AI, Pitbull and startup optimism star at eMerge Americas Day 2

As eMerge Americas wraps up its 10th year, startups steal the show – and that’s all by design

By Nancy Dahlberg, Anayansy Hernandez and Riley Kaminer

Celebrating its 10th year, eMerge Americas has always been a major community-focused organization with the goal of growing the Miami Tech brand across the world. Every year as part of its signature conference, eMerge Americas invites the South Florida community and innovators from around the world to talk tech, share knowledge, experience the region, and learn about what South Florida startups, universities and entrepreneurship support organizations are building – all with a very Miami flavor and energy. This year was no exception, but for this 2024 edition all this was amplified in every way and particularly relevant to the moment.  

The celebratory two-day conference concluded Friday at the Miami Beach Convention Center, attracting about 20,000 participants, and the Refresh Miami team was again there to bring you some highlights. Before we begin, catch up with our day one coverage here.

Mayor Suarez, Reshma Saujani and Pitbull

Day 2’s main stage opened in a celebratory fashion with dancing robots provided by the Nova Southeastern University’s Levan Center of Innovation followed by a key call to action from Miami Mayor Francis Suarez. “Don’t sell big dreams to small minds. Creating an ecosystem that can adapt to the rapid change that we’re seeing is hard. We’re going to get there with hard work,” he said, crediting Manny Medina’s vision and hard work for creating Miami 1.0. “2.0 was where all the macro forces combined and the answer to that moment was ‘how can we help’ to dream big again, disrupt the natural  order and create prosperity at scale,’’ Suarez said. How do we get to 3.0? “Our job is to create the  skillset where we can take this technology, superpower it, and solve big problems,” Suarez said. “Our city and our ecosystem is literally dependent on it.”

Throughout the day, the big stage brought talks on climatetech and clean energy, corporate venture capital, the creative economy and ethical leadership, among many other topics. Keynote speaker Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls who Code, an organization that taught 680,000 girls to code, and now Moms First, minced no words in a conversation with Miami Dade College President Madeline Pumariega.

 “Women have learned to give up before we even try.  When did we learn to be perfect and how do we unlearn it? Failure is a gift,” said Saujani, noting that one of her hacks is posting her rejection letters in her kitchen. “If you want to be great, you have to make mistakes, you’ve got to fail … and you’ve got to practice imperfection. The antidote of perfectionism is bravery,” said Saujani, also the author of Brave, Not Perfect.

Seventy-five percent of high school valedictorians are girls, and the majority of those getting college degrees and PhDs are women, she says. She started Girls who Code to close the glaring opportunity gap in tech. Some of the first programs were in Miami’s Title 1 schools.

Now she’s working on Mom’s First, a movement with a goal to get paid leave passed and make childcare accessible. “40 percent of parents are in debt because of the cost of childcare. We’re the only industrialized nation in the world that doesn’t have paid leave,” said Saujani [pictured below]. “I realized I can teach millions of girls to code but if I didn’t help their mothers I hadn’t fixed anything.” To date, the group has built the largest business coalition on childcare with 130 companies and the largest movement of moms, she says. Moms First has also launched paidleave.ai. “We are on the march to winning this fight, once we focus on it. It’s got to be intentional.”

Armando Christian Pérez, aka Pitbull, aka Mr. 305, appeared at eMerge’s conference No. 1 in 2014 and has been involved every year since eMerge’s formation as a frequent speaker, investor and supporter of the conference and eMerge’s larger mission to catalyze Miami tech. On stage Friday, he joined Manny Medina, eMerge’s founder and chairman, to discuss Miami’s tech growth, where it’s headed and Pitbull’s initiatives in Miami that have helped with that growth. The singer shared how one teacher named Hope was the catalyst for his school SLAM (Sports, Leadership, Arts and Management). This teacher believed in Pitbull and set him on a different trajectory for his life.  “The reason why I got involved was because that teacher changed my life. I can tell those kids, ‘Not only do I relate to you, I believe in you,’” he said. SLAM has been around for 10 years, has 12 schools and 10,000 students across America.

When asked about his newest endeavor in NASCAR, Pitbull described it as using a universal language to bring everyone together. “When you look at cars and speed and things of that nature, it unites and doesn’t divide,” the singer said. He sees NASCAR as an opportunity to have the Latin culture get involved in an amazing business. Pitbull aims to do that by opening this door of knowledge so individuals can see themselves as part of the pit crew, as broadcasters, owners, agents etc. and have new opportunities they never imagined before.

Medina and Pitbull concluded their talk by discussing the future of AI. Pitbull’s main comment was that  AI should be used to maneuver and navigate, rather than to manipulate. He also believes there should be rules and regulations around it but acknowledges it’s still too new. “All we can do is sit back, watch, let the dust settle and learn,” he said.

AI and healthtech dominate

Back on the expo floor, university and company exhibits, international pavilions and the Launchpad and Texpert stages were busy throughout the day. You couldn’t miss the AI and healthtech presence; both areas had large footprints and had their own stages for the first time at the conference. In particular, the AI + Quantum Computing stage provided attendees with a seemingly endless stream of AI thought leadership through sessions as varied as selling AI solutions to the DoD, Chilean innovations in AI, and applications of AI in the legal industry.

The panel on the rise of employee AIs [pictured below] featured Miami-based Ruben Harris, founder of Career Karma, who shared his perspective on how companies can provide job seekers and employees with AI-powered companions to help them with their job searches or daily tasks. “We’ll see a shift from copilots to agents,” Harris explained, painting a picture of a world in which our AI-powered assistants will be by our side and even collaborate with each other to make our lives better.

“We see AI as supercharging people,” asserted Brynne McNulty Rojas, the co-founder and CEO of proptech platform Habi. She called her approach to AI “high tech, high touch,” meaning that customers get an even better, more personalized experience than they would have with an otherwise human-only offering. Habi leverages AI for everything from interactions with customers (turns out humans don’t mind chatting with AI-powered bots) to internal tools.

HealthTech is the second most active sector in South Florida, just behind fintech, and it had a home of its own this year at eMerge. The HealthTech Hub’s stage was also abuzz throughout the conference, including a talk on how Jackson Health builds a state-of-the-art full-service trauma center at the F1 Miami Grand Prix in just a couple weeks. They even equip the race cars and drivers’ gloves with sensors that provide data to help inform medical procedures. As the official medical provider for the F1 team, Jackson and UHealth also featured an F1 race car in their exhibit area.

Conference attendees could also learn that Florida International University’s Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine and Baptist Health are partnering in a clinical study that could revolutionize care for Alzheimer’s patients. Both organizations are studying ways to temporarily open the blood-brain barrier with focused ultrasound to treat areas of the brain where Alzheimer-causing proteins have built up.

Patient-centric solutions were also showcased in talks [pictured below]. Cedar, of New York, is building the first connected ecosystem for patient financials. The platform, delivered through the mobile app, uses machine learning to inform patient communication strategies and build personalized payment plans and discounts. BioIntelliSense, of Denver, makes a wearable that measures vital signs for patients continuously, freeing nurses to do other important tasks and identifying medical changes and issues much sooner. Pieces, of Texas, is using AI to create a concise clinical statement of what happens with a patient throughout their medical visit. These patient summaries are used for doctor and nurse handoffs, case management, and more. “I have the privilege of giving my colleagues their time back,” said founder Ruben Amarasingham.

Startups here, there, everywhere

Throughout it all, startups were the “heart and soul” of eMerge, eMerge Americas CEO Melissa Medina said, and they were everywhere. The 110 companies from around the world selected to participate in the Startup Showcase took part in a six-week eMerge accelerator program before the conference and exhibited at booths that were visibly busy much of the two days.

For example, Tukki, one of Miami’s freshest startups, shared its legaltech platform. While they may have just recently launched, they are not wet behind the ears when it comes to US immigration. Much to the contrary, co-founder and CEO Ramiro Roballos has experienced firsthand the frustrations behind the legal procedures required to live stateside. That motivated him to build a platform connecting immigrants with lawyers, keeping track of the entire paperwork process digitally – creating efficiencies along the way.

Tukki team members Jose Carlos de Wit (Advisor), Ramiro Roballos (CEO), Lucas Schneebeli (frontend web developer)

BuildrFi, a company founded by Isabel Rodriguez, a previous graduate of the Built In Miami Cohort, simplifies construction finances by automating cumbersome manual processes that delay when a general contractor pays a subcontractor. In addition to automating these processes, the company provides the subcontractor with working capital to continue building their project. “We’re also building an AI model that looks at all the different data points across construction projects because we’re aiming to be the financial suite for contractors and close the gap for those 94 days of payment lack,” said Rodriguez, who recently joined the Techstars Miami accelerator. Rodriguez [pictured below] pitched on the Launchpad stage as a Startup Showcase semifinalist.

Blue Saturn, another Miami-based company, showcased their AI copilot that can analyze up to 300 job applications in less than a minute. CEO Anthony Santos said Blue Saturn integrates with an applicant tracking system or CRM and providing a comprehensive analysis of an applicant’s resume, LinkedIn, and portfolio. The tool can analyze an application in under 45 seconds.

David Nuñez (left) and founder Anthony Santos (right) of Blue Saturn.

And the winner is …

Several Miami Tech OGs commented on how strong the pitches were and how the quality of startups improves every year, and that was on display all day on pitch stages. The 110 startups were also all competing for the $520,000 grand prize from Florida Funders, BIP Ventures and Medina Ventures that was announced at the close of eMerge.

From that group of 110 startups, 25 semifinalists and then five finalists were announced. The five finalists who pitched shark tank style on the main stage were:

  • Autoket (university track), founder/CEO Charles Masters Rodriguez, an FIU alum: A Miami-based B2B marketplace for everything automotive.
  • FLUIX (early stage track), founder/CEO Abhi Sastri: A Tampa-based AI co-pilot for facility energy cost savings.
  • MagicLog (early stage), founder/CEO Carlos Salazar: From Mexico, a white-labeled platform that modernizes the customer experience for SMB logistics providers.  
  • B2Gov (later stage), founder/CEO Paola Diegues: A sku-level platform for business to government sales.
  • EVQLV (later stage), founder/CEO Andrew Satz: A Miami-based AI-powered startup designing the future of medicine.

Judges were: Alexandra Wilkus Wilson (Clerisy); Mark Flickinger (BIP Ventures); Maria Derchi (Florida Funders); and Raul Ernesto Henriquez (Medina Ventures).   

And the winner was … EVQLV.

Satz is leveraging AI to generate and sell antibody sequences, and the startup is profitable. “We leverage advances in computation like artificial intelligence to transform the process of antibody discovery for biotechs and pharmaceutical companies around the world. … But the vision for EVQLV is more than what we’ve just accomplished to date.  Medicine today is designed for the disease, not the person, but what if we could design medicine just for you to fight cancer and hundreds of other diseases that antibodies can treat? That’s the future we envision at EVQLV,” Satz pitched. Stay tuned for our follow-up on this winning Miami-based life sciences startup.

eMerge sponsors and partners also announced prizes to Showcase startups. Albert Santalo, founder and CEO of 8base, awarded a $10K grant to the winner of its Archie AI Challenge: Legisaide. Danielle Mousseau of FPL’s 35 Mules accelerator program awarded $30,000 to the first place winner of the university track: Autoket.

The eMerge Americas conference will be back March 27-28 in 2025, but it is important to note that the organization’s work continues all year long. eMerge Americas holds pitch competitions locally and in Latin America, hosts numerous community events, puts on an acceleration program for Showcase startups, and tracks venture capital trends through its eMerge Insights reports.

Here’s to the next 10 years of eMerge Americas. 🥂  

MORE PHOTOS FROM THE CONFERENCE

Last three photos courtesy of eMerge Americas

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on X @ndahlberg and email her at [email protected]. Sign up for our free weekly Refresh Miami newsletter here.

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