University positioned to be a pipeline for technology boom

The Miami skyline at night.
By Kelly Montoya

The Miami skyline at night.

University positioned to be a pipeline for technology boom

By Kelly Montoya
Scholars reflect on the industry’s expansion into Miami.

It’s all the talk of the town: Miami is quickly emerging as the new tech epicenter. 

As Brian Breslin, director of The Launch Pad at the University of Miami pointed out, there’s been an influx of New Yorkers and Silicon Valley expats coming to Miami during the pandemic, likely in the thousands. 

“Folks are fleeing small apartments, high costs of living, state income taxes, and coming to Miami to be able to spend more time outdoors,” he said. “The realization that many came to while in quarantine is that they didn’t need to be face-to-face with folks anymore as the remote work culture has taken hold. So, why not come to Miami and earn what they made before but with a 40 percent lower cost of living.”

Mayor Francis Suarez has been vocal about fostering a tech boom in the city, and now companies are considering relocating to Miami. 

It’s no surprise that Miami has become so desirable in the eyes of these companies. Breslin noted that a mix of lifestyle and financial and cultural appeal is drawing folks to the area. 

“Major tech companies have indicated that they will allow employees to work remotely moving forward, so the geographic boundaries related to big tech have changed,” added Norma Kenyon, the University’s vice provost for innovation and the chief innovation officer at the Miller School of Medicine, which is located in the Miami Health District—a major contributor to the region’s innovation ecosystem. 

But, according to Breslin, this unique moment in Miami’s history didn't come out of the blue. It's something the city has been preparing for over the course of many years. 

“The local tech ecosystem down here has been building for over 15 years now, so there are already tens of thousands of folks working here on building a solid base that makes Miami much more viable as an option than it was a few years ago,” said Breslin. “This is a collective effort on behalf of numerous industries, governments, and institutions to get us to this place.” 

“South Florida’s rising tech boom sets the University of Miami at the forefront of this exciting time for our community,” said Jeffrey Duerk, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost. “There is a symbiosis between our responsibility in providing the highly qualified workforce of the future and outgrowth of new and innovative industries that provide opportunities for university engagement, collaborative research, and learning that will help seed investment and grow the thriving exchange of ideas, information, and best practices. Great tech hubs are built around great university partners, as we’ve seen in Silicon Valley and Austin, Texas. We can do that here because we are that great university partner.” 

As outlined in the Roadmap to Our New Century, the university’s strategic plan, becoming the hub for hemispheric innovation has been a priority. 

“The University of Miami was one of the early advocates of entrepreneurship by starting The Launch Pad in 2008, which has fostered more than 5,000 entrepreneurs who have laid a foundation for our current tech ecosystem,” explained Breslin. “We’ve seen numerous entrepreneurs start high tech companies here in Miami and outside of Miami as well. This culture of innovation has permeated the entire University and inspired some of our graduates to come back to Miami after years away.” 

As Duerk pointed out, this moment could present an even bigger opportunity for students at the University of Miami. And Breslin agreed. 

“As the founder of Refresh Miami, the largest entrepreneurial support organization in South Florida, I have seen students from all of our local institutions express a desire to stay in town but been forced to leave due to a lack of opportunities,” said Breslin. “The sudden influx of venture capital dollars and seasoned entrepreneurs means that we’re going to have more opportunities blossoming here in the coming months and years,” he added. 

“There should be a major boost in the number of internships and jobs available to our students from the new companies created,” he continued. “Additionally, the influx of capital means more of our students will be able to raise the funds needed to start new and innovative companies right here in the Magic City.”   

In addition, Kenyon noted that prominent business newcomers to Miami are interested in hearing about the innovations at the University of Miami. “Specifically, they are interested in scalable innovations and how they might help guide our innovators or investors,” she said. “Biomedical companies that need wet lab space and our collaborators in Converge Miami have shared that the labs in the Cambridge Innovation Center space are in high demand.

According to Devin Rogan, associate director of employer engagement at the University’s Toppel Career Center, the one consistent message that these new companies share is the need and desire to keep talent from Miami in Miami.

“They believe that if they can do that, then this ecosystem has the potential to really thrive in the future,” said Rogan. “If you look around at the other cities that have become hot spots for businesses in the past 15 years—Austin, Texas; Nashville, Tennessee; and Raleigh, North Carolina—they are all located near elite institutions, which allows the companies to hire local talent efficiently and feeds into the market for new and emerging start-ups.”

Rogan noted that this moment is crucial for the University to keep the momentum going and actively pursue new partnerships. “It is imperative that the companies moving here develop a pipeline of talent from local universities. If companies are confident that they will have a consistent and strong hiring pool, then they will feel secure in moving and keeping their offices in Miami,” he explained. “Because of our balanced ratio of in-state and out-of-state students, Miami has already been the top location for UM students after graduating over the last five years, and that number will only increase with more opportunities,” he added.

“I think one direct impact of alumni staying local is the long-term connection to the school. Since alumni will be close, they can remain involved with the University in a variety of ways, which pushes forward the lifelong ’Cane commitment,” Rogan acknowledged. 

Although this is a great movement for the city on a macro level, there will be micro level challenges that need to be addressed, Breslin indicated. 

“More capital coming into the city will raise wages for white collar workers across the board,” said Breslin. “For every tech job created, four additional jobs are created in the local economy. This does run the risk of causing rents to rise and cost of living to increase, so it’s a topic the city leadership needs to be very cognizant of, and they need to make strides to continue supporting workforce housing and up-skilling as well.” 

“Tech brings jobs with above average salaries and the increased demand for goods and services will drive further job growth,” added Kenyon. “The potential downsides are augmentation of our already famous traffic and higher housing prices. Increases in housing prices have already occurred, as the number of people relocating to Miami as a consequence of the pandemic goes beyond tech.”

As Breslin and Kenyon pointed out, there’s a lot Miami can learn from other cities that have experienced this type of accelerated growth. 

“The reality is few other cities have seen such a rapid influx of capital and talent in such a short time. Austin is the other city seeing a surge in growth in the last year, but they’ve had a much more robust or well-established tech industry for quite some time,”  Breslin remarked. 

“It’s exciting to have the buzz. But questions like: How do we plan for rapid growth and sustain our quality of life and natural resources? How do we remain inclusive and ensure that others are not edged out due to rising cost of living? and, How do we make the Miami area safer and keep it that way? need to remain top of mind,” said Kenyon.

According to Breslin, it's critical at this juncture for the University of Miami to establish relationships with the companies in town to make sure curriculum is up to date and flexible enough.

“We need to make sure our students are learning the frameworks and the systems needed to adapt as tech evolves,” he said. “Luckily the U already has one of the leading engineering schools in the region and is also well regarded in entrepreneurship education.” 

Breslin said he expects to see more students in the arts and business majors learning to code and learning the fundamentals of entrepreneurship. He also expects to see students develop and launch new, innovative companies. According to Kenyon, we should see a strong core of educational activity, innovation, and growth in our tech capabilities and output, including connections to companies that drive tech. “This is truly key to the future for our students, as well as our staff and faculty,” she said.