Miami's sheer diversity and number of Latin American immigrants makes for fertile ground for startups and small businesses, but the city's growing entrepreneurial system isn't just within its historically multicultural residents.
Kauffman's forthcoming Index of Entrepreneurial Activity will show that Miami has one of the nation's highest levels of entrepreneurial activity per metropolitan area, according to Dane Stangler, its director of research and policy.According to 2007 census data, Hispanic-owned firms represented 60.5% of businesses in the Miami-Dade area, compared to 22.4% for the state as a whole. But while there were lots of startups, it isn't exactly known as place where innovators convene. Miami is at a "ripe moment" to build its startup and entrepreneurial community, says Matt Haggman, Miami program director at the Knight Foundation, which makes grants in the journalism and media space but also in the community engagement space. Citing venture capitalist Paul Graham's 2006 essay "How To Be Silicon Valley" where he says a city must have both rich people and nerds in order to be a hub for startups, Haggman says while Miami has plenty of rich people, it didn't have the "nerds" or innovators. So it needed to start attracting them. "Three things attract nerds: you need good urban, dense city life. They don't want to be lost out in suburbia. You need a really strong university system to back it up and you need the cool factor, meaning strong cultural life," Haggman says. "Miami, 15 years ago would be hard pressed on any of those accounts," he admits. "Miami, in the last six years, has seen its downtown population double and jump again. The big trend has been because of the urbanization and cultural awakening in Miami, which it didn't have 15 years ago," he says. As the city builds out its infrastructure and urbanizes, "our focus is the broad goal in helping make Miami more of a place where ideas are built," Haggman says. The Knight Foundation sees itself as having three main ways of doing that: by "animating" the physical places where entrepreneurs can gather and share, by holding events, meetups and workshops; it also participates in events that look to foster the Miami entrepreneurial community such as Start-Up City: Miami, a one day conference hosted by The Atlantic . It also looks to expand mentor networks and increasing the access to investors. "One of the things about Miami is there is significant wealth, but trying to connect with those people to share ideas is very hard," Haggman says. In January, the Knight Foundation launched a $2 million grant over five years to launch Endeavor Miami. Endeavor is a nonprofit organization that has built entrepreneurial communities across the world by identifying high-potential entrepreneurs and providing them with mentorship support. It is making Miami its first U.S. outpost, despite being headquartered in New York. The media has also paid a lot of attention to University of Miami's Launch Pad program, a free mentoring program for students that also provides resources and workshops for aspiring entrepreneurs, making entrepreneurism more than just a series of classes to be taken. But Haggman says what Miami needs most to jumpstart the initiatives is examples of success. "That would be helpful in providing a much greater sense of belief that this is a place where people with ideas can build," Haggman says. "The elements are here but Miami needs more examples of that. Knight is just one group playing a role, but I still think it's very early in that process." One success story is that of online learning platform Open English, based in Coconut Grove, Fla. The company launched in 2008 but last summer it secured over $40 million in financing from a venture capitalist firm, Insight Venture Partners. According to the Miami Herald, the company has over $55 million in financing from investors.