SIME MIA melds creative aesthetic with tech talk

communities / Article

December 4, 2013 by Patrick Ogle


Photo credit: Patrick Ogle

Most tech conferences have experts on computers, mobile technology and new media. Far fewer will greet attendees with a hug—or several hugs—and have segments on yoga and rock-and-roll management. SIME MIA, which opened Tuesday at New World Center in Miami Beach, is not most tech conferences.

“We are trying to push the [Miami startup] ecosystem forward, and we knew events were part of doing that,” said organizer Demian Bellumio, COO of Senzari and founder of HackDay Foundation. “We wanted to do an event worthy of our vision.”

SIME MIA, which is sponsored by Knight Foundation, is a joint venture between SIME, a European digital business event, and South Florida events organizer MIA Collective. Entrepreneurs, business leaders and tech experts from around the globe have assembled for two days to talk to those attending—and to interact with them.

In planning MIA Collective knew it wanted to hold the digital business conference during Art Basel, when a bevy of interesting and artistic types were already in town, but they also realized they needed help. So they turned to SIME and its founder Ola Ahlvarsson, an entrepreneur who lives and works in Stockholm and Miami. (He is also, curiously, a world champion kickboxer.)

But that’s also an indicator that this isn’t the typical tech event. At SIME, innovation, in the aesthetic and in the choice of guests, is a hallmark. That was apparent Tuesday, where panelists were seated on a stage that resembled a nice living room (with a disc jockey). The DJ would occasionally be replaced by cello and piano.

Ahlvarsson, the master of ceremonies outlined what was to come, including “campfires.” The hangouts are based on ancient Greeks gathering around the fire to discuss philosophy, except with modern entrepreneurs such as Caterina Fake, CEO of Findery!; Navin Thukkaram, COO of Qwiki; and Martin Varsavasky, CEO and founder of Fon. Attendees could approach anyone during any of the sessions—ancient Greek methodology used to discuss markets, business mutation and our digital future.

“We are the last generation growing up who will not have a complete digital diary of their lives,” Ahlvarsson said.

Among the many themes of the conference was the idea that a person in their basement can still make their mark in technology—if they have access to capital.

Fake, also a co-founder of Flickr, talked of mortgaging her house and begging or borrowing from everyone she knew.

Salim Ismail, global ambassador for Singularity University, a cutting-edge educational institution, made the most startling statements of the day. He pointed out that our brains haven’t had an upgrade in 50,000 years, that in just a few years having your genome sequenced will cost less than flushing your toilet and that technological advances are poised to end the nation-state. Ismael even questioned the very foundations of society.

“All of the structures we use to run the world … were set up a few hundred years ago but not for today,” he said.

Ismail also predicted 3-D printing would soon change health care, manufacturing and the entire world economy.

“The belt I am wearing is 3-D printed,” he said. He then invited attendees to imagine the implications of the technology for nations whose economy is based on the manufacture and export of items such as belts.

Many of the speakers echoed the same theme: These ideas that are changing the world are opportunities for business communities that understand and embrace inevitable advances in technology.

“Basically Miami is evolving,” Bellumio said. “I think we do have momentum in technology but we are far from the level of leading technology cities. There is a lot of work to do.” 

According to Bellumio this work includes creating infrastructure, bringing in companies, and bringing in more big players. SIME MIA is one of several conferences and meet-ups that Knight Foundation has supported to help jump-start the entrepreneurial ecosystem in South Florida.

Miami is easy to view as a great city for the lifestyle it offers, Bellumio said, but there needs to be more than a beach and nice weather to attract the talent—and the capital—necessary to sustain the progress.

“We need some big success stories,” he said. “A startup is not a family business. Miami has a lot of family businesses but lacks companies that can grow to the next stage.”

The next stage, Bellumio said, is where a large number of jobs are created for the residents of South Florida.

“If there is any business that can go from zero to 200 miles per hour? It is a technology business,” he said.

The conference continues today at The LAB Miami in Wynwood.

Patrick Ogle is a freelance writer and a former reporter for the Miami Herald.

View a Storify digest of both days of the conference, and check out this related story from the Miami Herald's Starting Gate blog.

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