NYC Sees Progress in Quest to Become Tech Capital
EW YORK - New York’s mayor has made no secret of going after a digital grail: rivaling Silicon Valley as a high-tech hub.
The city isn’t there, at least not yet, but it can point to a series of promising signs. Tech titans including Google and Facebook have ramped up their presences in New York in recent years. Some big-name newcomers are headquartered here. Plans for an elite technology graduate school, attracted with city money, are getting enough attention that a federal patent officer is being stationed on campus in a first-of-its-kind arrangement.
Entrepreneurs say New York also faces particular challenges, including spotty broadband access in some areas and a limited tech talent base, though the city is trying to address the concerns.
"Over the last few years, what we’ve seen over and over again is a commitment to make New York City a viable alternative to Silicon Valley and a place where true innovation occurs," Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said after a closed-door discussion Mayor Michael Bloomberg convened with tech-sector leaders this month.
Bloomberg threw down the cross-country gantlet in July 2011, when he predicted the city could surpass Silicon Valley as a tech startup capital, though he noted that could take decades.
To be sure, California’s Bay Area - home of generations of digital giants, from Intel to Google to Twitter - is still front and center in tech’s collective consciousness. Cities including Austin, Texas, and Boston also have potent tech clusters.
New York has had a niche in financial technology and online publishing, but the growth of social media and digital marketing opens new prospects for a city known for communications, design and advertising.
New York was the ideal place to launch Gilt Groupe, for instance, because the luxury-discount site needed fashion buyers’ expertise, says founder Kevin Ryan.
"If we weren’t here, we’d have to have a huge office in New York anyway," said Ryan, who has run a series of online business news, advertising and other companies in New York since the mid-1990s. Gilt dates to 2007.
Statistics on tech employment vary widely, depending on what’s counted. But some heavy hitters have recently expanded beachheads in the city. Google bought a Manhattan office building in 2010. Facebook is adding engineers to its New York marketing and recruiting presence. EBay recently leased a sizeable Manhattan office.
Some prominent startups, including Foursquare, Tumblr, Kickstarter and Gilt Groupe, were established in New York in the past five years. More than 120 New York technology startups have raised at least $10 million in investments since 2007, and 15 have raked in more than $50 million, according to a May report by the Center for an Urban Future, a public policy think tank.
The New York area has occasionally lapped New England in venture capital investments in recent quarters, though neither comes close to Silicon Valley, said David Silverman, a partner at PriceWaterhouseCoopers, which tracks such investments.