Booting up with 6,000 attendees – 1,000 more than initially expected – the eMerge Americas Techweek concluded Tuesday with organizers and attendees lauding the convention that drew tech innovators and investors from throughout the U.S., the Caribbean and Latin America.
From May 2-6, attendees representing startups and businesses and tech enthusiasts gathered at the Miami Beach Convention Center for the event, which is slated to become an annual fixture in the city to help cement South Florida as an international tech hub. The convention touted more than 200 participating companies and 115 startups this year.
The conference was the brainchild of businessman Manny Medina, former owner of Terremark Worldwide, who said he experienced firsthand the lack of support needed to nurture a burgeoning technology business in South Florida, early in his career.
“This particular idea came to me out of frustration because running a publicly traded technology company out of Miami, or South Florida, is just challenging because Miami is not seen as a technology hub,” Medina said. “I wanted to do something where we helped change that.”
Medina said many attendees were impressed by the substantive content the events’ 150 speakers brought to Miami’s burgeoning technology conversation .
One of the speakers was José A. Quiñonez, Executive Director of San Francisco-based Mission Asset Fund. He was invited to speak at eMerge on his company’s social lending product Lending Circles, started to offer better financing options for low-income citizens through technology. Quiñonez said more than 65 attendees from different organizations met him at the convention, where MAF signed an official partnership agreement with the nonprofit Catalyst Miami.
“We’re going to be doing the program with them initially and then we’re going to be looking for other organizations to add to the mix,” Quiñonez said. “We came to meet the local folks and we got the chance to meet other foundation heads like the Knight Foundation. Everybody was at the table, as it were. “
Along with the 220 participating companies that networked at the convention, events included the Startup Village, where more than 115 startups from around the globe had tables and networked on the convention floor and a Launch Competition, where the top startup companies presented and competed for $150,000 in prizes. Tech enthusiasts also competed for $30,000 with ideas to help solve problems in emerging markets.
Young entrepreneurs participated in the convention’s Youth Biz Plan Challenge and the youth business expo. Attendee Kristy Vale, a senior in high school, represented her family’s business, Phantom’s Custom Bikes.
Vale said that with only an hour at the convention Tuesday, she had already connected with a local motorcycle company.
“People are really taking advantage of this opportunity, especially young people,” said Patricia Peña, social media specialist for the Weston-based tech marketing firm Optime Consulting.
Medina said the events exceeded his expectations, but that plans for next year will include improvements.
“Miami is the unofficial capital of Latin America for everything except for technology. What we’re trying to do here is by creating this gathering to spark what is already happening,” Medina said. “You have a lot of incubators, a lot of accelerators, a lot of startups, but we brought this massive amount of people here to accelerate that.”