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Business Management

Miami Nice: How South Florida is Building Bridges For LatAm Tech

While outsiders often contrast the fabulous wealth of the US with the difficulties of its neighbors to the south in the Americas, the technology economy is helping to flatten out differences. The result: tighter connections between that huge country of 318 million people and the even bigger Latin America region (population: 598 million) beneath it.

The Technology Foundation for the Americas is one organisation building bridges and promoting Miami and South Florida as a conduit. Created by Cuban-born tech entrepreneur Manny Medina, its CEO is Diane Sanchez who worked with Medina, creating the fifth largest communications hub in the world in Miami — NAP of the Americas hosted by Terremark —linking the US to LatAm. Verizon bought Terremark two-and-a-half years ago for $1.4bn and now Medina and Sanchez have reunited to create a different sort of hub. 

“Terremark was an access point, like a big airport or seaport, so we thought why not expand that and create a technology corridor from South Florida into Latin America and celebrate once a year in Miami our accomplishments in the region in innovation and technology,” says Sanchez when we speak by phone.

Having played a large part in earlier roles at building large-scale communities in roles as president at Global Crossing LATAM, Terremark and leading north American operations for Telefonica as well as executive spells at Alcatel-Lucent and AT&T, collaboration in the region is nothing new to Sanchez. The first inaugural celebration, eMerge Americas Techweek, was held on May 1-7 this year with an attendance over 6,000 as Sanchez seeks to “drive synergy between the US and Latin America”.

“We’re not trying to become another Silicon Valley,” she says. The opportunity we have is unique to this region because of our geographic proximity to Latin America and the relation we have [with the region]. We are working with best practices and technology and try to drive innovation.”

And “all of the above” is the answer when I ask whether the LatAm opportunity is about companies relocating to the region, tapping offshore value there, or in building local ecosystems for entrepreneurs.

In terms of offshoring, Sanchez sees a two-way process where the hemisphere can work together.

“We see this as an opportunity to drive access and acceleration to technology in the region. We are seeing opportunities in commerce, creative arts, healthcare and the public sector for example. A lot of digital content is being developed in Latin America, and Miami can serve as a catalyst to facilitate some of that production to the creative arts industry that originates in the US. Healthcare is another area where we see opportunity to collaborate, optimising some of the latest technology in mobile and wearable devices.”

Although a Texan herself, Sanchez is a long-time booster for South Florida.

“I’ve been operating in Miami for over 20 years and you have a lot of professionals across the board and especially young professionals moving down here. It’s about lifestyle: they need to be somewhere in proximity to the region and Miami is very accessible. We have the highest [financial] deposits per capita in the US but it’s not spent here. We have the largest population of Brazilians outside of Brazil. The US is a regulated and safe market to operate in that is attractive to an entrepreneur.”

As for innovation, Sanchez says there is the opportunity “to promote the innovations that we see coming from the region which reflect creativity in addressing the social and technical challenges in Latin America. We can provide them with access and acceleration in their business models. It is also very encouraging to see the interest by the VCs in the companies that participated this year at the eMerge Americas Launch Competition. They are definitely coming back to invest in some of the early- and late-stage startups.”

And then there is the skills base for which the US has a permanent thirst. But, in a world of technology hubs and where the recognition of technology as economic game-changer is universal, what does LatAm bring to the table that is different?

“The one thing I see that resonates is their innovation in developing creativity solutions and business models to address social and technological challenges that can be applied at a regional and global level,” she says. “For example, in terms of the creative arts we have young talented artists that are being trained as developers in the creative arts, gaming and film industry. There is a huge demand and opportunity for this. The other thing that is unique about Latin America is the diversity of the region, culture and the countries. That gives them a head-start in recognising what they have to build beyond a local solution, and that’s important.”

Is the LatAm opportunity exclusively a nearshore one? Sanchez thinks not.

“Because of the proximity to the US, a lot of Latin Americans are coming to Silicon Valley or Silicon Alley [in New York] and other parts of the US to work but I see a lot of interest from Europeans, Canada and other regions of the world to engage and draw on the creative innovation that is generated out of Latin America. We are seeing a lot of activity from the UK, Sweden, France, Italy and Germany in Miami and in Latin America. Spain is a thought leader in ‘smart city’ initiatives, for example. In Latin America, we see a trend in the municipalities who are focused on sustainability.

“Every country has unique and distinct skills to bring the table. The investments the governments are making are phenomenal in Colombia, Mexico, Chile and Brazil to promote innovation and entrepreneurism.  Argentina has always been very strong in software development, although unfortunately because of their economic difficulties they’re struggling to accelerate that. Chile and Colombia are actively promoting entrepreneurialism. You’re even seeing activity in the Dominican Republic, where the UK’s famous Pinewood has invested in filming studios. 

Demographics are also attractive.

“They have a very young population and a high adoption rate in mobility. The new US entrants going into the market like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Twitter are doing extremely well. There are higher margins, you’re dealing with one time zone and we are seeing a greater market share shortly after market entry.”

But is there not a sense that this is a US company stepping in where a native Latin American hub agency could do the job just as well?

“I don’t think so,” Sanchez says, “and what’s exciting is that the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean see Miami as a potential hub for technology and innovation like New York is a financial hub. It just makes sense. They see us providing value in the transformation of the region and hemisphere.” 

 

 

Martin Veitch is Editorial Director at IDG Connect

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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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