The startup power in New York

Wilson: “It’s business the driver, not the government”. New York is a tech city: over 40 companies were created in incubators. Will de Blasio’s policy make startup life easier?

Maria Teresa Cometto 600x400_0

Will the new Mayor Bill de Blasio make it easier or more difficult to create a successful startup in New York City? That’s a $1 billion question. And probably it’s too early to answer, after only two months under the new administration.

For sure, many in the New York tech community are concerned about the future of the city, because Michael Bloomberg was unique and nobody could have a similar profile. In fact he was himself a tech entrepreneur, the founder of a very innovative startup in a very risky business (finance) and in a very bad economic moment (the 1981 recession). So he applied his “animal spirit” to the city’s management and innovated the government in many ways.

New York was the first city in the US to have a Chief Digital Officer (CDO), Rachel Haot taking care of the city’s presence on the web, on mobile platforms and on social media, and leading NYC Digital, an ambitious program to “realize New York City’s potential as the world’s leading digital city”. NYC was also the first city to get its own Internet top level domain (TLD) – .nyc – that  can be used by city residents, businesses and organizations.

Now Ms Haot is gone: last December, while the Bloomberg administration was ending, she was hired by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo as the CDO of New York State. De Blasio has not replaced her yet. And although the approval of the TLD .nyc was approved last July, nobody knows when and how the new web address will be really available. «We’ll have more (news) to share in the upcoming months», Nicole Nolte told StartupItalia! on behalf of Neustar, the private firm appointed by the City «to support all marketing efforts and operate the technical infrastructure of the .nyc domain».

One important decision made by Mr de Blasio is keeping Kyle Kimball, the president of the city’s Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and a veteran of Bloomberg-era governance. The move has been quite controversial, because Mr Kimball is a Goldman Sachs alum and GS is the epitome of Wall Street’s greed for the “99%” represented by the new progressive mayor. Besides, NYCEDC played a big role with Bloomberg as instrumental in many major real estate projects that Mr de Blasio criticized during his campaign.

But NYCEDC played also a crucial role in bringing the Cornell NY Tech campus to Roosevelt Island and – through its division Center for Economic Transformation (CET) – encouraging the creation of a dozen of incubators from the Bronx to Brooklyn, which in three years (2010-2012) gave birth to over 40 companies. That’s the part that the new Mayor likes. He said he expected Mr. Kimball to spearhead job growth in the emerging tech sector and in the outer boroughs, adding that he «needed someone who understood how to get the work done, who had the values and an ability to put those values into action». However NYCEDC will not be the same: it will take a «different tact» that would «look at every single development deal as an opportunity to right some wrongs», said the Mayor.

Whatever that means, the tech community should not be concerned according to the venture capitalist Fred Wilson (Union Square Ventures), one of the most authoritative voices of “Silicon Alley”. «The Bloomberg administration was very friendly to the city’s tech community – said Wilson at a recent conference organized by the Columbia Engineering School. – But the tech boom in NYC was happening already before him and it would have happened anyway. The government is not where the action is. It’s business the driver. If we rely on government to create businesses then we’ll turn out like the Soviet Union!».

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