It turns out that soccer—better known throughout Latin America as fútbol—could teach scientists a thing or two about the power of global connectivity.
“Just like soccer has become a global sport, where people move around freely to play in Europe but come back home to represent their national team, we should be able to do the same thing with the critical mass of scientists, engineers, and innovators we already have throughout the entire hemisphere,” said University of Miami President Julio Frenk, speaking on the topic of “A Hemispheric Innovation Strategy” at the third annual eMerge Americas technology conference in Miami on April 19.
In his 20-minute presentation, Frenk described the role he sees the University of Miami as ideally suited to play—a hub for linking the vast intellectual capital that exists in Latin America with a pathway to develop “science into solutions.”
Many Latin American countries, he explained, lack regulatory frameworks, access to investment capital, access to major global markets, and other resources that translate discoveries into real-world applications. An “innovation hub here in Miami,” he said, can provide essential frameworks “without contributing to brain drain in the region.”
“The future of the region,” he continued, “must be to insert itself squarely into the knowledge economy. We can’t continue to bet on commodities—we’ve just seen what the current drop in commodities prices is doing to the economy in Latin America. And the model where we export labor is reaching its limit.”
Frenk described the University’s plan to host a Hemispheric Innovation and Technology (HIT) initiative, which will unite top thinkers, designers, and resources at the University with complementary counterparts throughout the hemisphere. Members will work together to build and sustain an “innovation ecosystem” where basic research progresses into the testing, development, and launch of innovations that generate funding to “restart the engine of basic research.” Frenk also announced that the Cambridge Innovation Center, which has helped more than 1,200 startup businesses take flight, is a new tenant at the University of Miami’s Life Science & Technology Park, bringing occupancy in the park’s first building to 100 percent.
“If you look at every single major innovation ecosystem, along with startups and venture capitalists, at the heart of that ecosystem, there’s a comprehensive research university,” Frenk said. “And that university is the University of Miami—a comprehensive research university that can partner with many other entities to really take full advantage of the strategic value of being located in this crossroads of the Americas.”
Positioning the University as a hemispheric innovation hub aligns with all four aspirations Frenk unveiled during his January 2016 inaugural address: to be the hemispheric, excellent, relevant, and exemplary university. He shared these aspirations during his eMerge Americas session, which also included a Q&A with Telemundo journalist Edgardo del Villar.
The University of Miami has been a global sponsor every year since the 2013 launch of eMerge Americas, which attracted more than 13,000 attendees this year from Latin America, North America, and Europe. In addition to President Frenk, a UM faculty member and a UM student also delivered presentations at the conference. Alberto Cairo, Knight Chair in Visual Journalism at the School of Communication, presented “Unlocking the Power of Data Visualization for Journalists, Scientists, and the Rest of Us.” Connor Masterson, a business law and finance major in the School of Business Administration and founder of two startups, served on the panel “University Entrepreneurship Programs: Student Perspectives.”