Knight Foundation funds #MiamiTech initiatives that build community. Let’s meet them.

Knight Foundation funds #MiamiTech initiatives that build community. Let’s meet them.

“As Miami’s tech community continues its rapid growth, so too does demand for community and belonging,” says Raul Moas, director of Knight’s Miami program. With that in mind, the John S. and James L Knight Foundation announced today funding for Haitians in Tech, Local Leaders Collective and The Shrimp Society. All three of these organizations are focused on nurturing communities that are of, by and for Miami’s founders, Moas said.

“They are creating on-ramps through which Miamians – including new residents – can plug into our tech economy and be welcomed into the startup community. A deep sense of community will be key to keep propelling Miami forward as a world-class home for tech and entrepreneurship,” Moas said in announcing the funding.

In addition to the three organizations, Knight is also funding the establishment of a Miami-Dade County Technology and Innovation Advisor role to further accelerate the growth of the tech sector.

“It’s more essential than ever that we harness the momentum of Miami’s continued growth as a tech hub to expand opportunity for residents across our community – and at the same time leverage the spirit of innovation and collaboration with leading entrepreneurs to tackle some of our greatest challenges,” said  Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, in a statement.  “I can’t imagine a better person to step into the Technology and Innovation Advisor role than Francesca de Quesada Covey, a native Miamian with deep experience forging public-private partnerships.”

Francesca de Quesada Covey is a technologist and analyst with 15 years of experience developing public-private partnerships and advising technology firms, elected officials, and government agencies. She is a partner at TheVentureCity, where she invests in early-stage companies. She previously worked at Facebook, where she led and scaled partnerships teams focused on underserved users, including growing Internet.org, working with Latin America developers, and creating greater payments tools through Novi/Diem. She also worked at the White House as Deputy Counselor for Strategic Engagement between 2011 and 2013. “I am delighted to help deepen the relationship between the tech community and Miami-Dade County and to help advance Mayor Levine Cava’s efforts to create an inclusive, diverse, thriving economy,” she said.

Francesca de Quesada Covey, Technology and Innovation Advisor, Miami-Dade County

Together, the four initiatives are receiving $510,000 in Knight funding. Since 2012, when the foundation made building up Miami’s tech and startup community a priority, Knight has invested some $50 million  into Miami’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, including bringing accelerators, coding education and conferences to the Magic City. This year,  investments include a $15 million commitment in Florida International University, the University of Miami and Baptist Health South Florida to expand Miami’s tech talent and accelerate innovation.

Here’s a closer look at the three founder-focused organizations receiving funding.

Haitians in Tech

When Miamian Whitney Lubin attended Afrotech in the Bay Area in 2019, she was pleasantly surprised to meet amazing fellow Haitians in technology. When she was back in Miami, she bought the domain HaitiansInTech.com and during the pandemic started a newsletter sharing knowledge about what other Haitian technologists were up to. The group kept growing and began sharing resources and HIT added virtual conversations and mentoring.

Soon Lubin and her three team mates were also thinking about how they could use their tech expertise to help the Little Haiti community. Code For South Florida, a civic tech organization Lubin was also involved with, decided to take on Haitians in Tech as one of its projects. HIT is now creating a mentorship channel to train Haitians who aspire to be in the tech field and introduce them to meaningful projects they can work on and use in their portfolios. These projects would also help solve issues in the Little Haiti community. For instance, after the recent earthquake in Haiti, they creating a campaign providing transparency about the relief organizations so people would feel comfortable donating, Lubin said.

Whitney Lubin, founder of Haitians in Tech

The Knight funding – $150,000 – will go toward establishing these projects that will benefit the Little Haiti community at large, as well as creating a physical presence for Haitians in Tech with tech events, including an inaugural live event. “Next year our plan is to have quarterly hackathons, and essentially creating campus chapters of Haitians in Tech at all the local universities and having them participate in these hackathons,” said Lubin.

Find out more: haitiansintech.com

Local Leaders Collective (LLC)

The entrepreneurial journey can be lonely for founders at any stage. After he exited his first startup, LiveNinja, Will Weinrab, a Miami Tech OG, founded Local Leaders Collective, LLC, as a way for founders to help each other as they go through the highs and lows of startup life, which can take a toll on professional relationships as well as family life. The professionally facilitated peer-mentoring membership organization is modeled after YPO but with much lower membership fees. LLC has been ongoing for about two years, and members have shared with me over the years that the membership experience has been super helpful as they grow their startups and has paid dividends for their mental health and wellness.

Will Weinraub, founder of Local Leaders Collective, with his kids.

There are other LLC member-benefits but the heart and soul of the organization are the professionally curated Forums (one is pictured at the top of this post). Founders are grouped in small Forums (no competitors) so that they can freely share any issues they are having, whether professional or personal.  LLC brings in professionally trained facilitators to launch the Forums, which continue to meet and support one another and take on a life of their own. Currently, LLC has 50 members but Weinraub expects more members this fall when he opens it up again for additional groups, thanks to $140,000 in new funding from Knight.

“We plan on using the new funding to expand the program so we can help more entrepreneurs in the South Florida area.  This includes the training and launching of new Forums, special members-only events, dedicated 1-on-1 coaching and more,” said Weinraub.

Find out more: thelocalleaders.com

The Shrimp Society

In 2017, while a student at University of Miami, Chris Daniels immersed himself into the startup community, working at the Launch Pad at UM and soon launching a startup of his own. After that,  he joined a Miami cybersecurity startup, Secberas, as a first employee. But something was still missing, he said: ”I just wanted to understand and just talk to people that were in early-stage companies ..  about super tactical things.

Chris Daniels, founder of The Shrimp Society

He knew other founders felt the same. Daniels founded The Shrimp Society to bring together early-stage founders and create on-ramps into Miami’s startup ecosystem. Through meetups, workshops and peer-mentoring, the core concept of The Shrimp Society, Daniels said, is building the early-stage founder community, focused on founders first and foremost. This community would offer access to investors and community partners but also just be there to help “and even more so to manage the loneliness that comes with being an early-stage founder,” Daniels said. “It’s almost a class of entrepreneurs that are in the trenches together and that is really what we are all about.”

Daniels plans to use the $100,000 in Knight funding to bring more resources and events to the founder community, to build out their early-stage investor network, and help founders with acquiring talent.  Shrimp Society now has 67 founder members and it accepts new members quarterly. “We focus in Month 1 on building relationships from founder to founder,” with curated events focused on development, a monthly Founder Mastermind, an active Slack channel, and casual happy hours, all free to the founders, Daniels said.

Find out more: theshrimpsociety.com

The Shrimp Society partnered with General Assembly on a Startup Summer series this year.

Photo at top of this post shows a Local Leaders Collective Forum. Photo provided by LLC.  Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter and email her at [email protected]

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