A Year in Review as Chair of the Miami-Dade Beacon Council Technology and Innovation Committee

By: Ivan Rapin-Smith

Today marks the official leadership transition of the Miami-Dade Beacon Council Technology Committee where I step down as chair. I wanted to capture the highlights of the work we did with my partner in crime Christine Johnson.


  • Core themes:
    • Raise awareness to what is available for startups and corporates who choose Miami-Dade to drive technology-enabled innovation
    • Build bridges between corporates and startups in Miami-Dade
  • Dedicated a meeting to how the Beacon Council can support entrepreneurs. See resource guide.
  • Dedicated a meeting to alternative ways to hire tech talent in Miami-Dade. See resource guide.
  • Launched a beta version of navigate.miami to map resources available to entrepreneurs. Visit site
  • Lots of new attendees to the meetings, great networking and new connections!

How I got Involved

When Jaret Davis, Sheldon Anderson and Larry Williams came to visit me at the Watsco office in Coconut Grove in 2016 to ask me to lead the Miami-Dade Beacon Council (MDBC) Technology Committee I wasn’t sure how to respond. I hadn’t had much exposure to the Beacon Council until then and I tend to avoid making commitments to projects that could distract me from my work at Watsco Ventures and spending time with my family.

But Jaret made the right pitch to convince me. He connected the dots between my previous roles running tech startup accelerators and my current role driving innovation for a large publicly traded company. He knew I felt strongly about connecting corporates with startups to drive innovation and growth and made a compelling case that this role would be a great additional way for me to work on that theme and support the local innovation community. His arguments combined with the quality of the interaction with Jared, Sheldon and Larry and a better understanding of MDBC’s purpose convinced me to take on the role of chair of the technology committee.

Shortly after I accepted the mission, Mike Finney became the new CEO of the Beacon Council and Christine Johnson joined the MDBC as liaison for the tech committee. Two more great people I would have the honor to work with.

A year as chair-elect

The committees run from October 1st to September 30th. For the 2016/2017 season as chair-elect I had the pleasure to work with technology committee chair Hugo Perez. Hugo was great to work with and a true team player in the preparation and hosting of the tech committee meetings during his tenure.

One Year – Five Meetings

Meeting 1 – How the Miami-Dade Beacon Council Supports Entrepreneurs

Date: January 4th 2018 / Location: Venture Cafe Miami at Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC) Miami, 1951 NW 7th Avenue, Miami 33136

For our first meeting we wanted to showcase the different ways in which the MDBC can support startups and entrepreneurs. I thought since I didn’t know much about what the MDBC could offer before getting involved, many others in the community would be in the same situation.

We ended the meeting showcasing some organizations that are doing interesting things in the innovation/technology area and kicked off the navigate.miami project.

An overview of services can be found here.

Meeting 2 – Alternative ways to hiring talent

Date: March 15th 2018 | Location: Venture Cafe Miami at CIC Miami

As we were building our product teams at Watsco Ventures, we needed to hire software developers. We decided early on to explore non-traditional channels to find talent by supporting  the local coding schools like Wyncode, Ironhack and LaunchCode. Those programs have brought us amazing, hungry, motivated developers with a strong cultural fit for our organization.

In this second meeting held at CIC we wanted to increase awareness of the  non-traditional ways to find tech talent for startups and corporates who are building software products.

Thank you to Wyncode Academy, Ironhack, Code Explorers, Tech Hire at Miami-Dade College, 4Geeks Academy, EcoTech Visions, and LaunchCode for sharing what they do in their respective organizations and for their contribution to developing tech and design talent in Miami-Dade.

An overview of the various organizations building software development and UX/UI skills can be found here.

Continuing on the theme of talent, Jaap Donath who runs Research and Planning at the MDBC shared some data on the growth of software development companies and job growth in those companies. In the ensuing conversation there was a consensus that the number of software development jobs seemed low compared to overall feeling of what is happening in Miami-Dade and we invited Jaap to join us for the next meeting to share labor statistics on technology jobs across all industries.

Meeting 3 – Mapping the players of in the innovation cycle

Date: May 10th 2018 / Location: Miami Dade College, Wolfson Campus, 300 NE 2nd Ave, Miami, FL 33132

One of the projects we signed on to support technology and innovation in Miami-Dade is to map the players in the technology and innovation ecosystem in and around Miami-Dade. The purpose of this online resource is to guide local and soon-to-be-local entrepreneurs of organizations large and small to the resources available to them to innovate, whether it’s funding, space, talent or relevant business services.

The first iteration of this project is beta.navigate.miami.

With the help of the local community will continue to add content and features as a community project, championed by the MDBC.

In this third meeting we wanted to have an interactive conversation with the tech committee members on what the lifecycle of innovation is and ask for their input to identify the players in Miami-Dade who play a role in this lifecycle.

This input was used to add content to the first version of the site and to identify features to add to the site to make it useful for different users.

Jaap shared some more labor stats on job growth for technology skills.  It was evident that the vibrant technology marketplace in South Florida has not been captured or well documented by the various stats available.

After the meeting we toured the Miami Animation and Gaming International Complex (MAGIC) Experience at Miami Dade College. We were all really impressed with setup, students and staff. MAGIC represents a great example of how to combine education, the creative industry and technology.

Meeting 4- Sources of data

Date: August 9th 2018 / Location: Florida International Bankers Association (FIBA Office), 80 SW 8th St, Miami, FL 33130

Continuing on the awareness theme, Jaap Donath shared some publicly available data resources available to innovators and entrepreneurs who want to learn more about the demographics of Miami-Dade. One useful resource is the Miami Dade sites website.

We also had the pleasure to hear from Daniel Stabile, an expert in the regulatory aspects of cryptocurrencies who shared some interesting perspective. It was fascinating to learn that South Florida is a hotbed for entrepreneurship in the blockchain/cryptocurrency space.

Meeting 5 – Year in Review and Passing the Baton | September 26th 2018

Date: September 27th 2018  | Location: MDBC Office

In this last meeting we reviewed the year and shared the deliverables that were created with the committee members and we gave a sneak peek of the themes Luis Tribin will be addressing as chair of the committee for the 2018/2019 season.

Continuing the work

As corporates invest in technology to create new experiences for their customers they will need access to sources of innovation and talent to develop and deploy new products and services to their customer base. Corporates have resources and a captive distribution channel to their customer base and startups bring new innovative products that can accelerate innovation. Working with the Beacon Council has been very gratifying and therefore as my role of chair of the MDBC technology comes to an end, I will continue to contribute to building bridges between corporates and startups as a way to drive technology-enabled innovation and economic growth.

People to thank

The work of the Beacon Council is possible through the generous contributions of volunteers in the community who extend the wonderful staff at the MDBC.

I would like to thank the following people for their efforts and contribution:

  • The attendees of the Tech Committee meetings. The committee meetings are a great way to network, your presence makes the meetings worthwhile.
  • Mauricio Ferrazza for the tour of MAGIC at Miami-Dade College
  • Jaap Donath & Vanja Hajdukovic at the Beacon Council for providing us with great data insights.
  • Natalia Martinez-Kalinina at the CIC for your generosity hosting multiple Beacon Council events in the past few years
  • Mike Finney for his leadership and participation in the Tech Committee meetings. We’re blessed to have you in -Dade and I look forward to continuing to work with you to drive growth through technology-enabled innovation.
  • Leigh-Ann Buchanan at Venture Cafe Miami for the brainstorming and hosting MDBC events during the Thursday Venture Cafe gathering.
  • Hugo Perez for being a great chair and paving the way for a great year 2018/2019
  • Romi Bhati, Executive Director, the Idea Center of Miami-Dade College for hosting us on May 10th and sharing the work you do at the Idea Center.
  • Sebastian Gomez for sharing his experience with the MDBC for his startup Sunvessel
  • Megan Conyers and Ezequiel Williams for helping prepare and facilitate the interactive session on May 10th meeting.
  • Joseph Hovancak for his work on One Community One Goal
  • Mario Cruz, Mauro Perez for developing the beta version of Navigate.Miami.
  • The members of the Miami Innovation Working Group (MIWG) and Ezequiel Williams (Contexto), Erik Gavin (Venture Cafe), Nigel Harris, and participants from Code for Miami for lending their time and energy to believing in the vision for Navigate.Miami.
  • Carolina Copello of FIBA for hosting us on August 9th and FIBA’s Innovation Committee Chair, Elias Tefarikis, Correspondent InnovaRock Washington and Consultant at BID, Interamerican Bank for leading the dialogue on blockchain and cryptocurrency.
  • Daniel Stabile from Shutts & Bowen for his insights in the regulatory aspects of cryptocurrencies.
  • David Coddington from the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance for participating in our September meeting to share the South Florida Techgateway.org initiative and for demoing the awesome Magic Leap device!
  • Special warm thank you to Susan Amat who gave me the opportunity to work with her to launch the Venture Hive and introduce me to the Miami community when I moved from Belgium to Miami in 2011.

And last but not least, a warm, deep genuine thank you to Christine Johnson at the MDBC. I enjoyed working with you and am I grateful for all the work you did to make these meetings and connections happen…

Helpful links and resources:

Industry Data Points (2018)

Beacon Council Resources for Entrepreneurs

Code schools in Miami

Navigate.miami beta site

Idea Center at Miami Dade College

Miami Animation & Gaming International Complex (MAGIC) at MDC


One Community One Goal

Miami-Dade Sites (data sources)

Tech Committee Google Drive

Help us market Miami (videos):

New Miami Businesses presented with Governor’s Business Ambassador Honors

The Governor’s Office and Enterprise Florida (EFI) honored four new business ventures headquartered in Miami-Dade at their Board of Directors meeting last week. The Board and Lt. Gov. Carlos López-Cantera presented The Governor’s Business Ambassador Award to these outstanding companies for creating new jobs and contributing to the overall business development of Miami-Dade County and the State.  Award recipients included:

  • NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises

Telemundo Center, a state-of-the-art, $250 million HQ that brings all of the company’s various arms — corporate, news department, sales, creative — under one roof.

  • Cosentino

Leading surfaces company, claims to have invented granite countertops. Family-owned, leader in design sphere. The company moved from Texas to Miami, where they traded their pick-up trucks for convertibles and love it.

  • Welwaze

This company champions women’s health via technology that delivers thermal mapping of breast tissue to monitor for abnormalities. First Welwaze went to Silicon Valley, but company owners felt they weren’t as receptive as South Florida… “Miami is home!” proclaimed Co-Founder and Executive Chairman Alex Jimenez-Ness.

  • Genius Plaza

Genius Plaza is an education platform dedicated to democratizing education, embodying the ideal that access to information equals access to opportunity. As the first multicultural education platform built for diverse communities, Genius Plaza recently moved its business to Miami from Saratoga, NY.

Before the award winners were recognized, the EFI Board heard comments from Miami-Dade Beacon Council President & CEO Michael Finney. He summarized the Amazon HQ2 experience and spoke to the regional collaboration and coordination that took place in order to successfully present a quality proposal.  “We had 120 individuals and 40 organizations involved in order for us to present this robust proposal. This is unpresented in the economic development world…The key message I want to leave you with is that these key relationships and partners are very important to our ability to compete for future economic development projects.”

Business Readiness in the Sunshine State

DEM/DEO Article – Miami Dade Beacon Council

Business Readiness in the Sunshine State

Florida is no stranger to disasters – hurricanes, floods, fires, terrorism and other potential hazards all pose a serious threat to businesses statewide. But Florida’s business owners know that the steps they take today to prepare can make the difference for maintaining business operations when a disaster strikes.

Business Continuity | Get Started Today

Build your business’ resiliency by assessing your risk and developing a business disaster plan. Take advantage of any local resources or training seminars or webinars offered to support your business readiness. Do not wait for the next disaster. Take steps now to develop a plan for your business:

Identify your risk | Where is your business located? You may need to plan for mandatory evacuation orders, road closures or flooding. Contact your insurance provider to ensure you understand your coverage and that it is sufficient to maintain business operations.

Contacting Employees and Business Stakeholders | Save emergency contact lists with your business disaster continuity plan so that you can easily access them whether or not you are in your physical business location. Identify ways that you can reach your employees, vendors, service providers and customers to update them on your business’s operations.

Promote Disaster Preparedness | Encourage those critical to your business to develop individual and family disaster plans. The quicker they can recover personally, the quicker they can return to work and continue business operations.

Back-Up | If your business is damaged or destroyed by a disaster, can you relocate? What critical equipment do you have that is necessary to maintain day-to-day operations? Where are your business records? Ensuring you protect these critical items and have back-up plans will greatly support your business recovery efforts.

Stay Informed | When disaster is imminent, how will you receive emergency notifications for your business? Monitor traditional and social media for regular updates, as well as supply your business with a NOAA Weather Radio. Register to receive local emergency alert notifications for critical alerts by visiting www.FloridaDisaster.org/AlertFlorida. Take advantage of all available information and resource sharing sites.

Florida’s new website, www.FloridaDisaster.biz specifically caters to the private sector by providing real-time updates during an event to ensure owners take the necessary steps to protect their business in a disaster.


FloridaDisaster.biz is a new website developed to provide businesses, small and large, easy access to critical information before, during and after a disaster. The State Emergency Response Team’s Emergency Support Function 18, Business, Industry and Economic Stabilization, works closely with local, state and federal partners to provide users verified, accurate and timely information so they can make decisions to help their business recover more quickly after a disaster.

Stay in the know! Register your business today to view resources, begin your business disaster continuity plan and cultivate a culture of preparedness in the workplace. More importantly, when disaster strikes, monitor the site for regular situational reports from the state emergency operations center, as well as maintain awareness of major road closures, evacuation orders and curfews across the state, as they may affect your business.

Emergency Support Function 18 | Business, Industry and Economic Stabilization

When disaster strikes in the state of Florida and the situation has outgrown the scope of local government, the Florida State Emergency Response Team activates to support local emergency management to serve impacted residents and businesses.

Within the State Emergency Response Team, Emergency Support Function (ESF) 18 coordinates the needs of the private sector with local, state and federal agencies during the response and recovery of a disaster. Establishing public-private partnerships prior to a disaster enables ESF 18 to identify the needs of the private sector, as well as to identify resources available from private sector partners to support response and recovery operations for all Floridians. The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) leads ESF 18, with support from the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM).

For information about Emergency Support Function 18 and Florida’s Public Private Partnerships, please email ESF18@em.myflorida.com.


Logistics & Supply Chain Management Account for 20% of Miami’s Economy

MDBC Trade and Logistics Committee Draws more than 100 Participants

The most recent MDBC Trade & Logistics Committee meeting was hosted by FedEx on August 2, 2018. The meeting began with setting the tone for a discussion on the “jobs of the future” in an industry that reportedly accounts for approximately 20 percent of Miami’s economy—logistics and supply chain management. The committee looked at a framework for fostering a workforce that considers the roles played by academic institutions as well as the industry itself.

Later in the meeting, a panel discussion featuring representatives from DHL, ADP, and Wyncode as well as a retired executive from Wal-Mart ensued with panelists engaging their fellow committee members immediately as they offered insight into what companies are doing today to prepare and retool talent for evolving careers. They fielded questions from peers on specific programs as well as emerging technologies that will likely have an impact on the workforce.

The meeting also highlighted a recent announcement about the apprenticeship program to be overseen by Miami-Dade College. This program is drawing national attendance as it embraces an alternative track for businesses interested in developing talent. A model proven effective throughout the world, apprenticeships are a hot topic. This program has the potential to alleviate the pressure of attracting and training talent for companies that want to pursue it with federal and state dollars available. For more information on the program, contact Marimar Molinary at mmolinar@mdc.edu.

In another segment of the agenda, Dr. Richard Sarabia, a professor with MDC, shared some initial high level results from a survey of trade and logistics executives that aims to uncover any skills gaps in the workforce. The results shared touched on the importance of specific industry credentials (e.g. certifications in inventory management and supply chain management) as well as a dependence on interns in the local industry (nearly 70 percent of respondents have employed interns in the last 12 months). For more on the initial survey results or to participate in this skills gap analysis, contact Dr. Sarabia at rsarabi1@mdc.edu.

The next committee meeting will be held on September 18, 2018 and hosted by PortMiami. For more information on the MDBC Trade & Logistics Committee, contact Stanley Rigaud, Director of Economic Development – International Programs, at srigaud@beaconcouncil.com.

Be Red Cross Ready this Hurricane Season

2017 was an unprecedented year for the American Red Cross. We responded to six major disasters in only 60 days; we provided support for Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate; and responded to the Las Vegas shooting and the California wildfires.

Miami-Dade’s Tech Talent Pool is Widening…You Just Have to Look in Different Places

You may not have noticed but Miami has very quietly become one of the biggest technology & innovation hubs in the U.S. You probably already know that Miami-Fort Lauderdale area was recognized in 2017 by The Kauffman Foundation as the region with the #1 in startup activity in the nation.

New Opportunity Zones Could be a New Beginning for Miami’s Inner-City

You may not have noticed but Miami has very quietly become one of the biggest technology & innovation hubs in the U.S. You probably already know that Miami-Fort Lauderdale area was recognized in 2017 by The Kauffman Foundation as the region with the #1 in startup activity in the nation.

Small Business- Preparing Your Business for an Active Hurricane Season

You may not have noticed but Miami has very quietly become one of the biggest technology & innovation hubs in the U.S. You probably already know that Miami-Fort Lauderdale area was recognized in 2017 by The Kauffman Foundation as the region with the #1 in startup activity in the nation.

This is “Why Miami”

You may not have noticed but Miami has very quietly become one of the biggest technology & innovation hubs in the U.S. You probably already know that Miami-Fort Lauderdale area was recognized in 2017 by The Kauffman Foundation as the region with the #1 in startup activity in the nation.

The 2018 Economy

Much has been written about and panel discussions and presentations have been devoted to what lies ahead for the economy in 2018. Any predictions are rooted in what happened over the last few years and what changes can potentially be expected on local, national and international levels, including policies related to taxes, immigration and regulatory measures. Looking beyond one year is much more difficult, but there are data sets that allow for some forecasting and it can be illuminating to see what past data tells us about the future.