Building Communities Free Enterprise Staff  | November 17, 2016

Better Together: How Miami’s Co-Working Spaces Incubate Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Serial technology entrepreneur Jose “Hutch” Rasco has always done business a little differently, starting with doing business in Miami. Last summer, he co-founded an innovative co-working space called Building in heart of the city. The year before, he launched a health-tech upstart DotHealth there, as well.

Had he listened to the naysayers—and he’s had a few, as he tells it—he might never have started up in The Magic City. After all, it’s no Silicon Valley… at least, not yet. But Rasco was undeterred.

“We’ve been entrepreneurs in Miami our entire lives,” he tells Free Enterprise, referring to himself and his Building co-founder Juan Diego Calle, “and we experienced a lot of pushback from well-intentioned partners and colleagues who told us that, in order to succeed, we needed to relocate our headquarters from Miami to San Francisco or New York. We knew that wasn’t the case, and we set out to prove them wrong.”

Prove them wrong they have, on their own turf, in the downtown Silicon Beach—not in trendier, techie-er Silicon Valley or Silicon Alley.

Rasco and Calle, both young working professionals themselves, are emblematic of a new generation of tech startup founders grinding hard to carve out their own strongholds in Miami’s burgeoning tech ecosystem. The exceptionally culturally diverse metropolitan hub—recently named the second most entrepreneurial city in America—is now home to some 248 startups per 100,000 residents, and an estimated 77,000-plus minority entrepreneurs.

Building, as it’s simply called, is one of about a dozen co-working spaces geared strategically towards tech startups and technology entrepreneurs in Miami. These often monthly member fee-monetized collaborative work environments provide open areas where like-minded, forward-thinking changemakers can come together to swap not only innovative ideas, but also more practical things, like network contacts and other helpful resources.

The basic office supplies and equipment most any nascent company needs to survive are also typically supplied at these co-working hives, such as WiFi connections, conference rooms, printers, desks, and who could forget coffee and loads of it.

In addition to Building, some of the comparable standouts in the area’s rising co-working venue market are WeWork, The LAB Miami, StartHub Miami, Bungalow 24, TamboWorks, and MiamiShared. Each, in its own distinct way, serves as a petri dish for futuretech, fostering the development, launch, and scaling of the city’s technology-focused solopreneurs and startups, many of them bootstrapping a steadily growing array of innovative apps, products, and services.

As for Building, it occupies 90 percent of the three-floor, 15,000-square-foot building it’s in. Inside its heavily-windowed and whiteboard-equipped walls is an eclectic mix of social impact-minded techpreneurs, many of them keen on solving everyday problems in their local communities and beyond.

For example, there’s the five-person team behind ClutchPrep, an edtech startup dedicated to helping college students in STEM classes earn better grades with textbook-specific digital videos; Dvdendo, a seed-stage fintech startup aiming to launch early next year; and Boatrax, maker of an app that helps boaters and sailors log trips and track boat maintenance expenses.

Rounding out the Building pack is Ironhack, a coding school that offers intensive user experience courses, a member of the space since it opened its doors last year, and MealPal, an online lunch delivery subscription service. Since launching from Building earlier this year, Rasco says MealPal has already expanded to six major U.S. cities, with more likely to be added in the months ahead.

Rasco, a social entrepreneur himself, recently served as a trustee on the board of the Awesome Foundation’s Miami Chapter. The grassroots organization awards $1,000 grants to entrepreneurs and social mission-fueled upstarts, like his, making a positive impact on the city’s neighborhoods, and in the greater community at large.

Fellow Miami startup Konsulta—a medical doctor-owned medtech company—recently received a grant from the foundation to help fund an telemedicine system at free children’s healthcare clinics, yet more evidence of the seaside city’s rise in tech startups, healthtech in particular, as part of its larger shift to a digital economy. In its extensive 2016 Innovation That Matters report, The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation ranked Miami 22nd out of 25 top U.S. urban centers fostering entrepreneurial growth and innovation, further underscoring how well-positioned the city is to emerge as a leader in the digital world.

With Miami now nipping at Silicon Valley’s heels—and attracting acclaim from near and far for its budding technology ecosystem—it’s no wonder Rasco decided to dig in and build his own business in his home city. It’s blossomed into a vibrant epicenter for innovation where he says entrepreneurship is far from the lonely place it can sometimes be.

“At Building, we created a space for Miami’s entrepreneurs to work side by side,” he says, “not only to build their own businesses, but to build a better ecosystem for all of us. We’re building the future of Miami, together.”