5 things to know about Miami's start-up scene

When you consider the country's technology epicenters, cities such as Silicon Valley, Boston, Seattle and New York come to mind. More recently, though, Miami is rising as a force with which to be reckoned, serving as a de facto capital of the Latin America digital landscape.

Simply put, Miami is at an inflection point. A once-secondary player on the global technology scene, Miami is finding its niche as an indispensable player due to several unique factors.

A city long known for bringing the heat—be it from basketball to world-class beaches and Cuban cigars—Miami has built a name for itself in tourism, real estate and as a global culture and arts center with thousands flocking to Miami Beach each year for Art Basel. If that wasn't enough, Miami can now add a new dimension to its outsized personality—that of a booming tech scene.

Venture capital flow into Florida companies is rising. Some of the factors driving the trend are the rise in immigration and the shift to more gig-oriented work.
Scott B. Smith Photography | Getty Images
Venture capital flow into Florida companies is rising. Some of the factors driving the trend are the rise in immigration and the shift to more gig-oriented work.

In a remarkably short period of less than two years, the city has undergone dramatic changes in an effort to position itself as a hub for tech and innovation in the Americas. The city is now home to a host of impressive venture-backed tech companies, including Modernizing Medicine (recently featured as one of Forbes' 10 companies revolutionizing entrepreneurship, second only to Tesla Motors), YellowPepper, OpenEnglish and LearnerNation.

Additionally, both Apple and Facebook have opened regional offices in Miami, and successful entrepreneurs like Square co-founder Jim McKelvey, along with established VC firms like Scout Ventures, hope to expand their growth by settling in South Florida. Meanwhile, government leaders are also on board, investing in the infrastructure to support the industry and entrepreneurs choosing South Florida as the place to grow their businesses.

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There are several key reasons why Miami will continue to be successful in fostering a world-class tech ecosystem, especially with its ability to attract the best and brightest from the U.S. and the Latin America region. The work we are doing through eMerge Americas is focused on establishing Miami as a catalyst for just this. When smaller cities play to their strengths while simultaneously working to shore up their deficiencies, they can attract talented entrepreneurs and provide them with the necessary tools to succeed.

The eMerge Americas movement aims to make this a reality and, through the signature event that bears the same name, is raising the necessary awareness to make it happen. In our inaugural event held earlier this year, we attracted more than 6,000 influencers, investors, media and tech mavens to Miami Beach to collaborate and innovate. What started out as a dream that I had has quickly drawn strong support from large enterprises, start-ups and investors. Initial plans called for two days of activities, but the event has since grown into an annual weeklong celebration of innovation throughout the Americas hosted in Miami.

Building Silicon Beach

In our experience spearheading the eMerge Americas movement in Miami, we've established that the following factors are critical ingredients to ensuring that the tech hub cocktail "tastes good."

•Lower costs: Thanks to cloud servers and Web services that reduce overhead costs and capital requirements, it's less expensive than ever for people to launch a digital company. Also, within the confines of the U.S., Florida has one of the most advantageous tax structures, where entrepreneurs protect a greater percentage of their assets by paying no state income tax.

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Finally, Miami's cost of living is much lower than that of other popular tech meccas. With no state income tax, the city's cost of living is lower than metropolitan areas like Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. A factor that makes it less expensive to start a company here.

•Support for education: We need to spark our youth's curiosity starting at a young age. Furthermore, we need to build the infrastructure to nurture this from grade school through college. In our city, the University of Miami, Florida International University, Miami Dade College, the Miami Dade Public Schools and other educational institutions are invested in providing students and graduates with the necessary tools to foster innovation and entrepreneurship on the local level.

Miami Dade College recently opened the doors to The Idea Center—an innovation hub supported by a prestigious partnership with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Funding for The Idea Center includes an accelerator, co-working space, idea lab, mentorship and training programs, among other elements.

"Miami is at an inflection point. A once-secondary player on the global technology scene, Miami is finding its niche as an indispensable player due to several unique factors."

•Accelerators/Incubators: It's crucial for successful entrepreneurs to give back to their communities by mentoring up-and-coming entrepreneurs. This has been the hallmark of Silicon Valley's success with other tech centers following suit. In Miami, organizations like Venture Hive and Endeavor Global serve as key partners that offer the critical support to help create an entrepreneurial ecosystem as well as access to tailored mentoring at every stage of growth. As Miami continues to expand its accelerator and incubator base, it will also help create local tech jobs and build a solid talent pool.

•Investment: A successful tech ecosystem needs private equity, venture capital and angel investors to support local start-ups. We are starting to see more early-stage tech VC firms setting up shop in South Florida, including New York venture capital firm Scout Ventures, which has chosen Miami for its first office outside the Big Apple. This is significant because Scout Ventures is a distinguished firm, recently named a top 100 VC firm by Entrepreneur magazine and typically invests from $50,000 to $500,000 in up-and-coming companies between their angel and Series A financing rounds. Last year VCs invested $651.6 million in Greater Miami start-ups.

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•A sunny disposition: Miami's tech scene may still be seen as "under the radar," but in the region, it confidently bears the name "capital of Latin America." Because of its concentration of regional corporate headquarters, sunny South Florida not only attracts tourists due to the tropical lifestyle but also for the proximity to the Latin American region as well as convenient air travel, making the area a strategic business destination for the Americas.

The effort is very much a work in progress, and in some areas there is significant room for improvement. That said, the explosion onto the global technology front cannot be ignored. This is an exciting time to be in Miami, as it continues to grow and establish the key pillars to technological and economic success.

—By Manuel D. Medina, special to CNBC.com. Mr. Medina is the founder of emerge Americas.