Even successful, established companies need to keep innovating and looking years ahead to reach the next phase of growth.
That was one of the key messages delivered by Adriana Cisneros, CEO and vice chairman of the Cisneros Group, one of the world’s largest media and real estate companies, as SIME MIA, the two-day collision of creativity and tech that opened in Miami this week, concluded Wednesday.
Cisneros and other high-profile entrepreneurs extolled the virtues of Miami as a corporate hub and encouraged the hundreds of participants to use their talents to exploit fundamental shifts in business and technology.
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She described her family’s company, which is based in Coral Gables, as “a cruise ship, super steady. It knows where it’s going. It makes a lot of money but it goes kind of slow… It’s a really nice safety net, but I’m kind of focused on building a rocket ship right now, lean and fast and going for the moon.”
Cisneros, who co-chairs the founding board of Endeavor Miami, the first U.S. affiliate of the global nonprofit that promotes entrepreneurship, praised Miami’s business advantages, including its talent pool, access to Latin America and the Caribbean, and its accessible attitude.
Andres Moreno, founder and CEO of the groundbreaking language education company, Open English, had this advice on promoting Miami: Advertise a digital business via so-called “old media,” a model Miami-based Open English followed. The company, which began in Venezuela, started by advertising on television, he said. They needed a bilingual actor, and he filled the role himself—later admitting, “I am a terrible actor.”
Moreno said he would translate that into a uniquely South Florida pitch. “Go to Latin America and present a really funny commercial; show the lifestyle,” he said. “Brand Miami as a tech capital and gateway.”
He pointed out one cultural difference, though, that helped Open English become successful. In the United States, he said, knowing a second language is often viewed as an appealing skill, but in emerging markets knowing English is almost essential: It equals success. Before Open English learning English was often laborious and expensive in Latin America. Now costs are stable and manageable, he said.
The digital conference moved from New World Center in Miami Beach to The LAB Miami + Lightbox in Wynwood for its final day, where the rounds of casual keynotes and “campfire” discussions continued.
Much as it did on the first day, the most provocative presentation at SIME MIA may have come from a speaker from Singularity University, an institution that focuses on getting people to understand the business, technical and ethical implications of exponential technologies—tech that doubles in price performance every 10 to 24 months. Neil Jacobstein, co-chair of the Artificial Intelligence and Robotics track at Singularity, also sees Miami as having specific advantages.
“You don’t have to become the next Silicon Valley,” he said. “In Miami you can just create an ecosystem of innovation and do your own thing.”
He pointed out unique advantages of Miami’s geography.
“You are surrounded by water; there are all kinds of marine biology strengths…,” Jacobstein said. “There is tremendous medical strength here with University of Miami and Howard Hughes. “There is the ability to do new kinds of synthetic biology projects based on biomimetics from the Everglades and from coral reefs nearby. There is a lot of opportunity that could be part of leveraging the unique assets of South Florida.”
Entrepreneur Ola Ahlvarsson, founder of SIME, a digital business event in Europe that partnered with MIA Collective to bring the model to Miami, lives part time in Stockholm and South Florida. His experiences in Sweden inform what he sees in Miami’s future.
“It is almost like I come with a little bit of a head start because I was part of this transition in Stockholm in the last 15 years,” Ahlvarsson said. “We went from having not a lot of tech interests, venture capital or success to being the second city in the world in terms of success for capital. We’ve seen when people come together like this real things come out of it.”
That’s just one of the appeals for conferences, such as SIME MIA. They can help build new networks and alliances among private capital, politicians and organizations such as Knight Foundation, a SIME MIA supporter, to attract even more companies to South Florida, he said.
“I am seeing the Knight Foundation putting support, knowledge, connecting people, doing things—putting money into so many different fields. I am so impressed by what these guys are doing,” Ahlvarsson said. “These guys are intrapreneurs… They can speak the same language as the guys at The LAB or the entrepreneurs they want to support.”
Patrick Ogle is a freelance writer and a former reporter for the Miami Herald.
Photo credit: Patrick Ogle
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