Brian Brackeen: The truth about ‘the truth about Miami’s startup status’

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Editor’s note:
Last month, on the heels of the announcement that Miami had ranked No. 1 in startup activity on the Kauffman Index, we wrote a piece digging into the other metrics of a startup ecosystem that Kauffman measured titled “The truth about Miami’s startup status.

Brian Brackeen, the founder and CEO of Kairos and a leader in Miami’s startup community, started a robust debate on his personal Facebook page, taking issue with the angle of the story and the data on which we based our conclusions. In the interest of having an open, vibrant conversation about the strengths and weaknesses of our startup ecosystem, we asked Brian to share his criticism here.

I encourage you to read the original piece as well, which acknowledges the lag time in the available data and its shortcomings. As always, we welcome your feedback.

—Ariel Zirulnick, Executive Editor

Let’s talk about Miami. I realize your mind automatically takes you to beaches, blue water, nightlife and amazing Latin food. I get it. Miami is all of those things.

Yet it is Miami’s history of outrageously rapid, large scale economic growth that’s the real power behind this town – and no one seems to want to acknowledge it. Which is perplexing. Because when gauging Miami in terms of historical trends in economic growth, the fact that until just under 40 years ago it was a laid-back vacation spot primarily inhabited by retirees has to be considered.

In fact, as the 1980s began, Miami went from being on no one’s international radar to the No. 3 international banking center in the nation, one of the fastest-growing real estate markets in the country, and the epicenter of global tastemaker luxury – and still is ALL of these things today.

Now here we are in 2017, and the new wild growth is entrepreneurship. And it is definitely  growing. Yet, I constantly find myself in the position of defending Miami’s credibility as a legitimate place to be in business.

And here’s why

A few weeks ago, The New Tropic published a piece boldly titled, “The truth about Miami’s startup status,” wherein such declarative statements as “Miami’s showing is quite poor” and “But from what we see now, it hasn’t happened yet” are thrown around freely and frequently. The data referenced in the piece was the 2016 Kauffman Index report on startup growth by metropolitan area – but it relied partially on their 2013 data. So, their “truth about Miami startups,” at the time of publication, was supported by a four-year-old study.

This was one issue, yet not the one that mattered most, because frankly, the 2016 Kauffman Index report is at first glance equally as unfavorable in terms of its data around our startup growth (I’ll get into that in a minute).

The article was problematic for me because as an entrepreneur who is actively participating in the cultivation of Miami’s ecosystem, I expect more of a positive narrative from local media. Particularly from a Miami publication that itself counts the Knight Foundation as an investor.

Might be click bait…

I was asked to amend my original response to reflect the fact that new data had since been made available – data which basically reinforced that Florida was still on the bottom of the list. And it is.  The 2016 Kauffman Index places Florida at No. 24 of 25 for startup growth in large states.

This sounds pretty abysmal. Certainly, based on this fact, I could say that Miami seems to have a long way to go to be take seriously in terms of startup growth. Yet, if you consider that California is at No. 11 with 60 percent growth, and Florida is at No. 24 with close to 50 percent growth, that “24 of 25″ doesn’t seem so abysmal.

In fact, it doesn’t seem very negative at all. However, saying “Florida is 24 of 25 states in terms of startup growth” in a title, or constructing a column about how Miami’s startup growth sucks, solely based on that statistic without offering the details around it, might be angling for click bait rather than reporting with transparency.

Baseless bad mouthing of Miami’s ecosystem is actually harmful.

More than simply being irritated by false accusations of stagnation, I strongly believe that the bad mouthing of Miami’s ecosystem is harmful. When I am in front of investors having to explain “why Miami,” in addition to presenting real, current, tangible evidence that Miami is in fact an amazing place to work, live, invest, I have to fight against this kind of contagious, negative reporting.

An investor will conduct some initial Google due diligence, see “The Truth About Miami’s Startup Scene,” click, and proceed to read what he interprets as “STAY AWAY FROM MIAMI.” It is irresponsible and dangerous to make such assertions with what amounts to a sensationalized, under-analyzed presentation of data because it only makes it harder for those of us who know Miami and believe in Miami to bring investment dollars to the city. And when a Miami-based, Miami accelerator-funded publication is effectively telling investors to stay away, I’m just not sure who wins.

So much good to say…

Perhaps somewhere in their “truth,” The New Tropic could have mentioned the Knight Foundation, which supports journalism, the arts, and technology, and began supporting Miami entrepreneurship the week of July 12th, 2012. Their investments have fostered growth for dozens of companies, Kairos included.

Also with the support of the Knight Foundation, Endeavor Miami was launched. Endeavor, a global non-profit organization that has advised and helped scale more than 800 high-impact companies in 26 countries around the world, obviously missed the “no growth” memo, because they chose Miami as their first United States affiliate. There are now 25 Endeavor entrepreneurs existing, and growing. In Miami.

Then there’s Angel List (basically Match.com for startups, angel investors, and job-seekers), who reports that over the last three years, Miami startups have grown over 100 percent year over year. And according to the American Investment Council’s 2016 report, Florida ranks fourth in the nation for investment from private equity – spreading $41.8 billion over 219 Florida based companies.  And then there’s Brickell, the rapidly developing international banking center becoming one of the most highly desired parts of the city by Millennials – coined by Forbes as “Wall Street South” back in 2015.

Miami isn’t simply developing as an entrepreneurial city. This is a true, positive representation of the “truth about Miami’s startup status,” which Miami publications should absolutely feel the responsibility to report.









  • Steven Reginald Barkley

    Basically, we have made progress, but we can do much better!

  • Ed Vidal

    I am not sure about no. 3 international banking center, because a lot of private banking has moved offshore, and there are other international banking cities like Houston.

  • Hansell Shook

    I enjoyed this piece, Brian. I don’t believe your point is that we are a week away from being Silicon Valley. Your point, as I took it and have made myself, is that the pace of change here in Miami is staggering. Silicon Valley has been around in earnest since the 50s. Boston / NYC…. these areas have hundreds of years of development underneath them. Austin…. 70s/80s. We in Miami were a bunch of condos 30 years ago, and just a bunch of hotels 15 years ago. Context is key. There’s no need to claim to be something we’re not – it’s not helpful – but there’s also no need to create an illusion of failure when successes are happening everywhere. We just need to keep our heads down and continue to power through the flat plane and soon, very soon, the curve will start bending to the sky.

  • Dan

    For the life of me I don’t understand this argument. If Miami has a thriving start-up scene we’ll know it. If it doesn’t, we’ll know it too (in my opinion it’s got a nice small one going, which is progress from where it was, but let’s not overhype it). The stats cited here don’t really bolster his case, and the main thrust seems to be stop bad-mouthing it because that could be harmful and a self-fulfilled prophecy. Which is ironic because saying Miami is a tremendous start-up city is also an attempt at a self-fulfilled prophecy. Build good companies and the rest will follow. I am rooting for this author and for Miami. But I don’t understand the need to continually insist on Miami having a big thriving start-up ecosystem. If it had one, no one would have to debate it.

  • Becrooskie

    This is a really badly formed argument. I appreciate the pro-Miami stance, but the role of (responsible) news media is to report truth as best they can and dig into stories to reveal all sides, not to make the city they report on/from feel warm and fuzzy. A big part of the NT’s argument was that start-ups here don’t STAY UP. That’s a major problem for our ecosystem – it doesn’t help our image as a city with “shady” money and lazy workers, and people should be aware of this glaring fact so that we CAN be better and do better. Why not address that angle and tell us the behind-the-scenes of startups that are doing well and sticking with it if you want to debunk the title/angle of the original story?