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Bloomberg's New York: The Next Silicon Valley?

by Claudia Morell
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New York City Tech Meetup

Claudia Morell, WFUV

The audio version of this story is at the bottom.

Diversifying New York City's economy and loosening its dependence on Wall Street have been some of Mayor Bloomberg's central goals over his three terms in office. From increasing film and television production to expanding the city's tourism industry, Bloomberg has launched scores of initiatives and programs. And as part of WFUV's series on Bloomberg's New York Claudia Morell looks at one small, but growing sector that has received a lot of the Mayor's attention.
 
Making New York City the next Silicon Valley has been a major obsession of Mayor Bloomberg's. Here's part of a speech he made in 2009, when he announced plans to bring a new applied sciences university to the city.
 
"The new campus will help us build a critical-mass towards our ultimate goal: reclaiming our title as the world's capital of technological innovation."
 
And while the city is still behind Silicon Valley, the number of tech-start-ups has grown.
 
The New York City Tech Meet Up - an organization that holds monthly demos where techies can show off new products, find investors and network - has seen a spike in membership. Over the past 5 years it went from 7,500 members to over 32,000. 
 
Executive Director Jessica Lawrence said while part of that progression is due to Bloomberg's involvement, most has to do with location, "The fact that New York is also the capital for finance, and the capital for fashion, and for publishing makes a huge difference in terms of people being able to build companies that are connected to those sectors."
 
And that is what influenced 33-year-old Wendy Nguyen’s decision to move to New York from her native San Francisco. She designed the app Healthy Out, which connects users with healthy food options based on specific preferences. Nguyen recently won the New York City Big Apps Competition, an annual software competition that rewards developers who design mobile applications that utilize official City datasets.
 
“So out of that we got publicity, we won $55,000 dollars, and we won a trip to the White House,” said Nguyen. “I think the Mayor is doing an amazing job to support the technology community here in New York City, and I say that having come from San Francisco. “
 
 photo 332cc4c0-719c-429e-8304-5870a5294774.jpg
Source: Claudia Morell, WFUV
 
Nguyen isn’t the only entrepreneur I met at the New York City Tech Meet Up who moved from the West Coast to the big Apple to launch a startup.
 
George Petschnigg graduated from Columbia University in the 90s with degrees in Computer Engineering and Economics. But with limited job opportunities in the city, Petschnigg moved out West where he landed a job at Microsoft. Ten years later, Petschnigg said he came back to New York City to start his own company with friends called Fifty-Three.
 
"Technology is spread up route 101, all along the Bay Area, and if you want to meet another company, you typically have to either drive or you have to be in San Francisco, but you feel fairly isolated,” said Petschnigg.  “It's different here in New York City, you can just walk up and down Broadway."
 
Petschnigg also noted how the city’s density and diverse economy helped launch his product,“We just didn’t know of another place that had a culture that accommodated design and engineering, working as closely together as we wanted.”
 
Two years and eight million downloads later, his creative design app was the first in New York to win Apple's App of the year.
 
 

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