Leigh-Ann A. Buchanan, Esq.
Leigh-Ann Buchanan is the founding Executive Director of Venture Café Miami. In this role, she works to facilitate sustainable growth, increased diversity and inclusion, and greater connectivity within Miami’s innovation and startup community.
She previously served as legal counsel to entrepreneurs, startups and multinational corporations in a wide variety of complex business litigation matters and commercial disputes.
Leigh-Ann currently chairs the ABA’s Coalition on Racial & Ethnic Justice and previously, the ABA National Taskforce on Stand Your Ground Laws. She also sits on the executive boards of New Leaders Council Miami and Friends of the New World Symphony.
Leigh-Ann is the founder of the Nyah Project, an exclusive fellowship which develops diverse youth leaders from underserved communities through transformative experiences abroad. She is among a collective of professional women who established Get Linked Miami, a youth hackathon and workshop series that engages diverse youth in STEM career education and coding training.
She holds a J.D. from the University of Miami School of Law and a B.A summa cum laude in International Affairs from Bethune-Cookman University.
Leigh-Ann has been recognized as a one of South Florida’s 40 Under 40 Black Leaders (2013); National Bar Association Women Lawyers Division Rising Star Award (2013); Greater Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce, HYPE Award finalist (2014); Daily Business Review, Rising Star (2015); American Bar Association Top 40 Young Lawyers (2016); Aspen Institute’s National Working Group on Inclusive Innovation (2016); Miami- Dade Chamber of Commerce David Fincher Young Innovator of the Year (2016).
Liza Benkovitch serves as the Venture Cafe Miami Program Manager and brings her passion for community building, innovation and technology. Liza has a diverse background working in technology sales, product, & innovation management for a software company in Miami and Washington D.C. Liza has extensive international business experience working with private and public sector clients in Latin America, Caribbean, Asia and Africa. She has managed complex public financial development projects in partnership with intergovernmental organizations such as the OAS, IAD and the World Bank.
Liza has always been interested in social innovation and the role of private- public partnerships in developing smart cities and sustainable communities. In her spare time, Liza likes to write blogs about technology, #internet of things, and entrepreneurship. She loves to get involved in the community and is a familiar face at many of the tech events. She was the Assistant VP of Special Events for Women in International Trade (WIIT), a member of United Way Young Leaders, Junior League of Miami, Vizcaya Museum & Gardens and sat on the Committee for Vizcaya’s 30th Annual Halloween Sundowner.
Liza received her Masters of Business Administration (MBA) in International Business in 2011 from the University of Miami. She also has a degree in European Studies, Political Science and Fine Art History from University of Toronto. She was born in Moscow and grew up in Toronto and Miami. Liza is fluent in Russian and English, as well as conversational in French and Spanish.
In her spare time, she likes to dance bachata, salsa and kizomba. She is also ‘re-learning’ how play tennis.
Community Engagement InternMiami Whitehouse is a Venture Cafe Miami Community Engagement Coordinator. She currently attends the University of Miami in pursuit of a Masters in Education through her Community and Social Change program coupled with 27 months Peace Corps service. Miami is passionate about work that creates transformative change in communities through understanding underlying social issues and how to empower communities with the tools to innovate ideas and tackle the many issues that people face. Miami is also new to South Florida so she is integrating herself in the community through volunteer and mentor work while exploring the vast Magic City and the hidden pockets it has to offer. Traveling is one of Miami’s passions due in large part to the opportunities for the connectedness and understanding of different people, ideals, and cultures. She is currently in progress to solidify her Spanish language (what better place to learn than Miami) in hopes to utilize what she has learned for her Peace Corps service.
Special Projects Coordinator
Nicolas Navarro is the Venture Café Miami Special Projects Coordinator. In this role, he support the team by providing research, grant writing and strategic implementation leadership on new project and initiatives. Nicolas is currently pursuing his Master’s in Education from the University of Miami Community and Social Change Program, and will join the Peace Corps in the Fall of 2017. He is dedicated to improving the lives of youth around the world, in the past mentoring a range of ages in Seattle, Miami, Central America, and Southeast Asia. Working towards educational reform and renewed innovation in the nonprofit sector, Nicolas is motivated by the idea of a more equitable, sustainable, and just future for all children. Recently, he published a children’s philosophy story book that depicted a brother and sister engaging fictional characters to better understand what it means to have an identity. In his spare time, Nicolas enjoys rock climbing (which is a little harder in flat Florida), reading classical literature, and riding his motorcycle.