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Tech leaders share their entrepreneurial journeys, plans for the future

Veronica Brezina



Miami tech leader Manny Medina speak at the 2022 Synapse Summit. Photo:Veronica Brezina

Futurists and metaverse experts took center stage during the Synapse Summit in Tampa last week, sharing their own journeys in tech and the future of innovation in Florida. 

This year, the keynote speakers for the Synapse Summit were Manny Medina, one of South Florida’s best-known serial tech entrepreneurs; Cathy Hackl, dubbed the “Godmother of the Metaverse” and the CEO and Chief Metaverse Officer of the Futures Intelligence Group; and Felecia Hatcher, CEO of Black Ambition, a nonprofit initiative founded by Pharrell Williams to provide startup capital to high-growth startups founded by Black and Latinx entrepreneurs.

Medina, the founder of eMerge Americas, is known for the pioneering role he has played in Miami’s innovative tech scene. He kicked off the Feb. 17 keynote discussions at Amalie Arena.

A Cuban-born American citizen, Medina moved to Miami with his family when he was a teenager. “We were so poor. I didn’t want to be poor,” Medina said about his childhood and drive to escape poverty. 

In Miami, he studied accounting and business. 

Medina went on to create the data services company Terremark at the age of 28, serving as CEO until the company was acquired by Verizon for $2 billion in 2011. Medina then went on to launch Medina Capital – a private equity firm focusing on cybersecurity technologies, and eMerge Americas – the annual South Florida technology event connecting the U.S., Latin America and Europe. 

He recalled the time when Terremark was acquired by Verizon. 

“We had just gone public, everything was going well, and within months the telecommunications industry implodes, the internet bubble bursts, and there was 9/11,” he said. 

He recommended to entrepreneurs they “need to be reliable” and surround themselves with positivity. 

“Silicon Valley feels very web 2.0 and very old to me,” said Hackl, following Medina. “With Web3, innovation will be decentralized … and that’s when Florida becomes this opportunity to be the place for metaverse innovation.

“Just because something happens in a virtual space, doesn’t make it less real,” she said, providing an example of how her son’s first concert was a virtual one while in her generation, it was always an in-person event. 

“These are real connections, real memories and experiences,” Hackl said. 

RELATED: Accenture exec, technologists discuss building a metaverse world

Hackl is well-known for her work at Magic Leap, an augmented reality platform developed in Miami, which Hackl noted as a major win for putting Florida on the map for innovation. She has also worked at Amazon Web Services. 

Hackl took the opportunity at the Synapse Summit to announce she is partnering with Boss Beauties, a female-led global initiative that creates opportunities for girls and women through cutting-edge collaborations. The group launched an art collection entitled Boss Beauty Role Models. The collection is the first NFT (Non-Fungible Token) art collection on display at the United Nations. 

NFTs are commonly used for digital assets such as art and music and can be used to trade ownership rights to physical objects. It is then stored on a blockchain, a form of a digital ledger.

Celebrities ranging from football stars to singers have started jumping on the hot trend of launching their own NFTs. 

“Don’t just create NFTs for the buzz … create an NFT with a mission. NFTs are long-term commitments,” Hackl said. 

RELATED: NFTs and value: The mental leap

Hackl also noted how she spends a great deal of her time in Miami. 

“I am spending about a third of my year down in Miami now because there is so much happening there. I feel like I am going to become a Florida resident pretty soon,” Hackl said, adding how Florida has a strong e-sports sector. 

Meanwhile, Hatcher, a Miami-based entrepreneur, has worked with Fortune 500 companies and global tech firms and is widely known as an author and inspirational speaker. 

“Your gifts will make room for you, but first you have to tell them what rooms to take you in. And from your zone of genius, you have to unlock zones of opportunity,” Hatcher said, concluding the keynote session. 

“The metaverse is hard. And if we’re exploring that because we’re excited, imagine what we can do if we give founders the respectable amount of funding and resources they deserve.” 

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