By Susan Amat
Miami is special for many reasons – among them is that we have the highest percentage of foreign-born individuals in any city in the world. That contributes to the amount of startup activity we enjoy but also is a reason why many of our businesses don’t scale to the levels other regions see over the same time period. The different perspectives and churn of the population itself keeps creativity flowing but the transitional nature of our demographics sometimes hurts an entrepreneur’s ability to reach deep into the local network for support.
The last few weeks I have been neck-deep in Diaspora education and programming. A Diaspora is defined as the scattering of a people from their homeland to other countries. A major goal of the Diaspora initiatives is engaging the community around business opportunities to increase trade and support the concept of global citizenry.
Because a great deal of the residents of South Florida are first or second generation immigrants, the concept of connecting to our region of ancestry is not as radical as it may be in other parts of the United States. Your concept may be a good idea locally, but a game-changing idea abroad.
In examining whether your birthplace or another region is the best place to build your customer base, finding the right experts and partners will make all the difference. You can start with the many foreign Chambers of Commerce in Miami, representing a score of countries including Spain, Brazil and France, but there are many opportunities beyond that.
Begin by looking at your roots. If you are part of a Diaspora group, there may be defined resources to support connections to help your business. That may include grant funding as well as contests to promote trade relations.
The International Diaspora Engagement Alliance (IdEA) programs are a great place to start. In Africa, the Lion@frica program has been doing incredible work, magnifying the tech startups from all over the continent. The African Diaspora Marketplace is a place where entrepreneurs can start making connections to promote their products on a global platform.
The Caribbean IdEA program takes a different approach, focused on building connections between the islands and the Diaspora. Its business competition receives hundreds of submissions to find the most promising concepts, which last year included both high-tech and agricultural businesses. Those selected receive mentoring and support as well as curated connections. Its Caribbean Diaspora Marketplace is up and ready to bridge the countries for an easier path for entrepreneurs.
Another program, which will soon be launched, is La IdEA, focused on the Latin America Diaspora.
The Miami-Dade economic development organization, the Beacon Council, regularly hosts delegations from dozens of countries each year. Contact its office and let them know about your international needs so when the opportunity arises, they may be able to invite you to represent your company, and our community, to foreign visitors. Greater Miami Chamber trade missions are another great way to learn about international opportunities. This year they already went to Peru, the Dominican Republic and Brazil and Mexico is coming up.
Finally, look to your neighbors, many of whom may have spent much of their lives in other countries. Share your concept and understand the needs of their culture. The customers with the greatest need for your product or service may be in a country where you may have never visited, so be patient and open to spending time understanding the country and economic issues. Your efforts could be the beginning of creating jobs and hope both locally and abroad.
Susan Amat is the founder of Venture Hive and the co-founder and executive director of The Launch Pad. In 2012, she was named a Champion of Change at the White House for her work mentoring entrepreneurs. Follow her on Twitter @susanamat