Tech debate: Miami’s brand as gateway city?

Published by The Miami Herald

On one side: Juan Pablo Cappello, lawyer, serial entrepreneur and serial investor in tech startups. On the other side: Auston Bunsen, young entrepreneur, programmer and organizer of the annual SuperConf.

The motion for debate: Miami is rapidly becoming a tech hub and doesn’t need to be a gateway for Latin America to succeed. In his original opinion column in Business Monday and on the Starting Gate blog, Cappello argued Miami needs a major public-private leadership effort to build a tech hub and put forth a five-part plan. Bunsen submitted a counter view.

Last week, they debated the issue before more than 100 guests representing a cross section of South Florida’s tech community, including startups, investors, university leaders and service providers. University of Miami Launch Pad’s executive director, Susan Amat, moderated the debate, held at Greenberg Traurig.

“We don’t need South America to succeed. We’re at the beginning of our own path to success,” Bunsen said, citing examples of committed local leaders, attendance at meetups skyrocketing, investment groups forming, the growing number of coworking spaces and incubators and local successes like CareCloud. He argued that South Florida will get a bigger ROI focusing on our own area rather than importing companies from Latin America.

“The reason I argue the gateway city brand is it’s the one that makes sense, it has already happened … We’re a gateway city to over a 100 multinationals that have corporate headquarters for Latin America here,” Cappello countered. “So my view is Miami has a tremendous opportunity, a large natural advantage as the gateway city… We need to decide collectively on a brand for this locality and push it out to the world. Once we do that, with all the advantages Miami has to offer, we are going to have no problem bringing experienced talent from elsewhere here.”

Each also offered a call to action. Cappello’s call: “A lot of the people doing good things down here aren’t collaborating. What we have to do is… get through these issues and concerns that are dividing us, and get rowing in the same direction.”

Bunsen agreed and added: “My call to action would be to focus efforts in a small geographic area — literally a square mile or five square miles. … There are too many pockets, which leads to disparate communities. We will be better served if everything was centralized. A hub will serve us all very well.”

After a report was posted on Starting Gate, more people weighed in on the comment section and on Twitter. Some thought what the region most needed to power forward are success stories. Others said growing the talent pool was a key concern. There was a call for more involvement — and investment — from the “suits” in the room. Nearly all called for collaboration.