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South Florida A Good Place

About a month ago, I wrote that now looked like the time to start or grow Internet and tech businesses. "It will be the ones getting in now -- at the new bottom -- who use sound business practices to grow their tech business idea into something substantial. Now looks like the time to make your leap if you have dreams." For those of us based in South Florida, we have to ask is South Florida the place from which to make the leap.

Many say that Florida lacks the trained workforce, the availability of venture capital that you might find in California and New York, and is otherwise a weak place to begin a tech venture. Oscar Coën, the President of Miami Beach based YupiMSN.com, would beg to differ.

In case you're not familiar with YupiMSN.com, it's a Spanish language portal. The closest English language equivalent is probably Yahoo.com.

Founded in 1996 as Yupi.com (when the Internet bubble was still only soap) by Carlos Cardona, who is now the company's Chief Technology Officer, it has taken its lumps, as have most Internet startups born in the late 90's, but it's still here.

Asked if Yupi.com's South Florida location hurt, Mr. Coën says that the answer is a resounding "no." While acknowledging that South Florida historically hasn't had as strong a network of venture capitalists (VCs) as California or New York, he feels that it's improved over the years and is good enough if you have the right business.

He also points out that, "To some extent, the weakness at the professional VC level is more than made up by the excellent private investor network here." These wealthy individuals are the angel investors who often give startups the kick-start it takes to get going. Whatever South Florida's weaknesses with VCs, we sure have more than our fair share of wealthy individuals willing to make speculative investments in startup ventures.

Another criticism of South Florida has been that we lack a trained workforce. Dr. M. Lewis Temares, vice president of Information Technology and dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, implores that it's just not true. "My graduates have to leave the area because they can't find jobs here. We have the trained workforce. What we lack are the jobs."

Oscar Coën feels that while the criticism about the lack of workforce may have been true, it's past tense. "Today, we have more talent than we need here. As a bonus, much of the local talent is bilingual."

Located in South Beach, near the Lincoln Road Mall, he continues, "Look outside my window. It's beautiful and it's a cheap place to live. After all, we have no state or local income taxes. People want to work here. They even stay at the office later because of our location. They want to work late enough so that they can go right from work to the nightlife that's right here."

He goes on to point out that South Florida is just three hours from New York and that his office is just 15 minutes from the airport. All of this adds up to strength, not weakness, when it comes to locating a tech business here.

While Yupi.com had some notable bumps in the road during its brief existence, the fact remains that its South Florida location certainly didn't hinder its ability to grow from a startup to one that attracted and was underwritten by a circle of world-class investors which included Sony Corporation of America, New Corp., Bank of America, and Comcast.

Furthermore, Seattle based Microsoft and Mexico based TELMEX managed to find this South Florida based company in June 2001 so that they could jointly acquire it. So, while it may be true that this isn't the heart of Silicon Valley in California or Silicon Alley in New York City, this is a major league venue that's on the tech map.

About a month ago, I took the position that now is the time to jump in the fray if you want to do a tech startup or expansion of an existing tech enterprise. Today, I add the thought that you should take South Florida seriously as the location for your business. If you have the right team and the right business, the money will find you here and qualified workers will be lining up at your door.

YupiMSN.com is a good example of what you can accomplish here. While it's been tough for every dotcom located everywhere the last couple of years, the fact is that YupiMSN.com has taken its lumps, but is now jointly owned by two major league players. That speaks well for the founders, the company, and South Florida.

Asked if YupiMSN.com is a dotcom success story, Mr. Coën said, "The fact that we're survivors is a success. In the dotcom world, you're either a success or you're gone, so I'd say we're a success."

I say it again. If you want to be a success on the next upswing in the tech economy, you need to have the courage to jump in now, while the recovery is in its early stages. If you don't, you'll be just another "me too."

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