L.A.: Full. Austin: Plateaued. Among Startup Scenes, Miami Primed To Bloom, Experts Say.

But some in the community say that corporations could, and should, be doing even more to connect with local startups.

"From the corporate side, it seems like there's a sense that just sponsoring an event or throwing your logo on something is enough," said Natalia Martinez Kalinina, general manager of the Cambridge Innovation Center-Miami. "Or even their in-house innovation, if it's an 'intra-preneurship' group that feels closed to the public, that to me is problematic."

DISCONNECTS For Martinez-Kalinina, Miami's most recent startup success story, ParkJockey, is emblematic of an ongoing challenge: silos.

ParkJockey made headlines earlier this year when it raised hundreds of millions in investment (the companies declined to state the precise figure) at a valuation above $1 billion, making it a "unicorn" in tech parlance. The company developed on its own, outside the region's entrepreneurship ecosystem.

Said Martinez-Kalinina, "Some of our most important companies are not active participants in our ecosystem -- they're busy building their companies. "It's not a bad thing -- they're just kind of outside our daily cycle."

In fact, ParkJockey was on the radar early for Kevin Burgoyne, the Miami-based President and CEO of the Florida Venture Forum, a private equity, venture capital and angel capital organization. The company presented at its 2015 early-stage capital conference in Hollywood.

But as a members-only organization, word didn't get out about its progress.

Burgoyne sees clear progress in South Florida, noting there were at most three early-stage funds in the entire state just six years ago.

All of the metrics his organization tracks for the region, and the state, are pointing in the right direction, he said, noting he expects to exceed the 120 applications received last year for its early-stage conference. This year, the event is slated for May 9 in Orlando.

Still, patience is needed, he said.

"The companies born four or five years ago are just now getting ready to scale," he said.

Code Fever's Hatcher sees the ecosystem at a turning point.

"Miami is at this critical mass of cutting off the fat," she said. "You can do a bunch of really noisy stuff in this space, but what is getting people results?"

For BrightGauge co-founder Dosal, many of the most promising South Florida startups he sees often operate outside or independent of the resources that have gone into cultivating the local startup community.

It shows the business talent is here, he said--they just may not be making much noise yet.

"We do a lot of celebrating startups and tech--but in many cases, it'll be huge tech operation with just a branch office here that's not focused on tech," he said. "We need to focus on the meat-and-potatoes of churning out new products and ideas."

Ana Paula Gonzalez, Miami director of 500 Startups, said she sees a promising pipeline of startups coming up in South Florida. But too often, she said, there is more heat than substance in the ecosystem.

"There's sometimes a lot of noise, and not enough action," she said. "We want to help interconnect it all." Unifying the startup ecosystem is now a core mission of the Knight Foundation's Miami efforts, Raul Moas says; they plan to announce funding to this end soon.

"We are really interested in how connected a startup community is--how folks in town are relating to one another, how connected do founders feel, the peer support networks, and making sure it's happening authentically. That's something we're going to be investing in."

One recent event that brought the ecosystem together occurred about 250 miles away: More than a dozen leaders from the Miami ecosystem got on a bus together in January to attend the second annual Synapse tech conference in Tampa.

One attendee Felice Gorordo, who last year took over as CEO of Miami's eMerge Americas conference.

"We have a lot we can learn from Tampa," he said.

Others say there may be a more profound issue: reputation.

"There are a lot of startups, and a lot don't go well unfortunately," 8Base's Santalo said. "People get burned by a startup investment, and we continue to have less-than-honest behavior from time to time, that always hurts us." Santalo says he has heard from investors that for them to invest in a Miami startup, they have to be twice as good as a startup from a more established city.

"So we've got an extra hurdle to jump through."


Key moments in the growth of South Florida's entrepreneurship movement: -- 2006: Refresh Miami launches as Miami's main tech-oriented community group. -- 2012: The Knight Foundation identifies entrepreneurship as a key initiative for Miami, investing in The LAB Miami, the region's first independent co-working space -- 2013: Endeavor, an international business mentorship group, opens its first U.S. program to Miami thanks to a Knight Foundation grant -- 2014: Miami hosts first-ever eMerge Americas conference, the largest tech conference in Latin America -- 2015: Kauffman Foundation releases first study on local startup activity, ranking Miami No. 2 in the nation -- 2016: CIC Miami and Venture Cafe Miami open, providing events and programming for local startups and entrepreneurs -- 2017: Kauffman Foundation ranks Miami No. 1 in startup activity; LaunchCode opens first non-profit coding academy in Miami -- 2018: 500 Startups, a Silicon Valley venture fund, arrives in Miami

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