A veritable army of commentators in the last couple of years have lauded south Florida, and Miami in particular, as both the tech gateway to a burgeoning Latin American market and the heir apparent to the Silicon Valley crown. In Miami, Microsoft launched its first US-based Innovation Center this summer and Venture Hive, a Miami-based accelerator, incubator and host of the Microsoft Center, recently won a $50,000 award in the inaugural nationwide Growth Accelerator Fund competition. Venture Hive was originally launched with a grant from Miami and Miami-Dade County, making it the first tech-entrepreneurship program in the area to receive some significant government support.
While the commitment to organizing brain power is certainly palpable, especially in what many deem a fragmented city in terms of geography and other factors, certain barriers remain: the lack of venture capital and state, city and county support needed for developing, launching, and ultimately exiting a tech startup. We have probably all seen at least one of the recent television commercials for the “START-UP NY” program in New York that establishes a tax free zone for new and expanding businesses to operate 100% tax-free for ten years. Yes, south Florida has the benefits of no income tax (and certainly better weather), but how does that stack up against New York’s new program? While the commitment by the state, the city of Miami, and Miami-Dade County may be lagging behind the lightning speed of tech startup ideas and movement, not everything is doom and gloom.
For starters, there is the Florida Institute for Commercialization of Public Research and the Florida Technology Seed Capital Fund (a subsidiary of the Institute). The Institute provides between $50,000 and $300,000 in seed funding to companies who qualify and has funded 33 companies since the Institute’s inception in 2007. However, an applicant must have a core product based on technology developed at a university, college, research institute or other publicly supported research institute or publicly supported research organization in Florida and the application must secure match funding from the private sector. The Access Capital Team, a collaboration between certain chambers of commerce, has a program for funding small businesses. Florida also offers certain financial incentives that could be attractive for a particular type of tech startup, especially if the startup hires employees located in an Enterprise Zone. The Knight Foundation recently announced three new initiatives to bridge the so-called “funding gap”: Accelerated Growth Partners, investor education and bringing or launching local Series A venture capital funds.
The success of the eMerge Americas Techweek in Miami in May, which attracted over 6,000 attendees and hundreds of companies, was another signal of the growing focus between developing ideas, a framework for success and also access to capital in south Florida. The recent success of Miami-based Venture Hive in winning a nationwide award, following the 2012 launching of a $2 billion U.S. Small Business Administration initiative for impact investing and early-stage seed financing and the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, is another sign of south Florida’s competitiveness in this area. While state and local funding may not be able to keep pace with the tech startups in south Florida, a commitment to public awareness and removal of barriers to the exchanging of information and the access to capital will certainly go a long way to cementing south Florida’s place in the tech world.