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Meet Natalia Martinez-Kalinina of CIC Miami in Overtown

Today we’d like to introduce you to Natalia Martinez-Kalinina.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I’ll start with the essentials: I am Cuban and Russian, I grew up in Mexico, I became a functional adult in Boston and New York and I have lived in Miami for just over five years.

I am an organizational psychologist by training, which means that I am fascinated by group dynamics, change management and what motivates and incentivizes people. I don’t work in this directly anymore, but it is my lens for the world. Having worked in the corporate sector, I relocated to Miami to lead part of the strategy for Ultimate Software, a $5 billion leading provider of human resources solutions, payroll, and talent management software solutions. Later, I took a yearlong sabbatical to work as the Chief Innovation & Technology Officer for a nonprofit focused on Cuba, which has been a passion project of mine for many years.

Currently, I lead the Miami expansion of The Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC), the country’s largest, oldest and most successful innovation/entrepreneurial hub. In partnership with The University of Miami and the second largest health district in the U.S., we are aiming to deepen the entrepreneurial and research ecosystem in Miami, as well as connect it robustly to Latin America. This role and this project has been a truly incredible journey and I am above anything purely grateful for the opportunity to lead an effort I consider so relevant to the city I call home.

Above all, I am a founder by nature – I like to notice the gaps around me and create solutions to help bridge them, or at least contribute to their bridging. In Miami, I founded the Awesome Foundation, thereby joining a global network of global chapters devoted to awarding monthly micro-grants to unique ideas with local impact. Since the Awesome Foundation’s inception in 2009, its worldwide chapters have awarded more than $3 million of pooled trustee money. Since the Miami chapter’s launch in 2013, it has funded almost 100 grassroots ideas.

I am also a Co-Founder of Aminta Ventures, the 10x10K Cuba Innovation Challenge, and the Global Shapers (World Economic Forum) hub in Miami. Last but not least, I am also a founding board member of the Local TAU initiative and sit on the Governor’s Commission on Community Service, a body that oversees the administration of $32 million in federal, state, and local funding to deliver high-impact educational and volunteer programs in Florida.

All of these projects are different, but for me they are inextricably linked by a very small number of themes: (1) helping Miami progress and mature as a 21st century innovation and entrepreneurship hub and (2) helping individuals access the resources and support they need to feel inspired, fulfilled, and have impact.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Is anything ever a smooth road?! Joking aside, in the case of CIC Miami, the longer term vision is to build an innovation district that joins the health district, the entrepreneurial corridor and areas of the city that have traditionally not been included in “innovation” asset mapping, such as Overtown and Allapatah. This project is long term, of massive scale and requires collaboration across various public, private and academic entities. Needless to say, the road to planning and executing anything with these characteristics has been complicated. That said, it is precisely the degree of challenge and complexity that signals how worthwhile, necessary and promising it could be.

On a personal note, leading CIC’s expansion to Miami has been the single most challenging endeavor I have ever undertaken, but it has also been the most rewarding. Being responsible for a project with these many moving parts has, at times, felt like being thrown into the deep end of the pool and having someone turn the lights off, but as a result, these years have stretched me outside of my comfort zone as a leader, manager, creative thinker, problem solver, diplomat and moderator.

CIC Miami – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
CIC is an innovation district facilitator – so the easiest way to describe us is part coworking space, part accelerator, part venue, part scientific research facility, part convening place of interesting things across the city. Our objective is not to build a building or a set of buildings, but to build a community, create a true place of convergence across all of the actors in a city’s ecosystem – large corporations, academic researchers, startup companies, investors, students, et al – so as to help them connect, collaborate, and add tangible value/momentum to a city’s progress. As such, our walls should feel permeable for anyone, not just our clients.

In Miami, we have propelled the innovation community by inaugurating a long list of programming, securing both local and international partnerships, and creating avenues for thought leadership in our city. From the creation of the a shared wetlab facility we call Converge Lab and our soft landing and exchange agreements with Latin American countries, from establishing working groups for leaders from different industries to define the future of their domains in South Florida and launching the Creator’s Lounge, we pride ourselves in doing much more than running a physical location, and in opening in our doors to every type of stakeholders across our city.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
This is an important question, and we should all be revisiting it every once in a while in relation to our goals. Inertia can be just as dangerous as stagnation, so we should be clear on what our definition of success looks like so we can keep track of how we are measuring up.

My definition of success is equal parts:
1. Am I excited every morning when I wake up? Despite stress, ambiguity, challenges, and setbacks, am I fundamentally excited to tackle my day when I wake up every morning – the answer has to be yes.
2. Is my team excited, fulfilled, challenged? I am a founder by nature, so I have and will continue to start and lead initiatives from scratch. But I do believe that we are greater than the sum of our parts, so my first step is always to create an incredible team around my ideas and projects (be they paid staff, partner founders, board members, or volunteers). Far more than my personal influence, the success of all my projects has been directly related to the effort, buy-in, excitement, and work of those teams – period. So although, in part I ask myself if I am personally adding value, I also often ask if I am helping others add value that is uniquely theirs.
3. Are we meeting quantitative goals? Whether it is revenue metrics or other growth milestones, these are critical for my nonprofit and for-profit ventures alike.
4. Are we generating impact that is novel, and is this impact aligned with our mission/vision? First of all, are we actually moving the needle on something tangible in the real world, are we affecting something or someone other than ourselves? Secondly are our daily actions, efforts, and time aligned behind our overall vision? If we are having an impact but on a topic that is not related to our core focus, we are not quite succeeding.

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