Miami: The view along Ocean Drive in South Beach at dus
Is Miami the new Silicon Beach? The view along Ocean Drive in South Beach at dusk. Photo: Sean Pavone

Miami’s tech boom is good news for Latin American startups

LABS investigated Miami’s role as a tech hub hotspot and asked local experts and entrepreneurs what makes operating from the “Magic City” an ideal choice for many LatAm founders

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Top U.S. tech innovation hubs such as Austin, San Francisco’s Silicon Valley, Seattle, and Brooklyn/New York City have long been prime locations for venture capitalists and entrepreneurs to launch and operate their startups and VC firms from, but a new hot spot has been grabbing headlines and the attention for tech innovators and investors lately: Miami. 

One of Miami’s loudest cheerleaders is the city’s mayor, Francis Suarez, who generated national buzz last December when Delian Asparouhov, a Founders Fund venture capitalist, posted on Twitter: “Ok guys, hear me out, what if we move Silicon Valley to Miami?” Suarez responded with “How can I help?” The tweet (see below) went viral, generating more than 2.3 million responses, and Suarez has been aggressively courting new businesses and investors to consider Miami, Florida, as their home base ever since. 

Suarez’s recent campaign aside, Miami has been quietly gaining momentum as a tech hub for the past several years. 

In 2017, the Kauffman Foundation ranked Miami as the number one city for startups in the U.S. Two years later, Crunchbase reported that the greater Miami area saw nearly $1 billion in funding for local companies. More recently, and not long after Suarez’s infamous tweet, SoftBank Group Corp. announced $100 million in funding for companies based in Miami or planning to relocate there.  

READ ALSO: Entrepreneur turned VC, Consuelo Valverde, bridges the innovation gap between the U.S. and LatAm

Compared to New York City or the San Francisco Bay Area, Miami offers Latin American startups several key advantages, says Julia Lucidi, senior relationships manager for Latin America at CIC Miami, a for-profit coworking space and community-building organization that supports entrepreneurship in nine major innovation centers across the globe.  

“Geographically speaking, Miami is favorably located for lots of [Latin American] companies and for companies in Europe that want to access LatAm. When you compare the cost of doing business in Miami to New York or California, Miami has a much lower cost of living. We have the same time zone or very close time zone to almost all the countries in Latin America. And there’s cultural proximity. When you come to Miami, a lot of people speak Spanish and Portuguese. So there’s this flexibility of assimilating into a culture that’s much closer to Latin American culture than it is to American. It’s a favorable halfway step,” said Lucidi.  

Lucidi leads CIC’s Soft Landing Program, a five-day (currently virtual) boot camp for international entrepreneurs looking to break into the U.S. market. The program is taught in English and is limited to 10 startups per cohort. The program’s goal is to give founders the skills and knowledge they need for success in the U.S. while helping them avoid cultural pitfalls and other costly mistakes.

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Lucidi explains that when the founders land in the U.S., they often have very pressing, urgent issues to solve for their companies, and they feel lost and a little bit frantic. “We understand those pressing needs, but it’s important to make informed decisions because you don’t want to burn an important connection or hire a service provider who’s going to be a waste of your time, or worse, a waste of your money. Understanding who to connect to, and when, during the launch process is fundamental.” 

She says that the Soft Landing Program is structured to help those companies resolve their most pressing questions: “How do I start up my company? Who do I talk to legally? What are my responsibilities? How do I sell in this market? And who do I connect to?”

Julia Lucidi, senior relationships manager and lead of CIC Miami’s Soft Landing Program. Photo: Courtesy.

One of CIC Miami’s success stories is GenoSUR, a molecular-diagnostics startup from Chile, which made news in April 2020 for selling a million COVID-19 tests to Chile’s government. 

When GenoSUR joined Miami’s Soft Landing program in 2019, it had just lost a critical strategic partnership and was forced to close its laboratory in Chile. GenoSUR opened its first U.S. laboratory at CIC Miami’s facilities shortly thereafter; strategically positioning the company to serve the U.S. market during the COVID-19 pandemic while expanding its operations to Mexico and Spain and eventually reopening its operations in Chile. 

“What I love about the GenoSUR story is that not only did they grow internationally, but they solidified nationally in [Chile and] they started generating jobs and creating more innovation in their country of origin as well as having new references internationally,” said Lucidi. 

READ ALSO: VC investors were decidedly bullish on Latin America despite pandemic’s challenges

Leaving the SF Bay Area, Destination: Miami

Unlike established tech hubs such as Silicon Valley, which can feel closed-off to newcomers, Lucidi described Miami as a growing and collaborative innovation ecosystem where investors and founders are still very open to meeting, networking, and supporting each other. 

That openness was a pleasant surprise for Groovoos Brazilian co-founder Leandro Garcia, who recently relocated from San Francisco to Miami to launch a new social networking app and event ticketing platform that is promoting Brazilian music and entertainment acts to start. 

Leandro Garcia, Groovoo’s co-founder. Photo: Courtesy.

“Moving to Miami was the best decision we made for Groovoo. We are mainly doing events for the Brazilian community, which is much bigger here than in California. That was important for us, but people are also much more open here. I’ve made more connections living in Miami for three months than in two years in San Francisco. For example, I was invited to a startup accelerator forum with founders and investors, and I was invited to a WhatsApp group with founders. In California it was hard to get close to those kinds of people,” said Garcia. 

Surrounded by Brazilian people who share a common language, culture, and musical tastes has been a boon for Groovoo. Within several months, Groovoo has already attracted big-name talent for large-scale events, including the Brazillian DJs Jesus Luz and the Cat Dealers. And, it just announced a new partnership with Claudia Leitte, a Brazilian singer, songwriter, and TV personality, for The Wagon project with face-to-face shows similar to Brazil’s Carnival that was originally scheduled for 2020 but delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Groovoo has signed on as the exclusive ticket provider for the first July event in Florida.

READ ALSO: Hernan Kazah: Critical mass of tech-savvy adopters spurs unicorn builder KASZEK’s deals in Latin America

Brazilian entrepreneur Ivo Machado first came to Miami in 2016 to launch a successful campaign for his previous startup company, Movpak (a mix of backpack and retractable electric skateboard, for last-mile locomotion). He fell in love with the city, the weather, and the vibe because it felt so much like home in Brazil, but at the time, the startup ecosystem wasn’t moving forward as fast as he wanted. So he shifted gears and moved to Los Angeles, where he began working in video editing as a Post Supervisor.

Realizing that video-editing software was still too slow, even for skilled professionals, Machado decided to create Wisecut in partnership with his brother, Vicente Machado, who still lives in Brazil. Wisecut uses AI and voice recognition to intelligently automate and simplify the video-editing process for average users. “While I was living in L.A., I was talking about Miami to my friends. I missed the warm Atlantic ocean, and I felt people were happier here,” said Machado. 

Ivo and Vicente Machado, Wisecut’s co-founders.

Enter the Miami tech movement: 

“As I was looking for opportunities to come back to Miami, I came across this Miami accelerator called TheVentureCity. We instantly resonated with its program and amazing team. After getting approved for their Product Led Program, I started developing a master plan to move to Miami, and things started to fall into place. Now I’m in Miami, and I feel the city pulsing. Along with this whole tech movement that’s going on, it just feels perfect,” said Machado. 

Being co-located in Brazil and the U.S. is ideal for Wisecut, which is targeting would-be influencers and YouTube content creators in both countries with its online video-editing service. The U.S. and Brazil are ranked second and third in the world, respectively, for the total number of YouTube users, but successfully launching in the U.S. has other important benefits, according to Machado. 

READ ALSO: IDB Lab: Latin America and the Caribbean startup ecosystem has the potential to reach over $2 trillion by 2030

“When you think about being a startup, you want to think about being global from the beginning. And then, if you want to be global, it’s important for you to be in the U.S., which is where you’re going to find the most opportunities to reach the rest of the world. So, if you can make it in the U.S., going to the rest of the world is going to be much easier. Since we are in the U.S. and Brazil, Miami makes the perfect bridge between the two countries.”

This is Miami’s moment. Latin America already discovered Miami, but I think the Americans are discovering it now, too, especially after the pandemic. The cost of living is much cheaper, the rent is cheaper, I can live closer to the beach, and I can have a better quality of life. 

Ivo Machado, co-founder of wisecut.

What’s not to like about that? But where will Miami be in five years? 

“I see Miami being a global hub,” said Lucidi. “I think the geographical location of Miami is an incredible advantage. We see that in the companies that work from here and the type of work they’re able to do from Miami. So I see Miami becoming a stronger international bridge, not only from Latin America to the United States, but from Europe to the United States and Latin America. I see Miami connecting these regions in a really strategic way.”

Lucidi offered this final advice to founders considering a leap to the Magic City: Don’t go it alone. 

“There is a thriving innovation community here. Don’t feel like you have to do this by yourself. CIC is here to open the doors [for] you. We have all the safety precautions and security measures here, including COVID testing on site. So definitely take that step to become part of the community.”