Kyle Carriedo is not a unicorn, but he represents the dreams of South Florida's small technology industry. He is a 35 year-old software engineer who spent five years working on the iTunes team at Apple. He willingly left the gold-standard of tech to move to Miami for a start-up.
A high-skilled high-tech worker from the global high-tech capital, Silicon Valley, coming to South Florida to live and work will not move the needle on official employment statistics, but it is a symbol of Miami's hopes to establish itself as a hub for technology.
Carriedo was lured away from Apple by LifeWallet, a two-year old company founded by insurance executive Frank Carreras and former Apple engineer Norberto Menendez. The two were friends while growing up in Miami. They've partnered on LifeWallet developing app-based technologies to assess and monitor common health measurements. It has recruited five engineers to leave Apple and come to Miami.
Listen to Kyle's story of deciding to leave Apple for LifeWallet.
"It's not easy recruiting top talent," said Carreras. "We've been able to bring people from California and other parts of the U.S. We have found some amazing talent in South Florida."
Talent and money
Finding highly skilled talent is a common complaint among technology firms here. So is finding smart money. LifeWallet has leveraged its historic connection to Apple to attract engineers. It also has attracted the financial attention of a former Miami-based tech success.
Alienware started in 1996 making computers for video gamers. A decade later, co-founders Nelson Gonzalez and Alex Aguila sold the company to Dell Computer. The two, along with their partner in investment holding company Bridgerock Holdings Joe Balerdi, have bought into LifeWallet. The company just released it's first product, HealthFluence and anticipates additional product releases this year.
The early-stage nature of investing in tech can be off-putting. While there is plenty of money in South Florida, regional tech entrepreneurs often find the investors themselves aren't that savvy and can't always help steer a young tech company like experienced tech investors from Silicon Valley or Boston can.
Medtech and Fintech
South Florida has been working hard to establish itself as a hub for the technology industry. Technology companies targeting the financial and health industries are finding some success even as they face the constant challenges of finding people and consistent profits.
Since 2013, the Knight Foundation has made more than 180 grants totaling more than $20 million for entrepreneurial projects: technology incubators, accelerators, training programs, mentoring programs and industry conferences.
Almost 140 companies in the South Florida region are in Inc. Magazine’s list of 5,000 fastest growing companies in the country. These aren’t always brand new companies or technology firms, but it is one of the proxies for how inviting a community is to new ideas and how fast those ideas can become successful. In order to be considered, a company has to have at least $2 million of annual revenue.
We spoke with three tech company CEOs about their efforts to grow their businesses in South Florida's tech industry environment.
Daniel Cane, co-founder and CEO of Modernizing Medicine, electronic health records and medical office management software
• The medtech community in South Florida has been on the rise in the last few years. We are one of the nation's leaders in medical device, pharmaceuticals and health care IT. We have a very strong talent pipeline from both the universities and institutions that are retraining people to become developers.
• The biggest change has been the perception of South Florida as a place you can come and build your next great company.
• Even more important than attracting talent is retention. If you can keep the talent you're growing and you can bring capital into a market and start having successes, you'll start seeing more of the tech ecosystems growing organically.
Dr. Ronald DeMeo, CEO, Radiation Shield Technologies, uses patent technology to manufacture protective clothing for the medical industry and first responders
• [When I started] there weren't a lot of people doing research and development in manufacturing here. Nobody was doing manufacturing. The light manufacturing that did occur was very niche. Everything had to be out-sourced. It would take us months and months to get an order out. We really couldn't make a suit at a profit.
• If you're the only restaurant on a city block, you welcome the hair salon and the shoe store. You welcome the traffic. There's a lot of overlap with (software development and advanced manufacturing) -- from grant writing to venture capital.
• It's all helping the reputation of Miami. We're not just here to hang out and get a tan. We actually do things. We actually make things.
Ricardo Villadiego, founder and CEO, Easy Solutions, electronic fraud detection and prevention
• The environment has changed significantly since 2007 [when we moved from Bogotá to Miami]. Today, there is more entrepreneurial spirit in the community. It's night and day since 2007 until today.
• Every major bank across Latin America has an office in the Miami area. That creates the perfect blend to spark innovation across the fintech sector.
• It is hard to find a city where you're able to build products and deploy those products across multiple institutions. The customers are close.