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View from a Road Warrior: Building a tri-county tech community

Posted on October 25, 2012 by nina

By Rosston Meyer

Tech entrepreneurs scattered throughout Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties face challenges to establish and expand support services outside of the metropolitan Miami locale. I have firsthand experience as an involved participant in the tech community, while living in central Palm Beach County. This post explores the genesis of the tri-county tech support system presently emerging outside of Miami.

There is considerable momentum in the tri-county S FL tech scene, including updates about new accelerators/incubators, constant news about Florida tech companies on this blog, and events such as the recent “Great Debate”. The subject of location percolates at each event and meeting, focusing on the one thing that is theoretically essential to a growing tech community: Is there a central location for South Florida tech?

One Single Hub?

Most discussions identify Miami as the purported central hub; however, the Miami organizations and events are likewise scattered throughout the greater Miami area (Downtown, Midtown, Grove, etc.). The variety of scattered locations throughout Miami-Dade is more diffused than in Palm Beach and Broward. A variety of locations have sprung up in Palm Beach and Broward, such as the FAU Campus area, which houses the Enterprise Development Corporation, and upcoming Caffeine Spaces, proving that we are far from designating a central tech hub in South Florida.

The geographic layout of South Florida simply does not emulate the high concentration of tech companies and services that exist in San Francisco, Boston or Seattle. Tech entrepreneurs and  professionals will benefit by a realistic and honest solution that results in successful events and necessary introductions. Stonly Baptiste of IndependenceIT agrees, saying that Miami has the best shot at being a major tech hub than most of the other areas of South Florida. Those of us in Fort Lauderdale can benefit from that growth and focus our energies in helping a growing community instead of the uphill battle of firing up a Fort Lauderdale tech hub.”

Distance, Location & Driving: “on the Road Again”

Location and driving distance is another issue that prevents many tri-county residents from attending events in Miami. “I’m envious of the momentum that’s growing down in Miami, that’s without doubt. Unfortunately, being involved in the community in Miami includes 1.5 hours of commute with each engagement,” says Mike Greenberg, of Nobulb.com.

A recent trip down to the UM Campus to attend my first Refresh Miami event validated this for me, and ended up being a 3-hour trip. So, you may ask, was it worth it? Absolutely, as I was able to meet a handful of people in person that I’d only virtually interacted with as well as some new faces (some of which made the same trip and are quoted in this post). Having said that, it’s not feasible for many of us to take a 2 to 3 hour trip for every meetup I’d like to attend, especially when the travel time can be longer than the actual event.

Other local entrepreneurs agree with this. Sally Outlaw, of Jupiter based crowdfunding site Peerbackers said: “Even though we make an effort to attend and participate in events in Miami, I find it difficult to schedule follow-up meetings as this usually means trying to connect with people ‘half way’ with a drive to Boca Raton or Ft. Lauderdale for both parties.“

Gary Weston of Fort Lauderdale based LawyersReachPro, concurs: “Being located in Fort Lauderdale, we are basically central to both Palm Beach and Miami which is great, but it is still a longer commute than I would like to make. I would definitely attend more events and build up relationships more regularly if we were closer to Miami.

Finding Advisors, Investors & Mentors

When it comes to meeting investors and advisors, residents of Palm Beach and Broward may have greater difficulty than residents from the Miami area. “The only thing I find lacking in all South Florida counties are investors and mentors who will support emerging companies…of course there are a few out there and I’m grateful to those who engage, but there is a wealth of hidden talent in our area who I’d love to see step forward to work more closely with our dedicated entrepreneurs,” said Sally Outlaw.

A recent Palm Beach Post article about the Jupiter, FL based Angel Forum of  stated that only about 2 of the 20 or so Florida based companies that present to their group annually get funded. This low percentage surely won’t entice Miami area startups to race up north. Furthermore, the seasonal nature of South Florida makes getting the attention of these investors a more difficult and timely issue. “There are more investors and private banks per capita in Palm Beach County than the rest of the world, so there is money in Palm Beach. However, these investors are much less risk averse and are only here 4 months out of the year, which means that ‘season’ has to become a very busy, active pitch season,” said Chris Davies of Wellington, FL based photo-sharing site SnapReplay.

Not all events are created equal (or are in Miami):

Of course, not all of the tech happenings in South Florida are located in Miami/Dade. A handful of events are put on in Broward county, which is the central physical location of the tricounty area.
Alex Funkhouser, the organizer of ITPalooza, an event that aims to bring together all South Florida Tech Groups (this year it is on 12-12-12), chooses Broward for this reason: “For the annual events that draw around 1,000 tech professionals, such as CodeCamp and now ITPalooza, we locate these in Broward County to draw from the tri-county area. Due to the two-hour drive time between the geographic extremes, many groups rotate their regularly scheduled monthly event locations along the Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Boca Raton, and West Palm Beach circuit.”

Startup Weekends were recently held in two locations, one in Miami and one in Boca Raton,  on the same weekend. This opportunity gives prospective participants that may not have been able to commit to an entire weekend to Miami, the option of attending Startup Weekend in Boca Raton.

Despite the foregoing issues facing startup and tech professionals living in Palm Beach and Broward, many of us do not believe that location is a deciding factor in the success of our businesses. “Not being in Miami has not affected my ability to grow a business in any significant way,” Stonly Baptiste said. While moving to Miami is a subject that often comes up in conversation, it may not be feasible or desirable for many entrepreneurs living in Palm Beach or Broward.

Corey Leff, of Palm Beach county based SpendLo, also agrees: “I do not find being headquartered in Palm Beach County to negatively affect the development of spendLO. We take advantage of the resources available to us locally through the EDC (Enterprise Development Corporation) headquartered in the Technology Business Incubator (At the Research Park at FAU). Recent events such as Startup Weekend and upcoming events such as the annual Emerging Technology Business Showcase [this year it's Nov. 30] also help to keep Palm Beach County firmly entrenched in Silicon Beach tech circles. While it may be more convenient to be located in Miami, motivated entrepreneurs like myself will travel as necessary to stay relevant in the local tech scene.

Thankfully, there are resources that create a nexus for tech events from Miami through Palm Beach County, such as the following websites: RefreshMiami.com, MiamiTechEvents.com, MiamiTech.org, Startup Digest Miami, and more.

The dedicated tech entrepreneur can now avail himself of a variety of events, situated in a variety of locations, with some closer to home and some further away. This situation maximizes the contacts and exchange of information for all, with ever increasing opportunities to work together as a diverse group of tech entrepreneurs.