Matt Haggman knows how to spot trends and follow his instincts. Before becoming the Miami program director in 2011 for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, a nonprofit that strives to create informed and engaged communities, he was a Miami newspaper reporter for 10 years. Haggman spent that time listening to people and writing about their concerns and interests.
One growing trend he caught on to was a rising entrepreneurial spirit in Miami-Dade County. “Risking, launching, all of that is very much in the Miami DNA,” Haggman says, as evidenced by the city consistently being ranked in the top five, and recently number one, on The Kauffman Index for entrepreneurial activity.
Miami is highly diverse and extraordinarily international, says Haggman, noting that more than half of its population was born outside of the U.S. and 75 percent come from outside of Miami. Haggman believes this diversity frees Miami from ties to long-held traditions or history. “It’s a city that continues to re-imagine itself,” he says.
Combine this with a university system that has grown dramatically in recent years, and Haggman saw a powerful opportunity to strengthen the local entrepreneurial ecosystem. So in 2012, under his direction, the Knight Foundation launched an effort focused on entrepreneurship in Miami. In 2014, Haggman and the Knight Foundation partnered with Babson to create Miami Dade College’s Idea Center, which brings programs focused on entrepreneurship to MDC’s curriculum.
In a dinner conversation with President Kerry Healey, Haggman learned about Babson’s Women Innovating Now (WIN) Lab. Created by the College’s Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership, the WIN Lab is an eight-month program designed to accelerate the development of high-growth ventures launched by women entrepreneurs. His interest piqued, Haggman championed an $800,000 grant from the Knight Foundation to make Miami the first expansion city for the WIN Lab. “We are constantly on the hunt for great ideas,” Haggman says, “and we are very intentionally trying to build an emerging entrepreneurial ecosystem that is by, for, and of the whole community.”
By supporting WIN Lab Miami, the Knight Foundation is helping women founders gain access to the tools and resources they need to build their ventures. Haggman acknowledges long-standing gender and socioeconomic imbalances among startups; historically, too few women and underrepresented minorities have led these ventures. But he believes an effort to embrace diversity will have widespread economic benefits for the community. “Honestly, if we can do this well,” he says, “it’s a competitive advantage.”
The first cohort of 20 women-led ventures already has completed the program and raised $2 million in funding from investors. Reflecting on these accomplishments, Haggman sees enormous possibilities for the program: “I can’t wait to see what happens next.”—Jeff Stupakevich, manager, advancement communications
Learn more about the WIN Lab and support the work of the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership.
Editor’s Note: As this issue was going to press, Matt Haggman announced that he was leaving the Knight Foundation. He did not provide his plans for the future.