Every industry became a platform for innovation and a topic of conversation at this week’s SIME MIA conference. Host Ola Ahlvarsson asked Knight Foundation President Alberto Ibargüen and Brigade founder Matt Mahan, to discuss how technology will improve society. “As we continue to live our lives more digitally, we have to ensure that everyone has equal access,” Ibargüen said. Photo by Carlos Valdi.
The SIME MIA digital business conference, held Dec. 1-3 around the region, invited an eclectic mix of global influencers to explore the local tech ecosystem and share their experience, prior to the Art Basel celebrations this week. For the second year, Knight Foundation sponsored the conference to help connect South Florida’s innovators and entrepreneurs and share ideas from global thought leaders.
On stage, serial investors and entrepreneurs celebrated South Florida for its nascent tech boom and discussed what needs to happen next to make the region a place where world-class, competitive ideas enter a state of rapid iteration.
As a nod to the extensive reach of the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, SIME MIA itself was mobile. The opening reception took place in Wynwood at The Light Box while workshops for local entrepreneurs took place next door at The LAB Miami. Day Two of SIME featured local and global influencers in technology at New World Center in Miami Beach. On Wednesday SIME concluded downtown at the Adrienne Arsht Center with Wayra pitch sessions made by companies who have recently come to Miami, the “Gateway to the Americas,” to join its growing startup scene.
As part of the SIME welcoming ceremony on Monday, serial entrepreneur and SIME MIA host Ola Ahlvarsson set the tone by asking for volunteers who would be willing to surgically insert a an ID chip into their hand on stage. He emphasized that the process was quick, relatively painless and would allow technologists to demonstrate what’s next in the future of body hacking, data collection and analysis.
“What happens when every industry becomes a platform for innovation?” he said. “Disruption happens when the dots are connected in new ways and it’s very difficult to foresee how those will come to be, which is why it’s very important to be in the right conversations like that ones we’ll be experiencing today.”
SIME’s first panel discussion on Monday asked people investing in Miami what qualities drive their investments. Melissa Krinzman, managing partner of Krillion Ventures, runs a $50 million venture capital fund and says Miami and New York share similar patterns in their histories of entrepreneurship. She emphasized that Miami’s success will continue to stem from the lifestyle that it offers, but added that the trifecta of activity taking place in the arts, entrepreneurship and technology will stimulate that growth.
“The pattern matches what happened in ’98 in New York,” she said. “You had a lot of fragmented energy with the social clubs and creative class, and then you see powerful conveners come in and help coalesce the group. I’ve seen it before and I’m excited to be a part of and see what's about to happen.”
Day Two of SIME offered a full-day of presentations made by leading digital influencers and investors. Conversations spanned a variety of frontiers, including robocars and where they will drive us; escaping the Internet via encryption; improving society with technology; new tools for political transparency; and the new rules and philosophy of a digital society.
The insertion of an ID chip into a human hand did take place on stage while Hannes Sjöblad, founder of the BioNyfiken biohacker association, discussed the broader implications of the chip. Soon, he said the technology would replace keys to homes and cars as well as physical credit cards.
“There is no greater hack than the hack of the human body,” Sjöblad said. “And this is just the beginning.”
A sense of urgency took center stage when social change advocates from the Oslo Freedom Forum issued a call to action. Founder Thor Halvorssen asked tech entrepreneurs to develop technologies that empower the 57 percent of countries that are not democratic.
SIME Day Two also featured other disruptive narratives taking place in industries outside technology. Jordanian social entrepreneur Suleiman Bakhit shared how comic books can be used to disrupt the flow of propaganda in the Middle East and offer young people new heros unaffiliated with the Islamic State group and al-Qaida. Later, Miami-based martial arts experts Royce Gracie and Pedro Valente presented their own formula for overcoming any seemingly-impossible situation on the mat, in life and in entrepreneurship.
On SIME Day Three, an audience of investors attended a Wayra Latin America Showcase at the Adrienne Arsht Center. During a break in the showcase, event host Mariano Amartino invited Spain-based entrepreneur and venture capitalist Martin Varsavsky -- a featured SIME speaker this year and in 2013 -- to return to the stage. He asked Varsavsky what has happened in the international tech landscape in the last year and what impact it has had on Miami. Varsavsky began by saying that he now spends half of his time in Miami as a result of its thriving tech scene.
“Miami is trending up and that’s a good place to be,” he said. “People look at themselves as where they are going. That’s why, with persistency, there is a lot that can happen in a place such as this.”
To close out SIME Wednesday night, the first Citi FinTech Meetup took place at The LAB. The bank’s digital initiative will host regular events with Miami-based tech influencers in an effort to engage the local developer ecosystem. Mike Butcher, editor of TechCrunch, moderated a final discussion with four of Miami’s transplant investors and asked them why they brought their companies to South Florida.
Bradley Harrison, managing Partner at Scout Ventures, said it’s important to look at how to market South Florida’s assets, retain its immigrant talent, and recognize that the region is in the beginning of what will be a 20-year growth cycle and that its cutting-edge engineers are being born right now.
“I’ve been coming [to South Florida] like clockwork every two weeks,” Harrison said. “The more I get to know this place and have conversations on what needs to happen next, the more I realize that everyone is in agreement and shares a common vision here.”
Jenna Buehler is a Miami-based freelance writer.