By Nancy Dahlberg
And Marcella McCarthy
In a recent call with Maria Derchi Russo and Brian Breslin of Refresh Miami, Christine Johnson, VP of Innovation for the Miami-Dade Beacon Council, brought up the idea of a tech community manifesto to convey the values and shared vision behind the MiamiTech movement. Derchi Russo rallied community leaders and tech founders around the idea, and in a series of Zoom conversations and action steps, the MiamiTech Manifesto was born.
As new investors, techies and founders look at places outside of San Francisco and New York to live, build and invest, Miami is a top contender. In recent months, the city has already seen the arrival of Jon Oringer, Keith Rabois, Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, David Goldberg, Harry Hurst, Lucy Guo, Michael Martocci, David Blumberg and many others. While Miami is largely a city of “newcomers,” and therefore accustomed to welcoming new residents, the tech ecosystem has been building here for about 15 years, and local techies want to make sure not to recreate some of the problematic issues other tech hubs have inadvertently developed, such as “bro culture.”
“With all the renewed interest in Miami and influx of new entrepreneurs, investors and technical talent, we felt now would be a great time to articulate the values we have been working to uphold while building this community over the last decade and a half,” said Derchi Russo, Refresh Miami’s Executive Director, “The manifesto serves to reinforce our commitment to build with intention. We also hope it will help inform those entering the ecosystem that they can play an important role in the work. We can learn so much from their past experience in other ecosystems – both what has worked well and what hasn’t.”
Leigh-Ann Buchanan, President and Executive Director of Venture Café Miami, authored the manifesto with input from many other members of the community. She sees the manifesto as a spark. “It’s the start of what I hope will be a more cohesive and coordinated effort by the organizations and leaders who have supported the ecosystem to develop a shared vision, and we have that now, but also a strategic action plan and measurable outcomes of how we can actually execute on that vision.” She said she plans to take a bigger role in the strategic action plan.
Ja’Dan Johnson is the new Tech and Startup Ecosystem Manager for the Center for Black Innovation. He stepped into the role last month and was one of the newest members of the community that participated in the manifesto discussions. In a previous role, he spent five years as an ecosystem builder in Jamaica and looks forward to connecting entrepreneurs at the Center for Black Innovation with resources that can help them succeed.
The manifesto is a great starting point for developing a community where everyone can feel included, he said.
“A big, big part of this manifesto for me is looking at what diversity, equity, and inclusion mean in our diverse but not yet integrated tech community. I don't feel like diversity and inclusion happens until we start all living harmoniously together. I hope this is the pivot toward a harmonious ecosystem where everybody feels welcome and are able to access opportunities equally, and are able to thrive in the ecosystem equally,” he said,
One thing he learned during the meetings about the tech community that he celebrates: The number of females that are leading the charge, wrangling the ecosystem, as he calls it.
“Yeah, I am anti-bro culture. … I enjoy that [the manifesto process] is elevating women leaders, elevating people who are not traditionally represented in certain spaces and allowing those voices to drive conversations.”
It should be no surprise that Matt Haggman, the Beacon Council’s Executive VP of One Community One Goal, supports the MiamiTech Manifesto. As the Miami Program Director for the Knight Foundation for nearly 6 years until July 2017, he led Knight’s efforts to help build an innovative and highly impactful startup community -- and one that is driven by creating opportunities across the whole community.
“The thing that we've always known is that diversity and inclusion is our great differentiator and that innovation is built on a diversity of people and ideas, connecting, colliding, collaborating, working together,” Haggman said. “The more people who are engaged, the more success that we'll have. Miami is unique among places in the world to be able to do this.”
He loves that the manifesto came up from the community, not top-down, because that is how startup communities should be built. People across the community shouldn’t feel any need to ask permission to do and create, he says. And in a moment like this, amid such massive change during the pandemic, “it’s important to reaffirm our values and remind ourselves what we’re aiming to build.”
That bottom-up effort: In addition to Derchi Russo, Breslin, Buchanan, Christine Johnson and Ja’Dan Johnson, the manifesto team included Michelle Abbs (Mana Tech), Rebekah Monson (WhereBy.Us), Ana Paula Gonzalez (500 Startups), Melissa Medina (eMerge Americas), Aileen Alon (Venture Cafe Miami), Gregory Johnson (Code for South Florida), Maxeme Tuchman Caribu), Rebecca Danta (Miami Angels), Carlos Vazquez (Miami EdTech) and Claudia Duran (Endeavor Miami).
Over the holiday weekend, 138 adopters had already signed the manifesto and more are adding their names daily.
“What I’ve been seeing on social media is a lot of cities are following suit or are beginning to share this manifesto as a model for other markets,” she said. “I think what we build in Miami can be a best practice and a model for other markets. To the extent that we can really start working with other cities and other ecosystems around how we can make this idea of the manifesto go viral and be implemented in other markets, I think that we'll begin to see real meaningful change.”
To take the pledge, visit www.WeAreMiamiTech.com
Join us this Thursday, Jan. 7, for a Virtual Townhall: The Case for Equity + Inclusion in Miami’s Tech Ecosystem at 6 pm. Register here: venturecafemiami.org/townhall
SCENES FROM #MIAMITECH (PRE-COVID)
At top of post: A Refresh MIami event hosting Brad Feld in February 2020.
Venture Cafe Miami #ThursdayGathering