Ten years ago, the concept of calling Miami a tech hub would have been as laughable as labeling Silicon Valley a hedonistic tropical playground. And while California's digital Shangri-la still hasn't sprouted any nude beaches (as far as we know), Miami is rapidly becoming ground zero for startup dreams.
At the forefront of the local tech boom is Rokk3r Labs, a Miami Beach-based platform that works to "co-build" companies, helping startups turn great concepts into sustainable, successful businesses.
To get the inside scoop on what's happening in Miami's digital world, we spoke with Rokk3r's CEO and cofounder, Nabyl Charania.
Co-building works like this: Basically, experienced entrepreneurs approach Rokk3r with ideas. The team vets and strategizes, handpicking the best to partner with. So far Rokk3r has launched 21 companies (eight of which have reached second-stage funding) and boasts more than 80 employees.
It's this range of experience that keeps this company at the forefront of the city's tech community -- a landscape many Miamians still know little about. In the spirit of knowledge sharing, here are six insights Charania offered into the rapidly evolving local scene:
6. There's way more happening than most people probably realize.
"There is a great early-stage ecosystem in Miami -- there are a lot of co-working spaces; there are accelerators like Venture Hive that have launched. Scout Ventures -- they were here in Miami the week or week before from New York. Maverick Lab, they're an early-stage investment company. A lot of these companies are now in the market," Charania says.
"Entrepreneurs have a lot of options for their initial foray into understanding where the Miami ecosystem is. From a community perspective, a lot of educational components have started. There are very specific, detailed kind of courses, like through Wyncode, where you can learn how to code, Code for America, from very specific to more generic."
5. Miami is starting to attract top talent from other major cities.
"We've been able to attract people from Boston and New York, not only by the lifestyle, which is actually a big sell, but because Miami is a gateway to Latin America. There is a lot of opportunity for companies' ideas and products to go from here to Latin America and from Latin American to here," Charania explains.
"We do attract talent from up North, primarily from Boston and New York. We have strong internship relationships with all the schools up North -- the Ivy League schools and even in Canada. We have internships with Harvard, MIT, Yale, on the West Coast with Cal Tech, and we're trying to grow that to bring people in."
4. There are big names in play here.
"We're really excited about AdMobilize. People may know the name, but they probably don't realize it's one of the premier big data companies when it comes to the Internet of Things space," Charania says. "The fact that we have a company that is both hard and soft and in the big data space, that's a really exciting story for Miami."
3. There's a company in Miami working to make it easier to find the right fit via online shopping (HALLELUJAH).
"Fitting Room Social is an algorithm-based company solving a really big problem -- the comfort level in your online fit. That's another really big, exciting space," Charania says. "How comfortable are you when you buy something online that it's going to fit you? We wrote the algorithm here. It's not just based on your size; it has a social component."
2. Miami's tech scene includes a diverse array of industries.
"We do see a lot of play in the advertising space and the music and entertainment space," Charania explains. But that's not all. "In our portfolio alone, we have companies doing technology for real estate, advertising, the Internet of Things, education, so we see a gamut; it's not tied to specific industry."
1. Miami inspires a lot of amazing ideas.
"People told us we were crazy to start in Miami. They said, 'You're never going to find the right talent here, there won't be the entrepreneurs you need, the ecosystem sucks.' But Miami has really surprised us. From the Knight Foundation stepping up to the table to actual, real entrepreneurs," Charania reports. "Ninety percent of our portfolio is Miami entrepreneurs, and that's a really big deal. We thought we'd be doing a lot of companies from New York and Toronto, and it's actually been Miami companies. We definitely have a lot of ideas in Miami."
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