Q&A With The Knight Foundation

As a Founding Partner, the Knight Foundation’s support has been instrumental in the success of eMerge Americas. We asked the Knight Foundation’s Miami Programs Director, Matt Haggman, why he thinks eMerge Americas is helping establish Miami as the tech hub of the Americas and what they hope for the future. Check out the insightful Q&A below!

The Knight Foundation is a Founding Partner of eMerge Americas, and your support has been instrumental in the growth and success of the event. What initially drew you to the idea of eMerge Americas and convinced you to support the concept?

In 2012 Knight launched an effort focused on building Miami’s startup and entrepreneurial community. eMerge Americas is a key part of this effort. Knight supported the birth of eMerge in 2013 because of its potential to attract wide, global interest in Miami’s burgeoning startup community, and more deeply change outside perceptions of Miami.

The thought was that by inviting strong venture-interest to Miami that the support network Knight is helping to build would be catalytic, inviting new players to the table to invest, share their experiences and grow their businesses in Miami.

What are the tangible outcomes that you’ve seen in the Miami tech and entrepreneurial ecosystem as a result of your support for eMerge Americas? Do you see more and more engagement from the technology industry in Latin America in Miami?

The fact that attendance at eMerge has nearly doubled from 6,000 to 10,000 in its second year, is an indication of the growing interest we’re seeing in Miami startups from Latin America. eMerge has helped put Miami on the map as a rising global innovation hub and helped us garner national attention through high profile partners such as, NBCUniversal.

It has featured thought leaders and speakers from Deepak Chopra and Peter Diamandis to Jim McKelvey. But more than anything, eMerge has spearheaded the effort to help think about Miami in a new way, to see what is possible in our rapidly changing, increasingly international and dynamic city. This is the case both for people who live in Miami and people around the world.

How does your support of eMerge Americas play a role in the Knight Foundation’s overall mission to grow the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Miami?

Support for eMerge is a critical part of Knight Foundation’s efforts to connect our local startup community to a larger network of technologists, entrepreneurs and investors. Offering Miami entrepreneurs the opportunity to build connections and get access to mentors and funders is key to their success.

In addition, eMerge emphasizes Miami’s advantage as a gateway to Latin America and the Caribbean and offers Miami and Miami entrepreneurs access to a global audience to showcase their ideas. There is a strong European presence at eMerge too. This is an outcome that many people did not expect, but we are now seeing lots of connections develop between Miami and Europe.

As we’ve seen, Miami is increasingly recognized as a technology and entrepreneurial hub, particularly when it comes to Latin America. What do you think are the most critical issues the community must address to continue this trend.

Over the last few years, we’ve seen a once fragmented community of entrepreneurs come together. There are now multiple ways for entrepreneurs to connect at meetups, events, co-working spaces and conferences like eMerge. This connectivity is an important part of building a strong innovation ecosystem, and fostering the kind of collaboration that leads to more, and better ideas.

In addition, Knight’s support of Endeavor Miami has introduced promising high-impact startups to a global network of mentors and influencers, while the launch of the Idea Center at Miami Dade College and the entrance of programs such as Venture for America are helping to grow Miami’s pool of talented workers. But there is still work to be done. Lack of access to mentors and investors, and issues with keeping and attracting talent to Miami continue to limit the growth of our startups; many promising ventures leave in face of these barriers.

We need to fill these gaps to move Miami from city with incredible startup potential to one that sees wide scale-up success.

With eMerge Americas going into its third edition, what are your hopes for the continued development of the event itself?

Miami’s startup community has made large leaps over the past three years. Within tech sector we are seeing the growth of wide and varied areas of innovation with everything from healthcare and finance, to media and augmented reality.

With global tech leaders, influencers and policy makers participating in eMerge, as well as the event’s huge year-on-year growth, it has the potential to support this momentum now more than ever by telling the story of what is happening.

I look forward to even more targeted programming that matches trends in the Miami market and shines a light on our diverse innovators, while helping Miami startups overcome challenges to growth.

What areas are the Knight Foundation hoping to support more in the future to help further the development of the Miami ecosystem?

We hope to broaden our support of initiatives that leverage Miami’s assets – its appetite for entrepreneurship, its proximity to Latin America and the Caribbean, and its wide diversity — to address some of the gaps that we continue to see in the Miami innovation space. This includes helping to open new investment opportunities and growing Miami’s talent pool.

Connecting people of different backgrounds with unique experiences is part of building a rich idea network. Knight’s recent support of Power Moves, which works to increase the number of high-growth companies led by entrepreneurs of color recognizes this need, along with the Babson Women Innovating Now (WIN) Lab, which is focused on propelling women entrepreneurs.

Programs that focus on talent-rich, under-resourced communities including LaunchCode and CodeFever are also part of this push. In addition, Knight’s investment in world-renowned startup accelerator, Startupbootcamp and its focus in Miami on digital health, highlights the advantages of backing a rising local industry to build reputation and create wider impact.

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