The entire team from Tech:NYC visited the Bronx Tech Triangle on Wednesday, February 20th 2019 as part of their immersion in the innovation ecosystems of the 5 boroughs of New York City.
In attendance from Tech:NYC were:
- Julie Samuels, Executive Director
- Sarah Brown, Chief of Staff
- Zachary Hecht, Policy Director
- Tyler S. Bugg, Director of Partnerships
- Bryan Lozano, External Affairs Manager
In attendance from MetaBronx were:
- Miguel Sanchez, Co-founder
- Philip M. Shearer, Co-founder
- Ozzie Coto, Entrepreneur-in-residence
- Jonathan Vasquez, Teacher and Apprentice, Success Via Apprenticeship (SVA)
- Sarah Poyet, Founder and CEO, The Glass Files
- Marlin Jenkins, Founder and CEO, Neture
- Julian Rodriguez, Founder and CEO, Bazaar
- Brinda Kemgne, Senior, Crotona International High School (CIHS)
- Esmarlin Fernandez, Sophomore, Bronx Academy for Software Engineering (BASE)
- Edward Yeboah, Sophomore, BASE
- Shaheed Ganie, Sophomore, BASE
- Aichatou Alfa Toga, Sophomore, CIHS
https://www.technyc.org/ describes itself as "an engaged network of tech leaders working to foster a dynamic, diverse, and creative New York." Our understanding is that Tech:NYC is a policy and advocacy organization, which serves to bridge the gap between the local technology industry and NYC communities and government initiatives.
One of the founders is Fred Wilson, the founder of Union Square Ventures, who is well known to be the spiritual leader of the 21st century technology industry in NYC.
Tech:NYC has a vital role to play in the next 20-30 years, because currently there is no link between the NYC tech industry and NYC government. This is a major problem in a case like the recent Amazon HQ2 debacle, where the unfortunate result is that everybody lost.
MetaBronx encountered this exact problem before, albeit on a smaller scale, when FreshDirect was looking to move to The Bronx in 2013. Municipalities tend to not understand what they're getting themselves into when a large technology company decides to move in. Instead of negotiating a fair deal with FreshDirect, by which FD would invest in local infrastructure and education projects in exchange for the nearly 125mm in tax credits received by FreshDirect (taxpayer money, note), local Bronx elected officials ended up waging a fight with their own community to push the FreshDirect deal through.
This caused an incredible amount of stress, wasted resources, and grief between the different participants in the story, and in the end this strife all but guaranteed that FreshDirect would isolate itself from the local community as much as it could - which, 5 years later, is exactly what is happening, even though FD did get the taxpayer money.
The FreshDirect story could have been an enormous success for everyone, a real opportunity to use the power of technology to bring about sustainable, inclusive economic development - the type of work that solves the problem of poverty.
Amazon is a little different in the sense that the public rebuke of their plans for Long Island City has been very strong. While such a strong rejection is somewhat short-sighted, it is incredibly unfortunate that Amazon decided to just walk away instead of trying to understand what the community was attempting to communicate.
What was missing with FreshDirect and now with Amazon, is an entity like Tech:NYC that can interface between not only big newcomers and their communities, but with the existing technology ecosystem as well.
It is a waste to exclude large tech companies from NYC because of the extraordinary innovation potential that a company like Amazon (and especially AWS - Amazon Web Services) can bring to communities that are frequently excluded from the innovation economy.
But the public and the taxpayers do make a good point: it's just as much of a waste to exclude people and taxpayers from their own communities.
Both sides need to come to the table, be honest with themselves, and figure out a deal that is beneficial to everyone involved, with a strong emphasis on the long-term benefit to the immediately surrounding local community.
After all, why does Amazon want to be in NYC? Because it's one of the greatest, if not the greatest city in the world today.
But why is it great? Because of the PEOPLE OF NYC. So if you're Amazon and you exclude the people, you are making the long term situation worse for yourself as well.
NYC needs an entity that can create the bridge between tech industry and the community; Tech:NYC can solve the problem of industry and community not knowing how to communicate with each other.