What makes Miami unique as a startup city? This is what local founders say

5 min read
28 Feb 2019

ver the last decade, Miami’s image has been changing. What was once a city to party in is rapidly transforming into one in which hungry innovators have many opportunities to work just as hard as they play.

Intentional shifts have been made by local leaders and newcomers to inject the city with innovative startups, arts and culture and a burgeoning tech industry.

In 2017, a nationwide report measuring startup activity, opportunity and density of entrepreneurs rated Miami as the top city among forty others.

But what do startups in the largest city in the sunshine state of Florida think of their ecosystem? Here’s what five founders said when we asked them what they like about working in Miami.

Guido Kovalskys. Photo: Startup Guide

It’s a great place to start companies. It’s a place where young people want to live. It’s a place where you can go by the model of “work hard, play hard.” It’s very cosmopolitan, which brings a lot of diversity to your team.

Even though it’s not the cheapest place on the planet, it’s a lot more affordable than New York, San Francisco, Boston, etc., for office space, for housing.

It’s also close to everywhere. It’s close to Latin America, Europe, the East Coast. Plus the education market in Miami is so strong. I mean, we have two of the largest school districts in the country, Broward and Miami-Dade, and that’s a luxury.

It’s very cosmopolitan, which brings a lot of diversity to your team.

There’s also an expansive network of private independent schools that we can work with. So, there’s a bunch of things to like about Miami as opposed to New York, San Francisco or Boston.

Probably the biggest challenge for us is the shortage of tech talent. Unfortunately, most technical folks end up moving to bigger tech markets due to lack of great job opportunities locally. But we’re obviously trying to change that by fostering the local tech ecosystem.

For me, personally, I’m a flight away from my family in South America, so that’s something I really appreciate.

-Guido Kovalskys, Cofounder and CEO of Nearpod

Nearpod publishes an interactive tool that helps teachers engage students with digital lessons. The company focuses on the K-12 age range and generates revenue from membership plans and from an online marketplace for lessons.

A Space Called Tribe founders Derick Pearson and Felecia Hatcher. Photo: Startup Guide

The people. I travel a lot, so I get to interface with not just people across the US but even internationally, and Miami people are really unique. I don't even know how to describe it.

We just have our own way of doing everything, and it's just really fun – it's beautiful. I mean, it may not always be the best, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

If you were to ask me seven years ago, I would have told you I can't wait to get the hell out of Miami, because everything else was so much shinier. But it's turned into a really cool city, and it's one of those places where it's not oversaturated.

Seven years ago, I would have told you I can't wait to get the hell out of Miami.

Miami is one of those places where you can come and start something, and people aren't really gonna stand in your way. You don't have too many gatekeepers that won't allow you to do things or at least try.

-Felecia Hatcher, Founder of BlackTech Week, Code Fever and Space Called Tribe

BlackTech Week founder Felecia Hatcher also runs Code Fever, a nonprofit that teaches tech skills; and Space Called Tribe, a coworking space located in Miami’s historic Overtown neighborhood. She and her husband Derick Pearson are linchpins of the Miami tech ecosystem and their work focuses on diversity and community.

Ryan Cohen. Photo: Startup Guide

First, Chewy has the best customer service and that team was grown to over one thousand folks in Florida, so there’s an amazing workforce and talent here.

Second, being that South Florida is a less popular startup hub than places like Silicon Valley or New York, it’s a lot easier to build something and stand out. That helps with hiring and retention as well.

And Florida is very business-friendly and offers a great quality of life that’s appealing to candidates from across the country.

-Ryan Cohen, Founder and former CEO of Chewy

Chewy isn’t just an online pet store. The startup helps pet owners personalize their online shopping experience, interact with qualified salespeople and learn about how to best serve their pets’ needs.

Jaclyn Baumgarten. Photo: Startup Guide

I was in San Francisco when I founded the company, and I moved out here simply because Fort Lauderdale is the boating capital of the world.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve discovered that there are a lot of ancillary benefits to being in South Florida. This is a burgeoning market, so there’s a lot of attention and energy and excitement around this entrepreneurial community.

You can get great talent here and keep talent here that you can’t get in Silicon Valley because of the competition and the skyrocketing cost of talent there.

-Jaclyn Baumgarten, CEO and cofounder of Boatsetter

Boatsetter.com makes boat rental accessible to all consumers regardless of their boating experience. By bringing the sharing economy to the boating industry, they help boat owners capitalize on an investment that sits idle for 95 percent of the time.

Rebekah Monson. Photo: Startup Guide

I love everything about Miami. Miami is a city that you’re able to shape with whatever your vision is and whatever muscle you’re willing to put in. Miami helps to make that happen. I love that.

I think that if we’d tried to start in any other city, we’d have a whole lot of different kinds of roadblocks that just are not a challenge here. People are welcoming to new ideas. There’s room to experiment.

People are excited to help you along the way... I love that about this community.

People are excited to help you along the way, if they see that you’re serious about the work and that you’re putting in as much energy and thought and labor as you can. There are tons of people here who are ready to feed it to you. I love that about this community.

-Rebekah Monson, Cofounder and COO of WhereBy.Us

WhereBy.Us has an innovative business model that engages in three verticals (local news delivered via email, software publishing and branded content). Its mission is to “help curious locals make the most of their cities,” and they are currently doing just that in four urban areas on two coasts.

You can find out more about the entrepreneurial journeys of these five founders in Startup Guide Miami, which was published in November 2018.

Main photo of Jaclyn Baumgarten and her colleagues at Boatsetter by Startup Guide