Last winter, Miami, Florida made headlines as tech entrepreneurs, CEOs and investors flocked to its sunny beaches, escaping high costs of living and heavy mask mandates in places like San Francisco and New York. Now, a year later, many remain, setting up notable offices and funds. Take Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel, who bought a home in the city and brought his Founders Fund with him early last year, or Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft, which is in the process of opening its Latin America offices in the city.
With this new growth came great opportunity: especially for Miami’s diverse population. Has there been a spot at the table for Black founders amidst these new funds and company headquarters? Miami Black tech leader Felecia Hatcher says not at all. Times of E reporter Skyler Rossi interviewed Hatcher in September about the city’s new tech growth and her thoughts on its diversity. Despite touting its diversity, the city’s new tech space is still not including people of color, she said.
“Not a lot of checks have been written,” Hatcher said. “Not a lot of real, hardcore, helpful, long-term strategic support and programs have been launched to specifically support Black founders in Miami.”
Responses have been edited for clarity and conciseness:
Skyler Rossi: Has the influx of entrepreneurs and investors that Miami saw in the winter stuck around?
Felecia Hatcher: People are still here. I think for the most part for the next few years it’s gonna be like this. COVID was the thing that was kind of the determining factor. And clearly it’s not going away anytime soon.
It’s a much more favorable tax environment here in the state of Florida than in California, and taxes are honestly a bigger thing than the tech. No one likes to come out and blatantly say that — they like to say they’re coming here for the tech ecosystem. But we know.
I know Miami is a place that prides itself on its diversity. Have the investors and CEOs and entrepreneurs who are coming in created a spot at the table for underrepresented founders — women and people of color?
Not at all. If Miami was as intentional about its diversity as much as it touts it, I wouldn’t have had to start Black Tech Week or the Center for Black Innovation. I think what happened was a lot of people started getting invitations to a lot of dinners. And that was it. And that’s unfortunate. Not a lot of checks have been written. Not a lot of real, hardcore, helpful, long-term strategic support and programs have been launched to specifically support Black founders in Miami.
… For every tech announcement that comes out, there’s infrastructure that’s lacking in Black and low income Hispanic communities here in Miami. Microsoft is opening up a 50,000 square foot building in Brickell. Less than five minutes away, the community centers don’t have appropriate WiFi. I mean, a five minute difference. Why is it like that? If we’re gonna have Peter Thiel’s fund here in Wynwood, but then you have Eneida Hartner Elementary School, as almost a failing school with a computer lab that would literally make you laugh or cry, just depending on where your psyche is in that moment. How does that make sense?
If tech is supposed to be this transformational thing to our community, and just the sheer amount of how quickly tech moves, but then we’re not seeing that happen on a community level. Who’s going to answer that? Someone needs to.
What have you found is the most effective way to support founders of color?
It’s never just one thing. You can have mentors, but then where’s the money? You can have money, but then you need the right kind of structured guidance and mentorship and support. You can have a coding boot camp, but then where are the jobs? I can keep going.
There’s always things that can be done if people are actually really intentional about what diversity is supposed to mean. How many black contractors are going to get contracts to build Microsoft’s 50,000 square foot space? We have suitable companies here. Are the procurement opportunities going to be opening up to Black and Brown companies? I can also rattle off at least 25 opportunities that exist for every problem that I mentioned, but I just want people to be digging deeper and more intentional about what this tech boom actually means for our communities.
Where does that start? And how?
The government has to play a role. Government was funding high tech companies in Silicon Valley $500,000 to launch. To have that level of capital — that if your business does not succeed, you don’t have to pay that money back — that is more than transformation in cities. That gives you a luxury to actually be able to innovate.
… I’ve largely been a critic of the mayor in the past. When you have someone shining a light on, this is a ripe opportunity for people to come and play and work and invest and so on, then you need infrastructure more than anything. … Miami’s ecosystem, in particular, has always been grassroots. We’ve always needed a top down approach, and in a lot of ways, everyone’s best hope and intention about what’s happening right now is that it’s at least closer. But the government has to play a massive role, and not just ride the wave. And that’s what’s happening here.
Earlier this year, on a panel about facilitating the new growth, you mentioned the playbook that was created for the Amazon HQ2 proposal. Was that ever resurrected?
I haven’t heard anything from anyone. I know that there were a lot of commissioners that were starting a tech advisory board. I can tell you some have not started past the media announcement — which is very Miami, but also very unfortunate, because it could do some good.
Do you think that Miami is held on to its identity? I know it’s only been a few months or so but has the tech space made it more generic in a way?
I don’t know if Miami actually has an identity. I think some people will say we’re a melting pot, but that’s definitely not the case. I think it’s more of a salad bowl. It has an individualized lived experience.
Even with the tech ecosystem over the past several years the fight has been from people to take Miami seriously before you can even start talking about it being a tech ecosystem. People just did not. This is the place where you come to vacation, it’s the city that Cocaine Cowboys is based on, and people just happen to do business here. I don’t know if much of that has changed. I don’t know if it will change. Miami has just always had an identity crisis.
Well, thank you. It was so nice to meet you, and I appreciate you sharing your perspective with me.