Published by Forbes
You don ‘t usually think of Miami as the place for tech startups and social enterprises.
But the co-founders of the LAB Miami are trying to turn the area into a place known as much for entrepreneurship as sunny weather and South Beach.
“We felt Miami lacked the platform to retain its top talent and allow them a place to cultivate their businesses,” says co-founder Daniel Lafuente. “They need to be able to stay here and have access to the same type of community you might get in San Francisco or New York.”
Described as a “campus for social and tech innovation”, the 10,000 square foot location is part co-working space, with an in-house community of angels and venture investors, and part center for learning, with classes, workshops and special events, like hackathons and film screenings. Also, on Saturdays, there’s a farmer’s market. Models for the space included General Assembly, a somewhat similar, though significantly larger, campus in New York, and the Hub, a co-working enterprise with spaces located throughout Europe and the U.S. “We felt Miami was suffering as an entrepreneurial ecosystem because there wasn’t a place where people could congregate and collaborate with each other,” says Lafuente. It’s open to a mix of members, from tech startups and designers to nonprofits and academics.
The enterprise started in late 2011, in a 700 square foot space that the founders outgrew quickly. With room for 20, it filled up in the first week. Then, they raised $650,000 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, together with a group of investors led by Marco Giberti, Faquiry Diaz-Cala, Boris Hirmas Said and Daniel Echavarria, allowing the co-founders to move into a bigger space.
Members have to go through an application process and then are reviewed by a membership committee. Among the prerequisites is a willingness to teach classes and share skills. Also, according to Lafuente, they look not to have too many members in the same business, to avoid intra-member rivalry. (For example, if someone were to ask him to recommend, say, a programmer, he wouldn’t want to create competition among developers, as a result. ) He describes it as a “curating” process that assures a balance of perspectives.
Now, there are 70 members so far, representing 54 companies, who have access to a work space, facilities for music and film editing, outdoor hang-out areas among other features. Most members work in one big space, but smaller teams can use one of five private offices. One such startup, for example, aims to provide people in rural Latin America access to banking services through mobile phones. Membership rates range from $200 for 24/7 access to any space that’s available to $2,500 for a private office. (That includes eight memberships). For $40, you can use the facilities one day a month and get discounts to programs and entree to members-only events.
Turning any city into a thriving startup hub is a tall order. But it can be done. Not all that long ago, you would never have mentioned New York in the same breath as San Francisco when discussing a startup tech center.
Of course, the Bloomberg administration has made creating a tech startup ecosystem a priority. Maybe Miami will need to do the same.