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Nico Berardi is solving the funding gap

“The city itself is a startup. It’s a restaurant, and we’re all in the kitchen.”

If that’s true, Nico Berardi is trying to help us cook with more gas. As managing director of Accelerated Growth Partners, his work is focused on solving the “funding gap” for Miami entrepreneurs.

AGP is a network of local angel investors who work together to discover and fund early-stage companies and “disruptive entrepreneurs” in Miami.

“We’re in a town where the capital’s already here, and we’re in a town where increasingly we’re finding entrepreneurs who are building great companies here in Miami,” he said. “We find there’s a disconnect between the two.”

Berardi says he meets with hundreds of startups every year, and sends the most promising to pitch the group. But that process doesn’t happen easily in a city with a small, young startup ecosystem. Many potential investors need convincing that the high-risk, high-return world of venture capital is right for them. Berardi says the growing number of success stories — local, venture-backed startups having profitable exits — makes his pitch a little easier.

Why doesn’t Miami have a more active venture investing community?

The investment community here has been focusing on other asset classes, in banker talk. Obviously real estate has been king in Miami for a very long time. The community in Miami hasn’t been exposed to venture capital or technology startups in general. But there are several macro trends that point to traditional asset classes underperforming. Venture capital or angel investing, when done right and done well, can be a very profitable practice.

Those examples are very useful to get more enterpenreurs to take that leap of faith, and for investors to see that this is a possibility to diversify the portfolio and generate impact.

Is Miami’s “startup scene” for real?

We’re very bullish on the opportunity. We’re still seeing a lot of noise. It’s become cool and hip, so we’re seeing lots of want-repreneurs. But through that noise we’re finding amazing companies that are being built right here in our backyard.

There are a few companies in town that have opened our eyes to that “ah-ha” moment and saying, “We’re onto something special.” NearPod is a great example, they’re an education tech company. Three fourths of their team is based here. They were incubated in Stanford via StartX. You look at a company like ClassWallet, [led by] Jamie Rosenberg, a former nonprofit social entrepreneur who built a nonprofit called Adopt A Classroom. The guy that knows the classroom setting more than anyone else in the country is now building a fintech company built specifically to solve a huge issue in schools, which is cash transactions.

The overall leadership of the city is very loose and very decentralized. That allows everyone who is willing to work really hard to have a role in shaping this city. I think that’s very special. I moved here five years ago, and I feel like I moved to a different city then.

Where do you recommend people go to plug in to Miami’s startup community?

This is a very small and tight community. If you’re really passionate about whatever it is that you’re doing, and you want to play in this community, all you need to do is start showing up everywhere.

What questions do you ask entrepreneurs looking for investors?

The first question I ask an entrepreneur who’s looking for funding in Miami is “Do you really need outside capital?”

How do you attract startups to launch and keep their businesses in Miami?

The way to retain talent is to continue building the ecosystem. The more tools and the friendlier it becomes for an entrepreneur to build a startup in Miami, the more those entrepreneurs are going to choose to build that company here in Miami.

How should founders go about raising money in Miami?