Innovative Incubator. Entrepreneur Encourager. Kettlebell Connoisseur. We take our talents to South Beach and walk the sun-drenched streets with co-founder of The LAB, Wifi Fernandez.
“We’re experiencing a bit of a cultural boom, and it’s possible to make a big impact.”
“It’s been my nickname since I was 10 or 11,” Wifredo “Wifi” (wee-fee) Fernandez explains. “It’s not like a tech joke. Although, when I was abroad during college in Spain it was kind of funny, because everyone pronounces Wi-Fi that way over there.” We’re standing on the tiled rooftop terrace of Fernandez’s apartment in Coral Gables on a pink Miami morning. “My grandfather lived in this development,” he says as he rolls out a blue yoga mat. “So I used to hang here as a kid. When I moved back to the area four years ago it felt kind of natural to return to the suburbs.” Wifi’s daily workout routine would make any suburban dad proud. He cranks out pushups, squats, and overhead presses with ease, pausing only to pace back and forth, catch his breath, and gaze out at the South Florida sky.
Wifi is one of the co-founders of The LAB (the other is his childhood friend and Penn roommate, Daniel Lafuente), a 10,000 square foot creative space that houses and fosters local entrepreneurs and innovators in the city’s Wynwood Arts District. The LAB website calls the collaborative work and event space “a collision point for Miami’s forward-thinking minds.” Being involved in the space has put Wifi in his comfort zone, amongst ideas. It’s a rarity if there isn’t some sort of event happening at The LAB on a particular evening, and the network of burgeoning businesses in Wynwood offers a constant flow of opportunity for collaboration. “Miami is kind of a frontier town right now,” Wifi smiles. “We’re experiencing a bit of a cultural boom, and it’s possible to make a big impact.”
After Wifi’s workout, it’s a quick shower and breakfast. “On a good day, I’ll have eggs and bacon,” he says. “But I had that yesterday.” He spoons yogurt and granola into a bowl and makes coffee in a French press. He lights a candle before situating himself at the dining table and eating quietly. Then he puts on his socks, shoes, and watch, grabs his keys and briefcase, and heads towards the door.
After the short drive to Wynwood, Wifi will typically work at The LAB for a few hours each morning. The bright, airy space where he sits tapping away at his MacBook began with “$300 worth of wood and shipping pallets” and now plays host to 130 members, a coding school, and an Internet radio station called Klangbox.
A more recent venture of Wifi’s involves Miami Dade College’s incubator program for would-be entrepreneurs. He’ll spend afternoons on campus, where he’s been sharing his experiences in the startup world with students for the past several years. (Fernandez cut his teaching teeth during a post-college stint in Washington working for Teach for America.)
Across the street from The LAB, popular Jewish/Mediterranean bakery, Zak the Baker, is Wifi’s usual pop in for a pick-me-up iced coffee (“a buck cheaper than down the street at Panther Coffee,” he tells us.) On the way out of Zak, he spots a friend and suggests a walk over to neighboring startup Live Ninja, where they host “Waffle Wednesdays.”
“Miami is typically a laggard when it comes to innovation, but there is a small group of us trying to change that.”
Earlier, as we’d stood in the back alley that The LAB had turned into a crowd-funded green space filled with local plants, Wifi had told us, “Miami is typically a laggard when it comes to innovation, but there is a small group of us trying to change that.” The friend declines the offer of breakfast, but Wifi isn’t stifled. When we say goodbye, we have a feeling he’ll get those waffles and whatever else he happens to dream up on this particular day.