Getting New Ventures in the Gables – Time to Re-Brand? 

Entrepreneurialism in the Gables Is Alive and Well, but the City Could Be Getting a Larger Share of New Ventures 

Real-estate developer Rishi Kapoor was clearly onto something when he launched a co-working space in downtown Coral Gables in late 2020. Today, his Forum center hosts some 40 ventures, most with one or two people per office. Renters are mainly professionals, from lawyers to architects to designers. Forum offers them support services on-site. Administration, marketing and even a business coach. 

Some of the tenants are new to the area. They’ve come from the U.S. Northeast or the Pacific Coast since Covid-19 surfaced, lured by lower taxes, warm weather and the buzz around South Florida’s booming eco-system of tech and finance companies dubbed the “Miami Movement.” 

Rishi Kapoor

“We have people in Forum and our building who are relocators from New York and California. It’s a real migration story due to our business climate,” says Kapoor. “And we’re in the early innings.” 

Coral Gables long has welcomed business owners and their ventures. After all, the city was started by Pennsylvania-born real-estate entrepreneur George Merrick, and many successful entrepreneurs have opted to live here since. Yet these days, not all types of founders are flocking to the City Beautiful. While scores of professionals set up shop, many of the new tech start-ups, venture-capital firms and larger emerging businesses are looking elsewhere, especially in denser Miami and its Brickell, Wynwood, and Design District. 

And that poses a challenge: How can the Gables build on its reputation as a well-planned, affluent city attracting professional service providers, upscale restauranteurs, and corporate headquarters to also lure more of the edgy tech and finance companies moving south or sprouting locally? Is greater promotion or new infrastructure needed? Is it time for a re-brand? 

Creating a Haven for Entrepreneurs

With so much money and talent pouring into the area (in the last year nearly three dozen companies have committed to projects in Miami-Dade County, creating some 5,000 jobs) the city is exploring how best to compete in the changing marketplace. It’s working on an economic study with urban planner Ned Murray of the Metropolitan Center at Florida International University to see how Coral Gables stacks up and where it’s most likely to succeed in attracting and growing businesses. 

Study results are expected late this year, says Julian Perez, director of the city’s economic development office. “The study will look at what would be complementary to companies in Coral Gables, so we can target appropriately and sustainably,” he says. 

 Julian Perez, director of the city’s economic development office
Julian Perez, Director of the City’s Economic Development Office

In addition, the city aims to create an Innovation District “to encourage tech companies to come,” Perez says. It seeks to re-zone the Merrick Park area south of Bird Road, between Le Jeune and Ponce de Leon, for the district. Plans call for equipping buildings there with high band-width fiber-optic cable and other infrastructure key for tech businesses, says Perez. 

Coral Gables already has many strengths to entice a larger share of new tech and finance ventures. The well-heeled city has long attracted successful local entrepreneurs, once their businesses prosper. The Mas family behind what’s now the Fortune 500 company MasTec, for instance, moved their corporate headquarters to the Gables after founders bought homes in the area. Manny Medina chose the city for his newer Cyxtera and Appgate tech ventures after selling Miami-based Terremark in a $2 billion deal. 

Some organizations catering to entrepreneurs also work from the Gables. The University of Miami opened The Launch Pad entrepreneurship center in 2008, creating a model now used at universities nationwide. Medina launched his eMerge Americas program in the city a decade ago to develop South Florida as a tech hub, helping lay the foundation for today’s tech boom. And global nonprofit Endeavor set up its first U.S. office here in 2013, assisting founders to speed business growth. Yet there are drawbacks. Tech ventures with larger, younger staffs tend to favor downtown Miami over the Gables, says Laura Kozelouzek, CEO and founder of Quest Work- spaces, which operates 10 co-working locations in Florida and New York. One reason: Easier access to housing for employees. 

Getting New Ventures

“Those founders are trying to figure out where their teams are going to live. That’s the biggest driver of their location decisions,” says Kozelouzek. The Brickell area offers numerous high-rise apartments that young employees can afford to rent and maybe share. Many residents in that dense urban core opt not to own cars. In the Gables, contrariwise, houses prevail, apartment options are more limited, and cars abound. 

Today, Quest rents space in its Gables locale to some 55 ventures, most offering professional services and nearly all employing fewer than five people, Kozelouzek says. Another 155 companies keep a virtual address at its Ponce de Leon location, tapping the cachet of the upscale Gables brand. 

Start-up Entrepreneurs: Test Your Ideas First 

Nurturing and attracting entrepreneurs and their ventures requires attention to different stages in the business life cycle. Brian Breslin sees the challenges facing start-ups as director of UM’s The Launch Pad. The center helps students, alum, and staff who create businesses, assisting some 330 ventures annually – many in food, fashion or phone apps, Breslin says. Recently, he’s been seeing a greater sophistication in some endeavors, and more older people deciding to launch businesses. 

Getting New Ventures

Breslin defines entrepreneurship as “using business as a problem-solving tool,” and says many entrepreneurs make the same error starting out: They fail to test their business ideas to make sure the market accepts their solution to the problem. 

“The key mistake is spending too much money before they’ve validated their idea,” perhaps taking out a multi-year lease on a property or “ordering 100,000 units of an item before you’ve figured out if anyone wants one,” says Breslin. “And it’s not just college students who do that. We work with alum and staff who pull out their life savings for some idea they think is the bee’s knees,” without testing their thesis. 

Breslin sees UM gaining importance in South Florida’s booming tech ecosystem. With talent in high demand, more founders and financiers are getting involved with the university. “They’re looking to give back, sometimes through mentoring, and to use the U as a feeder for their staff,” says Breslin. “Skills in engineering, marketing, and tech, that’s where the demand is coming from.” 

Still, he doesn’t see many 20-somethings straight out of the U setting up tech ventures in the Gables. “From a cost perspective, there are cheaper neighborhoods with denser populations,” he says. To gain more “Miami Movement” business, he suggests Coral Gables target private-equity or venture-capital firms, especially their top executives, who likely seek ample houses for their families. 

Some Recent Funding Deals for Coral Gables Companies

– Cyxtera Technologies Data-center Network: Went Public on the Nasdaq Exchange in July
– Paycargo, Cloud-based Platform to Pay for Freight Moves: $125 Million Series B in June
– Pincho Factory, Fast-casual Restaurant: $20 Million Majority Purchase in September
– Aprende Institute, Online Vocational Education in Spanish: $22 Million Series a for Expansion in October
– Appgate, Cybersecurity Software: Went Public in October, Expects to Trade on Nyse or Nasdaq in 2022

*source: Company Announcements,

Scaling Up Ventures Through Networks 

As director of the Miami office of nonprofit Endeavor, Claudia Duran helps early-stage companies soar. In its first eight years, the office has accepted 51 entrepreneurs from 32 South Florida companies into Endeavor’s ultra-selective worldwide network, aiming to grow each business at least tenfold. The 32 local ventures already have created more than 3,000 jobs and have revenues topping $500 million a year, says Duran. 

Endeavor - Getting New Ventures

That prestigious group features two Gables-based companies that are quickly expanding: Pincho Factory, the fast-casual restaurant chain that received a $20 million majority investment from private equity firm Mercato Partners’ Savory Fund in September; and Aprende Institute, the vocational education platform in Spanish that raised $22 million in October in a funding round led by Valor Capital Group. “Our job is to connect people,” says Duran. “We believe in the power of the network. The more you connect people, the better you can get the right capital.” 

Raising capital locally used to be hard for South Florida ventures, because local groups invested in little more than small and early angel or seed rounds, Duran says. But local funding has become easier in the past few years, since Japan’s Softbank launched its $5 billion Latin American fund and its $100 million-plus Miami Initiative from Miami, attracting other venture-capital groups to the region. “Local founders now have an opportunity to pitch locally to a broader group of VCs that also are investing in A and B rounds,” says Duran. “They don’t have to fly to California or New York to make those pitches.” 

For Duran, connecting people also means attending and some- times hosting events for South Florida’s entrepreneurial and tech community. Recently, she’s organized a few meet-ups in Coral Gables, including one for female founders held at Cebada’s rooftop bar and restaurant on Giralda. To raise the Gables profile in such circles, she suggests Gables locales host more happy hours and meet-ups, like the ones popular in Wynwood. The city also might consider a flagship event yearly, featuring noted Gables entrepreneurs as speakers. “And there could be more activities with the University of Miami to showcase talent for start-ups,” says Duran. 

Trimming Barriers to Entry in a “Smart City” 

Mark Trowbridge, CEO and president of the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce, sees unparalleled room for entrepreneurship in the city now, as more people leave corporate jobs to strike out on their own in what some call “The Great Resignation.” The Gables offers some dozen co-working spaces that can host professionals and others: WeWork, Quest, Regus, Pipeline, Forum and just-opened Grou, among them. 

Trowbridge defines entrepreneurship in a much broader context than high-tech startups, however. “Every business that begins with
a dream can be defined as a startup, and thus is by its very character entrepreneurial. Whether it’s a gift shop, a vegan bakery, or a one-person firm that designs on-line apps, all are created and driven by entrepreneurs,” says Trowbridge. “From that point of view, the Gables is awash in small, entrepreneurial ventures, and has been since our earliest days. We used to call them Mom and Pops, but in essence, these were startups that grew from a single idea. Now, if you are talking about high-tech startups that then seek investors to help them scale up, that is another matter.” 

Trowbridge acknowledges there are some barriers to entry for ventures seeking larger, more traditional workspaces. Coral Gables has stricter building and operating codes than most municipalities, and meeting those requirements can sometimes add a month or more to the schedule for launching a business. “We cross every ‘T’ and dot every ‘I’ here in the city,” says Trowbridge. 

To speed the set-up process, Coral Gables is now offering expedited permitting in certain cases, and the city is putting more of its procedures and data online for easier compliance, says economic development chief Perez. Indeed, the Gables has ranked No. 1 among U.S. participants for the last two years in the Open Cities Index, a ranking by Public Sector Digest on how cities use open data to help their residents. 

“Coral Gables has a reputation of being buttoned up and a little formal, but that’s changing every day,” Trowbridge says. “We’re becoming a leading city for our size among smart cities, not only for infrastructure but how we deal with business.” 

Kapoor certainly embraces the Gables for his upscale businesses. The UM grad recently moved the headquarters for his real-estate company, Location Ventures, from Coconut Grove to Coral Gables. That office now employs about 45 people. He was drawn to the city by its safety, walkability, restaurants, cleanliness, proximity to the airport, easy access to highways, and its pro-business environment. 

Indeed, he touts those attributes to sign up tenants for his downtown Forum co-working space, including one company fresh from California and active in venture-capital. “There’s so much upside,” says Kapoor, optimistic about the future for business in the Gables. “It’s called the City Beautiful for a reason.” 

Fastest-growing U.s. Metro Areas for Entrepreneurs

Metro Area GrowthTop Industries
Greater Orlando 46%Software & It Services, Corporate Services, Media & Communications
Greater Miami45%Entertainment, Finance, Manfacturing
Greater Tampa 43%Software & It Services, Media & Communications, Healthcare
Greater Houston41%Software & It Services, Corporate Services, Consumer Goods
Greater Dallas 40%Manufacturing, Design, Finance
Source: Linkedin Economic. Shows Growth of Companies Founded Between July 2018-july 2019 and July 2020-july2021, Ranked by Metro Area, and New Companies by Industry.