South Florida’s most discussed CEO, Rony Abovitz of Plantation-based Magic Leap, said Tuesday the region is on the cusp of becoming one of the top technology sectors in the nation. “That’s about to happen,” said Abovitz, a keynote speaker at the fourth annual eMerge Americas conference in Miami Beach. But the secretive entrepreneur would provide only hints of how far Magic Leap has traveled toward launching its first product: “If we were at NASA … you would see a rocket sitting on the launch pad,” Abovitz said. “Launch is not far away,” he added.
Abovitz’s keynote was jammed with people hoping to hear what is happening with his company, which employs 800 in Plantation and Dania Beach. Magic Leap has raised $1.4 billion, primarily from Google and the Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba.
They got a few crumbs.
“We’re trying to make science fiction real,” he said of the company’s technology.
Abovitz joined other South Florida entrepreneurs at eMerge including Randy Parker, a founder of the telehealth company MDLive in Sunrise, and Dan Cane, co-founder and CEO of Modernizing Medicine in Boca Raton, to highlight South Florida’s technology sector.
The sector has come a long way in the past decade, but is still not at the level of Silicon Valley, Boston or Seattle, entrepreneurs agree. What’s still missing, they say, is big investor interest and money, and large employers to attract the best talent.
“We’re still missing the big employers, but it’s happening,” said Manuel Medina, founder of the eMerge conference, pointing to his own new company, Cyxtera Technologies. The company already employs 1,100 people and is a $3 billion global security-technology firm based in Miami.
But Magic Leap — the company most point to as South Florida’s technology star — has not yet launched its first product.
Industry publications such as The Verge have been critical of the startup for its secretive nature, asserting the company is “way behind” in launching a product and that it’s technology may not live up to its advance billing.
At the conference, Abovitz wouldn’t say exactly when Magic Leap’s product would launch, what the product was, or what it would cost. He did say that the product “is being priced for affordability of a ‘premium’ consumer device.”
Abovitz reiterated what he said in his own blog post, saying 2017 will be “be a very good year,” and that the company has an “active” production line. He said the product is a new kind of computing — “experiential and ambient.” When asked for an example, he described a mother watching her children, interacting with her mother, and taking a phone call via the technology.
Previously, Magic Leap has said it is pursuing “a new mixed reality computing platform that will enable people to interact with the world in ways never before possible.”
South Florida ranked No. 2 in startup activity in 2016. At the two-day eMerge event concluding Tuesday, more than 100 startup companies participated in a competition, and more presented exhibits, said Xavier Gonzalez, CEO of eMerge.
Gonzalez said eMerge Americas attracted more than 13,000 people this year. He said it is marketed as a global event, rather than as a South Florida one, to attract companies and investors from Latin America and Europe.
eMerge Americas’ keynote speakers included Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computers; and Uri Levine, co-founder of the traffic app Waze.
Besides Parker of MDLive and Cane of Modernizing Medicine, participating entrepreneurs from Broward included Jonathan Broder, founder and CEO of VortexLegal in Fort Lauderdale, a profitable, seven-year-old “Expedia for legal services,” and Matthew DeRose and Douglas Cochrane, partners in Live-Resume.com, a 2-1/2-year-old video-resume company in Hollywood.
Parker, a founder and chief development officer of MDLive, said he sees attracting and retaining talent as the biggest issue for South Florida, now that the region is more competitive with other tech sectors.
Parker said younger technology workers do not want only a good salary or stock options, as their parents did. “They want to work for a noble cause,” he said.
Startup entrepreneurs at the conference said they were most concerned about a lack of investor interest in early-stage companies.
Broder of VortexLegal said investors in the region tend to be familiar with how to a value real estate, but not technology companies. “When it comes to technology valuations, there is not a huge amount of investors who understand technology. That’s something that needs to change,” he said.
DeRose of Live-Resume.com said he also wished there were more investors in wealthy South Florida seeking opportunities like his.
“You’d think that would be better,” he said. “Look at the cars that people are driving.”