By Nancy Dahlberg and Riley Kaminer
After a two-year hiatus, eMerge Americas returned to the Miami Beach Convention Center on Monday bigger than ever – and with a refreshed look, reflecting the new Miami.
Featuring over 200 speakers and with 400+ companies participating, the conference aims to offer something for everyone, whether you are an early-stage founder, an investor, a large tech company seeking talent, an educator, or one of the many supporters of South Florida’s tech ecosystem. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez’s vision of his city as a Crypto Capital is one of the main themes of the conference, with a number of main stage talks devoted to subjects like blockchain, NFTs and Web3.
‘WE ARE STILL AT THE GOECITIES PHASE OF WEB3’
The conference kicked off with Alexis Ohanian, the Palm Beach-based co-founder of Reddit and founder of investment firm Seven Seven Six. In a wide ranging conversation with CNBC reporter Deirdre Bosa, Ohanian weighed in on web3 and South Florida as an emerging destination for innovation.
“We are still at the GeoCities phase of Web3,” said Ohanian, referring to the Web 1.0 page builder and hosting service popular in the 1990s. “We’re all still learning what to tinker and what to build. The builders right now have an amazing assortment of Lego bricks to build with.”
While he noted that his NFT portfolio has done well over the last couple of years – its value having multiplied by some four to five times – Ohanian had words of caution for investors:
“This is a highly speculative, very, very, very early stage marketplace,” he said. “There will absolutely be a churn” of products, services, platforms, and investments.
Ohanian is perhaps one of the highest-profile investors in the South Florida region, as he has invested in 36 unicorns, including Miami-based senior-tech startup Papa. Seven Seven Six now has $750 million assets under management.
Papa’s founder and CEO Andrew Parker also graced the stage with Ohanian, revealing that he is hoping to hire 100 employees in the company’s Miami office in the near future. Parker hopes that Papa, now with 800 employees globally, will create an effect similar to the so-called PayPal Mafia. “I’m sure people that work at Papa will end up going to build their own companies,” Parker said.
MIAMI A MODEL ‘RISE OF THE REST’ CITY
The Web3 revolution is going to take time to evolve and develop, up to a decade, and there will be shakeouts and winners and losers along the way, said Steve Case, a Web0 pioneer because AO was founded long before the Web. Still, he said, the excitement around web3 at eMerge is “intoxicating” and infectious, and that is the kind of optimism an ecosystem need to succeed. Successful startup areas bet on why the innovators will succeed rather than why they will fail, and he is seeing a lot of the former in Miami.
Case said Miami in fact a model city in the Rise of the Rest, the organization he founded to help lift venture capital attention beyond California and New York. That is because of Miami;s early believers like eMerge Americas and other community builders who didn’t stop telling the story when everybody said it couldn’t be done, the startups like Papa that stayed when investors said go west, and the mayors and other leaders who enthusiastically supported and trumpeted the ecosystem. While Case doesn’t see Silicon Valley falling from its throne, other cities including Miami are finally getting noticed and rising up.
UNIVERSITIES RETHINKING THEIR MODELS
The presidents of Miami Dade College, University of Miami and Florida International University took to the main stage to talk about how they prepare students for the fast-changing world of technology. power the next revolution. The three – MDC’s Madeline Pumariega, UM’s Julio Frenk and FIU’s Kenneth Jessell – were in agreement the traditional model of higher ed needs to change, and all three schools were actively undertaking transformation. “We must. Otherwise, we go the way of the Yellow Taxi,” Pumariega said.
Pumariega talked about a personalized education experience as a platform with stackable credentials and courses that students can access as easily as they do with Netflix and other services they use, when and where they need it. “We spent the last year reimaging the student journey,” she said, and that includes connecting them with potential employers right away.
Frenk talked about “education for life,” not only in providing lifelong educational opportunities – with content there when you need it — but education that prepares you for life. Universities must transform themselves, he said, adding that it is not about the traditional model of learning the theory and then applying it in internships and jobs – “It should be the other way around.” Jessell added that the role of educational institutions is to help students learn how to think critically in order to navigate this fast-changing environment. Like Frenk, he said experiential learning includes internships that start in year 1, not year 4, and more of them.
MEET THE STARTUPS
The expo area of eMerge Americas was buzzing, with universities, organizations and larger companies showcasing their technology, with products and programs in elaborate booths. The LaunchPad stage featured talks with #MiamiTech leaders and founders.
But at the center of the action were some 100 startups exhibiting at their tables and some pitching on a stage in the center of the room. Let’s meet a few of them.
The team from Miami-born Lien Library was out in full force at the conference. Their platform, a digital toolkit to identify liens on properties, is rapidly gaining clients. Most recently, the municipal governments of Miami Gardens and North Miami Beach deployed the platform, which is free for the public sector. Consumers, including investors, pay to use the platform to offset the risk of purchasing a property with a costly lien attached. “We offer an opportunity for cities to use Lien Library to earn revenue,” said co-founder and CEO Mac Alabre (pictured below), since the platform makes it easier for municipalities to make good on the money owed to them through liens.
Babson grad Jason Shatsky, founder of ticket selling platform TicketRev, said that there is “no better place than eMerge for everything Miami Tech.” The Boca-based startup has recently expanded to New York. “We’ve helped hundreds of fans already, and we’re excited for what’s to come,” said Shatsky. Also in TicketRev’s sights is a pre-seed raise.
Edward McGovern, police Major-turned entrepreneur, came to eMerge to showcase his public safety startup Cera. Last month, the rapidly-growing company provided software used by seventy security officials at the Ultra music festival. McGovern explained that the tech-powered platform came in handy in field where analog techniques are still common: “When we arrived, we saw officials using paper maps and poker chips.”
Andres and Juan Barrero, co-founders of LetsBox.it, enjoyed the opportunity to share their unique portal that helps customers find the most cost-effective way of sending shipments overseas. Juan told Refresh Miami that using the platform can help customers determine the most time- and cost-saving options, as well as ensure that they avoid pitfalls like issues at customs. The Wynwood-based startup, which just raised a small angel round, currently has seven employees. Andres has spent the better part of two decades in the shipping industry.
Paddleboarding app PADL made waves at eMerge, touting its recent growth. Co-founder and COO Felipe Jauregui told Refresh Miami that the company has just inked a deal with the City of Miami, enabling PADL to deploy its paddleboard rental stations in a handful of new locations.
At eMerge, Learning platform EducUp announced that they have officially passed the threshold of one million users on the platform. Co-founders Carlos Raul and Yusnier Viera (pictured below) shared that the startup has already started raising a $1.25M seed round.
In many ways, eMerge celebrated a very different Miami than years past, and that was evident as soon as you walked in the door. Among the largest exhibits were Blockchain.com, Algorand, Okcoin and Silicon Valley Bank. Walk in a little further and the signs are everywhere. #MiamiTech OGs remarked on how much has changed since 2019, the last eMerge Conference.
Yet, the foundational mission of eMerge Americas has not changed. Announced in 2013, eMerge launched its first conference in 2014 to connect tech entrepreneurs, angel investors, VC firms and other stakeholders with the mission of transforming Miami into the tech hub of the Americas. “This is all about building a community and building a forward-thinking innovative future for our ecosystem,” eMerge President Melissa Medina said at a recent event. After all, long before Miami had tech, that was the vision of her father, a serial tech entrepreneur and eMerge’s founder Manny Medina, who took the stage and was overcome with emotion. “We are on the cusp of a $10 trillion run,” said Manny Medina, referring to the digital transformation ahead, “I want Miami to be at the heart of it.”
“We’re a year-round platform. We connect the dots. We’re tracking the data and telling the story,” Melissa Medina said. eMerge is focused on continuing its mission and supporting Miami’s renaissance, as well as uniting Florida in a common goal of moving tech forward in the Sunshine state. To that end it partners with Tampa-based entrepreneurship organization Synapse and VC firm Florida Funders, which is also Tampa-based but made a significant expansion into Miami in 2021.
PITBULL, THE MAYOR AND LIN DAI
The energy carried all the way through to the end of the day, finishing off with a conversation between Miami music legend Armando “Pitbull” Perez, Mayor Francis Suarez, and NFT platform OneOf’s co-founder and CEO Lin Dai.
Ever the source of a rhyming quip about hard work and perseverance, Perez shared his excitement about the Miami tech ecosystem with a packed crowd of attendees. “What comes quick goes quicker,” he said. “Me, I’ve always been about slow but for sho’.”
Suarez shot back, describing the major growth of Miami’s tech as “fast but going to last.” He noted that Miami is top in the nation for tech job growth and tech migration, among a litany of non-tech superlatives including Miami being both the healthiest and happiest city in America.
Dai, who recently migrated to Miami after spending two decades in New York, highlighted that the company is spearheading various initiatives to give back to the local community as they grow here. This includes a collaboration with Perez to build a network of sports leadership and management schools in Miami and beyond.
During his talk, Dai also announced OneOf’s launch of CO//SIGN, enabling early-career musicians to create a web3 version of a fan club. Artists that join the program will have a “rookie” card-style NFT. The idea is that the musicians will be provided with a long-term income stream while fans have an opportunity to prove their music prowess by identifying rising-stars at the start of their career – and perhaps even turn a profit eventually.
The day closed with Suarez’s reiteration of the excitement to come for Miami, and a firm plea: “Everybody who benefits from this movement has to give back,” said Suarez, citing SoftBank and J.P. Morgan Chase as examples for our tech community to follow.
On Tuesday, Ohanian’s better half, Serena Wiliams, will be speaking, along with Blockchain.com CEO Peter Smith, OKcoin CEO Hong Fang, Michael Arrington of Arington Capital and others. eMerge will also crown a winner of the Startup Showcase; the winner will receive more than $400,000 in investments.
Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter and email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Riley Kaminer on Twitter @rileywk.
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