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It all started with a tweet.
Back in December, when Founder Fund Principal Delian Asparouhov suggested that Silicon Valley move to Miami, Mayor Francis Suarez responded merely two minutes later on thread with the now famous phrase: “How can I help?”
The tweet that started it all.
The interaction sent ripples through the American tech ecosystem, instigating both a physical and intellectual movement. Physical, for founders, venture capitalists, and proud members of the technorati, who have flocked to the star of the Sun Belt in refuge from California’s contentious political scene, where tech leaders felt the government has turned their backs on them. And intellectual, as brand-new funds like 305 Ventures have been created as a reaction to the recent influx of brain power to South Florida and have decided to use their expertise to make something enduring out of it.
A VC fund that invests in early stage, Miami-centric companies, 305 Ventures hails itself as a transplant community for the tech-class who’ve recently left Silicon Valley and want to start anew in the growing hub of Miami. Founded by Joey Levy and Zaid Rahman, their hope is that like-minded people can meet and work together to solve important issues, all while based in Miami.
“I think [Miami] is so fresh. There’s no key players that already own the market. Kind of like in different industries in real estate, there’s a couple of big developers, or in the restaurant industry. In tech we don’t really have that. It’s very open. And it’s just an exchange of ideas,” says Paola Correa, who grew up in Miami, moved to Silicon Valley, and returned to her hometown to focus on 305 Ventures at the onset of the pandemic. “It’s just people trying to connect with each other. ”
As 305 Ventures’s community has grown, what started as dinner parties has since expanded into more formal event formats—most recently at a fireside chat at a private residence in Miami beach with Miami Mayor Francis Suarez. There, founding members of 305 chatted with fellow VCs and former Silicon Valley dwellers, sitting down later to interview Suarez, who they’ve deemed “Miami’s Head of Sales.”
“The hottest city in the world right now is the one that you’re in,” the mayor told 305 Ventures co-founder Zaid Rahman. “And I don’t mean in degrees temperature.”
The conversation hinged on the Mayor’s lofty vision and forward-looking attitude.
“This particular immigration [to Miami] is an immigration of thought leaders, of innovators, and of creators. If we can create a city that has equality to access, we can create a city that no one has ever seen before […] When you see an entire industry of finance and tech converge like this, you’re creating an unparalleled melting pot. You’ve never had hedge funds and VCs and also founders and creators in a space like this. We will be dealing with millions of dollars in the tech existence here,” the mayor predicts.
305Ventures’s Zaid Rahman and Endeavor Miami’s Claudia Durand chat with Mayor Francis Suarez.
Demographers note that as of 2020, 1,000 new residents move to Florida every day, the majority of them new retirees. And while Miami’s recent surge has attracted a younger, tech-oriented milieu, lax pandemic guidelines, sunny weather and low taxes summon both the tech elite and the tech-adjacent and mesh them snugly along Miami’s sandy shores. Still, the naysayers trudge forth.
“Anybody who’s a founder who’s built a company understands that if you’ve got up in the morning, and you thought about all the reasons why you’re going to fail, you’d never get out of bed,” says Suarez. “I think people have to criticize it. … Miami is gonna be underwater in 10 years… I think some of it is good constructive criticism, like there isn’t a Stanford here. That’s a legitimate constructive criticism. And I think there’s a way to get there.”
The mayor thanked the Knight Foundation, a nonprofit that provides grants in journalism and the arts, for their $10 million donation to Florida International University and the University of Miami’s respective schools of computing to help scale technical talent and meet the demands of Miami’s growing entrepreneurial class.
As a self-proclaimed storyteller, the Mayor appreciates the nascent spotlight on Miami. “It gives us an opportunity to tell our story,” he says. But “we haven’t been that good at it,” he follows.
Founders, investors and the startup community gather for the 305 Ventures event.
“And it’s because we’re busy. We’re busy doing life. So we don’t focus so much on telling our story. And I think part of the reason why I do tech talks is I love being a portal for storytelling and being able to allow people to talk about it. And that’s what really changes reputations if you think about it. Changing the reputation of a city—it’s like turning a cruise ship. I don’t know if you have ever seen the end of the port, when they actually turn the cruise ship, it’s actually really cool. It takes a long time. Because they don’t want to mess up. And we’ve done that—we’ve changed the reputation of the city in four months.”
When Rahman asked about his “roadmap for the future,” the Mayor emphasized the importance of expanding education to all. “Every great city is defined by how well you take care of your least brothers and sisters,” he says. “I think we have to be realistic and fair about what our deficiencies are. You name some of them, and the Twitter world is always very good at pointing them out. And we need to attack them head on. Because they are things that are going to make us more competitive and stronger. Having a good education system is the most equalizing gift that you can give to any human being.”
The sentiment of equality—and a noticeable lack of exclusivity—seems to be a common one throughout Miami, in both tech and outside of it.
“I think it should be equally distributed in a way that makes it fair for people,” says Correa about the future of the Miami tech ecosystem after the Mayor’s conversation. “That’s the problem with Silicon Valley—that it’s so exclusive, so hard to tap into.”
And it would make perfect sense that the ideal 305 Ventures community member would likewise embody this culture.
“It would be people who don’t just promote whatever they sell, but offer opportunity,” says Correa. “They open the door and say, ‘This is what I do. And if you want to get involved, we’re hiring.’ They offer ways to make the Miami ecosystem a home base.”
ABOUT THE WRITER
Olivia Baker is a Tech Innovation Fellow at Identity Review from Columbia University, where she writes on tech policy and national digital identity technologies.
Contact Olivia Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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