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By Nikki Cabus

Miami-Dade County receives over $13.5 million to improve digital equity in rural communities

Read Time 4 Minutes

Miami-Dade County has received over $13.5 million in digital equity grant funding as part of the Florida Commerce Office of Broadband’s first round of subgrants to renovate and construct multi-purpose community buildings with the goal of enhancing access and resources for health monitoring, work and education in rural communities.

Miami-Dade County Information Technology Department (ITD)’s Local Technology Planning Team (LTPT) worked with The Miami Foundation and Miami Connected to receive this funding for six community partners to improve neighborhood facilities that provide residents with much needed digital literacy and internet services.

Miami Connected launched in the spring of 2021 as a three-year initiative with the goal of supporting 60,000 families to bridge the digital divide. Their approach to addressing the divide is holistic, beginning with a focus on internet connectivity and progressing all the way to careers in technology. Miami Connected is an effort to bring no-cost broadband internet service, digital skills training, and career opportunities in technology to students and their families in Miami-Dade County. Currently, more than one in five Miami-Dade County residents are disconnected from the internet, and Miami is the second least-connected large city in the United States.

“Access to broadband connectivity is a priority to make our community future ready, and it must be available to all just like water and electricity,” said Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. “To achieve this, we are fostering community partnerships and paving the way towards a more connected and empowered Miami-Dade. I am committed to making sure that opportunity reaches every neighborhood and every resident in our county.”

Among the grantees, Miami Connected and the LTPT supported the following projects where the impact will be felt as early as fall 2024:

  • Centro Campesino Community Center granted $4,000,000
  • Miami Dade College (POWER) granted $4,000,000
  • SEEK Foundation (SMART TECH Health Hub) granted $4,000,000 (Read full article here.)
  • CareerSource South Florida, in partnership with the Miami-Dade County Public Library System, granted $1,247,397
  • Bridge to Hope granted $321,075
  • Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired granted $177,835

For the second round of subgrant funding from Florida Commerce, the LTPT is supporting eight applications that will impact areas in most need. The grants and programs supported by the LTPT will ensure that these communities receive services from CareerSource South Florida workforce support, computer devices and training, to reliable broadband and internet access.

“Technology connects us to the world, education, jobs, and most importantly, to each other,” said Margaret Brisbane, Information Technology Department Director and Chief Information Officer of Miami-Dade County. “When our community has the necessary resources to engage in the digital economy, we cultivate opportunity and growth. This synergy fosters new innovation and solutions, enriching our economy in a more inclusive and dynamic manner. Investments of this magnitude secure resources that ignite the path towards a more inclusive future.”

These grants advance Miami-Dade County’s, launched last year in partnership with the Miami Foundation and Miami Connected as part of Mayor Levine Cava’s strategic commitment to bridging the digital divide to ensure County residents have access to fast, affordable and reliable internet access.

“As we continue to invest in broadband expansion, we recognize that access to high-speed internet is not just a convenience but an economic necessity. In today’s innovation-driven economy, entrepreneurship and innovation thrive where there is robust digital infrastructure. By ensuring every corner of Miami-Dade has access to broadband, we are laying the foundation for a strong economy that benefits all residents,” emphasized the Chief Innovation and Economic Development Officer Francesca de Quesada Covey.

“Four years ago, we committed to connecting 60,000 families to broadband internet throughout Greater Miami. Today, that number is 189,185,” remarked Rebecca Fishman Lipsey, President/CEO of The Miami Foundation. “We are proud to stand with Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, non-profit partners and allies in our collective effort to achieve digital equity. Together, we forge ahead in our unwavering dedication to creating a more connected and inclusive community. We are not finished yet.”

Connectivity and accessibility are necessary for our communities to thrive. By leveraging the County’s comprehensive Geospatial Information system (GIS) analytics and diverse datasets, the Information Technology Department developed the Broadband and Digital Equity Data Mapping Solution tool to identify opportunity zones for broadband expansion. The Broadband and Digital Equity Data Mapping Solution tool was awarded the CIO 100 Award for its sophistication and effectiveness for broadband expansion where 89% of families have reported increased opportunities.

For more information, visit the Broadband and Digital Equity website or contact Eileen Hernandez.

By Nikki Cabus

Innovation leader Leigh-Ann Buchanan steps down as leader of aīre ventures – What’s next?

Read Time 4 Minutes

After seven years, Leigh-Ann Buchanan, is stepping down as President of aīre ventures.

Leigh-Ann has been a staple leader in the tech and innovation ecosystem in South Florida known for her passion and work building a more inclusive and equitable ecosystem. As the founding executive of aīre ventures, a venture studio focused on scaling tech and innovation solutions addressing systemic gaps in access, opportunity and racial equity, Leigh-Ann lead strategic efforts around innovation for the social impact.

As part of the aīre ventures portfolio, Leigh-Ann was able to launch multiple projects portfolio companies including Tech Equity Miami, Opportunity Connect, Talent Scout, Passport, REDI Scorecard, Capital Days, Venture Café and more. Under her leadership, the portfolio ventures collectively served more than 55,000 innovators, 85 local small business entrepreneurs of color, and over 750 students from underrepresented backgrounds over 4000 hours of entrepreneurial support in collaboration with over 1000 organizations and partners. Leigh-Ann has raised over $5.5 million in equity free capital to fund the projects and helped syndicate over $55 million in philanthropic capital for digital equity initiatives. Impressively, these efforts served a diverse demographic of over 70% people of color and 49% women.

Leigh-Ann did share that although she is stepping down that she will continue to support the organization as a strategic advisor and overall equity-driven efforts that leverage tech, innovation and social investment to transform communities.

In a social media post, Leigh-Ann wrote, “I’m delighted to pass the baton to Paulina (Nina) Cousiño Parada who has served as Managing Director since late 2022. Nina brings a wealth of experience in both the public and nonprofit sector to her new role and has been an aīre ventures team member since 2019. I am confident that aīre ventures will continue to thrive in the capable hands of Nina, our dynamic team, and dedicated board.”

Paulina has been the Strategy and Impact Manager leading the development and implementation of an impact and evaluation strategy across aīre ventures. She has experience working in the public sector in Chile, and the nonprofit sector in Boston, where she worked for The Social Innovation Forum, an organization dedicated to accelerating and building the capacity of nonprofits in the Boston area. She has worked in an array of roles throughout her career including strategic planning, impact and program evaluation, and fundraising and development. After graduating in 2018 with an MBA in Public and Nonprofit Management from Boston University, Paulina moved to Miami where she now resides.

Leigh-Ann, a former commercial litigation and white collar defense lawyer loves strategy. After finding her way into tech in 2016, she has continued to use her love of strategy as an ecosystem builder and voice for the underrepresented population in South Florida. She has been very successful in hiring great professionals to lead the aīre ventures portfolio companies continually aiming to foster a “culture of excellence by prioritizing people, purposeful work, and excellence in impact.”

 

What’s next for Leigh-Ann?

Leigh-Ann has has accepted the role as President of the newly formed Miami-Dade Innovation Authority Inc. (Innovation Authority).

During her recent State of the County Address, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava announced county grant funding for the newly formed nonprofit which was created to support equitable, sustainable economic growth driven in partnership between private and public sector innovation.

The Innovation Authority was established with seed funding commitments of $3 million from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, $3 million from Citadel CEO Ken Griffin, and $3 million from Miami-Dade County to provide grants to innovative companies working to solve pressing community challenges in climate, health, housing, transit, and more.

“With pilot programs and an openness to creative solutions, we are flipping the way government does business by inviting businesses to pilot their innovations with us,” said County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.

Working hand in hand with private sector funders to support best-in-class startups, the organization will leverage private investment dollars to maximize their impact –applying seed funding from the County to identify and solve local problems, and creating a path for successful entrepreneurs to scale and access private funding.

The Innovation Authority has three focus areas:

  • Challenge Grants: to issue and oversee challenge grants designed to test and validate technology,
  • Pipeline Support: to work in collaboration with local academic institutions to help scaling companies find talent and build a strong corporate culture based out of Miami-Dade
  • Tech Ecosystem Enhancement: to continue the rapid growth of the tech sector and to cement Miami-Dade as a world-class location for innovation.

The Innovation Authority’s Board of Directors has appointed Leigh-Ann A. Buchanan, Esq., as President to lead the launch of the organization and support its strategic vision to scale solutions for people most affected by critical challenges, improve economic and social outcomes, and make Miami-Dade a world class capital for high growth companies.

Congratulations, Leigh-Ann!!

By Nikki Cabus

BCEx and Tech Hub celebrate Black Founders at exclusive annual brunch

Read Time 3 Minutes

The Broward College Entrepreneurship Experience, or “BCEx,” and South Florida Tech Hub collaborated to host the 2nd Annual Black Founders Brunch in an effort to bring together black entrepreneurs across the region to support stronger relationships in the back startup community.

The exclusive event was held on Saturday, February 25th at the Beach House in Pompano Beach with approximately 35 startup founders from across all three South Florida counties in attendance.

The guest speaker of the morning was BCEx Faculty Coordinator and Associate Dean (AD) of the Institute of Public Safety at Broward College, Rudy Jean-Bart. He is also the college’s Chair of the Advisory Council for the Advancement of Diversity, Equity, (ACADEI) and Inclusion. The Advisory Council for the Advancement of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ACADEI) oversees the College’s focus across seven areas— accountability, benchmark best practices, cultural competence, communication and discussion, training and education, policy/procedure/practice, and community outreach.

A former African American history professor, Jean-Bart, was exposed to the meaning of activism at a very young age. He has always been at the forefront of issues such as racial equity and social justice, participating as a keynote speaker and panelist in many events. Jean-Bart spoke to the founders on the topic of ‘Generational Trauma to Generational Wealth.’

Jean-Bart closed his speech out by saying, “It is important that people believe in the power and the ability of Black founders.”

This quote resonated with attendees and spoke to the importance of supporting, celebrating, and elevating minority founders as we continue to grow the tech ecosystem in South Florida. As an ecosystem, we must be intentional about inclusion of our founders from all corners of the region ensuring inclusion and overall innovation for the region.

According to a recent Tech Crunch article, “In total, U.S. Black founders raised an estimated $2.254 billion out of the $215.9 billion in U.S. venture capital allocated last year. That’s about 1%, a slight drop from the 1.3% raised in 2021.” It seems like no matter the efforts of organizations across the country working to diversify funding and across all marginalized groups of founders, that black founders continually remain around the 1% mark for funding. This percentage has stayed stagnant even though the overall VC numbers continue to rise.

Assistant Director of BCEx, Quinella (Queen) Davis, told South Florida Tech Hub that these events are crucial to ensuring strong connections in the black founder community, but also making sure they have connections to industry organizations such as Tech Hub and are able to see themselves in other successful entrepreneurs and leaders such as keynote speaker, Jean-Bart.

“I’d like to give a special thank you to Rudy Jean-Bart for delivering an impactful message, sharing valuable information about generational wealth, and helping our founders discover ways to think differently about the businesses we develop to have an everlasting presence in the tech ecosystem,” stated Davis.

BCEx helps Broward College students, faculty, and staff cultivate their entrepreneurial mindset and turn their ideas into reality by launching high-quality businesses at little-to-no cost. Started in 2018, BCEx began assisting participants innovate, create, and prepare for the future of work through mentorship, coaching, funding, and training.

Participants in BCEx receive support through six main strategies: Campus Accelerators and Events at Broward College, Student Learning at Broward College, the Innovation Hub at Broward College, LaunchBC – the BCEx business accelerator, the J. David Armstrong, Jr. Student Venture Fund, and Partnership Opportunities with Broward College.

The next Ideation Phase cohort is a student-community friendly introduction to the entrepreneurial mindset, customer discovery and business model canvas. Students, faculty, staff and community will develop or refine your business idea by focusing on your customer segment and value proposition while finding your WHY. This 4-6 week virtual program will prepare you for the next phase while helping you articulate a well-developed idea.

To learn more about the next cohort that begins March 21st, visit https://forms.gle/ToscjC3CfTDT6M1k7

Miami-Dade County receives over $13.5 million to improve digital equity in rural communities
Innovation leader Leigh-Ann Buchanan steps down as leader of aīre ventures – What’s next?
BCEx and Tech Hub celebrate Black Founders at exclusive annual brunch