Miami to become new powerhouse of tech startups

TheVentureCity CEO Laura Gonzalez-Estefani, right, and co-founder Clara Bullrich during a meeting in Miami. (AFP)
Updated 18 August 2019

Miami to become new powerhouse of tech startups

  • That diversity offers startups access to markets on the US East Coast, Latin America and Europe, according to experts

MIAMI: Miami is famous for beach parties, gators that wander onto golf courses and iguanas that tumble out of palm trees.

But now the city of “Scarface” and “Miami Vice” is vying to become a new powerhouse of tech startups that some in the business hope will spawn a novel phenomenon — the “iguanacorn.”

The word is meant to represent the tropical answer to the Silicon Valley “unicorns,” startups that are worth more than $1 billion.

While still lagging behind San Francisco and New York, the Florida city is trying to position itself as a tech hub, and already has its first “unicorns” under its belt. They include ParkJockey, which has disrupted the car parking sector, and Magic Leap, which takes users into the world of augmented reality.

Looking to surf the Florida tech wave, so-called startup accelerators — firms that invest in fledgling tech ventures and speed up their early development — are starting to pop up in southern Florida.

Among the leaders is 500 Startups, which opened a Miami branch last year, as well as TheVentureCity, set up two years ago to offer opportunities to Latin American and European entrepreneurs who lack Silicon Valley contacts.

“Not everyone comes from Stanford or Columbia, from MIT, and has their own ‘network’ built up in San Francisco,” said Laura Gonzalez-Estefani, a former Facebook executive and co-founder of TheVentureCity.

The idea of her company is to “identify the best businesses outside of Silicon Valley and give them a boost,” she told AFP. She jokingly refers to such ventures as “iguanacorns.”

“‘Iguanacorns’ is the way we tag the unicorns that are coming from emerging tech hubs,” she said.

In keeping with that idea, her office is decorated with pictures of unicorns and their tropical, reptilian cousins.

Ana Gonzalez, head of 500 Startups Miami — which has its main headquarters in Silicon Valley — said that Miami’s “entrepreneurial ecosystem is at an inflection point.”

Her goal too is to “connect resources and expertise from Silicon Valley with Latin America and the Southeast United States.”

Miami is already an international city, home to a diverse mix of Latinos and Europeans who can snack on Cuban croquettes or cross the street and find Russian “syrnikis,” pancakes stuffed with cottage cheese.

Fifty-three percent of the city’s 2.7 million residents are foreign-born, and locals joke that Miami is the only foreign city Americans can visit without a passport.

That diversity offers startups access to markets on the US East Coast, Latin America and Europe, according to experts.

Additional draws include low taxes, a lower cost of living compared to San Francisco and New York, and a pleasant climate — if you don’t mind hurricanes.

“A big percentage of our entrepreneurs are not from here,” said Brian Breslin, head of the University of Miami’s Entrepreneurship Center.

“Whether it’s South America or Europe or other parts of the United States, they’re coming here for lifestyle reasons, cost-of-living reasons, safety/security, access to different markets. So there’s a lot of different value-adds of being here compared to, say, going to San Francisco, or New York, or Boston, or any of the other traditional tech hubs,” he said.

According to 2019’s Global Startup Ecosystem Report, which analyzes the health of tech ecosystems around the world, Miami is one of the ten cities to emerge as a hub this year, and ranks in the top 30 of the most important startup centers globally.

Tech sector workers in the city increased by 40 percent between 2012 and 2018, the report said, noting that “Miami is becoming a tech powerhouse.”

And Breslin said the cycle of growth in more established tech hubs indicates that more expansion is yet to come.

“I don’t think we’ve peaked yet. I think there’s still growth to be had,” he said.

“People go work at Facebook, or Google, make a ton of money and go start a new business. And we’re just now getting to that point where people made a lot of money working at Chewy.com, at Ultimate Software, hopefully soon at Magic Leap, and then those people will turn around and start the next wave of businesses,” he said.


Saudi-led group reinstated as builder of Bulgaria gas pipeline

Updated 16 September 2019

Saudi-led group reinstated as builder of Bulgaria gas pipeline

  • Bulgaria’s Supreme Administrative Court announced that the Saudi-led group’s main competitors for the project had dropped a legal challenge relating to the award
  • Bulgaria’s state gas operator Bulgartransgaz had initially chosen the Saudi-led group — made up of Saudi Arabia’s Arkad Engineering and a joint venture including Switzerland’s ABB

SOFIA: A Saudi-led consortium was definitively reinstated on Monday as the builder of a new gas pipeline through Bulgaria, intended to hook up to Gazprom’s TurkStream project.
Bulgaria’s Supreme Administrative Court announced Monday that the Saudi-led group’s main competitors for the project had dropped a legal challenge relating to the award.
The latest development brings to an end a long-running tussle between the Saudi-led consortium and its competitors for the project, a consortium of Luxembourg-based Completions Development, Italy’s Bonatti and Germany’s Max Streicher.
Bulgaria’s state gas operator Bulgartransgaz had initially chosen the Saudi-led group — made up of Saudi Arabia’s Arkad Engineering and a joint venture including Switzerland’s ABB — to build the 474-kilometer (294-mile) pipeline.
But Bulgartransgaz later decided to strike the winner off the tender for failing to supply documents needed to sign off the contract.
Instead it accepted the offer of the second-placed consortium led by Completions Development.
However, Bulgaria’s competition watchdog ruled in July that the operator should honor its previous commitments and sign a contract with the Saudi-led group.
The watchdog’s verdict was subject to a final appeal in the courts but the Supreme Administrative Court announced Monday that the appeal had been withdrawn, meaning that the Arkad-led group has now been definitively reinstated.
Bulgartransgaz is in a hurry to complete the pipeline as soon as possible in a bid to enable Russian gas giant Gazprom to hook it up to its TurkStream pipeline after it becomes operational at the end of this year.
Bulgaria, which is heavily dependent on Russian gas for its domestic needs, has been repeatedly criticized by both the EU and the United States for failing to diversify both its gas sources and its delivery routes.
The Balkan country hopes to start receiving Caspian Sea gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz field as well as liquefied natural gas from various sources via terminals in Greece through a 182-kilometer (113-mile) interconnector expected to be ready by the end of 2020.