Incubators are hatching entrepreneurs at a torrid pace

Business owners are flying into Miami from Silicon Valley, and not just for the beautiful beaches and vibrant night life.

“Entrepreneurship today is totally different than when I was young,” said Orion Nevel, founder of Orion Herbs in Miami. “It’s definitely more glorified and noble. Millennials see it as something they can do for a living. It’s growing in popularity.”

In South Florida, startup incubators such as The Launch Pad and The Idea Center are helping people convert their dreams into realities. Such programs have thrust the region into the forefront of entrepreneurship. In fact, Miami ranks No. 1 in startup activity, according to the Kauffman Foundation’s 2017 Index of Startup Activity.

High school students take a Girls who Code class at Miami Dade College’s Idea Center. (Photo by Ruhi Mansey)

In 2008, William Scott Green, the University of Miami’s senior vice provost and dean of undergraduate education, was speaking to deans of area universities about a future career center in South Florida. Many expressed concerns that students didn’t have the means to create their own jobs.

“They didn’t really know how to help those people who didn’t necessarily want to get a job working for other people,” said William Silverman, director of The Launch Pad at the University of Miami. “The Launch Pad was thus born as a place for people that wanted to strike out on their own.”

Since opening, The Launch Pad has successfully led over 460 students and alumni through the path of creating a company. The career-service organization began with the goal of promoting entrepreneurship as a legitimate career path. Today, students all across campus are familiar with the program.

The Launch Pad is free to University of Miami students and alumni, and uses indirect methods such as questioning and critical thinking to help its mentees identify the problems that their businesses are trying to solve.

Students who approach The Launch Pad are mentored by trained undergraduate and graduate students in their early ventures, and eventually by successful entrepreneurs in the South Florida community.

Although thousands enter The Launch Pad’s doors, only 15 percent follow through with the creation of a company. The entrepreneurs’ success isn’t credited only to the Launch Pad, but to their passion and work ethic.

“Business is a lot of passion, but it comes down to putting it on paper,” said Nevel, whose company, mentored by The Launch Pad, creates medicinal products for pharmaceutical use. Nevel’s father was an herbal medicine acupuncturist and his mother was a massage therapist, so it was a natural passion.

Nevel approached the Launch Pad in 2012 to turn that passion into a functioning company.

“They introduced the dynamics of opening a young business operation,” Nevel said. “They taught me how to use higher-level tools in financial modeling, how to understand business proposals.”

Entrepreneurs like Nevel face dilemmas such as adapting to the market, believing in themselves and marketing their product. When they encounter problems, startup incubators are significant resources that offer customized solutions.

While The Launch Pad serves alumni and students, other programs are available to cater to the larger South Florida community. The Idea Center opened at Miami Dade College in 2014 through the collaboration of Leandro Finol and the James L. Knight Foundation. It serves more than 5,000 people each year, the majority of whom are from low-income neighborhoods.

Damian Thurman, vice president and chief innovation officer of The Idea Center, says that his students are eager to solve the problems that they face each day.

“Most of our students are underserved,” Thurman said. “In fact, over 50 percent are in poverty. They are driven by the mission to serve and provide an opportunity.”

In addition to personal entrepreneurial services, The Idea Center also has innovation workshops that provide courses and degrees on digital marketing, programming, how to use drones and more. These cutting-edge programs equip students with the skillset to take advantage of the future.

“Our focus on career services really isn’t going to change,” Silverman said. “We plan to get more intimately integrated into other departments across the college.”

Going forward, observers believe the demand for innovation and entrepreneurship in South Florida will ensure a continued influx of business owners, aspiring entrepreneurs and students in South Florida.

Watch this video to learn more about her story.