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 eMerge: Community Building and Seeding a Tech Ecosystem
Recently I attended and spoke at the eMerge Americas Conference. For the uninitiated, eMerge Americas is a Miami based community building organization focused on the tech sector. Sometimes people describe its main conference as “SWSW for Miami.”
The conference was nothing short of spectacular. Today Dan (who is a Managing Director and Advisor to eMerge and one of the lead organizers of the conference) and I breakdown why community building and organizations like eMerge are critical in seeding and building a tech hub from the ground up.
Hope you enjoy!
P.S. Check out the piece Dan and I wrote about the Opportunity of Chaos last fall.
-LJW and Dan
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Community building is an essential part of any thriving ecosystem, organization and company. In many technology sectors today, community building is critically important. For example, in Web3, every team talks about community. In the modern day, products that have thriving communities tend to do better than those that don’t (all else being equal).
But community building is also insanely hard, especially when it comes to seeding an entire ecosystem.
In recent years, Miami has become a major tech hub. And if you follow the headlines, it sometimes feels like it happened over night.
Of course it didn’t.
Miami's tech ecosystem has flourished thanks to organizations like eMerge.
eMerge has played a crucial role in seeding an entire ecosystem through its craft — community building.
At heart, eMerge is a community building organization.
Here is how eMerge describes itself:
At eMerge Americas, we’re transforming Miami into a global tech hub by partnering with the entire tech and entrepreneurial ecosystem, from government to higher-ed, startups to investors, corporate enterprises to media. We’re connecting the dots – between talent, capital and entrepreneurs.
eMerge does a lot of community building through events and organizing programs all year round.
Its role is to bring people from all walks of life together. It’s built an ecosystem where private companies, public entities, media, investors, startups, higher education, etc all come together to collaborate with the goal of transforming Miami into a premier tech hub.
All of eMerge activities culminate in its hallmark event, a multi-day conference where the who’s who of the Miami ecosystem and beyond come together — industry leaders, founders, builders, investors, government, you name it.
This year Tom Brady and Eric Schmidt were the headline speakers. Brady talked about the importance of resilience. Schmidt talked about the future of AI. The agenda was jammed pack and covered all things tech.
Community Building at Its Core
All in all, tens of thousands of people from across the world showed up.
Unlike many conferences, which try to sell people on the speakers and talks, eMerge focused on the one thing that resonated with everyone — the Miami community.
The eMerge team understands that at heart, community building is about creating a sense of belonging and interconnectedness among a bunch of individuals.
It’s about bringing people together.
Some observations on why we thought this was such a great conference
The Importance of In-Person Elements in Community Building
While online platforms have increasingly become essential for communication and collaboration, there is undeniable value to in-person elements in community-building activities. Face-to-face interactions offer a level of authenticity, empathy, and trust that is difficult to replicate through digital means.
In-person events create an environment conducive to spontaneous conversations, networking, and collaboration, which are essential for building strong communities. At eMerge, attendees engaged in meaningful discussions, shared ideas, and developed personal and professional connections.
These interactions contribute to a sense of belonging.
At the eMerge conference, it felt like people genuinely wanted to be there. A simple but important point.
I remember waiting in line to pick up my badge and overhearing people talking about how this was their 2nd or 3rd time at eMerge. Everywhere you turned it seemed like people were running into each other and introducing their friends to their other friends.
Creating an Operationally Efficient Event Experience
For anyone who has planned an event, the anxiety that comes from making sure all the operations run smoothly is real.
A critical aspect of running successful events is ensuring that they feel like well-oiled machines, providing a seamless experience for attendees. From the moment an attendee walks in, they should feel as if they are consuming a high-quality product.
Managing a large scale event involves organizing logistical aspects such as venue selection, registration, agenda planning, and catering to coordinating with speakers, sponsors, and volunteers.
All of these things matter, from the big details like who is speaking to the little details like where the food is located. Operations end up making or breaking an event because events at the end of the day are “experience goods.”
And for a tech conference pushing a tech ecosystem forward, eMerge did a great job of “drinking it’s own champagne” (to borrow a SAAS term). The conference was powered by a bunch of technology, such as a conference app that allowed you to build your own agenda and connect with people ahead of time. This helped bridge the gap between between connecting digitally and meeting physically.
Fostering Connection and Relationships in Large-Scale Events
A key challenge of organizing large-scale events is striking the right balance between accommodating thousands of attendees while still fostering micro-relationships and interactions.
eMerge struck the perfect balance between including many different ways for people to connect, from breakout sessions, workshops, smaller format talks, etc. to having dedicated space for people to congregate to receptions and social gatherings.
Regardless of how you connect with people best, there was little bit of something for everyone.
To achieve this, the eMerge team had to thoughtfully design their programs and activities to create opportunities for participants to connect on a personal level — this is where many events fall flat.
It’s not simply let’s get a bunch speakers together and just rent out event space… it has to be much more than that.
It Always Takes a Village
Well-executed large conferences play a critical role in seeding an ecosystem by bringing together diverse individuals, fostering collaboration, and stimulating innovation. Functionally, the eMerge conference served as a platform for knowledge sharing, showcasing new ideas and technologies, identifying potential partnerships and investment opportunities.
More broadly, the work that eMerge does acts as a catalyst for local economic development which helps attract talent, investment, and (inter)national attention, which further elevates and reinforces Miami’s status as a hub for innovation and growth.
FWIW, the eMerge conference felt like the offsite that everyone wanted to attend regardless if you worked for the same company or not.
There is something magical about seeing tens of thousands of attendees come together (from all over the world) to support for the Miami Tech ecosystem.
And for the Miami OGs (like Dan) on the team and in the ecosystem, it was a great showing of pride for a place they call home.
Many people complicate community building.
They try a bunch of random things.
At heart it’s about bringing people together.
Ecosystems form when you bring people together to collaborate. But building an ecosystem always takes a village.
eMerge has successfully brought that village together.
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