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Taking Miami to the Next Level

brikolodge_logoAt the beginning of 2008, smack in the middle of America’s largest recession in over a gazillion years, two young entrepreneurs decided to create a new kind of work environment for the local Miami creative community. Being the digital natives they are, they didn’t just guess what people needed, they polled.

Alison Wadsworth, one of the two founders, created and sent out questionnaires to the members of refresh miami, the leading local tech network. Asking for opinions and suggestions on everything from location, equipment, even to  pricing.

The result: Brikolodge. Miami’s first collaborative workspace. It openend in March 2008 the trendy Wynwood district, and has sinced moved to Miami’s newborn Midtown, after what Eduardo Henriques, the co-founder running the business side of Brikolodge, called a “crazy year”. A year which saw the loft space occupied at time to full capacity, at time half empty – but much more importantly so: by just about every imaginable creative profession from essayist to flash developer.

Which is exactly what Brikolodge sees as it’s raison d’etre. Creating a place where a bricolage of knowledge and skill is always ready to bring about something new.

Brikolodge at work.

Still, when I sat down with Fabian Socarras, a web designer and permanent resident of Brikolodge, he was open about the fact that, despite the economic success, Brikolodge is still far from what they would want it to be: ”Miami still does not have the collaborative energy that I saw in other places, especially San Francisco.” The reason for this?  The tech community is not very aware of itself, and much less so than it’s famous cousin in California; Fabian supposes.

Fabian Socarras

Fabian Socarras

VCs and business angels are simply not hounding Miami’s streets for the next tech sensation. “So when someone comes up you and says: ´You guys should do this – and you’ll make billions.´ people here in Miami can’t help but smile.” Because chances are slimmer, people are more careful. Which to Fabian is only natural:  “You always need a certain harmony” between protecting what’s yours and sharing with others.

He just thinks that Miami can do more: “When I went to RefreshMiami for the first time, I almost freaked out. Where did all these people come from!?” A 2007 study of the  Chamber of Commerce of Greater Miami acknowledges that the region’s focus on Tourism and Real Estate is not exactly attracting hordes of creative people. But the amount of jobs in the creative industries is still substandtial. The open question remains: How will the creative/tech community in Miami achieve a new level of self-awareness? And what role does Brikolodge want to play in it?

On the one hand, they offer a very simple, and rather inexpensive way to have access to a professional office. Which has many benefits, increased productivity not being the least of them (thousands of unkempt pyjama wearing homeoffice workers will quietly nod here). On the other hand, Brikolodge could border on an incubator. “Can we attract certain skills in order to add value to this place? We are thinking about that.” says Socarras.

I asked whether the focus on tech is not excluding other important elements of the creative class as Robert Florida describes it. How about collabroration in advertising, design, or music? Is Brikolodge a place for them, too? Absolutely, says the Webdesiger. As a matter of fact, he and Eduardo are running Micstura, a small but rather successful interactive advertising agency. More than they intially thought, Brikolodge has also become a way for people to deal with unemployment, which hit the local advertising industry hard.

Brikolodge has seen people come together to hunt for new business, often quite successfully, because they combine not only available skills, but also personal connections. However, while they also stage jellies at Brikolodge, the founders are no big fans of  “Rolodex socializing”. They are most happy when they see something substantial happening: “when people make each other grow.”

In the middle of Midtown.Looking at all the construction around their office in Midtown, where Miami is trying hard to create an urban space that brings people together – it seems they couldn’t have found a better spot.

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