When people ask me what the city and state government can do to help the technology driven startup community in NYC, I tell them two things.
First, there is not one tech ecosystem. There is the software, internet, digital media sector which is thriving and on a tremendous growth spurt. And then there are the biotech, bioengineering, materials science, and energy sectors. These sectors are languishing in NYC with very little commercial activity given how much research and science goes on in the city.
I don’t work every day in the latter category and I don’t have much advice for how to stimulate these sectors commercially, but I do know that much must be done.
I do work every day in the former category and I have some advice for how to continue to stimulate the sectors that are working. I would focus on two areas; talent and bandwidth.
NYC has a tremendous workforce advantage over most any other city in the world. With one exception. There is a dearth of well-educated engineers coming into the workforce every year in NYC. We have a large workforce of engineers, but they are in high demand and there are scarcities in NYC like those that exist in the bay area. Talented engineers are expensive and are always being recruited away from companies.
So the obvious answer is to develop ways to bring engineers right out of school into the local workforce. One way to do that is to develop strong engineering programs here in the city. The Bloomberg administration has announced an initiative to do that. I am very supportive of that effort. But that will not be enough. We also need to support our existing educational institutions, like NYU, Columbia, Fordham, CUNY, etc, etc.
And we need to start recruiting newly minted engineering grads to come to NYC to start their career. If you are a 22 year old man or woman just starting out in life, would you rather live in suburbia and work on a campus or would you rather live in Williamsburg and work in Flatiron? I think the answer to that is obvious. We just aren’t making that case to the best and brightest engineering grads. There are emerging programs, like HackNY, that need our support, both financial and emotional, to do this work. It is critical. Charlie O’Donnell has put forth a challenge to bring 250 new software developers this year to NYC. I think that’s a good start but I’d like to see a bolder number, like 1000 a year, or even more.
The other area is bandwidth. I mean data bandwidth. I mean fibre to every school, institution, business and home in the five boroughs. Other localities have built community owned fibre networks. A good example is Lafayette Louisiana. NYC needs to do this and it needs to do this now. The fibre plant should be owned by us, the citizens of NYC, not some company that will charge us a fortune for using the network and potentially restrict what we can do on the network.
There is a company I know of that is one of the most exciting new startups in NYC. They are locating their new office in the emerging area in Brooklyn between DUMBO, Fort Greene, and the Brooklyn Navy Yard. This is a cool new neighbourhood that could be home to a lot of startups looking for great workspaces at low rents. But there is no commercial grade Internet service in this neighbourhood. TIme Warner Cable wants this young startup to guarantee them $80,000 in revenues so they can afford to dig up the street and lay the cables.
That is nuts. We need to wire up this city from Staten Island to the Bronx, from Harlem to Rockaway Beach. And we need to own this fibre plant and we need it to be the best in the world.
These two moves will do it. We have everything else we need. We have the capital to fund startups. We have the real estate to house them. We have the legal, accounting, marketing, and other service providers. We’ve got it all. We just need talent and bandwidth to keep it going. Bring it on.