SXSW Start-Ups Incubate Downtown
The tech fest in Austin, TX showcased some of Lower Manhattan's best companies By Caroline Lewis Last Saturday, five technology start-ups won grants from the New York City Economic Development Corporation to move to Lower Manhattan or expand an existing location there. The winners, Booker, STELLAService, Grapeshot, Paperless Post and The Flatiron School, were selected from a group of over 300 applicants. The competition is part of a push by the mayor's office to revive commercial real estate and creative industries in Lower Manhattan in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Lively technology meet-ups and new funding opportunities are accelerating the growth of New York City's 'Silicon Alley' - a technology start-up scene that is enticing more and more innovators and investors away from 'Silicon Valley' in California. The "Made in NY" event at last week's South By Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, TX, showcased the diversity of web-based companies now representing New York City, many of which are based in downtown Manhattan. "It's just such an awesome community. Downtown Alliance gives you an opportunity to shape downtown Manhattan," said Dan Chiu of HD Made, a digital strategy agency that started in Soho three years ago and has since moved to the Financial District. At a table stacked with New York's classic black-and-white cookies, representatives of the Downtown Alliance offered information on the resources they provide for new businesses below Chambers Street. The organization is attempting to brand and promote the technology industry in Lower Manhattan, even polling people on which new acronym the neighborhood should adopt. "Unlike other neighborhoods - their vacancy rate is quite low - we have great space and great amenities that are available and our prices are right," said Daria Siegel of the Downtown Alliance. In addition to connecting entrepreneurs with real estate brokers, the Downtown Alliance runs The Hive a t 55, a co-working space on Broad Street. Co-working spaces allow freelancers and small companies with just a few employees to reap the benefits of an office while sharing the cost of rent and amenities with like-minded people. Shutterstock, a stock photo site that has been working out of its Broad Street office since 2004, may have outgrown the 'start-up' label, but made the trip to South By Southwest in the hopes of competing with other technology companies to attract new talent. "Nobody thinks of Shutterstock as a tech company," said Software Engineer Travis Beck, who is trying to change the company's image. "We do a lot of really cool stuff. We have these hackathons every quarter. We have a lot of autonomy to build whatever we want and a lot of it is open source." Beyond just housing company headquarters below 14th street, New York tech start-ups like Shapeways are creating other kinds of business opportunities in the area. MixeeLabs, based in the East Village, uses Shapeways, a 3-D printing company in Long Island City, to produce and sell quirky miniature dolls that look like real people. 3-D printing, or the creation of tangible objects from digital models, was the most talked-about innovation at SXSW this year and has been referred to by some as the second Industrial Revolution. Instead of selling 3-D printers like fellow NYC start-up MakerBot, Shapeways offers an online marketplace and community where anyone can upload 3-D files and get the company to print and sell their designs. Shapeways is backed by the downtown venture capital fund Union Square Ventures. Large companies and venture capital firms alike are increasingly using New York City as a point of entry to invest in American start-ups, Forbes reports. Motivated by access to the American marketplace, Shapeways established a headquarters in New York in 2010, after initially launching in the Netherlands. "New York is the creative epicenter of the world," said spokesperson Elisa Richardson. "Everyone in New York is so into design and tech and innovation and really pushing the boundaries. So New York, I think, for our CEO, was just a really natural fit." Downtown residents are also working to make New York City home to the next generation of technology innovators and entrepreneurs. Maurya Couvares lives and works in the Financial District and won a South By Southwest Interactive award for ScriptEd, the non-profit she co-founded with her partner Elizabeth Davidson. "We recruit tech professionals to teach students the basics of Java Script, HTML and CSS," said Couvares. The two young women intend to partner with New York based companies to teach the city's underprivileged youth how to code and have already launched their first classes at high schools in Harlem.
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