By Steve Hamm
Chief Storyteller, IBM
The last mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, captured headlines when he declared that NYC would someday overtake Silicon Valley as the world’s tech capital.
The current mayor, Bill de Blasio, is less bold in his pronouncements but no less aggressive in his deeds.
De Blasio’s program was on display at a tech-industry gathering in the DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge) section of Brooklyn last evening–venue: Made in NY Media Center by IFP. City officials, business leaders and entrepreneurs discussed initiatives and business conditions at the second stop in the city’s Digital.NYC Five-Borough Tour–a series of events aimed at helping entrepreneurs succeed in the city.
Jessica Singleton, the city’s Digital Director, told a small crowd of entrepreneurs that the mayor’s goal is to “make NYC the most tech-friendly and innovative city in the world.” David S. Rose, CEO of gust, a startup funding platform that’s a main sponsor of Digital.NYC, described the organization’s Web site as the one-stop-shop for information for tech entrepreneurs. “There’s nothing else in the world like this,” he said.
de Blasio’s strategy seems to be working. The city’s tech industry is growing at a healthy pace. Today, there are more than 6000 tech startups in the city; the city’s tech ecosystem now directly or indirectly employs more than 500,000 people; and many of the jobs don’t require a bachelor’s degree–so the industry is providing an economic stepladder for a wide swath of the city’s people. (Here’s a NYT article about job growth in NYC.)
What struck me most about the event was that while the basic ingredients for creating a tech ecosystem are well known–including great universities, venture capital, and a culture of entrepreneurship–each tech cluster has its own flavor. The companies that were featured most prominently at Wednesday’s meetup were focused on quality rather than the more typical tech-industry mantra of growth, growth and more growth.
–Anastasia Leng, co-founder and CEO of Hatch, talked about her marketplace for made-to-order products created by a community of 2000 designers, small manufacturers and crafts people. Her team rejects the overwhelming majority of applicants. “We don’t want to be the site with the most makers. We want to be the site with the best makers,” she said.
–Noah Rosenberg, founder and CEO of Narratively, described his strategy of “slow storytelling” on the Web site dedicated to telling deeply-affecting human stories in the medium that’s most appropriate for each. Narratively publishes just one new story per day–sourced from a pool of 3,000 freelancers. “Think of us as This American Life (the in-depth radio storytelling program) meets VICE (the video-centric online journalism platform),” he said.
–Raul Gutierrez, founder and CEO of TinyBop, couldn’t make the event because of pressing business matters, but others described the maker of educational mobile apps for children as being deeply rooted in the community (He lives in Bensonhurst, deep in Brooklyn) and dedicated to producing great interactive experiences for kids.
Even the venture capitalists of Brooklyn are a little different from what you might expect. Charlie O’Donnell of Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, until recently the only venture firm based in Brooklyn, noted that he had no secondary degree and that he raised money for his initial fund from a Brooklyn businessman who had recently sold his auto dealership. He’s willing to start talking to aspiring entrepreneurs even before they have created their first PowerPoint presentation. “The ecosystem here is more accepting than Silicon Valley of supporting people with diverse backgrounds and limited track records,” he said.
Though Brooklyn’s transformation into a young-person’s mecca has brought tens of thousands of aspiring creative people to the borough, the tech ecosystem there is still in its infancy. Based on Wednesday’s event, there’s a lot of pep behind helping it grow up.
IBM is one of the main sponsors of Digital.NYC and the Five-Borough Tour events. We’re reaching out to entrepreneurs worldwide with our development tools and platforms–the Watson Developer Cloud for cognitive computing and Bluemix for cloud apps and services. In addition to launching the Watson Group headquarters on Astor Place last fall, the company plans on opening an office in the city in the near future that’s dedicated to startup outreach.