A passionate conversation about the Miami startup scene began on Twitter last month after a Bay Area venture capitalist tweeted, “what if we move silicon valley to miami” and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez responded, “How can I help?”
Miami boosters have long pushed the Magic City as the next tech startup hub. Now, a year into the Covid-19 era, their pitch has gained greater appeal, given the widespread embrace of remote work and newfound appreciation for outdoor living spaces. Of course, the friendly tax climate–Florida has no personal income taxes–and the mild winter weather have long drawn newcomers, as have its enviable position as a gateway to Latin America and its glittering nightlife. Now, a number of high-profile arrivals are driving new excitement about Miami’s startup ecosystem. Here’s what has startup leaders talking:
Among the notable recent moves to Miami are Blackstone Group and Goldman Sachs, which both have opened offices there, as well as investor Keith Rabois, general partner at Founders Fund, who held executive roles at PayPal, LinkedIn, and Square, and Jonathan Oringer, founder and executive chairman of Shutterstock. “Let’s be real: Proximity breeds familiarity,” says Leigh-Ann Buchanan, president and director of Venture Café Miami, a nonprofit that connects innovators. Trust, access, and relationships with high-growth startups can follow from there, she says.
A year ago, the biggest challenge for Miami startups was persuading engineers and developers to move there. Not anymore: Local startups are embracing remote workers more than ever–and remote employees are loving them back. Fort Lauderdale-based Boatsetter, a boat-rental marketplace, recently doubled its staff when it gave up its office, freeing up funds, which also went into developing its technology after a pandemic-related spike in interest, according to Jaclyn Baumgarten, CEO and co-founder.
The pandemic era also has seen job candidates more open than ever to moving to Miami, says Andrew Parker, CEO of Papa, a Miami startup that pairs older adults and families with helpers. Papa recently signed a lease for a nontraditional office, designed for collaboration and not commuting to every day, in the up-and-coming Brickell neighborhood, with a “mini New York” feel where people can walk to work. Because of the pandemic, “it’s much smaller than it would have otherwise been,” Parker says. Maxeme Tuchman, CEO and co-founder of Caribu, a video platform for playdates, says she always hired remotely but sees the city as more attractive than ever. “A lot of people saw what it was like to be locked down in a cold place,” says Tuchman, who lived in San Francisco. When winter arrived in the rest of the country, the calls started coming, says Buchanan. “I got pings from my friends in Chicago, in the Bay Area, asking where a good place to rent is,” she says.
South Florida has been hailed from time to time in the past as a growing tech economy, says Adam Garfield, CEO and co-founder of SpeedETab, a provider of delivery and marketing services for restaurants, but the place didn’t have a firm base yet to support it. “Does it have legs behind it now? I think it absolutely does,” he says. The Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach area ranked No. 16 in the U.S. for venture capital deal volume and value, with 135 deals and $1 billion invested last year through early December, according to PitchBook, a financial data and software company based in Seattle. Bruno Lulinski, director of investment at Miami Angels, says he sees “exponential growth” for the Miami startup ecosystem in 2021, especially for local ventures. And coming soon in Miami’s downtown: the Flagler district, a revitalized neighborhood to attract startups, art, and culture, from billionaire Moishe Mana of tech-hub developer Mana Tech.
Local leaders, however, also look to temper any hype. “It’s really important we’re cautious about blurring the line between venture capitalists moving to South Florida and actual dollars investing in local startups,” says Maria Dominguez, site director of CIC Miami, a co-working, laboratory, entrepreneurial space. Success, she says, depends on newcomers’ commitment to Miami and its diverse population. Companies that make Miami home will benefit from its diverse consumer and talent markets. More than half of the city’s residents were born outside of the U.S., according to a 2018 count. “Miami looks like what most cities will look like in the next five to 10 years,” Buchanan says. “If you’re building a company for the future, the future of America is in Miami.”
Prominent stakeholders in the community are taking steps to shape the texture of the future tech scene. In January, they released a manifesto on promoting inclusion in the tech startup ecosystem. At a recent town hall meeting, Michelle Abbs, managing director at Mana Tech, rejected the “new Bay Area” premise. “We are not replicating anything else,” she said. “We are building something completely new and aspirational.”