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Miami's Hospitality Industry Luring Start-Ups, Just Not The Tech Kind


 Local and national leaders at Miami tech conferences have described the city as the next Silicon Beach recently. Sure, silicone breasts and beaches abound in the 305, but silicon computer chips? Not so much. 

But several locals are making efforts to change that: The University of Miami launched a tech program. The LAB in Wynwood offers hacker events and provides a space to exchange ideas. On March 31, The Atlantic and the Atlantic Cities magazines hosted Start-Up City: Miami at the New World Symphony in South Beach. The event's panels discussed why Miami is a desirable city for start-ups.

But does Miami have what it takes to foster a prosperous tech community? Atlantic Cities editor and part-time Miamian Richard Florida thinks we need to focus on what works best for the city.

"We have to do what we're great at. And I think that's really our point. It's not to make Miami a Silicon Valley," Florida says. "That's why we had Panther Coffee and My Ceviche and companies like that."

Representatives from these local, popular places spoke at the conference. They are a part of what makes Miami's economy unique.

"[Miami] really is a place that is part of the lifestyle movement," says Florida. "And we can do hospitality, travel and tourism, and diets, food, and personal training and get fitter and better coffee."

Every city has its own flavor. Miami is a lifestyle economy, so start-ups developing lifestyle products would fare well, according to Florida. He says people should squash the notion that Silicon Beach will be all about tech start-ups.

Credit Andrea Richard
Startup Miami conference was held on March 31, 2014, at the New World Symphony.

"I think what we are is something that takes travel and tourism and hospitality and lifestyle to the next level. I don't think we're going to invent the next Twitter here. I don't think we're going to invent the next Facebook. We're not going to invent the next Apple," he says. "But if we add technology and enterprise to the things that we do well, we'll make a stronger economy."

He says we need to build a better day and work culture. Daytime spots such as restaurants and coffee shops function as third places where people can network for business purposes, he says. And, yes, the vibrant nightlife scene can lure people to want to live and work here. 

Jonathan Oleinick agrees. He runs Evolution Ventures, a 4-year-old tech company in Miami Beach. It deals with sales technology for high-end real estate. The start-up veteran admits the deep-tech talent pool in South Florida is small. 

"Hiring for high-end developers is difficult here," Oleinick says. "The talent isn't here yet."

The MIT graduate recruited people for his company from Colorado, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and cities in California. So it is possible to bring talent here, but they'll need to have the right mindset for Miami.

"We have less success hiring married people, but more success hiring single people," he says. "They are still in that time of life that they like to go out, party and have fun. We are a party capital of the world."

He thinks the way forward is through developing partnerships with the top technical institutions -- say the University of Miami partners with MIT, or a new tech institution takes root in South Florida. The area also needs more capital. But all of this takes time. Oleinick says it also starts with perception.

"Miami is not considered a serious place. It is not considered a tech hub. That's why people don't move down here. We have to change the perception of Miami, one way or another," he says.

Richard Florida thinks it is possible.

"I think what we are building here is really remarkable," says Florida. "I think when you combine sand, surf and weather with innovation and entrepreneurship, you have a winner."

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