In The News
Every few months, an article detailing the haves and have-nots of Miami’s tech, start-up, and entrepreneur scene hits the web. And with it comes a comparison to the big dogs of Boston, Silicon Valley, and New York, alongside the question of whether it is all hype. The fact of the matter is that the community exists and continues growing at an incredible rate due to such factors as affordable rent, its position as the gateway to Latin America, organizations like the Knight Foundation, and a variety of incubators and accelerators. This coupled with the fact that Miami still retains its strong spirit of the American Dream makes for an interesting platform. What is more important is how we are going to continue fostering community and sustain it for decades to come. We spoke to a few stakeholders from different sides of the equation on how they are working to make it happen.
Juha Mikkola in front of a class at Wyncode Academy.
Wyncode Academy is a Miami-based state-accredited boot camp program that teaches students about coding. Although its founders, Juha and Johanna Mikkola, aren't originally from Miami, Juha and Johanna learned first hand what it means to become part of a new community as they went about setting up their business.
“Compared to where we come from [Toronto], it isn’t the biggest scene, but we are helping to grow it,” says Juha. Now, their business is at the top of the totem pole, in turn, churning out students and thus workforce for the many companies relocating to or opening offices in Miami. They are not only bringing numerous local companies to their pitch events, but also hoping to expand as far as Orlando and Tampa, covering the entire southern region of Florida. They have already expanded their school to include a “campus” in Fort Lauderdale. They are providing that essential link to local companies with candidates that were not readily available before. What is most interesting is that they noted that the majority of their students are from South Florida and want to remain here after graduation. In fact, 90 percent of graduates do. “What I love best about this scene is that you can be successful,” says Juha. “It’s not just a wave that you join and get lost in the crowd. Every idea and every person has a purpose.”
Another way the Mikkolas help grow the Miami tech community: open houses. Even if you don’t have the time, money, or interest to be a student of the coding academy, one can attend their many open houses and pitching events to learn and be part of the inviting and enthusiastic community. Who knows, maybe you’ll find a coder that can help you get started with your next idea. At the very least, you may learn a line or two of code. The thing about this community is that it is open to everyone, and cultivating knowledge within the general population will only help it ever more so.
And it all comes full circle. A large help, the couple said, in meeting new people was the weekly networking event, Waffle Wednesdays by LiveNinja (more on that below). What has been most surprising across the tech world is the outstanding need for community. LiveNinja’s mission is to make “communicating with brands as simple and as personable as talking to a friend," so what does a director of community of such a company do exactly? “It’s very wide-ranging, everything from producing social media content to creating newsletters, providing customer support, and account management,” says Danielle Ungermann, LiveNinja's director of community. On a deeper level, she and LiveNinja seek to not only build engagement among users, but also within the local community of peers.
One of the best ways to learn about and become part of a community is through events. Waffle Wednesdays is a weekly breakfast networking event for Miami’s tech community with (you guessed it) waffles and coffee. And while the event has been successful, groundbreaking even, it has met some challenges. “It’s only offered at one hour of the day [in the morning], and it usually attracts the same faces,” says Ungermann. “We’re looking to introduce a second version of our event, Waffles After Work.” The later hour hopes to bring out a larger variety of individuals. These types of events are extremely important, since most of the activity for growth and community come out of them.
In a sense, Wynwood is the living epitome of the motto "if you build it, they will come." And people are building Wynwood around a mission. But Ungermann explains that “there is so much more than just Wynwood ... People should be throwing a wider cast to really delve into what’s going on South Florida-wide.”
She notes that things are looking up, noting that things have changed drastically since she first arrived. “People are making their way back to Miami.” She also sees more camaraderie and everyone is interested in the success of those around them. “For example, people are quick to make introductions and in those connections, find ways to further benefit others.”
For those new to the community, she says to make an effort everyday: “Spend extra moments beyond your day to day activity to get involved.” Even if it’s something as small as a social media or actually reading the tech newsletters sitting in your inbox, every little bit helps.
These days, there are at least a dozen coworking spaces around Miami: KeyWorking, Pipeline, 360spaces, and MADE at the Citadel to name just a few, but Büro was the first. Its flagship location in Midtown houses companies like Airbnb, The Real Deal, and Postmates. Having expanded to locations in MiMo, Sunset Harbour and a fourth location set to open in Coconut Grove later this year, Büro's environment is unique in not only attracting the local small companies, but also larger companies hoping to set up shop in Miami (and have a greater stake in the Latin American market).
CEO and founder Michael Feinstein notes that the game has changed. “We are now competitors to commercial landlords as the world is moving towards a different style of working -- one that is more flexible and provides both the tools and spaces that are more conducive to make business with others," he says. "Plus, it’s easy accessibility to smart people, likeminded people.” At its core, coworking spaces are hubs for fostering community.
Coworking spaces have outgrown their tech beginnings, now appealing to a diversity of industries from marketing to education, music, real estate, architecture, and beauty. But just because you put people in the same room together doesn’t mean they’ll talk to one another. Crediting Büro’s design, the open and aesthetically pleasing space aims to battle that problem while still offering privacy. The office space offers pockets of relaxed areas where one can hang out and meet others without the pressures of work. Plus, there are tons of after work networking activities for even more socializing.
Feinstein himself notes that coworking spaces haven’t even hit the tip of the iceberg yet; there are still more opportunities available for development for other freelancers in the community that haven’t benefited from such an environment. (Because, really, who wants to squat at a coffee shop day in and day out.)
In late August 2015, Miami Dade College will speed ahead of its more traditional counterparts and launch two associate in science degree tracks in Animation (animation and game art) and Game Development (game development and design). Not too long ago animation was only used for cartoon and advertising; now it is seeing a cross into disciplines like medicine, forensics, architecture, and the armed forces. “We are seeing the game-ification of society, it’s really an exciting time," says Mauricio Ferrazza.
Ferrazza is the man behind this next big idea. Now the Animation & Game Development Department Chairperson at the college's MAGIC program, he has worked tirelessly for years with the Downtown Development Authority, City of Miami, Beacon Council, and various chambers of commerce to make the school a reality, having to justify its validity and viability to the state government. The group has also worked tirelessly to attract big companies to Miami because without companies like Shiver Entertainment, SkyJoy Interactive, and better-known companies like Apple, Facebook, and Twitter, which recently opened offices in Miami, this enormous effort would have been in vain. Ferrazza notes that most of the current companies have to outsource as much as 80 percent of their workforce. “If we can create professionals in Miami, we can attract more businesses and more jobs. It’s a productive cycle," he says.
Ferrazza is also the founder and president of MIA Animation Conference, an open forum for active networking and information exchange with an emphasis on education. In its first year, it brought in an attendance of 100. Four years later, its last event brought in 1,000 attendees. “We hosted two week-long summer camps for kids this summer and it was so successful that we had to open another week,” says Ferrazza. The conference is now part of the larger network of events that are now a mainstay in Miami and includes eMerge Americas and Techweek Miami. He hopes that more conferences will cater to that younger market. Ferrazza's main takeaway, from his involvement in the Miami tech scene, is that the community is not a one-person team: you need to work with others to make things happen.