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August 15, 2018

Small Business Entrepreneurship: From Fizzle to Sizzle

South Florida's Venture City aims to take tech startups to the next level.

Amy Sherman | 1/26/2018

Changing the ecosystem

Startups can fizzle because they lack financing, management expertise or an understanding of how to identify the market appropriately, says Damian Thorman, vice president and chief innovation officer at Miami Dade College, which has partnered with Venture City to offer a two-year associate’s degree in entrepreneurship.

While Miami hasn’t traditionally provided an ecosystem for startups, Thorman says he sees signs of change.

“I have on a daily basis conversations with Apple, Google, technology companies — they are coming to Miami to look,” he says. “Because of our proximity to Latin America, because of the diversity that Miami represents, people are coming here to get a window into the future.”

Other efforts are underway to help Florida entrepreneurs. In November, multiple partners including the National Urban League, the Urban League of Broward County and Morgan Stanley announced a loan program in Florida for minority-owned businesses.

The Capital Access Fund aims to help sustain businesses that have been in operation for at least 18 months, says Germaine Smith-Baugh, CEO of the Urban League of Broward County.

“Clearly minorities are not void of entrepreneurial spirit — many minorities start businesses completely out of necessity,” she says. “The challenge isn’t the starting of a business; it is the sustaining of a business.”

Jaret L. Davis, co-managing shareholder of Greenberg Traurig’s Miami office, who represents Venture City, says that state government could play a greater role in fostering startups by creating a role such as an Office of Chief Scientist. He points to Israel as a role model for growing tech startups.

“Israel has a stronger connection between government and startups, and that has in part led to their status as the true startup nation,” he says.

While the tech and financial industries are dominated by men, the co-founders of Venture City are more interested in nurturing startups than they are in cultivating status as female trailblazers.

“Nothing is going to stop us from doing this,” González-Estéfani says. “You don’t pay attention to the noise. You do what you do best. I feel that’s the mantra we have at Venture City. Women, men, young, old, Latin, Asian, whatever. Those are limitations. We don’t believe in limitations. Nothing is going to limit us from what needs to be done. We just go and do it.”

 

Venture City’s Co-Founders

Laura González-Estéfani, CEO, 41

» Career: Previously spent nearly nine years with Facebook in various roles, including leading the growth, mobile and partnerships team for Latin America, spearheading the Internet.org effort to share the internet’s knowledge, and connectivity initiatives from Silicon Valley and later Miami. Before Facebook, she held management roles at eBay, Siemens and Ogilvy Group and cofounded Esplaya.com, the first international beach tourism digital platform.

» Education: Studied at the Universidad Europea de Madrid in Spain, Mass Media & Communications, and a PDD (short of an executive MBA) at Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School in Belgium.

» Work Philosophy: “I can’t think of one thing I wanted to do in life that I haven’t done. I have made thousands of mistakes. I crashed companies. I have grown companies. I’ve made mistakes with relationships, with friends. I hired the wrong people. I hired the right people. I always did what I thought I needed to be doing at the moment.”

» Personal: Born in Madrid. Lives in Miami with her husband, Eduardo Rebollo, and three children.

 

Clara Bullrich, 42

» Career: Previously managing partner for Guggenheim Partners Latin America/LJ Partnerships, an independent, privately held multi-family office with assets under management of $5 billion. Guggenheim has branches in Miami, London, Geneva, Lisbon, The Isle of Man, Neuchatel and Hong Kong.

» Education: Trinity College, degree in international business with a minor in finance

» Work Philosophy: “I speak with authenticity, certainty, clarity, empathy and profound magnetism. I am my word. There are no problems — just solutions.”

» Personal: Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Now lives in Miami with her husband, Josue Lain, and two children.

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