Latin America Looks To Miami As Tech Hub


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Miami wants to be the next Silicon Valley, and some entrepreneurs believe it’s well on its way.

Start-up companies in the city are increasingly filling the high-tech void in Latin America and attracting Latin American investors.

WLRN-Miami Herald News reporter Tim Padgett joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to explain Miami’s aspiration to be “Silicon Beach.”

Guest

  • Tim Padgett, WLRN-Miami Herald News’ Americas correspondent covering Latin America and the Caribbean from Miami. He tweets @TimPadgett2.

Transcript

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

It’s HERE AND NOW.

When you think about America’s top tech centers, you think of Silicon Valley in California, Silicon Alley in New York and maybe soon, Silicon Beach in Miami. The money for that scene is coming mainly from Latin America. Tim Padgett is America’s correspondent with HERE AND NOW contributing station WLRN in Miami and joins us now. And, Tim, first, describe the tech scene there in Miami right now.

TIM PADGETT, BYLINE: It’s still very much a fledgling tech scene, but it’s definitely growing. I mean, you – it’s predominantly startups. There are no flagship firms like Dell in Austin or Microsoft in Seattle. But it’s definitely attracting more talent and capital, and it’s poised for the next level.

HOBSON: And the next level, it appears, is going to be funded in part by investors coming from Latin America. Tell us about that. Why are these startups in Miami attracting so much investment from Latin America?

PADGETT: First, the big reason is there is such a high-tech industry deficit in Latin America itself, and that’s to do largely to a deficit – an education deficit in science technology, engineering and mathematical fields, the STEM fields that we always talk about here. Second reason is that on top of all that, there’s a general lack of access to credit and venture capital, especially for startups in Latin America. And third, and I think this is the most important reason, Latin American firms and government agencies simply feel more comfortable doing business in Miami.

Miami-Dade County, for example, is 65 percent Hispanic. So Miami high-tech firms like Yellow Pepper, which just started a multimillion-dollar project to launch Colombia’s first mobile banking payment system, they’ve certainly found this out, as Yellow Pepper’s project development manager, Alexander Sjogren, told me for this story.

ALEXANDER SJOGREN: Miami has been a little bit under radar in the U.S. But in Lat Am, it’s always been the capital of Lat Am, and it has a very strong spotlight. So there – it’s always been seen that you have the technology resources and the firms to develop it here.

PADGETT: There’s an old joke in Miami, Jeremy, that Latin Americans love Miami so much because it’s so close to the United States.

(LAUGHTER)

PADGETT: And I think what Sjogren is saying reflects that.

HOBSON: Well – and what about what these startups will do once they get the funding and really get going? Are they going to be able to tap in to a Latin American customer base?

PADGETT: They certainly are. Internet demand in Latin America is exploding. In 2000, you had about 18 million Internet users. Today, you have more than 254 million.

HOBSON: Wow.

PADGETT: The marketing research firm comScore, for example, points out that Latin America has the highest social media usage of any region in the world. And people like Attorney Juan Pablo Cappello here, who’s a major high-tech investor in Miami, he likes to point out the phenomenal market growth rate in Latin America that’s creating this phenomenon in Miami.

JUAN PABLO CAPPELLO: The U.S. and Canada represents 11 percent of the world’s Internet traffic, and Latin America is 10 percent. So Latin America is about ready to catch up with Canada and the United States combined.

PADGETT: In May, in fact, Jeremy, Miami is going to host a large, hemispheric high-tech conference called eMerge Americas put together by the city’s tech investment guru here, Manny Medina.

HOBSON: Now, Tim, Miami, it sounds like, is trying to be, like many cities in the country, another Silicon Valley. What are the obstacles for a city like Miami in doing that?

PADGETT: Well, Miami is hoping that this booming Lat Am market that it’s tapping into will be a launching pad for it to become a Silicon Beach. But I need to point out, though, that Miami’s got its own obstacles that it needs to work out here. For example, a recent survey showed that Miami, among large U.S. cities, was last in the number of workers trained for STEM jobs. It was next to last in the ratio of high-tech companies to total workers. So the irony here is that even though Miami is tapping into this explosive Lat Am high-tech market, it’s a little too much like Latin America, and that’s got to change here.

HOBSON: Tim Padgett is America’s correspondent for WLRN Miami Herald News. Tim, thanks so much.

PADGETT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

–Courtesy of Here And Now

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