions in other sectors included Eight Sleep, Silicon Valley Bank, Red 6, Pareto Holdings, SeedInvest, Zilch, Teal, Zumper, 100.co, SelfDecode, StatusPro, CourMed, DNALabs — too many to list. Microsoft announced it is leasing about 50,000 square feet at 830 Brickell, the city’s newest Class A office tower now under construction. It will be home to Microsoft’s Latin America team as the company’s regional hub. The momentum didn’t stop at the county line, either. Nova Southeastern University, in conjunction with Broward County, launched the Levan Center, a 54,000-square-foot tech hub in Davie featuring a focus on space tech, a military-grade cybersecurity range, an AV studio, a range of programming for entrepreneurs, and more. At Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, the Global Ventures program continued to welcome international scaleups looking to increase their U.S. footprint. In Juno Beach, FPL doubled down on South Florida’s startup scene with its 35 Mules incubator program. Last fall, the Miami Downtown Development Authority said that it has tracked more than 100 companies that have moved or plan to move to Miami, and, collectively, the companies are expected to create more than 5,000 jobs. To help meet Miami’s tech talent needs, the Knight Foundation granted $10 million to Florida International University (FIU) to expand the Knight Foundation

School of Computing and Information Sciences and granted University of Miami (UM) $4.3 million to grow its Institute of Data Science and Computing. Knight also funded CodePath, which aims to increase diversity in computer science and engineering by offering software engineering courses and career services, free to students, that complement their computer science curricula. SoftBank teamed up with FIU, UM, and Miami Dade College to offer its SoftBank Operator School, a semester-long program taught by university faculty and an accompanying MasterClass series featuring top entrepreneurs in Miami and Latin America. The investment giant also brought data science programs to the Magic City. While a tech hub is developing, multiple groups are working to help make sure it is an inclusive ecosystem. One of the most important findings of the recently released REDI (racial equity, diversity, and inclusion) Scorecard by aīre ventures is that women entrepreneurs and Black leaders lack the effective support needed to thrive. Fortunately, aīre ventures, the Center for Black Innovation, Digital Grass, Black Angels Miami, and other organizations are working on this. Talent and Inclusion is also one of the three focus areas of The Miami-Dade Beacon Council’s Opportunity Miami, a new economic development effort led by Matt Haggman. What’s more,

eMERGE AMERICAS’ FOUNDER AND CHAIRMAN MANNY MEDINA ADDRESSES ATTENDEES AT THE 2019 CONFERENCE.

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Gender Equality in Tech (GET) Cities, supported by philanthropist Melinda French Gates, set up a hub in Miami to help ecosystem organizations achieve their shared mission of closing the disparity gap for women in technology. Miami’s boom has played out in venture capital myriad ways. In January 2021, SoftBank announced a Miami Initiative to invest $100 million in startups based in Miami or significantly expanding here. By October, the investment giant had announced it had already invested $250 million — and counting. In addition to SoftBank, Founders Fund, Tiger Global, Khosla, Andreessen Horowitz, and General Catalyst were finding deals in the region. For some, it was their first time betting on a Miami-based company. Some firms opened offices, including Founders Fund and Atomic’s Venture Studio. We’re seeing the Miami Movement already bearing significant fruit in venture capital activity and far beyond. Read more in our venture capital report on the following pages.


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/ eMerge Insights

2021 Highlights Financial technology took over as the most active sector in 2021, moving healthcare technology to No. 2 for the first time. Fintech companies lured nearly

THE MIAMI MOVEMENT is bearing fruit, as 9 of the top 20 deals were new-to-Miami companies, including MoonPay in the No. 1 spot, as well as Pipe, Eight Sleep, OpenStore, and others.

43%

of the South Florida venture capital total.

$5.33 billion WAS INVESTED

CRYPTO AND BLOCKCHAIN

in South Florida startups and later-stage companies across 285 deals.

fundings came alive in the second half of 2021, with 21 fundings — 23 total for the year. They represented over

16%

Startups based in the Greater Miami metro area snagged

75%

of the fundings by dollar value.

of the state’s venture capital take in dollars and over 55% of the deals in 2021.

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/ eMerge Insights

Top 10 U.S. Metro Area and State Rankings for VC

METRO AREA

Although the big four metro areas — Silicon Valley, New York, Boston, and LA — retained their rankings, we started to see record-setting VC flows for the “Rise of the Rest.” With a second half surge of VC dollars, South Florida broke back into the top 10, after falling out temporarily in the first half. Nationally, 2021 saw nearly $330 billion invested across 17,000 deals, according to Pitchbook. The top three states were the homes of about half of the U.S. deals, down from 60% in 2020.

DOLLARS (BILLIONS)

DEALS

STATE

DOLLARS (BILLIONS)

DEALS

1

Calif. Bay Area

$119.65

3,372

California

$156.46

5,211

2

New York City

$51.79

2,131

New York

$47.94

2,191

3

Boston

$34.63

1,047

Massachusetts

$43.17

1,075

4

Los Angeles

$23.71

1,172

Texas

$10.56

777

5

San Diego

$9.65

370

Washington

$8.55

549

6

Seattle

$7.98

468

Illinois

$7.10

397

7

Philadelphia

$7.80

395

Florida

$7.05

514

8

Chicago

$6.99

374

Pennsylvania

$6.64

365

9

Miami

$5.33

285

Colorado

$6.52

448

10

Washington, DC

$5.10

335

New Jersey

$5.52

219

Note: Totals for all metro areas and states except South Florida and Florida are based on Pitchbook data. Rankings are based on VC data available January 31, 2022.

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/ eMerge Insights

Florida Snapshot

Florida more than doubled last year’s record, with Sunshine State companies attracting $7.05 billion across 514 deals. South Florida’s slice of the pie was huge: 75% of dollar value and 55% of the deals. Deal flow into Florida companies, by number of deals and dollars, by year 8000 7000 6000

514

5000

500 400

4000 3000

600

296

296

229

272

310

300

303 296

300

$1159

$2875

$2053

$3106

$7051

0

$1750

100

$1002

1000

$1665

200 $1107

2000

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

2021

0

South Florida Snapshot

Capping off a momentous year, the Miami-Fort Lauderdale metro area came on strong in the second half of 2021 to triple the first half — and shatter the past record for venture capital dollars and deals. Miami metro area companies attracted $5.33 billion across 285 deals. Deal flow into Miami-Fort Lauderdale Metro Area, by number of deals and dollars, by year 6000

285

250

5000 4000 3000

300

163

150

142

161

153

200

156

150

124

123

$695

$2345

$1907

$2274

$5331

0

$1310

50

$489

1000

$1341

100 $608

2000

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

2021

0

Source: Historical data through 2016 tracked by Pitchbook; 2021 data includes 29 deals tracked by CB Insights, Crunchbase, or author’s research.

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/ eMerge Insights

Top Florida Deals COMPANY OUTSIDE SOUTH FLORIDA IN 2021

ROUND

SECTOR

HQ

$100 million

Healthtech

Naples

$100 million

Fintech/Insurtech

Tampa

$74.8 million

Fintech

Jacksonville

$74.3 million

Business productivity

Orlando

$70 million

Fintech

St. Petersburg

$40 million

Space tech

Orlando

$37 million

Digital music distribution

Tampa

$31 million

Healthtech

Orlando

$30.6 million

Business productivity software

Tampa

$30 million

Consumer products/beverages

Tampa

Top Greater Miami Deals COMPANY SOUTH FLORIDA COMPANIES IN 2021

ROUND

SECTOR

HQ

$555 million

Fintech/crypto

Miami

$500 million

AR

Plantation

$470 million

Advertising software

Miami

$300 million

Fintech

Miami

$300 million

Ecommerce

Miami Beach

$210 million

Healthtech

Miami

$180 million

Insurtech

Miami

$170 million

Insurtech

Plantation

$150 million

Insurtech/Healthtech

Coral Springs

$125 million

Logistics tech

Coral Gables

$105 million

Ecommerce

Miami

$100 million

Specialty retail

Boca Raton

$86 million

Consumer products

Miami

$82 million

Fintech

Miami

$80 million

Healthtech

Coral Springs

$75 million

Digital Media

Miami

$65 million

Fulfillment tech and service

Fort Lauderdale

$54.5 million

Crypto mining services

Miami

$48 million

Crypto/fintech

Miami

$41 million

Pharma/biotech

West Palm Beach

Sources: Pitchbook, CB Insights, Crunchbase Notes: Pipe: $250M in Q2; $50 M in Q1; Papa: $150M in Q4; $60M in Q2; OpenStore $30M in Q2; $75M in Q4


Mayor Daniella Levine Cava welcomes

eMerge Americas 2022 to Miami-Dade County

#FutureReady


/ eMerge Insights

Let’s Dig Deeper What did South Florida funding rounds look like? Where are the startups based? South Florida Funding Rounds, 2021 Series A and Seed rounds were up from 17% and 14% respectively in 2020.

10%

Startup Locations, 2021 Miami-Dade’s share increased from 50% in 2020 and 46% in 2019.

27%

Miami-Dade

21%

Broward Palm Beach 20%

22%

20% Angels Seed Rounds

16%

Early Stage (Series A) Later Stage Equity Crowdfunding

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64%


FROM TOURISM DESTINATION TO EMERGING TECH HUB, MIAMI IS ONLY GETTING BETTER WITH TIME City National Bank’s tradition of service has provided a foundation for a future full of possibilities for business leaders across our region. We are proud to support eMerge Americas’ mission to transform Miami into the tech hub of the Americas - because we’re proud to be an integral part of our community’s growth. Thank you for allowing us to continue igniting, nurturing, and growing your business with you.

W E

G R O W

F L O R I D A

(305) 448-6500

wegrowflorida.com


/ eMerge Insights

Percentage of South Florida VC deals that were by healthtech companies in 2021

70

62

60

52

50 40

2500

$2288

2000

39

1500 $1097

1000 500 0

0

Percentage of South Florida VC deals for fintech companies

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$376 $112 Fintech 2021

10

SHUTTERSTOCK/ MOMENTUM RONNARONG

23

Healthtech 2021

30 20

DOLLAR VALUE ($ MILLIONS)

Healthtech 2020

21.1%

20.3%

Fintech 2020

Percentage of South Florida VC dollars that flowed to fintech companies

Percentage of South Florida VC dollars that flowed into healthtech companies in 2021

NUMBER OF DEALS

Healthtech 2021

42.7%

20.8%

Fintech leads South Florida’s VC ecosystem

Fintech 2021

Through 2020, healthcare-related companies led the South Florida ecosystem in terms of venture capital. But the story changed in a big way in 2021 with the rise of fintech. In all of 2020, $112 million flowed into 23 financial technology companies. But consider what happened in 2021: 62 deals representing $2.28 billion. The sector was led by MoonPay, a payment platform for crypto transactions; Pipe, creator of a trading platform for recurring revenue; and Healthcare.com, an insurtech company. They brought in the top money in 2021 ($555 million, $300 million, and $180 million, respectively). The data shows that there are several subsectors of fintechs to watch. One is digital banking startups, led by Bank Novo’s $40.7 million raise. There are also a number of specialized payment platforms bubbling up, such as Marco, creator of a trade finance platform.

Healthtech 2020

Fintech leads South Florida’s VC ecosystem

Healthtech, medical device, biotech/pharma, and health/wellness services companies attracted $1.1 billion in VC dollars across 52 deals, putting the sector solidly in second place. That’s up from $376 million across 23 deals in 2020. Some of the top-funded startups in this sector show the diversity of South Florida healthcare. Papa of Miami, a platform for eldercare and now backed by Tiger Global, pulled in a $150 million Series D round in Q4 and was valued a unicorn. Heru, a vision diagnostics startup spun out of University of Miami’s Bascom Palmer, raised $30 million. Brave Health, a Miami-based telemed startup for mental and behavioral health with a focus on the Medicaid market, raised $10 million. And drug discovery companies Expansion Therapeutics of Jupiter, Exuma Biotech of West Palm Beach, and Iliad Biotechnologies of Weston raised $80 million, $41 million, and $16.5 million, respectively.

Fintech 2020

Top trends to watch

Healthcare triples its biggest year


Crypto capital comes alive

If you’ve been reading the funding news, it should be no surprise that startups focused on crypto currencies, blockchain, and/or NFTs have exploded onto the scene. Venture funding rounds for Web3-focused companies began showing up in a big way in the second half of 2021, adding 21 rounds. Much of this activity so far is centered in Miami. Here are just a few venture highlights: The “PayPal for crypto,” MoonPay, landed $555 million at a $3.4 billion valuation. QuickNode raised $40 million in two rounds. The startup has helped hundreds of companies and developers set up on the blockchain and counts Alexis Ohanian, SoftBank, and Tiger as backers. In the NFT space, OnChain Studios raised a $7.5 million seed round led by Andreessen Horowitz to develop an interactive toy, gaming, and entertainment universe built on the blockchain. RECUR grabbed a $50 million Series A to help brands design and develop NFT experiences. Faraway, a blockchain-based gaming studio founded by two friends raised in Palm Beach Gardens, scored a $21 million Series A.

$859M

Amount of venture capital raised by Miami area companies in the blockchain or cryptocurrency spaces in 2021

8.1%

Percentage of South Florida VC deals represented by Web3 startups

16.3% Percentage of South Florida VC dollars that flowed to Web3 startups

23

Number of Miami area deals by blockchain or crypto companies

Other sectors to watch

After fintech, healthtech, and crypto, consumer products was strongest, followed by edtech, gaming/ entertainment, and logistics. Our Unicorn herd is growing: Unicorns minted in 2021 in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area include Pipe, creator of a trading platform for businesses’ recurring revenues dubbed “the Nasdaq of revenue;” Papa, the homegrown startup that offers “Papa Pals” to seniors through major health plans; Aleph Holding, a Miami digital advertising firm; the Miami-based insurtech platform HealthCare.com; MoonPay, the cryptocurrency infrastructure provider; and ShipMonk, the Fort Lauderdale-based fulfillment provider. OpenStore, founded in 2021, is on the way, and the Miami Shopify rollup startup is valued at $750 million.

Other deals of note: key international connections ISRAEL: Memic Innovative Surgery, a medical device company based in Tel Aviv with a large office in Fort Lauderdale, raised $96 million in funding in April at a valuation over $1 billion — unicorn country. Its chairman of

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the board is Miami serial medical technology entrepreneur Maurice R. Ferré, founder and former CEO of Mako Surgical and currently chairman and CEO of Insightec, who has said that Memic’s South Florida operation is poised to become a big ecosystem player. “We are going to be building this company like we did with Mako — in South Florida. There will be big investments in South Florida in the next 5 to 10 years,” Ferré said. GERMANY: The Berlin-based tech company Everphone is a one-stop shop that supplies, repairs, replaces, and recycles mobile devices for enterprise customers. The tech company announced in December that it selected Miami for its U.S. headquarters, citing the Magic City’s proximity to talent, highgrowth companies, and investors. The news came on the heels of its $200 million capital raise as remote work has made it difficult to centrally manage employees’ mobile devices. Is this a start of a Florida-Germany trend? In January 2022, two more German companies announced Miami would be their new North American or U.S. base: 1NCE, an IoT company with plans to hire 150-200 employees over the next three years, and Grover, a tech rental company that also plans rapid hiring in the Magic City.


/ eMerge Insights

Acquisitions and IPO activity ramp up FROM ITS GLOBAL HEADQUARTERS IN CORAL GABLES, THE CYXTERA EXECUTIVE TEAM MADE THE LEAP TO WALL STREET AND RANG THE CLOSING BELL IN DECEMBER 2021.

After a few quiet years since Chewy’s 2017 exit for $3.5 billion, exit activity came alive in 2021. According to Pitchbook’s data, there were 22 exits for South Florida companies in 2021, up sharply from 11 in 2020 and 9 each in 2019 and 2018. The disclosed 2021 deals were valued at $3.56 billion, almost twice what the preceding three years of disclosed deals were combined. Leading off the activity, two Manny Medina-founded cybersecurity companies — Cyxtera, the global data center provider, and Appgate, a Cyxtera cybersecurity spinout — went public in billion-dollar plus SPAC deals. “Today marks a key milestone in a journey we launched in 2017 to build a global leader in digital infrastructure with the scale, connectivity, and technology

to meet the needs of leading enterprises, service providers, and government agencies,” said Medina, Chairman of Cyxtera, on the day the Cyxtera deal began trading on the Nasdaq in July. We also saw unicorn MDLive — the telehealth player founded by Randy Parker — get acquired by Cigna. Tech training school Wyncode was acquired by BrainStation; SpeedETab, the tech startup focused on restaurants, became part of Wix; Stryker acquired OrthoSensor, the Dania Beach-based developer of orthopedic technology; and equity crowdfunding specialist Arora Project was acquired by Republic, all for undisclosed sums.

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The year was bookended by two homegrown exits: In January, the Dania Beach-based edtech Nearpod, founded in 2012 by three Argentine friends proving that they could scale without being in Silicon Valley, was acquired for $650 million. In December, the bootstrapped EveryMundo, a Miami-based pioneer in airfare marketing technology founded by a Russian-born immigrant raised in Cuba and Spain in 2006, was acquired for $90 million. Also in December, Boca Ratonbased satellite manufacturer Terran Orbital announced it is merging with a special-purpose acquisition company to go public at a $1.58 billion valuation. Founded in 2013, Terran, through its unit PredaSAR, is developing its own constellation of low-Earth-orbit satellites that could do things like monitor conflict zones for the military or track vessels for big shipping companies. It plans to launch its constellation this year.


Methodology

SHUTTERSTOCK/ NUMBER1411

Pitchbook includes equity investments into privately held companies from outside sources. Investment does not necessarily have to be taken from an institutional investor. This can include investment from individual angel investors, angel groups, seed funds, VC firms, corporate venture firms, and corporate investors. Investments received as part of an accelerator program are not included, however, if the accelerator continues to invest in follow-on rounds, those further financings are included. All financings are of companies headquartered in the U.S. Venture analytics services differ by the way they track venture, including the type of deals included and when the deals are counted. Some don’t include angel funding, but Pitchbook does. We chose to use Pitchbook for its inclusiveness and for consistency, but added in venture/ private equity deals Pitchbook does not include in its methodology. For 2021, we used Pitchbook primarily, but included 29 additional deals reported by CB Insights, Crunchbase, or our own research. This included many new-to-Miami companies where headquarters locations had not been updated. Not all deals in

eMerge Insights author Nancy Dahlberg is a business writer, editor, and researcher. Most of Nancy’s career was spent with the Miami Herald and her expertise is writing about entrepreneurs. Find her South Florida startup coverage at RefreshMiami.‌com/news. This report has been produced in partnership with Knight Foundation and FIU.

Pitchbook’s data could be independently verified. Data about Florida and South Florida venture capital results include only companies with their primary headquarters in the state. No data set is perfect. Dozens of funding rounds go undisclosed, or data is

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. Since 2012, Knight Foundation has invested more than $60 million in nurturing an entrepreneurial ecosystem by connecting innovators, attracting investments, and growing the city’s talent base. A founding partner of eMerge Americas, Knight’s strategy focuses on building an entrepreneurial ecosystem.

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added or revised months later. Although venture data often lags, we used the best available sources at the time of this publication. Please email us at insights@emergeamericas.com if we’ve missed something. We always update the data set for future reports.

Florida International University is Miami’s public research university, and in less than five decades has become a top 100 public university, according to U.S. News and World Report’s Best Colleges. FIU is focused on student success and research excellence, with nearly $200 million in annual research expenditures.


/ eMerging Spotlights

and his effort to enact Florida’s first financial regulations for crypto, he’s been a true partner to Blockchain.com. With aggressive hiring goals in the coming years, we’re also excited by the rapidly expanding Miami tech scene and encouraged by the growing talent pool.

Building Blocks In June 2021, Blockchain.com, the world’s most popular cryptocurrency trading platform, announced its plans to relocate its national headquarters from New York to Miami. By the following February, the company signed a 10-year lease for 22,000 square feet of space in Wynwood. Here, Blockchain’s Chief Business Officer Lane Kasselman explains the impetus behind the tech giant’s big move and its plans for the future.

Q: Why did the company decide to move from New York to Miami? A: Miami is a prime location for tech innovators and the financial capital of Latin America, which is a big growth geography for us. Everything from its pro-crypto government leadership to its robust tech scene make it ideal for crypto innovation. Miami also represents a central hub for our globally distributed team. With a growing team in Argentina and expansion plans throughout Latin America, we’re confident about planting firm roots in Miami. Q: Are you still maintaining a presence in New York? If so, will the Miami offices have a different focus than the New York location? A: At this time, we no longer have an office in New York. We plan to engage deeply with the Miami tech ecosystem, and our office positions us to do that. Another focus for the office is hiring. Here’s a shameless plug: we currently have 76 open job positions on our Miami career page. Q: What benefits did you see in moving? A: Miami just offers us a great opportunity because of its position as the financial capital

Q: Was there any specific person/entity in Miami that helped you most with this transition? A: Mayor Francis Suarez has been instrumental in our move to Miami. The ecosystem he has attracted and built as part of the Miami Movement lured us in, and all these months later, his partnership has been invaluable as we lay our roots here.

of Latin America, pro-crypto city leadership, booming tech scene, and world-class talent pool. Also, winter weather in Miami always beats New York! Q: How does Miami help you accomplish your overall business goals? A: Our mission is to create a financial system for the internet that empowers anyone in the world to control their money. Since crypto is the technology that will help us achieve this mission, we need to do everything in our power to increase access to it and adoption of it around the world. Part of our ambitious global adoption goals is our expansion into Latin America. As the financial capital of Latin America, Miami serves as a natural hub for our business operations between the Americas. In the coming years, we’re heavily focused on providing easier access to crypto for the more than 200 million unbanked citizens across the southern continent. We also have tremendous local support from Mayor Suarez. Beyond public support

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Q: What do you foresee for the future of the industry? A: While the industry itself is more than 10 years old, we’re still very much in the early innings. 2021 was a formative year for mainstream crypto adoption, largely ushered in because of the pandemic, and 2022 will build on the seeds planted last year. I also expect to see more traction in the NFT space. Crypto platforms like ours are launching NFT marketplaces to make accessing the NFT space as easy as accessing the crypto ecosystem. Trading volume of NFTs surged 700% to $10.7 billion in the third quarter of 2021, attracting the attention of sports teams, musicians, and artists. We expect the interest in NFTs to continue growing in 2022. We will likely see institutional crypto adoption take off in 2022, as well. Recently, Fidelity announced plans to add bitcoin exposure to portfolio funds, and many other traditional financial institutions are joining the trend as their customers clamor for access. And, we just announced our acquisition of the OTC and executions arm of Singapore-based Altonomy, a crypto trading firm. It’s our largest acquisition yet and dramatically increases the size of our institutional business. Finally, the future of the industry centers on regulation. We’re currently at the start of a cycle of regulation creation in Europe and the U.S., providing some necessary governance guardrails for the crypto industry. And, it wouldn’t be a crypto prediction without mention of the word volatility. We should expect continued market volatility, as well as crypto volatility, in 2022.


SPECIAL BUSINESS PROFILE

KEY NUMBERS FOR #MIAMITECH

+81% Tech Sector Growth (2010-2020), with 2,000+ Tech companies in Miami-Dade* +47% Population Growth for Tech Professionals* 3,000+ Crypto/Blockchain professionals*

FutureForward Diverse and determined, Miami’s tech ecosystem has transformed it from the Magic City to Innovation City.

A community that percolates with possibility, Miami is powered by a diverse talent pool, thriving industries, global connectivity, and an entrepreneurial spirit that sets it apart. From biotech to beaches, finance to fine art, coding to cafecito, Greater Miami is a worldclass business hub where innovation, opportunity, and quality of life converge. Home to more than 6.2 million residents and a workforce of more than 3.1 million, South Florida is the ideal place for companies that value proximity to a vast creative and diverse talent pool; vibrant, culturally rich neighborhoods; one of the most pro-business tax structures in the country; local incentive programs for businesses; and a local government deeply committed to supporting economic growth.

TECH BOOM

Designers. Architects. Founders. Makers. Builders. No matter what they are called, entrepreneurs around the world are drawn to Miami’s diverse startup ecosystem, and funders are following. In fact, Telstra Ventures reported a 44% increase in the number of VCbacked startups in Miami year over year (2021 vs 2020), making the Miami No. 1 Market in the country by percentage for 2021.* Key sectors

30% increase in the net gain of software and IT workers moving to Miami in 2021 (2x influx in 2020)** Total # of VC deals for Miami-based startups grew 260% in 2021 (highest % in the US)*** +284% YoY: 2021 Investments in Miami FinTech Startups*** +266% YoY: 2021 Investments in Miami Logistics & Industrial Tech Startups***

driving this thriving tech ecosystem include fintech, logistics tech, health tech, cybersecurity, and crypto. More than 200 incubators, accelerators, nonprofit partnerships, and co-working spaces connect local startups and national entities to foster an environment of development and innovation. Pareto Holdings, Flamingo Capital, and 305 Ventures are some of the funders focused on Miami-based startups. As an immigrant-driven community, diversity and inclusion are at Miami’s core. The local tech scene is powered by a global pool of innovators that reflect the community’s international population. There’s a spotlight on women and minority founders, with SoftBank, Chase, The Rockefeller Foundation and others earmarking funds for BIPOC, Hispanic/ Latinx, and female-led companies. The Miami-Dade Beacon Council is the county’s official economic development partnership, attracting high-value jobs and investment that shape the community’s economic future. Fostering entrepreneurs, a diverse talent pipeline and a positive business climate, MDBC is driving longterm economic prosperity and inclusive growth for Miami’s businesses and residents. For more information on bringing your business to Miami, visit BeIn.Miami.

With $5.33B invested in South Florida startups and late-stage companies in 2020, Miami ranked 9th in the U.S. for total VC funding****

INDUSTRY LEADERS CALLING MIAMI HOME 305 Ventures 8Base ACI Worldwide Apollo Capital Apple Atomic Blackstone Blockchain.com Borderless Capital Caribu Cyxtera D1 Capital Facebook/Meta Ford Autonomous Vehicles Founders Fund Google Kaseya Microsoft Pareto Holdings SoftBank Spotify Starwood Capital Thoma Bravo Wix.com

*Source: Florida EMSI & Dice 2020 **Source: LinkedIn March 2022 ***Source: Telstra Ventures, “Tech’s Great Migration: Insights to Emerging Tech Hubs Across the US” (February 2022) ****Source: eMerge 2021 Insights Report


/ eMerging Spotlights

Leading the Charge After nearly a decade at Goldman Sachs, Okcoin CEO Hong Fang took a gamble and pivoted to the world of cryptocurrency. Today, she is one of only a few female CEOs in the crypto market — plus the only female CEO of an exchange company — and a driving force for the future of the industry.

Q: Throughout the tech industry, women only make up about 20% of the workforce, with an even smaller percentage holding leadership roles. What do you say to those who consider you a pioneer for women in tech, and how would you recommend more women enter the field? A: I’m asked a lot about being the only female CEO of a crypto exchange, but the truth is, on a dayto-day basis, it’s not very apparent to me. I am constantly engaging with other women both at Okcoin and across the crypto industry. While I may be the only crypto exchange CEO who is a woman, it’s important to clarify that on a broader level, I’m not an isolated case. There are lots of other women leading the adoption of crypto, whether as CEOs or in other roles. That said, there’s no denying the gender disparity that exists — it’s reflected in Okcoin’s customer base, which is less than 30% female and in many cases much lower if we look at the broader crypto ecosystem. That’s why we’re committing $1 million to helping more women get into crypto through academic and professional opportunities. We know we need to do more than talk about the disparity, and we hope lots of people and companies will join us in this effort to make crypto more welcoming for everyone, as it’s the chance to build something new and fix some of the problems with the systems that came before it. Q: How are you/Okcoin helping clear misconceptions and teach the general public about

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cryptocurrencies? What advice do you offer to those who aren’t familiar with it? A: “Do your own research,” or DYOR, is a mantra in crypto. It’s important to understand the ecosystem and these new technologies, especially if you’re channeling your hard-earned money into them. Find trusted sources in the media that you find work best for you, whether that’s podcasts or YouTube or Twitter or long-form articles. Okcoin’s blog is a great resource for newcomers to crypto — we regularly publish easy-tounderstand content on important crypto topics and the assets we list. Q: Do you think your years working for Goldman Sachs made you especially receptive to the potential of cryptocurrency? A: I was born the same year that China started opening up to the rest of the world, so I’ve experienced the power of free markets firsthand. I was drawn to investment banking in particular because I wanted to be at the epicenter of free market activity. Ironically, I started at Goldman Sachs amidst the financial crisis in 2008, so I quickly saw the challenges centralized finance poses to permissionless economies. I became interested in fintech and the potential of fixing the financial system’s flaws, so when I learned about Bitcoin, I was immediately attracted to it. To me, Bitcoin is so much more than just an asset, it’s freedom. It’s hope. And it has the potential to democratize wealth like we’ve never seen before. From both a financial and technological perspective, I’m so inspired by all of the work that’s happening across the ecosystem when I see entrepreneurs building innovations like interoperability between chains, the Lightning network, and Web3.


FLORIDAPOLY.EDU


/ eMerging Spotlights

With commercial, international, and private banking services, Silicon Valley Bank helps address the unique needs of innovators. Following South Florida’s recent tech boom, the organization sent a team of commercial bankers to set up a permanent Miami base and focus on Florida’s dynamic innovation sector. Here, Mike Descheneaux, President of Silicon Valley Bank, outlines the strategic move and how local tech companies can benefit from their services.

Q: Congrats on Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) opening its Miami office. What was the impetus? A: We’re really excited to be growing our presence in Miami and Florida more broadly, and to increase our support for the world-class innovators here. That said, we’re not really “new” to Florida. Our commercial and private banking teams have been supporting hundreds of Florida-based clients for over 20 years from our other regional offices, such as Atlanta. After our acquisition of Boston Private closed in July 2021, it was an easy decision to build on their strong private banking and wealth team, which was already

Q: As the bank of the innovation economy, what are the prospects you see for Florida innovation? A: Florida has a lot going for it, and there’s a real positive flywheel being formed that I think will continue to make this market even more attractive for innovators. The local ecosystem benefits from passionate leaders, including eMerge Americas founder Manny Medina and his team, who have been tirelessly working to put Miami on the map as a tech hub. This helped encourage a lot of people to move here during the pandemic, and they in turn have convinced more of their friends to move, invest, and start companies here. The early evangelism almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. One thing I’ve observed is that it feels like everyone who moves to Miami becomes a salesperson for the city — and it’s working! You now see a really impressive group of breakout growth companies, and as we’ve seen elsewhere, alums from these companies will eventually help seed the next generation of companies. Q: Why did SVB decide to partner with eMerge Americas? A: We know first-hand the exponential value created when we find terrific partners who believe in supporting and advancing the innovation ecosystem. eMerge Americas is built by innovators for innovators, and we

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admire how the eMerge team engages the broader community to support and sustain the local tech ecosystem. And, as the bank of global innovation economy, we also appreciate eMerge’s focus on building relationships in Latin America. We’ve been banking companies and leading funds in LatAm since 2012, and we see a lot of room to grow. Q: What else should Miami know about SVB? A: Our ability to make a positive difference is exponentially larger than our size because of the outsized impact our clients make. We’re also zeroing in on increasing social equity, economic opportunity, and environmental sustainability by driving initiatives that are core to our business and leverage our strengths. Examples include: – Our vision for inclusiveness: Our Access to Innovation program works to increase representation and funding, with a focus on women, Black, and Latinx individuals. We are investing $50 million in our programs and partnerships over the next five years to impact 25,000 individual lives and engage 12,500 of our clients. – Our strategy for environmental sustainability: We plan to provide at least $5 billion by 2027 in loans, investments, and other financing to support sustainability efforts. Our goal is to achieve carbon neutral operations by 2025.

NICK MOLINA/BLINDLIGHT STUDIO

Banking on Miami

operating out of an office in Brickell. A few senior tech bankers relocated to Miami, and we’ve been aggressively hiring. Between the pro innovation agenda, high quality of life, deep pools of capital and talent (and with more moving to the region by the day), and burgeoning tech ecosystem, we are very bullish and are here to help by offering a full slate of commercial banking, investment banking, funds management, and private banking and wealth management services to our Florida clients.


SILICON VALLEY BANK’S MIAMI TEAM: JULIA FIGUEIREDO, DIRECTOR, STARTUP BANKING LATIN AMERICA & MIAMI; LUIZ RABELO, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT & RELATIONSHIP MANAGER; ALEJANDRO ALGAZE, MANAGING DIRECTOR, PRIVATE BANK & WEALTH MANAGEMENT

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The New Wave The alchemy

of technology, innovation, and finance power players sweetens Miami’s tropical pot like never before.

GREATER MIAMI CONVENTION & VISITORS BUREAU

By Dirk DeSouza


Bustling Downtown Miami continues to grow in leaps and bounds, attracting industry leaders from around the world.

IN

attempting to identify “company zero,” perhaps South Florida’s most consequential tipping point originated in Chicago. Coronavirus raging, news leaked that Citadel Securities billionaire Ken Griffin had decamped and dovetailed his Chicago and New York operations to Palm Beach in a full buyout of The Four Seasons. A 5-star public beachfront resortturned-private-high-speed-trading-floor, Citadel so frantically altered the hotel’s electrical infrastructure to drive banks of servers stacked in ballrooms, the City of Palm Beach deemed the unpermitted work a fire hazard. With stock markets crashing and Griffin’s gilded war room gobbling the dips, Wall Street’s power and excess officially arrived on Florida’s shores in a perfect storm of influence: Griffin’s Four Seasons landlords were Bill Gates and Saudi Prince al-Waleed bin Talal. Before he left, Griffin spent $95 million on lots on Star


NICK GARCIA/BLINDLIGHT STUDIO

Jon Oringer, Shutterstock and Pareto Holdings Founder

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Island for a planned 70,000-square-foot home, along with $350 million for 20 acres of Palm Beach oceanfront to build a 50,000-square-foot compound. The move’s endorsement of sunshine and sandbars as a capital-creating backdrop had — finally! — unleashed an en masse migration of venture capital, private equity, and investment banking away from Silicon Valley and Manhattan, driving unprecedented innovation, technology, and philanthropy to Miami. This stampede represents “The New Wave” of businesses, people, and trends quickly shaping Miami’s strategically bright future. It’s wondrous to watch unfold in real time. Shutterstock and Pareto Holdings billionaire venture capitalist founder Jon Oringer sums it up. “With local governments in New York and San Francisco becoming less business-friendly, Miami stands out as a very pro-business environment, with a mayor open to a lot of different ideas.” Low taxes, weather, and lifestyle are also huge factors... the executive paid $42 million for the magnificently modern waterfront home where he now works. The Zoom life is here to stay. Since arriving in 2020 from New York, Oringer and partner Edward Lando have personally funded over 150 new companies in fintech, telemedicine, and ecommerce, injecting each with $25,000-$500,000 in pre-seed support to entrepreneurs with budding ideas. Over 400 startups have taken the seven minutes to apply online for Pareto’s largesse. “We move really, really fast, making

“With local governments in New York and San Francisco becoming less businessfriendly, Miami stands out as a very pro-business environment, with a mayor open to a lot of different ideas.” – Jon Oringer

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decisions within 24-48 hours. Entrepreneurs really like that because they know they need to get to market quickly and to get first mover advantage. There’s no investment committee, just us.” Running in parallel is The Pareto Fellowship program, a philanthropic arm connecting experienced CEOs and founders with often-novice entrepreneurs to disperse sage, capitalistic wisdom. There are also challenges. “Clearly, Miami’s infrastructure wasn’t ready for the influx of people, and there’s very little Class A office space on Miami Beach,” he observes. “There’s much more Class A in Miami proper, but also more houses and apartments, which we’ll need much more of as Miami continues to grow. There’s plenty of land to build on, and high rises need to push height restrictions.” Pareto Holdings isn’t alone in its nascent Florida love affair. Financial titans and deeppocketed startups Point72 Asset Management, Blackstone, Elliott Management, hedge fund Citadel LLC, XRP Capital, Thoma Bravo, Ramp Financial, and Goldman Sachs have all announced moves or expansions in the Greater Miami corridor. West across the peninsula, investor superstar Cathie Wood’s ARK Invest, with $78 billion in assets, moved its headquarters from New York to Tampa Bay, then launched ARK Innovation Center, a talent incubator. Rapid7, a $7 billion Bostonbased cybersecurity company, invaded Tampa Bay, too. The City of Miami estimates that since 2020, over 80 new-to-market companies have arrived, lured by its pro-business policies and purview. With the Miami-Dade County median household income hovering around $51,000, thousands of new, tech-driven, high-paying jobs are critical for local GDP growth to create a rising tide of newfound prosperity that floats more boats. In a huge “get” for The Miami-Dade Beacon Council and Miami Downtown Development Authority, Microsoft announced a new 50,000-squarefoot regional hub to house the tech giant’s


Latin America sales, marketing, and operations teams. As a matter of context, Microsoft’s current office in Fort Lauderdale manages 35 offices in 18 countries with a team of 4,000 employees supporting 80,000 Microsoft business partners. Philanthropically, the company asserts it has donated more than $441 million in software and cash to both startups and nonprofits. Joining Microsoft at 830 Brickell is coworking giant WeWork, which will occupy 100,000 square feet and potentially house hundreds of startups. The new wave of Silicon Valley’s influence is based in Wynwood’s rapidly developed hardscape, which is now anchored by pinnacle venture capital firms Founders Fund, SoftBank, and Atomic. In Miami’s collective “pinch us, we must be dreaming” best-case scenario, it’s astounding that the VCs that funded Facebook, SpaceX, Airbnb, Postmates, OpenStore, Affirm, Palantir, ByteDance/ TikTok, Doordash, OpenStore, and Uber

“Every day we think, ‘How do our investments catalyze change and get others involved?’ but ultimately we measure success through two lenses: job placement and wage gains.” – Hector Mujica

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sit alongside Coyo Taco, Wynwood Walls, and The Salty, where billion-dollar valuation unicorns eat donuts sold for $54 a dozen. Largely decamping from their offices at The Presidio of San Francisco, a former military fort, Keith Rabois and Founders Fund partner Peter Thiel are both all-in on Miami’s tech scene, purchasing Venetian Causeway homes a few islands apart and living in Miami virtually full time. At least four Founders Fund investors now live here, betting that Miami-based portfolio companies like ecommerce store buyer OpenStore, workforce on demand platform Traba, and insurance infrastructure provider Lula will be breakout winners. The firm typically supplies entrepreneurs with $1.5 to $15 million. Says Rabois, “Miami is the best city in the U.S. to live from weather, art, design, cuisine, happiness, and healthiness perspectives. It’s also at the intersection

NICK GARCIA/BLINDLIGHT STUDIO

Hector Mujica, Google.org’s Head of Economic Opportunity for The Americas


GREATER MIAMI CONVENTION & VISITORS BUREAU

The new wave of Silicon Valley’s influence is based in Wynwood’s rapidlydeveloped hardscape.

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$100 million fund to support underserved job seekers with pathways to digital economy jobs. Almost 10,000 Florida small business owners have been paired with digital coaches to hone their skills, while about 200,000 Floridians have received skills training through 430 local organizations Google supports. Google.org’s motivation is altruistic, Mujica says, to give those being left behind in a digital world a hand up with free programs. “As a company, we know a lot about technology, know a lot about computer science, artificial intelligence, and digital skills. Two-thirds of all jobs require digital skilling, and individuals without those skills will be left out of the economy, full stop.” On a typical day, Mujica and his team meet with community leaders, local governments, marginalized citizens, and other partner funders, including foundations such as Lumina Foundation and Walmart Foundation. “Every day we think, ‘How do our investments catalyze change and get others involved?’ but ultimately we measure success through two lenses: job placement and wage gains,” he explains. When asked if corporate social responsibility should be a vital component for startups, Oringer responds succinctly, “We need as many people as possible to realize that as they’re considering starting a company that they stay in Miami instead of leaving. Building a successful business and creating jobs really is the ultimate way to give back.”

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SHUTTERSTOCK/MARKELIZ

of entertainment, culture, and technology, which will form the future wave of startup innovation. From an investor perspective, Miami also propels investments in Latin America and Europe. People here are more diverse, more creative, and more original in their thinking than in California.” The world’s largest VC firm, Japan’s SoftBank, is equally enamored with Wynwood, investing in 12 local tech companies while drastically expanding the fund’s $100 million Miami Initiative to over $250 million due to sheer opportunity. The firm has over 100 local employees rumored to be moving into new Class A offices at the former site of Rubell Museum. With an eye on giving back, the company has launched SoftBank Operator School, a startup talent development initiative with partnerships with group Data Science 4 All / Correlation One and local colleges like Miami Dade College. But with so much money flowing seemingly at the top, perhaps no other company is investing more intently in digital equality and technology skill development and uplifting Miami’s marginalized communities than Google. Operating “at the intersection of social justice and technology,” Hector Mujica, Head of Economic Opportunity for The Americas, recently returned to Miami, alongside a team of more than 50 Google employees from the company’s Brickell office. Since 2018, Mujica has tripled the company’s Florida grantmaking efforts, supporting over 11,000 nonprofits with almost $31 million in free advertising in 2020 alone, while overseeing a multi-million America’s grant budget supporting organizations like Social Finance with a


Ken Griffin, Keith Rabois, and Peter Thiel are all-in on Miami’s tech scene, purchasing Venetian Causeway homes and lots on Star Island.

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Strength in Numbers Traditionally a male-dominated industry, women in tech are making their mark and uplifting one another. By Lauren Comander Portraits by Nick Garcia


WOMEN POWER From left to right: Top row – Maria Derechi Russo, Laura Gonzalez-Estefani; Second row – Leigh-Ann Buchanan, Johanna Mikkola, Francesca de Quesada Covey; Bottom row – Laura Maydon, Melissa Medina, Michelle Abbs


From left to right: Johanna Mikkola, VP & General Manager, BrainStation; Melissa Medina, President, eMerge Americas; Laura Maydon, Co-founder & Partner, Ascendo Venture Capital

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W “MIAMI IS AN AMAZING GROUND TO DEMONSTRATE AN INCLUSIVE TECH ECOSYSTEM THAT CAN REALLY SCALE, GROW, AND GENERATE GREAT RETURNS FOR INVESTORS AND ENTREPRENEURS.” —LAURA MAYDON

hen Francesca De Quesada Covey moved back to her hometown of Miami during the pandemic, countless stories of schoolchildren unable to access their classes because they didn’t have internet hit home. Years earlier, she and her boss, TheVentureCity Founder and CEO Laura Gonzalez-Estefani, had traveled through Latin America on behalf of Facebook, working to expand internet connectivity to underserved communities. De Quesada Covey, now partner at TheVentureCity, reached out to eMerge Americas President Melissa Medina. Within a week, they were discussing the issue over coffee. Medina, already knee-deep in an initiative called Miami Connected, put her in touch with other women working on the problem. “The partnership started because of women who were quick to say, ‘Yes, absolutely, let’s get involved and let’s see how we can make it work’ — and that’s super special!” says De Quesada Covey, who has since also taken on the role of Tech Innovation Advisor for Miami-Dade County, where she continues to help expand the project. “It’s a multipartnership, all-hands-on-deck effort to ensure broadband reaches households the same way as water and electricity.” No doubt, when Miami’s female tech leaders put their heads together to tackle a challenge, results follow. These women also show time and again what can be accomplished individually as they lead their companies amid today’s burgeoning tech scene. Their relations with one another blur

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the lines between professional and personal; it’s no wonder they broke into a chorus of “Lean on Me” during a recent photo shoot (they can sing, too!). “I always feel like I have a tribe,” gushes founder Johanna Mikkola, whose digital skills training company Wyncode Academy was acquired by BrainStation. Miami, as the country’s only major city founded by a woman (thanks, Julia Tuttle), is a natural backdrop for the girl power running through its ecosystem, where women hold leadership positions from Mayor Daniella Levine Cava on down. “It permeates into who you see taking on organic leadership roles within the tech ecosystem,” says aīre ventures founder Leigh-Ann Buchanan. “Everyone knows everybody, and we collaborate closely, celebrate each other’s wins, and help each other navigate growth.” During Christmas break 2020, as scores of tech companies relocated to Miami, Buchanan spearheaded a group of OGs to formulate a statement of shared values that had been quietly observed but never articulated. The #MiamiTech Manifesto declares, “We are not Silicon anything,” and affirms support for a collaborative, welcoming, and inclusive community. It now has 500-plus signatures. Add to this vibe a business-friendly environment, enviable diversity, and strategic geographic location, and you can see exactly what is so magical about the Magic City.

Spring 2022


…And it’s a Gateway to the Americas – and Beyond

Welcome to Miami! Facebook brought Gonzalez-Estefani to Miami in 2017, but when she was deciding where to build her own company, she didn’t want to leave and turned to a warehouse in Little Haiti for TheVentureCity’s headquarters. “Miami has what you need in an emerging dot com: a good quality of life and good people around who support you,” Gonzalez-Estefani says. It also has an infectious energy, states Maria Derchi Russo, Vice President of Platform and Community at Florida Funders and Executive Director at Refresh Miami. “I’ve heard newcomers compare the energy to freshman year of college, where everyone comes with an open heart and mind and is really excited to meet each other,” Russo continues. She has long been a uniter, forming the Women in Miami Tech group in 2016 to build camaraderie. “You want to build a strong network way before you need anything from them,” she reasons. …Where the Government Lends Support “How can I help?” The mantra made famous by city officials also permeates the Miami-Dade County government, where leaders work closely with the private sector and keep sight of the long game, says De Quesada Covey, the county’s Tech Innovation Advisor. “We focus on making sure our students are getting the right type of education, and we are preparing them to meet the demands of local job providers,” she explains. “We also focus on green technology and how we can be resilient and adaptable in a changing environment.”

…And Diversity is Celebrated Long appreciated for its diversity, Miami as a young tech ecosystem has the opportunity to sidestep biases found in other tech hubs, says Mikkola, now Vice President and General Manager of BrainStation. “Miami has always put diversity and inclusion at the center of what it’s doing,” she says. Though nationally less than 3 percent of funding goes toward Black, Latinx, or female entrepreneurs, Miami is well represented by these communities, said Laura Maydon, Co-founder of Ascendo Venture Capital, a firm that invests in South Florida companies led by these groups. “The overlooked potential for companies founded by minorities is one of the best investment opportunities in the venture capital industry,” Maydon continues. “Ascendo propels innovation through inclusion, and Miami is an amazing ground to demonstrate an inclusive tech ecosystem that can really scale, grow, and generate great returns for investors and entrepreneurs.” Michelle Abbs, Vice President of Community and Education at Metagood, a Web3 venture that uses funds from NFTs for social causes, is working to bring more women to the financial decision-making table by onboarding them in Web3. She founded Web3 Equity from a group chat she’d created on Christmas Eve, after friends asked for basic advice on investing in NFTs. It quickly ballooned to 400 people, including stay-at-home moms, seasoned professionals, and even a comedian, spawning in-person, sold-out events and recently launching an NFT collection. “Women see this opportunity and don’t want to be left behind,” Abbs explains. “But we want to do it with our eyes open, asking questions and learning alongside people we trust.”

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All the groundwork over the past decade to create a welcoming, diverse, inclusive environment is paying off, says Medina of eMerge Americas, whose mission to cement South Florida as a global tech hub is coming to fruition. “We had all the elements to attract top-tier tech talent and capital, but the pandemic exponentially accelerated any growth we would’ve had by shining a light on what we already knew was here: a launchpad for innovation and an amazing place to live, work, and play,” Medina champions. “We are seeing South Florida becoming a global tech hub, with Latin America playing a very important role.” What’s next? Miami 2.0, a global tech hub that embraces diversity and inclusion, Medina foresees. “We have all the elements to get this right,” she says. If the magic sauce is rooted in the concept of “Lean on Me,” Miami will stand tall.

“WOMEN SEE THIS OPPORTUNITY AND DON’T WANT TO BE LEFT BEHIND. BUT WE WANT TO DO IT WITH OUR EYES OPEN, ASKING QUESTIONS AND LEARNING ALONGSIDE PEOPLE WE TRUST.” —MICHELLE ABBS


From left to right: Laura Gonzalez-Estefani, Founder & GP, TheVentureCity; Michelle Abbs, VP of Community & Education, Metagood; Francesca De Quesada Covey, Partner, TheVentureCity; Leigh-Ann Buchanan, Founder, aīre ventures; Maria Derchi Russo, VP Platform & Community, Florida Funders, and ED, Refresh Miami


Head Honchos

How many womenfounded companies got funded in South Florida? We tallied it up.

Pitchbook reported that U.S. startups founded solely by women raised nearly

$6.4 billion

of venture funding in 2021, 83% higher than the total raised in 2020. Yet, this only accounted for 2% of dollars invested in VC-backed startups in the U.S. throughout the year.

THE PERCENTAGE WAS HIGHER —

16.6% OF DOLLARS

invested for teams with at least one female co-founder in the U.S. that were funded in 2021, Pitchbook’s data shows. That is up a bit from 14.7% in 2020.

Pitchbook provided underlying data for the Miami-Fort Lauderdale metro area, and from additional in-house research,

ADDED 3 DEALS

PHOTO BY SONYA REVELL

Pitchbook did not include. The findings were sobering: Despite our own record year, the region significantly lags behind the national averages — and that was a low bar to begin with.

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FRONT AND CENTER Maria Derchi Russo, VP Platform & Community, Florida Funders, takes the lead.

For startups funded solely by women in South Florida, there were at least 7 fundings in 2021 from Pitchbook’s data and our own research. Those totaled

$31.3 million

That represents 0.6% of the dollars in the Miami metro area, just over 0.5%.

For startups with at least one female co-founder on the team, here’s how the data broke down: There were 38 deals by companies with at least one co-founder with disclosed funding amounts — and most of the companies had only one. Those deals attracted

$362.6 million in funding. That’s just 6.8% of the funding pie, far below the percentage nationally. These companies represented just under 13% of the deals in the tri-county area.

A few more interesting findings in the data: Just 10 companies were headed by female CEOs (this subset does not include female CEOs who were not founders, such as Magic Leap’s Peggy Johnson). The average size deal for this subset of companies with at least one female founder was

$9.5 million

. The average-size deal for the 7 all-female founded companies: $5.4 million. Top rounds with at least one women founder included Eight Sleep ($86 million) of Miami; Misfits Gaming ($35 million) of Boca Raton; and Corellium ($25 million) of Boynton Beach.

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SHUTTERSTOCK/ILIKEYELLOW


Techonomics Helpful insights into cryptocurrency and blockchain, and what they mean to businesses and the everyday consumer. By Doreen Hemlock


SHUTTERSTOCK/WHITEMOCCA

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M

ention cryptocurrency and non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and many people think about buying new digital coins or digital art in hopes that their prices will rise later. But there’s lots more to it, specialists say: Both are components of a new generation of the internet called Web 3.0, which is starting to revolutionize business and daily life, even for non-techies. Think how the internet has already changed the world. Web 1.0 with its dial-up modems expanded interpersonal communication, with companies like AOL. Speedier Web 2.0 propelled social media and video-rich communities, with leaders like Facebook. Now, more powerful Web 3.0 is facilitating 3D immersive experiences and online ownership, with new ways to buy, sell, and protect such digital assets as photos, videos, music, artwork, documents, and virtual-reality tours. Web 3.0 even makes it possible for creators to collect royalties on the digital assets they make and sell online, thanks to new “smart contracts.” “This market is exploding,” says Hemang Subramanian, an associate professor of information systems and

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business analytics at Florida International University. For example, Microsoft is buying video game maker Activision Blizzard for $69 billion to acquire games that sell “land” and other digital assets inside their virtual worlds. Continues Subramanian: “Everyone wants to play in this Metaverse space.” Key to the 3.0 market are digital currencies such as Bitcoin, which are built on a technology called blockchain. They use math and computer code in a peerto-peer network to ease buying and selling of digital assets, and they record transactions on the network in blocks chained together in a secure, public ledger. The network provides a “token” of ownership for each digital asset, which is unique and not fungible or replaceable by another. The system depends on trust in the algorithms, much like the dollar system relies on trust in the U.S. government, specialists say. The digital currencies have many potential benefits. In the “real” world, they can help families send money to a relative overseas or pay property taxes on a home abroad, without the usual fees that come from switching from one nation’s currency to another, explains Subramanian. In the “virtual” world, they also can pay for a digital “property” inside a video game, where a company might start a store to sell such online experiences as a virtual

Spring 2022


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Of course, governments still need to regulate cryptocurrency, just as they do stock markets, Subramanian continues. They need to protect users against unfair trade practices, such as “pump and dump” schemes where internet influencers widely tout a digital coin to push up its value and then cash out fast, leaving other investors with crypto-currency worth little, he says. The rules and scope of the new market are still evolving, as Web 3.0 takes off. “We’re building skyscrapers, and this is just the basement level now,” says Miami tech entrepreneur Abbs. “The opportunities are endless.”

SHUTTERSTOCK/LIGHTSPRING

We’re building skyscrapers, and this is just the basement level now. The opportunities are endless.

reality tour or offer visitors first dibs on such real-world goods as concert tickets, says Michelle Abbs, founder of female-focused Web3 Equity and an investor in NFTs. Consumers already spend plenty of money on digital assets — paying pesos for a Netflix subscription, for instance. But with Web 3.0 and digital coins, ownership can shift more easily from big intermediaries like Netflix and spread out more widely. Indeed, that’s what proponents of Bitcoin first sought: more decentralized finance, dubbed DeFi, with less reliance on governments and banks, says Subramanian.



SPECIAL MUNICIPALITY PROFIILE

CITY OF DORAL, FLORIDA

Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez 8401 NW 53rd Terrace Doral, FL 33166 (305) 593-6725 x7000 www.cityofdoral.com Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @cityofdoral

Get to Know the City of Doral From Its Own Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez: Can you explain Doral’s Smart City strategy? A Smart City is an urban area that uses technology to collect, crunch, and communicate data with residents and businesses. The City invests in modern, high-tech infrastructure to collect actionable data, facilitate government interactions, communicate information, and improve quality of life for the community. Our Smart City approach was adopted in Strategic Planning in 2015 to enhance accessibility, sustainability, livability, and transparency, and has gone through several phases. In 2016,

Doral solidified its Smart City status by obtaining Platinum Level Certifications from the World Council on City Data for ISO 37120, which includes over 100 measures based on international standards for smart and sustainable cities. Doral is the only city in Florida to achieve this certification, and through this internationally recognized thirdparty certification, Doral joins a network of cities like Boston, Dubai, Amsterdam, London, and Shanghai adopting a culture of data to drive innovation. WCCD’s data provides verifiable measurement of a city’s performance relative to other great cities of the world — and the opportunities for the city to showcase its strengths. More recently, in 2021, Doral became one of only 10 cities in the world to acquire the new ISO 37122 certification for Sustainable Cities and Communities. Have you seen more tech-centered businesses opening in the City? Yes, we have continued to see a rise in companies categorized as advanced industries coming into Doral. The advanced industries sector consists of four broad superclusters: manufacturing, distribution, services, and communications. From aviation to biotech to clean energy to film production, Doral has been attracting a wide variety of companies that are driven by technology. This has been going on for a few years, as was documented in a 2017 Economic Assessment study by Florida International University. That study showed that, “Doral has an exceptionally high proportion of business firms and establishments in the Advanced Industries Sector.” It went on to state: “The City is home to 775 establishments and firms within the Advanced Industries Sector,” and that these businesses employ 11,272 workers, “or just over 11 percent of the City’s employment base, and generate over $2 billion in

local sales, and more globally.” The study concluded: “Given that Advanced Industries employment represents 9 percent of U.S. employment, and only 3 percent of the state’s total employment, the City of Doral has a growing potential as a leading, high-concentration Florida location for the Advanced Industry Sector.” This trend has only continued to grow since the study was published. What is the most rewarding aspect of being mayor of the City of Doral? As the founding Mayor of the City, it has been an extremely rewarding experience to be part of the process of incorporation from the beginning and to now witness how far we have come. I remember starting my family here when there were no parks for my children to enjoy, no free public transit, and a very limited amount of dining and


entertainment options. Nineteen years later, Doral is a bustling metropolis and an economic engine for the region that is drawing new investors, families, and visitors. Through it all we have continued our commitment to our residents and to their quality of life with transparency and accountability. That is something of which I will always remain proud. What are the City’s most attractive offerings for potential residents? Doral truly is the premier place to live, work, learn, and play! We have a diverse inventory of beautiful homes, top-rated schools, world-class parks (with more on the way, thanks to the Parks Bond!) and a dining and entertainment scene that continues to blossom. Additionally, Doral continues to have the 2nd lowest millage rate in Miami-Dade County, while providing high level municipal services.

Have there been any recent developments? The remarkable thing about Doral is that the City’s economy has continued to benefit from accelerated growth in all of the clusters under the advanced industries sector. The pandemic actually seems to have contributed to demand for Doral’s industrial spaces, which is where most of the light manufacturing, distribution, logistics, and tech firms are located. The rapid rise of e-commerce brought on by the pandemic has increased demand dramatically and has led to major new construction projects that will add hundreds of acres of top-of-theline new industrial spaces to the City. Another major development has been the opening of new hospitals in the city, including Jackson West and Baptist Health Hospital, which have ramped up ancillary health industry uses in the City. An example would be Dispatch Health, an innovative company that literally brings healthcare to your door through a mobile medical response team that combines live and virtual treatments for many health issues. The City also continues to be a hub for medical research, with companies like TissueTech acquiring new patents for groundbreaking medical procedures that seemed like science fiction just a few years ago. In fact, according to the World Council on City Data, Doral is proportionally at the top of the list among its smart city-certified cities for the numbers of new patents per population per year, beating out major cities like London, Amsterdam, Toronto, and Los Angeles in this category. That says a lot about the kind of innovation happening in this city. Are you planning any new initiatives for the community in 2022? The Doral Parks Bond, which was approved by voters, continues to make great progress. This year we’ll be opening the new Doral White Course Park in the southern portion of Downtown Doral. This park is a great addition to the community with dog park areas, fitness equipment, stateof-the-art playground, and a putting

green as an homage to Doral’s rich golf history. We’ll also be inaugurating the Doral Cultural Center, across from the Government Center. This facility will be a great place to expand our cultural offerings to the community with art galleries, programs for all ages and special receptions. In the past two years, we have focused on enriching the cultural opportunities in Doral by bringing the Miami City Ballet for “The Nutcracker;” exhibiting public art from renowned artist, Manolo Valdes; and currently we are in the process of acquiring more art for the community to enjoy. What is the makeup of current residents? Are they mostly families, singles, etc.? Our thriving City continues to grow. Census 2020 data revealed that our population is now at 75,699. We are seeing more and more young professionals, families, and business investors choosing Doral. We have a great mix of cultures and nationalities that include Colombians, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans, Brazilians, and Cubans. Also, as we’ve seen people from elsewhere in the United States relocate to Florida, many of them are choosing our City to grow their families and start their businesses. What main thing would you want potential residents to know? The main thing I would want potential residents to know is that Doral is a model city on the rise with so much to offer. It is a business-friendly and safe community, with a responsible government that prioritizes their quality of life.


TUTTLE TRIBE NFT #240 FROM MELISSA MEDINA’S PERSONAL NFT COLLECTION

FROM CHAMPIONS WITHIN OUR LOCAL GOVERNMENT TO PRIVATE SECTOR SUPPORT, IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO RAISE AN INNOVATIVE INDUSTRY. By Doreen Hemlock

COURTESY OF MAYOR FR ANCIS SUAREZ

Tech Support


CITY OF MIAMI MAYOR SUAREZ CHANGED THE GAME WITH HIS TWEET HEARD ‘ROUND THE WORLD.


D

uring his Cafecito Talks with entrepreneurs, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez likes to roll out statistics that prove South Florida’s rise as a tech hub since COVID: No. 1 in the nation for new tech jobs, No. 1 for tech job migration, $1.2 trillion in new assets under management, 200 percent growth in venture-capital deals and No. 1 in pandemic recovery. Now, he and his Miami-Dade County counterpart, Daniella Levine Cava, are boosting support for the surging tech community, eager to bring more highpaying jobs and economic opportunity to the area. Both have named tech advisors to their teams, with Suarez’s Venture Miami Executive Director aiming for another 200 percent growth in VC funding for the area this year after a record $4.5 billion in 2021.

“WE’RE EXCEEDING OUR GOALS FOR ATTRACTION OF BUSINESS AND MAYBE FOR ATTRACTION OF TALENT [IN GREATER MIAMI TECH], BUT WE’RE NOT YET WHERE WE NEED TO BE IN TERMS OF GROWING OUR LOCAL TALENT AND LOCAL ENTREPRENEURS,” SAYS LEVINE CAVA. 64

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“Our strategy is very simple,” says Suarez, the son of a former Miami mayor with Cuban roots. “We openly engage with business owners, and we ask them very plainly: ‘How can I help?’ Miami is built on a common theme: the people who come here are sick and tired of being left behind — or worse, being persecuted by their governments — and they come here in search of a better life, and in return, they make our city better.” Suarez made headlines in December 2020 with a four-word response to a California tech funder, who had asked on Twitter: “What if we move Silicon Valley to Miami?” Suarez tweeted back: “How can I help?” Then, the mayor put up billboards in Silicon Valley: “Thinking of moving to Miami, DM me.” His timing was perfect. Miami had long offered warm weather, no state income tax,

COURTESY OF MAYOR LEVINE CAVA

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY MAYOR LEVINE CAVA SEES HER ROLE AS “COLLABORATORIN-CHIEF.”



business relocation incentives, receptivity to new arrivals, and other perks for enterprises. But, remote work under COVID made location decisions more fluid than ever before, sending many working in tech south to lower-tax states. “COVID helped people choose a lifestyle for where they worked, and we were open,” says Levine Cava, Miami-Dade’s first female mayor and the first of Jewish descent. “South Florida got on the map as a place of choice. We have to seize that. As Mayor Suarez says, ‘It’s not a moment but a movement.’” While both Suarez and Levine Cava are lawyers, each has their own unique focus to expand tech. With his background in finance, Suarez champions making Miami “the capital of capital.” He’s hot on cryptocurrency, helped organize a Bitcoin conference in 2021 that drew

12,000 people to Miami, and launched a MiamiCoin, which delivered $5.25 million in cash to city coffers as its first payout in February. Taking over as the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors this year, he’s even urging fellow mayors to embrace digital currency. “I’ve kind of become America’s crypto mayor,” Suarez told a recent tech conference in the city where NBA basketball games are hosted in an arena named for cryptocurrency exchange FTX. “I truly believe that the road forward for cities lies in channeling the power of blockchain technologies to make offerings for our residents more robust in support of quality of life, ease of commerce, and competitiveness.” Levine Cava, with her background in social work and nonprofits, is keen on

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WITH HIS BACKGROUND IN FINANCE, SUAREZ CHAMPIONS MAKING MIAMI “THE CAPITAL OF CAPITAL.” LEVINE CAVA, WITH HER BACKGROUND IN SOCIAL WORK AND NONPROFITS, IS KEEN ON WIDENING THE BENEFITS OF TECH TO THE ENTIRE COMMUNITY.

COURTESY OF EMERGE AMERICAS

SAIF ISHOOF LEADS THE 2019 EGOV SUMMIT AT eMERGE AMERICAS.


MDCTECH MDCTECH Fueling Miami’s Tech Talent LEARN AT MDC HIRE TALENT FROM MDC COLLABORATE WITH MDC


widening the benefits of tech to the entire community, especially the young and marginalized. She’s started a Miami-Dade County partnership with Microsoft for digital skills training to help get residents job ready. She’s teamed with local group BizHack to train small businesses on how to better incorporate tech into their ventures. And she’s working with local REDI Scorecard to bring more racial equity, diversity, and inclusion into tech. “We’re exceeding our goals for attraction of business and maybe for attraction of talent [in

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Greater Miami tech], but we’re not yet where we need to be in terms of growing our local talent and local entrepreneurs,” says Levine Cava, who sees her role as “collaborator-inchief” to spread opportunity. Though the two mayors differ — Suarez is 43 and Republican, Levine Cava is 66 and Democrat — both agree on the need to elevate local education to make Greater Miami a sustainable tech hub. Says Suarez: “It isn’t only about importing the world’s brightest minds; it’s about creating the world’s brightest minds right here at home.

GREATER MIAMI CONVENTION & VISITORS BUREAU

SAYS LEVINE CAVA: “TECH IS THE NEW LANGUAGE OF OUR ECONOMY AND OUR CULTURE. EVERYTHING HAS A TECH COMPONENT. I CALL IT ‘TECH IN ALL THINGS.’”


eMerge Americas — We’re proud to support you As part of our $1.25 billion, five-year commitment to advance racial equality and economic opportunity, Bank of America has increased our investments to benefit minority-owned businesses. Our increased commitment will accelerate the flow of capital to help establish and grow their businesses and ultimately spur job growth and more economic opportunity.

Visit us at bankofamerica.com/ And that starts with ensuring that Miami has a world-class education system.” Both also see tech as essential to diversify jobs and increase incomes in the Greater Miami area long dependent on tourism, trade, and real estate. Says Levine Cava: “Tech is the new language of our economy and our culture. Everything has a tech component. I call it ‘tech in all things.’ So, it’s vital that we all be tech savvy, tech curious… Then, because it’s really a booming industry, we want to get an outsize share of the new economy.”

©2022 Bank of America Corporation | MAP4117394 | ESG-297-AD


/ eMerging Entrepreneurs

NICK MOLINA/BLINDLIGHT STUDIO

NICK MOLINA AND HIS DOG AT HOME IN KEY BISCAYNE.

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Hungry for More Serial Entrepreneur Nick Molina on the genesis, and course corrections, of startup Hungry Bark. By Bill Kearney

Molina has successfully launched and exited four businesses over 30 years. His latest venture, Hungry Bark, is an online dog food company.

Nick Molina, the son of Cuban immigrants, grew up in South Florida and made his parents proud by attending the University of Miami, but his entrepreneurial impulse kept pulling him out of class. It was 1989, and despite his father wanting him on campus, Molina and a friend launched Let’s Talk Cellular & Wireless. Originally launched out of a van, Let’s Talk skyrocketed to become the U.S.’s largest independent wireless retailer, even achieving an IPO. With exit dollars in hand, Molina bowed out of daily management and was off to new ideas. That bootstrap entrepreneurial instinct has served Molina well. All told, he’s successfully launched and exited four businesses over 30 years, from an online car financing company to the largest direct TV dealer in the U.S. In 2020, despite zero experience in either the pet or food industries, he launched his fifth, Hungry Bark, an online dog food company offering smart nutrition plans based on a dog’s age, genetics, activity level and allergies. Molina, a passionate rescue dog owner with three dogs at his Key Biscayne home, first took note of the $90-billion pet space after investing in another pet business.

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He was also experiencing a personal health renaissance, exploring custom nutrition for his specific age and genetics. “That personal wellness journey got me thinking, and I came up with the Hungry Bark concept. Dog owners are confused by what to feed their dog and need, through science, to be told,” he says. Tailored diets, he believes, are the future. Molina timed the venture perfectly. Dania Beach-based Chewy, the $7 billion online pet retailer, sold for $3.35 billion to PetSmart, while the pandemic quarantine led to record pet spending. How does a cellphone entrepreneur navigate how to produce, position and e-tail supernutritious dog food? “What I’ve learned is to bring in people that are a lot smarter than you, explain the vision, and get out of the way,” he says. Molina hired pet nutritionists, vetted their formulations with veterinarians, then created the four recipes that form Hungry Bark’s nutritional foundation. He also engaged ecommerce and digital ad experts who rigorously A/B tested online strategies. Ever learning, Molina made vital pivots along the way, such as tweaking the website’s initial dog health questionnaire used to formulate the customized diet. Sales conversion rates spiked. Valuable data poured in. Molina’s ah ha moment? He and Shorty have a morning routine where she ignores breakfast and follows him to his home gym. The first time he fed her Hungry Bark, she skipped the gym and chowed right down. “That’s when I knew we had something really cool.”

Spring 2022


/ eMerging Entrepreneurs

Playtime is Calling Maxeme Tuchman’s brainchild, Caribu, helped keep families together virtually throughout the darkest days of the pandemic. By Lauren Comander

FOR MIAMI’S OWN HOMEGROWN ENTREPRENEUR, KIDS COME FIRST.

SONYA REVELL

When schools shuttered their doors and grandparents stopped boarding planes in March 2020, back when COVID-19 was novel and most people had never considered a virtual playdate, Miamibased startup Caribu was prepared. As an interactive video-calling platform helping kids have virtual playdates when they can’t be physically together, Caribu already offered a way to alleviate social isolation for two groups particularly vulnerable under lockdown: young children and their grandparents. Co-founder and CEO Maxeme Tuchman had met her moment, and she sprang into action. “I was watching what was happening to my friends in Hong Kong, and I started researching the flu pandemic of 1919,” she said. “I mentally prepared myself for at least 18 months and for Caribu to play a big role in that. Preparation met opportunity, and we were ready for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!” Tuchman called Caribu investor Kevin Jonas — yes, the same Kevin Jonas who invested in the company after searching for a way to better connect with his young daughters while on tour — and released a video of him reading Thomas the Train in conjunction with its 75th anniversary.

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Literally overnight, every performance metric in the company — downloads, calls, minutes — ballooned by 10 times. “The company went viral, and it didn’t stop for months,” Tuchman said. “It was insane. It’s exactly what you want as a founder, but I promise you, you don’t want it to happen in 24 hours!” She hasn’t slept much since, starting each workday at noon EST and, aside from an hourlong dinner break at 9pm, plowing through until 6am. “It works for me,” she said with a shrug. “We have customers in 200 countries, so last night I was on Instagram telling someone in Australia about our family plan!” From the time she was a kid hanging around her parents’ clothing store on Flagler Street, soaking up accounting lessons in the back room with her mother and networking strategies out front with her father, Tuchman knew she wanted to become an entrepreneur. “They were two ‘Jewban’ immigrants who literally had nothing and created a store,” she recalled. “It was my first MBA!” She refined her business acumen at Harvard’s MBA program years later and, after a stint as executive director of Teach for America Miami-Dade and as a senior policy advisor and White House Fellow during the Obama administration, Tuchman landed on a now-defunct website called Founder Dating. There, she connected with engineer Alvaro Sabido and, in 2017, Caribu was born. They resolved to stay in Miami at a time when that was a radical idea. “It added a level of difficulty we didn’t need,” she said. “Everyone was betting against Miami, but that’s fuel to any Latina! Now everyone is moving here!” As the 59th Latina in the country to raise more than $1 million in venture funding, Tuchman knows first-hand the challenges faced by women and people of color in the fundraising sphere. But she isn’t deterred by challenges. A film buff who loves krav maga and her Havanese pup Lunita, Tuchman says she won’t rest until Caribu achieves global domination. “There are so many people in the world who don’t know about Caribu, and there is so much more we can do with the platform!”

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NICK MOLINA/BLINDLIGHT STUDIO

/ eMerging Entrepreneurs

FELECIA HATCHER FORESEES A BRIGHT FUTURE FOR MINORITY ENTREPRENEURS.

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Eye on the Prize Local business leader Felecia Hatcher sets her sights on adding 9 million jobs via minority entrepreneurs. By Lauren Comander

As Felecia Hatcher worked to get her popsicle business off ice in 2008, there were no interested legitimate investors in sight and there was no natural community for the young entrepreneur to join. She looked around and realized her peers had the same experience. “I didn’t want anyone of color to go through that again,” says Hatcher, who hailed from a marketing background for companies like Sony and Nintendo. Hatcher became a champion of minority entrepreneurs, launching Code Fever Miami (now called the Center for Black Innovation) with husband Derick Pearson to help eliminate innovation deserts in Black communities. So when Pharrell Williams set out earlier this year to form Black Ambition, a nonprofit to level the playing field by funding and mentoring Black and Hispanic entrepreneurs, it was only natural that his team seek out Hatcher to lead the charge as chief executive officer. “I would love to say the ‘Yes!’ came easily, but it didn’t — even though it’s Pharrell Williams,” remembers

Hatcher, 38, mom of two young children. “But being able to directly fund entrepreneurs is something that definitely was a direction I wanted to move toward and I couldn’t say no.” The minority entrepreneurship struggle is real: According to Black Ambition’s research, among founders of VC-backed companies, only 3% are Black or Hispanic; Black and Hispanic people make up approximately 30% of the U.S. population, but only about 20% of its entrepreneurs; and if Black and Hispanic people were supported to succeed as entrepreneurs at the same rate as white people, the United States could add 1.1 million new businesses and 9 million new jobs to the economy. Through a prize-style competition, The Black Ambition Prize, 34 startups across the nation representing the design, technology, consumer goods, and healthcare sectors were awarded prizes in July 2021 ranging from $15,000 to $1 million. Along with the money comes a cohort-style mentorship program, connecting winners with leaders from valuable partners like Chanel, Adidas, and Visa. “The startup founders have bold, ambitious ideas that need backing and ongoing support and access to mentors, venture capitalists and angel investors,” Hatcher explains. “We are changing the narrative. Culture is an asset, and you should be expecting an amazing ROI when investing in Black and Latinx startup founders.” Early results are in, demonstrating just how far a seed investment and mentorship can go with the right entrepreneurs. After only a few months, Alodia, a company revolutionizing scalp and hair care for textured hair, found itself preparing to launch in 250 Target stores and 350 department stores in Africa, Hatcher gushes. Meantime, Beereaders, a digital reading comprehension platform that improves literacy for Spanish-speaking students, saw a 70 percent increase in revenue month over month. “We are getting emails from our founders daily with transformational things happening. You have to scratch your head and say, ‘Why have people

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been ignoring you?’ These companies have been right in front of them. You have to look at racism and bias and address the ugly elephant in the room. We want to create an environment where time, dollars, and resources are guiding stars within our organization.” As the mastermind behind Black Ambition, Williams’ involvement includes hosting town hall meetings with the recipients and frequently checking in on them, as well as recruiting his brilliant friends to serve as mentors. “A lot of people focus on the cash we give away, but the unprecedented resources of people who can make really solid introductions — sometimes you can’t put a price on that,” Hatcher continues. “And it’s also not a bad thing to be able to say Pharrell Williams invested in your company.” Applications, which topped 2,000 in the first round, opened again in the first quarter of 2022. While the funding currently comes from partner companies, including Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and The Rockefeller Foundation, the hope is that in the future, recipients will pay it forward. “We want our founders to do really well and have immense impacts in the communities they live in, and then we want them to contribute knowledge or dollars or social capital back to the Black Ambition circle.” And Hatcher foresees a great future. “We want to build really strong companies and play as big a role as we can in that.”

“We want our founders to do really well and have immense impacts in the communities they live in, and then we want them to contribute knowledge or dollars or social capital back to the Black Ambition circle.”


/ eMerging Entrepreneurs

Eyecatching Chris Adamo, sets his sights on helping entrepreneurs achieve their business goals. By Lauren Comander

When entrepreneur Chris Adamo wore a Jams World Hawaiian shirt gifted to him by his wife to an Art Basel event in 2016, he didn’t realize he’d never go another day without one. “Everyone stopped me and asked me about the shirt,” he says. “So I kept wearing it as an experiment.” Four months later, his father (who suffered from memory loss) didn’t remember much but he remembered his shirts. “It became my uniform,” Adamo, 41, continues. “People tend to smile when they see me, and they want to talk to me. Wearing something bright and memorable helps folks feel like they want to connect with you, and the world is your oyster.” Indeed, the world has become Adamo’s oyster. The mogul, who now has more than 100 Jams World shirts in his closet that he pairs with black pants and sneakers, has a roster of business successes including Whereby.us, Letterhead, and Flamingo Capital.

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“In New York City, life is so big and you feel so small. In Miami, it’s more accessible to achieve your dreams. Things haven’t been established so you can build what you want here.”

on building community through membership.” Adamo learned hard work early on, constantly having to blend in and make new friends because he moved nearly every year with his single mom. At age 12, he honed his teamwork skills and work ethic as a Junior Olympian traveling the world for baseball. “Entrepreneurs are always starting over fresh and adapting to new situations. I couldn’t think of a better way to grow up to prepare me for what I do today.” His thoughts for budding entrepreneurs? “Find your own version of that Hawaiian shirt,” he advises, “and be known for something that people want to talk about.”

NICK GARCIA/BLINDLIGHT STUDIO

In Living Color

Adamo is currently most focused on Flamingo Capital, a venture capital syndicate he started with Adam Garfield and Will Weinraub. “We’ve been friends for a long time and we are pooling our networks together to find interesting companies and help them raise money,” he explains. “We know what it takes to be a first-time founder in Miami and get the respect for people to invest in you.” In its first six months, the company made 14 investments. “I’m seeing so many amazing entrepreneurs and investors move here every day, and I’m learning from them!” he gushes. “Miami is very welcoming to people who are transplants. If there is something you want to do, you ask around and build it together.” That’s precisely what Adamo has done. He made his way to the city from New York in a move with an ironic twist: fleeing Hurricane Sandy with his wife, Miami native Randi Wolfson. “Miami has made me the person I am today, by far.” Adamo recently moved from Miami Beach to Pinecrest with his wife and two sons, ages 2 and 1. “In New York City, life is so big and you feel so small. In Miami, it’s more accessible to achieve your dreams. Things haven’t been established so you can build what you want here.” Whereby.us is one of those. The media tech startup has launched five local publications, including Miami’s The New Tropic. “Our dream is to have one of those in every city around the world!” he continues. From there, they spun off Letterhead, a newsletter platform. “It has really taken off, and I’m focused


ADAMO’S TRADEMARK LOOK OPENS DOORS AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP OPPORTUNITIES.

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Hot Shots Derrick Thomas’ Miami Tech Runs takes crypto to court... the basketball court. By Lauren Comander

NICK MOLINA/BLINDLIGHT STUDIO

Derrick Thomas has always been serious about basketball, recruited from his hometown of Harlem as a teenager to play hoops for a boarding school and then later at Drexel University. He counts NBA players among his friends and former roommates. Still, when he recently found himself playing at the FTX Arena with some 55 like-minded Miamians, he was in awe. As the closing event to Season One of Miami Tech Runs, the first sports club to exist on a blockchain, Thomas marveled that the group he launched with the help of friends drew the likes of mainstream executives, startup founders, and even NFL players. Members — 80 percent of whom knew nothing about cryptocurrency when they first joined Miami Tech Runs — used tokens to partake in the game while off the court, forged connections, and gained new skills. “Our mission is simple: to be the ultimate playground in the metaverse at the intersection of sports, crypto, and culture,” Thomas explains. “We come together to play basketball, but we leave better than we came: whether that’s a new relationship or one that has fostered deeper, a better understanding of fitness and mental health, or a better understanding of

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a topic we talked about on the sidelines.” The idea for Miami Tech Runs was a long time coming for Thomas, who created an App in college to connect collegiate athletes with qualified agents after being unimpressed with the ones he encountered while trying to further his own sports career. Because of NCAA rules, Thomas, a communications and mass media major, wasn’t allowed to monetize the App. He moved to Florida and worked as one of Tesla’s top producers before joining a private equity fund in 2017, where he learned about cryptocurrency. After the 2018 crash, Thomas doubled down and began investing in crypto. “I tried version 2.0 of what I did in college,” Thomas says. “I connected athletes to managers and housed their contracts on the blockchain. But because of COVID, players didn’t care about connecting to the right agents anymore. They wanted to connect to people to create economic opportunities for themselves. I thought, ‘What if we could wrap a token around things we are already active and familiar with?’” Enter Miami Tech Runs, which brings members together twice a month to play basketball, drones flying overhead to capture footage. But it doesn’t stop with sports: they have token-gated dinner meetings and an active chat group that sees high-level executives interacting six hours a month. The game at FTX Arena spurred people in 10 cities to reach out about starting their own DAO. LA Tech Runs launched with 60 members. “It took off!” says Thomas, 31 and father of two young boys. “We can see a world where

“We can see a world where Miami Tech Runs is the ultimate playground where people come together for sports and learn about crypto. The future is bright!”

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Miami Tech Runs is the ultimate playground where people come together for sports and learn about crypto. The future is bright!” With a waitlist in the hundreds and interest exploding, Thomas is confident the Magic City is the ideal locale for Miami Tech Runs to meet its goals. “We have great political governance that is very pro blockchain and crypto currency,” Thomas says. “We have a great climate and a really good quality of life, and the people here are very inclusive in a diverse way.”


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