In The Silicon Tropic

By South Florida entrepreneurs, for South Florida entrepreneurs. All things tech in the sunny Silicon Tropic.

Meet: James Rohrbach of the Miami Innovation Center

James Rohrbach picture with palm trees

Who are you and where are you from? “Jim Rohrbach. I’ve lived in Washington, New York, and now Florida. I started off in the banking business, and later I started a registered investment advisory firm for 6 years, a software company. Back then, software was a license to create money and now it’s even better. Then I went to work for an investment banking firm, rose in the ranks, and leader of the technology practice. We were usually involved in raising up to about 5 million, and we were one of the first early investors of startups. In fact, we invested in Starbucks when there were one or two stores on Pike Street.”

You’re involved in lot of stuff. Tell us a few of them and pick one to focus on:I work with and advise a lot of companies through the Miami Innovation Center for Entrepreneurship. One is a B2B software startup from Mexico, and because they are foreign, they don’t understand the American market. My job is to facilitate their entry into this market. Others include RLTRK and Tesser Health. I’m also working with a small group of startup guys to bring a new, 20,000 square foot, unique coworking style space to downtown Hollywood. It will be called The Venture Factory. Startups will apply to the space, and we will evaluate them. If they meet our criteria, we will invite them to the space and invest in them as well.”

Tag a startup to be interviewed:THX.”

What is a current project or idea you’re working on?The Venture Factory because we’re actively investing in it. It will allow us to do more for the community.”

What productivity apps and codes does your team use?Evernote, Ruby on Rails for Prototyping, Slack, PushBullet (similar to Slack, but it’s cheaper and it works well across platforms).”

Where is your office located? “Executive Suite at 200 South Biscayne, and we have an office at the Corporate Venture Center in Hollywood.”

What do you think Miami needs to become the next startup hub?Higher wages. The wages in Miami need to go up by about 200% to be equal to Silicon Valley and attract a diverse group of talent.”

What has been your biggest challenge for your startup in Miami? “Getting in touch with people in the startup community, and getting them to listen to my ideas. I sent a lot of emails that people never responded to, and it’s prohibitive to South Florida’s growth.”

What are your thoughts on the fundraising landscape in Miami?In my experience, when you raise money, a lot of the investors will just say no. In California, they will say I’m not interested in this opportunity, but you should go talk to…” There also haven’t been any large exits or ultra-successful startups in South Florida to pave the way for generational tech money. In Seattle, you have Starbucks and the resulting wealth; Microsoft and the resulting wealth; Amazon, Adobe, lots of hardware and software companies that started and the people, the community in Seattle is one of the best to raise money in, to get help, because of that.”

What do you think of the sense of community in Miami?I think we have a few issues. It’s pretty cliquey here. People in SoFl create a lot of silos. If everyone could learn that missiles are involved in silos, not people, we would be worlds ahead. South Florida needs an economy based on higher wages instead of real estate. I wanted to put on an event and I asked for mentorship and help, but people weren’t open to the opportunity. That makes uniting the community difficult.”

What do other cities have that Miami needs?When I lived in Seattle, there were two chambers of commerce. In South Florida, there are more than 20. For obvious reasons, it makes it hard for all of them to work together to further one goal and create one community. While this diversity is one of our strengths, it can also be one of our weaknesses.”

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