Miami Tech & Startup News

eMerge Americas sees its global tech hub vision coming to life

eMerge Americas sees its global tech hub vision coming to life

A record 20,000+ turn out for the two-day conference. Day 2 was headlined by Eric Schmidt with the lowdown on AI – and we have winners.

By Nancy Dahlberg and Riley Kaminer

Ten years ago this month, serial entrepreneur Manny Medina announced his vision publicly for eMerge Americas. At the time, he saw no reason why Miami couldn’t be a global tech hub if the community put in the work together. He also believed the eMerge Americas conference could help do for tech what Art Basel did for the Miami arts scene. Even before publicly announcing, he secured the support of the Knight Foundation, Miami-Dade County, the Miami Herald, Greenberg Traurig and other top business, government and academic leaders.  “From day one, they were all in,” said Medina, and the first conference took place in 2014.

“Manny saw the wave coming 10 years ago and said to me at the time we’ve got to get our ecosystem ready because if we don’t get ready, it’s going to run us over in a missed opportunity,” Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said in his remarks on stage on the second day of the 2023 eMerge Americas conference. Over the next seven years, the Knight Foundation, eMerge and other tech community leaders helped to lay the groundwork for the “tsunami of opportunity” that would follow: the explosive migration of investors and founders during the pandemic accelerated by the mayor’s now-famous How Can I Help tweet. The welcome mat is always out, and founders and funders are still moving to South Florida.

This week, Manny Medina’s vision for eMerge Americas as a catalyst for a global tech hub was on full display at the signature tech conference thar attracted a record crowd of over 20,000 people from 4,000 companies and 50 countries and featured more than 200 speakers. Worth noting, the speaker lineup and the attendees represented authentic and intentional diversity, with women and people of color well represented.

Yet the conference was much more than a celebration of how far we’ve come. Indeed, AI was all the talk on stages, around the busy exhibit hall and in the VIP lounge. The message was the Miami area can’t be left behind in the next wave of technology and we can’t let up on ecosystem building, says eMerge Americas CEO Felice Gorordo and President Melissa Medina. “We are a year-round platform dedicated to fostering a thriving and diverse Miami tech ecosystem by organizing startup pitch competitions, investor and founder convenings, executive summits, virtual programming, and tracking investor activity, all with one purpose: to catalyze innovation and investments here and across our region,” Medina adds.

Foklowing are some highlights from the conference. Catch up with our day 1 coverage here, including keynote Tom Brady talking about a winning mindset.

Keynoter Eric Schmidt talks AI with Mayor Suarez

On Friday, the conversation between Mayor Suarez and former Google CEO and Chairman Eric Schmidt very much continued many of the themes we heard at the Miami Tech Summit earlier in the week.

Top of mind: the 21st century arms race between the US and China over artificial intelligence development. Schmidt sounded an alarm. “It looks like we’re a little bit ahead, meaning a year or two, which is not very long. But [the Chinese] are trying to catch up now.” Schmidt noted that China is investing heavily in AI and is generating more PhD researchers.

Beyond AI, Schmidt also expressed concern over America’s reliance on Chinese supply chains for technology such as semiconductors. “The semiconductor market that we developed, which is largely dependent on Samsung and TSMC in Taiwan, are winning and winning big.” That said, Schmidt noted that recent restrictions have been helpful. 

Equally, Schmidt highlighted his concerns about quantum computing: faster and more powerful computers that can solve complex problems currently beyond the reach of traditional machines. Schmidt noted that quantum computers, which are still in the early stages of development, will eventually render encryption obsolete.

“There’s evidence that the Chinese and other countries are actually recording all of our data – encrypted transactions – in anticipation of decrypting it later,” said Schmidt, author of the best-selling The Age of AI.

Schmidt, a new Miami area resident, had good things to say about the opportunities ahead for the Magic City: “I like that Miami is sort of the capital of Latin America – it’s this mixing point. There is so much talent ,that is coming through Miami that is available to the entrepreneurs here to build a really world-class knowledge economy.”

And on both the main stage and again in the VIP lounge, he spoke very positively about Mayor Suarez. “There is no politician in America who knows the stuff at this level,” Schmidt said, referring to the technical and geopolitical questions Suarez posed. That might be helpful for Suarez’s future political ambitions, as the mayor admitted that he recently returned from a trip to New Hampshire.

Academia exhibits their tech

Over the years, the exhibits of our higher ed institutions have grown in size and scope and this year they were the most elaborate yet, with robots engaging with the attendees, simulations viewed with VR headsets, and showcases of university tech. Academic leaders also held talks throughout the conference.

A robot dog named Spot stole the show, quite literally at times, at Florida International University’s exhibit. FIU has a couple of the robots created by Boston Dynamics that can collect data and automate processes in many industries, including real estate and construction. FPL has also been putting Boston Dynamics’ robot dog to work as well. Not to be outdone, Pepper, a robot that assists visitors at the NSU Levan Center of Innovation in Davie, was on hand to greet visitors at Nova Southeastern’s exhibit, while other robots showed how they can teach skills in the healthcare industry.

Speaking of healthcare, visitors of the University of Miami exhibit got to check on the vitals of Harvey, a lifelike mannequin used to train nurses and other health care professionals. They also could don VR headsets to explore a virtual health care clinic. At a talk about autonomous transportation via eVTOLs, UM’s College of Engineering dean, two professors and two industry partners – Eve Air Mobility and AirAuto — discussed how the flying cars may become reality as soon as 2025. Having a sustainable transportation option to hop over Miami traffic can’t come soon enough.

At Miami Dade College’s exhibit, attendees could experience what could be the future of education through VR glasses. It’s called Metaversity and students will be able to attend classes in the digital twin campus from anywhere, and potentially could be transported with their classmates back in time, participate in a surgery or expore deep space, for instance. Miami Dade College also just opened its second AI Center; they are now on the North and Wolfson campuses.

Local innovators discuss technology and entrepreneurship

“The future is here now,” or so proclaimed a talk featuring serial entrepreneur and angel investor David S. Rose, Xendoo founder Lil Roberts, and Alan B. Levan | NSU Broward Center of Innovation executive director John Wensveen.

“Technology is no longer an industry on its own,” asserted Wensveen. “Technology is every industry no matter what you think – and you have to adapt to it, embrace it, but also use it in the right way and not incorporate technology for the sake of it.”

“Don’t let yourself be distracted by the shiny new toy,” warned Rose. “You have to think strategically if you are running a business about the long term.”

Roberts also echoed these sentiments on thinking beyond the short and medium terms. “Don’t fall in love with what you’re building or the problem you’re solving,” she advised, noting that founders should constantly concern themselves with putting one foot in front of another. 

“Keep moving and execute, execute, execute,” said Roberts. “Find the best team you can that is heart-led and will run into burning buildings. And when you have that, you can accomplish the world.”

Startups made news, too: Ironhack and Miami Marlins team up

On the eMerge main stage, Ironhack, the Miami-based global edtech company known for their tech bootcamps, and the Miami Marlins announced that Ironhack will establish a campus at the Marlins’ LoanDepot Park. The central location will give more Miami residents access to tech training, including its bootcamps for web development, data analytics and UX/UI design. It’s the first partnership of its kind within Major League Baseball. The 6,000 square foot space will serve as Ironhack’s new flagship US campus,

“This novel partnership with the Miami Marlins will allow us to scale our impact in building a regional workforce that is diverse and representative of the community, with specialized skillsets that meet the immediate needs of local and national enterprises,” said Ironhack CEO Ariel Quinones.

eMerge Americas committed to funding scholarships, too.

In addition to bootcamps at the park,  the partnership will also include monthly workshops, hackathons and social events. The Marlins’ mascot was on hand for the announcement.

Startups were the heart and soul of the conference

You couldn’t miss the 100 startup booths right down the center of the exhibit hall, including South Florida startups EpiPaws, with a genetic testing product to find out your pet’s age that is already sold through its website and on Amazon, and Fitnessatyourdoor, which enables South Floridians to connect with trainers and bring them right to their house. The startup now has a b2b model targeted at employers, and has just launched its app.

Startups also had a stage all their own: The Launchpad stage were dominated by startup talks, including a series of short talks by female founders organized by the FIU-Venture Miami Opportunity Program.

The Launchpad stage was also the place to be for pitches, including three by already operating South Florida startups that spun out from NFTE. NFTE introduces entrepreneurship in underserved high schools in South Florida.

Founder mental health was a focus of several talks, and the recessionary economy and venture capital slowdown of course bring more challenges for founders. Some of the advice shared by these talks: In addition to practicing self care, find a group of like-minded people to be your support group and seek out a counselor to help you through the low points. “One of the things Endeavor Miami really taught us was not only to connect with mentors, but ask for their help,” said entrepreneur Johanna Mikkola, now with Brainstation. “It was so invaluable.”

Grand finale: And the winners are…

Founder-investor connections are often made at eMerge, hopefully resulting in future deals, but money was already flowing through other channels. Before the Startup Showcase Showdown, Google for Startups announced the winner of $150,000 in equity-free funding plus Google cloud credits and mentorship, from the Google for Startups’ Latino Founders Fund. The recipient is Kriptos of Argentina.

The eMerge Hackathon’s winning team received a $10,000 prize for their project, a predictive flood model allowing city officials to visualize storm-induced flooding to help residents. (After this months floods, we say bring it on!). The team said they were going to donate the winnings to a high school robotics program, paying it forward. The hackathon was powered by Ironhack.

And for the main event, on Friday 25 startup semifinalists pitched throughout the day, in a competition to win the $420,000 investment prize from Florida Funders, Panoramic Ventures and eMerge Americas. Then the top five startups in preliminary judging pitched live on the big stage to close out the conference.

The top five finalists were:

Soarce: An Orlando area startup creating leather-like materials from seaweed for the fashion, automotive and other industries.

Eugenia Virtual Humans: A Latin America startup that creates virtual humans and characters for the gaming, influencer and virtual model industries.

Kind Designs: A Miami startup that has developed a process for creating 3D printed seawalls to help combat rising sea levels.

Healthbird: A Miami startup that simplifiesthe process of buying health insurance and managing healthcare needs with an all-in-one platform.

Storybook: A South Florida startup created an app to help facilitate high quality parent-child bonding at bedtime.

Judges Ryan Whittemore (Florida Funders), Paul Judge (Panoramic Ventures) and Felecia Hatcher (Black Ambition) deliberated.

And the winner was… drumroll please … Healthbird!

The dates for the next eMerge Americas conference at the Miami Beach Convention Center have already been announced: April 18-19, 2024. Let’s Go!


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Got news? Email Nancy Dahlberg at and follow her on Twitter @ndahlberg

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