South Florida aiming to become a ‘tech hub’
South Florida’s technology industry is at a turning point, poised for rapid growth, observers say.
To ensure the industry stays on course, the nonprofit South Florida Technology Alliance is launching a new campaign this week to raise the tech sector’s profile inside — and outside — the region.
But increasing awareness is not the only mission. Greater collaboration between existing technology companies and programs is critical to bringing in new companies, startup capital and tech professionals to the region, industry members say.
“What I find different about South Florida, is the tech community is not as collaborative as Silicon Valley or Boston. It’s incumbent on all of the people in the industry to make it more collaborative,” said Ron Antevy, chief executive of Plantation-based construction software firm eBuilder.
Working with other technology professionals is how you build buzz and become a recognized tech hub, said Antevy, who in 1998 co-founded eBuilder with his brother, Jonathan.
South Florida has a rich history in technology going back to the invention of the IBMpersonal computer in Boca Raton, which was introduced in 1981. IBM’s decision in 1994 to move PC operations to Raleigh, N.C., led to some former executives to pursue entrepreneurial ventures. One was Citrix Systems, now a $2.6 billion company in Fort Lauderdale.
In recent years, promising tech companies including mobile software maker3Cinteractive, e-commerce firm HiConversion and medical app developer Modernizing Medicine have emerged in the region.
Still, technology graduates in the region and startup businesses often think they have to go to Silicon Valley, Austin, Texas, or another tech hub for the entrepreneurial or career experience, Antevy said.
“We’re trying to promote ourselves as a Silicon Valley company in South Florida, so we can attract talent. We want all those people who are graduating to know you don’t need to go to the other side of the country,” he said.
Chris Fleck, vice president of mobility solutions for Citrix Systems, said the company that invented the virtual tool Go To Meeting would like to see a “healthy ecosystem” of companies that Citrix can do business with and even consider as an acquisition.
More tech companies bring more talent to the region, he said.
“A tech executive who moves from outside the area for Citrix wants to know there are other options as well,” Fleck said.
Communication to raise awareness of what already exists in South Florida is the first step in SFTA’s new campaign.
The South Florida Technology Alliance is working to enhance its website, southfloridatech.org, by adding links for technology resources and event information, said president Lonnie Maier.
“We’re bringing everything together so we can learn and connect,” she said.
SFTA has been an IT-focused network, providing programs to create an environment for people to learn and network. The new campaign will broaden the reach to include life science and clean energy companies in the region.
The organization also will try to serve as the connection between existing technology-related groups and efforts.
For example, Maier said she will be working with Diane Sanchez, chief executive of the Technology Foundation of the Americas, to help plan eMerge Americas, which is scheduled for May 4-6 next year. The event will take a more global view by helping local companies make connections in Latin America, South America and Canada.
“We’re leveraging U.S. corporations to sell their services into the Americas. Our strength is our geography. We have access to Latin America. We’re trying to play off of our strength,” she said.
If South Florida is not quite a tech hub yet, just give it five years, some experts say.
South Florida “feels to me a lot like Seattle did” when Microsoft was born, said Michael O’Donnell, a Seattle entrepreneur who is managing a new entrepreneurial program forBroward County‘s Workforce One.
“I think it’s going to explode,” he said.
O’Donnell sees technology transfer, the practice of developing a business from technology, leading the way. “The innovation coming out of universities is amazing. Five to 10 years from now, it’s going to transform South Florida,” he said.
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