By Darrah Brustein
When one thinks of entrepreneurial hubs, Miami, or MIA as it is often known, would often be just that: M.I.A. But that's all about to change.
Through an "impact eventing" organization called Breakout, I had the opportunity to experience Miami from a new vantage point -- not just as a hip, art-deco city by the ocean, but as a resilient "millennial city coming out of its teenage years," as explained by Co-Founder Michael Farber.
"With Miami, we gravitated towards telling a story to our attendees that was greater than just the beach, to show a different perspective. We knew most were familiar with Collins Avenue and bits and pieces of Wynwood. But did they know what was happening just north in Little Haiti and Little River? Or that the Overtown Youth Center was working to create a positive future for a part of town frequently overlooked even by locals?"
FIGS. Thanks to President and Co-Founder Trina Spear, FIGS is "revolutionizing the antiquated $10B medical apparel industry while making an enormous impact on the world through their Treads for Threads initiative." Scrubs were "historically an inferior product with a poor buying experience," explains Spear. After working on Wall Street in investment banking, private equity and hedge fund management, this Miami native (along with her Co-Founder Heather Hasson) started selling scrubs out of her car at the 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. shifts outside of City of Hope hospital in LA. FIGS now donates over 75,000 sets of scrubs around the world. They have reduced the hospital-acquired infection rate by 66 percent in certain areas as well as transmissions of diseases and viruses in places in need of sanitary medical apparel.
A group of 80 young innovators toured around this emerging market and learned about some organizations that are making Miami relevant on the entrepreneurial scene. They include the following:
MAGIC. Miami Dade College's Mauricio Ferrazza is embodying their motto that "education is a right, not a privilege." Through the creation of their game development, animation and virtual reality curriculum, MAGIC creates a targeted education with a clear path to employment. By partnering with studios like Disney, Pixar and Cartoon Network, MAGIC naturally parlays these ventures into lucrative jobs. With a tuition price tag of $7,000, they're attracting lower-income students and are excited to see the stories these students will share with the world.
The Peter Tunney Experience. Renowned artist Peter Tunney helped to pioneer a once forgotten area of Miami called Wynwood. Tunney's studio, the first retail establishment in Wynwood, has helped create a burgeoning art scene. The Peter Tunney Experience is now the literal epicenter of this tourist attraction of beautiful murals by local artists. Peter shared some advice on how he's made the decisions he has with his art: "Play hard and play fast. They don't tell you when the game ends." Fortunately for Wynwood, Peter brought his winning streak to the neighborhood.
Flying Classroom. As a child, I certainly daydreamed about hopping onto the Magic School Bus with Ms. Frizzle. Thanks to pilot Barrington Irving, children in kindergarten through eighth grade now have a chance to replicate that dream, taking STEM education to the sky with his company Flying Classroom. Irving quite literally transformed a business jet into a virtual classroom for children to re-engage with learning.
Taylor Moxie Mobile Library. Who says that television rots your brain? That's certainly not the case for 9-year-old Taylor Moxie, otherwise known as "Taylor the Chef." Taylor enjoyed watching "Cupcake Wars" on The Food Network and was inspired to try her hand at it in her Easy Bake Oven. Soon enough, the local news station heard about her and she was placed in a competition where she ultimately won $250, which she used to get a billboard. She was invited to give a TEDx talk where she was honored to meet Paula Dean and Carla Hall on her ninth birthday. She's currently writing a cartoon book and founded the Taylor Moxie Mobile Library in the Bahamas, with a second location coming soon to Miami.
EcoTech. Pandwe Gibson, Founder of EcoTech, recently spoke on the senate floor about a 95 percent potato, 5 percent soy spoon that replaces plastic. Why? Because there are a million units of plastic each year in landfills that this has the ability to replace. According to Gibson, the Miami landfill will be full in a matter of years. This spoon breaks down in 45 days versus the many years it takes for plastic to biodegrade. She has RFPs out for contracts with schools, prisons and cruise ships. A single contract is worth $5M, which in turn creates 10 new jobs at $15-20 per hour.
O, Miami. Who said poetry was dead? Certainly not Scott Cunningham, President of O, Miami, a company that works to advance and expand literary culture in Miami. O, Miami uses many unconventional methods to do this -- some of my personal favorites include banners behind small planes, dropping poems from helicopters into music festivals, sewing poems on thrift store items, putting poems on bar coasters, poetry parking tickets, and poems on dogs, pizza boxes, scratch-offs, urinals, street signs and rooftops.
Code Fever. There are a lot of coding schools planted all over the country. But Felecia Hatcher, Founder of Code Fever, didn't want to create just any old coding school. She wanted to create a space for "low opportunity and high potential students" ages 10-21 to learn to code and in turn, how to monetize it. Hatcher believes in using tech and innovation to build up the weakest segments of the community. Hatcher prioritizes a "holistic approach to tech training, access and diversity in Miami" and believes that Miami represents a model for including all types of people in its startup and innovation community.
These eight companies shed light on just a small cross-section of what is happening in Miami's entrepreneurial scene.
Darrah Brustein is a writer, master networker, and serial entrepreneur with businesses in merchant services, networking, and financial education for kids.