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Miami: New Tech Hotspot Is Really Hot
Miami: New Tech Hotspot Is Really Hot

By Laura Wides-Munoz
May 12, 2014 9:26AM

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The region in and around Miami was shaken by the recent recession. Coupled with an increase in cloud computing, the rapid growth of mobile devices in Latin America, and the area's vast health care industry, civic leaders and entrepreneurs are now making a push to diversify into the tech industry. A culture of tech investing is being fostered.
 



Famed for its beaches, cruises and cafecitos, South Florida is now angling to become one of the nation's next tech hot spots by leveraging its role as the gateway to Latin America and luring northern entrepreneurs with cheap living costs and lots of sun.

The region in and around Miami has long pinned its financial fortunes on real estate and banking, but a combination of factors -- the recent recession that shook those economic drivers coupled with an increase in cloud computing, the rapid growth of mobile devices in Latin America, and the area's vast health care industry -- now have civic leaders and local entrepreneurs making a push to diversify into the tech industry.

"We're not trying to replicate what other tech hubs are doing. We want to complement them," said Daniel Lafuente, a 26-year-old Miami native who co-founded the new, open workspace and tech training center Lab Miami. "Miami is a place that provides its own benefits: lower costs of living, no income taxes, the proximity to Latin America and the beach."

Two years ago, the idea of a tech hub in Miami seemed a longshot to Lafuente and his partner Wifredo Fernandez. The recent University of Pennsylvania graduates had returned to their hometown but found few innovative business opportunities. So they created their own in a small room in Miami's gritty Wynwood Arts District, a place where freelance web designers and startup entrepreneurs rent space, meet and collaborate.

Much has changed in just a short time. The nonprofit John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is helping spearhead efforts to draw the tech industry to Miami, committing $6 million in the past 18 month to an array of projects.

"In Miami there are enormous disconnects," Knight Foundation Program Director Matt Haggman said. "If you are an entrepreneur and you want to connect with an investor, where do you go? To date it's been you're really on your own."

On a recent evening inside the mural-splashed former warehouse that now houses Lab Miami, more than 100 young professionals, tech geeks and artists roamed between a 3D printer demo on one side and a bilingual review of the latest fashion industry apps on the other. Nearby, civic-minded coders huddled, tapping out ways to improve city services.

Meanwhile, across Miami's Biscayne Bay, the Venezuelan founder of the tech-based, English-language school OpenEnglish feted the region's top 100 tech movers at his poolside South Beach condo.

Last week, Microsoft announced the opening of its first U.S.-based technology innovation center at the new downtown entrepreneurial training center and startup Venture Hive. (continued...)

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© 2014 Associated Press under contract with NewsEdge. All rights reserved.
 

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