Tuesday, September 1

New York poised for a tech revival? If we address some issues...

So, Miko Mercer's tweet led me to a couple of posts by Chris Dixon (New York City is poised for a tech revival) and Fred Wilson (The NY Startup Scene) and the ever running discussion on how the NYC Tech scene could be the epicenter of the next tech boom.

Sorry, but I think we have some issues that STILL need to be addressed - and I could say that green shoots are still growing in the concrete sidewalks that makeup NYC.

Last year in December, when we were having the New York Tech Meetup Organizer election, I spent a couple of weekends drafting my thoughts on the success of various epicenters and how NYC fared on them. Borrowing from a friend (Mike Lewis) and an old EE software program, I came up with a SPICES metric:
  • Space
    Appropriately priced, appropriately equipped, easy access to transport for talented tech workers
  • Platform
    Where people can congregate, get noticed, increase awareness beyond their small community
  • Infrastructure
    The actual stuff that is used for performing technology acts - power, telecoms, hardware (or virtual hardware in software's case), facilities for manufacturing and research
  • Capital
    Money, money, money that is not based solely on a definite rate of return - but has a likelihood of return
  • Experience
    Mentorship of the aspiring by the people who have succeeded (or failed) in the past - forwarding understanding and wisdom to others
  • Skills/People
    The raw skills that people have within themselves and in clusters - where ongoing interaction increases skill level and value - often though of as a "educational" requirement, but I liken more to an apprenticeship
Last year, when I was contemplating my run for NYTM Organizer, I ran this analysis over my read of the City and what we needed to do. Here is my quick assessment of the State of NYC Tech for 2009 (with my own scale from 1 to 5, where 1 is weak, 5 is strong):
  • Space (2008 - 1, 2009 - 3.5)
    Advent of other workspaces like New Work City, 160 Varick, RTV SmartSpace, Hive@55 and the existing spaces that are already serving various players (e.g. Sunshine Suites, eMerge, TechSpace, etc) are serving the need better (especially with the advent of the COSP). Couple that with the glut in grey spaces (sublets in existing office space) - entrepreneurs are finding locations to work easier and easier.

  • Platform (2008 - 3, 2009 - 3.5)
    Along with the NYTM, Graham's UltraLight Startups event, Murat's Entrepreneurship event, the Techaviv event have been offering more visibility for companies to the community at large, but the events are not driving the real need for entrepreneurs - money and partnerships. A platform should be providing a filtering mechanism with guidance and leadership - kind of in the way Walt Mossberg and Peter Kafka do in their discussions of companies. With a trusted gatekeeper evaluating companies (like they do at various showcase events in the West Coast), there is a great probability of the entrepreneurs getting funding and business.

    Personally, whichever platform event figures out how to tie what they are doing to the media establishment here in the City, they will be the future of the NYC platform.

  • Infrastructure (2008 - 3, 2009 - 3)
    My disappointment is that metro wifi and really high speed bandwidth is not a priority in the city. I sit next to one of the founders of NYCWireless and often see/hear the frustration that we have in getting the kinds of speeds we would need to really exceed - not just succeed.

    To win in mobile, we need more infrastructure for learning how to build mobile devices and apps - iPhone is a decent play because of the Apps Store - but where is the infrastructure to work on Palm Pre, google Android, the new Symbian? Couple the tech with the media content that is generated here - and then add the incredible finance industry and the understanding of payments/banking - we could be providing an insane infrastructure.

  • Capital (2008 - 3.5, 2009 - 2.5)
    With the economic tsunami and the financial companies that were part of the detritus, there is still a great deal of cash/capital that is accessible. But, the people with the cash want a short-term return, not interested in true, long-term investment. And if they are interested in a long-term investment, they do not know how to evaluate technology plays without validators. And without experienced players (beyond Kevin and Dwight and Scott and so on), the validators are few and far in between. Risk capital is about taking a risk - and working with someone on a level that they can perform. Value investing for the betterment of infrastructure and community - that is something I believe we are still lacking.

  • Experience (2008 - 2.5, 2009 - 2)
    Show me the mentors. As in, I go to every NYTech Meetup every month - and I see loads of entrepreneurs and people looking to connect to mentors. Who are the mentors? Who has been training the next crop of winners? In the music industry, this happens almost magically (though the economic rationale is there). In the Valley, kabals/keiretsus work together to create bigger and better plays (see the Paypal Mafia and their prodigeny of YouTube, Facebook, Slide, Zivity, Yelp - juts to name a few).

  • Skills/People (2008 - 2.5, 2009 - 3)
    I think due to the economic downturn and the need to retool and relearn, I think people are learning new skills with new technologies (if they can) since the value is going up the chain, not treading water at the base of the pyramid. The difficulty I see is the the educational system is not teaching people how to be skilled in continual learning. Not the idea of the "one answer", but the fact that every problem has multiple answers and every solution can be right.

    Apprenticeship teaches people how to work with others - and learn from others - gaining skills and becoming even more powerful than before - since the resulting skills and abilities are the apprentices - a melange of many experiences combined with the flavor of their own talents.
I think if the NY Tech Meetup and other efforts from the Mayor are more than simple press events (e.g. MediaNY2020, NYCSeed, etc) or political plays - and the Mayor takes leadership in this, I believe we could see a true powerhouse in the City.

Mayor Bloomberg needs to support the concept of "risk capital" and provide the right incentives for this to occur. The Mayor need to support the growth of these programs to build more entreprenuership from the inventors and apprentices of this City.

But, it requires commitment, and patience. No more calls at the end of the day - investments take time to mature.

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