Photo: Jaziel Ojeda/eMerge Americas
Entrepreneur Felice Gorordo is trying to reverse Miami's brain drain
Felice Gorordo’s personal journey to becoming one of Miami’s leading tech advocates embodies the trip he envisions for others in advancing the city’s entrepreneurial culture — get expertise and bring it home to Miami.
Born and raised in Miami, Gorordo is the oldest of three children in a Cuban family. His late mother, a native of Cuba, was a private school administrator. His father left Cuba at age 5 as part of Operation Pedro Pan — an effort by the Roman Catholic Church to bring children whose parents were being targeted by Fidel Castro’s regime to the U.S. — and worked as a Miami police officer for 25 years.
Gorordo attended Belen Jesuit, a Catholic all-boys high school in Miami, and studied government at Georgetown University. During the summer after his freshman year, he traveled to Cuba for the first time.
“I was going through an identity crisis. I didn’t really know what it meant to be Cuban-American. I took a class on Cuba and had a teacher tell me that if I thought I was going to get to know Cuba through a book, I was mistaken; the only way I’d get to know Cuba was by going there,” he says. “When I went, I realized it was everything my parents and grandparents had told me — beautiful place, beautiful people, but trapped in a nightmare.”
In 2003, he and several college friends founded Roots of Hope, a non-profit that aims to empower young people in Cuba through technology. Tech billionaire Manny Medina, a Cuban immigrant, was an early supporter.
By the time Gorordo graduated from Georgetown, he’d made key connections: In 2005, he joined the administration of then-President George W. Bush, assisting, among others, top U.S. immigration official Emilio Gonzalez, who later became Miami’s city manager and now is co-chair of Florida operations for lobbying firm Mercury.
In 2007, Gorordo returned home and worked for Liberty Power, an independent energy retailer that once served businesses in 11 states and 50 utility territories. (Fort Lauderdale-based Liberty filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, citing heavy financial losses due to the mid-February storm in Texas.)
Gorordo had a second White House stint in 2011- 12 after he was selected to be one of 15 fellows. He worked on immigration reform and business outreach for the Obama administration during the rollout of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
As he finished that fellowship, he began preparing to launch a software company focused on streamlining the application process for U.S. immigrants. Investors told him he’d have to move to New York or San Francisco to build his startup, but he wanted to be in Miami.
“Miami is home for me. I was starting my family, and my wife and I wanted to come back home,” he says.
Gorordo sought advice from Medina, who convinced him that he could find everything he needed to successfully launch a startup in Miami. Gorordo grew his company, ClearPath, which billed itself as a TurboTax for immigration, into an enterprise with “hundreds of thousands of dollars in recurring monthly revenue,” he says. He and his partners sold the company in 2016 to L1Bre, a taxi app developer partly owned by Mexican billionaire Ricardo Salinas Pliego. Gorordo led L1Bre as CEO from 2016-18.
Ultimately, a crackdown on immigration under the Trump administration contributed to its demise “as a product ahead of its time,” he says. But the experience established Gorordo as a fixture in Miami’s tech scene. Along with launching ClearPath, he got involved with eMerge Americas, an initiative by Medina to make Miami a global tech hub through an annual conference, outreach activities and publications. Gorordo was on the steering committee that organized the first eMerge conference and later joined its advisory board.
Meanwhile, he continued to advocate for better U.S.-Cuba relations, accompanying then-Secretary of State John Kerry to the reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana in 2015. He also was part of a delegation that traveled with Obama to Cuba in 2016.
Gorordo, a self-described moderate Democrat, campaigned for President Joe Biden, whom he’d initially met during his White House fellowship. They subsequently got to know each other at an Hispanic Heritage event in Washington, D.C., in 2015.
At the time, Biden’s son Beau had recently died from cancer, and Gorordo’s mom was suffering with the disease. Gorordo shared with Biden that his mom was thinking of canceling a planned trip to Cuba to see Pope Francis because of her illness. Biden asked for his mom’s phone number and called to encourage her to go, Gorordo says.
“Thanks in part to his encouragement, she ended up going and was blessed by the pope after mass in Havana,” he wrote online about the experience. “The next day, she was dancing in her hometown streets of Sancti Spiritus.”
Gorordo’s mom eventually died from cancer in late 2015. After the Obama-Biden administration ended, Gorordo became an adviser to the newly created Biden Cancer Initiative and an entrepreneur-in-residence at StartUp Health, an investment vehicle for health-related “moonshots,” such as curing cancer.
“Quite candidly, I thought I was going to dedicated myself full time to doing something in the cancer space,” he says. “Six months into that, I got a call from Manny asking me if I was interested in taking over the reins of eMerge. His thought was that over the past five years, we’d been able to get to where we were, and we were now looking for an entrepreneur to take things to the next level. We needed to position ourselves as a platform versus just an event.”
In 2018, Gorordo became CEO of eMerge, succeeding Xavier Gonzalez, who left to oversee public relations for Cyxtera Technologies, a data center company also founded by Medina.
Gorordo says Medina’s vision of making Miami a global tech hub is starting to be realized. Since the pandemic, he says, the trend of startups, tech workers and venture capitalists moving to Miami has only accelerated.
“We’re now not just a tech hub of the Americas,” he says. “I think we have all the elements of being a Tel Aviv or a Barcelona.
“We’re not going to be Silicon Valley,” he adds. “We’re going to do something very Miami. Part of our secret sauce is how welcoming and inclusive we’ve been as a city built by immigrants.”
Read more in Florida Trend's September issue.
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