It wasn't long after Brad Saft, a lifelong New Yorker, launched his education-focused startup in the Northeast that he found his attention drifting south.
After several trips to South Florida, he became enamored with the sunshine, lifestyle, and the comparatively lower cost of living. He soon moved his business, EverBright Media, to West Palm Beach.
Saft found more than pristine beaches and year-round warm temperatures in the region. EverBright Media, No. 135 on the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing private companies, benefited from the region's strong infrastructure--including incubators and university entrepreneurship programs--for startups.
Saft is not the only entrepreneur who's bypassed hubs like Silicon Valley and New York City in favor of South Florida. The region is emerging as a hotbed for startups, local entrepreneurs say, with 139 companies on the Inc. 5000 list based in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach metro area. No one particular industry is flourishing in the region--everything from health technology to media to food boast fast-growing companies.
Locals say the startup and innovation culture has been helped by the area's international flavor. Miami's status as the gateway to Latin America has drawn an influx of immigrants and ideas, says Aaron Lee, president-elect of the South Florida chapter of Entrepreneurs' Organization, a peer-to-peer network of business owners.
"That mixture of different cultures breeds ideas, and that doesn't happen in a lot of cities," says Lee, adding that the area has also seen transplants from Europe and the northeast United States.
In their wake have followed startup accelerators, such as the LAB Miami, and programs at local universities, such as the University of Miami and Florida Atlantic University, geared toward promoting startups.
There are also economic benefits to relocating to South Florida, such as the lack of income tax in the state, and cheaper living costs than can be found many other startup hubs around the country. The average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Miami is about $1,557, compared with $2,993 in New York City and $3,313 in San Francisco.
Residents also point out that the region is just a fun place for young people to move to start their own companies.
"I think it's the climate, the sexiness, the diverse culture we have," says Barry Kates, current president of the Entrepreneurs' Organization.
Kates and others predict the growth of South Florida's startup community will only continue, saying it's a matter of time before the area catches up with traditional hubs like New York City and Boston.
"Those cities have years on us," Kates says. "If anything, we're clearly a pioneer in the new cultural movement."