Exploring New York's Tech Ecosystem

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    General Assembly is an education company that educates people about starting companies. Co-founder Matt Brimer is leading their weekly class “Introduction to the New York Startup Community.”

    - Stan Alcorn

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    General Assembly is also a packed coworking space. Asked if there were two companies crowded at this table, Director of Communication Angie Lee responded: “It may even be three or four, to be honest.”

    - Stan Alcorn

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    Start-up fortune cookies in the lobby of Alley NYC say "If it's not working, pivot." “Pivoting” is start-up slang for totally changing a company's mission.

    - Stan Alcorn

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    Studiomates is a workspace in DUMBO for a group of designers whose work exists primarily, but not exclusively, on the Internet. One counter-example: Tattly, a company started by Studiomates founder Tina Roth Eisenberg to create “designy” temporary tattoos, which are now carried in hundreds of stores all over the world.

    - Stan Alcorn

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    The ethos of Studiomates is less about tech and more about making stuff, as summed up in this pillow’s ethos: “Make Something You Love.”

    - Stan Alcorn

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    AlleyNYC features a yoga studio, where Jen Jamula leads a class each Thurdsay. Jamula is herself a member of AlleyNYC, running an arts company

    - Stan Alcorn

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    The coworking areas of AlleyNYC are typical of the New York tech scene: long tables filled with entrepreneurs on laptops.

    - Stan Alcorn

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    AlleyNYC is one of New York City’s newest co-working spaces, with 16,000 square feet not far from Penn Station.

    - Stan Alcorn

Where is the New York tech scene, and what does it feel like? One way to find out is to take a tour. You could begin at the lobby of the swanky Ace Hotel. The long tables are always crowded with young, hip New Yorkers with laptops, headphones and four-dollar coffees.

“I’m just trying to figure out who those people are and do they have jobs,” said Chip Morrow, a lawyer from Memphis, staying at the hotel while trying a prescription drug case. “I mean, I see laptops everywhere but I can’t figure out what everybody’s doing.”

What everybody was doing one afternoon included a whole range of digital activities: Saikat Chakrabarti was on a tight deadline working for payment processing start-up Stripe. Nasir Rasheed was just finishing a job interview for his experiential marketing company, Neverstop. Adam Rokhsar was working on a music programming effect he hopes to sell some day.

A very different slice of the New York tech scene could be found at 10 Jay Street, in an office building in Brooklyn overlooking the water. The design studio Studiomates doesn’t necessarily feel like part of the tech scene. When I arrived, I interrupted a discussion about a tech conference run by members of the space—Brooklyn Beta—but the discussion was over what kind of pie to serve.

“I mean, I guess that we are tech,” said Jessi Arrington, a designer wearing green pastel pants and a bowtie in her favorite color—rainbow. “I mean, everybody’s making their living on the Internet pretty much. But Tina’s making temporary tattoos.”

Tina is Tina Roth Eisenberg—aka Swiss Miss—designer and founder of Studiomates. Down the hall is her new company Tattly,  where drawers are filled with “designy” temporary tattoos of everything from rainbows to pugs riding bicycles.

 “We sell them at more than 300 stores around the world,” she said. “And we just got into Urban Outfitters, and we’re talking to some more big chains.”

Studiomates is one of many coworking spaces around the city—offices spaces where many companies and entrepreneurs cohabitate—each with its own personality.

“My personal philosophy is that co-working is a lot like dating, so not everyone is the right fit for you,” says Nsi Obotetukudo, evangelist at a new coworking space near Penn Station called AlleyNYC. “I mean we honestly think we’re the best fit for everyone. Because we’re a kick-ass space. We’re like the cockiest person you know. But that’s because we are awesome.”

At “The Alley” there is street art on the wall and fortune cookies with start-up advice—“Confucius say, ‘If idea not working, pivot’”— in the lobby. When you pass someone in the halls, there’s a tradition of giving high fives. And every Thursday, there’s even a yoga class.

It’s all part of creating an environment for young businesses to thrive.

“If you start early and hit that wall, you need something to keep you going,” says Obotetukudo. “So high fives help. But so does yoga.”

About the author

Stan Alcorn is a multimedia journalist in New York City. He has reported for NPR and WNYC, where he has focused on business and the New York tech scene.


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