PARKLAND, FL- Nationally, we are starting to witness more and more businesses start, ramp up, and grow into highly valued companies. Here in Broward, one gets the sense that we are in the early innings of an exciting business renaissance grappling with the startup or gig economy.  We just witnessed a multi-billion-dollar buyout offer of one of our great home-grown Broward based businesses Ultimate Software. With it, we see firsthand a powerful validation of the innovation startup mentality that fuels vibrancy within the local business community. These homegrown success stories provide employment opportunities, cultivates new philanthropic leaders and fosters a strong sense of regional pride. Broward County should do everything that we can to stimulate the private and public sector to encourage a strong foundation and sustainable success.

The good news for our area is that more of these successful startups are out there and on the way. They are presently in the early stages being developed and thought out in the minds of risk-taking entrepreneurs of all ages, genders and socioeconomic backgrounds throughout Broward. We must incubate them, grow them and ultimately keep them and their talent in South Florida.  This benefits all of us!

Everyone has seen “Shark Tank” type shows. Small businesses and out-of-the-box thinkers pitch ideas and business startups for financial backing and support by business greats.   I see more and more of these types of business events around Broward County. Just last week, the Miami Dolphins players put on one such event to bounce around business ideas to help secure their financial future in their post-playing years. I also attended the Coral Springs Innovation Summit, where local startups pitched for financial backing and private sector excitement and support.  More than just fun and games, these local business startups and ideas are the early foundations of future business giants.

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It stands to reason; and none of this should come as a surprise to us. We excite these young leaders at an early age at places like Junior Achievement Biztown and Finance Park, where we give them the seeds of business creativity.  Then, we move them up through the various high school business programs and challenge them to come up with pitches for statewide competitions. Our local universities and colleges continue these efforts and supply detailed knowledge and support.  In the past, that was the end of it for South Florida. These young budding innovators that we created and nurtured took their talents, passions and business ideas to places like Silicon Valley, Boston, and New York.  But now, our area has more to offer and we must capitalize on it, promote it and cultivate a new startup mentality. No longer should we sit idly by and allow this talent to migrate away in search of a more welcoming startup climate. No, we must be that startup climate. We must try to make them want to stay and grow their newfound business ideas and dreams here. Broward County must be able to offer all the ancillary services and support right here. Why should we sit on the sidelines and allow our young home-grown talent to leave? Of course, we shouldn’t, it’s short-sighted of us!  

The good news is Broward County is doing what it needs to do to position our area to create an environment for these startups to flourish and succeed. We are past the times of territorial competition; regionalism is strengthening in South Florida with Brightline adding to the allure of our beautiful home. Plus, our central location among the large South Florida metropolitan region, coupled with our relatively lower office and housing costs compared to high-tax locales make us ideally positioned for future growth.

Our area, with its “TechGateway,” is starting to gain critical mass of tech companies which will help provide the ecosystem for luring more creative tech employees. No more are we perceived as a stale wasteland, but we are correctly being recognized as a place where future tech job seekers can grow with companies in the region. Each success with those companies builds upon the previous creating more and more of the startup tech vibe needed to lure more talent. Not only do these companies allow for various job opportunities in the area with ample ability to move from one company to the other, their teams of employees serve in a mentoring role for newer startups navigating the process in South Florida.

An additional major advantage for our area is that many venture capital firms are looking to invest in new South Florida startups. Many of these firms have a vested interest in seeing Broward succeed in this endeavor because so many of their executives live here. Other entities that traditionally operate outside our area are specifically looking beyond the traditional startup areas like Silicon Valley and others to invest their capital. They realize just based on numbers and chance alone, the odds are that some of the next great companies are forming in the minds of young business disruptors in places like Coral Springs and Miramar is more likely than in Austin or Boston.  Next month, I will attend the “Rise of the Rest” venture capital pitch competition in South Florida. This VC firm will be in South Florida looking for startup companies in Broward and Miami-Dade to invest in and help grow. These types of events further help establish the region as a future TechGateway.

Recently, the Broward County Commission, in collaboration with Nova Southeastern University, held a workshop to look at the possibility of an innovation and incubation hub jointly built on the NSU campus, the NSU Broward Innovation Center.  With buy-in from the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, the business community, government and venture capital players, this would be a transformational development for the Broward County economy.  Our locale is ripe to flourish as the next great innovation zone.  This new incubation hub would be further validation of the local startup model and is something we should support whole heartedly.

These new startups need university-based educational, legal and collaborative disciplines.  We have that with our research universities in the area.  Students and residents need mentoring and a culture of entrepreneurship which we have with our business community, tech corridor and access to key decision makers.  Finally, new startups will require access to capital, which is abundant with many angel and private equity investors living in South Florida.  In short, these new businesses and innovators are going to start somewhere; we should do all we can in Broward to take advantage so they start right here in our backyard. After all, as our Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance says... with our quality of life, weather, cultural flair and “life less taxing” attitude, we are a place to “work in the cloud and live in the sun.”