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Voices of the tech community: What does ecosystem need?

Posted on October 1, 2012

Published by The Miami Herald

Over the past few months, we have been asking South Florida entrepreneurs, community leaders and investors what they think are the biggest challenges facing the start-up community and what the ecosystem most needs to grow. Below is a excerpted sampling of their responses. Also see more views in the accompanying story here.

•  Susan Amat, co-founder and executive director of University of Miami’s Launch Pad and chair of Startup Florida: “Public-private partnerships are key to making the ecosystem grow. Look at New York City. Google donated 10 million square feet of office space to help entrepreneurs. … We also need more of the mentoring mindset. Other places have that. Donating a couple hours mentoring an entrepreneur has a huge return.”

•  Demian Bellumio, COO of Senzari, investor, partner in Quotidian Ventures: Challenges? “Sophisticating financing, venture capital. There’s a short-term mentality about technology investments here. In the valley it is not just to make money — it is to back cool projects that they love.” Another challenge is developing talent:: “Universities need to do a better job to create programs that both students and companies can benefit from. …We will be doubling our team and I do worry about finding talent. The challenge is the skilled people move away.”

•  Nicolai Bezsonoff, co-founder and COO of .CO Internet: “We love Miami but it’s tough. What Miami-Dade, Susan [Amat] and Launch Pad are doing [opening a tech accelerator] is great, but there has to be more of that. You need to get the talent, you need to get the schools to start teaching front-end development and design, things that are much more practical. … More formal angel networks will help a lot.”

•  Marc Billings, co-founder of Incubate Miami and CEO of Digiport: “Our marketplace is still of the belief that we are competing internally for success, this when the rest of the country does not know we exist.” As to challenges, “training is significantly lagging in the marketplace. We are not developing sufficient young talent in the skills needed for the new economy.”

• Brian Breslin, Refresh Miami founder and owner of Infinimedia: Spreading the word to the outside world is a challenge. “We need a more cohesive message sent. … government and the EDC and the Beacon Council should be helping to send that message. … We need marketing from the top down and we need to play to our strengths.”

• David Clarke, CEO and co-founder of BGT Partners: Biggest challenge? “Creating national awareness that some of the world’s most impactful digital work is coming from this market. We need a specialty college like Full Sail University or Hyper Island to open a location in South Florida, or a major university to make a significant investment in creating a digital college.”

•  Alex de Carvalho, founder of Social Media Club South Florida, Mobile Monday Miami, BarCamp and other groups and events: “There is a core group who attend events and who collaborate on ideas, but the tech community as a whole flies under the radar of most of the population and politicians in South Florida. … Our next challenge is creating the infrastructure to support start-ups; developing government programs to incent activity; and attracting venture capital with tech experience.”

•  Jerry Haar, executive director of FIU’s Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center: “Our colleges and businesses need to improve across the board in state of art course offerings in computer science and engineering. We have made great strides but we have to understand we are in competition with other areas of the United States. Government and the private sector have to work together. We need to compete not as a single county, we need to compete as a region.”

•  Matt Haggman, Miami program director of the Knight Foundation: “We have a lot of assets but we need easier ways to connect within the start-up community and engage the broader public.” What’s needed? “Build an infrastructure — from co-working spaces and mentors to better access to funders — that allows the start-up community to better connect and engage.”

•  Andrej Kostresevic, organizer of Miami Lean Startup Circle and other groups and founder of New Frontier Nomads: “The talent shortage, the difficulty of hiring capable developers, is a common theme I have been hearing from clients, friends and recruiters — for years. Longer term solutions for improving this should involve the local schools, which have been making an effort to reach out to the tech community. I must particularly commend FIU’s Steven Luis, who has been hosting and facilitating several local groups, like the Game Developers Guild, who aim to bring students and professionals together in a setting that promotes jointly working on real-world projects.”

• Steven Luis, director of technology for the School of Computing and Information Sciences at Florida International University: “Everybody’s got to be involved, no one can be a bench sitter. Everyone has got to take a role. If you are company, you need to be hosting meetups, sponsoring events, giving back. Have your engineers mentor in the high schools, at the universities, at incubators.”

•  Kristin McLean, CEO of Bookigee: “We’ve seen very few funders here who have the necessary comfort level and sophistication with tech funding to lead an A-Round. This means that in order to grow we may have to relocate to be closer to the investors who decide to back us. This is a very common request for funders who want to be able to give young companies mentorship and oversight once they invest. I think this lack of a higher-level tech funding structure is one of the biggest blocks we have to developing the startup tech scene in South Florida.”

•  Albert Santalo, founder and CEO of CareCloud: Biggest challenge? “Talent. We have had a great experience so far being able to attract some of the best developers and engineers to CareCloud … But continued investment from state and local resources as well as collaboration between the private sector and universities, like our new partnership with FIU, are exactly what will create the foundation needed to create and grow a world class tech ecosystem.”

•  Rob Strandberg, CEO of Enterprise Development Corporation of South Florida: “Our ecosystem needs to better pull together collectively and not view collaboration as a zero sum exercise. If we could assemble individuals from all of our elements – academic institutions, corporate partners, experienced tech execs/mentors and credible members of the investment community, we could better pool and focus our resources so our startups would have far better chances for success.”

•  Isaias Sudat, serial entrepreneur, founder and CEO of GridGlo: “I think Miami has done a great job, a tremendous leap forward, with the arts — we can learn from that. We can extrapolate that to the technology side. … As an entrepreneurial community, we need to do a better job mentoring. When I started I would die for a good mentor to show me, help me, guide me. The community can be more engaged in that.”