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At the intersection of art and tech

While world-renowned artists prepared their exhibits at the Miami Beach Convention Center, just across the street at the New World Center, innovative entrepreneurs and tech enthusiasts convened to talk storytelling, technology, and human behavior.

With more than 75,000 visitors in town for Art Week, at least 700 of those attended Sime MIA, a 2-day conference focused on the larger themes of convergence, big data, and financial technology. Both events spanned Miami Beach and the mainland, making Miami-Dade a meeting point between some of the world’s greatest minds in both technology and the arts.

Miami also serves as “the gateway to Latin America, and the rest of the world, really,” according to  Michael Neel, director of marketing at AdMobilize, a Miami-based technology company working to quantify consumer behavior that recently launched a Kickstarter for a programmable sensor hub called the MATRIX.

AdMobilize has its main offices in Miami, with employees in Colombia and London. This ability to connect North America, Latin America, and Europe is one reason Miami Beach is the host city of eMerge Americas, an annual technology summit that draws thousands of entrepreneurs and government officials, among many others, to the Miami Beach Convention Center every year.

“Miami is a growing startup ecosystem for Latin American companies or companies targeting a Spanish-speaking market in the U.S. We see it as an important hub for that market,” according to Sime speaker Christine Tsai, founding partner of 500 Startups, a global venture capital seed fund and startup accelerator.

As a meeting point for arts and tech, and a bridge between Latin America and Europe, Miami is uniquely positioned to host a summit like Sime, gathering a diverse group of speakers together from all around the world to discuss the newest innovations in technology.

“From a story told to a story lived”

According to Ola Ahlvarsson, Sime’s chairman, Miami’s neighborhoods quite physically facilitate the blending of art, design, creativity, and entrepreneurship. “Wynwood. Is it an art place? Or a technology place? Well, it’s both,” he said. “As technology gets more and more democratized and less complicated to do, I think the creative part becomes more and more important.”

Many of Sime’s speakers stressed the importance of challenging the traditional models in their respective industries and integrating perspectives from other disciplines.  For example, MIT neuroscientist Adam Horowitz explained the importance of experience on recalling information at the biological level. “The experience of seeing red, for example — it makes you think about memories of sitting down on a red chair. Your brain decodes a previous pattern and pulls experience out of numbers,” he explained.

Gaston Legorburu, global CCO of marketing firm SapientNitro and co-author of the book Storyscaping — Stop Creating Ads, Start Creating Worlds, added to that conversation, challenging storytellers to shift “from a story told to a story lived. …  Today’s consumer isn’t satisfied with being told a story — they want to be part of the story,” he stressed.

Boo Aguilar, Head of Next Gen Experiences at Brazil’s FLAGCX, wants to use this concept to design virtual reality simulations, building experiences rather than stagnant text or video. “I hate the fact that people are so incarcerated in rectangles, looking down at cell phones,” he said. “I want to be able to show you things in the air — my goal is to make products for infinite minds.”

Unexpected spaces

While Miami’s industries have typically been nested in tourism, the tech boom that has attracted the likes of Sime, and eMerge Americas is evidence that Miami’s tech space is maturing.

One of the companies that Aguilar is most excited about is Magic Leap, an augmented reality company that has raised half a billion dollars in investments from Google, among others. And it’s based right here in South Florida — in Broward County, actually. “Sometimes the best things come from the most unexpected spaces,” Aguilar said.

In the 2015 Kauffman Index, Miami was ranked number 2 for startup activity, falling second only to Austin. The Kauffman Foundation supports and funds research into entrepreneurship and its index measures entrepreneurial activity by considering three key variables — the rate of new entrepreneurs, opportunity share of new entrepreneurs, and startup density.

Mentorship and momentum

Nabyl Charania, CEO of Rokk3r Labs
Nabyl Charania, CEO of Rokk3r Labs

Despite this entrepreneurial fever, Miami seems to suffer from a few infrastructural problems that may be hindering its growth. For one, there are no “mega hits”, according to Ahlvarsson. “What’s missing right now is … some success stories. There needs to be more because these people inspire so many others to be ambitious, they reinvest in the community, and they teach a lot of what they’ve learned,” Ahlvarsson said.

Tsai agreed, adding, “there’s not really any Googles or Facebooks that are here. So a big part of it is having success stories come out of here,” she said. “Tech takes time to help grow the community. It’s one thing to have companies and founders, but there also has to be people who can serve as mentors and provide access to capital.”

For Nabyl Charania, CEO of Rokk3r Labs, a Miami Beach company that works with strategists, creatives, and engineers to cobuild new companies, a significant challenge was finding the right talent for his growing company. “We had to come up with ways to solve this problem. We got condos on the beach and sold employees the Miami lifestyle,” he said. “We solved those problems with what Miami had to offer.”

The key to building upon that momentum is providing resources to new startups by closing the funding gap and promoting training programs and incentives that keep talent local.

 “We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t think Miami would be a success,” said Johanna Mikkola, cofounder of Wyncode. “We hope that companies here continue to grow and do great things and build their own teams and that other companies see the opportunities here and start to grow the ecosystem. It’s all about building momentum right now and keeping the momentum going.”