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Fernando González

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    Founder Jim McKelvey welcomes prospective students of CS50xMiami. All photos courtesy The Idea Center at MDC. CS50x Miami, Harvard University’s online introduction to computer science class, will be offered free and with in-person instruction through a partnership between The Idea Center, the innovation and entrepreneurship hub at Miami Dade College, and LaunchCode, a job placement nonprofit, beginning June 13. Both organizations are supported by Knight Foundation. The 20-week course was introduced at an event at The Idea Center at Miami Dade College last Wednesday, with Jim McKelvey, founder of LaunchCode; Sari Kulthm, lead instructor and program manager for CS50x Miami; and, via remote video, Yulan Lin, a data analyst from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, who discussed her  experiences with coding and her work at the center. Speaking before a room of about 100 students and prospective students, McKelvey, also co-founder of the payments company Square, framed his remarks by discussing the labor market and the educational programs needed to supply business with the the trained workers they need. He then didn’t spend much time in niceties, speaking instead forcefully about a great opportunity — but also a challenge. “The one question that I always get about this is: Is this too good to be true? Is there a catch here? Is there something that you’re not explaining? Well, almost. It is almost too good to be true,” he said. “The fact that they are making this available for free is mind-blowing. The Harvard team is incredibly generous. The Knight Foundation and Miami Dade College, who are sponsoring this class so it doesn’t cost you a penny, they are incredibly generous. So yes, it’s almost too good to be true — but for the fact that they don’t slow this down for you.” This course is for Harvard students, McKelvey said, “and probably they’re doing nothing but taking classes. They are probably not holding down jobs. Some of you guys are holding down jobs? Doing other stuff? Maybe have a family, a couple of kids? There are disadvantages that you have that they don’t have, and they are not slowing this down for you. This class moves at a breakneck pace. There are times when it’s best to run, and there are times when it’s good to rest. This is a time to run.” Kulthm, who will be the lead instructor of CS50x Miami, said, it “only takes one thing from you: commitment. When you are committed and put the time and effort, it will make it doable. We’re here to support you. Prepare your schedule, prepare your life for the next 20 weeks.”
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    The first Startup Nation Conference at Miami Dade College’s Wolfson Campus in downtown Miami last week was a day of discussions about pure business, exit strategies and the role of government in funding innovation, but also about having projects with a larger, social purpose; hard statistics and talk about problem-solving strategies but also the importance of chutzpah and questions about the role of Jewish mothers in tech culture; and presentations, at times bordering on science fiction, about technologies for non–invasive neurosurgery, using the mobile phone to provide cervical cancer screening and treatment services, critical for rural populations; giving voice to patients with speech disorders; and an augmented reality product that seemed to blend seamlessly virtual and physical reality. Hosted by The Idea Center at Miami Dade College and Tel Aviv University, the Knight-sponsored conference offered insights into Israel’s success in technology and is part of an effort to build bridges between the innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystems in Tel Aviv and Miami. It was one more step in a developing relationship that started with a visit by a 12-person delegation from Miami in March 2015. The group spent a week in Israel as part of Project Interchange, a nonprofit educational institute of the American Jewish Committee. The exchange was funded in part by Knight Foundation. This was followed in August by a knowledge-sharing agreement between The Idea Center at Miami Dade College and Star TAU, Tel Aviv University’s Entrepreneurship Center, linking the entrepreneurial and high-tech communities in South Florida and Tel Aviv, the top startup ecosystem outside the United States and fifth best in the world after Silicon Valley, New York, Los Angeles and Boston, according to Compass’ 2015 Global Startup Ecosystem Ranking. Numbers never tell the full story but, according to a report in the Times of Israel in January, “Exits for Israeli tech firms hit near record levels,” with “104 exits of all types during the course of the year, worth over $9 billion to the firms and their investors.” And according to the “PwC Israel 2015 Hi-Tech Exit Report,” there was also “robust” growth in mergers and acquisitions from $5 billion in 2014 to$7.2 billion in 2015, an increase of 44 percent. “There’s never been a better time to be an entrepreneur,” said Knight Foundation Miami Program Director Matt Haggman in his introductory remarks at the conference. “There’s never been a time what we can do so much with so little, and for those who are here that are entrepreneurs … the message, more than anything else, is: ‘It’s possible.’” For Oren Simanian, founder of StarTAU, “it’s a partnership to educate the next generation of entrepreneurs both in Israel and here in Miami. We can do it together.”
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    Above: eMerge Americas 2016  by Robertson Adams. The 2016 edition of eMerge Americas,  the two-day tech conference and expo at the Miami Beach Convention Center, closed last week in a fitting manner: looking at the future. The last order of business after two intense days of presentations, panels, pitches and networking last week was the Startup Showcase Award presentation to University, Early Stage and Late Stage startups — and announcing an early-bird registration opening the next day for eMerge Americas 2017. In technology, especially, it’s never too early for the future — and eMerge2016 did sell out. The event, with founding partners Knight Foundation, Medina Capital, Miami-Dade County and Greenberg Traurig, attracted 13,000 participants and 500 companies from 60 countries, local and international universities as well as media partners such as NBCUniversal, which broadcast live from the event through its subsidiaries CNBC and Telemundo. Keynote speaker John Paul DeJoria, co-founder and CEO of John Paul Mitchell Systems, in conversation with motivational speaker Tim Storey. Courtesy eMerge Americas. There were several intriguing, often-illuminating, discussions, including talks by computer scientist, inventor and author and entrepreneur and philanthropist John Paul DeJoria, best known as a co-founder of the Paul Mitchell line of hair products and The Patrón Spirits Company, as well as a panel on “The Changing Worlds of Media and Music,” which included musician and entrepreneur Armando Christian Perez (Pitbull). Also worth noting, the winners of the startup awards were: In the Later Stage Startup category, Mediconecta won $100,000 and other in-kind prizes; Early Stage Startup winner Cetus Labs received $50,000; and the University Startup Winner, Tinker Build, from FIU, received a $25,000 prize. IBM Vice President Denise Evans speaks on the Women, Innovation and Technology summit at Emerge Americas 2016. Photo by Michael Bolden.  But the highlight of the second day at eMerge was the Women, Innovation & Technology summit which included an expansive thematic range, including a talk on “The Price of Shame,” by author and activist Monica Lewinsky, but also “FinTech for Financial Empowerment: Leveraging Disruption in Financial Services to Create Innovation Solutions for Financial Inclusion.”
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    Above: An overflow audience listens to venture capital discussion at eMerge Americas. Photo by R. Adams. The opening day of eMerge Americas 2016, the tech conference and expo taking place at the Miami Beach Convention Center Monday and Tuesday, offered impressive numbers, inspiring talk and serious business. Not bad for an event only in its third year. Manuel D. Medina, managing partner of Medina Capital and founder of eMerge Americas, opened the proceedings calling attention to a headline in Monday’s Miami Herald “Technology on the money: Fintech startups take root in South Florida.” “Just a few years ago, this headline would not have been possible,” said Medina. “eMerge Americas started as a dream … to create an open platform to bring in legacy technology companies with innovators who would bring provocative content, discuss the opportunities and issues of the day.  … Be a platform where leaders of technology from all over the world gather, where CEOs do a lot of business, where the next leading innovator gets his lead investor and [where] technology brings thousands of people from all over the world to Miami and help propel Miami into this technology world we live in.” In its initial edition, in 2014, the event, with founding partners Knight Foundation, Medina Capital, Miami-Dade County and Greenberg Traurig, attracted an estimated 6,000 participants, 220 companies and a modest initial international participation. Two years later, eMerge sold out, boasting of 13,000 participants (Medina noted that organizers had to close registration) and 500 companies from 60 countries. Knight Foundation’s support for eMerge reflects its increased focused on supporting and propelling a network of entrepreneurs in South Florida through more than 180 grants. Many of the organizations in Knight’s network demonstrated their services and ideas at the foundation’s booth on the exposition floor Monday, a schedule that continues throughout Tuesday, with opportunities to learn more about initiatives such as the Knight Enterprise Fund and organizations such as Endeavor Miami, LaunchCode, Startupbootcamp Miami, PowerMoves Miami, the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, and more. But numbers only tell part of the story says Matt Haggman, Knight Foundation’s Miami program director. So while it’s good to see continuous growth in numbers and activity, he said, “what I think is even greater than that is that now there is a belief that Miami really is a center of high-impact entrepreneurship and innovation. People think of Miami as a place where if you have an idea you can build it here; you have the wherewithal and the tools and the people to do it here, so what we are creating is this real important sense of possibility. eMerge is at the heart of that.” Above: Gen. Colin Powell and moderator. Photo courtesy eMerge Americas. As in previous editions, the event actually started with a hackathon on Saturday and Sunday leading into the two days of presentations, panel discussions, networking events and a startup showcase. The event features a Government Innovation Forum bringing together top government officials and business leaders from 34 countries to explore using disruptive technologies in public-private partnerships. Also, for the second year, eMerge Americas will host, on Tuesday, a Women, Innovation and Technology summit, a showcase of women in technology and business. While panels throughout Monday illustrated the important roles women play in the tech industry, Tuesday offers a more focused approach, including a keynote by Monica Lewinsky on “The Price of Shame,” and discussions featuring business leaders such as Aminda Marques, executive editor of the Miami Herald; IBM Vice President, Women & Diversity B2B Marketing Denise Evans; and Miriam Lopez, president of Marquis Bank. Monday’s impressive program of speakers and panels opened with Ret. General Colin L. Powell, former U.S. secretary of state, in a broad-ranging talk in which he addressed technology, leadership, becoming a former secretary of state, racism and, inevitably, presidential politics.
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    Creators Party presented by Carnival: Opening Night Party of Hispanicize. Photos courtesy of Hispanicize. Home of a Hispanic population estimated at 55 million people, the United States is the second-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world. The impact of the social, political, cultural and economic life of Hispanics in the United States has been profound — and it’s only growing. According to the just released Geoscape’s 2016 American Marketscape DataStream report, there will be about 68 million Hispanics in the United States by 2021; the population is growing at an average of 1.6 million Hispanics each year for the next five years. Such was the context for Hispanicize 2016, an annual event billed as the largest gathering of Latino professionals in marketing, social media, digital content creation, journalism, music and film, which took place at the InterContinental Miami hotel April 4-8. The seventh annual edition of Hispanicize featured a dizzying array of panels, new product presentations and music performances. As part of the event, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the largest organization of Latino journalists, held its first annual Spanish-language conference, which was supported by Knight Foundation. Knight also hosted the journalists’ association for its spring board of directors meeting last Friday. 
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    Above: 2005 YoungArts Winner in Voice Niia Bertino with Tom Windish of The Windish Agency and Esther Park of the National YoungArts Foundation. Photo by World Red Eye.  Few industries have felt the disruptive impact of technology as strongly as the music business. Seemingly overnight, long established practices of creation, production and consumption were upended. From auto-tuning to iTunes, artists and promoters suddenly found themselves before once unimaginable opportunities, but also daunting challenges. Old roles were reshaped, some eliminated. And the new rules of engagement are still being written, making it even more challenging for people who aspire to make a living as musicians. That was the context, and subject, of a conversation featuring singer, pianist and composer Niia Bertino, better known as Niia (pronounced Nye-a), and booking agent extraordinaire Tom Windish, founder and owner of The Windish Agency, at a YoungArts Salon at the National YoungArts Foundation headquarters in Miami on Thursday. The discussion, which included a lively audience Q&A, was followed by a two-song performance by Niia. The event, sponsored by Knight Foundation, was moderated by Esther Park, YoungArts’ director of campus programming. Unlike other events in the Salon series, which have tended to offer a window into an artist’s vision and work, Thursday’s event focused on artistic and business nuts and bolts and how-to concerns. Intriguingly, the conversation zigzagged between new strategies and old values. The importance for an artist’s career of the number of Twitter or Snapchat followers was set in a musical context (“I come from an older generation, and for me it’s about understanding your craft and really trying to be the best at what you do,” noted Niia) and historical perspective. “I don’t pay attention to any of those numbers,” said Windish. “You have to try and do all that stuff well, but the biggest thing is to make great music and play great shows. At the beginning of my career … the number was SoundScan, how many records has [this artist] sold in each market? I don’t really care. What I really care about, and what I think a musician should care about today more than ever, is to make great music and be authentic.” At another point, Niia shrugged off a discussion of “cool” noting that “most people that are cool don’t even know it. It’s not about being cool. It’s about being good at what you do.”
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    Photo provided by the Miami Book Fair. In the crossroads that is South Florida, cultural differences seem readily apparent. Yet if you listen closely, the echoes and similarities between the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of the world around us speak of something else. Just ask Ranjana Warier. A senior security systems engineer for Miami-Dade County by day, Warier is also an Indian classical dancer, choreographer, artistic director of Rhythms School of Dance in South Florida and, by necessity, cultural translator. Bringing a tradition that is thousands of years old, rooted in sacred ritual and religious theater to audiences living half a world away, unfamiliar with its history and aesthetics, would seem to pose insurmountable challenges. Not quite. And as it turns out, it also brings surprising discoveries. In “Surya: The Eternal Rhythm,” Warier’s most recent production, winner of a Knight Arts Challenge award, she translated into movement the words of Miami-born poet, writer and multidisciplinary artist Adrian Castro. Adding to the challenge, Castro is also a “babalawo,” an elder in the Afro-Cuban Orisha religion generally known as Santería, and for this piece, Warier worked with a selection of unpublished poems with a distinct spiritual content. 
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    Above: Patricia Delgado, principal dancer, as Titania in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Photo © Alberto Oviedo.  That the centerpiece in the 30th anniversary season of the Miami City Ballet is an ambitious reimagining of George Balanchine’s interpretation of  Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is only fitting. It has a rich history — but it looks forward. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is not just one of Balanchine´s masterworks; it’s also his first original, full-length ballet, a piece to which he dedicated more than two decades to select the music and develop. It premiered on Jan. 17, 1962. This is the first time The George Balanchine Trust agreed to have one of his works reimagined. Also, this production is an unprecedented collaboration that brings together Cuba-born, Miami-raised Lourdes Lopez, the ballet’s artistic director, and two Miami natives, artist Michele Oka Doner, charged with costumes and set design, and playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, the project’s dramaturge. Finally, the piece is rich with personal resonances for Lopez and Miami City Ballet. Youtube: Miami City Ballet Behind-the-Curtain: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” “I grew up with ‘Midsummer,’” said Lopez, who studied at the School of American Ballet, the school of the New York City Ballet, before joining the company, then directed by Balanchine. She rose to soloist and then principal before retiring in 1997. “As a young, core dancer you do the hounds in the forest in the first act, then you move on. You do fairies. I did one of the lovers, and I ended up, many years later, doing the pas de deux in the second act, the divertissement.”
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    Rosario Suárez in captured video images from Queen of Thursdays. The images need no commentary. On stage, Rosario Suárez, the former prima ballerina of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, can be simply breathtaking. She is an expressive performer with a dazzling technique. Her whole approach shows a refined blend of grace and power, elegance and a deep sensuality. But in the life of an artist, talent, even great talent, dedication and discipline are no guarantees of success or a happy ending. Forces large and small—from historic political circumstances to simple human envy—can shape a career and be critical in reaching a truly transcendent status. For years a star-in-the-making, rarely showcased in the weekend performances, Suárez became the headliner of the company’s Thursday programs. Thus, she became la reina de los jueves, the Queen of Thursdays. Her story has now made its way to film in a documentary that will premiere at the Miami International Film Festival, fittingly, on Thursday evening. “Queen of Thursdays” is also competing for the Knight Documentary Achievement Award, where audience members vote on their favorite to win a $10,000 prize funded by Knight Foundation.   'Queen of Thursdays' director Orlando Rojas. The film, directed by Orlando Rojas and co-written by Rojas and Dennis Scholl, a filmmaker and former vice president for the arts at Knight Foundation, follows Suárez from her beginnings in Havana, through her rise through the ranks, her battles to find her place in the dance world in her own country and, finally, to a life in exile. Beloved by audiences and respected by critics, Suárez remained for years in the shadow of dancer and choreographer Alicia Alonso, the all-powerful founder, prima ballerina assoluta and director of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. By the time she was finally elevated to prima ballerina, Suárez had reached an age where dancers are beginning to consider retirement. And when a family crisis convinces her to leave Cuba, she finds herself caught between worlds and unprepared for a dance business more appreciative of her talents for marketing and fundraising than her grand jetés or exquisite port de bras. “It’s a movie about the challenge to be an artist, wherever you may be,” says Rojas, a much decorated, Miami-based Cuban scriptwriter and filmmaker who himself went into exile in 2003. “Being an artist is very difficult in Cuba—and it’s very difficult here. Being an artist is a condition that puts you always against the collective, which in Cuba, especially, is a very strong concept. That is very difficult. Then you add to it exile, politics, founder’s syndrome … and the odds are daunting.” For Scholl, a seven-time Emmy winner, “Queen of Thursdays” underscores the fact that “no matter how artistically excellent you are, it’s hard to be an artist.”
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    Above: Dawn Porter's movie, "Trapped." Courtesy Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival. Film festivals are both showcases and competitions. The 33rd edition of Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival, which begins Friday, will offer 100 feature films and documentaries and 29 shorts. The works represent 40 countries and include their share of premieres, big name actors, directors and producers. Notably, this year, 46 of the films were directed or co-directed by women. "Trapped" director Dawn Porter. Courtesy Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival. The festival’s competitions feature six categories, including the Knight Competition, which is open to dramatic works and is awarded by a jury, and the Knight Documentary Achievement Award, which is open to all documentaries in the festival’s Official Selection and is voted on by the audience, a system first implemented last year. Both award prize money. Films participating in the Knight Competition are eligible for $30,000 to be split between the lead production company and the U.S. distributor of the film. The grand jury will also award two cash prizes of $5,000 each, one for Best Director and one for Best Performance. The winner of the Knight Documentary Achievement Award will receive $10,000.  “The Knight Documentary Achievement Award, especially, has been a huge success,” said Jaie Laplante, executive director and director of programming at the festival. “The audience got very excited by the opportunity to vote and influence where the money was going to go, so we saw a noticeable rise in the participation in terms of audience balloting. We wanted … to reinvigorate the category and it really worked, so we are continuing with it. Nothing breeds success like success.”
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    Above: "We Are Pregnant" director Juana Macias. Courtesy Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival. Technology has been an indispensable element in the birth and development of motion pictures. Facing similar challenges as industries, technology and film are once again joining forces to find a way forward. One of the highlights of this year´s Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival is the Google Seminar Series on Gender and Racial Gaps in Film and Tech. The discussions will take place at The Idea Center at Miami Dade College from March 5-8. “There’s a lot of talk and concern about opportunities for women and minorities and anyone can recognize that, sometimes, unconscious, ingrained biases prevent some people from having an equal opportunity,” said Jaie Laplante, executive director and director of programming at the festival. “Everyone deserves a chance on their merits and we know, just on numbers alone, that is not happening. There is not really a fair opportunity for everyone.” The idea of hosting these encounters emerged after festival organizers learned about Google’s interest in working with the film industry. “So we reached out to them to see if we could create this program,” Laplante said. “I believe awareness is always the first step to solving any problem.” Diversity has been a continuing challenge to the tech industry, as study after study and story after story, have highlighted the imbalances in the makeup of the labor force in the major tech companies. Knight Foundation has invested in nonprofits like CODE2040 and projects like Black Tech Week to tackle the problem, while Google’s own study on diversity highlighted the issue. The movie business is not faring much better.