Is this tech’s turning point in Miami? Leaders look ahead to major conference in 2022

·5 min read

The effort to transform Miami into a major tech hub stretches back at least a decade. Since then, many observers thought the city would inch toward that goal.

But over the past several months, the city has skipped toward it, emerging as a refuge for tech entrepreneurs looking to escape Silicon Valley and COVID lockdowns. Combined with the online recruitment efforts of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, a growing chorus of tech community voices — local and new alike — are saying that long-standing goal may now be within reach.

This past week, the momentum sparked an impromptu Miami Tech Week that saw hundreds gather for networking events in Miami and Miami Beach. The week started with a “cafecito meetup” at Miami City Hall, followed over the next several days by bike rides, happy hours, and panel events discussing Miami as the next great center of innovation.

Late Sunday, the movement coalesced into the formal announcement of Miami Tech Week 2022. Slated for April 17-24, the event is being planned by leaders from every corner of Miami’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“A whole bunch of us who were excited about the past few days of energy decided to take this to the next level and said, ‘Hey, as a community, let’s get together,’ ” said co-organizer Chris Adamo.

At the center of the planning is eMerge Americas, the region’s premier tech conference. Though continuing with programming elsewhere, eMerge saw its premier event waylaid in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID.

In a call early Monday, eMerge CEO Felice Gorordo and President Melissa Medina said the next eMerge conference would now be held April 18-19, 2022, as part of a much broader vision for Miami Tech Week.

“Think of it as the Art Basel of tech, where you have a large convention as anchor, then you have a series of experiences and other events activated around the city,” Medina said. “I think this week will be the most organized way to capture this momentum we’re seeing. More than ever, we’re really seeing a movement, and it’s continuing to build.”

Key to the planning was incorporating tech newcomers.

Perhaps the loudest voice among the chorus of recent arrivals has been the Peter Thiel-backed venture capital group Founders Fund, which earlier this year announced it would open an office in Wynwood. Founders Fund principal and new Miami resident Delian Asparouhov, whose tweet kicked off this year’s semi-official Miami Tech Week, said he was put in touch with leaders from eMerge and other major Miami innovation players to help begin laying the groundwork for next year’s event.

In time, that connection may prove to be a key moment that helped bridge one of the biggest centers of gravity in Silicon Valley with Miami. In an interview, Asparouhov said that if the city can maintain momentum, next year’s event could be the greatest tech event ever.

“Silicon Valley as the center of tech has now grown to be an extremely decentralized idea,” he said. “Miami is much closer to Latin America, Europe, New York — all the other largest tech hubs around the world.”

Miami has distinguished itself from Silicon Valley by being more welcoming to outside-the-box thinkers, Asparouhov said. Much of California’s tech ecosystem, he said, has become too corporate. Where once San Francisco served as the more experimental alternative to Palo Alto, Miami is now playing opposite to the Golden Gate City’s more buttoned-up vibe.

“Miami is a place that thrives on being ostentatious, provocative and exciting,” Asparouhov said. “San Francisco is where the weirdos were who were building everything went,” he said. “And that exact same shift is happening here.”

In a tweet Sunday evening, Mayor Suarez credited eMerge and Founders Fund as the two anchors of Miami Tech Week 2022.

“We are so excited to announce the dates for Miami Tech Week 2022 alongside @foundersfund and @eMergeAmericas,” Suarez wrote. “Get ready for the ultimate week of tech, networking, and jobs with founders and funders from Miami and all over the world.

Beyond the announcement of the new eMerge dates, the rest of Miami Tech Week 2022 remains in planning, organizers say. But everyone in Miami tech will be involved in some way, said Leigh-Ann Buchanan, president of aire ventures, which advocates for racially equitable, diverse, inclusive (REDI) and accessible spaces.

“This is not hype because we actually see the groups with a track record of executing involved,” Buchanan said. “From the newcomers building presence here,” as well as the established players.

In a city where events drive large swaths of the economy, another big event was inevitable to carry the tech movement forward, said Ja’dan Johnson, community lead at video conferencing app Upstream and a local scout for venture group Florida Funders. But it could ultimately mean more household-name companies parking offices here. It’s what happened in the case of the SXSW conference, which helped propel Austin into a major tech destination, he said.

“You’re going to get firms who want to start coming here who want to be part of the push for Miami tech,” Johnson said.

The goal, he said, is to reach community members who may not be on Twitter, or may not know anything about coding, and create opportunities for them.

“That process might take some time,” he said. “So a little bit of patience is needed.”

To know more

To receive updates on Miami Tech Week, visit MiamiTechWeek.com.