Bridging entrepreneurship and education in South Florida

Photo credit: Flickr user dananthony11.

Business leaders gathered at the South Florida Economic Summit this week to talk about ways to bridge the education and business sectors. One of the key topics: ideas for boosting South Florida’s start up community, a key focus for Knight Foundation. Several panelists proposed steps to help business leaders become an integral part of the growing start up scene. Susan Amat executive director at the University of Miami Launch Pad, said that a successful South Florida economy is dependent on collaboration efforts between local businesses and new startups. “What our economy needs now is a business community that volunteers their time,” said Amat, who helped to create Launch Tech, an accelerator for Miami tech startups. “We want people to say ‘no business community is going to do what Miami did for me’.” Knight Foundation’s Miami Program Director, Matt Haggman, moderated the panel and asked participants what needs to happen in education and entrepreneurship to prepare for South Florida’s economic future. A consensus among all panelists was the critical need for collaboration: “It takes two to tango,” said President of Miami-Dade College Eduardo Padrón. “We need to be assertive and proactive.” Padrón cited recent research projects that seek to create solutions in education by first evaluating business needs. He said Miami-Dade College has created more opportunities for training students for the jobs employers need. “We created an entirely new program in bioeconomics that prepared people for those jobs,” said Padrón, and cited other recent collaborations with Florida Power & Light to prepare students to fulfill needs in the engineering field. “We cannot get people evaluated fast enough. They have jobs waiting for them at a high wage and this gives them the opportunity to stay in Miami.”   Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, said that another critical factor in South Florida’s future is digital access. He said it was “shameful” to have to report that the fourth largest school district in the country provides only 30 percent of its schools with Internet access. “Without access to digital content, students we will never be able to personalize educational journeys in Miami-Dade,” Carvalho said,  “With as many types of people we have, that’s how many learning modalities we have in Miami-Dade schools. The only way to reach out to each individual learning path is through technology.” He reported success in raising matching funds for the $77 million needed to bring high speed Internet to South Florida public schools; however, he said that it will take more than money to address the opportunity gaps in the area. “If I had the power to demand one single investment,” Carvalho said, “I wouldn’t want your money. I’d want to provide a mentor for one of the students in Miami-Dade. If he likes sports management, let’s find him a mentor in the field – medicine, law, criminal justice. If these kids have mentors, they’ll stay on the page with learning and graduate.”   Rick Beasley, the executive director of South Florida Workforce, which sponsored the panel, offered some advice for business people looking to play a role in South Florida’s entrepreneurship economy: “Conversations at workshops like this allow us to engage…create boards and councils made up of people of all backgrounds and have an awareness of skill sets that are needed for broader insight.” Beasley asked that all attendees actively participate in the implementation of training and mentorship initiatives that bridge education and business. He also welcomed input from outside the business community on how the workforce designs its programs. It was an important gesture – panelists agreed that collaboration was the region’s most critical need of all.

By Jenna Buehler, executive assistant/communications at Knight Foundation

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